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Thank You To My Team – 35 years of fandom in a song

It was in January 1985 when with my son Xan, who was seven at the time, I first entered the Loftus Road Stadium in west London.  Neither of us had been to a proper, professional football match before, but Xan had become obsessed by our local team Queens Park Rangers and, since they played 15 minutes from our house, I agreed to take him along. QPR v Spurs was the game. I remember climbing the stone stairs from inside the South Africa Road Stand  just before kick-off. As Xan and I emerged into the light, the noise, the sense of mass anticipation, excited and aggressive, was startling  -   even slightly frightening if you've never been in football crowd at a big game before. Not many stadiums are small and compact enough to have that pressure-cooker atmosphere on big occasions, but just now and then Loftus Road  - the Kiyan Prince...

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FRIDAY SONG: Dory Previn, THE LADY WITH THE BRAID (1971)

She wrote songs for Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and Doris Day, co-composed with Harold Arlen (Over the Rainbow') - and was a pioneering singer-songwriter of the early 1970s. She wrote a song called 'Control Yourself', had a career defined by men  - and became an icon of female strength and independence. She had a number of well-documented and spectacular psychotic episodes and was committed to mental institutions several times in her life  - and wrote some of sanest, most piercingly personal lyrics of the second half of the 20th century. Funny, intelligent, vulnerable and talented enough to be hired my MGM as a songwriter within five months of writing her first lyric, Dory Previn never fitted into any category and until her death in 2012, few critics understood her ('She'd never won the fight between self and soul,' one wrote mysteriously). Perhaps it shouldn't be a surprise that Dory Previn...

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FRIDAY SONG: John Sebastian, NASHVILLE CATS (1966)

Surprisingly few songwriters have a natural ability to convey warmth.  Performers can do it, and composers can turn it on when the lyric requires, but only now and then does one come across a songwriter who can put a smile on your face within a couple of bars. Hoagy Carmichael had it, as did Fats Waller. In the last 50 years, I can think of Bjorn and Benny of Abba,  Carole King, Sam Cooke, maybe James Taylor - then I'm struggling. But I'd certainly include the hugely under-rated John Sebastian on the list. Sebastian wrote a handful of hits for the Lovin'Spoonful between 1965 and 1967. His career lasted beyond the break-up of the group, with a successful, unscheduled appearance at Woodstock (he was there as an audience member and the stage was too wet for leads and they needed an acoustic act to fill in). He's still working and...

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FRIDAY SONG: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, LET’S GENERALIZE ABOUT MEN (Bloom, Schlesinger, Dolgen and Brosh McKenna, 2017))

It's possible that you may not have come across one of the funniest and most innovative series to have been on our screens in recent years. It ran between 2015 and 2019 but, because it was on Netflix and was pretty much ignored in the media, it never received the attention it deserved in the UK. Welcome to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Its themes: love, obsession, mental instability, addiction,  and friendship. Its tone: comic/sad. Its genre: musical theatre. In every one its episodes, there were two or three musical numbers, some of eye-watering brilliance. The series was created by Rachel Bloom  -  who also starred as the serially lovestruck, hapless lawyer Rebecca Bunch  - and Aline Brosh McKenna. The majority of the songs came from the team of Rachel Bloom, Adam Schlesinger and Jack Dolgen. Recently it has occurred to me that surprisingly few songs really make me laugh, as opposed to smile...

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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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