Friday, February 10, 2012

It's All In The Way You Look At Life

I consider it an article of supreme faith that the only possible way to understand the fractures and strains of our modern day society in Britain is acceptance of the fact that it is an utterly different country entirely from that which existed prior to the turn of the century. I know that this is a determiner frequently underscored by the commentator Peter Hitchens.

This reality being sourced to the demographic critical mass we have obviously breached, the sense of physical threat around us constantly, the deranged employment and property markets, the criminally banal content of much media output, the total lack of social mobility, the degradation of our political culture, the foul atmosphere and decay of our capital city, the generational loss of hope and the pained nostalgia so many people now have for a country lost in time and meaning.

No other song in popular musical history arguably captures such melancholy sentiments and yearning for easier times as the Goffin and King masterpiece - Goin' Back. This song was made famous by The Byrds in America in 1967 and a year earlier in the UK by Dusty Springfield. The latter's output is still held with the highest of respect to this day and none moreso as regarding the Dusty in Memphis album of 1969 - containing the transatlantic top ten hit Son of a Preacher Man - and which was recorded at the American Sound Studios where Elvis Presley also recorded his late Sixties hit singles Suspicious Minds, Don't Cry Daddy, Kentucky Rain and In The Ghetto.

Of Springfield's contemporaries, neither Cilla Black nor Lulu matched the slinky and cultured otherness of the French Ye Ye girls across the English Channel though they both produced truly magical moments of pop - especially Black's utterly overlooked What Good Am I which was a number 24 single in 1967 and Lulu's cover of Neil Diamond's The Boat That I Row that reached number 6 in the same year. Also in 1967, Lulu's To Sir With Love was the theme tune to the great movie starring Sydney Poitier and Judy Geeson which explored racial and class tensions in an East End school in Britain's capital. The song gave Lulu an American number one while the film stands as definitive a snapshot of Lost London as the Karl Reisz documentary Lambeth Boys.

Other British female singers of the period one may recall include the stunningly beautiful Sandie Shaw and that magnificent footage of her miming the gloriously upbeat Long Live Love during a Top of the Pops rehearsal with a face of either utterly detached cool or possibly abject misery; Jackie Trent whose It's All In The Way You Look At Life is arguably one of the greatest songs of the entire Sixties never to have been a massive global hit and Marianne Faithful whose wistful Come And Stay With Me was one of Morrissey's eight Desert Island Discs in 2009.

The two figures from the time I recall most fondly however are Anita Harris and Petula Clark. Harris was from Midsommer Norton in Somerset and used to perform regularly on stage with famous television magician David Nixon. She also posed nude at one point for Mayfair magazine. Long remembered for her appearances in two Carry On movies - Carry On Doctor and Follow That Camel - she had several hit singles in 1967 and 1968 including The Anniversary Waltz and The Playground.

The track London Life by Bacharch and David sees her dismiss the foulness of London's inclement weather by contrasting it to dancing to dawn on Sunday morning before listening to the speeches at Hyde Park Corner:

While Paris sleeps
London just keeps right on a-swingin'
and all the songs that the world is singing
you will find that they all are born in London, England.

The delightful 1968 children's song We're Going On a Tuppenny Busride presents a technicolour daydream of a bus journey from London to Pamplona and Paris. Alike Clark's Typically English this particular track seems especially jarring to the modern ear by way of the kind of roll-up smoking, jittery, personal space-invading, malevolent and passive-aggressive individuals one tends to share a bus stop with in modern-day London. And that's just the friendlier locals...

Petula Clark from Epsom in Surrey was a child-star during the Second World War in Britain and had a successful career in France before her main chart success in Britain and America. Looking at her performances of Downtown on The Dean Martin Show, I Know A Place on The Ed Sullivan Show and a medley of the two on Hullabaloo it is hard to think of another British solo performer of the period with such total star quality combining presence, beauty, grace, charm and charisma. Most famously, and during a prime time NBC television special in 1968, the performance of her own song On The Path of Glory with Harry Belafonte attracted criticism on racial grounds from the show's sponsors in light of her touching his arm at one point - Clark refused to remove the clip and insisted the special would be shown intact or not at all.

Eighty years old in November, Clark's adult movie career is essentially associated with 1968's Finian's Rainbow where an Irish leprechaun tracks down his stolen gold in the American Deep South and the underrated Goodbye Mister Chips musical in 1969 with Peter O'Toole. In the former she brings the exile Fred Astaire to tears while waxing upon How Are Things in Glocca Mora - a place no doubt mercifully free of marching Ulster Protestants - while in the latter she steals the show to every watching schoolboy's delight whilst lost in music on Fill The World With Love on her first day at the school assembly.

Such unique and highly talented female artistes of the Sixties - imbued with so much class, originality, sex appeal and style - put modern British popular culture to rank and utterly embarrassing shame.

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