"Have You Ever Had It Blue" / Style Council
I've got a playlist on my iPod called simply blue; this song's the second track, and today when it came on it took me by surprise, the way a song sometimes does when you least expect it. I've been humming it ever since, and snapping my fingers too, because it's the sort of groovefest you must snap your fingers to.
I picked up "Have You Ever Had It Blue" up off the soundtrack for Absolute Beginners, that quirky 1986 Julien Temple film about the birth of teen culture in Britain. I have to admit, the main reason I own this soundtrack is because of its one delicious Ray Davies track, "Quiet Life," but I soon grew intrigued by this Style Council thing too.
I had no idea when I first heard it that Style Council was a Paul Weller project. Frankly, listening to this, who'd ever think this was the same guy who was in the Jam? It's chock-full of jazzy horns and samba rhythms and back-up singers, a total Big Production Number that fit the movie's 1950s time frame perfectly. (Can anybody tell me if this single was written for the movie?) But I guess I should have suspected something; after all, didn't the Jam do a song called "Absolute Beginners" in 1981?
Those image-laden lyrics are a fair indicator of what an evocative lyricist Weller can be: "Have you ever chased the night / That sailed in front of you / On a boat that's bound for hope / But left you in the queue / With your shouting waving / Taunting flaunting friends as crew." That's what I call developing an line of imagery, the mark of a true pro. I love that string of gerunds describing the friends -- "taunting flaunting" in particular is a nifty phrase. "Have you stood upon that dock / Have you ever had it blue ooh?" he wails urgently, with those percolating rhythms desperately popping away behind him. Time waits for no one.
The next verse is equally well crafted: "Have you ever woke to find / The morning didn't come / Undelivered with the papers / Stolen by someone / Found the milkman bound and gagged / And the shackles round the sun." It's a wonderful sustained metaphor, full of urban glints and hungover grogginess. And it pays off splendidly: "And the holder of the keys / Turns out to be the one / The girl you had your heart set on." Oof -- yeah, that's blue all right.
The soundtrack version is over five minutes, with a long dissonant jazz intro (a bit disorienting when it's piped into your ears on an iPod). I gather that the single version was more compact; the single didn't make much of an impression over here, though. I never heard of it, at any rate, outside of the movie. Not knowing who Style Council were, I assumed it was a period jazz piece when I first saw the film -- that's how effectively Weller switched genres.
And now I've Googled up this tasty black-and-white video to go with it: Have You Ever Had It Blue video. Enjoy!