#nowlistening: earwigging at Jennifer’s party

There seems to be a tendency of late for Archers scriptwriters to turn to crooners for underscoring. Perhaps it’s the way the silky vocal timbre sits beneath the action? In the not-quite-thirteen minutes of Jenny Darling’s ‘Land’ themed party on Friday night (3rd March), crooners and their jazz-inflected cousins took to the background once again and all washed down with lashings of Sancerre broccoli.

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After a smatter of high energy scat singing, followed by a touch of Glenn Miller-esque saxophone schmaltz, it’s Nat King Cole’s matter-of-fact reflection ‘It’s all in the game’ that wafts through Home Farm

For trivia fans, this might well be the only song to accompany a scene in the Archers that’s been written by a Vice-President of the United States of America. Charles G. Dawes’ ‘Melody in A major’ was penned in 1911, and it wasn’t until 1951 that songwriter Carl Sigman added lyrics, later becoming a multi-million selling hit in 1958 for Tommy Edwards.

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Charles Dawes. Let’s hope Mike Pence follows suit. No?

I digress.

At a rudimentary level, this song resonates with the various ‘games’ currently being played in Ambridge at present, not least Jim amusing himself at Jenny Darling’s expense when she claims his translation of the party theme as her own work. That a large section in the middle of the song is given over to a small string orchestra to take the tune is useful for the practicalities of radio drama; while the melody sometimes prods at the drama, it is not as distracting as lyrical interest can be. Mostly though, Cole’s crooning of  lyrics like ‘…your future’s looking dim’, seem to operate as a warning for our beloved Lilian. She is, of course, comically blasé about it, invoking both Rita Hayworth and another musical text, Richard Strauss’ Salomé, as she teases Jennifer:

‘I’ll use the opposite corner for my dance of the seven veils!’ 

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DAHHHLINNNG!

This imaginary striptease moves us away from Cole’s smooth crooning and toward increased rhythmic intensity, including Tommy Dorsey’s swooning trombone version of ‘Smoke gets in your eyes’ and Tom Jones and Jools Holland grooving their way through Moon Mullican’s ‘I’ll sail my ship alone’. Mullican’s song underscores earring-gate, the intimate moment that reveals the affair once and for all to Miranda. Reinforced by Jones’ warbling, the lyrical inference is that one of these three will be navigating the seas independently forward from here.

What happens next to the always-already doomed relationship Lilian and Justin is at the poetic heart of Anita O’Day’s ‘Stella by starlight’, which concludes the episode. If Tom Jones brought the clang of the penny dropping then Anita O’Day brings the ‘oh blimey…this doesn’t look good’ to the yard.

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As Miranda and Justin leave the party, leaving Lilian under the false impression that the illicit romance remains hidden, O’Day’s song persona sings on behalf of Lilian of a ‘nook where two lovers hide’.  

Some attribute O’Day’s distinctive vocal style, with its vibrato-free tone and short phrases, to a botched tonsillectomy; others have mused that her concentration on rhythm over melody is why she is less well known than her contemporaries, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. But the connection runs outside the confines of the song too. Notwithstanding O’Day’s (successful) battle with drug addiction, she has a similar brand of joie de vivre as Lilian; this ‘the jezebel of jazz’ is the ideal musical counterpart to Lil’s geriatric-but-persistent sexuality.

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Furthermore, the song itself has its own intertextual interest to add intrigue. Like ‘It’s all in the game’, there is a time-lapse between the creation of music and lyrics; the former was composed in 1944 to underscore the film, The Uninvited, and the lyrics were added later in 1946 by Ned Washington. The inclusion in this scene sees the music return to its primary use as supporting drama.

The Uninvited tells a supernatural tale of ghostly hauntings, so might it leave clues as to what’s up next in Ambridge? Will Miranda surreptitiously linger in the shadows to definitively catch Lilian and Justin in the act? Or does all this talk of speed limits and fast cars in the village point toward a very literal ghost on the horizon?

 

P.S. A caveat and confession: as much as I’d love to have analysed all 7 pieces I didn’t have the space here and as much as I’ve tried, I can’t identify all the tracks that are used in this episode. Please do drop me an email or a tweet if you can shed any light!

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#nowlistening: Perry Como ‘It’s impossible’.

Two minutes into Monday 20th Feb’s instalment of The Archers, Perry Como’s ‘It’s impossible’ can just about be discerned underneath the unfolding action between Harrison and Fallon. Over on Twitter, I mused over the significance of the song in relation to the scene’s closing tension on whether or not Harrison could persuade the Ambridge cricket team AGM to include women [*gasp*]. But revisiting the song and it’s placement in the scene provides fascinating insight not just into the socio-cultural-political climate of Ambridge but also demonstrates how music serves to inform the listener about the physical spaces of the village.

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A schmalzy celebration of soft-focus monogamy, ‘It’s Impossible’ was released by Como in 1970 after being translated into English from the original Spanish, ‘Somos Novios’, by long-time Elvis collaborator Sid Wayne. Written and first performed by Mexican composer Armando Manzanero in 1968, the famous bolero has been subject to multiple interpretations in both languages, not least this ‘My Way-esque’ version from ‘The King’ during the velour years. Como’s rendition is an altogether more ponderous and low-key affair. And yet, the way the elements of plot, dialogue, musical texture and lyrical expression twist together in this scene is dynamic in establishing a tension between that which appears to be stable and those things that attempt to trouble that stability.

This warrants further prodding.

Manzanero’s composition, and Wayne’s translation, is surprisingly existential for easy listening, a genre which errs toward the straight ahead love song. ‘It’s impossible’ is expressed through earnest reflections on the natural world. Como smoothly ruminates on the perpetual ‘rushin’ ‘ of waves to the shore and the obligatory presence of the sun in the sky. Bass and drums gently chug away too, supported by subtle electric guitar, providing a muted soulful backbeat. Como’s musical world is steady, in the same way that the Ambridge tea room has quickly established itself as a key venue in village life.

However,  just as the steady groove underpins the action, a piano part which had been towing the musical line by entwining itself between vocal melody, groove and supporting swooning violins, becomes rather noticeable. Twenty seconds into the scene (listen at 2mins 20secs), nimble descending flourishes protrude into the action. Again, the stability of the tea room is made clear as Fallon and Harrison test it by talking about a range of unresolved Ambridge-related news items, all of which fall under the remit of that which is deemed to be ‘impossible’. Subjects ranging from the genuine heartache of Fallon’s attempts to comfort Kirsty following her miscarriage to the ridiculous news of Jennifer’s theme of ‘Land’ for her party. Just how should Fallon cater for such an event? And with half term looming, will she have the time? Nail-biting stuff. Those swirling piano embellishments are a musical representation of active problems for the folk of the village, reminding the listener of a variety of plot lines which are at play.

41aaeshdtkl-_sy355_In other words, ‘It’s impossible’ helps in establishing the tearoom as a place for a more thoughtful and subtle mode of existential reflection than the kind of gossip than we might expect from say, Susan Carter in the village shop. The retro-feel of the recording and Como’s ‘croony’ yearning doesn’t just paint an idea of the shabby-chic interior of the space – it opens up a philosophical quagmire of uncertainty. Which is ultimately why we tune in to Ambridge anyway…isn’t it?!