The great age of tunes – from Sullivan to Sherman


So farewell, then, Richard Sherman – you have had a long, eventful and successful life. That is how E. J. Thribb of Private Eye would have put it, anyway.

Richard who, I hear you ask? We weren’t aware of any UK policy implications of the death of an American showman.

So bear with me and I will tell you.

Richard Sherman, who has died aged 98, was half of the song-writing duo known as the ‘Sherman brothers’.  His brother Robert died some years ago.

It wasn’t just that they wrote songs for some of the most famous and best-loved shows of the 1960s – like Mary Poppins, Chutty-Chitty-Bang-Bang and The Jungle Book – they also provided the songs for the Disney version of Winnie-the-Pooh. They even wrote Walt Disney’s own favourite song, ‘Feed the birds’.

In short, for anyone wo grew up in the 1960s – as I was – they really provided the soundscape background to our lives.

Even so, I was watching the recent Eurovision song contest, and I have been wondering whether the Shermans were actually the end of a line. 

Because for some reason, we seem to have taken against tunes these days.

When did that begin the happen? I’m not sure whether it was this century or the last one. 

I am assuming that – just as the start was marked by the tunes of Sir Arthur Sullivan in the 1880s, but was complicated by a number of others at the time – I feel sure that there were others who have carried on writing tunes after the heyday of the Shermans.  

Of course, I am talking about popular music. Classical music had completely turned its back on tunes during the modernist 1930s. But they found their way back again, after the war, via the work of Benjamin Britten.

Criticising the last Eurovision contest may finally condemn myself as a ‘centrist dad’ – I’m now 66 – but my feeling was that every song this year used exactly the same rhythm and including similar amounts of violent gusto by all the performers.

I have always enjoyed watching Eurovision. I know that it had a reputation for ‘Boom bang-a-bang’ (Lulu), a way to avoid the divisions caused by using a different language from the voters. 

I remember watching the 1974 Eurovision song contest with my mum. That was the year that the Swedish entry was ‘Waterloo’ by Abba – amazing that they couldn’t decide whether they should sing in English or Swedish until the last possible moment.

Yet my mum and me preferred the Dutch entry that year, ‘I see a star’ by Mouth and McNeil.

Perhaps that wasn’t the moment when tunes went out like a tide.

Can anyone else remember the tune of the England World Cup song in 1970?

This is in fact a useful means of getting people to celebrate their common roots, by getting then to hum the same thing. I recommend it to the current generation of politicians during the current election.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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