Monday, March 12, 2012

Happiness Is Not At Home: The Tremeloes: "Call Me (Number One)"

We are now at the end; as the 60s become the 70s things are starting to unravel, new threads are opening up for the next decade. If the most of the 60s is dominated by The Beatles - who by this time only really exist in name - then this is but a small fragment of what they were taken to stand for at this time, just as psychedelia flourished when they released "Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever."

The Beatles play on the roof of the Apple building in early '69, as if to prove they still exist*, and here we have the Tremeloes playing in Trafalgar Square, mostly to tourists and a few passers-by and local office workers. Hey! they seem to be saying with their long hair, beards and plain clothing, we are hip to the whole back to the basics thing now, we wrote this song and everything! And there is a stomp-stomp simplicity to this that makes this a product of a near Venn diagram intersection of proto-stompy rock, European appeal (they stayed popular in Europe long after having lost favor in the UK) and bubblegum catchiness. The song is all about wanting to be on the road, despite knowing that she is miserable at home (rain, as ever, is shorthand for misery here) and wanting to bring her out with him on the road, where he is happy and presumably the sun always shines. They will be happy and she will be happier with him than without him.

Whether this reflected the lives of the band members I don't know, but the tug-of-war lyrically reflects that late 60s/early 70s trope of home vs. the road, with some resolving to make the road their home, only to find they then really have no home. (The rather uneasy can of worms here is what bands get up to when they are on the road, which I will get to in the fullness of time.) The sing-a-long (lead by Dave Munden, on drums) is cheery and a bit laddish and it sounds to me as if sure, they miss their wives/girlfriends, wouldn't it be cool to bring them along, but can you imagine the reaction any of these women would have to the idea? Why can't they call their guy number one as it is?

I almost feel as if I am making too much of a simple song, but there is a tension here that Alan Blakely and Chip Hawkes have revealed about musicians' lives once they have families and obligations, and that is that the gang comes first. Maybe a romance is being rekindled here, but why is he afraid to go home? And if she is miserable there, can't he go home and fix it there? Nope; he's on the road, and if she wants him, she can just go and meet up with him there, at the hotel/inn/motel wherever the band is staying. Can she do this happily? Will she enjoy being on the road? Hmmm...

This is a jaunty song that has many awkward sides to it, revealing just how little has changed in the 60s; how profoundly masculine the music business was (and, some might say, still is), for instance...and the video shows how straight-laced the public was in general, compared to the band, who look almost immediately suspect, as if they have been photoshopped in at a later time**.

The 70s, whether we like it or not, are upon us; next up is a goodbye to what once was, as the pastels turn to hues and people try to grapple with the new realities once more. That it's sung by someone who will be huge in the 70s makes it all the more complicated...

*Nearly two decades later U2 do the same sort of thing, also to prove they are 'real'; "Call Me (Number One)" is at #2 behind a completely unreal group, The Archies, which leads me to wonder who the Archies of 1988 were.

**They look, quite frankly, like they could be extras for this classic video.

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