Gilbert O’Sullivan – Alone Again (Naturally)
Before we leave 1972 (for now – I’m certain we’ll be coming back this way), it seems like a pretty good year to start a new series, with a song that I expect everyone knows, and should come to know if they don’t. (I’ll have to check if the Twinsthenewtrend guys have given it a spin – and you should look these guys up (start with the “In the Air Tonight” episode) if none of what you just read makes any sense.)
As I dig through the music of the past, I am also rewriting my own history somewhat to be more in accord with what actually happened, and not my age-addled version of events. This song is Exhibit “A”. I have long believed that the first time I heard it was on “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour”. I remembered the set perfectly, remembered the staging, but somehow forgot the bloody song, which turned out to be his other big hit, “Clair”. Now I don’t know how I first came across it, so it most likely was on CJCB, the radio station that dominated my early listening once I had some choice in the matter.
It’s a fairly melodramatic song – feeling suicidal at being left at the altar, mourning the death of a parent – but I oddly always found it pretty hopeful. For though the narrator is, indeed, alone at the end of the song, he’s still standing, and sometimes that’s accomplishment enough. I love the simple sounding piano, the guitar picking, and even the strings aren’t overwrought, which is really saying something in a song about, you know, contemplating throwing yourself off a tower. A near-perfect pop song, and it never fails to get to me, despite having heard it time and time again over some 50 years.
I always thought of O’Sullivan as something of a one-hit wonder, despite knowing he actually had two hits in North America. (Don’t ask me to explain why I thought of him this way – I know it isn’t rational.) As it turns out, he actually had a third hit here called “Get Down”, which I had never heard before this week. It’s peppier than the other hits and a little creepy – he’s compares a woman’s behaviour to a dog’s – which shouldn’t be surprising coming from the man behind “Clair”, which is a super sweet song directed at a young girl who the narrator befriends, but your skin might crawl just a tiny bit if you don’t appreciate that fast enough.
O’Sullivan is still out there, releasing a new album every few years, most recently in 2018. Maybe he’s going to get another moment: that last album hit the British top 20, his first record of original material to chart since 1991, and his highest charting original since the tail end of his heyday in 1974. It is recognizably him, and I especially liked “Love How You Leave Me”, “What Is It About My Girl” and “No Head for Figures but Yours”. Pretty much every track would fit in just fine on any easy listening playlist.
He is active on Twitter, engages with fans and posts photos with his family. He looks happy, and that makes me happy, too.