Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 8

Lost 70s Volume 8 consists of 23 tracks. I’d acquired a few songs that fell into a mental group and which ran together, songs that hadn’t earlier been available (including one that was incredibly difficult to find). There’s a strong acoustic element to this volume and no less than three Top 10 hits, along with the by now familiar nod to punk and post-punk to see the CD out, but there’s still enough jumble to mark this out as a classic piece of Crookall curation.

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.

Pure and Easy    Pete Townsend

This was a song written for the abandoned Lifehouse project, the Who version of which missed the cut when it came time to select tracks for the ‘Who’s Next’ album. Eventually, the band version came out on the much expanded CD version, but long before that was even a glimmer in the music industry’s wallets, Townsend included the track on his first solo album, ‘Who came first’. The song itself is an expansion of the final line of ‘Song is Over’ from ‘Who’s Next’, and I’ve always seen the pair of songs as a segue, despite the fact that Townsend takes a different musical turn with ‘Pure and Easy’, choosing piano as opposed to synthesizer as the dominant instrument. There once was a note, pure and easy, playing so free like a breath rippling by. If the music isn’t as ethereal as the sentiment expressed, the notion of life as music, and as harmony, is a most appealing vision. Sadly, the past tense – ‘there once was a note’ – has only grown more applicable in the years since.

Tell the World we’re not in    The Peddlers

I hated this when it was on the air. Hated and loathed it. I couldn’t stand the jazzy organ, couldn’t stand the voice or the phrasing of organist/singer Roy Phillips (ex- of the Tornados), was in total disagreement with the DJs who couldn’t praise the Peddlers highly enough. If they were supposedly good, so supposedly popular, why could I not find any record of them in the top 30 (they had, actually, scored a no.17 with a song called ‘Birth’, in 1969). But who could seriously enjoy that cabaret style sound, that torturing of the organ into producing sounds that barely resembled music? Too jazz, man, too, too much like jazz. And forty years later? Even the things we hated when it came to defining ourselves have their place in our memory. And I  enjoy listening to this now.

Montego Bay        Bobby Bloom

Whether it’s correct to describe no 3 hit singles as ‘Lost’ is a debate we’re just going to have to ignore. Bobby Bloom seemed to come out of nowhere with this rich-sounding, reggae-ish paean to luxurious Jamaican holiday resorts which, in the copy I have been able to find on-line, segues deliciously into ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’. This is another one I hated at the time, but towards which I have long since mellowed. Bloom disappeared as abruptly as he appeared: I remember hearing his follow-up, ‘Heavy Makes You Happy’ a couple of times but it never sold. Nowadays, I get the same, open vibe off this record as I did Mary Hopkin’s unjustly overlooked 1970 hit, ‘Temma Harbour’. Both records make me want to be there, if only.

I sure like your smile    Southern Comfort

Southern Comfort were Ian Matthews’ backing band for ‘Woodstock’, though the two sides went their separate ways almost before the single had dropped off the number 1 slot. The band stuck together, playing the same kind of hawaiian guitar dominated country rock, with impeccable harmonies. The mainstream press were mildly fascinated with him because of their hawaiian guitar player, Gordon Huntley. Huntley was 45 years old, an utterly unheard of middle-aged rocker, though he was concerned that the band didn’t get into anything heavy. After all, he wasn’t that much of a rocker… ‘I sure like your smile’ was smooth and sweet, and not only got a lot of airplay, but also got itself onto Top Of The Pops, but in that age old story tied to my Seventies’ tastes, it sold buttons. I was a very effective jinx.

If I was close to you        Christopher Neal

For a very long time, I doubted whether this single had ever existed. It was invisible, unfindable, no-one else has ever heard of it, despite the many times I heard it played on Radio 1. It was almost as bad as those many years when I found it impossible to find anyone else who believed there had ever been an American sitcom called My Mother the Car (thank you 10,000 Maniacs for obliquely confirming I was not living a Rosehip syrup fuelled drug hallucination). Christopher Neal was a reasonably well-known actor, and this was a sweet, gentle, acoustic ballad of his own composition, perhaps not exceptional in any way, but I loved hearing it, and it would have been on a much earlier CD if I had been able to locate it. It’s still not on YouTube…

All Night Long        Frampton’s Camel

Another that would have featured earlier in this series had I been able to find it at the time. This was a 1973 single from Peter Frampton and his then band, in that hinterland between the failure of Humble Pie and the explosive success Frampton earned in America and here with the vigorous, enthusiastic, but ultimately bland live double album, ‘Frampton Comes Alive’. ‘All Night Long’ could very easily have fitted on Frampton’s big hit if it had come along a couple of years later for, although it still bore a few traces of the British pop traits of the Herd, it was a long way down the line towards that kind of California airbrushed pop that went so big. At least this song has the advantage of a ridiculously compulsive chorus to help it retain the mind.

El Progresso        Ralph McTell

We’re now into that sequence of acoustic songs I mentioned above, into which even Frampton’s Camel fits by feel. McTell’s single was the follow-up to ‘Streets of London’ in its puffed up, brass band commercial version that came so very close to giving him a Xmas No. 1 in 1973 – don’t we all wish now that it hadn’t been Gary bloody Glitter (some of us devoutly wished it back then). ‘El Progresso’ was a complete contrast, an up tempo, jaunty, Spanish-inflected piece about an exotic woman somewhere on an island that sounded like it was going to turn into a volcano any time soon. I had decidedly mixed feelings about the El Progresso of the title turning out to be a cigarette, but I put them behind me.

This song is not currently available on YouTube

Pinball            Brian Protheroe

Brian Protheroe, like Christopher Neal before him, was better known as an actor, but when it came to his music, he was far less mainstream than his colleague. ‘Pinball’ was a sad, slow, ruminative, stream-of-consciousness lyric about living alone in a dingy London bedsit, accompanied by a slow, walking pace acoustic guitar and some lazy, hazy, smoky sax. It got more airplay than sales but it did climb into the Top 30 and threaten to do better. If Protheroe recorded again, I don’t remember hearing it, but this was a minor moment of genius all the same and plenty of people don’t even have that.

Journey        Duncan Browne

Duncan Browne’s ‘Journey’ is always bracketed in my head with Brian Protheroe. Both were one-off singles, heavily dependant on acoustic guitar, both were heavily championed on the radio, both just broke into the Top 30 and both disappeared again from commercial ken. But that’s where the similarities end. Protheroe was an actor who sung, but Duncan Browne was a guitarist, who also sang, and ‘Journey’ was a musically technical piece, beautifully played by Browne, both picking and strumming, in which the words and his singing, pleasant as it was, were more an afterthought. You can tell where the focus is and this was definitely in the playing. But Browne was seriously good, and he deserved better reward than this minor, and now all-but-forgotten hit.

The Rusty Hands of Time    Johnny Goodison

And once again, we make a musical leap into a completely different style and direction, for no better reason than that I like doing that. An abrupt and unlikely change of pace, from acoustic seriousness to big-style cabaret pop balladry. John Goodison was mainly known as a session singer, but with a powerful voice, and though there’s nothing to distinguish the song from a hundred others, something in the melody caught my fancy. I’ve never found the original single, though a version by one of the male New Seekers, gone solo, can be had on YouTube, so I have to make do with a Radio 1 session version, recorded to get around needle-time restrictions (remind me to tell you about those one of these days) which has been re-recorded a few times before finally hitting digital on a mini-disc. This came off Johnnie Walker’s lunch-time show, of blessed memory.

This song is not available on YouTube

Festival Time        The San Remo Strings

One unusual aspect of the early Seventies was the sheer profusion of oldies being re-released and turning out to be hits again. The most extreme example of this was probably Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ which, only four years after reaching no. 1, had a second lease of chart life and got to no. 2 in 1973. Motown took advantage of this phenomenon, but then they had always done so: nearly every one of its big UK hits of the late Sixties were songs that had already been successes in America, sometimes years earlier. ‘Festival Time’ was one of these, originally from 1967. It didn’t chart over here but it was one of those many singles that, seemingly out of nowhere, were hits from artists who never followed up. It took me decades to realise that this is because they were coming from the Northern Soul scene, from the clubs instead of Radio 1. This was a sweet stringed, graceful little mover, with a ready, uptempo beat that deserved to be revived, and still does make me feel like getting up and moving, despite my knackered knees.

My Wife        Rigor Mortis

This comes from the same Rigor Mortis album as ‘Made in Japan’. I hadn’t heard this before buying a cheap copy of the album in the Nineties, when I would test out various types of music I’d never heard before via cheapie oldies in the vinyl section of the infamous ‘Sifters’ (yes, I too lived in Burnage, and may some time have rubbed shoulders with a Gallagher whilst working the racks). It’s basically a version of the Entwistle song that was the only non-Townsend song on ‘Who’s Next’, which is given a really muddy and fuzzy production on that album, as opposed to the crisp, clear work done on all the other tracks. This isn’t as good a version, but it’s better produced, and it did seem only fair.

Slalom            Mike Steiphenson

Another Mike Steiphenson clavinet-funky mid-Seventies instrumental that I never quite got to hear at the time. Much appreciated, YouTube

Love is just a four-letter word        Joan Baez

Joan sings Dylan, as opposed to singing about him. This was a 1973 single, all pure clear voice and a sitar-like spike directing the melody through Dylan’s long chain of words. I loved it, but recognised immediately that there wasn’t a hope in hell of it charting. It seemed as if there ought to be a chart in which records of quality, as opposed to commercial success, could be ranked, so I made up my own, Alternate Chart. At first a Top 20, after three months it had to expand to a top 30 and, later in the decade, even a top 40. I kept it going for ten years, exactly, a personal record of where my tastes went, week in, week out for a decade. All because of this one song.

For You        Greg Kihn

1977 was the year of Berserkely Records. It began with Jonathan Richman and ‘Roadrunner’, and the Modern Lovers, and went on through the Rubinoos and Earth Quake, and even the enigmatic Son of Pete. It was one of the few times where I went looking for music based on the label that issued it. Greg Kihn was the last of these, earnest, energetic, a little bit more grown-up than the rest. This single was an edited version of the track on his first album, a Bruce Springsteen song with the start chopped off, so that it began with the words, ‘I came for you.’ Berserkley ended up existing for Kihn’s sake alone, but nothing he did later equalled this glorious little fireball.

Me and the Elephant        Gene Cotton

Another track from those late night, sit up until 2.00am sessions on Piccadilly Radio, another American hit that made no impact in England. It’s a sweet, lost love song, with lyrics that have a bit of a gimmicky twist. It begins with a trip, one sunny afternoon, to the zoo with a girl. A year later, she’s moved on, and he’s missing her something chronic. Everyone says to forget her, to write her out of his life, though he can’t bring himself to get rid of all her photos, or even a few it sounds like. One of them was taken that day at the zoo. So he pays another visit, walking round the cages. All the animals have forgotten her, except for the Elephant. And him. We’ll never forget you. And neither can I.

Time in a Bottle        Jim Croce

Jim Croce died in a plane crash in 1974, another premature death from a singer-songwriter who’d already shown himself possessed of a great talent that showed signs of only getting better. He left behind a handful of songs, first amongst which is this wistful, heart-breaking track about preserving memory to relive it again. I loved it from the first time I heard it. Sometimes I wonder if, in this song, I recognised the future that was waiting for me. It had no personal meaning for me back then, but it still brought me to the edge of tears when I tried to join in on this. There never were enough times to do the things I wanted to do once I found them. This song remembered for me before I had the memories.

Gaye            Clifford T. Ward

This record was a hit, a gentle, soft, beautiful ballad that reached the top 10, written and sung by a fragilely beautiful long-haired man who was a schoolteacher by day. I doubt you’ll ever understand just how disorienting it was for me to love a song that everybody else was into at the same time.

I’m a Believer (Peel Session)        Robert Wyatt

The idea of Robert Wyatt, avant-garde drummer and singer, veteran of jazz-rockers Soft Machine and his own Matching Mole, covering a Monkees song – and their only UK no. 1 at that – was completely absurd. But he did, and he produced a stunning version of it, and he got into the top 30 and on to Top Of The Pops. Where the fairy tale took a bit of a nasty turn, as the nation who were buying this new version got to see Wyatt rocking backwards and forwards in a wheelchair. Top Of The Pops’s very MOR producer Robin Nash opined that it was all in very bad taste, to which Wyatt retorted that as he was going to be in that wheelchair for the rest of his life, the audience could stand seeing him for three minutes. Now I’m 60, I can understand, if not entirely agree, why the sight of Wyatt in his chair might be off-putting. But it was a great version, and this is the Peel Session version of the single, which is just Wyatt, a piano and some enthusiastic scat singing to boot, which is almost as good.

This version of the song is not currently available on YouTube. Have the actual single –

Fighting for Strangers        Steeleye Span

Steeleye Span had a brief moment in the commercial sun  from 1973 – 74, with the beautiful ‘Gaudete’ and the deliberately poppy ‘All Around my Hat’ (a heavier, more Fairport-ish version of the traditional song ‘Thomas the Rhymer’ intervened but scored neither plays nor sales). That seemed to be it: not many people were impressed with the direction ‘All Around my Hat’ took – at least one future member agreed to join only if he was never called upon to play that song – and the band immediately rowed back from that excess. ‘Fighting for Strangers’ came along in 1976. It didn’t sell, but it struck the air, with Maddy Prior intoning the chorus line, to a tune strongly reminiscent of the hymn, ‘To be a Pilgrim’ in contrast to the more percussive, dissonant words sung by Tim Hart. It’s still original now.

Silver Star            The Four Seasons

Everyone thinks of the Four Seasons as a Sixties band, the New Jersey sound, those great harmonies built around the voice of Frankie Valli. But those of us who were there for the Seventies remember their second life, with such dance-oriented songs as ‘The Night’, ‘Who Loves You’ and the classic no. 1 ‘December 1963 (Oh What a Night)’ This is the one that everyone forgets, the last hit of this brief run, the summer of 1975, acoustic guitars and distant horns, a western in song, with hero and stallion. It could have done without the slow section in the middle, but that’s a minor quibble, because it was a fantasy of a song and it should be more firmly fixed in everyone’s heads.

White Mice            The Mo-dettes

So we near the end of another Lost 70s compilation, with the usual couple of late Seventies tracks that are not actually punk but which would not have existed but for the irruption caused by that much-maligned genre, and the explosion of independent labels. The Mo-Dettes were an all-girl group, one of whose members married Mike Barson of Madness, which is the sum total of my knowledge of the band. And ‘White Mice’ is the sum total of my knowledge of the band’s music, a bouncy, jerky, ramshackle, upbeat little number that never rises above the ephemeral, but then again never aimed to be anything but.

Money                The Flying Lizards

And we end with the Flying Lizards and their solitary hit single. This was the band’s second single, and it followed the formula of their debut, another cover, this time of ‘Summertime Blues’. Deliberately flat, tinny instrumentation, minimal and flattening out the actual tune until it’s almost negligible. Add to that a flat voice, more speaking than singing, and you have an individual, utterly bizarre approach that, to be honest, couldn’t hold up for longer than two singles. Thankfully, this was the second one, and in its way, it was a work of genius.


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