Tag Archives: Best Years of Our Lives

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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Album: Cockney Rebel – The Psychomodo

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”.

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Cockney Rebel 1975 Tour Programme (XI)

Back Cover…

Oh my…. now THIS I was not expecting…

Shall we take a better look at it?…

I think it’s a pun. A cocked pistol held by a man who may, or may not, be a rebel?

Oh, and a woman’s bare arse.

I guess Harley had to pay the bills somehow so why not an ad from Levi’s?

With a woman’s bare arse.

Normal EFA70sTRO diary service will resume tomorrow… I hope you’ve all enjoyed the detour (programme)?

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Cockney Rebel 1975 Tour Programme (X)

Page 14

A piece of fluff about Sailor…

Page 15

… and an ad from their record company, Epic

More tomorrow…

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Cockney Rebel 1975 Tour Programme (IX)

Page 13

Ooooh…. mooooooody!

More tomorrow…

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Cockney Rebel 1975 Tour Programme (VIII)

Page 11

The photo at the top is OK, but why bother with the others?

Page 12

Poor old Steve looks like he doing some really bad sign language

More tomorrow…

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Cockney Rebel 1975 Tour Programme (VII)

Page 10

Things I did not know (rather, forgotten) about the Rebel band members…

Stuart Elliot used to play drums for Adam Faith.

Jim Cregan played with Cat Stevens.

George Ford was amongst the backing vocals on John Lennon’s “Power to the People“. How cool is that?

More tomorrow…

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