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FRIDAY SONG: Chip Taylor and Carrie Rodriguez, EXTRA (Chip Taylor, 2002)

The great lyricist Sammy Cahn  - he wrote the lyrics to many of Frank Sinatra's best-known hits  -  published a funny, swaggering boastful memoir called I Should Care. Not a man to hid his light under a bushel, Sammy claimed that as soon as he heard a melody, a title would flash into his head. 'I don't write a song so much as it writes me. What I do is sort of trigger it with a title and then follow where it leads.' Elsewhere, in an introduction to his own rhyming dictionary,  Cahn argued that a lyric's most important quality is 'singability'.  Without that, the most brilliant thought, the cleverest wordplay won't work. With it, a piece of utter silliness sometimes will. Another Cahnism: 'Never have a line you have to explain. Write a new song.' These are great, no-bullshit  rules for songwriters and are as true today as when...

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FRIDAY SONG, Charles K Harris, AFTER THE BALL (1892)

Many of my older Friday Songs -   notably, 'Shine', 'The Devil and the Deep Blue Sea', 'Hong Kong Blues' - have moved with the times. They have been adapted to our fretfully changing world by each new musical generation. This week's song is an exception. It is firmly of its time. 'After the Ball' defies modernisation. That would have disappointed the man who wrote it, Charles K Harris. By all accounts, Harris was a man who saw music as business. He noticed early in his career that publishers made more out of songs than composers,  and so he set up a his own company and became one of the most successful music publishers on Tin Pan Alley. He pioneered the business of writing songs to suit (and exploit) the moment. When in 1897, the Spanish American War (one of our lesser-known wars) broke out, he wanted to catch the moment....

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FRIDAY SONG, Dillie Keane, LOOK, MUMMY, NO HANDS (1997)

Something great can happen when a funny songwriter decides to put humour aside and go for the heart. While the jokes are waiting in the wings, the song taking centre stage acquires a power all of its own. Think of Noel Coward and 'Mad About the Boy', or Jake Thackray and 'To Do with You', or Randy Newman and 'I Miss You' - I'm sure you can think of examples by Loudon Wainwright, John Prine, Tim Minchin and others. Dillie Keane is one of the best and funniest writers working today. With Adele Anderson, with whom she often writes songs, she created Fascinating Aida, an astonishing trio who provide audiences with a rare double-hit of pleasure  - musical sophistication and mercilessly brilliant comedy. [caption id="attachment_6068" align="alignnone" width="300"] Fascinating Aida[/caption]   And they don't play the game. Dillie and Adele speak and sing as they find. On the whole, the entertainment...

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FRIDAY SONG, Annette Hanshaw, I GET THE BLUES WHEN IT RAINS (Marcy Klauber and Harry Stoddart, 1928)

The light, seductive voice of Annette Hanshaw has led me to a song whose history confirms, as well as any song of the 20th century, that music knows no borders of genre, tradition or colour. 'I Get the Blues When It Rains' is not a work of genius but it's a great little  number,  with  on a neat lyrical idea and and  a catchy tune. Pop? Jazz? Blues? Country? Male? Female? Who knows? Who cares? But, first, Annette. It was a few years back that I came across Annette Hanshaw and fell in love with the wit, warmth and general sexiness of her voice. A star of the late 1920s and 1930s, she was notoriously shy and disliked show-business, in spite of which - rather strangely - her nickname was 'the Personality Girl'. Considering how many hits she had there are very few clips of her singing. Unlike most of...

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FRIDAY SONG: The Easy Club, THE AULD TOON SHUFFLE (Rod Paterson, 1984)

Almost seven years ago, I stood outside the gates of Charlotte Square in Edinburgh. touting for business beside a Big Issue seller and a young bloke handing out flyers for a new McDonalds. I was touting for trade, too. The festival was in full swing and I had a one-man show to promote. Charlotte Square is the setting for the Edinburgh International Book Fair.  In the past, I had appeared at the festival several times as an author but that year I had gone rogue and was appearing in a little room about a mile away, telling stories and playing the guitar as part of the fringe. I had assumed that  - professional solidarity and all that - I would be welcome to leave flyers for my show at the book fair and that possibly a few of my fellow authors might be curious as to what I was now...

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MY FRIDAY SONGS – THE STORY SO FAR

There's no Friday Song today - it will be back next week - but several people have asked me about songs I've written about in the past. Since I haven't yet assembled them all in one place on the website. I thought I'd list the songs I've written about so far, the often rather strange story of how they were written and how they've changed down the years, and why they've been important to me at different parts of my life Unless otherwise stated, the song is written by the singer. Chaim Tannenbaum, LONDON, LONGING FOR HOME (2017) Randy Newman, I MISS YOU (1999) Davy Graham, THE BALLAD OF THE SAD YOUNG MEN (Tommy Wolf and Fran Landesman, 1959) CW Stoneking, JUNGLE LULLABY (2008) Gillian Welch, DARK TURN OF MIND (Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, 2009) Ry Cooder, SHINE (Ford Dabney and Cecil Mack, 1910) Janis Ian, JESSE (1973) Paolo...

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FRIDAY SONG, Jim Kweskin, BLUES MY NAUGHTY SWEETIE GIVES TO ME ( Arthur Swanstrom, Chas McCarron and Carey Morgan, 1919)

Let's admit, first of all, that this week's Friday Song has a slightly silly, borderline weird title. I like to think that, when it was written in 1919, Carey Morgan came up with a killer tune and the lyricists Swanstrom and McCarron struggled to find a lyric for the title line. Or maybe it was capturing a mood of post-war zaniness. Or is it possible that, like now, the idea of infection was in the air because a pandemic was sweeping the world? If that was the case, the disease had the last laugh. One of the lyricists Chas McCarron, who had written such wartime hits as 'Your Lips Are No Masn's Land But Mine', died of Spanish Flu in 1919 before this was released. He was 27. 'Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me' is one of those early 20th century songs  whose tunes lent themselves so well to...

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FRIDAY SONG, George Harrison, BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA (Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler, 1931)

Some songs are so great that they survive and thrive down the years in a form that is pretty much unchanged. Who could think of messing around too much with the melody, shape and general vibe of, say, Hoagy Carmichael's Stardust (lyrics by Mitchell Parish) or Arlen and Harburg's Over the Rainbow? There's another kind of great song. Lithe and adaptable, it can be re-invented with every generation, changing in all sorts of startling ways and yet remaining the same essential song. Listen to the 1932 foxtrot original of 'Try a Little Tenderness' (Campbell, Connelly and Woods) by the Ray Noble Orchestra and then Otis Redding's 1966 version and you'll see what I mean. This week's Friday Song is one of those - a pop song that has moved with the times. The melody was written by Harold Arlen, about ten years before he wrote the great songs for The...

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FRIDAY SONG: Laylam, CHICKENS IN THE GARDEN (James Allan Bland, 1878)

For me, this is a perfect little folk song. It has a happy little tune, an irresistibly singalong chorus, and tells a sweet story of love and generations. Best of all it conjures up that joyful sight - chickens in the garden. This will be a short blog, because the fascinating story of this song  - also known as 'The Farmer's Daughter', ' All the The Little Chickens in the Garden' and 'Treat Me Daughter Kindly - is told on this Mainly Norfolk website. For the seriously nerdish, there are different versions of, and more information about, in a chatroom on the great Mudcat website. What I love about the chequered history of this song is that it blows a mighty hole in arguments about what is or isn't authentic in folk music. It has been 'collected' here and there throughout the 20th century: when the Watersons made it popular...

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FRIDAY SONG: Willie Nelson, RED HEADED STRANGER (Carl Stutz – Edith Calisch, 1954)

Just now and then, as you're growing up, an album comes along that shakes and re-orders your musical landscape like an earthquake. For me, as for many others, Highway 61  had that effect, as did the Beatles' White Album and The Paul Simon Songbook.  Less obviously, there was The Band and Davey Graham's Folk, Blues and Beyond. A bit later, Willie Nelson's strange and haunting album The Red Headed Stranger came along, sending me westward-ho with a new love of country music. I had, from the Everly Brothers onwards, enjoyed the country sound, but this was different. It was spare, personal. The fancy production and rhinestone glitter. There was no trace of a pedal-steel guitar or even backing vocals. There was just musical story-telling of mesmeric quality. The Red Headed Stranger was, I suppose, a concept album, but in 1975, when it was released, that term had become a bit embarrassing.....

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