Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 4

Lost 70s Volume 4 consists of 19 tracks, making it the second shortest of the series. I dropped all idea of chronological progression after volume 3, going for a mixture of time and sound and feel that incorporated a number of long tracks and a profusion of instrumentals in the first half of the set. There are two Top 10 and two Top 20 hits in this compilation, and whilst it stretches, like its immediate predecessor, all the way to the end of the decade, the choices from that end of the Seventies aren’t necessarily what you would expect from me.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with tracks that had not been available when the original compilation was created.

Hearts in her Eyes: The Searchers

If there’s one record in this whole series that I would put forward as having absolutely everything going right with it, it would be this Searchers song from 1979. It should have been absolutely massive, it should have been on the radio every single day, it should have led to a major new lease of life for the band. It’s a belting tune, performed in the traditional Searchers style, only bigger, brighter, stronger, deeper, richer in every respect, a classic modern pop song with a compelling melody, by a working back of twenty years standing with consummate professionalism. And I have never ever heard this track on the radio, to this day: it came and went in 1979 without me knowing it existed, and I only heard it when I bought it second hand, for a few pence, on a friend’s recommendation. Typical Radio 1: the Shadows reform, prostituting their sound with weak, tinny, feeble productions of inadequate material and get played to death, the Searchers build on their traditional sound with contemporary high grade songs, and even someone like me doesn’t know they exist. If you like this, there’s two whole albums worth of the Searchers in this vein. If you don’t like this, what am I doing talking to you in the first place?

Starry Eyes: The Records

‘Hearts in her Eyes’ was written by Will Birch and John Wicks of the Kursall Flyers, who went on to form The Records, the definitive power pop band. This is the real thing. ‘Starry Eyes’, which I heard before the Searchers, came out at the end of 1979: clear-eyed jangling pop, a stream-lined, fluid sound, superb harmonies and a wonderful story-line about a guy being pursued by a celeb who won’t let him say no. A re-recorded version of this track was the lead track on the band’s second album, full of great songs that had the guts ripped out of them by thin, weak, feeble production that has you longing for the Searchers to re-record the whole album. At least the single version plays to the Records’ strengths.

Jerusalem: Springwater

Phil Cordell’s long-overdue follow-up to ‘I Will Return’ didn’t appear until mid-1972. The ‘Jerusalem’ of the title is William’s Blake’s classic working-class poem turned anthem and the mixture of instrumentation is the same, except that instead of the guitar being sweet and yearning, here it’s rough and rumbling, a tauter, more attacking style that attracted no-one but people like me. I don’t know if there was a connection, but at the end of the year, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were issuing a vocal version of this track as a single. Yes, that’s right, a single. Compared to Springwater’s gloriously simple version, it was rubbish.

This track is not available on YouTube

Maid in Heaven: Bebop de Luxe

I never knew what to make of this bunch. I have a mate who’s a long-term fan of Bill Nelson, but this and the ‘hit’ single ‘Ships in the Night’, also from 1976, were the only tracks I liked. ‘Maid in Heaven’ is, for me, the better track, full of slashing guitar and a sense of attack that propels the song along. It’s a bit of a stop-start effort, with Nelson never liking to settle into a groove for any length of time. That’s a common characteristic among bands that liked to think of themselves as being a bit above pure commerciality. This is a good song, but there’s an even better one inside it, being held back.

Lady Samantha: Elton John

Another of those songs from the very early Seventies that I heard a few times, enough to recall some of the tune, but not the singer. It turned out to be Elton John, trying to break through. That would come in January 1971, with ‘Your Song’, which is a whole different order of things. This is a whiplash of a song, with a vicious edge and a scream in Reg’s voice. Lady Samantha prowls alone, no-one comes near her, they live in fear of her. The song never quite makes out why, though the way the good lady is described, you’d be checking her teeth for pointy bits. There’s a drive to this and an individuality that makes me wonder, if Elton had broken through with this, where would it have taken him that his ultra sensitive ballad led him away from? Something’s wrong with the timeline as the single was actually released in January 1969, but I wasn’t listening to pop that far back…–r59o

He’s gonna step on you again: John Kongos

It’s maybe pushing it to call this top 4 smash from 1971 a ‘Lost’ track, but ever since Happy Monday ripped the song to pieces and put it back together in an entirely different shape, the John Kongos original has drifted completely out of consciousness. The original is more of a driving sound, percussion heavy, built on a thunderous beat that betrays Kongos’s African origins (it amused me at the time to discover that it was exactly the same beat as my mother’s old-fashioned, churning washing machine). Rhythm and slashing guitars, vocals mixed low, fade in and fade out that suggests a continuum in which the music plays on and in which we’ve just joined in for a few minutes.

Pilgrim’s Progress: Greenslade

I rarely watched ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ (which, despite its derivation, is still one of the worst names for any programme ever, not just a music show). Mostly, this was down to my mother monopolising her television set, but equal time should be given to my general lack of interest in the bands and artists they featured. So why I was watching the night Greenslade did a couple of numbers from their new album, ‘Bedside Manners were Extra’, I’ve no idea. Greenslade were a four piece progressive outfit, a kind of junior league ELP: two banks of keyboards, bass and drums. They played the title track, preceded by this smooth, swooping, seven minute instrumental, which caught my fancy on the spot. Not long after, I was lucky to tape a ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ session of these two tracks and the other song off side one. I loved it so much, I bought the album – only to discover that the production was awful, the songs sounded screechy and thin and even the melody of this track sounded wrong. Side two was even worse. Thankfully I got the record shop to take it back and allow me to swap it for something better. Sometime during the intervening years, they obviously recorded a better version…

Amazing Grace: Springwater

‘Amazing Grace’ was the b-side of ‘Jerusalem’ and it’s the same formula as the a-side, only with extra drive from the drums. There had already been two very big hit versions of this hymn, one a cappella by Judy Collins, one instrumental (and an unlikely and unwanted five week number 1) from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, but this was better than both of them and made me like the song again.

Burundi Black (Part 2): Tambours Ingoma Tribe of Burundi

You won’t be expecting this. The A-side is the side everybody knows, the single that’s been issued and re-issued half a dozen times (once with additional drums from Rusty Egan, as if it needed that). It’s the sound that Adam and the Ants ripped off so thoroughly and successfully. Its first time round, in late 1970/early 1971, gave the song its biggest chance, a 13 week chart run that spent all its time between 50 and 31. Radio 1’s Chart Show, on Sundays from 5.00 – 7.00, was Alan Freeman’s ‘Pick of the Pops’, in which he’d play the Top Twenty in full from about 5.45 onwards, and before that new entries and songs bubbling under. I used to listen religiously. Over that three months in the charts, he played ‘Burundi Black’ only once: and then he played this side, as if he was trying to torpedo the single’s chances of that final breakthrough. This is the original Burundi drummers, without any of Mike Steiphenson’s array of keyboards on top. It’s incredibly different.

Mr Soft: Cockney Rebel

The band’s third single and second hit. It’s a surprisingly simple song, with some plonky plonky piano and wobbly guitar backing Harley’s affected vocals. It was a great favourite of mine at the time, and it’s my pick of all the Cockney Rebel singles. Apart from that, I haven’t really got much to say about it, sorry. Even I slipped up sometimes and liked things that were popular with others.

Can we still be friends?: Todd Rundgren

‘Can we still be friends?’ received nothing like the attention that ‘I saw the Light’ got. It’s a slower, more gentle song, wistful and delicate, about a man who sees his relationship with his girl breaking down but wants to preserve something of that, as friends. It’s a game of logic versus emotion, and you know which is going to win, and so does Rundgren in his heart and his voice, but he’s holding on in the prayer that the Universe can be overturned and they can survive, and hope will for once win out over experience.

Is that the way?: Tin Tin

A belated follow up to ‘Toast and Marmalade for Tea’, aping the previous record’s sound successfully enough to get a similar amount of airplay, and a ‘Top of the Pops’ appearance that was a bust because the distorted piano effect couldn’t be duplicated in studio time. It got the same indifference from the public too. After that, the band drifted back into obscurity.

Anthem (One Day in every Week): The New Seekers

I have always striven to keep an open mind. No matter how bad a band may be, the possibility remains that they might make a good record, or at least one that appeals to me, and I have risked my musical credibility on a number of occasions by admitting to liking such things. But you’ve got to admit that appreciating a New Seekers song is going out on a serious limb! This isn’t the New Seekers that were such a horror in the early Seventies, neither in personnel or sound. ‘Anthem’ was the last time they troubled chart statisticians, a primarily a capella number, built on a ‘bom-bom’ rhythm. The song is very conservative in topic: a girl from what I always imagine as being a good county family works all week in London, independent and modern, but always returns to Mummy and Daddy, and the rest of the family, on Sundays, to refresh herself. It’s still very good vocals, no matter who it’s by.

Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Portsmouth Sinfonia

As I understood it, the Portsmouth Sinfonia was a project that put musical instruments into the hands of ordinary, untrained people, and invited them to make classical music. In later years, I have seen them explained as actual classically trained orchestra members playing each other’s instruments without training. Listening to this mercifully short piece of music, the only thing by the Sinfonia I have ever (thankfully) heard, I favour the first explanation. This is recognisable for what it is, that much you can say for it, but it is a discordant row that is physically painful to the ears. Why have I preserved it? Why do I play it? Fucked if I know, but if you gave me a go at this, I surely could not sound worse.

Sheep: Pink Floyd

To me, there are two Pink Floyds. There’s the Syd Barrett one, ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, associated singles, brightness, life, colour and brilliance, and the other one which, despite having three musicians in common, is dull, boring, pompous and pretentious at its best. Courtesy of my former mate Alan, I heard more of the latter than I would have ever subjected myself to had I had a free choice at the time. And yet. ‘Sheep’ was one of the tracks on the 1977 ‘Animals’ album that, wittily and with intellectual rigour, divided us common or garden plebs into Dogs, Pigs and Sheep. The ‘Sheep’ track starts out with very Floydian noodling, but it picks up a modicum of pace as the vocals cut in. Then there’s this extended slow section in the middle, where extensive electronic masking thankfully keeps you from being able to make out the words of a re-written Lord’s Prayer, adapted for sheep in abattoirs and liking it. Then it’s back to a somewhat more up-tempo rerun of the main melodic line, until the band launches into a long, frankly raunchy outro, over this compelling, joyous, energetic guitar riff with a cyclic melody that makes the whole thing worthwhile. Which is why it’s taken this pride-of-out-of-place on this CD.

The Poacher: Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance

‘Plonk’ was the original bassist in the Small Faces and then the Faces, until he split to go solo, playing a fresh, folk-oriented kind of rural-pop, too English to be called country, too robust to be folk. He’s remembered mostly for the sprightly ‘How Come?’, but ‘The Poacher’ was his second, and more successful single before he completely disappeared, laid low by MS. This song is less memorable for its relative lack of a strong, pop-oriented melody, but the mix of clarinet and fiddle lends the track a beautifully English air in keeping with the lyrics about an old poacher. It’s four-square in an English tradition that rarely sees expression in American-rooted pop/rock and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Another Girl, Another Planet: The Only Ones

A token venture into the fringes of punk for this compilation. This is one of those hybrid songs, that didn’t sit comfortably as either punk or new wave. It was played regularly on Peely’s nightly shows, which I was by this time devouring avidly, and it was commercial enough to get played on daytime radio. The Only Ones had the feel of a band that would make it, and there were some very interesting tracks on their Peel session that sounded like they could match the quality of this series, but somehow the recorded versions never matched up to the sinuous strength of the tracks laid down at the Maida Vale studios, and the Only Ones faded away, with ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ as the main legacy of their time among us. There are worse ways to be remembered.

Celebration: Premiata, Forneria, Marconi

PFM sound like the Italian version of ELP, and that’s exactly how they were billed when this came out. Many years and much listening later, I can now tell an equal, and more pertinent Focus influence, but the song is still dominated by an Emersonian synthesizer sound. I say song: this is 90% instrumental with a single, slow verse and multiple chants of the title, but a lot more playing than singing going on. I never heard another thing by the band, but on the strength of this number, I’d have been inclined to listen.

What the world needs now/Abraham Martin and John: Tom Clay

This was never released in the UK. In fact, I doubt if it was played as many as half a dozen times here in 1971, when it chased rapidly up and down the American Hot 100. Clay was a DJ, not a singer or arranger, but what he did was to organise a very slushy, MOR/cabaret style medley of the Dion song ‘Abraham Martin and John’ (a lament for the deaths of Lincoln, King and Kennedy, written in response to Bobby Kennedy’s shooting, and a UK hit for Marvin Gaye the previous year) and the classic oldie ‘What the world needs now is love’. Against this, mostly subdued, background, Clay placed found footage, genuine radio broadcasts. From Dallas in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Of King, broadcasting, saying that like everyone he wants to live, of Bobby Kennedy’s actual shooting and Teddy Kennedy’s funeral oration. It’s very manipulative, but it goes through the heart every time. The single was topped and tailed by Clay’s only direct contribution, asking very young children to explain the meaning of certain loaded words, words the kids can’t even pronounce back. The last line is the obvious, but still true: ‘What is prejudice?’ ‘I think it’s when somebody’s sick.’

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