“I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent, but only vaulting ambition, which o'erleaps itself, and falls on th'other …”
Confidence is just a belief in yourself and your abilities. Of course, too much can come across as cockiness or arrogance. You can alienate other people or fall flat on your face when you overestimate your own powers. Too little and you won’t meet new people or take on new opportunities at all.
I’m not sure where that leaves the bloke in the Sparks song. This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the Both of Us. He’s taking endless showers and making sure he’s looking his best but when it comes to rivals for her affections … It ain’t him who’s going to leave. Well maybe it’s just bravado but that’s a close cousin of confidence and it seems to work for him.
Nas wants young black kids to have confidence in themselves and avoid the pitfalls of drugs and sexual predators. Chuck in a large dollop of Afro-centric history, a snippet of “Fur Elise” and a children’s chorus and you have I Can. Which Rolling Stone described as "a silly stay-in-school ad attached to a Beethoven sample." I think that was a lone dissenting voice though. Others described the lyric as “inspiring” and the single was his biggest seller.
Mavis Staples is marching up to freedom land and nobody is going to Turn Me Around. Many years earlier, Pop Staples had said of Martin Luther King: “I like this man. I like his message. And if he can preach it we can sing it”. That’s where the song listed here is coming from. Originally on a 2007 album called We’ll Never Turn Back, the version here if from a 2014 all-star concert celebrating Mavis and her music and features Bonnie Raitt on guitar and vocals.
“I will drive past your house, and if the lights are all out, I'll follow your ass downtown, see who's hangin' out.”
Debbie Harry of Blondie is implacably confident that she’s going to get you One Way or Another (and whether you like it or not). Then, a bit later, she sings a verse about giving you the slip. Is this part of the game plan? Or are we hearing from both sides of this battle of wits. It’s all delivered with the kind of effortless sass in which she specialised back in the eighties when the band could not set a foot wrong.
Now. Even when confidence isn’t misplaced, it can still be misused. Stevie Wonder sang of a man “with a counterfeit dollar in his hand”. Someone described as “the coolest man with the biggest mouth”. Misstra Know It All is from his 1973 Innervisions album; the third in a trio of classic releases that sealed his reputation. Another example of someone at the absolute peak of their powers.
“Oh, don't anyone let the cat out of the bag, don't anyone admit to human frailty. Oh, someone let the cat out of the bag. Confidentially we learn we're not alone, in lack of confidence we're not alone.”
Never one to stint on the word-count, Peter Hammill dissects the whole concept of confidence and its limits in a six and a half minute opus. The only song on this list actually called Confidence explores the fact that it can be faked or, sometimes, achieved through sheer effort. And that there are primitive “stone age” fears that still haunt us beneath its veneer.
Sticking with the lack of confidence that sometimes afflicts all of us, David Cassidy has a question of some import. How Can I be Sure? is one worth asking and has been asked by Dusty Springfield and The Rascals. This is a version I would have hesitated to admit to liking at the time. Everyone at my school watched The Partridge Family but few teenage boys in the seventies would have conceded that young David was a great singer. That would have taken a bit of confidence.
“If you got a problem, don't care what it is. If you need a hand, I can assure you this, I can help, I got two strong arms.”
Now that’s more like it. No ifs or buts or maybes. He’s even there if your child needs a dad. I haven’t listened to Billy Swan’s I Can Help for a while so I had forgotten how great that swirling Farfisa organ sounds and how much I enjoy those false endings.
Who’s more confident in Buffalo Stance? The would-be gigolo or the street smart Neneh Cherry who isn’t having any of it. “No money man could win my love”. Another absolute classic. Possibly the best single (and video) of the eighties. There, I said it.
Now then, NWA. I seem to be only the third person to list them. I didn’t see that coming. And is that another anti-drugs message I can hear? And an exhortation to go out and be yourself not a follower? It surely is. Not quite the same as the Nas track but Express Yourself sounds like an advocacy of self-confidence and individuality all the same. And, yes, it does sound great too.
Beyonce is quite a confident sort of person, isn’t she? Give her lemons, and she makes lemonade. Give her any nonsense about never finding a man like you and you’ll get:
“I can have another you by tomorrow, so don't you ever for a second get to thinking you're irreplaceable.”
That’s what I call confidence. Although it wouldn’t do much for yours if she put the point to you quite so bluntly. Irreplacable has one thing (and only one thing) in common with the supremely unconfident song, Will You Love Me Tomorrow? It was originally written as a country song and was speeded up and rearranged as a more pop/R&B number. For which I am truly grateful.
And finally. Face front, raise your arms in the air and Hold Your Head Up. Argent’s chart debut was an edited version of a track from their third album. Here, we present the full, unexpurgated version. Complete with (apparently) "the greatest Hammond B-3 solo ever”. Thanks to Rick Wakeman for that endorsement.
It is (dare I say it) a classic. I have included quite a few of those this week. All though deserving of their place in the Marconium and guaranteed to make you smile. I am quite confident of that. No, I am … Really …
The Very Asssured A-List Playlist:
Sparks – This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Both of Us
Nas – I Can
Mavis Staples (with Bonnie Raitt) – Turn Me Around
Blondie – One Way or Another
Stevie Wonder – He’s Misstra Know It All
Peter Hammill – Confidence
David Cassidy – How Can I be Sure?
Billy Swan – I Can Help
Neneh Cherry – Buffalo Stance
NWA – Express Yourself
Beyonce – Irreplaceable
Argent – Hold Your Head Up
The Bold-As-Brass B-list Playlist:
Eartha Kitt – Whatever Lola Wants
Gilbert & Sullivan – The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze
Muddy Waters – Hoochie Coochie Man
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – Listen To Her Heart
Howlin’ Wolf – 300 Pounds of Joy
Motorhead – I’m So Bad (Baby I Don’t Care)
The Primitives – Crash
Mint Royale – Sexiest Man In Jamaica
Al Green – You Ought to Be With Me
Eric Bibb – Don’t Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down
John Lennon – How?
A Tribe Called Quest – Can I Kick It?
Christina Aguilera - Beautiful
Karine Polwart – I’m Gonna Do It All
Koko Taylor – 63 Year Old Mama
Fingersnap – The Bishop of New Hampshire
The Pointer Sisters – Yes We Can Can
Joan Armatrading – Tall in the Saddle
Guru's Wildcard Pick:
My favourite female rapper and the epitome of confidence. Roxanne Shante – Go On Girl/Have a Nice Day
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Reflections on … songs about confidence. Is that OK?. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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