#208 – Lady Godiva by Peter and Gordon
– For a change of pace, we’ll dwell on the past by starting from a futuristic point of view. Let’s pretend aspiring pop culture historians a few decades from now are given the title of this song as a research assignment. They’re familiar with the story of Lady Godiva, who rode on a horse naked through the streets of Coventry, England to protest high taxes imposed by her husband on his subjects. That legend has been passed down since the 13th Century, so it’s safe to assume they’ll know that much (and now you do too).
Armed with only the title, they’re assigned the task of looking back into the 20th Century to find a pop song with the same name and the artist(s). Of course you already know that much (I gave you the answer above). But where do you think these futuristic researchers might start their search?
With Peter and Gordon? Let’s discuss…
The British Invasion duo was known mostly for their mid-tempo love songs World Without Love and Woman. And as pointed out in an earlier article by The Classic Rocker, both songs were written by Paul McCartney and given to Peter and Gordon. That’s what can happen when a Beatle is dating your sister and living in a spare bedroom in your parents’ house. In this case, it was Peter’s sister Jane Asher and the Asher mom and dad. It’s also one of the reasons Paul became the richest Beatle. While the others were spending their residuals buying mansions in a rich neighborhood, he was living rent free.
But in the fall of 1966 Peter and Gordon released a different style of song. Lady Godiva showed they had a sense of humor while also adding a little sense of risqué to their reputations.
Seriously – risqué?
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Okay, it’s not like they suddenly became the Hugh Hefner’s of The British Invasion, but this song’s storyline was different. While artists that year were singing about falling in love, making love, getting high and in many songs doing all three, P&G were actually singing about a naked girl riding a horse down a city street, being discovered by a Hollywood director and becoming a star in pornographic films.
It had been a long ride from World Without Love.
But do you think our futuristic pop culture historians could find Peter and Gordon based only on this song title? It might take them a while since the above mentioned teenage angst love songs of their earlier career never came close to referencing “All the cats who dig striptease” and “Certificate X.” Peter and Gordon were more aligned with the smiling, clean-scrubbed, blow-dried hair and “I wanna hold your hand” image of The Beatles rather than the scruffy, dirty and scowling members of The Rolling Stones looking for some satisfaction.
Future pop historians may toss artists of The British Invasion into one lump category, but those of us that lived through it know there were differences. It’s like comparing The Animals to Herman’s Hermits.
Eric Burdon would sing about Lady Godiva. Peter Noone’s mum probably wouldn’t let him.
At this particular time in 1966 pop music was still pretty innocent.
Bob Dylan was talking over a lot of teenager’s heads with songs like Subterranean Homesick Blues and no one in my junior high class knew what the heck John Lennon was singing about in Tomorrow Never Knows. In the fall of 1966 the Beatles were limping off their last-ever tour and The Monkees were bringing innocent pop hits to primetime television. From our futuristic point of view we could say Peter and Gordon were only doing the same. But when it came to their latest single the subject matter felt a bit stronger than Davy Jones looking into a beautiful girl’s eyes and singing I Want To Be Free.
I’m not exactly sure of this, but I seem to remember Lady Godiva was banned from the radio in certain areas including a bit of protest about the storyline in Coventry, England. I guess the residents needed to protect their reputation and a 13th Century naked lady on a horse was a lot more innocent than a 1960’s naked lady scoring big in Hollywood.
Lady Godiva road onto this Dream Song List the morning of March 26th. It falls into the category of recent memory since I had just heard it. It also falls into one of my favorite genres of pop music – Music Hall Rock. With the jangly banjo, hook-driven verses and Peter and Gordon harmony, the song is a classic example of a popular 60’s trend that past and future pop culture historians should understand.
For other examples of Music Hall Rock check out Daydream by The Lovin’ Spoonful, Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks, and Good Day Sunshine by The Beatles. With the roots of these songs influenced by the pop hits of the 1920’s, it’s obvious that sometimes you need to dwell in the past to find futuristic trends.
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And speaking of a futuristic point of view, what might happen to our future pop historians searching for any information about this song simply based on its title? If it were me I’d round up the usual suspects of rock stars with oversexed images – which would eliminate Peter and Gordon. I can envision a research team swarming through a dust covered warehouse (think ending of Raiders of the Lost Arc) and excavating through bins and bins of vinyl records until they reach…
The late 1970’s?
Yeah, that’s where I’d start my search for a record titled Lady Godiva. And to narrow my research, I’d head straight for the Rod Stewart section and examine the song titles on the back covers of his LPs. He had the reputation for asking, “Da’ya think I’m sexy?” more than Peter and Gordon or any other smiling, clean-scrubbed and blown-dried hair pop stars of the 60’s.
In fact, I can dwell back into teenage angst mode and envision a music video for Rod Stewart’s version of Lady Godiva. Basically, he’d come out in his 70’s spandex and rooster hair while a string of Hugh Hefner worthy blondes recreate the naked ride on horseback. At the end of the song Rod jumps on the back of one of the horses – riding bareback (meaning no saddle – he’s still in spandex) – and rides off into the sunset. Ooh-la-la!
Of course this non-existent music video is nothing more than fun speculation and fantasy, even though it’s probably closer to what was riding through the minds of many teenaged males at the time. Looking back from a futuristic point of view it wouldn’t be a song title or storyline expected from Peter and Gordon. But then again, no one else expected it from them either in 1966.
For a video of Peter and Gordon performing Lady Godiva – featuring McCartney’s ex-girlfriend’s brother on jangly banjo and a bonus introduction by comedy legend Milton Berle – check this out.
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