I wrote earlier about the surprising difficulty of finding a copy of Tenterfield Saddler, Allen’s second solo album as a singer-songwriter, and then I reviewed the album. But now that I’ve read a few bits of Stephen MacLean’s The Boy From Oz, permit me one minor boast: I can pick a cabaret ballad. I thought the song Harbour was asking for it, and it turns out Liza (Minnelli, that is) paid Allen the compliment of recording it, and More Than I Like You as well. Moreover, the passages on the album that seem to be about their time together are, in fact, about their time together. But any fool could have spotted that.
MacLean describes Allen’s penning of the album’s title song on the roof of the Shangri-La apartments, in the winter of 1971, on Campbell Parade, across the road from Bondi Beach. Courtesy of Google Maps, here’s that building:
I don’t know if the landlords have put up a plaque, but they should.
MacLean also writes:
Peter chose minor, almost maudlin chords for this melody, and made mention of kangaroos, jackaroos and emus. Australian songs had done this before, usually descending to the level of kitsch. Peter’s song, in its honesty, side-stepped vulgarity.
This is, apart from the business about the chords, spot on. Here is Tenterfield Saddler‘s chord progression, simplified for clarity:
Verse: F C/E Dm
Bb F C7
Bb C/Bb Am7 Dm7
C7sus4 C7 C7sus4 C7 F
Chorus: F F/E Dm7 Dm7/C Gm7 C7 Gm7 C7
Gm7 C7 Gm7 C7 F
As you can see, there aren’t that many minor chords (those Gm7s in the chorus really function as a C7sus), and the song’s in a major key.
If it makes you feel almost maudlin (because a person can be maudlin, but a chord can’t), I reckon it’s because of two things: the waltz time and that descending bass line, one of those step-at-a-time bass lines that falls and falls, and falls, until it ends up exactly where it started. That’s the sound of a merry-go-round, that chord progression is, whirling around and around, ever moving, ever coming back to where it started. It fits the lyric’s theme of time’s ever-meddling presence beautifully.
It’s a very, very good song; I’d be proud to have written it.