Thursday, December 19, 2013

Beware The Clown: Leo Sayer: "The Show Must Go On"

And so, dear reader, we come to the end of 1973; and here is the first hit of Leo Sayer's career, a song that is about...wanting to escape.  That he is a pierrot figure, a scary clown, adds to the unease of the song (as does the banjo somehow).  He has more than had it with the fat cats and their cigars and fancy cars (which reminds me of "Folsom Prison Blues") who are making him perform in front of an audience that wants his blood, that seemingly will not let him out of the theater alive.  He chose this life, he admits, but he has been used and abused, has broken all the rules; he is the misfit, the outsider, on the high wire precariously balanced between freedom and near death, it appears.  Must the show go on?  No, he says.  He won't let the show go on*.  Just how he is going to do this he doesn't say; that he has got down to this point, where he has been pushed and taken advantage of so many times that he has to say it, is the point.  (How many narratives are there from the early 70s of this kind - the lone person standing up and saying no?) 

Sayer's naturally anguished voice suits this song (a #2 on the Radio Luxembourg chart) - he wrote it with David Courtney, and it was produced by Courtney and Adam Faith, who may or may not have suggested the pierrot costume to Sayer as a way for him to stand out from the Glam Slam crowd.  (Just as Gilbert O'Sullivan had dressed as a school boy when he was first seen, for much the same reasons.)  In any case, the "masquerade" is seen as a sham - could that masquerade be the rock scene itself?  I think so.  And while that show went on, it largely continued in the world of albums, as opposed to the increasingly confusing and baffling world of the singles charts - singles which, as I will explain in the next entry, are getting more and more difficult for me to write about.

This song also stands as a kind of one-man strike anthem, a testament to anyone who feels they too have been used and have been wasting time, to make some kind of stand.  And so the three-day-week comes in, the lights dim and The Fog settles in for the foreseeable future.  Sayer won't have any of it, and being dressed as a scary clown emphasizes how he is the fool that speaks the truth, who feels compelled to do something, and it may well be something violent for all we know.  The Fog cometh; the creeping, surrounding, uneasy-making mid-70s are here, and Sayer's is the last voice of defiance before they begin.

Next up:  power, corruption and lies.

*When Three Dog Night covered this they changed the lyric to "the show must go on" which shows the fundamental difference between the UK and US mindsets.  Sayer wasn't too pleased, apparently, but that's American optimism for you, in the face of Watergate.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Love From Outer Space: Wizzard: "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day"

What makes a great Christmas song?  This is a debatable point, but one of the main points of Christmas (and therefore, of Christmas songs) is a sense of bounty and relief; a sense (especially in the UK, I feel) of abundance*.  Christmas is a time for pure celebration and joy, which gets the straight treatment here; indeed of all the big UK Christmas songs, this NME #2 feels the most American.

The density of Wizzard - straight out of the whole Spector/Beach Boys wall of sound - suggests plenty, to an almost ridiculous degree.  Of all the Glam Slam bands Wizzard were the ones with the most members, the most fun, and the most sincerity, I believe.  Slade's monumental achievement of getting to #1 first week with "Merry Xmas Everybody" was one thing - Noddy's voice waking the dead with good rattling cheer - but Roy Wood is taking everyone back to the early 60s via the early 70s, wishing a moribund we-haven't-had-it-so-good UK not just a happy Christmas for one day but a wish that the love (did I forget to say the best Christmas songs are love songs?  No?) the day represents would be here every day, perpetually.  The snowman brings the snow, all the better for Wood to write his name on the roof so Santa (who comes from the Milky Way - yes, Santa is an alien here) can find him. 

In a way, this makes the song a plea for deliverance from the ordinary into the extraordinary - if Slade are asking you to look to the future, Wizzard are asking that love and abundance be part of everyone's lives, that the bells should ring and ring, that it should be like this every day.  (The absurdity of this is what makes the song British, I feel - he wishes it could be like this, whereas Slade are "well, here it is, Christmas, have fun while you can" Wizzard want this to go on and on, and of course there's a children's choir because who doesn't want Christmas to end as a child**?)  The snow arrives, glowing cheeks light the way, romance is also in the air - this isn't altogether a throwback to a decade previous but a kind of Utopian 70s thing, as an ideal to hold up as the 70s begin to buckle down into The Fog and good cheer is desperately needed. Christmas began as a celebration of the birth of (if I may say so) a revolutionary figure; and something of that has rubbed off here.  So it is no surprise that this is one of the most enduring British Christmas songs and it is apt that Wizzard, that multi-instrumental Glam band that Roy Wood led, are leading the way as Friendly Forebears for New Pop.  This is revolution, kids-choir-and-sleigh-bell style.  

Next up:  the end is nigh...

*In the US there's Thanksgiving, which doesn't exist in the UK, so I feel some of its qualities are celebrated at Christmas, more or less.

**Well, maybe not all kids, but most, methinks.