“Sophisti-Pop” is a subgenre of pop that takes musical elements from jazz, MOR, synthpop and what could be best called easy listening, and mixes them with a more literary-than-visceral, slightly detached lyrical sensibility. And a lot of sax. Or at least that’s one attempt at a definition, although the songs I included on this playlist include plenty of outliers:
I also feel Sophti-Pop’s origins are obviously well before the 1980s. For me, the Roxy Music of Avalon (1981) and Oh Yeah (1980) are the quintessential Sophisti-Pop band and the Bryan Ferry of Slave to Love (1985) the quintessential Sophisti-pop singer but in Ferry’s 1970 solo work especially we find pop as Sophisti as it comes. Here is Smoke Gets in Your Eyes from 1974’s Another Time, Another Place (and the tux he is rocking on the cover it the quintessential Sophisti-pop look):
Actually maybe the quintessential sophist-pop look is Martin Fry’s gold tuxedo. Final use of the word “quintessential” in this post: for me, “Valentine’s Day” is the quintessential sophisti-pop song. It has a quality of being overwrought, stylised and more than a little tongue in cheek – while at the same time being totally sincerely heartbroken. Oh and “School For Scandal/Guess Who’s Enrolled” is the quinte- sorry, archetypal Sophisti-Pop couplet:
Reviewing my playlist there are quite a few entries I felt had to be included more for representativeness rather than great enthusiasm on my part (Level 42, Temper Trap) but also many neglected artists who would shy away from the Sophisti-Pop label. Red Box are best known for The Circle and the Square, a dominant album of my childhood (the pop hit “For America” being a gateway song to a small-s-and-unironic sophisticated album) but in recent years I discovered the even stronger follow up, Motive. And here is opening song Train.
Another recent discovery has been Michael Franks, definitely from the jazz end of the spectrum, setting a rueful template which Paddy McAloon amongst others have follow. Here’s When Sly Calls (Don’t Touch That Phone):
The playlist is called Sophisti-Pop Old And New, and to my mind this kind of music has aged quite well (better than it might have seemed during the grungey 90s?). New sophisti-pop tinged music is still being made. Destroyer’s 2011 album Kaputt is highly Sophisti, especially the title track, but here is the more downtempo Chinatown:
Not a sax to be heard in Aztec Camera’s Spanish Horses, but it’s as Sophisti as they come:
I knew Your’e My Favourite Waste of Time best in the rather stereotypically 80s Owen Paul cover, but here is the original by Marshall Crenshaw which has a more Sophisti sensibilty :
I could go on and on and on and on (in fact, I have already written and deleted “finally” about five times in this post) but the final finally is here – and I am desperately trying to avoid the q word but the Style Council’s “Shout to the Top” is, well, um, a really good example of Sophisti Pop:
Aldo Leopold died of a heart attack while battling a fire on a neighbour’s property on April 21, 1948. He is one of those literary figures better known and much more influential in America than on this side of the Atlantic – like Henry Adams, or to a certain degree Emerson or Thoreau. I first came across him when reading about solastalgia , which lead me to A Sand County Almanac and the concept of the Land Ethic:
“The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.”
“This sounds simple: do we not already sing our love for and obligation to the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes, but just what and whom do we love? Certainly not the soil, which we are sending helter-skelter down river. Certainly not the waters, which we assume have no function except to turn turbines, float barges, and carry off sewage. Certainly not the plants, of which we exterminate whole communities without batting an eye. Certainly not the animals, of which we have already extirpated many of the largest and most beautiful species. A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these ‘resources,’ but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.
I have remarked before on some of the aspects of Leopold’s work which might strike one as dated – for instance his unself-conscious engagement in hunting, not seen as implacably opposed to conservation as it often is now (in Britain especially) . But by and large, Leopold’s work is all too relevant. Indeed, as the disappearance of species accelerates rather than slows down in our supposedly green-conscious age, the rediscovery of the Land Ethic looms larger than ever as an imperative rather than a luxury.
Often it is said that “Eskimos” have fifty, or a hundred, or hundreds, of words for snow. I had vaguely picked up that this was discredited … although it turns out that only the “strong version” of this is debunked.
A recent tweet by Peter Reason asked:
<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>.<a href=”https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@RobGMacfarlane</a> and others, is there a word for that lovely soft sound the rain makes as it falls on vegetation? Not really a patter, not a hiss, not really a murmur. Or do words fail us here?</p>— Peter Reason (@peterreason) <a href=”https://twitter.com/peterreason/status/1023490831821561859?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>July 29, 2018</a></blockquote>
The twitter exchange that followed didn’t establish an English word, but it did lead me to this Irish Times letter from 2006:
A chara, – Although I enjoyed Frank McNally’s discussion of the Irish language and rainfall (An Irishman’s Diary, May 25th), I feel he seriously underestimates the accuracy with which Irish can reflect “meteorological reality”. He mentions that Eskimos may have up to 49 different words for snow and feels that the Irish should have accumulated a similar number of words or expressions describing rain from “centuries of sodden experience”.
A perusal of Ó Dónaill’s Foclóir Gaeilge-Béarla reveals that we Irish have no shortage of expressions when it comes to describing precipitation. Rain may simply be described as “báisteach” or “fearthainn” but the story does not end there. The words “ceobhrán” and “brádán”, of course, describe drizzle or misty rain and one might also say: “Tá sé ag draonán báistí” The expression “tá sé ag dríodarnach báistí”, although not contained in Ó Dónaill’s dictionary, also describes this type of light rain. “Ceathanna”, “múrtha” or “scrabhanna báistí” describe showers of rain while “aimsir cheathach” or “aimsir spairniúil” describes showery weather. The word “craobhmhúr” is also useful in describing scattered rain or a light shower.
“Breacbháisteach” describes occasional rain (presumably of the type that causes difficulties with windscreen wipers) while rain blown on the wind (of the type that gets your trousers wet no matter which way you point your umbrella) might be described by “seadbháisteach” and, come to think of it, “seadbhraonta” might also cause problems for those wipers.
Unfortunately, the type of rain described by “spréachbhraon fearthainne” (a sprinkle of rain) was not that experienced by most of the country during the past month and the following may be utilised instead to describe this heavy, torrential rain: “batharnach”, “clagairt”, “clagarnach”, “dallcairt”, “forlacht”, “gleidearnach”, “stealladh”, “tuile” or “tabhairt mhaith báistí”.
Or why not “péatar”, “liagarnach”, “ragáille or “bús báistí”? In Munster Irish “ag cur foirc agus sceana” corresponds to “raining cats and dogs”, while in Connemara this might be expressed as “ag cur sceana gréasaí”. “Ag cur balc báistí” might also be heard in Ulster. “Ag cáitheadh báistí”, “tuile liag”, “caidhleadh”, “clascairt” or “léidearnach báistí” would also useful here. It may in fact be the case that we more than match those Eskimos and their snow
Finally, although Ó Dónaill translates “báisteach leatromach” as “local rain” this is almost certainly the kind of rain “meant for the guy beside you at a football match but deflected on to you by his golf umbrella”.- Is mise,
BREANDÁN Ó CRÓINÍN, Roinn na Gaeilge, Coláiste Mhuire gan Smál, Ollscoil Luimnigh.
I just came across this poem by Rhiannon Conley, from the arresting opening image onwards it conveys something visceral and vital (all too literally) about parenthood.
by Rhiannon Conley
“Did You Know? You can swim through the aorta
of a blue whale.” I watched as two children
swam, their soft hands like fins pushing themselves
out of the open chamber of the imagined whale’s
red ventricle and back into the museum showcase.
The heavy plastic held on to the throb of their laughter.
I could fit, I thought. I could be held in this heart
like blood. I could be pumped through the veins
and organs of the whale, let it take me, flowing,
my arms at my sides gliding head first
through the enormous animal’s body.
Your heart, just the size of your soft infant fist
which fits twofold into my own, holds a small
whispering defect. The pediatrician presses air
between his teeth – tsst tsst – to mimic the sound
he hears on the stethoscope. “It’s nothing,”
he says, “Just relax.” Tsst…
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I was in a primary school which initially had an equal enough boy-girl mix, but for some reason boys tended to leave to go an all boys school around 4th class. Thus in my last three years of primary school myself and two or three other boys were in a class of 25 or so girls. This, naturally enough I would say, caused the boys to gravitate together. This paradoxically meant, looking back, that while I was aware of girls’ enthusiasm for clapping games, I never knew the details.
And at home I was the youngest of two boys so had no sororial influence. All this is by prelude to my noticing a clapping game my daughters have begun playing, like, two hundred times a day which they picked up at summer camp. It turns out that “the avocado game” is a well-recognised clapping game, at least if having videos on YouTube is a sign:
…but the above seem to have quite a different wording and gameplay to the version I have heard – and clapping is optional, as opposed to the essential element of the game above.
The version my daughters (and son at times) play goes like this:
(both players chant and [optionally] clap) “This is the avocado game / If you lose I will change your name”
Both players recite alphabet, whoever finishes first is the winner, and they get to give the loser a name beginning with the letter the loser got to.
Variants I have heard include saying “if you lose you will change my name”
Which is more similar to this video (though note the inevitable Angry Comments which seem to crop up on even the most innocuous YouTube video):
Anyway, none of the YouTube avocado game videos are exactly in the billions of hits range, and my children picked it up at camp, so there is life in the old fashioned “viral” transmission of games and chants etc.