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Off the Beaten Tracks: Home thoughts, a lockdown songbook

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WITH Field Marshal Johnson attempting to confine us all to barracks, I thought I’d take a break from musician profiles this week and provide a selection of songs about house and home. After all, there’s plenty of time to listen to them thanks to BoJo,  DomCum and their merry band of ‘scientists’.

We start with one of my favourites, Richard and Linda Thompson’s A Heart Needs a Home

This tender, beautiful selection is from the 1975 album Hokey Pokey. I think it was halfway through this song that Linda’s voice gave out when I saw them in Manchester that year. As I wrote here, Richard was not best pleased.  

Randy Newman has written several songs about domestic bliss and this one, I’ll Be Home, is very sweet. It was first recorded by Harry Nilsson in 1970 for his album Nilsson sings Newman, by Rand himself on a 1971 live LP and in the studio six years later on his Little Criminals collection. 

Without a doubt my top Madness track is Our House, which was released in 1982 and was a top five hit.

There is an area of Burnley named Lowerhouse, which has its own Lancashire League cricket team. More than 30 years ago I was watching them play my home town of Nelson and was greatly entertained when a small knot of their supporters launched into a refrain of ‘Lowerhouse, in the middle of our street, Lowerhouse’.

Our House is also the title of a song from Déjà Vu, the 1970 album by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. It was written by Graham Nash as a smug celebration of his relationship with Joni Mitchell. Fairly soon afterwards she dumped him via a telegram from Crete, where she was gallivanting with a ginger bloke. 

No selection would be complete without at least one Jimi Hendrix track and here’s a stonking 16-minute version of the blues number Red House, originally on the Are You Experienced? LP.

I am no great fan of Simon and Garfunkel (and have got it in the neck from readers for saying so) but my missus puts Homeward Bound among her all-time top ten so I thought I’d better include it if I wanted my socks washed.

Before any more feminists start baying for my blood, I’d better add that she’ll be editing this piece and will get the joke. There is a plaque at Widnes railway station in Cheshire announcing that Paul Simon wrote the song there in 1965. Simon has reportedly said: ‘If you’d ever seen Widnes, then you’d know why I was keen to get back to London as quickly as possible.’

Time for a Neil Young track: his piping version of Home on the Range, the classic folk song often described as the anthem of the American West.

For good measure, here are John Denver and the Muppets around the campfire.

For a change of pace, a live version by Lynyrd Skynyrd of one of their own anthems, Sweet Home Alabama, the other being Free Bird.

Shortly after this stadium gig in Oakland the band’s plane crashed, killing singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and Steve’s sister Cassie, a backing vocalist. The late Warren Zevon refers to Sweet Home Alabama in his caustic ode to country living, Play It All Night Long

Another live one here, Blind Faith playing Can’t Find My Way Home  in front of an estimated 100,000 fans at a free concert in Hyde Park in 1969.

The band comprised Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. When Blind Faith toured with Delaney and Bonnie, Clapton decided to throw in his lot with the American couple and one of the results was this version of Comin’ Home

Here’s a nice track from Will Oldham, aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. Holly Home is from his album Ease Down The Road.

Back to the songs of Randy Newman and a version of his Feels Like Home by Bonnie Raitt.

Plus her take on the lovely Karla Bonoff number Home

One of Captain Beefheart’s less typical efforts is the gentle My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains, from the 1972 album Clear Spot.

To those of you who have reminded me it’s time for part two of the Beefheart story, the paper is already in the trusty Remington typewriter and Lick My Decals Off Baby on the turntable of the steam-powered radiogram/cocktail cabinet.

We find Talking Heads also in sensitive mood for This Must Be The Place from the 1983 album Speaking in Tongues.

The song begins: ‘Home is where I want to be, pick me up and turn me round’. Frontman David Byrne said this was a rare attempt by the band at a song about love, a subject they tended to avoid because it’s ‘kinda big’. Here is a tip-top 2015 version by Iron and Wine & Ben Bridwell.

Now for a song which is not in any way cosy, House on the Hill, by Kevin Coyne, was inspired by Kevin’s years as a social therapist and psychiatric nurse at Whittingham Hospital, near Preston, which would haunt him for the rest of his life. You might recall Mrs Ashworth writing about Whittingham in a recent ‘Notes from the sticks’ column. 

The House on the Hill, by the British prog band Audience, is another far from restful piece.

I’ve been told about the house on the hill
So high and old, the house on the hill
Say that there’s a King Rat who wears a judge’s black cap
And I wouldn’t go near the house on the hill

The story goes ’bout the house on the hill
That when it snows around the house on the hill
The rat becomes a maiden, her soul endowed by Satan
And I wouldn’t go near the house on the hill.

Yup, think we’ve got the message.

A bit of warmth would help at this juncture so here’s Bridget St John singing the lovely John Martyn composition Back to Stay on her 1971 LP Songs for the Gentle Man.

Here she is with the late lamented Kevin Ayers on Baby Come Home, from his swansong 2007 album The Unfairground.

And here’s Nick Drake’s desperate homesick plea on Place To Be from the Pink Moon album.

Now I’m darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be.

Here is the classic video for Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues, from 1965’s Bringing It All Back Home.

We’re off to Louisiana for the jolly Down Home Music by Rufus Jagneaux.

Back to Neil Young for a rockin’ live version of Goin’ Home, from the 2002 album Are You Passionate?

And a third helping of Randy Newman with Going Home, from 1987’s Bad Love.

For our finale, a song which featured in one of my earliest Off the Beaten Tracks columns, June Tabor’s The King of Rome, about a homing pigeon which makes it through a storm to return from Italy to the mean streets of Derby.

Charlie, it’s the King of Rome,

Come back to his West End home,

Look at him now, he’s perched up on your roof.

And that’s all for now, although I can already think of many more candidates. I hope you enjoyed my selection of home-schooled ditties. Please suggest your own favourites and maybe there’ll be enough for another column.

Now I need to ring the fuzz because a bloke just walked his shire horse past our front door and neither of them was wearing a mask.

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells with the family dog Bingo. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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