Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“St. Elmo’s Fire”: A-Side Disguised as Album Track

I was amused to discover that Eric Tamm – author of Brian Eno:  His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound – shares my opinion about one particular Brian Eno composition, “St. Elmo’s Fire” (1975’s Another Green World) and its unexploited commercial value:

St. Elmo’s Fire is the most unblushingly poppish song Eno has ever committed to record.  It was doubtless prominent in the minds of those critics who called Another Green World Eno’s most accessible album, and it is a considerable puzzle why he did not release it as a single, as it seems to have most of the ingredients of a popular hit:  conventional verse/refrain form, a lively beat, simple major tonality, pleasant and unobjectionable though original instrumentation, a dynamic guitar solo, suave falsetto harmonies on the refrain, and – most importantly- a genuine melodic/lyrical hook in the refrain (the words ‘In the blue August moon/in the cool August moon’):

As Tamm observes, only two musicians were involved in the song’s creation.  How fascinating to learn from the author that “before recording the ‘Wimshurst guitar’ solo on ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’, Eno asked [Robert] Fripp to visual a Wimshurst machine, which is a device for generating very high voltages, which then leap between the two poles, very fast and unpredictable.”

Wimshurst machine in action

Wimshurt Machine

Of Another Green World‘s 14 album tracks, only one (“I’ll Come Running“) would make it onto a 45 (though as a B-side), and it would be paired, curiously enough, with Eno’s cover of a 1930s folk song – “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” (also “Wimoweh” but more accurately, “Mbube“) – written by Solomon Linda, a South African singer of Zulu heritage, whose family sued Disney for using the song’s use in The Lion King.  [A settlement was reached in 2006 in which (a) “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” is acknowledged as derived from “Mbube”; (b) Linda is acknowledged as co-composer; and (c) Linda’s heirs will receive payment for past uses of “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and an entitlement to future royalties from its worldwide use].

Rare French picture sleeve

Eno French 45

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