I’ve been listening to a lot of old soul music lately (not an unusual occurrence) and happened to have a sequence of three metaphor songs in a short spell. All three are great greats songs from the ‘60s, and it’s easier to just put up the YouTube videos than to try and explain in words what I mean by this type of song.
First up is Mel & Tim’s classic “Backfield In Motion.” Sports infractions are the metaphor for cheating in love. The metaphor covers football (“offside & holdin’”), baseball (“balkin’”), boxing (“you hit me below the belt”), and basketball (“double dribble”). This video has all the lyrics.
Then there’s 100 Proof Aged In Soul’s sole hit “Somebody’s Been Sleeping.” This was one of the early hits on the Hot Wax label, formed by the team of Holland-Dozier-Holland, after they left Motown in 1968. Here the metaphor is the Goldilocks & The Three Bears fable. And it’s an interesting metaphor in that it is both metaphor and not metaphor. Somebody has been sleeping in his bed! Here’s the lyrics video for this one.
By the way, this is the album version, which I didn’t hear until many years after this was a hit in 1970. When I first heard this version I definitely preferred the single edit; now I love the album version and don’t want to hear the song without the instrumental break that comes 2 minutes in – a minute and a half of pure funky soul horns.
The third is “Agent Double-O-Soul”, Edwin Starr’s first hit from 1965. This was on the Ric-Tic label, which was bought by Berry Gordy a few years later. Bond, James Bond is the metaphor here. Here’s a great (albeit lip-synced) performance video from a 1960s teen dance program; sorry, I couldn’t find one with lyrics.
Very interesting with, unsurprisingly, much to say about David Byrne and his refusal to reunite Talking Heads. And there are lots of great video clips – from 20 minutes of the three-piece Talking Heads at CBGBs in 1975 through to their only “reunion” for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame up to Byrne’s American Utopia on Broadway. I’ll let you decide which ones to watch rather than embed something here.
Are artists like Byrne or Robbie Robertson or Paul Weller (to name two more that come to mind quickly) heroes or villains? Sticking with Byrne, he owes his success to Talking Heads; he surely wouldn’t have a hit Broadway show without that on his CV. Does he owe it to Frantz, Tina Weymouth, and Jerry Harrison to reunite for the type of tour Frantz mentions in the interview for a “treasure trove” of money? Should he at some point have “taken one for the team that used to be”? Or is he to be admired for walking away from a successful band to pursue his other artistic ambitions and not looking back? (As a side point, I wonder if Byrne wishes he had taken that treasure trove given the shut down of Broadway; maybe his Utopia is gone for good.)
Considering that INXS was one of the most popular bands in the world during their reign, you will be forgiven for thinking, “What asshole thinks INXS is in need of a critical upgrade?”
Recently, on a work call, a Scottish colleague quoted an INXS lyric that was actually poignant. I’d never considered the lyrics of INXS, and maybe the rest of their lyrics are still not worth my consideration, but I did realize that one reason I never paid any attention to their lyrics was because the rhythms and animal desire expressed by Michael Hutchence were so strong. The craft of those unavoidable hit songs from the late-’80s was strong, too. I’ll go one bold step further: For a popular ’80s band, they struck a solid Look.
I never particularly loved or even liked INXS, but they had it down. I discovered Roxy Music just as they started to get super slick, over their last couple of albums. Because I was hooked by the early, wild stuff, I could “excuse” some of the too-slick-for-my-sensibilities areas into which Bryan Ferry led the band. On the other hand, INXS came out of the gates, for me at least, all slick and shiny and pumped up. Looking back, I’ll take this INXS song over any late-period Roxy Music song other than “More Than This.”
I expect that both my close personal friend E. Pluribus Gergely and the wonderful 2000 Man are squirming as they read this, but I think they’d agree that Mick Jagger, from 1983 on, would have cut off his left nut to make music this good.
I woke up today and was reminded on public radio that it’s Ringo’s birthday, his 80th! The first thing I thought was, “Wow, just thinking about Ringo makes me feel good! He’s the perfect antidote to these times.”
Last week, his song “Photograph” came on the radio, and as happens any time that song kicks in – pre-pandemic, pandemic, and eventually post-pandemic – I teared up. There’s so much empathy in that song, in Ringo’s delivery, in the arrangement. If I’m ever required to tear up, something that isn’t too hard to get me to do, play me “Photograph” or Elton John’s “Daniel.”
I’m a John Guy with a strong Paul Sensibility lurking in the background, but I’m going to let Ringo be my co-pilot today.