John Sieger
Sieger on Songs

“No Milk Today”

A classic song by Herman’s Hermits? Yes. And it’s gotten better with age.

By - Oct 18th, 2015 02:35 pm
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Herman’s Hermits

Herman’s Hermits

No, I’ve haven’t lost my mind, picking a Herman’s Hermits song as a classic. Bear with me and you’ll have a chance to lose your mind, too, or at least part of it, as you fall for a simple, catchy and likable ditty from the wayback machine: No Milk Today. And how about two versions? Here is the cute live version that is a little weak sonically. (Were they the first boy band?) And here’s the record, tighter and more focused in the studio, and sprinkled with some kind of pop music fairy dust.

Tragedy plus time equals comedy, or so the old saying goes. So fluff plus time equals what? Poignancy? I’m not sure, but to illustrate how freshness is not always best, let me use the example of my wife, Linsey Sieger, who has her own unique approach to Swedish fish and Twizzlers. In her very specific world order, these items should never be consumed until they’ve a had a week or two to lay around. Once they achieve a certain leathery chewiness, they are ready to be consumed. She calls them Swedish Fish Jerky and (my favorite) Twizzlers Jerky.

This principle might apply to pop music. The jury is out on much of today’s radio fare. Having seen Miley Cyrus on the season premiere of Saturday Night Live, I’d say maybe she has a shot. As for Herman’s Hermits, they’ve had plenty of time. The ‘60’s are practically prehistory, and though that decade has been repeating itself since, some things stay stuck back there. The charming Hermits, with lead singer Peter Noone, were lightweights, to say the least. They were more music hall mom-pleasers than the other British invasion bands and, though their records were well produced and stuck in the brain for months, they didn’t write them. They never attempted some grand statement either, thank god. They were popular before rock criticism became a thing and the pressure to create gravitas where levitas would be more enjoyable, sucked 90 percent of the fun out of rock and roll.

So the boys who gave us “Henry The VIII” and “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got  Lovely Daughter” were always in the market for songs. Enter Graham Gouldman. This whip-smart Londoner had been in a few bands and had also seen his songs become hits, all before his twentieth birthday. He wrote “For Your Love” and “Heartful of Soul” for The Yardbirds. He wrote “Look Through Any Window” and “Bus Stop” for The Hollies. These were big hits. Later he would write and produce more hits for his group 10CC. His songs were memorable, solid and and unbreakable — stickier than a movie theater floor. They were usually a very simple idea hitched to a catchy melody and some nice changes. What makes “No Milk Today” a little more mysterious are the lyrics. This can’t really be a song about milk, can it?

Gouldman tells a story in this video of how his father suggested he write it after going to a friend’s, only to find a bottle on the step with a note to the milkman to hold off. He told his son it would make a great title and Graham laughed at him saying it was a terrible idea. His dad patiently explained the back story. A couple splits, a house is for sale and service is suspended. Telling detail, almost cinematic. Read ‘em and weep:

No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
No milk today, it seems a common sight
But people passing by don’t know the reason why

How could they know just what this message means
The end of my hopes, the end of all my dreams
How could they know the palace there had been
Behind the door where my love reigned as queen

No milk today, it wasn’t always so
The company was gay, we’d turn night into day

But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up two down

No milk today, it wasn’t always so
The company was gay, we’d turn night into day
As music played the faster did we dance
We felt it both at once, the start of our romance

No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn

No milk today, it seems a common sight
But people passing by don’t know the reason why

© Graham Gouldman

Gouldman is, like many British pop writers, quite handy with the chords. This one veers between minor and major modality and has three distinct parts. That itself is rare.When you hear it it strikes you as familiar — has this song always been here? Add the adorable young Peter Noone, who was a child star and still in his teens when his band hit, along with his thick Cockney accent and you have something that appeals on both sides of the Atlantic. This might also be the last recorded use of the word “gay” before it took on a new meaning. Ten years later and the snickers would have been deafening.

Herman’s Hermits were the British version of Ricky Nelson I suppose, underrated for their cuteness, early stardom and light touch. It’s so much easier to sell angst. The arc of the 60’s veers from innocent to Altamont, front loaded with simple pleasures as we re-imported our own inventions from those far-away fans. It curdled somewhere around 1967 and though plenty of good work was produced after that date, very little is something you would call “chipper.”

One thought on “Sieger on Songs: “No Milk Today””

  1. Christina Zawadiwsky says:

    I’ve always liked Herman’s Hermits – and Peter Noone actually has a literay bent, when writing. What a vast difference between the “cute” popular song and the lyrics on the album! Thanks!

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