Wednesday, 2 February 2011

The Ides of March - Vehicle

Marking music

I am currently marking English exam papers and as I do I will occasionally be listening to music which for me focuses rather than detracts, but more often I will listen when taking a break or deciding to write on this blog instead.

The marking principle is to always reward what the candidates do rather than penalise for what is missing: a humane and positive ethos. A key principle is 'best fit' so when skills and understanding are achieved across a range of grade bands the final mark considers all and awards in a band that best reflects the whole achievement. Sensible too.

Being, one hopes, in the marking grove, I thought I'd apply this principle to music and having mentioned the singer Larry Millas from The Ides of March in an earlier post about English jazz-rock groups I decided to grade their album 'Vehicle'. A group of this historical stature will naturally be within the Higher tier so I'll be looking at a grade range of D to A*.

It's a mixed album, patchy in fact. There is a decent cover of 'Wooden Ships' but the strength of the song itself carries the track perhaps more than the delivery, but this is followed by a strong number 'Bald Medusa' that most resembles a Blood Sweat & Tears track with which much on this album will inevitably and in a complimentary way be compared. These two would respectively reflect B- and B+ qualities [notional grades to be precise in reference] so a straight B at this stage seems a fair early impression.

However, there are two limp and embarrassing ballads on the album - 'One Woman Man' and 'Lead Me Home Gently' - and these fall well below this tier's tolerance. Whilst the ethos of the marking scheme rightly prevents me from pulling the interim grade down because of this [as it has achieved its notional B], it does nothing to enhance and is still an instinctive dampener even for this resolute applicator of the marking rules.

Two other tracks will establish the final grade. The first, 'Symphony for Eleanor (Eleanor Rigby)', is an excellent Beatles cover and marries rock voice and jazz instrumentation perfectly. It also appeals to me as I like good covers [rather than suffering the immediate distrust of purists] though in applying objective criteria I cannot allow personal preference to influence marking judgement. But it has an impact - let's be fundamentally honest - like neat handwriting, coherence of organisation and overall expression, and a varied and sophisticated vocabulary.

The second track is the clincher. It is, in fact, the first on the album and thus makes a crucial and critical opening premise. It is also the band's most famous, anthologised track and title of the album. 'Vehicle' is the quintessential track for this jazz-rock genre with its powerful vocal, punchy instrumentation, overall consummate playing, and the following opening lyrics:

Hey, well I'm the friendly stranger
In the black sedan
Oh won't you hop inside my car?
I got pictures, got candy, I am a lovable man
I'd like to take you to the nearest star
I'm your vehicle baby
I'll take you anywhere you wanna go
I'm your vehicle woman
By now I'm sure you know
That I love ya (love you)
Need ya (need you)
I want to, got to have you child
Great God in heaven, you know I love you

Cheesy but Far Out. Complete if sleazy appreciation of metaphor. A*. Non-negotiable.

This, of course, with 'best fit' takes the notional B and factors in the A* [at the top and in reality beyond the ceiling of that band] and thus arrives at an overall A. Let's be honest, we often buy and listen to albums on the basis of a single track. If anyone wanted to give this an overall higher grade on that basis, I wouldn't be arguing all that much.


  1. I like the use of the Marking principle here! Maybe you should write a book where you apply it in all sorts of different areas of life. I reckon it would make interesting reading and could make you a fortune...

  2. If only Trish! But I like the idea of multi-applications....