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.