What Is the Hidden Message in “Paper Sun” by Traffic?
The year is 1967, the place is Birmingham, United Kingdom. Inspired by The Beatles, four teenagers from the West Midlands decided to come together to form Traffic, a psychedelic rock group, which became successful in the 1970’s, after its first break up and consequent reunion. In this blog post, we go back to their very first steps and present you “Paper Sun”, the first single of the band.
With catchy lyrics and a sonority that sticks in our heads, “Paper Sun” is still famous for its sitar riffs, played then by Dave Mason. The vocals are from Steve Winwood, a singer who is also a keyboardist and occasional guitarist. Besides these two, the original line-up was formed by Jim Capaldi and Chris Wood.
Before we speak about the quartet, let’s focus on the song. After all, what’s the meaning of “Paper Sun”? Keep reading and discover some possible interpretations, as well as why the expression was used in the 1967’s single. Watch the video and pay attention to the lyrics. Also, don’t forget to enjoy!
“Paper Sun” can be seen as metaphor that fits several occasions. Whatever the case: a sun of paper is always something fragile, incapable of generating light or heat, a mere drawing or representation. We stress, though, that being fragile is not the same as being unimportant.
The first part of the song, tells us about a girl who thinks she is “having good times with the boy” who she just met. They’re having fun at the beach, when she “looks around and see a shadow on the run”. The strophe ends with her not being “too upset because it’s just a paper sun”. That paper song can be compared to the boy who has long been in love with her, but has never grown to become more than a friend.
After that, the scenario changes to a room where she has been sleeping: the “clothes are thrown about” and the “cigarettes burn window sills”. The mess is a signal that the couple from the beach just split. Sad and lonely, she hangs up “on the Paper Sun”. The couple moves for the cool of the male friend’s room, where he feels the scent of “fresh cut flowers”. Suddenly, “too much sun will burn”.
Still sad, the girl watches the people going home from the beach. Unfortunately, she can’t do the same, neither has the “six pence for the phone”. Then she starts crying, while the friend says “don’t be sad, good times are had beneath the paper sun”.
They end up sleeping on the beach and, in the morning, there is a seagull stealing the ring from her hand. The song ends with: “the boy who had given you so much fun has left you so cold in the paper sun”.
Like we previously saw, “Paper Sun” tells us the story of an unrequited love. But behind that, the song hides a much more important message: do not be fooled by appearances and first impulses. A sun only made of paper can be all you really have, however, at first it does not appear to be that important. The expression is a metaphor for every field of our life, making us question what are the best decisions to make.
The song went number 5 in the United Kingdom and currently is among Traffic’s most famous tracks. Besides being the band’s first single, “Paper Sun” was “revived” in 2010, year when it became part of the soundtrack of “Made in Dagenham”. The movie that shows the strikes in London’s Ford Dagenham car factory, portrait the process of female emancipation, 1968.
Who Are Traffic?
The original members of Traffic joined in the 1960’s after working with other bands. Earlier in his career, Steve Winwood was the frontman of The Spencer Davis Group; Jim Capaldi and Dave Mason were companions from the Hellions and Deep Felling; Chris Wood was a member of the Locomotive.
The first encounter of the quartet happened in a nightclub in Birmingham, called “The Elbow Room”. The four played together and after a few times decide to create a new group. Thus Traffic was born. After signing a contract with Island Records, the band launched its first album, “Mr. Fantasy”.
However the album was only a moderate success, the members of the band seemed not to get along. In 1968, the year of their second album, Mason left the group, coming back a few months later. At the time, he alleged artistic differences. Steve Winwood left the group in 1969.
It was then that the vocalist started to work on a solo record. During the process, he invited Wood and Capaldi to collaborate. Eventually, the group rejoined and the solo project became “John Barleycorn Must Die”, the most successful album of the band. Launched in 1970, the record marked the beginning of a new era for Traffic.
Since then, the group has had several reshufflings, working with many renowned artists, including Ric Grach, Roger Hawkings, Barry Beckett or Rosko Gee. “When the Eagles Flies”, of 1974, was the last album of the 1970’s. Winwood and Capaldi came together again in 1994 to release “Far from Home”.
Ten years after, Traffic was inducted in the Rock Roll Hall of Fame, a fact that proves its importance in the history of music.