One of the things that I appreciate about the arts in general, and music in particular, is that it can be a way to make sense of the world or to at least see it from a different perspective. There are plenty of songs that lead us to believe that the future is problematic, even unbearable. But this week, we looked at tunes that make you believe that there’s a rainbow hiding behind every storm cloud. Yes, a show for all you optimists out there: Two hours of anthems dedicated to the power of positive thinking. Thanks to Suzie for suggesting the theme and to everyone who contributed to the songlist, especially Kira from Lennox Head who outdid herself with at least half a dozen tracks for consideration. Obviously, the subject hit a chord with a lot of you!
Optimism is, however, in the ears of the beholder: songs that delight one listener will make another cringe. Still, only a boring old fart could fail to be enthused by our opening track: ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE by Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. I loved the use of this song in the BBC series THE SINGING DETECTIVE, written by Harold Pinter and starring Michael Gambon, so here’s the clip for you to enjoy too:
Next it was Curtis Mayfield with his irresistible MOVE ON UP. The crucial thing about this song is that Mayfield is a realist, aware that life is full of “complications” but radiating hope anyway. There’s more qualified optimism in Desmond Dekker’s honey-sweet version of YOU CAN GET IT IF YOU REALLY WANT. According to Desmond, as long as you put in the hard yakka success is assured. Excellent advice.
Anyone who doubts the power of love to improve life should listen to Little Milton singing WE’RE GONNA MAKE IT. He and his lover are so poor they can’t even “spare a roach a crumb”, but, he promises, together they will pull through.
Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers, on the other hand, are bitter and alone but still they have found a way to look towards the future with optimism. They are dedicated to being DIGNIFIED AND OLD. Heartwarming stuff.
Written by Carole King and Gerry Goffin, ONE FINE DAY, sung by The Chiffons, is a declaration of teen devotion that pins all its hope on a philandering lover waking up to himself and coming back home. I think today’s psycho-babble would describe that as being in denial. So, just in case we forget that the wrong partner can make your life miserable, we followed with the Altered Images track I COULD BE HAPPY – a passionate, bubbly wish for escape. And talking of escapism, we followed with Joe Smooth’s early house hit PROMISED LAND. And then it was the great voice of Esther Phillips singing her 1975 Disco version of WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DAY MAKES.
Bluegrass boys Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs have faith in the idea that heaven will eventually give them relief from the world’s sorrows. The song? SO HAPPY I’LL BE. And just to put things in perspective, we followed with a song from my favourite Monty Python film, LIFE OF BRIAN. Recalling the Monty Python crew singing ALWAYS LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE OF LIFE, as they hang on their respective crucifixes puts a smile on this lapsed Catholic’s face every time I hear it. And I dare you not to whistle along!
The New Radicals tune YOU GET WHAT YOU GIVE embodies the idea that simple pleasures put whatever problems we are having into perspective. “Don’t let go, you’ve got the music in you”. I loved OUR LOVE IS HERE TO STAY from the one and only Blossom Dearie who sadly passed away in February this year. The good news? She was 84 and leaves us a legacy of wonderful music.
And talking of wonderful music, the very optimistic song BLUE SKIES was written in 1926 by Irving Berlin and has been recorded by many, many artists. One of my own favourites, that made the list this week, is by Willie Nelson. And then it was this week’s Roy Orbison track: Roy’s so euphoric about love that he’s going to give his girl anything she wants. The song – YOU GOT IT.
Byron Bluesfest favourite, Seasick Steve, followed with HAPPY MAN. That’s Ruby Turner helping out with the duet and K.T. Tunstall on rhythm guitar. But here’s a question for you – is the title of his album “I Started Out With Nothin and I’ve Still Got Most of it Left” optimistic? Hmmmm.
Johnny Nash’s I CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW is, much like Irving Berlin’S BLUE SKIES, a song that uses the useful image of the clear sky to evoke a positive outlook. Nash’s passionate vocals make a powerful statement and its little wonder that many consider this one of the greatest hit singles of all time. This clip where Nash performs on the Midnight Special in 1973 is worth including, just so you can check out the leather outfit.
The Staples Singers sang their classic track, I’LL TAKE YOU THERE. Its pure joy as Mavis Staples sings of her hope for a better world. And if you ever doubted that a song could be both spiritual and sexy, well this is your answer.
Australian, and North Coaster, Pete Murray gave us OPPORTUNITY – another song that encourages us to look at all the good things that life has to offer. “Life is short but you’re here to flower”.
A couple of tracks followed that took us all back in time: The Turtles with HAPPY TOGETHER, another song that uses the blue sky as a metaphor for a hopeful future and the Grateful Dead with a song about surviving life’s setbacks. Written by Jerry Garcia, TOUCH OF GREY was the bands biggest commercial hit. And if you are a deadhead you should tune into BayFM between 10pm and midnight Tuesdays when the Ice Cream Kid takes you on the Long Strange Trip. It’s all about the Grateful Dead and their ongoing influence.
A nice surprise was XTC with I’M STUPIDLY HAPPY. It’s great when a writer who’s associated with heavier themes can also, so easily, write of the giddy feeling of love and how it can put everything else into perspective. How cute is that line: “All the lights of the cars in the town form the strings of a big guitar/I’m the giant who’ll play you a tune from wherever you are.” Ohhhhhh. See, frontman Andy Partridge did have a soft spot after all.
So what’s the dominant message from today’s show on Optimism? LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED. And, of course, we had to play the Beatles very optimistic track of the same name to reinforce the notion.
Here’s this week’s complete playlist:
Accentuate the Positive – Bing Crosby/Andrews Sisters
Move on up – Curtis Mayfield
You Can Get It If You Really Want – Desmond Dekker & The Aces
One Fine Day – The Chiffons
Dignified And Old – Jonathan Richman And The Modern Lovers
We’re Gonna Make It – Little Milton
I Could Be Happy – Altered Images
Promised Land – Joe Smooth
What A Difference A Day Makes – Esther Phillips
So Happy I’ll Be – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Always Look On the Bright Side of Life – Monty Python
At Last – Etta James
Strength, Courage & Wisdom – India Arie
Three Little Birds – Bob Marley
I Believe I’m Gonna Make It – Joe Tex
You Get What You Give – New Radicals
Inspiration Information – Shuggie Otis
Shiny Happy People – R.E.M.
Our Love Is Here To Stay – Blossom Dearie
Blue Skies – Willie Nelson
You Got It – Roy Orbison
Happy Man – Seasick Steve
I’ll Take You There – Staple Singers
I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash
Opportunity – Pete Murray
Happy Together – The Turtles
Touch of Grey – Grateful Dead
Don’t Stop – Fleetwood Mac
Stupidly Happy – XTC
All You Need Is Love – The Beatles
Next week: Days of the Week
Listen to Lyn McCarthy at the Theme Park, Tuesdays 2-4pm, (Sydney time), on BayFM 99.9. Also streaming at http://www.bayfm.org