Monthly Archives: September 2013

We got love sewn up, that’s enough

3. You’re All I Need To Get By – Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

When: 1999 to today

Two minutes and fifty one seconds. It will take longer to read these thousand or so words than listen to the song. If you’re short for time then, seriously, skip the words and listen to the song: everything you need to know about joy, about love, about the best parts of life, is there.

Tammi Terrell was born Thomasina Montgomery in 1945. She died, aged just 24, in 1970 of complications from brain cancer. Marvin Gaye was born Marvin Gay in 1939. He died, aged just 44, in 1984: fatally shot by his father. Two lives cut tragically short that entwined to glorious but brief effect, from ’67 until Terrell’s death, on thirty six songs spread across three albums.

Terrell was singing from her mid teens, working back up for James Brown and releasing material as a solo artist until she came to the attention of Berry Gordy who signed her to Motown in 1965. Gordy suggested the name change from Montgomery to Terrell and, two years later, hooked her up with Gaye to record a series of duets. Her life to that point had seen more than its share of pain; Terrell was raped as an eleven year old, was beaten by James Brown, and later suffered further physical abuse from David Ruffin, singer with the Temptations, with whom she had a love affair without realizing that he was married with three children. In contrast to all of that she forged a close, platonic friendship with Gaye and they complemented each other perfectly as performers: her street sass against his boy-next-door charm.

Their partnership was underpinned by the songwriting of Valerie Simpson and Nick Ashford whose opening gift to them was “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”. As opening gifts go that’s not too shabby. Footage of Gaye and Terrell performing together seems pretty rare but there’s a couple of performances of this song on Youtube (here and here) which are well worth watching to get a visual sense of their chemistry; they are utterly adorable and she’s sensational. There’s also a great 40 minute TV documentary – Unsung – which tells the story of her life if you’re curious for more. It’s a story that’s crying out for a biopic and she deserves to be much better known.

“You’re All I Need To Get By”, their sixth single, would have been part of my childhood. Picking up the thread from the last entry my parents had a number of Motown compilation albums – all in the Motown Chartbusters series. Volume 3 (the one with a silver, almost mirrored cover) is an absolute doozy – all killer, no filler, including:

Marvin Gaye: I Heard It Through The Grapevine

Diana Ross & The Supremes: I’m Gonna Make You Love Me, Love Child

Stevie Wonder: My Cherie Amour, For Once In My Life

The Isley Brothers: This Old Heart Of Mine

Martha Reeves & The Vandellas: Dancing In The Street

The Temptations: Get Ready

Jr Walker & The All Stars: (I’m A) Roadrunner

Smokey Robinson & The Miracles: Tracks Of My Tears

It’s the one you’d send into space, the one that would serve any party anywhere in the world, for any age group. What are you waiting for ? You can pick up volumes 1 to 3 for less than a fiver. Two hours of the finest crafted pop music in history for the price of a couple of cappuccinos.

Musically “You’re All I Need To Get By” departed a little from the Motown template and feels rooted in soul and gospel. Lyrically it’s a heartfelt, straightforward dedication of love. There’s a purity to Gaye and Terrell’s duets, sweet without being saccharine, romantic but real. They’re incredibly light of touch, perfectly capturing the heady sensation of falling in love; for me they’re the perfect encapsulation of that initial realisation that you’ve fallen for someone. They sound like they’re in love – tonally complementing each other, improvised call and response, harmonies to die for. All the more remarkable given that, for the most part, they recorded their vocals separately – scarcely believable when you listen. It sounds like they must have been face to face singing into the same microphone.

For much of my life the sentiment in “You’re All I Need To Get By” was an aspiration, a desire to find the one person that I wanted to spend my days with. That changed in 1999 when, through good fortune and a fair amount of alcohol, I met my wife. I’ve been on innumerable corporate “development” events over the past 18 years or so, learning how to bluff accounting (finance for non-finance managers – as soul destroying as it sounds), how to give feedback (“your punctuality can’t be faulted but….”), and even how to listen (a skill not found in abundance in most large organisations). I’ve taken Myers Briggs to uncover my personality preferences (INTP if you’re interested – if you’re also INTP then you would be), Belbin to work out my team role (can’t remember but definitely not completer finisher), and conducted various quizzes and questionnaires designed to work out what I’m best at. However, the one lasting, constant change to who I am, to my entire life, that arose from one of these events was meeting Nikki.

In early ’99 I had relocated from Nottingham and the world of hosiery and vitamins at Boots to live in London, commuting out to Comet in Rickmansworth. At the time Comet was still part of the larger Kingfisher group and, by some subterfuge, I had blagged my way on to participate in the development events that supported KMDS (Kingfisher Management Development Scheme) – essentially a graduate program to shape their business leaders of tomorrow.

The first event I attended was in Southampton and ran across two days. I have absolutely no idea what the course content was but can remember that we ended up in a dodgy club called Jumpin’ Jacks on the night out: this will tell you all you need to know about my less than meteoric career rise since. During the course of said night out I spent a lot of time talking to Nikki Matthews whom I’d met that day. Sassy, sexy, clever, and prepared to argue the case for late 90s boy bands with a surprising degree of passion. This is her, obviously, not me. Sparks flew.

Fast forward a few months and Nikki moves to Comet. Serendipitous. Once again we got to spend some time together on a development course; this time an outward bound leadership event in Devon. I was a delegate, Nikki was a facilitator. This was the first and last time in my working life that I had to rescue someone from a pothole or salvage toxic nuclear waste from an island (losing only one person to the lake and no-one to the fake radioactive material). Subsequently there hasn’t been much call for either skill in the topsy turvy world of market research. Nikki had to follow me on one of the exercises and appraise my performance: it was also the first and last time she had to chase after me. A post course invitation to lunch, to “get some additional feedback” (real smooth, Phil), and the rest is history.

I can’t genuinely lay claim to “You’re All I Need To Get By” being an intrinsic part of our early relationship; it was never “our song”. In fact, that part of our time together was marked, not entirely ironically, by a shared love of Christina Aguilera’s “Genie In A Bottle” and, later, by Josh Rouse’s “Slaveship”. The reasons for the former now escape me, I may return to the latter at a later stage in the 42.

However, I can lay claim to the song speaking fundamentally to me about the enduring love I have for my wife; both in the expression of the romantic ideal of love but also the recognition that it’s something that takes work, that deepens with effort and time. I can’t say it better than the song says it: 

Cause we, we got the right foundation and with love and determination
You’re all, you’re all I want to strive for and do a little more
You’re all, all the joys under the sun wrapped up into one
You’re all, you’re all I need, you’re all I need, you’re all I need to get by

Ultimately that this pure expression of love should come from two singers that led, on the face of it, such tragic lives is fascinating to me. Particularly with respect to Tammi Terrell – on recording this song she had been diagnosed with cancer, had undertaken a major operation to remove a tumour from her brain, and had lived a short life enduring dysfunctional, violent relationships and ongoing pain from her illness. It’s testament to her prowess as a performer or her spirit as a human bring, or both, that she’s able to articulate so convincingly one of the finest experiences as a person – falling and being in love – whilst suffering so much. Her story is an inspiration and, whilst mine might not inspire the world at large in quite the same way, I’ll always endeavour to carry some of the same sentiment, the same courage, and the same joy in being in love and being alive.

Hey now, hey now now

2. This Corrosion – Sisters of Mercy                                                         When: 1987

If there’s ever a competition to find the worst goth in the history of the UK then I will put my name forwards. I guess this could form the basis of my application.

My first forays into building my own record collection began, in earnest, from the age of around 15. I had a few bits of vinyl from late primary school – notably Abba’s “Super Trouper” LP – and had once traded a T-Rex 7” that had belonged to my dad with my Uncle Steve for… wait for it… Joe Dolce’s “Shaddap You Face”. In my defence I was 9. It’s still not a great defence. However, the arrival of adolescence signaled a renewed interest in music.

Initially it’s fair to say that much of my taste was borrowed, mostly from my parents. Quite a bit of this has stayed with me – Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours, Queen, Neil Diamond, Cat Stevens, Meatloaf, Motown, early Rod Stewart – but it’s fair to say that none of it felt like it was really mine. In most cases it literally wasn’t mine – held on a set of old C60 cassettes that my dad insisted on using despite the fact that you couldn’t fit an album on one side. For a very, very long time I didn’t realise that Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” was a double album; the only up side of this was it made my first listen of “Comfortably Numb” even more jaw dropping. It’s also fair to say that, in the mid to late 80s, this was a collection of artists that was nobody’s idea of “cool”. Such vagaries aside, of course, I can now confidently state the case for any of them – although Meatloaf is a stretch (but a pertinent one given the song at hand, more of which later).

Ah, “cool”. A concept long past my understanding but one that would have greatly preoccupied my teenage self. At that time it probably would have meant owning a Lacoste cardigan, in some suitably pastel shade, and persuading Caroline from the Number 20 bus to see Top Gun with me. Cool, and Caroline, proved elusive. However, irrespective of what this slippery concept fully entailed, the notion that music, or specifically bands, could be a marker for how you presented yourself to the world seemed to be part of it. If adolescence is the time when you begin to build your own identity, and particularly the way in which that identity is shown to the world, then music was very definitely a set of bricks I wanted to use.

So if you’re thinking that we’re headed, inexorably, towards a declaration that my first, independent view of what was cool happened to be goth then you’d be right.

“This Corrosion” was the first single released by the second (arguably third) version of The Sisters Of Mercy. Rising to prominence – or more appropriately emerging from a heavy fug of dry ice – in Leeds during the early 80s the Sisters had basically imploded come 1985. Singer Andrew Eldritch, beginning a pattern that was to repeat through the band’s life, fell out with then guitarist Wayne Hussey and bassist Craig Adams. The latter two formed a new band called The Sisterhood but were thwarted in establishing their new outfit by Eldritch; concerned that the name was too similar to The Sisters Of Mercy he quickly put out a single under The Sisterhood name in order to legally claim it. Allegedly, though never substantiated, it ended in the civil courts with Eldritch suing his former brothers-in-black for £25,000, and winning. When he then put out the album Gift under The Sisterhood name the opening track, “Jihad“, begins with a female voice intoning two, five, zero, zero, zero. History may judge all of this petty but, regardless, one consequence of the ignominy and acrimony surrounding the split and resulting spat over band names was “This Corrosion”.

Hussey and Adams formed The Mission whilst Eldritch, having seen off the perceived threat to the Sisters’ name, picked up his old band moniker and pressed ahead, taking his music away from the guitar orientation of debut album “First And Last And Always”. The first fruit of the new direction was “This Corrosion”, an eleven minute electro-rock track, featuring a 40 piece choir, produced by Jim Steinman (of “Bat Out Of Hell” fame, hence the earlier Meatloaf reference). You don’t really hear a guitar until a solo break, almost four minutes in.

The song directly relates to the break up of Sisters mark 1. According to Eldritch the lyrics are largely a parody – aimed squarely at Hussey – and are deliberately not intended to mean anything; just to sound “cool”. In that, and to my 15 year old self, he very much succeeded. I had no idea what “kill the king when love is the law” or “give me siren, child, and do you hear me call” meant but they sounded amazing. Particularly in the context of a song that, musically, absolutely pummels the senses.

I’m not totally convinced that all of the lyrics are as much a pastiche as Eldritch claims. There are some fairly direct nods to his former band mates: “selling the don’t belong”, “do you have a word for giving away, got a song for me?”, and the final section could be read as Eldritch’s farewell address to them:

I got nothing to say I ain’t said before

I bled all I can, I won’t bleed no more

I don’t need no one to understand

Why the blood run hold

The hired hand

On heart

Hand of God

Floodland and driven apart

Run cold

Turn

Burn

Like a healing hand

Even if, to keep Eldritch at his word, that section is pure mockery, only intended to call Hussey on the (as perceived by Eldritch) meaningless of his lyrics, it’s still one of my favourite 30 seconds of recorded music ever. And it’s definitively the coolest.

What’s interesting, in retrospect, about my love of this song is how it bridged what I’d inherited musically and what I went on to seek out. As alluded earlier one of the records my dad passed on to me was Meatloaf’s “Bat Out Of Hell”; an utterly ridiculous, overblown pastiche of 50s American rock and roll. I think it’s fantastic. Bat is as much Jim Steinman’s record as ‘Loaf’s and his production job on “This Corrosion” – New York Choral Society, Wagner, £50,000 budget – followed the basic template he made plain in the title of a song on “Bat Out Of Hell 2”: “Everything Louder Than Everything Else”. Steinman’s orchestration and bombast made it easy to like the Sisters. At the very least you listen to the choir open the track and think: what the hell is that ? Well, you certainly did in a year that boasted Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” as its biggest record.

The song opened up “alternative” music for me, via Bauhaus and Siouxsie – goth opening up indie. It also, strangely, opened up folk music for me, via All About Eve who became associated with the late 80s goth scene (somewhat erroneously but that’s a story for another time). Unknowingly at the time it also primed me for Berlin era Bowie, undoubtedly an influence (musically and stylistically) on Eldritch.

Most importantly it was perhaps the first time I marked out some musical territory that didn’t belong to my parents, wasn’t inherited: was a free choice about my own tastes and how I saw myself. The fact that I was choosing to see myself as a very pale, very thin man, dressed all in black leather, picking his way through a post apocalyptic wasteland, with only a similarly clad female dominatrix for company perhaps says much about the plight of an average 15 year old boy growing up in Plymouth in the late 1980s.

And so here’s why I lay claim to being the UK’s worst goth. Whilst, in my head I stalked the West Country in a long dark trench coat, quoting Poe and Coleridge, my jet black hair lustrous beneath the full moon, in reality my only concession to being an actual goth was to buy a black shirt. A shirt which survived precisely one of my mother’s boiling washes before being forever rendered a washed out grey.

In my heart though I’d changed.