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Sep 07

WIZZARD – “Angel Fingers”

FT + Popular64 comments • 4,866 views

#337, 22nd September 1973

Again Wizzard offer maximalism pushed to the point of grotesquerie, a sprawling rock’n’roll pastiche that keeps flinging hooks at us, simply not knowing when to stop. This time though the effect is more touching, as “Angel Fingers” is a love song, and a music nerd’s love song at that – Roy finds himself surrounded by his favourite records on a jukebox, pleading with his baby not to leave him. Maybe the song is just all of them playing at once.

Actually, let’s look at that line, “I drove my motorcycle to that small café” – and think about one of Wood’s acknowledged inheritors, Bruce Springsteen. “Angel Fingers” lends “Born To Run” its size and clarity and a heap of specific ideas, but that line encapsulates why there hasn’t been, and can never be, a British Springsteen: our motorcycle dreams end in small cafes, service stations, scuffles on beaches, cold Midlands nights. Our roads are rarely open.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Pete Baran on 13 Sep 2007 #

    I’m not arguing with you, but unpack Motorcycle Emptiness with this thesis.

  2. 2
    CarsmileSteve on 13 Sep 2007 #

    Driving Away From Home? It’s immaterial.

    i don’t think i know this wizzard song…

  3. 3
    Tom on 13 Sep 2007 #

    Of course I thought about Motorcycle Emptiness (and actually almost included some reference to the severn bridge) but it fits with the thesis exactly – the possibility of escape in ME is zero! (I now really want to hear it tho).

  4. 4
    Tom on 13 Sep 2007 #

    Tho I suppose the possibility is in the music not the lyrics, or rather the possibility in the music is denied by the lyrics which is why it’s a sad song)

    “Tramps like us, baby we were born to walk.” is perhaps the other key text here.

  5. 5
    Billy Smart on 13 Sep 2007 #

    This is one of those number ones that I heard about – through leafing through the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles – decades before I actually got to hear it. My initial reaction was one of disappointment – this one’s not as good as ‘See My Baby Jive’, is it? – and thinking that it sounded a bit reedy, and then forgetting about it.

    Over ten years later, I got the Roy Wood Greatest Hits, and then it all made sense to me through hearing it as a component of a body of work, like an individual scene in a play that also works when performed on its own. Having been touched and convinced by the declarations of love in other songs (‘Rock & Roll Winter’ and ‘Dear Elaine’), I could then believe in the singer’s love for Angel Fingers in this song, which let me believe in – and be excited to listen to – the world that Roy Wood creates in this fab record (which, as Tom rightly says, is as much about encroachment as it is about freedom).

    Sometimes songs can only resonate with me through the context of having heard other songs first. Suddenly being affected by a record that you’ve always felt indifferent about is a lovely feeling when it happens.

  6. 6
    Waldo on 13 Sep 2007 #

    Riding in on the coattails of SMBJ, “Angel Fingers” only just failed to annoy me, as Roy Wood went without apology to the same well again. Not much to say about this one. Pretty unremarkable really.

  7. 7
    Rosie on 13 Sep 2007 #

    Sort of neither fish nor fowl. I might enjoy it more if I didn’t have to make the inevitable comparison with a) See My Baby Jive, and b) something else coming up in the not-too-distant future which is cleaner, slicker, and a lot more fun. I hadn’t thought of comparing it to Born To Run, but when I do, Brucie wins by a distance.

    I’ve been waiting to do my Janice Nicholls thing. Oi’ll give eet foive.

  8. 8
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Sep 2007 #

    Hey hey Wednesbury!

    Pretty much the “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me” to SMBJ’s “Cum On Feel The Noize,” i.e. more of the same albeit with sneakier and freer sax playing, but I can’t be objective about Roy Wood; the man’s a hero of mine. I think 7 is a fair mark though.

    Pity that the unimpeachable follow-up stopped at number four, but then, as Dale would say, there was a lot of strong competition at that particular time…

  9. 9
    Erithian on 14 Sep 2007 #

    Hmm, British “road” songs will I suppose always suffer from the comparative size of the country and our own over-familiarity with the place names. Going back to Springsteen, you’d cringe at the idea of a British song mentioning Darlington, but “Darlington County” from Born in the USA works pretty well. And the Cumberland Gap, fifteen miles from Middlesbrough, works better when it’s in Kentucky and not Tees-side.

    There have too been a number of British versions of US road songs which self-consciously pastiche the originals with less glamorous British names – “Convoy GB” namechecking Toddington and Watford Gap, Mike Read’s version of “Promised Land” detailing a trip down the A30 and referring to Indian Queens and Holloway College (my alma mater, pity it didn’t get to feature on a hit record!) and of course Billy Bragg’s “A13” version of Route 66. On the other hand, remember those tracks from a decade or so ago, “It’s Grim Up North” and “It’s Weird Out West” (part of the KLF stable I think?) which simply intone British place-names and are pretty effective in themselves?

    But that’s just one line from “Angel Fingers” – the other picture I get is that the scenario of the song, boy-meets-girl in the diner is part of the common theme that runs from “American Graffiti” to “Happy Days” to the video for the current number one (Sean Kingston). As such the record fits snugly into the rock’n’roll nostalgia vogue, less mind-blowing than their previous number one but still a cracking production.

  10. 10

    there is really something so ODD (and unlikeable) abt english self-loathing when it comes to the latent history and romance of our own villages and towns and suburbs and whatever — i wonder is it related to our imperialist phase, when “ourselves when great” meant the GREAT BATTLES OF EMPIRE (cf pre-PC roadnames in many english towns: Navarino, Omdurman) rather than what we were pottering about with at home, local stuff for local people (hazlitt came from WEM! i love this kind of fact…)

    when i was in normandy last week i learnt more about the battle of hastings — and post-hastings english history — than i ever did at home: even tho i too grew up in a town which has a village next to it called BATTLE (bcz long ago there was one) (shakespeare wrote about it!)

  11. 11
    Marcello Carlin on 14 Sep 2007 #

    “It’s Grim Up North” is the greatest thing ever. Whereas *SPOILER ALERT* that bloody Sean Kingston record makes me feel SWUIIIEEECWIIDULLL whenever I hear it.

    Also I should point out that the full title of this single as written on the la-BEL is Angel Fingers Open Brackets A Teen Ballad Close Brackets five points Graham Archive.

  12. 12
    Brian on 14 Sep 2007 #

    Of course there is an entire sub-culture in North America deveoted to the road and it’s primarily populated by truckers. This genre of song has found it’s home in tha canon of Country Music Culture.

    For those of you that like it , a Canadian Band ” The Road Hammers ” were formed to pay tribute to road/truckers songs. http://www.theroadhammers.com

    There are some great rockin’ treatments and good originals on the CD.

    ” Keep on truckin'” , as they say.

  13. 13
    Erithian on 14 Sep 2007 #

    P*nk Lord – the Bayeux Tapestry museum and the Museum of the Battle of Normandy are both utterly ace.

  14. 14

    yes i went to bayeux — but then made a bad decision about a “leisurely drive along the coast road” when i left, which took about five hours longer than i expected w/o actually seein the sea more than a couple of times, so had to ditch other museums in those parts plus also ditch enjoyin much of the rest of the day

    there is lots more on william the conqueror in the much-mentioned (by me) funnyname town of EU in haute normandie, cz it’s where WtC got married — and where i spent last sunday night bored out of my mind as everything was shut and no one was about

    the whole area is rather war-based, as you realise when you drive thru etaples and cross the somme — i imagine if i had read up on it first (or thought abt it for like 10 seconds) i wd have been less ambushed by this, but there you go

  15. 15
    Billy Smart on 14 Sep 2007 #

    In a rockist styling, you really can’t beat ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ as a musical evocation of the British road experience.

    Erithian, when did you graduate from Holloway? Our paths might have crossed.

  16. 16
    Rosie on 15 Sep 2007 #

    I get my kicks
    On the A686

  17. 17
    Erithian on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Billy – blimey, old Hollowegians get everywhere! OK, I graduated in 1984 (showing my age again) – the best thing about finishing in that year being that you could sing chorus after loud chorus of “Relax” as your gang headed down to the Barley Mow at the end of finals.

    Of course you know who everyone’s favourite old Hollowegian is right now, as her new album’s just come out?

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Sep 2007 #

    50 Cent?

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Indeed. I used to sit next to her in Contemporary Feminist Playwrights! She is a very nice person, and I think that its much better for her that shes become famous at 30, rather than in her early twenties.

    That said, I do find that Other Side of the World song to be a bit insipid.

    The year that I was a finalist, the big things were Alainis Morissette and The Spice Girls…

  20. 20
    Erithian on 17 Sep 2007 #

    In case other readers haven’t twigged, we’re talking about KT Tunstall. Cool claim to fame Billy!

  21. 21
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Whose new album with its very 1973 cover has entered the album chart in third place behind Kanye and 50 Cent – both of whom went to Harrow.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 17 Sep 2007 #

    And Fiddy said he’d stop recording if Kanye outsold him – let’s hope he keeps that promise.

  23. 23
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Sep 2007 #

    No, you were supposed to say “What do you mean, both Kanye and Fiddy went to Harrow?” so I could retort with “Yes, they took the wrong turnoff at Brent Cross flyover boom boom” oho cue tumbleweeds I’ll get me coat &c.

  24. 24
    Mark G on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Angel Fingers I always thought was the “overload on ideas” track, so I was surprised when that was the accuation levelled at “See my baby jive”

    These are probably the tracks that would benefit most from a 5.1 remix. I did see “Wizzard Brew” had been ‘remastered’ with extra tracks at a low price, but having bought the ‘full price’ CD a couple years previously, I need to know if the update is better/less muddy/worth it.

  25. 25
    intothefireuk on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Finally – this is where it all began for me. Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) was the first record that I bought. Amazing really since we only had one of those old radiogram type things to actually play it on – which pretty much shredded any record that wasn’t made of industrial strength titanium. Consequently I have a great affection for this – the messy gritty production sounded wonderful on vinyl and it probably benefitted from being played on a (back to) mono system. Not sure a 5.1 would actually do it any favours. Roy Wood was & is a genius -no question (Dear Elaine & the mighty Forever were also shortly to chart).

    Does anyone remember a forerunner to Smash Hits called something like Song Words or even just Words ? Not suprisingly it featured the song lyrics from all the latest chart hits. Except that they frequently got them very wrong. And so it was for this one as for many years I thought he’d sung ‘will neon still be so important to you on your wedding day ?’. Not quite as funny though as their version of Ian Hunters ad lib at the end of Mott’s ATYD from the previous year when he actually says ‘there you go’. Instead, in their wisdom, they printed ‘Dago !’ which admittedly does sound similar on the record but even so !

  26. 26
    Matthew H on 17 Sep 2007 #

    And you can bet they wouldn’t print Ian Hunter’s heartfelt words today. It’s political correctness gone mad.

    Disgracefully, I think I only know three Wizzard tracks. The beauty of a forum like this is that I’ll rush out to find out more.

  27. 27
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Sep 2007 #

    That “Star Words” mag sounds suspiciously like Disco 45, to which I did subscribe, or possibly Popswap (xpost)…

  28. 28
    Erithian on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Personally I still think of it as “neon” and think it works better than “Dion”. More on “Words” early in ’74, with a passage I tragically remember verbatim about a particular number one. I think this was the mag that had a strange feature on Mott which maintained that “All The Young Dudes” did OK, but their real breakthrough was “Honaloochie Boogie” (about a dozen chart places further down and a year later).

  29. 29
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Mott’s biggest selling single in the UK was actually “Roll Away The Stone” which did about 300,000 but only peaked at number eight because, as previously mentioned, the competition at Xmas 1973 was especially fierce…

  30. 30
    intothefireuk on 17 Sep 2007 #

    Well ‘Disco 45’ was probably THE lyric mag to have but ‘Words’ was it’s bastard cousin – worth searching out for comedy value alone.

    As regards more road songs, how about Roy Harper’s ‘Watford Gap’ (a plate of grease and a load of crap) gem.

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