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(Credit: Mac DeMarco)

Music

The bizarre novelty record that got Mac DeMarco into music

@SamWKemp

While Mac DeMarco may have faded from view in recent years, there was a time when you couldn’t step foot in my quarter of South London without stumbling across at least one huddle of baseball cap-wearing dungaree enthusiasts smoking Viceroys and listening to ‘Chamber of Reflection’ on a Bluetooth speaker.

The American slacker come songwriter’s impact on indie-obsessed teens was immense – and for good reason. Nobody had heard anything quite like DeMarco’s warped blend of jangle pop when his breakthrough album Salad Days hit the mainstream.

While hordes of imitators soon followed, at the time of its arrival, that 2014 LP felt as though it had fallen to earth from space. None of DeMarco’s musical influences were particularly obvious; it seemed that he had managed to craft something utterly fresh, revealing green wood beneath the pock-marked and lifeless husk of late teenies indie rock. But, of course, even the most individualistic musicians have taken inspiration from somewhere.

Speaking to The Guardian in 2015, DeMarco opened up about some of the albums that had soundtracked his life. As well as revealing his passion for Steely Dan, Arthur Russell, and Plastic Ono Band, DeMarco named the record that got him into music as a child: “I didn’t care much about music as a young kid, partly because my mom used to listen to pop-country all the time and it really bummed me out,” DeMarco began. “I was not into it. The worst offender was this Canadian guy named Duane Steele – he used to come to Edmonton, where I grew up, to play golf and my mom was crazy for him. I was like, “You’re such a loser, Mom!”

As the years went by, however, DeMarco’s disdain for his mum’s music choice softened: “But then, when I was six or seven, she got this Herman’s Hermits CD and I was like, “Yeah, this Henry VIII song is pretty chill.” Thankfully, the pop-country thing was just a phase: my mom introduced me to good music too.”

Released in 1965, ‘I’m Henry The VIII’ is a novelty song which, despite having a distinct ’60s feel, was actually written by R.P. Weston and Fred Murray, who died in 1936. The track was just one of the hundreds of tracks the songwriting duo wrote together for the music halls and was first published in 1910 under the title ‘I’m Henery The Eighth, I Am’. Herman’s Hermits’ live TV rendition of the track on the Ed Sullivan show reveals just how grateful we should be to The Beatles for doing away with this sort of thing.

It’s the kind of music hall number that seems to have been designed with the set purpose of driving the listener to insanity. Backed by a suited beat ensemble playing straight-up skiffle, frontman Peter Noone takes it upon himself to track the tune’s progress as it goes on: “Second verse!” he yells, “same as the first!” And so it goes on and on and on. Still, I shouldn’t be too critical, it clearly made an impact on Mac DeMarco, and for that, we are truly grateful.