Tuesday, May 05, 2015

20: Moonlight Shadow - Mike Oldfield/Maggie Reilly

I knew this one from Radio One when it was a hit in 1983, and then didn't think about it for ten years, apart from occasional run-outs on Late Night Sou' West. Then around 1993 I purchased a compilation album that happened to contain it, and started to listen to it again, and it was one of those songs that just didn't leave you. Two years after that I started to play the acoustic guitar and that was that, I was a dead duck.

Mike Oldfield is of course a highly talented composer, still probably underrated in terms of how he will be viewed historically. Producing a serious variety of music - Moonlight Shadow is a relatively rare four-minute radio pop single for Oldfield - his work will be listened to a hundred years from now and beyond. And so this pop single he made, with Maggie Reilly on vocals, seems to me to carry a lot of that talent in, condense it down, and get a whole lot out of his four minutes. The lyrics are less of an issue - something to do with the plot of a half-watched TV mystery show as I recall - but they do have one interesting feature which ties this song back a long, long way to a folk music tradition that is centuries old.

Listen to a lot of that old folksy stuff - and I don't particularly like to, to be honest - and you hear the repeating lines as the story progresses. This was before recorded music, so the average folk singer would be performing in front of people, and they wouldn't know the songs. At least to start with. So you have a repeating refrain, either a chorus as we know it today or sometimes just a set of four-line verses where lines two and four would always be the same, so people could learn them and join in, while the singer used lines one and three to progress the narrative (and there usually was a narrative). And here we have the same thing - lines two and four (and six and eight, depending on how you break the song up) have these repeated refrains. Sting does the same in "Fields of Gold". It's a device, and it works, and if it works well - as in those two cases - you don't really know it's happening. But it is, and shows that Moonlight Shadow could have been a folk song from two hundred years ago without too much bother.

Except for the arrangement of course, and Mike Oldfield does do those well. Not one but two electric guitars ("slightly distorted"?) hopping and then screaming solos over the main chord base, with the acoustic still driving along underneath, and you have something put together by a genius that sounds so simple and yet works in so many ways on so many levels.

Oh and for those who never had the original album but know the four-minute version, enjoy the video. There's a whole extra MINUTE that we never knew about.

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