8 August 2011
Dave Allen - The Good Earth/ A Way Of Life
Year of Release: 1969
A few entries back when we discussed Alexei Sayle's hit single, I (possibly unnecessarily) listed many of the comedians who - for better or worse - had issued vinyl from the fifties onwards. I neglected to mention Irish comedian Dave Allen, whose sole 45 is possibly one of the most unlikely releases there's ever been.
Before we really get stuck into the contents of this disc, it's worth me getting on my soapbox and arguing that I genuinely regard Allen to be a legend. His lengthy television career from the sixties to the nineties is a testament to his surprisingly broad appeal, but what's less appreciated in some quarters is quite how revolutionary he was in his own understated way. Way before Ben Elton steamed in with his "bit of politics", Allen weaved tales of hypocrisy in the church, lampooned authority figures and generally (and perhaps most successfully) highlighted the absurdities of human life. Allen certainly traded on grouchiness and his material frequently landed him in trouble, but unlike many comedians with an axe to grind, there was a warmth to his story-telling which still seems unique today. His sign-off line to audiences everywhere was "Goodnight, thank you, and may your God go with you", an entirely non-cynical and utterly ecumenical statement which, despite my lack of belief in a "God" as such, I can't help but find touching.
So perhaps it shouldn't be too surprising that a comedian choosing to sign off his shows in such a giving way released this record, in which he appears to read soft but slightly weary poetry to the accompaniment of an orchestral backing. "The Good Earth", despite its rather sentimental leanings, manages to sum up Allen's personality rather well, using an astronaut looking down upon the planet as its focus, then signing off with the resigned statement: "Why can't we be good on the Good Earth?" The wonder of space travel may seem like a rather corny focus for such a thought in the present day, but in 1969 this was doubtless a very modern, contemporary message.
The B-side "A Way Of Life" is actually more absurd still, being akin to "The Sunscreen Song" long before that God-foresaken record was ever issued. To the accompaniment of "Greensleeves", Allen advises all his listeners on the best ways to approach life, offering gems such as "Listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant - they too have their story" and "For all that is sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a very beautiful world". It's easy to laugh for all the wrong reasons at such a record, but maybe this was the closest we got to the softer side of Allen, almost - although not quite - uninterrupted by thoughts about the planet's aggressive absurdities. And whilst neither side of this record would ever be likely to win the Forward Prize for Poetry, it means well without being nauseating.
It wasn't a hit, but when a Radio Two DJ played the record again in the nineties and asked in a rather perplexed manner why Allen put it out, he was unembarrassed and unrepentant, stating simply that he just saw it as a good opportunity to put some spoken word material with a message he happened to like to music. Of all the novelty or spin-off singles I've ever uploaded, this one feels the least like a cash-in, and certainly among the least likely to ever actually stand a hope of charting. I, for one, believe his version of events.
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