Reddy, Steady, Go!
My earliest childhood musical memories stem mainly from three sources:
- my Geordie grandmother’s record collection (Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals, The Seekers, and Frank Ifield yodelling!);
- my other grandmother, a pre-war refugee, poignantly singing Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera;
- and my dad’s bass baritone renditions of John Peel’s Echo (“The horn of the hunter’s now silent…”).
During my early teens, this was overwritten by the glam rock of Marc Bolan’s T. Rex, the leather-clad Suzy Quatro (due more to an adolescent hormonal response than an appreciation of her music), and Roy Wood’s Wizzard. However, when my Geordie-born, but Australian-wed, aunt visited the UK in 1976 (’twas the first time that I’d met her), she brought with her three vinyl LPs that she thought we’d like.
The first was Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan’s late-1960s diversion into country music. I think she chose this for a gift as her son was a big Dylan fan and she simply assumed that we too would appreciate it.
Ordinarily, I’d consider it a bit too country-ish for me, but surprisingly, I rather liked it and when I was thinking of my retirement message to former colleagues (nearly two years ago now!), I did wonder about using a few lines from one of its tracks, Song & Dance Man, as my professional epitaph. It would have been a metaphor rather than something to be taken literally and my rationale for considering it was that when people retire, they are mostly forgotten a lot sooner than their egos would wish!
I won’t ask much of your time
Or that you recall my name.
Fame is just a momentary curse
But if you recall a song or two
That lingers when I’m gone
Then I guess a song and dance man could do worse.
In the end, although true as a metaphor, I thought it was far too pretentious even by my standards and I settled for a more literal epitaph: The lad did little harm.
So, you ask, what was the third of my aunt’s gift albums? Well, again, it was a name that was new to me, but not to the awakening feminist movement of the early 1970s. It was Helen Reddy’s Greatest Hits, a compilation album released in 1975 that included the 1971 song I am Woman, a song that had already become an iconic anthem of the feminist movement. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. To me it was just one from a collection of songs that I listened to quite a lot – I was not ‘in’ to analysing lyrics any more then than I am now – at least not consciously.
But there must have been some subconscious analysis going on. In 2017, when a BBC Four documentary chronicled Carly Simon’s late-1972 No Secrets album (the one that included You’re So Vain and turned her into a global star), it heralded her as that era’s feminist voice in popular music. On hearing that, my first impression, correct or otherwise, was that such a mantle belonged to Reddy.
Anyway, this week’s news in the showbiz world was that Helen Reddy had died, aged 78.
So guess what? Here’s a limerick…
A singer whose voice in the heady
Days of her youth held steady.
But the path that will take her
To now meet her maker
Is here. So, Helen, are you ready?