Friday, December 22, 2006

"Television" / Dave Edmunds

I promised myself when I started this blog that I wouldn't write about Nick Lowe all the time. This post has absolutely nothing to do with Nick Lowe...except that he, uh, wrote this song for his mate Dave Edmunds [see correction in comments below], and played bass on it (on the 1978 album Tracks on Wax 4), along with the rest of the touring band known as Rockpile. (For contractual reasons, Rockpile only released one LP, 1980's Seconds of Pleasure, but every Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe album for a few years there was really a Rockpile record.) And also, I first fell in love with this song from Marshall Crenshaw's delicious cover on a 2001 Nick Lowe tribute album, Labour of Love. But really, this entry is not about Nick Lowe. At all.

Dave E, of course, gives this song more of a rockabilly twang than Marshall did -- that is, after all, Dave's special thing (how a singer from Cardiff, Wales, ever ended up sounding like he was from Texarkana confounds me). That trailer-park inflection works very well for a song that just may be the earliest recorded anthem for a couch potato. The singer's hurrying home from work to see his best friend -- his TV set -- and it's all upbeat and catchy; Dave's mellow, warm voice practically quivers with excitement about being able to "crack out a can of something" and tune out in front of the tube: "I don't care what's on, if it's happy or sad / I don't even care if it's good or bad / Just as long as it's on I'm glad."

In the boppy chorus, the lead singer trades off a series of phrases with the cheery back-up vocalists -- "I'm plugging in my...television!...switching on...television!...tuning in...television.." (I do hear Nick's voice in there, don't I?).
But of course there's a subtext. The guy just happens to mention that this TV addiction

has been his feeble way of coping since his girl left him. Aha! There's the Nick Lowe touch; I'm thinking now of Nick tunes like the comically woeful "I'm A Mess" and the brilliant "Lately I've Let Things Slide," which are also about jilted men falling apart. (I also have to mention one of my favorite John Hiatt songs, "I Don't Even Try," from his 1983 album Riding With the King...which was partly produced by Nick Lowe, as it happens.) I get such a clear mental picture from this, of a lost-looking slob in a stained T-shirt, a half-eaten burrito on a paper plate and a can of Bud on the arm of his La-Z-Boy recliner; the house is lit only by the flickering light from the set, and he's got the remote clutched in his hand, though he isn't even clicking the buttons much anymore. "My best friend is living in / Ever since you've been gone / All I've got to do is activate that tube / And I don't have to miss you no more," he declares, and it's so endearingly pathetic.

This is so much more affecting to me than all those angry you-left-me songs, and self-pitying you-left-me songs. This is how real guys face being dumped by their girlfriends, and I'm delighted that Nick Lowe -- I mean, Dave Edmunds -- understands this. No doubt the woman who just left had every reason in the world for being fed up with him, but he's so darn sweet and lonely -- it seems to me that a little consolation is called for. Maybe I'll drop by and watch that television with him.

[check out this performance on YouTube: http:// ]


Will Birch said...

Nick wrote this song in 1975 for my group the Kursaal Flyers. He handed it to me on a quarter inch 7.5ips reel to reel tape (that I still have!) recorded on his Revox, purchased with a modest advance from 'Rock Music Co' publisher Peter Barnes. Nick was in the wilderness at the time, following the break-up of Brinsley Schwarz and looking to establish himself as a Tin Pan Alley Modern song hustler type of guy, an act he perfected writing for Dr Feelgood and Dave Edmunds. When the Kursaals attempted their rendition of Television, it was conceived as a sort of Ry Cooder laid back LA type item (hey Ry! Do It Now), whereas Edmunds rocked it up as it deserved to be rocked up, but listening to Nick's original demo, it has that lazy feel - written in an era when UK TV closed down at 11pm (!) - 'until that spot disappears'. No one would believe it now. Great song, thanks Nick! W.

Holly A Hughes said...

Oh, thanks so much, Will, for filling in this gap in the song's history. Now I'll have to go search for the Kursaal Flyers' version (and I'll bet it's fantastic -- love that band!).

Mmm, I'd love to hear Nick's original demo someday too...