The most poignant protest song from the 1980s was written by Elvis Costello – about the Falklands War – or the War of Thatcher’s Face as I like to call it.
Shipbuilding was a minor hit for former Soft Machine member Robert Wyatt – wheelchair and all. Wyatt had been paralysed after a fall from a window. When he had a 1970s hit with I’m A Believer (more famously a hit for The Monkees) the producer of Top of the Pops is supposed to have said the wheelchair was, “not suitable for family viewing.” Wyatt “lost his rag but not the wheelchair.”
Like Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart’s Last Train to Clarksville – also recorded by The Monkees – the lyric of Shipbuilding is subtle, not overtly stating its theme.
A wonderfully laconic offering from Michael Nesmith – post Monkees.
Michael Nesmith: Rio
One of those oddities that crop up from time to time concerns Nesmith. His mother invented Liquid Paper – correction fluid of this type is known as Tippex in the UK – see also Mike’s Wiki entry. He inherited her fortune.
I was sad to hear that former Monkee Davy Jones has died, apparently from a heart attack.
Though Davy was nominally the Monkees lead singer, that duty frequently fell to fellow actor Micky Dolenz, leaving Davy to flail away somewhat unconvincingly with a pair of maraccas.
They were probably the first manufactured band, brought together to reproduce the Beatles films’ format on TV, but had some of the best pop songwriters of the day composing for them. This – I chose it because it actually features Davy on lead vocals – was written by Neil Diamond.
The Monkees: A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You
A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You was the only Monkees single I bought back in the day and I came to love the B-side The Girl I Knew Somewhere, written by group member Mike Nesmith. So much so I referenced its title in a line of A Son of the Rock.
David Thomas Jones, 30/12/1945 – 29/2/2012. So it goes.
Yet in many ways this one track sums up the music of the 1960s. A pitch perfect pop song which is at one and the same time catchy yet profound, capable of being taken on its own surface terms as light and inoffensive but hinting at the darkness underpinning the decade.
A protest song by The Monkees? About the Vietnam War?
It may seem unlikely (it may not even have dawned on the band members themselves and certainly not on their handlers I’d have thought) but the song’s composers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart were undoubtedly alive to its subversive nature.
Apparently it wasn’t intended specifically as a protest song as such (but it is amenable to that interpretation.) For there are several Clarksvilles in the US, all near military bases, though the name itself was chosen for its euphony.
Consider verse 2.
“Cause I’m leaving in the morning and I must see you again,
We’ll have one more night together till the morning brings my train
And I must go. Oh no, no, no. Oh no, no, no. And I don’t know if I’m ever coming home.”
That recurring last line is rendered more poignant by that context.
The Branch Manager at my workplace had the thought that we workers weren’t having enough fun (thank you David Brent) and came up with the glorious idea of having a competition. We were to name our favourite 1960s hit – that is no purely album tracks were allowed – and pay £1 for the privilege of entering it.* A committee was formed to adjudicate the results. The winner was announced and played over the tannoy – wait for it – after work on the day we broke up for Easter. Some fun!
Runner-up was the now ubiquitous but at the time relatively ignored Hi-Ho Silver Lining as by The Jeff Beck Group. It came second to Daydream Believer by the Monkees. You’ll have guessed I wasn’t on the committee. I will admit to a softish spot for the Monkees but Daydream Believer is a bit twee.
Anyway this all got me to thinking which song I would have considered. I soon realised that choosing just one is impossible but if I had to it would probably be Rupert’s People’s Reflections of Charles Brown but really it depends on the mood I’m in.
I’ve already featured a lot of 1960s songs here and any of them could have been contenders. So pick one from Rainbow Chaser, Tiny Goddess or Pentecost Hotel by the true Nirvana, the real Nirvana (see my category and scroll down.)
Or there’s America by The Nice, with which I started off my prog rock musings, plus their The Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon – even if it was a B-side – and The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack,
The Electric Prunes’ I Had Too Much To Dream Last Night and Get Me To The World On Time (both here,)
The Small Faces’ Tin Soldier,
The Who’s I’m A Boy,
Python Lee Jackson’s In A Broken Dream,
Procol Harum’s Homburg,
R Dean Taylor’s Gotta See Jane and Indiana Wants Me.
I would also have included Nights In White Satin by The Moody Blues if it hadn’t been turned into a cliché by excessive re-releasing and overplay.
That’s most, but not all, of the 1960s songs I’ve mentioned before.
But there is a host more, of which I have fond memories and which I might have chosen.
So to start what may be a regular series this is The Easybeats and Friday On My Mind.
*Edited to add:- The money collected was to be split two to one between the respective submitters of the winner and the runner-up.
This might be true of British politics but in the area of popular entertainment an argument could, instead, be made for the film Head from which the song I’m featuring comes and which was, perhaps, deliberately designed to alienate the following the band which recorded it had accrued. Along with the bad publicity for apparently not playing instruments on their hits, it more or less did for their pop career, though over-exposure also had a lot to do with it. Head as a title, of course, has many resonances and connotations I needn’t go into and which no doubt contributed to their demise.
The film itself is now, of course, regarded in some quarters as something of a masterpiece. In the time since their heyday the group has also been critically reappraised. They did bang out some cracking pop tunes in their time (including a disguised ditty about the Vietnam War.)
Though apparently out of their normal oeuvre the film’s theme, Porpoise Song, was written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. It has overtones of the Beatles – naturally – but also of the 1960s Nirvana and manages to prefigure some of the prog rock which was to come in the 1970s.
On You Tube The Wondermints have a (reasonably faithful) cover over a sequence from the film while this does have the single but someone talks for a while before playing it.
Below is the first eight or so minutes of the film itself. Porpoise Song does not appear till about 3 minutes 13 seconds into the clip.