tremble clef

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Kirsty MacColl, "Walking Down Madison (6 a.m. Ambient Mix)" (1991)

I've been thinking about Kirsty MacColl quite a bit recently. Much of this was spurred by listening to her From Croydon to Cuba boxset, which does a nice job of compiling the highlights of her all-too-brief career (although: where is "Autumn Soupgirl" from Tropical Brainstorm, or "Treachery"? Grumble grumble, get off my lawn, kids).

Although her death, let alone the tragic circumstances around it, makes it easy to be revisionist and claim that I've always loved her, the truth is more mundane (though, I suspect, quite typical). I first adored, and will always adore, Kirsty for "They Don't Know"; but even there I prefer Tracey Ullman's version (more joyous, more unironically girl-groupy). The middle period of Kirsty's career, however, was frankly a little boring. Something like "Days" was all well and fine, but it was so polite (no, thank you for the days!). If she had had any success, she might have been accused of all the things that Dido is nowadays (unfairly) charged with. Kirsty's infatuation with Latin rhythms finally returned the sass to her recordings, but it would be all too brief.

Of course, there were exceptional moments from Kirsty's middle period. I first heard "Walking Down Madison" in a record store in London (one of the big franchise ones -- HMV, perhaps, or Virgin; I don't think I even knew about Berwick Street then). This must have been 1991, so it would have been my very first trip to London. (Is this the little boy, sunrise, sunset, etc.) I loved the song as blared over the speakers, and bought the 12" because I fancied it would be novel and unique of me to buy records instead of postcards to remember my trip by. Why, no one else has ever thought that.

(Side note #1: Yes, I still do that, but at least I'm not all self-satisfactorily smug about it. Side note #2: the other record that I associate with that trip, and have the CD single of? Rodeo Jones's "Get Wise!" What? It was bouncy!)

One thing I never loved about the song, however, is the rap. Needless to say it now sounds dated, but even then it was a bit cringeworthy, as if a symptom of Kirsty's over-identification (homeless people are street...and now I'm street because I put in a rap!). That's why I've always preferred this mix: an ambient version that slows down the number, removes the rap, and makes it much more heart-wrenching. In so doing it inches the song perilously close to being an overly earnest ditty about liberal/class guilt and homelessness (i.e., to Phil Collins territory). Perhaps. But it's hard to not call the song heartfelt at around the 3 min mark. It's all tinkly percussion, and sounds like someone, a street performer, say, is in the background tapping quietly on pots and pans; but then the synth line gently swells up again, and the harmonizing background voice joins Kirsty in singing "it's not that fun..." It's utterly moving, and not quite your father's day in paradise.


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