Tuesday, March 16, 2010

"Saturday Groovers" / Robyn Hitchcock

In the midst of my 100 Singles project, I didn't have time to report on my latest fangirl pleasure -- seeing Robyn Hitchcock play at the City Winery at the end of February, with my friend Rebecca. Soon after, I also discovered this clip of Robyn performing "Waterloo Sunset" back in London at a concert called Songs in the Key of London. Naturally, I've now got Robyn on the brain, even more so since he's got a new album, Propellor* Time, due at the end of the month (guest appearances by John Paul Jones, Morris Windsor, Johnny Marr, and -- what a coincidence! -- Nick Lowe). You can imagine that I've got that thing on pre-order.

In the meantime, I can feed my Hitchcock jones with the plethora of other RH tracks I have acquired over the past few years. (Mr. H is nothing if not prolific.) This one came up today on a playlist on my iPod (the theme was Friends), a track from Goodnight Oslo, last year's outing with the Venus 3, a.k.a. Peter Buck, Bill Rieflin, and Scott McCaughey. The first time I listened to this CD, I heard "Saturday Groovers" as a throwaway track -- and maybe it is. But that's a large component of Robyn Hitchcock's charm, his ability to spin songs out of nothing.

video

Loose-limbed, raucous, uptempo, "Saturday Groovers" is ostensibly sung by a crew of wastrels who hung out smoking together when they were young. (Smoking what? You may well ask...). The vibe is totally genial, a dense clutter of vocalized fanfares, rambling repetitions, jangly guitars, and sloppy backing vocals. The melody seemed instantly familiar to me, and eventually I put my finger on it: He's ripping off the tune of John Lennon's "Crippled Inside." (The similarity may be unconscious -- I know Hitchcock's a huge Lennon fan.) But whereas Lennon's song was taunting and critical, there's no ill-will in this song, just rollicking good-time charm.

Somewhere in the middle of the song, the young good-for-nothings turn into old good-for-nothings, almost as if they haven't noticed their lives slipping past. "Emphysema, heart disease and gout / Nothing will move us," he rambles, joshing affectionately, "I heard you cleaned your act up / You old trout." In the second bridge, another cryptic set of lyrics: "Come on down the battered cross / Eno's got some mental floss." (Eno as in Brian Eno?) For some reason the phrase "mental floss" makes me think of Frank Zappa, always a good thing.

It reminds me of songs like the Beach Boys' "Barbara Ann," the Lovin' Spoonful's "Nashville Cats," or the Tremeloes' "Even the Bad Times Are Good" -- they're like outtakes, or late-night studio improvs, the very opposite of a polished crafted track. It's an inside joke, but we the listeners are in on the joke, part of the charmed circle. It's the sort of goofy song you would want to sing on a Saturday afternoon with folks you've known, like, forever.

* My on-line dictionary tells me this is a bona fide variant spelling of "propeller." Trust Robyn to go for the oddball spelling.

6 comments:

The Modesto Kid said...

Thanks for a lovely ear-worm this morning. I read your post before I came to work and the whole drive in I was humming this tune.

Funny thing about Goodnight Oslo, the three lightest songs are at the beginning -- after "Saturday Groovers" you move into beautiful-but-bleak territory with "I'm Falling". The jangly garage band sound makes a great opening for the record and sort of lulled me into thinking I was not going to need to take the record too seriously...

nat said...

What a great song and whatta great writer. My pal, Deni Bonet, got to spend time jammin' with Robyn on his birthday, so it's kind of cool to hear her talk about him, too. In a hipster world, Robyn fits right in, but is often overlooked by the younger ones. I will never understand that.

The Modesto Kid said...

Great tapes of Deni playing with Robyn and with Kimberley Rew (among others) on her YouTube channel; search for "Duets with Deni". Isn't she playing a free show at the Living Room this Friday?

Holly A Hughes said...

Glad you enjoyed it! From what I can tell, Robyn has plenty of hipster cred. He seems to know everybody.

Mark said...

What a great song this is! This is one of my favorites from Goodnight Oslo. And it's true, Robyn can spin songs out of nothing. Good call on the "Crippled Inside" vibe this tune has. I went back to the "Imagine" CD and re-listened, and there's definitely some similarities. Although I feel like "Crippled" is more blues-based than "Groovers." Only Robyn could write a lyric like, "Emphysema, heart disease and gout," and make it catchy.

That video is wonderful, it's fun to hear Robyn's voice, and Elvis's, on such an iconic song. I like how Robyn is jumping around the stage!

Holly A Hughes said...

I do enjoy the idea of Robyn, Peter, Scott, and Bill sitting around in his garden bashing out this song. The senior citizens of rock...