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Old 09-26-2011, 06:02 PM   #300 (permalink)
Trollheart
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When I started this section I pointed out that there are some songs which really stand out from the rest, lyrically, where the writer(s) has/have made a real effort to tackle some unusual subject, or indeed a well-covered theme from a different angle, or have just written a song which is so different that it draws your attention and shows how the lyricist has really honed their craft. Of course there are many --- thousands, probably more --- of these types of songs, but it's the ones that speak to me which I end up featuring here.

This time round it's Australian singer/songwriter Kevin Johnson, with his only hit from 1973, and the very antithesis of rock star worship. The rather long-titled “Rock and roll I gave you the best years of my life” chronicles the struggles of a young man to make it in the world of music, and how difficult that proves. Semi-autobiographical, the song channels Johnson's frustration at the lack of help from his record label at the time to break him beyond his native Australia, and is a moving cautionary tale that sometimes, just wanting something hard enough is not enough to ensure that you will get it.

Rock and roll I gave you the best years of my life (Kevin Johnson) from “Rock and roll I gave you the best years of my life”, 1973.
Music and lyrics by Kevin Johnson
The polar opposite to such throwaway “we're-gonna-make-it” songs as Gary Moore's pretty awful “Teenage idol” (“He dumped his chick and sold his car/ Bought himself a hot guitar/ He joined a band and they cut some tracks/ They hit the road and they've never looked back!”) Yeah, if only life were that easy, Gary, we'd all be doing it. But set diametrically against this tale of easy money, hot chicks and instant fame, Johnson's song takes a totally different, and realistic, if somewhat depressing look at how hard it is to make it in the music biz.

The song starts off recalling the youth of the young man, as he gets his first guitar and learns to play it, through his adolescence as he joins a band and has some minor success, then just when it looks like they're about to make it, the sixties end and a new wave of cynicism and rebellion sweep over the world, punk comes to the fore and no-one wants to hear their music anymore. So he goes off to try to make it as a solo artist, but no matter where he goes, record companies are not interested.

Finally, he meets the girl he's destined to marry, and after she helps him try to shop his demos around London, she finally convinces him that this is not to be. He will never be a star, and in resignation he sells his guitar. It's a sad ending, but a brutally realistic one, and there is a note of hope, as the song is not only one of trying and failing, but of dedication, perserverance and finally acceptance. The man realises he has been chasing a pipe-dream which will never be his, and instead settles down with the girl, trading fame and glory for love and a stable relationship.

The first time I heard the song I was, probably like most people, rooting for the guy and fully expecting him to make it, and it's quite sobering to realise, as the song draws to its conclusion, that the good guy doesn't win. He never reaches his dream of becoming a rock star, and yet, behind the disappointment is a certain joy that he experienced music, in some form, and was able to be part of it, if only for a short time. He does lament the time spent in pursuit of his goal (“All those dreamy sunny Sundays/ Moonlight summer nights”), but has plenty to be thankful for, and he is after all glad he tried. His story surely resonates in the hearts of thousands upon thousands of men and women the world over who have tried, and failed, to make it in the often heartless world of music.

It's a pretty powerful song, which you can hear below, with the all-important lyric to follow.



I can still remember/ When I bought my first guitar/
Remember just how good the feeling was /Put it proudly in my car,
And my family listened fifty times/ To my two song repertoire
And I told my mum her only son /Was gonna be a star.
Bought all the Beatle records/ Sounded just like Paul;
Bought all the old Chuck Berrys / 78`s and all,
And I sat by my record player /Playin` every note they played,
And I watched them all on TV /Makin' every move they made.

Rock and roll, I gave you all the best years of my life:
All the dreamy sunny Sundays, /All the moonlit summer nights.
I was so busy in the back room/ Writin` love songs to you
While you were changin` your direction/ And you never even knew
That I was always/ Just one step behind you.

`66 seemed like the year/ I was really goin` somewhere:
We were living in San Francisco /With flowers in our hair,
Singing songs of kindness/ So the world would understand;
But the guys and me were something /More than just another band.
And then `69 in LA/ Came around so soon;
We were really making headway /And writing lots of tunes,
And we must have played the wildest stuff /We had ever played:
The way the crowds cried out for us/We thought we had it made.

Rock and roll, I gave you all the best years of my life:
All the crazy lazy young days /All the magic moonlit nights.
I was so busy on the road /Singin` love songs to you
While you were changin` your direction /And you never even knew
That I was always /Just one step behind you.

`71 in Soho /When I saw Suzanne:
I was trying to go it solo /With someone else`s band.
And she came up to me later/ And I took her by the hand,
And I told her all my troubles /And she seemed to understand.
And she followed me through London, /Through a hundred hotel rooms,
Through a hundred record companies /Who didn`t like my tunes;
And she followed me when, finally, /I sold my old guitar:
And she tried to help me understand/ I`d never be a star.

Rock and roll, I gave you all the best years of my life:
All the dreamy sunny Sundays,/All the moonlit summer nights.
And though I never knew the magic/ Of makin` it with you
Thank the Lord for giving me /The little bit I knew.
And I will always be /One step behind you.

Rock and roll, I gave you all the best years of my life:
Singing out my love songs/ In the brightly flashing lights.
And though I never knew the magic/ Of makin` it with you,
Thank the Lord for giving me /The little bit I knew.
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