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Thursday, 9 June 2016

The pedal bin in my kitchen sounds uncannily like The Move

The Move had a hit in 1971 with a song called 'Chinatown'. The track started with a gong, followed by some gentle wind chimes, before Bev Bevan’s thunderous drum roll kicked in. Every time I use the pedal bin in my kitchen, I am reminded of this song.

Let me explain how this happens.   

Rubbish in hand, I place one foot on the pedal in order to open the lid, which allows me to deposit some domestic waste. Once I remove my foot from the pedal, the lid closes, causing the bin to issue a metallic clang that sounds uncannily like the opening gong from ‘Chinatown’. Once that faux gong rings out, I am then compelled to mimic the thunderous drum roll and sing (with my internal voice) the first lines of the song: 

Bury a jar of shaoxing
When the girl is born
Surely you know the wine will age
Till she's fully grown

You may or may not be aware that these lines allude to a tradition of the Shaoxing province in China, in which a bottle of wine is buried underground whenever a daughter is born and is only dug up for her wedding banquet. It was quite an achievement for The Move to celebrate this tradition in song and get to number 23 in the British charts.    

That thing with the pedal bin is not the only aural cue that inserts itself, uninvited, into my daily routine. Whenever I power down my laptop, it issues a series of little notes, the first four of which are exactly the same as the introduction to Radiohead’s ‘Everything in its right place’ (from the album Kid A … or maybe Kid B; I always get those two mixed up). You may remember the song from the soundtrack to the film ‘Vanilla Sky’. It gets played when the Tom Cruise character is driving down a wide city boulevard early one morning when nobody –as in nobody- else is around. I think it’s because the character is dreaming or he’s on drugs, or he’s possibly dead; or perhaps it’s a metaphor for his state of mind. Whatever.   

The PC that I use at work (another sly machine), in the process of powering down, plays the opening two notes to Colin Blunstone’s 1972 hit ‘Say you don’t mind’. It’s a string quartet that plays on the track, but the PC does a decent job of imitating it. The song was written by Denny Laine, by the way; he was in Wings (the band that The Beatles could have been).     
It’s not just things in my house and at work that insist on playing pop songs. A few years ago, I was a regular shopper at a certain supermarket chain. Whenever they made an in-store announcement about special offers and so on, the first two notes of the electronic clarion preceding each notice resembled the coda to Tubeway Army’s 1979 number 1 hit, ‘Are ‘friends’ electric?’ Every time the store manager updated the customers on the "roast chickens now reduced in our rotisserie", I was compelled to follow that phantom coda, drifting off in an electric dream. ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ was a top 3 hit in 1985 for Phil Oakey and Georgio Moroder. The story goes that Oakey, thinking it was just a rehearsal, recorded the vocal in one take.   

Everything reminds me of music. And, once I’m reminded of a piece of music, it sticks in my head until I’m able to distract myself by inserting something else in its place. On the train into work the other day, I couldn’t shake off 'Ai no corrida', a Quincy Jones hit from the early 80s. I neither own nor particularly like this tune and I can’t even remember how it got into my head, but it took me most of the day to expunge it.  

And while we’re on the subject, I’d like someone to explain this to me: How come you can ‘hear’ music in your head? The act of hearing, surely, involves the primary auditory cortex receiving auditory input? But nobody was playing ‘Ai no corrida’ on the train that morning; if I wasn’t ‘hearing’ it, what exactly was going on?

This is not just about old songs; some modern stuff is catchy too. Lukas Graham’s ‘Seven years old’ (225 million hits and counting on Spotify) has recently taken up residence in my brain, demanding attention. He’s Danish, you know. I can’t, off the top of my head, think of any other Danish pop stars, although John Grant’s ‘Queen of Denmark’ was a beautiful album from 2010, featuring not only a song about a sweetshop but one about feeling like Sigourney Weaver in ‘Aliens’

And I feel just like Sigourney Weaver
When she had to kill those aliens.
And one guy tried to get them back to the Earth.
And she couldn't believe her ears.

John, clearly, isn’t that big on rhyming.  
There is no escape from this sort of thing. It extends to everyday conversations and close encounters at work. I was talking recently to a colleague about how to keep oneself amused during particularly boring meetings (not, if anyone from work is reading, that I ever have to attend boring meetings). My answer was that I play my favourite albums in my head, or, alternatively, take my musical cues from the conversation.

If anyone ever says: “What’s it all about?” my internal rejoinder has to be ‘Alfie’.

If someone starts a sentence with “To cut a long story short”, I have to sing (internal voice, again) ‘I lost my mind’.

If anyone asks “Who knows?” my response has to be: ‘not me; we never lost control’. 

And, if someone –perhaps at the end of a tricky piece of negotiation- says: “Where do we go from here?”, there is only one fitting reply:  

Is it down to the lake I fear?
Aye aye aye aye aye aye
Aye aye aye aye aye aye 
Here we go.

(If you were not born an embarrassingly long time ago, you may need to look some of those references up).

A friend once suggested to me that this insistence on ‘hearing’ music was probably due to a ‘condition’, perhaps some form of musical autism. In the immortal words of Otto Harbach (music by Jerome Kern):

I chaffed them, and I gaily laughed

The desire to ascribe ‘condition’ status or to concoct some phoney-baloney diagnosis for perfectly normal human activity is a modern phenomenon that I’m convinced will both amuse and mystify our grandchildren. My guess is that most people who love music (and particularly musicians) have music in their head most of the time. If that is the case, then the ability to ‘hear’ it in everything is neither a gift nor an affliction; it’s more of a predilection, like a disposition to gardening, spotting trains or binge-watching zombie films.

The Zombies had a huge hit in 1969 with ‘Time of the Season’ and I’ve got an unusual version of the song on an album by the Japanese pop outfit Ippu Do. Their front man, Masami Tsuchiya, joined the English band Japan for their final tour in 1982, wherein his guitar pyrotechnics enlivened a largely electronic oeuvre. I caught one of the gigs on that tour, which was recorded for the live double album ‘Oil on Canvas’. 

Oh … and Colin Blunstone, who lives inside the PC in my office, was also in The Zombies. 

1 comment:

  1. Raymond, this is exactly the reason I no longer exchange greetings with colleagues.
    ‘Good morning’ - judge how are you today, I’m in trouble please put me away
    ‘Hello’ - from the other side I must’ve called a thousand times