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.