Saturday, February 4, 2012

Getting There: 2-4-6-8 Motorway

Tom Robinson Band: 2-4-6-8 Motorway

This song came up on my iPod the other day, and I realized that it fit the theme, so I decided to do a quick post. I suspect that one of the themes that will develop as I post more will be “Songs I First Heard at WPRB.” This is one of them. I fell in love with this song, and the Tom Robinson Band, the first time I heard them. Angry, but still tuneful English punk music. Power In The Darkness from 1978 was a musical blast that set me back on my heels. With song titles like “Up Against the Wall,” “Ain’t Gonna Take It,” and “Better Decide Which Side You're On," it was easy to tell that Robinson was calling for a revolution against the status quo, and the liner notes for the album included information about Rock Against Racism. And the music was great.

However, the two most well-known TRB songs were the first two singles (both included as bonus tracks on the "Power In The Darkness" album we had at the station), “2-4-6-8 Motorway,” a catchy tune that seemed to just be about a truck driver, with its sing along chorus that reminded me of the kind of thing that youth sports teams were supposed to chant after games, and “Glad To Be Gay,” with its message of tolerance and gay pride that was uncommon at that time, and was so controversial that it was banned by the BBC. Robinson was openly gay, and an activist at a time when that was still unusual, even in the world of popular music. Interestingly, Robinson later married a woman and had two children with her, but continued to identify himself as a gay man who happened to fall in love with a woman.

But I always assumed that “2-4-6-8 Motorway” was a bit of an anomaly, a nonpolitical song without any gay rights messages, and that was going to be my point. But apparently, I was wrong. In doing a bit of research before writing this, I found a reference to an interview that Robinson gave, in which he said that the chorus was taken from a gay rights chant and the verse from a flirtation between a male trucker and male motorcyclist. I’m not sure I see that in the lyrics, but Robinson wrote it, so he must know.

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