Historical Enquiries Team

I know the past is a foreign country, but how the hell did Alone Again Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan ever top the UK and US charts? This has to be the most miserable song ever. First verse he contemplates climbing up a tower and jumping off after being left in the lurch on his wedding day and no-one really giving a damn. Next verse he identifies himself with Jesus, wondering why, if God exists, he had deserted him. Then at the bridge he figures there are millions of people just like him. Then he recalls his father’s death and how his now dead mother had to cope. And that’s it. It’s quite funny, I suppose. But still. People went out to buy this in their millions. What was all that about?

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9 Responses to “Historical Enquiries Team”


  1. 1 Seán Báite October 31, 2008 at 12:14 pm

    Mr. GREEN, to my discredit – haven’t been around here in a while – but the first post I see on a return visit has me chuckling.

    I’m probably not qualified for your Historical Enquiries Team being a mere failed racing pigeon breeder, but here goes, three possibilities :

    1/ The dyslexic theory : those millions thought they were getting ‘Gilbert AND Sullivan’ – chirpy late-Victorian aural sludge (in choruses) – and most of them topped themselves before being able to bring the record back to the shop. The rest lost the receipts.

    2/ The Terry Jacks factor : G O’S reaped the harvest of the seed sown in a furrow (well, probably in a Septic tank, on reflection) by Terry Jacks’ abject translation and version of Brel’s ‘Le Moribond’ – ‘Seasons in the Sun’. Just nearly as depressing as this – and also sold by the bucketload.

    3/ Cos’ he’s from Waterford.

    On an aside – have you given up on tackling the bizarre extrapolations in John Water’s rantings over at the IT ?
    I just read his take on the Jonathan Ross / Russell Brand hoo-ha in England and he manages to blow it up into proof that all of us born since 1970 have some sort of comic/irony addiction.. aversion to seriousness…
    f@@@ing Roscommon nutter…

  2. 2 Hugh Green October 31, 2008 at 2:37 pm

    Mr S,

    I find 2 the most compelling. If you consider ‘Seasons in the Sun’, the only thing people remember is the first line of the chorus ‘we had joy/we had fun/we had seasons in the sun’. The rest barely matters. So people tend to think the song is about joy and fun. Likewise, perhaps Alone Again Naturally connotes some sort of elemental solitude with the birds and trees, and not the tale of someone at the end of their tether.

    I took a stab, almost literally, at M. Eaux on reading your post.

  3. 3 lolarusa November 6, 2008 at 12:02 am

    ‘Alone Again, Naturally’ is second only to ‘Is That All There Is?’ (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe9kKf7SHco) for sheer nihilistic bleakness. Just bleak bleak bleak. You have to kind of admire it for that, I guess.

  4. 4 lolarusa November 6, 2008 at 12:09 am

    Forgive me, that video cuts off the song. Here’s another nice rendition of Is That All There Is:

  5. 5 Seán Báite November 8, 2008 at 9:56 am

    Lolorusa, at least the wee girl in that song had an engaging pastime (I assume it’s her started the fire in the first place)

    Read over your ‘stab’ at (breaking of the) Waters, Mr. Green, almost literal it is alright…

  6. 6 Turtle Bunbury December 16, 2009 at 6:27 am

    Wotcha, Google have sent me a tantalising message directing me to your website with the words: ‘I know the past is a foreign country, but how the hell did Alone Again Naturally by Gilbert O’Sullivan ever top the UK and US … Happily, this is not the case with Turtle Bunbury.’ Alas, I cannot discover any more of this story or what is happily the case for me! But I look forward to doing so some day. Best wishes, Turtle

    • 7 Hugh Green December 16, 2009 at 7:49 am

      Hi Turtle,

      How odd. I remember your name (who wouldn’t?) but I can’t remember the context: did you contribute to some programme – maybe Who Do You Think You Are? I may have written something about this, but I can’t find it, and I’m not one for deleting posts, so I have no idea where this one has gotten to. I’m not sure if I even published the thing. I do hope this does not mean that Google is trawling my drafts, since the results would be perplexing and even upsetting for a substantial number.

  7. 8 Turtle Bunbury December 16, 2009 at 7:59 am

    Hi Hugh, yes, I was one of the boffins who trotted around Dublin with Rosanna Davison … no worries, I am content to have the sentence begin with the word ‘Happily’. That is a fine blog you have set in motion incidentally. Best wishes, Turtle

  8. 9 Hugh Green December 17, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Thanks Turtle, glad you like it.


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