The Infinite Jukebox: John Keen’s Old Fashioned Girl


I can’t remember if I actually heard Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ when it was a hit in 1969. I remember hearing it being spoken of as the BBC’s number one, as if that were something special or unusual, as if it belonged to the BBC in some way, and passing on that snippet at the bus stop one afternoon, waiting to go home from school.
I do remember when I first recorded, off Terry Wogan’s afternoon show, back when Radios One and Two merged, with Wogan cutting it off after the piano break (never did like playing records all the way through did our Tel). I remember the belated follow-ups, ‘Accidents’ and ‘The Reason’ (which I thought was called ‘There’s a Reason’, and which I played to death) and hating the fourth and last single, ‘Wild Country’.
The next I heard was that the band had split. Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman recorded a solo album in 1971 that I’ve still never heard, and the next year, Speedy Keen released this song as a single.
Or rather John Keen did. He’d gone under his long-established nickname for the credit for ‘Something in the Air’, and everyone who would have been interested in his music (except the unknowing like me) would have recognised him as Speedy, but here he was going by his given name, and the ads in the pop papers having to make the link for us.
Under either name, the song didn’t get much airplay, but enough for me to hear it and determine to buy it. It’s a good, smooth rock song, with a swooping chorus, some effective screaming guitar and two instrumental breaks, one played on a solo acoustic guitar and the other on piano.
The following year, Keen came out with a solo album on which this was the first track. There was still some confusion over the name he should bear. The CD reissue has Speedy, as do the later printings of the sleeve, but my copy was early enough that it bore the name John Keen, albeit with a silver ‘Speedy’ sticker at at awkward angle across the name.
For the album, Speedy’d added some rather weak brass to the first break, and strings to the second. I got used to that, and foolishly, when I was trying to thin down my collection by disposing of duplicated records, I got rid of the single. Over the years, I came to regret this.
Much time and effort was expended in the eBay era trying to get hold of the single, so that I could re-hear the pure version. To my dismay, I learned that there had obviously been different pressings, one with the album mix, one with a hybrid mix where the strings vanished but the brass remained. Getting hold of a pure version became an obsession.
At last, I found a copy. The same day I agreed to purchase a checked and correct pressing, the original single version appeared on YouTube and I downloaded it.
Music’s a bitch sometimes.

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