Hello again. Volume 16 of my first personal compilation series has been in CD format for a few months already without my providing a commentary/ reminiscence upon it, but the time has come at last. This compilation feels a little more tendentious than usual, with no less than five of its 23 tracks being ones that I suspect I never heard at the time. As is now almost traditional, there are five songs that were actual hits, three of then top ten successes, though I would still class them as ‘lost’, their time overlooked, their influence negligible. One of them I couldn’t stand at the time. Join me as once again I dip my tow in that most lost of decades.
Apache Drop-out The Edgar Broughton Band
1970 was the year I started listening to Radio 1. Back then, the nation’s premier pop channel was still heavily restricted in air-time, and even more so in needle-time. Radio 1 only had independent existence between 7.00 – 9.00am, 12.00 – 2.00pm, 4.15 – 7.00pm. The rest of the time, it merged with Radio Two, broadcasting their programmes simultaneously. Things only marginally improved when the new Sounds of the Seventies strand was detached from the end of the day’s programming and expanded to two hours, 10.00pm – 12.00, to avoid contaminating the rest of the airwaves. Probably I could have heard this single, a near Top 30 success from a band of open Anarchists and Satanists (their other near-miss was with ‘Out Demons Out’), on Sounds of the Seventies, but I was still at the point where I liked Herman’s Hermits’ last top 10 hit (thankfully, I grew out of that within a year) so there was a bit of cultural dissonance in the way. Instead, with the year collapsing in the first of the early Seventies’ Miners’ Strikes, and powercuts, we would gather round a candle in the breakfast room, my battery-powered transistor radio the only source of entertainment, though my mother would have begged to doubt that. Crackling, popping, hissing, fading in and out, I discovered Radio Luxembourg, Fabulous 208. I first heard Lindisfarne, ‘Clear White Light (Part 2)’ gliding in and out of the static through them. I also heard ‘Apache Dropout’, a raucous, raw, croaky thumper of a rock song, punctuated by bright, sparkling, shiny intrusions of the riff from The Shadows’ ‘Apache’, picked out with contrasting clarity that bore no relation to the rest of the song, for whatever purpose it was chosen. It’s too late to question now, and my ears have finally learned to cope with the Broughtons being the Broughtons, but those almost hallucinatory moments of salute (?) to Hank Marvin are still as pellucid as ever and I cannot hear them without imagining that huddle round the table, just the three of us, where so recently there had been four.
Rainy Day Susan Christie
At the beginning of the Seventies, Susan Christie seemed ready to make it. On the evidence of this single, she had the voice to do so. If I ever did hear it then, it was not enough times for it to register with me, and I probably lacked the sophistication to have appreciated it then. But it didn’t happen for her, then or since. A sweet, sad song, the fact that I didn’t discover it for over forty years should not, I think, disqualify it from exclusion. It was from the Seventies. It, and Ms Christie, were lost. One for what should, in a better musical universe, have been a memory.
Sweet Inspiration Johnny Johnson and The Bandwagon
This, on the other hand, was not lost, but rather was the first of the top ten hits in this volume. The Bandwagon had had a rollicking hit in early 1969 with a Northern Soul charger, ‘Breaking down the Walls of Heartache’, not that I was then aware of such a thing. By the time of this late 1970 follow-up, singer Johnny Johnson had taken the Motown step of promoting his name before that of the band, though this, I am led to believe, was due to the fact that, by this point, the Bandwagon was whatever collection of session musicians and live players Mr Johnson chose to muster around him. Not having really attuned to soul – though I was well into Jimmy Ruffin that first year, thanks to three consecutive hit reissues, and generally well-disposed towards most of the Motown I heard – I hated this record at the time, but thoroughly enjoyed Mr J’s third and last hit, ‘Blame it on the Pony Express’, in 1971. Now, my opinions are reversed. Johnny’s singing, though still carrying the ragged edge of the soul/blues shouter, is smoother here, more restrained, in this tribute to a woman who, though not offering him the love he seeks, nevertheless inspires him to making music. It’s a combination he wants to change, but for the moment he’ll take what he has. And if gaining means losing, well, you know he’ll live with it. Some prizes mean more than others.
Stone Cross Springwater
Springwater, as those who care about such things already know, was one of a number of pseudonyms for the late Sheffield-born singer/musician/songwriter, Phil Cordell, one of those quirky talents for whom the music business, or maybe even the Universe, ought to be rewritten to ensure them the prominence they deserve. Springwater gave Cordell his only commercial success, with ‘I Will Return’ (elsewhere in this series), a hazy, dreamy instrumental, self-recorded for £25 (which included the reel-to-reel tape recorder) in a Sheffield flat, which went top 10 in the late summer of 1971. It led to an album of instrumentals, from which a rather more guitar-driven version of ‘Jerusalem’ (also elsewhere in this series) as an unsuccessful single that caught my ear in 1972 and has stayed a favourite ever since. In the 2000’s, I used Auction Sniper for the only time ever to snaffle the CD version of the album off eBay, enabling me to do a digital rip of ‘Jerusalem’ and its awesome b-side, ‘Amazing Grace’. There was nothing else on the album sufficiently distinctive for me then, so I sold it, for a profit. But in the years since, I’ve heard more of Cordell (his single, ‘Red Lady’ is justifiably highly-rated) and become more impressed. ‘Stone Cross’ was ‘I Will Return’s b-side and, as such, stretches the increasingly elastic definitions for Lost 70s near to breaking point, but at times it feels like I’m compiling albums from an alternate universe where things were better than ours (no Osmonds, no David Cassidy, no Gary Glitter: that’s my idea of a Lost 70s). Call it Earth-2, if you like.
Just an Old-Fashioned Lovesong Paul Williams
Another obscure memory delivered to me by the brilliant Marmalade Rainbow website, which sadly has not been updated for years). Their entry put me in a quandary: as well as the original by composer Williams, they reminded me of the successful (in America) cover by Three Dog Night, which was sufficiently close in arrangement, and vocal texture, as to defeat my attempt to recall which version I most recalled. Certainly I heard both in that amazing summer of 1971 – yes, that year again – when it seems Radio 1 must have played more wonderful but unsuccessful curiosities than in the whole of the rest of the Seventies put together. ‘Just an Old-Fashioned Love Song’ obeys its own rules, a fragile voice over a back slowly gathering in strength, an oddly compulsive hook that ultimately chose to eschew the Carpenters-like sweetness that might have brought sales but which would have condemned the song to being ordinary. Either way, it’s long forgotten now, except in the minds of those of us wondering just what the hell was in the water that year, but it arrives here because it took the artistically more daring choice.
Caroline Goodbye Colin Blunstone
And speaking of 1971… ‘Caroline Goodbye’ was criminally underplayed. It marked the reappearance of Colin Blunstone after the disintegration of the Zombies, after the Neil McArthur episode. It was the lead single off the One Year album, a cycle of songs about Blunstone’s recent life, and told of the breakdown of his relationship with the shortly to be massively-in-demand model, Caroline Munro. This brought down condemnation of his temerity from Dan Hamilton of Hamilton, Joe Franks & Reynolds (whose ‘Don’t pull your love’ single, previously featured in this series, shortly followed ‘Caroline Goodbye’) who was Munro’s new bloke and who seemed to think that only he was now entitled to write about her. Well, he didn’t come up with anything that had the quiet beauty and dignity of this song. Over a plain, strummed acoustic guitar intro (talked over to its last chord) Blunstone’s high, breathy voice entered, wistfully acknowledging the fact of Munro’s increasing public profile and success, before lamenting his own blindness to the end of things between them. A drum and piano provide sturdy backing as he deals with his loss with austere regret: No use pretending, I’ve known for a long time your love was ending. Caroline Goodbye. The British stiff upper lip in loss of someone you still love, made musical heaven for being so free of (apparent) pain. But listen to Blunstone’s voice, not his words. That torch was far from being extinguished. Even I could hear it. But not the Great British Record Buying Public.
Gonna Miss Her, Mississippi White Plains
What’s the year again? 1971? I would never have guessed. This was another flop. White Plains, who’d begun as one of the many Tony Burrows vehicles in early 1970, had originally been The Flowerpot Men and later mutated into First Class (see below). Their personnel and their musical style was constantly changing. In 1971, they scored a top 20hit with the curiously sophisticated ‘When you are a King’, climbing to no 13. ‘Gonna Miss Her, Mississippi’ took the same approach but didn’t get any backing from Radio 1, so that was the end of that vein: the band’s fifth and final top 30 single was a remake of a TV Butlins’ commercial soundtrack, in a wildly different vein. Not too much blood in this vein, but I still like the effort.
Sit Yourself Down Stephen Stills
Guess the year. Go on. Yes, you’re right. ‘Sit yourself down’, a downtempo song, rich in sound, with a yearning chorus, was the follow-up to Stills’ almost-hit, ‘Love the one you’re with’. Less immediate in its appeal, I’m not sure it isn’t the better of the two, though I lost it in my head for a very long time, only to recognise it in an instant when it appear d on a YouTube sidebar. Lyrically, its the complete opposite: Stills is alone and needs love and a fellow-heart, not sex whilst he’s out of town on his old lady. It’s an older, braver song, with a gospel tinge to its compelling chorus, which the choir, not Steve sings, and a contemplative heart that looks outwards to the future. There are no roses in fisted gloves here, though there is a debatable bit of companionship with an otherwise unmentioned raven, but by then you’re grooving quietly and hoping for the song not to end.
The Free Electric Band Albert Hammond
The next batch of songs come from 1973, starting with this vigorous shout out to music, free love and living from Albert Hammond that gave him his only UK hit, a single top 20 week. He’s still better known for the previous year’s ‘It never rains in Southern California’ which got airplay but no sales. At this distance, and given that commitment and fidelity has always been the underpinning of relationships for me, not to mention the knowledge that Hammond was a commercial songwriter jointly responsible for the majority of the songs in the ‘Oliver in the Underworld’ serial in Freddie Garrity’s Little Big Time on children’s ITV in 1970, I have my doubts about this song. Over strident acoustic guitar and a smattering of synthesizer, Hammond bellows out a raucous song with a jerky melody about rebelling against bourgeois American parents and their attempts to pigeonhole him in safe, conventional careers, when all he wants is bread, water and the free electric band. So far I’m with him, in theory if not in practice, but when he gets onto the girl from Berkeley that he’s shagging without ever getting into her head, and leaving her the moment he realises she wants something so square as a home and a life with him, my appreciation of the free spirit takes a turn down a different road. The song’s still got a joyous bounce to it that I appreciate both in memory as well as today and, yeah, it should have done better. You poor, benighted fools.
Afterglow Flo & Eddie
‘Afterglow’ the original is one of my favourite Small Faces songs but I heard it first here in this 1973 cover by Flo & Eddie (aka The Phlorescent Leech & Eddia, aka Howard Kaylan and MarkVolman of The Turtles, whose work I love). It didn’t get much airplay, I never had the chance to record it until it swam out of the YouTube depths this year, and it doesn’t do too much radical to the original other than transplant Flo & Eddie’s falsetto register vocals in for Steve Marriott’s white-boy’s blues voice, but it introduced me to a song that I still burst to sing along to, anthemically. Thanks, guys!
Skywriter The Jackson Five
I never liked The Jackson Five. By now, you ought to know that I believe any such general statement comes with the automatic caveat ‘except for the ones I do like’. I’ll happily admit that their fourth single, ‘I’ll Be There’, is a glorious, early exception to that rule. But the Jackson Five I was first introduced to was that of those first three, virtually identikit singles, starting with ‘I want you Back’. Let other argue their merits, in a year of Motown re-releases almost all of which I liked to one degree or another, these were a noisy, shapeless intrusion beyond my comprehension, and bearable today only through the mesh of nostalgia. ‘Skywriter’, which came out in 1972, was a minor hit that never even got to be a single in America, was a minor miracle of a strong, almost strident song, driven by a melody focussed through the clavinet – an instrument that fascinated me then and now – and phase-tinged harmonies. Michael’s solo lines were far less interesting but there was enough closely-focussed and punchy, pacey ensemble lines to put them in the minority. In the end, it’s the instrumentation and the arrangement, out of character for the band, that sold me on ‘Skywriter’. But where I liked it, the public didn’t. ‘Twas pretty much ever thus in that decade.
Hello, it’s me Todd Rundgren
In 1972, and again in 1973, Radio 1 deservedly bust a gut trying to play ‘I Saw the Light’ past no 35 in the top 30. They didn’t make anything like the effort for this mid-tempo song about carefully establishing a difference between the singer and his girl, even though this was Rundgren’s biggest American hit by far. It’s a delicate, contemplative melody whose lyrics I have never really listened too closely too, having been seduced by the sound and Rundgren”s plangent voice. Having given myself time to look closely at these, I find myself unable to decide whether this is a song eschewing possessiveness and over-influencing the person you’re with, committing to their freedom, or whether this as cynical a case of ‘have your cake and eat it’ as ‘Love the one you’re with’. Rundgren sings that he ‘never wants to make (her) change for me’ but that’s bullshit: we change the people we become close to by being close to them, just as they change us, whether we want to or not. That’s the heart of any successful relationship. Is this the times speaking, or is it conscious bullshit? That’s for Rungren to know and us to speculate. Don’t let the beauty of the music cloud your mind whilst you decide.
Hello Hurray Alice Cooper
We all remember ‘School’s Out’, practically the most perfect pop/rock single on 1972. I still remember ‘Alice’ and the schoolgirl at the end of the Top of the Pops performance, he in his make-up and leathers and she, in multi-layered, twee, maxi-length stuff, a world away, giggling at his mock menace, grabbing and pulling up her hair. If there was ever any suggestion that Alice Cooper meant what he stood for, or was the threat to us pop-kids the tabloids wanted to believe he was, it was dispelled then. Alice was a joke, and we were in on it. The problem was that the joke only had so much momentum, and it died from that point on. The band had five UK hits in eighteen months, each one peaking at a lower point, enjoying a shorter run, sliding away. ‘Hello Hurray’ was the middle one,an attempt at a classy sound, Spector-esque at its thinnest, at ballad pace without any balladic aspects, unless you counted the contrast to the first two, pure, raucous showpieces. It was still theatre, Alice the ringmaster coming out as host. I like it still, though it means nothing when placed against ‘School’s Out’. Alice had the depth of a puddle, but we all dived in and splashed until we were soaked.
Skylab The Ventures
I was still picking my Single of the Week, and this was one of them. It was the modern day equivalent to The Tornados’ ‘Telstar’, though Skylab was no match for Telstar and became more famous for crashing to Earth nine years later, though thankfully not in any populated area. I never heard this more than once, and picked it more because I loved ‘Telstar’ than loved ‘Skylab’. The next time I heard it again was on YouTube this year, and I can’t believe it’s by the Ventures, or that this was the one I heard so long ago, but nobody’s uploaded a different version yet. The ones that were hardest to hear back then still deserve a place when they become easier to access.
Tell Me What You Want Jimmy Ruffin
I mentioned Jimmy Ruffin above, and those three differing re-issues from 1970, reaching successively no 8, no 7 and no 6. For no apparent reason, other than that Radio 1 didn’t seem interested in playing it, his next single did nothing. In 1974, a re-issued ‘What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted’ became his most successful British hit, reaching no 4, and dragging a re-re-issued ‘Farewell is a Lonely Sound’, my first and favourite of his songs, back as far as no 30. Ruffin was no longer with Motown by this time, and tried to get back into the act with this shuffling little smoothie of a love song, that I remember as a big, top 10 hit, but that was just my imagination: in real life, it spent one week at no 39, the week after ‘Farewell is a Lonely Sound’ peaked. It’s a song on the edge of disco, with its feet firmly in a deeper kind of soul than you got from Motown, and I listen to this and think this is a guy who should have been absolutely bloody massive. Is it me? Am I the kiss of death, with my out of the way preferences? I have to wonder.
Help Me Joni Mitchell
On the other hand, there was simply no chance of this charting. With the exception of ‘Big Yellow Taxi’, which owes its hit status to 1970 being a transitional year where nobody had any real idea what was happening in music, Joni Mitchell has never come over on pop radio over here (though I had a loving fondness for ‘Carey’), and by 1974, when she was beginning to slide into an increasing sophistication, and blurring lines with jazz, there was nothing in this song that could pin itself to British ears. Nevertheless, the new Manchester Commercial Radio Station, Piccadilly Radio, was smarter and hipper than Radio 1 by a street mile (in 1974, the year Woolworth’s record sales became part of the pool for chart returns, there were three-toed sloths in the jungle that were smarter and hipper than Radio 1). This isn’t my kind of music, too jazz, Mitchell’s vocal slidings too removed from the kind of straight singing I still favoured. But this loose, leggy song about the perils of loving someone so not good for you worked its way into my head, though I didn’t understand a note of it, and I loved its freedom.
Sundown Gordon Lightfoot
I’ve included Gordon Lightfoot twice before in this series. He’s been a long-standing success, first as songwriter then as singer himself, in Canada and America, but has made very little impact in the UK. ‘Sundown’ was the second of only four singles to show in the top 40, and was his biggest American hit, reaching no 1. It’s perhaps the simplest of those songs of his to take a place oin my memories. Sundown is one of those women with improbable names that occur all over rock and pop and folk music, in the places where this forms meet, merge and take from one another. She’s in the great tradition of temptresses, one that Lightfoot wants to keep at arm’s length whilst simultaneously drawn to her. He signs the opening couplet to each verse alone, but the rest of the song is swamped in voices., lifting and supporting. ‘If I could read your mind’ was a song about his marriage disintegrating marriage, fuelled by infidelity on the road. ‘Sundown’ comes from the road, when you get feelin’ better when you’re feelin’ no pain. With a song like this, it’s easy to understand why.
The Show Must Go On Three Dog Night
One of the reasons I went for Paul Williams above is that I knew I had this in my pocket. Yes, it’s that Leo Sayer that exploded on us in January 1974, with the pierrot costume and make-up and those on-the-spot movements. Absolutely loved it from the moment I first heard it, was fascinated by the movements on Top of the Pops, tried to imitate it. Loathe it now, and all his works, a change of heart that began with one nastily written and delivered line in ‘Moonlighting’. Three Dog Night had the hit in America, turning the arrangement into a more conventional form, adding the cliché of carnival music into the mix and, crucially, changing the key line from ‘Won’t let the show go on’ to ‘Must…’. Yes, in every respect, a much lesser version, and one I barely got to hear a handful of times then. I think it’s because it doesn’t strain so desperately to be ‘quirky’ that I can listen to this now.
Dreams are Ten a Penny First Class
Whilst The Flowerpot Men more or less mutated into the original White Plains, a change of name being considered necessary, there was no similar transformation between White Plains and First Class, who were more a regathering of old singers, Tony Burrows among them. ‘Beach Baby’ was a nice, retro-sounding, bouncing pop tune that, off the sonic back of the Rubettes’ ‘Sugar Baby Love’, made the top 20 in 1974. It was Burrows’ last hit. ‘Dreams are Ten a Penny’ repeated the formula two singles later. It got no airplay. It’s another of those songs I never heard till this year. You could have swapped it with ‘Beach Baby’ and it would probably have charted at that specific time, which goes to show how much certain things have their moment, and it comes but once. The Sixties were long gone.
So Very Hard To Go Tower of Power
I know very little of Tower of Power and have never knowingly heard anything else by them but this 1973 single, their biggest American hit. It’s a slow, torchy song, muted and smooth, with beautiful horn-lines underlining the singer’s acceptance that he’s failed his girl, and she no longer wants him, and I heard it maybe a half dozen times, enough to like it, and not enough to get bored with it, or even properly digested then. Such was the way with the non-playlisted tracks, that might be heard maybe once a week, and only if you listened all the time, non-stop would you catch it. This deserved better. We deserved better.
(I Want To See The) Bright Lights Julie Covington
I’ve always loved this song, from first hearing the sad, deliberately downbeat Richard and Linda Thompson original. The Julie Covington cover is something I’d never heard until this year, and it’s got a good, uptempo, forcefulness to it that’s appealing to the ear, but I include it here mostly as an example of how badly Ms C misinterprets the song. She’s taking its words at face value and singing to the surface, whereas the jollity of the song is a forced jollity, shot through with an underlying exhaustion that the singer’s claims that she wants entertainment, and to play hard on her minimal time off never shakes off. The Thompsons were looking for the bright lights, Julie Covington is dancing under them, and it’s the difference between a classic and an inconsequential romp.
Five O’Clock in the Morning Godley & Creme
I was heavily into 10cc once upon a time, and the only version of the band I still recognise is the original Creme/Godley/Gouldman/Stewart line-up. Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left the band in 1976, leaving behind their poorest album (until the next one) in order to develop their great new musical invention, the Gizmo. The Gizmo was going to revolutionise music. It was a small box that you clamped over your guitar strings at the bottom of the neck which, by pressing the relevant button, you could apply a turning wheel to your string, creating an unending note, like a bagpipes’ drones. To demonstrate the Gizmo’s potential, they wrote and recorded a triple disc concept album, with dialogue/commentary from Peter Cook, called Consequences. The album flopped, the Gizmo was never taken up by anyone else. ‘Five o’clock in the morning’ was released as a single and the duo got a Top of the Pops live appearance based solely on being Godley & Creme rather than any sign the record was selling. It should have sold. I’d forgotten how beautiful it sounded, now fresh the ‘I’m Not In Love’ style multiple harmonies still sound. If there’s any Gizmo on this track, I can’t hear it. Just a piece of gentle delight.
Baby Baby The Vibrators
And lastly, the obligatory reminder that punk came in and saved us all before the Seventies slid under the slagheaps. At least, that’s how I saw it then, and those few years, coinciding with my first independence, living in Nottingham, learning the first elements of a much-needed self-confidence, is still the most musically energetic, enthusiastic and sheer bloody fun years of my life. The Vibrators were never a part of that: ‘Baby Baby’, slower, a bit more sophisticated, would have been and gone on Peely’s show before I had the sense to listen to it. Still, it’s nice to know there are still new songs in that time to be drawn out of the Lost ether.
Until the next one (in preparation)…