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Jim lists a few of his favourite things...
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~ Desert Island Disks if you could take only 10 disks to a desert island, what would they be?
~ Desert Island Films and which 10 movies would you take with you? 
~ Songs That Stopped Me In My Tracks
When was the last time a song stopped you in your tracks?

Songs That Stopped Me In My Tracks

Jim writes: When was the last time a song stopped you in your tracks? I'm talking about one of those moments when you may have been driving in your car, half listening to the radio, and had to pull over because they were playing a song that grabbed you by the ears and forced you to stop and listen to it.

I'm talking about one of those moments when time itself seemed to stand still, while some amazing piece of music or performance caused you to drop everything, and give it your undivided attention. 

I can remember several such moments (and songs), even though they took place, in some cases, over 30 years ago.

Songs That Stopped Me in My Tracks #1
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (Gil Scott-Heron)
Back in the early 1970s I was working and living in London, England. One summer (I can't remember which year), I found myself in a Youth Hostel in Paris. While many of the fine details are now lost to my ageing memory, I can still remember with absolute clarity, sitting in the lounge of the Hostel one day, chilling out while music blared out over the in-house audio system.

At some point, this incredible piece of music began playing. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before. A mix of jazz and funk. A voice that was at once angry, insistent, and compelling. A voice that demanded attention as the performer spat out words to a poem which contained the recurring line/refrain, "the revolution will not be televised..."

The revolution will not be televised
You will not be able to stay home, brother.
You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out.
You will not be able to lose yourself on skag and 
Skip out for beer during commercials,
Because the revolution will not be televised.

The revolution will not be televised.
The revolution will not be brought to you by Xerox
In 4 parts without commercial interruptions...

Copyright, Gil Scott-Heron

On and on went the voice, for what seemed much longer than the few minutes the song took to play through. I sat hypnotized by what seemed like the perfect mixture of form, rhythm, lyrics, and a performance by a man who clearly believed every word his was reciting. It was probably a year or more before I heard the piece again, confirmed the name of the song, and finally found out who the performer was.

Gil Scott-Heron is regarded by many as the 'godfather' of rap. Many of his poems, for that is what they are, are set to music which, although it may sound dated and quaint today, has roots firmly set in the black American culture from which it arose.

Even now, over 30 years since I first heard it, that song has the ability to stop me in my tracks and distract me from whatever it is I am doing.

Sure, many of the political references in the song are now outdated. Name checking disgraced U.S. President, Richard Nixon, and other political leaders and cultural references of that era may not mean much to people listening to the song today, but all the people named in the song can easily be replaced by any number of the current crop of political leaders and media celebrities, and the song would remain just as compelling today as it was when it was first recorded.

In fact, the song does remain compelling despite the outdated cultural references, precisely because of the power of Gil Scott-Heron's performance, and the conviction with which he recites his words.

Click here to read more about Gil Scott-Heron and view the full lyrics to The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.

"I just dig music that has passion and heart. The only criteria is that the artist is creatively driven, has some kind of idea and substance about them, and is passionate about what they do."

Paul Curtis, Rip It Up, #574, May 18-24, 2000



Songs That Stopped Me in My Tracks #2
Hurricane (Bob Dylan & Jacques Levy)
The year would have been 1976. I can still remember clearly standing at a set of traffic lights in London's Leicester Square. On the opposite side of the road was a pub or bar. Again, there was music blaring out from the venue's sound system. As one song ended, another began. Suddenly the opening chords of Dylan & Levy's stunning song, Hurricane began to play.

Now picture this... Leicester Square, during the middle of the day. A constant stream of traffic: double-decker buses, taxi's, cars, trucks, motorbikes, etc. And blaring out across this river of London noise, Dylan singing the story of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter. 

Pistol shots ring out in the barroom night
Enter Patty Valentine from the upper hall.
She sees the bartender in a pool of blood,
Cries out, "My God, they killed them all!"
Here comes the story of the Hurricane,
The man the authorities came to blame
For somethin' that he never done.
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

Copyright 1975 Ram's Horn Music

I was stopped in my tracks. The lights at the intersection changed so that I could cross the road and get closer to the source of the music, but I couldn't move. It was as if I had been nailed to the spot. And I was not the only one. There were several other people standing on that (and the opposite) corner, pretending to be waiting for something or someone, while in fact we stood, transfixed by the masterful storytelling, the driving rhythm, and the incredible violin playing of Scarlet Rivera.

On and on the song continued, 

Like Gil Scott-Heron's The Revolution..., Bob Dylan's Hurricane still has the ability to grab my attention like few other songs are able to do whenever I hear it. And when I do hear it, I can't resist the temptation to recapture the moment when I first heard both songs by turning the volume up as high as I can - to immerse myself in the musical and lyrical world the song creates.  

Click here to read the full lyrics to Hurricane.

Songs That Stopped Me in My Tracks #3
At the risk of labouring a point, here is one other song, that stopped me in my tracks.

I Surrender (David Sylvian)
This one was quite recent, compared to the previous two examples. I can remember the exact day and date I first heard David Sylvian and his nine and a half minute opus, I Surrender. It was on Saturday, June 19, 2005. On that day I had gone to the opening of a friends photographic exhibition. Later I caught up with my niece, Sarah-Jane (she took the photo at the top of this page, and painted the cover for my album Sometimes I Wake Up Naked). 

I spent a pleasant couple of hours with Sarah-Jane, and jumped in the car for the drive home, just as the sun was beginning to set over the ocean (my niece lives near the beach at Semaphore). As I turned the key in the ignition the car radio came on, and as I headed towards the Esplanade that runs along the foreshore, one song ended and another amazing piece of music began.

I Surrender
I opened up the pathway of the heart
The flowers died embittered from the start
That night I cross the bridge of sighs, and I surrender

I looked back and glimpse the outline of a boy
His life of sorrows now collapsing into joy
Tonight the stars are all aligned, and I surrender
A mother cries beneath the southern sky, and I surrender

Copyright, 1999, David Sylvian

If I could have stopped the car right then and there in the middle of the road I would have. But it wasn't just the song that caught my attention. 

A golden sun was starting to set over the ocean, and a very light breeze was creating waves that were no more than ripples on the surface of the sea. As for the weather - it had been a perfect day, and the evening temperature was going to be just as good. 

I pulled into the first empty parking bay I could find close to the Semaphore jetty, turned off the engine - but not the radio - and surrendered myself to the music and the stunning sunset unfolding before me. Nine and a half minutes later the song ended, and I waited for the announcer to tell me who and what I'd been listening to.

The song turned out to be, I Surrender, from a performer I had never previously heard of, David Sylvian. 

Now don't ask me why, but some things are just meant to be. A week or so later I was flipping through a row of CDs in the secondhand section of my favourite music store, and lo and behold, there it was - I Surrender, the opening track on David Sylvian's 1999 album, Dead Bees On a Cake.

Of course, I immediately bought the album, and took it home for a play. And play it I did - again, and again, and again. The album has stayed close to the top of my favourite albums since I first bought it, and I have since added one other David Sylvian CD to my collection, while continuing to keep a look out for other recordings by this talented artist. 

Click here to visit the David Sylvian website...


So what do these three songs have in common? 

As song writer's and performers, it is our job to write the best lyrics we can possible write; marry those lyrics to great melodies; and bring them all together in such a compelling performance, that anyone lucky enough to see or hear that performance will still be talking about it years later. 

For me, the songs I have written about do all that and then some. Of course, you may hear the same three songs and remain totally unmoved by them. Hopefully, though, you will be able to point to your own selection of 'songs that stopped me in my tracks'. When you do, ask yourself what it is about the songs that you find so compelling. Then ask yourself, which of your songs might have the ability to stop listeners in their tracks.

It's 'a big ask', as we like to say here in Australia, but then, if it was easy, everyone would be doing it.

2006, Jim Lesses


JIM LESSES: Sometimes I Wake Up Naked

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JIM LESSES: American Dream

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