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Song of the Day: “Heart Like a Wheel”

Like Doctor Who on a bicycle….

That’s a fairly lame attempt at a riddle on the name of today’s Song of the Day, or rather pair of songs – two versions of “Heart Like a Wheel.” Two of them, so two hearts and two wheels. Time Lords, like Doctor Who, have two hearts, and bicycles… Get it? Okay, sorry, sorry. Let’s just get on with it…

The song “Heart Like a Wheel” was written by Canadian singer-songwriter Anna McGarrigle, who performed and recorded with her sister Kate McGarrigle from 1975 until Kate’s death in 2010. Their most productive period and time of greatest popularity was in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Their work isn’t as widely known as it should be – they are quite wonderful.

“Heart Like a Wheel” was the title of Linda Rondstadt’s fifth solo album (1974), a commercial breakthrough for her and perhaps her best album, which featured the first recording of the eponymous McGarrigle song, as well as “You’re No Good,” one of Rondstadt’s biggest hits. “Heart Like a Wheel” was also the title of a 1983 film about Shirley Muldowney, “the First Lady of Drag Racing,” starring Bonnie Bedelia in the title role.

Here are two recordings of “Heart Like a Wheel” – the first by Kate & Anna McGarrigle from their self-titled debut album, and the second by Billy Bragg:

Kate & Anna McGarrigle, “Heart Like a Wheel” – from the album Kate & Anna McGarrigle (1975)

Billy Bragg, “Heart Like a Wheel” – from the album Reaching to the Converted

Okay, they wrote it and it’s a great song, but to me the McGarrigles’ version seems a bit pale and bloodless next to Billy Bragg’s performance. They sound sad, but… disengaged; it’s a bit precious. Billy sounds introspective, looking back on a lost love, and at moments, which is appropriate, truly heart-broken.

Billy Bragg is of course best known for his political songs – and justly so. “Waiting for the Great Leap Forward,” “Between the Wars,” “NPWA,” “It Says Here,” and his reworking of “The Internationale” are all terrific. I’ve been a huge fan of his since first hearing “Between the Wars” on the radio in 1985 – I was blown away at the time, and still am.

But over the years, I’ve come to love him as much for his quieter troubadour side as for his socialist songster moments, and that quieter side is in good form on “Heart Like a Wheel.” Of course, sometimes the two sides come together and produce some of Billy’s best work – at least for me – which is why William Bloke (1996) is possibly my favorite of his albums. Because of songs like this:

Billy Bragg, “From Red to Blue” – from William Bloke (1996)

Be sure to check out Billy Bragg’s official website – you can download songs for free, find out about concert tours, read about Billy Bragg’s activism and activities, and pick up some choice swag:

The internet offers huge potential for artists who want to make music on their own terms. As the old business model crumbles to dust, artists have much to gain from entering into dialogue with their fans, not least from encouraging them to buy their music directly from the farm gate, secure in the knowledge that the money they spend will support the artist in their work.

I want this website to be my main source of communication with the world: songs I record, articles that I write, clips I film on my phone, merchandising I produce, blogs, comments, posts, all will be available here.

It’s time to start our own revolution and cut out the middleman….

(via Billy Bragg.)

Filed under: Song of the Day, , ,

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zerode by nick chapman is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Oh - and hello to Jason Isaacs.

The 400 Blows


is an over-caffeinated and under-employed grad school dropout, aspiring leftwing intellectual and cultural studies academic, cinéaste, and former poet. Raised in San Francisco on classic film, radical politics, burritos and soul music, then set loose upon the world. He spends his time in coffee shops with his laptop and headphones, caffeinating and trying to construct a post-whatever life.


What's in a name... The handle "zerode" is a contraction of Zéro de Conduite, the title of Jean Vigo's 1933 movie masterpiece about schoolboy rebellion.

tweeting my mind



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