January 27, 2009

"Life in a Northern Town"

From the Wikipedia entry:

"Life in a Northern Town" is a song by The Dream Academy, a British folk rock group. The song was the opening track to their 1985 debut album, The Dream Academy. Reaching #7 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart in February 1986, it was their biggest hit.

The lyrics are references to Tanworth-in-Arden (England) native Nick Drake, who died of an antidepressant overdose in 1974. The Dream Academy intended the song as a tribute to Drake.

There were two different versions of the music video. The first one was made in 1984 and was filmed in Hebden Bridge near Halifax in Yorkshire, UK
:

This video was later updated when the song became international top 5 hit in 1985. This original one has a cool little Beatles moment in it and seems more "northern town"-ish. How could they (The Dream Academy) ever top this? I think the answer is they couldn't (unfortunately).

"Life in a Northern Town"

A Salvation Army band played
And the children drank lemonade
And the morning lasted all day,
All day
And through an open window came
Like Sinatra in a younger day,
Pushing the town away
Ah -

(Chant)
Ah hey ma ma ma
Life in a northern town.

They sat on the stoney ground
And he took a cigarette out
And everyone else came down
To listen.
He said "In winter 1963
It felt like the world would freeze
With John F. Kennedy
And the Beatles."

(Chant)
Ah hey ma ma ma
Life in a northern town.
Ah hey ma ma ma
All the work shut down.

The evening had turned to rain
Watch the water roll down the drain,
As we followed him down
To the station
And though he never would wave goodbye,
You could see it written in his eyes
As the train rolled out of sight
Bye-bye.

(Chant)
Ah hey ma ma ma
Life in a northern town.
Ah hey ma ma ma
Life in a northern town.

Here they are doing it on Saturday Night Live during my senior year in high school (1985):

11 comments:

gilligan said...

I'm always amazed when a band comes out of nowhere and produces a masterpiece and then fades back into oblivion. Modern English comes to mind as another example. The talent obviously was there in making the masterpiece - where'd it go on all the follow up attempts?

tony said...

! Live In Hebden Bridge.
I have never seen this video before!
I Love Nick Drake.
Three Cheers For YoU!!!

Chris said...

The reality that lightning sometimes strikes only once (as far as having a pop hit goes) makes acts with staying power (U2 comes to mind, Madonna, once upon a time) even more incredible. Only the Beatles could come up with masterpiece after masterpiece, IMHO.

Wow, Tony. This is fortuitous. What are the odds that a guy living in Hebden Bridge would visit this specific blog, and the blogger (from a little U.S. town called Nacogdoches, Texas) would do a post featuring an obscure video by a one hit wonder band set precisely where you live?? Apparently, those odds are pretty good. Nick Drake was a talented guy. Volkswagen used his "Pink Moon" back when they were relaunching the Beetle. It's such a great, mystical song.

Leigh said...

Boy, I love this song. It is a melancholy counterpart to "Penny Lane", which I've always thought was one of the Beatles' best.

I'm very partial to songs that evoke a strong sense of place. Bobbi Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe" is another of my favorites for this reason. It gets stuck in my head for days at a time, though; it's kind of an earworm.

I've read that "Life in a Northern Town" was originally written around the chorus; Nick Laird-Clowes sang it for Paul Simon, who was giving him guitar lessons, and Simon remarked, "You should write a song around that". He was right; the chorus is another earworm (I mean that in a good way!)

Chris said...

Whoa - good call on "Life in a Northern Town" being a melancholy counterpart to "Penny Lane" (that title is, of course, actually held by "Strawberry Fields Forever," or, if not, "In My Life"). "Penny Lane" is my favorite Beatles track, by the way.

I think you've mentioned your fondness for "Ode to Billy Joe" in a previous post comment. It is so evocative of southern "swampiness."

That's a fantastic bit of trivia, Leigh. Thank you for it. I had no idea that Paul Simon gave guitar lessons, much less to The Dream Academy's lead singer. It makes sense he wrote it around that chorus!

Leigh said...

Here's the link for the Paul Simon trivia (it's in the second comment):
http://preview.tinyurl.com/ctgrwg

And a little more explanation of the connection:
http://preview.tinyurl.com/bgakqh

"Penny Lane" is also my current favorite Beatles song, though it's changed places with "In My Life" multiple times over the years. It's the Judy Collins version of "Life" that I like best, however.

Abbey Road, specifically the second side of the original vinyl, is my favorite album.

Leigh said...

Whoa. I thought those URLs would show as links. Oh, well, cut and paste into the address bar will work. But doesn't this blogging software support links?

Chris said...

Heh - don't worry about that. I think you have to actually use HTML to paste a clickable link within the comment section. That does suck. Cut and paste is fine. Thank you for them!

Yeah, "Penny Lane" is the Beatles right at the pinnacle of their career, just as the whole thing was beginning to topple. It's such a change from what they'd been doing the year before. I guess "Eleanor Rigby" and other things ("Tomorrow Never Knows") on Revolver sort of prepared people for it.

Chris said...

Oh, and my favorite Beatles album is The Beatles, next being Revolver, followed closely behind by Abbey Road.

Booksteve said...

I love this song and the video but at the time it came out, I watched a stripper doing an impassioned "bump and grind" to the record! Strange choice, I thought! I quit going to strip clubs.

Chris said...

It is an odd choice for a strip routine! And I'm assuming this was twenty-some years ago. If it was recent, it would be even stranger. Sort of a melancholy bump 'n' grind.