Notes on an Australian Cast (Concept) Recording – Ned Kelly

Damn, but Google Books is an ugly place to visit. I swear, it was designed by someone who hates books.

But the occasional gem is hidden thereon, like this account of Ned Kelly‘s first season at the Adelaide Festival centre in 1977.

Reg Livermore has given his own clear-eyed account of the show (more properly, Ned Kelly – The Electric Music Show), in his book Chapters and Chances, and here, on his website. Great pics there too.

The show began in pretty hip fashion for the 1970s, with an original 1974 concept recording, and then a stage adaptation, a la Jesus Christ Superstar and (later) Evita. After a contentious run in Adelaide, December 1977 (of the “is-public-money-wasted-on-this-sort-of-thing?” variety), it opened in February 1978 at Her Majesty’s Theatre, Sydney (the theatre is now no more), and quietly disappeared until 2000, when the songs and lyrics were revised, and the stage rights became available to amateur and community groups.

There is no official cast recording of any stage production, but the original concept album can still be found (in my case, in a library), and has additional historical interest because most of the cast (Trevor White, Jon English, Arthur Dignam, John Paul Young, Livermore himself) had lately distinguished themselves in the Australian cast of Jesus Christ Superstar. Dignam and Livermore, between concept album and stage version of Ned Kelly, starred as The Narrator and Frank-n-Furter in the Australian premiere of  The Rocky Horror Show. Oh, and Livermore managed, in all that spare time, to squeeze in the first productions of Betty Blokk Buster Follies and Wonder Woman.

This is in the space of four years, which is now the average length of time between a musical’s first reading and its lukewarmly received second workshop. Perhaps this is not always a bad thing, because the consensus on Ned Kelly is that the score had promise, but that it was probably unstageable, in the 1970s, in its 1970s form.

How’s the album holding up these days?

1. What Else Is New? – John (Paul) Young, Trevor White & Peter Chambers with Arthur Dignam

The opening bars sound like a proficient high school band, so things are off to an inauspicious start. Then, happily, everyone starts to rock out, and all the guys are obliged to hit high C sharps. Characterisations aren’t subtle: “once upon a time, there were these greedy squatters”; meanwhile, Dan, Steve, Joe and Edward “Bang Bang” Kelly are “fighting for your liberty”.

2. Put ’em Down – Dignam, Reg Livermore

The villains appear – cops and judges who they don’t rock like the Kelly boys. They are exceptionally daggy, and their beef with the common folk is both too self-knowing and vague, for the “unhygienic rabble” … “do exactly as they please”.

Incidentally, Flynn’s melody is not dissimilar to the one Benny and Bjorn would later write for “1956 – Budapest is Rising” in Chess. And nice countermelodies!

3. Lullaby – Janice Slater

Janice has a touch of Olivia Newton-John, especially when she hits the top notes. Or is it the other way around? This is a very, very loud lullaby, and the music is blithely that of the American southwest, with no attempt to sound Aussie, and not a hint of worry about it: “there’s a chahld … crahn to bee a may-uhn.”

4. Rob A Bank – J(P)Y, White, Chambers

A bluegrass patter number, with good, specific imagery from lyricist Livermore: “velvet suit” and “mad Uncle Harry”. At this stage the gang are still lovable ruffians.

5. Never Going Home – JPY, White, Chambers, Jon English & Tony Rose

And now they’re not. This is a big set-piece of a number, intelligently contrasted with  what went before. At Stringybark Creek the Kelly boys, in reverse historical order, graduate from bank robbers to killers. Flynn again proves adept at the big choral counterpoint stuff, alternating with solo passages. It builds and builds but it’s all a bit ponderous. Ned gets a chance to prove, once again, that heroes are heroes because their voices rock out.

6. Better Watch Yerself – White

Now that he’s crossed the threshold, Ned gets a short choral commentary, just as Judas did in Jesus Christ Superstar.

7. Dark Walk Home – White

A Kelly boy theatre-ballad at a moment of dilemma and, like many of them, too self-knowing: “I can walk two roads, one of them home. I can be two men, one man alone … gonna be a dark walk home tonight.” The chord progression wanders ambivalently through key centres, a nice touch.

8. Queen Victoria’s Fuzz – Livermore & Cast

The police are back, and they’re still jokes, led by a Queen Villain: “My blunderbuss bent, and a touch of waratah scent”. Livermore’s rhymes are true, and the images are specific, true to the period. There’s a kick-line finish, and the bad guys are given no more motivation than Iago was: ” … no grand parade, it’s just the way I’m made.”

9. If I Was A King – English

Ned in the Garden of Gethsemane (“Oh Lord, you’ve lost your touch”), with another balls-out vocal (high C sharps up to high Es!) over a minor key vamp in the middle.

10. Die Like A Kelly – Slater

This is the only song I knew prior to listening to this album, thanks to Geraldine Turner’s performance on ABC TV’s Once in a Blue Moon, back in 1994. That was a theatre ballad performance – this one is Renee Geyer at two in the morning. The caterwauling has the unintended effect of making Ellen Kelly’s grief all about herself, and not about her sons’ impending deaths.

11. Band Together – English, JPY, White, Chambers

“The people gonna come and band together … the people gonna have that family feeling”.  It’s not explained precisely who “the people” are, and if anyone (the fuzz?) is not included. The people are a bit like Hair‘s tribe: if you have to ask, you ain’t one of them. This singalong at the end, utterly without irony, feels icky.

12. Finale – Jon English

A whooshy, electronic ending for our hero. Also very Superstar – a choir, with a few sprinkles of Holst and Ligeti, sees him off.

It’s immediately apparent, all these years later, that the fate of Ned Kelly (the show, not the man) deprived us of two valuable musical theatre writers in Flynn and Livermore. Flynn (who also composed the score for Sunday Too Far Away) had real composing chops, and could write honest Ozrock – a combination rare in Aussie musicals, then and since. Flynn eventually moved abroad, conducting orchestras in both the UK and USA. He co-wrote three new songs for the revised Ned Kelly in 2000, and died in 2008.

Livermore remains better known for theatre roles and television presenting, despite all the writing entailed by his one-man shows, on both the large and Clarendon-scale. I wish, though, we all knew more of his lyrics: based on the evidence of this show, he had real craft, and he could do the modern Tim Riceish vernacular without resorting to cringey undergraduate jokes.

Never Sleeps/Doesn’t Sleep, Heap/Something Else

Fred Ebb was too much of a pro to do this:

I want to wake up in the city that never sleeps
To find I’m king of the hill, top of the heap

Fred Ebb knew that “sleeps” doesn’t rhyme with “heap”, so he wrote:

I want to wake up in the city that doesn’t sleep

The “city that never sleeps” comes to mind more easily, probably because it was already an expression in 1977, when the Theme From New York, New York was written.  The City That Never Sleeps is, for starters, the 1953 film above – which I’ve never seen – set in New York.  The City That Never Sleeps is also a silent film from 1924 which no-one has seen, apparently – and I don’t know which city provides its setting.

So if there was a ready-made expression lying around, why didn’t Ebb just use it, and put up with an extra “s”?  Because a Broadway writer (or at least, one of Ebb’s generation and craft) would develop an ulcer if he left superfluous un-rhyming letters lying about the place.

Liza Minnelli’s version, the first, leaves Ebb’s words as written at the climax:

… doesn’t sleep …
… king of the hill,
head of the list,
cream of the crop,
at the top of the heap …

Frank Sinatra’s recorded version, probably the best-known, has “doesn’t sleep” the first time, and then:

… nevers sleeps …
… A Number One,
top of the list,
king of the hill,
A Number One …

Ebb went on the record about not liking the “A Number One” line, although he acknowledged the big hit (and he was probably relieved that Sinatra didn’t mangle the sleep/heap rhyme).  Sinatra was, apart from adopting his usual cheery indifference to a written lyric, giving himself a better vowel for the long, drawn-out note, before the “These little-town blues” that follows.

I don’t know what the Chairman of the Board was smoking before this live performance, but we get “the city that never sleeps” in the spoken word intro, followed by “doesn’t sleep” the first time, and then:

… doesn’t sleep
… I’m number one,
top of the list,
head of the heap,
king of the hill …

What?  Why set up the sleep/heap rhyme, and then non-rhyme with “hill”?  And since when does a heap have a head?

Steve Lawrence’s version:

… doesn’t sleep
… king of the hill,
head of the list,
cream of the crop,
on the top of the … list …

Now that’s just weird.  It sets up the rhyme correctly, heads off down Minnelli’s path, then changes a word, Sinatra-style, but changes it to a non-rhymer with a bad vowel. Crazy. 

This confusion is a gift to drunken karaoke singers.  You can now sing pretty much anything, and sound like somebody.

Paul McCartney’s Inner Rhymes (A Tale of Love Unrequited)

If you stopped a hundred people on the street, and asked them which Beatle wrote the best lyrics, I reckon John Lennon would score around the 97% mark.  Other songwriters will occasionally remind the world’s rock press that McCartney wrote Blackbird, but the world’s rock press will mention When I’m Sixty-Four or Maxwell’s Silver Hammer, and the game will be called off on account of bad light.

Of the Beatles, it was McCartney who flirted most outrageously with inner rhymes.  It was McCartney who suggested, in 1965, that he and Lennon were starting to write “comedy numbers”.  Back then, one could write a comedy number, and – thanks to Lionel Bart and Ray Davies – still retain one’s manly working-class roots.  Not so easy now.

In Revolution in the Head, Ian MacDonald thought that If You’ve Got Trouble (“the one unmitigated disaster in the Lennon-McCartney catalogue”) might be one of these comedy numbers.  It was never released – indeed, it was never finished – but as it stands, it’s a petrie dish for inner rhymes.  The inner rhymes are begging to happen, but instead the words mostly identify with themselves:

If you’ve got troubles
Then you’ve got less troubles than me.
You say you’re worried,
You can’t be as worried as me.
You’re quite content to be bad,
With all the advantages you’ve had over me.
Just ’cause you’re troubled,
Then don’t bring your troubles to me.

I’ve Just Seen a Face is busy with inner rhymes, but they’re all just one syllable long, and the up-tempo folkish nature of the song keeps them, and the off-rhymes, from drawing attention to themselves.  It’s not bad for a twenty-three year-old. 

I’ve just seen a face,
I can’t forget the time or place
Where we just met, she’s just the girl for me
And I want all the world to see we’ve met
Mmm, mmm, mmm, mmm mmm mmm

Had it been another day
I might have looked the other way
And I’d never been aware
But as it is I’ll dream of her tonight
La, di, di, da di di

(In fact, if your Scouse is thick enough, you can make “aware” rhyme with “her”)

I have never known
The like of this, I’ve been alone
And I have missed things and kept out of sight
But other girls were never quite like this
La, di, di, da di di

By 1966, when McCartney contributed Got to Get You Into My Life to the Revolver album, he’d come up with a subtle sheme in which the off-rhymes out-number the end rhymes and inner rhymes , and they’re scrupulously repeated verse after verse:

I was alone,
I took a ride,
I didn’t know what I would find there
Another road
where maybe I
could see another kind of mind there

Ooh, then I suddenly see you,
Ooh, did I tell you I need you
Every single day of my life

You didn’t run,
you didn’t lie
You knew I wanted just to hold you
Had you gone,
you knew in time,
we’d meet again for I had told you

Ooh, you were meant to be near me
Ooh, and I want you hear me
Say we’ll be together every day

Critics don’t hate this song.  Partly because everyone knows it’s a drug song disguised as a love song but also, I think, because the rhyme scheme is more rhythm and blues than prissy Broadway.  The rhymes aren’t fussily true.

By 1969, they were, and worse, they were two and three-syllable rhymes. Maxwell’s Silver Hammer (MacDonald: “If any single recording shows why the Beatles broke up, it is Maxwell’s Silver Hammer … This ghastly miscalculation …”) goes like this:

Joan was quizzical; Studied pataphysical
Science in the home.
Late nights all alone with a test tube.
Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Maxwell Edison, majoring in medicine,
Calls her on the phone.
“Can I take you out to the pictures,
Joa, oa, oa, oan?”

P. C. Thirty-one said, “We’ve caught a dirty one.”
Maxwell stands alone
Painting testimonial pictures.
Oh, oh, oh, oh.

Rose and Valerie, screaming from the gallery
Say he must go free
The judge does not agree and he tells them
So, o, o, o.

The rhymes don’t fall in the same place each time, but the off-rhymes are all but gone, and the result would not have been out of place in a trippy Off-Broadway revue.  That glib, smug tone enrages critics who otherwise adore the album Abbey Road.  They want the whole album to be deep and significant, and then this … this thing … turns up.  Is it ironic?  Can we salvage Side One by suggesting the boys were pulling our leg?

It’s unfair to judge any songwriter by his worst song.  If we did it to Berlin, Gershwin or Rodgers, their reputations would all suffer.  But McCartney tends to be fair game, while Lennon fans pretend that Woman is the Nigger of the World never happened.

In 1968, before the ghastly miscalculation, there was Hey Jude.  Consider:

Hey Jude, don’t make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her into your heart
Then you can start to make it better

Hey Jude, don’t be afraid
You were made to go out and get her
The minute you let her under your skin
Then you begin to make it better

(Thanks to the missing “h” sound, “let her” rhymes with better, but not with “get her”, in which the “h” is sounded)

And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don’t carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it’s a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder

So let it out and let it in, hey Jude, begin
You’re waiting for someone to perform with
And don’t you know that it’s just you? Hey Jude, you’ll do
The movement you need is on your shoulder

But wait a minute, what was that?  That’s the part where McCartney, playing the song to Lennon for the first time, winced and said, “I’ll fix that bit.”

“You won’t, you know,” Lennon remarked.  “That’s the best line in the song.”

The story is told (usually by McCartney) with the two writers in their traditional roles: McCartney as perfectionist, not leaving well enough alone; Lennon as unfiltered mojo, exhorting all artists to break the rules.

I’ve never heard anyone make this point, but I think I know what Lennon was dreading.  He was dreading a rhyme, an inner rhyme, or even an identity or an off-rhyme, with “perform with”. 

Storm with, conform with, play the shawm with. 

There isn’t a single, natural-sounding word that does it, as there is with “colder” and “shoulder”.  And in a ballad of consolation and encouragement, dedicated to another person, a showy rhyme isn’t just clunky: it’s a moment of writerly egotism counter to the spirit of the entire song.

Share my dorm with, get lukewarm with – it’s that bloody “with”, it ruins everything it touches.

McCartney’s solo hits aren’t full of inner rhymes.  If anything, they go back to naive repetition, phrases rhyming with themselves.  The inner-rhyme tendency resurfaces once in a while (1993’s Biker Like An Icon), but the affair is over.  As a young man, he loved those inner rhymes, but he never really understood them, and they refused to love him back.

Meanwhile, three (four?) generations of songwriters, profoundly influenced by McCartney – whether they like it or not – don’t understand inner rhymes either.  Even the modern Broadway writers can’t figure out when it’s right to use them, and inner rhymes have been obliged to ply their wares in the world of rap, where they are flaunted and degraded like a bikini-clad hot-tub girl.

The APRA finalists

APRA announced yesterday the nominees for Song of the Year.  They are:

Sarah Blasko – “All I Want
Abby Mandagi and Lorenzo Sillitto (Temper Trap) – “Sweet Disposition
Troy Cassar-Daley – “Big Big Love
Kate Miller-Heidke and Keir Nuttall – “The Last Day on Earth
Luke Steele, Jonathan Sloan and Nick Littlemore – “We Are The People

Bearing in mind that this a peer-voted award, and that thousands of APRA-registered songwriters voted for these nominees, I have one question:

ARE WE ALL ON CRACK?

Sure, sure, I’ll admit that my preferred songs aren’t up there, but it’s not about that.  Here is the opening of Empire of the Sun’s “We Are the People“:

We can remember
Swimmin’ in December
Headin’ for the city lights
In nine seven five

That’s a pretty good opening, although few well-lit coastal cities existed in the tenth century.

We share in each other
Nearer than farther
The scent of a lemon
Drips from your eyes

This should be re-written as:

platitude
self-evident
cliché
nonsense

Next:

We are the people that rule the world
A force running in every boy and girl
All rejoicing in the world
Take me now
We can try

Is really:

hubris
non-rhyming cliché
another cliché, using previous non-rhyming word
Ewww

non-sequitir

I can only assume that a great many APRA-registered songwriters went swimming somewhere in the mid-’70s, and this evocation of that time made ’em feel all mushy.  But geez, guys, the future will judge us.

The APRA Song of the Year, Part 6

These are the Number One singles from last year’s ARIA chart by Australian acts [insert tired protestation here about how commercial popularity is no guarantee of artistic worth].

Why the Number Ones, and not, say, the Number Eights?  Easy:  I can’t find a list of songs that peaked at Number Eight, but I can easily find a list of Number Ones.

Burn – Jessica Mauboy.  Credited writers: Mich Hansen, Taj Jackson, Jonas Jeberg
Sounds like someone wants to be hit by Chris Brown 1.3

Like it Like That – Guy Sebastian.  Credited writers: Guy Sebastian, David Ryan Harris, Sean Hurley
Difficult to listen to this as purely a song, given that it’s become so damn ubiquitous, but it’s actually about something, it develops its initial idea, and then it runs out of tricks after about two minutes 3.75

This is Who I Am – Vanessa Amorosi.  Credited writers: Vanessa Amorosi, Robin Mortensen Lynch, Niklas “Nikey” Olovson
All that “I like me” pyschobabble from the ’70s is really biting us in the arse now 1.5

Now even if I could figure out if all these writers are members of APRA, there’s no way I could learn where they lived for most of last year, and only they and APRA know what percentage of the songwriting credit goes to whom.  So let’s be charitable and assume they’re all eligible.

And I must say, commercial popularity really is no guarantee of artistic worth.

The APRA Song of the Year, Part 5

36 songs later, here they are in descending order.  As songs.  I didn’t pay attention to the video, the tastiness of the beats, or how cute anyone is.  The scores are from the Vanda-Young scale, explained here.

Blood (The Middle East) “a jar of two cent coins that are no good no more” is a fine, fine image.  This needs to be covered by someone with clearer diction, and a less enthusiastic producer 6

Cement (Washington) Bloody good idea for a song, and well executed 5.5

The Good News (Philadelphia Grand Jury) Catchy plus originality.  Bravo 5.2

The Darkest Side (The Middle East) Pretty, overwritten, self-regarding folk, with lots of good, specific imagery at the start.  I appreciate any song that mentions Panadol 4.5

Broken Leg (Bluejuice) If you’re going to use anthem-rock cliches, it is best to use all of them.  Damn catchy 4.4

Ramona Was a Waitress (Paul Dempsey) Earnest. So very earnest. Good chorus 4.3

Vanilla (British India) Some good imagery for one of those bleed-just-to-know-you’re-alive anthems 4.1

And the Boys (Angus and Julia Stone) 3.9

One Way Road (John Butler Trio) Not the first artist to preach revolution while working for the Warner Music Group 3.8

The Waitress Song (Seth Sentry) This topic is done, people.  Leave it be 3.7

Brother (Little Birdy) “Show me your soul and I’ll show you mine” is the line that should be inscribed on indie’s tombstone 3.7

All of the Dreamers (Powderfinger) 3.6

Thump (Bertie Blackman) 3.5

All I Want (Sarah Blasko) Enough material for a good verse, stretched out to the length of a whole song 3.45

Pictures (Illy) Best line: “good mates and stamps in a passport” 3.4

Science of Fear (The Temper Trap) Bonus points for trying to be about something interesting 3.4

Getting Wise (Yves Klein Blue) 3.3

Chase That Feeling (Hilltop Hoods) Decent musing on a very, very, very worn topic 3.2

Love Lost (The Temper Trap) Gets better as it goes along 3.15

Foreign Land (Eskimo Joe) 3.1

Coin Laundry (Lisa Mitchell) Quirk 101 3

We Won’t Run (Sarah Blasko) After the first verse, the others are made of prose forcing itself upon the melody 2.9

Byrds of Prey (Bertie Blackman) Uncomfortably reminiscent of goth girl poetry, set to music 2.85

You’ve Changed (Sia) 2.8

Parles Vous Francais? (Art vs Science) Fun novelty track, and barely a song. If Australia could enter Eurovision, this would be worth submitting 2.7

Shooting Stars (Bag Raiders) 2.6

All I Know (Karnivool) The kind of flavourless angst that Americans love 2.5

Still Standing (Hilltop Hoods) Standard hip-hop self-aggrandisement, with an occasional Aussie accent 2.45

Fader (The Temper Trap) After a good opening, the Cliche-o-meter gets a workout 2.4

Buttons (CSS Remix) (Sia) Repetition worthy of Terry Riley 2.4

Friend In the Field (Art vs Science) 2.2

Set Fire to the Hive (Karnivool) The sort of boy-anger you can only develop by struggling to survive in a First World democracy 2.1  

New Moon Rising (Wolfmother) A song made up entirely of bits from other people’s songs 2

She’s a Genius (Jet) And I thought Wolfmother sounded generic 1.7

Sometimes (Miami Horror) Maybe, but not with me 1.4

Remember Me (Tame Impala) was a cover, so it’s not eligible.  Good cover, though.  And of course FOTC are a New Zealand act, but just in case they’ve been “principally domiciled” in Oz, Too Many Dicks (On the Dance Floor) 2.9, Hurt Feelings 3.1, Carol Brown 4.45 

A Few Identity Crises

What a quiet blog it’s been lately!  Time for some more pedantry and rhyme.

A definition, from the OED Concise online:

RHYME

noun 1 correspondence of sound between words or the endings of words, especially when used in poetry.

This means that all words rhyme with themselves, and I won’t stand for that.  So here’s mine:

RHYME

noun 1 correspondence in word endings of all terminal sounds after a differing, stressed consonant sound.

This prevents words from rhyming with themselves, and it also prevents identities from masquerading as rhymes.  Some identities for your delectation:

Everybody say “Amen” (Amen!)
These are the dreams of ordinary men
Dragon, Dreams of Ordinary Men

“Amen” doesn’t rhyme with “men”. Properly speaking, it identifies with it.

I saw her today at the reception
In her glass was a bleeding man
She was practiced at the art of deception …
Rolling Stones, You Can’t Always Get What You Want

If the stressed syllables were “re” and “de”, these two words would rhyme. But this is an attempt to rhyme “sepshun” with “sepshun”, and that ain’t a rhyme.

I will listen hard to your tuition
You will see it come to its fruition
The Police, Wrapped Around Your Finger

Same again, a rhyme of “wishin” with “wishin”. I’m surprised Sting didn’t plump for “nuclear fission”; that would have rhymed.

Anyway, once you start listening for this stuff, you’ll hear it everywhere, and I can’t abide it in my own work.  Identities are quite nice within lines, but they can’t do the heavy lifting at the end of a line. They sound, and are, lazy.

My scrupulous avoidance of near-rhymes and identities in places where perfect rhymes are needed is what makes me sound old-fashioned and, in pop and rock terms, prissy.  But I think I am more to be pitied than despised.

Happy Hour

I’ve been toying with the idea of joining together the various rhyme challenges on this blog into a humorous free verse poem, the sort of thing that might be read out over a tinkling piano late at night.  I had my chance last night, when I was a guest speaker at the annual dinner for Canberra Repertory.  Man, those Rep veterans can party.  And just as well, because the entrees didn’t arrive until after 9pm, and my talk, scheduled for after the main course, was in danger of being out of date by the time it was delivered. 

I edited the speech as I ate, and removed the poem from its ending; I’m putting it here.

My talk was about those magically creative moments that happen in theatre, that are the reason theatregoers go back to the theatre, and that are never the most expensive moments in a show.  Those moments are, I proposed, every bit as available to an amateur group as they are to any professional body.  Morever, professional shows in Australia, so often a dogged reproduction of something that worked five years earlier on Broadway, can be less surprising and less creative than many shows produced by amateurs.

I planned to wrap up with a recollection in verse of happy hours I attended after Rep shows, back in the late ’80s, usually at Tilley’s Devine Cafe Gallery, where I drank Strongbow cider (erroneously believing that it wasn’t vile), and tried too hard to impress my elders. 

I took some liberties with events, and made myself much wittier than I am.  My excuse is that I was trying to string together all these words that supposedly cannot be rhymed.  Because if they can be rhymed, what other impossibilities are waiting to be demolished?

Happy Hour

Thomas always promises
“There’s no band like Thomas’s!”
His band? He’s just the drummer.
They play that punky foreign jazz,
their singer’s hair as orange as
a mandarin in summer.

The girls sit listening, prim, knees together,
hands on laps.
The boys all smoke like chimneys
and look in vain for gaps.

Simon chats up Kelly, levels of lust ascending
to a dangerous high,
his dreams of justice ending
with her every sigh,
and he says to me, “Might have an early night.
You should too, son.”
I say “Simon, I think it can be done.
Yes, I think it can be done.”

Theven year-old Thally
whoth jutht lotht a tooth
ith futhing, futhing, futhing
over nothing, nothing, nothing.

Her mother, Sharon, says
“Tokyo’s oakey-doakey,
but only for a visit.
The Vatican City’s pretty,
but too itty-bitty.”
And here it comes … “Oh, Paree!”
(where she discovered absinthe, cheroots and potpourri)
“Are you bored?” she asks. “Have you even been abroad?”

and I say, “Three things I gained while overseas:
a mug, a Japanese fan, vermouth.
Three things I lost while overseas:
my luggage, appetite, and youth.”

She’s miffed, and murmurs,
“I try, but I never find it funny when you make fun.”
I say, “I think it can be done.
Try harder, ‘cos I think it can be done.”

Her new man Joe plays the banjo,
sings of farms and woe,
but he went to Dara,
moved to South Yarra,
and he’s a great writer, he says,
or he could be one.

Me, I don’t challenge
a J. D. Salinger,
not even a would-be one.

So, imbibing plonk,
sold as sauvignon blanc,
I find a gent
I know only as Director, Resident,
holding forth
on his play
about Ollie North.

He says, “A hostage Ollie North
would cost a jolly penny in ransom.
They let him go, July 4th
because he’s so damn handsome!
Do you see?”
And the chorus boys chorus, “Mais oui, mais oui!”
He sees me smirk, and announces
“I find it odd
that those who need one most
have no God.”

I
reply
“It was so like Jehovah,
that putting one over.
Trust him to oblige a
man like Elijah
to take up the prophecy trade.

That small voice, I’m thinking,
would set me to drinking.
I’d probably try gin,
a drink as obligin’
as any that man’s ever made.”

He says, “My dear,
I never knew a career
could be ended before it’s begun.”
I say, “Well, it can be done.
Oh, I know it can be done.”

So later, in the kitchen,
Melissa heats a
pizza
in an oven meant
for the victims of Hannibal Lecter,
according to the government inspector.
I steal a slice, and she asks,
“Will a new album ever top
that one by Dylan,
you know, before Blonde on Blonde?”
I say, “What, Highway 61?”

“Yes,” she replies, then smoke gets in our eyes,
and I think, I guess, why not?
If we all took a shot,
I’m not sure how,
but I think it can be done
.

She kisses my neck,
says “Any objections?”
I assure her there are none.

Besides, I think it can be done.
Yes, I think it can be done.

I Want To Be Your Oxygen

I want to be your oxygen
You breathe me out and you breathe me in

Toni Pearen endured sniggers over this In Your Room couplet from 1992, although she didn’t write the song.  These lines do not rhyme, of course, unless your accent is midway between Brian Wilson’s and Bob Dylan’s, but the sentiment also seems nonsensical.  Wouldn’t one breathe out carbon dioxide?

Careful thought, however, yields this stunning emotional truth: people do, in fact, inhale oxygen, converting it by the process of respiration to carbon dioxide.  But the efficiency of the system is less than perfect, and so not all oxygen is thus utilised; some of it is later exhaled, having served no purpose at all in the process of breathing.

Pearen is therefore admitting her desire to be an all-too-familiar female type to the sensitive male: that potentially life-giving element, capable of great things, but not interested in said function.  She prefers merely to go out and in on this windy ride.

Such candour is exceptionally rare in the context of early’90s pop.

Later,

I want to be your confidante,
That’s all I need and that’s all I want.

This rhymes, but a careful listener knows it is untrue:  the desire to “be your oxygen” has already been stated, and will be stated again, thus making it clear that Pearen, like many young women, “wants” more than one thing.

Pearen’s willingness to admit so much is, I submit, particularly devastating in the context of such breezy (oxygen rich?) music.

Tim Rice, Please Explain

When Howard Ashman died, he and composer Alan Menken were part way through Aladdin, their third score for Disney. Tim Rice took over the lyric-writing duties and, according to Menken, did a fine job of adapting his style to sound more like Ashman’s, so the score wouldn’t contain abrupt changes in tone.

One of Rice’s lyrics was for the magical carpet-riding song A Whole New World:

Aladdin: I can show you the world
Shining, shimmering, splendid
Tell me, princess, now when did
You last let your heart decide?

One could quibble at this point, because not many street urchins use the word ‘splendid’, but let’s be charitable, and say that because Aladdin has been turned into a Prince by the Genie, his vocabulary has expanded. What’s matters more is the hidden trap in the two syllable rhyme of ‘splendid’ with ‘when did’. If other verses follow, a lyricist has two choices:

  1. Drop the two-syllable rhyme, like a total wuss, or:
  2. Keep it up, with the risk of making all the characters sound like Cole Porter.

How does Rice do?

Take you wonder by wonder
Over, sideways and under
On a magic carpet ride

That’s OK. What about when it’s Jasmine’s turn?

JasmineUnbelievable sights
Indescribable feeling
Soaring, tumbling, freewheeling
Through an endless diamond sky

Nice. Nicely done. Challenge met, and no-one sounds like they’re in a Harvard revue. What about the backing lines in the chorus?

Jasmine: A whole new world
(Aladdin: Don’t you dare close your eyes)
Jasmine: A hundred thousand things to see
(Aladdin: Hold your breath – it gets better)

So now the words to rhyme are ‘eyes’ and ‘better’

Aladdin: A whole new world
(Jasmine: Every turn a surprise)
AladdinWith new horizons to pursue
(JasmineEvery moment red-letter)

Wait. What? Come again? Every moment red-letter? What the hell is a red-letter moment? A red-letter day is fine, that would look like this:

M     T     W     Th    F    Sa    Su

Ooh, look, a special visitor on Wednesday! But what does a red-letter moment look like?  What would the letter be? The letter M?

A moment ago                   This Moment                          Next Sunday

I’m baffled. I can’t work it out. Maybe Jasmine has a rush of nitrogen to the brain and doesn’t know what she’s singing, but I think the song was written, storyboarded, outlined, filled-in, inked, animated, recorded, re-recorded, covered, covered again, and no-one, no-one said, “Oi. Tim. What letter?”

Peabo Bryson and Regina Belle sang the lyric as written, but when those titans of the larynx, Peter Andre and Katie Price – then married – covered the song, they resolved the problem by having Price sing ‘every moment gets better’. Who says she’s dumb?