Wednesday, September 14, 2016

E Is For...

Songs A to Z

My 26-day challenge to myself -- write about a different band every day, working from A to Z. So while we're in Stiff Records mode...this could go under E, G, or W, but what the hell, I needed an E for today. And I love this record.

Wreckless Eric / 
"Whole Wide World"

One of the most lovable tracks that Stiff Records ever released (right up there with Elvis Costello's "Alison" and Ian Dury's "Sex and Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll,") this 1977 single was Eric Goulden's debut, and it was auspicious indeed. Oddly enough, it never made the charts, but it's since been covered by everybody from the Monkees to Paul Westerberg to Will Ferrell. It's one of those songs that, even if you don't know it, you know it.

Despite Stiff's reputation for outrageous stunts and proto-punk agression, this song is wonderfully tender, even in the loud and growly parts. What it does share with the Stiff aesthetic is that stripped-down punk simplicity -- only two chords, strummed over and over, in dogged 4/4 time -- and the deliberately raw production quality. Apparently Stiff's house producer, Nick Lowe, played not only the bass but most other instruments on this track, while Steve Goulding of the Rumour sits in on the drums. (The same sort of wistful melancholy runs through Graham Parker & the Rumour's "Watch the Moon Come Down" from their Stick to Me album, also from 1977, also produced by Nick Lowe, also with Steve Goulding on the drums. But that's another story.)

This is an undying-love song, but with a twist -- undying love for a girl he hasn't met yet (think Paul McCartney's "I Will" from The White Album, which BTW he wrote specifically for me). That accounts for the 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." That flash of deprecating Cockney humor -- that's another Stiff hallmark, but it's also authentically Wreckless Eric, as he's gone on to prove in song after song.

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. The woebegone quality of Eric's voice is just perfect; the lad's got a pure heart, even if he is a bit thick. (I love how Wreckless Eric stops just this side of making this character the butt of his humor.)

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.

And as the buzzy guitars and smackdown drums kick in, Eric's getting a leetle paranoid; he changes up the refrain, "I'd go the whole wide world / Find out where they hide her."

Verse three and four are particularly fun -- he portrays 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." That juxtaposition is a stroke of something very near genius -- shades of the Beatles' "Sitting in an English garden / Waiting for the sun / If the sun you don't come you get a tan from standing in the English rain."

He caps it off in verse five, 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." He manages to deliver a happy ending without getting sappy, without breaking character (and I do love that "skin/kin" rhyme"). By the time he gets here, I'm yearning too for him to get what he wants.

It was a great start to what's turned out to be an interesting career. Eric's still performing, still recording, but he's also painting and writing and doing radio shows and . . . well, check it out here.

1 comment:

wwolfe said...

Even though I was a huge punk rock fan as it was happening in the late '70s, I somehow missed this record at the time. Will Farrell introduced me to it in "Stranger Than Fiction," after which I listened to the original incessantly for about a week. If you haven't got it already, I recommend Eric's latest album, "America," from 2015.