The Universe and Me

Friday, April 01, 2016

There's surely something to it all

When I first bought Steve Hackett's second solo record, Please Don't Touch, it was back when cassettes were replacing vinyl. So I bought the cassette. Back then, a lot of record companies didn't add much packaging so only the song titles were listed on the little slip of paper inside the case. I've listened to this record so many times since then but never knew many details about it. Thanks to the marvelous world of the internet and especially Wikipedia, I decided to learn more.

Side one starts with "Narnia," obviously based on CS Lewis's book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and features vocals by Steve Walsh and drumming by Phil Ehart, both of Kansas. The band, not the state. The song was considered to be released as a single but Kansas's record company wouldn't allow it. Sad, because it's catchy and cheery enough to have been a big hit. "Carry On Up the Vicarage" is a tribune to Agatha Christie with Hackett on vocals, however distorted, so he's singing both very high and low at the same time. The lyrics mention many ways one could die, particularly if one was a character in a Christie novel. I always thought the second line was "People die from circumstance all the time" but it is "People die from sudden strokes all the time." Lots of effects in this song: choir, musical box, glockenspiel, church organ, laughing gnome, distorted echo at the end. "Racing In A" is the fastest and rockiest song on the album and one that I often find playing in my head, even if I haven't heard it for years. The lyrics (again sung by Walsh) describe getting away from it all, to the sun in the warm country air. Always a dream of  mine! After 3:50 the rock part ends and the guitar plays a classical finale.  "Kim" is an instrumental inspired by Erik Satie's "Gymnopédie No 1" and Hackett's then wife, Kim Poor. His brother John plays flute. "How Can I?" is a slow folk ballad with Richie Havens's smoky deep voice singing. Apparently Hackett and Havens met in 1977 when Havens opened for Genesis. Hackett wanted to work with him and brought up the idea. I didn't know that this song was released as a single, complete with a video with  Hackett and Havens. Was it not released in America?

Side two starts with "Hoping Love Will Last" featuring R&B singer Randy Crawford who Hackett saw perform in a bar in Chicago. Hackett wrote this for Genesis but wanted a female singer for it, so the band couldn't use it. Hackett said: “It was the kind of song that I wanted to do that could become a standard, that even Frank Sinatra could sing.” The guitar at the end moves into "Land Of Thousand Autumns," an instrumental ending with a drum fill that moves into "Please Don't Touch" which was also written for Genesis but they rejected it. The song was apparently a variation on a theme in "Unquiet Slumbers for the Sleepers..." "Please Don't Touch" is driven by a bass pedal that John Hackett hammers with his fists. Add hypnotic keyboards and Chester Thompson's driving drum beat. Hackett advised: “For maximum effect this track should be listened to as loudly as possible with as much treble and bass as your system can muster. - Not to be played to people with heart conditions or those in severely hallucinogenic states of mind.” Steve and John then play a merry tune as duet of flute and guitar in contrast to the rest of the piece. Steve wanted to include "Please Don’t Touch" on Genesis’ Wind & Wuthering. The band rehearsed it but the others rejected it. "The Voice of Necam" carries on with an organ and noises of whirs and steam. The computer enters and grows louder, pushing all other instruments aside until the guitar plays a calm, classical piece that moves into the last song, "Icarus Ascending" where Havens again guest vocals.  He is accompanied by choirs, a flute solo by John and an ensemble of instruments.The song fades away, like walking into the sunset or a cloud.

Kim Poor designed the album cover after visiting a shop in London that sold old automats and toys. It portrays a Victorian couple attacked by wind up dolls, small robots and other toys in a toy shop, and inspired a scene in Ridley Scott's Blade Runner where Harrison Ford's character is attacked by living toys.


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