Archive for the ‘songwriting’ Tag

1971 – The Year The Music Was Alive

The Day The Music Died

The Day The Music Died

Yesterday Christies in New York sold the manuscript and notes for Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit ‘American Pie’ for $1.2M. It’s a view back from the perspective of 1971 over the 60s and 50s to an age of innocence represented by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The lyrics have a reputation for being impenetrable and rich in sub-text, though it is easy to spot Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Janis Joplin et al as he takes us through from his 12 year old self mourning the loss of Buddy Holly and co. in a tragic plane crash in 1959 through to a jaded, nostalgic 24 year old surveying the wreckage of the Hippy era. When asked what it means McLean’s favourite answer is: “It means I never have to work again.”

I went back this evening to check whether the song is as irritating as I remember. It is. The description of “bubblegum Dylan” is not far off (I think the phrase is Alexis Petridis’s). But the song’s sale and the fact it is trying to capture the meaning of a particular point in music history makes it a good springboard for a project that’s been brewing up in me for quite some time.

Over a couple of years I kept noticing that a number of classic records were recorded in 1971. After a while it seemed more than just coincidence. And as the 1971 records gathered I noticed that in many ways they seemed to represent the essence of the 60s/Hippy era even though they were a couple of years late numerically. How come the 60s seemed to climax in 1971? What was special about that year?

I went back to look and picked out 10 records that seem crucial to that year, and then one track on each that gets to the heart of the record. I’m planning to do a post about each of them in the wake of this intro. So first up will be ‘Natural Woman’ by Carole King from ‘Tapestry’…

February 1971

The Year The Music Was Alive (February 1971)

Way Over Yonder

My copy of Tapestry sits uneasily beside Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Love Bites. It wasn’t really where I was at in the 70s. It was given to me (by way of legacy) by my friend Steve whose birthday it should be today. That’s him at the top.

steve and stu

This was taken by my friend Judyth at the SchluperBowl – an occasional soft ball game Steve, Stu (Toronto) and I organised on the Heath. The lime green shirt I’m wearing was bought with Steve and/or Stu at a shop in Middle Lane, Crouch End after a Saturday morning gathering at Wisteria cafe. We all bought a green jacket there and I wore mine today in honour of Steve.

The last of the Green Jackets

The last of the Green Jackets

Stu’s is now history. And of course Steve’s is lost in time. I was particularly conscious of Steve’s presence two evenings ago when I went to see Beautiful, the Broadway musical about the life and times of the great songwriting partnership of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. When Lewisham’s own Katie Brayben (playing CK) sang Natural Woman, that’s when the dust got in my eyes. I laughed, I smiled, I shook a leg. What an uplifting, entertaining production – way beyond anything I expected. I had been told by Jonathan Shalit a few days before (at a breakfast at The Ivy thrown by his agency ROAR) that it was a good show, but I was largely going as a treat for my other half, who has You’ve Got a Friend as her party piece. She grew up with Tapestry because they were doing hippy in Eire when we were doing punk here in London.

What the show made you realise is what an amazing array of brilliant songs Goffin-King wrote – from The Drifters Up on the Roof to The Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – across a number of years. The backbone of the story was the craft of song-writing, played out in the friendly rivalry between Carole & Gerry and Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann, either side of a thin partition in the Brill Building song factory.

Tonight my mum gave me a clipping about the performance the night before. Seemingly Carole King was in the audience unbeknownst to Katie Brayben and joined her in a rendition of You’ve Got a Friend after the show. That’s a moment I’d have loved to have witnessed – Katie seeing Carole emerge from the audience.

I remember hearing in a podcast – I remember exactly where I was, jogging along a field at the edge of Beit Chananyah – how James Taylor sort of nicked You’ve Got a Friend to put on Mud Slide Slim. They were recording in the same studios and sharing musicians – that’s how come JT appears on Tapestry. He did a kind of “I hope you don’t mind but…” on her and she was too polite to say anything. He scored a Billboard No. 1 with it. Joni Mitchell also appeared on both albums (her own Blue came out that same year). Carole said of You’ve Got a Friend “The song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”

Talking of writing and inspiration, the whole experience the other night gave me an idea for a book. I went to write down a note about it when I got home from the Aldwych and found I’d already written the very same idea a while back in the same place. Meant to be. I started to work on the idea there&then and ploughed on through the night. Made the next day at work …interesting.

I’m listening to the record now as I write and Natural Woman, which has just come up, reminds me that Carole King first entered my life (I’m not counting the 8-track in my step-dad’s car, as I wasn’t paying attention, other than to the picture on the cover) thanks to Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, one of my favourite movies. It accompanies Harold and Meg as they make a baby.

I had a conversation about Carole King when my sister-in-law Bronagh wanted to find a song for her own funeral and asked for my advice. I suggested Way Over Yonder and we listened to it together. She was lying in a bed upstairs at my other sister-in-law Bernadette‘s house in Carlingford, overlooking the lough, preparing us for her impending death like Jesus preparing the disciples. It’s now just finishing playing Beautiful as I writes this, and has just segued into Way Over Yonder.

Way over yonder is a place that I know
Where I can see shelter from hunger and cold
And the sweet-tasting good life is so easily found
Way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound

I know when I get there, the first thing I’ll see
Is the sun shining golden, shining right down on me
Then trouble’s gonna lose me, worry leave me behind
And I’ll stand up proudly in a true peace of mind

Way over yonder is a place I have seen
It’s a garden of wisdom from some long ago dream

Today I hope the sun is shining golden on Steve, Bronagh and Bernadette in the land where the honey runs in rivers each day…

Carole King tapestry record on a green jacket

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