Radiowaves: An Escape

When I can’t speak my mind,
I can only sing my heart

Stevie Wonder’s “A Place In The Sun” 1966
The Beatles “There Is A Place” 1963
The Kinks “Holiday” 1971
Beach Boys “Sloop John B” 1966

Too often we face the weariness of the everyday life, surviving rather than living it. The pressure of our circumstances pushes us to dream and long for that “place” outside of our average life. You may call it escapism; you can do it through TV, books, or songs. These selected songs long for that familiar, comforting place outside the singer’s world. It is a dream, a projection, a fantasy that gives them hope and strength to soldier on. For many, they may call this state of mind or physical place “home,” as they make their way back to that familiar, singular space. This month’s playlist starts with Stevie Wonder’s “A Place in the Sun” a song written by Motown songwriters, Ronald Miller and Bryan Wells. Wonder’s vocals deliver each note with an upbeat resoluteness, “moving on” accompanied by a soft string arrangement. You hear the longing and determination in the first bar of each verse as his long “Os” punch through the mellow song to find that “place in the sun.” And as he sings of how the people might feel despondent, he assures them that this place will give them hope, unlike the real world that takes it away. Written in 1966, you can consider this song as a social commentary of the turbulent times, when the civil rights movement had just started a few years back.

The Beatles’ “There A Place” sets up the singer’s escape away from the melancholy he experience in his own mind, which sounds a bit more zen because it sends the singer into an introspective trip. With “no sorrow” or “sad tomorrow” this place allows the singer to remember only the good memories, such as words of love. This song strikes me quite deeply; the paradoxical idea that I can go into my mind and find “no time when I am alone” empowers me.

With a dainty piano, “Holiday” begins, as the Kinks’ sing of a either a “holiday” as vacation time or a respite from “the city because it brought [him] down.” Now, the Kinks had several songs that send the singer into another state because the pressures of the city have him upset, but this song’s music is not frenetic or nostalgic like “20th Century Man” or “Waterloo Sunset.” The singer takes in the good and bad of the scenery in front of him as an almost sarcastic “Thank you” as he notes the bad air and cloudy sky, noting “I’m so glad they sent me away.” Despite the sewer stink and the burning blisters, the singer appreciates the bit of time off from his presumed busy city days. Plus, note the leisurely accordion!

In the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B,” a traditional folk song and the only song not written by them in Pet Sounds, the crew member longs to return home. In this case, we envision a physical space away from the ship’s nautical chaos. The singer not only does he want to go home, but requests to go back. “Let me go home” repeats throughout the song, a line exacerbated by the lone image of the sea. It seems there is no way to get home, though the singer keeps longing for it. The fantasy of escaping runs through these songs, whether as a collective, introspective, or physical action. As the singers dream of another better world, we are reminded that escaping is not hiding, but fighting for that better place full of hope.

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