Saturday, January 31, 2009

Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear, Alan Price Set (1967)

I may go out tomorrow if I can borrow a coat to wear
Oh, I'd step out in style
With my sincere smile and my dancing bear
Outrageous, alarming, courageous, charming
Oh, who would think a boy and bear
Could be well accepted everywhere
It's just amazing how fair people can be

I don't know what it says about me that my first blog post to follow the inauguration of President Obama is Alan Price's Simon Smith and The Amazing Dancing Bear, but there is a method to my madness. At least I think there is.

The euphoria of the unbelievable events of the past few weeks is wearing off and the harsh reality of what we're dealing with as a country is sinking in, at least in part because the man in charge is actually acknowledging it. With the fallout worsening daily, there will be a tremendous hunger for reasons to smile and laugh amidst the day of reckoning that's arrived with the departure of the Era of Anything Goes, Damn the Consequences.

What better duo to feature than Randy Newman, the king of the mordant outlook who wrote the song, and Alan Price, who is well known for swimming against the tide and, if necessary, saying that the emperor has no clothes? (Here's a Goldmine interview with Price where he clearly was a frustration to the interviewer because he reserved the right to answer questions the way he wanted to instead of fitting into some preordained mold.)

I wasn't aware of this song at the time it was a hit, probably because it was a hit only in the UK, where the British music hall tradition probably helped it, not in the U.S. My friend Barry sent me the YouTube link to it quite some time ago, and it made a lasting impression on me because it makes me smile every time I watch it. I never knew what became of ebullient keyboardist Alan Price, without whom the Animals would never have existed, after he left the group amid controversy. (See my post on House of the Rising Sun for a note on this.)

One of the things Price did, via his Alan Price Set, was showcase Newman's songs and establish his reputation. Newman was a professional songwriter for record companies for years, and I gather a bit of a reluctant recording artist. (Check out his own version of Simon Smith on his 1972 Sail Away album.)

As performed by Price, Simon Smith was the first Newman song ever to chart in the Top 10, and the B-side was also a Newman composition, Tickle Me. A subsequent Alan Price Set album, A Price On His Head, featured 7 Newmans, and Price has credited him with being the inspiration for taking more risks in his own songwriting.

Oh yeah, what is the meaning of Simon Smith? You be the judge. Or just smile.

1 comment:

Holly A Hughes said...

Well, if you want steely-eyed political gallows humor, you have to check out Alan Price's soundtrack to the 1973 Lindsay Anderson film O Lucky Man! -- a savage satirical masterpiece, and probably one of the best original movie soundtracks ever.

Alan Price has done a lot of fabulous music since the Alan Price Set days, though his fear of flying (another factor in his quitting the Animals) meant he never tours in the US, and therefore has hardly any fan base over here. (The UK is a different story.) If you want to know more, you should check out this fan site: