Imagine yourself in the anonymous looking high-street of any home-counties English town, on a tuesday morning. As you stroll, minding your own business, a man in a bowler hat brushes accidentally into you. The likelihood – in our admittedly contrived scene – is that he’ll akwardly issue an embarassed apology, perhaps going so far as to lift his hat in a well-practiced gesture to indicate he is no buffoon or braggart but rather an upstanding citizen who has unintentionally invaded your ‘space’.
Take a hop, skip, and a jump out of your Anglo-Saxon surroundings, walk down the streets of Rome/Athens/Barcelona or Buenos Aires and you can spot the Englishman at a hundred yards – he’s the one wasting his time every two paces with unsearched for ‘excuse me’s . ‘Personal space’ is a very vague concept here, as people hustle and bustle, open to the sights, smells, and sounds around them.
In the 1980s synthesiser is the musical equivalent of the British Empire – dominant, disliked, and dull. Drop the Pilot, by the immensely talented Joan Armatrading, gives a perfect example of why. The song, a distinct departure from her acoustic guitar dominated sound (think of Love and Affection, or Down to Zero), boasts a memorable riff played on the then obligatory synthesiser. Each note is played clearly, all present in their own clearly defined and self-enclosed space. Play it on a guitar and there’s the danger of the notes bumping fluidly into each other – god forbid!
Let’s be clear – manners and respect for the rules might be an admirable thing for the footpath, but they make your average song sterile.
That misplaced keyboard riff, coupled with the energetically unimaginative chord progression that the <em>actual</em> guitar plays on this song, should be enough to ban it from any of my playlists – and yet, it seems to often make its way back in. Close a door on it, and this brash, self-confident bruiser of a song will climb in the window without apologies (well, the keyboard riff would probably like to say sorry, but is running with the wrong crowd).
And marshalling all this together is Armatrading’s profound and steady voice, ready to sing any amount of foolishness – ‘Animal, Mineral, Spiritual, Physical, I’m the one you need’ – to get your attention focussed on her rich tones (foolish it may be, but ‘Drop the mahout, I’m the easy rider’ is one of the fineset ‘what is she on about?’ moments in pop history).