Sunday, 4 December 2011

Pop, storytelling and jukebox musicals

I haven't walked out of many gigs. But Tin Machine was one of them. And if you start talking about David Bowie and artistic integrity I'm likely to remind you of this.

Apparently there was a rather lazy piece of journalism in the Observer recently where someone ran with a press release about a 'jukebox musical' based on Bowie's songs. The story's now been discredited, but Tom Ewing wrote an interesting spin-off article in Friday's Guardian Film & Music where he mused on pop and narrative.

The two, he says, don't always mix. Abba 'had a gift for suggesting stories, not necessarily telling them, and that goes for pop as a whole'.

I've always loved story songs: country music's particularly good for this, as well as some of the classic '60s Motown songwriting. But it's probably true that a lot of narrative is in the suggestion: the listener gets to fill in the gaps.

And it's even better when you get a song that has an entire novel's worth of backstory - in just the first line. But it's up to you to find the story.

Try these two: brilliant songs and brilliant openers, that demand some imagination.

I've always been impressed by the opening to Levi Stubbs' Tears by Billy Bragg: 'With the money from the accident she bought herself a mobile home'.

And, for anyone who thinks Jonathan Richman is twee, think about this - the first line of Hospital, one of his darkest early songs: 'When you get out of the hospital, will you let me back into your life?'

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