Friday, 17 June 2011

Andrew Gold 1951 - 2011

I note with increasing sadness the loss of yet more members of the music community, the latest being Andrew Gold who died from a heart attack on June 3rd at the age of 59.  I am beginning to find all these deaths a bit alarming, especially as I am not that far short of 60 myself.  It’s all a bit sobering.  Regrettably, I admit to not really being much of a fan of Mr Gold’s work either on his own or as ‘Wax’ with Graham Gouldman, but that doesn’t mean that he hasn’t carved a small area in my life for himself.

Like most other people, I’d guess, I know him best for his 1977 hit, ‘Lonely Boy’ and it is a song that has grown with me over these last 30-odd years.  At the time of its release I was totally immersed in Punk and didn’t pay it much attention, but since then it has loomed larger and larger in my mind so that today it is probably one of my favourite singles.

Let me try and explain why.  Songs have different hooks.  Sometimes it’s the lyric, most times it is the chorus and other times it’s some other aspect or combination.  Some songs, like much of the Cardigan’s output for some impenetrable Scandinavian reason, have musically stunning verses which then makes the chorus a bit ho-hum.  In that case the verse is a strong enough hook to draw you in.  The real lyricists like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan can often hold your attention without a decent melody at all but this is very rare and shouldn’t be relied on if you are just starting out as a song writer.  Most song writers fall over themselves to produce a hook-laden chorus – listen to any current Lady Gaga song to see how this works as she is no slouch in this department.  Most memorable songs have their best hook in the chorus – but not ‘Lonely Boy’.

For me, the real hook in ‘Lonely Boy' lies in the combination of the tragic lyric and the musical bridge between the verse and the chorus.  The verse starts in jaunty vein:
He was born on a summer day, 1951
And with the slap of a hand
He had landed as an only son

But then the rhythm changes and the mood gets just a little darker.  This is the part that gives me goose bumps as the repeated melody winds up the sense of foreboding and understated guitar figures play with your heart:
His mother and father said "what a lovely boy"
We'll teach him what we learned
Ah yes, just what we learned
We'll dress him up warmly and
We'll send him to school
It'll teach him how to fight
To be nobody's fool

And so into the chorus:
Oh, oh, what a lonely boy etc.

That extended bridge section is a masterpiece all on its own.  The way that it builds both the story lyric and the musical tension from the verse to the cry of pain that is the chorus is awe-inspiring.  Unless you are Paul McCartney, most song writers probably manage something of this class once in a lifetime.  This was Andrew’s moment.


drewzepmeister said...

I was never really a big Andrew Gold fan, yet I remember him from the late '70's. It took me awhile to remember what was the tune that I really liked from him. Pondering for awhile, I thought "Gold", but that was from John Stewart. It just finally dawned on me..."Thank You for Being a Friend". Nice song writing there.

music obsessive said...

Hi Drew - As I'm not really a fan either I don't know this song. Perhaps I'd better check it out? The man certainly had a style which I find quite appealing. Oh, well, never too late!