Monday, September 30, 2013

Motorcycle (Motor Cycle)

The only reason anyone remembers the short-lived act Tico and The Triumphs these days is that Simon was in the group... and he wasn't even Tico! That was the nickname of a guy named Marty Cooper. Sorry, Marty! (Allmusic.com has Simon as Tico. The Marc Eliot biography of Simon does not mention either the band or Cooper in its index.) 

To be fair, the band did crack the Top 100, reaching #97 with this song in 1962. 

Motorcycles had been a major part of pop culture, or perhaps counter-culture, at least since Marlon Brando rode one to fame in 1953's The Wild One. Elvis quickly followed the next year with his movie Roustabout. The next famous film focused on them was 1969's Easy Rider, also a counter-culture landmark. In 1972, Marvel Comics debuted its undead anti-hero Ghost Rider . Today, the most popular entertainment centered on motorcycle culture is TV's Sons of Anarchy. 

Still, the most famous motorcycle song has to be the Shangri-La’s cautionary tale “Leader of the Pack.” Simon beat that one by two years; it came out in 1964.

This song starts with the sound of a motorcycle zooming past, followed by that pursed-lip sound (a "raspberry," minus the tongue) often made in imitation of engines. 

As it says on the label, the song is about a motorcycle. Also, the freedom of motorcycle riding: "Every day after school I'm a motorcycle fool... From here all around to the other side of town... you can't catch a motorcycle when he wants to go."

In his song "Mercury Blues," Steve Miller wins, then loses, the affection of a woman to the driver of a Mercury car... so he promises to buy two. Here, too, the speaker's relationship seems to depend on his vehicle. The first verse has the line "Driving with my baby," and the second starts with the invitation: "Come on with me, baby, on my red motorcycle."

The bike is also the reason for the speaker's local fame: "Everywhere I go everybody's gotta know," "Everywhere I go there's a motorcycle sound," and "Don't you know me, I'm cool!" It seems more than just a part of his identity, but the source of it.

(The rest of the song is a lot of "ba-ba-ba" and "yeah, yeah, yeah"... and more than a dozen mentions of the word "motorcycle.")

The song also presaged the Beach Boys' first #1 hit, the 1964 single "I Get Around," with its driving (ahem) beat and its celebration of the teenage freedom afforded by shiny, speedy wheels. Funny how they never mention helmets...

Chicago classic rock DJ Lin Brehmer has list of 20 motorcycle songs, and Simon's isn’t on it. The Neil Young’s “Unknown Legend” is, as is Allmans’ “Midnight Rider.”

Also missing is Arlo Guthrie's long shaggy-dog narrative, 1968’s "The Motorcycle Song.” While Simon is a master of rhyme, Arlo comes up with: “I don't want a pickle/ I just wanna ride on my motor-sickle.”

The after-school rider in Tico’s “Motorcycle” might sneer at the phrasing of that couplet, but he would certainly agree with its sentiment.

Next Song: I Don’t Believe Them

Monday, September 23, 2013

I Wish I Weren't in Love

This one recalls 1959's "A Teenager in Love," both in style and sentiment, with a touch of Everly Brothers country-pop thrown in... plus a dash of flamenco in the bridge. It really presages the kind of within-one-song genre-switching that became Simon's trademark.

The opening lines could not be more straightforward: "I've got a problem/ The girl I love doesn't love me at all." Yes, another unrequited-love song.

The speaker, like another song says, got it bad, and that ain't good: "I can't do my homework/ I write her name on my notebook all night." It should be noted that these are very long lines, metrically, for a pop song.

"I'm so unhappy/ Guess I am the loneliest boy in this world," he continues, and who hasn't been there? "I wish I weren't in love," he concludes.

Now, is she stringing him along? Hardly. His love object is crystal clear in her lack of interest: "In fact, she won't even answer my call." Perhaps she finds a teenager who starts sentences with "in fact" somewhat... un-hip?

Rather than simply forget her, our hero paints himself as the victim: "The way she treats me, it just isn't right... How can I make her stop hurting me?" When, in fact, she is not hurting him at all. She is not doing anything to him! Yes, this is a problem for him... but it's not, objectively speaking, her fault.

Again, if she were being ambiguous, his complaint would have merit. But she is not. She is as plain in her disregard for him as a stone wall. Perhaps he feels that his ardor is so great it at least deserves her saying outright that he should, ahem, bug off, or stop calling, at least. She refuses to even acknowledge his existence with a verbal rejection.

The relationship, to the degree that it exists at all, is only in his mind. What this young man needs is for his friends to point out that his efforts and affections are wasted here-- and that he should, until they find a more receptive recipient, maybe do his homework.

If he gets good enough grades, he might get into college... where he might, in fact, meet a co-ed who will answer the phone for a guy who starts sentences with "in fact."

Next Song: Motorcycle



Sunday, September 15, 2013

I'm Lonely

The title sort of sums this one up.

The speaker is a teenager-- he refers to other "kids"-- who is convinced that he is the only one in the world who is not in a romantic relationship: "Everywhere I look, kids are having fun... I'm the only lonely one." Oh, haven't we all been there...

Things are especially depressing on "weekends," when he ends up at "home." But there is a Catch-22 at work here. He can't go to a party or movie or whatever without a date. But unless he goes to social events, how is he supposed to meet anyone?

He's also tired of trying to distract himself: "Getting tired of the radio/ I can't watch another TV show... I might as well go and read a book."

In despair, he turns Heavenward for help: "Lord above, won't you hear my plea/ Send a girl to love me faithfully/ Then I won't be lonely."

The word "faithfully" might be here for two reasons. One is that he imagines a relationship to necessarily include fidelity. The other is that... well, that's why he's lonely. He wants a girl to love him faithfully-- unlike that last one.

Arrangement-wise, it reminded me of a 10,000 Maniacs song, with doleful lyrics set against uptempo music. Musically, it's another Latin-ate number of surprising sophistication, with resounding bass notes alternating with tripping, high, chiming ones. The music alone, which is somewhere in the mambo or cha-cha territory, would have been fine for a big-band dance number in the 1930s,

Next Song: I Wish I Weren't in Love

Monday, September 9, 2013

Ask Me Why

This is a waltz-time love song. Musically, it's along the lines of 'Sixteen Candles"... or  "Earth Angel," one of the songs that inspired Simon to take up songwriting altogether.

The song repeats the opening words "Ask me why" over and over to start lines, in a rhetorical device (a.k.a. "speechwriter's trick") called "anaphora." One famous example of this is from Winston Churchill: "We shall fight on the beaches... we shall fight in the fields... we shall fight in the hills..."

It's really a tender, touching song of young love, never falling into schmaltziness-- until the very end, when we get a "big finish."

"Ask me why I go sleep/ Counting the days I spent with you/ Instead of counting sheep," it starts. The other things the speaker does is "pray" they will be together forever, "thrill" to her touch, and "hold" her "so tight."

Other effects she has on him are that he is "filled with a heavenly bliss/ Each time we kiss," and that he feels that, when he's not with her, "it seems like time is standing still/ Each minute's like a year."

Yes, this is puppy love at its purest and most sincere. He tells her "it's so hard to say goodnight," which implies that he does, in fact, do so at the end of their dates.

Oh, and why does he feel the way that he does? " 'Cause I love you!" Yes, not "Because," but, pointedly, " 'cause." So, they are likely still in high school.

Is this a love sonnet worthy of William Shakespeare or Elizabeth Barrett Browning ? No. Is it every bit as heartfelt? Yes.

Or, perhaps more accurately: Yeah.


Next song: I'm Lonely


Monday, September 2, 2013

Anna Belle

After Simon & Garfunkel broke through with their "Sound of Silence" song, and their Sounds of Silence album, there was a rush to republish their back catalog. The Tom & Jerry album we have just finished discussing was re-issued in 1967, as an album called called simply Simon and Garfunkel. On the cover, it showed the duo boarding a plane; I believe it is only available on vinyl (the German-issued CD with that photo, Tom & Jerry Vol. 1, has a song list with more than twice the number of tracks).

After another resurgence of interest in Simon in the late 1980s, due to Graceland, even more of this early material was gathered and published in many, many compilations. The earliest of these I can find are Tom & Jerry Vol. 1, which came out in 1993, as did Early Simon and Garfunkel, also issued in Germany. However, I do not know which of these two came out first that year; since Early has more tracks-- 27, to Vol. 1's 22-- let's start there.

Many of these songs were released on 45 between 1957 and 1964, but only the most dogged collectors could find them all in that format. Further, not many of this blog's readers can even play 45s anymore (although I wager more can, percentage-wise, than in the general public!). So I have elected to continue the pattern held to thus far-- discussing entire albums, song by song, and in the order in which they were released.

Track 10 on Early Simon and Garfunkel is "Anna Belle," and it is credited to Jerry Landis, Simon's "Jerry" half of Tom & Jerry (Art was "Tom Graph").  It's a sock-hop number with a healthy helping of rumbling sax.

The song is an ode to the power of confidence and persistence. The speaker is trying to win over one Anna Belle, who is playing hard-to-get.

One of her main reasons for rebuffing his advances is his age, or at least his maturity level. She starts with "Well, later, maybe," and "You gotta keep on waitin'." Later, she clarifies: "When you're old enough."

She may have a point. At one point, the speaker voices his frustration thus: "Ooo-wee!/ Gosh! Oh, gee!"

The speaker, however, says that he is ready, but she is the reluctant one making excuses and stalling: "Stop your hesitatin'."

The song itself is presented as the speaker relating his various conversations with Anna Belle. One went: "I said, 'Let's go to the show.'/ She said, 'I don't wanna go.'/ I said, 'Whatcha wanna do?'/ She said, "I ain't tellin' you!'"

Finally, he is able to demonstrate his desirability sufficiently: "I said, 'Well, watch my stuff!'/ She said, 'Well, I'll take a chance." The speaker revels at even this uninterested-seeming acceptance: "I said, 'Here comes romance.'"

"Watch my stuff," in this case, does not mean, "Keep an eye on my belongings momentarily, would you?" but "Check out my amazing dance moves!"

On The Drew Carey Show, Carey's character once said: "If you can't dazzle, wear 'em down." Our speaker here had to wear Anna Belle down just for the chance to dazzle her.

Perhaps she was working with a different quote in mind: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."

Next Song: Ask Me Why