May 08

JJ BARRIE – “No Charge”

FT + Popular/381 comments • 12,955 views

#389, 2nd June 1976

I was aware of this song long before I heard it – as a young boy it was quoted at me by my Dad should I ever object to tidying my room. Since my room was rarely tidy, I became very familiar with the central notion of “No Charge”. Like my Dad, I can find immense amusement and pleasure in this style of song – talking country with a sentimental edge – but this is far from a great example.

You might think, at first, that the style stands or falls on the strength of its concepts: not so. “No Charge” has a fine concept – mawkishness and moralising are assets here! – but where JJ Barrie falls down is on development and details. Once our young entrepreneur has presented his list, and been slapped down by Mom, the track has nowhere to go, and explores that nowhere thoroughly for two minutes. Contrast it with something like “Teddy Bear” by Red Sovine, where tears are ruthlessly jerked right up to the final words. Barrie, on the other hand, adds no new details and just repeats himself. This is partly because “No Charge” is a cover version, and you can hear what I assume is the original melody being hollered in the background: it sounds rather as if it’s trying to escape.



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  1. 301
    lonepilgrim on 19 Apr 2011 #

    re 292:
    It doesn’t count but David Gates’ “Suite Clouds and Rain” from 1975 is another fantastic multipart song, that was released as an edited single.

  2. 302
    Erithian on 19 Apr 2011 #

    JJ Barrie raises his bat to the pavilion for a triple century he owes almost entirely to other people. And the crowd gobs on him.

  3. 303
    Erithian on 19 Apr 2011 #

    If we’re allowed to talk 1975, then a lad at school assured me that Queen had just nicked the idea of a three-part structure from “Une Nuit à Paris” from 10cc’s “The Original Soundtrack” album.

  4. 304
    Conrad on 19 Apr 2011 #

    Witchita, you could make a case for Elton’s reworking of Pinball Wizard, which becomes a full blown 5 minute epic, although to describe it as multi-part may be stretching it

  5. 305
    Waldo on 19 Apr 2011 #

    Would “Question” by the Moodies qualify for this? Stonking track in any case.

    Apropos digestives. Great cheese biscuits but for dunking in a cup of splosh nothing was better than a butter osborne. I don’t think you can get them now.

  6. 306
    wichita lineman on 19 Apr 2011 #

    Re 305: Question would definitely count (a late flower of the 1968 soft rock bloom) but it was from 1970 and I’m specifically thinking of ’76.

    Re 304: Hmmm… yesss. His Lucy In The Sky was similarly “full blown” but not quite to a Macarthur Park/Bo Rhap degree.

    Re 303: Queen were definitely paying attention to 10CC (they were pretty hard to miss). Une Nuit A Paris is less tight than Bo Rhap, but certainly the piano/vocal sections have a similarity – terrible puns and accents (gearing up for their ’78 no.1?) make it a hard listen for me.

    Re 301: Ahh! Never played it… but it’s on my biscuit-scented shelves… gorgeous start… blimey, I wasn’t expecting that Moog wig-out. Great call, it totally fits the bill.

    Thanks all. I love you guys.

  7. 307
    lonepilgrim on 19 Apr 2011 #

    the title track from ‘Station to Station’ from 1976 should also be counted, it gets a thorough consideration here: http://bowiesongs.wordpress.com/2010/12/23/station-to-station/

  8. 308
    swanstep on 20 Apr 2011 #

    @Wichita. In 1976 and early 1977 Split Enz were cramming whole album’s worth of ideas into 3 minute singles. I’m not quite sure that these singles count as true multi-parters (they’re not Street Hassle from 1978 that’s for sure) but they were sure as hell feeling the pop-prog influence of 10cc/Queen. Anyhow, from v. early 1977, Another great divide (one of my fave records ever!), and from late 1976 (another fan favorite) Matinee Idyll. (For Split Enz at non-single length and in full prog/studio-headmode, check out Stranger than fiction which was from 1975 but was also Another Great Divide’s B-side).

  9. 309
    vinylscot on 20 Apr 2011 #

    Murray Head’s “Say It Ain’t So Joe” was a flop multi-part single from around this time (recorded in 75 but I’m not sure when the single was released).

    Definitely from ’76 – does Slik’s “Requiem” count? – pretty ambitious for Martin and Coulter.

    And what about “Blinded By The Light”, or “Free Bird”, even “Somebody To Love”? – maybe not as EPIC as some you mentioned earlier, but possibly might fit the bill.

  10. 310
    punctum on 20 Apr 2011 #

    “Say It Ain’t So” definitely came out in ’75, as did its parent album (which wasn’t as good).

    “Requiem” was pretty out there, though brought back to a bumping earth with its jaunty chorus.

    With those last few we get into the thorny subject of album version vs. single edit since we’d also have to allow the full 17 minutes of “Love To Love You Baby.”

  11. 311
    Erithian on 20 Apr 2011 #

    I’m sure you’re differentiating between the multi-part and the merely long, Wichita. I don’t remember which category it fell into, but “Black Or White (And Step On It)” by Cockney Rebel was out just after Bo Rhap, on the same label, and the latter’s success might have influenced the former’s single release – I may well be wrong on that. Notable too that “Good Vibrations” returned to the top 20 on the back of the Beach Boys’ 20 Golden Greats collection that was top of the album chart for much of the summer.

    Looking at Waldo’s #305, the juxtaposition of the words “dunking” and “osborne” is strangely satisfying.

  12. 312
    wichita lineman on 20 Apr 2011 #

    Good Vibrations in ’76, yes, of course… that was my introduction to the Beach Boys which, with all the other 45s mentioned above, explains a lot about my song structure preferences.

    Requiem needs a re-edit – it’s just a more extreme morose verse/chirpy chorus variation on Forever And Ever. But it’s a very good Gregorian Rodrigo verse. The bridge reminds me of Hurts, esp. their preposterous opratic backing singer.

    Never heard Black Or White before – was it a single?? It must have flopped completely (more an unnecessarily drawn-out song than multi-part epic, though, rather liked a couple of bunnied Oasis singles). If we’re talking pre-Bo Rhap, I’ll bet Freddie was a fan of Cockney Rebel’s outrageously OTT Sebastian.

    I should like Bat Out Of Hell in theory, but…

  13. 313
    Erithian on 20 Apr 2011 #

    Yes it was a single – there was an exchange on the Record Mirror letters page where someone had championed “Black or White” as being more coherent than Bo Rhap, and a Queen fan retorted “Bohemian Rhapsody may be less coherent, but at least it’s got some pace and life to it, while the Rebel record is nothing but a lengthy dirge”. Sounds accurate from what you’ve said!

  14. 314
    AndyPandy on 22 Apr 2011 #

    re Punctum at 298.
    I coulnd’t agree more. Why has rock music as opposed to say pop/dance/hiphop etc become the repository of so much small ‘c’ conservatism and basically Luddism?

    This fetishising of vinyl and refusal to move with the times (and I refuse to buy the old excuse that “it sounds better” – cobblers).
    Did the dawn of CDs coincide with rock music starting to fear the future?
    Even in the pre-rock era music – the record buyers (those same consumers who the rock fans ever since have ridiculed) were willing to move to albums and then 45s.

    And one other thing and I haven’t got the time to find the exact reference now but in all this “revival of vinyl” talk it should be noted that the amount of vinyl sold is less than miniscule – I think the percentage of vinyl sales as a proportion of the whole amount of music sold was 0.0something not even a full percentage point!And that’s on the freefalling music sale figures of today.

    Finally I had a look at the charts a few weeks ago (for the first time since probably the early 90s) my curiosity being piqued by the rash of articles on the ‘death of rock’ and I was totally shocked by the unbelievable transformation that had occurred (and especially in the singles landscape – but to be honest the albums isn’t exactly rammed with guitars).
    There literally wasn’t one rock single in the whole top 40 and in the couple of months since I think there’s only been a handful entering the single charts in total (and invariably spending 1 week at about no 37). Shit even the Arctic Monkeys (who I thought were supposed to be the new great white hopes not too long ago) with their first single since an apparent layoff couldnt get past no 28!
    This seismic shift is the biggest in the singles chart since the mid ’50s and the dawn of rock n roll and rock has not been this under-represented in the singles chart since about 1955.

    Why has this happened and does it tie in with the rock traditionalists’
    hankering for vinyl and fear that their era is after 55 years finally drawing to a close?

  15. 315
    flahr on 22 Apr 2011 #

    Rock not dead just: because ‘classic’ rock is fetishised it means rock sales are spread over every rock song ever rather than pop which tends to be more focussed on modern stuff; the province of young adult males who spend their money on booze and listen to music on YouTube for free; more stereotypical observations based on wandering up and down university corridors; blah blah blah.

  16. 316
    enitharmon on 23 Apr 2011 #

    Heavens, I hold no particular brief for vinyl. Most of my erstwhile vinyl collection is rotting away somewhere; it’s been a good many years since I had anything to play it on for one thing. For another, vinyl LPs were very heavy to carry between Uni (where of course I earned my degree by wandering up and down corridors) and home.

    All the same, there was something very satisfying about vinyl LPs. Somebody else has mentioned the rituals associated with playing an LP. There’s also the album as an artefact, complete with artwork, and the sense of the best vinyl albums being a carefully constructed total performance in two acts. Transfer to CD took some of that away with its instant selectivity of tracks, elimination the ‘interval’, and the annoying addition of ‘bonus’ tracks which take away the theatricality of the ending. Those bonus tracks might be acceptable if they were otherwise unreleased material of release quality but the padding-out of the capacity of the CD with ‘live versions’ (which might well have been electrifying if you were there but without the adrenaline and the sweat and the smells lack a certain je ne sais quoi, alternative mixes, out-takes and general tat is just taking the piss.

    Pop, of course, is ephemeral by nature. It’s always been so but much more now when, as is evident from postings to this thread, that which endures is to be sneered at. It’s a phenomenon that defines our time; not only is pop ephemeral but our clothes are designed to be worn a couple of times and thrown away and woe-betide the hip young thing caught in public with last year’s mobile phone. Everybody got their iPhone 4? Good, now go out and spend more money on an iPhone 5 or risk social death. Our contemporary nightmare isn’t Orwellian, it’s Huxleyan, but we weren’t watching for that. Stop whining about sustainability and a capitalist system growing out of control, just take your Soma, watch the X-Factor and keep on consuming.

    I have a birthday coming up in a few weeks. Should I fear that my era is after 57 years drawing to a close? Outta my way Grandma!

  17. 317
    wichita lineman on 24 Apr 2011 #

    “Somebody else has mentioned the rituals associated with playing an LP. There’s also the album as an artefact, complete with artwork, and the sense of the best vinyl albums being a carefully constructed total performance in two acts”

    That was me, Rosie. Glad you agree.

    Andy – Who said “fetishising of vinyl” has anything to do with not moving with the times? I like original artefacts. I buy new records on cd if they’re not on vinyl. NO ONE IS SAYING VINYL IS THE FUTURE FORMAT (apart from L Ron Hubbard). I really don’t like the suggestion that people who buy vinyl are a) rock classicists or b) Luddites. I LOVE POP. And deep soul! And Julie London! And Michael freakin Jackson!

    Instead of calling vinyl fans ‘conservatives’ and other lazy insults, how about ‘modernists’ who can differentiate between an ugly convenient format and something of heft and greater aesthetic value?

    Pfffft. How’d you get me in such a bad mood on a sunday morning??

  18. 318
    enitharmon on 24 Apr 2011 #

    Recent contributors to this thread might find this piece in today’s Observer of interest:


    As an addition to what I said above, I might add that I, too, find the slickness and instant gratification of digital culture oppressive. I love working in black and white with my old Nikon camera and darkroom, and I eat my dinner off hand-made plates gleaned one-by-on from craft shops and fairs over the years. I appreciate the human touch and think it worth waiting for – and this is from one who has been immersed in digitalia since Jimi Hendrix topped the charts!

  19. 319
    ottersteve on 24 Apr 2011 #

    Has anyone mentioned John Miles “Music” for a multi-part single – No.2 in spring of ’76

    Going back in time a bit – Macarthur Park by Richard Harris 1968

  20. 320
    wichita lineman on 24 Apr 2011 #

    Thanks Steve, it was one I’d already flagged up. Used to love it. Does any other song have such a mismatch of luxurious, expansive arrangement and sub-Hallmark lyric?

  21. 321
    thefatgit on 24 Apr 2011 #

    What’s this “fetishising of vinyl” got to do with Rock? As far as I remember the early adopters of CD’s were all buying “Brothers In Arms”. From what I’ve seen and experienced since then, the vinyl champions were within the Dance sphere. Hip Hop drew from a vast aquifer of vinyl to propogate itslf. Dance, in all it’s forms has relied on DJs spinning brand new acetates in clubs, long before Ministry and Gatecrasher released compilations of those successful floor-fillers on CD.
    Even Indie “purists” eschew digital formats for vinyl. But these are a minority. The music industry doesn’t need vinyl to boost sales. The music industry needs vinyl as a means of communicating within itself to generate ideas and attitudes.

  22. 322
    punctum on 26 Apr 2011 #

    That Grauniad article was depressing to read, featuring as it did the sort of people who in a different age would still have been going on about Kenny Ball when the Beatles were happening. The future’s here, grow up and deal with it.

  23. 323
    thefatgit on 26 Apr 2011 #

    I s’pose the de facto punk thread is as good a place as any to say goodbye to Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex.

  24. 324
    AndyPandy on 26 Apr 2011 #

    re 321 the “fetishising of vinyl” = the fact that of of those still buying vinyl (and especially the 7inch the format that is synonymous with “Record Shop Day” etc)and aside from dance 12inchers* just about all of it will be rock music*

    AFAIK you can’t even buy pop/hiphop/r&b on vinyl

    *dance music is slightly different because of mixing/scratching etc and although CD mixing/scratching is making inroads the survival of dance vinyl does seem to be for a valid reason rather than just a desparate clinging to the past…

  25. 325
    Tim on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Andy I can’t tell whether your disapproval is directed at people who like vinyl more than they like CDs, or at people who like to buy hard copies of music rather than downloading soft copies? I’m not sure why you would disapprove of either, either.

  26. 326
    Mark M on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Re 325: It’s certainly still possible to buy some hip-hop albums on vinyl – and not just the hip-hop equivalents of the indie bands who put out 7 inch singles (which, by the way, I don’t think is a bad thing to do).

    Re 322: It’s from the Obs, as Rosie correctly cited. I think the Guardian have damaged their brand with the combined website as nobody reading stuff online notices that the vacuous Sunday filler rubbish comes from The Observer.

  27. 327
    weej on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Re:323 – Sad, didn’t know she was even ill. First Ari Up and now her, suddenly there aren’t many original female punks left.

    Re:322, 326, etc – it’s a poor article for sure, but I think it’s unfair to characterise these people (or the musician at least) as closed-minded nostalgics for an age they don’t remember. What they’re doing is imposing restrictions. When you’re making music these days it’s hard to know where to start – if you can make any sound in the world, where do you start? Trying to get broken equipment to work sounds like a much more productive creative process than sitting in front of cubase cycling through your influences on a completely concious level. It’s a shame the writer doesn’t seem to appreciate this point.

  28. 328
    punctum on 26 Apr 2011 #

    Trying to get broken equipment to work when you’ve got up-to-date technology available at your fingertips strikes me as perverse to the point of sectionable.

  29. 329
    thefatgit on 26 Apr 2011 #

    I think there could be an element of Steampunk influencing these artists, rather than nostalgia itself. The piece also touches on the need for a certain skill or ability to get the best from the equipment they are using, which involves trial and error as part of the creative process. That in itself, once the artist has achieved what he or she has set out to do, can be immensely more satisfying. It’s not necessary for the audience to appreciate it, although some may find the creative process just as fascinating as the finished product. There are people who value craft (now, there’s a contentious word. I’m not necessarily talking about chops here, the kind of formal training you get to become a skilled professional whatever, but an ability to become comfortable within your chosen medium, like an amateur painter who gets a couple of pictures displayed at the Royal Academy every summer). These artists have chosen an outdated, but nonetheless valid medium.

    It works for them, and as long as there are those who enjoy their product, where’s the harm?

  30. 330
    punctum on 26 Apr 2011 #

    It gets in the way of the future when promoted as a creed. Like woodwork, like politics.

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