GIRL IN THE SONG – PART 11

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – The Ship Song (N Cave) (1990) and Into My Arms (1997), West Country Girl (1997), Black Hair (1997), Green Eyes (1997), (Are You) The One I’ve Been waiting For (1997)

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In 1986 Cave was arrested for heroin possession in New York, and a week later he was robbed at gunpoint in Los Angeles trying to score, he was consuming industrial quantities of alcohol and drugs, had recently split from his long-time girlfriend Anita Lane after nine years together, and his career was teetering on the edge.

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In 1989 Nick Cave emerged from a rehab facility in Weston-Super-Mare (UK) where he had seemingly kicked drugs and alcohol, but he was still physically weak, and his personal life was complex. In 1991 he would marry Vivian Carneiro (above with Cave), a Brazilian journalist and they would have a son named Luke, in the same year Cave would also father another son named Jethro with Melbourne model Beau Lazenby (below), he would not personally meet his second son until he was eight years old.

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Having relocated to Sao Paulo (Brazil) to live with Carneiro and Luke, the Bad Seeds joined him there, and they began to record the album The Good Son, at the Cardan Studios.

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The Ship Song was the first single lifted from the album and it’s a gloriously reflective, piano-based love ballad, Cave’s vocals are emotional but not overwrought, the Bad Seeds backing simultaneously revealed a powerful intensity and fragile beauty, Blixa Bargeld, Mick Harvey and Kid Congo Powers rendered solid, understated vocal support.

Lyrically Cave delivered a moving, literate, and sexy paean to obsessive romantic love and devotion, he captured the vulnerability and fragility of his relationship with Vivien Carneiro “We talk about it all night long/We define our moral ground/But when I crawl into your arms/Everything comes tumbling down”. Metaphorically Cave dramatically embodied the act of passionate consummation of desire for his muse in the burning down of bridges, navigating emotional currents like sailing ships, and exploring the mystery in the DNA of every intensely personal relationship.

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The opening chant is based loosely on the African-American traditional song Another Man Done Gone, previously recorded by Odetta, and the Biblical story of Cain and Abel was also an influence with the lyrical reference to “ a tiller and he has a tiller’s hand” as Cain the farmer who feuds with and kills his brother.

Cave summed up his feeling about the album and living and recording in Brazil thus:” I guess The Good Son is a reflection of the way I felt early on in Brazil. I was quite happy there. I was in love and the first year or two was good. The problem I found was … in order to survive you have to adopt their attitudes towards everything, which are kind of blinkered,” he and Carneiro would divorce in 1996.

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From 1996-97 Cave was in a relationship with English folk-rock singer PJ Harvey, a feral, hypnotic combination of early Mick Jagger carnality and Igg Pop abandon, who sang, shouted, and rasped her post-punk blues songs about sex and violence. She also duetted with Cave on several tracks on his Murder Ballads album in 1996 and Cave fell in love with her. His album The Boatman’s Call is widely feted as one of rock’s great breakup albums, inspired by Caves relationship with Polly Jean and his subsequent spilt with the “West Country Girl”. The epic song from the album was Into My Arms, which was many things, a love ballad, a torch song, a secular hymn, a lover’s lament, a eulogy to a loved one, Into My Arms was hard to classify. There has never been a more curious and cerebral opening verse to a love song “I don’t believe in an interventionist God/ But I know, darling, that you do/ But if I did, I would kneel down and ask Him/ Not to intervene when it came to you/Oh, not to touch a hair on your head/Leave you as you are/ If he felt he had to direct you/ Then direct you into my arms/Into my arms, oh Lord”. Yet Cave maintained a pragmatic, detached, and clinical attitude to the inspiration behind the song when he commented about its provenance – “That record was about circumstances that happened to me at the time, which I cannibalized… an infamous love affair of a few months that I turned into a great heartbreak of the century.”

Despite Cave’s contrary position, there is a universality about the song’s theme of failed relationships which invites empathy, whilst its tone and sense of vulnerable introspection were a surprising shift from the previously dark, profane, and abrasive themes of much of Cage’s earlier work. Yet Cave always maintained his arch tone when evaluating the inspiration for the album “I’d got dumped … and here I was making this great statement- about some f…ing sheila … I was so surprised I almost dropped my syringe.”

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Several other songs on The Boatman’s Call were also inspired by PJ Harvey, she was born and bred in Dorset, so she was Cave’s West Country Girl, she was skinny, wore black clothes, and her wavy hair was black, her skin pale as chalk, her lips a gash of blood red, she was beautiful and still, in a disconcerting way, and Cave wrote songs about her hair, her green eyes, and his hopes for a future with her “And lay your head upon my shoulder/ Outside my window the world has gone to war/ Are you the one that I’ve been waiting for.”

Come On Eileen (K Rowland/ J Paterson/ W Adams) 1982 – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

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New wave, Celtic folk, pop, blue-eyed soul, Birmingham’s Dexy’s Midnight Runners were hard to define, but they took two songs to #1 in the UK including Geno and their global hit Come On Eileen, which sold over 2 million copies and significantly boosted the sales of their album Too-Rye-Ay to a million as well. By this time the band projected a dungarees and gypsy look, to which they added neckerchiefs, donkey jackets, and woollen caps, in an homage to the Martin Scorcese film Mean Streets. Group leader Kevin Rowland (below) enforced a strict anti-drink and drugs policy within the band, so it was strange that they would take their name from the pep-pill Dexedrine, and as Rowland and other band members were keen joggers, allied with the fact that “dexys” could prolong one’s stamina into the wee hours, Midnight Runners seemed to naturally complete the band’s name.  

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The song was originally attributed to lead singer Kevin Rowland, trombone player Jim Paterson, and guitarist Billy Adams, and Rowland waxed lyrical about a girl named Eileen McClusky, with whom he had grown up, and their relationship had blossomed into something more physical. Rowland was raised a Catholic and served as an altar boy in church, so sex was a taboo subject, and considered “dirty”, but when he wrote the song Rowland was expressing the feelings of an adolescent experiencing his first sexual encounter, and longing for greater freedom to express himself both mentally and physically  You in that dress/ My thoughts, I confess/ Verge on dirty/ Ah, come on, Eileen”.

Although the song seems to fit neatly into the 80’s era of hits, its unique blend of banjo, piano accordion, fiddle, and saxophone was atypical, and no synthesisers were used either. It possessed a clear, ringing tone and catchy rhythm, sounding more like such 60’s hits as Tom Jones It’s Not Unusual and Unit Four Plus Two’s Concrete and Clay, Kevin was also quick to claim that he came up with the lyrics “Too ra loo ra” and knew that he had a hit on his hands: “You get a feeling when you’re writing a song, something happens. I remember thinking, “We’re really onto something here, and in the end it kind of finished itself”.

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The music video was filmed in the inner south London suburb of Kennington in the vicinity of the corner of Brook Drive and Hayles Street, the overall-clad band acted  out a love story on a gritty street corner with Rowland performing an energetic jig, Maire Fahey, sister of Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama, played Eileen in the clip, and it was refreshingly different from the other slick MTV productions of the time, and remains a revered video classic from the era. (Unfortunately YouTube seem to be in dispute with Dexy’s record company so only half of this video is available, which includes the early shots of young Kevin and Eileen but also less interesting footage of Johnny Ray arriving at Heathrow Airport in the 1950’s.)  

Rowland was a temperamental, controlling, and driven person, and his arguments with record companies and fellow bandmates, resulted in a revolving door of personnel changes within and around the band, but it would be an act of plagiarism that would ultimately lead Kevin Rowland to own up to his deception about Come On Eileen.  

Fifteen years after the song had been a hit, Kevin Rowland admitted in 1997, that it was actually somebody else who should have the credit for the song, Rowland said he was guilty of a cruel world-wide deception because the 1982 record was fellow band member Kevin Archer’s idea. “I experienced hollow success with ‘Come On Eileen’ and Too-Rye-Ay, the musical sound of which … mixed with Tamla-type soul, came from Kevin Archer and not me, as I claimed. The idea and sound was his; I stole it from him, hurting Kevin Archer deeply in the process.”

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Dexy’s have re-formed several times over the years, and Kevin Rowland (above in 2019) has recovered from a cocaine-addiction to re-invent himself as a club DJ, but the hits stopped after the 80’s, and apparently Kevin Archer never got retrospective recognition for authorship of the song nor a share of record royalties.

John Lennon – Woman (J Lennon) 1981

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In mid-1980 John Lennon had not written a new song for about five years, he had become a househusband focused on raising his second son Sean and repairing his marriage with Yoko Ono which had been ruptured by John’s infidelity and heavy drinking, and an 18- month affair with the couple’s former personal assistant May Pang (below with Lennon), which ended in 1974. The Double Fantasy album would be recorded in the second half of 1980, and three weeks after its release John Lennon would be murdered outside the Dakota Apartments, where the couple lived in Manhattan, NYC.

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Lennon and son Sean had been vacationing in Bermuda, after surviving a violent storm at sea en route from Rhode Island to the Caribbean, which had inspired John to re-focus on his music, and to envisage a creative partnership with his wife, on an album where each would contribute original songs, recorded as a dialogue between the two.  He was inspired to called the album Double Fantasy, after a species of Freesia had seen in Bermuda, and which he felt aptly described his new relationship with Yoko.

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Lennon has admitted that it was a difficult personal journey for him to take from being a tough-minded, blunt-speaking, macho Northern man from Liverpool, with an Elvis Presley/James Dean/Marlon Brando fixation, and serious anger management issues, to transform into the sensitive, pacifist, poet which co-existed within the Lennon psyche. It was Yoko Ono who taught him about feminism, and encouraged him to openly share his innermost feelings and insecurities with her, she would acknowledge his part in her life with the songs Every Man Has A Woman Who Loves Him, and Kiss, Kiss, and others, and he would similarly eulogize their relationship with Dear Yoko, a song inspired by Buddy Holly, and the second song lifted off the album, Woman.

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John revealed the backstory to this song in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine in 1980 “Woman came about because, one sunny afternoon in Bermuda, it suddenly hit me what women do for us. Not just what Yoko does for me, although I was thinking in those personal terms. Any truth is universal. If we’d made our album in the third person and called it Freda and Tommy, and created characters other than us, maybe Ziggy Stardust, would it be more acceptable. It’s not our style of art, our life is our art…Anyway in Bermuda, what suddenly dawned on me was everything I was taking for granted. Women really are the other half of the sky, as I whisper at the beginning of the song. The song reminds me of a Beatles track, but I wasn’t trying to make it sound like that. I did it as I did Girl many years ago, so this is a grown-up version of Girl.

A promotional video for the song was created by Yoko in January 1981, Lennon and Ono are seen walking through Central Park near what would become Strawberry Fields after Lennon’s death, across from the couple’s former residence The Dakota apartments. Music critics first reaction to the album was negative, John and Yoko were criticised for being too indulgent and preoccupied with each other, the lovers’ dialogue concept was regarded as thematically flawed, and the uneven quality of the songs, particularly those by Ono, also attracted adverse criticism. However on December 8th 1980, Mark David Chapman would gun Lennon down five hours after he had autographed a copy of Double Fantasy for him, Woman became an epitaph to John, a posthumous hit around the world, and Double Fantasy the album would be awarded the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1981.

Crosby Stills and Nash – Suite Judy Blue Eyes (S Stills) 1969

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This song is really the story of the love affair between Stephen Stills and Judy Collins (below), two prominent performers of the folk-rock movement of the 1960’s and 70’s, and although they were only together between 1968-69, Stills was inspired to write several songs about the beautiful girl with piercing blue eyes, even after Judy had moved on to an affair with actor Stacy Keach. Stills ode to Judy Blue Eyes would be the first track on the hugely successful eponymous first album by Crosby, Stills, and Nash in 1970, it would be the song that opened their set at Woodstock in 1969, and it closed their set in Philadelphia for Live Aid in 1985.

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It was a sprawling multi-part tribute, which referenced Stills rocky relationship with his singer-songwriter girlfriend, and was an early example of truly progressive music built on acoustic rhythms and harmonies throughout its four distinct sections. The first section is a traditional pop song format with the chorus appearing for the first time “I am yours, you are mine, you are what you are/ you make it hard…” with Nash providing harmony vocals. The second section is slower and comprises the glorious three-part harmonies of the singers as well as a brief Stills vocal solo and acoustic guitar. A unique percussion is played during the third part which features some of Still’s most iconic tributes to his lover “Chestnut brown canary/ Ruby-throated sparrow/ Sing a song, don’t be long/ Thrill me to the marrow”. The coda is sung in Spanish interspersed with a chant of “doo-doo-doo-da-doo” vocals, Stills was so connected to this song, and the woman who had been his muse, that he played all the instruments on the recording. It was seven and a half minutes of genre-defining music, an epic love song remarkable in its musical and emotional intricacy, jangling acoustic guitars, close, soaring vocal harmonies, it was only Stephen stills lyrics which revealed the desperate, underlying sadness of Suite Judy Blue Eyes.

CSN at Woodstock – “A little less bottom end on the guitar” says Stills early on, magic from 1969.

Judy Collins (below with Stephen Stills in 2018) would remain a musical and cultural icon of her era, a published author, anti-war demonstrator, campaigner for equal rights, and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador from 1995, this song chronicled a painful period in the lives of both Stills and Collins, about which Judy has said “He wove all that together in this magnificent creation. So the legacy of our relationship is certainly in that song.”

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