Friday, May 16, 2008

"Whole Wide World" / Wreckless Eric

I'll admit right now, this is the only song I know by Wreckless Eric, his 1978 debut single and the obvious BIG HIT that most people know. (At least, those who've heard of Wreckless Eric -- which is fewer people in this country than in the UK, I'd guess). I have no excuse except that there's so much music in the world to listen to, and only 24 hours in a day to listen to it.

Still, it's easy to see why this song has such legs. It's not your typical Stiff Records release, at least not that hushed opening (it does build to punk angst by the end) -- it's wonderfully tender, even in the loud and growly parts. I've just discovered that Nick Lowe plays not only the bass but most other instruments on this track, while Ian Dury bangs on the drums -- no surprise, since Nick was Stiff's house producer in those days and Ian one of their marquee stars.

This as an undying-love song, but with a twist -- undying love for a girl he hasn't met yet (think Macca's "I Will" from the white album, which BTW he wrote specifically for me). That accounts for the wistful undertow of loneliness; no wonder he's sounding desperate and frantic by the last verse. "When I was a young boy / My mama said to me," he begins, a classic folk-music opener -- but then it goes south: "'There's only one girl in the world for you / And she probably lives in Tahiti." Yikes! But you've gotta admire the kid's determination: "I'd go the whole wide world / I'd go the whole wide world / Just to find her." Now there's a romantic soul.

On Eric's website, he jokes that he's never checked out the geography for fear he got it wrong all those years ago. Don't worry, Eric, you're close enough. "Or maybe she's in the Bahamas / Where the Caribbean sea is blue / Weeping in a tropical moonlit night / Because nobody's told her 'bout you." There's a nice touch, the idea that the girl's lonely and longing too. Though the buzzy guitars and smackdown drums have kicked in by now, and Eric's getting a leetle paranoid, as he reiterates, "I'd go the whole wide world / Find out where they hide her."

The tune -- if you can call it that -- is just as dogged and single-minded as his quest. The rhythm's a slogging sort of march, and the verses repeat over and over the same two-note rising phrase; the chorus repeats a downward four-note scale, with that hopeful little line "Just to find her" surging hopefully at the end. But it suits Eric's mumbly wail just fine, and as the song's motor kicks into successively higher gears, he punches out those repetitions with lovestruck ferocity.

Verse three and four are particularly fun -- he pictures himself "hanging around in the rain out here / Trying to pick up a girl" compared to his Ms. Right "lying on a tropical beach somewhere / Underneath the tropical sun / Pining away in a heatwave there." He caps it off with a verse five vision of happiness, imagining himself "lying on that sun-soaked beach with her / Caressing her warm brown skin / And then in a year or maybe not quite / We'll be sharing the same next of kin." Sure, it's a conventional happy ending, but with enough wit and charm to make the cliche very satisfying. Besides, by the time he gets here, he sounds so stressed out, I'm yearning too for him to get what he wants.

I've just checked out iTunes and there are a ton of covers of this song, including ones by the Monkees, the Proclaimers, and a particularly nice revved-up version by Phon Roll (anyone heard of that band before?). All very nice, but I'm still glued to Wreckless Eric's. I swear, it's not just the Nick Lowe connection, though Nick's infallible ear as a producer often pulled out the best work from Stiff artists. (I'll admit I am prejudiced.) Clearly I've got to check out more of this guy's stuff. Any suggestions?

Whole Wide World sample


Uncle E said...

Try 1980's "Big Smash"...

Holly A Hughes said...

Got it ordered!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Holly for writing about Eric. Buy everything of him except the latest (I think) album calles ¨Bungalow Hi¨. It´s painful.

But songs like ¨Walking of the surface of the moon¨, ¨Take the cash¨ and ¨The final taxi¨ are pop classics.


fredneil said...

Ian Dury isn't on the record. He was in Eric's band for a while and he produced the b-side, but that's Steve Goulding playing the drums on Whole Wide World. I second the suggestion "everything except Bungalow Hi," but you should also hear Bungalow Hi. A lot of it is dark and personal in a solo Syd Barrett way, and he does indulge his taste for noise (not a problem with me but it might for others), but 33s and 45s might become your favorite break-up song ever.

Holly A Hughes said...

Thanks, Fred. Wonder where I got the false info about Ian. Even cooler that it was Steve Goulding, pre-Rumour. Perhaps I will reconsider Bungalow Hi. Still not enough hours in the day to listen to everything -- that's why I need you guys to sift it out for me!