Certain Songs #832: Katrina and The Waves – “Red Wine and Whisky”

Album: Katrina and the Waves
Year: 1985

The first thing you need to realize is that the songwriter for Katrina and The Waves, Kimberly Rew, was in The Soft Boys.

It was his guitar and voice that matched Robyn Hitchcock’s on 1980’s Underwater Moonlight, still one of the greatest psychedelic guitar albums ever manufactured on this or any other world.

So he already had a lifetime pass before he even wrote any of his greatest songs.

When the Soft Boys broke up and Robyn Hitchcock went to follow his muse for 35 utterly delightful years (and counting!), Rew hooked back up with a drummer called Alex Cooper he’d played with prior to The Soft Boys, who had been playing in a cover band that included the powerhouse vocalist Katrina Leskanich.

After Rew started writing guitar-pop songs for Katrina to sing, they dubbed themselves Katrina and The Waves and recorded an EP and a couple of albums available only in Canada until they were able to finagle an American recording contract with Capitol. With that contract in hand, they either re-recorded or re-mixed a passel of their best songs, two of which — “Going Down To Liverpool” and the monster smash I’m writing about tomorrow — have given Rew his retirement fund.

But “Red Wine and Whisky” is my most favorite of his songs.

Starting off with a icy-cool guitar riff that rolls over itself as Katrina’s “ooooooohs” set the scene, “Red Wine and Whisky” is a joyful celebration of being young, penniless and drunk, with the verses building and building to an absolutely fantastic all-hands-on-deck singalong chorus.

Red wine and whisky all the ti-yi-yi-yi-yime.
We had a lot of money
But we blew it down the line.
We’d love to take you out tonight
But we haven’t got a dime
Red wine and whisky all the ti-yi-yi-yi-yime
All the tiiiiiiime

Now, if “Red Wine and Whisky” just and that gorgeous glittering chorus with the massive vocals plus Rew’s guitar curlicues, it would be good enough, but instead, they top it. After each chorus, Rew’s guitar rips out rock-hard chords against Leskanich’s ever-present “oooooohs” until drummer Alex Cooper ushers in a stop-time against which Rew throws out a quick set of ripping, stinging leads.

They repeat that trick again and again at the end of the song with Katrina singing the title over and over again, with Cooper coming to a halt, and then kicking back in while Rew packs hook after hook into just a few short seconds.

And yeah, the remixed sound — especially the big echo-y drum fills — totally and completely dates this song to the mid-1980s, but for a song as well-constructed as “Red Wine and Whisky,” I’ll take it every single time.

“Red Wine and Whisky”

“Red Wine and Whisky” performed live on the Old Grey Whistle Test, 1985

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