Apothecary Man

Lyrics

Well welcome – come inside
Let me slide into your mind
And I’ll see what can find
What you’re hiding deep inside
You’re looking tired and you look stressed
So just lay down and get undressed
And have a rest (excuse the mess)
Sorry – I digress

Now tell me all your secrets
And I’ll tell you no lies
What you want is what I got
And I’ll keep you satisfied
I’m the Apothecary Man, I keep it all up here
So listen up my dear
Cross my palm with silver now…

Look – read the prescription
My description isn’t fiction
Isn’t that an accurate depiction of the friction in your mind?
I got blue pills I got red ones
I’ve got body ones and I’ve got head ones
From a book? Oh sure I’ve read one
And my mistakes? Oh sure I’ve made some

Now tell me all your secrets
And I’ll tell you no lies
What you want is what I got
And I’ll keep you satisfied
I’m the Apothecary Man, I keep it all up here
So listen up my dear
Cross my palm with silver now…

Oh look who’s back again
It’s good to see you here my friend
I see that there’s no end
So I’ve made you a special blend
Just open up your veins
And let me pump it straight to your brain
I know it sounds a little insane
But it’s the end to all your pain…

Now tell me all your secrets
And I’ll tell you no lies
What you want is what I got
And I’ll keep you satisfied
I’m the Apothecary Man, I keep it all up here
So listen up my dear
Cross my palm with silver now…

Notes

Well this is a bit… different, isn’t it? It’s actually been simmering away for a couple of years now so I’ll share with you how it started life as an acoustic number without much sense of purpose, to give you some idea of how long it can take me to bring something close to fruition: in this case 2 whole years.

So, that’s how it began life – more or less as a straightish blues-y kind of number, without any lyrics or direction. But… the riff and the swing stayed with me, and I’ve revisited it on and off ever since without ever being satisfied with the results. The main problem being that while the verse and the chorus were both good, I couldn’t find a way to give it any dynamic changes… meaning that it was headed into a bin marked “songs that are quite good but also somehow boring” until I re-listened to Peggy Lee’s Fever and had an epiphany.

That song also is centred around that famous swinging bassline, which repeats over and over. The genius of the song is that it changes key after each verse, which gives a climactic, constantly-building power.

In most modern pop music, the key change is normally reserved for the final chorus. Famously, the final repeat of the chorus of Penny Lane steps up a tone and that change is glorious. Of course, the trick has been done to death now to such a point that it is a running joke to wait for the moment in the X-Factor Christmas single when it happens – as it always does – on the final repeat of the chorus.

But Fever does it constantly – as does another famous song: The Who’s My Generation. There, the effect is to increase the perceived violence of the music – a constant tension of How Much Higher Can This Go? I love it.

And so, my epiphany arrived, and I structured the song in the way. After each verse it steps up.

  • Verse 1: F# minor
  • Verse 2: G# minor
  • Verse 3: A minor
  • Verse 4/fadeout: B minor

Pleased with that pattern, and probably inspired by Fever, I worked out a rolling bassline which really emphasises the swing (in fact, if I had the skills, I’d love to rework it as a big band number) and layered it over some electronic drums. I deliberately played it live in one take so that it had an organic feel – so there’s some mistakes in there because I am not a great bassist. The eerie oooo-weeee-oooo keyboard part was happy accident that sparked another train of thought: there was something potentially sinister in the sound.

And so came (finally!) the lyrical idea. I’ve been thinking a lot about drugs recently and how medicated we are as a society. We decry the quack doctors of the past for their snake oils and charms, but in truth huge numbers of us now are on narcotics to either bring us up or bring us down. Now – I’m not about to deny that they work or anything – but the psychological impulse to seek relief from life’s ups and downs through the pharmocologist’s cabinet is at the very least… interesting.

It’s not hard to believe that the medical system is at least in part swayed by the interests of drug manufacturers, or that doctors are confronted by irresolvable personal problems and reach for drugs as an answer because what else could do they do?

And so I imagined a kind of medicine man figure, peddling his wares to troubled souls… first identifying their problems… then saying ‘I have a cure for that’… then upping the dosage… until the final ‘special blend’ kills the patient.

OK, there’s a lot of dramatic oversimplification in there, but hey – storyteller’s prerogative.

Which leads me (finally!) to the vocal performance, about which I am horribly conflicted. Having conceived the character of the Apothecary Man, I decided to try and sing in a consciously stagy manner – almost as if it were a musical number from a film. As such, it is part-sun, part-spoken.. sometimes using a sort Southern US accent.. sometimes slipping back into my usual Yorkshire tones… and. Well. I sort of feel that it’s a mess. I just can’t decide whether it’s  beguiling mess or horrible mess.

So, I’ve decided to let this version simmer for a while, and then try a straighter vocal in a couple of weeks and see which plays better.

I’ve not half waffled over this one, but as a creative experiment it’s been pretty interesting for me.