The Tune Inside My Head

i. Internal Music

Every so often, out of nowhere and without apparent cause, I’ll get a snippet of a song come into my head. I’m sure it happens all the time to a lot of you out there too.

It may be a line or two, a riff, a solo, or a rhythm. Sometimes it’s obvious what the song is but occasionally I rack my brains to remember which song. That’s the fun part.

Other times, it may arouse my curiosity further: as to its origins, who wrote it, whether the version I know well is the original or a cover, who played on the record, and so on. And it doesn’t always turn out to be what I might have believed it to be.

ii. Dreaming

Though I don’t usually remember my dreams, last night was an exception. It was a crazy dream about going into town with a group of youthful mates, exchanging shoes with one of them (don’t ask me why?) and I remember having to run down the street in these odd shoes. I mean they were odd in their appearance – kind of oversized and woollen or felt – AND odd because the left and right ones just didn’t match at all: one brown with black laces, and the other green with white laces!

iii. A Song

Anyway, I rose out of bed singing in my head, these lines,

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school,
or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool,
or find myself a rock ‘n’ roll band, which needs a helping hand…

Of course, that’s an easy one to figure out but it still got my curiosity going.

It was probably among the first chart number ones I really took much notice of as I was beginning to listen to music more intently. On TV, it was mimed by Rod Stewart and The Faces, with the DJ John Peel having a cameo part, sitting on a stool playing a mandolin. This was all fakery.

It was a Rod Stewart solo song recorded with session men, and when it came to crediting the musicians for the album sleeve, he couldn’t remember the mandolin player’s name, only that he was with the band, Lindisfarne. It is Ray Jackson.

Okay, Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan, both of The Faces at the time, played a part in the recording, but the others weren’t involved. Wood played bass as well as guitars, and the drummer was Micky Waller. Something new, at least to me, is a credit for a “celesta” (Pete Sears).

What’s a Celesta?, you may ask, and it’s a good question. But you’ve no doubt already heard one, quite clearly, and not realised it’s a celesta. It’s the well-known classical piece, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The celesta is a keyboard instrument, looking a bit like an upright piano, where hammers strike tuned metal plates, or bars, which resonate against wooden blocks. Tchaikovsky loved its sound, it seems.

Unlike most pop songs I’ve ever heard, I think the lyrics to Maggie May are well crafted, intelligent and imaginative. A proper ballad. They are credited to Roderick Stewart which I wouldn’t have guessed simply as he has recorded a lot of cover songs. The co-creditor is Martin Quittenton who also played guitar on the recording.

At the time, Stewart was uncertain about the song’s worthiness and conceded to the record company’s preference for the session’s other cut, a cover of singer-songwriter, Tim Hardin’s excellent Reason To Believe, as his new single’s A-side. But radio DJs and the public had other ideas, and the single became a double A-side with Maggie May becoming the most air-played and, instantly, the more popular tune.

It was no.1 in the UK for five weeks running, and elsewhere too. It is also reputedly the highest selling single of all time featuring a mandolin, yet only credited as,

“…played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”

I’m sure I can hear the celesta clearly around the 2:35 mark, coinciding with when he begins to sing those very lines I remembered above. No celesta in the tv studio though, nor are their guitars plugged in.

Don’t mess with Mr. In-between

The idea of the grass being greener on the other side, and its close cousin, the “what if?”, both of which inspired my previous, flash-fiction post, leads me somehow to think about a theme song for this blog. Blogs ought to have a theme song, don’t you think?

And I’ll let you into a secret; there are times when I tear myself apart keeping my posts away from being downbeat. I’ve actually written lots of stuff about politics, irritations, wrong-headedness and all the rest we inevitably come across, and I bin it straight after. Or, if there’s a particular thing I liked within it, it goes into Drafts, blogging’s purgatory corner or naughty step – and then, after a while, when the Drafts are beginning to look like forming their own breakaway blog, I purge with malice gusto.

It came to me in a flash – where flashes come from is a mystery – something I had once on vinyl from the soundtrack of Dennis Potter’s The Singing Detective. And here it is for your delectation,

Composer, Harold Arlen, really puts some swing into it which is irresistible, and which compensates favourably, in my opinion, for Bing’s naturally lugubrious baritone. If it wasn’t for The Singing Detective introducing me to this, I might opt instead for the Johnny Mercer version, but The Andrews Sisters make a sweeter contrast in Bing’s version than The Pied Pipers do in Mercer’s. Johnny Mercer, by the way, wrote the lyrics.

Anyway, that’s my theme tune and if I can get it to play every time you visit my blog, I’ll be a very happy man. Be sure to sing along…

(hmmm, you know the more I play it, the more I like Johnny Mercer’s upbeat voice. Might have to change the theme…)