August 17, 2007

British Singers with British Accents

I've joined the twenty-first century, folks. After more than a little resistance, I finally broke down and am now in possession of an 80-gig video Ipod. I've have many thousands of records and CD's and I work at home, with stereos in my office, living room, and kitchen, so when would I use it?

The answer, my friends, is that now I seem to take it with me during the arduous five-minute walk to Starbucks, or the fifteen-minute subway ride to the gym. I love the ability to zap a song that I don't like -- and I'm ruthless.

One of the joys of the Ipod is revisiting songs that I haven't listened to much, if at all, in the past twenty years. When I was a little kid, I became obsessed with certain singles. I had a little portable record player that would keep repeating a song automatically, and I would listen to the same tune ten or twenty times in a row. I haven't been quite as compulsive with my Ipod, but I keep finding myself playing Time Passages, Al Stewart's classic from 1978.

Here's the single version, accompanied by an awful video montage:

There is much to like about this song from the same artist who brought us Year of the Cat: wonderful guitar and saxophone work; an irresistable melody; unusual and thoughtful lyrics. But one of the huge appeals is Al Stewart's vocal. I'm not sure anyone has ever wrung more emotion out of wistfulness than A.S. But I also love his strong Scottish accent peeking through.

I get asked all the time by Imponderables readers why British singers don't betray their accents, and I've written about the subject a couple of times. It seems counterintuitive that the answer is simply that the Brits are emulating their American (mostly African-American) idols, but this seems to be the case. There are plenty of exceptions, but these tend to be either political statements (The Sex Pistols), family-oriented pop (Herman's Hermits or Gerry & the Pacemakers), or self-conscious rebels (Pet Shop Boys).

P.S. While trying to verify the release date of Time Passages, I found this quote from the artist in Stewart's Wikipedia entry

"I’ll tell you a funny story. I have never really cared for that song; I know it was a big hit and all that. It was just one of those things where the record company asked me to write something that sounded like "Year of the Cat" and we ended up doing that. But I didn’t realize truly how bad a song it was until one day I was in an elevator and I was listening to what I thought was Muzak. About 30 seconds went by, and I finally began to recognize it and said to myself, ‘this sounds pretty horrible’. Then, horror of horrors, I heard my voice come on, it actually was the record. So I’m thinking, ‘oh my God what have I done, this is terrible’! Hopefully in the last 25 years I’ve redeemed myself with other things, but "Time Passages" has just never thrilled me."