Song Of The Day 11/17/2014: Brian and Michael - "Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs"



British Hits, American Misses: "Matchstalk Men and Matchstick Cats and Dogs" perched itself at #1 for three weeks in 1978, an anachronistic-sounding little tribute to beloved British painter L.S. Lowry who passed on in 1976. Lowry painted impressionistic cityscapes of the industrial environs of North West England, from Cumbria to Cheshire. You could compare his position in British 20th century art to that of Norman Rockwell's in the USA: lightly romanticized, perhaps idyllically conceived but not subjected to undeserved opprobrium despite hints of unsophistication. The buildings and landscapes took precedence in his work, and frequently in his wide-angle works he represented living beings in rough, vertical strokes and crude (but not impersonal) facial expressions. Hence the term "matchstalk men." Some of his portraits were starkly cartoon-like, sort of precursors to Daniel Clowes' straight-on facial shots, with lightly oversized eyes not too far off from Margaret Keane's subjects.

That was my impression of a person who knows his art history. That'll be $20. I take Discover. Brian & Michael, the duo behind "MM&MC&D," were themselves one-hit wonders, although this song's a lot more winsome than most of the market-driven instant hits we associate with the one-hit wonder phenomenon. Better to have agreeable singalongs about painters than hard sells on thong exhibition. Being about a British artist inseparable from his milieu, this had no chance at being an American hit, of course. But Britain drank it up, then swung their steins to the chorus. This video, predictably from Top of the Pops, shows the duo in dandy Gilbert O'Sullivan get-ups and highlights of Lowry's works. The song also features an adoringly soft euphemism for death: "This tired old man with hair like snow/Told northern folk it's time to go/The fever came and the good Lord mopped his brow." Aw, that's... that's just sweeter than a Whitman's Sampler, that is.
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