Happy tunesAug 15th, 2010 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Personal Columns
“Do you know the way to San Jose?”
It was odd that the radio station should follow its Top 20 Chart Show with an entire programme devoted to a singer from forty years ago, but never mind; it was sing along with Dionne time.
Tapping the steering wheel at the traffic lights, as Ms Warwick sang about those who never became stars, but spent their lives parking cars and pumping gas, the journey from LA became one back to my grandmother’s farmhouse kitchen. Dionne Warwick and her contemporaries would have filled the room; my aunt’s transistor radio sitting on the sideboard.
The programme on her radio remains in the memory as Forces Favourites, despite the fact that it had been renamed Family Favourites after the war; perhaps in Somerset we were slow to change. The programme linked members of the British forces posted overseas with their families back in the United Kingdom and drew an audience of millions. Requests for parents and sweethearts, and for soldiers on distant postings, are tied to the aroma of roast beef and the sound of Bisto being mixed.
“Do you know the way to San Jose?” had a magic about it; a confidence that all was well. Perhaps that was its selling point; it made you feel happy. Bacharach and David did tunes that put the world to rights – for three minutes, anyway.
The world outside of Dionne Warwick was not a happy place; journeying to San Jose was in 1968, hardly a time of peace and wellbeing, yet in the confines of that 7” single, happiness was to be found. Certainly, LA is not what it promised to be (it would later prompt Gladys Knight to take The Midnight Train to Georgia), but in San Jose there would be friends and space and a place to stay.
Could it be that Dionne Warwick is responsible for an idealised vision of the past? Could it be that the tunes of Bacharach and David are so beguiling that they gloss over the nastiness of the years?
What if it had been ten years later? In the unlikely event that my grandmother would have not turned the radio off, it hardly seems likely that the Sex Pistols singing Anarchy in the UK, or The Stranglers singing No More Heroes, would have become tied to memories of happy Sunday lunches with roast potatoes and Yorkshire pudding.
Music has long been used to evoke particular sentiments, military bands spring to mind as a use of music for a very clear purpose. Perhaps the free market and the splintering of people’s preferences now means there are no tunes that could have the impact of Dionne Warwick, no tunes that would hold the attention of the sixteen million listeners to Family Favourites.
If there are no longer tunes to be successors to “Do you know the way to San Jose?” then, perhaps, it is a pity. We could do with something to cheer us up.