The legendary, innovative musician Robert Wyatt and artist and collaborator Alfie Benge have curated their favourite songs for Faber Radio.
This September, we’re proud to publish Side by Side, the collected lyrics, poems, writings and drawings of one of the most enduring creative partnerships of the last half-century.
As a founding member of influential English rock bands Soft Machine and Matching Mole and with a solo career that has lasted for over forty years, Wyatt’s music remains unclassifiably personal.
Alfie Benge is a visual artist, songwriter and pioneering music manager, having managed Robert’s career for fifty years. She is also married to him. Since 1982 they have collaborated on many of Robert’s most well-known songs.
‘Twisted’ by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross
‘Twisted’, as a song, was done in an idiom known as ‘vocalese’ – learning an instrumentalist’s recorded solo and putting words to it. This is a tough challenge, taking a real vocal athlete with very good ears to master it. ‘Twisted’ was based on a solo by tenor saxophonist Wardell Grey. This version is by the brilliant original lyricist, Scottish singer Annie Ross.
‘Sous le ciel de Paris’ by Zaz
This is a joyful celebration of Paris life brought back to life by the relatively young Zaz. The original waltz has been turned into a swinging 4/4, and the way the accordion and saxophone eventually take over is an organic extension of Zaz’s enthusiastic vocal. Makes this record, though short, into a real adventure. Lovely.
‘Dancing in the Street’ by Martha and the Vandellas
Got to confess, I have never danced in the street or anywhere else. But I do remember the deeply satisfying feeling of playing for dancers – like being a chef watching your customers enjoying your dishes. But like Ornette Coleman, I do like to dance in my head. For that, Motown records were the pop wonders of the sixties, in my opinion. Great songs, hip harmonies, riveting performers. Nothing ephemeral about this perfect pop record.
‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’ by The Shirelles
The Shirelles were the first such ‘girl group’ to bust the charts. They’d gotten together as school friends in the late fifties. With this record (9 January 1961, I think) they precipitated the whole ‘girl group’ phenomenon so widespread in pop music today – an enormous influence on the many other performers who followed in their wake.
‘Working in the Coal Mine’ by Lee Dorsey
First of all, that elegant rock-solid rhythm tells you we are in New Orleans, where so much of the best American music was incubated. Plus, we got the uniquely unadorned resignation of Lee Dorsey’s voice: ‘Lord, Im so tired!’ This is not a ‘protest’ song, just an unusually vivid evocation of a working man’s life.
‘One Day I’ll Fly Away’ by Randy Crawford
This song, from a consistently magnificent LP I’ve played over and over, is perfect for those wallowing in lonely alcohol-induced self-pity, but from then on simply a way to immerse yourself in a Jacuzzi of richly arranged first-class music. Randy Crawford: what a marvellous singer.
‘Alfie’ by Dionne Warwick
I, naturally, cannot be objective about this. The lyrics are terrific, but that’s not quite it. I am too damned English to turn on the taps in public, so I’ll merely say, it’s the title of this intricately composed song and it’s delivery here, by the utterly magical queen of song Dionne Warwick, that does my head in.
Robert Wyatt, Louth, Lincolnshire
I understand very few words in any of these songs that I love – they’re in foreign languages.
This seems a good lesson for those of us who struggle to write meaningful lyrics. It’s really all about the music: the music of the vowels, the rhythm of the words, the patterns in the sentences.
I’m hoping that none of these songs say anything awful that I wouldn’t approve of. If they do, please don’t tell me.
Alfie Benge, April 2020
Side by Side is coming 17 September.