The toe bone connected to the heel bone
The heel bone connected to the foot bone …
At least according to Dry Bones – Fats Waller. That is the thing about joints, they are all connected, and not just physically. They are connected to their uses: you can use a joint to move, or stay still, as a weapon, or a measure (1) *(see below). They are also connected to their injuries, their dislocations and sprains (2). Joints are elusive: at their centre, there is an absence, a gap between bones and so, amongst all these associations, their meanings can be hard to locate (3). From their functions and dysfunctions, they link to metaphor and emotion. These connections are what we are going to explore. So:
Lock them shoulders
Lock them arms
Now lock that neck
Just raise those fingers in the air. (4)
We are going on a musical tour of the joints and the first stop is the toes.
Toes normally curl with embarrassment, but the unknown singer of Curly Toes, a found song collected in an album of outsider music, is entirely unabashed. Her toes connect to her black panty hose, which are soon left on the chair while she performs a striptease.
We know almost equally little about the subject of Red Right Ankle – The Decemberists, whose ankle is a synecdoche for her, and all the stories you could tell about her. We never learn why the ankle is red. Is it a birthmark? Or perhaps a burn, or some other kind of injury?
We do not need to wonder why Esther Phillips has Scarred Knees: it’s from praying so long. In songs, knees tend to be bent in supplication, to God (5) or to beg a lover, unless, of course, you’re having a knees up (6). Knees can be tricky (7), there is often a double meaning or an innuendo (5).
Hips are less hypocritical. As Shakira says, My Hips Don’t Lie (perhaps the Spanish tax authorities should bring them in for questioning). Hips want what they want, whether it be on the dancefloor or in the bedroom, and what they want to do is shake, as in Shake Your Hips – The Rolling Stones. But be careful, one over-strenuous pelvic thrust (8) and you might let your backbone slip (9). If that happens, you might find yourself, like 10cc, doing The Sacro-iliac. This anti-dance dance is perfect for those who, because of injury or indifference, prefer comfort to exertion.
When it comes to comfort, there is nothing like a shoulder and that is what The Beach Boys seem to be offering in Don’t Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder), but there’s an ambivalence here and we know shoulders can easily turn cold (10). When that happens, a relationship will be discarded over the shoulder (11), only visible if you look back. Looking back is also what the subject of Rotating Head – The (English) Beat is doing. This understandably paranoid drug courier is constantly twisting his neck to check for threats, “each passer-by a new wave of suspicion”. I imagine he dreams of being safely alone.
To be alone, you need elbows. Elbows are for making space for yourself. For some, that space is a vision of paradise (12). For others, like the recovering drug addict in Maria’s Little Elbows – Sparklehorse, being alone is the almost hell, with her demons knocking at the door. They use the term white knuckle for trying to recover without help, but for Elvis Costello, White Knuckles are weapons, used on those unlucky enough to be close to them.
For luck, you need to Cross Your Fingers, though for Laura Marling this will not make much difference, as “we’re all going to die when the building blows”. She also suggests that you “hold your toes”, which would bring us neatly back to the start, but there is another connection here to explore. On the single, there is further joint, but this time to a second song, which is identified on the album as (Interlude) Crawled Out Of The Sea. Here the song is forever conjoined as a coda of hope and rebirth.
The Tightly-Coupled A-List Playlist:
Dry Bones - Fats Waller
Curly Toes - Unknown
Red Right Ankle - The Decembrists
Scarred Knees - Esther Phillips
Hips Don't Lie – Shakira (feat Wyclef Jean)
Shake Your Hips - The Rolling Stones
The Sacro-iliac - 10cc
Don’t Talk (Put Your Head On My Shoulder) - The Beach Boys
Rotating Head - The (English) Beat
Maria's Little Elbows - Sparklehorse
White Knuckles - Elvis Costello
Cross Your Fingers (single version) - Laura Marling
The Loosely-Associated B-List Playlist:
(Not Just) Knee Deep - Funkadelic
Sprained Ankle - Julien Baker
Making Love To A Vampire With a Monkey On My Knee - Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band
West Coast Poplock - Ronnie Hudson
The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea - Johnny Cash
Knees Up Mother Brown - Elsie and Doris Waters
Trick Knees - The Cufflinx
The Time Warp - Little Nell, Patricia Quinn and Richard O'Brien (Rocky Horror Picture Show)
The Monkey Time - Major Lance
Cold Shoulder - Squeeze
Over My Shoulder - I Am Kloot
50 Miles of Elbow Room - Iris Dement
• A note on the B-List: I have quoted or alluded to these songs in the piece and associated the songs as end notes in brackets.
Guru’s Wildcard Pick (a toe-in)
Black Hole by Charly Blliss
These playlists were inspired by readers' song nominations from last week's topic: Joint effort: songs about knees, hips, elbows, wrists & toes …. The next topic will launch on Thursday at 1pm UK time.
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