Nov 26 2020
Hello. It’s been a long couple of months since the last blog post – that’s what running #VISBF does for you.
Every year, the blog has to go into a form of premature hibernation to facilitate the event – multi-tasking ain’t my thing…. and I normally give it a month before I dip my toes back in those shark infested waters. So it kind of surprised me when I felt the itch this morning.
If doesn’t surprise me that it’s a musical itch.
Music is a very personal thing. I am a bit of a musical omnivore, for me to be engaged, to buy in, a tune or song needs to move me. On an emotional or technical level. But mostly emotional.
Music is my crutch. It’s what keeps me moving. Something that I know I’ve said before in this space, but it remains true. It’s MY truth.
There is no telling as to what may move me. It could be something melodic, rhythmic, a line in a song that suddenly reduces me to a sobbing wreck. Anything. From “The Bottle” by Gil Scott-Heron, through “Johnny Was” by Stiff Little Fingers; “Stay” by Bowie to “1 Thing” by Amerie, I’m open to surprise and I frequently am.
But for a song to send a message, resonate and truly move me is something else. Something different. Which brings me to repeated listening to the classic “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin and The Bluenotes.
I’m a child of punk, post-punk and New Wave music. I was 11 when punk hit, back on the summer of 76 with a wall of noise, incoherence and snot. Snarling and raging. As an 11 year old, I dived in, attending my first gig in October 79 (The Damned at Mcr Apollo). But my early listening was more diverse, Motown, Northern Soul, Bowie, Bolan, Zeppelin.
But of all genres, I’ve always been drawn to soul. It’s there, in that word, Soul. It says it all. It encompasses feeling, emotion, consideration, compassion and – at base level – movement, dancing, letting go.
If pushed, I would say that my favourite artist of all time is Curtis Mayfield. The musical personification of consciousness. Yes, “Black Consciousness”. But I’m not Afro-American. I’ve not had those historical struggles. But Curtis told me through his songs. Go listen for yourself (Start with “Roots”), I mean “Move on Up” it’s known, but go dig. You’ll be rewarded.
But back to “Wake Up Everybody”. There are some magnificent songs in The Bluenotes canon. I mean “If You Don’t Know Me By Now”? Stone. Cold. Classic. Deny that and you’re lost, truly lost.
“Wake up all the teachers time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen to whatcha have to say
‘Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up and the world is in their hands
When you teach the children teach em the very best you can…..”
Verse after verse after verse. There’s a truth. A message. Written by McFadden/Whitehead & Carstappen, this is a world away from “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now”, this is a lyrical work of genius whose relevance was huge back in 1975, but that pertinence is only elevated in 2020. 45 whole years later. And it’s Teddy Pendergrass’ finest moment.
“The world won’t get no better
If we just let it be
The world won’t get no better
We gotta change it yeah,
Just you and me”
In the wake of the killing of George Floyd, I remember listening to a powerful playlist dj’d by DJ Jazzy Jeff and thinking how well the song fit amongst amongst the other songs and raps of protest at injustice and state violence. But – listening to it alongside the likes of “What’s Going On” & “Inner City Blues” – it struck me how little the sentiments in the song had dated. Unlike (IMO) the other two colossal tunes.
The other thing that struck me was that this song works as a timeless hymn against injustice and intolerance on all levels. Pointing out that there is a way to something better. If we work together. And never stop.
“Wake up all the builders time to build a new land
I know we can do it if we all lend a hand…”
Music is intensely personal. It’s like beer in the respect that you like what you like and should be able to without derision (unless it’s “A****a” by T*t* – some records are truly criminal). I don’t expect many will share my love of this.
But it’s my truth. This song moves me on ways no other does.
Is it wrong to be in love with a song?