By The Landlord
“One shoe can change your life.” – Cinderella
“You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself in any direction you choose. You're on your own, and you know what you know. And you are the guy who'll decide where to go.” – Dr Seuss
“Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” – Marilyn Monroe
Footwear. It’s a most peculiar thing to human life, exclusive to our species, aside from what is sometimes clod on a horse’s hoof. They are intimate in one sense, wrapping around, protecting a vital and vulnerable part of the body, and yet they are also blunt instruments kicking out at the world. They are ever present, but like eyebrows, also easily ignored. Within their sole they contain an imprint of our soul or at least some kind of presence – putting on another person’s pair is a peculiar experience, as if you are inhabiting their ghost, and to metaphorically put yourself in other’s shoes is vital skill, not merely for songwriting and art, but in everyday communication and empathy.
And while some people just put on the same pair each day, others are obsessed with the infinite variety of designs, and take huge significance in what social signals they give off. Sexy, stylish, aggressive, gentle, humorous, fashionable, sporty, tribal? In the many types and brands out there, there’s a huge variety of meanings and emotions that can be captured with principal or incidental lyrics of songs.
So there are hundreds, if not thousands of songs about shoes or boots walking around out there, but it’s also worth considering those that might mention more particular varieties that have an infinity of associations and uses. Sandals, flip-flops, snow shoes, clogs, slippers, waders, high heels or flats, pumps, trainers, loafers to brothel creepers, brogues to spats to winkle pickers to tap shoes, hobnail boots to ski shoes, cowboy boots to thigh-length lace-ups, Wellingtons to work boots to Dr Martens, and of course that most beautiful of onomatopoeic words … galoshes.
Are shoes natural? Some people prefer little or nothing on their feet in all weathers. Several years ago I met the former guitarist Brian ‘Robbo’ Robertson, who in the middle of winter was walking around in flip-flops. We got talking because by chance we happened to share a birthday. For anti-sweat ventilation or whatever reason his philosophy was to simply “free the feet, man”.
The Canadian scientist Steve Mann, a pioneer of wearable computer technology has remarked that “shoes and clothing damage our ability to survive naked in the wilderness.” That may be true but who is going fully commit? We are not hobbits, but shoes may indeed have made us gone soft. That was certainly not the case for the great Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila who always ran barefoot and won Olympic marathon golds in 1960 and 1964. And another, more recent great, Haile Gebrselassie, remarked: “When I had no shoes I was comfortable - I used to run barefoot. When I wore shoes it was difficult. To run in shoes was ok, but at the beginning of my career it was hard.” Barefoot running is a thing again these days, though I’m not sure I could manage it. But anyway, let’s admire Bikila in action, doing what comes naturally:
However, shoes aren’t a modern idea – they have been around a long time as humans traversed the world to new territories, protecting us from biting insects to biting cold, with wooden and fern snow shoes spreading our weight across thin ice. Cobbling is an ancient art like being a blacksmith or cooper. But shoes also have many other connotations, particularly of poverty. Children in poverty often run around shoeless, and sadly that can be seen in many places around the world today. And then there is this traditional nursery rhyme:
There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do.
She gave them some broth without any bread;
And whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.
Shoes as children may bring mixed memories – getting your first pair for school, or running around, maybe Clarks or other brands, and coveting the that our peers might have, or hating the ones you were given but how about these brilliant items? I have a distant memory of these being around, though might have been born a bit late, and don’t think I got a pair. You may have heard of Wayfarer sunglasses, but what about these brilliant Wayfinders shoes with animal treads and an in-built compass? Skill!
The definition of “smart shoes” is an ever-changing phenomenon. These days it could branch out from expensive brogues or high heel brands or designer shoes to shoes that actually smart, and have a purpose beyond just supporting your feet. Sports shoes are a huge industry, and 1980s Liverpool footballer Craig Johnston did more than let his feet do the talking. After retiring he developed the prototype for Adidas' Predator football boot which featured rubber patches or strips on the top of the shoe, designed to increase friction between the boot and the ball, and give it dip and swirl.
These days professional sports shoes are very smart indeed. There are things around such as the Nike self-lacing HyperAdapt 1.0 shoes with pressure sensors in the soles that sense when to put the foot inside and triggers an algorithm that allows an automatic lacing. HOVR Phantom and HOVR Sonic shoes are chipped to measure distance and time etc, and users can experience something like zero gravity with its cushioning properties and comfort. And Digitsoles provide personalised feedback to analyse health, hooked up to an app to measure fatigue, posture, steps, and calories and create precise data for improving health and preventing injuries. With all the sensors available, it seems that your shoes will do all your walking, running, footballing and thinking for you, like a racing car for the feet.
But aside from technology shoes are really a visual item for us, creating an image in the mind when heard in lyrics. They are sexy, stylish and sometimes with that plainly ridiculous. For musicians, we often don’t look at their shoes, but are are some exceptions. Here are a few outrageous and humorous examples:
And a selection of Lady Gaga’s cheap little numbers, by Alexander McQueen and her personal designer Kobi Levi:
From the elegant to the surreal, shoes have also played a prominent role in film. Let’s enjoy a couple of enchanting examples, first via the ruby slippers of Wizard of Oz:
And that magical, Salvador Dali-inspired experience from The Red Shoes, with that electrifying performance by Moira Shearer wearing that very special pair:
Shoe manufacturing is of course a very controversial subject politically and economically especially in the trainers industry massive outsourcing to underpaid labour in the far east, not to mention the killing of animals for leather. But shoes can also have another political dimension. In many eastern countries, showing the soles of your shoes, or throwing them is a massive insult. And in Paris, where a 2015 climate change protest was banned, protesters left behind 10,000 pairs in what became a very powerful image.
We also have a few famous guests attempting to do a shoe-in at the Bar, keen to remark on this very subject. “When you meet a stranger, look at his shoes. Keep your money in your shoes,” says R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe.
Paul Weller, very fastidious in his dress sense, advises: “No man should have cowboys boots in his wardrobe. That's fair enough, isn't it? Unless you're a cowboy, of course.”
David Bowie also offers some advice: “With a suit, always wear big British shoes, the ones with large welts. There's nothing worse than dainty little Italian jobs at the end of the leg line.”
Actress Maxine Peake says shoes tell a lot about a man. What shouldn’t you wear. “Well, love,” she says, “I think you can tell a lot by someone's footwear - cowboy boots would put me off, as would a man in Ugg boots or Crocs.”
Dolly Parton meanwhile tells us about her pair: “I have tennis shoes with little rhinestones that I slip on if I exercise. But I always wear heels, even around the house. I'm such a short little thing, I can't reach my kitchen cabinets.”
Talking of rhinestones, here’s surprise admission from Joey Ramone: “When I was hitching, I'd be completely decked out. I used to wear this custom-made black jumpsuit, these, like, pink, knee-high platform boots, all kinds of rhinestones, lots of dangling belts and gloves.”
Not all models love high heels. “I love flat shoes, more so than heels. One of my obsessions is men's co-respondent lace-ups,” says 60s icon Twiggy.
So as taste in shoes and what they mean is as infinite as there are people on the planet, it is time to let the stampede commence, and to welcome our chief cobbler to the production line. Please give a warm hand, and stamp your feet in approval, to welcome a brand new soul and guest playlister to the Bar: DJ Bear! Please note he has his own themed radio show, and you can enjoy more of it here. Please note he is posting as PopOff! - the name of the radio show. He will inspect the many pairs on offer, and no doubt match them expertly into playlists. Deadline is this coming Monday at 11pm UK time, for playlists published on Wednesday. Let your feet do the talking …
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...
Fancy a turn behind the pumps at The Song Bar? Care to choose a playlist from songs nominated and write something about it? Then feel free to contact The Song Bar here, or try the usual email address. Also please follow us social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Subscribe, follow and share.