“There’s someone in my head and it’s not me”
Pink Floyd: ‘The Dark Side Of The Moon’
You know how it is. Some mornings you wake up and there’s a song running through your head, often one that you haven’t heard for years but has somehow been dragged out from down the back of the sofa of your subconscious. Of course, if it’s a song you haven’t heard before, the chances are that you are Paul McCartney
It seems to be a matter of pure chance whether your unannounced visitor is something you might actually want to hear again or whether it’s something you find irritating to the nth degree. I got ‘Agadoo‘ once and couldn’t get rid of the bloody thing for a week. And never a sniff of the Rotterdam ‘Dark Star’.
But whether it triggers a wistful smile or just makes you cringe, the accompanying memories are interesting to explore. Lately, I’ve been keeping a note of the various manifestations of my personal dawn chorus and digging more deeply into what I can recall about them and when I last heard them – anything that puts them into some kind of coherent context. So far I have a couple of these in the pipeline, but to begin with I’m offering up the one that, just because it came from so far out of left field, gave me the idea in the first place.
Doing the Lambeth Walk
I was genuinely surprised when I woke up one morning recently with this song, from a popular 1930s British musical, running through my head. Musicals just aren’t on the audible part of my listening spectrum and, if anything, I find those from the thirties and forties particularly teeth-clenching. Given the background of economic depression and world war against which they were produced, I understand why many of them are characterised by cheeriness in the face of adversity, but with my inherent inability to suspend disbelief, they just grate. Bah, humbug.
To the best of my knowledge I have never (and for sure never knowingly) seen ‘Me And My Girl‘, which is the Lambeth Walk musical, but I can remember watching many grainy black and white musical films on TV in my formative years. Most of them are just a blur, but there are a couple that stick out for the sheer appallingness of their big moments. There was a Gracie Fields film called ‘Sing As We Go‘ which ends with hundreds of smiling (and singing, obviously) workers waving Union Jacks and marching through the factory gates, overjoyed at the fact that there are some jobs to be had.
In broadly similar vein, there was an American musical (it’s a film about a stage musical: maybe a Ziegfeld Follies?) whose big production number starts with a lone crooner and ends up with about a thousand extras and a US Navy warship floating in the background, all on stage. Oh, come on.
But I digress. Having never gone out of my way to listen to ‘Doing The Lambeth Walk’, it took me a while to recall where I had heard it before. Finally I got it, and it also goes back to the grainy TV of my youth. There was a long-running programme called ‘All Our Yesterdays‘ which was made up of snippets of newsreels shown in cinemas 25 years ago that week. It began in 1961, so in effect it was a popular TV history of the rise of Nazism and the Second World War, and as a schoolboy I followed it avidly.
I must have seen the episode in which this clip appeared. In 1941, a genius called Charles A Ridley took extracts from the Nazi propaganda film ‘The Triumph Of The Will’ and set them to music with, as you can see by following this link, hilarious consequences.
This is why I have almost come to like this otherwise massively irritating tune (just as well, because it’s still bouncing round up there). To have an otherwise execrable piece of feelgood tosh deployed so brilliantly in something that is not only funny in itself but also so effectively deflates the portentous pomposity of an evil, swaggering megalomaniac…well, that ticks a lot of boxes.