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Do you remember the first time?

November 8, 2012

Do you remember the first time? A mid-range song of Pulp’s – not to be compared with Common People, which is “epic”. (I’ve written about epics elsewhere…)

This is going to be a post about firsts, prompted by two pieces I have heard for the first time recently: Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, and Schubert’s String Quartet in A Minor – Rosamunde.

The Bartok simply blew me away. Played loud in an otherwise empty house, it had a dramatic and atmospheric combination of brass and strings that gave me a thrill that I am not sure I will get next time I hear it. (The whole thing is fantastic – but it was the second movement that did it for me, and that’s what I’ve linked to.)

I am listening to the Schubert in different circumstances altogether. With my headphones in while typing another post, I find myself so taken with its intimacy and texture that I have to catch something of my mood  before it finishes. And – not irrelevantly – the second movement has turned out to be familiar to me, and isn’t giving me the same delight as the first.

In much the same way, the first version I hear of any modern song is likely to set the benchmark, whether it is the original or a cover, leading to some surprising and occasionally embarrassing results. On the one hand I’m not ashamed that I much prefer Emmylou Harris’s rendition of Here, There and Everywhere to that of the Beatles, or even that for a long time I believed it was hers in the first place. On the other hand it is perhaps less creditable to admit that I would rather hear The Goodies’ Wild Thing to The Troggs’, though having found the link I realise that I am not alone in considering this the definitive version.

There’s nothing quite like the first time for anything. Sometimes – like when you read a whodunnit – there is an element of the experience that is simply incapable of repetition: once you know who murdered Roger Ackroyd, you can’t un-know it; if you’ve conquered your personal Everest, or the real one for that matter, it stays conquered.

Love has its firsts, that are rightly celebrated in music – The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face, for instance; and as Scott Walker told us, “First Love Never Dies“.  And of course there’s the first time for, er, you know, that.

Ok let’s say it: sex. Oh, that’s better. It is not to be wondered that plenty of pop songs have been, more or less overtly, about sex. Some are seamy, grimy efforts, some are designed to shock, and some have in their time been banned from airplay. In recent times, it has been the videos produced to accompany songs which may have fallen foul of the TV networks; longer ago, the lyrics (and occasionally some sound effects) caused radio executives’ brows to furrow.

One that oddly didn’t find itself off the radio playlists (at least as far as I am aware), is Summer (The First Time) by Bobby Goldsboro. There is no doubting what this song is about – the loss of a young man’s innocence. Perhaps it is enough that the action, as it were, takes place offstage; but it is in its own way steamier than more explicit songs. And Amoureuse, by Kiki Dee – a woman’s reflection (but again not graphic) on her first time – is another remarkably intimate and charged track.

I’m not quite sure how Kiki Dee came to sing such a song; I’m just glad that she did something besides Don’t Go Breaking My Heart  – a duet whose popularity I find baffling. Amoureuse is not widely played; I only know it from a compilation LP that Anne-Marie owned years ago. Also on that LP was Eric Carmen’s All by Myself, for which I have a great affection despite his sounding as if someone is tying his scarf with excessive vigour. It’s been covered an extraordinary number of times, but somehow we keep forgetting how much of it is re-purposed Rachmaninov. At least when Billy Joel sang This Night on his album An Innocent Man, he was gracious enough to point out that a portion of the music came from Beethoven. Credit where credit’s due.

Two more credits are due, too. First to the nice lady from Crumbs and Pegs for some helpful advice and for mentioning Mrs Robinson (this version, just by way of a change, by the Lemonheads). And secondly to Chris, the big brother responsible for a very significant first: he bought me my first 45, way back when. A seminal moment, and what a song: although Bryan Ferry did a good cover much later, The Girl of my Best Friend really belongs to Elvis.

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3 Comments
  1. Constantly amazed by how you know so much! Thanks for the thanks – I have but a mere drop in the ocean of your musical knowledge. 🙂

    • Dear everyone who might ever read this: please note that generous comment. And please ignore the fact that on the ocean of musical knowledge I am but a stowaway on the SS Blag.

  2. Since we are being honest about how we heard about songs, I have a confession to make. When I first heard ‘Only Love Can Break Your Heart’ by Saint Etienne in the 1990s, I had no idea it was a cover. On later buying ‘After The Gold Rush’ by Neil Young, I was gobsmacked when the track came on. “Hang on a minute!” I thought, how do I know ALL the words to this song? Then, the penny dropped.

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