Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Great Songs You May Never Have Heard (8)

I'm going to write about a voice that many of you will recognize, especially fans of Christmas music, although the type of Christmas music you would probably never hear in a church. In 1987, the Pogues had a bit of a hit song with "Fairytale of New York," in which lead singer Shane MacGowan traded both loving and hateful words with Kirsty MacColl. Remember these lines?

You scum bag, you maggot
You cheap lousy faggot
Merry Christmas your ass
I pray God it's our last

It interests me that Kirsty MacColl, blessed with such a great voice and so many friends in the business, was unable to make further inroads here in North America, and that what I consider her finest album was released almost as an afterthought by a record company that wasn't willing to sign her to a contract. There are plenty of great songs on Titanic Days; it's a very emotional album, sometimes peppy, sometimes introspective, always thoughtful.

The title track is what stands out the most for me, "Titanic Days," is an upbeat-sounding song with a deep dark secret. The words are as disturbing as anything in the Pogues song, this one though about a very different kind of relationship. It's disturbing, sexual in an off-kilter sort of way, apparently about a relationship gone sour. Which makes sense, since I read now that the album is "informed by her failing marriage with [Steve] Lillywhite."

As for the music itself, I find a sense of anticipation that grows on me as I listen to it. There's a steady but quiet beat that accompanies a a slow swell to the music, and MacColl's voice joins in early, taking us for a ride into a pretty kinky situation. I love listening to this song, but that enjoyment always turns to a knot of pain at the end, when I hear the sounds of the sea in the background.

You see, in 2000 Kirsty MacColl was on vacation with her children in Mexico, swimming and diving in the ocean (in a restricted diving area), when a speed boat owned by a wealthy Mexican entered the area, apparently moving very fast. As she and her boys came up from a dive she saw that the boat was heading right for them. She managed to push her son out of the way (he did receive some injuries), but the boat hit her and killed her instantly.

At the time, MacColl was in the process of reinventing herself, and introducing listeners to new music, especially from Cuba. She had worked on a radio series for BBC Radio 2 about Cuban music, and I know there were a lot of wonderful songs that went unwritten, and to hear her evolving take on Latin music would have been grand.

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