30. The End of the Rainbow – Richard & Linda Thompson

If you need cheering up, you can always turn to Richard Thompson:

There’s nothing at the end of the rainbow
There’s nothing to grow up for anymore

In 1972, having spent a few years pioneering British folk rock with Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson went solo with Henry the Human Fly, to mixed acclaim. A couple of years later he’d teamed up both maritally and musically with the beautiful person and beautiful voice that is Linda Thompson, leading to the release of the magnificent I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight in 1974.

It’s a wonderful album from start to finish. The title track alone is worth the price of entry. The solitary lament of a woman ready to get out there, painting the town both literal and figurative shades of red:

Meet me at the station don’t be late
I need to spend my money and it just won’t wait

“I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight” – Richard & Linda Thompson

You wouldn’t argue with Linda on this matter. The night rolls on, and so do the drunkards:

See the boys out walking, the boys they look so fine;
Dressed up in green velvet, their silver buckles shine!
Soon they’ll be bleary eyed, under a keg of wine –
Down where the drunkards roll

“Down Where the Drunkards Roll” – Richard & Linda Thompson

Royston Wood of The Young Tradition sings his inimitable bass on that one, and boy does it work.

The whole album is a masterclass, full of hidden depths. There simply is not a weak track on I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight. But we digress: this is a project about individual songs, and I’ve chosen The End of the Rainbow:

I feel for you, you little horror
Safe at your mother’s breast

This is Richard’s pep talk for a new-born infant:

No lucky break for you around the corner
‘Cause your father is a bully
And he thinks that you’re a pest

And when I say “pep talk”:

Your sister, she’s no better than a whore

This is a brutal, honest exposition to the neonate: life actually does suck, and you’re welcome to it. Written at the time Richard & Linda welcomed their own first-born into the world, Linda was livid. How dare you tell our kid that there’s nothing to live for? But:

Life seems so rosy in the cradle
But I’ll be a friend, I’ll tell you what’s in store

Is Richard just being a friend, preparing the kid for the harsh reality of the human existence? Or is he simply an old curmudgeon, wishing misery on an innocent life? Is there really nothing to grow up for? You decide.

On a personal note, I own the CD, and must have listed to the album countless times, barely noticing the song. But a BBC documentary made me sit up and take notice:

The song is at 15:58, just Richard and a guitar.

As for the playlist, I’ve added the title track from I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight, perhaps in part to prove that the entire album isn’t all doom and gloom, but mainly because I think Linda’s magnificent voice and personality both really shine on that one.

There’s some solo material in there too, plus it would be inappropriate not to include Nanci Griffith’s storming cover of Wall of Death from 1998’s Other Voices, Too—her version a duet with Richard himself. The Bunch were new to me: a collective of Island Records artists including Richard, Sandy Denny and notably featuring a pre-Thompson Linda Peters on vocals.

Artist: Richard & Linda Thompson
Album: I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight
Writer: Richard Thompson
Producer: Richard Thompson; John Wood
Released: 1974; Island

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