Richard Thompson Sings

The Richard Thompson Discussion List has
selected the songs Keep Your Distance,  
Vincent Black Lightning 1952
, and Hard on Me  
as the best introduction to Richard Thompson's music.

Listen to them here.


Keep Your Distance

Broadband 

Modem

If I cross your path again, who knows where, who knows when
On some morning without number, on some highway without end
Don't grasp my hand and say "Fate has brought you here today"
Oh fate is only fooling with us, friend

Keep your distance, oh keep your distance
When I feel you close to me what can I do but fall
Keep your distance, keep your distance
Ah with us it must be all or none at all

It's a desperate game we play, throw our souls, our lives, away
Wounds that can't be mended and debts that can't be paid
O I played and I got stung now I'm biting back my tongue
I'm sweeping out the footprints where I strayed

Keep your distance, keep your distance
When I feel you close to me what can I do but fall
Keep your distance, oh keep your distance
With us it must be all or none at all

Keep your distance, oh keep your distance
When I feel you close to me what can I do but fall
Keep your distance, oh keep your distance
With us it must be all or none at all
With us it must be all or none at all
With us it must be all or none at all

- Richard Thompson
- Rumor and Sigh, 1991 Capitol Records, Inc.

You're walking down the street, and there he is. And you know it's better this way, just ignore him, cross the street, but you are drawn - it must be fate! But he, being the strong one, committed to ending it says, no, keep away, you know if we get close again, it will all start over and then we'll consume each other. It's all or nothing. We both remember that reckless abandon, and it will come back to get us in the end.

I've never decided if the word strayed is supposed to indicate to us that this is an illicit affair but that idea does sort of fit the idea of an obsessive, furtive thing that has to come to a complete stop.

Musically, it's got everything in it that I come to Richard Thompson for: that great juxtaposition of the traditional instrumentation and the rock guitar breaks, the emotive vocals and wonderful harmony, and that classic folk rock back beat. There is really something wonderfully compelling about the steady, almost plodding beat contrasting with the passion recalled in the lyrics - the wounds and the debts... throwing your soul, your life away...

Also sounding very much like the RT band the first time I ever saw him, with John Kirkpatrick and Clive and Christine, and I have wonderful memories of that performance. 

I remember thinking it was the best music I'd ever heard.

janet
zhanay@earthlink.net 


Vincent Black Lightning 1952

Broadband

Modem

Oh says Red Molly to James "That's a fine motorbike.
A girl could feel special on any such like"
Says James to Red Molly "My hat's off to you
It's a Vincent Black Lightning, 1952.
And I've seen you at the corners and cafes it seems
Red hair and black leather, my favourite colour scheme"
And he pulled her on behind and down to Boxhill they did ride

Oh says James to Red Molly "Here's a ring for your right hand
But I'll tell you in earnest I'm a dangerous man.
For I've fought with the law since I was seventeen,
I robbed many a man to get my Vincent machine.
Now I'm 21 years, I might make 22
And I don't mind dying, but for the love of you.
And if fate should break my stride 
Then I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

"Come down, come down, Red Molly" called Sergeant McRae
"For they've taken young James Adie for armed robbery.
Shotgun blast hit his chest, left nothing inside.
Oh come down, Red Molly to his dying bedside"
When she came to the hospital, there wasn't much left
He was running out of road, he was running out of breath
But he smiled to see her cry 
He said "I'll give you my Vincent to ride"

Says James "In my opinion, there's nothing in this world
Beats a 52 Vincent and a red headed girl.
Now Nortons and Indians and Greeves won't do,
Ah, they don't have a soul like a Vincent 52"
Oh he reached for her hand and he slipped her the keys
Said "I've got no further use for these.
I see angels on Ariels in leather and chrome,
Swooping down from heaven to carry me home"
And he gave her one last kiss and died
And he gave her his Vincent to ride.

- Richard Thompson
- two letter words, 1996 Richard Thompson

I came to RT late, with the release of Rumor & Sigh. "Vincent" alerted me to the fact that I had discovered someone extraordinary: This man could play a guitar like nobody I'd ever heard, and could write a powerful ballad. "Keep Your Distance" said something else: Richard Thompson had a window on the human soul, and he could write poignant and memorable songs that touched on universal truths.

Gary Whitehouse
gwhite@peak.org 


Hard on Me

Broadband

Modem

Hard on me, hard on me
Why do you grind me small
Hard on me, hard on me
At every fence I fall

I bite my rage
I stop my breath
I shake my cage
I swim with emptiness

Hard on me, hard on me
Like they were hard on you
Hard on me, hard on me
So I can stumble too

My circuits seize
My senses jam
I don't know who to please
Trapped inside the Wicker Man

You're so hard on me
You're so hard on me
You're so hard on me

Hard on me, hard on me
Why do you grind me small
Hard on me, hard on me
At every fence I fall 

Unzip my heart
Unbraid my veins
Unstitch my wantonness
And loosen up my reins
Before I dare
Go on that hill
In dumb despair
Unfreeze my will

You're so hard on me
You're so hard on me
You're so hard on me

- Richard Thompson
- Semi-detached Mock Tudor, 2002 beeswing records

There are songs that come in like a gentle breeze and then pick up gale force, and then there is "Hard On Me," an eyeless hurricane. Like "Shoot Out the Lights," it enters with a pounding riff that lets you know you're in for heavy weather. You can bang your head to this one, for sure, but you're better off letting Richard do the banging. It's an angry lyric, this dark scrawl of a son's frustration with his father, full of images of impotence, futility, oppression. But it's a Richard Thompson song, so there's going to be that moment of almost throwaway compassion: "Hard on me/Like they were hard on you." A fistful of monosyllables hoists the weight of the shackles passed down from father to son.

But I'm giving you too many metaphors here. Stand in front of the speakers and pretend you're at the foot of a concert stage, where so many of the Thompson faithful have stood before. Close your eyes and let the beautiful rage wash over you. And if you really want to pretend to be the most anoraklike of Thompson fans, do as we did on show after show on the Mock Tudor tour: check those watches and time that solo. 

Pamela Murray Winters
pam@winters.cc 

In "Hard on Me," Richard Thompson touches on yet another universal phenomenon, the tension between generations, but viewed from the perspective of a mature adult rather than a child. I hadn't yet decided what it was about this song that drew me so powerfully, until one day at the line, "I don't know who to please ... you're so hard on me," I realized that I was addressing myself. It's no longer a father, teacher or preacher who is holding me up to judgment and finding me unworthy -- it's me.

All three of these songs, especially when considered together, reveal in Richard Thompson an uncommon grasp of his generation's zeitgeist, and an unparalleled skill at presenting this insight in the form of powerful music.

Gary Whitehouse
gwhite@peak.org 


All MP3 songs on this page are composed by Richard Thompson and are included with the kind permission of Richard Thompson's management. Lyrics are from the Richard Thompson web site. Commentary is from members of the Richard Thompson Discussion List. These songs are for your listening enjoyment, and are not for sale or unauthorized distribution.