10/03/2012

Euston Station


Waterloo has cropped up several times before as the backdrop in various songs. However, the station I have probably come to know best is Euston. Unlike Waterloo, which provided my entry point to London, it has been the exit for heading North or a transition point for coming into the city. It was actually the first mainline terminus station in a capital city but  it has never quite seemed in the same league as Waterloo. Eurostar never stopped there ,it has never had - to my knowledge -  a cinema or hairdressers  and, of course, it lacks a really famous song.

 They do exist, however, and  two of them either present a neat contrast between romanticism and cynicism or reflect the passage of time between the songs and the changing nature of  the station . There was Euston Station, a mournful Irish lament by Davie Arthur and the Fureys, who painted a picture that seems unfamiliar to my experience of  the place – “And the tambourine lady, and the saxophone man play a sad song of somewhere to go if you can…. So it's to Euston station, to the newsboy's harsh cries, Gypsy girls selling flowers have a glint in their eyes”. There was also A Night in Euston Station by Hungry Dog Brand, with a dubious invitation:   “loonies  drunks, tramps and whores…..come spend a night in Euston Station with strangers approaching to tell you things you didn’t want to know and then ask for change”. Just a normal Friday night then.

There was also the song here, also called Euston Station, by Barbara Ruskin from 1967.British female singers in the 60’s were in rather the same position as the doo-wop groups referenced in the last column. There seemed no obvious reasons why some were successful and others weren’t and every so often you come across a track and wonder why on earth it was never a hit. A few artists who were virtually unnoticed at the time did achieve success in later decades, notably Kiki Dee and Elkie Brooks. (In the mid-60’s, years before breaking through with Vinegar Joe , Elkie Brooks was sometimes described as “the sister of the drummer with Billy J Kramer and the Dakotas”.) There were many others, however, whose names and works remain bewilderingly unknown. Sharon Tandy, for example, whose soul style got her a  recording at Stax Studios backed by Booker T and the MGs but little success in the UK, though her version of the Lorraine Ellison classic Stay With Me is one of the best covers. Or Barry St John, who recorded a string of tracks only  later snapped up by Northern Soul fans: she also did a rather creepy version of  Come Away Melinda.

Or Tammy St John (no relation) who recorded the lost gem below, Dark Shadows and Empty Hallways , in 1965  at the age of 14 years. I find this a rather unsettling song, as it seems out of time in a weird way. It starts off sounding like St Etienne and then becomes as if it were a Bacharach-David hit you  had  never heard before. It is like someone creative in devising retro songs travelled from the present back in a time machine to deposit the track in 1965, only 1965 had already happened somehow so no-one noticed it at the time .In the real 1965, a much less memorable Bacharach-tinged song, Where Are You Now, by Jackie Trent, was actually at  Number One. (20 years or so later, Jackie Trent became part of the nation's musical psyche when she wrote the theme tune for Neighbours)

Barbara Ruskin  falls into this group of little-known 60’s women  singers, though her work was more towards the poppier end of music than those mentioned, reminiscent of Jackie DeShannon.As a woman singer-songwriter she was also a relative rarity in the pop market at that time– artists such as Jackie DeShannon herself or Barbara Acklin notwithstanding. The difficulties artists like her faced seemed obvious with her first release, when her own stronger composition, I Can't Believe in Miracles ,was  relegated to the ‘b’ side in favour of a rather pointless cover of the Billy Fury hit, Halfway to Paradise.  Perhaps for the same reasons, another woman singer-songwriter of that time, Bobbie Gentry ,faced persistent rumours that she didn’t write her most famous song, Ode to Billy Joe, herself. (I once lived in a rented house in Reading where one of the other itinerant tenants would corner anyone he could and claim that he had actually written American Pie and that Don Mclean had swindled him out of his royalties. He disappeared one day leaving 2 months unpaid rent).

Euston Station appears to have been inspired by her travelling regularly on the Number 73, the bus that runs from the West End past Euston Station to Stoke Newington and Walthamstow .That makes it a most musically-celebrated bus route as there is at least one serious song about it: Busdriver by Kitto. That is unusual as songs about British buses are generally as intrinsically comical as songs about English counties. Paul Simon could make a Greyhound bus trip from Pittsburgh to New York into an epic statement on America. Boarding a Number 73 at Euston and counting the cars as you are stuck at the Angel is never going to sound heroic no matter how hard you try.

The song came out at a time that seemed to be popular for station songs- Waterloo Sunset and Finchley Central  also  came out the same year, as did a track by the Move called Wave the Flag and Stop the Train. Lyrically though it had more in comparison with another song of 1967, Matthew and Son by Cat Stevens – “watch them run down to platform one and the eight thirty train to Matthew and Son”. The station as a symbol of the grey drabness of the 9 to 5 day   working for the Big Boss Man at a time when   Swinging London  was in full swing . Euston Station here is like one of those pictures of a signpost at a crossroads in a children’s story book. Platforms 1-7 This Way: monochrome life, grey suits, commuter train and the office . Platforms 8-11 That Way: Technicolour, Pegasus the flying horse, the giant albatross and Paradise People.

 It is inevitably a bit of a period piece with its  weighing machines and porters in blue – they sound as remote as a man walking in front of the train waving a red flag. However, porters in blue and detective inspectors sound more exciting than the ubiquitous  Burger King and Boots –or, indeed, strangers approaching to tell you things. Maybe there is a parallel universe somewhere where they still exist and where compilation albums of Hits of the Sixties feature Tammy St John and Barbara Ruskin whilst record collectors eagerly search Ebay for a rare track by the little-known  Cilla Black. And, really,  Euston Station is  not  always the same.

59 comments:

  1. Elkie Brooks in " Vinegar Joe" was described as Europes answer to " Janis Joplin and Tina Turner. As as the "Wild Woman of Rock n'Roll"

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    1. Elkie Brooks , by far the best female singer the U.K has ever produced.

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  2. I totally agree, Geoff - I've only been to Euston twice, across a 20 year period, but it never struck me as being anything at all like this! - "And the tambourine lady, and the saxophone man play a sad song of somewhere to go if you can…. So it's to Euston station, to the newsboy's harsh cries, Gypsy girls selling flowers have a glint in their eyes"

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  3. And to be honest, I think this was a bit more like my experience!! - “loonies drunks, tramps and whores…..come spend a night in Euston Station with strangers approaching to tell you things you didn’t want to know and then ask for change”. :)

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  4. Geoff, as you've been to New York, you must have been to Penn Station several times - the main station there (New York only has two - Grand Central and Penn - unlike London, which has at least five or six above-ground mainline stations I think). I wonder what you write about for Penn Station. The Felice Brothers - Penn Station - maybe?

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  5. I got hold of Sharon Tandy's 26-track compilation- Sharon Tandy - You Gotta Believe It's (1965-69), after reading your blog this week - it's really good, definitely worth a listen!

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  6. Isn't the problem with Sharon Tandy that she was too much in the mold of Dusty Springfield, both in terms of her voice and her versatility, blending various shades of soul, British pop, and even some tinges of mod-psychedelia? Yet her voice wasn't as exceptional as Springfield's, and she didn't record songs that were as memorable. So maybe some people didn't make it because they seemed too much like other versions of already-famous singers? There were numerous sub-Springfield women '60s pop/rock-soul singers in the British market in the 1960s, and someone needed to send Tandy in a more unique direction, like a harder soul-rock sound, more galvanizing soul-freakbeat.

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  7. Thanks for mentioning Sharon Tandy - I had never heard of her, but just looked up some of her work - she's really good! Here's one song:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMbXKPZWizY

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  8. It has always baffled me, too, why it took Elkie Brooks so long to achieve proper fame......

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  9. Or if you think about doing Penn Station in the blog, how about Block, Lead Me Not Into Penn Station ?

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  10. I enjoyed all your columns about trains and stations. There is a whole book here to be written about trains and music I think.

    I used to travel south on a slow train that ran through Trenton, New Jersey. And back in the nineteen eighties, I used to stand on the turnpike hitchhiking westwards. It’s a desolate landscape now, full of boarded up factories, abandoned warehouses and rusting machinery. The rivers are green and slimy – I remember that old song about a green river and barefoot girls dancing in the moonlight. A Creedence Clearwater Revival song.

    It was W.H. Auden’s beloved scenery, industrial, hazy, faceless; I rode trains between granite mountains and drove on yellow brick roads, on bridges that swung when the cursed birds of Prometheus hovered and crowed. I traveled past deserted graveyards, thermal springs, uranium mines – I had no destination, no purpose. I listened to the vibes of the universe, to the sounds of the hollow earth.

    I remembered the details, I forgot all the rest: my memory was like the enchanted land of New Mexico, dusty and blurry, carved by the red Santa Fe railroad – I remembered useless things, people with orange hair, walls made of bottles, herds of wild horses, Pete Townshend’s crooked nose, a sandstorm in Phoenix, Arizona. I forgot what was worth forgetting. Looking back I saw the psychedelic dances at Fillmore and at Avalon and further back the hula-hoops and the polka dot prom dresses and Elvis singing Lawdy Miss Clawdy. I saw myself when I was five years old and rock’ n ’rolled with small feet in pink socks. Thirty years went by and I drove through them in a second hand Thunderbird 66, high as a kite. Some of us popped pills, some snorted glue, others sniffed varnish and lighter fluid, and there were a few who shot up Chinese heroin – in the dissolving darkness I saw the black crawling moon; time turned into jelly and stood still. Now, when the train’s is pulling in the Penn station I feel like kissing the ground, like walking on Brooklyn Bridge on a tight rope. One of these days I’ll take a chance like Steve Brodie who jumped off it and survived.

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  11. Here's Sharon Tandy, Stay With Me, which Geoff mentioned: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VlvqXlshd6g

    Meanwhile, if anyone needs to hear a really appalling version of this oft-recorded classic, look no further than David Essex!

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  12. " (I once lived in a rented house in Reading where one of the other itinerant tenants would corner anyone he could and claim that he had actually written American Pie and that Don Mclean had swindled him out of his royalties. He disappeared one day leaving 2 months unpaid rent)."

    Ha ha, poor you! Although, the disappearing act by a mentally unstable house-mate has happened to the best of us........

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  13. "Maybe there is a parallel universe somewhere where they still exist and where compilation albums of Hits of the Sixties feature Tammy St John and Barbara Ruskin whilst record collectors eagerly search Ebay for a rare track by the little-known Cilla Black" -

    I WANT TO LIVE IN THIS PARALLEL UNIVERSE!

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  14. Inspired by your column, I wrote a little instructional piece about Penn Station, where I have spent too many hours:)

    -----

    Time your walk to Penn Station so you get there exactly when the train is boarding, because every extraneous second spent in Penn Station is the worst second, despite the fact that the woman who announces trains has an incredibly soothing voice. She sounds like a really great fourth grade teacher or a cool aunt. Penn Station also plays classical music, offers beer in plastic to-go cups with straws, and show videos of police dogs in action. You know what? Penn Station isn’t that bad. If your train were delayed, it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world.

    When your train is an hour and a half delayed, and you are over the classical music (way to have NO WORDS, classical music!), and there are only so many times you can laugh when you hear Soothing Voiced Lady say, “trains to Ronkonkoma,” and who cares about a video of dogs, you want to see REAL DOGS, you may once again come to the conclusion that Penn Station is The Worst.

    When your track is finally announced try to act nonchalant as dozens of people swarm to the gate. Resist the urge to yell, “We’re all going to get on the train so everyone JUST CHILL OUT, OK???” Also note that now is not the time to teach the course you’ve been developing, “Personal Space and the Value of it to You and Everyone Around You 101.”

    Board the train and find an empty row. Sit next to the window and place your bag so it sort of spills over onto the seat next to you, not so you’re blatantly keeping a seat, but just enough so it doesn’t look inviting. Pull out a copy of Arrive: The Magazine for Northwest Business Travelers, from the pouch in front of you. Read an article in Arrive: The Magazine for Northwest Business Travelers about a cheese shop in Brooklyn. Put the magazine in your bag, because there’s a photo in there of a handsome cheesemonger that you want to show your friend. Jot down an idea to start a magazine called Train Mall, which will be like Sky Mall, but for trains. Look around you to make sure that no idea thieves have seen you do this.

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  15. More so than Penn Station, I think New York's other main station - Grand Central - pops up in songs. For example, Mary Chapin Carpenter's 'Grand Central' song from a few year's ago: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4fZG0fa7-nM

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  16. There is also my song, Grand Central Station -

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bKOzEAzP_Ts

    Also, if you are interested, a recent song I recorded called "The Massachusetts Song" has over 50 Massachusetts town names in the lyrics (you can listen on Tumblr for free: http://danaedelman.tumblr.com/

    I saw you have a column about Massachusetts already, going to read it now.....

    Great blog!

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  17. Actually, there is a hairdressers in Euston:)

    It is called "Cuts" I think, it is inside Euston station, and it charges £9 for men's haircuts. It's kind a barber shop catering for people in a rush so no appointment is necessary and if you are regular, they will give you a discount card so that you pay for 7 haircuts and then your next cut will be free of charge. The whole shop's concept is based on a Japanese idea. You can even check online beforehand to see how long the estimated waiting time would be as they have a waiting area which records how many people are in the queue. Anyway, you're in and out dead quick. Best nine quid i've ever spent. There's even some crazy hoover technology shit to remove cut hair from your head so you don't get an itchy collar.

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  18. Don't forget the song by UFO, called I'm A Loser:

    Last train's eleven, it's now quarter past
    Why're you tryin' to make the evenin' move so fast
    I'm in real trouble but I can't go back home
    They locked the doors and I'm left out alone
    ....
    Euston station and it's cold as ice
    ....
    I'm a loser, I'm a loser
    I'm a loser

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  19. My only impression of Euston is from the film Johnny Go Home, from 1975, that documentary about teenagers who leave home and go to London and become prostitutes (http://www.screenonline.org.uk/tv/id/1328782/index.html). Tommy, a 12 year-old Scottish boy, is seen arriving at Euston Station as the documentary begins.

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  20. Thanks for that reference. I am not sure if Euston features in any of the versions of 39 Steps - I think it is the starting point for the train trip to Scotland in the film.
    I have never noticed Cuts in Euston Station, despite passing through it regularly!

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  21. This is such a brilliant idea and piece of writing Geoff!!!

    "Euston Station here is like one of those pictures of a signpost at a crossroads in a children’s story book. Platforms 1-7 This Way: monochrome life, grey suits, commuter train and the office. Platforms 8-11 That Way: Technicolour, Pegasus the flying horse, the giant albatross and Paradise People."

    I CHOOSE PLATFORMS 8-11!!!

    Here's a little illustration I found, that isn't exactly what you're describing but sort of gets across the idea: http://image1.masterfile.com/em_w/02/09/04/608-02090406w.jpg

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  22. But Geoff, I think most trains departing from Platforms 8-11 are heading via Watford Junction to some other grey places:) Not much evidence of Technicolour, Pegasus the flying horse, the giant albatross and Paradise People in Milton Keynes, Northampton, Leighton Buzzard and Northampton:) At least from platforms 1-7 there are trains heading to Edinburgh, Bangor, Carlisle, Lancaster and Preston - which all are more likely to be harbouring a Pegasus than anywhere accessible via London Midland services:)

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  23. "Paul Simon could make a Greyhound bus trip from Pittsburgh to New York into an epic statement on America. Boarding a Number 73 at Euston and counting the cars as you are stuck at the Angel is never going to sound heroic no matter how hard you try."

    :) This made me laugh a lot:)

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  24. Here's Busdriver by Kitto that Geoff mentioned:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4NQDd5rPv0E

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  25. I never associated the Jackie Trent of Where Are You Now with the Neighbours themetune!

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  26. I wasn't sure what Neighbours was, and why its theme song became part of the nation's psyche, so I looked it up, and I think this is the theme song - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kIdFzP0TJxc (which is terrible!), and it seems like the show is like the American equivalent of Days of Our Lives, a daily soap (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Days_of_our_Lives). And yet, it is Australian! Which is confusing. Why has it been airing in England for so many years, and seemingly really popular? Wouldn't a soap set in England be a more likely success? Very confused! There's no way Americans would watch a foreign soap so regularly. But maybe it reflects England thinking of Australia as kind of part of the Empire still???

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  27. Here's Where Are You Now, by Jackie Trent: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJLESaA_XrA - very strange that it was number 1 in 1965.

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  28. Hello.

    It's interesting you mentioned the Number 73 bus in London. Nearly a decade ago, I realised that lots of us have stories about the No.73 bus (which runs the route between Victoria and Tottenham). The old No.73 Routemaster was offically retired from London streets on Friday 3rd September, 2004. I have been gathering stories about it since July 2003. You can find them at my website:

    http://www.studioincite.com/73urbanjourneys/stories-73.htm

    The rule for submitting stories was that they had to be each around 73 words, and about the 73 bus. And I stopped at 73 stories.

    The project came about in June 2003 during a short term research fellowship of three months at the University of Surrey. During that time I looked at the relationship between technology use and senses of place in urban mobile settings. I made this website and started to blog. Due to lots of supportive, constructive and just plain weird responses from people from all over the world I blogged for three and a bit years. The result, 73urbanjourneys.com, is part of an ethnographic and observational study of the No.73 bus, exploring its route, passengers, history and iconic place in the urban landscape. The use of a transport route as a way of sampling places in the city was inspired by François Maspero's writings.

    Cheers!

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  29. Geoff, do you have any theories about why 1967 was such a popular moment for station/train songs (Waterloo Sunset and Finchley Central and several others)? Is it something to do with the tension you described so beautifully as a signpost pointing in different directions at a station, toward two different worlds - where the country seemed to be at a crossroads culturally (youth culture and revolution vs the status quo and conservatives) and stations/trains spoke to that tension because of their inherent place as a crossroads, where you can be standing next to someone one minute, both staring up at the departures board, and the next minute you're heading in two completely different directions on different trains?

    Or if this is a stupid idea, then why else would the mid '60s have been so rife with station songs?

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  30. I hadn't heard about Move's Wave the Flag and Stop the Train, but it's kind of cool:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZU4P5HXNxds&fmt=18

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  31. Geoff, I totally agree with you about Dark Shadows and Empty Hallways being unsettling. And I agree it starts out sounding like St Etienne. I read somewhere that it inspired"No Rainbows For Me" by St. Etienne.

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  32. I did a list once of songs that were the quintessential "London Sound" - and Tammy St John's Dark Shadows and Empty Hallways was on there:

    http://www.oldiesproject.com/wp/?p=137

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  33. I think Dark Shadows and Empty Hallway is one of the best songs of all time. It's all about the arrangement. Space is created in a piece of music, not only from left to right in a stereo sense, it is also created from front to back. And in Dark Shadows and Empty Hallway, nothing is out of place in the space. The strings are epic, but they play around the vocal, which is the main focus of the song. If you really listen, you will notice that the strings (and other instrumental elements) aren't nearly as full-on as you first think. The vocal is allowed to breathe and become the centre of attention. The whole thing is a big illusion. And like the best arrangements, it is uncluttered. It makes for satisfying listening. Quite often, it's more about the notes you don't play than the ones you do.

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  34. I believe Matthew and Son by Cat Stevens was 1966. I remember buying it on New Year's Eve that year. :)

    Here it is! - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2aZE6IUT408

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  35. I was trying to find Euston Station, by Davey Arthur and the Fureys (I think his name is spelled Davey not Davis), and it's strangely hard to find online! But I did find a description of it as "stereotypical Irish cabaret folk" including a "tremulous banjo" - so then I didn't feel too bad about not being able to listen to it!

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  36. I love Barry St John's Come Away Melinda - http://www.myspace.com/barrystjohn/music/songs/come-away-melinda-83789506

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  37. Geoff, you should really consider attending the Pop Conference, which takes place annually and is in New York this year (later this month):
    http://www.empmuseum.org/education/index.asp?categoryID=26. Especially because this year's theme is 'Sounds of the City' - 300 academics, journalists, and musicians gatherng to talk about music and the city. In fact, you should be giving the keynote address at this year's conference!

    Anyway, I'll be attending - and you're welcome to crash at my place in New York if you come! Email me at maggiemyers2@gmail.com if you want to occupy my guest room! We can go attend lots of panels about 'songs about places'!

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  38. I appreciate your discussion of my song, and your correct assertion that there were far too few women singer-songwriters in the sixties, especially in the UK. There were more in America. What I really wanted to be was a songwriter. I had no intention of ever becoming a singer.

    I wrote "Euston Station" before all those other station songs came out. That one was featured on Juke Box Jury and was voted a hit. Then "Waterloo Sunset" and songs like that came along.

    I didn't have a car at the time. I used to catch the Number 73 bus from Stoke Newington to the studios. It was about a half-hour journey. I wrote the basis of "Come Into My Arms Again" on the bus.

    I am glad you like I Can't Believe in Miracles. The reason it was on the B-side is because they weren't sure it would be a hit. I had started making demo tapes of my songs and sending them off to all the publishing houses, including Lawrence Wright. They'd always come back with a letter saying that they were not suitable for their catalogues. I was getting despondent, but then I realized that they weren't even listening to the tapes. A friend persuaded me to go up to Tin Pan Alley and knock on all the publishers' doors to see if they would listen to my songs. So I put my great big 12-string guitar in its case and went to Denmark Street, but no one was really interested. We went and sat in this little café. I remember Ken Dodd was there and he cracked some joke about me having a machine gun in my guitar case. I told him that I wrote songs. He happened to be sitting alongside Gerald Benson of Pan-Musik. He asked me to come across to his office and play some songs for him. He thought they weren't bad and taped some of them so he could think about it. I thought nothing would happen, but a week later he 'phoned me and told me he had some good news and some bad news. The good news was that he had taken the tape along to Pye Records' John Schroeder, who liked my voice and was quite interested in giving me a recording test as a singer. The bad news was that he wasn't so keen on my songs. I didn't think I could sing and didn't really want to do it, but Gerald persuaded me to go along for the test. What did I have to lose? Maybe they'd let me record one of my songs as a B-side. So I went along and did the test. I did "I Can't Believe In Miracles." I still have a copy of the original test recording. John Schroeder said that he'd like me to make a record and my song could be on the B-side. He signed me, Status Quo and A Band Of Angels all at the same time. So I was in good company. He wanted me to do "Halfway To Paradise," but differently to the Billy Fury version- more uptempo. Ivor Raymonde was the arranger, which was nice. That made me feel a bit nearer to my idol Dusty Springfield, because he did all her stuff. This was just before Christmas. The record came out in February 1965.

    I got to see and do quite a bit in my time, even though I never hit the headlines. If I could go back, there were an awful lot of opportunities that I threw away. There are times in my career that I maybe should have taken a different path. I realize now that there are things that I should have done, but didn't do. But it's too late now. I had quite a good run, about eight or nine years in all. I still love music. Joni is my favourite, Joni Mitchell. I would like to have done something like her.

    Anyway, thank you.

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  39. Bobbie Gentry wrote both Ode to Billie Joe and Fancy as short stories before setting them to music. The shorts and all her other rough drafts are house at The University of Mississippi in the Faulkner Room .Some of the material has been transferred to the state library. It is obvious to anyone who takes the time to read them that the the work is hers. Jim Ford's claim of authorship was pathetic. He never challenged her in court and died a bitter broken man. His bragging and gossiping about a forty years past relationship with her until the end of his life was truly sad. Ode to Billie Joe has been covered by over 200 artists and sold 40 million records. Bobbie won The Grammy HOF for it in 1999 and in 2008 she was inducted in The Mississippi Musicans HOF. I saw Roseanne Cash in concert ,recently, and she ended her show with a masterful interpretation. Ode To Billie Joe was on he father, Johnny Cash's, list of the most influential country songs and in 2001 it made Rolling Stones top 500 songs of all time issue.

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  40. Yes, we should help put the Jim Ford rumor to rest (because it continues to be a rumor). The University of Mississippi has put Bobbie Gentry's rough drafts of Ode to Billie Joe on their web site. It shows the construction of the song and some of the missing verses written in Bobbie's own hand. Bobbie always sited Ford as an influence. She even recorded Niki Hoeky on her debut album. The places and events in the song(The Tallahatchie Bridge and Choctaw Ridge) are real places from Gentry's own childhood. The harsh ,rich imagery of the Delta is also HER life experiences. Bobbie also always gave co-authorship credit when it was due but the vast majority of her 100+ published songs were written exclusively by her.

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  41. Geoff, you're right that there is a subtle sexist text to a question of authorship.In the late 1960's many men had a problem with women writers. Bob Dylan even stated there was not single major female poet in the entire English language. He went on to write a savage parody of Ode to Billie Joe to prove his creative superiority. That song called Answer to Ode: Clothsline Saga is a brutal attack on the subtle mastery of Gentry's masterpiece. When she was asked to respond in print she took the high road calling Dylan a true master of the songwriting craft and entitled to his own opinion.

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  42. 'Euston Station' by Barbara Ruskin deserved far better than the cult status it currently enjoys.

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  43. Hey what a lot of ideas here. Yes, that picture is what I had in mind Desiree. And yes, you are right, Julian, that Platforms 1-7 go to wonderful places like Lancaster and 8-11 go to Watford, Hemel Hempstead and all points to Milton Keynes.However, 8-11 are the platforms I usually use so I guess all those things are in my head! And I dont think there would be much sign of Pegasus or Paradise People in Preston!

    I had had the same thoughts, Laura, as to whether trains or station were some kind of symbolic interpretation of the splits in society and culture at that era-something to do with different directions and departing one world for another.Air travel was still very much a minority form of travel so maybe trains and stations still carried some kind of romantic air too.

    Matthew and Son was released on 30 December 1966, true-but was a hit in 1967!

    Thanks for the info on the conference,Maggie and offer. I can't manage the dates but would love to read anything that comes out of it.

    Thanks for writing in, Barbara. It is fascinating to hear the background story- and I still think I Cant Believe in Miracles should have been a hit!

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  44. I am at a loss to explain the popularity of Neighbours, Martha. One of the influences it has left is people ending a sentence with a raised inflection an octave higher than the start of the sentence as though they were asking a question!

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  45. I've just been to the town of Greenwood, MS which is where the Tallahatchie bridge used to be, and you can really feel what Bobbie Gentry expressed in her song Ode to Billy Joe, so well. She sang it exactly how it feels to be there. Shes a great story teller in many of her songs, and often wrote so well about towns of Mississippi.

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  46. I went over the Tallahatchee river in 1989 heading South and thought about Ode to Billy Joe. On the way back North the next day,I was in an old car ('62 Chevy II )that my step-dad bought.When we crossed that bridge,the song was playing on the AM station.Of course,the song wasn't written about the freeway bridge! 'll never forget that,though.

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  47. I've always been intrigued by Ode to Billie Joe, both in lyrics and melody. I was a 10 years old, living in the suburb of a Tennessee city when this song came out in 1967. Back then there were only a few AM radio stations in each city, so there was a lot of "cross-over" music played, to appeal to the widest possible audience. This song leaned toward folk/country, but even those who preferred rock/pop music were fascinated by it. The lyrics employed capture a real conversational style which is authentic Southern/rural, (similiar to the style of writing of Samuel Clemmens/Mark Twain). The lyrics also demonstrate the rural southern penchant for entertainment by story-telling, an art form which used to be practiced every evening on the front porch between visiting neighbors (before air conditioning caused people to retreat indoors to more insular and less social lives). Whenever I think of this song, I almost feel the warm humid embrace of a Southern evening, with the crickets singing a rythmic background beat, and the fireflies putting on a fireworks display for our entertainment as the story-telling began.

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  48. There is a modern bridge in Greenwood, Mississippi that bears a plaque to inform everyone that it is the "Ode To Billy Joe Bridge." Given that the song is fiction, this is an interesting bit of lore, but it has to do with the movie, which starred an older bridge. For reasons of safety and asthetics, the state highway people tore the old one down and replaced it with a slightly weird-looking version that's adapted to survive the frequent floods in the area. We came on it by accident in 1989. There's a farm nearby where you can pick your own blueberries. Also make sure you stop at the Cottonlandia Museum, and generally take in the ambience of one of the world's weirdest landscapes.

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  49. The original version of "Ode to Billie Joe" was seven minutes in length. The song was truncated for its single release. The lost "long" version has never been found or released, to the best of my knowledge.

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  50. Bobby was living with my cousin, Jim Ford, when this song was written. They split up before she recorded it. He said they wrote it together. She said it was all hers. I begin to think the creation of this song is more of a mystery than the subject matter. Jim is not pathetic nor a braggart, and it's obnoxious of the poster Camille to say so, not knowing him. I think he was heart-broken when they split, and bewildered that she denied his influence when the song came out. I don't think she intended it to happen...the song was only meant to be the shadowy, unknown flipside to a more popular headliner. The changeover happened rapidly, and there wasn't much time to sort out authorship and credit before the song hit it big and was out in the world. Too messy to reel it back in, and set things right at that point. I understand, but I am sad for Jim. He died in 2007.

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  51. In the opening scene of "Reservoir Dogs" Nice Guy Eddie analyze the song Ode to Billy Joe, a song he had heard for the first time in years, making him come to his (probably incorrect) deduction that the narrator threw Billy Joe off the bridge.

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  52. Jacob, Brussels18 March 2012 at 21:27

    A very funky cover of Ode to Billie Joe has been recorded by Joe Tex on the album Country Soul. Tex addlibs with chatty comments like "more soulfood" whilst remaining painful. Touching.

    Also, a drawnout, hellraisingly slow cover was done in 1986 by Danish postpunk band Sort Sol. White noise and electric guitars comes to Tallahachie brigde. Almost scary. The album incidentally bears the title "Everything that rises must converge", taken from the book of US southern genius writer Flannery OConnor.

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  53. The first time I heard Ode to Billie Joe was when I was about 5 years old, but not by Bobbie Gentry. It was actually covered by Diana Ross and the Supremes on their "Reflections" LP that my father owned, to which I used to listen. When I heard Bobbie's version many years later, I hated it at first, because I thought it was corny. Now it's the opposite. Diana Ross really didn't do much justice to the song. To this day, though, I don't understand why people want to know or even care what was thrown off the Tallahatchie Bridge. To me, it's never been of any significance. There have been discussions that the family in question were a Black family, and I have often wondered that as well. There's a reference in the song about "5 more acres in the lower 40", which makes me think of "40 acres and a mule," which was supposed to be given to freed slaves.

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  54. The "something" that was thrown off the bridge in Ode to Billie Joe was a child. The preacher said he saw her and Billy Joe throwing it, so it must have been something that took two people to throw. Here's what I think happened:
    Bobbie had an incestuous relationship with her father. The child was the result. She asked Billy Joe for help because she had no one else to turn to. Billy Joe helped her get rid of the child (either an abortion or live birth) by throwing it off the bridge. When Bobbie's father found out that Billy Joe knew, he killed him, making it look like a suicide. We learn later on in the song that Bobbie's father "died last spring." I wonder if it really was the virus that was to blame. Perhaps Bobbie hastened his demise? Bobbie may have been developing feelings for Billy Joe at the time (or after) he was killed and this was her revenge on her father. She now spends her time mourning the love she never got to experience (Billy Joe) and the child she never got to know. I also have to wonder if MAYBE Bobbie's mother eventually learned of the father/daughter relationship and its result and that's the REAL reason why she's do devastated. Perhaps she even had a hand in his demise.

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  55. Sheryl Crow does a beautiful and true cover of Ode to Billie Joe during her 'Storytellers' appearance. There is a woman who is better than any to sing in such a husky, bluesy southern voice as Bobbie Gentry did.

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  56. I have never heard the original version of Ode to Billie Joe and until recently did not know it existed - but for some years now, I have been haunted by the French version, as sung by Joe Dassin. In this one, the narrator is a young man, and the suicide is a girl called Marie-Jeanne. The translation is extraordinarily faithful to the original (I am bi-lingual, and a professional translator myself), but the change of gender does give a particular twist to the mystery. In fact, it imposes the "dead baby" interpretation, in a way that the original song only superficially suggests.Dassin's sensitive rendering of the song makes the banality of the family's reactions all the more poignant, in the face of the grief - or guilt - that the narrator is unable to express: either because he is inarticulate, or because there is some compelling reason for him to conceal his involvement with Marie-Jeanne. It's a painful, beautiful, disturbing, thought-provoking song, and I won't rest now till I have managed to get hold of a copy of Bobbie Gentry's origial recording.

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  57. I remember my mom singing Ode to Billie Joe over and over again. And since my grandparents were from the South ( moved north when the Steel mills were hiring African Americans) they still had that Southern dialect similar to Bobbie Gentry in this song; and was surprised that Bobbie Gentry was not a black singer!! She was pretty though. There was something always so haunting about the line "heard about the news this morning up on Choctaw Ridge....they say that Billie Joe McAlister jumped off the Tallahatchie Bridge..." . That line would just give me the creeps, even at age 7 when I first heard this. What a song.

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  58. Wow!!! Elkie Brooks now there is a real singer. Elkie"s voice is FANTASTIC.

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