Wednesday, April 15, 2015

One Perfect Day

I was listening to Denis Walter's terrific album Songs From a Southern Land today and was captivated again by One Perfect Day.

Vin Maskell is a great writer and tells the story of how he came to love this song here and also includes the songwriter's own recollections.

It looks like he is thinking of this article as old and I'm hoping he doesn't take the page down, because it's a great story.

I love Sara Storer's version. I love Denis Walter's version, too. But I'm disappointed the line about Margaret Thatcher's government doesn't feature in either of them.

In case he does:

St Andrews market, Victoria, May 2012

Is One Perfect Day, by 1980s Melbourne band The Little Heroes, one perfect song?

St Andrews is a town in the hills on the edge of Melbourne. It’s not quite a suburb and it’s not quite out in the country. I visited its popular Saturday market as the stall holders were packing away their goat’s cheeses, their angora scarves, their wooden toys, their landscape paintings.

But the bloke with about 30 milk crates of second-hand records was in no hurry. There were hundreds of, if not a few thousands of, albums there. “Five dollars each,” the bloke said.  “Or, at this time of day, three for ten.”

But with so many albums, where would I start? Pop, folk, rock, country?  By accident or by design, by chance or by fate, The Little Heroes’ 1982 album Play By Numbers was jutting out on an angle from the back of one of the milk crates on the ground. I only knew one Little Heroes song, One Perfect Day, and I’d always liked it. (The song reached number 25 on the Australian charts.)

I can’t remember when and where I first heard it (maybe on Countdown) but I’ve always felt it was a gorgeous piece of pop, in which the singer tries to will a reunion with a former lover who is on the other side of the world.

One Perfect Day, I’ll get your telegram
And you’ll be calling me – who whoa
This Perfect Day I can’t stop thinking
Are you over there, are you happy there

The only version I had of the song was a restrained version by Bernadette Robinson, an internationally acclaimed Melbourne soprano who has also interpreted songs by Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, Leonard Cohen, Rufus Wainwright and Leonard Cohen.  Her Perfect Day (on a very good 1993 compilation album called Moon Over Melbourne) is stripped back and slowed down:  a pure voice, a piano and a bass, rather than the original pop band treatment, which included a touch of  1980s synthesiser.

Crouched there on the gravel of the St Andrews market, I turned the album cover over  to read the song listings and there was One Perfect Day – final track, side one. The song had been floating in and out of my head for 30 years and now here it was in my hands, on old-fashioned vinyl.

And tell me if it’s still raining there in England
And did the Government fall last night
And tell if it’s still raining there in England
Adventures so hard to come by
If you ever come back just drop by

One Perfect Day
One Perfect Day
One Perfect Day

I flicked through some more milk crates and plucked out Dedication by Gary US Bonds (for his version of Jackson Browne’s The Pretender) and a Linda Ronstadt Greatest Hits album.

Australian country music star Sara Storer recorded a version of One Perfect Day in 2010. The song’s writer and The Little Heroes’ lead singer, Roger Wells, told One Song at a Time:  “Sara’s strong Aussie accent took the song into her world and she made it her own.  I loved it.”

The Little Heroes called it a day in 1985, after three albums and the one hit single. Roger Wells later became a meditation trainer and author, with a keen interest also in travel, art and photography.  He writes songs from time to time.


Roger Wells speaks to Stereo Stories (via email),  August 2012

Missing, alienation and yearning seem to be at the heart of most of my songs, which is unfortunate, because it got a bit tedious for everyone else. Of course now, with the ability to look back and connect all the dots of my life, I understand – but back then, with various bands rolling their eyes as I reeled out yet another melancholy lament, I kind of wished I could write something different.

One Perfect Day came to me one night in 1979.  I was still getting over the death some months before, of a girlfriend, Christine, who I’d been very much in love with. And not having been present when she died, or seen her buried, her loss left a nagging feeling that I just couldn’t throw, that she was still alive somewhere – so I was having trouble moving on.

That particular night I was sitting on a couch watching the late night news on a little black and white TV – coverage of the British elections, and it seemed as if Thatcher might lose.

I’d received a letter that day from an old friend, Kerry, who was living in London working as a nurse, and I had been writing a reply, which was lying on the table.

On the couch beside me was a book I’d been reading, This Perfect Day by Ira Levin, a science-fiction novel about a false utopia.

So I’m sitting there noodling on my guitar, gazing blankly at the British election on the little black and white screen, thinking of Kerry, having just finished reading this book, and I began singing, and as often happens, the song just happened – very quickly.

The two short verses and chorus drew together all the elements I’ve mentioned and wrapped them around the core of Christine’s death . And I had yet another song of missing and yearning.

I recorded the song on an old cassette, then played it back.  It seemed oddly complete, though there wasn’t much to it. I thought maybe it needed more, because after all, two verses and a chorus isn’t much. But still, there was a strange symmetry to it that seemed to work.

I woke my girlfriend Carol and played the song to her.

'It’s a hit,' she said and went back to sleep.

And that’s the only song I ever wrote that she said that about.

From then on the song seemed blessed – Carol’s pronouncement was echoed by everyone who heard it – the band, the producer, Peter Dawkins, the head of EMI, who we were signed to.  In rehearsals and then the recording of it, everything came easily, as if the song was using all of us to realise itself – it was the strangest thing. It had a momentum all of its own.

And when it went out, everybody picked it up and ran with it, from audiences to radio.

Problem is, I, the writer, just cannot hear the magic of the song.  For sure, I can hear a nice song – but I can’t hear the magic.

Over a couple of wines a friend of mine even tried to point it out one night, saying “… it’s when your voice goes up, and the bass does this, and the chords change, and … fuck mate, it’s amazing … and the outro …”

And I thought I could see it, but then I couldn’t.

But it’s been like an angel to me, in the life I’ve led. Each time I’ve been broke, or stuck somewhere, it leans down from the sky and scatters a little money to help me out … and my life stumbles on.

So it is a magical song … I just wish I could hear that magic.

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