Category Archives: The Songs

39. Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key – Woody Guthrie

Thank you all for singing these songs…it’s kind of like a sci-fi vaccination, awakening 50 year old sleeping lyrics with everyone’s various kisses and loving touches. Thank you for bringing my father’s songs to life — Nora Guthrie

In the spring of 1995, Nora Guthrie, daughter of American folk pioneer Woody Guthrie, approached Billy Bragg with an idea.

After his death in 1967, Woody had left behind hundreds of songs, written at his home in Mermaid Avenue, Long Island. Written yet unrecorded, and with scant hints as to their music.

The idea was to resurrect these lost songs for a new generation.

Cover of 'Mermaid Avenue' by Billy Bragg & Wilco

Over the next few years, Billy pored over the extensive archives and, in collaboration with perennial US alt-country rockers Wilco, set a number of the songs to music, and set to recording them.

The result was 1998’s Mermaid Avenue. 15 songs ranging from the nonsense verse of Hoodoo Voodoo, written for Woody’s children, to Ingrid Bergman, a lasciviously unrequited ode to the Swedish screen sex bomb. Two further volumes have subsequently been released, and to do it justice, the Mermaid Avenue project probably deserves a longer, dedicated piece written about it.

Well, this isn’t it, not yet. Instead, as per the site rules—which I totally made up once—I have to choose a song. It could easily be any song from the album, but I’ve chosen Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key.

This is the first track I ever heard from the album, no doubt via Bob Harris, and remains a favourite. It’s a nice fit here because it’s a song about the life-affirming power of song.

Woody grew up in a town called Okemah, capital of Okfuskee County, Oklahoma:

I lived in a place called Okfuskee

This is very much the territory which will be familiar to anyone who has read Woody’s memoirs, Bound for Glory. In a hollow tree in Okfuskee he meets a nice young lady:

She said it’s hard for me to see
How one little boy got so ugly
Yes, my little girly, that might be
But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

An inauspicious start perhaps, but straight away we see the defiance, the strength that music brings. “I ain’t got much, but I can sing.”

Things seem to pick up, by and by, as Woody and the girl walk and talk by the creek, particularly enjoying watching carnivorous wildlife, while Woody turns on his own hungry charms. Perhaps things start to go too well for her mother’s liking:

Her mama cut a switch from a cherry tree
And laid it onto she and me
It stung lots worse than a hive of bees
But there ain’t nobody that can sing like me

Again, we see the power of song as a painkiller, both emotional and physical. And as the years go by, the ladies do seem to remain convinced:

Now I have walked a long long ways
And I still look back to my tanglewood days
I’ve led lots of girls since then to stray
Saying, ain’t nobody that can sing like me

The recorded song is beautifully arranged. Billy sings, accompanied by members of Wilco, and edifying harmonies courtesy of the incomparable Natalie Merchant. Reading the liner notes, I also see Eliza Carthy on violin. It’s all a bit of a treat for the music nerd, really.

Billy Bragg was clearly a inspired choice to be the interpreter of these songs: as a lifelong Woody Guthrie fan, not to mention something of a kindred spirit with Woody, both musically and politically, he just gets it. Moreover, he’s just really good at songs and music and stuff.

It’s truly wonderful to be able to enjoy such important, valuable music which might otherwise have gone unheard.

Artist: Billy Bragg & Wilco
Album: Mermaid Avenue
Writer: Woody Guthrie, Billy Bragg
Producer: Wilco & Billy Bragg with Grant Showbiz
Released: Elektra, 1998

38. Sexuality – Billy Bragg

I’ve come to believe that empathy is the currency of popular music. It’s what we offer the listener in return for their time — Billy Bragg

Here at Three Hundred Songs, we’re a big fan of Billy Bragg. Sexuality is one of Billy’s biggest—by which I mean his very few—hits, having reached the lower half of the Top 40 back in 1991.

It’s a joyous, upbeat song with some great lyrics, but it always struck me as somewhat dissociative in its identity. Bear with me. This is a song about sexuality, right?

I’ve had relations with girls from many nations
I’ve made passes at women of all classes
And just because you’re gay, I won’t turn you away

That checks out. Let’s see what the chorus has to say:

Strong and warm and wild and free
Your laws do not apply to me

Definitely about sexuality, then. Something of a legal curveball at the end there, but let’s crack on:

A nuclear submarine sinks off the coast of Sweden

Wait, what?

I had an uncle who once played
For Red Star Belgrade

Events take a turn for the abstract, Billy treating us to all best the rhyming couplets he can find in his songwriting stockpile of words:

I look like Robert De Niro
I drive a Mitsubishi Zero

I had to look it up, but that’s not even a car. You’re just having a laugh now, aren’t you Bill?

Affectionate ribbing—and non-sequiturs about football teams and aeroplanes apart—the song really is about sexuality after all. In the final couple of verses, we return to subject matter such as sexual dysfunction, safe sex, and sexual equality:

I feel a total jerk
Before your naked body of work

Safe sex doesn’t mean no sex
It just means use your imagination

We can be what we want to be

The line “We can be what we want to be” sums the song up well: fundamentally inclusive and egalitarian. Indeed, many years later, Billy would reword the first verse to be trans-inclusive:

Just because you’re they
I won’t turn you away
If you stick around
I’m sure that we can find the right pronoun

With crushing inevitability, the perpetually outraged trans-exclusionary “feminists” didn’t like that much. But they make a point of not really liking anything, so who cares.

It’s also a shame that small, reactionary pockets of the homosexual community similarly took offence, accusing Billy of “erasing” gay people by, I guess, not mentioning each and every one of them by name.

Predictably, the general-purpose right-wing gammon contingent also had a meltdown and an expletive-laden cry-wank in the corner of Swindon Wetherspoon’s, gibbering meaningless syllables like “woke”, “mob” and “small boats”, probably.

It’s a sad indictment of humanity in the twenty-first century that a song purely about humanity, inclusivity and fun can bring out the worst, most bigoted side in certain people. The Milkman of Human Kindness is going to need a bigger float.

Artist: Billy Bragg
Album: Don’t Try This at Home
Writer: Billy Bragg, Johnny Marr
Producer: Grant Showbiz, Johnny Marr
Released: Go! Discs, 1991

37. Geneve – John Otway

For several decades, John Otway has ploughed something of a lone, idiosyncratic furrow. Casual observers will tend to know him as the crazed lunatic, the wild man of post-punk pop with the batshit stage antics. Yet there is a great deal more to him than falling off amplifier cabinets and landing on his nads, or belting vocals out from atop a stack of beer crates, white shirt torn wide open.

Tucked away at the end of 1976’s eponymous debut LP John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett, Geneve makes for quite a contrast with the more familiar rockers such as Cheryl’s Going Home, or Otway’s actual bona fide hit, Really Free.

This one is about a lost love. Which would be standard songwriter fare, except in this case, Lisa isn’t lost to a rival suitor: she is lost to a city. A city with which John pleads, asking Geneva to kindly take care of her:

Geneve, take her to yourself
And watch her while she rests
‘Cause she talks of you as home

Not to break the habit of a lifetime, our man takes solace in music, and his dreams—although in John’s case it was always really more of a vocation—of pop stardom:

For she is so young, and my dreams
Will see me playing for the screaming ladies of Los Angeles

For I am still young, and it’s true
That I don’t forget her, and I don’t regret and I’m not going to
And as I wipe away all the traces of Lisa blues
It is my shoes that walk across the stage for the applause

This is all especially poignant since it’s a true story. There really was a Lisa, and she really did move to Geneva. And of course John really did make it on to Top of the Pops and—perhaps more famously—Old Grey Whistle Test.

The original version of Geneve, found on the debut album, really is a surprise, with its lush, orchestral arrangement. It’s purely a personal opinion, or course, but for me, the stripped down, John + guitar interpretation is more powerful, so that’s the clip I’ve posted up top there.

That clip is from rather nice ATV documentary from some considerable time ago, which someone has helpfully converted from VHS and posted to the web. The whole thing is worth a watch, as it gives a very perceptive insight into the man himself, and what makes him tick.

What’s particularly wonderful is that, at the age of 71 years young, John Otway is still going strong, gigging regularly and delighting audiences in venues in every town, from tiny bars to, well, medium-sized bars. Indeed, Threehundredsongs was lucky enough to see him live twice in 2023, first with legendary sideman—and producer of this song—Wild Willy Barrett, and later as a surprise guest of The Blockheads.

He has very much still got it. Can’t complain.

Artist: John Otway
Album: John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett
Writer: John Otway
Producer: Wild Willy Barrett
Released: Extracked Records, 1976

36. Holding On To You – Terence Trent D’Arby

For all the music that we hear, it’s very rare for a song to actually stop you in your tracks. Yet that’s what happened to me when I first heard Terence Trent D’Arby’s Holding On To You in early 1995.

Album cover of Terence Trent D'Arby's Vibrator

I would have been living up in Edinburgh in those days, and vividly remember this coming on the radio as I was setting off one morning, presumably to lectures or perhaps a spot of busking in Rose Street. I just stood there motionless until the song had played through, before wandering out into the Scottish cold in a mild daze.

I left the east side for a west coast beauty
A girl who burned my thoughts like kisses
She was down by street decree
She swore she’d pull my best years out of me

I may not have even realised this was Terence Trent D’Arby, an artist some might have all but dismissed in those days. His huge chart success in the 80s, and seemingly unavoidable presence in every bloomin’ issue of Smash Hits magazine, would see him lumped together with the intolerable mainstream pop dross of that era. Not for me, that stuff: I was into far cooler things. Like Bon Jovi and Europe.

In retrospect, TTD was a cut above the ubiquitous Stock Aitken Waterman-produced bubblegum of that era. I mean, the boy sure could sing, for a start.

Almost a decade later, on Holding On To You, that voice is in scintillating form too, as Tel channels his inner Otis Redding or Sam Cooke to tell us all about his “tangerine girl” with “tambourine eyes” and a “chamomile smile”. I have no idea what any of those things are, but she does sound nice.

Why me of all the tough-talking boys?
I guess she heard my heartbeat through the noise

Her face was my favourite magazine
Her body was my favourite book to read

The lyrics are sheer poetry. Which raises issues for Terence since:

All poets must have an unrequited love
As all lovers must have thought-provoking fears

But the redemption is there, if only Terence will allow it:

Holding on to you means letting go of pain
Means letting go of tears
Means letting go of rain
Holding on to you
Means letting sorrows heal
Means letting go of what’s not real

He’s pretty much nailed what it’s like though, hasn’t he.

The entire piece is written, arranged and produced by TTD himself, but unlike many tracks on Vibrator, he does let other musicians have a go at performing it, at least. Which is perhaps for the best, because the arrangements are worth it. The horns are straight out of 1960s Memphis, and layered with fuzz-wah soaked guitar melodies. The voice is front and centre, of course, and it all combines into something unique and quite special.

By 1995 the name “Terence Trent D’Arby” was not long for this world, the artist formerly known thereas soon renaming himself Sananda Maitreya due to, I don’t know, a three-headed octopus Buddha ordering him to do so in a dream, probably. It’s hard to be certain whether anyone noticed, either way. But he’s still out there, plying his own completely bonkers furrow.

The jury is perhaps still out on much of the more recent stuff, but there’s plenty of it to explore. I’ll stick some of examples on the playlist, along with some of the earlier stuff, and one or two things from Stax—that label clearly being a big influence in the making of this song.

Artist: Terence Trent D’Arby
Album: Vibrator
Writer: Terence Trent D’Arby
Producer: Terence Trent D’Arby
Released: Columbia, 1995

35. Light Enough to Travel – The Be Good Tanyas

Album cover of Blue Horse by The Be Good Tanyas

It’s the year 2000, and we find ourselves unexpectedly spending a night on the tiles, and on the booze:

Wound up drunk again on Robson Street
Strange ‘cos we always agreed
At the start of every evening
That’s the last place I wanna be

That’s Robson Street in Vancouver, Canada, home town of the very wonderful Be Good Tanyas.

Singer Frazey Ford’s incomparable voice is at its addictive best here: simultaneously vulnerable yet determined, she’s audibly het up at finding herself in this situation. She hopes the evening won’t take a further turn for the worse:

Promise me we won’t go into the nightclub
I feel so fucked up when I’m in there

Frazey really does not want to go into that nightclub:

Promise me we won’t go into the nightclub
I really think that it’s obscene
What kind of people go to meet people
Someplace they can’t be heard or seen?

It’s a question that has puzzled Threehundredsongs for many years, to be fair.

Light Enough to Travel hails from the Tanyas’ debut LP Blue Horse. The album was initially self-released in Canada alone in 2000, before a remastered version was given a formal release in the US and beyond by Nettwerk Records in 2001.

Reputedly recorded on a minimal budget in a shed somewhere in or around Vancouver, the album has a pleasingly handmade feel throughout: there’s a bluegrassy, old-timey vibe with fittingly stripped-down instrumentation featuring acoustic guitars, mandolin and the inevitable banjo. There are a handful of traditional songs on there (Lakes of Ponchartrain, The Coo Coo Bird et al.) along with the quasi-traditional Oh! Susanna [1].

Within the context of Blue Horse, and with its driving rhythms and eminently singable chorus, Light Enough to Travel has “single” written all over it, but no. Bewilderingly, the song was was never released as such, the only track on the album to garner that honour being the reasonably charming The Littlest Birds. Regardless, Light Enough… is a thumping musical romp, and it’s also a masterclass in writing a proper, grown-up song using only two chords.

As for the refrain:

Keep it light enough to travel
Don’t let it all unravel
Keep it light enough to travel

I’ve been listening to the song for a couple of decades, yet must admit I don’t really know what keeping it light enough to travel means. I guess it’s open to interpretation: I take it to mean not getting overly emotionally committed to a situation, thereby facilitating an easier escape. Which, conversely, might be literally what it means, since:

I had to throw down my accordion
To get away from the police

What this all has to do with nightclubs remains unclear to me.

The Tanyas subsequently released two further albums: Chinatown in 2003, and Hello Love in 2006. As with Blue Horse, each album yielded just the one single, and I’m not sure the charts were unduly troubled by any of those releases, single or album. Solo careers notwithstanding, that seems to be about the last we heard of The Be Good Tanyas as a unit for many years, although intriguingly their website has been teasing “good things” to be on their way since an update in October 2023. So who knows…

As for Robson Street? Well, Threehundredsongs was far too young to be sampling its nightlife when we visited Vancouver in ’86, but I suspect it’s a great deal less fun these days compared to when Frazey was letting it all hang out there. Gone are the historic market and immigrant-run stores which imbued it with so much character, and there seems to be little sign of any seedy bars or nightclubs remaining. Still, if it’s Starbucks, sushi or super-expensive trinkets and ostentatious outfits you’re after, you’re welcome to it.

I’ve been ascribing a lot of the responsibility for the Robson Street-based nocturnal shenanigans to Frazey Ford, but the song is actually a cover, written by not-particularly-well-known-in-the-UK fellow Vancouver songwriter and musician—and presumably owner of the aforementioned accordion—Geoff Berner. I’ve added Geoff’s original of the song to the playlist, along with a version recorded in collaboration with Norwegian folk-rockers Real Ones.

From a songwriting perspective, it’s fascinating to hear how the mood of a song can be so dramatically changed by arrangement and instrumentation alone, despite a barely noticeable shift in tempo. In retrospect, the foot-to-the-floor urgency of the Tanyas’ interpretation might seem at odds with Geoff’s contemplative musings. But it isn’t.

Either way, three versions of the same song is probably quite enough for anyone, so I’ve added a little of what I can find on Spotify from the subsequent careers of the respective Tanyas, solo or otherwise. Frazey gives us three whole albums to discover, while Samantha Parton has just one solo song on Spotify, alongside an album in collaboration with former Be Good Tanya, Jolie Holland. Trish Klein features on Frazey’s solo debut album Obadiah, and of course her work with the wonderful Po’Girl is unmissable.


[1] I assumed Oh! Susanna to be traditional. I mean, we all sung it as tiny kids at primary school, didn’t we. Yet its provenance is known and the writing credit goes to one Stephen Foster (1826–1864). It turns out that the song has an interesting—and not entirely untroublesome—history, and probably deserves an article of its own.

Artist: The Be Good Tanyas
Album: Blue Horse
Writer: Geoff Berner
Producer: Garth Futcher with The Be Good Tanyas
Released: Self-released, 2000; Remastered and reissued by Nettwerk Records, 2001

34. Heimat – India Electric Co.

Threehundredsongs was lucky enough to catch India Electric Co. live at Colchester Arts Centre earlier this year. I think I was officially supposed to be working, but it may well have been one of those nights where tools are downed early, and the show just simply enjoyed.

Heimat hails from India Electric Co.’s 2015 album The Girl I Left Behind Me, and is heavily based on the 1939 W. H. Auden poem Refugee Blues, the lyrics having been sensitively adapted and set to music by the multi-talented multi-instrumentalists Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe.

The word “Heimat” is part of a sizeable vocabulary borrowed into English from German; borrowed because we don’t have a satisfyingly direct English translation which fits the bill. Perhaps the nearest we have is “homeland”, although “Heimat” isn’t merely geographical: it communicates not just a country, but a sense of place and belonging. A safe haven.

Well, with the benefit of hindsight, we all know what was happening in Europe in 1939. Of course, back then, even W. H. Auden couldn’t possibly have known the full scale of the horrors that were to unfold. The poem gives voice to Jewish emigrés fleeing Nazi Germany…

Once we had a country and we thought it fair

…yet being turned away from other countries where they sought refuge:

“If we let them in, they will steal our daily bread”

That kind of paranoid sentiment will be familiar to anyone British right now: the racist xenophobia and alarmism of the “small boats” headlines being fomented relentlessly by politicians of all colours.

Back in 1939, Heimat, that sense of place and belonging, that homeland, was denied to countless individuals and families. Cole and Joseph deftly co-opt as the refrain the line:

Where shall we go today, my dear, where shall we go?

It sums the situation up rather well, I feel.

Writing about this subject takes on an added poignancy in present times, our thoughts illuminated against a backdrop of countless more innocent humans being displaced in the Middle East and across the globe.

In a bitterly ironic twist, the oppressed has now become the oppressor. What does it say about human beings that the response to finding oneself on the receiving end of a holocaust is apparently to precipitate a further holocaust of one’s own a few decades later? That to create a “safe haven”, a Heimat dare I say it, for one group of people somehow justifies the wholesale massacre and ethnic cleansing of another?

It’s difficult to stay optimistic sometimes: man’s inhumanity to man should make us all mourn.

It isn’t terribly easy to find a great deal of information about India Electric Co. What we do know is that they hail from South West England, specifically Devon. Much like your author, in fact.

There’s a fascinating interview with the band on Electricity Club about their time as Midge Ure’s backing band. The bit where India Electric Co. evolve from traditional instrumentation to full-on synth bashing came as a surprise to me.

As for the playlist, I’ve added a few India Electric Co. songs, as well as a couple from other artists, such as The Brothers Gillespie, Lady Maisery and Kris Drever, all of whom I was also lucky enough to see live in my early days working volunteer shifts at the Colchester Folk Club. In some cases, I’ve tended towards tracks that have some sort of thematic overlap with Heimat, at least in my mind.

Artist: India Electric Co.
Album: The Girl I Left Behind Me
Writer: Cole Stacey and Joseph O’Keefe; W. H. Auden
Producer: Joseph O’Keefe
Released: 2015; label unknown

33. My England – Lady Sovereign

Grime splattered its way into the mainstream public consciousness in the mid 2000s like the leavings of countless self-conscious, bandwagon-jumping white broadcasters hitting a fan the size of the Radio 1 airwaves. A generation of self-purportedly angry, edgy young men immediately began shouting incoherently into microphones while a drum machine malfunctioned in the background.

Album cover of Public Warning by Lady Sovereign

In reality, grime originated a few years earlier, in hard-bitten, primarily black communities, typically in pre-gentrification East London. The genre’s sparsely urban, aggressive, percussive backdrops invoked the soundscapes of its geographical and social origins, while the lyrics and thematic material dealt with the experiences and harsh reality of life in some of UK’s most underprivileged streets.

A largely oral tradition recounting the stories, the lore even, of real people, I would contend that grime is pretty much pure folk music. I’ll save that argument for another writing project, however. No, really; stay tuned.

The trouble is, as so intrinsically a product of a specific time a place, grime didn’t really stand the test of time. A few established, establishment even, names such as the ubiquitous Dizzee Rascal and Tinie Tempah notwithstanding, grime has largely fallen by the wayside.

Perhaps a colluding factor, if not a criticism that one could level at grime, is that it took itself so very painfully seriously. To anyone who has heard it, particularly those not from similar backgrounds to its progenitors, this much is indisputable—for the most part. The exception, the feisty, pint-sized diamond in the grimy rough, was one Amanda Louise Harman, aka Lady Sovereign.

Portrait of Lady Sovereign

A mere teenager when she burst onto the scene—signing in 2004 for Universal in the UK and later Def Jam in the US, no less—Lady Sovereign stole the limelight. Effortlessly at least as technically adept as any of her peers, she was cheeky, smart, charismatic and funny. Sov brought a much-needed sense of humour to the genre: you only have to read the lyrics to Tango—about the dangers of profligate fake tan abuse—and 2009’s Student Union (“It was crap at the Student Union bar…is this how you get to be a doctor?”) to see that.

For our purposes, however, I’ve chosen My England, an album track from 2006’s Public Warning. From the brass band intro to the slyly subversive references to the English traditional song canon (see, I told you there would be folk music), this track is different from the outset.

In My England, Sov gives the lie to the stereotypical jam, Jerusalem and croquet-and-crumpets-with-the-village-green-preservation-society vision of England that we, perhaps quite incorrectly, may like to believe that outsiders still hold of us. By “outsiders”, I guess I mainly just mean Hugh Grant-movie-going Americans:

It ain’t about the tea and biscuits
I’m one of those English misfits
I don’t drink tea, I drink spirits
And I talk a lot of slang in my lyrics

Sov’s lyrics navigate the duality and reality of life for the disenfranchised, underprivileged English youth in the Tony Blair era, the insipid, bourgeois optimism of that period proving ultimately vacuous—sandwiched as it was between decades of destruction of the very fabric of the country at the hand of successive Tory governments:

Police carry guns not truncheons
Make your own assumptions
London ain’t all crumpets and trumpets
It’s one big slum pit

Of course, the many cultural references peppered throughout the narrative do date the track a little:

No, I don’t watch the Antiques Roadshow
I’d rather listen to Run the Road
And smoke someone’s fresh homegrown
And not get bloated on a plate of scones
Cricket, bowls, croquet?
Nah PS2 all the way

The nature of the specific games console isn’t important: there are truths here. Sov is speaking with honesty, and I think her point stands:

This is the picture I painted my low down
This my London that I call my home town
It’s where I’m living and this is my low down
This is my England I’m letting you know now

There may be listeners, oblivious to life beyond the village fete and the outsize vegetable marrow competition, who may feel that since the song is based in London, that the reality of the situation does not apply to them. Well, this isn’t about you. This, as Sov so deftly points out, is about life in an English council apartment, not your English Country Garden.

Public Warning was followed in 2009 with Jigsaw and sadly, at the time of writing, no further Lady Sovereign albums have seen the light of day. Sov’s partner in crime was co-writer and producer Gabriel Olegavich, whose other projects include London-based house act Spektrum, who once reached the dizzy heights of No. 70 on the UK singles charts.

In an unexpected yet pleasing turn of events, Gabriel Olegavich also happens to be Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of eminent Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, and is a prolific and well-regarded classical composer in his own right.

I’ve added a few Lady Sovereign tracks to the playlist to get you started, and also a few bits and bobs from the aforementioned artists. As ever, enjoy.

Artist: Lady Sovereign
Album: Public Warning
Writer: Gabriel Olegavich; Louise Harman
Producer: Gabriel Olegavich
Released: 2006; Universal Island Records

32. Impossible Outcomes – The Get Up Kids

It was only a matter of time before we heard from The Get Up Kids again.

Covers of 'Eudora' by The Get Up Kids, and 'Encapsulated' by Metroschifter

Except, on this occasion, this is not strictly one of theirs. (The) Metroschifter is essentially one man, Scott Ritcher, writing the songs and surrounding himself with an ever-changing line-up of journeymen and session musicians in order to get them recorded.

As a result, the Metroschifter back catalogue is either gloriously eclectic or awkwardly inconsistent, depending on whether your glass is half full. The charts remain resolutely untroubled.

For the Encapsulated project, Scott took a somewhat different approach, recording a couple of dozen demo tapes of new songs, and mailing them to his favourite bands to see what they could do with the material. Some of the artists even responded, including The Promise Ring, The Enkindels, Ink & Dagger and—this is why we’re here, readers—The Get Up Kids.

The song is Impossible Outcomes. It’s kind of tailor-made for the Kids, covering familiar thematic territory for them: wistful, nostalgic, and presumably unrequited teenage love in an autumnal, vaguely academic setting:

Late one fall afternoon, after school
In the cool suburban breeze of Louisville

Matt Pryor’s voice seems very much at home here:

The moon…finds her in the mood
In her eyes I can see it all
Short plaid skirt
White short, short sleeved shirt

I can picture it myself, to be fair. We’re already falling for the girl whilst wondering if that’s entirely appropriate. It’s all in vain anyway, since she’s not particularly interested in us:

My dreams aren’t premonitions
Because I’m dreaming of impossible outcomes

There isn’t any tangible redemption here either way:

I’ve tried to understand
But I don’t understand

You and me both, Kids. You and me both.

It’s a cracking musical romp from start to finish. If it wasn’t deliberately written for TGUK, then it may as well have been.

Another photo of the two albums

Recorded in 1998, there’s a noticeable musical evolution from 1997’s raw, shoestring-budget Four Minute Mile. The track may consititute one of the first recorded appearances with TGUK of keyboardist and future Get Up Kid James Dewees, he of Reggie & the Full Effect infamy.

The ‘boards are front and centre too: a keening, contrapuntal synth melody sears over Rob Pope’s driving, almost disco bass line, before it all breaks down for the refrain, Pryor and Jim Suptic going toe-to-toe both vocally and on guitar, and making a thoroughly joyous yet bittersweet racket in the process.

Impossible Outcomes resurfaced with the 2001 release of TGUK’s Eudora, an ostensibly loose collection of covers, B-sides and other rarities, which nonetheless holds together as a surprisingly coherent album in its own right.

Sadly, both Encapsulated and Eudora are all but impossible to come by these days, even in the States. In a pleasing turn of events, however, both are available on at least one streaming service.

Which brings us to the playlist. Obviously, Impossible Outcomes is on there, but I’ve also added Scott Ritcher’s own demo version. I assume this is exactly as The Get Up Kids would have first heard the track, and it’s fascinating to hear how it evolved in their hands.

Ink & Dagger’s terrifying interpretation of Actress is a joy to behold. From Eudora, we have TGUK doing a surprisingly convincing rendition of Mötley Crüe’s On With The Show. Koufax is Rob & Ryan Pope’s other band, and there’s a whole bunch of other tangentially related stuff in there too. Enjoy.

Artist: The Get Up Kids
Album: Metroschifter Encapsulated, 2000; re-released on Eudora, 2001
Writer: Scott Ritcher
Producer: Ed Rose with The Get Up Kids
Released: 2000; Doghouse Records

31. Vertigo – Antje Duvekot

Finally, a long-overdue appearance in these pages from the magnificent Antje Duvekot. Vertigo comes from Antje’s 2009 album The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer.

It’s a love song:

You’re on a highwire and I’m climbing out
And I feel the danger as I steal a kiss from your mouth

It’s a love song, and a metaphor. The frisson of simultaneous fear and excitement of a new love, a new adventure—we’ve all been there—wrapped up in the imagery of the circus, the big top, the high wire. The excitement of putting on a show, whilst being utterly terrified.

Antje steps out on that wire, taking her physical and emotional life in her own hands. There is no safety net:

There’ll be no safety net
When I fall right our of the sky
There will be no ambulance waiting
And I have no wings to fly

It’s a beautiful surrender:

I will break all my bones

The redemption is in the confession:

I lied about the vertigo

I guess we’ve all pretended to be braver than we really are from time to time, only for our bravado to be caught out by life, by love. A beautiful song. Thank you, Antje.

You’ll hear more from Antje Duvekot in these pages. The song, and in fact the album, are produced by another Threehundredsongs favourite, Richard Shindell, and features his Cry Cry Cry bandmate Lucy Kaplansky on vocals too. So I’ve worked some of their music into the playlist too. Enjoy.

Artist: Antje Duvekot
Album: The Near Demise of the Highwire Dancer
Writer: Antje Duvekot; Mark Erelli
Producer: Richard Shindell
Released: 2009; Black Wolf Records

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