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Jun 07

GILBERT O’SULLIVAN – “Clair”

FT + Popular47 comments • 6,914 views

#322, 11th November 1972

 

Singer-songwriters – today’s crop, certainly – tend to attempt universality through earnestness. Not so Gilbert O’Sullivan, whose remarkable “Alone Again Naturally” is determinedly low-key, the small thoughts of a small man as he contemplates ending his own small life. Off-handedly sung, it ambles along and finds a chorus hook in much the same way as a man strolling on a beach might absent-mindedly pocket a nice pebble. It’s like a pop equivalent of an Alan Bennett monologue, its power coming in the sad accretion of detail.

Unfortunately, it didn’t get to number one, and “Clair” did. O’Sullivan sings “Clair” in the same way – a distracted interior monologue – but it’s a far weaker record, one of those cutesy love songs to small children that the British charts used to turn up regularly. To its credit “Clair” doesn’t sound creepy now and improves when it drops the is-it-a-romantic-song conceit and just talks about the delightful hassles of babysitting, but the overdubbed giggle at the end gives the game away – intelligent touches or no, we’re firmly in greetings card territory, and O’Sullivan’s gentle delivery lands just on the wrong side of winsome this time.

(It’s fair to say, for any fans of “Clair”, that this whole area is a blindspot for me – even as a parent now myself I can hardly think of any songs about children that I like. It’s quite possible that this record does as good a job as can be done here.)

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Marcello Carlin on 23 Jul 2007 #

    That was “We Will.”

  2. 27
    henry s on 23 Jul 2007 #

    And so it is. Thanks!

    Listening again to “Clair”, I wonder does anybody else hear a foreshadowing of Stereolab circa ‘Space Age Bachelor Pad Music”?

    I also wonder if the Eau Claire, Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce ever thought to use this as a theme song.

    I don’t wonder about Stevie Wonder, though. (Though I do wonder just what is that Laura Nyro song that has her newborn-baby-in-the-bath on it?)

  3. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Jul 2007 #

    Would be grateful for an expansion on that Clair -> Stereolab theory; don’t really hear the connection, I must confess, largely because of that very 1972 harmonica and the general feeling of a Two Ronnies musical interlude.

    I’m wondering about that Nyro song too, which I guess comes from one of the intermittent albums she made after ’71, none of which I have ever listened to (nor have I listened to the second CD of the Stoned Soul Picnic compilation which cherry-picks from all her later stuff; maybe I ought to, but all that save the whale stuff oddly makes me think of Nik “Jee-soos Chrieeest Oll-My-Tee” Kershaw’s song about saving the whale).

  4. 29
    henry s on 24 Jul 2007 #

    while certainly jauntier than anything Stereolab have written, there’s something about that bouncy organ sound on “Clair” that puts me in mind of Stereolab tunes like “Allures” and “With Friends Like These” (both of which were predated by ‘SABPM’, but for an extreme example see the title track from that LP)…in fact, “Clair” (harmonica/strings notwithstanding) maybe fits in better with the whole sunkissed/cosmopolitan vibe of the Marina records aesthetic…

    I think that Nyro track is “Child In A Universe”, from the ‘Nested’ LP…(those “maternal” records she made never got their critical due, but I love them the same)…

  5. 30
    Peg on 11 Aug 2007 #

    I want to buy his album “Clair” but haven’t been able to do so

  6. 31
    Peter Jones on 9 Nov 2007 #

    Saw Gilbert’s show last night in York. He was superb. Sixty years old and did a virtuouso performance for over two hours. Enjoyed every song and every moment. Lots of the audience sang along to his major hits. A truly wonderful night out which brought back good memories of times gone by – Thank you Gilbert for a truly wonderful night

  7. 32
    Dan M. on 29 Nov 2007 #

    I like “Memphis, Tennessee” in the father-daughter song category, though it isn’t in the “Isn’t She Lovely” mode, of course.

  8. 33
    Geir H on 23 Dec 2007 #

    I like this one, just like I enjoy “Alone Again Naturally” and “Nothing Rhymed” as well. Here, like on those, there are some really interesting harmonic things going on, which keeps my interest as a listener. Gilbert O’Sullivan’s ballads aren’t ones that you are able to reproduce and play just after a couple of listens, you need to investigate them closer to find just exactly what is he doing here harmonically?

    The trouble about O’Sullivan is of course that he had to combine those genius harmonic ballads with some pretty inane stuff like “Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day”, “Get Down” and “Matrimony”. Even to me, who usually tends to like a bit of twee, those are just too much, and the harmonic and musical genius of his is nowhere to be heard in those über-cutesy music hall light numbers. OK, well, maybe a middle-8 or two may show signs. But anyway, “Clair” remains just as classic as “Alone Again….” and “Nothing Rhymed”. Slightly creepy lyrics aside….

  9. 34
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jul 2009 #

    21- Rosie I know what you mean. Perhaps because he effectively disappeared at the end of the 70s and doesn’t get that much airplay I find that nothing gives me a Proustian rush back to those times like Gilbert’s voice (even more so than Oliver Postgate or Brian Cant). He’s hermetically sealed within that decade.

    This is a poor cousin compared to the towering might of Alone Again (Naturally) which even thinking about causes me to well up but it still does the job.

    Can I slip in a mention here for Clifford T Ward who could have been a serious rival to Gilbert if he’d gone for it.

  10. 35
    Caledonianne on 2 Aug 2009 #

    34
    – Mike

    Ah – ‘Homethoughts from abroad’ – ‘Does the cistern still leak? Or have you found a man to mend it?’. Wonderful – the sort of song I rediscovered thanks to the Ipod.

  11. 36
    Brooksie on 8 Feb 2010 #

    Clair has more hooks than Alone Again, I can see why it topped the charts and I find it very listenable. In this instance, though, our American cousins got it right; Alone Again was the better song, and should’ve topped the charts here.

  12. 37
    brian greenwood on 8 Jul 2010 #

    can you please tell me where i can buy a gilbert o sulivan cd from can you give me a phone number to ring

  13. 38
    clare devine on 4 Feb 2011 #

    i was named clare after your song! i love my name and i love your song. i was in born 1983 and your song was playing on the radio and straight away my mum said thats it! thats her name! its also weird that i met a james when i was 21 and i also have a daughter named emilly! thank you for your great song! love from clare devine in scotland. xxxxx

  14. 39
    Music Lover on 1 Mar 2011 #

    I remember loving Alone Again and Claire; this last one a song I thought it was written for Gilbert’s baby…giggling at the end. I have to clear I didn’t understand English then. I was downloading seventies songs yesterday and I found both songs, this time I read and understood the lyrics. WOW…what a surprised! I found them disturbing…could be the times we live now…I don’t know, but I didn’t like the idea those lyrics, mostly the ones for Claire, left in My mind. I read them and then research about how and to whom the song was written and still don’t understand why Claire’s father didn’t edit O’Sullivan’s lyrics, so they wouldn’t sound to the world as some weird feeling from an older man to his baby girl. Just an opinion…

  15. 40
    Stevie on 21 Mar 2011 #

    I think this is a fantastic song; so catchy, so touching.. why can’t anyone write catchy pop like this anymore? I love Gilbert O’Sullivan but I confess all I know are the hits (Alone Again, Clair, and Get Down.

  16. 41
    punctum on 21 Mar 2011 #

    Ain’t about the ka-ching ka-ching.

  17. 42
    punctum on 21 Apr 2011 #

    Finally I get some spare time to write another TPL entry, and what do you know, it’s the lad himself:

    http://nobilliards.blogspot.com/2011/04/gilbert-osullivan-back-to-front.html

  18. 43
    Ed on 25 Apr 2011 #

    #13 and others: The best song about parenthood = ‘Cry Baby Cry’, by Throwing Muses. From the ‘Chains Changed’ EP, and now on the ‘In a Dogpile’ CD, along with the first album. It is the only song I know that captures both the intensity of the experience, and the fun. The first line is the second-best lyric in the history of rock, and the last line is the best.
    I love the “second verse, same as the first” tactic, as well.

    YouTube has a fantastic performance from Glastonbury, with great guitar work from Tanya Donnelly.

  19. 44
    chelovek na lune on 25 Apr 2011 #

    I really like both “Clair” and “Alone Again (Naturally)”, and I like the *idea* of Gilbert O’Sullivan (smart, witty singer-songwriter at a joanna) …sadly more than I like most of his music, or at any rate those bits of it (these big hits aside) that I have heard. So any advice for tracks to seek out would be most welcome.

    And on the lyrics of “Clair” – at the risk of going into Daily Mail mode(well, I suppose anti-Daily Mail mode, actually..) I think it is a sad indictment that anyone could read anything suspicious or dubious into an innocent song of affection to a child like this. (“Save Your Kisses For Me” is nauseating, but is similarly innocent). Paedo-hysteria is one of the most negative developments in British society over the last (what? 10? 20? 30?) years. Quite ludicrous. Was trying to think of the last big hit in the UK that was addressed to (or about) a child in this way…and the last one I recall seems to be “You Came” by Kim Wilde. (“Sunshine’s Daughter” by the Lilac Time is a more recent album track).

    Yes, but anyway, Gilbert recommendations would be muchly appreciated.

  20. 45
    Ed on 25 Apr 2011 #

    #43 Er, ‘In a Doghouse’, although I think ‘In a Dogpile’ would have been a good title for something.

    YouTube clip here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DX8BeqhCLic

  21. 46
    Goz2fast on 24 Feb 2012 #

    I came across this song on grooveshark the other day and remembered how much I liked it back in the day…then in giving it a listen in this day and age, this horrible gut reaction took hold that this man was singing about inappropriate feelings he had for a little girl, which in this day and age would make him a potential pedophile…and now I can’t listen to it whatsoever…regardless of his true intention when he wrote it at the time.

  22. 47
    mapman132 on 3 Aug 2013 #

    It’s not bad actually, although I prefer the US #1 at the time, “I Can See Clearly Now” by Johnny Nash. According to my mother, I was actually due on October 27. I wonder if I was late so I could avoid the indignity of “My Ding-A-Ling” being my birth #1 in my home country :)

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