Scottish Pop Song of the Day #11

Deacon Blue – Raintown (1987)
This one’s a tribute to Glasgow and Edinburgh’s ace Let’s Get Lyrical festival, which starts tomorrow (February 1st). Hear the song, read my earnest rambling story and get more info on the forthcoming lyrical festivities here. (UPDATE: woops, that link’s deid now – I’ve reprinted the tale below…)

Deacon Blue: Raintown

When I was ten, my mum exchanged her set of trestle tables for a black and white telly. She got it so that we could watch Dynasty, but one night we tuned into Top of the Pops.

A song was on, a lovely song, about some guy called Alan and his dearth of basic social skills. It was ‘Chocolate Girl’ by Deacon Blue, the presenter said afterwards. And then he said that they were from Glasgow.

Growing up in Stirling in the eighties, my childhood was enlivened by American culture – Madonna, Michael Jackson, Fame. To encounter a band from a place that I knew – from a place I had actually been to – was a revelation.

Instantly buoyed by a sense of connection – of pride and proximity and ownership – I duly bought Deacon Blue’s first album, Raintown (1987), and began a love affair (you may well say obsession) with a band whose enduring artwork and verse mapped Glasgow skylines, landmarks and walkways.

Lyrics can be emotive and restorative; inspiring and devastating; picturesque and enlightening. They can also be practical. They can localise songs; they can take you there. They can make them yours to hear.

The words in Raintown’s surging title track were immersed in familiar, comforting imagery: the grey heavens and heavy rain of which Ricky Ross sang were derived from skies that I could see; from the same clouds that loomed over me.

The song’s social climate was recognisable too, which was rarely the case with Madonna or Dynasty. Work has to be done, bills have to be paid, it said – like my mum did – but what matters is who you love; what you dream of; where you live.

The repetition and eventual breakdown of the titular word in the chorus, meanwhile, intensified Ricky Ross’ angry, then lovelorn, then worn-out entreaties.

Many years later, I was living in London when ‘Raintown’ came on, unexpectedly, in a cab. The record’s meaning seemed to have changed – lyrics can do that, over time – and a song that once celebrated my inclement Scottish day-to-day had become a song that said its skies were no longer above me to call my own. You are not here, the last line taunted.

I packed my bags and moved back home.

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