Song songs


This is a post about song songs. A term that probably doesn’t mean much to you. Not surprising. I made the term up when I was maybe thirteen. Now remember this was over fifty years ago, not just before streaming, not just before MP3s, but a long time ago. Before CDs. Even before cassette tapes.

In those days, there were a limited number of ways to listen to music. You could hear it “live”, when someone performed in front of you; you could be listening to the music on vinyl, on a record player; you could be using a reel-to-reel tape deck. Or you could be listening to it being played on the radio.

In my teens, I listened to a lot of music. Maybe seven, eight hours a day. Listening to music was a sibling thing. A family thing. A friends and neighbours thing. Our apartment (Flat 10, so yes we had been known to call ourselves the Flatteners) seemed to act as a club from dawn till dusk, and even more of a club between dusk and dawn. People between the age of six and twenty streamed through all day and all night, there was aways food and drink to be had, always somewhere to doss down if that’s what you wanted to do.

Somehow, magically, this 24 hour club was kept clean, dry and functional. I sometimes wonder how my parents put up with it. It was a games room, a concert hall, a chill out place, a cafe and a youth hostel. All this was over 50 years ago, so maybe my memory’s playing tricks, embellishing what was there. But for sure that’s how I remember it.

Musical roots

My “Western” musical roots were set during that time. Foundations of classical music and Big Band sound, mainly on lacquer 78s, a bunch of 10″ 33s, and a larger pile of 12″ 33s. The classical was mainly Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and Chopin; the jazz was mainly Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Jelly Roll Morton and Sidney Bechet, with some Glenn Miller. (I thought we had all the Glenn Miller recordings ever produced, or so my father told me, a short list given his untimely passing. Nowadays it seems there’s one for every attendee at the World Cup Final 1966, a number that increases every year).

A thin layer of 40s and 50s musicals and early “pop” then formed the base. All the usual suspects. Pat Boone. Harry Belafonte. Perry Como. Connie Francis. Doris Day. Every musical known to mankind, or so it felt. South Pacific. My Fair Lady. Oklahoma. Carousel. Paint Your Wagon. (The Sound of Music et al were to follow). There were also a sprinkle of 78rpm singles, with some real doozies there: my favourites were Tom Dooley, Hernando’s Hideaway, Tequila, with a touch of Eddie Calvert doing Oh Mein Papa. I probably have to mention Burl Ives at Carnegie Hall and Edmondo Ros’ Bongos From The South as 12″ oddballs, along with Ruth Wallis Sings (“naughty” songs from the 40s) and Jimmy Shand and his Band (why, I’ll never know).

That was the base. I’ve left out hundreds of albums and singles, all gone to the Great Place in the Sky where single socks and Tupperware container lids live happily ever after.

That was the base upon which my musical journey began, a base that must have been laid by my father by 1960. If I try hard enough, I can probably “walk in” every album that entered our house since then, but it would bore you and I’d never finish.

Suffice it to say we went from Peter, Paul and Mary, the Beatles (we weren’t really a Stones house) and Simon and Garfunkel, through Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, loving every minute of what we were experiencing; sailed through the late 60s and early 1970s pop to settle down firmly in a core of singer-songwriter folk, folk rock and rock. Walk into our house and you’d hear Leonard Cohen and Cat Stevens, Traffic and Ten Years After, Cream and Crosby Stills Nash and Young, the Dead and the Doors, Lindisfarne and Led Zeppelin, Fotheringay and Family, Donovan and the Doobies, Stevie Wonder and Supertramp, Steely Dan and Steppenwolf, Elton John and ELP, Creedence and Cocker, The Band and BST, Rare Earth, Moody Blues and Melanie, John Mayall and Jethro Tull, Queen and Bowie. You get my drift. (My wife thinks I love lists, and knows just how to stop me when I embark on one. You don’t have that privilege, so I’ve had to stop myself for your sake).

Song Songs

Which brings me to the reason for this post. As you can see, I’m the kind of person who finds it hard to choose “my favourite 1000 albums from 1975-1975”. (Yes, thousand). Thousands of albums. Tens of thousands of songs.

But very few Song Songs.

What are Song Songs? They’re the opposite of places like The Hat Shop, which used to be at 11 Goldhawk Road in the early 1980s. Today it looks like this, I haven’t been able to dig up contemporary photographs as yet.

11 Goldhawk Road today, at the western edge of Shepherds Bush Green

In the early 1980s, Mikawa didn’t exist. (I’m not sure there were that many Japanese restaurants anywhere in the UK in those days). What existed instead was The Hat Shop.

As you would expect, with a name like that, the shop window was full of hats. And when you entered the shop, more hats. Hats everywhere you looked.

And a staircase leading downstairs. With a small sign that said something like “tell them Phil sent ya”.

And when you went down, no hats. Just the smell of wonderful pizza. And some tables and chairs. With people sitting down and eating pizza.

That was The Hat Shop.

The opposite of a Song Song. So what is a Song Song? A song that has the word “song” in the title, perhaps in case you thought it was an automobile or a cigarette. The child and adolescent in me kept an eye out for song songs, mainly because they struck me as odd. And because I love lists.

So yes, I have a list of song songs. Over the years I’ve noticed they’re usually pretty good gateway songs, introductions to particular artists and albums. Here, then, is a curated (and blessedly short) list of seventeen such song songs:

Melanie: The Nickel Song

John Denver: Annie’s Song

Petula Clark: This is My Song

Graham Nash: Prison Song

Simon and Garfunkel: Kathy’s Song

Simon and Garfunkel: The 59th St Bridge Song

Joan Baez: Love Song to a Stranger

Leonard Cohen: The Stranger Song

The Doors: Alabama Song

The Who: The Song Is Over

The Doobie Brothers: Song To See You Through

Three Dog Night: Just An Old Fashioned Love Song

(Paul McCartney and) Wings: Silly Love Songs

Elton John: Your Song

America: Pigeon Song

Jethro Tull: A Song For Jeffrey

Neil Diamond: Song Sung Blue

Have fun.

2 thoughts on “Song songs”

  1. Yes I do sometimes “discover” new artists via their covers. I think I wouldn’t have discovered Lizz Wright except for the recommendation from a close friend (whose opinion I trusted) telling me to listen to her rendering of Old Man years ago. I probably wouldn’t have looked for Jeff Buckley’s only album, Grace, without having been told of his cover of Hallelujah in the mid 1990s. And more recently, I wouldn’t have discovered Larkin Poe or Elle Cordova (also used to be known as Reina del Cid) except for covers I came across. Cover versions by new artists help bridge me to them. I plan to mention this in a post about filters and brakes I will be writing soon.

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