I was very saddened to read that Chas Hodges, the piano-playing half of Chas & Dave, passed away yesterday.
I’d only mentioned this wildly popular (if you live in the UK) or obscure (if you live anywhere else) act the other day in an article about Albert Lee’s “Country Boy”. And just like that, Chas Hodges was gone.
Even at the height of their popularity, I wasn’t a huge fan of Chas & Dave’s music. They sung of places, experiences and events that took place hundreds of miles…and a couple of generations…away from my own upbringing, so they didn’t resonate with me in the same way they might have done it I had been brought up in the East End of London.
But I admired them greatly.
Firstly, they were great musicians…although you could be forgiven for thinking they weren’t if all you knew of Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock were their Chas & Dave years.
Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they were in-demand session musicians on the London music scene. Then, as now, those aren’t the sort of gigs you get if you’re anything other than right at the top of your game.
They might have been largely self-taught, but if you put a guitar in their hands or sat them behind a keyboard, Chas & Dave knew what to do with it. And delivered the goods well enough and often enough that they got asked back to do it again. So if you’re one of those music fans who sometimes sneer at Chas & Dave’s musicianship, you probably owe them an apology.
To give you just one little snippet — Dave Peacock came up with the bass line which Dr Dre…something of an expert on the subject of great bass lines…would sample three decades later for Eminem’s “My Name Is…”.
All that aside, what I really admired Chas & Dave for is that they invented an entirely new musical category and made it their own.
In the history of popular music, only a handful of acts have ever done that…Dylan, perhaps. Elvis in his early years, perhaps. The Grateful Dead, maybe.
After that I’m struggling to think of a category so completely owned by one artist.
Admittedly, for Chas & Dave, it was a slightly obscure category but it’s no less an impressive feat for all that.
Chas & Dave wanted to take music away from its increasing Americanisation, where no matter what part of the world they came from, every artist tried to sound like they were American (well, apart from The Proclaimers, perhaps).
I’ve absolutely nothing against artists who come from the US, or even people who try to sound like they do. But it’s still brave to wake up one day and say to yourself “you know what, I’m going to do the exact opposite of what everybody else in the world is doing” and then set out to make it happen.
That’s why Chas & Dave’s fusion of old-style rock and roll together with the sort of community singalong that used to take place around rickety old pianos in the back rooms of London pubs after people had consumed rather too much of the landlord’s finest is something I admired so much.
Their records were often humorous and the sometimes hammed-up the East End angle a little, but to this day songs like “Gertcha” and “Rabbit”…both UK Top 10 hits…are clever songs which I’m sure were a lot harder to write and perform than Chas & Dave’s rather loosely-worn talents might lead you to believe.
Their biggest hit…a UK Number Two in 1982…was the song I’m writing about today, “Ain’t No Pleasing You”. If you’re reading this outside the UK, it’s probably one of their more accessible songs as well since Chas & Dave keep their usual East End Cockney shtick to a minimum in these lyrics.
“Ain’t No Pleasing You” is however delivered in the sort of gruff style that a “man’s man” from the East End…a cab driver, a dock worker, a factory hand…might deliver a message to someone who’s been mistreating him for years.
He’s struggled through, trying to do the right thing, despite being taken advantage off right, left and centre. He’s tried to stick it out. He’s sacrificed himself over and over again, and still it makes no difference.
He’s a give, give, give person in a take, take, take world. Until that final straw…
Well I built my life around you
Did what I thought was right
But you never cared about me
Now I’ve seen the light
Oh, darling, there ain’t no pleasing you
I’m sure we’ve all had relationships like that…
You seemed to think that everything
I ever did was wrong
I should have known it, all along
Oh, darling, there ain’t no pleasing you
The impact of “Ain’t No Pleasing You” is at least as much in the delivery as in the lyrics themselves.
I’m sure some teen idol could sing the same words and it would still be an OK song…although they might need to re-write the music a little to fit in with their target demographic…but there’s something about an older man singing these words which really makes the lyrics hit home.
This is a gruff guy, probably not used to talking about his feelings, keeping everything bottled up inside, as men often do. He’s got nobody to talk to about how he feels, although he’s got any number of people down the pub to talk to about last weekend’s football and whether or not West Ham might actually do something this season (spoiler alert…they usually don’t…).
But he’s got nobody to talk with about how he feels trapped in a relationship that only causes him pain.
At every turn, he’s undermined, told he’s wrong, taken advantage of and mistreated.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t an experience that only men have. I know plenty of women who have been through the same. This isn’t a gender issue…this is about the fact that both genders contain people who aren’t always as nice as they should be to their fellow human beings.
The difference is that men rarely talk about it. Indeed they rarely have someone they feel they can even have a conversation with on the subject. After all society tells them to suck it up, to be a man, to keep their mouth shut and get on with the job…and heaven forbid you should talk about your feelings.
There’s usually no quicker way for a man to clear a room than to open up about how he feels.
I’m not saying that’s right, or the way it should be. I’m just saying that for the large majority of men, certainly back in the early 1980s, that’s how it is.
It’s against this backdrop that “Ain’t No Pleasing You” is such a powerful song. Rough-edged middle-aged men from the East End of London aren’t supposed to think like that, much less tell people about it…and certainly not write chart-topping songs on the subject of their feelings.
But Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock did. They took something that had been hidden in the shadows for longer than it should have been, and pulled it just a little bit closer to the light.
In the more enlightened 2010s, that might not seem like such a big deal. Men are perhaps a little better than they were about opening up to other people, but it’s still not a strong suit for most of us.
I consider myself very fortunate to have come across two people in my life I could open up to…but at the same time, I have to acknowledge they were both women. I’ve never felt I could have those sorts of conversations with a man.
So not only did Chas & Dave invent an entirely new musical category with what they called “rockney” — a blend of rock and roll with old-style cockney singalongs.
They also played a part in making it OK for gruff working-class blokes to think their feelings had a legitimate part to play in their lives, and weren’t just something to be drunk away until the barrel was dry and the numbness masked the pain for another day.
And just to return to Chas & Dave’s musicianship a little, “Ain’t No Pleasing You” was written in 12/8 time which is one of the more unusual time signatures to make it to the upper reaches of the UK pop charts.
So RIP Chas Hodges. An underappreciated musician…by the general public at least…and part of the duo that invented and completely owned an entirely new musical category of their own making in a way that probably no other act in musical history ever has or ever will again.
Here’s Chas & Dave (Chas is on piano and lead vocals) with their UK Number Two from 1982… “Ain’t No Pleasing You”…
The video is below or, if you prefer, you can enjoy the song on Spotify here… https://open.spotify.com/track/1dH4LN0aabti2ouKdPRDGO
PS — just before we get to the video, if you enjoyed this article, please give it a “clap”…or even more than one if you’re feeling kind. You can also follow me on Medium (here) or Twitter (here) to get new articles as soon as they’re published.