Thursday, 3 January 2013

Ten Green Bottles

On the radio this morning Melvyn 'Big Hair' Bragg was talking to someone about the difference in quality between pop music (specifically the pop music espoused by what came to be known as 'teenagers' - a word that is only about a hundred years old - in the 20th and early 21st centuries) and the sort of music that belongs to what is thought of as 'high culture'. And I was reminded of two things. The first were words spoken by an MD of my youthful acquaintance: 'There has only been one tune written in the history of the world - "Ten Green Bottles".' (This may not be original, but I had never heard it before). The second was the song 'Silent Worship', based on an aria by good ol' Georg Friedrich.

Listening to this song is one of my few happy memories of Mr Byrne's music lessons (a teacher who almost despaired of me: 'C+ Has ability but is disinclined to use it musically'). I was reminded of this song when I first heard Eric Clapton's 'Wonderful Tonight' and noticed the uncanny resemblance. But 'Silent Worship' had not yet been exposed to the full glare of Classic FM's playlists - a version sung by Aled Jones was repeated more-or-less hourly about ten years ago - so I didn't share my aperçu at the time.

The tunes aren't identical, but sound enough alike to replace each other in my mind's ear more or less at random: 'Did you not hear my lady - And I've got an aching head', 'She puts on her make-up - With a glory of golden hair'.... And the likeness is not just in the first line. In what I'm fairly sure Handel wouldn't have called 'the middle eight' - das Mittelacht? - the melody rises to the sixth in both songs.

And here's the thing. Pop trivia buffs will know about the Clapton song's having been written with Pattie Boyd in mind. If you don't know the story, Google 'Boyd Clapton Wonderful'. Clapton's position at the time was one of silent worship. At the time he would have been thinking about Everything and latching on to any cultural reference that seemed to reflect his situation; it's what one does. And if he'd heard 'Silent Worship', and - as I did in the days when a guitar was seldom far from my hands - played it, it doesn't take a particularly lively imagination to hear the young lovelorn Eric singing
Though I am nothing to her
Though she must rarely look at me
And though I could never woo her
I'll love her till I die
Perhaps he improvised on it.

Far be it from me to make any charge of  'plagiarism'; I believe in the 'Ten Green Bottles' theory of musical history. But it all seems rather Thing-ish. I'm surprised Paul Gambaccini, in one of his periodical 'Pop go the Classics' programmes, hasn't mentioned it. But it's not just Pop and 'Classical' - those quotation marks are tweezers, registering my distaste - as someone said in The Electric Muse (Robin Denselow, I think, but there were three others included in the et al) if you listen carefully to a Jack Bruce bass line (in a Cream number, if I remember rightly) you'll hear the folk song 'The Cutty Wren'.

To quote Big Bill Broonzy, in an interview with Studs Terkel, 'They's all folk songs; ain't never heard a hoss sing'.

Ho hum. Back to the word-bashing.


Update - corrections and a few tiny tweaks
Update: 2013.10.02.16:15
Head Footer updated

Update 2014.05.11.20:05 – And again:

 Mammon When Vowels Get Together V5.2: Collection of Kindle word-lists grouping different pronunciations of vowel-pairs. Now complete (that is, it covers all vowel pairs –  but there's still stuff to be done with it; an index, perhaps...?) 

And here it is: Digraphs and Diphthongs . The (partial) index has an entry for each vowel pair that can represent each monophthong phoneme. For example AE, EA and EE are by far the most common, but there are eight other possibilities. The index uses colour to give an idea of how common a spelling is, ranging from bright red to represent the most common to pale olive green to represent the least common.

Also available at Amazon: When Vowels Get Together: The paperback.

And if you have no objection to such promiscuity, Like this.

Freebies (Teaching resources: over 41.050 views  and 5,700 downloads to date**. They're very eclectic - mostly EFL and MFL, but one of the most popular is from KS4 History, dating from my PGCE, with nearly 2,1

00 views and nearly 1,000 downloads to date. So it's worth having a browse.)

** This figure includes the count of views for a single resource held in an account that I accidentally created many years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Not quite 'pop'/'classical', but I always hear Radiohead's 'Fake Plastic Trees' in Snow Patrol's 'Chasing Cars'. (Speed this up a little and play it on a piano, and isn't it basically this?