Tag Archives: The Human Menagerie

May 22nd 1975

“Nig came round – brought my new copy of Human Menagerie”

Funny how a simple diary entry will remind you of something.

Reading this reminded me that I went through several copies of Human Menagerie before I found one that didn’t suffer very noisy surface noise on the opening track.

It was a recurring ‘issue’ back in the days of vinyl. Unlike now where any ‘faulty’ product is immediately discussed and disseminated at online message boards – resulting in swift withdrawal and replacement by manufacturers – news of a bad pressing would often take weeks to filter through to record companies.

I think I must have gone through 6 or 7 copies of “Human Menagerie” before I struck Cockney Rebel gold. I’m guessing that Nig must have worked in Eastleigh to have swapped my album out at Jack Hobbs… either that or I was simply getting embarrassed at the number of times I had already done the deed?

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Album: Cockney Rebel – The Human Menagerie

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…

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March 7th 1975

• “off college – Nob came round and brought me “Best Years of our Lives” – incredible elpee!”

What a gent my mate Nob was. This Cockney Rebel album – actually the first to be monikered as by Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel was released this very week in 1975.  I’m on my ‘death bed’ and Nob brings me over this new LP, ‘hot off the presses’ so to speak.

I plan to dedicate a post to this album in its entirety at some stage in the near future – after I have similarly done the same with “The Human Menagerie” and “The Psychomodo” – but its worth pointing out that this album had already yielded a Number One hit single – ” Make Me Smile (Come Up & See Me) ” – a month earlier.

It held the top spot for just two weeks but, it created one of those monster ‘lifetime’ income generators for Harley, the result of finding vast popular respect, being re-released time and time again (almost always proving to be a hit) and being covered by bands such as Duran Duran, Erasure, Suzi Quatro and The Wedding Present.

Trivia freaks may care to know that one of the backing vocals on “Make Me Smile” was that of Tina Charles, destined to be a future chart-topper in her own right with the endearing disco hit ” I Love to Love (But My Baby Loves to Dance)

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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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