Friday, 10 January 2014

Ringo, Frogs & Gnomes or How To Spot The Musical Sheeple

Comedians do it, journalists do it, even people on internet forums do it, let's do it, let's spout some received wisdom. 

We all know about Sod's, Godwin's and Boyle's Law (which is either "The absolute pressure exerted by a given mass of an ideal gas is inversely proportional to the  volume it occupies if the temperature and amount of gas remain unchanged within a closed system" or "if there is a handicapped child in the room then I must take the piss") but there should be a name for the way people always jump to the same subject when they want to denigrate the musical talent of a musical great.

I'm going to call it Deayton's Law.

Former popular news quiz's former popular quizmaster Angus  Deayton regularly used to drop in asides about Ringo Starr being a crap drummer. This continued until Paul Merton pulled him up on it. 'I think Ringo's an excellent drummer." Deayton replied that it's just something most people say to which Merton replied "No, it's something you always say, for years you've said these things about Ringo's drumming but its patently not true. His drumming on the track 'Rain' for example I think is extraordinary'. 'Rain' in itself is the straw everyone grabs to defend Ringo but the point stands that in popular culture it is 'an accepted fact' that Ringo Starr was a poor drummer who just happened to be lucky enough to be surrounded by 3 geniuses. 

Of course, like most things in life, it's all John Lennon's fault. Despite scouring the internet I can't find the original interview or press conference where Lennon replied to the question about Ringo being the world's best drummer with "he isn't even the best drummer in The Beatles". Yet it was clearly a joke part of the combative cruel Lennon wit and humour within the group. Yes, Paul briefly played drums for the band on a couple of occasions during the pill propelled nights in Hamburg but the gag remains. Anyone else parroting it all these years later is just dumb.

The same goes for Lennon's erstwhile partner in song, Paul McCartney.  Despite having a massive 2nd wind of success with Wings and a patchy but inventively aspirational solo career people appear to think that "The Frog Song" undoes all this proving that McCartney is a sentimental old fool who is only good enough to write children's songs.

Well let's examine that - firstly, 'We All Stand Together' was written for a Rupert The Bear animation. Around the time that the song was released Disney Films were not in a good place - lacklustre and devoid of fresh ideas. I'm saying they would have given Mickey Mouse's back teeth to have a song as catchy, joyful and melodious as 'We All Stand Together' in one of their flicks.  

I've seen it claimed that 'We All Stand Together' is a sign that McCartney's songwriting talents were on the slide but I think this is music fan snobbery, pure and simple. WAST is a perfect fit for its purpose which appears to get a kicking for being aimed a younger audience as if that is an easy option. Writing for children, whether it be music, films or books is damned tricky. An assumption that they lack our mature critical faculties so will accept any old rubbish put in front of them. The baffling success of shows like TOWIE, Made In Chelsea and Big Brother suggest that adults acceptance of pure garbage on their plates is far higher. 

Another collaborator of Lennon's was David Bowie. People appear to believe that his Achilles heel is the 1967 song 'The Laughing Gnome' - they are so very, very wrong for one reason.....

Because its very, very good. There was that rumour that Bowie hated the track and wanted to \ did burn the master tapes in a big bin. Naturally when it resurfaced during his Ziggy pomp in '73 it was an embarrassment because it upset the carefully constructed image he and his management were trying to project. However when asked why he recorded the song, the Dame replied

'Because I could! Because it was there. Cos it was silly and I like silliness. And because we had the technology and had fun slowing tapes down and speeding them up'

Indeed I would go so far to suggest that 'Gnome' is a snapshot of its time that nestles nicely next to the inventive psychedelic pop of Syd Barrett's The Pink Floyd and the studio trickery of The Beatles. With its varispeed vocals, childlike backing and Newleyesque tone its a fine pastiche as well as being catchy as hell. Its the close cousin of 'Bike' and with a bloody ace B-side as well The Gospel According To Tony Day' - check it out. 

NME's Charles Sharr Murray described it as "Undoubtedly the most embarrassing example of Bowie juvenilia" showing once more that your proper rock critics have absolutely zero sense of humour. CSM called his two goldfish, Rhythm and Blues. I think we need go no further. Bowie's genuine laughing on the record is also part of its charm and the awful puns are only the icing on the cake. Yes its juvenile but that's not necessarily a bad thing, is it?

And besides, if Scott Walker sees fit to cover it for his latest album then who are we to argue?


So next time you are discussing the majesty of Bowie's Station To Station and some wag says 'Yeah, but The Laughing Gnome eh?' you watch them smugly chuckle and slowly drawl 'You Deayton'

We can make this happen, people, if We All Stand Together 

1 comment:

  1. INNIT. Spot on, DFB. I had the Ringo conversation recently with someone who fancied themselves informed, and nearly ended up biting him.