top of page

Levi Stubbs' Tears - Billy Bragg

Once upon a time there was a country that was in a crisis. One day, at the height of the crisis, the Prime Minister showed his bottom in Parliament. Everyone was shocked. The Leader of the Opposition said that it was a disgrace that he showed his bottom in Parliament but the PM said it was an understandable lapse and he was sure that many pother MP's had wished to do the same and so would sympathise. He also said it was shameful that the Leader of the Opposition should make political capital of such a thing while the country was in crisis and that he, not the Prime Minister, was the one who should be ashamed.

When members of the press pointed out that the government had only a week before stated that no-one should show their bottoms in public during the crisis and asked if the Prime Minister wasn't being a hypocrite, his representatives replied that they were sure that many ordinary people also felt the understandable need to show off their bottoms in their places of work, especially if they, like the Prime Minister had particularly nice, large bottoms.

When it was mentioned that two scientific advisers to the Government had only recently resigned from their posts after showing their bottoms in public specifically because, in doing so, they had disobeyed the same Government instructions, suggested therefore that the PM should resign also, representatives said that it was precisely because there was a crisis that he should not resign, as his leadership qualities, bottom and all, were needed by the nation more than ever.

So that's alright then.

Billy Bragg, author of yesterday's post, is never better when employing his prodigious poetic skills in sharp yet compassionate social comment, here enhanced by his stark, punk-influenced guitar and vocal. And you can't go far wrong if you're also citing Motown. Like my offering above, it's a tragic short story, but it's not a fairy tale. A women who suffers from domestic abuse achieves escape and hope through listening to the angst riven Levi Stubbs on the Four Tops singles. And we know that if there's one song he's referring to, then it's the one that starts:

"Now if you feel that you can't go on

because all of your hope is gone

and your life is filled with much confusion

until happiness is just an illusion,

and you're world around is crumbling down...."

Bragg begins his song with a telling line too:

"With the money from her accident she bought herself a mobile home so at least she could get some enjoyment out of being alone..."

and follows with a litany of tragedy made sadder by being framed with tenderly observed personal details:

"She ran away from home in her mother's best coat she was married before she was even entitled to vote and her husband was one of those blokes the sort that only laughs at his own jokes....."

and her only escape is Motown and Levi Stubbs's offer to "be there" for her:

"...Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong are here to make everything right that's wrong Holland and Holland and Lamont Dozier too are here to make it all okay with you....."

Here I have to demur because, stickler for accuracy that I am, the Four Tops only ever recorded one song by Whitfield and Strong which is "Don't Let Him Take your Love from Me" on their 1969 "The Four Tops Now" album. Still you can't blame Bragg for showing off his Motown knowledge just as I'm doing now and, like the Holland brothers and Lamont Dozier, they were a great songwriting team.

The song ends tragically where what he does to her emotionally is even worse than what he does to her physically:

"and one dark night he came home from the sea and put a hole in her body where no hole should be - it hurt her more to see him walking out the door and though they stitched her back together they left her heart in pieces on the floor...."

but at least she (and we) have the Four Tops, to reach out to when things get bad:

"when the world falls apart some things stay in place, she takes off the Four Tops tape and puts it back in its case; when the world falls apart some things stay in place: Levi Stubbs' tears."

bottom of page