It’s that time again. After fifteen compilations over sixteen years, we have still not yet come to the bottom of my memories of the more obscure Seventies pop music. As always the key to this compilation is that the song has been pretty much forgotten, usually but not exclusively because it was never successful in the first place. There are 21 tracks on this latest outings and, as usual, there’s a rough chronological order to things, and there are a preponderance of tracks from 1971. Honestly, I don’t remember it being this crowded with obscurities when I lived through it.
Old Fashioned Girl – John Keen
We kick off with Speedy Keen’s first song after Thunderclap Newman split up, if they could ever truly be said to have been together in the first place. ‘Old Fashioned Girl’ was a great rock song with a screaming guitar and a compulsive chorus. For some strange reason, given that everyone knew him as Speedy, this, and the first album, were released under the name John Keen, with which the self-styled ‘bleeding long-nosed rock’n’roll herbert’ had been born. I have more to say about this on The Infinite Jukebox, here but this is the kind of opener that gets anything off to a good start.
Haunted – Bob Clarke
From the start of 1971, I began selecting a single of the week, a habit I maintained for the next half-decade or so. Without fail, I would pick some new single that had come to my attention and which thrilled me. This was not always the easiest thing to maintain: there were weeks when the selection of new records was extremely scanty, and for weeks when the family had gone away on holiday to the Lakes, where medium wave radio reception was absolutely shit and I barely got to hear any music at all, I had to allow those selections a two week run because I wouldn’t know what to choose the following Monday. And there were plenty of occasions when I would catch a song once, nominate it for myself, and then discover that it was on no-one’s playlist and I would never hear it again. This was one of those songs. I don’t think I heard it more than two or three times at best, ethereal and, so my memory told me, laden with spooky sound-effects. I loved it. For over thirty years, if not even longer, I forgot it completely, then it popped up on a YouTube sidebar. It’s not what I remember, but then I no longer remember anything but the circumstances. Perfectly pleasant stuff. What made me love it is now as much a vanished thing as 1971 itself.
Walk in the Night – Jr Walker and The All-Stars
This is another of those slightly dodgy entries, a track that reached the UK top 20, and one that was very popular for a very long time. But even this seems to have slipped into a kind of audio limbo, not having joined the ranks of those classic Tamla-Motown singles that those with the best of taste revere and cherish. Junior Walker was a sax player, and the band did a lot of backing tracks for Motown, together with the odd single, either a sax instrumental or a song with limited lyrics to suit Walker’s limited range. ‘Walk in the Night’ was a quasi-instrumental, a smooth, easy-loping melody, a gentle dancing beat, with sax breaks flowing smoothly and a bunch of girl backing singers contributing the title line and a lot of ooh-oohing. Smooth as anything, one of those late night dancefloor-fillers, the ideal lead in to the slow snogging session. It remained in people’s memories far longer than such limited hits usually do, and it should never have lost its place.
Sing Children Sing – Lesley Duncan
In the early Seventies, Lesley Duncan was an already successful backing singer and songwriter, whose beautiful ‘Love Song’ had already been recorded by both Elton John and Olivia Newton-John. She was also getting an increasing reputation for her own singing, a deep, near-husky voice on beautiful songs, with messages on ecology that were ahead of her time. ‘Sing Children Sing’ went down a storm with Radio 1 DJs and was played continually. I didn’t like it. It was too downbeat, too dry, too sententious for my then little-developed tastes. It flopped, like many turntable hits that I couldn’t get behind but which, years later, I came to recognise for their brilliance. ‘Sing Children Sing’ came back into my head only lately. I played it for nostalgia and stayed to play it again because its simplicity and its unostentatious vocals proved to be deeply moving. It’s taken me more than forty years to appreciate the quality of this song, and of the late Lesley Duncan. I’m glad I didn’t leave it any longer.
Day By Day – Cast for Godspell
Everybody remembers Jesus Christ, Superstar, but not too many people who weren’t there at the time remember that it was not the only religious musical at the turn of the Seventies. The other one was Godspell, more famous for giving David Essex his start (though let’s not be too hard on it for that). Godspell was a bit more hippy-trippy, crossed with an element of gospel, and wasn’t written by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, which gives it a bit more cred, street-wise, but not so much kudos on the longevity front. This was the single, an explicitly religious song, which I hated at the time, but whose energy and enthusiasm and sheer peppiness has evidently bled into my memories and taken up deeper roots than I ever imagined.
What is Life – George Harrison
When the Beatles officially split in 1970, there was a long silence, musically at least. George Harrison was first out of the traps, greeting 1971 with ‘My Sweet Lord’, and rapidly following it with the triple All Things Must Pass album. The rumour was that the album was basically every song Harrison had written that the Beatles had refused to record all at once, and given the general standard of his work after that point, it’s at least an arguable case. I’ve never listened to the album, but if it was strong enough that Harrison could afford to waste a song like ‘What is Life’ on the b-side of ‘My Sweet Lord’, it must have been strong indeed.
‘What is Life’ is George the rocker, hammering out an addictive riff, supplemented by some fierce brass, as he roars into an impassioned love song, or it might be God who he’s enquiring what his life might be without the object’s love. Either way, it’s a fantastic track and I preferred it to the a-side. In the UK, Olivia Newton-John had a Top 20 hit with a cover that demonstrated succinctly what was deemed to be commercial: the riff is flattened slightly, the sound sweetened, the repetitions reduced and a descant tone introduced so that the audience doesn’t get bored. And the love Livvy is singing about is definitely not religious, but romantic (and not carnal). What a waste of a great song.
September in the Rain – Dinah Washington
There have been some oddball choices in this series – Guy Marks, anyone? – but there will be some puzzled faces at this selection. Surely Dinah Washington is not Seventies music? How can she qualify? Do you really like something like this? Well, the answer to the last such question is, yes. Improbable as it seems, much as my tastes and instincts in music are removed from the kind of stuff my parents enjoyed, I love this record. It’s the same as any other genre of music: no matter how unpalatable it may be to your general tastes, something will come along that, for no easily discernible reason, will slide through your prejudices, and I have loved the easiness and freeness of this arrangement, the confident delivery, the wonderful smoothness of its old-fashioned sound ever since I first heard it. In the early Seventies. The song itself only dates from the early Sixties, and for some reason it was reissued in 1972, or thereabouts, and got a lot of airplay, enough for me to hear regularly, so either Radio 1 actually played it or I was listening to more Radio 2 than I remember. Whether this is a Sound of the Seventies or not, it’s a Sound of My Seventies.
Spill the Wine – Eric Burdon and War
One of the features of these later compilations is the number of songs they include that I hated at the time, but have now changed in my attitude to. By 1970, Eric Burdon’s career was in tatters. He had broken up the Animals in 1967, gone from being a Newcastle hard-ass bluesman to a psychedelic flower-power dreamer, and this collaboration with War, a black band themselves moving uneasily between soul and rock, was a shapeless, unstructured thing, alternating between meandering hippy narrative and an impassioned appeal to spill the wine and save/take? that girl. I still don’t understand it. But my ears are now so much more broadly attuned to what I couldn’t understand when I was young (which all you Burden fans will appreciate).
Vehicle – The Ides or March
Now this really is a case of nostalgia above everything. When I was first listening to pop music, in those early days of discovery in 1970, this blast of jazz-rock with its rasping vocals was big on Radio 1, and I hated it. There was this, and Blood, Sweat and Tears’ ‘Spinning Wheel’, getting all the airplay but thankfully never selling. ‘Spinning Wheel’ is still far beyond any personal pale, no matter how my tastes shift, but when I listen to ‘Vehicle’, I remember hating hearing it more than I hate hearing it. Do you understand what I mean?
Brown-eyed Girl – Ian Matthews
With the exception of ‘Woodstock’, I was pretty ignorant of Ian Matthews’ career when he came out with this cover of Van Morrison’s justly-celebrated first solo single, in 1976. It’s softer, less distinctive, more orthodox and Matthews’ voice doesn’t have the rasp that Morrison brought to this jaunty remembrance of time and love past, but I still like it. A good song need not only be celebrated in a single form.
Mary Skeffington – Gerry Rafferty
This is the most recent song to arrive in the Lost 70s pot, a memory that floated up out of a short session of skipping through Gerry Rafferty/Humblebums songs on YouTube. I recognised the name, I recognised the song, but that’s about all. I don’t know when I got to hear this, I am not even certain that it was this version that I heard, and I am certain that I thought of it as traditional back then, though Rafferty is the writer and it’s apparently about his mother. All I remember is that I remember this, and it is gentle, fair and takes me back. That I don’t know where it takes me to is no reason to exclude this. (Addendum: looking up the YouTube link has exploded the mystery: I knew it best back then from an album track cover by Olivia Newton-John, played by my mate Alan. Three Livvy cross-overs in one compilation!)
Black-skinned Blue-eyed Boys – The Equal
In contrast, this one has been waiting the longest to be included in a compilation. The Equals, fronted by a teenage Eddy Grant, are usually thought of as a Sixties band, and few remember that, after a succession of singles that only really brushed up against the top 20, this went all the way to the top 10 in early 1971. It’s a splenetic burst of anti-war agitprop, with pop underpinnings, protesting the overwhelming presence of black men in the US Army in Vietnam, and it’s aggression could sustain it for far longer than the three minutes it lasts. It ought to have been more celebrated, but hey, no matter how loose enough now children the Equals were, their time had gone. Eddy Grant had more to offer later, much later.
We’re gonna change the world – Matt Monro
It’s nearly fifty years since this song was on the radio, in 1970, usually on those Radio 1 shows that shared the frequency with Radio 2: Pete Murray, Jimmy Young, Terry Wogan, et al. Matt Monro, born Terry Parsons, was an easy-listening singer, more my parents’ meat than mine, but this is a vigorous pop tune with a striking chorus, and the song has left me confused for that near fifty years. On the surface, it’s a protest song, a bustling story of a morning when women are rising, collecting, gathering to hold a protest in support of peace. Monro names them, several of them, traces their path into a greater flow, but each verse ends with the contrasting figure of Annie Harris, who isn’t involved: going back to bed, going off to work, following dull patterns whilst this tide of female protest builds, drawing all the excitement to it. Come with us, Monro urges, run with us, we’re gonna change the world. But this isn’t a protest song. It never has been, despite the enthusiasm and energy it puts into talking up what the marchers are doing, what they are aiming for. The women are stupid, ineffectual, misguided. Annie Harris has avoided them for good reason. One’s dragged away by a policeman, another has her face slapped (with the underlying implication that it serves her right, the stupid, interfering cow). Meanwhile, Annie Harris is the true hero, she knows her place, she’s in the office, typing. For a moment, she pauses, and thinks of Don, glances at his last letter: ‘Died for others to live better’, then brushes away a tear and carries on, no doubt Keeping Calm whilst she’s at it. He’s the true hero, the man. He gets things done whilst these stupid women merely witter and Annie Harris knows her place. It’s a horrible, utterly conservative, disgusting mess disguised as a jolly paean to the spirit of the time, and the desire to see things improve. How stupid these women are, to think they can change anything. A wierd song, a poison pill, coated with the sugar of an energetic chorus. Fifty years only makes it look more foul.
Peace – Peter
I didn’t have many mates at school, and one of them moved away when his parents went to live in Tenby. His gran still lived about ten minutes away by bike, and he used to come back to Manchester every summer, and we’d meet up, play subbuteo, talk music. I was at his gran’s that Friday afternoon when it got too nice to play subbuteo indoors, so I biked home to get my football for a kickaround, and I saw my Dad for that last brief time, before he went back into the hospital to die in as much comfort as they could find for him. The following summer, Steve C was back. I was listening to Radio Luxembourg in the evenings, but he was tuning in to RNI, Radio Nordsee International, pirate radio whose frequency I could never find. They played this ballad/anthem, and he loved it. I never heard it. It’s here for him, if he ever reads this blog.
Mamy Blue – Los Pop Tops
In 1971, we hadn’t yet quite got the idea of inviting a Europop record back into our homes when we came back from summer holidays. That dismal practice only began in earnest two years later, with the chirpy Swede, Sylvia (no relation to Sylvia of ‘Pillow Talk’), and that act of cultural war, ‘Y Viva Espana’. This early, all we had to put up with was this sententious piece of drippy gloom, with people lazing around intoning various variation of ‘Mamy Blue’ and the word ‘Oh’, whilst the singer practiced his fake sincerity. It was responsible for more abrupt switchings off of my transistor radio than anything else that summer, but, as the years go by it has become… well, tolerable. Nostalgia for lost youth can be a punishing thing.
Amoureuse – Kiki Dee
Pauline Matthews from Bradford had been around for half a decade and more before she broke into the Top 30 with this slow, sensual song about shagging a bloke for the first time. She’d found a measure of fame in 1969 or thereabouts, by becoming the first white English woman to be signed by Motown, but that was all she got out of the deal. To get that far, she’d changed her name to the slightly more poppy Kiki Dee, suggesting kookiness and all sorts of Sixties girl-singer lightness. ‘Amoureuse’ was a world away from all those impressions, intense and rich in sound and voice. It was what Dave Marsh described as Topic 1: do I or don’t I? Unlike the Crystals, Kiki wasn’t concerned about what he would think of her in the morning, but what she would think of herself. Based on a song as smooth and melodic as this, I don’t know if she came, but she certainly deserved to stay.
Heartsong – Gordon Giltrap
An instrumental from a guitar virtuoso that was a minor top 30 hit and became background music for BBC factual programmes like holidays shows for many years. More recently, the BBC started snatching instrumental breaks from songs by Doves, which were a lot more classy and engaging, but this was not a bad little piece of music to have on tap.
Garden party – Rick Nelson and The Stone Canyon Band
By 1972 or thereabouts, there was a big hole in the middle of the day on Radio 1. You had bozo DJs out to promote themselves from breakfast through to about midday, and bozo DJs out to promote themselves from 2.00pm until the end of independent radio 1 transmission at tea-time. In between, there was a massive dislocation of expectations, in the form of ex-radio Caroline DJ, Johnnie Walker. You see, Walker’s USP was seriously unique on daytime radio: he was into the music. The music. Really. You wanted the good stuff, the serious, thoughtful non-bubblegum/boyband shit, you listened to Johnnie Walker. Walker lasted like this until 1976 before moving to America, believing that American radio offered more in terms of the music than Radio 1 offered in supermarket openings. This 1972 single by Rick, formerly Ricky Nelson, about his experiences in trying to play contemporary music to an audience wanting only golden oldies, was a gentle, laid-back country rocker that had a very great influence on Walker. If memories are all I sing, I’d rather drive a truck, Nelson sang. At least we got four more years out of Walker, when we really needed someone like him. I wish I’d realised that I could have had even more from John Peel all that time.
Stay with me till dawn – Judy Tzuke
Another song about a first night spent shagging with a bloke. There was six years and a musical upheaval between Kiki Dee and Judy Tzuke, who looked and sounded incredibly Southern Californian but actually came from London. Musically, Ms Tzuke had written an intense ballad, with heavy strings but otherwise sparse instrumentation, for a voice that occupied a higher register than Ms Dee, and six years on there was no suggestion that this was her first time ever, just her first time with someone she wants to know. It was 1979, the height of New Wave, the death knell for Southern California, even when this wasn’t really from that laid-back state. It was just as gorgeous, and Judy Tzuke made Stevie Nicks look like a mile of bad highway. In the end, Kiki Dee had the longer career: Tzuke never repeated this record’s success. But not many people get to make a sound like this. She has nothing to be ashamed of. And if this was about anyone in particular, then he was one seriously lucky bastard.
Where were you – The Mekons
You can always tell we’re reaching the end of one of these compilations when the punk tracks start to come out. ‘Where were you?’ was much beloved of Peely. The Mekons come from Leeds and they called themselves after the Mekon so that’s two strikes against them already, but the aggressive and scruffy charm of this student bar favourite has yet to be exhausted. They not only don’t make records like this any more, they can’t.
Good Technology – The Red Guitars
This is not a punk record. Nor is it a New Wave record. But it wouldn’t have existed without either form. The Red Guitars came from Hull, and this is a slow burner, building with a seemingly ponderous certainty towards a finale with screaming guitars. It’s one of those tracks that don’t leave any room for a following song, which is why it’s at the end here and why no-one can remember any other Red Guitars tracks.