The Songwriting Genius of Peter Perrett… and the Majesty of the Only Ones -Part Four
The Songwriting Genius of Peter Perrett …. and the majesty of the Only Ones. Part Four.
With the benefit of hindsight the title of Parts One, Two and Three should have read as above. These loving autopsies of some of Perretts best songs are also tributes to Mair, Kellie and Perry and the beautiful results of their chemistry and skill.
It is a look back, as we await Peters solo album- which is in fact a family affair, with his sons and daughter in law. The wait for the 30th June is lasting an eternity..
Thus far no one has picked any of the ‘With the One’ era songs which were among PP’s finest. That is rectified in this selection.
One of the young American contributors, Harlow Crandall who first heard the Only Ones in 2005 when he was 18 accurately pinpointed the bands enduring appeal ..
To be honest I didn’t really “get” them at first. Most likely it was due to an identity crisis. See, in high school I thought I was a hippie; in college I thought I was a punk. Eventually I realized the truth, I’m just some sort of beatnik that doesn’t fit in. In the subsequent years I developed a slow burn obsession around Peter Perrett’s songwriting. What makes him genius is what makes him obscure. Despite being one of the great bands of their era and having commonalities with punk/new wave, they just never could fit in or be labeled.
..which exactly echoes a quote from the band which appeared in a 1978 Record Mirror interview ” The hippies thought we were punks and the punks thought we were hippies”.
Their outsider appeal endures due to the timelessness of the music and poetic authenticity of the words….and so, here it is, Part Four of the Songwriting Genius of Peter Perrett and the Majesty of the Only Ones; – featuring a contribution from a controversial figure in media-world -who Charlie Brooker described once as resembling ‘a failed Womble who’s just been shaken awake in a shop doorway’. I like to think of him as a loveable cunt with good taste in music and thank him for his contribution.
Rod Liddle on ‘No Solution’
I was mercifully unmarried when I first heard No Solution, off that magnificent second album. The desolate and hopeless and beautifully articulated expression of marital despair should probably have put me off for life. Culminating in that exquisitely howled “that ain’t no way to treat your fucking wife.” And how Pete wrenched such a soaring melody from those four familiar chords- as Leonard Cohen put it, the minor fall and the major lift. It remains my favourite song the band ever did. Oh, maybe along with the others. The countryish twang of It’s The Truth, for example. And the very famous one about women and planets. And even more than those, Someone Who Cares, especially the wondrous harmonies on the very last line. As a neat irony, Someone Who Cares was the first song my wife and I danced to when, eventually, I got married.
Rod Liddle is associate editor of and columnist for The Spectator as well as contributing to The Sunday Times and The Sun. A long-time Only Ones fan he is reviewing Peters solo album very soon.
Peter Perrett on Falling
This is a song about… stunted emotional development and the conflict that arises when it’s combined with intellectual maturity…
Which could well apply to many of his songs, but in this case it was the introduction to ‘Falling’ at the Mean Fiddler (captured on the Peter Perrett Live with The One album)
Steve Everitt on From Here to Eternity
My love-affair with The Only Ones began late, in the eighties, without ever seeing the band live or buying any albums, just the “Another girl, another planet” single in ’79. My partner at the time, to whom I am eternally grateful, was a fan and would play tapes and the LPs a lot until one day it clicked, this was the greatest music I’d ever heard. Everything was simply exactly right; the song structure, the voice, the lyrics, the guitar, the attitude and the feeling. To write about my most favourite songs would be difficult. The magnificence, glory, excitement or emotionality of many is already expressed better by others so I have chosen a song that is a typically Perrett composition which expresses the essence of the genius of TOO – “From here to eternity”.
Opening track of the second album and bringing the dragon-serpent theme to its title, I can only wonder if Crowley’s character Peter Pendragon is also an inspiration here. Like other songs the title is inspired from a film title (but not actually the film’s subject matter) and explains the fatalism, entrapment and destiny of love. Love of a dangerous woman, maybe one introduced to intoxicants that can dissolve a life. Said to be a favourite of Peter himself, it was on nearly every set-list then, in the 90’s, by the reunion and now in solo performances. Being a hobby guitarist it’s a great piece for acoustic guitar and shows what singer-songwriting is all about. The lyrics are accessible to anyone who had an affair or was entangled deeply in another troubled soul, more so than, say, Dylan’s esoteric excursions into the vocabulary. You have to strum the chords and express the words out loud because they mean everything at this moment.
Start, simple A to F#minor change underlying the first line – “I see a woman with death in her eyes”.
The song has caught me in its brilliance already. It builds and builds the intrigue of the story punctuated by John Perry’s soaring guitar-work. Beautiful medium-paced musical backing from the Kellie/Mair partnership.
Second verse starts – “Such a tender age to sell her soul, for dreams that don’t come true”.
Perrett’s words do hold up strong by themselves as poetry but the integration with the finest music bring the whole to an exquisite new level.
“She’s the living proof that all that glitters is not gold and even serpents shine.
Oh, she got bitten then, she’ll get bitten again, while I’m sitting here watching the tide come in.”
When the bridge of the song comes, the singer is addressing her directly and then there is hope that they are two soldiers of love, damned to be together forever.
“From here to eternity, it’s you and me all the way”.
Perry absolutely excelled himself in the Peel Sessions and in this song he rounds it off with a glorious solo that’s the triumph of emotion that it fits beautifully. Three minutes are over and the rest of this unbeatable album awaits us with more gems.
I once sang this song to a girl, who was a professional singer, in the shower together and it melted her until we eventually fused. It has a unstoppable, emotional force that transcends time and isn’t that what love and obsession is?
Steve Everitt lives in Berlin, a dedicated fan of Peter Perrett’s music, he helped with the first The Only Ones /The One website back in the 90’s and wrote-up the first public transcripts of about 45 songs (with many misheard mistakes!).
Harlow Crandall on ‘Woke Up Sticky’
Woke Up Sticky is one of Peter Perrett’s most fascinating works. Lyrically on first listen it is just strange. Drugs, alien abductions and wet dreams. Alone, it’s a fantastic tune but the context and conscious self-mythology Peter Perrett weaves throughout the song adds color and depth to it. I would argue it’s a direct sequel to the song Another Girl Another Planet, even sharing the respective track position on the album. It contains the same themes of love/lust and space travel. However coming out nearly 20 years later, there’s a drastic shift in tonality. Rather than the defiant call of “I always flirt with death / I look ill but I don’t care about it / I can face your threats / And stand up straight and tall and shout about it,” the listener is greeted by a defeated protagonist “Nodding out, white light / Shadowy figures approach with the night / Strange hands carry me away / I resist in a catatonic way.”
There are a few odd moments in the song like the lines, “I came down in a meteoric shower / The speed of sound turns decades into hours.” Those lines allude to an eerie sense of coming down from a high and realizing literal decades are gone. Normally I would prefer to avoid the drug reference game but it aligns with elements of Peter Perrett’s career and subtlety answers the question, where have you been?
However the greatest tonal shift between the two songs occur their understanding of love. Another Girl, Another Planet is literally about the next girl then the one after that. 20 years later we’re met with the lines, “Woke up sticky / Must have been dreaming of you / Woke up sticky / Don’t know where I’ve been or who I’ve been through.” Rather than a euphoric rush, what’s left is a disoriented state of longing. That sense if further compounded by the refrain, “They went and put the light on me / They examined every part of me.” It creates a haunting sense that all these girls have become truly alien and the protagonist is left isolated and only wishes to be left dreaming of his true love.
Even though both these songs stand on their own, this thread of self-mythology running between the two works enriches both. It’s fascinating to consider Woke Up Sticky being a sequel especially since Peter Perrett actively avoids rewriting the original. It’s a genius response especially considered he’s an artist best known for one song.
Ged: Do you think PP’s lyrics generally stand as great poetry alone, or do they only work when combined with the music and the voice?
I would call Peter Perrett a poet in general. However, I think he was concerned primarily with the songwriting form. Similar to artists like Bob Dylan or Lou Reed, he has a large catalog of songs where the lyrics stand on their own. Regardless the intent is for the work to be enhanced by music and voice. This is where I believe our cultural dialogue became a bit ridiculous following Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize. I think to refer to any of the work simply as poems disregards half of the form and craft that is unfair to the artist. Yet at the same time, I believe the form deserves equal literary value as poetic works. The two forms are not the same even if they are closely related. I personally believe the academic establishment has undercut the cultural value of songwriters for decades primarily out of fear for their own careers. I believe we should stop trying to call songs poems but at the same time fight for their recognition as a legitimate literary expression.
Harlow Crandall is a poet and also singer/songwriter for New City Slang based out of Rochester, New York.
Ged Babey on the return of the Only Ones in 2007.
This is a section of a review I wrote of The Only Ones @ Shepherds Bush Empire 9/6/2007 which was published on a punk-forum but has long since been deleted. I’m glad I kept a copy.
Our story ends in the gents toilet in the Irish Pub down the road from the Empire after the gig of the year (either 1980 or 2007). It’s filling up with forty-something gig-goers busting for a piss. There’s a couple of pub regulars in there too. As I’m relieving myself I find myself singing out loud.
Some people, they’re gonna say…
The bloke peeing next to me joins in.
I told you so…
The geezer queueing being me lurches forward, joining in too.
But-I never really app-re-ci-ated you…
Another two middle-aged chaps in varying states of inebriation and full bladders start to sing along.
Bu-u-ut if those fools could on-ly know, what this…
..means to me…
A real crescendo now, about eight blokes all in unison. The acoustics are great in there.
What this thing means to me.
What this whole stupid thing means to me!
An old bloke and bewildered pub regular scurry away as the impromptu choir, eight strangers, three still peeing, carry on singing at the top of their voices,
My memory is fading away, I don’t remember what I came here to say..
My elephantine piss finally comes to an end and we all all burst out laughing.
A great moment, (you probably had to be there but) my enduring memory of the night, other than the actual gig.
When I re-told this story to my wife the other day – before I had located the file – it ran; So I was in the gents loo with all these blokes and started singing… “If you tried to follow me home, tonight….” Which is funnier….
Pre-order ‘How The West Was Won’ from here.
Compiled by Ged Babey
– with gratitude & thanks to each and every contributor and the original uploaders of the You-Tube clips.
Next week WILL be the (fifth and) final installment in this series…
Part One is here
Part Two is here
Part Three is here