This Sunday Elder Music column was launched in December of 2008. By May of the following year, one commenter, Peter Tibbles, had added so much knowledge and value to my poor attempts at musical presentations that I asked him to take over the column. He's been here each week ever since delighting us with his astonishing grasp of just about everything musical, his humor and sense of fun. You can read Peter's bio here and find links to all his columns here.
Although a few people in this country, like Norma, the Assistant Musicologist and I, know this, it's not generally known outside Oz that the first powered aeroplane flight in Australia was performed by Erik Weisz.
Ho hum, I can hear you say. However, when I mention that Erik's stage name was Harry Houdini that might put an interesting light on the circumstances.
This took place at Diggers Rest, a suburb of Melbourne. Naturally, there are people from Sydney who claim an earlier flight in their city. That rivalry continues to this day.
Australians are among the most travelled people on the planet. We think nothing of hopping a plane to Asia, Europe, the Americas, Africa even. However, suggest to someone in America or Britain that perhaps they might visit us, it’s “Oh no, it’s too far. It takes too long.”
Get a grip, people.
There are many songs about trains. Indeed, I’ve already done a column with a few of them that barely scratched the surface. It’s time for another mode of transport, this time planes.
It’s not as easy as trains. A lot more songs have been written about trains than about planes. I imagine it’s because, as GORDON LIGHTFOOT put it in one of his great songs, “You can’t jump a jet plane like you can a freight train.”
That’s as good a place as any to start the ball rolling. This is Gordie with Early Morning Rain.
There was quite an interesting album released a couple of years ago called "The Beautiful Old Turn-of-the-Century Songs" where modern artists performed Turn-of-the-Century Songs.
One of those was WILL SEXTON. He had the help of SIMONE STEVENS on his song, Come Josephine in My Flying Machine.
This was a song from 1911, a little past the turn of the century but we won't quibble.
THE BYRDS seemed to have been fascinated by flight, not just jets but space ships as well.
Fortunately for us, they sang about these so I can include one of their songs.
Gene Clark was the first of the original group to leave. He said it was he was afraid of flying. McGuinn said that you can’t be a Byrd if you can’t fly. A good line, I hope it’s true.
I wonder about that as after The Byrds called it quits, for a time there was a group called McGuinn, Clark and Hillman, bringing together three of the original group.
I saw them in Melbourne, and that’s a mighty long jet plane ride so maybe Gene got over his fear of flying, or maybe the original story was made up.
The Byrds’ song is Eight Miles High, a song that the wowsers of the sixties said was about drugs but then they said that about a lot of innocent songs (a few of the guilty ones too).
McGuinn said that he wrote it on a plane about flying and if you listen to it it’s a reasonable explanation. Decide for yourself.
MERLE HAGGARD employed rather superfluous strings on his song or, more likely, they were foisted on him by the record company. Nonetheless, it's still one of his finest.
It is Silver Wings, one of the great country songs.
THE BOXTOPS had a song ostensibly about a letter, indeed it was called The Letter. However, listening to the words you’d think it was about trying to catch a plane. Well, except for the letter bit of the song.
This song probably epitomizes the frustration of trying to catch a plane these days - even though it was written 50 years ago - better than any of the others that tend to romanticize flying somewhat.
TRUCKSTOP HONEYMOON are husband and wife duo Mike and Katie West.
The reason they called themselves that is that they spent their honeymoon at a truck stop. There's a long and involved story about why that came to pass. They write songs about each other and about their kids. This is one of the latter, Lego Aeroplane.
The song Outbound Plane was co-written by NANCI GRIFFITH and Tom Russell. They both do fine versions of the song. However, rather than deciding which to use, I noticed that on an album of Tom’s he performs it with Nanci.
Unfortunately, all Nanci seems to do on the track is some oooing and ahhing in the background, so it’s still a toss up. We seem to be overloaded with blokes this week, so Nanci it is.
Tom first heard Nanci when she was playing and singing around a campfire at a festival in Kerrville, Texas and began championing her cause. The story is they wrote this song together sitting at Tom’s kitchen table.
When I mentioned this topic to the A.M. she immediately suggested this one.“Oh, really?” was my reply, looking at her a little sideways.
“You have to include it”, she reposted. So, with her recommendation ringing in my ears, here are THE ROYAL GUARDSMEN with their one and only hit.
The group started life as The Posmen, and that’s not a typo, at least not on my behalf. They may have mistyped it on their application for a group-name form, or whatever it is you have to do to create a name.
After the Beatles and other English groups hit it big, they decided to go for something a bit Britisher. This was their second song and the only one to make the charts, Snoopy vs The Red Baron.
The original CHAD MITCHELL TRIO consisted of Chad Mitchell (naturally), Mike Kobluk and Mike Pugh. After a while, Chad left the group for a solo career but the group retained his name and he was replaced by an unknown writer of songs called John Denver.
The group performed some of those including one of his best known, Leaving on a Jet Plane. John later recorded the song (a few times) but it first became to my notice with a terrific version by Peter Paul and Mary.
However, I've decided to use the Mitchell Trio's version as I wasn't as familiar with this one as I am with the others. It's not all that different from John's version.
KEVIN JOHNSON is an Australian singer/songwriter who is not widely known to the outside world, but should be.
If anyone knows his name, it's usually through his song, Rock & roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life. There's a lot more to him than that. For example, The Next Plane to New Mexico.
I resisted the temptation to include a gratuitous song from Jefferson Airplane just because of their name.
Even The Beatles got into the act. Well, sort of. They have a tune called Flying - however, this is an instrumental apart from a few la la las, so it didn’t make the cut.