Lindsay Was My First Love

I was never a massive fan of The Waterboys- I appreciate what Mike Scott was doing, the Big Music and Celtic influences, and I’ve danced to The Whole Of The Moon just like the rest of you have- but when Fisherman’s Blues came out I was never able to play it all the way through and fully enjoy it. Having said that I love A Bang On The Ear. I’m a sucker for those rat-a-tat-tat narrative songs, where the rhythm and the rhyme rattle along, telling stories, especially in this one where Mike looks back at the girls in his past he’s loved.

A Bang On The Ear

To pick a verse almost at random-

‘Deborah broke my heart
And I the willing fool
I fell for her one summer
On the road to Liverpool
I thought it was forever
But it was over within the year (oh dear)
But I send her my love
And a bang on the ear’

I like the way he throws in the homely and prosaic (chicken soup say). I like the reflective quality of the words, the lightness of touch and the wordplay. It’s also in the way the song fades in and out, like it could have started earlier and carried on longer.

I suppose the daddy of these songs is Dylan’s Tangled Up In Blue, a tour de force in painting pictures with words, rhyming couplets describing a life lived (whether it’s Dylan’s actual life, an imagined life or a composite of people’s I don’t know). Tangled Up In Blue switches between tenses, the present and the past, while Dylan narrates a number of scenes that got him to where was then-

‘She was married when we first met
Soon to be divorced
I helped her out of a jam I guess
But I used a little too much force’

and later…

‘I had a job in the great north woods
Working as a cook for a spell
But I never did like it all that much
And one day the axe just fell
So I drifted down to New Orleans
Where I happened to be employed
Workin’ for a while on a fishin’ boat
Right outside of Delacroix’

and later still…

‘I lived with them on Montague Street
In a basement down the stairs
There was music in the cafes at night
And revolution in the air’

What both these songs have is an authority and the voice of experience. What we get is the rush of words, a pile up of images and autobiography that becomes universal but with different names and places. And you can picture them being written- once the first line is there and the rhythm gets going, it all coming out in a flood, fingers banging away at typewriter keys.

Tangled Up In Blue

Then there is 88 Lines About 44 Women by The Nails, an obscure 1984 single from a US post-punk band. Over a pleasingly basic Casio backing track Marc Campbell delivers deadpan narration, describing each one of 44 women in 2 lines, (some  he admitted were real and some imaginary). In a 2018 light you could argue that reducing women to a single characteristic, often based around sex, in a list for comic effect is a little sexist but this is so well done with so many good lines that I think it stands.

An excerpt from the middle-

‘Pauline thought that love was simple
Turned it on and turned it off
Jean-Marie was complicated
Like some French film-maker’s plot
Gina was the perfect lady
Always had her stockings straight
Jackie was a rich punk rocker
Silver spoon and paper plate’

88 Lines About 44 Women

John Peel loved it. In a nice twist, 30 years after writing the song, Campbell got in touch with one of the women in the song through Facebook (Tanya Turkish, she of the leather biker boots) and they became a couple.

The Nails ’88 Lines About 44 Women’

Back in the days when we went nightclubbing at least every weekend, we’d sometimes troop over to Liverpool where a friend did the projections and lights at Cream. After pummeling our senses in the back room to Weatherall, Holmes or The Chemical Brothers, we’d meet back at the projectionists house and play records, smoke cigarettes and drink tea til the sun came up. After some clubby tunes and some more chilled out stuff, the projectionist would delve into his 7″ boxes and play some wonderful random nonsense, which made perfect sense at the time. This was one of the songs that often got played. I liked it so much the projectionist found a 7″ re-issue on the Rough Trade Record Club label, and gave it to me and Mrs Swiss as a wedding present. I know very little about The Nails, and I’m happy to keep it that way. The B -side of this song is not great, photos of the band arn’t encouraging and I’ve never wanted to further damage my love for this song. It does exactly what the title says- there’s 88 lines about 44 women, almost all of them great, some sparse drum machine backing and some ‘aaaaahh aah aah aah aah aaaaahh’s thrown in. That’s it. And it’s all you need.