Single of the week

Summer Of ’69 (Bryan Adams)

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In the Summer of ’69, Bryan Adams was just nine years old, many think the song for which is most often associated has sexual connotations and maybe not as innocent as it seems? Let’s find out.

It might be misheard lyrics. The song opens with the line ‘I got my first real six string bought it at the five and dime’. Bryan recalled in a recent interview, “I had someone in Spain ask me once why I wrote a song with the first line “I had my first real sex dream”… I had to laugh.” So what is the Summer of ’69 all about? Bryan: “It’s a very simple song about looking back on the summertime and making love, but for me, the ’69 was a metaphor for making love not about the year.”

It was co-written with rock songwriter and fellow Canadian Jim Vallace who incidentally was 17 in 1969. He had worked fairly extensively with Aerosmith and Alice Cooper, but he and Bryan began working together in the early 80s. In January 1984 they sat and wrote Summer of ’69 in Jim’s basement studio. Jim  recalled, “During the next month or two the song went through a number of changes, and we still weren’t convinced it was strong enough to include on Bryan’s Reckless album.

Jim revealed that the Jackson Browne song Running on Empty, which contains the lyrics, ‘In ’69 I was 21,’ was a subconscious influence on their writing, and that Bryan may have been influenced by the movie Summer Of ’42. Certain lines in the song were inspired by other songs too, I got my first real six string was from the line I bought a beat up six-string in a second-hand store in Foreigner’s Juke Box Hero, Standin’ on your mama’s porch, you told me that you’d wait forever came from the line Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays from Bruce Springsteen’s Thunder Road and finally when you held my hand, I knew that it was now or never from the Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand.

Jim broke the rest of the song down line by line: “When I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s there were shops called Five and Dime where you could (supposedly) buy anything for five or ten cents, which wasn’t always true. Now they call them “Dollar Stores. Neither Bryan nor I ever bought a guitar at the Five and Dime. I got my first guitar from my parents, Christmas 1965, when I was thirteen. Bryan bought his first guitar at a pawn shop in 1972, age 12.” Played it until my fingers bled:  “Anyone who’s ever played a guitar knows the strings can be brutal on your fingers when you’re first learning. I played my new guitar all Christmas day 1965, and half that night. I remember my dad coming down about one o’clock in the morning, telling me to get to sleep because I was keeping everybody up. I actually played it ’til my fingers bled.” It was the summer of ’69: Jim continued, “This is where the phrase “summer of ’69” appears for the first time … quite casually, as line four of the first verse.  It’s interesting to note: in our first draft of the song, the lyric summer of ’69 appears only once, never to be repeated.  It wasn’t the title it was just another line in the song. In fact, we originally planned on calling the song Best Days Of My Life.” Me and some guys from school had a band and we tried real hard:, “Bryan’s first band, Shock played top 40 songs in Vancouver nightclubs in 1976. My first band, The Tremelones, was formed in 1965 in Vanderhoof with some guys from school. I was 13 and the other fellows were a bit older, maybe 16 or 17.”

So who was in the band and who did quit? Jim: “I remember Bryan and me going back and forth on this line. I suggested Woody quit and Gordy got married, like the guys in my high-school band, but Bryan thought Jimmy and Jody sounded better, and I had to agree although I’m not sure where Bryan got the name Jimmy from. Jody is definitely Bryan’s sound-man, Jody Perpik, who got married around the time we were working on the song. Jody and his wife appear in the video driving away with a Just Married sign on the back of their car.”

So what of the line, I shoulda known we’d never get far: “When we were writing I suggested the lyric I got a job at the railway yard, because that’s what my band-mate Chuck had done: he got a job loading two-by-fours into box-cars at the Vanderhoof railway yard! The railway lyric survived the first three rough drafts but was eventually scrapped. Personally, I still prefer it.” ‘Ain’t no use in complainin’ when you got a job to do’: “I was thinking about Chuck and his job at the railway yard.  Bryan was probably thinking about his brief stint as a dish-washer at the Tomahawk Restaurant in North Vancouver. There aren’t many drive-ins left, and I wonder if kids these days even know what they are? When I was growing up there were two kinds of drive-ins: the big outdoor movie screens, and the drive-in restaurants that served burgers and soda while you sat in your car, like in the film American Graffiti. They’re pretty much gone now, but I have fond memories of going to both kinds of drive-ins as a kid.”

Man we were killin’ time, we were young and restless, we needed to unwind I guess nothin’ can last forever, Jim continued: “At this point the song goes to an electric twelve-string guitar break that’s really a nod to The Beatles, The Byrds and The Searchers with songs like Ticket To Ride, Mr Tambourine Man and Needles And Pins – some of my favourite music from the 1960’s. On our very first basement demo of we started the song with the 12-string riff, exactly like the break down section in the middle of the song, but on subsequent demo’s we replaced the 12-string with a chunky 6-string intro. In fact, we toiled over the musical arrangement for several weeks, maybe longer. We recorded the song three or four different ways, and we still weren’t convinced we had it right! Bryan even considered dropping the song from the album. Now, nearly 30 years later, when I hear it on the radio, I honestly can’t remember what bothered us.”

The song has won a couple of nonsense polls, eg, In a poll conducted by Decima Research in 2006, it was voted the best driving song among Canadians who sing in their cars and in 2010 and it was voted the ‘hottest summer song’ in Germany. Right! What’s even more astonishing is that in the UK, the song only ever reached number 42 in the chart.

Stay (I Missed You) (Lisa Loeb & Nine Stories)

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These days many artists ‘try out’ their songs via social media sites and Youtube etc to get public opinion, but back in the good old days artists had to try their new tunes out on a live audience and would gain a proper reaction and that’s what Lisa Loeb did for her 1994 hit Stay (I Missed you).

Loeb grew up in Dallas listening to the music her parents played her and particularly fell in love with Elton John and Olivia Newton-John (I know the feeling!). Her first foray into music was when she formed a duo with her roommate Liz Mitchell and began performing at the Speakeasy and the Bitter End clubs in New York. After she graduated she went it alone but was looking for a percussionist when, at her first solo acoustic show, a friend introduced her to Juan Patifio who not only played percussion but also had his own studio and within a week they began recording together.

Her debut single was Stay (I Missed You), but how did it come about, Lisa explained, “At the time I was having arguments with my boyfriend, who was actually my co-producer. I remember somebody close to me was going through severe depression. A lot of times in my songs, I get into some phase where I describe some other situation, and there’s a whole verse in there about somebody who is very depressed. But yeah, it was a story about a breakup I was going through, and that situation where it’s gotten into your head too much. Partially because somebody else is telling you that you’re only hearing what you want to, and that puts you in a little bit of a tailspin because you can’t figure out what’s actually real, are you only seeing things through your own eyes? Are you actually seeing things the way that they really are, or are you making things up? And at what point do you know whether you’re seeing things the way that they really are?”

She embellished the lyrics to make the song sound more dramatic. After she had finished it, Patifio had heard that Daryl Hall was looking for new songs. She recalled, “I was a big fan of Hall & Oates especially their older R&B and Motown-influenced songs and I thought they needed a new Sara Smile, but the opportunity fell through and so Lisa decided to do it herself.

She began performing it at her shows where the response was astounding, “I usually write songs that are more fictional, and for some reason when I sat down to write that song”, she remembered, “I let myself write more about how I was feeling at that moment. And that’s something I think about a lot as I continue to write music, that the songs that I write that are more personal and without as much editing, are the ones that people connect to more.”

In the song, she sings ‘I turned the radio on, I turned the radio up, and this woman was singing my song’, “That was when you hear somebody telling your exact story, she explained, “It’s funny, because it wasn’t until later, after a couple of major breakups, that I realised when you’re depressed and you’re going through these breakups, the breakup was supposed to happen. If you’re going through difficult times, it’s hilarious how you turn on the radio and even the most cliché things perfectly capture how you’re feeling. And then you realise why people wrote those songs. Hopefully, as a listener, you get a feeling like when you just can’t get away from your problems. You leave your house, you’re driving down the road, you’re going to do something different, and all of a sudden you hear, oh, here’s my story on the radio. It’s like the last thing I need to hear right now.”

She formed her band, Nine Stories, which was named for a collection by the author J.D. Sallinger, which comprised; Tim Bright on guitar, Joe Quigley – bass and Jonathan Feinberg on drums.  While she was recording in a studio in Greenwich Village she became friendly with the actor Eathan Hawke who was in the middle of making the film Reality Bites. Hawke lived across the road from the studio and once she’d recorded Stay she gave it to Hawke who passed it on to the film’s director Ben Stiller who decided to use it in the film’s ending credits.

RCA records signed the soundtrack and one day Lisa, who had taken a temping job, got a phone call from Ron Fair from the label asking Lisa if he can use the song on the soundtrack. She said, “I told my lawyer to call this guy and there and then I quit my job.” Because of its impact, the song shot to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and in doing so, she became the only artist in history to hit the top without actually being signed to a label. All of a sudden everyone was interested and she eventually signed to Geffen records. Fair asked the band to go to Los Angeles to re-record one line of the song and add a tambourine part. When it was finished RCA decided to service the radio stations with the whole album rather than just the single and they all started playing Stay, so it was that version that became the single.

She made a video which was directed by Hawke and he suggested that she alter the title slightly so as not to get confused with the many other songs called Stay, so, against Lisa’s initial wishes, the parenthesis (I Missed You) was added. The album Tails was released the following year and it also contained the follow up single Do You Sleep which fell short of the UK top 40.

In 2010, Lisa launched Lisa Loeb Eyewear Collection, which features her own eyewear designs for which she is most recognised. Each type of frame is named after one of her song titles. In between time she still continues to write songs and in 2009 she got married and gave birth to her first child, a baby girl called Lyla Rose. In June 2012 she gave birth to her second child, a son called Emet Kuli.

The Colours (The Men They Couldn’t Hang)

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It can be very frustrating for an act when your debut hit single gets off to a good start in terms of radio airplay, but then comes to a sudden halt when radio decide to ban it. In the case of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, the controversy just fuelled people’s intrigue and everyone rushed out to buy it which sent it to number one and thus became one of the biggest selling singles of all time. The Men They Couldn’t Hang didn’t have such luck when their single The Colours fell of the chart after just four weeks.

The band were formed in 1984 after Paul Simmonds, Philip Odgers and his brother Jon, all former members of post-punk band Catch 22, got together with singer Stefan Cush, and drummer Shane Bradley. They spent much of the mid-eighties appearing at a number of alternative country music festivals. Their first two albums, Night of a Thousand Candles (1985) and How Green Is the Valley (1986) made little impact. In 1987 Bradley was replaced by ex-UK Subs drummer Ricky McGuire and the following year they switched to Magnet records and released their third album Waiting for Bonaparte which launched them into the spotlight across Europe, but not in the UK. Magnet had the budget to promote them better and it resulted in one track called The Colours which, as mentioned previously, got substantial airplay on Radio 1 with DJ’s like John Peel and Janice Long supporting it.

Although it received evening airplay on Radio 1, The Colours, which told of an English mutineer sailor during the Napoleonic War and The Crest a stretcher bearer during World War II, was blacklisted from daytime airplay due to the line ‘You’ve Come Here To Watch Me Hang’, which echoed the events happening in South African townships at the time. Despite this, it still reached number 61 in the UK chart and hung around for four weeks. What probably meant more to them was that in 1988, they ended up at number three on John Peel’s Festive 50.

In 1988 the band changed labels again and this time signed with a new label called Silvertone (which later became home to The Stone Roses). The first album on the new label was Silvertown which included Rain, Steam and Speed, A Place In the Sun and A Map of Morocco. They followed this up in 1990 with The Domino Club, which had a more conventional rock sound and thus dispensed with much of the folk element in their sound. The band split in 1991 after releasing a live album called Alive, Alive-0. Paul Simmonds and Phil Odgers then formed Liberty Cage. This was short-lived as The Men They Couldn’t Hang reunited in 1996. They returned with a new power and excitement to their music and the new album Never Born to Follow included the excellent single, The Eye.

The band are still on the road and have confirmed that they are appearing at the Rhythm Folk Festival on Friday 24th August. They’ve also just announced that they will be headlining a tribute concert for the Clash’s Joe Strummer on Friday 16 November at Notting Hill’s Tabernacle club where they will be accompanied by sets from Strummer’s mentor and sometime Mescalero, Tymon Dogg. They are also writing songs for an as yet un-named new album.

Somethin’ Stupid (Frank & Nancy Sinatra)

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In the mid-Fifties, Frank Sinatra said that he hated rock’n’roll and that it was made by ‘cretinous goons’. When he formed his own record label, Reprise, he soon realised that he needed some rock acts to balance the books and what’s more, his daughter, Nancy, and Dean Martin’s son, Dino, wanted to rock. Frank himself was swept along with the tide and ‘Everybody’s Twisting’, a 1962 hit, found him following the new dance sensation. The best, or worst, example of somethin’ stupid comes with ‘Mrs Robinson’ in 1969 where, for reasons best known to himself, he sings the praises of his favourite restaurant, Jilly’s. Talk about product placement.

Nancy Sinatra’s producer, Lee Hazlewood, found her a little-known beat-ballad, Somethin’ Stupid, which had been recorded by its writer, C. Carson Parks with his musical partner Gaile Foote. They released the song as Carson and Gaile on their album San Antonio Rose. Hazlewood wanted her to record it. Nancy thought it would work as a duet and showed it to her father. They recorded the song, but there were some doubts within the record company as to whether a father and daughter should be singing a love song. Frank Sinatra told them not to worry and the single, with Nancy getting top billing, topped the charts in both the UK and the US. The Sinatra expert, Will Friedwald, has written that “It may be the most un-Frankish performance Sinatra ever recorded, with the two Sinatras chanting away in bland folkish harmony.” The co-producer Jimmy Bowen said, “I do know that Frank was pleased with the results of Somethin’ Stupid.” Of course! It might win him teenage fans.

The popular Los Angeles session musicians that Hal Blaine dubbed The Wrecking Crew played on this track. Al Casey, who played guitar on this track, also played on the original version by Carson and Gaile. In the documentary The Wrecking Crew, Casey recalled that Frank Sinatra wanted the exact same guitar line he heard in the original. Glen Campbell, who was on lead guitar for the session, tried in vain but couldn’t please Sinatra. Finally, Casey told Campbell that he played the part Sinatra was asking for, so it was probably best if he did it again, which he did.

Frank & Nancy never made an album together, although the famous picture of them touching noses would have made a brilliant cover shot. Their only other duets are on light-hearted novelties and Christmas songs.

In 1995 Ali Campbell revived Somethin’ Stupid’, with his daughter, Kibibi, but despite considerable airplay, the Christmas single only reached number 30. Following her success in the film musical Moulin Rouge, Nicole Kidman sang Somethin’ Stupid with Robbie Williams in 2001 and the song returned to the top.

When Frank and Nancy topped the chart it was the first instance of a father-daughter collaboration at number one. The only other father-daughter duet, came in 2003 when Ozzy and Kelly Osbourne teamed up for the song Changes.

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.

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.