Matt Monro: We’re Gonna Change the World!
British singer Matt Monro is remembered as one of the great “crooners” of the 20th century. His nickname of “the man with the golden voice” reflects his 30-year career at the forefront of his genre, starting with when he became a big band singer in the 1950s.
As well as his smooth, easy-listening ballads, in 1970 he also released a surprisingly gritty song, We’re Gonna Change the World – a social commentary on the Women’s Liberation movement. It has been picked apart and debated by social analysts over the years amid claims it accurately depicts the mood at the time.
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Where did it all begin?
Born in Shoreditch, London, in 1930, Monro served with the British Army in Hong Kong after leaving Elliott School in Putney, but had always been interested in singing. While in Hong Kong, he entered and won Radio Rediffusion’s Talent Time contest several times.
The presenter, Ray Cordeiro, gave Monro his own one-off show, on condition he wouldn’t enter any more of the radio contests, so other entrants would have a chance! This led to his first concert on Radio Rediffusion on 27th June 1953.
His singing career took off and he was the BBC Show Band’s featured vocalist by 1956. He soon earned a reputation as a leading crooner, which was the popular genre of stars like Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, who also sang sentimental ballads in a soft, low voice.
Monro was signed up to a record deal with Decca after his successful performances with the BBC’s big band. He released his first album, Blue and Sentimental, in 1957 to great critical acclaim. However, it failed to launch him to the stardom he desired.
He resigned himself to earning money from writing advertising jingles for clients such as Camay soap. Despite his early promise with his radio performance and fronting the BBC Show Band, he had sunk to relative obscurity by the end of the 1950s.
However, Monro was commissioned by record producer George Martin to record a satirical ditty in the style of Frank Sinatra as a comedy intro for one of Peter Sellers’ albums. Martin was impressed with Monro’s vocals and the one-off project developed into further musical collaborations.
Monro began recording for Parlophone, with Martin producing. Their single, Portrait of My Love, peaked at number three in the UK chart in 1960. Monro’s career took off again in a big way, after stumbling in the late 1950s. A flurry of hit records continued throughout the 1960s.
His major hits included My Kind of Girl in 1961 and I Love the Little Things in 1964, the UK’s entry in the Eurovision Song Contest. Monro was runner-up, but the critics praised his “excellent performance”. He had a hit with a version of the Beatles’ Yesterday in 1965.
In 1966, Monro recorded the moving song that was to become his signature tune. His title song for the wildlife film about saving lions, Born Free, won an Oscar.
He went on to write further film scores, including Wednesday’s Child from The Quiller Memorandum and This Way Mary, from Mary Queen of Scots.
We’re Gonna Change the World
Released in 1970, Monro’s song, We’re Gonna Change the World, represented a complete change of direction for the star. By this time, he was recording on EMI’s Columbia label, releasing an album called Close To You.
We’re Gonna Change the World was originally an up-tempo track from the album, but it was so different from his normal crooning that it received a lot of publicity, with its lyrics closely scrutinised. It received plenty of airplay on BBC Radio and was seen as an apt description of Women’s Liberation, which had emerged in the 1960s.
Ironically, the lyrics, written by the song writing duo of Tim Harris and David Matthews, were satirical rather than supporting the movement. They tell the tale of a group of Women’s Lib supporters, who go on a campaigning march.
The song describes some of the individual demonstrators at various points along the route and relates how one woman sits down in the road to stop the traffic, but she’s dragged away by a policeman. Another tries to goad a man, but he slaps her face. Undeterred, the marchers carry on, initially “shuffling through the cold black morning”, with low spirits, but feeling brighter when the sun begins to shine.
While the highly detailed lyrics describe every moment of the marchers’ day, a sub-plot runs through them of a woman called Annie, who doesn’t join the march. The Women’s Libbers are full of hope and genuinely believe in their cause, trying to attract other women by telling them: “Come with us, run with us, we’re gonna change the world.”
Regardless of their battle cry, Annie goes to her office job and ponders a past love called Don. In an ironic twist, she recalls how Don “died for others to live better”, although it isn’t explained when or how. She looks at the final letter he sent her, sheds a tear and gets on with her typing.
The lyrics have been debated and pondered since they were first recorded. It was suggested that far from being a battle cry for women to take up the cause, they took a satirical twist at those who thought they could change the world but failed.
Was the song about real people?
Many years after it was recorded, We’re Gonna Change the World was still the song that most interviewers wished to discuss with Monro. In a news article in 2017, DJ and author Jon Kutner described the fascination surrounding the tale of Annie, living in 1960s London, mourning the loss of her true love, Don.
Kutner related an email interview he had once conducted with the co-writer, Matthews, who said it was the first time he and Harris had written a song. He said the idea was to take a “whimsical” look at the protest marches occurring on the streets of London at the time.
It disappointed some fans to learn that although the names in the song – including Annie and two of the marchers, Shirley and Margaret – came from real people whom the writers knew, the storyline was completely fictional.
Professional pianist Matthews received some lyrics in the post from Harris and immediately sat at his piano to start composing the music. The basic tune took him only about 20 minutes, but he spent the whole day writing what he called the “hook”, to accompany the repetitive words, “Come with us, run with us.”
He said the song had been “exceptionally good” to him, opening many doors. It was nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in 1970 and was still played on the radio at least once a day.
Monro continued to enjoy success throughout the 1970s, but lost his life to liver cancer at the age of only 54 in 1985, leaving his widow Mickie and three children.
We’re Gonna Change the World sparks debate to this day and regardless of whether it was written as a satire, the general consensus is that it evokes the 1960s’ feeling of protest and change better than any other song.
You’ll be amazed, so full of praise!
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