Sunday, 21 August 2016

Odd Songs #001: Captain Of Your Ship

[Edit @ 22/09/2016:  This wasn't meant to be a series to begin with, but it's turned into one, so I've slightly altered the title to reflect that.  And by "Odd Songs" I don't really mean that they are odd - although many of them are - it's just a catch-all title for any fabulous songs that I want to write about]

For well over thirty years, I've sort of been obsessed with this song.  I blame those fucking Mullerice adverts from the late 80s (but that's another story).

The first time I was properly aware of it (and its long history) was from Betty Boo's Doin' the Do:

At first listen it seems that the divine Alison Clarkson (Betty Boo was, unsurprisingly, a stage name) just took the "you're going to lose a good thing" bit and interpolated into her song, but the more you hear it, you can pick out other bits of melody from "Captain Of Your Ship"; they don't seem sampled from a particular source, but are definitely in there.

Anyway, Betty was just one of a long line of pop stars directly covering the song, or taking elements from it.  It's a song that - whilst hardly being in "Yesterday" territory - has a lot of cover versions, all the way from 1968 to the present day.  But the interesting thing is that these cover versions vary enormously in how they approach the song.

OK, back to the original, written by Kenny Jones and Ben Yardley, recorded in 1968 by Reparata and the Delrons:

It's an amazing thing, all made up of seemingly unrelated bits of other songs stuck together (this seems to be something of a Kenny Jones trademark, but more on that later) with weird sound effects (foghorns, radar blips, etc.), rapid changes in tempo, almost anything, and yet it all seems to hold together as a song.  Certainly it's a product of its time.  The Reparata version was a top 20 hit in the UK but didn't do much business elsewhere.

However, since then it seems to have taken on a life of its own.  The number of cover versions is bewildering.  Some are relatively straight covers (e.g. the version by Bette Bright & The Illuminations), some totally rework the arrangement (e.g. the Ratpack version) and the rest fall somewhere in between.  If you listened to all the cover versions of this song, the songs based on it and the songs that sample it, it, take quite a long time.  I know of about fifty but I'd be willing to put my life on there being at least that many again.

Maybe one day I'll try to make sense of the whole thing, particularly regarding the role of Kenny Young, who has been involved in so much pop stuff from the last fifty years (and remains active), but that'll have to be another time, because at the moment...

..the version that interests me is this one, by the 1970s band Fox, although assembled at some point in the 1980s (1986 is the best guess that I can find):

The reason I'm interested in this version is because Kenny Jones (the co-writer of the original song) was in the band Fox and I say "assembled" because I'm convinced most of the vocals and instrumentation were recorded when Fox were active (probably sometime in the mid-1970s).  But the Fox version of the song, as released, has such an obvious 1980s influence with all its synth stabs and stuff that it can only have been put together in that decade.

The latest possible point at which this version could have been released is 1986, as it featured on a Fox "greatest hits" album released that year.

Now I can't possibly be the only person that noticed that at 1:12 (and repeatedly elsewhere - the example at 2:31 is probably the most obvious) there's a stabby synth riff that was never in the original song, but still fits.  Thing is, it's the identical riff that forms the entire basis of 2 Unlimited's "Get Ready For This", released in 1991:

It's slowed down a little bit and has a slightly different cadence, but essentially it's the exact same riff.

And it set me to wondering, in today's climate of high-profile music plagiarism lawsuits (think Marvin Gaye vs. Robin Thicke/Pharrell etc.) I wonder if Kenny Jones (and any associates involved in the Fox version) could make anything of this?

FUN FACT:  Noosha Fox is Ben Goldacre's mother.

No comments:

Post a Comment