Tag Archives: music

I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles

This popular song, now nearly 100 years old, is pretty much a standard in Western musical vocabulary. But have you ever stopped to think about the words? Don’t think about the happy-go-lucky child with his bottle of soapy water, skipping through the park merrily blowing bubbles into the air, watching them lift into the sky, or bounce on the grass.

Rather, think of the aspiring novelist receiving his 200th query rejection. The high school senior denied admittance to the last college on her list. The young man nursing a broken heart after yet another girl passes him by. This is a song about crushed dreams, and opportunities slipping through fingers. It’s the kind of song a worn out and weary songwriter would write when all his other songs have failed to gain an audience. The kind of song he writes when he has lost all hope of success. And, as irony would have it, the song goes on to be one of the most successful songs of the century.*

I guess in a weird kind of way, that’s the message of hope behind “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles.” Don’t give up on your dreams, because even your lament about dreams fading and dying could be the song that makes your dreams come true.

Here are the words:

I’m dreaming dreams,
I’m scheming schemes,
I’m building castles high.
They’re born anew,
Their days are few,
Just like a sweet butterfly.
And as the daylight is dawning,
They come again in the morning.

(Chorus)
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air,
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

When shadows creep,
When I’m asleep,
To lands of hope I stray.
Then at daybreak,
When I awake,
My bluebird flutters away.
Happiness new seemed so near me,
Happiness come forth and heal me.

(Chorus)
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.
They fly so high,
Nearly reach the sky,
Then like my dreams,
They fade and die.
Fortune’s always hiding,
I’ve looked everywhere,
I’m forever blowing bubbles,
Pretty bubbles in the air.

Here’s the song:

And if you want the sheet music, click HERE.

*I don’t know if the writers were down on their luck. In fact, my cursory research didn’t come up with anything regarding the story behind the song.

Music Monday: Senses Working Overtime

XTC - Senses Working OvertimeXTC* were one of those British bands that had some successes, and had a following, but were never on the mega-star level. The first song of theirs I heard was “Making Plans for Nigel” back in 1979. That song gave them a reputation for quirky, catchy tunes with thoughtful lyrics, usually written by singer/guitarist Andy Partridge. But “Senses Working Overtime” is by far my favorite of theirs. Again, there’s a quirkiness to it, but it’s incredibly catchy, and very creative. More about the song in a moment.

I don’t really have a particular story to share about this tune, but listening to it does conjure up a particular time in my life. It’s 1982, somewhere around February, and I’m in my first year at Hereford Cathedral School. I’ve settled in at my new school, I’ve made some good friends, and I’m managing to keep my grades decent. Mathematics is a struggle, but Divinity (i.e., Religious Studies), History, Music, and English are fun. My senses are working overtime…

I see my form room (“home room” in the US?), Room D. This is where we gather for morning roll call, and hear announcements before going to chapel in Hereford Cathedral. It’s a ground floor room with a bay window that looks out over a lawn. I remember gathering with other “freshers” the previous summer for orientation on that lawn. As I sit in my chair, the large door is in front of me. The white board is over on the left-hand wall, and our lockers are on the right-hand wall.

I hear the bell for end of the lesson. Classes are about 40 mins long, and we have seven of them each day in different locations around the school campus. This must have been either English or Divinity, because our form teacher, Mrs. Howard-Brown, teaches those in our form room. She’s still talking as we close up our books, but we wait to be dismissed, even though the bell has sounded. It must be lunchtime because…

… I can smell the aroma of cooking from the cafeteria, which is next door to our building. I don’t get my lunch from the cafeteria often–hardly ever, actually. I bring my lunch to school, which saves us money, and, quite frankly, the smell from the cafeteria is not particularly appetizing. Somehow it always smells the same, no matter what’s on the menu: a kind of bland cabbage mixed with the sharp tang of ammonia. But the most memorable smell from Room D is the carpet. Over the summer they laid a new carpet, and the smell of the glue is still strong. To this day, whenever I smell that carpet glue, it takes me back to Room D.

I touch the wooden desk, feel the scratch marks of previous occupants, the varnished wood splintering under my fingers. I get out my lunch box, which has a matching flask containing coffee or tea–I don’t recall. Then I taste my lunch. Sandwiches. Possibly chicken spread (a kind of paté that comes in a jar, made for spreading on sandwiches) and a Mars bar. Ugh–Simon brought sardine and onion sandwiches again. Nasty!

Now let’s talk about the song. For starters, here’s the lead sheet. Click on the picture to download a pdf of the words and guitar chords:

SensesWorkingOvertime_lead

A few notes on the lead sheet. The sections in square brackets [like these] were edited out of the single version. I believe they are on the album version. Also, guitarists, don’t feel compelled to play the bass notes on the “One, Two, Three, Four, Five” part–that’s covered by the bass guitarist on the track. Finally, the G#m-F# and C#m-E chords at the beginning and through the verse are actually implied–they don’t play the full chords. The acoustic guitar seems to be doing this for those chords (click to enlarge):

SensesWorkingOvertime_Guitar

The “x”s mean “don’t play.” For this section, the strings you do play should be muted. If you listen to the track, you’ll hear what I mean.

I’m not sure what Andy Partridge intended the song to be about, but it seems to juxtapose the darker things of life–greed, poverty, injustice, death, etc–with the richness of the world around us. Despite all the negative stuff going on, this world is full of beauty and wonder that we often struggle to take in through our senses.

Here’s a video of XTC playing the song:

Any questions? Don’t forget, if you have any Music Monday song requests, just mention them in the comments, or email me.

*Do you get it? XTC = Ecstasy. Clever, huh?

Zoo Gang

ZThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. Today is the last day of the challenge, so let’s finish up with…

ZOO GANG

Joe passed the beans to Amy.

“Where’s Rob tonight?”

“Working late,” she said, taking a spoonful. “So, tell me more about your squad. Rob hardly mentions it.”

“Not surprised,” said Bill through a mouthful of steak. “Iraq was tough.”

“But we bonded,” Joe said, nodding to Bill.

“Remember our gang?” Bill smiled. “You, me, Rob, Pete.”

Joe laughed, “Yes! We even gave ourselves code names. Who were you?”

“I was Gorilla,” said Bill. Amy smiled. Given Bill’s physique, it fit. “Pete was Monkey—that laugh. And you were–?”

“Panther,” Joe said. “Obviously.”

“What was Rob called?” said Amy.

“Cheetah.”

That’s it for this year’s A-to-Z Challenge! Thanks for reading, especially if you’ve been following my flash fiction for the past month. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

“Zoo Gang” was the B-Side to Wings’ 1974 single “Band on the Run” in the UK.  It has subsequently appeared as a bonus track on CD re-issues of the albums “Venus and Mars” and “Band on the Run.” The piece was originally composed by McCartney for the short-lived UK TV series, “The Zoo Gang,” which ran for six episodes between April and May of 1974.

Here are the opening titles to the TV show:

Young Boy

YThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. So let’s continue the fun with…

YOUNG BOY

“Do you think William will be okay?”

“Yes, dear, I do.”

“Did he pack a change of clothes?”

“I’m very sure he did.”

“What about underwear?”

“Yes, even underwear. And his toothbrush. And toothpaste.”

“Does he have enough money, you know, for snacks and stuff?”

“Yes, I do believe he’s okay for cash.”

“That boy,” Tom said, smiling. “They grow up so quickly.”

Mary echoed his smile. “They do.”

“It seems only yesterday he was playing with his trucks on the carpet.”

“I know. And now he’s driving one of his own.”

“He’ll always be our boy, though, won’t he?”

Check back tomorrow for the last day of the challenge, the letter “Z”…

“Young Boy” is a track from Paul’s 1997 album, “Flaming Pie.” It was released as a single that same year, reaching number 19 in the UK charts. He is joined on the recording by Steve Miller, who plays electric guitar and supplies backing vocals.

X is for Heather

XThis is my fifth April A-to-Z Challenge. The past couple of years, I’ve written 100-word flash fiction each day. This year I’m doing the same, only with a twist: each day’s story will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song.

Unfortunately, Paul has yet to write a song beginning with “X”, so I’m going to have to improvise a bit here. Those who are acquainted with McCartney’s life have probably already guessed what I’ve done. For the rest, let me explain. Paul was married to Linda for 29 years until her death in 1998 from breast cancer. In 2002, McCartney married Heather Mills, but this union ended in divorce four years later. Paul is currently married (happily, so it seems) to business woman Nancy Shevell, so at the moment, Heather is Paul’s ex. Hence, X is for Heather!

Since we’re playing fast-and-loose with the rules, let’s play fast and loose with the theme too. Paul wrote a song for Heather called “Heather” (his creative genius knows no bounds), so we’re good there. But I’m going to stray from the 100-word flash fiction and give you a poem I wrote about my cousin Heather when I was nine. My teacher, the amazing Mr. Cobbett, read us a poem by some famous poet about a family member. He then tasked us with creating our own little poetry books called “My Family,” in which we were to write poems about family members. I don’t remember any of the other poems I wrote, but somehow this one has stuck in my head for over 35 years. So I present to you:

HEATHER

My cousin Heather’s as light as a feather

Her arms are as thin as a pin.

She has long legs like clothes pegs,

And every race she would win.

(The accompanying illustration was of a giant feather with arms and legs crossing a finish line.)

Check back tomorrow for “Y”…

“Heather” is a track from McCartney’s 2001 album, “Driving Rain.”

Interestingly, “Heather” is also the name of a song Paul wrote for his newly-adopted step-daughter, and recorded with Donovan and Mary Hopkin in 1969, but never released. Here it is:

A to Z Catch Up #1

We’re in the midst of the A-to-Z Blogging Challenge here on the blog. Since there are no A-to-Z blogs on Sunday, I thought I’d take this opportunity to get you caught up on where we’ve been so far.

My theme for this year’s challenge is “100 word flash fiction inspired by Paul McCartney song titles.” These flash pieces might be complete stories, or they might be scenes, vignettes, snatches of dialog, or any number of things. Whatever they are, they are short (“flash”) and made up (“fiction”). So if you have a few moments to kill while waiting for the kettle to boil or the bathroom to free up, take a read!

So far we’ve had:

Another Day

Backwards Traveller

Coming Up

Distractions

Every Night

Fine Line

Girlfriend

Hope of Deliverance

Do you have a favorite so far?

2016 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge Theme Reveal!

atoz-theme-reveal-2016 v2This April, in a little over a week, in fact, I will be participating in the 2016 A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. In this challenge, participating bloggers post an article every day for the month of April (excluding Sundays). We can post whatever we want, provided each day’s article corresponds in some way to that day’s letter theme (A for the first day, B for the second, C for the third, etc.). Participants don’t have to choose a theme for the month, but a theme can help inspire articles, and it gives readers a reason to keep coming back.

This will be my fifth A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. The first two years, I didn’t have a theme. Then in 2014, I thought it might be fun to post 100-word flash fiction every day. I had so much fun with that, I did the same again in 2015. What am I going to do for 2016…?

This year, I’m going to post 100-word flash fiction again, but with an added twist: Each day’s flash will be inspired by the title of a Paul McCartney song. I’ve been a McCartney fan for a long, long time, so I’m quite familiar with his extensive catalog of music. It occurred to me that there’s a McCartney song for just about every letter of the alphabet, so why not use those as part of my A-to-Z Challenge theme?

Each day in April, I’ll post a piece of flash fiction. It’ll be exactly 100 words long, and it might be a story, a scene, a vignette, a piece of dialog–whatever, it’ll be short and, hopefully, entertaining and/or thought-provoking. I’ll also tell you a bit about the Paul McCartney song I chose for that day, and provide a clip for your listening pleasure. I’m drawing strictly from Paul’s post-Beatles career, so some songs will be familiar, but others might be more obscure.

I hope you’ll join me for the challenge! 🙂

Here’s a Paul McCartney and Wings song from 1972 that’s quite appropriate for a letter challenge:

RIP George Martin, the Fifth Beatle*

I found out yesterday that George Martin, the man who, in 1962, stuck his neck out and gave four young upstarts from Liverpool a recording deal, passed away on Tuesday, aged 90. George Martin was more than just the Artists and Repertoire guy for Parlophone Records (a division of EMI), and more than merely the man who produced the Beatles. He recognized talent and gave it both the room and the environment in which to grow. In the process he ended up playing a key role in transforming popular music. Working with George Martin, the Beatles’ horizons were broadened, and the studio became their playground. From double-track vocals, to adding strings on “Yesterday,” to creating a fairground collage, to making John sound like he’s singing from the top of a mountain, Martin’s classical music training, technical know-how, and boundless creativity found a perfect marriage with the Beatles’ own sense of fun, adventure, and talent.

Of course, Martin’s work didn’t end with the Beatles. In the 60s he worked with artists like Gerry and The Pacemakers, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, and Ella Fitzgerald. Post-Beatles, he produced records for Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, America, Jeff Beck, Kenny Rogers, Cheap Trick, Ultravox, Elton John, and Celine Dion to name but a handful. He won Grammys, was knighted by the Queen, and was even inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999. But it is his work with the Beatles for which he will best be remembered. And rightly so. Between the five of them, they made history.

As an example of his work, here’s the Beatles’ recording of “Penny Lane” which he not only produced, but also arranged.

In Memoriam.

*There are debates among Beatles fans as to who should properly be regarded as “The Fifth Beatle.” Some say it was Brian Epstein, some regard road manager Neil Aspinall as the fifth (and he’s a good contender). But Paul McCartney said it himself, and that’s good enough for me.

Music Monday: Golden Brown

The Stranglers - Golden BrownOops–so I accidentally posted this a day early. Oh well. It’s Monday in South Korea and Australia… 🙂

“Golden Brown” is a song by The Stranglers that got to number 2 on the British charts in 1982. With a name like “The Stranglers” you might expect some kind of punk band, and, well, you’d be right. At least the origins of the band lie in the punk scene of the late 1970s. Perhaps a little more musical than your average guitar-thrashing, vocal-cord-abusing purveyors of anarchy and mayhem, their style was still very much not gentle and easy-listening.

That’s certainly the impression I had of The Stranglers in 1982. Songs like “No More Heroes” and “Something Better Change” were the kinds of things I expected of them. So it’s no wonder I, and many others, did a double-take when we first heard “Golden Brown.” Talk about a total change of direction! It’s predominantly a keyboard song–a harpsichord, no less, with some organ highlights. The guitar solo is clean, no distortion. And the vocal is smooth and easy, nothing strained or shouty. It ended up being a favorite of mine at the time, and I still enjoy it to this day.

The recording is pitched somewhere between B-minor and Bb-minor, possibly due to the harpsichord tuning. From online videos, it looks as if they actually played it in Bb-minor, so that’s the key I’ve used for the following lead sheet and music.

There are four sections of chord patterns that are repeated throughout the song. Here’s the harpsichord part, as far as I can figure it out, for each section (marked A, B, C, and D on the music):

GoldenBrown_Music

Here’s the lead sheet (click to enlarge):

GoldenBrown-Lead

And if you click HERE, you can download a pdf of both the music and lead sheet.

Here’s the song. I’ve dropped the pitch down to Bb-minor so you can play along if you wish. There is a music video for “Golden Brown,” but it seems whenever anyone posts it to YouTube it gets taken down. If you hunt around online you might be able to find it:

Music Monday: Starman

David Bowie - StarmanThe entertainment world is still reeling from the death of David Bowie on Sunday, January 10th at age 69. He had been battling cancer for 18 months. I can’t say I was ever (or am) a big Bowie fan, but he was one of those towering cultural figures who was always there. His songs were part of the backdrop to my 1970s and 1980s (Life on Mars, Changes, Ashes to Ashes, Fashion, Let’s Dance), and there were a couple of his songs that I would list as favorites. Indeed, in my teenage years, when my friend Nick and I played guitars and dreamed of pop stardom, the set list for our dream concert included a couple of David Bowie songs: Five Years, which was one of Nick’s favorites, and Starman, one of mine. So this song has special memories for me.

Starman was a late addition to Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album in 1972, and was released as a single in April of that year reaching number 10 in the UK charts. The song is sung from the point of view of a kid who hears Ziggy’s message on the radio about an extraterrestrial “starman” who will come to bring salvation.

The song isn’t very complex, though there are a couple of quirky things to be aware of. First, the introduction chords sound a little odd, especially the first chord. It’s a Bb but with an E added (a Bb+4–Bb augmented 4th–perhaps?), which creates a strange dissonance. You can play this on the guitar using a normal Bb chord on the first fret but leaving the top E string open. On the recording this is followed by an Fmaj7 (keeping that E-note sounding) resolving to an F, then repeated. Second, the two chords just before the chorus are an A and a G, but over the G the piano plays A notes an octave apart in a morse code style. I’m tempted to add this A note on the guitar, making that G chord a Gadd2, but the guitar on the recording is playing a straight G.

Here’s the lyric and chord sheet for the song (click to enlarge):

Starman

Click here for a pdf of the lyric/chord sheet.

And here’s David and band playing the song live (or at least singing live) on television: