Friday, September 26, 2008

"Driving Around (Radio Storm)" /
Robyn Hitchcock & the Egyptians

Do I write about Robyn Hitchcock too much here? Looking back, I see that I don't, not really. But I sure do think about Robyn Hitchcock all the time. Considering what an oddball he is (the words "eccentric," "quirky," and "cult favorite" appear in almost every article about this guy), I wonder what that says about me.

This one shows up on my "On the Radio" playlist, which also has songs by John Hiatt ("Radio Girl"), The Kinks ("Around the Dial"), the Replacements "(Left of the Dial"), and of course our man Elvis ("Radio, Radio"). Most of those are about programming, and how important radio could be to a lonely misunderstood adolescent (and future rock star); there's something romantic and lovely about that. But Robyn's is just about, well, driving -- or is it? Really, like a lot of Robyn Hitchcock songs, it isn't about anything.

Maybe the point is just playing with sound. Its motor is a propulsive samba-like beat, laid down with crisp guitar strums, stabbing keyboard chords, and some clacking sort of percussion. On top of that, he layers various musical motifs; it's almost like a mosaic, getting really dense by the end (I guess that's the psychedelic side of his psychedelic-folk-punk, or whatever you want to call the signature Robyn Hitchcock mode.)

What I love about it, though, is the koan-like snatches of lyrics -- first the hypnotic chant "Take a breath, take a breath, take a breath," then something about "And I hand you a tape of my song / Which you always mislay" and some nonsense about a Harrison Ford poster rolled up in his desk, sitting in a bar in Sacramento cutting up paper napkins, and introducing somebody to his dead friend Seth. It's so random.

I love the moment when it morphs into earnest early 60s pop mode -- "What am I going to do with myself if I lose you?" only to complete the couplet with "What am I going to do with myself if you stay?" That's not just word play; it's the essence of how frustrating love can be.

So maybe the secret's in that chorus, which changes gears abruptly with a wall of sound: "Radio / Forecast intermittent storms / Tidal waves that change their forms / Ahhhh." As that wall of sound hits, it reminds me of how, when you're changing channels on a radio, suddenly a new channel comes blasting on full strength. The whole song keeps changing channels, shape-shifting just like the storms and the tidal waves.

He really shouldn't get away with this free-form stuff, should he? But he does.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

"When I Write the Book" / Nick Lowe
"Every Day I Write the Book" / Elvis Costello

Someone had to be copying someone else on this one. Nick's "When I Write the Book" appears on Rockpile's 1980 album Seconds of Pleasure, while Elvis's didn't come along until 1983's Punch the Clock -- you do the math. I suppose it's possible that Elvis wasn't thinking about his buddy's song when he penned this slick little pop song, but I sincerely doubt it. (For once, it wasn't Nick doing the stealing!)

I'm sure Nick thought he was working that metaphor for all it was worth, with lines like "when I write the book about my love / It’ll be a heartbreaking story about love and luck / When I get down on the pages all I felt / It will make the hardest-hearted of critics’ hearts melt" -- but really, this genial little number is just another way to self-dramatize a lover's pain and suffering. (I do love that bridge, though, as he describes himself "When I was young love was fun and I was so happy /I looked so good and I dressed so snap-py" -- umm, yes I bet you did, Nick!)

But then here comes Elvis, swooping in on his intro with a swelling power-pop sound and rabid howl of fury, then blasting away with lyrics like

When your dreamboat
Turns out to be a footnote
I'm a man with a mission
In two or three editions

and the absolutely priceless couplet

ven in a perfect world
Where everyone was equal

I'd still own the film rights
and be working on the sequel.

He breaks down their whole jejune relationship into trite little chapters; he dismisses everything about her into his quotation marks. There's nothing boppy or bright about this song, with all its unsettling chord changes and sneering melodic phrases, and the harpy chorus singing back-up. No, he's intent on revenge, and fairly bursting with paranoia and contempt. That book he's writing is a poison-pen hack job, and he's feeding on the chance to hurt her -- it's more important than the relationship at this point.

Sorry, Nick, but Elvis wins this round, hands down.

When I Write the Book sample
Every Day I Write the Book sample

Saturday, September 20, 2008

"Please Stay" -- Elvis Costello

And while we're on the topic of affectionate covers of cheesy old songs . . . our boy Elvis did an entire album of these unearthed treasures, Kojak Variety (a title which, I'm sorry, always makes me envision Telly Savalas in a tux in front of a brocade curtain introducing Senor Wences). I hasten to point out that they're not all ancient obscurities, since one of them -- my favorite on the album -- is an absolutely brilliant cover of the Kinks' "Days." But otherwise, they're a pretty mossy bunch of chestnuts.

"Please Stay" is a Bacharach-David pop tune (Elvis is such a sucker for Bacharach), the sort you could imagine Dionne Warwick or Dusty Springfield doing. With its passionate pleading, this one in particular -- which apparently was a big hit for the Drifters, though I've never heard it (Aaron Neville does a version too) -- would have been so great for Dusty; nobody could abase themselves for love quite like Dusty could. But Elvis is a close runner-up with this song, unleashing all his considerable vibrato in an absolute gush of emotion.

The heart of it is this verse: "If I got on my knees / And I pleaded with you / Not to go but to stay / In my arms," a series of anxious triplets tentatively seesawing from one unresolved chord to another. I can just picture him on his knees -- though somehow my picture of Elvis on his knees seems dangerous and hostile, like he'd be trying to wrestle her to the floor. As the verse goes on, you find out they've got a complicated history: "Would you walk out the door / like you did once before? / Or would this time / Be different, / Would you sta-a-ay." Ah, that accounts for the edge of desperation in his voice. Desperation? More like panic, or hysteria.

Elvis takes it at a slightly plodding, weary tempo, underlaid with some wonderful electric piano diddling, I assume (hope) by Steve Nieve. Between those triplets and the jangly quality of the guitar and piano, it's strung up with tension; it sounds like he's so beaten up with love, he can't stand it any more. Just below the surface, he's still angry about her leaving the time before, and yet he wants her too much to let her go, and then he hates himself for wanting her that much . . .

Nobody plumbs the vicious side of love like Elvis does, that's for sure. Dusty would have done this like she was throwing herself under a train; Elvis IS the train.

Friday, September 19, 2008

"Cold Grey Light of Dawn" /
Nick Lowe

No, Nick didn't write this -- it's one of those covers he tends to do, of obscure old country-soul numbers no one has ever heard of. Well, at least I haven't. This one's by Ivory Joe Hunter, a black guy out of Texas who had a few R&B hits in the 1950s (he wrote "Ain't That Loving You, Baby" for Elvis Presley), and came back as a country singer in the late 60s. And now you know as much as I do about Ivory Joe Hunter (thanks, Wikipedia!)

But Nick loves to dig up these old chestnuts, and so he unearthed this one for 1998's Dig My Mood, an album that finds Nick in prime genre-hopping mode. I don't know the original, but I can imagine it's a good deal smoother than Nick's twangy version. I almost put it on my Break-Ups playlist, but even though this song is all about a break-up -- sung from the perspective of a guy waking up to realize afresh that he's alone now -- it's way too cheerful to make anybody feel sorry for him.

And yet I love it. It's a series of slidey little phrases, jerking up gradually up the scale, and Nick delivers it in a cornball drawl that really cracks me up. It's the opening lines that are stuck in my head today: "That old alarm clock / Gives a yell / Starting another / Day in hell." That yell/hell rhyme is priceless, isn't it? There are a few other good couplets here, too, like "In the mirror / I see / Someone who used to / Be me", and of course that irresistible title couplet "And I turn blue / In the cold grey light of dawn." That alone was reason for Nick to sing this.

My other favorite effect on this track is the string arrangement -- what I always think of as "Ray Charles strings" after of the orchestral arrangements on things like "Georgia" and "Crying Time". Corny corny corny, and absolutely delicious. The first time they slip in is on the line "The neon light / And the jukebox / Help to ease me / Through the night," and the echoing flourish of strings after "neon light" is so witty I can't stand it.

It's hardly a great song -- it's pretty Tin Pan Alley, in fact, or whatever the LA equivalent of that was. And it's not exactly one of Nick's greatest performances (truth to tell, it barely even sounds like him singing). But I heard it a couple of days ago on my shuffle and I haven't been able to get rid of it since.

Not that I'm trying to, mind you. The days I get Nick stuck in my head are generally my best days.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"Tell Me Right Now" / Elvis Costello

Well, thanks to Crafty, I've now gone mining for Elvis Costello songs to add to yesterday's playlist -- call it Break-Ups Vol. II, the Declan MacManus Edition. And I have to say, it's just as fruitful a vein of research as I thought it would be.

Let's start with Tell Me Right Now (Blood and Chocolate bonus track)-- which must win the prize for the most pre-emptive break-up song ever; the guy has just met this girl, but he wants to know RIGHT NOW if she's gonna break his heart so that he doesn't even begin to get involved. (Shades of the Beatles' "If I Fell" -- "'cause I've been in love before / and I know that love is more / than just holding hands..") This seems to be a theme with Elvis; he does it again in Still Too Soon to Know (Brutal Youth) and Heart-Shaped Bruise (Delivery Man). Does this man have trust issues or what?

If you're talking about songs reflecting doomed relationships, Elvis Costello is your man. Here's just a few: You Belong To Me (This Year's Model), Accidents Will Happen and Two Little Hitlers (Armed Forces), High Fidelity (Get Happy!), and the stunningly pessimistic Beyond Belief (Imperial Bedroom), an incredibly impressionistic catalog of all the things that can go wrong with a relationship -- and nothing that could possibly go right. Adultery? Par for the course, if you just listen to Motel Matches (Get Happy!).

I like these two because they're the flip side of each other -- Long Honeymoon (Imperial Bedroom) is about a woman waiting for her philandering husband to come home, while Baby Plays Around (Spike) has the man waiting miserably at home -- "She walks those shiny streets / I walk the worn-out floor..." These are both absolute emotional killers.

Elvis' best moment-of-the-break-up song? It has to be the majestic Almost Blue (Imperial Bedroom), which on certain days seems to me to be Elvis's greatest song ever. But running a close second is the full-out melodrama of Riot Act (from the surely ironically titled Get Happy!), which contains some of my very favorite Elvis lyrics, including "when the heat gets sub-tropical /and the talk gets so topical" and "why do you talk such stupid nonsense / when my mind could rest much easier / instead of all this god damned insolence / I would be happier with amnesia." I can't even tell how often those phrases spring to mind in my daily life.

Way early in Elvis' career, he was already dealing with the corrosive jealousy of the ex-lover in Alison (My Aim Is True), with its devastating line "'Sometimes I wish that I could stop you from talking / when I hear the silly things that you say / I think somebody better put out the big light / Cos I can't stand to see you this way." I often wonder why this misogynistic rant doesn't thoroughly alienate me -- I think it's because it's really about the singer's thwarted passion. At heart he's just a miserable romantic, who only hates Alison because she left him. How dare she? (I'm sorry, but I find this incredibly sexy. Any of you ladies care to weigh in on this?)

And here's one of the most excruciating post-break-up songs ever: Either Side of the Same Town (Delivery Man), where the busted-up couple practically has to divide up their town so they won't see each other ("Now it's hard to keep ignoring someone you recognize /And if they seem contented, it's only by disguise") . It's the hurt that keeps on hurting.

Elvis is on his third marriage by now, and I sincerely hope he and Diana Krall are happy. But please, Elvis, don't ever let matrimonial bliss dull that nasty edge you've got. The rest of us need it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

"All She Wrote" / Ray Davies

Finally, the Great Music Transfer is finished!

But now, alas, I still have to redo my playlists. If you're a little OCD like I am, you know how important it is to get those playlists just right. I had 130 of them, and they were good. I may not replicate all of them, though, because making them up is half the fun -- why not do some new ones while I'm at it?

So here's the first new playlist I've invented. A lot of these songs I've written about on here already; they're all about break-ups of one sort or another, each one capturing its own sliver of heart-wrenching pain. The first three are all snide little dialogues taken from the last stages of a crumbling relationship:
1. Is That Love -- Squeeze
2. Don't Wait Up -- Dr. Feelgood
3. Remain Silent -- Keb' Mo'

Then here come three that represent that bitter moment when you realize you've given up on saving things:
4. Angel/Asshole -- Jill Sobule
5. Crawl Back (Under My Stone) -- Richard Thompson
6. She's Already Made Up Her Mind -- Lyle Lovett
followed by the moment of truth, the actual confrontation -- or in these two cases, cowardly break-ups by letter:
7. All She Wrote -- Ray Davies
8. Hold Me Down -- Motion City Soundtrack
Ray's is bad enough, the reaction of the stunned recipient of such a letter -- but MCS's is even more squirm-inducing, being from the standpoint of the person who wrote the letter, and knows how despicable he is for doing so.

At the middle is the depths of self-pity and pain, the gloriously miserable
9. Solo (So Low) -- Joe Jackson
a song which absolutely shatters me every time I hear it. It's followed by three morose little mini-dramas, describing the last moments of packing to go:
10. Things We Never Said -- Thea Gilmore
11. Really Glad You Came -- Ian Dury & the Blockheads
12. Property -- The Kinks
Jeez, those three, one after the other, are like, whew! And then comes a melancholy drive past the old house, from someone's who's not healed yet:
13. Where Home Used to Be -- Marshall Crenshaw

And finally, to emerge from all this pain and misery, three brilliant comic mopes from two masters of the Lovable Loser song:
14. I'm a Mess -- Nick Lowe
15. I Don't Even Try -- John Hiatt
16. Lately I've Let Things Slide -- Nick Lowe
BTW, I've always wondered if Nick got the idea for his song from John's , which was written earlier, I think. Not that Nick Lowe ever stole any ideas from anybody, ever!

Well, there it is. Anybody out there know enough of those songs to tell me if this playlist works for you?

Friday, September 12, 2008

"(I'm Not Your) Steppin' Stone" /
The Monkees

Another forgotten gem resurrected during the Great Music Transfer. What a great Boyce and Hart bit of snarky satire; it ranks right up there with the Kinks' "Starstruck" and Paul Revere and the Raiders' "Kicks" (I'm sure the Stones did something in this vein too, I just can't think of it right now) as a nasty putdown of some ambitious climber of a girlfriend. This goes way beyond a simple break-up song, doesn't it? There's actually a bit of weariness and menace in Mickey Dolenz's voice as he sings this -- not that the Monkees ever got credit for their dark side. And those minor-key background "ahhs," echoing across the room, they almost sound like the Yardbirds. Davy's tambourine sounds almost sinister here.

Now, I was a Davy girl; I still have to stifle a sigh when I hear "I Wanna Be Free." Yes, it's true, I did betray Peter Noone for Davy Jones back in the dark ages of 1967. I have nothing to say in my own defense. Perhaps this song was written about me....

I'm Not Your Steppin' Stone sample

Thursday, September 11, 2008

"The Only Flame in Town" / Elvis Costello

Well, I'm in the middle of changing computers -- gotta move everything from my old ThinkPad to the newer Lenovo my son abandoned to become a Mac-head, and I better do it fast because the old one could blow up any minute. But one component wouldn't work on the new machine: iTunes. And as you can imagine, I am unable to function without iTunes. (I don't just mean unable to write this blog -- I mean unable to function.)

Finally I spent a morning with my new best friend at Apple, Jamila, and iTunes is working again, but because the old computer's drive is so compromised (I'm not kidding when I say "blow up any minute"), I couldn't just shift the whole humongous mass of music with seven keystrokes and a flash drive. Instead, I've been reloading the entire library by hand, which I don't have time to do but I'm doing anyway, in the most OCD manner possible.

Which is why I missed a few days writing.

But I have to say the process is very therapeutic. I'm reminded of a lot of songs that've gotten buried (thanks to all of you whose music samplers have contributed gems like Magali Noel's "Fais-Moi Mal Johnny" and the Black Lodge Singers' "Theme from the Flintstones"). And while CDs are dumping in the tracks, I've looked at certain CD covers for the first time since I originally loaded these things into my computer. Which is how I discovered a picture of Elvis and Daryl Hall inside the booklet for Goodbye Cruel World, a 1984 album I completely undervalued at the screwy moment in time when it first was released. (Note to self: You got married in 1984, dingbat, that's where your mind was at instead.) I had completely missed the fact that it was Daryl contributing those lovely high backing vocals on "The Only Flame in Town," though really, it's perfect -- how else to capture the 80s pop zeitgeist?

Here's Elvis' liner notes on the subject: Our second guest was Daryl Hall who added some effortless high harmonies to the chorus. He was also adored by the camera during the shooting of the accompanying 'Win a Date with Elvis and the Attractions' video . . . Daryl made the rest of us look as if we had just crawled out of a hedge. My humour wasn't helped by the record company representative shrieking at the make-up girl: 'Make him look handsome' as I was about to go under the pancake. Ah! The Eighties.*

Of course, this must be how Daryl met Nick Lowe, his guest on his recent delightful webcast. It's ridiculous how happy this information makes me.

Re-listening to "The Only Flame," I'm thrilled to discover what a nifty little track it is. I suppose in 1984 I felt disappointed in Elvis for going all power-pop on us -- and reading the liner notes, I see that Elvis was pretty disappointed in himself for doing it, too. But then there are those glorious harmonies in the chorus -- and jesus, any track that gives Steve Nieve an excuse to throw in riffs from J.S. Bach's Well-Tempered Clavichord just can't be bad.

The Only Flame in Town sample

* cut-and-paste inspired by Uncle E

Friday, September 05, 2008

"Alone Again, Naturally" / Gilbert O'Sullivan

On a long car trip today, I got to listen to my favorite Sirius Disorder radio show, David Johansen's Mansion of Fun. Johansen -- or as he refers to himself on the show, Sri Rama Lama Ding Dong -- plays such an unpredictable mix of music, it really keeps you guessing, and in the middle of all these obscure Latin sambas and scratchy ancient blues recordings and lush Debussy and Ravel compositions, when he threw in this goofy song from 1972, I had to laugh out loud. I'd call it a novelty song, except it was in fact a monster hit, both in the US and the UK. (The rest of his US chart success was a lot spottier.) I hadn't heard it in ages, and listening to it with wonder, I realized that it is -- in its own oddball way -- really a pretty good song. And impossible to stop humming.

The lyrics are one long strung-together sentence, with so many words stuffed into that perky tune that it takes awhile before you realize it's a song about offing yourself. "In a little while from now / If I'm not feeling any less sour," he begins (I love that dumb near-rhyme) and then the sentence winds on and on until he casually mentions that he's going to throw himself off a tower. Why? Because his bride-to-be never showed up to their wedding (he drolly describes it as "left standing in the lurch at a church / Where people were saying, / 'My God, that's tough, she stood him up / No point in us remaining." That bit about the wedding guests is pure comedy, so you can't take that threat too seriously -- but this is a pop song, for crissake, since when were pop songs about suicide? Let alone pop songs this chirpy.

Verse two, he's still railing brightly against fate, extravagantly declaring, "leaving me to doubt /Talk about, God in His mercy / Oh, if he really does exist / Why did he desert me?" Each long verse ends up dolefully describing himself as "Alone again, naturally"; that "naturally," that's the clincher. And it's not just his romantic woes; in verse three, he relates how devastated he was when his father died, and how his griefstricken mother never spoke again, and then she died too . . . leaving him "alone again, naturally."

Who knows what we're supposed to make of this? Is the guy singing it a self-pitying wimp? Or is he expressing some great fatalistic philosophy that allows him to rise above it all? I still can't decide, but that ambiguity is part of what sticks with me about the song.

The rest, of course, is its catchy tune, part music-hall, part Irish folk song, sung in O'Sullivan's engagingly boyish vocal (he always struck me as a cross between Freddie of Freddie and the Dreamers and Herman of Herman's Hermits -- both of which are good things). I know that name had to be made up -- even back in 1972, when I had never heard a Gilbert & Sullivan opera, I could tell that stage name was a kitschy reference -- and when you saw him singing it on TV, he was dressed up in shorts and a little boy's cap, obviously gimmicks.I was embarrassed to admit I liked this song then. Well, I'm not embarrassed to admit I still like it now. Mind you, I still can't take it seriously -- but why should that matter?

Alone Again, Naturally sample

Thursday, September 04, 2008

"Fair" / Remy Zero

Not doing too well on the writing-only-quickies front, am I? Well, this one must be quick, because I know nothing about this band. I just got the Wikipedia facts -- they're from Birmingham, AL, were "discovered" by Radiohead, did three albums, got freaked out by fame, and split up; they all seem to be in other bands now. Oh, and one of them -- Cinjun Tate (how's that for a name?) -- was once briefly married to Alyssa Milano, whom I still think of as the little girl from Who's the Boss?, way too young to marry anybody.

And I only know this one song of theirs, which was on their 1998 album Villa Elaine. I probably should be ashamed to admit that I only discovered it through the movie Garden State, but honestly, it's a great soundtrack. This song's existential misery totally suits that movie -- mournful mumbled vocals, a slightly draggy melody, the hazy sonic clutter of its arrangement. Here's just a list of the melancholy buzz-words in the first couple of verses: lonely, damage, cold, fade, fallen, blue, fail. You don't even want to go there.

The lyrics don't make complete sense, but it seems to be about the singer clinging desperately to someone else who's a little more together than he is ("Where'd you go to? / But you're alive!"; "So what if you catch me /Where would we land?") That makes it perfect for that movie, which, if you haven't seen it, is about a numb overtranquilized slacker played by Zach Braff coming home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral and finally facing up to what a dysfunctional mess his life is (apparently sleeping with Natalie Portman helps him in this quest -- well, it makes sense in the context, honestly.)

It's a stunningly moody little film, with this killer soundtrack, and every time this song comes up on my shuffle I go into this weird dislocated head-space all over again. Remy Zero may have disappeared, but I'd like to hear more by them, and maybe investigate some of the bands they splintered into (starting with Spartan Fidelity, which is where Cinjun Tate went, along with Shelby Tate who looks to be his brother -- as if I needed another brother band to follow...)

Of course, to do that I'd have to have free time. Oh, someday, someday...

Fair sample

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"The Sound of Settling" /
Death Cab for Cutie

It's been echoing in my ears for days now, the lines that begin and end this track from Death Cab's Transatlanticism: "I've got a hunger / Twisting my stomach into knots." Okay, partly it's because I've been dieting (got some big events coming up in October, got to get ready), and I'm HUNGRY. But what's going on in this song is way beyond dieting -- it's a different kind of hunger entirely.

Hear how the first phrase yearns upwards -- "I've got a hunger" -- only to be followed by the melodically convoluted second phrase -- "turning my stomach into knots." (Death Cab does this a lot, reinforcing the meaning of the lyrics with the shape of the tune. Not that I suppose Ben Gibbard thinks about it; he just does it, I bet. Being that sort of gifted songwriter.) That simple acoustic beginning starts to build, as he goes on, "My brain's repeating / "If you've got an impulse let it out" / But they never make it past my mouth," and as the drums punch up that stuttering rhythm, you just know how jittery and blocked-up this guy feels. (How postmodern!) Sure, when he gets to the chorus, all these perky Burt Bacharach-ish "bop-ba! bop-ba!" harmonies break out, but I'm not fooled; I know things aren't working out for him. "Bop-ba! This is the sound of settling," he declares, and the way that word "set-tle-ing" collapses down makes me feel so disappointed.

"The sound of settling" what? It could mean "settling down," "getting settled" -- but the tension in those lines makes it feel more like "settling for second-best," settling for what you can get, settling for anything that's not what you really want. And the next verse suggests it's a thirty-something frustration: "Our youth is fleeting / Old age is just around the bend / And I can't wait to go gray." (Again, hear how "fleeting" climbs hopefully upward, only to be pulled back down by those tangled lines about old age and going gray.) But something stubborn in him fights the law of gravity: "And I'll sit and wonder / Of every love that could've been / If I'd only thought of something charming to say." He sounds bitter about it already, and it hasn't even happened. He exhales, and drops wearily back into acoustic mode to repeat once more, "I've got a hunger / Twisting my stomach into knots" -- and cuts off abruptly. Way too abruptly. Sheesh.

Sure, the song sounds upbeat, but nothing Death Cab for Cutie does is ever really upbeat. They can find the melancholy and regret and neurosis in any situation (just my kind of band!). This is a perfectly excruciating song about losing your romantic hopes and dreams -- or not losing them, rather. And anyone out there who's ever "settled" can tell you how that works out in the end.

The Sound of Settling sample

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Sweet Lady Genevieve" /
The Kinks

Sorry I haven't been attending to matters here as I should -- I got hit by the one-two punch of a malfunctioning computer and a looming deadline. Between now and Columbus Day, I will be so under the gun, workwise, I won't be able to do my usual posts. But I'm way too hooked on this blogging business to give it up entirely, so here's my Labor Day resolution: Daily posts, but quickies only. Let's see if I can keep it up.

And this is a song I've been longing to write about for weeks. It's from Preservation Act I, part of the Kinks' baffling early 70s descent into rock theater (baffling even to some of the Kinks themselves, but who's gonna argue with Ray Davies when he gets a notion?) Lots of Kinks fans hate the Preservation period, but not me. Act I doesn't have much of a story line, just little vignettes of various English social types -- the vicar, the businessman, the rocker -- laced together by the musings of a character called the Tramp, another Ray Davies alter-ego. But the songs are superb.

The Tramp sings this song, charming his way back into the good graces of a girl he took advantage of years ago. "Once under a scarlet sky [love that "scarlet" when we're expecting "starlit"] / I told you never-ending lies," he confesses. But now he's willing to admit the error of his ways: "But those were words of a drunken vagabond / Who knew very well he would break your heart before long / Oh, forgive me, Genevieve." Now, he insists, he's willing to give her all that boring security she wanted. He's changed, honest -- "I'm not the impetuous fool you used to know." In the chorus he starts to rock out, punching out his pleas with sexual aggression: "Let me rock you, hold you, / Take you in my arms" -- but just in time, he turns winsome and tender: "Smile away all your sadness, put your trust in me." Well, if I were Genevieve, I'd still be skeptical of this operator.

As the verses go on, he elaborates on that summer night when he took advantage of her -- "I drank too much whiskey on that soft summer night / I acted so sly because you were acting so shy." Aha, here come the excuses, the rationalizations. With the lilting Caribbean syncopation, the offbeat stresses he gives certain words, it sounds to me like double-talk, all smoke and mirrors. And in the last verse, he sort of leans toward her and notes, "You're not the child who smiled so innocently / And I'm not the rogue that I used to be." Well, if she's not so innocent anymore, who's to blame, eh?

Ray Davies can't write a simple love song to save his life; they're always full of complicated evasions and accusations, and usually more about the singer and his own hang-ups than they are about the girl. It's rare than he even lets himself yearn as openly as he does here. It's an odd little song, all right, and it has nothing to do with the Preservation story -- except that it does deal with lost innocence, and a new age of moral complexity. I just think Ray wrote a lovely song and stuffed it into this half-baked idea he had for a rock opera. But it's a really lovely song, so I'm glad he did.