The Infinite Jukebox: Frank Sinatra’s ‘Strangers in the Night’

My father and his elder brother hated motorways. They didn’t like the A6 either, finding it too congested, despite the traffic taken away by the M6 (which in those days ended just short of Carnforth). So, before our next holiday, Uncle Arthur wrote off to the AA for An Alternative Route from Manchester to the Lake District Avoiding the A1.
It was a roundabout route, for obvious reasons, but we were in no especial hurry, and it took us through Central Lancashire, Bury, Rawtenstall, Nelson, and across the moors via Gisburn to the main road across the edge of the Yorkshire Limestone Country, through Settle and Kirby Lonsdale (which we passed dozens of times but never entered).
It was a gentle, friendly, familiar way that was an essential part of going away on holiday.
Whatever route we took, we always stopped for lunch in Milnthorpe, at 12.30pm every time. We would always eat at The Flying Dutchman cafe, in the Market Square, and I was allowed sausage barms for the only time in the year. We’d wallow in the break, not returning to the car until 2.00pm to resume our journey.
Which is all very well, but what has this to do with music?
The Flying Dutchman had a jukebox. One year it had the forerunner of a Video Jukebox, but in 1966 they had an ordinary one. 1966 was the first year we, amazingly, got away for three holidays in the Lakes, three separate weeks. And 1966 was the year of ‘Strangers in the Night’.
When you set it against some of the other number 1s of 1966 – The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, the Stones, the Beatles, the Troggs – it’s an oddity, almost a throwback, but if it is it was a glorious throwback and an instant hit, charting at no 14 in its first week and number 1 for three weeks thereafter. It was one of Sinatra’s best and strongest songs for a long time, a rich and powerful melody, and lyrics that married hope, fate and circumstance into a love story that resonates with everyone.
Strangers in the Night. It’s an evocative phrase, full of mystery and possibility. Two people meet, who have never seen each other before. Two lonely people, both consciously or subconsciously looking for someone with which to share lives. Anything can happen. Love was just a glance away, a warm embracing dance away.
Sinatra’s voice is rich and enveloping. It’s not the swing of the Fifties, but it’s an embracing sound on a song that could have been written for him, that may indeed have been written for him.
And indeed it is love at first sight. The Strangers who met have embraced each other, have chosen a life that bonds them. It turned out so right.
It’s a universal dream. Every one of us, practically, meets the person we will love as a stranger. Sinatra pulls us into that world of possibility, incarnates what we feel about the chance of a future. He sings us into that future with the sound of the past.
Song and singer: for me, ‘Strangers in the Night’ is the definitive Sinatra song, not the overplayed, supposed signature song, ‘My Way’. Sinatra was a familiar sound to me from endless days of playing in the living room at Brigham Street, absorbed with things like a miniature cannon that fired used matches to knock over ranks of little plastic soldiers, giveaways from Corn Flakes packets no doubt, a military band with varying numbers of instruments. And Mam does her housework and drinks her cups of tea whilst the Light Programme plays and I absorb some of the classic songs of Sinatra’s late-Fifties/early-Sixties period. In 1966, free of the impression of pop, another classic song is free to impress itself upon me. Like The Gang Show, not everything in your head is there because you chose it for yourself.
I love the song anyway, but it has significance for me from 1966. All three times we walked into The Flying Dutchman, ‘Strangers in the Night’ was playing on their Jukebox. Mam and Dad loved Sinatra anyway, and they loved the song’s association. Though they didn’t buy records, they bought this: an EP of which this was the title track. Many a time it would play at Sunday tea-time, and it was a long time before I could hear this without subconsciously expecting it to be followed by ‘On a Clear Day you can see Forever’.
When my mother died, the EP was among her things. My sister no longer had a record player but I did, and so I took it. I no longer have a record player but I still have the record, and I will keep it until my time comes, because it is an indelible link to days gone by and a rare example of my tastes coinciding with my parents’.
And because I remember meeting a stranger for the first time, in the early afternoon, not the night, but with the same outcome Frank Sinatra sung about.

The Infinite Jukebox: The Gang Show’s ‘The Crest of a Wave’

Well might you blink at the inclusion of this one. We are really delving into pre-history when it comes to my experience of music.
Before pop it was nursery rhymes and kid’s songs, Housewives’ Choice and Workers Playtime on the Light Programme whilst Mam did her housework at Brigham Street. At Burnage Lane, Dad bought a stereo radiogram, a massive piece of furniture on which to play records or listen to the radio. When he wired one set of speakers through into the Breakfast Room, we could have music whilst we ate, especially at Sunday teatime.
Their records, their music, and no avenue, if there had been the appetite, for me to know better.
Some LPs stand out in memory. They had one of those cheapo ‘Soundtrack’ albums, forerunners of the ‘Top of the Pops’ and ‘Hot Hits’ series, session musicians and singers recording tinny, feeble versions of hit singles and rushing them out for a fraction of the price of a normal LP. Maybe we had more than one: I know we had The Sound of Music and I know we had one on which Dickie Henderson sang, and I don’t think they were the same. The actual Soundtrack album was too expensive for parents who loved Musicals.
We did have George Formby’s greatest hits, whether that was the actual title of it, which I loved, and so did my little sister, although I got precisely none of the innuendo. It was silly songs with singalong melodies.
There was one album that Dad had, that had personal significance to him as a former Boy Scout. That was another singalong, but not of silly songs and far too upstanding to have any truck with innuendo. It was a staple of Sunday teatimes and I had forgotten it for a very long time until the random access butterfly of memory waggled its wings again, and I wondered if it was on YouTube, and it was.
The Gang Show, which persists to the present day, was a Boy Scout amateur production, created by Rover Scout Ralph Reader, a man with theatrical interests and talents. It began as a London show in 1932, was repeated in 1934 and became an annual event. It’s a mixture of song, dance and skits, performed entirely by Scouts, resolutely amateur. Every Scouting Association can put one on, anywhere, and they’re all Gang Shows. They were so prolific that they used to say that every night of the year a Gang Show is being performed somewhere.
We had, or Dad had, an album of twelve such songs, energetic singalongs by mass voices. At this remove, with not the faintest idea of what album it was, I suspect there was also a nautical theme to the songs, which would make it doubly personal to Dad, an ex-Navy man.
‘Crest of a Wave’, like many other Gang Show favourites, was written by Reader. It was the Gang Show theme song, the finale of all their concerts, and the finale of our album, that we learned to listen for, for its simple, almost naïve ebullience, and as the climax of the disc. It was never imposed on us, my sister and I would ask for it.
The video is a clip from the film version in 1937. Don’t ask when our album was recorded, the only thing I can tell you is that it was a live performance and the memory of it is as sharp as a knife in the heart. Not all the music on The Infinite Jukebox is my choice.

The Infinite Jukebox: Love’s ‘Alone Again, Or’

If you were around in the Seventies, you couldn’t help knowing this oddly-titled song from West Coast band Love, the opening track of their legendary 1967 album Forever Changes. Like Todd Rundgren’s ‘I saw the Light’ it was one of those singles the record company kept determinedly releasing, Radio 1 kept gleefully playing and the Great British Record-Buying Public kept resolutely turning their collective back upon. You cloth-eared idiots. In a better organised Universe, ‘Alone Again Or’ would have been released just as often and would have been top 5 on every one. Bliss it would have been in that dawn to be alive.
The thing is that if ‘Alone Again Or’ didn’t capture the British ear in 1967, when it was wonderfully, beautifully of its time, there is no evidence in the song that it might do so in the sun-less Seventies.
Forever Changes was Love’s third album and ‘Alone Again Or’ the opening track, written and sung by Arthur Lee, one of two songwriters and singers the band was blessed with. After pursuing a crisp, electric pop style, containing occasional flashes of proto-punk, the band adopted an almost entirely acoustic approach for this album, apparently without prior intent, but in response to the songs and the arrangements that best suited them.
‘Alone Again Or’ has an unusual structure, one that you might think would mitigate against its appeal as a single. The song is a stop-start affair. It opens with a solo acoustic guitar, a complex melody picked out by Lee (or Bryan McLean if it was him) with a mere brush of chords beneath, before the drums enter with a skip beat and the band is there in full, supporting Lee’s voice, eager and enthusiastic. I’ll come back to the words later, but as the verse spins out there’s an accelerating energy, leading to the almost desperate “And I will be alone again tonight, my dear”, a line decorated with trumpet, before the music abruptly ends, and the acoustic intro returns, fading up out of the music.
We run through the intro again, the drum beat skips and we’re back with the band for the second verse, leading to the same climactic line and trumpets.
The intro is played through again, the drum skips, but this is now the solo, and it’s the trumpet which plays the melody Arthur Lee has been singing, supported by sweeping but slightly removed strings, up to that line again, without words.
And yes, we go through the intro and the second verse a final time and when the song dies away to leave that acoustic guitar in place, there is a change of note, a slowing down, and a final dying away to an end.
I love the song, and it’s sound is the sound of Forever Changes, and if you like ‘Alone Again, Or’ and are wondering, the album is indeed worth it. But there’s no denying it is a bit of an oddball, like a miniature song played four times over in the course of three minutes.
And the title leads nowhere. It isn’t sung, and Lee, as I’ve already said, only sings about being alone again, my dear. Who’s he addressing? The first verse is sung to a girl, a woman, a perhaps partner who lets him down, leaving him waiting patiently for her to turn up. He asks how she can do what she chooses to do before announcing that, impliedly yet again, he’ll be alone again tonight.
But the second verse is completely unrelated to this set-up. Someone tells Arthur a funny thing, that he could be in love with almost everyone. He thinks that people are the greatest fun. But once again he’ll be alone tonight…
What gives? These are the whole of the lyrics, a neglectful girlfriend in one verse, a hippy appreciation of humanity in the other. Has Lee dropped acid during the second guitar intro?
Who knows? But though some remember 1967 for psychedelia and all things related, and others recall it as the year of Engelbert Humperdinck, Love and Forever Changes and ‘Alone Again, Or’ were also something that could only have been that year, but which is not only of that year but forever.
Whatever the reason, you know where I’ll always place the blame. There was a lot of bloody good American pop and rock music of all kinds in the Sixties that never stood a chance over here. They stand proudly in the Infinite Jukebox.

The Infinite Jukebox: Honeybus’s ‘I Can’t Let Maggie Go’

Though it’s sullied slightly by its latter-day association with a former doctrinaire and divisive Prime Minister (that little turd, Jonathan King, recorded a cover version when the late Mrs Thatcher was forced out of office), Honeybus’ only hit single is still a wonderful piece of light as air pop, delivered in almost formal tones, with one of the late-Sixties’ best simple-but-sweeping chorus lines. Better yet, the song survived a million repetitions throughout the next decade in television commercials promoting Nimble Bread.
Honeybus are a bit of an oddity. Their recorded oeuvre includes songs only aired as live broadcasts on pre-Radio 1 BBC programmes where they’re called The Honeybus by a young and enthusiastic Brian Matthew, there was much confusion over whether they were Honeybus or Honey Bus, and just when they were on the edge of catching on in a way that their delicate, often fragile music deserved but which would have felt alien, their leader quit because he hated live gigs.
‘I can’t let Maggie Go’ was the band’s only hit, although with the frequency that Radio 1 used to play their second single, ‘(Do I still) Figure in your Life?’, as an oldie, you’d have thought that that too was a massive success. Honeybus were a basic four piece guitar/bass/piano/drums outfit, and their music had a distinct Beatle-esque tone, but unlike most bands inspired by the Fab Four, their main source of inspiration was ‘Eleanor Rigby’.
The first thing you notice about ‘Maggie’ is that its intro is played on a clarinet, with the band almost a distant sound beneath its melody, and it’s the clarinet that gets the solo, as well as wandering in and out of the song, adding decoration to the otherwise plain and simple, acoustic based sound. There’s a surprising busyness to the drums, which are mixed forward and frequently vigorous without ever doing more than complementing the music
But like so many other songs of the Sixties or inspired by them, the music is a vehicle for the voice, which carries the melody. Writer, band-leader and singer Pete Dello (sometimes called ‘Psychy-Dello’ according to Brian Matthew on one of those BBC shows) sings smoothly, sweetly. He’s singing about a girl, a fresh and lively girl, who makes him laugh and cry ‘with a twinkle of her eye’. They walk here and there, and people stop and stare (but not at him). The girl is what would then have been called a stunner, and there’s a touch of awe in Dello’s voice as if he can’t believe his luck that she’s with him.
It’s simple, plain and sweet. But beware of simplicity. The minimal verses may depict an idyllic scene, lead you to imagine a summer’s day, a park, the breeze in her hair and the girl alive with life, but that’s to neglect the chorus, on which the band sing in harmony, on one of the best and most uplifting lines of the Sixties. Because She flies like a bird in the sky.
Is it real or is it fantasy? The Nimble Bread ads concretised the the image with a beautiful girl with long dark hair soaring across idyllic country in a big old hot-air balloon, effortless and romantic, like the music. The line in the song comes from Dello’s intense love and awe. The flying is figurative, the girl is lighter than air, she rises above him, like a bird.
And the next line confirms as it confuses: She flies like a bird, and I wish that she was mine. She’s with him, but not with him. They’re friends, perhaps, but he loves her deeply and she doesn’t know. He’s in awe of her: She flies like a bird, oh me, oh my, I see, I sigh, but no real relationship can be based upon awe. Now I know, he says, I can’t let Maggie go.
On the surface this sounds like typical male Sixties chauvinism, but Honeybus aren’t like that, the music is too soft and sweet, too undemanding, and anyway, he can’t insist on keeping her because he hasn’t got her. He never has, and the yearning of that sweet and gorgeous chorus is that deep inside he knows he never will. He’s the best male friend, the one who is faithful and trustworthy but who will never be seen in the light in which he sees her.
The clarinet plays its miniature solo and the song returns to its chorus, unable to say more and only able to celebrate hopelessly the woman who is loved. She flies like a bird in the sky, they sing, again and again, and you could listen to this for hours upon hours, but Dello is canny enough to end as he began. The music winds down, the clarinet decorates the ceasing memory and the band’s final, ‘ooh-ooh-oohs’ and thus it is ended. It’s a sound that typifies 1968, and the spring in which this song reached no. 8. It couldn’t have been recorded at any other time.
‘I can’t let Maggie go’ is undoubtedly a minor song. Honeybus, in turning their sound towards cellos and woodwind, were turning their face away from the slowly increasing heaviness of electric music to the countervailing appeal of baroque pop, which in the end failed to make the impression it should have, because ultimately the baroque was fey and charming, qualities not wanted as the music business began dividing itself between controlled, cabaret pop and the burgeoning underground. Honeybus missed out, especially after Dello left.
Compilation CDs are available, showcasing their entire repertoire, and they are an intriguing delight. But the only visible remnant of Honeybus is ‘I can’t let Maggie go’, and it is a gem of which The Beatles themselves would have been proud, except that John Lennon would have been too strident for this, and Paul McCartney insufficiently nuanced. Pete Dello it had to be. And it’s not a bad legacy to have, is it?

The Infinite Jukebox: Thunderclap Newman’s ‘The Reason’

As I mentioned in the context of Speedy Keen’s ‘Someone to Love’, Thunderclap Newman only released four singles in their brief career. Everyone knows ‘Something in the Air’, the Number 1 hit that nobody expected and everyone struggled to follow. It was almost a year later when a follow-up appeared, charting for one week at no. 44, which was the end of the band’s chart career.
Career do I say? And ‘band’ do I say? Thunderclap Newman took their name from keyboard and kazoo player Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, an eccentric 24 year old GPO Engineer and jazz fan, who didn’t want to go into the music business because it would disrupt his GPO pension. It included guitar wizard Jimmy McCullough, a 15 year old from Glasgow who would end up a member of Wings playing on songs on which no guitar could be heard. And the trio were a studio set-up as a vehicle to record the songs of John ‘Speedy’ Keen, Who roadie, Pete Townshend chauffeur and Best Man at his wedding.
There was nothing organic about them. In a New Musical Express interview, to promote his first and only solo album, Newman commented that he liked Keen but didn’t like his music, whereas for McCullough it was the opposite.
‘Something of the Air’ stands head, shoulders and torso above the rest of the band’s limited oeuvre (a total of 18 tracks including single and album versions of their second and third singles). It came and went in that last year before I started listening to music. ‘Accidents’ was a weird choice for a single, even in its completely re-recorded shorter form, but the one that caught my ear and swallowed me up entire was the third single, ‘The Reason’, that for a long time I believed was called ‘There’s a Reason’, because that’s the line Speedy sings.
I caught it on tape the first time I heard it, losing less than two seconds as it went straight into the lyrics, and playing it over and over again. It wasn’t until sometime the following year, or maybe even the one after when, having accompanied my mother to Ashton Market one Saturday afternoon, I was allowed five minutes to browse the singles untidily piled on a record stall. It was a cold afternoon and Mam didn’t want to just hang around and freeze, so she asked if there was anything in particular I was looking for. I mentioned ‘There’s a Reason’ so she went off down the other end of the stall whilst I picked through what was in front of me and she came back two minutes later holding a single in an inappropriate DJM Records sleeve and asked, “Is this what you’re after?” It sure was!
It’s a song with a tremendous nostalgic history behind it, a song that nobody else seemed to have heard of, but one that I loved and would play over and over again. I’d play it at my friends, none of whom seemed to appreciate it, but I could always sink into it and let the music surround me.
Yet it’s a weird choice as a single, even for 1970, when music was in flux between the certainties of the Sixties and the unfathomable future ahead. Anything could be a success, or so you’d have to believe if you look at releases, but ‘The Reason’ is improbable from the outset. Maybe if I’d had a couple of years listening under my belt, I might not have found it so fascinating.
But it’s a stop-start song, with quasi-mystical lyrics that never really resolve into a statement of what Keen is getting at. The instrumentation is low-key, and the rhythm constantly stops to allow the picked intro to repeat. The distinction between this and the album version is the brief, tinkling rather than thumping piano solo by Newman, overdubbed on an otherwise dull and shapeless harmonica interlude.
And there’s an extended coda where McCullough gets to strut his stuff with an electrifying solo that uses all the fretboard without ever losing its shape, which the single mix makes more concentrated and continuous.
Listening to it a half century further on, I find that for once my tastes have shifted away from a song that once was so meaningful to me, that it is now bound up almost entirely with nostalgia for days gone. Then, I wasn’t as familiar with ‘Something in the Air’ as I am now, not caught up in the spell of that magical sound and it’s summery haze of optimism. ‘The Reason’, in contrast, has no such aura about it, no such simplicity. Like all the band’s other songs, it lives in the shadow of something that couldn’t be repeated. I feel only sorrow that it no longer represents what I always thought it to be.

The Infinite Jukebox: Speedy Keen’s ‘Someone to Love’

Thunderclap Newman’s “Something in the Air” was in every sense a one hit wonder. I remember hearing its follow-up, the ambiguous “Accidents”, maybe a dozen times on Radio 1, when I was listening all hours it was broadcasting, and seeing a Music Week Top Fifty in our local record shop the one week it entered the chart, at 44. I heard it’s follow-up, “The Reason” (which I thought was called “There’s a Reason”) maybe three times (on one of which occasions I recorded it and played it to death) and the band’s final single, “Wild Country” (which I hated) only once.
Then there was Speedy Keen’s first solo album, from which two singles were taken, “Old-Fashioned Girl” which I can’t remember if I ever heard it played, and “Let us In”, which I definitely didn’t. The single and the album were released as John Keen, but the album had a silver ‘Speedy’ sticker across the name. No, when it came to John ‘Speedy’ Keen’s music, it really was “Something in the Air” or nothing.
Keen, who seems to be someone who, for all his talent, could easily have his confidence knocked down, started getting tracks together for a second solo album on Track Records, intended to be a double. But numerous halts and inefficiencies badly delayed its progress and, in early 1975, he signed to Island Records and made headway towards releasing a single album instead.
(Sometimes I wonder: does this mean there’s an album-worth of never-released Speedy songs stuck in a vault somewhere? If there is, I would kill to hear it!)
The release of Y’Know Wot I Mean? was preceded by a single, side two, track two’s “Someone to Love”. To my amazement, I first heard it on the radio. Not Radio 1 but Piccadilly Radio, Manchester’s Commercial Station, which I’d taken to my heart from the first day it broadcast in April 1974 (I even had a Piccadilly 261 t-shirt but then I was still only 19). Piccadilly took up “Someone to Love” in the summer of 1975, the only other Speedy track to get real airplay.
I loved it. I loved it because I loved Speedy Keen, because I loved that cracked falsetto yelp, and because I loved the melodies he came up with. But I also loved “Someone to Love” because it was a beautiful, heartfelt song that spoke exactly to my shyness around girls, my loneliness and my longings. I had fallen in love and made a mess of it and first love’s the one that’s the worst because, well, you don’t know anything else. This is it, this is the one, it will always be here, you can never feel like this about anyone else ever again.
When she wrote to dump me, as gently as possible, I went into a depressive fugue that lasted pretty much a full year. I was only just surfacing from it when I first heard that slow, liquid, almost oozing intro and Speedy’s voice, immediately familiar, singing those opening words, “If there’s anything I’ve forgotten…”
Apart from Keen’s voice, there was nothing in the sound of “Someone to Love”, or in its words, to connect to “Something in the Air”. It drifted in on a melange of electric piano, organ and an already weeping guitar, the drums that were Keen’s main instrument buried deep in the mix, understood rather than heard. No resounding acoustic, no thumped piano, no guitar whizz-kid. And no call to revolution, no sniffing the air for the hope that never came, but a lonely, lost recital of a life spent in confusion, in an isolated state of mind that can’t retain pleasures, like the dawning of a brand new day, like the children on a rolling surf. If he’s gotten lost a million miles away, watching streams turn into rivers.
And then Speedy’s voice soars, asking that if this is so, if he is lost, that someone comes out and finds him. He’s only looking for some to love.
Wonderfully, in the second verse, he’s speaking to another person. Someone who has come out to find him? Perhaps not. Perhaps it’s someone seen, but it is someone who is themselves lost in that loneliness, of not mattering to someone, and Speedy in turn promises to them that he will come out and find them. We’re only looking for someone to love.
Is that someone each other? In a way it doesn’t matter. Nothing has been settled by the time the song smoothes to its end. It’s about seeking, about supporting, about commitment to others for we are all of us, wherever we are and whatever we do, looking for someone to love. To love. To give to, not take from.
The music flows around us. I am almost tempted to describe it as an aural amniotic fluid, but that’s a bit too pretentious even for me. But it warms, it bathes, it is in its slow tones, its quiet melody, what Speedy Keen and those who respond to this exact degree of yearning are looking to find. I know from the years that passed after those days of confusion, insecurity and fear what I wanted in love and it was giving, not taking.
Before the end of 1976, Speedy Keen released one final single, two previously unreleased songs. There would be no more recordings. When he died, suddenly, in 2002, he was re-ordering things to start recording again. One of my greatest musical regrets was that I never had the chance to see him play live. I never got to hear him sing “Something in the Air”.
And I never got to hear him sing “Someone to Love”.

The Infinite Jukebox: Steel Mill’s ‘Green-eyed God’

It all began for me, music-wise, ten days before the end of the Sixties. I had the whole of 1970 to begin to understand the music that I’ve loved, and I wasn’t getting very far by the time we clicked over into 1971 and I found myself being forced into listening to another radio station.
Radio 1 was still sharing frequency space with Radio 2. Radio 1 broadcast individually between 7.00 – 9.00am, 12.00 – 2.00pm and 4.15-7.00pm. The rest of the time, it carried Radio 2’s output, Peter Murray, Terry Wogan etc. The evenings were dead, and the only concession to progressive music was Sounds of the Seventies, between 6.00 – 7.00pm daily. Not very good pickings.
But the Tories were elected in mid-summer 1970, bringing in Edward Heath as the new Prime Minister. The Unions were strong in those days and come the winter there were miners’ strikes causing power cuts. The purchase of candles was at a premium, because they were your only means of light when it all went suddenly dark. Similarly, television was off. Families huddled together. My new Xmas present transistor radio became a prized object.
And I discovered Radio Luxembourg, 208m on the Medium Wave Band.
This added another string to my pop bow, even without the power cuts, because Luxembourg commenced broadcasting at 7.30pm at night, half an hour after Radio 1 shut down. On the other hand, the signal was not very strong, and it got worse after 10.00pm, though of course I wasn’t up to listen to it after that time (officially).
But Luxembourg was situated in Europe, whereas Radio 1 was very much the home of British and American music. They had a different playlist generally, they introduced me to my first serious favourites, Lindisfarne, playing the unfairly overlooked first single ‘Clear White Light’, they were more prepared to play the kind of Sixties pop that was becoming obsolete, but, more importantly, they were more prepared to play European pop.
There were a couple of songs that I learned to love through hearing them on Radio Luxembourg in the early part of 1971, whose sound and milieu and complete absence from Radio 1 led me to believe they were from European bands. Black Swan, whose ‘Echoes and Rainbows’ was clearly being sung with a foreign accent, was actually multi-instrumentalist Billy Bridge, from France.
Steel Mill, who from the name alone I somehow took to be Dutch, turned out to be a short-lived London-based, heavy, progressive blues band. Only, if you listen to this, they don’t sound much of a heavy band, the brief guitar solo excepted.
‘Green-eyed God’ is a more-or-less instrumental, a soothing flute melody that, after its opening bars, develops on an easy-loping, unhurried rhythm of bass, bongoes and bones. It’s quiet, it’s peaceful, it’s almost hypnotic. It’s nothing like hard rock of any kind you’ve heard. Nor is it like the kind of flute solo Ray Thomas or Ian Anderson would play. It’s smooth and it’s cool.
We’re about a minute twenty in when an unobtrusive acoustic guitar beings to blend with the melody, a cymbal hisses, drums roll to a halt and, in the silence, a laidback voice sings the first of only four lines: Green-eyed God in the midnight sun. Flute and bongoes take up the tune again, pausing for the next line: Surrender to him, give up your fight.
And this is how it progresses. A different fragment of melody, of rhythm, interspersed with lines sung in silence, a final restatement of the main flute melody, the acoustic guitar picking a line, and then the flute cools, hushes, the beat stops. The flute plays a questioning sequence, alone. An electric guitar repeats it, alone, the notes picked clear and sharp, testing this melody…
And then the full band crashes in, the electric guitar hard and harsh, the pace suddenly frantic, an unexpected energy released, the solo grabbing and clawing. For thirty seconds the band play the hard rock they’re supposed to be about. And then they stop. The flute replays its theme, the bass and bongos return to that easy, loping rhythm and the song plays it out until its fade.
This interlude, this intrusion, is as incongruous as Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman’s piano break in “Something in the Air”, if not necessarily so magical.
Even by the standards of a half-century’s immersion in music, this single is bloody odd, so you can imagine me trying to get my head round it through the blur and static of Radio Luxembourg in 1971. Fortunately, only a couple of years passed before I found the single cheap on Shudehill’s Record Stall (I got ‘Echoes and Rainbows’ on the same visit), and I have it still.
Needless to say, neither the single nor the band got anywhere. Steelmill re-recorded the song in a nearly ten-minute version as the title track of their only album in 1972, putting too much echo and distance on the elements retained from the single, and killing the cool, whilst inserting a long, overlong rock section, with masses more lyrics that had even less to do with the song in its original form. Instead of a unique sound, they preferred a humdrum hard rock workout: it was the early Seventies. If you were there, you’d understand it.
But go back to the single and imagine someone putting this out as representative of their sound. Now try to imagine them imagining who was going to buy it. I still can’t imagine anyone but the oddballs like me, and I’m nobody’s chosen audience.
1971 was a very strange year when it came to music.

The Infinite Jukebox: Lou Christie’s ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’

In the months immediately preceding my musical awakening, there were a number of ubiquitous hit singles that even I couldn’t miss hearing. One of these was Lou Christie’s ‘I’m gonna make you mine’ (though I found myself more in favour of its far-less-successful follow-up, ‘She Sold Me Magic’).
In Britain, ‘I’m gonna make you mine’ was a comeback hit for Christie, who’d had a Top 20 hit previously in 1966 with his American No. 1 hit, ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’, which reached no 11. When I heard that, I liked it. I’ve heard it on and off over the decades, enjoyed it when I heard it, never made a point of seeking it out when I didn’t.
A few days before I am writing this, comics writer and historian Mark Evanier, whose blog ( I follow daily, went to see Christie in concert, and even though the man is now in his seventies, he still retains the voice that powers all those characteristic falsettos. Evanier followed that up by linking to several videos of Christie doing this song at different stages of his life, and also a cover version as an example of how not to sing the song.
I like it, what can I say? I clicked on a link, enjoyed a couple of performances, had fun. But what gets me writing this today is that these have been the first time I have really listened to Christie’s lyrics. And oh my God, I cannot believe what he is actually saying!
I’ve spoken many times of the masculinist attitude to love and romance in many brilliant Sixties songs, and ‘Lightnin’ Strikes’ is one blatant example of this. There is an amazing contrast between what Christie sings in the verses, in a normal voice, and what he launches into in the chorus, in his penetratingly high falsetto. Unashamedly as well.
The verses are about Christie telling his girl that she’s his girl, that she’s the one he wants to spend his life with. He wants her to stick around, she’s the girl he will trust to the very end, she’s in his heart all the time, and there’s a chapel in the pines waiting for them round the unquantifiable bend. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
There’s just one little problem. It’s there in the verses when he’s telling her, with a jarring cynicism, that’s she’s old enough to know the makings of a man, and a bit further on, he’s telling her that for the time being, she’s got to live by his rules. And what, pray, are these rules?
Here’s where that falsetto comes in, the one that makes Frankie Valli sound like Melvin Franklin from The Temptations. That she’s got to wait, and she’s got to not object to what he does, which he’s going to do at every possible opportunity, and that is grab every pretty girl he can find.
You see, it’s basically an obligation. He’s not ready to settle down yet, and when he sees lips waiting to be kissed, it’s like an overwhelming compulsion: he can’t stop, he can’t stop, lightnin’ is striking again. And of course this is the Sixties, so whilst he says its kissing, we know it’s not going to be stopping there, if she’s put together fine and she’s readin’ my mind, well, you would, wouldn’t you?
So the girl he loves, the one he wants for always, that he’s asking to stick around and in the meantime be pure as the driven snow, is meant to live happily through his screwing every sexy bint he can get his hands on, the little sluts, and say nothing and do nothing, on the understanding that when he wants to settle down (no matter when that is, how far removed), it’s be with her. And when he does, he’ll make up for all lost time, namely he’ll then start ‘kissing’ her and she can take her place at the bottom of a very long line of notches. Can you spell completely obnoxious double standards?
As it happens, there’s a very timely blog about this song, given that it’s exactly fifty years since this was the American No. 1, which I offer for its suggestion that Christie is hamming it up, going deliberately OTT, and it may be so, though I can’t really accept that myself.
No, we know there was a completely different attitude back then, to how men and women’s approaches to, and stance in relationships differed, but this is a lot too much. Any bloke who tried that on fifty years later would either find himself doubled up in the dustbin, or else confronted with the fact that she was going to shag around just as enthusiastically, and if she met someone a bit more palatable…
Yet without the words, it’s a classic Sixties song, full of life and energy and melody, that nevertheless wouldn’t work as an instrumental. It needs the words, it needs the falsetto to be complete as a song. What a pity the words ended up being so vile.

The Infinite Jukebox: Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’

For the 22 of three years ago.

I was always a fan of Oasis. Not from the first moment, nor from the first time I heard them, which was performing ‘Shakermaker’ on Top of the Pops. Properly, though I liked each succeeding single, it wasn’t until ‘Whatever’ that I bought anything by them. From there it went back to picking up the CD singles, and Definitely Maybe. And I’m still a fan of Oasis, or at any rate those first two albums and the singles that came out from them.
I know all the criticisms that have been made of them, and I whole-heartedly agree that if John Lennon had never met Paul McCartney, Christ knows what Noel Gallagher would have done with his life but that doesn’t alter the fact that he wrote some bloody good songs whose lack of originality becomes immaterial in the face of their melodies, their gut-grasping choruses and sheer bombastic self-confidence with which the band performed them.
The day I bought (What’s the story) Morning Glory?, I took it home after work, played it and, about halfway through, phoned my mate Steve, the only other Oasis fan I knew, to tell him it was ‘fucking brilliant!’.
By that point, I’d already heard ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. I was waiting for it, it had been picked out by Noel Gallagher as the best track on the album, I heard the story about how Liam had insisted on singing ‘Wonderwall’ which, as the acoustic track, would have been Noel’s to sing, so he’d refused to let his bother have this one. And what a stunning decision that was! Noel’s voice was perfectly suited for this mid-tempo, ballad-structured song. That calm, considered piano introduction, mined from ‘Imagine’, yes, I know.
And Noel sings out, building lyrics that, a quarter century later he claims to still not understand. That was the way of Noel’s lyrics, they were sounds, they were rhymes, they didn’t mean anything because they weren’t intended to mean anything, and I still await someone explaining just why that makes them despicable unlike, say, Keith Reid’s stream of consciousness lyrics on ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’?
Step inside the eye of your mind, don’t you know you might find, a better place to play. If the song is about anything, it’s about letting go of what happened, accepting the past is unchangeable, and looking to make the future what it can be. So I start a revolution from my bed, echoing Lennon’s bed-in of 1969, the original Give Peace a Chance. Instructions to stand up beside the fireplace, take that look for off your face, step outside into the blooming summertime. It’s building up, the music is looking for release and that denial that comes cast in doubt and suspected double-negative, you ain’t ever gonna burn my heart out…
And so Sally can wait. Who Sally is, what she can wait for, why her soul slides away, all of these things are unknowable, even to Noel Gallagher but he’s tied all this into one of the purest, soaring, most yearning choruses I’ve ever heard. Don’t Look Back in Anger, I hear him sing, and I hear an answer to John Osborne’s play of so long gone, the Angry Young Men dissatisfied with the world behind the War, when really he’s answering a David Bowie song I’ve never heard, but I don’t care. Don’t Look Back in Anger. Be free of the past, I hear you say.
It’s a brilliant sound, a wonderful song, one that they’ll still be listening to in a hundred years time. This and ‘Live Forever’. Everything else about Oasis is disposable, but these two songs will live forever.
That’s what ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ meant to me for over twenty years. Then, in 2017, a madman, a religious fanatic, a crazy, stupid, evil bastard, set off a bomb in the Manchester Arena, at the end of a concert by Ariana Grande. His target was young girls, and their mothers, girls whose only crime was to love the music of a young idol. The bastard disapproved: not for anyone to like of what he disapproved. He set out to kill and he killed. Among the dead was a 14 year old girl who’d come down from the Hebrides to see her favourite singer.
Most of the dead, the targets, were from Manchester. A Memorial service was held in Albert Square three days later, at which the amazing poem in tribute to our City, ‘This is The Place’, was read out by Tony Walsh. In the crowd, a young woman started singing ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’. The night after the bombing it had been sung by student at Chethams School of Music, but in Albert Square ordinary voices took the song up until the whole crowd were singing it.
It’s our answer to the lunatics, the madmen, the religious fascists. Do what you like, you can never win. You cannot beat us because we will never let you beat us. This is our City,and we are born of it and because we are Manchester we will always be us, and your hatred that extends to even the music we enjoy, to enjoyment and life and happiness is answered by our song that tells us to forgive, but we will never forget.
All of this and more has been wrapped up in ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ since that young woman began singing in the clear evening’s silence, and I could not extract it if I wanted to. Our souls slide away, but Don’t Look Back in Anger we sing. This song belongs to everyone who is and was and will be Mancunian, including Ariana Grande, who came back and stood beside us when she could justifiably never have visited Manchester again.

The Infinite Jukebox: Warren Zevon’s ‘The Heartache’

If I was looking for a gorgeous melancholy love song as played by Bill Berry, Peter Buck and Mike Mills on Warren Zevon’s Sentimental Hygiene, I may have missed out with ‘Reconsider Me’, but I was not to be disappointed. The R.E.M. instrumentalists had their shot and played with distinction on a side 2 track, ‘The Heartache’.
Musically, the two songs are on a par. ‘The Heartache’ is taken at a slower pace, the instrumentation is more lush, there’s a piano in the mix that carries the main, rippling melody. Zevon sings in a more relaxed voice, a slightly lower register.
But it’s in the words that the songs depart from each other. ‘The Heartache’ is about loss, about love unreciprocated, but it’s sung in a voice of resignation: things are, and they cannot be changed. There isn’t even a former relationship to be revived. In that sense, the song is a cousin to Stevie Wonder’s ‘Ma Cherie Amour’.
In terms of a Warren Zevon song, ‘The Heartache’ is unusually straight. It’s simple, it’s direct. Zevon sings of shadows falling in the noonday sun, of blue feelings to the maximum, creating a symbolic picture, before turning to the concrete. Look what happens, he sings, when you love someone. And they don’t love you.
And that rich, gentle, unself-forgiving chorus comes out to remind us all who’ve been there of the heartache that comes when you undergo the risk of falling in love with someone who does not respond to you.
Though Zevon doesn’t specify, in the true Sixties tradition of seemingly superficial lyrics that conceal a more complex story behind them, what he’s singing about doesn’t seem to be the ‘Ma Cherie Amour’ situation of worshipping an ideal girl from afar (or anear) without her knowing you exist. I get from this that Uncle Warren has declared himself to her, has enjoyed a time together, but that now he has been rejected: sadly, sympathetically, but finally.
That leaves him in a rotten place, one he never expected. He never thought he’d be alone like this, but he’s sensible and rueful enough to realise that he should have been a realist. It’s the basic problem with relationships, they end, and it’s always too soon for the lover who is left behind.
‘The Heartache’ stems from the same estrangement from his wife, Crystal, that Zevon sung about in ‘Reconsider Me’, which places earlier on the album. There he pleads for what, in his heart, he knows will not happen. Here, he accepts that the time has past, that everything is past, and it will not return.
It’s resignation, it’s realism. Something beyond his control has denied him what he wants. Who among us hasn’t been there? Yet who among us could make such an ending so rich and emotional an experience? The heartache, the risk you run, the chance you take when you love someone.
And the sorrow of the lonely one, when the heartache comes. Berry, Buck and Mills join in making the sorrow as palatable as things could be, but not even they can uplift this heart.