I am in love with the song Walking On The Chinese Wall by Philip Bailey. It’s a multiple whammy of guilty pleasure moments and I do not care. It has been my call-to-home for weeks now, months even. Something happened when I heard it for the first time in a while several months back. Olfactory senses were enveloping, and I ignored the casual racism of the song (“Chinese Wall”, please) I felt no shame, no guilt and only pleasure to hear Phil Collins’ drums, his production, his backing vocals. Philip Bailey’s falsetto curls like smoke around words that barely make sense but are allegedly inspired by the tossing of the I Ching (“watching for the coins to fall”) and paint Yin-Yang images of “Stretching in the rocks/Tiger on the mountain-top” – but might also just pile up obvious images in a lazy stab towards the profound.
The frankly bizarre poetry of the song – Now the sun is rising in the East/Looking for my golden fleece/Iv’ry skin/Scarlet colour deep/Lips that burn but do not speak” – might be one of the most classic examples of disappointment when you read a printed lyric. You get none of the feel of the way the words are made to sound when sung.
Spread your painted wings
For an answer from the Ching
By the stream
Sounds like trust-funded adventure tourism from greedy capitalists to me. But wrap it up in a package that suggests Taoist and Buddhist philosophies weren’t just bumping uglies down at the tourist-trap photo-op spot.
None of this matters by the way. Which is why I don’t even care if you don’t know what the hell I’m talking about. Because I don’t know what the hell Philip Bailey is singing about – despite reading the lyrics in full, despite going old-school and hitting pause/rewind/play to transcribe the lyrics because I’m sure the internet’s transcription must be wrong since I get none of the transcendent feel when I read them but all of the sweeping majesty of Phil Collins’ 80s production, his Linn drum gut-punching me, his spatial awareness for mood-build carrying me deep, the brilliant way that this so deeply feels like the outcome of its elements – a Genesis song and an Earth, Wind & Fire song stacked atop each other to play out as some ‘third’ song that drapes a cucumber-infused moist toilette over my musical third-eye. I don’t need the lyrics man. I just need the song. That and a dirty, great big, fuck-off repeat button.
Or. You know. Put another way: Walking On The Chinese Wall by Philip Bailey is a big time guilty pleasure! I shouldn’t like it but I do. It smells like home. But not where I live now. Where I used to live. Where I grew up. I hear it and I think of taping songs from the radio. I remember that if the song on the radio was a dud we did nothing about it and tried to understand it. The car trips that were filled with instant new favourite songs because that was the only option.
Walking On The Chinese Wall by Philip Bailey isn’t good. At all. But it is fucking great! (The Great Chinese Wall!)
It doesn’t play well in 2021 – the wall is not Chinese. And pointing at it and calling it so is offensive. But listening to it and hearing the swirl of sounds is like a mini meditation.
Put that in your peace-pipe and smoke back on it hard. I know I have. (And now you know that too).