When you invite Death into your love song, how do you keep It on message? You build a regular, reassuring heartbeat of guitar and drums, with a hint of melancholy in the A minor scale. Use words with warm, round ‘m’, ‘n’, ‘y’ and ‘b’ sounds. No guillotine cuts of ‘k’, ‘tt‘ or ‘ss’. No heavy, dead thuds of ‘d’ or ‘ug’. Light words, sung lightly, layered with the lalala of summertime. Death becomes a fact, not a fear; a natural part of life and love:
English words are like onions, when you sing. Chop them, roast them whole, caramelise them, scatter them as crunchy red raw rings on a salad. They never stop being onions, but you’re in charge of the flavour and the texture they provide.
Fire is a classic onion. We all know what fire is. It’s the singer’s job to make us feel what fire ‘is’ in their song.
“It was my mate who convinced me to do it. He ran a car showroom, and he said, ‘I’ve got this group come from Australia, but the singer’s not very good. Can you do a demo for me?’ I said, ‘What do I get?’ He said, ‘Well, I don’t have any money. I’ll give you a set of carpets.’ That was 1969″
It’s 1966. The Kinks’ manager gives you a chance to record Chip Taylor‘s Wild Thing, one take only, on borrowed time. It’s a song of few words. Choose one and pour your heart into it. Groovy? Love? Or the vaguer, more intriguing wild? Choose well or you’ll be back on the building site forever.
By the way – don’t be fooled by the stripy fancy dress in the video. There’s a bricklayer’s heart beating desperately beneath it: