The cuckoo-clock tune that went to No.1
It was amusing to see that the UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest last weekend attracted a grand total of zero votes. However, singer James Newman shouldn’t fret too much as not getting any votes is almost a badge of honour in this annual festival of kitsch where music takes second place to gaudy, garish, glitter.
Newman’s song Embers admittedly was not very inspiring and interestingly it was the second time running the UK entry came dead last. Maybe Europe is sending a message to its friend across the Channel.
I remember watching the contest on TV back in 1967 when Sandie Shaw won with Puppet On a String, despite it being an awful song. I admired Sandie when she publicly stated that she hated the song, “from the first oompah to the final bang on the bass drum.” Her description of its “cuckoo-clock tune” was spot on. She also called the lyrics “sexist drivel”, so I think we can safely say she wasn’t too keen on it.
However, Puppet went on to make No.1 in the UK charts, which meant she had to perform it everywhere she went, not a total chore when you consider the money it was raking in. I first saw Sandie a few years earlier on Ready Steady Go singing in her velvety voice a much better number Always Something There to Remind Me, in her bare feet. It is no coincidence that when she was a guest on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs, one song she chose was Barefootin’ by Georgie Fame. For any “Sixties Swingers” who remember Sandie, she is now 74, a Buddhist and living in the Oxfordshire countryside.
Sandie Shaw of course was not the first singer to hate her own hit. In many cases stars just get fed up with singing the same song time and again. Oasis singer Liam Gallagher admits to detest the big hit Wonderwall, Madonna loathes Like a Virgin and Neil Young finds Heart of Gold “boring”.
Someone not averse to airing his views was Frank Sinatra. Ol’ Blue Eyes enjoyed huge success with Strangers in the Night, but in concerts during his later years he would shock audiences by saying “I hated this goddamned song when I first heard I it and I still hate it.” Another huge Sinatra hit was My Way, but at Caesar’s Palace in 1978 he announced, “I hate this song. If you sang it for eight years, you would hate it too”.
Dylan freewheelin’ at 80
Talking about musicians, Bob Dylan celebrated his 80th birthday last week — that’s quite scary.
It was in 1964 when I bought his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and was captivated by the lyrics even though I didn’t really understand them. I’ve just played it again and 57 years later it has aged well, unlike a certain columnist I know. A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall is a masterpiece. It was written at the time of the Cuban crisis and the lyrics are just as relevant today. The Girl From the North Country remains a beautifully haunting song.
The Beatles were big fans of Dylan and John Lennon described Freewheelin’ as “incredibly original and wonderful. We all went potty about Dylan”. Last week The Guardian sounded out Sir Mick Jagger on his favourite Dylan number and he opted for the 11-minute classic Desolation Row, praising the “diverse lyrics” and the powerful opening line “they’re selling postcards of the hanging.”
The gravel gargler
When Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 it prompted considerable criticism with some arguing his lyrics were not literature. But because he was popular with the masses was no reason not to give him the award. Dylan simply made poetry accessible to the hoi polloi.
For many of us growing up in the 1960s the only “poetry” we were likely to come across was graffiti on toilet walls. But then Dylan came along with “the pumps don’t work, ‘cos the vandals took the handles” and “you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Not exactly William Wordsworth, but nonetheless, effective reels of rhyme.
There has also been debate over Dylan’s singing voice. Certainly you would not want to hear him perform in an opera. He is no Pavarotti, but his voice fits his own songs. After all, you couldn’t imagine Sinatra singing Like a Rolling Stone. A New York Times critic called Dylan’s voice a “wry cackle of a codger”, while another described it as a “bullfrog holler”. My favourite came from a reviewer who said Dylan “sounds like he has been gargling with gravel”.
Received an email from a Thai reader as to what exactly is a flibbertigibbet, mentioned in PostScript earlier this month. According to the dictionary, it is “a frivolous, flighty or excessively talkative person or gossip”. I’ve come across a few of those in my time. Mind you, after a few beers I fear I could well be a certified flibbertigibbet.
Flibbertigibbet is admittedly bit of a mouthful, especially if you have false teeth, so for those who don’t enjoy such flowery language there are acceptable alternatives. According to Merriam-Webster “birdbrain”, “featherbrain” and “nitwit” fit the bill. Then there’s “rattlebrain”, “scatterbrain” and “softhead”, although that sounds more like a firm of solicitors.
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