Single of the week

Birdhouse In Your Soul (They Might Be Giants)

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Here’s a trivia question: what connects the bands Black Sabbath, Fine Young Cannibals, The Mission, Mudhoney, Veruca Salt and My Bloody Valentine. Answer: they are all bands named after cult movies. Another such group is They Might Be Giants who took their name from the 1971 movie starring George C. Scott and Joanne Woodward and was based on the play by James Goldman. The title is an allusion to Don Quixote, who mistook windmills for giants.

This year that band celebrate their 30th year in the business. They were formed in 1982 in Lincoln, Massachusetts by John Flansburgh and John Linnell and for the first eight years their third member was a drum machine. In 1990 they recruited real people and over the years there has been a varying line up, but the current crop are, in addition to the two original members, Dan Miller, Danny Weinkauf & Marty Beller. Between 1984 and 1987 they were the house band at a club called Darinka on the East Side of Lincoln.

Their first two albums, They Might Be Giants (1986) and Lincoln (1987) failed to make any impact and likewise with their first two singles Don’t Let’s Start (1987) and Ana NG (1988), but it was the first single from their third album Flood that made everyone sit up and take notice. That track was Birdhouse In Your Soul.

It’s an immensely catchy song that seems, lyrically, to make no sense. So what is the song about? John Linnell explains, “The song is a story of a child’s blue canary-shaped night light, told from the night light’s point of view. Across the room from the night light is a picture of a lighthouse which would be his primitive ancestor. It could be interpreted that the night light is a metaphor for God or a guardian angel protecting the child. The thing is, there are so many syllables in the songs that we have to come up with something to fill the spaces. So it ends up being kind of Gilbert and Sullivany.”

There is a lot of words to cram in, so which came first the words or the music? John recalled in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, “The melody and chords were cooked up years earlier, and the lyrics had to be shoehorned in to match the melody, which explains why the words are so oblique. I mean beautiful. I didn’t find out what the Longines Symphonette was until after the song was released. It rhymed with ‘infinite’.”

The song’s video, which was directed by Adam Bernstein, was filmed inside the New York County’s Surrogate’s Court and Hall of Records building in Manhattan.

The follow up, Istanbul (Not Constantinople) which petered out at number 61 was a cover of a 1954 hit for Frankie Vaughan but originally recorded the year before by the Four Lads.

Although they continued to tour, some eleven years elapsed until They Might Be Giants troubled the chart again, when they did it was with a track called Boss Of Me which reached number 21 and was used as the theme tune to the Sky TV series Malcolm In The Middle. Fast-forward another nine years and Birdhouse In Your Soul was re-issued following its use in a television commercial for Clarke’s shoes.

In 2011 they released their 15th studio album called Join Us and last October they performed in-game for a special musical event to commemorate the 3rd birthday of their popular AdventureQuest Worlds.

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C’est La Vie (Robbie Nevil)

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One possible way to fake your way into being a successful pop star is to pretend you’re related to someone famous. One such Los Angeles-born singer Robbie Nevil did just that in the 80s when he kidded people he was related to the Louisiana-born soul singer Aaron Neville.

Even with the spelling change, some people were fooled, but as soon as he hit that chart, it seemed no one cared for the lie anymore. Robbie began on the California cabaret circuit and after meeting various people on the road he managed to blag himself a job as a staff writer at MCA records.

Within weeks artists like Eddie Kendricks, Al Jarreau, Pointer Sisters, Earth Wind & Fire and Sheena Easton started covering his songs. He was frustrated because he wanted to record songs himself and have his own hits but, as Robbie said in a Billboard magazine interview, “Producers would hear my songs and then decide who they should cut them with.” One such song was C’est La Vie which Nevil had intended for Kool & the Gang, but someone suggested it would be ideal for a new up and coming gospel singer called Beau Williams who had been signed to A&M records. Beau recorded it for his debut album Bodacious, but it remained an album track.

He finally got his big break in 1983 when EMI launched a subsidiary label, Manhattan, and Nevil was signed as their debut act. Nevil recalled, “It was actually my grandmother, who is pushing 90, helped picked it as a single for me. She heard three of my songs and said ‘it’s light and catchy and I think you should release it.'”

EMI teamed him with producers Alex Sadkin and former Cure producer and Johnny Hates Jazz guitarist Phil Thornally. They came to London to record the parent album, C’est La Vie. Robbie admitted of the single, “It’s not the strongest track on the album and it doesn’t represent the depth, but it’s a good dance thing. I’d like to think that even if it’s just a straight ahead dance song, people will hear an integrity that makes it more than just another dance record.” It would seem that there wasn’t much that was strong on the album that interested the record-buying public because the album didn’t even make the published top 75. It stalled at number 93.

C’est La Vie – the single, reached number two on the US chart and one place lower in the UK. His follow up, Dominoes petered out at number 26 and his third and final hit, Wot’s It To Ya stopped at number 43. After a four year absence Nevil returned to what he enjoyed best, writing and co wrote David Lee Roth’s 1991 solo single A Lil’ Ain’t Enough. Seven more years went by until his name appeared again, this time as co-writer of Kele Le Roc’s 1998 number eight hits Little Bit Of Lovin’ and My Love. He also co-wrote Louise’s (Nurding – as was) hit Pandora’s Box and from 2006 onwards has been writing songs for High School Musical and Hannah Montana. In 2009 he penned Jordin Sparks’ top 20 hit One Step At A Time.

If you’re a Cheers fan, you might just recognise Rebecca Howe’s lecherous young boss Martin Teal who is played by Robbie’s brother Alex.

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Blackberry Way (The Move)

 

The Birmingham band, The Move, comprised Carl Wayne (lead vocals), Roy Wood (vocals, lead guitar), who was born Roy Adrian Wood and not as often erroneously credited as Ulysses Adrian Wood, which came from a flippant interview comment in 1966, Trevor Burton (rhythm guitar) Ace Kefford (bass) and Bev Bevan (drums). They were signed by the London manager, Tony Secunda, who dreamed up outrageous, and wholly unnecessary, stunts to secure publicity. “We were a pretty wild band,” admits Carl Wayne, who later joined the Hollies, “We smashed up TV’s and we had a bogus H-bomb in Manchester, but it worked against us. If we had had the guts to carry on with the infamy like The Stones, it might have worked but The Stones didn’t give a damn and we were frightened young boys from Birmingham. The Move was a very good pop band, but we had to live up this myth that we were aggressive louts.”

“This worked against us,” says Roy Wood, “We’d smash up TV’s on stage and then the promoters would ring up the agent and say that we had smashed up the dressing room so they didn’t have to pay us.” The Move had their first hits with Night Of Fear and I Can Hear The Grass Grow and then, quite by chance, The Move’s Flowers In The Rain was the first record to be played on Radio 1. However, they were sued by the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, for a publicity cartoon which showed him in a compromising position with his secretary. Fire Brigade was their fourth hit, but they thought of disbanding when Wild Tiger Woman failed to ignite.

Then came The Move’s only number one, Blackberry Way which Roy once admitted he had no idea what it was about despite writing it, although it does resemble a Birmingham version of Penny Lane with a little of Strawberry Fields Forever thrown in: “I suppose it could have been,” says Roy now, “We were all very influenced by what The Beatles were doing because they were the best songwriters around.” The bridge was ‘borrowed’ from the intro of the song that opens Harry Nilsson’s 1968 album Aerial Ballet, Good Old Desk. Richard Tandy, a future member of ELO, played an electronic harpsichord on the song and musicologists have praised the E minor augmented ascent, which is the first sound we hear.

The band already decided that if Blackberry way wasn’t a hit they would call it a day, but it became their biggest hit and they went off to tour the USA despite them not being known over there. They returned in late 1969 with Carl Wayne saying: “America has straightened us out as a band. There is great harmony in the group now.”

It didn’t last. Ace Kefford left the band as he couldn’t stand the publicity and Carl Wayne moved out in a disagreement over bookings into cabaret clubs. Jeff Lynne came in, and then Roy, Jeff and Bev formed the Electric Light Orchestra. Wood soon moved on and led Wizzard. “I wish that Jeff and Roy had done more together,” says Carl Wayne, “I think that the best Move records were after I left when they did Chinatown and Tonight. Lennon and McCartney were double genius, God’s talent, but Jeff and Roy together could have come close.”

The publicity for Blackberry Way was more restrained than usual as the press were sent blackberry pies with champagne. And was there a Blackberry Way? “Well, I’ve never spotted one,” says Roy Wood, “It would be nice to find one.” Cover versions of this song are few and far between, but the New Seekers put it on their 1971 album, Beautiful People. In 1978  a Swedish rock group called Strix Q gave it Swedish lyrics and re-titled it Hem till Stockholm igen and a live version can be found on Marillion’s  2007 album Friends.

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Give A Little Bit (Supertramp)

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Daddy were formed in 1969 in Wiltshire and originally classed as a prog rock band. After 12 months without any success they changed their name to Supertramp and then their career started to take off.

Within a couple of years their sound became more commercial and they found themselves on mainstream radio.  The band, although had a varying line up over the years, consisted of mainstays Rick Davies, Roger Hodgson, John Helliwell, Doug Thomson and Bob Benberg.

Their first two albums, Supertramp and Indelibly Stamped failed to excite the record buying public, but it was their next offering, Crime Of The Century, that opened their chart account by reaching number four. Their debut single, Dreamer reached number 13. Crisis, What Crisis? made number 20 the following year and this was followed in 1977 by Even In The Quietest Moments.

That album opened with the song that became one of their most popular despite only reaching number 29 – Give A Little Bit. “I think it’s a great song,” commented Roger Hodgson in an interview with Dan MacIntosh. “I didn’t realise it when I first wrote it. It actually took me six years before I even brought it to the band. But I wrote it I think around 1970. That time, the late ’60s, early ’70s, was a very idealistic time, one of hope, a lot of peace and love and the dream of the ’60s was still very alive and maturing, if you like. The Beatles had put out All You Need is Love a year prior to that. I believed in love – it was always for love – and just felt that was the most important thing in life. That song has really taken on a life of its own, and I think it’s even more relevant today than when I wrote it. Because we really are needing to value love in a much deeper way, and also we’re needing to care. The song is basically saying: just show you care. You know, reach out and show you care. So in concert it’s the perfect show closer, because what I try to do in my show over two hours is unify the audience and unify all of us. So that at the end, when everyone stands up for Give A Little Bit, they’re open and ready to open their hearts and sing at the top of their lungs and go away with a smile on their face. And that song really does, it has a very pure energy. The moment I start, people just start smiling. It’s amazing. It was written at a time when writing simple songs was very easy because I didn’t over-think them.”

Roger described what happens when he performs the song in concert in very recent times, “I look out and people just start hugging each other and they start singing with me. It’s a very unifying song with a beautiful, simple message that I’m very proud of and really enjoy playing today. The song itself is such a pure, simple message that I think is really especially even more powerful today when the world has even more problems and it’s even more difficult sometimes to be compassionate and caring because we’ve got to put up all these barriers to survive; that it’s a song that really inspires people to give a little bit, not give a lot, just give a little bit.”

Interestingly the song writer credits both Rick Davies and Roger Hodgson although it is a Hodgson composition. The pair, like Lennon and McCartney agreed to share writing credits from 1974 through until 1983, when Hodgson left to pursue a solo career.

The song was a favourite of Princess Diana’s and Roger sang it at a special concert For Diana at Wembley in 2007. “I was kind of sad that I never got to actually play for the princess while she was alive but I was very, very happy that the princes invited me to play for her honour 10 years after her death.”

In 2001 the song was used in the Gap advert on television with various artists performing versions of it including Sheryl Crow, The Band’s Robbie Roberston and Shaggy. The Goo Goo Dolls recorded it for their Live from Buffalo album in 2004 and even made the Top 40 on the Billboard Hot 100.

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Right Here Waiting (Richard Marx)

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When Richard Marx first arrived on the British chart in 1988, he was 24 years old and was seemingly a new kid on the block, but in truth, Richard had been involved in music in one form or another for almost 20 years.

Richard’s father wrote jingles and his mother sang them, so by the age of five, Richard, who had been accompanying his parents to the recording studio, was now singing them himself. As a teenager he began writing songs and when he was 18, in 1981, he sent a demo tape to Lionel Richie who acknowledged his talent and suggested he came to Los Angeles where he was invited to sing backing vocals on Lionel’s 1983 album, Can’t Slow Down.

The following year he co-wrote ‘What About Me’ with Kenny Rogers which Kenny sang with Kim Carnes and James Ingram. Later that year he met Cynthia Rhodes, the lead actress in Stayin’ Alive and also the girl seen dancing in Toto’s video for Rosanna, they dated and married in 1989.

In 1987 he released his debut album, Richard Marx, and the first two singles, ‘Should’ve Known Better’, with backing vocals by Fee Waybill of The Tubes and the Eagles’ Timothy B. Schmit and ‘Endless Summer Nights’ both made the top three in the US and both peaked at number 50 in the UK.

Due to Cynthia’s filming commitments and Richard’s touring schedule, the couple were apart for about three months. Despite a few attempts to meet up, it didn’t happen. He went to a friend, Bruce Gaitsch’s house and decided the only way he could carry on without his love by his side, was to write a song about her. Richard recalled how it happened, “I wrote the song for Cynthia who was in South Africa shooting for a film. We were not married at the time but I wanted to meet her because I had not seen her for a few months. But my visa application was rejected and when I came back I wrote this song which was more of a letter from me to her. It was the fastest song I wrote, in barely 20 minutes. This was the time when there was no Skype and Social networking so I had to ship the track to her. The song was very personal and was not intended to go public. But my friends pursued me to record it.” The song was eventually included on the parent album Repeat Offender.

In the Nineties, Richard had further UK Top 20 hits with Hazard, Take This Heart and Now and Forever. He also wrote hit singles for Barbra Streisand & Vince Gill (If You Ever Leave Me) and Nsync (This I Promise You). In 2004 Richard won his first Grammy for Song of the Year with Dance with My Father as sung by Luther Vandross. He recalled, “I’m very proud to have co-written that song. I helped Luther write it musically, but lyrically it was all him. It was a tribute to his father.” Richard accepted the award on the night but he said, “I couldn’t really celebrate because Luther was not there. He was recovering from a debilitating stroke and it was sad. It felt wrong.” Luther never recovered and passed away on 1st July 2005.

In the summer of 2006, Richard was asked to join Ringo Starr’s All-Star Band for a North American tour of 22 cities. He played guitar in the band supporting Ringo and performed his own hits at each show. In 2008, he began touring with former Vertical Horizon lead singer, Matt Scannell, as an acoustic duo and released a CD called Duo. The following year Richard’s latest CD Emotional Remains was released which features contribution from Jennifer Hanson and Kenny Loggins.

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