"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.
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.