Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler, teacher, scientist; Published author & Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published May 3rd 2021
Red is the colour of music
I've been trying to work out how to do a column about songs with colours in the title for well over a month. This was a big one. Did I do one song per colour? But how did I choose each song? Did I just pick a couple of colours? Which ones? And so many more questions hit me until I gave up.
Well, I recently received an email thanking me for the car songs I did from the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s (they used them to make a playlist for a car show). That made me actually think about this in a different way – how could I have forgotten how I managed to do that? Perfect.
And so, we come to this, the first of a series of columns about songs with colours. And we will start with red.
The colour of blood… yes, I am a horror writer. Why? (Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay)
Red symbolises many things. Anger, love, lust, heat, Communism… and in songs this is obvious. Now, the reason I am starting with red is because it was the easiest one to do. Finding a dozen songs with "red" (or synonyms thereof) in the title was simple. I didn't leave any out that I wanted to include, and I didn't struggle to find them. Even my one song per artist rule didn't make it awkward.
Red is a simple colour to work with, and the songs are really good. So, let's hit it – the first of the colour song lists. I present: Red!
'Red River Rock' by Johnny And The Hurricanes (1959)
One of the best rock instrumentals, with a pace and intensity that was years ahead of its time. I have no idea what a Red River is, or why it should rock, but when you have this sort of instrumentation with no lyrics, does it matter? Wild track to start this list.
'Little Red Rooster' by The Rolling Stones (1964)
A blues song written by Willie Dixon, first recorded by Howlin' Wolf, the Stones made it their own with this version. Early Stones' tracks vary widely in quality, and this is definitely one of the better ones with that gorgeous slide guitar. Good version.
'My Little Red Book' by Manfred Mann (1965)
A Bacharach-David song actually written for Manfred Man, for the film What's New, Pussycat? The stabbing piano and the lyrics about going through a personal address book after being left by a girl both make this track. Some prefer the Love version, but I like this one better. The only cover that comes close is the one by Pandora's Box. Still, this is the best.
'Crimson And Clover' by Tommy James & the Shondells (1968)
One of my favourite psychedelic songs, this song, with its weird reverb and vocal effects, is just amazing. I first heard through the Joan Jett cover, but the original blows that out of the water (sorry, Joan). Forgotten, and undeservedly so. And, yes, crimson means red.
'I See Red' by Split Enz (1978)
Split Enz is one of the best things New Zealand gave to music. I only have one album to find to have their complete studio discography. They are a great act, and this is the first song of theirs I can remember hearing. It is my son's favourite Split Enz song, and he was born in the 2000s! It is a song that can still get people moving, in a good way.
'Little Red Corvette' by Prince (1982)
When I asked a few friends out of point of interest for a song about the colour red, 5 of the 6 of them said this one first. It is one of Prince's classic tracks, one that has stood the test of time. A song about, I think, a one-night stand. The mellow verses and up-beat chorus really work well together, and this is one of his better songs.
'Red Red Wine' by UB40 (1983)
One of those few cover versions that I feel is better than the original. In this case, the original was by Neil Diamond (who also wrote it) and the cover is the UK-reggae of UB40. I reckon it's the spoken word bit at the end of the non-single version – one of the first times a "rap" was included in a non-rap song – and the mellow feel of it, like they've been drinking their red wine all day long.
'99 Red Balloons' by Nena (1983)
The English version of a German protest song that topped the charts around the world, despite the fact many of the kids buying it had no idea what it was protesting about. It is a really good song, though, and could be a track that only could have been released and succeeded in the 1980s.
'Lady In Red' by Chris de Burgh (1986)
A pleasant ballad from the man who begged us not to pay the ferryman. It generally appears on lists of the world's most annoying songs (not bad, annoying), but that is unfair. It is well-sung, and is full of love. I seem to remember it is about the first time he saw his wife and what she was wearing. Nice track.
'Red Rain' by Peter Gabriel (1986)
While Gabriel may be better known for the up-tempo songs he did with those incredible stop-motion animation video clips, to me his greatest two songs are slower ones – this one and 'Don't Give Up' with Kate Bush. This song just soars. He has a wonderful voice, honed through years of fronting Genesis, and here it is magnificent.
'Red Right Hand' by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (1994)
A dark, brooding, foreboding song, this is Nick Cave at the peak of his Nick Cave-ness. One of my favourites of his songs, the music as well as the lyrics really make this one of the best Australian tracks of the 1990s.
'Runnin' For The Red Light (I Gotta Life)' by Meat Loaf (1995)
Canny listeners may notice some similarities between this track and 'Good Times' by The Easybeats. Well, it is a rewrite and Vanda/Young get song-writing credits, but it is still a fun little song. I think I would have preferred Meat Loaf doing a straight ahead cover, but this is fine.
There we are – a dozen songs about the colour red. Red does not seem to have a universal meaning looking at these tracks, it's just a good colour to use… and to rhyme with, I guess. But this list is a fine way to start these colour columns.
Any I missed? Let me know in the comments section below!