The Infinite Jukebox: Age of Chance’s ‘Kiss’


The best Prince covers are easily the ones where you know nothing about the original. Of course, if you’ve only ever owned one Prince album, even if that’s Sign O’The Times, that aspect is easy, but just think of ‘Nothing compares to U’, or ‘Manic Monday’, not to mention the little known but still brilliant Hindu Love Gods cover of ‘Raspberry Beret’.
And then there’s the Age of Chance…
The first time I heard ‘Kiss’, I hadn’t a clue what to make of it. How I even heard it, I don’t know because I’d stopped listening to Peely by then. It just stopped me in my tracks like a street-mugging, and it’s still a jolt of electric energy and easily one of the best examples of pulling a song apart by ripping off its arms and legs with wild horses and suturing them back together in a way nobody could have imagined. Just what the hell was this?
Well, this was, to use Age of Chance’s own definition, Crush Collision, a musical style I have never heard any other band perform. Before I got the album and found that out, the best I could come up with by myself was Heavy Metal Call-and-Response and it isn’t even Heavy Metal…
A music teacher friend of mine once described music as “organised noise”. What the Age of Chance do is to break the concept of organisation down as far as it can go whilst remaining recognisable as music. The staccato, inconstant drumming, constantly disrupting any kind of rhythm, the thunderous guitar, hammered out on one undifferentiated chord, these leave the only vestige of the tune Prince wrote in the hands of the singer, or rather shouter.
But the song is not a song, not in the hands of the Age of Chance, it’s a bludgeon of sound, stripping any sense of melody out of the aural experience. The only remnant of tune is conveyed by the raucous chorus, which may have been sinuous and slinky in the Prince original, but is here a defiant chant, negating any suggestion that the band are performing a song (I have never knowingly heard Prince’s version and I have no wish to mar the purity of the Age of Chance’s barrage by ever doing so: the disappointment would be massive).
In fact, there’s an underlying air of glee, a joyful sense of anarchy to the band’s approach. They’re ripping the song to pieces, rebuilding it in a completely different form, overwhelming as they charge towards the listener, shaping the world about them in a way that it has never been done before. If only they were plugged into the mains, the band give off the sense that they could light Leeds for a month.
If the band were a part of any musical tradition it was the brief Industrial music phase also championed by Peely in the early Eighties, exemplified by Tools You Can Trust. The Age of Chance had clearly heard them, but where Industrial Music built itself out of percussion almost exclusively, Crush Collision had greater ambitions, more polyphonic rhythms and a sense of hurtling inevitability, as if they were sculpting their sound out of granite rather than metal.
If only they’d lasted. One album, two Peel Sessions, 12”ers and remixes and b-sides, all linked by that charging sound, those epic chants. Partway through recording a second album, ‘singer’ Steven-E (Elvidge) quit. The album was re-voiced by his successor, but Elvidge’s voice was an essential component of that sound and, despite limping on another three years, the spell was broken. Age of Chance were one of those bands who exist in one line-up and in which no-one can be replaced, and especially not by a smooth, sweet, soul voice. On top of those rythyms?!.
There isn’t anything else that sounds remotely like this that I like, and there was only ever too little of this. Sometimes you wonder if the world isn’t ready for some bands, and sometimes you wonder if some bands just have too narrow an audience. Count me in that niche, if that was what they were: some grooves are too good to get out of.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Teardrop Explodes’ ‘Tiny Children’


I have an indeterminate relationship with The Teardrop Explodes. ‘Reward’ was an irrepressible burst of joy, with some of the greatest non-soul horns ever to decorate the top 10, and I had a major Thing for the re-recorded single version of ‘Treason’. But the wider world of the album diffused the energy of such individual songs without replacing it with melodies of the same standard.
A couple of the succeeding singles were strong without even scratching the superstructure of the chart. One of these was the enigmatic ‘Tiny Children’. It had slipped through the cracks in the floorboards of my memory until it appeared in a YouTube sidebar, an omission that suggests the need for an urgent replaying. For this song is many things but one of the them that it is unforgivably lovely.
When first I heard it, I was captivated by the sound, the utter simplicity. There are only two instruments on this track, an organ extemporising on a minimalistic melody that obliviates the need to develop its theme and, over the coda, a distant drum, echoing on three beats, 2 and 1, and 2 and 1, as we who have listened sit in silence.
Over this limpid, eliding melody Cope sings, using his upper register without the sense of straining for power that marked the rest of his work with the band. His voice stands separate from the organ, still and detached. You imagine that he has his eyes closed as he raises his face, seeking a purity in his expression.
What he sings is as fragile as the melody. There is a YouTube video that connects this song to child abduction and abuse, and in his immaterial way, this may be what Cope is expressing, but his words are abstracted lines, connecting by succeeding instead of continuous meaning. Sometimes the words explode in your mind, creating unshakable empathies: Cope sings helplessly of calling someone’s name in Colin’s house (the song was written in the house of a friend called Colin), implying that there is no answer.
Later he sings of making a meal of ‘this wonderful despair I feel’. The song is composed of this, fractured lines whose leap from one to another obeys a logic completely alien to the audience. What Cope sees inside is something we cannot see ourselves, yet his performance convinces us that it is something that we should shudder before wanting to too clearly understand. What it is shakes him, shakes his faith in whatever we has previously believed in. Oh no, he sings plaintively, I’m not sure about the things that I care about.
Oh no, I’m not sure, not any more.
This undermining is so fundamental that he repeats these lines, leaving us with this finality, as the organ takes advantage of a greater freedom, with the melody, and the solo drum pounds a slow motion military beat.
And now this fragile song has returned to my mind, I find that though I don’t understand it in words, I cannot listen to it without tears rising to my throat, if not my eyes, because on another level I understand that this song, as flimsy as a spiderweb, and as weightless as it too, is about sadness and bewilderment, and beauty, and the inability to distinguish between these and misery.
No-one can live here too long.

The Infinite Jukebox: East 17’s ‘Stay Another Day’


I have never been interested in boy bands, though that attitude had to change, at least in part, when I married a Take That fan. I saw them twice with her on their first reunion tour, learned to appreciate some of their songs, and one of these, ‘Rule the World’, is to me as good as anything I’ve heard. But the rest? Gah! Spare me, save my ears, relieve me from this hideous mockery of good music. Say not the name Boyzone in my hearing, let not the existence of Westlife be mentioned.
East 17 were a particularly unbearable example of the breed. They were the bad boys to Take That’s good boys, the dickheads whose schtick was outrage allied to the harmonies. This was still in the days where, however much you didn’t listed to Radio 1, you nevertheless heard things far more often than you ever wanted. Thankfully, I cannot now consciously remember or recognise a single East 17 song.
Except one.
‘Stay Another Day’ was the Xmas no 1 of 1994, spending five weeks at the top, the band’s only no. 1. Even at the time, with not reason to have an alleviated view of boy bands, I liked the record. It’s a gorgeous, slow ballad, built upon some wonderful harmonising on the much-repeated chorus, rising to some extended vocal arrangements over the song’s long coda that sends the song into infinity and leaves you regretting that it has to end when you could listen forever.
This isn’t a Xmas song, yet the addition of Xmas bells over the coda are a perfect touch, drawing the atmosphere of the season into the song, adding a touch of stardust. it isn’t even a romantic song, despite the words talking about asking someone to stay, though Girls Aloud turned it into a love song for the b-side of their first single.
No, this is an incredibly sad song, written by lead songwriter Tony Mortimer, following the death of his brother, a suicide. Knowing that the message is to a loved one who, rather than being a lover, leaving, was a brother who left forever, deepens the meaning of the song and the togetherness of the harmony, with the band as a surrogate brotherhood, increases the poignancy of the forlorn desire for the loved one to stay. All of us are affected by this.
And the final genius of Tony Mortimer is that to accompany this plea, he found a tune of simple beauty, free from tricks, in which to say how much his brother meant to him.
I’ve never heard the Girls Aloud version of the song and never will. To turn this song into a romance is cloth-earedness of the highest water, and Mortimer’s bemusement at the step says all that need be said. Though one can never rule out the possibility of someone singing this song with an equal measure of pain and understanding in their heart, I should venture to suggest that none of us, no matter what our voices, have any right to this song, and that it is something that should be accorded the respect of being left pristine.
None of the meaning of this song I knew in 1994. All I knew was that it was a lovely sound from an unlikely source that, for four minutes at a time, reconciled me to them. Knowing all I know, I regard it with more profound love than so long a time ago. This is a song that will outlive all the centuries.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Cocteau Twins’ ‘Orange-Appled’


Some years ago, I forgot to recharge my mp3 player ahead of a long train journey. This reminded me that I still had a portable Minidisc player, and over three dozen MDs, which would make a brilliant substitute (I then forgot to bring my headphones).
But this stash of MDs was a massive musical treasure trove, comprised of music taped, mainly from the radio, over not just years but decades. For the next few months, I had a wonderful time playing these Minidiscs, compiling track-listings, checking off the tracks that I had, in the meantime, collected on CD, whether shop-bought or self-burnt, and starting a vast programme of creating more compilation CDs from the outstanding tracks.
Many of these were recorded off the radio, with intros clipped, or DJs talking extensively over the intros and outros. Now, with YouTube at my fingertips, I could download clean copies of them, complete and uninterrupted. Several tracks had been ‘bounced down’ more than once and were not in that good a condition and they too were downloaded, clean.
The best of it was that there were dozens of songs that I had not merely forgotten I had but which I had also forgotten existed. A load of music dropped into my lap, to enlighten and enliven me.
Amongst this avalanche of virtually ‘new’ music were a couple of dozen tracks that I had so completely forgotten that I couldn’t remember what they were! Artist, title, a lot of the time both. Most of these were relatively easy to recover by googling a line of dialogue for the song, but there were two particular instances where this was not going to work. These were three French-language songs from Kate and Anna McGarrigle, and four tracks by The Cocteau Twins.
Ok then, given that the Cocteau Twins’ songs rarely have actual words in them, let alone recognisable ones, how do you go about establishing the title of a forgotten song? I could limit the hunt by excluding all the tracks on the CDs I had, and also all those I had never bought in the first place, but that still left an awful lot of songs to choose amongst.
And this was such a different track, bright, buoyant, structured more like a conventional song than most of the band’s repertoire, with actual, detectable verses, and a build to an astonishingly upbeat and passionate chorus that came round over and again. The orthodox song structure, the bright and forthright sound, made this an unusual track from the band to begin with.
It’s one of those sounds where you don’t really need the words to sense the meaning of the words. Elizabeth Fraser sings with a mixture of joy and yearning in her voice, and as with all great choruses, you find yourself wanting to share the sound, sing out loud and proud with her. And the music is built upon Simon Raymonde’s springy bass and Robin Guthrie’s rich, rotund guitar, a miniature wall of sound.
It’s called ‘Orange Appled’, a title I re-discovered by playing snippets of intros from Cocteau Twins tracks on YouTube until I hit the right one. It’s a song from 1986, the period where the trio were calling songs by butterfly’s names, and it appeared on the ‘Love’s Easy Tears’ 12” EP. And despite my disavowal of Cocteau’s songs not having actual words, you can find full lyrics from several online sites.
There’s a substantial discrepancy between what one site has for the verse, and what four or five others put down but there’s a definite consensus on the chorus: He loves you more than this,
The stars let you know all’s right and bright and, He loves you more than this, Ego lets him know that’s how much more was gained.
And armed with these words, I listen to the song again, and I strain my ears, and I can just about agree that Elizabeth Fraser is singing this, and then I put the words away and listen again and once more my ears are unable to translate that slightly husky, flowing river of sounds into words, but I catch the meaning in the voice and it doesn’t matter.
But if YouTube had not come along in the meantime, I would still not know what this song was called. The ignorance would have itched, but the song would have been an eternal balm.

The Infinite Jukebox: Magazine’s ‘Shot by Both Sides’


Had you asked me, towards the end of the year or at any time since, what was the best single of 1978, I would rave at you cheerfully in favour of ‘Teenage Kicks’. I still will if you don’t run away fast enough.
But had you asked me that question at any time between, say, the spring of that year and the very end of Autumn, I would have had a different answer. I would have said Magazine, and ‘Shot By Both Sides’.
It is still, to me, a massively brilliant song, the single version a giant, dark, compelling sound, it’s failure to spend months at Number One a mystery set to rank with that of the Sphinx. That ‘Teenage Kicks’ was actually better was Howard Devoto and Co’s bleeding hard luck. So it goes, as Nick Lowe and Tony Wilson both used to say.
‘Shot by Both Sides’ was Magazine’s first release. Howard Devoto had left The Buzzcocks because he wanted to do more than the pure punk sound, and in John McGeogh he found a musical partner more than capable of realising his ambitions to incorporate elements of progressive and avant garde music. Devoto envisaged a keyboard player, and between the single and the album versions of the track, he found one in Dave Formula, but in this moment the band were a four-piece, with McGeogh the dominant player, and ‘Shot by Both Sides’ was both introduction and farewell, looking Janus-like to future and past. It wraps itself in the punk sound of angry guitar, but its immediately a fuller, deeper sound, built upon a charging riff full of menace, and an ascending lick, a rising string of notes, written by Pete Shelley and generously allowed to form the keynote of this song.
(The Buzzcocks would record the original song, ‘Lipstick’, late in the year as the b-side to ‘Promises’, and bloody odd it sounds in that context.)
‘Shot by Both Sides’ has muscle and energy, but it’s a focussed, targeted energy, as dark and paranoid as Devoto’s lyrics. Barry Adamson and Martin Gorski lay down a solid rhythm over which McGeogh doubles up on riff and lick. Devoto’s voices twists away from the sound, arch and affected, reminiscent of Steve Harley in its refusal to settle on a straight tone.
He works his way into the heart of the crowd, shocked to find what is allowed, losing himself in the heart of the crowd whilst the song hurtles towards him. The song’s confidence momentarily disintegrates, mimicking the sense of Devoto cracking, the rhythm chopping up, its momentum dispersing before Devoto goes full-on batshit paranoid. There is no safety in the heart of the crowd, no anonymity, no invisibility: Devoto is shot by both sides, his enemies, real or otherwise, must have come to a secret understanding, for how else could they be on him from all directions? Devoto sings to the lick and the chorus pounds that message of shock, horror and fear.
The middle of the song sees McGeogh go off into a high-speed solo, slashing at the notes in piercing fashion, before retreating to allow Devoto to give full reign to his drama: Shot by Both Sides, I don’t ask who’s doing the shooting.
The single couldn’t be what it is without the punk background from which it arises, could not be both single-minded and yet hinting at wider soundscapes to come. It’s a culmination, a threshold before change. Devoto’s ideas were grandiose, but they held a retrogressive element to them. Once Formula was added to provide the scope Devoto foresaw, Magazine would not, could not sound like this again.
And I’m afraid I think that the band was the lesser for it. In time, McGeogh, who was one of the most influential guitarists of his time, would come to the same conclusion, his departure from the band stemming in equal parts from frustration at Magazine’s lack of commercial success and the decreasing amount of space allowed for him and his guitars: he would be both ornament and architecture to Siouxsie and The Banshees’ lush middle period.
With the possible exception of Magazine’s flambuoyant cover of ‘Goldfinger’ on the b-side of their second single, nothing the band did sounded remotely like as good as this. ‘Shot By Both Sides’ was pure, driving, musical ecstasy, power and energy in beautiful balance, taking over your ears until the only thing you wanted to do was to play it again, immediately, and louder! And forty-one years later, like ‘Teenage Kicks’, it hasn’t aged a second. Let the riff pound out and immediately we are trapped, in the middle of the crowd, overwhelmed by fear, shot by both sides.
And still the only response is to play it again.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Small Faces’ ‘All or Nothing’


Several years ago, in a pub at Xmas, among internet friends I had never met before in real life, and only one of whom I have met again since (and I still owe him a round), we talked of many things, music not least. I gave the opinion, agreed upon instantly by everyone, that the most underrated major band of the Sixties were The Small Faces.
When you set them against the likes of The Beatles and The Stones, The Who and The Kinks, The Beach Boys and The Move, indeed any band with a reputable string of hit singles (which excludes Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich and leaves The Tremeloes a borderline case), Messrs Marriott, Lane, McLagen and Jones are the ones who get the raw deal, pushed to the back of the class somehow.
But The Small Faces had a run of singles that stood up against everybody else, and ‘All or Nothing’, their only no. 1, was the best of them, a solid rock of blue-eyed soul, blues and pop. With a fearsome production that made it a chunk of sound, thrusting you out of the way.
Like all such things, I knew The Small Faces from Radio 1’s Golden Oldies of the Seventies, but ‘All or Nothing’ was rarely amongst those: it was always ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee’, ‘Itchycoo Park’ and ‘Lazy Sunday’. I had to learn to love this one myself.
Of these three, only ‘Sha-La-La-La-Lee’ compares, coming from the same mod blues and rock period of The Small Faces’ career, for with the transfer to Immediate Records in 1967, and the escape from the vicious and restrictive management of future Led Zeppelin manager, Don Arden, the band took a turn into psychedelia, producing the feedback drenched ‘Itchycoo Park’ and the Cockney music hall magnificence of ‘Lazy Sunday’.
And I remember one Saturday night when my mate Alan was at Salford University, going down the bar at their Students Union, discovering ‘All or Nothing’ on the Jukebox. That was one powerful Jukebox, the sound a physical thing, so that I had to retreat very rapidly to avoid being blown away.
But ‘All or Nothing’ is every bit of what it says. After that propulsive intro, Jones’ drums building into the first blur of sound, the wedge of guitar, bass and especially the organ beating upon the ear, Marriott sings out in, at first, relatively restrained fashion, explaining himself to his girl about his need for commitment. All or Nothing.
And Lane and McLagen support him, repeating the title line behind Marriott’s white soul voice, screaming and roaring, vocalising in syllables, not words, his energy bent in impressing that this is what they’re saying. It’s extreme. It is, literally, all or nothing.
Commitment demanded, love from deep inside, from the soul as well as the heart. No games, no playing, no half-measures, nothing casual. All, or nothing, and Marriott’s voice is both pleading and commanding that it be all, absolute All.
Not that I love the song any less, nor want to add my voice to it with any less fervour, but I’m a lot more aware nowadays that Marriott’s demand for commitment makes this another one of those Sixties songs: you know the ones I mean.
It’s all very obvious: I thought you’d listen to my reasoning, he mansplains. But now I see you don’t hear a thing. Try to make you see, how it’s got to be… Ah yes. That’s how it’s got to be, all or nothing, no wishiwashiness, no half-measures. For Marriott, that is. He even says it plainly. All or Nothing. For me…
And if she, for some mysterious, unthinkable, unacceptable reason doesn’t want her All to be given to Marriott, that’s not going to happen. It’s got nothing to do with her, she doesn’t have a choice. I didn’t tell you no lie, yeah, he emphasises. So don’t just sit there and cry…
It’s a masculinist song, alright, from the days when everything was masculinist and no-one thought there was anything wrong with it (well, maybe some of the women, but who listened to them?), and it stands foursquare with the rest of the music of 1966, the last pre-psychedelia year, when the boundaries of what was possible were expanding in every direction before being diffused – some might say too widely – in the haze of acid.
And ‘All or Nothing’ bridges that very conservative blues-rock idiom with the freshness and imagination of the greater freedom growing, and it doesn’t really matter that it did so in the most chauvinist of fashion, because when Kenny Jones pounds the rhythm into being and Steve Marriott, Ian McLagen and Plonk Lane crash into together as an unbreakable unit, the passion takes over and you know that she will respond to that urgency of desire, and that before the song is over, she too will want All and not Nothing.

 

Lost 70s: Volume 19


I know I promised Volume 19 would follow shortly on Volume 18, which was because the two compilations were recorded practically back to back. It’s just that I forgot. Sorry. But better late than not at all. This collection offers 23 tracks, with a fair bit of leaping around in time, a handful of chart hits but mostly low-lyers. I hope there’s a few memories to be evoked here.

Cracking Up            Nick Lowe

Because the New Musical Express espoused punk enthusiastically, at a time when the rest of the country’s press, music or otherwise, was hounding it in the same way they do Jeremy Corbyn these days, there were a lot of people I heard a lot about without hearing anything by. Brinsley Schwarz had never crossed my musical path in the Seventies, though I’d heard of the great 1970 PR Disaster without having a single idea what had happened. But Lowe, or ‘Basher’ as he was nick-named from his Production habits, was taken up by the NME with great gusto, especially for ‘Heart of the City’ (a truly great song and only a b-side). The paper created its own nick-name for Lowe, which he took for the title of his first solo album, Jesus of Cool. It’s sub-title also came from the NME, if my memory is working properly: ‘Pure Pop for Now People’. And Lowe was on a hot streak in those years, turning out pop songs with strength and steel in them, as well as compelling melodies. By the time ‘Cracking Up’ came out as a single, in 1979, Lowe was working as one-fourth (bass) of Rockpile, in partnership with Dave Edmunds. Since the two were tied to contracts with different labels, most of Rockpile’s stuff was released as solo records by Lowe or Edmunds, according to who wrote and sung songs. ‘Cracking Up’ plays with a deliberate flat melody, Lowe half-talking the words, and that’s Edmunds you hear on the chorus. It’s downbeat, smooth on the surface but jagged in more than the lyrics, and Lowe hits the right note of disturbance. Unfortunately, differences between Lowe and Edmunds broke up the Rockpile experiment prematurely, but before they left, they recorded this minor classic that spelled out the seeds of its own demise within. I don’t think it’s funny no more. And when it stops being funny…

Baby Blue              Badfinger

Another cameo for my original naivete. Sometime in late 1969/early 1970, I first read about Badfinger. They were being billed as the ‘new’ or ‘next’ Beatles, from their place on the roster at Apple, and I took it seriously. Nobody else seemed to. The band weren’t all that prolific: ‘Come and Get It’ in 1970, ‘No Matter What’ in 1971, ‘Day After Day’ in 1972. I liked the first two and seriously loved the third. And I waited for 1973 to come round and Badfinger’s annual single. This was it. I didn’t hear it until this year, on YouTube, which makes it one of the Lost Lost 70s. Radio 1 didn’t play it, probably for no better reason than that the band had gone out of fashion. Nothing worse than last year’s model. But it’s brilliant. Archetypal Badfinger, strong song, fluent and melodic playing, a rock underpinning balancing out the pop tune and the harmonies. Archetypal Todd Rundgren production. It reached no 14 in America. Then Apple collapsed and destroyed the band through legal snarls. Pete Ham, who wrote and sang this, committed suicide in 1975. Not hearing ‘Baby Blue’ when I should have done was a waste and a loss, but it pales beside what was done to the band members. That special love I have for you. The horror.

Lido Shuffle           Boz Scaggs

In contrast, we shuffle into 1976, and the end of that very brief period when Boz Scaggs was hitting the commercial heights in the UK. ‘Lido Shuffle’ reached no 13 in early 1977, but it’s still a 1976 song, coming from Scaggs’ most successful album, Silk Degrees. It couldn’t have come from anything but that anteroom of a year, American and polished, rhythmic but not quite disco, but blessed with an uptempo verve and just enough touch of rawness to that chorus to make it worth remembering. This is fun! Woah-oah-aoh-oh-oh-oh.

Groupie Girl                  Tony Joe White

Back to the beginnings, back to basics: and they used to call Creedence Clearwater Revival ‘swamp music’. Tony Joe White crept into the British Charts only once, and this was it, a no. 22 hit of sorts that was sung and played in a low rumble over a minimal tune, about a phenomenon that I didn’t understand and that people who did understand what Tony Joe was singing about didn’t like him singing about it, even when he wasn’t actually endorsing sweet young girls collecting long-haired rockers’ dicks. And they really didn’t like that line about passing her around like a joint. Must we fling this filth at our pop kids? Well, at least one of them didn’t know what you meant and it’s take him nearly fifty years to learn to understand the music, but I got there.

Elizabethan Reggae         Boris Gardiner

I’m a little bit surprised it took me as long as it did, but I didn’t start writing down the Top Thirty every week until the end of May 1970. Once I did, I start to understand and remember things, but that left those first five months as a bit of an anomalous zone, without my ever getting a handle on what was around when, and for how long, and in relation to what. ‘Young, Gifted and Black’ was big, my first real exposure to reggae, but there was also this little oddball, a tune I was familiar with – it’s Ronald Binge’s ‘Elizabethan Serenade’, which only dates from 1951. I’m trumpeting my ignorance yet again, because I knew the melody and thought it was classical music, and I liked this version, even though I was barely able to tell this was different, and couldn’t understand why it wasn’t being played as often as I liked on Radio 1. Of course, it had originally been released as being by Byron Lee and The Dragonaires and I even got a cheap Shudehill Record Stalls copy with them on the label. Now I understand why, but I still like the melody.

The Man Who Sold The World                  Lulu

In 1974, five years after her last hit single, that atrocious piece of Sixties Eurovision, you’d have struggled to find a Bookie who would give you any odds whatsoever on Lulu turning into David Bowie. Hey, the next year, she tried to be George McCrae: can’t fault the wee Scots lassie from trying. Bowie obviously didn’t mind, he produced the Lulu version, arranging the song for a less dark and swirling guitar, decorating the melody with saxaphones and even adding very distinct backing vocals on the chorus. Needless to say, the very idea was considered blasphemy, but if it didn’t bother Mr Jones, who were we to object? Of course, it lacks a tenth of the dimension of the original, but I wasn’t familiar with the original back in 1974 and I was happy with this then. The CD’s only bona fide big hit, but if only she hadn’t covered up that lovely red hair with that panama hat…

Spinnin’ and Spinnin’            Syreeta

Soul just wasn’t my thing in the Seventies, but this beautiful rush of sweetness, written and performed by Stevie Wonder’s ex-wife Syreeta Wright and issued under just her first name was a glorious exception. It’s a heartfelt paean to love and being swept off your feet, matched a musical confection masterminded by Stevie at his most generous and rich. Ain’t never come down yet.

Don’t Touch Me There           The Tubes

For once, I’m including a B-side here, or to use early Seventies parlance that was out of date long before 1977, when The Tubes made their only brief excursion into the British singles chart, a maxi-single. Maxi-singles were hybrid 7”ers. EPs, or Extended Plays for the under twenty-fives here, were 7” vynil with four tracks, two on each side. They had their own, irrelevant charts but some sold well enough to have taken Top Ten places in the singles chart if they’d been included, as indeed they were in the New Musical Express Top Thirty. Maxi-singles came along in 1970, the biggest of them being Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’. The difference was that whilst you got an A-side, you got two, count them, two tracks on the B-side, and a hike in price. ‘Don’t Touch Me There’, a massively over-produced, gigantically melodramatic rock’n’roll spoof about masturbating your lady-friend, was one of two tracks backing up the equally spoof-titious ‘White Punks on Dope’, and was to my ears an extravanganza a million times as much fun. The Tubes were a satire on music, a great good, and this is a blast of disdainful energy wrapped in a disdainful wink. And there’s precedent for me elevating this track above it’s A-side, for Family’s classic ‘The Weaver’s Answer’ was just one of the three tracks on their ‘Strange Band’ maxi-single: ‘Strange Band’ was the A-side, but for once Radio 1 played the best track. Pity they didn’t do that for ‘Don’t Touch Me There’ but if you listen to what they’re singing…

Motor-Bikin’          Chris Spedding

Chris Spedding was a musician of high repute in the Seventies, a session guitarist in constant demand. In 1975, he decided to briefly front up with this modest Top Twenty single, a slightly out-dated rocker about exactly what the title says, motor-biking. The lyrics are a bit naff, and Spedding’s voice isn’t much better than average, but it’s a bit of fun, an injection of energy when energy was badly-needed, and a necessary reminder that there were some moments when a signpost to the future placed itself before you.

I Knew The Bride (When She Used to Rock’n’Roll)          Dave Edmunds

Then again, this is the real deal. It might be every bit as backwards-looking, to the days of rock’n’roll, as the Chris Spedding track is, but this Dave Edmunds single, the fourth to be released from his 1977 Get It album, came out in the summer of 1978, when Punk was being heard a lot more openly, instead of being only known through its vicious opposition. But ‘I Knew the Bride’, telling a regretful tale of a once-rebel-rousing young woman marrying a pillar of the community, looked both ways, being a bridge between the simplicity and power of what had once been and the rising tide that took that simplicity as its goal. It’s Rockpile again, just like the Nick Lowe song that heads this compilation. There wasn’t a punk band that could have recorded this song but there wasn’t a punk band that couldn’t take it as their own.

Kinnell Tommy             Ed Banger

You have to allow me my quirks sometimes. Ed Banger and The Nosebleeds sounds like a cheap Benny Hill parody but they were one of the earliest and crudest Manchester punk bands, producing the single ‘Ain’t Been to no Music School’ (by all accounts, no-one needed to be told that). Ed (Ed Garrity) then left the band and resurfaced in 1978 with this single, on Rabid Records, who had first hosted Jilted John. It’s a mainly piano and drums song, (if you stretch the word far enough) with some roughish guitar sweeps and an odd burst of synthesized sound over the extended coda. In front of this performance Ed shouts like an excitable football fan at a Sunday morning pub team game, which is what the silly but weirdly endearing thing is: Tommy is a useless centre forward who’s being encouraged along by the eternally optimistic Ed (we all know what he means by Kinnell) until the useless Tommy leathers a penalty over the bar at which point Ed turns on him with a torrent of inventive and clean abuse into the fade-out. It has to be heard to be believed, and you will most likely not want to ever listen to it again, but until you do, your imagination can’t ever say it’s been stretched! Incidentally, EMI picked this up just as they did ‘Jilted John’ but this one didn’t happen. Pity, I would have given a great deal for a clip of Ed doing this on Top of the Pops

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do             Neil Sedaka

For a while there, Neil Sedaka was back in the Seventies, in Britain at least. Aided and abetted by members of 10cc, producing at Strawberry Studios, he recorded a short string of Top Twenty singles, sophisticated, grown-up MOR Pop. This didn’t chart: despite the false start using the intro to the original, this is a complete deconstruction of the song and its reinvention as a slow, gentle, nightclub smoother. Lots of people hated it, clinging to the original. I had no such attachments, and liked it as it had become, though what it had become was outside the normal parameters of what I liked. On re-discovery, it’s no longer so appealing, but it stands as a marker in time of where I stood as I was coming out of my teens.

Shoes                 Reparata

A story of how sometimes obvious, massive hits-to-be become flops. Britain and I knew Reparata and The Delrons, a three-girl singing group, from their somewhat goofy 1968 hit ‘Captain of your Ship’ and nothing else, though Wikipedia confirms them as providing backing vocals on ‘Honky Tonk Women’. Actually, Reparata, lead singer Mary Aiese, left the group in 1970, when she married and became Mary O’Leary. She encouraged the two Delrons, the stone-cold gorgeous Nanette Licari and Lorraine Mazzola too carry on, with Mazzola becoming ‘Reparata’. Then, in late 1974, Reparata surfaced with this song. It lacks any conventional song structure, there are no choruses, and there’s a strong Greco-Italian-Turkish blend to it, especially in its fade, with balalaikas and handclaps and fades. The lyrics are about a big family wedding and the whole thing is a joyous romp. You imagine yourself doing one of those big step dances that precede line dances, as everyone gets happily drunk and the couple are in the middle. The radio loved it, everybody loved it, it was a sure-fire hit. And it peaked at no 43 and vanished. Long years later, I learned that it didn’t sell in the colossal numbers it deserved, not because I was once again out of step with the Great British Record-Buying Public but because there were no bloody copies to buy. Reparata was Mary O’Leary, but so too now was Lorraine Mazzola, whilst Reparata-Mary had recorded this whilst signed to one record company but released it under her new contract with another company. The twin legal actions forced a halt to pressings: by the time you could go out and buy it, time and the audience had moved on. A bloody shame. It still sounds perky, and more mature, a very long time after.

Quit this Town            Eddie and The Hot Rods

When I added ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ to the last compilation, I pointed out that people credit it to Eddie and The Hot Rods, which was the band’s permanent name, instead of The Rods, the name they took for that single only. For its follow-up, they reverted to their full name, and commercial obscurity. Which is a shame, because ‘Quit this Town’ was a cracking little bit of powerpop itself. Not quite as purely commercial a melody, the guitars not quite so ringing, and a crappily rough Top of the Pops live performance did the band no favours. The song peaked at no 36 in the Top Thirty era. It would have been more fun on the radio with this in heavy rotation.

Yes I Understand           The Flying Machine

The Flying Machine are a more than usual example of the Lost. The band formed in 1969 out of the ashes of Pinkerton’s, formerly Pinkerton’s Magic Colours, of ‘Mirror, Mirror’ fame, and had an American top 5 hit single, ‘Smile a Little Smile For Me’, that I don’t even remember hearing on the radio over here. Indeed, it’s only within the last decade I have heard of the band at all. ‘Yes I Understand’ was the last of their six singles. But I know the song very well indeed, and loved it tremendously in the only form I ever met it, adapted for a well-played TV commercial in 1971 as ‘Esso Understands’. It used to amaze me that a song like that wasn’t properly recorded as a single. Well, now I know.

Magic Man             Heart

This was the first single from the Wilson sister’s band’s debut album, Dreamboat Annie. I didn’t hear it until the follow up, ‘Crazy on You’ came out and I fell for its crazy rush of acoustic and electrics, it’s pace and power. I heard about ‘Magic Man but didn’t hear it until I bought the album, and I cursed not having known about it before, with its near-funk wriggle, its sinuous melody and its lyrics that, for me at that still-immature age, weren’t quite open enough for me to recognise that Ann Wilson was explaining to her critical mother why she’d had to hop into bed with this Magic Man. The chicks looked hot, even through the layers of midi-length dresses and knee-length boots that were the prevailing fashions in 1977, but though the cover of the second album was gorgeous, the music had lost any spark that Dreamboat Annie possessed. Ten years later, when ‘Alone’ was big, I read a profile that gave Nancy Wilson’s age as 23. I then came across a copy of that first album, and couldn’t help but think how well-developed Nancy was… as a guitarist, I mean… for a supposed 13 year old.

White Lies, Blue Eyes         Silver Bullit

There wasn’t really a band called Silver Bullit. In America they were Bullitt, but in England there was Bullet so for this slice of strident blue-eyed soul-pop, the band needed a new name. The song leads with its chorus, no intro, which made it hard to tape off the radio and necessitated me buying the single, on special order from the local shop. Springy bass, a raucous lead, brass and a slicing guitar solo, it hit me where it hit, but there was a narrowness to the production that I think worked against the strong. Nevertheless, on minimal airplay it got to no 41 over here. An inferior follow up called ‘Willpower Weak, Temptation Strong’ suggested a penchant for four word, commaed titles, but I heard nothing more of the band. This is still a decent legacy for a one-off, though.

If you can’t give me love            Suzi Quatro

Truthfully, I never liked Suzi Quatro, except for one unexpected bikini photo in the Sun. She and her band were the arse-end of the Chinnichap era (if you ask your grandparents, they’ll most likely box your ears) and dire stuff it was by then, but this laconic, semi-acoustic 1978 flop caught some of us off-guard by featuring a melody and some husky-voiced singing as opposed to shrieking. Admittedly, it sounds like a foretaste of Smokie at this remove, which piles up even more minus points, but I liked it then and that buys it a place here.

The Six Teens         The Sweet

Speaking of Chinnichap…
Nowadays, we cower at the words Stock, Aitkin and especially Pete Waterman, most often when they, or rather he, compare themselves to Motown. The more accurate comparison was to the early-Seventies team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, writers and producers of the likes of Mud, Suzi Quatro, Smokie and New World (you don’t remember New World? Stay that way). But their first and biggest success was with The Sweet, starting with ultra lightweight stuff like ‘Funny Funny’ and ‘Co-Co’. But, and it’s funny to think of this, The Sweet had their own mind, even if it was only one between them. They wanted to be taken seriously, play heavier music. Chinnichap let them start to orient their sound more towards fuzzbox guitars, then gave their head – within limits – with a genuinely raucous sound on massive hits like ‘Blackbuster’, ‘Ballroom Blitz’ and ‘Teenage Rampage’. I hated them all, of course, though I’ve softened a great deal towards ‘Ballroom Blitz’. That wasn’t enough for the boys and there came a parting of the ways, allowing the band to write their own material. ‘The Six Teens’ was the first demonstration of that. In sound, it’s no different, and it’s typical of the mid-Seventies in that any notion of a simple, straightforward melody is abandoned consciously. It’s herky jerky and awkward and comes complete with an egregious change of speed for the last verse chorus, throws in some quasi-operatic stuff from bassist Steve Priest and teenage angst lyrics of stunning obscurity.
In all, it’s an object lesson in how not to establish yourself, but back then I liked it for its conspicuous effort, and when Chinnichap ruled the world, or the British bit of it anyway, you learned to enjoy anything that consciously rejected it.

I don’t need to tell her               The Lurkers

…or, Dumb Punk with a decent melody. Plonking good stuff.

Language School               The Tours

In that long ago conversation down the pub that I referenced in relation to ‘Get Over You‘, this was the record I was thinking of when I said that some bands have only got three minutes of genius in them. ‘Language School’ was the title track on an EP by The Tours, but if Peely played any of the other tracks, I don’t remember them. Hell, I bought the record, and if I played any of the other tracks, I still don’t remember them. But this track is good enough for me, a straightforward, punchy song, delivered over a booming bassline and no complexity whatsoever. You could ask for more, but in the summer of 1978 I wanted no more than this.

Map Reference 41°N 93°W            Wire

Wire were, and still are, Wire, a law unto themselves, the deliberately strange, too weird to be called offbeat, though in another generation that would have been the first thought in anyone’s head. But though they deliberately ignored the conventions of song-structure most of the time, when they chose to work within them, they could come up with something seriously brilliant, like this. I’ve no more idea what this song is about, and you can be sure that it’s title appears nowhere within the lyrics, but there’s a rhythm pulsing at the right rate and the chorus insinuates itself into your ears with gorgeous harmonies until you can’t help yourself joining in. And even when you read the lyrics you’re no wiser, but that chorus pins you to the map once again.

The Day The World Turned Day-Glo                   X-Ray Spex

Lastly, we have X-Ray Spex again. The same words apply, this time to a fantastic vision of plastic colours and products. The degree of restraint, or rather the channelling of fantasies into a less lubricious direction permitted Radio 1 to play this enough for the band to get into the Top Thirty and onto Top of the Pops. Such days, now gone, but forever missed.