My Pop Life #81 : The Virginian Theme – Percy Faith Orchestra

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The Virginian Theme   –   Percy Faith Orchestra

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He was a cowboy in a black hat and a black shirt.   He didn’t have a name.  Played by James Drury for nine years between 1962 and 1971 he was The Virginian.  Blond blue-eyed Doug McClure playing Trampas became the star of the show with more back-story and affection than the mysterious Virginian.  We tuned in like clockwork.  This was the imprinting of young minds with propaganda – how the west was won, with hard work and punch-ups, no black people or chinese, a few dodgy characters here and there, but The Virginian always won the day, tidied them away and restored calm and peace on the ranch.  How we longed for the world to be like that.  A key show in my village youth, both in black and white and later in colour.

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And of course the show became the fertiliser for my cowboy games with Steven Criddle in the village fields and barns, using bits of wood as rifles and shotguns, running behind bales of straw and hay to avoid those pesky arrows being fired from the Comanche  or Sioux raiders.  Peeeow !  went the imaginary bullets.  We ducked, scrambled, shimmied along on our bellies, made frantic hand signals from behind tractors and hedges.  Steven Criddle’s house was full of dogs.  He lived nearest to the railway at the bottom end of the village.  It was a busy house, full of people, his mum, his dad, other kids, and pugs,  loads of pugs and puppies.  We would cycle from his house over the railway line and into the far-flung territory of Chalvington and Ripe, finding streams to fish in, learning the network of country roads.  The more complex army games would be in Selmeston itself, and probably took over from cowboy games when we were about 9 years old.

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Now I’m a grown up cowboy I can see what a one-sided view we were all given.  In 1971 Soldier Blue came out but I’ve never seen it.  Buffy Saint Marie did the haunting song.  We all became aware of the story of the United States being drenched in blood.  And it was a story that we had started back in 1504, in Virginia, a story re-told in Terrence Malick’s outstanding film The New World.   Growing up, we had Bonanza, Rawhide and The Virginian.  Films like The Big Country, High Noon, My Darling Clementine, Rio Bravo, The Magnificent Seven, Cat Ballou.  All had these sweeping soundtracks which seem to my untrained ear to be linked in some vague musical way.  Stephen Wrigley would know the answer to this – maybe they’re all major chords with 6ths or something, anyway, by the late 60s and 1970s the spaghetti western took over, darker stories with darker characters, with outstanding soundtracks by Ennio Morricone.   The Wild Bunch directed by the great Sam Peckinpah, McCabe and Mrs Miller directed by Robert Altman, The Outlaw Josey Wales directed by Clint Eastwood are all among my favourite films.  The western always had a basic appeal to me, the scenery, the scenario.

Featured imagePercy Faith wrote the music for The Virginian.   A Canadian bandleader and orchestrator he became known as the king of easy-listening, softening the big-band arrangements of the swing era and heralding a new era of pipe-and-slippers lounge music, “The Light Programme” as the BBC would have it – the kind of music you simply have to hate when you’re a teenager – gentle light arrangements of famous tunes, elevator music, stuff that Brian Eno would be getting into by the late 1970s, but which Percy Faith was exploring in the 1950s.  Theme From A Summer Place was his big hit in 1960, but there are many many great tunes including this evergreen theme song from the hit TV show The Virginian.  I could write at least a doxzen different pages for TV theme songs for some of them are simply outstanding, but this one I believe is head and shoulders above the rest.

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My Pop Life #12 : Rubber Ball – Bobby Vee

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Rubber Ball   –   Bobby Vee

…bouncy bouncy, bouncy bouncy…

This Pop Life series started out as a one-day-at-a-time Favourite Songs Of Me but I realised after a while that the songs which had an actual story behind them were a lot more interesting and got a lot more reaction from people than simply “great songs” which were just that, and about which I had little to add other than “isn’t this great?”.   Not that I won’t be adding the odd great song – c’mon, this is My Pop Life after all…. But now it means that the songs aren’t necessarily my favourites, or even songs I like that much, but they’re big songs from big moments in my pop life one way or another.   And this one – Bobby Vee’s Rubber Ball – is the first song I can ever remember hearing on the radio.   Portsmouth 1961.   I’m at my nan’s with my mum.   My grandad is there too – my Dad’s parents.   And I knew some of the words to this song at the age of 3 and a half.   Not that surprising given the lyrical content, and I’m certain that I was unaware of the actual meaning of the tune, of an elasticated love affair – no I’m sure I thought it was about a ball, a rubber ball indeed.  A bouncy rubber ball.

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My dad was brought up in this terraced house, on Manners Road not far from Fratton Park in Southsea.  His dad Frank ( large white-haired man) had been a batman in the Royal Navy and fought in two World Wars, and his mum Pauline I remember as a sharp little smiley lady with a bun. I don’t think we had the radio on much in our house, but we must have done – how else would I have known the song ?   Grandad’s house had a coal stove, a poky kitchen and a front room which was never used and showed no clues as to the diocese of the people therein, and thus served its purpose and its name.   Upstairs in the bedroom where we stayed occasionally there was a mysterious bowl and jug arrangement on the large dark dresser, and actual china chamberpots under the beds.   Both remnants, I realised later in life, from a time before proper plumbing.  The furniture was heavy and brown, the curtains mustard-coloured with accompanying net.   Incredibly, my mum must have been 24 years old, my dad 25.

The song itself is as bouncy as you’d expect, was co-written by Gene Pitney in the Brill Building in Manhattan, and has no particular lasting hold on my affections, except that it alone can conjure this reasonably clear picture, like a sepia snapshot, of my dad’s parents and my young mum and dad in Pompey, in early 1961.