I mentioned a trip to Cumbria in my last post. It’s a long way up! The most NorthWesterly county in England. I was collecting my Dad’s wife (is she a stepmum if you’ve never lived with her and you were an adult when you met her?) from her sister’s where she’d been staying for a short break. I live on the border of Lincolnshire so I don’t get to see many hills – the Cumbrian landscape is quite spectacular, worth the drive even when your SatNav (who you secretly call Margot because she has a posher accent than you) takes you round the coast road instead of further up the M6 and a 3.5 hour journey takes 5.5 hours.
ANYWAY the point is, I listened to alot of Billy Bragg. I’ve had a longstanding love affair with Billy, starting with Brewing Up With Billy Bragg, which was released around my 15th birthday. It’s not his first album, but was my introduction. I love a good singer-songwriter anyway but there was something about Billy Bragg’s lyrics that struck right to my 15 year old heart. At first, it was all about love (The Saturday Boy). Then, leaving school in the middle of Thatcher’s Britain it was about politics too(Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards). And then, as life started to meander, the even more difficult things in life (Must I Paint You A Picture? or of course Valentine’s Day Is Over).
His lyrics are whimsical, funny and so completely easy to relate to. I’ve been meaning to sort my Top 10 since Roger Kerry asked me this question about 2 years ago. And, prompted by the fact that I’ll be seeing BB at Derby in November I’ve had a go…..
The temptation to take the precious things
We have apart to see how they work
Must be resisted for they never fit together again.
Must I Paint You A Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg (2003)
There is power in a factory, power in the land
Power in the hands of a worker
But it all amount to nothing if together we don’t stand
There is power in a union
There Is Power In A Union. Talking With The Taxman About Poetry (1986)
FOTD: This is based on a 150-year old Confederate song called ‘Battle Cry of Freedom’ popular in the American Civil War ….an altogether different Union here though.
In the end it took me a dictionary
To find out the meaning of ‘unrequited’
While she was giving herself for free
At a party to which I was never invited
The Saturday Boy. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)
I’m sure that everybody knows how much my body hates me
It lets me down most every time and makes me rash and hasty
I feel a total jerk before your naked body of work
Sexuality. Don’t Try This At Home (1991)
This was a very positive song at a time when we were starting to understand what HIV/AIDS was and the ‘Safe Sex’ mantra was everywhere. A song of its time.
Some day, boy, you’ll reap what you’ve sown
You’ll catch a cold and you’ll be on your own
And you’ll see that what’s wrong with me
Is wrong with everyone that you want to play your little games on
Valentine’s Day Is Over. The Essential Billy Bragg (2003)
In the Soviet Union a scientist is blinded
By the resumption of nuclear testing
And he is reminded
That Dr. Robert Oppenheimer’s optimism
Fell at the first hurdle
Waiting For The Great Leap Forwards. Workers Playtime (1988)
[and every other word of this brilliant song, including the title of this blogpost]
Call up the craftsmen, bring me the draftsmen
Build me a path from cradle to grave
And I’ll give my consent to any government
That does not deny a man a living wage
Between The Wars. Brewing Up With Billy Bragg (1984)
I saw two shooting stars last night
I wished on them but they were only satellites
Is it wrong to wish on space hardware?
I wish, I wish I wish you’d care
A New England. life’s A Riot With Spy vs Spy (1983)
Don’t be expecting me to put up shelves or build a garden shed
But I can write a song that tells the world how much I love you instead
I’m not any good at pottery, so let’s lose the ‘t’ and just shift back the ‘e’
And I’ll find a way to make my poetry build a roof over our head
Handyman Blues. Tooth & Nail (2013)
FOTD: The video to this is completely fab. Group therapy in a DIY store.
So that’s my Top 9 Billy Bragg lyrics…what are yours?
[image available CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 from The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh http://www.flickr.com/photos/thequeenshall/8941747277/]