Other people’s songs: Blue Moon, and North London Forever

By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood

Aaron: “Blue Moon” was written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart in 1934. That is considered by musicologists to be the first instance of the familiar “50s progression” in a popular song.

Here is an early recording by Al Bowlly in 1935.

Tony: I’m not sure the “50s progression” is that commonly used in the UK as the term to describe what happens here, although anyone who listens to chord progressions will, I am sure, immediately recognise it.   So, to give a simple explanation, if you are at the piano or playing the guitar, it is the chord sequence which, in C major, runs

C major, A minor, F major, G major.

Although of course as we can see here it was being used in the 1930s, but certainly by the 1950s is was as common in pop as that other most famous progression, the “12 bar blues” (which confusingly is rarely played as 12 bars).   That, in C, would run.

C major, F major, C major, G major, F major, C major.

For an example of that think of Elvis Presley singing “Hound Dog” – which actually does play the sequence as 12 bars.

And Elvis is relevant here because…

Aaron: Elvis Presley included his version of Blue Moon on his debut 1956 album…

Bob’s version appeared on Self Portrait

Tony:  Bob uses a rhythm which certainly took me by surprise (not having listened to this track for years and years).  And I think if I had no idea of who the singer was, and didn’t know Bob had recorded the track, I wouldn’t have guessed it was him.  Perhaps I would have said, it was recorded by “someone who has been listening to a bit of Dylan,” but that’s as close as I would have got.

I must say I still find the ending very odd.  Certainly unexpected (unless of course you know the track already and were expecting it!)  It sounds like one of those things that Bob heard in the studio and said to the viola play “hey do that at the end” so she/he does.

Coming back to the beat, I’m really a bit surprised here.  The middle 8 turns the song from its sadness into happiness, but the usual ending (as far as I know) is of the type that is heard in the Elvis recording, ending “without a love of my own” and fade…

But the middle 8 says

And then they suddenly appeared before meThe only one my arms will ever holdI heard somebody whisper"Please adore me"And when I lookedThe moon had turned to gold

and I guess that is what the musical coda signifies, and yes at that level it certainly works.

Aaron: Subsequent versions include those by New Edition in 1986…

Tony: Oh I remember this and thought it was quite amusing at the time.  It does show you can do almost anything with this song – including taking the middle 8 at half the speed of the verses, which is quite fun.

Aaron: Rod Stewart & Eric Clapton in 2004.

Tony: Another one of those in which the version Aaron has found in the USA won’t play in the UK (where I am) so I’ve also put a version by the guys that I have found below.  I’m hoping it is the same one that you found in the USA, Aaron.

Tony: It’s all very pleasant and sweet, but not something I would opt to put on.  It is, for me (and of course my comments are always totally personal) just too sugary for my taste.  As my acupuncturist – who I see each month to treat my tinnitus – said to me a few weeks ago, having listened to the latest (very limited edition) CD of songs I’ve written, “They are all so whistful and sad.”  And that’s where I always seem to be, at least in terms of songwriting.   But I rather suspect Bob likes it because of the beautiful construction of the music – the way the melody can float over that repeated chord sequence is indeed just something else.  In fact, songwriting to die for.

Aaron: Liam Gallagher… I’m only including this as a little wind-up, honestly feel free to ignore!

Tony: Aaron, I would never dare ignore anything you suggest, as I am sure you know perfectly well.  And to explain to everyone else, the shirt seen at the start of this video is that of Manchester City, an English football club funded by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan through the Abu Dhabi United Group.  The club use “Blue Moon” as a theme song.

However, as I was born and brought up in north London I support, (as my family has done through previous generations) and have a season ticket for, Arsenal.  And indeed I was in London last night watching them maintain their place at the top of the Premier League.   My club uses “North London Forever” as its theme – and the chorus is sung by the crowd at the start of each match.   And like many people brought up in north London I’m incredibly proud of my heritage.

North London foreverWhatever the weatherThese streets are our ownAnd my heart will leave you neverMy blood will foreverRun through the stone

There’s a second video at the end of the song, just in case you are interested, recorded at Arsenal, during which you do get a quick look at the ground.

And perhaps I should add, as there is every chance you are not familiar with the lingo, the song is written and performed in a north London working-class accent.

(I never thought I’d find a way of slipping this song in.  Brilliant, Aaron, thank you).


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Previously in this series…



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