Friday, February 16, 2018


The break-up song, even the break-up album, is such a rite of passage for both performers and listener. For every song of love and fulfilment there are a legion of songs displaying dismay and despair. For every couple sharing "our tune", strip back the facade and each will have at least one song to recall their earlier disappointments in getting there.

But nobody, nobody, has better portrayed the randomness of the teenaged victim of cupid than Billy Bragg, about whom I have written before. And over a consummate acoustic guitar backing, by Johnny Marr, no less, playing a version of the Four Tops
classic, Bragg says all that ever needs to be said.

That's all.

Get it here!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Breakup Songs: Dear Madam Barnum

XTC: Dear Madam Barnum


Breaking up is evidently hard to do here at Star Maker Machine, so let me get us off to a somewhat late start with this one. Mankind may have invented pop music as a type of mating ritual, with a man or woman singing the praises of the object of their affection, or boasting of all the reasons to “pick me”. The breakup song may have followed soon after. Here was a form that could allow you to plead for sympathy from your next intended conquest by showing how you were suffering, or simply blow off steam by venting your anger at how you were treated so badly. I have no doubt that I could, with a little digging, find a seventeenth century madrigal that would fit our theme, but there are many fine examples with a more recent vintage.

Dear Madam Barnum is a fine example of a venting or brushoff song. If anything, this kind of song is a warning to others not to get involved with the woman who has hurt the narrator. This one is indeed about a woman, but there are just as many warnings in pop music about mistreating men, and I am sure we will get to some of those as well.. While I don’t know the background of this song in particular, it would not surprise me to learn that it was addressed to the same woman as XTC’s Mayor of Simpleton a few years earlier. The older song has a narrator rushing headlong into a new romance with his blinders fully on. But now, he is thoroughly disillusioned. Some of the anger in Dear Madam Barnum may well be self-directed, wondering how he got himself into this situation in the first place. The clown metaphor was established in pop classics like Cathy’s Clown and Tears of a Clown, but those songs are pleas for sympathy. This is the only song I know of that takes that concept as the basis for a brushoff song. It works very well indeed, so I would have to think there are other examples. Perhaps we will hear some of those before this theme is done.