Tag Archives: Mr Soft

May 9th 1975

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.

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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

One of the huge drawbacks of EFA70sTRO 1974’s diary being ‘light’ on entries – particularly in the latter half of that year – is that we’ve missed out on several of my musical discoveries during that time.

I therefore feel it necessary to offer an ‘aside’ post about Cockney Rebel, one of the very few acts in my lifetime with whom I have shared a relationship bordering on ‘fandom’.

There have been many other acts I have abjectly raved about over the years – Bill Nelson, Captain Beefheart, Bowie, Ian Dury, ELP and more – but only a tiny handful where I have been drawn in a little bit further. Prince is one such act, Eno is another. But if I LOVED an act as an impressionable teenager it would have been Cockney Rebel. Or more correctly, Steve Harley.. because when all’s said and done he really was Cockney Rebel.

My first exposure to Cockney Rebel was back in February 1974 when I saw them on BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test“. I think they performed the track “Hideaway“? If memory serves me correctly, Harley sported heavily applied dark eyeshadow, slightly rouged cheeks and an ugly velvet suit. (VERY glam in other words!) Then, in May 1974,  their hit single “Judy Teen” was all over the radio. The band appeared many times on Top of the Pops and I always found Harley to be something of of engaging character.

I bought “Judy Teen” and the accompanying album, “The Psychomodo”. Not longer afterwards I tracked down the band’s 1973 debut album, “The Human Menagerie” (which – over the years – has proved itself to be my out-and-out fave) as well as shelling out for the band’s next hit single”Mr Soft” (a marvellous carnival piece of earworm-worthy pop fluffiness) and the follow-up flop, “Big Big Deal” (So much of a flop it was actually withdrawn from sale after just a few weeks!)

(It would feel criminal if I didn’t do EFA70sTRO reviews of the bands first two albums… so expect them soon!)

 The weekly music press I was reading back then seemed to have a love/hate relationship with Harley, his own journalistic background evidently giving him a keen eye for what would represent a good ‘quote’. The statements he made seemed to purposefully wind people up, and whilst the press seemed to find favour with his music they treated him personally with a certain disdain. I can’t explain why, but this dichotomy appealed to me somehow, so I then wanted to find out more about the band.

Steve Harley started life as Steven Nice, born in Deptford, London in 1951. He attended Hatcham’s College in the 1960’s, lucky to be attending an establishment where music was a speciality. He started writing songs and began performing them as a busker on the London Underground, often accompanied by his friend, violinist John Crocker.

He got the aforementioned job as a music journalist, simultaneously forming a touring band with Crocker (now known as “Jean-Paul Crocker”), drummer Stuart Elliott, bassist Paul Jeffreys (who would later be one of the victims of the Lockerbie Air Disaster) and keyboard player Milton Reame-James. Harley named the band Cockney Rebel, doubtless a cheeky nod to his own disruptive nature. They played just FIVE gigs before they were spotted by EMI Records and signed to a multi-album deal.

They toured on the back of “Human Menagerie” and (even after 35 years) I remain disappointed that I never caught them at Southampton University in early 1974 whilst Harley was just starting his career. (If that OGWT performance had been a month or two earlier I think I would definitely have trekked to the gig)

My 1974 diary didn’t mention it – hell, it didn’t mention much at all – but I seem to remember Cockney Rebel played either the University or Southampton’s Top Rank later on in the year too. Maybe I have that wrong? I can’t find reference to it anywhere online, so there’s every possibility I am just imagining it.

At the end of 1974 Harley broke up the original band, egotistically renamed it “Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel” and started recording a new album with, again, Alan Parsons (of Pink Floyd, Beatles and…erm… Alan Parsons Project fame) on production duties. This album – and one of its cuts in particular – would prove to both make and break Harley’s career. EFA70sTRO will be covering it at a later date.

My utter fandom for Steve Harley has not remained in place into my middle-aged life. I still adore all those early albums but it turns out his ego eventually got the better of him and his output started to drift downhill fast thereafter.

However, the phrase “Cockney Rebel” stuck with me and has become something of a personal legacy. After moving to the USA in the late 90’s I joined an online message board affiliated with a radio station my wife worked for. I was invited to chose a user name and “Cockney Rebel” popped into my head. From then until now I am known by many people more as “Cockney Rebel” or “CR” than I am my real name!

1975 and beyond will doubtless refer to Steve Harley and/or Cockney Rebel many times. I can only apologise in advance.

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