David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 56: The Dream Academy (Life In A Northern Town)

June 21, 2020

Feeling kind of guilty to reduce a group's prominence in the musical world to about 1 and 1/2 minutes, but here I go. On the bright side, without that 1 and 1/2 minutes, I am probably not even talking about them.

Like many pop music listeners in 1984, I was completely hooked by the chorus of "Life In A Northern Town" by The Dream Academy. It was a Top 10 hit in America, and while some of the lyrics and the striking presence of oboe and cello may have helped get it there, the chorus was the engine for this one-hit wonder.

The sleepiness of the music enveloping the verses fits the pastoral nostalgic look back of those lyrics: "A Salvation Army band played/while the children drank lemonade," or later "they sat on a stony ground/and he took a cigarette out." The verses are intriguing, evocative (any reference to John F. Kennedy or The Beatles has that evocative connotation, but put them both in the same line, well . . .), and supported by the lightest touch of the instruments.

It's kind of cool in a hippy way, but it lacks staying power.

The chorus, though, brings in that staying power in a big way, starting with the pounding of a timpani, the sparse drum overall on the track. Rumor has it the record company demanded more drums but the band refused; I can understand why they asked, but in the end it's my desperate anticipation for the drum's return after each verse that makes that chorus the memorable part of the song.

But it's not just the drums. The chorus also features a fascinating chant that the group claims was much of the song's genesis -- an "African-style" chorus: "a hey o my my my a hey o my do din da ya" (or something close to that). I don't know if it is African, but it is Beatlesque, Electric-Light-Orchestra-esque (in many ways redundant with Beatlesque), even Paul Simon-esque.  Apparently the band talked to Simon who convinced them to ditch the original title of the song, but it is interesting that within two years, Simon would feature some of the most famous African-style chants in white western music with the songs on Graceland, another homage to a more idealistic time and place.

There's also the simple single piano key played harder and harder as the chorus winds down and verse kicks back in. It is a trick done a thousand times a day, but striking here as the back end to the opening timpani bookending the chorus.

See, there is a lot that could be said about The Dream Academy. However, if it weren't for that chorus, covering under two minutes of the total song, I could easily say I would know nothing about them and would never have remembered them. I bought The Dream Academy, the debut album featuring "Life In A Northern Town," and can't remember a melody, a lyric, an instrumental highlight from the rest of the album. "Johnny (New Light)" seems vaguely familiar as I glance at the track listing, but I am sure it is the non-sequential parenthetical that does it (See Day 33: A Flock of Seagulls for prior rantings about the parenthetical).

I don't listen to much radio and don't have this song prominently available through any of my personal listening venues, but if that chorus "through an open window came/like Sinatra in a younger day," it temporarily pushes some blues away. Oh my my my oh.

"Life In A Northern Town." The Dream Academy. The Dream Academy. Warner-Brothers. 1984. Link here.

Day 55: Supertramp "Hide In Your Shell."

Day 57: New Order "Age Of Consent."

See complete list here.