The Sweeney

It’s funny how we find music, movies, and TV Shows. As I’ve said before I first watched a TV show in 2007-2008 called Life On Mars and not only was the show great but I also found some music I never heard before. The show was about Sam Tyler…a 2006 cop that got hit by a car and woke up in 1973. It remains one of my favorite shows of all time.

Life On Mars was based on a UK seventies cop show… this show… called The Sweeney. It took me a few years but I decided to check The Sweeney out. I love it. It’s gritty, dirty, and realistic. No cop shows at the time in America could be compared to this one. Shows like Kojak were more sanitized than The Sweeney. Filmed right on the streets of London, with plenty of graphic violence, the series nearly defines the expression “gritty drama.”

Many episodes had a bittersweet ending, with perhaps one villain caught, but justice rarely served for everyone, and plenty of loose ends as the credits rolled. And you could count on the heroes getting a pretty good thrashing in most episodes, though they gave as good as they got in fights.

The two main characters were Jack Regan (John Thaw) and George Carter (Dennis Waterman). Jack was Detective Inspector Regan who had little regard for protocol and would not think twice about getting criminals legally or otherwise. Detective Sargant George  Carter worked under Regan and tended to go more by the rules and was sometimes Regan’s conscious…when he listened.

As the series went along you could see the characters grow and even Regan started to go more with the guidelines. It’s a great show and the writing from episode to episode is consistent.

The show ran from 1974 through 1978 with 54 episodes plus two full length movies released in 1977 and 1978.  Although it was extremely popular, a combination of high production costs and creator burnout meant that it only lasted for four years.

For those of you who have seen Life On Mars…Gene Hunt was Regan…Hunt was more bombastic but the thread is there between the two. I could even draw comparisons to Sam Tyler and Carter trying to convince their boss to do the right thing. Life On Mars even used a Ford Capri as The Sweeney did.

This show would probably be an HBO series now if it were produced today…give it a try.

David Bowie – Life On Mars? ——— Songs that reference The Beatles

In the next few days, I will be featuring some songs that make references to The Beatles. either separately or as a band. Today will be Life On Mars?. They will be in no order…

Now the workers have struck for fame ‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again

Life On Mars is my absolute favorite song by David Bowie. Not only favorite by Bowie but one of my favorites ever. Both the abstract lyrics and music are perfect. This song was on the Hunky Dory album released in 1971. The song peaked at #3 in the UK charts in 1972.

The piano on the recording was played by Rick Wakeman of Yes.

Bowie came up with this after he was asked to put English lyrics to a French song called “Comme d’habitude.” Paul Anka bought the rights to the original French song and rewrote it in English as “My Way,” later made famous by Frank Sinatra. “Life On Mars?” uses practically the same chords as “My Way” and the Hunky Dory liner notes state that the song is “Inspired by Frankie.”

David Bowie about the song: A sensitive young girl’s reaction to the media”  “I think she finds herself disappointed with reality… that although she’s living in the doldrums of reality, she’s being told that there’s a far greater life somewhere, and she’s bitterly disappointed that she doesn’t have access to it.”

From Songfacts

The song is about a girl who goes to watch a movie after an argument with her parents. The film ends with the line “Is there life on Mars?”

The lyrics also contain imagery suggesting the futility of man’s existence, a topic Bowie used frequently on his early albums. 

In 2008, Bowie recalled writing this song to the Mail on Sunday: “This song was so easy. Being young was easy. A really beautiful day in the park, sitting on the steps of the bandstand. ‘Sailors bap-bap-bap-bap-baaa-bap.’ An anomic (not a ‘gnomic’) heroine. Middle-class ecstasy. I took a walk to Beckenham High Street to catch a bus to Lewisham to buy shoes and shirts but couldn’t get the riff out of my head. Jumped off two stops into the ride and more or less loped back to the house upon Southend Road. The workspace was a big empty room with a chaise lounge; a bargain-price art nouveau screen (‘William Morris,’ so I told anyone who asked); a huge overflowing freestanding ashtray and a grand piano. Little else. I started working it out on the piano and had the whole lyric and melody finished by late afternoon. Nice. Rick Wakeman [of prog band, Yes] came over a couple of weeks later and embellished the piano part and guitarist Mick Ronson created one of his first and best string parts for this song which now has become something of a fixture in my live shows.”

The band Bush used the line, “Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow” as a tribute to Bowie in their song “Everything Zen.”

This was released as a single in 1973, two years after it appeared on Hunky Dory.

The song was recorded in Portuguese by Seu Jorge for the soundtrack of the 2004 film The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou. Anni-Frid Lyngstad, formerly of ABBA, recorded a Swedish version titled “Liv pa Mars?”

If you listen closely to the end of the original recording of this song, you can hear a telephone ringing. 

The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain often performs this song at live shows. They claim it is a “song about plagiarism” and that it “wasn’t our idea.” The first verse is played straight as Jonty Bankes sings. As Bankes sings the second verse, George Hinchcliffe sings “My Way” until the bridge (“But the film is a sadd’ning bore”) when Peter Brooke-Turner sings lines from “For Once in My Life.” Then through the chorus, Hester Goodman sings from “Born Free” while Dave Suich sings The Who’s “Substitute.” Watch it here. >>

Mick Rock directed the song’s official video. It was filmed backstage at Earls Court in London in 1973. It features Bowie in a turquoise suit and makeup, performing the song against a white backdrop.

The BBC television series, Life On Mars, was named after this, while its sequel, Ashes to Ashes, was also named after the Bowie song of the same name.

Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong has stated he would like this song to be played at his funeral.

This was featured on the first episode of the TV series American Horror Story: Freak Show, where it was sung by Jessica Lange’s character. The series is set in 1952 but used music recorded much later, similarly to how Baz Luhrmann incorporated contemporary tunes into the films Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby.

Ryan Murphy, who created the show, says that he looked for music by artists who were oddities themselves, and proud of it. Bowie fit the bill and approved the use of the song, as did Fiona Apple, who allowed her song “Criminal” to be used in the next episode.

Life On Mars

It’s a God-awful small affair
To the girl with the mousy hair
But her mummy is yelling no
And her daddy has told her to go

But her friend is nowhere to be seen
Now she walks through her sunken dream
To the seat with the clearest view
And she’s hooked to the silver screen

But the film is a saddening bore
For she’s lived it ten times or more
She could spit in the eyes of fools
As they ask her to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

It’s on America’s tortured brow
That Mickey Mouse has grown up a cow
Now the workers have struck for fame
‘Cause Lennon’s on sale again
See the mice in their million hordes
From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads
Rule Britannia is out of bounds
To my mother, my dog, and clowns
But the film is a saddening bore
‘Cause I wrote it ten times or more
It’s about to be writ again
As I ask you to focus on

Sailors fighting in the dance hall
Oh man look at those cavemen go
It’s the freakiest show
Take a look at the lawman
Beating up the wrong guy
Oh man wonder if he’ll ever know
He’s in the best selling show
Is there life on Mars?

Life On Mars…

2006 Life on Mars is simply great. Now I’m talking about the BBC original version… NOT the American version. Sometimes I wonder why instead of remaking a series as great as this… why not just show the superior British version in America in prime time? Do they think that it would be impossible for people to understand British accents? Why remake something that is inferior to the original?

The plot is a cop (Sam Tyler) in 2006 gets hit by a car and wakes up in 1973…he doesn’t know if he has traveled through time, going mad or in a coma. When he wakes he is a cop in 1973 and has to deal with a non PC world that is vastly different from where he just came from… People do things with feel more than data gathering etc.

Great characters and stories make this the best show of the 2000’s to me. It only lasts 16 episodes and all of them are top notch. This show did have a spinoff… Ashes to Ashes…basically the same story above but with a female detective going back in the 1980s but she does meet most of the same characters except Sam. Ashes to Ashes does have its moments and it does wrap up all the reasons for  Life On Mars….but it doesn’t top it.

Almost better than the series is the soundtrack…. Performers from Atomic Rooster to David Bowie. A few songs that caught me by surprise that I thought how have I missed these all of my life?