Tag Archives: The Hollies

August 9th 1975

“Dixons. Gave in notice. Bloke gave me SME headshell. Played new LPs in evening. Fairport Convention – great. Pete Wingfield – Good. Alex Harvey – not good on first listen”

So, Dixons lost the best hi-fi salesman they ever employed. In entirely unconnected news, I resigned from Dixons.

My final day of standing doe-eyed under the blisteringly hot spotlights in the department (not really knowing what the hell I was doing) did offer me an unexpected bonus with a grateful customer gifting me an SME headshell for my record deck. As I recall, installing it really DID make a difference to the sound, those collection of holes evidently an intelligent design tweak. I can remember hanging onto this headshell for the longest time, transferring it from deck to deck as my hi-fi habit grew in the ensuing years. So, thank you nameless stranger!

It looks like I spent my last day’s Dixon’s earnings on some new tuneage… most probably from Francis Records using my newly restored staff discount…

Let it be known that I REALLY don’t care for Fairport Convention. Folk/Rock – as their genre is often described – invariably leaves me stone cold, and all that plinking and plonking (plus the peculiar habit of artists sticking their finger in their ear to sing) often grates.

However, “Rising for the Moon” wasn’t a straightforward folk album (which is why I was drawn to it) the band eschewing their roots and instead performing a collection of songs that veered closer to acoustic rock than anything else. Think “Cat Stevens” rather than “The Dubliners”.

Despite Sandy Denny’s wibbly-wobbly vocal style I liked the title track in particular and held onto this LP for years afterwards before eventually falling out of favour with its content. When I was intrigued enough to listen to it again it proved quite the elusive item and – to be honest – haven’t bothered since. Maybe I should see if I like it better as a 52-year-old farty than as a spotty teenager?

Pete Wingfield is perhaps the ultimate One-Hit Wonder, his “18 with a Bullet” as fantastic a perfect pop song now as it was when it was released back in 1975.

I would certainly have bought “Breakfast Special” on the strength of that hit – not the first time I would have succumbed to the brilliance of one single and splashed out on the accompanying album. However, unlike many other occasions this would be one where I would not be let down by the other cuts.

“Breakfast Special” is – at least in my opinion – an overlooked pop masterpiece, chocked full of superb and sublimely catchy tunes and easily as good as anything (the likes of ) 10cc were putting out at that time. Check out “Whole Pot of Jelly” and “Shadow of a Doubt” for proof!

Thankfully, Wingfield’s career has not been limited to the proceeds from his one solitary hit single – which ironically landed on the Billboard Hot 100 chart at… erm, Number 18. He’s played with the likes of BB King, The Everly Brothers, Van Morrison, The Hollies and Paul McCartney, and has produced seminal albums such as Dexy Midnight Runners’ “Searching for the Young Soul Rebels”, The Kane Gang’s “Bad & Lowdown World” and The Proclaimers’ “Sunshine on Leith”. He has also written smash hit singles for others, including Olivia Newton-John’s “Making a Good Thing Better” and The Pasadenas’ “Tribute (Right On)”

It’s a shame that his public persona is limited that one song but better to be known for one thing than no thing I suppose? As a treat here’s a BLISTERINGLY fine reggae version of “18 with a Bullet” by Derrick Harriot on the ever-reliable Trojan Records label in 1975. I didn’t discover it until several years later but adore it almost as much as the original…

My diary has retrospectively embarrassed me many times before, and will doubtless do it many times again.

This is one of those times. To deem the SAHB’s “Tomorrow Belongs To Me” as “not good” is nothing short of a travesty and I herewith apologise.

As a forthcoming diary entry will report though, all is not lost!

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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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Number One Singles of 1974 (Part 1)

As I have mentioned before, the first two weeks of 1974 found Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” riding the crest of the UK singles chart. Quite the worthy achievement for a seasonal ditty.

By contrast, the most recent (2009) “Christmas Number One” (previously a massive badge of honour) – an offering from grunge-metallists Rage Against the Machine – couldn’t even stay there beyond a  single week, despite heaps of hype being lavished upon it. A sign at how far the music industry has changed since the last century and why, to be honest, I have a hard time getting ‘into it’ these days. 

Slade’s 1974 tenure at the top of the heap was finally usurped by the New Seekers with  You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, a warbling lightweight pop song which gave the group their second UK number one. (Their first, EFA70’sTRO-documented here). 

The New Seekers were formed out of the ashes of the popular Australian folk combo The Seekers who, with sweet-voiced Judith Durham at the helm, enjoyed a string of nine HUGE hit singles in the 60’s including “A World of Our Own“, “The Carnival is Over“, “Morningtown Ride” and the title track to the movie “Georgy Girl” 

Given the ubiquity of the Beatles and the Stones people often overlook the harmonies and folk-pop stylings of the Seekers, but I personally feel their songs stand up with some of the very best the sixties had to offer. 

Melanie (Safka), whose songs would be hits for the New Seekers and... erm... The Wurzels

I think it’s fair to say that the New Seekers were nowhere in the same league, but they still enjoyed a string of successes in their own right, starting in 1970 with their cover of Melanie’s “What Have They Done to my Song, Ma” and including their 1972 Eurovision hit “Beg, Steal or Borrow“. 

“You Won’t Find….” would prove to be the New Seekers’ final Number One and they seemed to struggle with chart success after it. The band fractured internally – arguments over money forcing members to leave – and whilst it still exists (for touring purposes), the 2009 New Seekers bears little relation to the one that had the hits back in the seventies. 

Pop Songwriting duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (mentioned before in these hallowed pages) racked up their third Number One hit single with Tiger Feet by Mud, which – peculiarly – appears to have stood the test of time as a good-time ‘party record’ 

Mud formed back in 1968 and once toured as a support act to American crooner Jack Jones. They suffered years in the ‘pop wilderness’, releasing a succession of failed records. Then they met producer Mickie Most and signed to his RAK Records label, where they were introduced to Chinn & Chapman and had an almost immediate Top 20 success with “Crazy” 

The band adopted a mock “glam Teddy Boy” image and often created a silly dance to accompany many of their songs, the one for “Tiger Feet” (which can be seen in that 1974 Top of the Pops performance) no less irritating than any of the others. 

“Tiger Feet” would turn out to be the biggest-selling single of 1974, but it would not turn out to be Mud’s biggest song of the year… as a future EFA70’sTRO page will testify. 

Mud’s personable lead singer Les Gray succumbed to throat cancer in 2004. Drummer David Mount sadly committed suicide at the end of 2006, whilst bassist Ray Stiles joined (of all the bands you could possibly imagine) The Hollies – yes that Hollies – as a touring member. 

Kylie. Yes, I know, ANY excuse, right?

Trivia fans will doubtless already be aware that Mud’s somewhat effeminate and toussle-haired guitarist, Rob Davis, is now a succesful songsmith in his own right, having penned a handful of classic modern pop hits including Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” 

If they indeed possessed laurels Chinn & Chapman certainly didn’t sit on them. 

Their number one hit from Mud was followed by… a Chinn/Chapman-written number one hit from leather clad pop rocker Suzi Quatro. “Devil Gate Drive” was the second Quatro number one for the duo, the first, “Can the Can”, written about here 

The number one spot was then passed from one leather-clad rocker to another, although this new one snazzed it up with a diamond-crusted glove which he seemed to be permanently pointing at the camera! 

Alvin Stardust had already enjoyed a minor pop career back in the sixties – when he was known as Shane Fenton – but a leather ‘overhaul’ and new name (given to him, allegedly by Lord Levy, who owned Magnet Records) kickstarted everything again. 

Jealous Mind turned out to be Alvin’s only chart-topper, but his singing style – and unique way of holding the microphone – was parodied for years after. 

More recently Alvin (Do his friends know him as Alvin, Mr Stardust, Shane Fenton or Bernard… his real name?) he has moved – like many 70’s performers of his ilk – into musical theatre, starring in London West End shows such as “Godspell”, “David Copperfield” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” 

Paper Lace were a band from Nottingham who – like a few others in the 70’s – first found fame following an appearance on ITV’s talent show Opportunity Knocks (which I have talked about before

Billy Don’t Be a Hero was the band’s debut single, immediately topping the chart for three weeks. The band sadly missed out on capitalising on the song’s success in the USA, especially given its anti-Vietnam sentiment. Another group – Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods – released their version first, and enjoyed the BIG American hit (A Billboard #1 no less) with sales of Paper Lace’s completely cannibalised. 

Paper Lace enjoyed a couple more hit singles – “The Night Chicago Died” (which somewhat made up for their earlier failure, itself reaching Number 1 in the USA) and “The Black-Eyed Boys” – before falling off the public’s radar and disappearing into obscurity. 

[“Number One Singles of 1974” continues in Part 2…]

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