Song of the day: MARY MARGARET O’HARA – A Year In Song (1988)

Back in 2004 I went to see the Barbican production of Tom Waits’ and Robert Wilson’s musical play The Black Rider. I had no idea who was in it beforehand, bar Marianne Faithfull, so my jaw was resting squarely on my knees when it dawned on me that the woman in the red dress playing Käthchen was none other than Canadian singer, actress and all round reclusive genius Mary Margaret O’Hara. I forget now whether she had one or two solo songs. I just know that I was enraptured. I thought she’d bowed out of the limelight for good, and I’d as good as stumbled across her by accident. Needless to say, all has been quiet on the M²OH (as she’s known by her fans) front since then.

The circumstances of my initiation into the world of Mary Margaret O’Hara are kind of blurred in the distance of time. I think I was introduced to her by a former girlfriend, and I do remember seeing her at the cinema in the quirky, star-studded (in a kind of alternative universe way) road movie Candy Mountain, alongside Tom Waits, Dr John, David Johansen, Jim Jarmusch, Joe Strummer, Arto Lindsay, Leon Redbone and others. I eventually got my own copy of Miss America, her first, and more or less only album, at one of the legendary Power Cuts sales in Manchester. The lamented Power Cuts had an annual sale every October which lasted about a week where they would have a ship load of cut-out LPs from the States at ludicrous prices. They would open at something like 6:30 am on the Saturday morning, and the place would be jammed well before 7! I digress.

Miss America came out in November 1988, and the world still awaits a proper follow up. There have been EPs, a film soundtrack and a few songs on compilations, but that’s about it. The album is a pot-pourri of country, jazz and torch songs that veers wildly in mood from euphoria to despair and back again. It’s an extraordinary collection of extraordinary songs, but it’s O’Hara’s voice which is the thing. She can purr a sweet lullaby, belt out a joyful country tune, a mournful ballad or get wrapped up in something close to the edge of hysteria. Miss America has all of that and more. It really should be better known – it’s not for want of trying by its devotees. This month’s Mojo has a full page article on the record.

“Year In Song” has always been my favourite. It has parallels with the kind of stream of consciousness bare-wire emotions that Kristin Hersh did on early Throwing Muses tracks like “Delicate Cutters” and “Mania”. It seems loose – both musically and mentally. It starts off in a very eighties slow rock mode, with almost AOR guitars, bass and drums with plenty of reverb. The music is frankly pretty sluggish, but over the top of it O’Hara goes from a slightly kooky jazz vocal to almost Linda Blair like gabbling in tongues. It’s weird, but it works. Amazingly it was written a full decade before the album was released. Miss America was out of print for ages, but is readily available now. Amazon has it for six quid. You’d be an idiot not to.

The year in song
The year in music
A week in song
A day in song

Joy is the aim
Joy is the aim

Now hit those gleaming faces
Hard, though they’ll try to miss it
You would do the same for others
Look now it’s ready
Is it?
Ready to put you under like sedation

The year in song
The year in music
A week in song
A day in song

Joy is the aim

Sitting on beats all wind-up toys
Sitting on breast all wind-up noise
Am damn noise and am sitting on it
I’m damn noise and I’m sitting on it
I’m sitting on it

Pretty soon too much
Pretty soon too much
Pretty soon too much, too soon, too much

Joy is the aim, eh joy?
Is the aim, eh joy?

Double or nothing
It is all for one and something’s
Ready to blow you up, then I blow it1
Treat me I’m getting low
High up where floaters go
Ready to put you under my light sedation
I’m ready to throw you under like sedation
I’m not ready to go under
I’m not ready to go under
Eh pretty
Ape pretty
Ah, that’s too much

Ah I love that
Oh that ta-ta music
Ah, what ta-ta music?
Oh that ta-ta music

Is the aim eh? Joy?
Joy is the aim
Eh Joy
Is the aim, eh joy?


2 responses to “Song of the day: MARY MARGARET O’HARA – A Year In Song (1988)

  1. Thanks for this. You haven’t said anything new, but you’ve said it so well, and it’s good to have company when it comes to MMO’H. “Miss America” is beautiful, and I adore Margaret, her exotic hand-gestures, and her “polyrhythmic” dancing. She has a delightful unforced eccentricity which I find intoxicating, but then again she would: she’s a genius.

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