I loved Brinsley Schwarz. They were once described as “the last of the great eclectics” and I had to look the word up. Their records reminded me of Beatles records in that there was a huge variety of musical styles on show. I was devastated when they split up but I was keen to find out what Nick Lowe could do as a solo act. I asked my Aunt Connie to buy me “So It Goes” for Christmas in 1976. She was about seventy at the time and I thought it was hilarious that an old person went to buy such a hip record – at the time it was, mistakenly, referred to as the first punk single. Seventy – and buying hip records. How funny. I’ve got four years to go. It wasn’t until March 1978 that Nick Lowe released “Jesus Of Cool”, his first LP. I got it immediately and loved it. Now, I’m not so sure, but it was great at the time. Roo also bought it, although it would be thirteen years before we got together. When we combined our record collections, it was my copy that got sold because, obviously, I hadn’t looked after my records properly and hers were in immaculate condition. I kept quiet and simply thought that if this were true, it was because I played my records to death. Anyway, just now, I went to look at “Jesus Of Cool” and couldn’t find the inscription on the cover that I was looking for. We sold my copy and it’s Roo’s copy that remains. I think she didn’t buy hers when it came out because there’s no indication of the phrase “Pure Pop For Now People” which I clearly remember being on the cover of the album. On later UK copies, this was removed but in the USA, where any album mentioning Jesus in its title was doomed to failure if not leading to effigy burning, the album was retitled “Pure Pop For Now People”. It’s a better title, to be honest. Pure pop. I love pure pop. I used to love pure pop. Do I still?
Here’s a random date – my eleventh birthday – June 14th 1965. There were some groovy singles in the Top Twenty, including “Ticket To Ride” by The Beatles, “See My Friend” by The Kinks and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” by Bob Dylan. There are some terrible songs like “Crying In The Chapel” by Elvis Presley, “Marie” by The Bachelors and “Not Until The Next Time” by Jim Reeves. There are also some quite unhip, uncool, “guilty pleasure” singles that I loved like “Trains And Boats And Planes” by Billy J. Kramer & The Dakotas, “A World Of Our Own” by The Seekers and, brilliantly, “Wonderful World” by Herman’s Hermits. These are pop records and in my humble opinion, they are great pop records. I used to love pop music. What happened? When did I stop loving pop music?
Living in North London, I was very lucky that I could listen to the pirate radio stations. Radio London was my favourite (mainly because of Kenny Everett) but I also listened to Radio Caroline and Radio City. August 14th 1967 was a terrible date – the day when Radio London closed. I don’t even have to look that date up – it’s ingrained in my memory and I never really forgave Tony Benn. I used to collect the Top 40 in an exercise book – by which I mean that when I heard a song in the Top 40, I listened carefully to the DJ and if he announced that, for example, “This Little Bird” by Marianne Faithfull was Number 8 in the charts, I would carefully fill in the Number 8 gap in the list that I had prepared at the beginning of the week. Lists. Collections. Music. Pedantry. Some characteristics are formed pretty early in life.
When did I stop loving pop music? I blame Van Der Graaf Generator, King Crimson, The Moody Blues, Colosseum and all the other underground groups I started listening to from 1968 onwards. Pop music after that was rubbish – the album charts were important and the singles charts were just catering to the ill informed masses. This didn’t stop me watching “Top Of The Pops” though. Superiority, hypocrisy, poor judgement. Some characteristics are formed pretty early in life.
It’s been a pretty interesting couple of weeks in the Album Club. A few weeks ago, I wrote about Lana Del Ray and Peter and I have discussed Billy Eilish, Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran. Next week Beyoncé. Last year, I would have simply thought that this type of music wasn’t for me. John has sent me links to various operatic musical pieces and I’m speaking to him later today so I ought to listen to it first but I can’t really listen to more than 30 seconds of anything he has sent me. Opera is not for me. I think that’s more complex because my parents loved opera and were always playing “Fidelio” or “The Magic Flute” until they relented and let me play “You Don’t Know” by Helen Shapiro. No wonder they bought me my own record player when I was eight (?) years old. Opera is not for me. Hip hop is not for me. Heavy metal is not for me. Pop music is not for me. At my most superior I smugly tell myself that I have a broad range of musical taste but it’s about time I widened my horizons.
“Divide” by Ed Sheeran is his third major studio album after “Plus” (2011) and “Multiply” (2014). It was released in 2017. If he doesn’t release “Subtract” in 2020 I will be very disappointed. It’s pop music and I love it.
The first track is called “Eraser” and it’s sort of a soft rap song. When I first heard it, I didn’t hate it but I thought that this was an album I wasn’t going to like very much. Then I listened to the words and I think it’s brilliant. It’s very autobiographical and reflects on his life, conversations with his Dad who told him to follow his dreams, the effect that money has had on the way his friends and family treat him and how he hopes he hasn’t changed.
“Castle On The Hill” is also very autobiographical, remembering playing or hanging out with his friends as a child. It sounds much more like a pop song with a grand chorus which recalls driving down country lanes singing “Tiny Dancer”. One of the reasons I like Ed Sheeran and I don’t like Taylor Swift is down to the quality of his voice and his singing. These are not necessarily the same thing. I think Bob Dylan has always had a terrible voice but he is a magnificent singer. Ed Sheeran sounds like he really is remembering how he used to buy spirits and drink them straight from the bottle. It sounds like an authentic memory and that’s down to the quality of his singing. Whether someone who is allegedly “worth” $200 million can be authentic is an interesting point. Anyway – I like this song and the associated video is great.
“Dive” is a good slow pop song in which Ed Sheeran is on the point of falling in love but is not sure whether to commit. “So don’t call me baby unless you mean it and don’t tell me you need me if you don’t believe it. So let me know the truth before I dive right into you.” He plays a nice electric guitar solo.
“Shape Of You” was a single that got to Number One in thirty four different countries. It spent 14 weeks at Number One in the UK. It could be described as a dance track and includes the great lines “Stop. Put Van The Man on the jukebox and then we’ll start to dance.” I guess he means “Brown Eyed Girl” or maybe “Wild Night”. Whilst this style of music is not my favourite, I can still enjoy this.
“Perfect” follows and is a romantic ballad addressed to his fiancée, Cherry Seaborn – now his wife. They met at school: “we were just kids when we fell in love, not knowing what it was.” Again, not especially my type of music but a ‘perfect’ pop song. (Did you see what I did there?).
“Galway Girl” is ridiculous and I love it. The lyrics concern a love affair with an Irish girl from Galway, surprisingly enough. The tune is upbeat and replete with fiddles. The lines “She played the fiddle in an Irish band/But she fell in love with an English man” don’t rhyme that well but I can forgive him. Ed Sheeran said that the record company “were really, really against ‘Galway Girl’, because apparently folk music isn’t cool.” His response was that it would be a big hit because “there are 400 million people in the world who will say they are Irish even if they aren’t”. It’s a pop song. It’s funny. It’s catchy.
“Happier” is a soppy song about how an ex girl friend looks happier without him but he would be happier if they got together again.
“New Man” fits nicely with “Happier” and deals with his ex’s new man who Ed doesn’t particularly admire. “He’s got his eyebrows plucked and his arsehole bleached/Owns every single Ministry CD/Tribal tattoos and he don’t know what it means/But I heard he makes you happy so that’s fine by me”. It’s another dance track. My Mum would have said it had a “catchy” tune.
“Hearts Don’t Break Around Here” is another ballad.
“What Do I Know” could only be described as a pop tune but it’s lyrically interesting in that it deals with the divisive nature of the BREXIT vote in 2016 and it reminds all of us that “love could change the world in a minute”. I guess Ed Sheeran’s parents may have told him about “Our World” in 1967.
“How Would You Feel” is slower and features a tasteful guitar sole by someone called John Mayer, who I’ve never heard of even though his Wikipedia entry is massive.
“Supermarket Flowers” is another ballad and may not be to everyone’s taste. It is a tribute to his late grandmother. Although he wrote it only to be played at her funeral, his grandfather asked that he put it on the album.
Dance, rap, pop, ballad, folk. This song proves that Brinsley Schwarz were not the last of the great eclectics.