The Infinite Jukebox: Speedy Keen’s ‘Someone to Love’

Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” was in every sense a one hit wonder. I remember hearing its follow-up, the ambiguous “Accidents”, maybe a dozen times on Radio 1, when I was listening all hours it was broadcasting, and seeing a Music Week Top Fifty in our local record shop the one week it entered the chart, at 44. I heard it’s follow-up, “The Reason” (which I thought was called “There’s a Reason”) maybe three times (on one of which occasions I recorded it and played it to death) and the band’s final single, “Wild Country” (which I hated) only once.
Then there was Speedy Keen’s first solo album, from which two singles were taken, “Old-Fashioned Girl” which I can’t remember if I ever heard it played, and “Let us In”, which I definitely didn’t. The single and the album were released as John Keen, but the album had a silver ‘Speedy’ sticker across the name. No, when it came to John ‘Speedy’ Keen’s music, it really was “Something in the Air” or nothing.
Keen, who seems to be someone who, for all his talent, could easily have his confidence knocked down, started getting tracks together for a second solo album on Track Records, intended to be a double. But numerous halts and inefficiencies badly delayed its progress and, in early 1975, he signed to Island Records and made headway towards releasing a single album instead.
(Sometimes I wonder: does this mean there’s an album-worth of never-released Speedy songs stuck in a vault somewhere? If there is, I would kill to hear it!)
The release of Y’Know Wot I Mean? was preceded by a single, side two, track two’s “Someone to Love”. To my amazement, I first heard it on the radio. Not Radio 1 but Piccadilly Radio, Manchester’s Commercial Station, which I’d taken to my heart from the first day it broadcast in April 1974 (I even had a Piccadilly 261 t-shirt but then I was still only 19). Piccadilly took up “Someone to Love” in the summer of 1975, the only other Speedy track to get real airplay.
I loved it. I loved it because I loved Speedy Keen, because I loved that cracked falsetto yelp, and because I loved the melodies he came up with. But I also loved “Someone to Love” because it was a beautiful, heartfelt song that spoke exactly to my shyness around girls, my loneliness and my longings. I had fallen in love and made a mess of it and first love’s the one that’s the worst because, well, you don’t know anything else. This is it, this is the one, it will always be here, you can never feel like this about anyone else ever again.
When she wrote to dump me, as gently as possible, I went into a depressive fugue that lasted pretty much a full year. I was only just surfacing from it when I first heard that slow, liquid, almost oozing intro and Speedy’s voice, immediately familiar, singing those opening words, “If there’s anything I’ve forgotten…”
Apart from Keen’s voice, there was nothing in the sound of “Someone to Love”, or in its words, to connect to “Something in the Air”. It drifted in on a melange of electric piano, organ and an already weeping guitar, the drums that were Keen’s main instrument buried deep in the mix, understood rather than heard. No resounding acoustic, no thumped piano, no guitar whizz-kid. And no call to revolution, no sniffing the air for the hope that never came, but a lonely, lost recital of a life spent in confusion, in an isolated state of mind that can’t retain pleasures, like the dawning of a brand new day, like the children on a rolling surf. If he’s gotten lost a million miles away, watching streams turn into rivers.
And then Speedy’s voice soars, asking that if this is so, if he is lost, that someone comes out and finds him. He’s only looking for some to love.
Wonderfully, in the second verse, he’s speaking to another person. Someone who has come out to find him? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s someone seen, but it is someone who is themselves lost in that loneliness, of not mattering to someone, and Speedy in turn promises to them that he will come out and find them. We’re only looking for someone to love.
Is that someone each other? In a way it doesn’t matter. Nothing has been settled by the time the song smoothes to its end. It’s about seeking, about supporting, about commitment to others for we are all of us, wherever we are and whatever we do, looking for someone to love. To love. To give to, not take from.
The music flows around us. I am almost tempted to describe it as an aural amniotic fluid, but that’s a bit too pretentious even for me. But it warms, it bathes, it is in its slow tones, its quiet melody, what Speedy Keen and those who respond to this exact degree of yearning are looking to find. I know from the years that passed after those days of confusion, insecurity and fear what I wanted in love and it was giving, not taking.
Before the end of 1976, Speedy Keen released one final single, two previously unreleased songs. There would be no more recordings. When he died, suddenly, in 2002, he was re-ordering things to start recording again. One of my greatest musical regrets was that I never had the chance to see him play live. I never got to hear him sing “Something in the Air”.
And I never got to hear him sing “Someone to Love”.

2 thoughts on “The Infinite Jukebox: Speedy Keen’s ‘Someone to Love’

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