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Friday Song: Clara Sanabras, THE DANCE OF SOLITUDE (DANCA DA SOLIDAO, 1972)

One of the more unusual CDs in my collection - and one of the most frequently played - is Clara and the Real Lowdown by Clara Sanabras,  which was produced by her musician husband Harvey Brough. It was this album which introduced me to the genius of Paolo Conte, a previous Friday songster, whose 'Sparring Partner' is covered on the CD. It also reminded me of that terrific song 'Put the Blame on Mame', written by Allan Roberts and Doris Fisher for Rita Hayworth in the 1946 film Gilda. But my favourite track on the  album is 'Dance of Solitude', an English version of 'Dança da Solidão' from the first album by the Brazilian guitarist and songwriter Paulinho da Viola. In purist terms, I probably should have chosen the excellent version by Marisa Monte, who has performed it with da Viola, but I prefer Harvey's and Clara's production  - the...

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Friday Song: Paul Simon, STILL CRAZY AFTER ALL THESE YEARS (1975)

If ever there were a song which showed how far songwriting travelled in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it is Paul Simon's extraordinary, enigmatic 'Still Crazy After All These Years'. In its story, its melody, the atmosphere it evokes,  its general air of mysterious confession, it is in my view one of the best songs of its type ever written. With most first-person songs, you know where you are. The singer/narrator feels this, thinks that, and tells you how he or she got there. With this song, the very opposite is true: its whole point is ambiguity of feeling and fact. The lyrics start with what seems like a bit of conventional nostalgia. 'I met my old lover on the street last night She seemed so glad to see me, I just smiled. And we talked about some old times And we drank ourselves some beers Still crazy after...

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Friday Song: Gene Austin, I’VE GOT A FEELING I’M FALLING (Fats Waller, Harry Link and Billy Rose, 1929)

Fats Waller was quite often in trouble. A man who lived the rock 'n' roll lifestyle back in the 1920s, he had impressive appetites  -  gin, food, women, cars - and was mind-bogglingly hopeless in the making and losing of money. The word 'unreliable' doesn't begin to cover his eventful career. And in late 1929, he was in jail. He had for the umpteenth time failed to support his ex-wife and their family  - or, as his son Maurice put it in a 1977 memoir of his father, 'Dad suffered from a relapse of amnesia and totally forgot about Edith's alimony.' The normal sources of financial support  were unable to help this time.  Even the producer/gangster Arnold Rothstein ('the Brain', Damon Runyon called him), who owed Fats back royalties, was inconveniently shot dead  by a rival at just the wrong time for Fats. To add to his travails while he...

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Friday Song: Dan Hicks, BOTTOMS UP (1994)

How did I miss Dan Hicks? His seductive blend of gypsy jazz and bluegrass, his cool and sassy lyrics, his bloody-minded determination not to fit it into any particular genre  - all of that is tailor-made for me. Yet, until a couple of years ago, he was no more than a fringe figure to me. i discovered his songs, and how much I liked them, at around about the time he died, aged 74, from liver cancer. I blame Paris. I lived there briefly in the early 1970s and missed out on a number of interesting but short-lived songwriters (Steve Goodman, Gram Parsons, Judee Sill) who were emerging in that golden age of the singer-songwriter. Hicks was briefly quite a big star  - he was a Rolling Stone  cover story twice - but in around 1974 he drove his career off the road. His group Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks...

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Friday Song, Georges Brassens, FERNANDE (1972)

This week's Friday Song will be a great encouragement to those brave British patriots who fear that too great a proximity to Europe will corrupt and pollute our glorious culture. The story of Georges Brassens, and more specifically his song 'Fernande', is proof that across the English Channel,  a world exists that, in matters of taste and tolerance,  is a long, long way from our land of disapproval and the Daily Mail. Let's start with language. Never has national difference between Britain a and France been more perfectly exemplified than in the lyrics of 'Fernande'. Its chorus starts: 'Quand je pense à Fernande, Je bande, je bande...' Using David Yendley's excellent website Brassens With English (90 songs translated, with notes and videos), we learn that this means: 'When I think of Fernande, It's so hard, it's so hard....' Yes  (children, please look away now), this is a musical celebration of the...

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Hoagy Carmichael, HONG KONG BLUES (1939)

The killer words 'Tin Pan Alley' frequently appear in  accounts of Hoagy Carmichael's career. That seems to me inaccurate. He was in many ways one of the first authentic singer-songwriters. Whereas the often brilliant Tin Pan Alley composers were writing songs for a market - they could be sung by anyone -  Carmichael had a distinctive character, voice and style, which were expressed in the way he wrote and performed. It felt personal. Elsewhere in the wood,  Woody Guthrie, Jimmy Rodgers, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and others were writing their songs, but it was Carmichael who took the first steps on a road that led to Randy Newman, Paul McCartney, Carole King and Ben Folds. For me, he is the complete package as a songwriter. His melodies are extraordinary ('Star Dust', 'My Resistance Is Low, 'Georgia On My Mind'), he had a wide range of influences and styles. He...

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Friday Song: Carsie Blanton, BABY CAN DANCE (2009)

Soon after I became aware of the sparky brilliance of the New Orleans songwriter Carsie Blanton, I sent her one of my novels. She had announced on social media that she was, for reeasons I couldn't quite work out, prepared to barter one of her CDs  for goods rather money. If you sent her something that was important to you, she would send you a CD. So I sent off a copy of my 2013 novel The Twyning. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that a 500-page novel set in the gutters of Victorian London and narrated by a rat might not have been quite what Carsie was expecting.  I blame her songs -  as with many of the best songwriters, her work has  a friendly, confiding quality to it. Just as I had warmed to her musical stories of love, lust and politics, i thought she might...

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Friday Song: Nick Lucas, I’M LOOKING OVER A FOUR-LEAF CLOVER (Dixon-Woods, 1927)

I suffered a bad attack of the 1920s a few years ago, and have never completely recovered. It seemed to me then (and now) that there has never been such a glorious flowering of popular song, from Broadway to the blues, from vaudeville to country, as there was between the years of 1926 and 1931. This is not the place to speculate as to what combination of social, musical, technical and entrepreneurial factors caused that great, joyful explosion of song. Suffice it to say that for melody, wit and general exuberance, those years represent a glorious treasure-trove of song-writing brilliance. There were a number of unquestioned geniuses working in the music businesses at that time. Nick Lucas, 'The Crooning Troubadour', was not one of them. But there are few songs that Lucas recorded in the 1920s that do not make me smile. His voice captures the strange, slightly desperate optimism...

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Friday Song: Dr John, YOUR AVERAGE KIND OF GUY, written by Doc Pomus and Dr John

I had been looking forward to including something by Mac Rebennack , better known as Dr John, in this blog for two reasons - firstly, because his best songs are terrific and, secondly and less importantly, he was alive. It's a gloomy fact that many of my Friday Songs have been by people who are now playing the big gig in the sky. Too late. Last week, on 6th June, Dr John joined that chorus. He was 77, and that in itself was impressive. I saw him playing at a small venue in New York during the 1980s and he looked in bad shape then - apparently he kicked a heroin habit in 1989. In this 2010 interview for Time magazine, he looked considerably better than he had 25 years before. Until 1976, Dr John had for me been one of those great counter-culture figures I knew about  - his...

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Friday Song: Jesse Winchester, SHAM-A-LING-DONG-DING

It's rare to come across a piece of film that captures the moment when one song transforms a show, but Jesse Winchester's performance of 'Sham-a-Ling-Dong-Ding' on Elvis Costello's TV show Spectacle in 2010 does just that. When I found it online, I couldn't believe that I hadn't paid more attention to Winchester down the years. It's one of the best songs about the past and the present, youth an age, that I know. It certainly hit Elvis, his guests and audience pretty hard. From the moment  Winchester starts the song with a gentle 'Ooooh' intro to a lightly 1950s-ish chord sequence on his nylon-string guitar, it's as if the entire theatre is holding its breath. 'The boys were singing shing-a-ling The summer night we met You were tan and seventeen Oh, how could I forget? When every star from near and far Was watching from above Watching two teenagers fall...

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