Chelsea Morning/Chelsea Hotel

We have seen previously that at times one can visit a place which one only really knows about because of a song about it. This can perhaps be the only reason for the visit. Nobody is going to go to Paris or Rome just because of a song about those cities but I could feasibly imagine travelling to San Jose purely for the pleasure of asking someone the way en route (though probably not to Amarillo for the same purpose. The song just doesn’t warrant it).  In these cases, it can be hard not to see the place in question through the prism of the song. This can just mean the song endlessly going round your brain as you pull into wherever it is, as in (Taking a Trip Up To) Abergavenny. Or it can shape what you actually see:  the  rather dreary surroundings of Goodge Street can seem  brighter than they actually are if you have Donovan’s song going round your head.

In fact one of the common devices in song is to make the view in front of your face appear in a different light. Often this is to make the dull and dingy and noisy seem bright and light and even magical, rather like the Transformation scene in a pantomime.  Typically this means bathing an urban scene in a rosier glow. That was the focus of the last column, Waterloo Bridge. St Etienne turned Goswell Road and the housing estate of Turnpike House in Islington into the Milk Bottle Symphony:  “La la la la la la jumps on the Forty-Three, humming unconsciously, a Milk Bottle Symphony”.  In Emptily Through Holloway, the Clientele turn the streets of inner London into something rather gossamer and ethereal just out of mind’s reach. It can also do the opposite and turn a scene normally thought of as sunny and tranquil into something darker, as Nick Cave did with Battersea Bridge.

Chelsea in New York is one of those places I only knew from  song . There have been several about the area: Nico’s Chelsea Girls and Dylan’s Sara amongst them. Two in particular, however, Chelsea Morning and Chelsea Hotel, were in my mind when I walked round  it recently. They  give very different impressions,  of course. Chelsea Morning is one  of warmth and optimism and I think of it rather like those other songs of the same sort of era(1968-69) that brimmed with sunshine and hope: like Let The Sunshine In  or Up, Up and Away. Chelsea Hotel has dinginess, regret, sadness in there, the extent depending on who sings it. Both have become inextricably mixed up with reality. The Chelsea Hotel has a plaque to Leonard Cohen at its entrance with the opening  line from his song, ‘I remember you well in the Chelsea Hotel’. Bill and Hillary Clinton reputedly named their daughter after Judy Collins’ version of Chelsea Morning (though also seemingly thinking it was about the London Chelsea).

It was the Judy Collins version of the Joni Mitchell song that was the bigger hit, though there have been others  down the years: Dave Van Ronk, Neil Diamond, Jennifer Warnes  amongst them. The version given below, however, comes from 1968 and a pre-Sandy Denny Fairport Convention, when the singers were Judy Dyble and Ian Matthews. It is a reminder of a time when Fairport Convention weren’t  regarded as a folk group at all but a kind of British Jefferson Airplane, covering songs like Tim Buckley’s Morning Glory and Paul Butterfield’s East West and with extended guitar work-outs by Richard Thompson.  (An example of their work then is in the clip below of the Richard and Mimi Farina song, Reno Nevada). It is also very much of its era, which in a way suits the song. A snapshot of a place captured in time like an old photo, as Donovan did in Sunny Goodge Street. Crimson crystal beads, incense, candle light – there was probably a copy of the I Ching  on the table and Rotary Connection playing on the record player

The Chelsea Hotel, song or place,  isn’t frozen in time in the same way. In fact, one of the reasons it  remains a tourist attraction in itself is  because of its history and notoriety across the years, home to Mark Twain and Dominic Behan, where Dylan Thomas and Nancy Spungen died and the site of Leonard Cohen’s 1974 song about a brief relationship with Janis Joplin. Cohen, of course, is good at gloom and gothic, which probably fits the hotel. The version here by Regina Spektor from 2006, however, brings it more into the light, in the same way that visitors and tourists have altered the original character of the real place.

You can sometimes look at the past as a photo album. For both Joni Mitchell and Fairport Convention, Chelsea Morning is on an early and  half-forgotten page of a long  musical history. Joni Mitchell has said of the song “ It was a very young and lovely time.. I think it's a very sweet song, but I don't think of it as part of my best work. To me, most of those early songs seem like the work of an ingenue." For Fairport Convention, within a year or so of this release Judy Dyble had departed for Trader Horne, Ian Matthews had left for  a number one hit with another Joni Mitchell song (see column on Woodstock),drummer Martin Lamble was dead and the group had changed direction to explore the dark sides of England’s rural past with songs like Tam Lin and Matty Groves.

Those pages are there still though and I as walked round Chelsea , along the streets past the Chelsea Hotel to stand and look at the façade as a tourist , through the Market and along the High Line,  a song came into my head and I thought that maybe round the next corner, the sun would pour in like butterscotch.


Waterloo Bridge

Past columns and songs have shown how some physical features lend themselves more to literary or musical interpretations and inspiration than others.  Waterfalls are good in this respect. And cathedrals and stations. And cross-roads, too –how symbolic are they!. T junctions less so, though. Bridges, too, are rather like stations in this regard – an object  that is not just about physical geography but a symbol for all sorts of things. crossing over to something new, leaving something behind, joining and connecting, a turning point. Wordsworth’s famous poem Upon Westminster Bridge used the view from the bridge to describe a moment of a familiar world made new again. In a totally different media, the film The Bridge on the River Kwai, the bridge being built became a metaphor for something much wider.

The bridge in song  has already cropped up in previous columns - Battersea Bridge in Grief Came Riding, London Bridge in Earlies  - and  London bridges, indeed, have been well served by song over the years. Julie Driscoll and the Brian Auger Trinity described an evening walk along the Albert Embankment by the Thames in From Vauxhall to Lambeth Bridge in 1969. The Pogues painted an evocative dream in Misty Morning, Albert Bridge in 1989. Half Man Half Biscuit echoed Wordsworth in Upon Westminster Bridge. Further afield Brooklyn Bridge and the Bridge of Sighs, amongst others, have made it into song. It has also been claimed  that  the most famous musical offering featuring a bridge  - Bridge Over Troubled Waters – was  inspired by a real place, Bickleigh Bridge in Devon, a claim based on the fact that Paul Simon had stayed in the village in the early 60’s, presumably before heading north to Widnes Station and penning Homeward Bound. (It is  a pity that this claim seems erroneous. I think that on a summer family holiday once as a child, I may have sat sketching this very bridge, motivated by just having done Perspective in art lessons at school)

The song here, Waterloo Bridge by Louise Marshall, returns once again to that part of London that seems to have run through this blog like a meandering river for some reason. Louise Marshall, a jazz and soul singer originally from Oldham in Lancashire, is an artist capable of subtle interpretations whilst giving a hint of the vocal power beneath. She has recorded another song about a place, the Jools Holland-penned I Went By, a ballad inspired by a visit to Newport in South Wales. It could be overblown and mawkish in the wrong hands  – here it leaves a haunting poignancy.
Waterloo Bridge, also recorded with Jools Holland, is an example too of another sub-genre, an example where a poem has been turned into a song, in this case After The Lunch by Wendy Cope and first published as part of the Poems on the Underground. Musicians have often fancied themselves as Romantic poets: both Marc Bolan and Pete Doherty, for example, produced poetry alongside their songs. It is less common to be equally valid  as poet and musician, (just as there haven’t been that many examples of artists equally valid as musician and actor).  Leonard Cohen, whose Suzanne first appeared as a poem; Patti Smith; Roger McGough, whose poems ran alongside his musical work with The Scaffold for a while. His Summer with Monika remains an oddity of the first summer of love of 1967, in a parallel universe from Lily the Pink.
There have also been fewer examples of poems being turned into songs  or hit records than one might expect (by which I mean works first written as poems  and then put to music, as opposed to a genre such as rap which fits words to a particular metrical pattern). The meanderings and shifts of jazz probably suit the structure of poetry best, allowing Cleo Laine to sing Shakespeare. But Leonard Cohen (again) adapted Lorca for Take This Waltz, as already seen in an earlier column. Strange Fruit started as a poem.There were simple but effective musical translations of Alfred Noyes The Highwayman by Phil Ochs and of Yeats’ The Song of Wandering Aengus (Golden Apples of the Sun) by Judy Collins. Natalie Merchant  from 10000 Maniacs sang an Emily Dickinson poem, Because I Could Not Stop For Death.
Waterloo Bridge has appeared before – in the very first column, Terry and Julie presumably crossed over it in Waterloo Sunset. The melancholic observations of that song, or the nostalgia of Jane Birkin’s Waterloo Station, are not present here, however. Instead, the mood is one of optimism and looking forward and the bridge is not there as a grand metaphor but as a familiar backdrop for the meeting of two lovers. Pop music is sometimes tempted by the grandiose vision. War of the Worlds!  The Myths and Legends of King Arthur and The Knights of the Round Table! Nostradamus Part 1! Yet the most effective image  can be the small-scale and familiar – like a black woolly glove on Waterloo Bridge.
Another London bridge - Battersea Bridge -  in Grief Came Riding, was the setting for “the weight of a thousand people leaving  or returning home to their failures , to their boredoms” On Waterloo Bridge the narrator is tempted to skip with the wind in her hair. The view from the bridge, as with most places, depends on who is looking.


Carolina In My Mind

A  recurrent theme in songs highlighted in many of the past columns has been that of nostalgia -  defined as ‘a wistful desire to return in thought or in fact to a former time in one's life, to one's home or homeland’ -  though it is often used so loosely to mean remembering virtually anything in the past. Space-hoppers, Spangles, the Blitz, small children up chimneys: all grist for the nostalgia mill. Nostalgia is not always straight forward, as some of the songs in previous columns have already indicated. An early column, Massachusetts, was  nostalgia about a place the Bee Gees had never been to. The brilliance of Coles Corner by Richard Hawley was not only to make a new song seem vaguely familiar from a distant past but also  to make the listener feel nostalgic for a time and place they were unlikely ever to have experienced. This can be seen more crudely in the past  popularity  in the UK of programmes  and films such as Happy Days and Grease, where nostalgia was encouraged not just for a fictional past but someone else’s fictional past. Similar, I guess, to those readers in India or Singapore who like the Billy Bunter books.

At first glance, it seems odd that nostalgia should figure in pop songs so much. In its early days it was about the new, the young and the present and future - not the past – and even in the late sixties the Kinks seemed out of sync with the prevailing mood  with songs about sitting in a deckchair on Blackpool beach. Not very Swinging London or Scotch of St James. I am not sure when this changed or what the first backward looking pop hit – in the sense of real personal nostalgia rather than just being about an event in the past, (like the Battle of New Orleans), or deliberately creating a past musical style, (like the Temperance Seven), or being an off-the peg nostalgia song, (like Green Green Grass of Home) - was: Strawberry Fields/Penny Lane perhaps.

It is clear, though, that some of the most poignant pop songs have been inspired by the pull of nostalgia as defined in the opening sentence above.  Arguably John Lennon’s most evocative song was In My Life and several songs already covered in this blog  have expressed nostalgia in different ways  in their lyrics and music – N17 by  the Saw Doctors, for example, or Waterloo Station by Jane Birkin.  The song here, Carolina In My Mind, is another such example and is about a place that has seemed to generate a catalogue of its own of songs of  a wistful desire to return. There is Ryan Adams and Emmylou Harris with Oh My Sweet Carolina. Or Carolina by Jason Harrod – “Take me where them rolling hills can gather up and cure my ills. Let me smell that long-leaf pine.” And Gram Parsons' Hickory Wind, recorded by the Byrds, Joan Baez and  Keith Richard amongst others.

There seems to me here a difference between the UK and USA in the way that nostalgia for places of the past are treated in songs. The yearning in American songs is generally to go back to the wide open spaces -  the rolling hills of Carolina, the Black Hills of Dakota,  Alabama where the skies are blue -  or at least to small town life: ‘to a simpler place and time’ as one of those songs seeking escape from the big city, Midnight Train to Georgia, put it. British songs, unless they are folk or comedy, are not going to talk about going back to Kent or Dorset. Nor is escape to small town life generally seen as attractive: songs are more likely to be about going in the other direction – small town to big city. Nostalgia for places past is more likely to be about  the opposite of the wide open spaces: a place like Liverpool (Leaving of Liverpool, Liverpool Lullaby), or Salford (Matchstalk Men, Matchstalk Cats and Dogs) or London’s East End ( virtually anything by Chas n’ Dave. The song below  by them is especially for Martha to encourage further deciphering of the English vernacular). Perhaps the folk memory of pre-industrial times is too remote now, the culture of that world  wiped away too much.

Carolina In My Mind, however, is definitely one of those songs soaked in homesickness for ‘the tranquil, rural, beautiful’, as its composer, James Taylor, put it, writing an anthem to  Chapel Hill where he grew up..A version  of his  - originally recorded on the Beatles’ Apple label in 1968 with Paul McCartney on bass – is given below. Some have seen it as a wider yearning for the whole idea of the South, a notion based on nostalgia - real or imagined - as much as geographical location.(and, oddly enough, maybe the equivalent of England’s The North). The other version by Melanie ( Safka )is from 1970 , with British session musicians like Herbie Flowers and  Alan Parker supplying the backing. To my mind, this has a different idea of Carolina. Whereas James Taylor is remembering where he grew up, Melanie, from Queens, sees Carolina less as a real  location  and more as a metaphor, in the spirit of Joni Mitchell’s Woodstock: ‘we’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden’ – a vision of  nature and escape to the country.

On my recent trip to New York, I spent 2 days in Chapel Hill, where my daughter spent a year. I felt no nostalgia or homesickness because I had never been there before, nor to anywhere that could be called the South. No doubt some people would argue that North Carolina is not strictly the South, just as there are arguments in the UK of where the ‘North’ starts.  (I am reminded of seeing an interview with a farmer in Cumbria during the foot-and –mouth outbreak  in 2001- ‘They have it soft down south - places like Blackburn”). However  I am aware that I probably went there looking for signs that it was the South  - hence the photo above of rocking chairs on a veranda, and drinking hot apple cider in the Caffe Driade to the sounds of crickets in the woods,  or trying Brunswick stew, fried green tomatoes and pecan pie at Mama Dips in Chapel Hill. It certainly seemed a long way from New York and, even in 2 days, I could understand why someone in New York or London (where James Taylor wrote part of the song) might in an idle moment have Carolina in their mind.


Paris Nights/New York Mornings

The juxtaposition of places has been a common literary device – A Tale of Two Cities, Down and Out in Paris and London, From Larkrise to Candleford. Sometimes it is for comparison, sometimes for contrast, sometimes to emphasise a distance . The same technique is seen in songs –seen already in a previous column  with  Kalamazoo to Timbuktu , from one unlikely sounding place to another. Actually it is perhaps more commonly seen by contrasting two different parts of the same town,  usually to inject a bit of social drama into a relationship  Hence,  Billy Joel’s Uptown Girl (‘looking for a downtown guy’)or Randy Edelman’s  Uptown Uptempo Woman, ('downtown, downbeat guy'). Or the Pet Shop Boys’ West End Girls (‘and East End boys’). It usually seems to be this way round in pop mythology – downtown guy/posh woman. That notion even turns up in musical dreams, as in Mungo Jerry’s Baby Jump –“I dreamt that you were Lady Chatterley and I was the gamekeeper”

However, on occasion the listener can gain a whole new perspective on a place when it is taken out of its usual context and juxtaposed with somewhere else. A good  example here is New York’s Greenwich Village. The district is steeped in artistic and musical history of a specific time period, to the extent that you can feel you are walking round a living museum . I am not sure that there is an equivalent area in London – the best comparison might be Liverpool, where you can still do tours round the Cavern and other high-spots from the early 60’s and hear anecdotes about what Tony Jackson said to Chris Curtis outside the Iron Door club in 1963. Likewise, you could take, as I did recently, a Rock Junket tour round Greenwich Village and find out where Rambling Jack Elliott stayed  (Room 312 in the Washington Square Hotel) or where John Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful rehearsed and played (The Nite Owl Club, now  Bleecker Bob's record shop). Far be it  from me to sound like a  train-spotter -  but the photo below shows the same manhole cover that Fred Neil is standing by on the cover of his 1965 album, Bleecker  and MacDougal.

Many of the songs about Greenwich Village come from the same era as its musical heyday. Apart from Fred Neil’s album just mentioned – one of the first electric folk rock offerings – there is, of course, Simon and Garfunkel’s Bleecker Street off the Wednesday Morning 3am album, though written earlier by Paul Simon: in the Sound of Silence mood, it remains evocative of a particular time and place. The same street turned up years later and wrapped in mythology in the Waterboys’  Bleecker Street-   “Life is sexy, life is sweet, in Manhattan's ninety-six degree heat, Just pounding tar to my favourite beat, My down home one and only Bleecker Street “.  Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood did a rather belated (1969) sneer at the Village  scene in their Greenwich Village Folk Song Salesman song.

It is easy, then, to look at Greenwich Village solely in its own context and history and to walk round it as if you were in two time dimensions at once. The photo above is the same view near the corner of Jones Street and  West 4th Street  as on the cover of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan album,  except Bob Dylan and Suze Rotolo aren’t  walking along. The song here, however – Paris Nights and New York Mornings by Corinne Bailey Rae from 2010 -  takes Greenwich Village out of its customary place and time and deposits it in contemporary Paris. This works on two levels. Lyrically, the song,  about 2 lovers meeting in two cities, switches between Bleecker Street and Paris to emphasise the similarities of the bohemian history, the  cafes and boutiques  and the same feel in walking the streets. At the end of the song video posted below, she gets into a New York cab on a Paris boulevard.

However, Corinne Bailey Rae’s own vocal style helps too. She is capable of creating the same kind of sunny, laid back, retro feel you can get from Sarah Cracknell and St Etienne, the sound of an open -  top sports car driving past a corn field on a summer afternoon. (She is showcased better, I feel, in a smaller setting rather than a large venue and the second link given below gives an alternate version of a style she excels at.) Musically, it is a sound – from a British singer from Leeds - that somehow provides a neat link between the two places.

Sometimes, you can get a feel of a place by looking at the past, for a place’s history can define it. Sometimes, however, you can see what is close at hand by turning in a different direction. When I first went to Greenwich Village it immediately struck me that it seemed more like Europe than New York in some ways - maybe Bloomsbury  in London but certainly Paris. So as you walk round there you can look backwards and see and hear the ghosts of the past – Phil Ochs playing at the Bitter End or Jimi Hendrix at the Electric Lady Studios.  Or you can look sideways and get a glimpse of Paris past or present. In fact, you don’t have to look very far – the start of the Rock Junket tour I went on commenced at Washington Square Arch, itself modelled after the Arc de Triomphe. The past is a foreign country in more ways than one, perhaps.


Wall Street Shuffle

One of the themes of this blog has been the associations that people bring with them in their notions of a particular place.  Some places, of course, have such a strong and automatic association already that it is almost impossible to get past that initial mental link. This is something more specific than thinking of Paris and springtime or London and fog: it’s where there is not much of the place in question left if the associated image was to be removed. Any song about the Los Angeles district called Hollywood, for example, is almost certainly going to be about bright lights, the quest for stardom, and possibly the world and people being left behind. New York’s Broadway is much longer than the theatre stretch but the rest of it is unlikely to linger long in the mind. Up until the 1980’s songs about London’s Soho were more  likely to reflect its seedy image of strip clubs, clip joints selling fake champagne at extortionate prices and prostitution rather than the Italian restaurants and churches there -  Al Stewart’s Old Compton Street or the Kinks’ Lola: “I met her in a club down in old Soho where they drink champagne that tastes just like cherry cola”

One such place is New York’s Wall Street, the name of a street that has also become something generic to signify the USA financial sector – Corporate America - in much the same way that the City has come to mean the UK’s financial sector as well as a geographical square mile of London. The image of Wall Street as something more than just a street in Manhattan goes back a long way in popular culture and was cemented by the 1987 film Wall Street and the ‘greed is good’ mantra. A  figure of speech to contrast with the equally symbolic ‘Main Street’.

The relationship of pop music and what Wall Street or the City signify has always been a rather ambiguous one. From the music industry’s point of view there has never been a problem in marketing rebellion - ‘The Revolution is on CBS’  was a shameless marketing campaign in the late 60’s, for example -  and the careers of artists such as the Stones and Alice Cooper have shown the compatibility of an image of anti-authority coupled with an astute accumulation of wealth. In the early days of pop, any notion of finance capitalism  hardly figured at all in songs, other than the occasional appearance of a Man in a Bowler Hat  from the City as a pompous figure of fun, as in Bernard Cribbins’ Hole in the Ground. (There is also an odd short British film from 1964 called The Peaches, in which the central character –an early Swinging London  free spirit who lived on peaches, played by Juliet Harmer of Adam Adamant fame  - is chased into the Thames by a phalanx of City gents in bowler hats). In fact, one of the first pop songs to explore the relationship of pop and capitalism was not a critique at all but the George Harrison-penned Taxman on the  Beatles' Revolver album, a whinge about paying too much tax under a Labour Government.

You can, however, see a shift over the years, also seen in records about Wall Street. Herb Alpert’s  innocuous Wall Street Rag from 1966   became McCarthy’s Tomorrow The Stock Exchange Will Be The Human Race from 1990  - “Arise the wealthy of the earth, arise you worthy men, our sun will rise when we have got the masses on the run” -  or Procol Harum’s Wall Street Blues from 2003  - “They said the market could never go down, they took your savings and then left town”.

The song here, however, Wall Street Shuffle by 10cc,is a prophetic one from decades ago,  a UK hit in 1974. 10cc came with a musical pedigree. Eric Stewart had been main man of Manchester’s The Mindbenders, achieving success first with Wayne Fontana in the early  years of the British beat boom and then on their own with hits such as Groovy Kind of Love. Graham Gouldman had written hits for the Yardbirds, Hollies and Herman’s Hermits. They were also one of those 70’s groups, like Roxy Music or Sparks, whose lyrics sometimes led listeners to think  ‘Too clever for their own good’.  A typical example was their 1975 hit, Life Is A Minestrone (“served up with parmesan cheese. Death is a cold lasagne, suspended in deep freeze”).

There is perhaps too much detachment in Wall Street Shuffle to make it a rallying cry for today but some of its lines still resonate down the years: “Let your money hustle.
Bet you'd sell your mother, you can buy another”. The last column was on St Pauls' Cathedral, current  site for Occupy London -  the New York counterpart is in Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street district. A few years ago, visiting Wall Street might have meant looking up at the glass and steel of the office skyscrapers whilst a picture of Michael Douglas playing Gordon Gekko floated involuntarily into your mind. Earlier this week, on a short visit to New York,  I stood in Zuccotti Park and looked across the sea of polythene tents there, the banners and anarchist flags ,at the drummers keeping up a background sound of rhythm, the mix of ages from children to grandmothers knitting.  Somehow the people dwarfed the buildings this time.


St Paul's Cathedral At Night

It is almost a cliché by now to comment that everybody sees a place with different eyes. Some of that comes with different associations, expectations or memories. Some of it, though,  can come from mere familiarity and I guess it is a cliché too to point out that tourists and residents will have very different impressions of famous landmarks. The subject of the last column, the Thames, is a case in point. For the Londoner it is something to cross sometimes, or perhaps  a source of livelihood, or something rarely seen from one month to the next. For the tourist, however, a trip down the Thames from Westminster to Greenwich – passing Gabriel’s Wharf and the Globe and the Tower en route – is one of the must-do items on an itinerary :just as going to Paris involves a trip down the Seine and Budapest means boating down the Danube. In each case, the river takes on a different  and inevitably more romantic guise than when seen on a daily basis.

This probably applies to most famous sights  – the Acropolis: Temple to the Goddess Athena or a load of old rocks? - and it is often the tourist perspective that provides the inspiration for the most famous songs about them. Like Tulips From Amsterdam, for example, or Under the Bridges of Paris, by Eartha Kitt or Dean Martin: you can almost see the accordion player coming round for money as you chug past the Eiffel Tower. Maybe that accounts for the antipathy to  tourists that sometimes surfaces in songs, a feature already pointed out in the column on Boston and  the Mighty Mighty Bosstones They Came to Boston – “They came, they saw, they annoyed me” -   and in Summer in the City with Madness and A Day On The Town –“Getting the tourists into their traps, taking their money, the shirts off their backs”. The same attitude can be found in Suggs’ Camden: “There's a great crowd of tourists and they're coming down the street, pleased as punch with brand new Doctor Marten's on their feet”

London, of course,  is stuffed full of  iconic buildings but often, in fact, the best songs  are not those about the well-known landmarks but about the small, often unremarkable, things, about scenes that will rarely appear on a tourist’s holiday photos: Kirsty Maccoll’s empty bench in Soho Square or Cath Carroll’s night bus from Camden in London, Queen of My Heart. By and large, those songs  of the sights on the tourist trail - those that feature most on the postcards and guide books - lack, for obvious reasons, the little personal touches  that make those just mentioned so effective.  Oddly, two of the city’s most famous sights – Big Ben and Westminster Abbey- have been musically captured by ragtime piano tunes from the 1950’s: Winifred Atwell’s Big Ben Boogie (with a left hand walking  bass rhythm that makes you see why Jet Harris was inspired to take up bass from listening to her records) and Russ Conway’s Westminster. Then there is the Tower of London. Steeped in history and infamy as it is, what musical epic has it inspired? Well, actually, an ABC track –Tower of London, what else - sounding so 80’s you can feel the shoulder pads on it and lyrics that maybe fall a bit short of epic: “Tower over centuries, tower over London, Tower up and frankly I’m amazed”.

There are a few songs, however, that combine both the tourist landmark and the personal with good effect. One is another song inspired by Big Ben, by Roddy Frame of Aztec Camera (and sounding strangely like Phil Ochs at times on this track): a little story told in poetic imagery and with  Big Ben in the background.

Another is the .track here from 2001, St Paul’s Cathedral At Night by  Trembling Blue Stars (largely a vehicle for Bob Wratten) , a rather lovelorn lament  veering on self-pity that has echoes of the Pet Shop Boys in its sound. St Pauls is certainly one of London’s most recognizable sights, the tallest building in the city for centuries and  captured in the iconic  photo/postcard of the dome highlighted during the Blitz of World War 2. It was also the setting for the 'Feed the Birds' scene in Mary Poppins - and currently the site for the Occupy London camp.

 My own associations, however, are largely built up round two memories of it. One was a visit there on one of my  first trips to London up from the coast, at the age of 5 or 6 I think. No doubt the size and grandeur of it all impressed me but I remember two things in particular. One was the Whispering Gallery, which actually struck me as a disappointment as it didn’t really seem to work as promised. The other was climbing a vertical metal ladder to stand inside the small golden globe right at the top. I sometimes wonder if this is a false memory as it doesn’t seem possible to do that now but I distinctly remember it, partly as the woman in front trod on my fingers in high heels. I am sure there are people who pay good money for that sort of thing but it rather spoilt the view at the time.

The other was taking a succession of French or German school exchange pupils there with my daughter or son. Going round St Pauls can be expensive so I worked out a ruse that satisfied everyone once we had viewed the outside of it. I would say that St Pauls was unfortunately shut to visitors due to a special religious ceremony but luckily we could go nearby to the Monument to the Fire of London, also designed by Christopher Wren and with splendid views from the top. The advantage of this  was that  the cost was only about £1.The disadvantage was that it has 311 steps ,on  which even the plumpest French schoolboy passed me en route to the top.

St Paul’s, like other famous buildings shared by millions, becomes a trigger for personal associations. Bob Wratten’s song here is a bitter sweet one of nostalgia wakened by a postcard , wistful memories of a relationship taking place in a cinema or St James Park. Mine are more mundane – but still my view of St Paul's.



Like Waterloo, the River Thames has sporadically cropped up in past columns, flowing through songs like London itself: the dirty old river in Waterloo Sunset, the sullen River Thames in Grief Came Riding, the echoes of  the lapping of the dark  river waters on a foggy evening in London, Queen of My Heart. As a city river, its place in songs is not unique. Lindisfarne are best known for their  sing-along ode to Newcastle and its river, Fog On The Tyne. There was Liverpool and Ferry Cross the Mersey by Gerry and the Pacemakers. The Seine too  has had its share of songs - Down in the Seine by the Style Council, for example.

The Thames, however, has always held a special place in London and in films and songs alike has been both a focus in its own right and as a background to countless scenes played out visually or musically before it. At times, it is used as  shorthand for  conjuring up traditional London/Britain, like  showing a red bus or Big Ben. Take this clip from a 1964 pop film vehicle for singer Joe Brown, 3 Hats for Lisa: ‘traditional London’ is spelled  out in capitals by a backdrop of the Thames and Tower Bridge –plus Sid James (South African born) as a typical tap-dancing Cockney taxi driver.

 Indeed, its bridges and banks were also part of music’s landscapes, as seen with Grief Came Riding and Battersea Bridge. Then  there was Cilla Black’s London Bridge, a ‘B’ side from 1969. Her 60’s singing career has got over-shadowed by her rapid move from early Beatles’ connections  into light entertainment, Tory Party conferences and general showbiz chummery. She was also a prime example of a  60's home-grown act whose  own version of a particular song was more successful than the original and definitive classic. Baby I Need Your Loving was a UK hit not with the Four Tops original but by Liverpool second-division outfit, The Fourmost. The version of the Curtis Mayfield-penned Um, Um, Um, Um ,Um, Um that was the hit in Britain was by Manchester’s Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders rather than Major Lance, rather losing the enigmatic quality of the lyrics in the process. Sound of Silence was more successful for the Bachelors than Simon and Garfunkel. Cilla Black managed it twice, with number one hits with Anyone Who had A Heart (Dionne Warwick) and You’ ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (the Righteous Brothers). London Bridge, however, is an unexpectedly charming little period piece from the time when London Bridge  indeed wasn’t there :it had been dismantled and flogged off to an American real-estate developer to put back together in Arizona.

The Thames is also often used as a metaphor, as rivers tend to be because of their paradox of constantly changing whilst staying the same. Elton John’s Across the River Thames, a rather self-conscious 2006 recreation  of his early to mid 70’s sound (complete with Davey Johnstone on guitar and Nigel Olsson on drums) had the Thames as a symbol for his own career, ie still there; “But I'm still here and the fog still rolls across the River Thames”. In Richard Digance’s Dear River Thames, the river takes on another symbolic guise:” Stay by me, stay by me, And don't let me down. .... For the ride, I must confide that you are my friend.” (For some reason, the song is often seen as credited to Ralph McTell). There have been numerous versions of Ewan Maccoll’s Sweet Thames Flow Softly - Planxty, Rufus Wainwright, Cherish The Ladies amongst them. I suppose history and continuity is what the river mainly represents in all these songs.

The song here, Earlies, is rather different. The Thames has only a small walk-on part in the lyrics about doing an early shift in the London of 1981 and the IRA bombing campaign  but it somehow permeates the whole song. There are 2 versions here. The first is a live version by the original artists, the Trashcan Sinatras, a Scottish indie band with a harmonies- and -  jingle/jangle sound reminiscent of Teenage Fan Club  - or the Go-Betweens of Streets of Your Town. The second is a more gossamer and ethereal version from 2011 by Lotte Kestner (aka Anna-Lynne Williams).

The precise meaning of the words/location is hard to pin down: County Kilburn is clear enough  ( a name for Kilburn in north-west London because of its large Irish population) but goodness know where Cakebrick Road is. That hardly matters though, for the song is really about nostalgia and wistfulness for times and places past, and the Thames is a perfect setting for that. There is something about it that can create a mood of yearning and  false or real memories, like the mist rising from it. It was in Waterloo Sunset, with Ray Davies saying the lyrics were shaped by his trips over Waterloo Bridge as an art student in the early 1960’s and by a spell as a child in St Thomas Hospital, seeing from the balcony the views described in the song.

Like anyone who has spent time in London, it has also figured in my memories there. Travelling down it on a boat  to Greenwich on a school trip up from the coast; or a spell doing my own ‘earlies’ after first arriving in London, crossing the river en route to work at 6am; or standing on the banks with my son after his graduation and looking over to the London Eye, not there at the time this song was set. You cannot step twice in the same river for other waters are ever flowing on to you - maybe that is where the nostalgia comes from.


Waterloo Guildford

In discussions on philosophy and whether the external world is real, someone will sometimes say;”Is this table really here?”, usually thumping it at the same time. The same argument could be put forward for places, for perceptions of them vary so much it can be hard to say what is real and what is imagination. People bring different eyes, different expectations and take away different memories, sometimes seeing only what they wanted to see. A place may look different for other reasons, though. You may have a particular memory of it, perhaps from years ago, that colours forever how you see it, for good or bad. Or a passing mood may cast it in sunlight or gloom. The column on Grief Came Riding saw Nick Cave’s despair and melancholy  by the sullen River Thames and the Battersea Bridge beloved of artists and poets.

The song here is the opposite of the last reference, a place made more golden than it appears to most people by the mood of the artist. Waterloo has cropped up twice before, in Ray Davies’ musings in Waterloo Sunset and in Jane Birkin’s Waterloo Station. In both, Waterloo Station was seen as a gateway into London: for me arriving to see my first glimpse of the city, for Jane Birkin returning from Paris on the Eurostar. But it is, of course, also an exit from London for points south and south west. To the South Coast and  Portsmouth and on to the Isle of Wight, for example, where Birkin holidayed as a child.

It is also the station for commuter belt towns in surburban Surrey: Woking, Epsom, Surbiton- and Guildford. Guildford is an odd town. The name is synonymous now as much as anything with the Guildford Four, falsely imprisoned for 15 years for the  IRA Guildford pub bombings in 1974 and the subject of a song by the Wolftones. But you might also expect it to be like one the cathedral cities of Let’s Get Out of This Country. It has the ruins of a Norman castle, a university and a cathedral on a hill overlooking the town (and where some of The Omen was filmed). Yet you would never mistake being in Germany or France as you walk round the place and it certainly has its critics, who see drunken violence, boy racers in the Guildford Cruise and a centre with the heart torn out.(as in clip below). Robyn Hitchcock did a song tellingly called, No. I don’t remember Guildford.

However, this is where the ‘is this table really here’ question pops up for my image of Guildford is very different, being mainly based on images from my childhood visiting  by train from Waterloo to Guildford an aunt and uncle who lived in a village a mile or two out of the town: a village where the war memorial had names from bygone eras like Balaclava Smallbone on it and there was a story about a nearby hill that pilgrims doing penance used to push peas up its slopes  with their noses. What sticks in my mind most is a day once spent taking a rowing boat with my uncle  from Guildford down the river Wey through a landscape that could have come straight from Wind in the Willows - and which came to mind totally unexpectedly years later on the River Trebizat in Bosnia, a memory mentioned in the Lyla column.

The song here by Guildford singer Frank Hamilton from 2007, Waterloo Guildford, acts as a kind of bridge between these two sets of images of the place, worlds apart. The  route from Waterloo to Guildford is not one of the World’s Great Train Journeys at the best of times and a late night train depositing a carriage  of drunks into a town centre  of drunks doesn’t sound promising material . However, against all expectations  the mood of the artist and song produce something rather touching. It is partly because of the innocence and optimism in the voice and words. It is also, I think, because of the musical accompaniment of a circular refrain on acoustic guitar with harmonica, an effective  combination used in folk music from Woody Guthrie through Dylan and Donovan and beyond. (Oddly, it is heard too on Robyn Hitchcock’s song about Guildford mentioned earlier). It was also part of the hat-trick of hits by busker Don Partridge in the late 60’s, a kind of real-life version of Dick Van Dyke’s one-man band in Mary Poppins, only without the ‘cockney’ accent.. He went from busking in Leicester Square to Top of the Pops and UK tours and back again to busking , leaving a small but joyously sunny musical legacy with tracks like Rosie and Blue Eyes

There is something wistful and nostalgic about the sound of the guitar and harmonica here behind the words, not perhaps for Waterloo or Guildford but for the  moment described that turned Guildford into something else for the author. Just as Guildford is for some a Crap Town; or the name of the pub bombings and the Guildford Four; or a memory of a boat drifting down the river past the willows and kingfishers. Which one is real and really here, like the table?



Previous columns have looked at stereotyping of other countries in pop music. One might think that Germany might suffer particularly here from a British perspective. At the time that pop music was coming of age, popular British culture was still full of an endless re-telling of World War 2. Films like The Dam-busters, or Reach For the Sky, or The Great Escape, packed the cinemas and were routinely shown on TV (In a 2006 UK poll regarding the family film that TV viewers would most want to see on Christmas Day, The Great Escape was  the first choice of male viewers). Children’s comics had strip cartoons of British pilots saying things like “Take that, you square-headed  sausage nosher" as they shot down another Messerschmitt.

This  constant re-run of the past was kept going for decades , satirised by Sparks in their 1972 song  Girl from Germany:Oh, no! Bring her home and the folks look ill. My word, they can't forget, they never will. They can hear the storm-troops on our lawn when I show her in and the Fuehrer is alive and well  in our panelled den “. In such a vein , I once had an elderly relative who would not allow two particular  words to be said in his presence: ‘German’ and ‘pregnant’.  It can still suddenly crop up in unlikely contexts. In a recent discussion about Eurovision between music critic Charles Shaar Murray and Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz, Murray made the curious remark that ‘If the Nazis had won, all popular music would sound like this (ie Eurovision).’  Oompah music   = a totalitarian and racist ideology. Hmm.

Yet this perspective didn’t seem to figure much  in pop songs , outside of football chants. In fact, in the early days of pop music Germany hardly figured at all, odd given the significance of Hamburg for the Beatles and the British beat boom and the continued popularity in Germany of artists that vanished from popular consciousness here years ago. (Even now in somewhere like Stuttgart or Munster you might see a poster for a concert by Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack or Alvin Lee). There seemed plenty there  to inspire songs -  castles with towers and battlements perched above the Rhine like  pictures  in a children’ fairy story,  outdoor markets on cobbled streets and the  Gothic Cathedral of a city like Cologne. Yet there seemed few equivalents for Germany of songs like Mary Chapin Carpenter’s What If  We Went to Italy, or Bonnie Tyler’s Lost in France, or even Sylvia’s Viva Espana. Horst Jankowski’s  jaunty piano hit  from 1965 A Walk in the Black Forest, didn’t really count – and unfortunately was a decade too early to be the musical  accompaniment to the classic 70’s English  (with a Germanic tone)  dinner party of cheese fondue, Black Forest gateau and Blue Nun wine. Mmm

 As time passed, this did change. As mentioned before, Berlin as a city has inspired plenty of musical tributes -  from Lou Reed and Bowie to Japan and Rufus Wainwright -  but other towns have attracted less musical attention. Regina Spektor did a song called Dusseldorf, but it wasn't really about the place, any more than Ben Folds’ Cologne gives the listener any sense of that city. A much more evocative piece was Randy Newman’s In Germany Before the War, also set in Dusseldorf and based on a serial killer of the 1930’s. The song has been covered by others, including Katie Melua, but Newman’s version best conveys the underlying creepiness.

The song here from 2006- Germany -  by American duo Ghost Mice gives a rather different perspective, a kind of Bill Bryson-type travelogue with an infectious hoe-down backing. The words, tumbling out before the music finishes, cover a quick backpackers’ tour, taking in a cathedral city bombed in World War 2 - maybe Cologne-, fairy tale castles, the Rhine and a passing mention of Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut’s novel on the fire bombing of Dresden. The song comes from their album Europe, a musical chronicle of the pair’s travels across several countries, apparently done on $10 dollars a day. It sounds an interesting, if hard-going, trip.

It also gives a reminder that reality and stereotypes can be a long way apart. During a  time in Cologne,I stayed with a family who were not sausage-noshers at all but vegetarians, who told a joke about Helmut Kohl and kohlrabi (the punch-line of which I have forgotten). In the column , Let’s Get Out of This Country, I mentioned the ease when in the streets and markets of some English cathedral towns of imagining you were in parts of Germany. A shared history, despite what the films say.


River Man

A previous column, (Let’s Get Out Of This Country),  looked at some of the more unlikely places that crop up as subjects of songs. There are some, however, which rarely figure. There are , perhaps unexpectedly, several songs about cathedrals and cathedral cities but less about universities and university cities. Schools - yes. Songs about school have been a staple of pop songs since  the early days of rock and roll, perhaps as the spirit of rebellion is easily inter-changed between the two. Hence songs like Chuck Berry’s School Days –“Soon as three o'clock rolls around, you finally lay your burden down, close up your books, get out of your seat, down the halls and into the street” – or Alice Cooper’s School’s Out. But there have also been plenty that have a nostalgic air to them: like Cat Stevens’ Remember The Days of the Old School Yard or Madness’  Baggy Trousers.

Once past school days, however, the inspiration from education starts to wear thin. There was a time, of course,  when pop music was pigeonholed as plebeian entertainment  and performers weren’t expected to have experience of any education past school. When the Zombies hit the UK charts in 1964 with She’s Not There, the papers found it so unusual  that the group members had 50 ‘O’ levels between them that it became the main part of their publicity. More common were the sorts of quotes from some head teacher lamenting  an ex-pupil who had left school early and gone onto success with a group like The Applejacks or Mindbenders; “He is a foolish young man. All right, he has bought himself a car and a house but he hasn’t got  a Maths ‘O’ level to fall back on”. It is also easy to forget just how young some musicians were. When  the original Shadows’ drummer, Tony Meehan, left the group after 3 years or so, he had recently turned 18. By the time Helen Shapiro was 16 she had had a string of hits, including 2  UK Number 1’s and headlined a tour over the Beatles.

With the influence of  graduates of Art School or  university  on 60’s pop and the move of pop music towards  the realms of intellectual and cultural acceptance  this changed –but there were  still few songs  about this in the  way that school days were remembered. Too respectable to sing about?. This is perhaps why there are relatively few songs – as opposed to poems or novels - about Cambridge, so identified with the university and its colleges. Marillion had a rather jaundiced view of it  in their 1985 hit about social elitism, Garden Party (The Great Cucumber Massacre): “Aperitifs consumed en masse display their owners on the grass. Couples loiter in the cloisters. social leeches quoting Chaucer “

 A different perspective was found in a  rare rock eulogy to the place – in Roger Waters’ Granchester Meadows on Pink Floyd’s Ummagumma album. You can walk to Granchester from Cambridge, along by the river  and willows and past the sights  and sounds described in the song. In the village there  is the church in Rupert Brooke’s  poem, The Old Vicarage, Grantchester, with its famous closing lines:Stands the Church clock at ten to three? And is there honey still for tea?”. The clock tells the right time now but you can still get honey –and tea and scones –at The Orchard opposite whilst you sit in a deck chair under an apple tree as the bees and wasps circle round. Next door is the Old Vicarage itself, now owned by Jeffrey Archer and the fragrant Mary.

Yet despite the pastoral idyll nearby and the sense of timelessness amongst the colleges and cloisters, there is something about Cambridge that seems to cast a melancholic air over some of the work inspired by it, including the song here River Man by the English singer-songwriter Nick Drake, from his 1969 album Five Leaves Left. Like much of his work, the lyrics are open to interpretation. Is the river man meant to  be Charon the ferryman taking the souls of the dead across to Hades? Is he a drug dealer? A god of nature, like the Piper at the Gates of Dawn? Is the Betty who comes by a reference, as has been suggested, to Betty Foy in Wordsworth’s poem The Idiot Boy, studied by Drake at Cambridge University? Whatever, the song is like a journey in  a punt  down the river Cam, the rise and fall of the rhythm and of Drake’s voice – from major to minor and back -  like the ebb and flow of the water on the banks as you drift by the lilac trees and fallen leaves

As with much of his work, there is also an autumnal sadness about it, the more acute when the listener knows that Drake was to die 5 years after this record, commercial success eluding him in his lifetime. You think then of another Cambridge musician and drug casualty, Syd Barrett of Pink Floyd, who had also sung of a river in See Emily Play. His own musical star flared brightly but briefly before a return to decades of seclusion in his mother’s home in Cambridge. Look at this photo of a 5-man Pink Floyd in 1968: Barrett, the former front man, is at the back fading from sight in front of your eyes. Or there is the central character in Sebastian Faulk’s novel, Engleby ,which  explores the disturbed mind of a Cambridge student from the 1970’s. It is as though there is for some a golden age in Cambridge - maybe childhood, perhaps  university – after which life is never as bright again, like a colour film changing to black and white
Link to See Emily Play

Maybe Cambridge has that effect  because it is so easy to find the past there in the colleges and cloisters and the punting on the river.  Some of Barrett’s work took inspiration from Victorian literature and a piece like Grantchester Meadows could be describing a Victorian landscape painting. A friend and musical colleague  of Nick Drake is quoted as saying :”Nick was in some strange way out of time. When you were with him, you always had a sad feeling of him being born in the wrong century. If he would have lived in the 17th Century, at the Elizabethan Court, together with composers like Dowland or William Byrd, he would have been alright”.(Robert Kirby).As with Brooke, Drake’s early death means he will always be  remembered as a young man. Out of time - I guess Cambridge is a good place to be for that, where you can float on a river for ever and ever.


Voyage to Atlantis

Places are not always straight forward. A previous column looked at places that no longer exist but live on in some people’s minds as current reference points (Cole’s Corner). Then there are places that really do exist but sound so exotically remote that it is easy to imagine they are made up. Timbuktu, in Mali, has already been mentioned, with the tune From Kalamazoo to Timbuktu.  Xanadu is  another. Xanadu  (Shangdu)  was the capital of Kublai Khan’s dynasty and the ruins still remain in Mongolia. It is probably best known, however, from one of 3 sources, each of which might lead the listener/reader to think  that it was an imaginary place. In order of credibility, there is the poem Kubla Khan  by Coleridge, written  (in 1797) after waking from a  dream and in which Xanadu sounds like the Garden of Eden. Then there is Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich’s Legend of Xanadu (1967),  complete with sound of whip cracking but which  is possibly historically incorrect in describing the place  as ‘a black barren land’.  Finally, one’s ideas might come from the take by Olivia Newton-John and ELO in  the film Xanadu and song of the same name (1980), a place ‘where your neon lights will shine” and almost definitely historically incorrect.

Then there are places that do not exist but sound plausible enough that you might have to think twice about their possible reality. Shangri-La, for example, the title of a Kinks song as well as a 1930’s novel –maybe it is  a Himalayan kingdom somewhere between Tibet and Bhutan. Or El Dorado (ELO again!)  - perhaps it is somewhere near El Salvador and Guatemala (instead of being, as Edgar Allan Poe put it in his poem of the  same name, “Over the Mountains of the Moon. down the Valley of the Shadow” .You cant miss it).  Or Echo Beach, made famous by Martha and the Muffins. Surely that existed: the single came out with a map on the record sleeve - but apparently it was a figment of the lyricist’s imagination. These, of course, are different from those places that do not exist but no-one ever imagined that they really did., Like The Land of Grey and Pink (Caravan). Or The Land of Make Believe ( Bucks Fizz). Or The Land of Oo-Bla-Dee (Dizzy Gillespie)

There is another  category too, best described as places which may be fantasy or may  have actually   been real but which also now exist in a modern, though more prosaic, form. One example is Albion. It was  an early  name for Britain but took on  more mythical overtones over the centuries, the idea becoming a recurrent theme in Pete Doherty’s music. A more well-known example is Atlantis, the  legendary island that was also supposed to host a lost civilisation and has provided the inspiration for countless books, films, comic strips and video games. The geographical  origins for the story have been placed everywhere from Mexico to Antarctica. However, its inclusion in this blog of places I remember only makes sense if one particular theory is accepted: that the legend was based on  the Mediterranean island of Crete and the Minoan empire of 2000 years or so BC , destroyed by a massive volcano eruption on nearby Santorini.

The theory seems more plausible than most and there are parts of Crete where it would be very easy to believe it. Admittedly it is a  long time since I went to Crete and certainly there was nothing mystical about the stormy journey over from Piraeus on an overnight ferry that had a below-deck toilet almost as bad as the one at Milton Keynes bus station. However, when you see the ruins of Knossos Palace - source of the myth of the Labyrinth and the Minotaur – or the Dictean cave where Zeus was supposedly born, you get a sense of the antiquity of the island. You also realise that there are places there a world away from the clubs and nightlife of the coastal resorts -  decades after the end of World War 2 a Resistance fighter emerged from a hidden mountain location like a Japanese soldier on a Pacific island.

 Most songs that have taken inspiration from the idea of Atlantis, it is true, have taken a more fanciful perspective and Crete doesn’t really figure in them  much, if  at all. Musically, the Shadows were first off the block with a 1963 instrumental hit Atlantis, though in truth the tune didn’t really conjure up Atlantis, any more than their  Kon Tiki conjured up Thor Heyerdahl and his raft. (Sun Ra’s instrumental album, Atlantis, will give the listener a better vision of Atlantis -  or possibly a headache).Donovan really went to town, with quotes from Plato sprinkled through  his Atlantis hit  in 1969: “The antediluvian kings colonised the world..All the Gods who play in the mythological dramas in all legends from all lands were from fair Atlantis.”  Australian outfit Flash and the Pan offered Atlantis Calling in 1980, with lyrics  actually mentioning a Greek island and throwing in the Flood, the Pyramids, the Tiahuanaco ruins and Stonehenge for good measure.

The song here from 1977, Voyage to Atlantis by the Isley Brothers, is really a love ballad with Atlantis as a hook to hang it on. The Isleys were a band who transformed themselves from a 60’s Motown-type vocal group into a rock/funk outfit in the 70’s, with classics like Who’s That Lady and the definitive  Summer Breeze characterised by the silky lead vocals of Ronald Isley and the Hendrix-influenced soaring guitar of Ernie Isley (who also played drums on many tracks). This song follows that trend. Yet  if I listen to the echoing closing bars and imagine  ancient white temple pillars silhouetted against a blue sky, the smell of a lemon grove and wild thyme in the air, and the hot sun throwing spots of  light reflecting  off the dancing waves of the sea, Atlantis/Crete seems quite plausible.