Album: Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel – The Best Years of our Lives

 

Whilst “The Psychomodo” may have been the album to break Cockney Rebel, “The Best Years of our Lives” was the one which catapulted Steve Harley into the pop pantheon, mainly for the inclusion of the massive hit single “Make me Smile (Come up and See Me) ” which, to say the least, has definitely stood the test of time in the interim 35 years. It’s that ‘one song’ syndrome I have talked about before where an artist lives off its income for the rest of his life. (Also see: Noddy Holder, Al Stewart, Ralph McTell, etc etc) 

It’s admittedly a catchy little number… 

that guitar almost as ‘earwormy’ as the lyrics themselves, but it’s FAR from the best track on its parent album. 

That’s reserved – unreservedly – for the title track, which sits as comfortably with me as an ancient pair of slippers… 

European maids, hard to ignore
You, me and the boys, barred from the shore
 

Fresh-faced imbeciles, laughing at me
I’ve been laughing myself, is that so hard to see?
Do I have to spell each letter out, honestly!
If there’s no room for laughter there’s no room for me
 

Try looking at you, rather than me
No truth is in here, it’s all fantasy
 

Since the last time we met I’ve been through
About seven hundred changes and that’s just a few
And the changes all tend to be something to do
But you’ve got to believe that they’re all done for you
 

Chorus: you’ll think it’s tragic when that moment arrives
Ah, but it’s magic, it’s the best years of our lives
 

Lost now for the words to tell you the truth
Please banter with me the banter of youth
 

If I knew how to say it, I’d say it for you
If I knew how to whisper, I’d whisper for you
If I knew how to waltz, I’d get up and dance for you
If I thought I could run, I’d come running to you
 

I’ve discovered now how to be fair
This I could teach you if only I dare
 

The only conclusion I’ve reached in my life
Is that if I should die I should die-by the knife
Since it’s only a matter of courage all right,
Die a man or a martyr, the two would be nice, so nice
 

Chorus: you’ll think it’s tragic when that moment arrives
Ah, but it’s magic, it’s the best years of our lives
(© Steve Harley 1975)
 

That line “if there’s no room for laughter, there’s no room for me” has been something of a personal creed of mine since  I first heard it, likewise the ‘take life as you find it’ sentiment of the whole song. 

If I’m being honest the other cuts on this album (note, now monikered as “Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel”, Steve’s ego coming to the fore) aren’t as good as those two might suggest. 

The Mad Mad Moonlight” has its moment – Steve’s exuberant “send her up to those fluffy white clouds” has always appealed – but it’s a throwaway song, Steve’s decision to employ a lead guitar (instead of, as previous, a violin) hurting it somewhat (at least in my opinion) 

Mr Raffles (Man it Was Mean) ” suffers from awful rhyming couplets, “there were a thousand maneaters being exchanged for pesetas” indicative all by itself of what we’re have to suffer. 

It Wasn’t Me” is a ‘poor me’ song that has some nice keyboard sounds but is undermined by a phased vocal and – jarringly – Steve somehow rhyming “Gideon” with “Pigeon” 

Panorama” is cute enough – boogie-woogie piano underscoring some brass and fancy guitar work – but it feels throwaway. 

Proof that smoking doesn't make everyone look cool. Some just look like "a bit of a twat"

The ‘hit single’ kicks in to improve things dramatically before “Back to the Farm” descends into further self-pitying on Steve’s part, proving itself to be a paranoic rant about everything and nothing… wherein he seems to even express disgust for one of his early hits “Judy Teen” stating “nothing no more, comes from Judy” which has always felt like biting the hand that feels for me. Some ELP-esque burblings on a synthesizer only makes things worse. 

49th Parallel” was the precursor to how his music would take him in future albums. Stop/start rhythms accompanied by little than a ‘bunch of words’ or lazy rhetoric 

Thanks heavens then for the aforementioned title track to close the album down, a perfect representation of Harley’s songwriting as there’s ever been. 

Proof then that Harley’s best work is pretty much encapsulated by his first two albums before the ego took over the reigns and started to steer everything in the wrong direction. Don’t get me wrong, I still loved this album when I was an impressionable 17-year-old teenager, and continued to worship at the altar of Steve Harley for several years afterwards, but over time I have come to realise that he sacrificed his talent when he cast aside his original ‘Cockney Rebel” concept and replaced it with an ordinary band, playing ordinary instruments in an ordinary manner. 

“The Best Years of Our Lives” reached Number 4 on the UK album chart and proved to be the biggest selling album of Harley’s career. “Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me)” means that Steve still looks forward to seeing his postman on every legal quarter day, that residual cheque doubtless proving ‘useful’?! 

However… from 1989… 

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