Some songs stand outside of time. Often they are one hit wonders, divorced from a bands career and existing with no backstory outside the song itself. So to me Echo Beach has always existed, as one of a clutch of holiday records which sound as great now as when they were released.
Except, except, Echo Beach is also so much of its time. It supplanted Y Viva Espana and perhaps Barbados as the ultimate package holiday record. And to me that is what Echo Beach is all about. I don’t believe that the beach in question is the ultimate secluded destination, it is just that magical beach of that magical holiday. I went on my first foreign holiday, first package holiday – to Malta – in 1980 (far away in time indeed). The package holiday boom had started in the seventies and was now a staple of British life. So that 1980’s trip to Malta coincided with the release of Echo Beach. And for all its saxophone and spiky punk-lite delivery from Martha, it is a song about conformity – it fit on Radio 2 even then. It was about something we can all understand, those little bits of heaven in our mundane lives.
The key couplet, one of the best rhymes in pop, starts the chorus:
From nine till five I have to spend my time at work
My job is very boring, I’m an office clerk
And there but for the grace of our heart go all of us, clerk or not. It is a song of quiet desperation, for all its summery trappings. Because its not really a song about being on holiday, its a song about longing for the holiday, holding on to the memories as the only thing that can get us through the working week. It is a song of surrender dressed in a Hawaiian Shirt. And of course in the UK in 1980, there is even more bitterness and longing. To go on holiday you have to have a job in the first place; unemployment was soaring as this creapt up the charts.
Which is perhaps why its fitting that the beach on the UK sleeve shown above is Chesil Beach. Ian McEwan’s recent novel is arguably the sexual subtext to Echo Beach in novel form. Is Martha longing for Echo Beach for the lovely sunset? She does watch the sun go down twice, dirty crossword style. The On Chesil Beach comparison is hard on McEwan’s novella, Martha and her Muffins version is much easier to dance to.
(Echo Beach was voted the 35rd best Canadian single of all time by a show on CBC. Can you, daerest reader, think of 34 better?
HINT: The Safety Dance came in at number 36).