Thursday, November 09, 2006

Songs To Learn And Sing #9

Today's entry into the unheard pantheon is from Static Multimedia contributor Ian Pointer:

Jackie Lee - The Town I Live In

For some reason, the British girl-groups and singers of the 1960s have been swept under the carpet by history, as if we're somewhat embarrassed by the looming presence of the superior Motown/Stax counterparts across the Atlantic. This is a little unfair, as amongst the chaff of this era, there are many lost gems, and one of these happens to be Jackie Lee.

Lee, a childhood musical prodigy, found early success as the lead vocalist in the form of The Raindrops, a girl-group popular enough to have their own show on BBC Radio. She went solo from the group in 1965, after a failed attempt three years before to become Britain's entrant for the 1962 Eurovision Song Contest. Lee released many singles under many different names during the next few years, none of which were received all that enthusiastically by record-buyers. Rescue came in the form of Children's TV; she scored a hit with White Horses in 1968, and in 1970 another in the form of Rupert from the TV version of Rupert The Bear. She was also an accomplished session singer, working with the usual stalwarts like Cliff Richard and Tom Jones, to more esoteric fare such as Jimi Hendrix (Hey Joe) and Richard Harris (MacArthur Park).

Despite never becoming a star, and forced to retire early in the 1970s because of throat problems, Jackie Lee's career is full of wonderful songs that deserve a second chance, the highlight being The Town I Live In, recorded in November 1966.

It begins slowly. Quietly. "Nothing very much happens in the town I live in", she sings, against a gentle tick-tock beat, each line punctuated by a booming drum; the doom of boredom in a lifeless town. She's trying to escape before time runs out, Lee seemingly getting more desperate as she approaches the first chorus. "Lots of little dreams that can never come TRUE!" she cries, the song opening up into a glorious cacophony of 27 churches and their bells, silver birches and tiny streets. A song of its time just as much as Cindy Williams' They Talk About Us (which you should also investigate), it rejects the nostalgia of the pre-Beatles era, embracing the then-new and then-now. Plus, it's really catchy. You will be singing the "la la la la la" parts by the end of your second listen.

It even manages to include a sting in the tail, a little wry dig at the implications of the New Town era. "There's several hundred brand-new houses/and lots of brand-new primary schools" Lee sings, fading out into nothing with a heavenly "et cetera, et cetera, et cetera" as the towns are engulfed by the Baby Boom. Pithy social commentary, and you can dance to it too, which is more than you can say about Bob Dylan.

While it was forgotten by most, you can just imagine a young Bob Stanley listening to and taking notes from this, a proto-Saint Etienne song if there ever was such a thing. It definitely deserves to be freed from the British girl-group obscurity that it currently resides, so I commend it to the good audience of Sweeping The Nation.

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