When I was about ten, we had a music teacher, an inspired man called Ian M. Christelow. He wouldn’t have thought me inspired in the least, having failed to teach me enough piano skill, over a period of four years, to attain Grade 1 Piano, which is about half a notch above ‘Chopsticks’. His ‘class’ music lessons, which were compulsory, were of the ‘music appreciation’ variety. In the early sixties, and possibly at any time in history, it was hard to control a class of ten-year-olds who were being obliged to listen to Bach or Beethoven, Mozart or Dvorak or Tchaikovsky. We groaned. He moaned about our groaning, and, taking savage bites from an apple (he had a plentiful supply), he would sometimes launch into a piece of invective about what nasty, trumped-up little over-privileged tykes we were. And we were: pig-ignorant of the rest of the world, living in a bubble in which we had no idea that we were being groomed as leaders of the capitalist world (it may not have worked on me, but it certainly worked on many of my classmates, whose names turn up in the papers – in my case, his rants made me go all introspective about socialism).
This came back to me while I was browsing yet another book of lists of records you should listen to before you die, an anthology of sixties obscurities. One or two of them I actually own. And one of them, the chart-scraping ‘I Saw Linda Yesterday’, by Doug Sheldon, was part of the pact that the said Mr. Christelow made with us. If we would listen to a Beethoven movement, say, he would listen to ‘I Saw Linda Yesterday’. The rule was that we had to pay attention to the Beethoven, and look serious, and be silent. He was quite a frightening teacher in a way, so we did the deal.
I think I am not exaggerating when I say that ‘I Saw Linda Yesterday’ is, lyrically at least, about as rubbish as any record I own. It is the song of a man who thinks things are going well (‘really okay’) until he is knocked over by the storm force of passion, in the shape of Linda. The song ends with some rousing rhubarb:
My heart went up, down,
Like a merry-go-round and around,
Like a forest fire, down, down,
Oh, oh, oh, dum-diddly, dum-diddly, dum-dum-dum.
Hey, hey, dum de dodie-dodie,
Hip, hip, dum de dodie-dodie,
Hip, hip, dum de dodie-dodie-do,
Dum-diddly, dum-diddly, dum-dum.
Replaying it in my head, I realised this morning that it was actually just Dion’s ‘Runaround Sue’ with different words, so it was no surprise, during my surf to see if I could find something out about Doug Sheldon (who is to be or has already turned 70 this year), that I learned that he had in fact recorded ‘Runaround Sue’ before ‘I Saw Linda Yesterday’, after which he vanished from the hit parade.
It was during these lessons that I first started to think about voting Labour.