Saturday, April 11, 2020


Richard Hawley has a dark golden voice, built for solitude, a deep beacon of emotions dug deep from experience. A voice not always made for the cutting edge of modernity, his flair for melody, and for holding the tune perfectly around that melody, harking back to simpler times, at times more reminiscent of the early 1960's, behind the wave of rock'n'roll and ahead of beatlemania. A time where the Bobby's Darin and Vee could hold sway, songs of lovelorn romantics and bashful innocents filling the radio waves.

I Sleep Alone/Cole's Corner (2005)

Sheffield is a city that has always held a rich musical heritage hitting well above it's weight: Joe Cocker, the Human League and Pulp all come/came from there, Hawley one of the group of musicians linked with the latter band, at one time a tour member on guitar, at the behest of old friend Jarvis Cocker. But he had been beavering away long before then, as a member of onetime tipped for the top britpoppers, Longpigs. Combining a career as a band member with his solo work, he had already put out a couple of individual records before Longpigs broke up, each well received if breaking few waves. As the son of local legend, Dave Hawley, huge on the local pub circuit, he looked destined, like his dad, to be only world famous in Sheffield.

Lonely Night/Late Night Final (2001)

But it was when he moved to Mute records that things started to take off. Cole's Corner, issued in 2005, began a momentum, reaching the album chart top 40, hitting a chord with many critics. I Sleep Alone, the featured track for this pice, comes from this recording and is typical thereof. I remember being initially a little wrong-stepped by it, so redolent was it of that era so usually reviled for being of little value. Indeed, it took me back to revisiting some of the songs of the early 60s, the time my parents first invested in a record player, and the pile of singles that came with it and that I still have. But any lingering doubts were totally dispelled by the next one, Lady's Bridge, which took the template to another level, going gold in the process. Together with another "alone" track.

Lady Solitude/Lady's Bridge (2007)

This could have become both cloying and cliche were it all he had to offer. Truelove's Gutter risked that, albeit with a degree of archness to the arrangements, offering some sourness to the earlier sweet. And then, with Standing at the Sky's Edge, a complete volte face, embracing the full force of squalling guitars, a heavy psychedelia. The critics largely went with him for this journey, but naysayers, however complimentary, wondered quite why. (Struggling to find an "alone" track to demonstrate, I am having to invoke the old why did the skeleton go to the party alone story........)

Leave Your Body Behind/Standing at the Sky's Edge (2012)

Perhaps a little cornered as to know quite now how to proceed, his next album Hollow Meadows was a bit of a stop gap, Hawley hindered by health issues, and was little more than ungarnished demos. Thankfully, his latest, last years Further, was both a return to form and to consistency. The vocals were again the rich warming broth, the backing now evoking, slightly, a hint of the Wall of Sound production values of Phil Spector. And of course there is an "alone" track.

Alone/Further (2019)

Are you ever really alone with a Richard Hawley record?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Alone: One

purchase [Nilsson Schmilsson ]

I'm old enough that I remember when this was a hit ("before your mother was born..."?). I for one always assumed it was a Three Dog Night original. Even as I checked to be sure there was copy I could post together with my remarks this week. I noted that there were other versions (perhaps with a slightly different title, but the same lyrics), including one from Harry Nilsson. Cool. I have already had a bit of an uninformed soft spot for Nilsson. I mean "Coconut" and "Everybody's Talkin", c'mon.

To me, about as well-known as Three Dog Night's "Shambala" and "One is the Loneliest Number". I'll use the Nilsson version as an extra for this post.

Fact is, there are many. Versions, that is.

I've said it before: this is where I get off doing this. Most weeks I end up a little wiser than I was.
As you either already knew or have gleaned from my trajectory, in the process of digging (in this case merely scratching the surface) I realized that Three Dog Night didn't write the song.

Fact is, there are many. Versions, that is.The Wiki notes that Al Kooper came out with a version in '69. Musicians on that - his first - include a handful of musicians I have previously brought up here: Steve Winwood and Jim Capaldi among others.

As to the premise of the song - the assumption that 1 is lonely - it seems to me that the issue is more a state of mind. 1 is how you meditate. Alone in tune with yourself and with the rest of whatever is out there. 1 is lonely when you feel the need for more than 1, but that is definitely not always the case. "Give me a break", "Leave me alone" ... Nilsson says as much:
Two can be as bad as one
One is the number divided by two
[say what?]

Wednesday, April 8, 2020


King? So what ever happened to King? Here one moment, huge for a minute and then gone. Can you even remember them? Were they purely eurocentric, UK even? No, not King King, the brilliant bekilted blues juggernaut, channeling more Free than seems even possible, if to tinier audiences still, more's the pity, I mean King, rainbow Doc Martens and cockatiel hair, yes?

Alone Without You

So King were actually around for more than a moment, two years and two albums. Centred around charismatic frontman Paul King, on vocals and never more 80s mullet, they burst out of Coventry on the tail end of the Two Tone ska phenomenon that rose out of this gritty midlands landscapes. This was 1984. Wondering if a ska band calling themselves the Reluctant Stereotypes might be too much of, um, a stereotype, filtered from the title of a song by genre breakthrough leaders, the Specials, some serious rebranding was required. Arguably again lifting an idea from the local scene, the concept of Multi Tone was imagined. Again, so far, so meh, but luckily, the songs were there. Or some were. A brief tenure as the Raw Screens faltered and so, like many a band leader before or since, the realisation that a surname could suffice as a band and brand name dropped, both convenient and aspirational. The look and image was allegedly based on the Child Catcher from children's book and film, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, actually not so much a bad idea given the mission statement of the music biz in general: capture the youth and harness their spending power!

Alone Without You was the 4th single, and the first from their second album, so we are ahead of things. So, rewinding a bit, their first album, Steps in Time appeared in 1984 and proved to be a slow burner. The debut single, Love and Pride barely dented the charts in the UK,  number 84 with a squib. Follow-ups Soul on My Boots and Won't You Hold My Hand Now didn't even manage the top 100. Love and Pride came out a second time and, courtesy the active promotion of CBS records, this time found its public. Number 2 this time, translating equivalently across Europe, and even causing a slight splash across the pond, their only chart recognition in the US, with a Billboard 55. On that momentum back out came Won't You Hold My Hand Now, now to a UK 24. In truth these were the only outstanding tracks of the debut, the rest being somewhat lumpen fodder, often with lyrics obtusely impenetrable, backed with glossily produced tunelessness. (What, pray, is I Kissed the Spikey Fridge all about?)  But they looked good and had the zeitgeist.

Love and Pride

With no time to waste, 1985 saw the second album, Bitter Sweet, a somewhat rushed release. Again the singles were the standouts, although becoming a story of diminishing returns. Alone Without You gained a creditable 8 and hopes were high for the next single. The Taste of Your Tears was and still is a terrific song; a classic slow weepy for the dance floor, peaking at 11. There was a 3rd single but I confess to no memory of it whatsoever. And that was just about that. I am not sure they even ever toured. If they did, it maybe accelerated their demise, as they were no more by mid '86, the entire span of the group being less than two years. Maybe they were just a manufactured contrivance for teen stardom, and yet, no teenager myself, or by any means, they rang some sort of bell in my head and I always wanted them to be better than they were, to be more than four good songs and spray painted footwear, however much bouncy bass is in the mix. I don't think that was what even Paul King had sought, perhaps also why their reign was cut short.

The Taste of Your Tears

Paul King tried the de rigeur solo go it alone route, sinking sufficiently deep as to throw in the towel altogether. I don't think I have ever heard his solo album, or hadn't until this piece. MTV, then the big player in music, videos becoming the only way to break an act, and who had, in all probability, had the most to do with King, the bands, success, became the unlikely get out of jail card for King, the singer. This may be where you remember the name, as, de-mulleted and greying elegantly at the edges, he became one of a new breed, the 'veejay', continuity man for the new age, where he spent the next few years, ahead of then taking the same gig for VH1, the MTV for slightly older children.

I Know (from Joy/Paul King)

Crowning glory?

Monday, April 6, 2020

Alone: Tired of Being Alone

Al Green: Tired of Being Alone

I’ve already lost count of how long I’ve been stuck at home—the few times I've gone out to get provisions or walk doesn’t really relieve the feeling of confinement—and it is getting tiresome. Other than the fact that the “current situation” has left us with nothing to look forward to—concerts are canceled, vacations are canceled, reunions are canceled, even our family seders are canceled, and I suspect that my daughter’s trip home this summer will be canceled—the hardest thing to deal with has been the isolation.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m generally an introvert—what I guess is considered a social introvert, meaning that I’m more comfortable in small social settings, enjoy being alone, and can appear to be more extroverted in some situations (my “Reunions Dad” personality), but then require some alone time to recharge. So, in theory, this whole staying home thing is not far from my wheelhouse. (But I’m not a hermit or a hoarder). And, luckily, I have my wife with me, so I’m far from really alone.

But since this whole thing started, as I mentioned in my last piece, I’ve thrown myself into connecting on social media and with my college classmates. We did that large Zoom gathering, and another one yesterday with about 100 people, which included a remarkable coronavirus panel, which I'd argue equaled anything that you can see on cable news.  Plus, a yoga demonstration. And as part of the planning process, I’ve been in contact by email, Facebook, Facebook Messenger, Slack, and even telephone with classmates (and an actual face-to-face meeting with one who lives around the corner, from a safe distance), and there’s always some personal catching up, even with people that I was never really close with. Even on work calls, with clients, co-counsel and even opposing counsel, there’s often a discussion of “how are you doing?" And like many others, we are using Zoom to have family calls and hang out virtually with friends. Just over two years ago, I wrote a piece on my personal blog called “In Praise of Social Media,” during a period when Facebook and other platforms were being rightly criticized for their flaws. But I saw the value in the connections that I made and maintained online, and if anything, it is more important right now. As someone with my personality type, this sort of social interaction from a distance is really perfect.

Al Green is, of course, one of the all-time greats, and his song “Tired of Being Alone” is, of course, on one of my many COVID-82 playlists. Released in 1971, it reached #11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and # 7 on the Hot Soul Singles Chart, and continues to be popular today. Because it is a great song. Of course, it isn’t about being forced to shelter in place, but about a lost love, because you don’t write great soul songs about being stuck in your house alone, living in sweatpants and bingeing Netflix. Although many musicians finding themselves with time on their hands are writing songs for the “current situation”—let me recommend Dan Bern’s new EP, Quarantine Me if you want to hear some good ones—I doubt that they will ultimately have the lasting appeal of “Tired of Being Alone.”  Green also has covered the great Hank Williams song, "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry."  So, yeah, he's lonely.

Speaking of musicians stuck at home, how long will it be before there’s a genre of “how hard it is to be at home” songs to rival the many, many “how hard it is to be on the road” songs?