The Infinite Jukebox: William Bell & Judy Clay’s ‘Private Number’

A long time ago, in a land more wonderful and fair than the one in which we live, even if it was the Seventies, there was a Radio 1 DJ called Johnnie Walker.
Like practically all the DJs up till then, Walker (real name Peter Dingley) was a veteran of the Pirates. He had been excluded from the initial and early intakes because he had been considerably more militant about the Pirate cause/principles, especially when they were shut down, and had to serve a period of effective quarantine.
In 1972, he was given the Radio 1 lunchtime slot, originally 1.00 – 3.00pm, later 12.00 – 2.00pm Monday to Friday. Walker brought a relaxed, laidback style to things but, more individually, he brought something that the other daytime DJs didn’t: he was into the music!
You can just imagine.
Walker’s ‘gimmicks’ were all, therefore, based around the music. There was the ‘Number One at One’, a different Number 1 record every day at 1.00pm, including the new no.1 on Tuesdays, a track from the no. 1 album, an historic no. 1 and the no. 1 in America, on various days. He also offered ‘Pop the Question’.
This was a daily music quiz, following directly on from the Number One at One. You wrote in to be considered then, at about 11.00am on the day, you would get a phone call from the BBC, checking your availability from about 12.35pm onwards. It was a Tuesday.
They’d phone you back then, do all the necessary checks for sound-levels etc, with you as Challenger to the existing Champion. Then, at about five past one, you were on air, talking to Radio 1s multi-million listenership, as Johnnie tried to coax a bright, cheerful, bubbly, un-nervous-as-hell response out of you: yeah, some hope from seventeen year old me.
The quiz took the form of alternate questions, based on the top 30, Champion first. There was an easy round, one question each. You picked a number between 21 and 30, both answered it, and went to the medium questions, numbers 11 to 20. One question, one answer each, and it was into the Top 10, the hard questions.
This time it was like the sudden death phase of a penalty shoot-out, backwards and forwards, until all ten questions were asked and, if the score was still level, it went to a tie-breaker. The winner won an LP token (£5) and stayed on until the next day, the loser won a single token (50p). Originally, winners could stay on as long as they kept winning, but after a number of winners who stayed on for over a fortnight, the rules were changed to limit Champions to a five day stay.
I was on on a Tuesday. I wanted to tape the performance, but my mother had arranged to take my sister and her friend swimming, and they would be out when I was on air. I tried lugging my reel-to-reel tape recorder downstairs into the hall, as far as possible whilst still within reach of the record button, connected to my transistor radio, but the feedback would have blown everything, so my appearance was lost to posterity.
I won though. I was the Pop the Question Champion!
The next day, it was all different. Not the set-up process, but at least I had family on hand to record my second broadcast.
We got through the easy round with no difficulties. As Champion, I selected first in the Medium Round. “With which female singer,” Johnnie asked, “did William Bell have a top 10 hit in 1969 with the song ‘Private Number’?”
My heart sunk. 1969 might only have been four years earlier, but anything before that crucial cut-off line of 1 January 1970 was entirely dependent upon Radio 1’s golden oldie policy. Which was diverse and enthusiastic and prolific but which, if it had even included ‘Private Number’, had only been once or twice in my hearing. I did not know the answer.
And this wasn’t one of those in-there-if-only-I-could-force-it-to-surface don’t knows but a straight up-and-down haven’t got a ******* clue don’t knows (I didn’t use the kind of language represented by all those asterisks back then, and certainly not anywhere within a blast radius of thirty miles, which was about how far my mother could hear me swear).
I sat on our telephone table seat throbbing with ignorance. I did have one name in my head: from somewhere I had come up with the surname ‘Hutch’. But could I conjure up a first name? Could I b*****y.
It must have been obvious to the entire nation that I was drowning vertically, but I had to sit there, frantically trying to induce something – anything – to come out of the black hole between my ears. Eventually, though, Johnnie had no option but to put the clock on me, a ten second countdown. At the end of it, I had nothing. I had Hutch and, at the uttermost end of my tether I guessed wildly: “Judy Hutch?”
“Oh!” Johnnie said, in obvious sympathy. “You’re so close but I can’t give you that. It’s actually Judy Clay.”
I couldn’t believe it. I had the name Hutch, I was half-convinced it was right and it was wrong. I’d guessed a girl’s name completely at random and of all the names I could have guessed, I only went and guessed the right bleedin’ one! Is this fair? Is this fair, my little ones, is this fair?
All I had left was the faint hope that my challenger would get the same kind of not-really-a-medium question as I had but she got a straight bat into the long grass job about the name of the Sunday morning programme Brian Matthew then presented (‘My Top Twelve’), which she duly delivered, toppling me. I was done, I was fiddled, it wasn’t fair. I’m not still bitter and twisted about it, forty five years on, honestly.
I have never since forgotten just who it was who sang ‘Private Number’ with William Bell in 1969.
And I’d love to hate the record bitterly, but it’s a genuinely enjoyable piece of light pop-soul with a wistful theme, a fluid chorus and some glorious slow horns.

The Infinite Jukebox: Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane’

Music, and how you respond to it, is an ever-changing process, though sometimes, and in some people, the changes are very slow and next to impossible to see. But how you react to something when you are eighteen, and how you react when you are, for instance, sixty, are likely to be very different things. Sometimes, the difference between twenty-three and thirty-five can be just as big a gulf.
At the back end of 1976, and increasingly through 1977, I found myself unexpectedly enthused about Punk and New Wave. It was difficult to get to hear much of it, since it was not exactly espoused enthusiastically by Piccadilly Radio. My lack of awareness of what was around me was a massive factor in me only becoming belatedly aware, in early 1978, that I could actually get to hear this stuff by listening to John Peel, five nights a week between 10.00pm and midnight. A more than satisfying discovery.
It was a timely move since, at the end of March that year, I moved to Nottingham for the next two years. Quite early on, I made two unwelcome musical discoveries. One was that a clear and listenable 247metres MW connection to Radio 1 was practically non-existent (when the station moved to the split frequencies of 275 and 285m, later that year, it wasn’t much better), throwing me on the mercies of Radio Trent, and the other was that whereas Manchester had been a punk city, Nottingham firmly wasn’t.
If it weren’t for Peely…
Those were the halcyon days when Uncle John was on five nights a week. Unfortunately, that only lasted to the back end of summer 1979, when the BBC decided to take Friday night away and hand it to Tommy Vance, for what became the Friday Night Rock Show.
It wasn’t immediately apparent what music we were to get, not in advance, so come the first Friday night, I tuned in as usual, ready to be impressed, if that we possible. I lasted about twenty minutes.
By far and away the best six minutes of that period was the playing of Neil Young’s ‘Like a Hurricane’. I was not particularly familiar with Neil Young in those days, apart from ‘Heart of Gold’, and when it started, I liked the sound. I liked the guitars, I liked Young’s voice, and of course the yearning chorus is great.
But then the solo started. And went on. And on. And on. And on (this is maybe up to about the three to four minute mark). It just lasted forever, and by the time it ended, I’d gotten bored with it. Not like Punk and New Wave, which got in, made its mark, and got out before you had time to get tired of it. Shame, really. I turned 24, later that year.
Move on now to 1990, in which year I turned 35. Still, in my eyes, a young man. Still at heart besotted with the short, fast song that didn’t hang around long enough to get tedious. That year, after an apparent creative slump that had lasted most of the Eighties, Young came back with the album ‘Ragged Glory’, with Crazy Horse.
I can’t remember what first attracted it to me, but the plain fact was that I bought the CD and, despite it having more than the one song that lasted in the region of ten minutes, most of it guitar solo, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and it kick-started a Neil Young phase that, over the next five years or so, saw me gradually accumulate all his albums, which I enjoyed to various degrees.
One of the earliest of those albums to follow ‘Ragged Glory’ was the 1991 2CD live album ‘Weld’ (but not the limited edition ‘Arc-Weld’ with the additional 25 minute disc of compiled and collected guitar feedback!) I’ve disposed of all but a handful of Young’s albums now, but ‘Weld’ is amongst those I’ve kept, and principally it’s for the version of ‘Like a Hurricane’ on Disc 2.
We’re years on from Punk and New Wave. We were a decade or so beyond it when I bought ‘Weld’, but my favourite band was still R.E.M., whose reputation was made and back then still rested on the lineament of the classic song: bass, jangly guitar and drums, and three-part harmony choruses. I was still a very long way from even tolerating the polyphonic sonic sprees of the Prog Rock Seventies.
But the Eighties was also the decade when I first began seriously listening to classical music, the decade when I began educating myself towards enjoying pieces of music that lasted longer than three to four minutes. I don’t know if that was the fact that began to bend my mind back towards tolerating, and then enjoying longer pieces of rock music. But something did.
Some of it was that Young is still both an utterly passionate musician, still a creative powerhouse, and still at heart a simple, out-and-out rocker. His longer tracks don’t invite me to go through the artificial structures of Prog, the self-conscious virtuosity. It’s rock, Jim, exactly as I know it. It just goes on a bit longer and it no longer makes me feel time is passing in unforgivably large chunks.
Either way, the difference is in me, and it’s the difference between finding the six minute studio version of ‘Like a Hurricane’ to be too long in 1979, and deciding in 1991 that my favourite Neil Young track is the 14 minute live version from ‘Weld’…

An hour of Radio One

I haven’t listened to Radio One for an hour’s stretch – actually, nearly ninety minutes – since I can’t remember which decade. Long, long ago, I decided that it was not offering anything desirable to a man of my generation and that it was no longer playing any music aimed at someone like me.

This afternoon, after doing a mini-shift to pay back the time allowed me on Friday evening, I went straight round the corner to the Barbers, where I had to wait over an hour just to get into the chair.

An hour of Radio One, of somebody called Greg James. An hour of nothing but dance music, barring one quasi-rock song, with varying degrees of tune to it, but not what you’d call music, not really, it’s just noise. An hour of being my mother and father, except that I was aware I was thinking exactly the same things they thought fifty years ago, and that I was not saying them aloud.

But I was thinking them loudly.

Never again. I’ll have to find another Barbers, for reasons other than the music I hasten to add, though it is a factor. I don’t want to replay the past that much, certainly not the bits where I have to move over to the other side of the ride.

Whatever happened to Mark’n’Lard?

The Infinite Jukebox – Teenage Kicks

Some records never age. The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ was released in the summer of 1978 as the title track of a four track EP released on the local Derry label, Good Vibrations. The ‘Tones, John O’Neill and his brother Damien, Micky Bradley, Billy Doherty and Feargal Sharkey, sent a copy to John Peel, at the BBC in England, and followed it up with phone calls, badgering him to play it. He did. He fell in love with the record, and it’s opening lines decorate his gravestone.
He played it on his show one night that summer. I don’t remember when, but I listened to his show every night, and it was still every night because they hadn’t yet taken Friday off him and given it to Tommy Vance, and I heard it and I fell for it too.
That was thirty seven years ago this summer, by one, outmoded and illogical method of calculation, which is more than half my lifetime ago, and that’s simply not true, and not possible, because every time I hear Doherty’s two-beat drum intro, I hear a song that I only heard for the first time Thursday last week. The Infinite Jukebox is blessed by such a record.
There are better Undertones songs, ones with clearer and more distinct melodies, with a better production than the thick wodge of sound that goes into ‘Teenage Kicks’. But there is nothing that so distils the Undertones into two and a half minutes of pure bliss, teenage hormones furiously throbbing, the line between nervous innocence and rampant lust so finely straddled.
A teenage dream’s so hard to beat. What other dreams are so powerful, balanced between desire and fear? Another girl in the neighbourhood, wish she was mine, she looks so good. I’m gonna call her on the telephone, have her over cos I’m all alone. The every day, the utterly mundane turns into moments of shining gold and the music reflects that directness, the raw power of the dream.
I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight, get Teenage Kicks right through the night…
And this came from a quintet of teenagers in a troubled city in Northern Ireland, a city whose own name symbolised the conflict raging on its streets, a conflict that gave the Undertones’ home the nickname of Stroke City, and they ignore all this and focus on the one thing on their minds. John O’Neil’s words and music are simple and direct, and they have never lost their meaning, because they speak of yearning, and the music churns and roars, Billy Doherty’s drums keeping it anchored to earth.
It has the raucousness of punk, and something of the attention to melody re-introduced by the Buzzcocks, but not quite yet unleashed. It’s about being sixteen, sixteen forever, forever drowned in wanting, in finding a focus that underneath isn’t focused at all, because if she’s not the answer to the dream, someone else will be, but for here and now, at the heart of this urging music, she is the only one there is in the world.
And there’s even a guitar solo, twiddly, plangent, constructed out of just a few notes, and gloriously it’s not where you expect it to be, two verses, middle eight, solo, third verse, but it comes right at the very end, when there’s nothing left to say, and only an impression to create, as jangling as your nerves.
I wanna hold her, wanna hold her tight, get Teenage Kicks right through the night…
All right.