I was in a fairly sober meeting with a professional colleague earlier. She went up considerably in my estimation when her phone went off part-way through our conversation.
Although her phone was on its quietest possible setting, I instantly recognised the strings from the intro of “The Story Of The Blues” emanating from somewhere deep inside her handbag.
I’ve always loved “The Story Of The Blues”.
It has the distinction…and I use that term extremely loosely…of being the first record I ever bought for my short-lived DJ-ing career. Not so much a career, more a gig, if I’m honest, but I was quite pleased with myself at the time.
I always wanted to be a radio DJ because I loved music and all my heroes growing up were radio DJs. My ambition was to work for the BBC on a “through the night” show.
This wasn’t because I was an insomniac…in fact I’ve been one of those bright-eyed and bushy-tailed early risers that so many people find a mixed blessing since I was a kid.
So I didn’t much fancy staying up all night. But I figured virtually nobody would be listening in the wee small hours, so I could get away with raiding the famous BBC record library to play whatever I wanted and nobody in senior management would ever notice.
That never happened, of course…except in my dreams. Although my Spotify subscription allows me to do pretty much exactly that now without the need to persuade the BBC to give me a job first…
But in the mid-1980s my flatmate at the time asked me to DJ at a party of his…well, more of a soiree if I’m honest — he’d gone to a really posh school and all his friends came from there or somewhere very similar.
This was less of a vote of confidence in me than you might immediately think.
My flatmate’s musical taste excluded just about every piece of music less than 200 years old, with only rare exceptions like Benjamin Britten and, in especially light-hearted moments, some Gilbert and Sullivan.
I didn’t even look at his record collection as I knew that would be a waste of time. So I started with mine.
I earmarked a few of my more party-friendly 7" singles for the party, but thought a few current chart hits might be a good idea in case any trendy people turned up (spoiler alert, they didn’t…), so I set off to Woolworth’s with a fiver in my hand…yes, this was a very long time ago…
After a very enjoyable couple of hours rummaging through their record aisle, I came back with…it will be no surprise to you by this point… “The Story Of The Blues” by Wah! (Plus “Sign of the Times” by the Belle Stars and “Twisting by the Pool” by Dire Straits, if you’re interested.)
So, while I never did get that job at the BBC, at least I’d got to pretend for an hour or two.
At the time, I liked “The Story of the Blues” not just because it was a great song, which it was, but I also loved its pretentiousness.
Clearly this was before punctuation was quite so important in groups’ names. Recently the UK charts have seen treated to groups called “Portugal. The Man” and “Panic! At The Disco” (with “Feel It Still” and “High Hopes” respectively)…both clearly part of a campaign to get imaginative punctuation more widely adopted by record companies. (Both are great songs, by the way, but they’re no better for the unusual punctuation.)
But a long time ago, the trail Portugal. The Man and Panic! At The Disco have been following lately was being blazed by Wah!.
For extra pretentiousness points, Wah! were sometimes called The Mighty Wah! and indeed The Mighty Wah (without the exclamation mark), so it all got quite confusing.
Wah!…or whatever your preferred designation is…was really just a front for Liverpudlian singer/songwriter Pete Wylie.
And he wasn’t finished with the pretentiousness because for extra bonus points “The Story Of The Blues” is technically called “The Story Of The Blues Part One”…
Apart from on my colleagues mobile phone ringtone earlier, the last time I heard “The Story Of The Blues” was when I was watching a Chelsea football match with my son on TV and I could hear the distinctive tones of the song coming out over the stadium sound system while the pitch-side pundits were doing their pre-match pieces to camera.
In one respect, “The Story Of The Blues” is an entirely appropriate pre-match song for Chelsea (club nickname “The Blues”).
But in another sense, it’s an odd choice. Rather than a tale of glory and triumph to motivate the home side before kick-off, “The Story Of The Blues” is a tale of someone who’s taken one-too-many blows during the course of a difficult life.
A song about coming off second-best in life isn’t a song I’d have chosen to play if I’d been in charge of Stamford Bridge’s playlist, that’s for sure…
Here’s a flavour of the lyrics…
First they take your pride
Then turn it all inside
And then you realise
You got nothing left to lose
Football apart, however you look at it…and whatever you call the group who performed it… “The Story Of The Blues” is a great song.
Admittedly “The Story Of The Blues” is slightly too heavy on the early-80s synthesizers and drum machines for my taste, but that’s a very minor criticism in the context of a great song. Oddly, they do use live strings and live drums on “The Story Of The Blues”, so they clearly had the budget for proper musicians. I can only imagine, this being the early 1980s and all, the producer decided they dare not leave out the synthesisers and the drum machines.
The lyrics try to impart the strength to keep going whatever life throws at you…
Feeling browbeaten day after day
I think it’s over but I just can’t get away
You say forget it
Well don’t jump the gun
You’re laughing this time
Next time you might be the one
To tell the story of the blues
“The Story Of The Blues” is well worth a listen, especially if life seems determined to deal you cards only from the bottom of the deck at the moment.
It always gives me the strength to pick myself up and try again, no matter what life throws at me. I hope it does the same for you.
So, in tribute to my professional colleague’s choice of mobile ringtone earlier, here’s Wah!, complete with the exclamation mark, and “The Story Of The Blues”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time and attention. I know you could have spent your time doing something else, so I’m very grateful that you’ve spent it in the company of one of my favourite songs.
The video is below. Regular readers will know I also try to provide a Spotify link for songs I write about, but unfortunately “The Story Of The Blues” is not available on Spotify at the time of writing.
The video is great, though, and for younger readers, yes the inside of a British pub in the early 1980s did look pretty much like this…