The ruby wedding anniversary of sonofwebcore, one of our readers, and his wife prompted us last week to solicit your suggestions for songs about the colour red. Red, let’s remember, is the colour of a number of things, from blood to wine, from the planet Mars to the shade of emergency.
And red, for Texans Okkervil River, is for eyes sore from crying, and for autumn. Their song’s a tearjerker, about a dancer who misses her daughter. Altogether happier is Strawberry Letter 23, best known in the cover version by the Brothers Johnson. The 1971 original by the Hendrix-inspired Shuggie Otis wins, for its gentleness. It’s as sweet as the fruit-scented notepaper that inspired it.
Jimi Hendrix’s Red House, one of the earliest songs recorded with Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell, was a slow 12-bar blues. According to one theory, the subject of the song was an ex-girlfriend who happened to live with her sister in a red house. Ho hum. But the lyrics are neither here nor there; Red House is essentially a showcase for Hendrix’s virtuosity and his musical roots. As lonniej puts it: “Hendrix was steeped in the blues and could play it without the standard cliches that so many boogie bands churned out.”
More virtuosity on Ruby from the late guitarist Ali Farka Touré and kora player Toumani Diabaté. Not strictly about the colour red, as it was named after producer Nick Gold’s five-year-old daughter, but as RR commenter DrMaybe says: “The name Ruby comes from the Latin for red (ruber) … plus it’s wonderful.” So I’ve allowed it.
Lothar and the Hand People were one of the first groups to use Moog synthesisers and theremins as part of their lineup. That, and a nice line in Lovin’ Spoonful-ish songcraft, makes Rose Colored Glasses a gem. I also like the lyrics’ admission that the peace-and-love generation had a selective worldview.
Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight. Or in the case of the fictional farmer in Red Sky No 5, the scarlet sunset is a reminder of mortality. There’s a dash of Surf’s Up in this otherworldly, melodic piece by Canadian classicist Owen Pallett.
Sun Records rockabilly singer Warren Smith laments the intervention in his relationship of a third party. This red-coated wide boy with a Red Cadillac and a Black Moustache is, as RR nominator scepticusually notes, “a bit flash all told”. And the “red blue jeans” (a contradiction, but I think we know what he means) of Gene Vincent’s “baby” in Be-Bop-a-Lula (one of the foundation stones of rock) also denote someone who goes beyond sexual norms.
I can’t help thinking of Alan Partridge when I hear the phrase “red hot”, and the lyrics are the usual quasi-fascist swords-and-sorcery nonsense, but Judas Priest’s White Heat, Red Hot (another contradiction?) is a real scorcher. Stripped-back heavy metal at its best: all riff and no raff.
The Red Sea is the ocean that separates Africa from Asia, and also the title of a track by New York dream-popsters Asobi Seksu. The song’s lyrics are opaque – something about white sand – but it’s a mighty noise, giving My Bloody Valentine a run for their money.
Red Cross, Disciple of Christ Today is an elegiac drone from the last album by John Fahey, the influential guitarist and defender of “old, weird America”. The song was written by Rev Moses Mason in tribute to the relief agency’s work helping victims of the 1927 Mississippi floods.
The realism of Lal and (the late) Mike Waterson’s Red Wine and Promises is shocking. “Cheap red wine in me drunken brain/ has left a burning flame in me belly,” explains the protagonist, lurching around in the gutter. It’s from Bright Phoebus, a collection of the Watersons’ own compositions, rarely heard (it was deleted 25 years ago) but often lauded as one of the best British folk albums.
Here’s the playlist:
Rose Colored Glasses – Lothar and the Hand People
* Listen to these songs on a YouTube playlist
* Read all the readers’ recommendations on last week’s blog, from which I’ve selected the songs above
* Here’s a Spotify playlist containing readers’ recommendations on this theme
* There’ll be a fresh theme at guardian.co.uk/readersrecommend at 9am on Friday (Is this a good time to launch it? Let us know by posting a comment)12 bar blues, brothers johnson, mitch mitchell, musical roots <BR/>