Peggy Day (1969) part 4: Hobbling the opposition

by Jochen Markhorst

IV         Hobbling the opposition

 “If a Martian came to Earth tomorrow and asked me, Cliff, how many iconic rock and roll songs have you made? I would say, One – Move It.” Cliff Richard is not exactly blessed with the literary talent of a Dylan or even a Keith Richards (“A Martian”? Couldn’t any earthling from, say, old Honolulu or Ashtabula ask the same question?), but still, his autobiography The Dreamer (2020) is entertaining, pleasantly modest and, well, charming. And he cherishes John Lennon’s comment about his “only iconic rock and roll song”;

“A few years later, John Lennon was kind enough to say: “Before Cliff and “Move It”, there was nothing worth listening to in British music” (you have to admit – he has great taste!). I was flattered by the comment – and I still am. Being called the first British rock and roller by such a legendary musician is an honour that I will take to my grave.”

“Living Doll”, on the other hand, says Sir Cliff, “was a weak, pseudo-rock song,” but contractually he has to release a song from his debut film Serious Charge on single. Shadows guitarist Bruce Welch manages to overcome Cliff’s reluctance: “ʻWhy not do it another way?’ He picked at a few chords. ʻWhy not do it as … a country song?’”

The Beatles appear often enough in Cliff’s autobiography; Richard describes an amicable camaraderie. There are no links to The Stones, though. Except once, when Cliff “by mistake” scores a hit with a Jagger/Richards song…

“The tape didn’t have any songwriters’ names on it but we thought it was a nice song, and would suit me and The Shadows, so we shifted it from the ‘Maybe’ to the ‘Yes’ pile. It wasn’t until after we recorded it that we knew it had been written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. Well, we’d have done it anyway – we had our own sound and our own approach to songs.”

In Life, his 2010 autobiography, Keith Richards remembers that music-history fact too, but Keith is – of course – a bit more sardonic than Sir Cliff. In Chapter 5, the Glimmer Twin recounts the first unsteady steps on the songwriting path, a skill that Jagger and Richards only mastered after months of toil and “some terrible songs”. Still, as Richards recalls with amazement, their manager managed to sell those “terrible songs” to other artists, who actually scored some minor hits with them:

“We ended Cliff Richard’s run of hits when he recorded our “Blue Turns to Grey”–it was one of the rare times one of his records went into the top thirty instead of the top ten. And when the Searchers did “Take It Or Leave It,” it torpedoed them as well. Our songwriting had this other function of hobbling the opposition while we got paid for it. It had the opposite effect on Marianne Faithfull. It made her into a star with “As Tears Go By”– the title changed by Andrew Oldham from the Casablanca song “As Time Goes By”–written on a twelve-string guitar. We thought, what a terrible piece of tripe. We came out and played it to Andrew, and he said, “It’s a hit.” We actually sold this stuff, and it actually made money. Mick and I were thinking, this is money for old rope!”

Keef has a particularly infectious, quite musical, narrative style. “Our songwriting had this other function of hobbling the opposition while we got paid for it” is a wonderfully assonant, almost poetic line, for example. But in terms of content, the Stone rather exaggerates. Cliff’s “Blue Turns To Grey” is a No. 1 hit in Israel, scores second place in Malaysia and Singapore, reaches the Top 20 in the Netherlands, New Zealand and Australia (when Dylan is in Australia), and in England it is also a neat No. 15 – in May ’66, that is, when Dylan is in England. Cliff calling it “a hit” is in fact correct, and it certainly doesn’t end his run of hits – the next four singles in this year 1966 all make the Top 10 again. Besides, Keith’s salty qualifications like “this stuff” and “old rope” are really a bit too cynical; “Blue Turns To Grey” is actually a very nice song.

 

… and when the Stones record it themselves and Brian Jones brings in his twelve-string guitar, the nice song even gets a very charming, folk-rockin’ Byrds colour.

However, the metaphor “blue turns to grey” remains somewhat awkward. After all, since the Middle Ages, “blue” has been the poetic, or synesthetic, synonym for “sad, depressed”. So it is a bit confusing when Cliff and Mick Jagger sing:

So now that she is gone
You won't be sad for long
For maybe just an hour or just a moment
Of the day

Then blue turns to grey
And try as you may
You just don't feel good
You don't feel alright
And you know that you must find her

… which communicates a confusing, incoherent message; the first stanza explicitly states that the narrator has been abandoned and that he is therefore “sad” – he is blue. But that won’t last long, and “then blue turns to grey”. “Grey”? “Feeling grey” is, also according to researchers at the University Hospital South Manchester (2010) exactly the same as “feeling blue”, only more accurate, more in line with the actual perception of depressed people:

“When asked to pick a hue that reflected their mood, healthy participants selected a shade of yellow, but depressed ones, for the most part, chose grey. According to the researchers, the colour grey implies “a dark state of mind, a colourless and monotonous life, gloom, misery or a disinterest in life.”

Dylan reuses the phrase in the penultimate verse of “Peggy Day”, resolving the ambiguity in one fell swoop:

Peggy Day stole my poor heart away
Turned my skies to blue from grey
Love to spend the night with Peggy Day

… by the simple expedient of adding “skies” to the inverted metaphor. As it should be, of course. As Dylan remembers from such evergreens as “In a Little Spanish Town” (Many skies have turned to grey / Because we’re far apart). And as it is done with appropriate melancholy by one of the most talented exponents of the 90s falsetto hype, by Travis in “The Last Laugh Of The Laughter”;

When the spotlight fades away
Ma vie, c'est la vie
When the blue skies turn to grey
Ma vie, my oh my

Yep, my life was clouded and colourless, before I knew Peggy, and now the sun is shining, now my life is good. Pretty clear. Still not too uplifting poetry. Quite corny even. Which the master himself probably thinks too. “Peggy Day” is hardly a candidate, if a Martian came to Earth tomorrow and asked him: “Bob, how many iconic country songs have you made?”

——————–

To be continued. Next up: Peggy Day part 5

Jochen is a regular reviewer of Dylan’s work on Untold. His books, in English, Dutch and German, are available via Amazon both in paperback and on Kindle:

 

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2 Responses to Peggy Day (1969) part 4: Hobbling the opposition

  1. Larry Fyffe says:

    Stones: somewhat awkward?
    Hair turns to grey.

  2. Larry Fyffe says:

    That can make you feel blue too.

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