Bernd Wahlbrinck

KEEP ON RUNNING:
 Hayfever as a Major Topic
in 60s and 70s Pop Songs

 
 
   True: hardly a critic realized it at the time, but hayfever had a profound impact on socially and medically committed pop songs of the sixties and seventies. While classical music had always seemed to be totally ignorant of the topic, Anglo-American rock music suddenly focussed on a problem that had both baffled and unnerved mankind for centuries.

   In retrospect there is but little doubt that one particular song initiated an avalanche of hayfever-oriented pop lyrics. The explosive effect of Bob Dylan's "Blowing in the Wind", released in 1963, was much later compared by Phil Collins to that of a violent hayfever attack upon the unsuspecting allergic individual (Collins, himself a victim of the disease, was only 12 at the time). However, far from being militant, the song represented the reluctant, if not shy, way in which the theme was at first approached. The pollen, carried away by the wind, is metaphorically described as cannonballs foreshadowing disaster, whilst the pathetic reaction of the allergic person himself is but hinted at:
 
    How many times must a man turn his head
    And pretend that he just doesn't sneeze

   Whereas Dylan had expressed a critical attitude towards hayfever itself, the notorious group the Move went backwards, in a sense, in one of their few hits, released in 1967. The title of the song already encapsulates their ability to put their finger on the fact that hypersensitive allergic individuals anticipate their annual doom at a time when the pollen is not even dispersed yet: "I Can Hear the Grass Grow".

   Not surprisingly, optimistic songs about hayfever were rarely released. "I'll feel a Whole Lot Better" by the Byrds (1965) is a case in point, allegedly written by Roger McGuinn during a severe sneezing fit. However, a basically pessimistic attitude undoubtedly prevailed. A typical example is "Nose for Trouble", a track on the 1966 LP What's in a Name by Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick & Tich. However, there was a song released by another group in that very same year which became much more famous, catapulting them to the top of the hit parade: "Keep on Running" by the Spencer Davies Group. It is remarkable how the group tried to provoke some kind of shock and dismay by means of personification: in a kind of dialogue with his own nose the lyrical I is eventually convinced of the inevitability of his fate and, asking the nose to "keep on running", finally accepts it.

   Two years before the Kinks had gone one step further by personifying the pollen itself in "You Really Got Me". This stylistic means was picked up some months later by the Dave Clark Five in "Catch Us if You Can". With the title already suggesting the sarcasm and cynicism which prevails throughout the song, it is hardly surprising that most radio stations in the United States refused to play it.

   Perhaps the most controversial song was the Beach Boys hit "God Only Nose" in 1966. Brian Wilson's lyrics are ambiguous and bizarre to such an extent that a quarrel erupted between the two magazines The Melody Maker and The New Musical Express as to the question whether the song had anything to do with hayfever in the first place.

   Sadly enough, the blossom time of hayfever songs was more or less over by the beginning of the seventies. There were sporadic attempts at re-introducing the topic, notably by the Hollies in their 1974 hit single "The Air that I Breathe". However, emphasis was usually put on attendant phenomena such as asthma rather than hayfever itself (compare for example the 1976 Jethro Tull hit "Locomotive Breath").

   Probably the one song that marked the end of this era of hayfever-oriented lyrics was the outstanding yet little-known "Hayfever Blues" by Ben Jamieson the Fourth, released in 1978. Since it explores every facet of the disease in such a profound and  melancholy way, it may serve as a conclusion to this critique, speaking both for itself and the countless songs that preceded it:

     Springtime is coming
     My nose starts to itch
     Springtime is coming
     The sonuvabitch
     Hayfever's got me
     My nose on the run
     Said hayfever's got me
     This sure ain't no fun

      Won't somebody help me
      Somebody please
      er - sorry, folks,
      I - I guess I just have to sneeze.

     Hundreds of hankies
     Day after day
     Hundreds of hankies
     Insurance won't pay
     I'm blowing my nose off
     I can't find no peace
     I'm blowing my nose off
     This disease just won't cease.

      Won't somebody...

     Billions of pollen
     Are filling the air
     Billions of pollen
     Allergic? Beware!
     There's no way to dodge them
     There's no way to run
     Hayfever's lurking
     The sonuvagun.

      Won't somebody...

 


Ben Jamieson's Hayfever Blues is available as an mp3 file/email attachment - contact:

bernie@wahlbrinck.de


 

1999-2007 by Bernd Wahlbrinck, Home of the Wadel, Germany.
 
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