Songs Steve never let me play #4
No one would have believed in the early years of the 21st century that this world was being watched keenly and closely by intelligences far weaker than those of most people.
But they were – on Sunday afternoons, by a little-loved posse on obscure digital radio station 6Music hoping for something in the news they could take a sideways glance at in order to please celebrity show overlord Stephen Merchant.
I, dear reader, I, Tiny Dan, was the most unpopular of that posse. Yet despite the vitriol, the protests and the car bombs sent my way it was my dream job – because I got to occasionally play one record during the show (which I couldn’t always attend owing to other work commitments).
Steve was famously stern about what was and what wasn’t acceptable, but I always thought his need for things like ‘melody’ and ‘meaning’ were foolish.
After all, what use is pop music if it can’t occasionally be overblown, pretentious, nonsensical and brilliant.
Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of War of the Worlds is all of these.
It’s a stupid concept. A prog-rock influenced take on a Victorian novel imagining an attack by Martians. Him off of The Moody Blues is involved. David Essex too. Phil Lynott. Richard Burton. Richard fricking Burton! Seriously, if the album wasn’t so well-known, you’d assume I’d used a random name generator to help me make this up.
The final work is utterly, insanely, gloriously, wonderfully over the top. I’d not heard it since the days my dad’s vinyl copy was on heavy rotation on the family Tiny Dan turntable (yes, I used to sit on it, like it was all some kind of dang playground roundabout).
I’ve since digitally downloaded it and was struck by how J.Wayne absolutely goes for it. Twelve-minute D. Essex track with military electronic percussion? Check (Brave New World). Tear-jerking bona fide hit for ex Moody Blue? Check (Forever Autumn). Staggeringly brilliant opener with orchestral riff to die for? Check (The Eve of the War).
Sure, he must have got a bit lucky. I’ve no idea how he got R.Burton on board, but the many-wived Welshman could invest a Chicken Cottage takeaway menu with gravitas, if he recited it. He also gets some magnificent yelping from P.Lynott and he must have rustled up an extraordinary synthesizer budget from somewhere.
That last one brings me to this particular track (at last – word count Ed). As well as being bonkers, JWMVOWOTW is undeniably influential.
And The Red Weed is as beautiful and unsettling a piece of electronica as you’ll have heard before or since.
There’s a genuine strangeness to it – an unearthliness if you will (Nice – Martian-themed puns Ed) – perfect given the context of the tune (at the point in the story where Martian ‘red weed’ begins to take over the English countryside).
I’m not aware of any subtext, any hidden meanings here. Just a spooky refrain aurally illustrating an imagined spooky view. And weirdly lovely with it.
* Tiny Dan postscript – fans of live performances of crazy prog-rockish concept albums based on Victorian novels might like to know that they’re still doing this thing live. Sadly, they’ve brought in an Atomic Kitten and a Neighbours. Him off the Moody Blues is still there mind, while Richard Burton has been replaced by, er, an 11-foot hologram of Richard Burton.
Have you ever been replaced by an 11-foot hologram of Richard Burton? Maybe you were obliterated by a martian heat-ray in the late 19th Century? Or perhaps you led a hostile invasion of another world and set about exterminating the dominant race before falling foul of the new world’s tiny bacteria. D’oh! Tell me about it. Go on. Dare you.
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