Film 2018: Moulin Rouge!

I’ll be honest about it straight away: I think Nicole Kidman is absolutely gorgeous and in Moulin Rouge! she is stunningly gorgeous. I used to have a stock phrase about someone being a combination of ‘Michelle Pfeiffer, Isabelle Huppert and the redhead from behind the Deli counter in Sainsburys’ (you should have seen her!) but after seeing Moulin Rouge! I reluctantly relegated Ms Pfeiffer in favour of Ms Kidman (although the phrase never scanned quite right after that, even though it syllabic metre didn’t change).

So you know where I’m coming from when I start to talk about Baz Luhrman’s 2002 spectacular, the only musical in my DVD collection, though it’s hard to think of this as a musical, even though there’s practically more singing than there is speaking. Made at the beginning of one century, it’s set at the end of the century-before-last, Paris, 1899, the Bohemian quarter of Montmartre, the infamous French cabaret theatre of the Moulin Rouge (the Red Windmill), birthplace of the Can-Can.

The story is simple. Penniless writer Christian (Ewan McGregor) comes to Montmartre to join the Bohemians and to write. He is absorbed into writing a revue titled ‘Spectacular Spectacular’, to be sold to Harold Zigler (Jim Broadbent), manager of the theatre, which will star his leading performer, the courtesan, Satine (Kidman). By error, Christian gets a private aftershow meeting with Satine, who believes his to be the Duke (Richard Roxburgh) whom she has to seduce into financing the proposed show. The pair promptly fall in love.

To escape the Duke’s suspicions, Christian hastily outlines a spectacular musical set in India where a courtesan promised to a rich but evil Maharajah falls in love with a penniless sitar player (so not at all analogous then) and, in accordance with the dictates of romance, refuses the Maharajah for him. That is, until the jealous Nini drops a poison word in the Duke’s ear, after which he insists on the show ending in a more logical and realistic manner, i.e., she marries the rich guy who can provide her with lifelong luxury, comfort and wealth.

Since the Duke holds the deeds to the Moulin Rouge and can shut the theatre down in a flash, the satanic yet paternal Zigler persuades Satine to go to the Duke. For Christian’s protection, since the Duke will have him killed should she see the writer again, she convinces her love that she never cared for him, that she is, was and only ever will be the courtesan, interested only in the highest bidder.

A despairing Christian breaks into the theatre and disrupts the performance. He coldly castigates Satine on stage as a whore, flings money at her, to ‘pay’ for their time together and is about to leave when she starts singing their ‘secret’ song, a promise to one another of eternal love, which brings him back.

But the joy is momentary. Satine has tuberculosis and expires on stage in Christian’s arms. A year later, the despairing Christian writes the story, which is the framework for the film. The end.

If you were to ask me to come up with one word to succinctly describe Moulin Rouge! it would be overblown. If you were to allow me two, then I would say that it is gloriously overblown, deliberately, determinedly and uproariously so. The basic idea behind the film was to attempt to translate a Bollywood spectacular into Western terms and whilst I’m not familiar with Bollywood films myself (except in as they are the basis for Clive James’ excellent novel, The Silver Castle), Luhrman has made a bloody good job of it.

Everything is done to excess, a great, overtly and overly theatrical excess. There isn’t a moment of naturalism in the film’s near-two hours length and the staging, especially of fin-de-siecle Paris, shows no allegiance to physical reality, especially in its CGI depictions of the city ranging in a single swoop from the (newly-constructed) Eiffel Tower to the hill of Montmartre.

The performances are equally absurd, and all the more effective (as it always is) for the utterly straight manner in which the cast play their roles. There is not the least wink to the audience to say that, yes, we know this is a load of OTT guff, which would spoil things in an instant. This unreal world of fantastically heightened emotions is completely real to the people in it and they inhabit their parts perfectly.

Of course, the true act of genius behind the film is not just the ease and naturalness with which everybody breaks into song without the least warning, continually, continuously and over and over, which is just an exaggeration on the standard Hollywood musical trope, but the selection of the songs themselves. In order to make Christian look as if he was genuinely ahead of his time, all the songs are genuinely anachronistic, coming from the mid to late Twentieth century.

Indeed, apart from the silk stocking and lingerie-clad Kidman herself, that was what first attracted me to the film. We were on honeymoon on Madeira and I was randomly checking out TV channels when I found an extended scene being played in English. It was Christian and Satine’s first meeting, and it was highly-stylised and oddly attractive already even before I burst out laughing as Christian, in a tone of voice that suggested he was making up the words as he was going only, started quoting Elton John’s ‘Your Song’!

The anachronism was hilarious, but that just scratches the surface of Moulin Rouge! It’s stuffed full of things like that and some of the selections are gloriously off the wall. Some are used in big set-pieces, such as the one early on when the theatre opens, and a crowd of choreographed men in tuxedos and top hats advance on a host of the ‘dancers’, in frills, corsets and garters, the men singing ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ (here we are now, entertain us…) and the women ‘Lady Marmalade’ (voulez-vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?).

‘Like a Virgin’ also gets an absurd run-out, complete with dancing waiters, sung improbably by Jim Broadbent, who is awfully good in everything he’s asked to do. And there is an astonishing tango sequence, late in the film, that takes as its cue the Police’s ‘Roxanne’. But most of the others appear in snippets, often hurled around and mixed, fragments that are both decoration and architecture in the film’s pursuit of its ultimately tragic conclusion. And not just sung: the screenplay gleefully chucks in countless song-titles with Love in their title, as ordinary conversation.

The effect is hilarious, as songs that are well-known in one context or style come hurtling at you in a completely different context and an arrangement that rips up the original. And the effect is all the more prominent for having the actors conspicuously do their own singing. Kidman’s the only one with a halfway decent chance of holding her own in a ‘real’ musical, with a sweet, note-carrying voice that is nevertheless too thin, and McGregor’s good enough not to send you screaming out into the night if he ever did karaoke at your local pub, whilst Broadbent never hits bad notes, but these are not professional singers, and it is all part of the film’s atmosphere to allow the songs to be given this slightly raw performance, the only natural element in the entire film.

I love Moulin Rouge! for all these things I’ve said, but I would still hold it in high regard if it were instead a piece of crap that starred Nicole Kidman at this time and in those costumes. The film unashamedly exploits her beauty, with the added bonus of the fact that she really is a damned good actress, and knows exactly how far to go in sending up herself and everything she is doing. You may disagree with me as to how she looks, and I’m not saying that I have to mop up pools of drool after each watching, but I could sit and stare for a long time without noticing there’s a film going on around the lady if that film were rubbish.

A happy, funny, lovingly-created experience. My Sunday morning has been duly enhanced. So will yours be, if you watch this.

Another Perspective: Princess Diana, twenty years ago

If I have to remember her…

I am not, and never have been a Royalist. The last Royal Event I remember actually watching was the TV highlights of the Investiture of the Prince of Wales, in 1969, when I was only 13. By the time of the next one, Anne’s wedding in 1973, I was at University and ignored the whole thing completely.

When it came to Chas and Di, I took the day off like the rest of the country, but I didn’t watch the wedding, I went into Manchester, which wasn’t much cop as everywhere was shut for, yes of course, the Wedding. She was pretty fanciable, especially that shot where they got her legs silhouetted in that skirt, and in the evening, I joined a mate at one of the many parties going on: sausage barms galore.

But I was already put off by the New Sycophancy, as I termed it. The Royal Engagement gave a massive boost to the Monarchy, which had me looking at it askance. He and especially she was everywhere, and though millions worshipped her every appearance, I was one of those who didn’t think she was that attractive that she should be everywhere I turned. I had my own list of ladies who I’d much rather have seen floating around my vision that frequently.

Why am I bringing this up? Well, it’s twenty years now, this month, and in today’s Guardian there’s a big, frequently glutinous piece by Zoe Williams that I can’t quite class as Crap Journalism because there is a degree of truth to it, but it’s going on and on about how she irrevocably changed the world, or at least this country, and how we all loved her, which has undergone a pretty near 95% level of challenge BTL.

And I remember that week, because I was there, I lived through it, feeling alienated from practically the entire country, and I think the opposing viewpoint to all the gush needs representing.

By August 1997, pretty much everybody had done with Diana, except for the Press, who would print anything they could attach a photo to. She’d taken up with Mohammed Fayad’s son, she was racketing around Europe, the Princes were back in England. She needed something to revive her brand. Death’s very effective for artists and musicians.

On Sunday, I came downstairs mid-morning, having indulged myself with a long lie-in. I’d left the firm I loathed by this point, was working for myself as part of a small, two-partner firm, but I don’t think I’d opened my office as yet, so I had no plans to go in to catch up on work. Sainsburys for shopping was about the limit of my intentions.

After making myself a coffee, still in my dressing gown, I sat down in the lounge and out the TV on, just to see what was on. I can’t remember whether I switched on ITV or BBC, but there was a quiet atmosphere, and an empty podium: somebody was expected to say something. It was Sunday: I’d probably caught the tail end of the religious programmes. I changed the channel, to BBC or ITV, took another swig of coffee, and looked up in puzzlement, because the picture was the same. I flicked backwards and forwards but both mainstream channels were broadcasting exactly the same thing. Some shit had obviously gone down.

By chance – I won’t call it luck – I had switched on only a couple of minutes before Blair read his People’s Princess speech. I watched it all. That’s when I found out. My only reaction was curiosity. Elsewhere, my future wife was watching the same footage: her first thought was that the Royal Family had got her.

All I thought was, I was sorry for her, dying so young, and as someone who had lost their own father at a very young age, I empathised with her sons, losing their mother so young. Poor buggers. I couldn’t wish that on anyone.

But as for her, well, shame but, and it’s hard to avoid using the words ‘so what?’ She meant nothing to me, either way, and I wasn’t that interested, outside of prurience, in the detals then available. I watched to the end of Blair’s speech, emotional and awkward, but no more than half an hour after that. Every channel was still taken over with the same thing by that point, and I drifted off to get dressed and do something more interesting.

I stayed away from the TV for most of the day: I could see quite clearly how it was shaping up. But I wasn’t prepared for the week that followed.

It’s true to say that that week changed the country, and I’m not in the least convinced it was for the better. There was a tone of what I could only describe as hysteria, that I kept well away from. When it came to the media, TV, radio, the press, it was simple. I didn’t watch news programmes, I only read the Guardian, which didn’t go overboard to the same degree that the headlines in the tabloids indicated, but still featured the story every single bloody day. I watched from the outside, as a Republican to whom anything relating to the Royal Family was alien and alienating.

I don’t even remember having any extreme feelings about the country’s seeming reaction. I couldn’t share it and I couldn’t understand it, but people were genuinely grieving, and I didn’t go anywhere near that. Their feelings, wherever they came from, were genuine and I didn’t feel it was my place to intrude on them. Grief is personal.

The first point at which I began to feel that things were going utterly too far was on the Thursday before the funeral. There’d been talk about Elton John possibly re-writing ‘Candle in the Wind’ (which, once upon a time, had been my favourite of his songs), and no it was confirmed and the lyrics were on the front page of the Guardian. I didn’t get more than halfway down the second verse before recoiling in disgust at the glutinous sycophancy of it. I read no more, and swore to myself that I would never listen to the song.

I think perhaps the only person I spoke to that week who shared any of the public grief was my younger sister, who has always been for more conventional than I in her tastes and opinions. There was certainly no sympathy at Droylsden FC, where I was then involved. We were more concerned with the fact that our weekend fixtures had been postponed en masse, because of the funeral.

That was the thing about that day: it didn’t matter what proportion of the country genuinely mourned Princess Diana, whether honestly or hysterically, all the rest of us were roped in. Everything we could have done instead was taken away from us, as if the evidence of our enjoying our ordinary lives was an insult to the rest of the population.

I don’t suppose anyone knows how many there were of each opinion, whether the majority prevailed, or whether they were oppressed into silence. I’d rather have gone to a match on Saturday and so would everyone else about the club, and I don’t for one moment believe we were unique.

The assumption was made, and we were smothered by it. Years later, the presence of a million people on the streets for the funeral procession of the Queen Mother was held up as evidence that Republicanism would never take hold in this country, but nobody seemed to take account of the plain statistic that for every one person out there mourning, there were sixty who weren’t. What the Press, what the mournful wanted to see, they saw and they validated themselves. No-one will ever know how many, like me, were cowed, or fearful, or just plain keeping out of the way in bafflement.

So Saturday came. I had no interest in the funeral, and I had already decided that thee best thing to do was to stay in most of the day. Though I didn’t usually bother, I closed the curtains, isolating myself from the outside world. I didn’t understand what was going on, and I couldn’t even have begun to pretend to share in the majority’s reactions, I would have said something, more than once, or asked that question that dared not be asked that day, which was, “Why?”, and so I acted with decency according to my lights and kept myself away from people whose emotions were engaged.

It was an odd experience. I was no stranger to occasional days spent holed up hermit-like in my house, but these were always lazy Sundays. Saturday were for activity: the match, an long drives every other weekend, or trips into Manchester, to Forbidden Planet, the HMV Shop, Waterstones. With the curtains closed, in August, and the sunshine cool through them, it was a most curious sensation. I was out of time, out of the timestream, forced out.

The following morning, when the Observer was delivered, I did read about the funeral. I hadn’t intended to, but my eye was caught by the report of the Earl of Spencer’s speech. Reading it, and reading the discomfort it had caused, I was almost tempted to wish I’d watched the proceedings just to see this. It was being billed as a nation-changing moment, that by itself would change the way in which we saw the Royal Family, but that of course was bollocks. It made not a blind bit of difference.

Once Monday came round again, thing went back to normal, except for all the crap in the papers, and in the Guardian about how the unloosing of the stiff upper lip had changed Britain and how we’d be so much better for it. I couldn’t help but be reminded of Dave (Cerebus) Sim, and his infamous argument about the battle between Reason and Emotion, which has its points if it weren’t for his insistence on defining it in strict gender terms. As the overwhelming majority of articles welcoming developments as making the country a better place to be were and still are written by women, the whole Princess Di bit has to be admitted as evidence in favour of his case, much as I’d rather not.

Twenty years has elapsed, and I’ve sneered many a time at the continuing obsession certain sectors of the press still has with the woman they were hounding and execrating and exploiting almost up to the point where the car entered that tunnel mouth. A conspiracy industry has grown up on the back of that drive almost equal to those surrounding JFK and Jack the Ripper, but though I love a good conspiracy theory without ever actually believing in them, I have never ever been the least bit interested in reading about this one.

As for Elton John, well. Inevitably, the revised version of the song came out as a single. It was released in midweek, a Thursday, when the charts still first appeared on Radio One on Sunday night. I was out that Saturday morning, at the famous Sifters, beloved of the recently famous Gallagher Brothers. Sifters was a cheerful pile-’em-high-and-sell-’em-cheap second hand record shop, with a sideline in the top 40 singles. During the hour I was there, no two minutes passed without someone coming to the counter or calling on the phone to ask for the Elton John ‘Candle in the Wind’ single. It came as no surprise to see it at Number One on Sunday night, nor that it is still the best selling single in this country.

I’ve never heard it. That may surprise you, but even after twenty years, I have escaped listening to it. I evaded it on the radio, I avoided it in public, except once, in Old Trafford, waiting for kick-off, when it was blared out over the stadium PA, and I found that even sticking my fingers in my eras until they nearly met in the middle could not totally block the sound out and I had to hum, loudly, to myself: la-la-la, can’t hear you.

And it’s destroyed my love for the original, too. The association is too direct.

So there it is: my experience of the country-changing experience. I’m not sure what the point was of writing this unless it’s to evidence that the death of Princess Diana twenty years ago did change this country, but not as those who control the press and feed off the hysteria claim.

What it did was to turn us into two countries, although only one of these is allowed a voice, that treats its opinions as universal when there is no such thing. Perhaps we can remember that when journalists tell us what we ‘all’ think.

The Infinite Jukebox: Mr Bloe’s ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’

Quick! How many times have harmonica instrumentals only been held off no. 1 by the biggest selling record of the year? In any properly ordered Pop universe, the answer should be none, but in this imperfect world, there was one, and this is it.

I have an umbilical connection with ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’, as this is my Official First Single I Ever Bought (meaning that it’s the one I can feel safe in admitting to, given that it’s marginally respectable, as opposed to the Real First Single I Ever Bought, which was ‘The Leavin’ (Durham Town)’ by Roger Whittaker). Though I’d been listening to Radio 1 daily since just before Xmas Day 1969, I never really started to take things in until, being a tidy-minded person and something of an anal-retentive in psychological terms, I started writing down the Top 30 every week. The England World cup Squad’s ‘Back Home’ was just breaking into the charts, and I was allowed to turn over early to BBC1, just the once, before Top of the Pops had ended, to see the dinner-jacketed squad sing it. And, much lower down, this weird instrumental was starting what would prove to be a lengthy chart spell.

I say weird, because I couldn’t work out what was making that sound. There were only four instruments on the disc, and you could hear each of them, clear and separate. A crisp, metronomic drumbeat. A flexible but distinct rubbery bass. Deep bass-register piano chords. And this completely un-pop-like sound twisting and wailing its way through the melody. What the hell was it?

I ended up playing it to my Uncle, whose opinion of pop music mirrored that of my parents. He identified it instantly as a harmonica, which I should have recognised for myself, but had failed to do so because I simply did not associate harmonicas with pop (I had heard no blues up to this point). In those very early days, and based on my parents’ attitude to the music, I kinda thought of all pop music as occupying an insulated cocoon, with no bearing on or from any other kind of more respectable music whatsoever. And never would the twain meet.

But here was this bouncy instrumental, which I loved hearing, and it’s climbing the charts. It’s into the Top 10, it’s actually climbed as high as no 3, I’m considering buying it. It sticks at no 3 for a week. Mungo Jerry’s ‘In the Summertime’ is no 1, and Free’s ‘Alright Now’ has leapt 23 places to no 4. The following week, Mr Bloe goes up to no 2. This is the week when my purchase will be of the greatest strategic use, when it will help push it up that essential one further place to no. 1. I beg the money off my mother and buy it at Sykes’ Records, on Lane End Road.

In this, I am being doubly naive. Firstly, in thinking that a two-bit, hole in the wall local shop like Sykes contributes to the chart returns, and secondly that Mr Bloe is more likely to overtake Mungo Jerry than Free. The following week, I am bitterly disappointed to find that ‘In the Summertime’ is still no. 1, which it will go on to be forever that summer, or for seven weeks, whichever is sooner, and that free and Mr Bloe have swapped places. Neither will break past Mungo Jerry.

‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ falls away. Apparently, there was a live appearance on Top of the Pops which I missed due to the weekly parental ban, though ‘Mr Bloe’, so far as this single is concerned, is a rhythm section assembled by arranger Zack Lawrence (who plays the piano) and a session harmonica played by jazz harmonica veteran Harry Pitch, whose harmonica can otherwise be heard on such diverse items as Frank Ifield’s ‘I Remember You’, and the theme music for Last of the Summer Wine. So, a session outfit, playing an instrumental written and first recorded in America in 1968.

There is a follow-up, ‘Curried Soul’ (on which the piano is played by aspiring sessionman Elton John) which, despite it being the follow-up to a massive hit, Radio 1 is curiously reluctant to play, even as something for the DJs to talk all the way through. A third single, ’74-78 New Oxford’ (the record company’s address) doesn’t even get that exposure. The record company sponsors a tour, with progressive band Hookfoot as Mr Bloe which means, in practice, that they start off my playing ‘Groovin’ with…’ then playing their usual set.

In much later years, when I am married, I occasionally baffle my stepchildren by pointing out that an old record they are listening to with contemporary disbelief actually was a smash hit. They can’t understand why, and I find it hard to believe myself. This never actually applied to ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’, but it would have fit that description perfectly

What I now understand, decades out of date, is that like a lot of improbable and obscure visitors to the Top 30, Mr Bloe was a favourite of the Northern Soul Scene, of which I did not become aware until 1974. It all fits, the hi-energy metronomic beat, the pounded piano, the fizzing bass. The harmonica, the melody that attracted me then and which still tickles my nostalgia, was the least important factor in the track’s success.

So a harmonica instrumental, played by the man whose most widely-recognised piece of music is the Last of the Summer Wine theme came close to being number One in the singles chart, in 1970. If not for Mungo Jerry, damn them (never liked ‘In the Summertime’ anyway).

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 4

Lost 70s Volume 4 consists of 19 tracks, making it the second shortest of the series. I dropped all idea of chronological progression after volume 3, going for a mixture of time and sound and feel that incorporated a number of long tracks and a profusion of instrumentals in the first half of the set. There are two Top 10 and two Top 20 hits in this compilation, and whilst it stretches, like its immediate predecessor, all the way to the end of the decade, the choices from that end of the Seventies aren’t necessarily what you would expect from me.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with tracks that had not been available when the original compilation was created.

Hearts in her Eyes: The Searchers

If there’s one record in this whole series that I would put forward as having absolutely everything going right with it, it would be this Searchers song from 1979. It should have been absolutely massive, it should have been on the radio every single day, it should have led to a major new lease of life for the band. It’s a belting tune, performed in the traditional Searchers style, only bigger, brighter, stronger, deeper, richer in every respect, a classic modern pop song with a compelling melody, by a working back of twenty years standing with consummate professionalism. And I have never ever heard this track on the radio, to this day: it came and went in 1979 without me knowing it existed, and I only heard it when I bought it second hand, for a few pence, on a friend’s recommendation. Typical Radio 1: the Shadows reform, prostituting their sound with weak, tinny, feeble productions of inadequate material and get played to death, the Searchers build on their traditional sound with contemporary high grade songs, and even someone like me doesn’t know they exist. If you like this, there’s two whole albums worth of the Searchers in this vein. If you don’t like this, what am I doing talking to you in the first place?

Starry Eyes: The Records

‘Hearts in her Eyes’ was written by Will Birch and John Wicks of the Kursall Flyers, who went on to form The Records, the definitive power pop band. This is the real thing. ‘Starry Eyes’, which I heard before the Searchers, came out at the end of 1979: clear-eyed jangling pop, a stream-lined, fluid sound, superb harmonies and a wonderful story-line about a guy being pursued by a celeb who won’t let him say no. A re-recorded version of this track was the lead track on the band’s second album, full of great songs that had the guts ripped out of them by thin, weak, feeble production that has you longing for the Searchers to re-record the whole album. At least the single version plays to the Records’ strengths.

Jerusalem: Springwater

Phil Cordell’s long-overdue follow-up to ‘I Will Return’ didn’t appear until mid-1972. The ‘Jerusalem’ of the title is William’s Blake’s classic working-class poem turned anthem and the mixture of instrumentation is the same, except that instead of the guitar being sweet and yearning, here it’s rough and rumbling, a tauter, more attacking style that attracted no-one but people like me. I don’t know if there was a connection, but at the end of the year, Emerson, Lake and Palmer were issuing a vocal version of this track as a single. Yes, that’s right, a single. Compared to Springwater’s gloriously simple version, it was rubbish.

This track is not available on YouTube

Maid in Heaven: Bebop de Luxe

I never knew what to make of this bunch. I have a mate who’s a long-term fan of Bill Nelson, but this and the ‘hit’ single ‘Ships in the Night’, also from 1976, were the only tracks I liked. ‘Maid in Heaven’ is, for me, the better track, full of slashing guitar and a sense of attack that propels the song along. It’s a bit of a stop-start effort, with Nelson never liking to settle into a groove for any length of time. That’s a common characteristic among bands that liked to think of themselves as being a bit above pure commerciality. This is a good song, but there’s an even better one inside it, being held back.

Lady Samantha: Elton John

Another of those songs from the very early Seventies that I heard a few times, enough to recall some of the tune, but not the singer. It turned out to be Elton John, trying to break through. That would come in January 1971, with ‘Your Song’, which is a whole different order of things. This is a whiplash of a song, with a vicious edge and a scream in Reg’s voice. Lady Samantha prowls alone, no-one comes near her, they live in fear of her. The song never quite makes out why, though the way the good lady is described, you’d be checking her teeth for pointy bits. There’s a drive to this and an individuality that makes me wonder, if Elton had broken through with this, where would it have taken him that his ultra sensitive ballad led him away from? Something’s wrong with the timeline as the single was actually released in January 1969, but I wasn’t listening to pop that far back…–r59o

He’s gonna step on you again: John Kongos

It’s maybe pushing it to call this top 4 smash from 1971 a ‘Lost’ track, but ever since Happy Monday ripped the song to pieces and put it back together in an entirely different shape, the John Kongos original has drifted completely out of consciousness. The original is more of a driving sound, percussion heavy, built on a thunderous beat that betrays Kongos’s African origins (it amused me at the time to discover that it was exactly the same beat as my mother’s old-fashioned, churning washing machine). Rhythm and slashing guitars, vocals mixed low, fade in and fade out that suggests a continuum in which the music plays on and in which we’ve just joined in for a few minutes.

Pilgrim’s Progress: Greenslade

I rarely watched ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ (which, despite its derivation, is still one of the worst names for any programme ever, not just a music show). Mostly, this was down to my mother monopolising her television set, but equal time should be given to my general lack of interest in the bands and artists they featured. So why I was watching the night Greenslade did a couple of numbers from their new album, ‘Bedside Manners were Extra’, I’ve no idea. Greenslade were a four piece progressive outfit, a kind of junior league ELP: two banks of keyboards, bass and drums. They played the title track, preceded by this smooth, swooping, seven minute instrumental, which caught my fancy on the spot. Not long after, I was lucky to tape a ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ session of these two tracks and the other song off side one. I loved it so much, I bought the album – only to discover that the production was awful, the songs sounded screechy and thin and even the melody of this track sounded wrong. Side two was even worse. Thankfully I got the record shop to take it back and allow me to swap it for something better. Sometime during the intervening years, they obviously recorded a better version…

Amazing Grace: Springwater

‘Amazing Grace’ was the b-side of ‘Jerusalem’ and it’s the same formula as the a-side, only with extra drive from the drums. There had already been two very big hit versions of this hymn, one a cappella by Judy Collins, one instrumental (and an unlikely and unwanted five week number 1) from the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, but this was better than both of them and made me like the song again.

Burundi Black (Part 2): Tambours Ingoma Tribe of Burundi

You won’t be expecting this. The A-side is the side everybody knows, the single that’s been issued and re-issued half a dozen times (once with additional drums from Rusty Egan, as if it needed that). It’s the sound that Adam and the Ants ripped off so thoroughly and successfully. Its first time round, in late 1970/early 1971, gave the song its biggest chance, a 13 week chart run that spent all its time between 50 and 31. Radio 1’s Chart Show, on Sundays from 5.00 – 7.00, was Alan Freeman’s ‘Pick of the Pops’, in which he’d play the Top Twenty in full from about 5.45 onwards, and before that new entries and songs bubbling under. I used to listen religiously. Over that three months in the charts, he played ‘Burundi Black’ only once: and then he played this side, as if he was trying to torpedo the single’s chances of that final breakthrough. This is the original Burundi drummers, without any of Mike Steiphenson’s array of keyboards on top. It’s incredibly different.

Mr Soft: Cockney Rebel

The band’s third single and second hit. It’s a surprisingly simple song, with some plonky plonky piano and wobbly guitar backing Harley’s affected vocals. It was a great favourite of mine at the time, and it’s my pick of all the Cockney Rebel singles. Apart from that, I haven’t really got much to say about it, sorry. Even I slipped up sometimes and liked things that were popular with others.

Can we still be friends?: Todd Rundgren

‘Can we still be friends?’ received nothing like the attention that ‘I saw the Light’ got. It’s a slower, more gentle song, wistful and delicate, about a man who sees his relationship with his girl breaking down but wants to preserve something of that, as friends. It’s a game of logic versus emotion, and you know which is going to win, and so does Rundgren in his heart and his voice, but he’s holding on in the prayer that the Universe can be overturned and they can survive, and hope will for once win out over experience.

Is that the way?: Tin Tin

A belated follow up to ‘Toast and Marmalade for Tea’, aping the previous record’s sound successfully enough to get a similar amount of airplay, and a ‘Top of the Pops’ appearance that was a bust because the distorted piano effect couldn’t be duplicated in studio time. It got the same indifference from the public too. After that, the band drifted back into obscurity.

Anthem (One Day in every Week): The New Seekers

I have always striven to keep an open mind. No matter how bad a band may be, the possibility remains that they might make a good record, or at least one that appeals to me, and I have risked my musical credibility on a number of occasions by admitting to liking such things. But you’ve got to admit that appreciating a New Seekers song is going out on a serious limb! This isn’t the New Seekers that were such a horror in the early Seventies, neither in personnel or sound. ‘Anthem’ was the last time they troubled chart statisticians, a primarily a capella number, built on a ‘bom-bom’ rhythm. The song is very conservative in topic: a girl from what I always imagine as being a good county family works all week in London, independent and modern, but always returns to Mummy and Daddy, and the rest of the family, on Sundays, to refresh herself. It’s still very good vocals, no matter who it’s by.

Also Sprach Zarathustra: The Portsmouth Sinfonia

As I understood it, the Portsmouth Sinfonia was a project that put musical instruments into the hands of ordinary, untrained people, and invited them to make classical music. In later years, I have seen them explained as actual classically trained orchestra members playing each other’s instruments without training. Listening to this mercifully short piece of music, the only thing by the Sinfonia I have ever (thankfully) heard, I favour the first explanation. This is recognisable for what it is, that much you can say for it, but it is a discordant row that is physically painful to the ears. Why have I preserved it? Why do I play it? Fucked if I know, but if you gave me a go at this, I surely could not sound worse.

Sheep: Pink Floyd

To me, there are two Pink Floyds. There’s the Syd Barrett one, ‘Piper at the Gates of Dawn’, associated singles, brightness, life, colour and brilliance, and the other one which, despite having three musicians in common, is dull, boring, pompous and pretentious at its best. Courtesy of my former mate Alan, I heard more of the latter than I would have ever subjected myself to had I had a free choice at the time. And yet. ‘Sheep’ was one of the tracks on the 1977 ‘Animals’ album that, wittily and with intellectual rigour, divided us common or garden plebs into Dogs, Pigs and Sheep. The ‘Sheep’ track starts out with very Floydian noodling, but it picks up a modicum of pace as the vocals cut in. Then there’s this extended slow section in the middle, where extensive electronic masking thankfully keeps you from being able to make out the words of a re-written Lord’s Prayer, adapted for sheep in abattoirs and liking it. Then it’s back to a somewhat more up-tempo rerun of the main melodic line, until the band launches into a long, frankly raunchy outro, over this compelling, joyous, energetic guitar riff with a cyclic melody that makes the whole thing worthwhile. Which is why it’s taken this pride-of-out-of-place on this CD.

The Poacher: Ronnie Lane and Slim Chance

‘Plonk’ was the original bassist in the Small Faces and then the Faces, until he split to go solo, playing a fresh, folk-oriented kind of rural-pop, too English to be called country, too robust to be folk. He’s remembered mostly for the sprightly ‘How Come?’, but ‘The Poacher’ was his second, and more successful single before he completely disappeared, laid low by MS. This song is less memorable for its relative lack of a strong, pop-oriented melody, but the mix of clarinet and fiddle lends the track a beautifully English air in keeping with the lyrics about an old poacher. It’s four-square in an English tradition that rarely sees expression in American-rooted pop/rock and it’s a breath of fresh air.

Another Girl, Another Planet: The Only Ones

A token venture into the fringes of punk for this compilation. This is one of those hybrid songs, that didn’t sit comfortably as either punk or new wave. It was played regularly on Peely’s nightly shows, which I was by this time devouring avidly, and it was commercial enough to get played on daytime radio. The Only Ones had the feel of a band that would make it, and there were some very interesting tracks on their Peel session that sounded like they could match the quality of this series, but somehow the recorded versions never matched up to the sinuous strength of the tracks laid down at the Maida Vale studios, and the Only Ones faded away, with ‘Another Girl, Another Planet’ as the main legacy of their time among us. There are worse ways to be remembered.

Celebration: Premiata, Forneria, Marconi

PFM sound like the Italian version of ELP, and that’s exactly how they were billed when this came out. Many years and much listening later, I can now tell an equal, and more pertinent Focus influence, but the song is still dominated by an Emersonian synthesizer sound. I say song: this is 90% instrumental with a single, slow verse and multiple chants of the title, but a lot more playing than singing going on. I never heard another thing by the band, but on the strength of this number, I’d have been inclined to listen.

What the world needs now/Abraham Martin and John: Tom Clay

This was never released in the UK. In fact, I doubt if it was played as many as half a dozen times here in 1971, when it chased rapidly up and down the American Hot 100. Clay was a DJ, not a singer or arranger, but what he did was to organise a very slushy, MOR/cabaret style medley of the Dion song ‘Abraham Martin and John’ (a lament for the deaths of Lincoln, King and Kennedy, written in response to Bobby Kennedy’s shooting, and a UK hit for Marvin Gaye the previous year) and the classic oldie ‘What the world needs now is love’. Against this, mostly subdued, background, Clay placed found footage, genuine radio broadcasts. From Dallas in the immediate aftermath of the shooting. Of King, broadcasting, saying that like everyone he wants to live, of Bobby Kennedy’s actual shooting and Teddy Kennedy’s funeral oration. It’s very manipulative, but it goes through the heart every time. The single was topped and tailed by Clay’s only direct contribution, asking very young children to explain the meaning of certain loaded words, words the kids can’t even pronounce back. The last line is the obvious, but still true: ‘What is prejudice?’ ‘I think it’s when somebody’s sick.’

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 3

Lost 70s Volume 3 consisted of 21 tracks. It differs from all the other albums in the series by being deliberately planned chronologically (slips excluded!). It starts in 1970 and works its way through the decade to 1979, though the middle of the decade is hardly represented. There’s one genuine hit on it, and another that just crept into the top 30. The majority of the tracks on Volume 3 were ones I knew quite well, a lot of airplay but nothing in terms of sales.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with tracks that had not been available when the original compilation was created.

She lets her hair down (Early in the Morning): The Tokens

There was this spell, at the very beginning, the first few months of 1970, before I started to get any kind of musical appreciation in my head. There were a lot of songs played on Radio 1 that weren’t making the charts, and from which I remembered certain lines, certain sounds, but not the artists. The Tokens were from the early part of the Sixties, ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight/Wimoweh’ was their biggie, but they were still going by 1970, and this gentle song of unrequited love, with its twin titles, stuck with me. The girl walks past the guy’s house every morning, early on, her long hair let down. He watches her, he loves her, one day he might have the nerve to speak to her, but for now all he can do is look and dream, in super four part harmony. I got to know the feeling very well over the coming decade (except for the harmonies).

Belfast Boy: Don Fardon

I remember hearing this as a news feature, a novelty idea, a song about United’s mercurial star, Georgie Best, rather than as a song that got Radio 1 airplay. I mean, how uncool, a song about a footballer, a sportsman, even such a hip one. It did sell well enough to reach no 40, but Fardon had to wait until the end of 1970 for his commercial breakthrough, with the flat and drab ‘Indian Reservation’. As for ‘Belfast Boy’, it’s actually quite a good pop song, with a springy bass-line and a roaring chorus that could have been adapted effectively on the Stretford End. The words are straightforward: the subject may be a novelty, but the song itself isn’t. Though it has to be said that the line about ‘You won’t have long in the limelight’ missed the point by a mile. No, this deserved better, and if treated as just a song, I’m sure it would have done better, but ironically the very idea doomed it to obscurity. Georgie, Georgie, they call you the Belfast Boy. Some of us still do.

Tears in the Morning:     The Beach Boys

This, on the other hand, was a song and an artist whom I remembered very well, though I recall it being a Radio Luxemburg song, rather than Radio 1. The turn of the Seventies was a time in which a great many pop stalwarts lost momentum and success, in a more collective manner than seemed ever to happen on the change between other decades. Pop bands went heavy in some form or other, went progressive, or just stopped having hits. The Beach Boys had coasted into 1970 with the old folk song, ‘Cottonfields’, but ‘Tears in the Morning’ was a slow ballad, a deep and mournful sound, full of harmonies that had nevertheless lost all their lightness. It was a song of regrets and loss, and the Beach Boys were never associated with that. It didn’t sell, and with the unworthy exception of ‘Lady Linda’ in the Eighties, they never would again in England. I lost track of it for a long time, but I never had to search for who I remembered.

The Singer: Raymond Froggatt

I listen to this song now, having only caught up with it in recent years, over thirty since it came out in the summer of 1971 and I got hooked on it, and it got played only a handful of times. I listen to this now, and I hear nothing but flaws in it. It’s pompous and sententious, it’s slow and sonorous, the words are pretentious. It’s a particularly turgid form of British country rock, complete with women choirs providing back-ups. There’s every reason for me to write this off as the difference between the teenage and the adult me. Yet when I hear it, it still pushes that fifteen year old’s buttons, in the way it did in 1971, straining through the fuzz that was Radio 1 MW reception in the Lakes, to hear every last note. It still trips something that that kid responded to. It reminds me that some things are frozen inside me and some areas of the past are not past, but still alive and occasionally far too close to the surface. I will sing of fools and kings and you will sing along.

This song cannot be heard on YouTube

Here comes that rainy-day feeling again: The Fortunes

I knew of The Fortunes from their two big 1965 hits that got an awful lot of airplay as oldies on Radio 1. There’d been two smaller hits that I didn’t learn about until buying Simon Frith’s Rock Files, the first of the books to compile chart hits. Obviously, they’d continued to release singles, all in the same smooth, orchestra-lit pop harmony vein, without hitting the charts again in the intervening years. Whether they got airplay or not, I don’t know, but this early 1971 single did. It even got the band back on Top of the Pops. It’s a good, strong-melodied, light track, ideal for my slowly-developing tastes. It still got the band nowhere, but it helped create a new buzz that contributed to their scoring a long-awaited top 10 return later in the year with the execrable ‘Freedom Come, Freedom Go’. This was always tons better.

It never rains in Southern California: Albert Hammond

Though I didn’t know it, I’d already heard a lot of Albert Hammond’s music by 1972. He’d been one of the main writers behind Oliver in the Overworld, the musical serial in the ITV kids programme Little Big Time, a Freddie Garrity vehicle (tapes wiped to general regret). He’d have a minor hit in 1973 but this song got a massive amount of summer airplay without going anywhere. It’s got a gorgeous melody, superb production and, in contrast to the light, airy, near-seamless music, a tale of despair to counteract. They guy’s headed out to California, where it never rains, to break into the Business. He’s failed, he’s busted, he’s broke. The endless sun mocks him. That such a light, almost weightless sound, such pure pop could be a vehicle for such pain was a revelation that might have had something to do with the song flopping. It still has the sun in its face now.

Skyline Pigeon: Elton John

This is included here as a bit of an anomaly. I don’t remember hearing this version at the time, but I was familiar with the cover by a semi-progressive band called Deep Feeling, which got a fair amount of airplay without going anywhere, and which will take its palace elsewhere in this series. It was many years later before I even knew this was an Elton John song, the best part of a year before he broke through, in January 1971, with ‘Your Song’. The original doesn’t carry with it the nostalgia effect, and that allows me to look a bit more dispassionately at the words, which are… strange, to say the least. Elton takes on the persona of, well, a pigeon, and a pretty awful life it is, people making you fly all over the place for them and as for this burning metal ring… In the end, it’s the ‘before-he-was-famous’ element that confirms this track’s place, the gulf between this and what time was very shortly going to bring.

Chicago: Graham Nash

Another track that got a lot of airplay in 1971 without selling. I think I remember more vividly the ones that didn’t make it that year than the ones that did! I knew Nash from C,S,N & Y, and ‘Marrakesh Express’, another much-played oldie (when I say that I learned about Sixties music from Radio 1 in the Seventies, I am not joking). This was a bouncy, up-and-down little song summoning the counterculture to Chicago to change the world. It’s sweet and terribly naïve and the relevance of Chicago in 1971 escapes me, fascinated as I am with contemporary American history. 1968 I could understand, vividly. Then again, Nash’s oblivious earnestness wouldn’t rule this song out as being written that year and refused by The Hollies.

I saw the light: Todd Rundgren

Like Red Herring’s ‘I’m a Gambler’, this was a perfect pop single that the record company threatened to keep on re-releasing until it was a hit, and again the Great British Record Buying Public stolidly refused to play ball. Which only goes to show how bloody stupid and bloody-minded they were in the early Seventies. Much was made of Rundgren playing and singing every part on this track, when rather more should have been made of how ebullient, loving and soaringly delightful it was. Rundgren never made it with the Great British Record Buying Public. Just imagine how better the world could have been if we did make songs this great into massive hits?

No Matter What: Badfinger

A rare but palpable (Top 5) hit. Badfinger were just one of many bands hailed as the new Beatles, especially with Paul McCartney’s backing, but everyone remembers their first and last hits and overlooks this one, in the middle. It’s decidedly Beatle-esque in voice and guitar, the latter a welcome change from the piano-led ‘Come and Get It’ (which time would prove to be a carbon copy of McCartney’s one man demo). Times were changing. The charts in the Sixties were littered with one-hit wonders covering the more commercial tracks off each new Beatles’ album. With the Fab Four gone, the copyists had to come up with their own songs. Badfinger were good enough to do so.

Never Met a Dog (that took to me): Vinegar Joe

A bloody brilliant blues song, one that’s in total control from start to finish, ballsy strut-stuffing. It sounded a natural for big things and the band were sure to make it big. You can tell it just by listening to this track. But Vinegar Joe went nowhere. It broke up when their two lead singers decided to quit and pursue solo careers, at which they proved to be very successful, with music that didn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the raw swagger of the band. I speak of course of Elkie (Pearl’s a Singer) Brooks and Robert (Addicted to Love) Palmer. Who’d a thunk it?

Black Water: The Doobie Brothers

It’s 1974 now, and the Doobie Brothers are getting late night airplay on the new commercial station, Piccadilly Radio: ‘Long Train Running’ and ‘Listen to the Music’. They’re not Radio 1 music, which was irredeemably square in the face of the new stations, Johnnie Walker the only exception and he wasn’t going to be around too much longer. It wasn’t exactly my cup of tea either, to be honest. But ‘Black Water’ was different. It wasn’t a single over here, only in America, so it didn’t get that much airplay, but it was a gentler, looser sound, and slower rhythm and I couldn’t get enough of the bit where the band went a cappella. Thirty years later, I could download it and burn it and listen to it properly.

Seagull: Rainbow Cottage

In 1975, Rainbow Cottage, a long-standing, continually gigging band, like many others working their socks off every night, came as close as they would come to ‘stardom’ with this single. As is the case with so many tracks in this series, it got airplay but no sales. A follow-up got a lot less attention, even from me, and it was back to the road. ‘Seagull’, the second song in this compilation to be about a bird, was way out of step for this year, even this decade. It’s light to the point of insubstantiality, the instrumentation is nondescript and covered up by minimal strings. It doesn’t fit. It’s the inverse of those odd Sixties-recorded songs that feature here because they’re indelibly associated with the Seventies. In some ways, liking it  was an early nostalgia for that period when I was trying to decide just what kind of music I liked.

Shoes: Reparata

Most of us only knew Reparata from the old ‘Captain of your Ship’, with her Delrons. ‘Shoes’ was a hit in the making from the off, all over the air, it’s underlying rhythm and little bouzouki bursts making up for its lack of a chorus, its story of a big, glorious wedding, it’s growing tempo and excitement, it had everything. It got into the top 50, reached no 43, stalled and died. I was used to this by now, finding songs that to my ears sounded like guaranteed smashes, but which  the Great British Record Buying Public ignored, but this time round it didn’t seem to be my eccentric taste, everybody loved it. The answer, I found out, decades later, was a complex legal action over the Reparata name. ‘Shoes’ was sung by Mary O’Leary, the original Reparata, but one of her Delrons was now Reparata with the continuing band and sued… The single was pulled from the shops, the Great British Record Buying Public who wanted to buy it couldn’t. There’s a momentum to these things. The time is right and that’s right now and right now it wasn’t there.

When an old Cricketer leaves the crease: Roy Harper

The vast majority of Lost 70s tracks are singles, because the series is made up out of my memories, created in days when music radio was an endless, addictive companion. Eight minute long, slow acoustic numbers, full of cricket positions and metaphors, and underpinned by the not-yet-quite-fashionable ‘authenticity’ of a brass band do not get released as singles. Roy Harper was a serious musician, and this a serious, wistful, elegiac lament for the loss of something never defined, expressed in terms that are superficially fanciful, but ultimately utterly English. A lament for (better) times lost? Why in these years of the most right-wing doctrinaire incompetent Government should that strike any chord with me?

Dancing the Night Away: The Motors

Roy Harper represented the old Seventies, the ‘Sounds of the Seventies’ Seventies, the kind of lost music that inspires this series of CDs. For the rest of this disc, we shift to the new Seventies, the punk(-inspired) era. Music of energy, pace, drive. Like much of the rest of this set, The Motors don’t belong to the main punch of punk, which was too vivid, too stormy and, for me at least, too memorable to warrant inclusion. The band emerges out of the ashes of Ducks Deluxe, one of the mid-Seventies pub rock bands who laid the groundings for punk. It’s closer to straight rock than punk, a bit clunky, a bit unwieldy, but marking a definite change in musical attitude that I was steadily growing to like throughout 1977. Of course, the follow-up, their biggest hit, ‘Airport’, with its clean lines, its underlying synthesizer, was pure pop, with only the energy of punk to differentiate it, and that was that as far as The Motors’ serious reputation was concerned, but this was a building block in changing my musical tastes for the rest of my life.

California Uber Alles: The Dead Kennedys
Holiday in Cambodia: The Dead Kennedys

Let’s take these two tracks together. The Dead Kennedys were a Californian band who got closer to the heart of British punk in that brief time than anyone else that side of the water. In their extravagant front man, Jello Biafra, they had a great singer and a man fueled by the same rage as the No Future kids of England, but whose rage was attached to a great satirical spirit. ‘California uber Alles’ is full of anger at their home State’s coolness, it’s growing reputation for mellow, it’s seemingly spaced out Governor, Jerry Brown. We are the suede denim Secret Police, we have come for your uncool needs. ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ probably needs no explaining. Biafra was called ‘sick’ at the time for the subjects of his songs, but the vitriol that runs through them, the well-directed sneer that is in no way casual make these two of the most powerful singles ever released in succession. If the band could never match the intensity of this quite again, it’s maybe not surprising.

Eine Symphonie des Grauens: The Monochrome Set

The Monochrome Set were new wave rather than punk. There was a strong experimental element to their music that was art schoolish in many respects, and I was not the only one who, when Franz Ferdinand made it big in the 2000s, saw a direct link. ‘Eine Symphonie des Grauens’ was really the only Monochrome Set track I liked, a bizarre compilation of song fragments strung together with seemingly little care for continuity, but centred upon a chorus that, despite the deliberate constriction of its melody, still riveted my attention. An unforeseen gem.

I wanna destroy you: The Soft Boys

I maybe only heard this a couple of times, enough to be captured by the gleeful title line, and its almost shrieking harmonies, and I didn’t get to know it well until download, many years later. The Soft Boys were an early vehicle for the wilfully eccentric Robin Hitchcock, of whom I have a cassette of live songs with his band The Egyptians, recorded by my old mate John M. Hitchcock is very clever, has an absurdist sense of humour and the deadpan seriousness of the true absurdist, yet capable of creating songs of breathtaking simplicity, beauty and joy, such as ‘Arms of Love’, recorded by R.E.M. ‘I wannna destroy you’ is an embryonic example of Hitchcock’s abilities, an inverted love song that doesn’t quite coalesce but is sustained by the sheer poise of its title line.

Summer Fun:     The Barracudas

To end in not quite serious vein. I never heard anything else by The Barracudas than this energetic pop punk outing, which crept into the bottom of the charts in the late summer of 1979, peaking at no. 27. It was described then as surf-punk, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a Beach Boys summer song with a punk edge, as threatening as the waves on Southport beach, but overflowing with that classy pop energy that we do so well. Even the silly intro, a spoof on American radio commercials with an announcer who can’t pronounce Barracuda, hasn’t outlived its welcome, but  when you get a song with such perfect ‘ba, ba-ba-ba-ba, ba, ba-ba’s as this, it’s so hard to screw up.

Imaginary Albums: Lost 70s Volume 1

Lost 70s Volume 1 ran to 23 tracks, mostly from the early to mid-70s. There’s only two post-1975 tracks on it, both from 1978, though neither of them sound in the least like songs from that year. And the second of them is the only top 30 hit single in the compilation! All but one of these tracks can be found on YouTube and there are links to each of these.

This is not the original version of the compilation. After getting very sloppy in curation and including a number of tracks several times on different volumes, not to mention including too many tracks by the same artist that would be better grouped, I re-burnt the entire series, filling in spaces with later selections.

Loving You Ain’t Easy    : Pagliaro

Michel Pagliaro was a French-Canadian singer-songwriter who recorded primarily in French. This, and its less-appealing follow-up, ‘Some Sing, Some Dance’ were the only tracks of his I heard. ‘Loving You Ain’t Easy’ was a bright, breezy, guitar-driven song that got lots of airplay in the hot summer of 1971. After several weeks, it actually climbed to no 35 and Pagliaro scored a TOTP appearance. But the track was thinly produced and lacked the single’s verve, which killed it’s chances of breaking through. Still a great piece of guitar pop.
Gotta Find You: Rescue Company Number 1

A weird, doomy string draped 1970 pop song with a mid-tempo sound that got enough airplay to intrigue but which I never got hold of until well into the 2000s. The band had more airtime for their very commercial second single, ‘Life’s too short’, in 1971. The song’s credited to professional songwriting team Arnold, Martin and Morrow, and the similarities in tempo and vocals to their top 20 hit ‘Don’t You Know’ as Butterscotch lead me to think that this was a studio creation, with the writers doing the singing, and the band only put together to pick up the name for the folow-up. This one’s got a bit of a stalker-vibe to it that would be much-multiplied when we got to ‘Every Breath You Take’.

Love and Rainy Weather: Tony Christie

Christie’s commercial peak had already passed by the time this song appeared in 1973. It was the theme song to the film of the Jack Rosenthal TV sitcom, The Lovers and it’s semi-relaxed atmosphere brings memories of a film I loved, and its co-star, Paula Wilcox, who I always seriously fancied.

Gypsy Woman: Brian Hyland

This 1970 song was another turntable hit, Tony Blackburn in particular plugging it for months until it briefly troubled the charts at no 40. I had no idea who Hyland was at the time, nor his big early Sixties’ hits, I just loved the rolling warmth of the electric piano intro, and the leap towards the falsetto that Hyland’s voice took – rather artificially to my more-practiced ears – when he went into the chorus of this old Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions song. This is part of the soundtrack to the months of adjusting to life in the aftermath of my Dad’s death.

Albert Flasher: The Guess Who

The only thing I knew about this Canadian band was their minor UK success with ‘American Woman’ in 1970, which I’d hated. This 1971 single was  rarely played and I never got to hear it properly, but it’s another tie to that hot summer, the summer of hot-pants, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep and incessant games of Subbuteo with my mate, Steve Callaghan.

Living without you: Manfred Mann

The original Manfred Mann had turned into the jazzrock oriented Chapter Three in 1969, and this was the first step back towards a more commercial sound in 1971, before the band acquired the Earth Band soubriquet. It’s a smooth, synthesizer laden version of a Randy Newman song. I was listening a lot to Radio Luxemburg this year, and they tended to play it far more than Radio 1, which denied me a proper chance to get this on tape. Next year, they’d record and have a hit with ‘Joybringer’, but this was the first step on that road.

I need you: America

Intro-free, piano-led, unsuccessful follow-up to ‘A Horse with no Name’. I got to know this well from America’s first album, which I had for a time. It’s just a lovely, yearning, beautifully harmonised song that was sweet but too bland to build on the freak success of their first release.

It’s up to you Petula: Edison Lighthouse

Speaking of things not building on first successes… This version of Edison Lighthouse was definitely a put-up band to cash in on the success of ‘Love Grows Where my Rosemary Goes’, five weeks at Number 1 at the start of 1970. That was one of four simultaneous Top 10 hits written by the same group of professional songwriters and recorded by themselves under different names, with session musicians/singers – principally Tony Burroughs, who did lead vocals on all of them. It took nearly a year to put together an Edison Lighthouse to pick up on the hit and this follow-up was far too lightweight, jangly and out of step with the change in music in that twelvemonth to go anywhere. A near Top 30 miss: but I liked it at the time, and the nostalgia’s enough to do it for me still.

Curried Soul: Mr Bloe

Speaking of things not building on first successes (part 2)… I loved the original ‘Groovin’ with Mr Bloe’ single. It was my favourite single of 1970, and only my second ever single bought, a purchase I held off making until the week it hovered at no 2, hoping to help push it to the very top, past Mungo Jerry: alas, no. It was an oddball track, originally a loop, irreverent b-side to an American single, mistakenly flipped over here and recorded by a studio band. The original piano track was played by Elton John, but the producer didn’t like it, so arranger Zack Laurence was brought in to re-record it and that ended up being the hit version. Part of is success was the novelty effect of a harmonica instrumental (played by veteran Harry Pitch, also famous for the theme music to Last of the Summer Wine) but I also believe it was popular in the Northern Soul venues. ‘Curried Soul’ did feature Elton John, and the other four musicians went on to perform as Hookfoot, but the novelty had worn off and Radio 1 only played it to talk over. As soon as I could download, I was determined to get this properly at last.

Classical Gas: Beggar’s Opera

Another unsuccessful instrumental. I knew very little about Beggar’s Opera, but in 1973 they covered the old Mason Williams hit, ‘Classical Gas’, taking out the acoustic guitar and the orchestra, adding a more progressive touch with electric piano and a pure seventies style synthesizer, with an underlay of electric guitar that borrowed a little of the funkiness of the ‘Shaft’ theme. That synthesizer sound, the sound of pure electronics, music made digital with the rasping, almost frayed edge of the traditional Moog, that’s vanished now, but it was the sound of the Manfred Mann track, it picks up the secondary theme here, and there’s another example of that raw sound, near the end of this compilation. A worthy companion to the original.

Promised Land: Johnnie Allan

My first introduction to Cajun music. This high-speed take on the Chuck Berry original about heading to California to make your fortune gets ripped up and put back together as a cajun shouter, with Allan’s hoarse, accented vocals whipping through the verses almost as fast as the red-hot accordian solos, whilst the band lay down a flat, solid groove. I did some Cajun dancing lessons once, many years after this, and I can’t now hear if without seeing the couples, bent-knee shuffling, hurtling around a sweaty dance floor as Johnnie Allan drives them on to faster and faster spins. Primitive, high energy stuff, perfect for blaring out of your radio, and only two minutes long. Released in 1978 but could have been recorded any time.

Westbound No. 9: Flaming Ember

Evidence that time and tastes change. Flaming Ember were an American blue-eyed soul band who had a couple of hits over there and did nothing in the UK. I hated this in 1971, couldn’t stand hearing it, which  thankfully wasn’t too often, but I like it now. There’s a lot of 1971 music on this compilation.

Water Sign: Gary Wright

Everybody used to go on about Gary Wright being an ex-member of Spooky Tooth, which meant nothing to me. He’d gone off to America where he’d become very successful as a solo artist, with a big hit in ‘Dream Weaver’, which I didn’t like, but this later single, 1976 I think, caught my ears. Whilst everything so far on this compilation is Radio 1 music, Gary Wright was the sort of thing I got through Piccadilly Radio, Manchester’s Commercial Station (April 1974) and particularly the evening/late programmes. There’s a lot more of that on the next compilation.

Overnight Sensation (Hit Record): The Raspberries

The Raspberries were led by Eric Carmen, he of the utterly loathsome and whiny ‘All By Myself’ (there was some serious self-pitying about in the back half of the Seventies). But the Raspberries were all about pop, big, bright, commercial pop, innocent and fresh. ‘Overnight Sensation’ had it all, great harmonies, a cool tune, slow and up tempo bit, a sax solo, even a neat moment where the sound abruptly fades, turning the song into something heard through a tinny old transistor radio. There’s even a false ending followed by a great, thundering burst of drums. It was fun from start to finish one of those  records where it was impossible to fathom out why Radio 1 didn’t want to play it.

Don’t Pull Your Love: Hamilton, Joe Frank and Reynolds

Another 1971 alumnus. One of the band was going out with the gorgeous actress/model Caroline Munro and expressed his displeasure at Colin Blunstone releasing the achingly wonderful ‘Caroline Goodbye’, about the ending of his relationship with the lady. Stupidity like that didn’t prejudice me against this jaunty, brass-propelled, stop-start number, with its richly American sound. Blue-eyed soul is the closest genre for this song. The band went on to be quite successful in the States, but I never heard another thing from them.

No Regrets: Tom Rush

Although it was the later Walker Brothers’ cover that sold, taking them into the Top 10 for one final, belated time, I had already fallen in love with Rush’s original, which had been around for months without any prospect of it selling. It’s a beautifully sad, low-key, self-contained acoustic song, with minimal instrumentation. It’s about the end of a relationship, when everything’s been said and done, when the couple have stayed together far too long and it’s time to go. Rush sings in a deliberately dispassionate tone, allowing only hints to creep through about how hard it all is to let go, even with what he knows. This is a great song, obviously built from personal experience, made all the better by its steely determination not to over-emote. Stunning.

An American Trilogy: Mickey Newbury

And a second successive original of a song taken up and made successful by a bigger artist. Elvis Presley had the top 10 hit with this medley of American songs, but it was country singer Newbury who conceived of, and arranged, this loving, sincere and thoughtful tune. Newbury sings slow, and simply a medley of ‘Dixie’, the negro spiritual ‘All my trials’ and ‘The Battle Hymn of the Republic’, all three songs reduced to a slow, lamenting, intense vocal, with minimal instrumentation keep well to the rear. An amazingly simple and deeply effective idea, even to those of us with no nationalistic attachment to the originals.

Our National Pastime: Rupert Holmes

Rupert Holmes (originally David Goldstein, born in Northwich, Cheshire to USAF parents) is best known over here for 1979’s ‘Pina Colada Song’. He’s one of those witty, slightly over-clever songwriters, that you can’t help feeling are too fond of demonstrating their superior cleverness. It’s shot all the way through this 1974 single, which I heard off Piccadilly Radio, but which I nevertheless like, because its goofiness overrides its underlying smugness. It’s basically a story-song, with spoken word interludes, about a guy who meets a girl at a rained-off baseball game and takes her home, hoping to score. The awkwardness is still entertaining all these years later and the ending is still horribly embarrassing. But in a good way.

You keep tightening up on me: The Box-Tops

Everyone knows that the Box Tops were that ultimately enigmatic genius, Alex Chilton. But this 1970 single was recorded without him or any of the old line-up, though you wouldn’t know that from the sound of it, which is just as firm, direct and tuneful as classics like ‘The Letter’ or ‘Soul Deep’. Ok, if you listen closely enough, you can tell that’s not Chilton on lead, but the half dozen times I heard this played, I had no ear for such subtleties nor experience of other songs to tell. All I knew was that this was a great pop song and it should have been played thousands of times. But it wasn’t.

Toast and Marmalade for Tea: Tin Tin

This has nothing to do with Herge and a lot more to do with Maurice Gibb, who supported this Australian band and got them a British album deal. The band released four singles, of which none charted and only two got any airplay, but this got a lot of airplay. It’s distinguished by a vibrato piano effect, created by pissing around with the tape, as the band harmonise a dreamy, eight line rhyme that’s repeated with the addition of extra instrumentation. It was a particular favourite of Ed Stewart, so it got a lot of ‘Junior Choice’ airtime in 1970. The sound stood out, but the public resisted.

The Ride to Agadir: Mike Batt

Mike Batt’s had a very mixed career. By 1975, when he recorded this crunchy, propulsive, Moorish-influenced pounder, I knew him for The Wombles, which had been his commercial breakthrough. This song, and the album it was taken from, were an attempt to be recognised as a serious musical artist, but you only had to start chanting Remember You’re a Womble to know that that was a complete non-starter. But I always liked the drive of this track, with its lyrics recalling the Riffs and fighters of Morocco of the Desert Song era, it’s strident harmonies and the sheer determination of Batt to be heavy. Despite the presence of very Seventies drums, I think it still stands up very well. If more people had agreed with me, maybe we might have been spared ‘Summertime City’.

Mr President: D, B, M and T

To be honest, most of this 1970 single, which did get the band on TOTP the week it was nearest to cracking the Top 30 (that’s the performance which is linked below), was not very interesting, just a shuffling acoustic beat, some harmonies on a not-very-distinctive tune, and a rather artificial lyric about suspicion of the President: all very Sixties-pop-group-get-serious-now-its-1970. For D, B, M and T are of course Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich, now that Dave Dee had left to go unsuccessfully solo. What made the song, then and now, is its sudden eruption into an out of place synthesizer solo, that ol’ Moog making itself felt. The rest of it was worthy-but-dull. It was 1970, what else is there to say?

Loving you has made me Bananas: Guy Marks

Last, but not least, is the only actual hit single on the entire CD, a bona fide, twice upon TOTP, number 26 hit in the summer of 1978, when I was living in Nottingham, instead of Manchester. And the joke is that not a single second of this record sounds as if it could have been recorded any time after about 1938. ‘Loving you has made me bananas’ was a spoof, a gloriously, lovingly created spoof, of a sound and a time and a conception of music that no longer existed, done with immaculate conviction by a guy old enough to be your grandfather. It’s not just a song, it’s a radio broadcast, a live ballroom performance in miniature, that only rises into even the mildest of satires when the medley of standard favourites is performed just the song’s titles as lyrics. It’s one of those real WTF songs that you’re not entirely sure about, but the smile is both taunting and delighted, so lose yourself in its conviction for two and a half minutes, bask in a world so entire, and give yourself up to what it must have been like. There was no way you could follow this, which is why I placed it last on this disc.