The Shapely Bottles
by Memphis Evans

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When I was born in Decmeber 1971, David Bowie was just beginning an absolutely unbelieveable period of riotous, epic creativity that would forever change popular culture. It took me about 35 years, but eventually I investigated the albums Hunky Dory ('71) and Ziggy Stardust ('72) and the "All The Young Dudes" single he donated to Mott the Hoople (also '72). I learned the songs, I play them around the house, and they are just part of my DNA now.

In February 2008 I participated in a great project called the RPM Challenge. The idea is to write and record an entire album - at least 10 songs or 35 minutes - in the shortest month of the year. I barely made it, but I did finish 10 songs. The Chuck Berry-inspired, rapid fire blues travelogue "Gone To Stay" has been in the Mississippi Seven repertoire since that time. However, "The Shapely Bottles" is probably my favorite song from that album and I made it the title track.

As opposed to the usual dream method, I was awake when this chorus made itself known to me. I heard it in my head while driving and sang it over and over. I imagined David Bowie singing it. Oddly, I could not tell what the melodic intervals were or what the underlying chords would be. The strangeness and mystery of it appealed to me but I feared losing it. As soon as I arrived at my destination I explained that I needed to isolate myself with a guitar and figure something out and did so. Thankfully logistics were in place and I did not lose the feeling or any details.

It was super easy to fill in the verses, both music and lyrics. It's a description of the big, sunny kitchen on my grandparents' farm outside of Chicago. I visited it a lot between 1972 and 1981, when they moved to North Carolina, much to my dismay. They had a shelf around the top of the walls and they kept bottles on it as described in the song. The song is sung from the perspective of the bottles themselves.

I'm just realizing that Bowie's period of peak creativity (notwithstanding the equally excellent Heathen album from 2002) coincided with my visits to the farm I wrote about while imitating his style from that period, of which I was completely contemporaneously unaware. I love that kind of thing.

Another thing I love is when you pay attention to the lyrics of a song and realize you have been shown something indicating time has passed during the story. The first time I noticed this as such was Simon & Garfunkel's "America" from 1968's Bookends album. In verse one "we bought a pack of cigarettes" and in verse three it's "toss me a cigarette, I think there's one in my raincoat. No, we smoked the last one an hour ago". Brilliant. That's a long journey, a whole lot of smoking, or both.

I very intentionally do the same thing here with the bottles sparkling in the morning, getting lots of attention, then shining in the evening just watching and singing their song.

I'm also reminded of the Star Wars original trilogy. The sun sparkling/shining off the bottles is like the Death Star being blown up - it happens in the first one and the third one.

Last thing: I like how "Oh yeah-Oh whoa" flows into "Oh we're" when the chorus is repeated at the end. It's like a thesis, antithesis, and synthesis sequence.

Lyrics:

Sitting on a shelf at your grandma's house
And we sparkle in the morning sun
She holds you in her lap and she and she talks to you
As you examine us one by one

Oh we're the shapely bottles
So clear and very colorful
Oh we're the shapely bottles
Oh yeah
Oh whoa

Kitty cats walk among us leisurely
with their tails flicking high in the air
We're Green and Gold and Purple and Blue
And we're circles, cylinders, and squares

Oh we're the shapely bottles
So clear and very colorful
Oh we're the shapely bottles
Oh yeah
Oh whoa

Back on the shelf at your grandma's house
and we're shining in the evening sun
It's your last night here before you go back home
And you sure had a lot of fun

Oh we're the shapely bottles
So clear and very colorful
Oh we're the shapely bottles
Oh yeah
Oh whoa

Oh we're the shapely bottles
So clear and very colorful
Oh we're the shapely bottles
Oh yeah
Oh whoa

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