“Work. Bit Tired. Tom & Margaret came round in evening”
Obviously the excesses of the night before – whatever they were? – did not stop me from servicing the needs of Southampton’s record buying public.
It’s one of the things I hate about getting older. That inability to enjoy an entertaining late night out without suffering excessively the next morning. What causes that? Does the body’s metabolism just start rejecting everything? Feh!
My Mum & Dad were both 46 in 1975. They obviously didn’t have a problem with late nights… no doubt playing cards, drinking and carousing into the early hours.. am I jealous?
Again, sorry for the delays between posts… It will remain a little erratic for a little while longer until I get my proverbial springtime ‘sh*t’ together. In the meantime…
“Lower school dance – Wore my satin jacket – Great dance – had Mr Soft & Make me Smile dedicated to me”
Somehow I think “great dance” can be interpreted as “got off with someone”, the pair of dedications perhaps evidence of that?
How on EARTH someone could have found me ‘hot’ in that ridonkulous satin jacket is anyone’s guess. I certainly hope I didn’t add insult to injury by having a dancefloor boogie to either of these two Cockney Rebel classics…
I have to own up to copying an affectation of Mr Harley’s back in the day. Chewing imaginary gum. I did that. Nope, not proud at all.
Proof that there was a time when I had some regard for Derek.
If you think I hint at a somewhat unsettled feeling about Francis Records you would be right in doing so.
I enjoyed dealing with the customers and recommending things to the public, but – as I have said before – Mrs Francis was quite a difficult old stick to work for, phenomenally inflexible in her routine and methods. This resulted in very little ‘joie de vivre’ and I seem to remember being told more than once not to laugh and joke with the customers quite as much as I was.
Meanwhile – and by peculiar contrast – we heard raucous laughter coming up from the Classical department below us all the flipping time?! Surely it should be the Tchaikovsky & Wagner lovers with more reason to be miserable? After all, we had the Scottish funk grooves of the Average White Band to keep us happy!…
Produced by Alan Parsons – of Project fame – and with orchestral arrangements by Andrew Powell – later producer for the likes of Kate Bush, Al Stewart and The Hollies – “The Psychomodo” was Cockney Rebel’s (as they say in America) sophomore album. (“Sophomore album” representing a phrase I have always hated)
Although it never threatened the USA charts it rode the wave of Harley’s hit single “Mr Soft” all the way to #8 on the UK album charts
“Sweet Dreams” kick starts the album in a jaunty – but angry – manner, Harley immediately going for music journalists’ collective jugular with the caustic
“Pop paper people printing Rebel Insane
They in my head and digging into my brain“,
a verbal smack-down for the many who had dismissed his talents following the release of the debut album
This then morphs into the title track, “The Psychomodo“, another angry tirade where Harley seems very disconsolate indeed.. “I been losing my head
I been losing my way
Been losing my brain cells
At a million a day
I’m so disillusioned
I’m on Suicide Street”
“Mr.Soft” was the massive hit single, a fairground ride rebuilt as a pop song. It includes the engaging couplet
“Mr Soft, put your feet upon the water
and play jesus for the day”
and a little nod to David Bowie with the telling
“Spot the starman, rough and tumble”
which some have suggested is Harley comparing his ‘critical lot’ with that of the Thin White Duke. I tend to look on it a little more objectively, thinking that Harley is merely accepting the bad that comes with the good of fame.
36 years after its release “Singular Band” still sounds – to me anyway – the big hit that was never released as a single. From beginning to end it oozes radio-friendly Top 20 fayre. Quirky & different, driven by snare drums, a finger-plucked violin and Harley’s voice I reckon it would have taken the charts apart back in 1974. It has the perfect dead-stop ending for DJ’s too!
The lyrics to “Ritz” – which closes down Side 1 – are as convoluted (and now, sadly dated) as they come. If I have a complaint about this cut – immense sonically – it’s basically that Harley tried just too damned hard on the lyrical content, sadly coming across as a Dylan-Lite.
That said it contains one of my favourite pair of rhyming lines of all time…
“Couch my disease in chintz-covered kisses
Glazed calico cloth, my costume this is”
… both utterly beautiful and cheesy in the same breath
Side 2 of “The Psychomodo” feels like a different beast to me. I’ve always felt these 4 cuts were a little concept project all by themselves
“Cavaliers” feels like a lengthy outtake from Harley’s debut album, Steve once again using the lyrics as another musical element. He adds brass instruments and a harmonica almost as a ‘test’ of the listener… ‘do they work?”… for me, no sorry they don’t
Despite finding it sonically average, it contains some of his most captivating lyrics… Long-tailed coat, a silly joke; they drink
like men then see them choke on coca-cola
Morgue-like lips and waitress tips and you
Shuffle around on your Sabrina hips
If I was disappointed in “Cavaliers” (for me always the weakest song on the album) then the last three cuts more than make up for it, representing Steve Harley at his very best.
“Bed in the Corner” is another carnival ride, an oblique (vanquished) love song that highlights Harley habit of using the violin as a lead instrument and then lushing everything up under an orchestral arrangement.
It morphs seamlessly into “Sling It!” a song where Harley seems to accept his own ‘anger’ and starts to laugh about it warning that we should all
“Be careful, this is only a game”
just prior to the song breaking down into a fragmented wall of noise
“Tumbling Down” is album’s tour de force and a cut which provided the fitting finale for every single 70’s Cockney Rebel gig I ever went to. Harley is still sounding off and being bitter about his detractors… Gee, but it’s hard when one lowers one’s guard to the vultures
Me, I regard it a tortuous hardship that smoulders
like a peppermint eaten away
will I fight, will I swagger or sway?
Hee, hee, M’Lady, she cries like a baby to scold us
see her tumbling down, tumbling down
but by the end he seems to accept his lot, blaming it on the media interest in music in general, berating the press for undermining it value.
It’s all summed up in the one-line refrain
“Oh dear, look what they’ve done to the blues, blues, blues”
a simple (but telling) lyric I sung so hard and so loud at CR concerts that I regularly came away with a sore throat
Looks like it was still a crowd-pleaser in 1984?…
“The Psychomodo” is another of the mere handful of albums I know inside out, back to front and about as intimately as is decently possible. In itself it briefly taught me to learn a little more about the writers and musicians I knew influenced Harley’s songs (Baudelaire, Dylan, Rousseau, Dylan Thomas), some of which has stayed with me all my life.
It also inspired me (like many ‘tortured’ teenagers of my ilk) to start *gasp* writing my own dodgy poetry. Yes its an ugly thought. Yes, I still have some of it. No, I probably won’t inflict it on you. I may comment on it, but I’m unlikely to share it. Some things are best left unpublished, if you get my drift?
In pure commercial terms “The Psychomodo” was very much the career-maker for Steve Harley. He did have one more ‘perfect moment’ to come however, and it features as a cut on my next Cockney Rebel album review… for “Best Years of our Lives”.
As I have said before Cockney Rebel played just FIVE gigs before being signed up by EMI Records
If their playlist consisted of songs from the subsequent debut album, “The Human Menagerie”, you begin to understand why. Every one of them is from the pen of a VERY confident 23-year-old. Steve Harley seemed to be a songwriter ‘old before his time’ if these songs – and those that popped up on his other 1970’s output – are to be believed.
His EMI recording career kicks off with “Hideaway“, which, with more of a whimper than a bang, leads in with a simple acoustic guitar lick, swiftly accompanied by a violin. Light drums appear and soon Harley is singing “let them come a running, take all your money and hideaway, let them come a running, take all your money and flee“, a strange, defensive lyric given the circumstance.
“What Ruthy Said” feels FAR more like an album opener, driven by manic drums and distorted organ, and more reminiscent of Roxy Music’s debut album than I’m sure Harley would have preferred.
“Loretta’s Tale” has always been one of my favourite Cockney Rebel songs. Musically it’s very simple but lyrically – and the way Harley uses those lyrics as another ‘instrument’ – has always impressed me… Watch Loretta taste the wine,
kick the actor from behind,
sprawl across the sofa, then
speak of foreign towns again,
like the loner, seek Marlene,
ask the waitress: “Where you been?”
She says: “Don’t give me no lies,
I’ve been inside your head at least three times…”
This song is also the first of studio engineer Roy Thomas Baker’s impressive quasi-orchestral arrangements for Rebel, something Harley call on again and again in future work. (Yes, the same Roy Thomas Baker who would later be responsible for producing “Bohemian Rhapsody”, much of Queen’s other output and albums by artists as diverse as The Cars, Ozzy Osbourne, Devo and a band who my wife HATES so much I can only type their name using asterisks; Jo*rn*y)
“Crazy Raver” is an over-the-top bar-room rock’n’roll song, but it is the first on the album where you suddenly realise Harley does not use a lead guitar. He uses pal Jean-Paul Crocker’s electric violin as the primary instrument. I think it was this element which made Cockney Rebel stand out from the crowd back in the day, at least for me it did. Just like Roxy Music’s refusal to be ‘ordinary’, Harley felt a little more ‘exotic’
I think every artist has one KILLER moment in them, one which elevates them from the mundane to the mandatory. Steve Harley’s grand opus is the awesome “Sebastian“, a song which absolutely everyone should add to their music collection.
It’s rambling, contrived and audacious in equal measure, 7-minutes of orchestral pop that sounds as fresh to me today as it did 36 years ago when I first heard it. At every Steve Harley concert I went to, it provided that “lighters in the air” moment, sending aural shivers down everybody’s spine. Love it, love it, LOVE it!
Just in case you didn’t ‘get it’ with that last YouTube link, here’s another version by Steve taken from a gig in 1989…
(Yes, Steve does have that male pattern baldness thing going on doesn’t he?)
“Sebastian” was released as the first single from Cockney Rebel. Despite it’s quite convoluted nature, it found success on mainland Europe but strangely went nowhere on the UK charts.
Having built Side 1 of “Human Menagerie” on the basis of 4 good songs topped with a streak of abject genius, Harley repeats the process on Side 2…
“Mirror Freak” kicks off the second side, that ‘lead violin’ again providing the base for Harley’s clever lyrics. Lyrics that I often find myself randomly singing – for no reason – over three decades later…
“… so you perform like it’s your very last show,
you turn her on but she’s never gonna know
Then you can shuffle your hips
or Ma-Ma-Mae West your lips
but you’re the same old thing we’ve always known”
Likewise the lyrics to “My Only Vice (is the Fantastic Prices I Charge for Being Eaten Alive)” where Steve offers up the wonderful couplet of “Simply Lorraine sings for a while, in a three-octave harmonica style” before telling a tale about a “lady from a background of pearls, who’s tormenting and bending my world” over Croker’s gypsy violin. I always wanted to date someone called Lorraine – I don’t think I ever did? – so I could introduce her to people as “simply Lorraine”… yes, that IS a bit sad isn’t it?
“Muriel the Actor” is a little carnival ride of a song, the killer line “slip on a t-shirt, me gotta look so cool” another lyrical earworm that has sat with me for ages. It’s another Rebel song where it feels like Harley uses not just his voice but also the lyrical content as another instrument. (Ian Dury later had the same talent IMHO)
“Chameleon” is no more than a mere 1-minute filler before the main event…
“Death Trip” is the album closer and it’s almost up there with “Sebastian” in terms of it’s sustainability over the years. It’s like a self-contained 10-minute rock opera and manages to feel very “British”, that theme around the 4-minute mark reminiscent of Britten or Walton to me, likewise the orchestral flourishes that occur around the end.
Lyrically it’s a little suspect (probably the only thing that lets it down), that final stanza we’ll grow sweet Ipomoea
to make us feel much freer
then take a pinch of Schemeland
and turn it into Dreamland
especially dodgy. I don’t like to take anything away from it though because sonically it’s immense, brooding and quite masterful in its composition.
Admittedly I have not been asked very often which is my favourite Cockney Rebel album, but on the few occasions I have I have answered something along these lines….
“The Psychomodo” was the first album of Cockney Rebel’s I bought and wore to death so it will always carry special resonance for me… however, over the years “The Human Menagerie” has proved its worth time and time – and time – again. I suppose what I am saying is that I wish both albums had been released together as a double because I really can’t choose between the pair as my ‘favourite’. I do know that, a few songs aside, he never really bettered the material on his debut and the follow-up…
Talking of the follow-up, “The Pschomodo” is getting its full EFA70sTRO respect very soon…. stay, as they say, tuned…
And so the ‘dynamic duo’ at Francis Records loses its weakest link.
Having already fired Niles to take both Derek and I on it would seem that, although a little ancient, Mrs Francis was pretty ruthless in her hiring and firing procedures?
Would I keep my job?
As they say…. “watch this space”
In other news, and despite some evidence to the contrary, Derek never really did amount to much in the music business. Admittedly he did open a fast-growing chain of second-rate record stores in the late 70’s, but they (not he I hasten to qualify) eventually went bust, owing a combination of labels, staff and landlords a total of almost £1m. Rumour has it he was pretty unapologetic to everyone, especially the staff. Some might say he was always a bit of a dodgy character and eventually became so reviled by certain people he ended up changing his name.
I am a fifty-something ex-pat Brit transplanted into America’s Mid-West. When I finally got around to unpacking all the boxes I shipped across the Atlantic, I found the “schoolboy diaries” I dutifully wrote in during the 1970’s.
I decided, as a fun endeavour, to document, share and comment upon many of the diary entries.
Posts will be in chronological order starting in 1972 and will gently travel from my 14-year old insecure geeky phase through to my involvement in the UK ‘punk movement’ at the end of the decade.
I hope other people find the project to be entertaining