Album of the Week, February 17: A Different Kind of Love Song by Dick Gaughan
February 17, 2013 1 Comment
Scottish folk singer and musician Dick Gaughan is a wonderful songwriter and master interpreter of traditional songs and other writers’ works. He first began recording in 1972 at the age of 24. He worked solo and with the Boys of the Lough and Five Hand Reel throughout the 70s. He was also a writer for Folk Review magazine and a member of the 7:84 Theatre Company. After a brief hiatus from studio work, he returned in 1981 with the stellar Handful of Earth. Somehow he managed to exceed that amazing release with its follow-up, 1983’s A Different Kind of Love Song. This is simply one of the best albums ever recorded, folk or otherwise.
|Title||A Different Kind of Love Song
|Label||Appleseed||Release Date||Fall 1983|
|Producer||Dick Gaughan and Carsten Linde|
|U.S. Chart||n/c||U.K. Chart||n/c|
Political and protest folk can be tricky. It’s easy to be too strident; it’s also easy to be too topical, resulting in even the strongest songs becoming museum pieces as their themes become part of history. Each of these forms has its place, but the finest examples — even when addressing a current issue — take on a timeless quality. Such is the nature of A Different Kind of Love Song. Arising from the abusive policies of Reagan and Thatcher, it transcends time and place, providing a blueprint for assembling great political statements in song.
Over the course of ten tracks and 40 minutes, Gaughan charts powerful themes. He includes three original songs, six well-chosen covers, and one poem set to his own music. The album includes informative liner notes to amplify the significance of each song.
Things start off powerfully with the title track. Gaughan was inspired by a woman who approached him at a concert and accused him of being too political. Why, she wondered, couldn’t he write a love song and make the listener happy? His response is one of his finest moments, a true testament to social justice and a reminder that love takes many forms.
All the songs that I sing are love songs
But their love is a different kind
Up next is a 19th Century labor poem written by Joseph Bovshover. Gaughan felt that the song “demanded a tune” so he provided one. The result is a raging anthem, describing the forces necessary to create real social change. For a 30-year-old song with words 100 years older, it is remarkably timely. Prisoner 562 is the story of Carl von Ossietzky, a German pacifist and winner of the 1935 Nobel Peace Prize. It was written by Oswald Andrae and translated by Iain MacKintosh, who taught it to Gaughan. Ossietzky leaked Germany’s clandestine rearmament plans — a violation of their 1918 surrender — and was tried for treason. The song is a great reminder of personal obligation to stand up to tyranny and a haunting reminder of the full range of horrors perpetrated by the Nazis.
Peggy Seeger’s Song of Choice appears next. Gaughan calls it “vitally important” and notes how ready people are to believe that horrors like the holocaust were isolated and cannot happen in their own back yard. Reminiscent of Martin Niemöller’s “first they came…” parable, it condemns those who choose not to care out of blindness or laziness. Gaughan follows this with a song by Seeger’s husband, folk legend Ewan MacColl, to whom he “owes an enormous debt as an artist.” The Father’s Song sets monsters from fairy tales up against the real monsters of the modern world: political, social, and economic oppressors. It’s a chilling lullaby with just a hint of hope.
Think Again is a reflection on war and enemies written by Gaughan. Meditating on the Cold War mentality, he ponders the losses the Russians suffered in World War II and asks “Do you think that the Russians want war?” Postulating the basic humanity of the people of all nations, he deflates the rhetoric that all citizens of the Soviet Union seek to destroy the West, recognizing the suffering from which they had barely emerged four decades after the war. It’s a wonderfully constructed song that has been covered by Billy Bragg.
Gaughan’s friend Jim Brown wrote As I Walked On the Road, a haunting vision of nuclear stockpiling and a tribute to the peace movement. Things take a somewhat lighter — but no less philosophical — turn with Stand Up For Judas. Songwriter Leon Rosselson has been called “fierce, funny, cynical, outraged, blasphemous, challenging, and anarchic.” He has recorded his own songs and his sharp observations have been covered by Billy Bragg, Oysterband, and many others. Gaughan chose this song as a reflection on ideology and blind adherence. It’s a thought-provoking analysis of Judas as the real leader of social change and the victim of Jesus’ need for the continued existence of the poor and downtrodden for his message to resonate.
Another song that mixes humor with biting insight is By the People, the final Gaughan original on the album. Bookending the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, with then-President Ronald Reagan, he asks how the great leader might view the ways in which his legacy has been abused. Sadly, 30 years later, even Reagan might wonder how his party has wound up where it is, and the lyrics still resonate. The album comes to a close with another cover, Joe South’s potent Games People Play. Throughout the broader political themes, Gaughan stresses personal responsibility and accountability. This well-chosen track looks carefully at that theme and demands that we each reflect on our role in creating a better world, one relationship at a time.
The CD release and downloadable version of the album include two bonus tracks. The World Turned Upside Down is the tragic story of the Diggers, a group of agrarian communists in 17th Century England. Also written by Leon Rosselson, it’s a different version than the one included on his 1981 album Handful of Earth and predates the hit version by Billy Bragg. It’s a perfect fit. Lassie Lie Near Me is a traditional ballad arranged by Gaughan. While not a political song like the rest, it is beautifully rendered and shows off his voice and guitar nicely.
Personal musical tastes vary, as do political views. Regardless of these, Dick Gaughan’s A Different Kind of Love Song is one of the most important and powerful albums ever recorded. AllMusic.com succinctly says “I can’t fault a thing on this one. Buy it.” They’re right. Do yourself a favor and check out this underappreciated masterpiece today.