Tuesday, 4 March 2008

RACING CARS: They Shoot Horses, Don't They?


They came from Wales - the song could almost be the Manics, five years from now - and their lead singer/songwriter, who called himself Morty (real name: Graham Mortimer) was short, stocky, bearded and had the voice of an androgynous angel. They were tipped by music papers as one of the big hopes of 1977 as backs were purposely turned on what was really going to happen that year.

But they must have known, surely they must have known, since "They Shoot Horses" sounds even more of an ache of a farewell to a certain era of music than "Silver Shirt," and it was fitting that in this week's Top 20 chart of 1977 it was the next door neighbour to Bowie's "Sound And Vision," another examination of wilful self-erasure. The song is a slowly unfolding tear duct the size of the Severn, one last dance in the manner of "Who Knows Where The Time Goes?" and its words are based on the plot of the film, from the perspective of the last two standing, or maybe crawling - although there seems to be a greater fatigue seeping through the song's crevices. "It's making no sense, but we'll stay here 'til the end...whatever...this time"; almost Beckettian in its pregnant fatalism. The song pauses for its great median marbled arch of a chorus and then pauses again before the even more hurting second verse; the high single guitar notes of dissonance which materialise like gaseous drops of fatal sweat, Morty's near-complete collapse on the line "it seems so lo-o-o-ong," already as ready to go as the Cash of "Hurt." Then there is just one last chorus, followed by a Sargasso Sea of single note-held string synthesiser (which makes me think, for snowy reasons, of Joy Division's "Atmosphere"). The song tolls its tiring bell and gradually retreats from a stage which it knows will imminently be overrun by other, more energetic spirits; punk and disco will between them drown all the quietened voices, and the song's liquid squeezes itself into the smallest possible rivulet, but does not expire, as Bill Fay was to begin to prove a few months later, crouching like a coracle so that it might see the bright lights tomorrow.

5 comments:

david said...

I'd completely forgotten this song, though I have a strong memory of reading the book then seeing the 1969 movie that inspired it on TV when I was in my early teens. I wonder how they hold up. Having dled the song and listened to it twice I was pretty impressed. I was involved with a fanzine called Liquorice at the time and I recall Racing Cars were regarded favourably. The last issue, the only one with which I was fully engaged, having just moved to Nottingham, featured a band who we regarded with huge suspicion called The Sex Pistols. I expect you can work out why it was the last issue...

mike said...

God, all those Bright Hopes Of 1976 (Racing Cars, Lone Star, Be-Bop Deluxe, Deaf School, National Health, Cado Belle, Doctors Of Madness etc etc), whose chances were snuffed out by the end of the year... all rather cruel in retrospect...

Marcello Carlin said...

This whole stream of parallel 1976-7 development really has been written out of history, hasn't it? Hardly any of it has made it to CD status and much of it has been buried under the Pistols-on-Grundy carpet. A real shame because there was a "third way" here which has never really been followed up (unless Los Campesinos! are the unwitting Deaf School de nos jours).

londonlee said...

For some reason the band Sad Cafe come to mind here too. Or were they a bit later?

Marcello Carlin said...

Sad Cafe - who were definitely at the studium end in this particular context (i.e. DLT loved them) - were really more '79-80 but they fit in reasonably well here...