Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 12

Lost 70s Volume 12 consists of 20 tracks. There’s nothing especial to say about this volume, except that I never expected the series to go on so long or there to be so many tracks from the Seventies that would fall within my subjective but still definable categorisation as ‘Lost’.

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.

Just a Smile – Pilot

I lived through the entire Seventies, musically (which is kind of the point of this series of albums). This meant that I lived through every teenage musical trend the decade threw up, which only seemed to get worse as we moved from fad to fad. By the time we got to the Bay City Rollers, it was pretty hard to imagine just how bad the next one was going to be (it was Boney M. Arrggghhhh!). Which makes the presence of Pilot here rather hard to defend. ‘Just a Smile’ was their deeply unsuccessful second single and also their ultimately unsuccessful fifth single. In between, their third, ‘It’s Magic’, took them into the top 20 (memorialised in modern times at Old Trafford by the much slowed-down chant of “It’s Carrick you know/Hard to Believe it’s not Scholes”. But ‘January’ (in January 1975, naturally) surprised everybody by going to no 1 for three weeks. Having thus established themselves, so smoothly and quickly, Pilot never troubled the top 30 again, though the re-issue of this track got as near as dammit, peaking at 31. That I liked all three songs, bright, poppy, immensely clear sounds with great harmonies is a great surprise given that Pilot’s two core members were ex-Rollers, had indeed charted with the band on their isolated 1971 hit (produced by Jonathan King). I can’t help but think that if Davey Paton and Billy Lyall had stuck with their first band, the whole of pop history might have been radically changed, or at least the 1974/5 part of it have been a bit more tolerable.

Stand on your own two feet – Harmony Grass

It’s rarely referenced as such, but the late Sixties saw a wave of harmony-driven, highly orchestrated cabaret-pop, built around big, booming choruses, many of which put together by professional songwriters such as McCauley and McLeod. The Love Affair, the early Marmalade, the Casuals’ ‘Jesamine’ were prime examples, and there was also Harmony Grass (formerly Tony Rivers and the Castaways), who charted in 1969 with ‘Move in a little closer baby’. It was a regular golden oldie in the early Seventies, to the extent that I assumed it had been a massive hit, and was truly shocked to learn it had only reached no. 25! ‘Stand on your own two feet’ was released in 1970, and a Top of the Pops appearance was insufficient to make up the fact that the band were getting more plays for their oldie. It’s another example of the trend for bands to become ‘heavy’: the song pitches itself on a pulsing rock beat, with lyrics about self-reliance, not sunshine pop love, but it betrays its own uncertainty with a traditional, horn-backed middle eight in which the singer offers a shoulder to the girl he’s been encouraging to stick up for herself. Some people really hadn’t got it. I was among them at the time, and had a lot to learn.

Ships in the Night –  Be Bop deLuxe
I really only know the two Be Bop deLuxe songs, ‘Maid in Heaven’ and this 1976 single that gave the band their only taste of a hit, peaking at no 23. They’re recognisably by the same band, but whereas the earlier single was built on slashing electric guitar and considerable energy, ‘Ships’ relies on its organ sound and was considerably more laid-back. It bubbles along pleasingly, straining a little at the leash to escape from being a pleasant, melodic pop-song, but never quite succeeding in leaving that territory. It’s another example of the tension that, as late as 1976, manifested itself in bands that wanted to be taken seriously as musicians, whenever they accidentally wrote something commercial.

Sandman –  America
In the wake of ‘A Horse with no Name’, I bought the first America album, which later became the first album I moved on, giving it to a friend who liked it more than I did by that point. ‘Sandman’ is eminently reflective of the proto-Neil Young sound of ‘Horse’ that dominated that album, before the band took a softer, more West Coast line. It’s stark, austere, single voice and acoustic guitar building into close harmony chorus, with lyrics that echo with unresolved tension. Years later, I can come back and appreciate it far more than when I was in my mid-teens, and wanted more warmth in my music.

The Man from Nazareth –  John Paul Joans
Oh, but this is an oddity. Though it’s often been plugged as an obscure side-project by Led Zeppellin basist John Paul Jones, it has nothing to do with him or the band. John Paul Joans was the stage name of a north country stand-up comedian, and the song was co-written by Eric Stewart, Kevin Godley and Lol Creme, then of Hotlegs and later to be of 10cc, and recorded at the infant Strawberry studios in Stockport. As you may be able to guess, it’s a Christian song, about Jesus, and it intrigued and fascinated me at the end of 1970 for its gravelly, almost amateurish sound. Joans intones rather than sings most of the song, for reasons that are immediately comprehensible when you hear the bits where he does try to sing. The song crept into the chart in January 1971, reaching no 25. Joans recorded an extremely obscure follow-up, ‘Ten Lost Tribes’, which I distinctly hearing twice but which appears to have vanished beyond even the Internet’s reach, which, due to action by his more famous nickname, had to be attributed to J P Joans, but that was the end of it.

Love is Life –  Hot Chocolate
When I first started listening to pop music, at the very end of 1969, the oldest rock’n’roll records were fifteen years old. The big stars were the old rock’n’rollers, icons like Berry, Holly and, of course, Presley. Then there were the Sixties superstars, like the Stones, the Who, the Kinks and, above all, the Beatles, who’d penetrated even my shielded consciousness long long ago. I don’t know if anyone else has experienced this phenomenon, but I found myself absorbing these people as a kind of indelible pantheon. Everyone else who came around, no matter how big they became, no matter how famous, no matter that their career may have gone on twice as long as the distance between me and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ in 1970, I can’t escape the knowledge of being there when they were nobodies, newbies with no track record, discarded and disregarded. ‘Love is Life’, the second Hot Chocolate single, came out in 1970 and reached the top 10. It’s cold and austere, almost glacial, it has none of the funk that people associate with Errol Brown and co, and when their follow-up failed to chart, they remained nobodies. Look at what they became. This is where it started from.

My Lady d’Arbanville –  Cat Stevens
Another from 1970, another that was the first hit in a career that went much further. Cat Stevens might have had a track record from the Sixties, the insanely commercial ‘Matthew and Son’, but fame drove him bonkers and he’d retreated, and this was the new Cat Stevens, the maker of heartfelt, personal music, of sensitive, emotional songs, downplayed and quiet. ‘My Lady d’Arbanville’, which relied on Stevens’ acoustic guitar and very very sparse additional instrumentation, was a perfect example of this, being about his break-up with actress and model Patty d’Arbanville. Cat Stevens mark 2 started here, the archetype of the singer-songwriter era.

Don’t Throw it All Away – Gary Benson
Back in 1976, I was pretty embarrassed to admit that I liked this song. Benson was a gentle writer of soft, acoustic pop ballads, and this song was originally entered for the competition to find Britain’s ‘Song for Europe’, which just goes to show how fast the impact of Abba’s game-changing win with ‘Waterloo’, two years earlier had sunk in. It was still a very good, sweet love song, and Benson has exactly the right voice to sell it, at least as far as no 20 in the charts. I even went out and bought the album. Nowadays, I couldn’t care less what people think, but it’s different when you’re twenty and already as far removed from your mates’ tastes as I was without this!

I’m Your Puppet – James and Bobby Purify
James and Bobby Purify – who weren’t brothers, despite their billing – had recorded this gentle, soul love song in the Sixties, and I was already familiar with the song from the occasional golden-oldie play. Then they re-issued it, Johnnie Walker championed it, in those last few months before he took himself off to break into American radio, and it went top 20. It’s sweet and gorgeous, old-style soul without the by then ubiquitous disco beat and it settled into my heart with its confessions of love so complete that the singer was wholly at the mercy of the woman he loved. I was to get there myself, though it took longer than I would have liked. But this was no re-issue, but rather a re-recording and, against the usual expectations, a better version, deeper, richer, fuller in sound. Had there been more like this around in the mid-Seventies, I might not have taken such a time to develop an appreciation of soul, and life would have been better.

You put something better inside me –  Stealer’s Wheel
Now there’s a song with a title that would mean something completely different if sung by a woman. Stealer’s Wheel, Gerry Rafferty’s band after the Humblebums, at the outset, would hit the top 10 with their next release, ‘Stuck in the Middle with you’, but I’d forgotten this gentle, yearning ballad which preceded it. It’s about the less-recognised aspect of love, that it transforms you inside, changes who you are. Love grows you, both up and outward. Love puts something better inside all of us, not just women in crude jokes.

Rose of Cimarron –  Poco
In the Sixties, Buffalo Springfield made a big splash over three albums, before going their own ways. Steve Stills ended up in Crosby, Still and Nash, Neil Young became Neil Young with every sort of vengeance, and Richie Furay sorta got overlooked with competition like that. But Furay did alright for himself, in a much less famous manner, forming the country rock band Poco. They never achieved the heights of his former band-mates, but they were solid achievers. ‘Rose of Cimmaron’ was released at least twice as a single, though it was far too country for British tastes. That ought to make it far too country for me, but its smoothness and warmth outweighed my natural prejudices, and Furay doesn’t sound anything remotely like Garth Brooks and that ilk of male country singers, so we got along just fine.

Desiree –  Curved Air
By 1976, Curved Air were past their peak, and only Sonja Kristina remained of the classic line-up. There was this guy on drums called Stewart Copeland, and whatever happened to him, eh? But they were playing at the UMIST Student Union one Saturday night in that dry, airless Drought Summer, and my mate Alan and I went to see them, or rather to see Sonja Kristina. Apart from the queuing down the twin set of steps into the courtyard outside, I remember nothing of this gig, but ‘Desiree’ is a better song than I’d expected from those long ago years. I’d still rather have a video of it than just the audio.

Geneve – John Otway
Oh ho! What I knew of Otway was a couple of maniac singles with Wild Willy Barrett, all guitar slashing and primitive energy. I don’t think anyone expected this high string-laden, orchestral ballad, with just Otway’s voice alone in the midst of the music, singing in a clumsy, yet patently sincere tone about a woman who was leaving him, leaving his life. She’s moving to Geneva (no, the song title is not a mis-spelling, or at least not mine), she’s going to live there, it’ll be without him, and he will miss her terribly, but he sings to the city, entreating it to be kind to her, to be safe for her, to shelter and protect her in the way he’s no longer going to be able to do. He’s made his choice and he pretends that he was right. Love and sacrifice. Sometimes you have to let them go. I know what he meant. I wish I didn’t.

I’m doing fine now – New York City
Another mini-hit, a piece of old-fashioned soul, with fine harmonies, a song of abnegation. Why this and not countless others? Sometimes there’s an explanation. This time there isn’t.

The Dreadful Ballad of Willie Hurricane –  Southern Comfort
By the time they got to an unexpected number 1 with a cover of Joni Mitchell’s paean to Woodstock, Matthews Southern Comfort no longer existed (they appeared on TOTP for three weeks in a piece of pre-shot film). Despite losing their leading man and focal point, Southern Comfort stayed together and made some respectable country-rock music for a couple of years. ‘Willie Hurricane’ was their follow-up to ‘Woodstock’. It got minimal airplay, and didn’t really deserve more, but I hear the echo of the times, of adjusting to life without a father, in this as in so many other songs that maybe don’t merit inclusion in this series, if music was the only criterion.

As Times Go By – Dooley Wilson
I’ve joked about learning all about Sixties music from having it played as Oldies on Radio 1 in the Seventies, but that’s one of those jokes that contains a whole granary of truth. The Seventies as a whole were a decade of reissues and re-chartings. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’, five years after reaching number 1, had another complete chart life, reaching number 2 on this occasion. The entire Beatles’ singles collection was re-issued (actually, re-promoted: they’d never been deleted) in picture sleeves, and four of them got into the Top 30 again. Free’s ‘All Right Now’ scored again (and again. And again.). Hell’s Bells, Laurel and Hardy got to number 2 with ‘The Trail of the Lonesome Pine’, from their film ‘Way out West’. The Glenn Miller Orchestra charted with ‘Moonlight Serenade’. This was probably the strangest of the lot. This isn’t even the version that got released, which was shot through with ‘Casablanca’ dialogue, all the classic lines (but not ‘Play it again, Sam’, ‘cos Bogey never said that). Just think for a while what that said about music in the winter of 1976.

Moonlight Shadow – Mike Oldfield, featuring Maggie Reilley
In the Seventies, the NME‘s T-zers column used to host bogus end-of-the-year awards, commenting on various things in music. One regular was the Maggie Bell Award, which was awarded to Maggie Bell for being Maggie Bell . The other great Scottish female Maggie singer of the Seventies was Maggie Reilly, formerly of Cado Belle. This collaboration with Mike Oldfield, where she provided sweet, pure vocals to a lilting acoustic song, was her only commercial success. What a world we live in when voices like this can be rejected.

You Ain’t got the right –  Olivia Newton-John
I’ve mentioned before my mate Alan, who exposed me to more ELP, Yes, Pink Floyd and Rick Wakeman than a sensitive mind should ever experience. His other obsession was Olivia Newton-John, and by that I don’t mean in the obvious sense. He loved the music, deeply and truly. So that’s another one in the column of stuff I had to endure in our Saturday night outings. To be honest, I’ve no great objection to Livvy’s Seventies music, but it’s still pretty pallid, quasi-country pop. This louder, brassier song off one of the mid-Seventies albums always stood out for both of us, though listening to it right now, with enlightened ears, I find myself very dubious about the chorus about ‘he had every right to do the wrong that he done to me’. Not exactly feminism-friendly, even if Livvy admits to have cheated on him just as often as he cheated on her. A morally dubious song in all respects. ‘Physical’ shouldn’t have come as so much of a surprise then.

It’s time for love – The Chi-Lites
A real, cool, smooth soul-hit with some beautifully minimal synthesizer. I picked ‘Have you seen her?’ out as a hit the first time I heard it, but this was a personal favourite that should be far more warmly remembered than it is.

(The System of) Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether – The  Alan Parsons Project

We finish on the Alan Parsons Project. This proudly processional track was the first single off the first album, a concept album about Edgar Allan Poe (!), and it got a lot more airplay than ‘To One in Paradise’. It did no better. Parsons was primarily a converted Recording Engineer, using session musicians to fill out his ideas. It has the feel of a pre-Trevor Horn production: not quite the same polish and high power sheen, but something that was a few years ahead of its time. It’s a lost Seventies track, but in another world, it was an Eighties smash.


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