Friday, February 11, 2011

Friday Forgotten Song: Castles in the Air

In the 1975 film adaptation of James Grady's first novel, the re-titled Three Days of the Condor, Kathy Hale (Faye Dunaway portraying the reluctant 'draftee' to Robert Redford's Joe Turner) says something that decades later continues to strike a chord with me:
"Sometimes I take a picture that isn't like me. But I took it so it is like me. It has to be. I put those pictures away."
The printed photos of desolate city scenes ("lonely pictures", says Turner) in her apartment catch the protagonist's attention, and for which he finds telling. That they are personal in a way that's difficult for her* to share is obvious in those scenes. Such is the case with the song of this forgotten post.

Don McLean is the folk singer-songwriter that broke through in the early 70s with his now legendary ballad, American Pie. In it, he told the story of the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and J.P. Richardson (The Big Bopper) in a plane crash in 1959 through the scope of his own experience. The National Endowment selected it as one of the five greatest songs of the 20th century in a poll for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America. 'Nuff said. The man's talent for song and lyric (he's a veritable poet, IMO) was clearly on display with that first hit, and the albums and singles that followed. But for whatever reason, it is the Castles in the Air song which resonates with me over time, especially through the darkest of moods and times. If I was down in the dumps, this song would be up and playing endlessly on whatever CD player I had at the time.

The lament-filled tune tells of a disillusioned urban dweller coming to grips with the reality that his needs no longer jibe with his girlfriend or her lifestyle. The seemingly contradictory 'I’m city born, but I love the country life' response shouldn't work as a verse for me at all (being the jaded Angeleno that I am), but somehow it does. As well, the tune is unique in that it has more than one form by the same artist. The first manifestation of the song came from his debut album Tapestry. Songfacts reports the...
"... original song, which was recorded in 1969, featured a strings section. This was released the following year on Mediarts Records. In 1971, United Aritsts Records re-released the song, but overdubbed a Moog Synthesizer part. The UA version is more common as the Mediarts version is now out of print."
That initial tune can be found here. The song was originally released as the 'B' side of the 45 single for his next best seller, Vincent, back in 1972. Then and now, many prefer that early form. The song was played enough as a radio 'flip' to reach the Hot 100 back in its day. However, I still prefer McLean's later 1981 re-recording of the track -- that's the one which is marked as his last true 'hit' (making it to the pop Top 40 that same year). For me, its slower tempo combined with the vocal low notes deployed by the artist transforms the track into something more sorrowful compared to the previous rendition. It's more in tune to that of a requiem, I think, and is likely the reason it transfixes me still.

When I'm in the car with my children randomly slinging tunes through the stereo care of my iPod, and come across Castles in the Air, I'll purposely skip over it to the next track. Like Kathy, it's not something that I think is typical of my (musical) tastes. I own very few tracks like it. But the fact that I have them must mean they are me. And that it still touches 'me deep inside,' paraphrasing McLean. Perhaps that is another reason I put it away, and only bring it out when I'm at depth. Anyway, I hope you enjoy.



And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.

Hills of forest green where the mountains touch the sky,
A dream come true, I’ll live there till I die.
I’m asking you to say my last goodbye.
The love we knew ain’t worth another try.

Save me from all the trouble and the pain.
I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again.
Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain,
Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain.

But how can words express the feel of sunlight in the morning,
In the hills, away from city strife.
I need a country woman for my wife;
I’m city born, but I love the country life.

For I cannot be part of the cocktail generation:
Partners waltz, devoid of all romance.
The music plays and everyone must dance.
I’m bowing out. I need a second chance.

Save me from all the trouble and the pain.
I know I’m weak, but I can’t face that girl again.
Tell her the reasons why I can’t remain,
Perhaps she’ll understand if you tell it to her plain.

And if she asks you why, you can tell her that I told you
That I’m tired of castles in the air.
I’ve got a dream I want the world to share
And castle walls just lead me to despair.


* BTW, composer Dave Grusin nails the soundtrack for this film, especially with his Goodbye for Cathy love theme from the movie.

12 comments:

  1. Oh, man, you have tapped into one of my musical loves: the music of Don McLean. It's always been my dream to see him in concert, but the only time he was ever scheduled to be here in Columbus (that I'm aware of), the show was cancelled (don't know why).

    I can't pick one of the two versions of CASTLES, I love them both. But I'm the girl who kept buying DM albums long after Top 40 radio ceased to notice him.

    My favorite DM album is HOMELESS BROTHER. Any way I can talk you into writing a post about THE LEGEND OF ANDREW McCREW?

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  2. This is one of favorite songs~~always love the way he sings a song.Thanks for a wonderful reminder.

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  3. <span>Beautiful music!</span>
    <span>Greetings from Barcelona</span>

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  4. He was the best.

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  5. He's a great artist, Naomi. Looking at his published tour schedule, he seems to be a lot of overseas stops. I hope get puts on more U.S. stops and you get to see him soon. And I'll have to discover Mr. Andrew McCrew I'm sorry to say (but I will):


    http://www.youtube.com/v/InxDB7PHykQ" type="application/x-shockwave-flash" width="170" height="140


    Thanks, Naomi!

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  6. I'm glad we have another song in common, Bev. Thanks.

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  7. Welcome, Beatriz! And thanks very much for your comment and greeting.

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  8. Oh, yes he is, Patti. Thanks, my friend.

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  9. Way late to this post, but i'd like to express this to you regardless. i was born in 66. My first 4 years of life were pretty abusive. As such, i have some pretty distinct memories as early as age two.

    Fast forward to 2010. I'm in a grocery store and here this song. I had never heard it before as far as i know, but nearly start crying in line listening to it. There have been times when i have played this song over and over through the entire day. It had a vague familiarity the moment i heard it in that store, and im quite certain i used to listen to it as a very young child. Why my first instinct was to want to cry...

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    1. Thank you very much for sharing your memories here, RadTact. I can't imagine how supremely difficult your childhood was because of the abuse you experienced. Music remains an amazing art form because it can transfix, soothe, and heal (at least, temporarily) its listeners. I sincerely hope it helped.

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  10. ...forgot to add that this song turns out to be my favorite DM song by far, and one of the most beautiful songs written, ever

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    1. It's certainly one of my favorites. Thank you.

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