The overall theme of these columns has been the interplay between place, song and listener in acting as a trigger for memories or impressions. The ability of music to do this is well known, a Proustian effect by which hearing even a snatch of a song can bring recognition of the past in a present moment. It can easily be tested. Search out a song you haven’t heard for many years, perhaps since childhood: close your eyes and listen to it and see what it recalls. I can’t hear the opening bars of Wings’ Listen to What The Man Says without thinking of going to Athens for the first time: it must have been playing on a radio en route somewhere. For those with a certain way of thinking, it can also be quite a useful tool in fixing dates in your mind. Which summer did we go on a family holiday near St Michaels Mount in Cornwall? Wet Wet Wet were singing Love Is All Around for weeks on end, so it must have been 1994.
Songs, of course, aren’t usually written with this mind – they are, more likely, intended for the moment. The track here, however, Reminisce Pt 2 by Dexys Midnight Runners, takes a step back by being a song not primarily about a place but about memories –in this case, of a teenage love affair – recalled by songs of the time. This came from their 1985 album, Don’t Stand Me Down, produced in their phase of looking like Ivy League students or accountants that had succeeded the raggedy gypsy image of the Come On Eileen period. In it, Kevin Rowland remembers, largely in spoken form, a teenage romance , with Jimmy Ruffin’s I’ll Say Forever My Love providing the musical backdrop: this being the song that he and his girlfriend, as they walked home from evenings in Oxford Street and Edgware Road in London, had adopted as ‘their song’. The effect could have been overly - sentimental and twee but somehow comes over as genuine, rather sweet and evocative of a particular place and time - and also a reminder that the musical landscape of that time wasn’t all flower power or street fighting man. It was also the Kinks and a Soho transvestite, soul and Peter Paul and Mary re-appearing from the early sixties to have their biggest UK hit with a John Denver song.
There is, however, something troubling about this reminiscence – the date the song recalls and the tunes it is remembered by don’t match up. The words place the romance in the summer of 1969. However, the two songs in the running for the couple’s special tune, Lola by the Kinks and I’ll Say Forever My Love by Jimmy Ruffin, came from the summer of 1970, a summer musically over-shadowed by Mungo Jerry’s very non-PC In the Summertime (‘have a drink, have a drive...do a ton or a ton and twenty five’). Likewise, the two songs played on the radio and by which Kevin Rowland remembers that summer - Wedding Bell Blues and Leaving On a Jet Plane – weren’t summer songs at all by the time they reached the UK. Wedding Bell Blues was an early Laura Nyro song, performed by her at the Monterey Festival in 1967, but the USA and UK hit was by the Fifth Dimension, reaching the UK charts in January 1970. Similarly, Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of Leaving On A Jet Plane was on the radio in the winter of 1969 and in the charts in early 1970.
In a real sense, this doesn’t matter and could be poetic licence. This is a song, not a historical record, and there may be good reasons for the switch in year and telescoping songs over a period of time into one summer. There could be also something of the same syndrome you sometimes see when people are asked to name the first record they ever bought, with a temptation for achieving credibility to triumph over reality. Hence, the answer is more likely to be “I saved up for ages to buy an import of BB King playing Blind Lemon Jefferson” rather than the more prosaic “I went with my mum to Woolies and got Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah) by Gary Glitter”. Perhaps, in the same way, a lost love is more appropriately remembered by I’ll Say Forever My Love rather than, say, by Middle of the Road and Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep.
Perhaps, too, it merely shows that memory is fallible though, in truth, both Leaving On A Jet Plane and Wedding Bell Blues do sound like summer songs. It is human for the mind to recast the past. It didn’t always snow at Christmas ; the first gig you went to wasn’t really the Sex Pistols at the 100 Club; and it wasn’t always a golden summer on Cromer beach. It only becomes dangerous if you go searching for a rewritten past and expect to find it in the present. This is an odd song. It doesn’t make me think about a place –Oxford Street or Edgware Road - because it is not my reminiscence. It does make me think about the past though, and realise that the distance between now and this song is greater than between the song and the young love it describes. In the interplay of past and present it has itself become a marker along the way.