Saturday, 15 July 2017
Oliver!: Some Paradise - Goodbye Ruth (20 March 1992)
Speaking as one of the unpublished, untalented ones, songwriters often have to remember a key rule when it comes to writing songs which mention women by name. The rule is "One syllable name difficult; multi syllable name easier".
Go on. Think of a song with a woman's name in it. Bet you automatically defaulted to a song with a 2 to 4 syllable name, didn't you? I don't blame you, I've already had Layla, Ruby and Victoria (original version - sorry, Fall fans) going through my mind while writing this paragraph. Incidentally, if anyone remembers this blog's last meditation on names in song titles, my wife now has another one to add to her own list courtesy of a collective of musicians called The National Gallery and a track from their sole 1968 album inspired by the work of artist, Paul Klee.
I wrote song lyrics to myself about all the women I went out with, and the one I eventually married. Two of my muses were called Ruth, but by the time I wrote about the second one , I avoided the issue that dogged the song about the first one, and didn't try to crowbar her name into the lyrics. I can't remember anything about the eponymous Ruth song that I wrote circa 1995, though I don't think I gave it a Flash (Ahhh...) style chorus, and I'm hoping that I was savvy enough to avoid rhyming her name with "truth" or "strewth". There's no guarantee of this good judgement - I once wrote a song and hit upon the idea of ending the verses with "Good (something)". This was fine for the first two verses as the rhymes I needed led me to write "Good night" and "Good time" respectively. So far so good, but I ran into trouble when my third "Good..." had to rhyme with the word, "look". I racked my brain for a while before deciding that as I was writing about a woman, then "Good cook" would do fine. I still thought it would when I showed the lyrics to my songwriting partner a week or so later. But his snort of "Good cook?!" when he read through it consigned it to the dustbin. I don't think it was much of a loss to music really - the last verse ended with "Good moon" (to rhyme with "soon" naturally). That's the thing about songwriting - it never pays to overthink it.
The issue with one syllable names in song is that they either come out too sharp - as though the singer is spitting out the name - or they dribble out like someone dropping a blacmange onto a mattress. Even the peerless Michael Jackson had delivery problems when singing about a pet rat - "Bin" anyone? You have to put the name together with another word and ideally have it at the end of the line. To their immense credit, Todmorden's Some Paradise - no stranger to Peel's show under their old name, Victory Mansions - do exactly this and when allied to a full bore performance full of driving guitar and strong vocals, serve up a little classic.
I have good relationships with both of the Ruths - the subject of the eponymous song came to my wedding and was in Extraordinary - but while I'm tickled to discover a song with their name in it which was played by John Peel, I'd be reluctant to bring this to their attention, regardless of how much I like it. The main reason is, as you can probably guess from the title, this isn't a particularly
happy song from Ruth's point of view. The song appears to be a lamentation about how Ruth used her youth (I didn't use that rhyme in 1995 either) and beauty to secure a lover which made her financially secure only to have her bright future torn up when her lover found someone else who had the youth and beauty that she had lost herself. It plots the course of the trophy wife's journey from pearl of the oyster to burnt out cigarette in the gutter pretty unsparingly but with the dramatic eye of a Terence Rattigan play. The sympathetic but unsentimental tone reaches its natural conclusion in the chorus, where it feels as though the farewell is not just to the memory of what Ruth lost, but possibly to Ruth herself. Left with nothing but the scars in her mind after growing, blooming, wilting and being tossed aside, the piece as a whole has the feel of a damning funeral address. It mines a similar vein of intensity to that of Red Hour albeit with a slightly poppier edge. Something was brewing in the North of England circa 1991/92 - dark folk/pop tales which never got a chance to grow as grunge swept in over the next 2 years, but someone should gather these examples together and put them out in a compilation soon.
The video is taken from the 29/2/92 show, with Peel's link at the end. My customary thanks to the wonderful Webbie (@keepingitpeel) for answering my specific request to upload this track. They're a prince!
To finish on the multi-syllable name in song, I couldn't not include this bearing in mind how many times I saw it in rehearsal during the period this blog has covered so far. Oliver. 3 syllables long, so it could be easily given not just the title, but whole lines of nothing but the name.
Videos courtesy of Webbie (Some Paradise) and maiza (Oliver!)