Saturday, 26 September 2009

Music to toddle to

Last night I posted the song Miracles by Jefferson Starship and a chum told me she really liked it but she was 4 years old when it came out. What a four year old made of the lyric I'm not sure, when it seems to be all ladies and gentlemen doing filthy things to one another with ecstatic results, including some rude words and noises slipped in which the censors possibly missed.

So I thought of what songs I had liked myself at the age of four. 1960! Before I started primary school, before The Beatles, before we had a tv or a fridge or a phone, before Dusty Springfield, before so much! I had a vivid childhood memory of loving Ronnie Hilton's A Windmill in Old Amsterdam in my infancy but it turned out that I was actually 8 when it was a hit. Late developer... So here are ten tunes I was enjoying at the age of 4! These were mostly 78rpm single recordings or 33 1/3rpm albums that belonged to my father or one of my mother's younger brothers (they were often off abroad in England or Egypt or Norway or the Gulf and would store their stuff in our loft).

1. Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by The Platters
We had a 78rpm dinner plate of a record that we (me and my baby sister) played over and over but we had no idea who The Platters were or what they looked like. I now see that lead singer Tony Williams (above) was a bit of a shag.

2. Carmen Jones How my dad loved this film soundtrack. I could probably sing all the songs as soon as I could talk. I was ignorant of the story, of Bizet, of the politics, had never seen the film, but loved the songs. This is the anglicised lyric matched to the tune of L'Amour est Enfant de Bohème, which I learned to love afresh when I grew up and discovered the opera. For me though, the Bizet was never going to accrete the emotional load that the Oscar Hammerstein version had. I wonder why the lyrics are subtitled here? She's singing, magnificently and with great clarity, in English anyway.

3. Eartha Kitt and I Want to be Evil. My dad, I now know, had a very male adolescent relationship with sex throughout his life. I was impressed as a toddler that he thought Eartha was "sexy" although I really had no idea what that meant. But I liked the tune and the words and had seen her on tv (where I thought she looked a bit like my grandmother). In later life, I came to love her even more and once even saw her in the glorious flesh at the Edinburgh Festival.

4. Kaw Liga by Hank Williams.
In working class industrial-belt Scotland, there's a crossover between some Scottish folk and American country music. This was the original A Side of a disc that had "Your Cheatin' Heart" on its flip. As little kids, we loved this and felt deeply the tragedy of the wooden cigar store Indian with his knotty pine heart. Phrases such as "Native American" were then unknown to us and we had very confused, romantic ideas about "Indians".

5. Before I ever fell in love with Doris Day on film (as I certainly did!), I knew all the songs from Calamity Jane and, of those, The Deadwood Stage was my favourite. It was such a thrill, when I finally saw the musical, to see the songs in context, and Doris Day's performance cemented the love inculcated in me as a little boy for her breathy voice. I wonder if my folks knew this exposure to Miss Day was beginning the path to gay awareness for me?

6. The great Perry Como singing What Did Delaware? You seldom hear about Como these days but he was enormous when I was a tiny chap. We had lots of his recordings in the house but this was my favourite and I could recite all the puns in order in those days.

7. The Glenn Miller Orchestra and In The Mood. My dad would bang on about his National Service and play this but the bigger treat for my sister and me was when my mood-swinging mother would be a bit hypomanic and would teach us to jive to this tune. The man himself we never saw, just Jimmy Stewart playing him later in The Glenn Miller Story, which I must have watched a hundred times. I love the swagger of the purse-lipped pianist in this film. You see him in close up first about 30 seconds in. I've since seen (mostly American) marching bands performing this and it thrills me still, every time.

8. Here's one of the first songs I probably ever learnt to sing, at my grandmother's admonitory knee. Ye Cannae Shove Yer Granny Aff The Bus!. I loved my granny. I loved her sieved broth, her butterscotch puddings, her stories about the King and Mrs Simpson or The Great Strike. I was therefore not always comfortable with the suggestion of violence in this song. However, the granny I loved so much was my maternal grandmother and I didn't like the paternal one much, so I would join in with this when we sang it on long journeys or in the playground. This clip has extra verses we never sang but I remember lots of bus journeys like this one. It's very Scottish and I was surrounded by all sorts of Scottish music as a kid. Everywhere else in the world they have other words for this tune: She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain.

9. So, here's some tartan stuff, plundering the music hall image of Scottishness. Andy Stewart was a master of this genre and I could have chosen several of his tunes which the extended family would belt out at Hogmanay when they gathered at my Granny's house from all parts of the world. The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre is an old Scottish folk song and Burns wrote a version too. This differs from those but we loved it as kids, particularly the section that mocks Received Pronunciation. So many of those old Scottish tunes we loved, I realise in retrospect, were about getting gloriously drunk. Doris Day may have made me gay but Andy Stewart made me a binge drinker. My first thought was to place the gruesomely sentimental A Scottish Soldier here because I remember how I used to weep over the poor soldier far from home as as tender little soul. It reaches dizzying heights of mawkishness and my, frankly, alcoholic and chain smoking old grandmother would play it and weep and think of her two soldier sons. It's as bad as Rolf Harris' Two Little Boys for the reliable jerking of tears.

10. The Three Bells by Edith Piaf et les Compagnons de la Chanson. This is a cheat. My granny, I'm sure, didn't have this Piaf version but the inferior American one by The Browns. Either would have me welling up but this one's classier.

Next week, I will rummage around in 1961. Or perhaps not, since this playlist plucks at my heartstrings a little too much.

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