Song Of The Day 11/30/2014: Flaming Youth - "The Planets"



Housekeeper's Holiday: Let's talk about a musical topic I hope it's conceded I have some level of expertise in: extended suites addressing most of the planets in our solar system by name. When first we broached this admittedly small sector of popular music composition it was July 2013 and the subject was Frank Sinatra's "What Time Does The Next Miracle Leave?", a whimsical, 11-minute star trek of vainglorious astral tourism from the crooner's Trilogy: Past, Present and Future album. Unimproved by ingestion of psychedelics, Sinatra's and Gordon Jenkins' fantasy assigned various attributes to our neighbors in the cosmos. Venus, natch, was where Frank's girl was, Jupiter and Saturn were largely assigned agricultural duties, Pluto (then a planet) was sort of a penal colony whose residents Frank had made acquaintances of ("We did it our way!" they sarcastically sing back to him), and Uranus had the best Neopolitan pizza joints.

Frank was eleven years too late in bringing the concept to the masses, though. Last week, as you'll recall due to your slavish devotion to this blog, in the text for the SOTD by Jonathan King I brought up that I had done some minor song-spelunking related to the early works of some members of Genesis. One of the recordings I pulled out, and which is now part of my collection, was the album Ark 2, the only full-length by mildly trippy band Flaming Youth. Their link to Genesis was their drummer, one Philip David Charles Collins, normally addressed as "Phil," later brought up on charges of everything that went wrong with pop music in the '80s. (A not entirely deserved charge, but understandably arrived at.) Ark 2 was a concept album taking some inspiration from the moon landing, pondering man's existence, and whether man really was made for Earth or whether he was some kind of Athenian chemical accident. Ark 2 contains its own multi-part suite which mused on the mythological symbolism of the planets, rationally called "The Planets."

Okay. Despite the fact that Phil Collins, imagined astral projection and extra-long musical suites of the psychedelic years have all been fodder for my comic zingers in the past, let me tell you this: I unambiguously, unironically, unquestionably love "The Planets." There were several directions Flaming Youth could have gone with this. One, perhaps the most obvious, was to embrace the burgeoning, bulging technology of the late '60s and turned in a lifeless, lumbering sperm whale feasting on its self-importance a la ELP.

Fortunately, though, "The Planets" is a very intentionally wry, Kinks-like reduction of the legendary qualities of the planets into seven miniature songs, stitched together by a nice Star Trek-y trumpet break, informed by music-hall earthiness, tight rock parodies, and some endearingly crazy turns of phrase. This is almost 13 minutes of supremely British points of view, with some lines they had to be cracking up over:
  • "Mars, Bringer of War": "While you bloody rotten bastards threaten our way of life/We're gonna get you by the balls!"

  • "Venus, Bringer of Peace": "Peter likes to show it and Penny loves to blow it/On a rainy day she puts it away"

  • "Jupiter, Bringer of Jollity": "Thanks for a lovely evening/It must be time for bed/I'll ring you in the morning/To find out what I said"

  • "Saturn, Bringer of Old Age": "His heartbeat is steady, the heart of a truck-driver/Lungs of a college-girl hit by a tram/His kidneys are plastic, his genital functions/Controlled by a motor attached to his thigh"

  • Maybe my favorite, "Uranus, The Magician": "Trick cyclist, let you into my soul/Fifty one-hour sessions and you say I'll be whole/You say I'm ineffectual on account of I'm bisexual/Due to lactic malnutrition at my mother's breast"
I don't care if this makes no sense or can be debunked by armchair clairvoyants, this is an overlooked masterpiece and already in my list of favorite long-ass songs of all time. Every mystic and shaman had their own long view of how the planets were supposed to affect our atmospheric pressure and harmonic convergence, but Flaming Youth were the only ones who tried to put it into practical applications of everyday British home life.

Just sit back and let the stars wash over you. And yes, by the way, that's of course Phil Collins on drums and also taking lead vocals on the bits about Jupiter and Saturn. Whatever affronts "Sussudio" ever made to you personally, I hope this makes up for them. It damn well should.
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