Thursday, 23 August 2007

Ron Miller R.I.P.

In 1966 a man called Ron Miller wrote a song called "For Once in My Life" on the occasion of the birth of his daughter. A singer called Jean Dushon recorded it and released it as a single. Not many people bought it. Miller was a Motown writer and Berry Gordy demanded that he make the song available to his label. Barbara McNair then included it on an album. At this time the song was a ballad.

In the summer of 1967 the song was recorded by two of Motown's more well known acts - The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. It appeared on a Temptations album but the Wonder version was shelved because Gordy didn't like it. I can only assume that Gordy was in the grip of some kind of temporary insanity or was blighted by an addiction to nasty drugs or maybe both of these as no-one with so much as a cursory interest in music can deny that this shows a serious lapse of judgement. We have someone named Billie Jean Brown to thank for persuading Gordy that his ears needed sorting out. Fair play to Gordy though - it was he who appointed Brown head of Motown's quality control department.

Wonder's version of "For Once in My Life" was finally released towards the end of 1968 at which time it peaked at #2 in both Billboard's Pop and R&B charts. The #1 in each chart? "I Heard it Through the Grapevine" by Marvin Gaye. That's okay then; normally when you look back at why a classic song didn't get the recognition it deserved you find some kind of novelty song or Herman's Hermits or something keeping it from the top spot. Apparently Gordy didn't want Gaye's song released either. I wonder whether he'd veto Citizen Kane if he was in movies or decide against grass and flowers and just have mud instead if he was God.

If pressed I'll name Stevie Wonder's version of "For Once in My Life" as my all time favourite song. There is nothing in this world, be that another song, film, person, animal, view or anything at all that can fill me with joy just by its presence like that song. The sound of those first few bars elicits in me a sort of Pavlovian reaction where, whatever I'm doing, my facial muscles are unable to resist forming on my face the biggest grin possible. This song makes me so HAPPY! And by the song's end, or probably well before the end, when it sounds like the pop music equivalent of a Busby Berkeley musical, I'm probably wiping tears from my face just as I am now. Yeah, I'm listening to it right now. Just listen to it too will you?

Anyway, back to Ron Miller. I knew that Stevie Wonder, as with most of the other Motown artists, generally sung other people's songs in the sixties but I've never really taken any interest in who these people were. I've found out that Miller was the only white man in Motown. He wrote a few other songs for Stevie Wonder: "A Place in the Sun", "Travellin' Man", "Yester-me, Yester-you, Yesterday", and "Heaven Help Us All". Any one of these would represent the pinnacle of a lifetime's songwriting efforts for most people but to have written all of them shows that Miller was some kind of genius.

I can't quite believe that I'd never acknowledged Miller's existence until I read his obituary today. Here is a man largely responsible for producing the one thing in the world that is guaranteed to make me smile at any time and I didn't even know who he was. So I'm acknowledging him now.

Having discovered Miller I thought I'd check out the identities of others who wrote for Wonder. "Sunny" is another of my Stevie Wonder favourites and was written by Bobby Hebb. Here's Hebb's inspiration, according to Wikipedia:

On 23 November 1963, the day after John F. Kennedy's assassination, Harold Hebb (Bobby's brother) was killed in a knife fight outside a Nashville nightclub. Hebb was devastated by both events and sought comfort in songwriting. The song he wrote was the optimistic "Sunny":
"All my intentions were just to think of happier times – basically looking for a brighter day – because times were at a low tide. After I wrote it, I thought "Sunny" just might be a different approach to what Johnny Bragg was talking about in "Just Walkin' in the Rain".

God, I love that song even more now! Take note kids: try experiencing some things beyond getting your heart broken or having a fight in a nightclub before you decide to record songs about your trivial lives. People like Hebb, Miller and Stevie Wonder knew this. They're the people that today's pop stars have to better and they've set the bar pretty darn high. Thanks guys x

Thursday, 16 August 2007

The Camp For Climate Action

The above mentioned group pitched up at a site right next to Heathrow Airport a few days ago. There aren't that many of them there right now and they're probably outnumbered by Police officers. The reaction to the protest has been mixed and generally falls into two camps. Each of these camps are represented by the following quotes copied from the BBC's Have Your Say page:

- Perhaps if these soap dodging hippies worked for a living they would then understand why people need to go on holiday and therefore want to fly to a hot country.

- Yes I will take part. As an old crusty veteran of twyford Down and newbury, I should. Expansion of airports, when we know its bad for us and our future generations, is fatalistic idiocy.

My own office block will have its door shut this week with the combination lock on for the first time ever. When it was being tried out last week I asked my assistant boss what he was doing. He said it was because of "those fucking protester pricks". He's such an enlightened man.

There are police everywhere right now and BA and BAA's Head Offices are absolutely teeming with extra security staff. And why? Because a few people are camped a mile away. I've seen vanloads of Police in riot gear, all ready to face down the hordes of people who are, right now as I type, sitting down in a field having breakfast, maybe followed by a joint (that's if they managed to get any gear past the Police search that just about every single one of them has been subject to). Actually, that's a bit unfair. There will be some direct action later in the week where these extra Police might be needed. No-one knows what form this action will take but I'm dying to find out. Just so long as it doesn't involve getting onto the runways as that's when the protesters become terrorists and start getting shot through the head by marksmen using high-calibre rifles. It won't come to that though, of course. I reckon it will just involve a load of people sitting on a road somewhere and the odd person taking things a little too far and getting a beating for his or her troubles.

I'm not particularly comfortable with my own feelings about all this. I'm completely against the expansion of the airport but work for a company affiliated to a major airline and so am therefore compromising my morals somewhat. It seems common sense to me that the expansion shouldn't go ahead. We know that aircraft emissions are harmful to our already decaying atmosphere so it's wrong that these emissions should increase. Simple. My concerns are also parochial. In order for the expansion to go ahead a few villages will need to be flattened. This is where I grew up. One of the villages is home to a church that has stood for almost a thousand years, considerably longer than any of the business interests that have grown around it. Any one of the many people who approve of the planned expansion need to ask themselves whether they would accept this of their own area. Of course they wouldn't.

I should also state that I'm not someone who feels that airplanes and airlines and big business in general is the root of all that is wrong in the world today. There is, among the protesters, the naivete/ignorance that invariably accompanies righteous indignation. One protester is quoted as saying that she's glad the summer's weather has been terrible because now no-one can claim that we're not destroying the planet. I get her point but it's a point terribly made and it seems to me that having shit weather in the summer proves nothing other than the fact that we live in England. It's quotes such as this that make people like my assistant boss feel that they can spout the ignorant bullshit that they do.

Here's what I think: The airport has been a massive force for good in this area and for the whole country. It's very important for our commercial and leisure interests. It now it has a fantastic looking new terminal that puts the other four to shame. Let's just leave it at that, can we?

Monday, 13 August 2007

The Kick-Off

The Greatest Show on Earth, or so it itself believes, rolled back into town this weekend and provided us football junkies with a much needed fix. Premiership football is back! Rejoice! Here is what was learnt last weekend:

Arsenal has a soft centre and won't win anything this season. Chelsea is a kind of football juggernaut, demolishing all smaller vehicles but maybe struggling with those of a similar size (we'll see soon when they play Liverpool). Tottenham are bottlers. A top class team needs a top class striker. Man United take note. Liverpool can look promising at times but will ultimately disappoint. The same four teams as last season will share the top four spots this season.

In other words, everything was the same as last year. Sure, there'll be an occasional foray into the higher echelons of the league by some spunky usurper but they'll be banished the very next year. We had managers bemoaning the quality of referees. Commentators doing the same. Players diving in order to gain free kicks or penalties. Nothing changes. And we'll all still keep watching, no matter how distasteful we find the behaviour of all those just mentioned, plus those who run the game.

It used to be the fans that let themselves and the game down. Football was really ugly then and the crowds stayed away. Now it's everyone else letting the fans down. And as long as we continue to demean ourselves by swallowing it all up then nothing will change and the beautiful game will eventually disappear up its own arse forever.

Wednesday, 8 August 2007

There Goes the Fear

I'm struggling to find things to write here at the moment. I hope that I'm just experiencing what our national daily newspapers are going through at the moment - hence this bunch of crap from last week's The Sun. And this.

Here's a brief run through the past couple of weeks: I've moved out of my flat and am staying at my parent's place for a few weeks until I find something else. I went to the Innocent Village Fete on saturday which was excellent, if only because it was the first day this summer that I'd enjoyed proper summer weather. I saw The Simpsons Movie. It's as good as your favourite episode of The Simpsons with its length multiplied by three times. It's brilliant. And football season starts this weekend so all is right with the world again.

I don't really have any inspiration to write much more than this. Or rather, I do but I'm concerned about the reaction of those who might read it. This blog features my photo and my name and is linked to from my Facebook account. I need to start another blog and write it anonymously so I can write whatever I like without fear of upsetting anyone. Oh yes...