Songs about stars are plentiful.
Star Star Light Star Bright She’s A Star It’s Written In The Stars Superstar Shine Like Stars Starry Starry Night Star Maker California Stars Co Stars Starry Eyes Baby I’m A Star Starman Lady Stardust Ziggy Stardust The Prettiest Star Black Star Lost Star New Star Stars Are Strong Strange News From Another Star Star Sign GUIDING STAR Star Of Bethlehem Wishing On A Star Thank Your Lucky Stars Star 69 Star Me Kitten Star Sailor Star Shaped My Dark Star Little Star Near Star Pole Star One Bright Star Shooting Star Star Spangled Banner Starmoonsun Your Star Will Shine Star Fucker Morning Star Evening Star Starry Eyes In The Ocean Of The Stars
At this time of year though, one star song shines brightest of all.
Teenage Fanclub – Guiding Star
Guiding Star is the penultimate track on Teenage Fanclub‘s Bandwagonesque and it’s perfect for repeated plays in the run-up to Christmas. It’s ethereal, woozy and melancholic, a dreamy ballad soaked in the strings of sighing cellos – the saddest instrument of all – and brightly ringing, high in the mix jangling 12 string guitars that sound, to these December ears, a bit like sleigh bells.
The triumvirate of songwriters in Teenage Fanclub really began to show their individual strengths around the time of Bandwagonesque; Norman did the uplifting, life-affirming ones – The Concept, Alcoholiday, Raymond did the noisy ones – I Don’t Know and Gerry did the wistful, regretful, heart-tugging ones – chiefly December and Guiding Star.
Time has shown that Gerry’s songs are the ones I probably value just that wee bit more than the others. The benefit of years and years of listening to one of our finest-ever bands still throws up unexpected new things in Gerry’s songs; previously unnoticed fret-spanning bass runs, a nod here and a wink there to a crate-dug 60s sunshine pop obscurio, a rhyming couplet that remained buried for years underneath glorious Fanclub noisepop. He’s a much underrated writer, is Gerry Love.
Guiding Star may be Gerry’s song, but it’s a real band effort in pulling it together. The others give him the spotlight, stepping forward as and when the song requires them. Here comes Norman with those caramelised, high, high, “hey!” harmonies. And here comes Raymond with his pedal board and understated avant gardisms. Those morse code guitar bleeps, firing off little tracers of olde-worlde communication out into the night sky. Stay in touch, they say, you’re my guiding star – you’re my number one.
Then there’s the fuzz guitar in the background, heavily manipulated by Raymond’s slo-mo, divebombing whammy bar, My Bloody Valentine with better manners and cleaner hair.
While all of this plays out, Gerry is singing about Jesus Christ and how he wears his hair and how he walks on air, and the vocal floats magically above the quiet storm below. And then Raymond turns it up another notch and he’s sliding straight into the feedback ‘n sustain solo that carries us to the song’s suddenly fading conclusion. Over and out. Gone.
Wise men used to follow stars. Wise men and women still follow the Teenage Fanclub. Stars of another sort.