Sing a song of eiderdowns

It’s blustery and breezy in Los Angeles today. A barely measurable amount of precipitation fell which inevitably resulted in chaos on the county’s concrete freeways. I climbed out of bed at 5:30, an act made almost Olympian due to the combination of pre-dawn darkness, drops and drizzle, and the warmth offered by my eiderdown.

Little Nemo in Slumberland
Winsor McCay‘s Little Nemo in Slumberland

An eiderdown (according to the Collins English Dictionary) “a thick warm cover for a bed, made of two layers of material enclosing a soft filling” and thus not necessarily stuffed with the epidermal growths of the Common Eider for which the garment is named.

Eider Ducks
Eider duck female and chicks (with their eider down intact — source: Thomas Reich)

As I fried hashed browns and veggie bacon in a wok and brewed coffee in the French press, my thoughts returned to eiderdowns, and to the songs which have celebrated… or at least mentioned them. “It’s an eiderdown kind of day,” as they say.

*****

The earliest musical expression of eiderdown that I know of came from Johnny Cash — the “Man in Black” and not the Khaki Campbell which I had as a childhood pet (and never stuffed anything with the down of). In his 1961 Celtophile Country ballad, “Forty Shades of Green,” he compared certain of his beloved’s body parts to feather-stuffed bedding. Consider:

But most of all I miss a girl in Tipperary town
and most of all I miss her lips as soft as eiderdown
Again I want to see and do the things we’ve done
and seen where the breeze is sweet as Shalimar
and there’s Forty Shades of Green
Roy Wood and The Move

The second great ode to eiderdown was Roy Wood‘s Brummie ModPsychedelic band The Move‘s release, “Flowers in the Rain,” in 1967. It was that song which was picked to be the first song played on BBC Radio 1. A few years later, when Wood was a member of The Electric Light Orchestra, it was recorded by Nancy Sinatra. The song combines rain effects and lyrics about getting out of bed — which makes the eiderdown connection understandable:

Woke up one morning half asleep
With all my blankets in a heap
And yellow roses scattered all around
The time was still approaching
For I couldn’t stand it anymore
Some marigolds upon my eiderdown

Pink Floyd 1967

If eiderdown-mentioning songs had a Hall of Fame, it would surely include Pink Floyd (and probably no other bands). The undoubted rock masters of the eiderdown comforter mentioned them in at least three songs written by three of the band’s songwriters. First was “Flaming,” off of their masterpiece, Piper at the Gates of Dawn, released as a single (which didn’t chart) in 1967. In it, the band’s visionary psychonaut, Syd Barrett, sang:

Alone in the clouds all blue
Lying on an eiderdown
Yippee! You can’t see me
But I can you

In 1968, after ejecting Syd Barrett from the band and releasing his composition “Apples and Oranges” as a single, Pink Floyd released “It Would Be So Nice” b/w “Julia Dream.” The B-side was written by Roger Waters and sung by David Gilmour. It found them attempting to channel their recently departed leader and perhaps dwelling on duvets helped. To me it’s easily the best thing Roger Waters ever wrote. It was also covered by Acid Mothers Temple and Mark Lanegan. The relevant eiderdown passage goes as follows:

Sunlight bright upon my pillow
Lighter than an eiderdown
Will she let the weeping willow
Wind his branches round
Julia dream, dreamboat queen, queen of all my dreams

Pink Floyd’s Waters and Gilmour turned to eiderdowns for inspiration one last time with their collaborative composition, “Pillow of Winds,” off of their 1971 album, Meddle — which coincidentally is their last gasp of greatness. In that song, supposedly inspired by games of Mahjong played in Occitania, the eiderdown lyrics go thusly:

A cloud of eiderdown
Draws around me
Softening a sound
Sleepy time, and I lie
With my love by my side
And she’s breathing low
And the candle dies

In September of 1967, the obscure Scots of St James released “Eiderdown Clown” (b/w “Timothy”) on the short-lived Go.


The Pretty Thigns

Before the Pink Floyd returned to eiderdown for a third time, The Pretty Things broached the soft subject on their 1968 concept album, S.F. Sorrow. On the song, “Bracelets of Fingers,” Phil May (né Phillip Arthur Dennis Wadey) sang:

Fly to the moon on the curve of a spoon
I turn upside down
Tumbling through leaves as I scatter the seeds
On an eiderdown

Bill Evns Trio

In 1977, the Bill Evans Trio recorded an instrumental written by bassist Steve Swallow for the album Crosscurrents.

Prefab Sprout

On 1989’s Protest Songs, Prefab Sprout‘s Sophisti-pop singer Paddy McAloon sings, on “Talking Scarlet”:

Carry no bright torches for me
You hide under the eiderdown
All you can’t sweep underneath the carpet
When you cover your neighbour’s wife

Scouse band The Lightning Seeds — namely Cosmic Scally Ian Broudie — included the song “The Life of Riley,” on 1992’s Sense. The lyrics of that song, despite the title, apparently have nothing to do with the 1940s radio sitcom of the same name; rather they were inspired by Broudie’s son, Riley. That fact, and the eiderdown-dropping lyrics, made it a natural fit for Match of the Day‘s “Goal of the Month” segments. The lyrics in question:

From cradles and sleepless nights
You breathe in life forever
and stare at the world
from deep under eiderdown

Pulp 1994

In “Acrylic Afternoons,” off of Pulp‘s 1994 album, His ‘n’ Hers, singer Jarvis Cocker sang, sounding a bit like the Syd Barrett of the Crimplene Scene:

On a pink quilted eiderdown
I want to pull your knickers down
Net curtains blow slightly in the breeze
Lemonade light filtering thru the trees
It’s so soft and it’s warm
Just another cup of tea please (one lump thanks)
 
It wasn’t, in fact, the first time that Jarvis had sung a song of eiderdown. That would be 1993’s “Sheffield: Sex City” in Pulp’s leader sang… or intoned really:
I didn’t think we were gonna make it.
It was so bad during the day, but now
I’m snug and warm under an eiderdown sky.

Trip-hoppers Massive Attack included a lyric about eiderdowns in their 1998 song, “Inertia Creeps,” released as the final single off of their album, Mezzanine. The eiderdown comes up when 3D, um, whisper raps:

She comes There be no sound in my eiderdown
Awake I lie in a morning’s blue
Room is still my antenna in you
Nylon burns the bedspread with two
Gravity’s zero see me stall
I bounce off walls lose my footing and fall
It can be sweet though incomplete though
And the frames will freeze
See me on all four’s
It’s been a long time

Horslips

On Horslips‘ 2000 album, The Táin, the veteran Irish Celtic rock band mentioned an eiderdown in their song, “Charolais”:

Her words were sharp, they cut him deep
In a war between the sheets
But when he brought his bull to her
It meant a woman making war
Beyond the eiderdown

Half Man Half Biscuit

In 2005, Birkenhead‘s Half Man Half Biscuit included “Restless Legs” on their album, Achtung Bono. The eiderdown verse in question was this:

Here she lies in a fleecy gown
By my side in the eiderdown
But she can’t get a ticket to Morning Town
Cause I’ve got restless legs

Pure Reason Revolution

And finally, in 2005 Astral Folk/New prog (natch) band, Pure Reason Revolution, bored into bedspreads with their song, “Asleep Under The Eiderdown,” included on the 2005 EP The Intention Craft and which includes the repeated verse:

Living on this Eiderdown
It’s just the place that we are
You’ve got to sneak in the fire
You’ve got to sneak in the fire

A pelican on the Redondo Beach Pier
A pelican on the Redondo Beach Pier

Other songs that mention eiderdowns which I haven’t heard include Andrew Lloyd Webber‘s “Buenos Aires,” Antichrisis‘s We Are the Witches,” Badly Drawn Boy‘s “Tickets to What You Need,” Baroness‘s “A Horse Called Golgotha,” The Barry Walsh Band‘s “Eiderdown,” Carly Simon‘s “After the Storm,” The Church‘s “This is It,” Danny Kaye‘s recording of “The Ugly Duckling,” Dean Fields‘s “Run,” Elton John‘s “Amoreena,” Ephemera “Under My Eiderdown,” Everything But the Girl‘s “Two Star,” Gerry Rafferty‘s “Mary Skeffington,” Gordon Lightfoot‘s “Bitter Green,” Guided By Voices‘ “Mr. Media,” Jimmie Dale Gilmore‘s “Farrow, Darcy,” Lui Collins‘s “Almost (Eiderdown Quilt),” Shawn Colvin‘s “Polaroids,” Shelia Nicholls‘s “Eiderdown,” The Wondermints“Tracy Hide.” Any to add? Please do… and please stay comfy and cozy.

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Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in AmoeblogdiaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art MuseumForm Follows FunctionLos Angeles County StoreSkid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles TimesHuffington PostLos Angeles MagazineLAistEastsider LABoing BoingLos Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on FacebookInstagram, and Twitter.

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