The hardest feelings to create in a song are poignancy and wistfulness. It’s so easy to over-do, straying into self-obsession…or under-do, becoming tedious.
Tiny distinctions separate the sweet spot on poignancy-wistfulness spectrum from the self-obsessed and the tedious on either side. That’s what makes it so hard to create those feelings in your listeners’ minds when you write a song.
One band that got that tricky balance spot on are The Connells who had their one and only hit in 1995 with the poignant, wistful “‘74-’75”.
Bizarrely, a few seconds of “‘74-’75” is being used as the backing music for a TV commercial in the UK at the moment…a commercial for a DIY and home improvement store, of all things.
The bright pastel colours on the visuals and the sharp cuts of the commercial’s director somehow work well with the wistfulness of the backing track, but I’m not exactly sure how…
Away from the world of TV commercials, though, the concept behind both the song and the video for “‘74-’75” is brilliant. The video in particular is a work of awe-inspiring beauty, which we’ll get to in a moment…
“‘74-’75” was written in the mid-1990s, reflecting back on the lives of a group of students who had left high school 20 years earlier, as part of the 1974–1975 graduating class. This is a real high school with real former students, not actors, as you’ll see in the video.
A lot can happen in 20 years. People think back to what might have been…to the carefree innocence of their youth, when the world seemed welcoming and the possibilities seemed endless.
As anyone who has looked back 20 years knows, it’s not quite that simple.
A decision taken here…or not taken. An opportunity seized…or passed. A conversation started…or shyly avoided…
In a moment, our path through life can change forever and, 20 years later, we’re still living with the consequences.
Even if we think we’ve decided to stay as we are, the truth is that’s changed us too…but this time subconsciously…
In our minds, we’ve told ourselves we’re not brave enough to say “yes”…we’d never be good enough for the opportunity…we wouldn’t be interesting enough to start a conversation with someone we were desperate to get to know better.
In that moment we change for ever on the inside…even though we look exactly the same on the outside.
And in many ways those changes on the inside are more life-changing than the changes on the outside.
If we move to a new town and don’t like it, we can move back again or try a different location altogether. Nobody minds, and you’ll be welcomed back.
But when we tell ourselves we’re not brave enough or not good enough or not interesting enough, we can’t slough off those damning judgements of ourselves nearly so easily. Those actions will haunt us for the rest of our lives.
The lyrics to “‘74-’75” tell the story of two people who didn’t quite get together 20 years ago meeting up again for their 20th anniversary graduation party and reflecting back to those gentler days…
Got no reason for coming to me
And the rain running down
There’s no reason
And the same voice coming to me
Like it’s all slowing down
And believe me
I was the one who let you know
I was your sorry ever after
After 20 years, the feeling of what might have been lies heavy in the air, especially if the intervening years haven’t been kind.
I can’t listen to “‘74-’’75” without reflecting on an experience of my own…except for me the gap was more like 30 years than 20.
Someone I loved dearly as a teenager turned me down when I asked her to marry me back then. Our relationship wasn’t an intimate one, but we were the very best of friends, the closest two people could be, two peas in a pod. It seemed like a match made in heaven to me, but that wasn’t a perspective she shared.
I didn’t see my old friend for almost 30 years and then, following a series of almost unimaginable coincidences, met her again.
As The Connells describe, it was like hearing the same voice again…reliving the fondest memories and happiest times of my late teenage years in my mind…this time in slow motion…
She lives overseas so we had just one afternoon together in London when she was passing through on the way to somewhere else…a perfectly chaste afternoon, I might add, just drinking coffee and chatting, picking up again like we’d seen one another only yesterday.
What do you do after 20 years…never mind 30…when you see someone you haven’t seen for such a long time? What do you say? Do you go back over old ground or just leave things unsaid…?
It’s not easy
Nothing to say ’cause it’s already said
It’s never easy
When I look on in your eyes
Then I find that I’ll do fine
When I look on in your eyes
Then I’ll do better
For me and my old friend, the 30 years we hadn’t seen one another evaporated in an instant and we picked up where we left off…talking about music, if you must know…
The way I felt that day comes to mind every time I see the amazing video for “‘74-’75”…
The video was directed by Mark Pellington who has since gone on to direct music videos for the likes of U2 and Jon Bon Jovi.
The video is incredibly powerful despite the concept being quite a simple idea — take the photos from the High School Yearbook for the 1974–75 graduating class and let’s see how those same people look today.
Mark Pellington’s genius was the way he shot it.
He had the former students stand in front of the camera which they left running while the crew pretended to fiddle about with something technical.
Thinking the camera crew’s attention was elsewhere, the subjects relaxed a little and gave us an insight into themselves as a real person, with all of their vulnerabilities, all the highs and lows of their last 20 years, written across their faces.
There’s not one set of eyes that doesn’t have some sadness behind them in those vulnerable moments. In some eyes, sadness is all you see…
The juxtaposition of the happy smiling Yearbook photos with the current day vulnerabilities was a great idea.
What made it into a genius idea was Mark Pellington then told the subjects they’d start filming and the former students put on their “game faces”…the way they presented themselves to the world, not the uncertain, vulnerable, real person they’d been up to the point someone called “Action!”.
The contrast was amazing…
Much of the body language changed, but the eyes didn’t. Whoever they were and whatever they pretended to be, their eyes betrayed the highs and lows, the loves and the hurts, the experiences that ground them down and the experiences that built them up.
No wonder the eyes are called “the window to the soul”.
And if you could see my eyes when I re-watch the video for “‘74-’75”, you’d notice they’re always a little moist in the corners.
Thanks to the music of The Connells, Mark Pellington took a very simple idea, with a minimal budget and no whizz-bang technology, and made one of the most moving pieces of 3-minute film you’ll ever see.
The three-way contrast between 20 years ago, today as we really feel inside and today as we pretend to be when the world is watching is incredibly moving.
And I saw myself in those terms when I met up with my old friend for that afternoon of chatting and drinking coffee.
In a sense, nothing had changed. My funny, lively, music-loving friend was exactly as I remembered her.
But everything had changed…and we couldn’t go back.
After a few hours, we went our separate ways. I’ve long since accepted that the likelihood is we’ll never see one another again in this life.
I just put on my game face and get on with life, pretending to be what I want the world to see.
Having to pretend everything is OK, even when it isn’t, is perhaps the saddest thing of all…perhaps that’s my “sorry ever after”…
I sometimes wonder if I’m hers…
“‘74-’75” is a perfectly nice song, but on this occasion, the video really does bring a dimension to the story which makes it by far the best way to enjoy this delightful song.
Only a reasonable hit in the UK, where it was a Top 20 hit in 1995, “‘74-’75” was a bigger hit in Scandinavia, but is virtually unknown elsewhere in the world.
The Connells made a beautiful record, and Mark Pellington created one of the greatest music videos of all time. If you’re not familiar with this song, you’re in for a real treat…you’ll need your Kleenex handy, though…
It’s the poignant, wistful, thoughtful, humbling, brilliant “‘74-’75”…
If you’ve read this far, thank you for spending a few moments in the company of one of my favourite songs. The video is below, but if you prefer listening to your music on Spotify, you can find today’s track here… https://open.spotify.com/track/2MAVcVr2oylw2OZ3hojWYj