Thursday, December 19, 2013
Sayer's naturally anguished voice suits this song (a #2 on the Radio Luxembourg chart) - he wrote it with David Courtney, and it was produced by Courtney and Adam Faith, who may or may not have suggested the pierrot costume to Sayer as a way for him to stand out from the Glam Slam crowd. (Just as Gilbert O'Sullivan had dressed as a school boy when he was first seen, for much the same reasons.) In any case, the "masquerade" is seen as a sham - could that masquerade be the rock scene itself? I think so. And while that show went on, it largely continued in the world of albums, as opposed to the increasingly confusing and baffling world of the singles charts - singles which, as I will explain in the next entry, are getting more and more difficult for me to write about.
This song also stands as a kind of one-man strike anthem, a testament to anyone who feels they too have been used and have been wasting time, to make some kind of stand. And so the three-day-week comes in, the lights dim and The Fog settles in for the foreseeable future. Sayer won't have any of it, and being dressed as a scary clown emphasizes how he is the fool that speaks the truth, who feels compelled to do something, and it may well be something violent for all we know. The Fog cometh; the creeping, surrounding, uneasy-making mid-70s are here, and Sayer's is the last voice of defiance before they begin.
Next up: power, corruption and lies.
*When Three Dog Night covered this they changed the lyric to "the show must go on" which shows the fundamental difference between the UK and US mindsets. Sayer wasn't too pleased, apparently, but that's American optimism for you, in the face of Watergate.
Tuesday, December 17, 2013
The density of Wizzard - straight out of the whole Spector/Beach Boys wall of sound - suggests plenty, to an almost ridiculous degree. Of all the Glam Slam bands Wizzard were the ones with the most members, the most fun, and the most sincerity, I believe. Slade's monumental achievement of getting to #1 first week with "Merry Xmas Everybody" was one thing - Noddy's voice waking the dead with good rattling cheer - but Roy Wood is taking everyone back to the early 60s via the early 70s, wishing a moribund we-haven't-had-it-so-good UK not just a happy Christmas for one day but a wish that the love (did I forget to say the best Christmas songs are love songs? No?) the day represents would be here every day, perpetually. The snowman brings the snow, all the better for Wood to write his name on the roof so Santa (who comes from the Milky Way - yes, Santa is an alien here) can find him.
In a way, this makes the song a plea for deliverance from the ordinary into the extraordinary - if Slade are asking you to look to the future, Wizzard are asking that love and abundance be part of everyone's lives, that the bells should ring and ring, that it should be like this every day. (The absurdity of this is what makes the song British, I feel - he wishes it could be like this, whereas Slade are "well, here it is, Christmas, have fun while you can" Wizzard want this to go on and on, and of course there's a children's choir because who doesn't want Christmas to end as a child**?) The snow arrives, glowing cheeks light the way, romance is also in the air - this isn't altogether a throwback to a decade previous but a kind of Utopian 70s thing, as an ideal to hold up as the 70s begin to buckle down into The Fog and good cheer is desperately needed. Christmas began as a celebration of the birth of (if I may say so) a revolutionary figure; and something of that has rubbed off here. So it is no surprise that this is one of the most enduring British Christmas songs and it is apt that Wizzard, that multi-instrumental Glam band that Roy Wood led, are leading the way as Friendly Forebears for New Pop. This is revolution, kids-choir-and-sleigh-bell style.
Next up: the end is nigh...
*In the US there's Thanksgiving, which doesn't exist in the UK, so I feel some of its qualities are celebrated at Christmas, more or less.
**Well, maybe not all kids, but most, methinks.
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
He was born in London, was Bernard William Jewry, and grew up in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire (a town a few miles just north of Nottingham itself). He was working as a roadie for Shane Fenton and the Fentones when Fenton got ill and died; Fenton's mom wanted the band to continue in his honor, and so they did, with Jewry taking Fenton's name and leading the band to some chart success in the early 60s. The group broke up, leaving Jewry on his own, and by the early 70s he was given a new name by his label boss Michael Levy, and that was Alvin Stardust. It's a bit more complicated than that, however; "My Coo Ca Choo" was written by Peter Shelley and recorded by him as well - but he didn't want to "be" Alvin Stardust, so Jewry once again stepped in and took on the task of looking moody, dressing in black leather, and generally being a rock star - a role I feel he acted as much as really was. The song is pure glam stomp, seductive-style (though "Tom Cat! Y'know where it's at/Come on! Lets go to my flat/Lay down 'n' groove on the mat" is not exactly Bryan Ferry singing to his siren). There is something reassuring about something so inherently safe and unthreatening appearing at this time (and how reassuring as well, that this public service ad featuring two girls can be viewed with a clear conscience even now, thank goodness.) Perhaps the long years working in obscurity gave Jewry a sense of responsibility and perspective that others have sadly shown to have lacked; to take on someone else's part or role is in itself a situation that works best with some modesty and determination. Stardust (and yes his name was a take on one Gary Glitter) remains one of those beacons in The Fog, a man who was pure showbusiness but somehow humble about it in a way that showed the Glam Slam to be the people's music. How could it ever go?
Next up: Every day? Really?
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Mud aren't dangerous; certainly with this song the woman in question is explosive, but Les Gray's voice doesn't shriek or go camp - it is a plain voice (one from quiet suburban Carsharlton, no less) and poses no threat to any order whatsoever. And so the woman's impact is tempered, made suggestive somehow, because of Gray's calm.
This Chinn/Chapman song (rejected by The Sweet for being not quite rocking enough, I guess) sounds a little like Status Quo, a little like Suzi Quatro - when the Glam template was fresh every song was distinctive, but now that it has been worn smooth it has become a genre, as opposed to a movement. Glam was still big enough to have real force in the charts (this was a #2 on the Radio Luxembourg hit parade) to matter and wasn't going away anytime soon (see the next two entries here) but emotionally it had to be more ooomphy than this (though the music going "on and on and on and on" with the Gray's voice going up and up each time is at least a good try).
The sophisticated velvet goldmine era of T.Rex has given way to this handclapping/vaguely intimidating ode to a woman who can turn on a whole damn town, not just one man, with her flashing eyes and radiance - so much so that no one knows if she's "wrong or right" as she is so overwhelming. This is again a woman-as-spectacle song (nowhere in the narration is there any interaction between the narrator and the woman) - she tells you to boogaloo and you do, and that's that. She comes from nowhere and is beholden to no one. She is a flash in the sky, but it's too bad the song is durably rock 'n' roll but not much more than that; this song is in The Void, as far as I can tell, for being too neat and tidy about a woman who is anything but. She's on fire, as Alicia Keys will one day sing, and as Gray gets across backhandedly.
Next up: groove on me what?
Tuesday, November 5, 2013
"Sorrow" started its way towards Bowie rather modestly as the b-side of The McCoys' version of "Fever" - which brings the nigh-legendary figure of Rick Derringer into the MSBWT story, amongst other things. It was The McCoys who did it first, and The Merseys (Tony Crane and Billy Kinsley, formerly of The Merseybeats) then covered it and had a hit with it in May 1966. A line from the song appears in The Beatles' "It's All Too Much" ("with your long blonde hair and your eyes of blue"). The song (written by Bob Feldman, Jerry Goldstein and future Blondie/The Go-Go's producer Richard Gottehrer) is a typical lament about a girl who is "acting funny" and who "never does" what she should (she plays "high class games" - are these the same ones that the woman in "It's All Over Now" plays, I wonder). The song (an NME #2) is in two parts - the first, wherein he presumably leaves her because she brings nothing but, well, sorrow, and after the saxophone solo, where he is alone and missing her and her "OWNLEY" things - blond hair in particular. He's unable to sleep, his mind wanders in the song as he tries to find her, unable to resist the pull of her, even if she's bad news for him.
It is a low-key song, slightly nervous, as if the narrator acknowledges that the object of his desire is possibly "the devil's daughter" but that she has a pull on him that is hypnotic, languorous and will not let him be. It's not like "Eloise" in its absolute high-pitch of romantic obsession - Bowie is trying to keep a lid on that, but it is as if, with the strings and his own delicate singing, that he is hooked on her sorrow, that he would rather be with her than with someone who was more conventional. It could be that "Sorrow" is a song looking back at the 60s themselves - dangerous, fluctuating, self-important and utterly compelling - as something that can only be lamented, remembered and sought for, but never recovered. Not entirely; not completely.
The 60s are going to keep resonating as the 70s go on - in some parts of the UK the 60s only really begin to happen in the 70s; there is a time-lapse going on, a reluctance to move ahead. But considering late '73, who wouldn't want the 60s all over again? Bowie seems to be warning against such thinking, though, and his emotional distance here breaks down pretty quickly - he may be cold or cruel in other ones on the album, but this is a moment of reflection and loss; of wanting and ache.
Next up: if it can't be shiny, it's dirty.
Thursday, October 31, 2013
It wasn't known to the general public at the time, but is now very well known - that Tina was in an abusive and volatile marriage with Ike*, and during those last years (things were bad at this time, and about to get worse, with Ike's alcoholism and cocaine addiction) I have no doubt this song played a big part of her eventual self-liberation. Because, famously (and not too long after this clip from the Cher show) she left Ike with almost nothing to her name, nothing but her Buddhist belief and a sense that she had had more than enough. "Nutbush City Limits" is a song about roots, beginnings, what makes a person a person - in this case, growing up in a small town (it's not actually a city). You get the idea it was a place where not much happened (it's a "quiet little community") where people went certain places on certain days ("You go to store on Friday/You go to church on Sunday") and yet the song is so funky that you just know the rest of the week is a push-and-pull between self-respecting neatness and propriety ("Twenty-five is the speed limit") and the gin house where, if you are arrested for drunkenness, you don't get bail, just salt pork and molasses. There are clear lines in Nutbush ("You go to fields on weekdays/And have a picnic on Labor Day") and if you are young Anna Mae Bullock then you either fit in or you don't; but as someone once said, a beginning is a place to start and how many musicians have come from places like this? Almost all of them, I imagine (and even if they didn't, they will say they felt as if they did). Tina sings this with pride - this is her town, her roots, something Ike cannot take away from her - and as narrow and regulated as it sounds, this is where she is from, quite literally - and while there is no way she could go back to it, it's within her. The most significant line for me is "You have to watch what you're putting down" - i.e., if you don't conform in some way then you just have to leave, though as it happened Tina left due to family turmoil and was brought up in several different towns, Nutbush being one of them. Maybe Tina wrote this as a reminder that she was, before she'd gotten onstage in St. Louis to sing with Ike, a person of her own, shaped by experiences and places and that that was worth remembering, in and of itself.
That this song was done by her several times more (and was done as part of Brian Johnson's audition for AC/DC, and was covered by Bob Seger - it brings the rock and the funk**) shows how important it is to her, how maybe writing it was her first step in finding herself (if I can use 70s psychology speech) and liberating herself from Ike. Is she still there? I can't help but think it's a fond song, a proud one, a song about overcoming limitations and actually appreciating those limitations as solid, near-tangible things. It's not nostalgic in any way, but a badge of toughness; if I survived there, I can survive this. Life outside the sequin/high-heel shimmy does exist; and sure enough, she learns about Buddhist prayer and somehow makes it through.
Next up: even doing a cover, he's all the rage.
*Summed up for me and countless others in the movie What's Love Got To Do With It? in the "Eat the cake, bitch" scene.
**This was a #2 Radio Luxembourg hit, and the last real hit the couple had in the US pop chart - a bigger hit in the UK, despite/because of its subject matter, I think.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
"And from the way you blacked my eye/I know that you're the reason why" is the constant phrase (used after the next verses, wherein his friend Pete is weak and his friend Jack's got an ache in his back) - but who is being addressed? If it's a girl then why is she hitting the narrator? And why is she fixing everyone's ties (whatever that means) and otherwise "gettin' to him"? I know I am asking a lot from what is essentially a novelty song about sex, but the song - I can't help but feel this - also has a subtext of The Man vs. the ordinary guy, who is being worked hard, is being exhausted, even becomes sick due to what The Man demands; and hence it is a political song, or at least whenever I hear it, it becomes one. Slade stand squarely in favor of the working class; and here Slade, I feel, are talking straight to them, signifying if you will, about what is happening and how The Man is "gettin'" to everybody, fixing them up but good...screwing them over?
Again, I don't want to make too much hay of this song - but at this point in '73 I sense a rebelliousness underneath a lot of UK life, a willingness to try something new, along with resignation and The Fog. Slade were to bounce back from this (a #2 hit for them was a miss, at this point) with a huge hit, their last one - and while the Glam Slam era continues here, it is ever-so-slowly disappearing...to be replaced by something that is, at this point, yet to exist. Stan, Jack and Pete are all linked by someone, sure, but is it a woman, or is it something more...sinister?
Next up: them's the limits.
Perhaps if I'd been shown old-school horror movies as a kid I would have grown up to be more comfortable with the genre; as a child Bobby Pickett got to see a lot of them for free as his dad ran a movie theater, and he was known for his spot-on imitations of Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi from an early age. This song was the ultimate fruit of his experience, and in 1962 it got to #1 in the US just as the Cuban Missile Crisis was making it feel as if there really were monsters in the world, and that the world itself was about to end at any moment. Turning the horror into a new dance craze was the pop genius of this song; and since then it's always been around, a little bit dated but still witty, a girl group accompanies "Boris" as he tells his tale in a doleful, slightly sinister way. (It wouldn't work if it wasn't scary in some sense - I still get a little frightened when he says "Tell them Boris sent you.") It also works of course as no one expects figures of horror to be dancing and having a good time; if this time of year is when the dead and the living have the closest chance of contact (and it doesn't have to be frightening - Dias de los Muertos is about family togetherness, more than anything) then why not have a party in the graveyard?
That this wasn't a hit in the UK until '73 is something I'm not sure I can explain, but as I understand it, Noel Edmonds pushed it on his show and thus it became a hit (an NME #2). That the UK was suffering at this point, gearing down because of government policies and the oil crisis, is well known; for all I know this was a hit not just due to radio airplay but a sense of doom in the air, what with the IRA having now moved their bombing to London and Manchester, the three-day-week and gas rationing clearly ahead, and a strong sense that things were going to be worse in '74, not better...
...and while I can't remember when I first heard this song, it must have been on Dr. Demento's show in 1978 maybe; his show is a distillation of every strange, offensive, funny and just plain weird song that he can find, from pop hits like this one to more "outsider" type stuff like the Legendary Stardust Cowboy's "Paralyzed"** to Wild Man Fischer's "My Name Is Larry." Anything that was too much for ordinary radio would be fine for Dr. Demento, and I got a dose of this every Sunday evening, which no doubt helped to form my musical taste. With the belated success of "Monster Mash" the UK may have picked up - or at least some of the UK - that being odd or different or...genre-mashing was one way to get through this time, that the normalcy and optimism of even two years before was gone, and that now was the time for subversion, for arch imitations, for fun. Not fun in the Glam Slam sense but fun that could lead to something, a way out of The Fog, even. But that's for the future; for now Halloween approacheth, the ghouls and goblins dance, the souls of the departed touch down briefly to remind the living that they too once had fun and got through hard times. Time to rattle some chains and rebel...
Next up: it's a political song, because I say so.
*This said, I did manage to watch all of an early 90s Japanese anime movie once (Urotsukidoji) that was a total psycho-sexual freakout of epic proportions and got all the way through it, knowing what the basis of it was. (It's completely unsuitable for children, and most adults for that matter.) (I should also note that Don't Look Now came out around this time, and I did manage to get through that, thanks to seeing it on commercial tv. The Wicker Man also came out and even though I know how it ends, I can't watch it - the songs creep me out, quite frankly.)
**As featured on the closest thing to Dr. Demento in the UK, Kenny Everett's World's Worst Record Show compilation, alongside the immortal The Trashmen and many others. (This is completely unsuitable to anyone who doesn't understand the glory of music.)
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
That it has two sides isn't something I realized until now; the loud, camp "OOHHH YEAAAHHH" exclamations and "she thinks SHE's the passionate one" side, and the quieter one. The loud side is the addictive one, the vamping up of basic rock 'n' roll, but the quiet side has been hard for me to hear - or I should say, understand, until now*. This is a rave up, sure, but what to make of lines like "It's been getting so hard living with the things you do to me" or "Reaching out for something - touching nothing's all I ever do"? Or the last Connolly near-mumbled line, "I softly call you over - when you appear there's nothing left of you." With these lyrics The Sweet (or rather Chinn/Chapman) are jumping right into the nothingness, only to find that there's no safety net and that something - more scarily, someone - is disappearing. The Sweet know darn well The Fog is coming, they've reached out to find...nothing and something is breaking down, beyond just a bad show in Scotland. There is no gloom or terror in this song; just an acknowledgement that things are getting bad - you have to listen close to hear how bad, though. The Glam Slam era isn't quite over yet, but there is a sense here that while The Sweet are trying their best to make the best of a bad situation, that bad situation is going to remain and stagnate, the whoo-hoo good times becoming harder to find.
And how important is this, that it is about the audience? The relationship of those onstage and those in the audience is always a fraught one, at the best of times - and in the combative 70s the audience, I sense, wants a different relationship to those onstage. The gig this song talks about sounds like a punk one, where there is little sense of division between the band and the audience - only this isn't the punk era, and that ethos of doing something just to break the tedium/cause a scene is not that common. (Or was it? I have no idea if this kind of thing was regular back then, to be distilled into the punk attitude, which was yet to happen.) The Sweet get the last word here, which makes up for their misery, but in the future one of the key songs out of punk will be about being in an audience and not really knowing why you are there, and sensing that in the greater scheme of things, there's no "roots rock rebellion" happening anywhere - that The Clash are reaching for that rebellion and also grasping nothing shows that The Sweet, though not as political, obviously, are describing something that is happening and will continue throughout The Fog - a strong sense that what is really important isn't heard or seen, that entertainment in and of itself is going to have to change. And it's not going to happen in the wink of an eye....
Next up: Trick or Treat?
*The mumbling coming from Elvis, as Connolly sings these lines in a kind of half-suggestive way, though once you find out what he's saying, you've got to wonder about what he's suggesting.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
"No loving in our souls" just about describes it; this is a break-up with a drug personified, a woman who is incomparable, and who is weeping, crying over the loss just as the narrator keeps insisting that it's over, they have suffered too much together. That a song about a woman/drug could be such a big hit (#1 in the US, an NME #2 in the UK) maybe shows that the long comedown from the 60s was now at its bottom; the strings and piano and beauty in this song giving that raw pain something to hang on to, the "ain't it good to be alive" line sung pathetically, as if both know this to be true and yet unbearable at the same time. They tried; they tried and it just couldn't work, despite the sweetness. That the narrator has no idea where to go, what to do, when the clouds will disappear, is uncannily like "Rock On" - where do we go from here? Here at the bottom, where you-know-what is moving in on its little cat feet, making it very hard indeed to know what, if anything, to do. Confusion abounds; what was once a routine is gone, a habit is gone, and as we know this song did not mark the end of Richards and heroin (he himself still doesn't know why he started it again). The gorgeous slow country song meanders and stops to ponder itself, only to give up in the end, unable to answer its own questions. At least with David Essex there was the conviction that the music itself would somehow help, but here there's only a desperate sadness, a goodbye that sounds very reluctant, a song written just as Richards' fingers were able to play the guitar again, just able to make his calm exhaustion into music. And so an era passes; a generation hooked on a time and place and feeling, an oh incomparable feeling, have their own sad song to remember this by. It portends a time that is uneasy, where the hidden prevails, and the glamour of evasiveness is hard to catch, but there.
Next up: Well, are you ready?
*Which isn't to say I don't understand how it can be fun to be enthralled to a person/thing and have the whole cycle of euphoria, joy, and then the inevitable comedown as you realize the reality of the situation and indeed have that reality seem at first merely irritating and then ever-present, until the enthrallment is over and it's like the passing of a fever.
**It is not just the best things that are hard to talk about, but the worst as well. That heroin can be both to someone is obvious, and indeed it can be both at the same time, an experience that would mess anyone up.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
...and here is David Essex's voice, a knowing call, a stamp of approval; it almost sounds as if he is talking to the past, that near past of rock 'n' roll that by 1973 was being revived everywhere, from King's Road to Hollywood, trying to get back to the primal moment when someone in a pub or bar or basement or living room said, enough, things have got to change*. And along came rock 'n' roll to save the kids from being younger versions of their parents, of being pod people. All the signifiers, as the French thinkers would call them, are here - James Dean, blue suede shoes, the girl in blue jeans who is the real queen - but though he is recalling all this, he knows that there is something wrong. It is as if he is confronting The Fog as it happens, asking "And where do we go from here? Which is the way that's clear?" Because the simple dream of liberation that rock 'n' roll presented is now muddy, tie-dyed, and way overdue for something, but what? Essex (who wrote this song, a Luxembourg #2) may not know in the song besides the heroic call to "rock on" but the music tells a different story. It slinks around, horns and strings appear and disappear, the Real Thing come in to reaffirm that the girl is indeed the prettiest girl, and all at a pace that is entirely more to do with dub or even avant garde music than what bands like Slade or Wizzard were doing at the time. Producer Jeff Wayne and Essex wanted to make something new here, a song that pauses to ask just what on earth is rock 'n' roll for and what can it do? And as Essex exhorts us all to rock on, there he is talking to the kid - the one with the radio under the pillow, perhaps - as the song's space increases and echoes, as if to say that there is space here for you, whoever you are. Essex sounds as though he knows that yeah, being cool is good and everything, but there is something at stake here just besides watching old James Dean movies and looking for the girl. I see him calling out to the faithful, the ones who still don't fit in, the ones who maybe were too young to know about Beatlemania firsthand, let alone psychedelic freak-outs, and maybe those who love Glam but can sense that spangly stomping isn't going to last. The punches of quiet rock as hard as any guitar solos ("Jimmy Dean!" he calls out, as if to invoke him, bring him back to life) - is this the beginning of trip-hop? Of "quiet is the new loud"? This song takes rock 'n' roll and strips it back, not back to some kind of "authentic realness" but to the sense that it belongs to those who need it, the kids. If The Carpenters wanted to go back in time, only to find that maybe it wasn't all that great, then Essex is saying that maybe it can be great in the future, sure, but in the meantime there's a lot of work to be done - "Rock on!" being as much a call to action as anything. Persist and something will happen, spaces will appear, as dark and scary as things are getting (and with this you can hear the dreaded quiet of The Fog approaching, almost as a physical thing).
The emphasis on rhythm here is important too - the song comes up from the floor, there is no guitar, just a rumble, as if to say, this is the future - bass and drums, the beat, too slow to be a heartbeat but something tangible, sensual even. (Essex was a pin-up at the time and I can't ignore this, nor that this was included in the That'll Be The Day soundtrack.) As things get tougher, the essence of rock 'n' roll will remain, will be remade, will once again surprise and delight, nod it's head and say "Rock on" like a morse code, go UP and Down at just the right moments. It still stands as a call, a prophecy from here; and hip-hop begins, disco begins, the rhythms and beats and breathless pauses are all in here, in a song that can still be scary, a dare, a challenge - "Rock ON!"
Next up: what happens after you do get satisfaction.
*The recent success Richard & Adam's The Impossible Dream shows that there is still a segment of the music-buying public that maybe thinks that rock 'n' roll is okay but has had its day ("rebel rock has had its day...it has") and now is the time to turn back to what came before. I am not against this sort of thing if it is done well (pre-rock songs are pretty awesome, for the most part) but if it simply a recital or could be described in any way as "bonny wee" or "aw wee" and there isn't something a little...off about it (i.e. Neil Reid) , then that's not making it new. That's vintagizing repetition and a living death. "Rock On" is about keeping a hold on what has been and radically jumping into something new at the same time,
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Not that Barry Blue (nee Green) was naive. He had been working in the music business for years (much as Suzi Quatro had, and yep, they're born in the same year too) and was already probably figuring out that his real metier was in songwriting and producing; but this is an utterly charming song, unpretentious, with an odd nod to, of all things, Greek music (not since "Bend It" has this blog heard anything so Greek*) and the fact that he can't really dance that well is the clincher here - this is may be pop but it is the people's pop, if I may put it that way. This is bubblegum in the best sense - fun, innocent, his "bluejean baby" being his center, his joy, the bliss of dancing being the one thing on his mind...as Bob Stanley (hello!) noted in his essay about Blue, this wasn't even supposed to be Blue's song - it was written by him and Lynsey De Paul** for the band Mardi Gras, but Blue decided to do it himself, and thus ended up on tv wearing a blue satin jumpsuit and coming across as the nicest Glam star around. However, as the Glam era ended, he had the good sense to move back into producing and songwriting, and I will be getting to one of his best productions in 1977, which showed that he had an ear for funk as well as bubblegum - Heatwave's immortal "Boogie Nights."
Girls wearing blue jeans, dancing, good times - here it's catchy fun, but with the next song, it sounds as if it's a matter of life and death, no more, no less.
*Greece had a kind of hypnotic hold on the UK psyche at this time - sure, it was a relatively nice place to go for a vacation, but then so was Spain. Perhaps Greece was more hip at the time? Seen as more exotic in some way? (And now that I think of it, why was the cheese shop in the Monty Python sketch playing bouzouki music in the first place?)
**He and De Paul wrote her hits "Sugar Me" and "Getting A Drag" amongst others; songs that couldn't be further from this one if they tried.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
From what I can tell, the liberation of the 60s didn't hit the UK until the 70s, but then so did the various burdens as well. A lot of you, dear readers, experienced these things firsthand, and as the UK drifted into The Fog, various forces of that situation have to be picked apart, which is hard - as it is such an ugly time that walking into it is kind of scary, even now. Now- there's an interesting word - starts to suffer as The Fog approaches, and nostalgia - a preference for the past, takes a certain hold. This song is about preferring the past to the present ("And the good times that I had/Makes today seem rather sad, so much has changed") and about how the narrator would rather sing along/cry along to old songs, relive them as closely as possible, almost turn the radio into a time machine - than deal with the present.
Perhaps it's just my own youth, but when I remember listening to the radio - something I did an awful lot of in the late 70s/80s, I cannot say that I want to relive those times, as such. (A lot of the songs I remember fondly either don't get played, or the full version doesn't get played, or invariably I remember the 12" single that also doesn't get played, etc.) The idea of being nostalgic for the 70s or 80s is a lamentable one to me, seeing as how miserable most of it was - not for me personally, but on a worldwide-global-nuclear-war-any-day-now way, which filtered down into a lot of anxiety and almost not taking music on too personally. The songs The Carpenters have are all either good-natured or kind of creepy by turn, inherently early 60s in their sense of public fun and danger, the whole Cold War thing being turned into paranoia of a thousand eyes in the night, the broken heart being the real end of the world. In a way it suggests that in previous apocalyptic times, the radio was the refuge; the safe place, before everything went wrong - or should I say, got much much worse - sadder, really.
Here Karen* sings of songs that were hits when she was just eleven or twelve, and her alto voice of longing wishes to bring back those times, as bad as she knows they were, as they were at least preferable to now; and as far as I can tell so did many other Baby Boomers just hitting their 20s, faced with the unpleasant fact that the go-go 60s were definitely over and this new...thing called the 70s was unfortunately here to stay, and seemed to be getting worse every time you looked around. So why not look back? It's easy, it's comforting, and - I can't emphasize this enough - an awful lot of other people the same age were doing the exact same thing, making it a kind of rite of passage, if you will. This song marks that time, a time when nostalgia was not quite yet being commodified (Happy Days was just around the corner though) and the thought of anyone ever being fashionably retro in an early 70s way would have seemed absurd** to say the least. The Fog that overtakes the UK charts starts to form here, in a time when people spent way too much time looking back - not the Glam kids, no, but those a bit older, who remembered what once was and were feeling sadder, powerless even, the snap and joy of the 60s gone, replaced by a world that seemed colder, meaner, and so on. Nostalgia always does well in times like those; it is thanks to the squeaky-clean oddness of The Carpenters that they forgive this sentiment and also, with the long medley, show how incrementally strange and gone the past really is, never to return.
Next up: why look back when you can dance?
*How odd is it to note that Karen Carpenter and Suzi Quatro were about the same age?
**I can appreciate the term "retromania" but that implies a kind of joyous intensity that nostalgia, which verges on a listless, vague moroseness, suits this song much better.
Tuesday, July 30, 2013
Suzi looked at this and said, fuck that.
I cannot emphasize how bad things were back in the early 70s, what with Janis Joplin gone and so on, but Suzi Quatro up in Detroit had a band with her sisters and they gigged and recorded singles and were known on the scene; Suzi taught herself bass and was known to not take crap off of anybody, not Alice Cooper, not Iggy Pop*. Mickie Most was in Detroit, saw her all-sisters band (The Pleasure Seekers) and figured he had a star-in-the-making on his hands, and convinced Suzi to move to London to become famous, just like Hendrix. And like restless American girls before and after, she moved, got her band together, wrote songs and found herself in the midst of the Glam Slam, and added its influence to her Detroit sound. She wore a leather suit (her idea, not Most's) for convenience first, and had a low-slung bass as she is tiny and basses are rather heavy, as anyone who's played one knows. Most got Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman to write songs for her, and this is song is one of them. That it's about male menopause is something the boys of '73 (and girls, for that matter) may not have understood, but it got to #2 on the Luxembourg chart anyway, and it is inadvertently therefore one of the most feminist songs of this blog so far. That so many of the Glam Slam affected femininity they could hardly complain when an actual woman - an outsider, to boot! - came along and rocked just as hard as they did. Suzi has always seen herself as a musician first, an entertainer second, and if she was a sex symbol for the times, well that was nice, but not her first intention.
Nowadays some might think that this thunderous music/high-pitched singing might be a bit dated, and I have noticed that this song doesn't tend to get played on UK radio (hmmm, I wonder why). But then the music industry, which includes rock radio, has always been a bit ambivalent to that general category of women who play rock 'n' roll; whole books have been written about the subject, and it is still observable (especially in the UK) how rock in general is a male preserve, with an invisible "No Girls Allowed" sign hanging outside the treehouse**. Suzi Quatro helped to start a wave of young women who also played and sang and sweated in small clubs and were looked down on, in more ways than one, but who succeeded as they believed in themselves and in the music they were making; and this has continued since, from the Runaways to Deap Valley, with stops everywhere from Girlschool to L7, The Go-Go's to Haim. Certainly Joan Jett credits Suzi for inspiration, but as the wave has moved forward I wonder if anyone else in the US remembers her at all. Perhaps the riot grrls did, in the early 90s; but for girls my age, Suzi was Leather Tuscadero in Happy Days and had that "Stumblin' In" hit song and that was about it. I grew up not knowing about this fierce song of male ascension and swift decline, and so my teenage version of If You Knew Suzi was Jett's Bad Reputation. I have left one woman out of this as I have written about her already, but suffice it to say when Chrissie Hynde got to London two years after Quatro she had to look to her just as Jett did as an example of what could be done, even if Hynde didn't want to exactly do it the same way***. Also, I am loathe to call Suzi a pioneer - Wanda Jackson, anyone? - but for the UK scene, she was one. That she played songs written by others (though she did write songs for albums and b-sides) was perhaps the only hitch in this story; but in this case, with "48 Crash" what Chinn and Chapman wrote would have been silly as sung by Mud or Sweet. Suzi attacks this song and sings it like...well, like a woman who knows that one day there will be a lot more women on the stage, just like her, and "the Industry" would just have to deal. On the whole, I think things aren't quite so bad as they can sometimes seem; not when Kate Nash is running bandcamps for teenage girls and Pussy Riot are getting support from all over the world (their version of this song would no doubt be "Putin Crash"). Quatro still performs, and is proud that she was the first, though she knows that it was inevitable. At some point, a young woman was bound to lead a band, sing and play an instrument. All she had to do was have the skill, determination and energy to do it, and it was Suzi who happened to be the first.
Next up: the endless loop of Baby Boomers, explained.
*Some guy in the audience stuck his tongue out in a rude way to her and she promptly took her bass and hit him on the head with it. That's just how things were in Detroit.
** I am trying and failing to remember if a female musician has made any recent covers of Q, Uncut or Mojo.
***Hynde interviewed Quatro for the NME and was generally impressed by her, on and offstage.
Tuesday, July 16, 2013
I have no way of knowing if, during the popular boom of French music in the mid-60s, if "Et moi, et moi, et moi" was at all heard on the radio in the UK; Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry got to hear it though, and hence did his own version that got to #2 hit on the NME chart. My own knowledge of French pop is fervent but rather slapdash; I didn't really know about Dutronc until now, even though he's mentioned by Cornershop on their classic "Brimful of Asha."
It is abstractly interesting to have French pop turned into UK pop; it's not so great when it gets drained of the humour and modesty and just becomes something to nod along with on a hot day. Something gets lost in the translation, and as admirable as it might be, I am glad that no one has, say, tried to do an English version of Autour de Lucie's "Chanson sans issue." The melody and voice are like one raised eyebrow, and it all works together in such stunning unity that I'm not sure anyone could pull it off in English.* I could scratch my head as to how such an utterly catchy song got approximately nowhere in the UK charts, but then remember how Arnaud Fleurent-Didier made no impact here in 2010 with his tremendous album La Reproduction. I am not sure why these things happen, or rather don't happen, but France remains a place, as far as I can tell, that gets airplay and attention for its dance music, as opposed to anything else; I will be discussing the greatness of that specific music in the future, but sadly the world of French pop is one I won't get to talk about that much...c'est dommage.
Next up: A true rock 'n' roller, and a still-taboo subject.
*If you like this song then you will like the album it comes from, Immobile.
Thursday, July 4, 2013
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
What I do know was that for sure the comic strip Peanuts was my favorite growing up - as soon as I found out there was such a thing as a used book store, I would go in and get old paperbacks from the 60s and at some point I also collected the much bigger anthologies - haphazardly coloring them in, getting to know the history of the strip (which had been going well over a decade by the time I was born). I grew up with Peanuts as a constant marker of time (A Charlie Brown Christmas winter, It's The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown* [which has Schroder playing WWI songs "It's A Long Way to Tipperary" and "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag" and has Snoopy fighting the Red Baron] for fall). I am not sure if this latter show was ever broadcast on UK television, but I do know that Peanuts was gaining popularity around this time; and the wildly imaginative Snoopy has more than something to do with that. Anyone can relate to him and his big heart and innate sense of what is right and wrong. (I saw Snoopy, Come Home when it came out in 1972 and was traumatized - there are a lot of signifiers in the movie, if you know how to watch it. Interestingly, it was a failure at the box office - ultimately too emotionally charged for kids like me, who didn't like to see Snoopy suffer so much.)
Because of all these reasons - and no others, save to have a hit - The Hotshots recorded this and it was a summertime smash, the kind of song kids buy (as they did the original) and might remember, even though I've never heard it on UK radio. Peanuts and Charles Schulz have passed into history as (I believe) both commercial success and highbrow art immortality**. That is very hard to do, but Schulz did it; whether he ever heard this, I don't know, but I imagine he would have liked it if he did. Thanks, old pal.
Next up: pass the popcorn.
*Kid Koala immortalized Charlie Brown's misery in this special in "Tricks 'n' Treats" on his Scratchcratchratchatch mixtape.
**Snoopy as the WWI pilot is such a famous image that it's on the cover of one of the lovely Peanuts complete works.
Now, this song was a #1 hit in 1969 and by all rights I shouldn't be talking about it here; but look, here it is again at #2, a woozy swoon of a song, part straight-up blues, part Shadows ease and gentleness. And that's fine, I don't really have much else to say about it, save for the fact that Fleetwood Mac - not in this exact configuration - are on their way to becoming, I would argue, the defining band of the 70s. Yes, I know that is a huge proclamation, but I feel it's true. Other bands or musicians may also qualify here (I have written about one of them over at Then Play Long recently) but none has the punctum - for me, anyway - of Fleetwood Mac. Perhaps that is because I am from California, and that just as I was leaving, they were arriving...
...or I should say, on their way to arriving. If the 70s can be described as a period of comedown, struggle and then renewal and success, then Fleetwood Mac are indeed the defining band of the time. In the summer of '73, when this was at #2 and people wondered if the band even existed any longer on TOTP, they might have been surprised (or...not) to hear that not one but two guitarists had left the group*, that a wayward American called Bob Welch had heard they needed help, and showed up, giving them direction and (un)wittingly predicting their future: California. Welch was from Los Angeles and sensed that Fleetwood Mac would do better there than in blokey-bluesy-UK, where the band could stretch out and perhaps find its feet. This was for the future; right now Fleetwood Mac were still in the UK, though they were gaining popularity in the US and with Welch's influence were starting to sound more American as well. About this time they were recording Mystery To Me (one of many, many albums of the 70s to have an awful cover**) which includes "Hypnotized" - a song Welch wrote that that got a lot of airplay without actually becoming a hit. It shares a certain laid-back charm with "Albatross" but is far more jazzy than Shadowy; it paves the way for "Dreams" a few years later, and the general eerieness that hangs over the band in general. It is also understated; the general received opinion of the L.A. band Haim is that they sound like Fleetwood Mac, but nobody ever seems to mention which one; let me be the first one (if I am the first one) to say they they remind me of the Bob Welch-era Mac, and it is a shame that Welch never got to hear them, as I think he would have liked them. It is also a shame, depending on how much stock you put in it, that while Fleetwood Mac are in the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, Welch's heroic carrying of the band somehow didn't count - he's not included in the long list of band members. He belongs with them all, and it is sad to see he's not there.
In any case, like Fleetwood Mac my family were in transition; moving from Los Angeles to Canada, Oakville specifically. It was a hot summer; the summer of Watergate hearings, of ex-Beatles at #1 in the US. A time when a lot of people could sense that something had happened somewhere that was wrong, but couldn't do very much about it. "Will It Go Round In Circles" sang Billy Preston, while Dr. John lamented that he was in the right place, but at the wrong time. The Fog was dealt with in different ways in the US & the UK; the US tried to stick a happy face on it, or at least get it out, confessionally, into the open. The UK put its faith in the Glam Slam, in the eternal party that is rock 'n' roll itself. That will continue shortly, but next: what? A dog can't fly a plane!
*Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer had both left by now, Peter Green had already left before them.
**Truly, the music had to do the selling with this one. A beast eating a birthday cake? Huh?
Tuesday, May 7, 2013
This may well be the first song where the artist announces himself, as if you didn't know immediately who was playing; and this is an anthem, a kind of self-reflecting song that a band can only do once they, in fact, no longer need to tell you who they are. It doesn't really go anywhere as a song- "I'm a groover, honey!" and "Yeah!" is pretty much the song, but of course being Marc Bolan he's got something to say...and it's mostly about how he actually doesn't care what he's called (Arnie?? Slim?!) because he knows he's the Groover, and thus can go anywhere.
Star King? Jeepster? Hmmm, when you start referencing your other songs in a song that is kind of a tipping point; I can see how this only got to #2 on the Luxembourg chart - as boistrous and by-rote strutting this song is, it lacks a vital oomph; it really is like overhearing someone talk about how great they are instead of actually getting to see/hear how great they are, instead. There is a fine line between buoyant boasting and joie de vivre and this; this, which sounds uncomfortably like T.Rex now needs a cheerleading song to keep the band going in their perpetual battle to stay in the Top Ten, to stay relevant, even. Marc Bolan must have realized that he started the whole Glam Rock thing and now it is everywhere, and here he is celebrating himself (far more than the shoegazers would in 20 years' time) as if to remind everyone that he was first. But it still sounds strained, as if he could also see this central role disappearing, his kingly finery being trampled by so many stack-heeled boors who couldn't be truly groovy if they tried. This is the last time I write about T.Rex here and it's sad that the song isn't more emphatic; instead it's like seeing a ship sail off, over the horizon, never to be seen again.* (Note: it's not like T.Rex ended; they just didn't get a Top Ten hit after this.)
The first part of the 70s is now over; the period that I will be calling The Fog has yet to begin, though anyone who now feels itchy even thinking about certain tv shows - UK tv shows I mean - will know The Fog is already here, and pop music is doing its darnedest to fight it every step of the way...
Next up: as one world ends, another begins.
*Coincidentally, by this time I know we are going to be moving to Canada; we have a few weeks to clean and pack and have probably already sold the house to a friend. I have finished kindergarten and will soon be going with my parents cross-country in our car, a trip I don't remember that well, besides it was a hot summer and we ended up in a place called Oakville. New worlds, indeed.
Just because the 60s ended technically didn't mean hippies disappeared; at this point, in fact, they are slowly but surely the cause of all sorts of things to come, things that don't really exist at this point but eventually will (everything from organic food to recycling to flotation tanks and crystal healing; some of these will prove more popular than others). Hippies, as I understand/imagine it, may well have given up buying singles altogether in favor of albums; but this got in the chart, an anomaly to say the least, and an NME #2, as well.
For those of you who might think that maybe this song is proof hippies can't do math, well, man, it's all about how love puts two together so they are one, dig? (Hippie declarations of love are of course the lower octave, as they'd say at the Omega Centre, of the higher octave of universal love, man*.) Far from being a pompous blowhard-type declaration, this is as easygoing as a Sunday and may well be the first appearance of a jew's harp on MSBWT, if I'm not mistaken. Medicine Head were a blues band, mostly, but this is pure pop, the lyrics all love-eagerness (more phone talk, "little darling") - if anything this is what a more lively Dire Straits would sound like, had they existed yet. (The guitar here sounds a bit like the guitar on "So Far Away" and there are little organ blips and bleeps too, less frenetic than those on "Industrial Disease.") The vocals are laid back, so much so they're almost spoken word, and it is a shame that the band (signed in the 60s to John Peel's Dandelion label) didn't get to build on this success; perhaps they were too offhand and hippie to compete in the Glam Rock/Big Important Album dichotomy of the time, and end up, effectively, as the kind of band only people (pardon me, "heads") from back in the day remember at all. This song is thus part of The Void - I have yet to hear it on UK radio - drowned out by its noisy neighbors in the chart, from Suzi Quatro to 10cc, Wizzard to Wings. There were other laid-back songs on the chart, of course, but none as lo-fi as this.
Next up: Did someone say hippie?
*I'm not sure if the term "New Age" was being used in '73, but the Omega Centre is a New Age place in Toronto, in case you're wondering - in Yorkville, where people would go in the late 60s to make fun of hippies. Things have changed...
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
"Hell Raiser" was their next single after their own hysterical "Block Buster!" - and of course it's loud, starting out with a fiery yell of lust and going out for blood afterwards. This isn't exactly Black Sabbath, but damned if it doesn't sound like punk rock as well (I can only wonder what the future Joey Ramone made of it). The song is about a girl who is nothing but trouble (she sounds as if she is a one-woman riot, nearly) who has "ultra sonic eyes" and who is a literal bombshell, a "natural born raver" - a huge female that the singer is scared of, as much as attracted to. "Look OUT!" Brian Connelly yells at the start, as if the girl is indeed about to send her own special shockwaves out, stunning all the men as she shakes her "ooh."
That the lyrics have the narrator telling his mom (who wants him to get this girl) that whenever she touches him it feels like he's "burning in the fires of hell." Thus this whole song is him trying to explain how intense this girl is and how in turn he feels; this isn't so much a song about thinking as much as feeling, the ferocity of the song matching all this lust-fear-lust stopping-and-starting. The song leaps out at you in the best Glam Slam tradition, singing directly to those boys who know a girl just like this (or maybe wish they did). The song ends with an explosion, which could stand for so many things (I will let you, dear reader, figure out what it means). Chinn and Chapman and The Sweet, with this song, balanced the rock and bubblegum perfectly - the hysteria of the song melds with the supersonic speed and they sing sincerely - well, as sincerely as possible, all things considered. (It certainly sounds more grounded in reality than the song which kept it off the top - the breakdown-inducing "Tie A Yellow Ribbon" by Tony Orlando and Dawn.)
When I next return to The Sweet, the song won't be about a girl who is a riot - it will be about a riot. Well, it is the early 70s.
Next up: we are all one, man.
Tuesday, April 2, 2013
At the time I had no idea about David Bowie, as I've said before; but I can imagine there was a whole horde of kids in the UK who also felt weird, as if their own skin was strange, and who latched on to Bowie with that same feverishness I felt; if following T.Rex was like an ecstatic experience, then Bowie was more a contagion, something that took you over and left its marks, for good or bad. This song (#2 on the Luxembourg chart) from Aladdin Sane has the strangeness of something you know is bad for you, maybe even corrupting; but it is done so well that hardly matters.
It is hard, especially in these renewed days of Bowie fever, to cast any light on this song that hasn't already been shone; save to say how even on a train from Seattle to Phoenix (he didn't like to fly - still doesn't I guess) he is still determinedly English; let Elton John and Bernie Taupin sing about America, Bowie guesses that the young creatures of the future are going to be Anglophiles into Mick Jagger and Twiggy, not Marilyn Monroe or Roy Rogers. These young folks have to learn the arts of romance, so to speak; and thus go to see movies and learn how they are done. Yes, in the dystopia to come, even normal instincts are lost; or perhaps the apocalypse has made them unnecessary, until now...I don't know if the love in this song is real or not; or perhaps the love for cinema is stronger than the actual 'love' made in and around the song itself. This is a concave world folding in on itself, the music a complex doo-wop*, Bowie's voice climbing and noting, gaining footholds, sympathetic (I think) to these hapless ravers, who are bumbling in the dark, so naive they have to read books and consult friends. That this is normal adolescent behavior and doesn't need a post-apocalyptic setting to work is the secret of this song; teenagers will be clueless no matter what fall out may be around. It is the music that is the most strange thing; I suspect that is why Mott the Hoople turned it down - Bowie gave them first dibs - and their rejection of it upset Bowie. I am not sure Ian Hunter would have liked singing about "Jung the foreman" or "Astronette 8" and would have no idea what "Sylvian**, The Bureau Supply for ageing men" meant. (Hm, maybe it's the lyrics and the music together...) The entire effect is one of a kind of decadence, wherein figures from the 60s are in a 70s-style doo-wop song sung from the point of view of someone looking back on a post-apocalyptic future adolescence. Whew!
This is audio pop-art, the kind I remember being full of noise, lights, machines with personalities; I remember seeing a show like this at the time and being alternately thrilled by it and a little scared too. That is as close to my reaction to Bowie would have been at the time - that this was maybe a little too grown up for me, that there were a lot of symbols and ideas going right over my head, ones I wouldn't have a clue about one way or another. In the spring of 1973 Bowie was, as the V&A show no doubt says, influencing people; asking them, with this song, to consider the eternal verities and warn them of nostalgia, of relying too much on Jagger and Twig the Wonder Kid for glamour - for propping a whole culture up on the 60s in essence, the effective continuation of life itself on a video or two.
That people are clamoring for Bowie now at the V&A is ironic as far as this song is concerned; I think it is right to view the past in context, but the right context is to hear the whole chart for this time to note how utterly different Bowie (and T.Rex and Roxy Music) were to everything else; strange and thrilling and a little scary. (The V&A show strikes me, who will probably never see it, as one of itchy idolatry - the overheated reaction to it and his new album show that the contagion still exists, a benevolent one of course, but one that leads to things like zig-zag earrings and "David Bowie Is Turning Us All Into Voyeurs***" buttons isn't always a good thing.)
Still, this is the tacky, awkward post-apocalypse of romance; teenagers are going to manage with whatever is left, the 50s/60s merging into a past that is only of some help. For those who felt out of step, odd in their own skin, Bowie was there to reassure them; but for others, those who didn't have to rehearse any lines or read books because their hormones were on fire - well, that's what I'm getting to next.
*Add to this confusion a performer who is very much English trying to do an American style of music - in hearing this I wondered if Bowie had ever even been to a drive-in. Methinks not.
**I have no idea if David Sylvian got his last name from this song, but then again he was 15 at the time, so he probably did, unless it was the New York Dolls' Sylvain Sylvain first.
***Voyeurs of what? "David Bowie Is Watching You" is the t-shirt for the show; all this watching, directly or surreptitiously, sounds like one ugly game of hide and seek. It also makes me wonder how this figure of the future knows about what the kids are doing...why is he so interested? Cough.
Tuesday, March 19, 2013
Osmondmania: Little Jimmy: "Tweedle Dee," The Osmonds: "Let Me In," Marie: "Paper Roses," Donny and Marie: "I'm Leaving It (All) Up To You"
The group, as you know, were first discovered at Disneyland after having been rejected from the Lawrence Welk show; they worked for and with Disney for a while, and then were on the Andy Williams show for a few years. Then Mike Curb came along and saw potential in them beyond mere harmony singing; he booked them in at Muscle Shoals in the fall of '70, where Rick Hall figured out how to make their sound a lot more contemporary. It worked: "One Bad Apple" was recorded there and went to #1 in the US, and Osmondmania was born.
Osmondmania spread around the globe, striking particularly hard in the UK; by this time, the spring of '73, it was a genuine mania, with seemingly any family member able to get a big hit...even Little Jimmy Osmond, who is about to turn ten and does stuff that is...well...cute. I think the whole point of Little Jimmy was to be cute, although some might just think of him as bothersome or even a cause for minor despair. The Osmonds were and are an industrious bunch and they all had to do something; if growling and singing like a miniature Jimmy Durante (the song is from 1954) was going to charm the grannies in Arbroath, well, so be it. (It wasn't a hit in the US, however; such rinky-dinkism was where the line was drawn, so to speak.) It got to #2 on the Luxembourg chart, as a follow up to his also rather unnecessary but popular "Long Haired Lover From Liverpool" got to #1, earlier this year.
The smooth sound of the Osmonds - such a toothy and together family, four square and utterly undisturbing or threatening - was just what girls wanted; I was far too young to know about them at the time, so their appeal isn't really something I can understand, save for there will always be nice boys for good and not-so-good girls to go utterly crazy over, and the Osmonds were those boys at this time. (They were rivals with the Partridge Family, specifically David Cassidy, about now, as we shall see.) "Let Me In" is a song that the band wrote itself for their progressive rock album The Plan; by now they were ambitious enough to want to join the ranks of Yes, Pink Floyd etc. and while it may indeed be a head trip, this song sounds anything but far-out; it is a very typical love song, with Merrill doing the lead vocals and the rest coming in for a warm, gentle barbershop-ish harmony. It screams "I'm a nice guy and you don't have to worry with me, oh please love me" that would of course have girls flocking to their local record emporium to buy the single, if not the album. (The Plan was a hit of course, though it too has fallen into The Void; I doubt if Radio 2 will ever have a show featuring it as a 'classic' album.) "Let Me In" was #2 behind...the older and more introspective David Cassidy, who did get a number one album as well (Dreams Are Nothin' More Than Wishes) and whose own fanatical fans would overwhelm him; the Osmonds had power and faith in numbers that got them through some utterly insane times. (How insane? Girls tried to mail themselves to the Osmonds.)
In the midst of all this boyband hysteria came Marie Osmond; the second-youngest and still just thirteen when she recorded "Paper Roses" - a song of maturity and knowledge, a song of disappointment, that maybe other girls...understood? I am always wary of songs of such world-weariness being sung by girls who probably haven't even had a boyfriend yet, but here we are, it's the 70s and a girl born in 1959 is singing a song from 1960, originally a hit for well-known-for-many-things Anita Bryant. Seeing her do it, made up to look a lot older than her age, makes me wonder just who did buy this, beyond country fans, Osmond maniacs and...?
By now, it must have seemed to the UK public that the Osmonds would not go away, would never in fact stop having hits; and I am sure those ideas filled some with happiness and others with angst. However, there is only one more #2 hit for the family to discuss here; and that is the even more confusing/disturbing "I'm Leaving It (All) Up To You" - a hit for Donny and Marie in '74. It's disturbing because...are a brother and sister supposed to be singing a song like this to each other? And to those who remember the song from 1963, when it was a #1 in the US...well, it was #1 just before the Kennedy assassination*. There is something odd in bringing back these memories, though I imagine most of the girls buying this single had no idea about its first sorry fate.
I think you can see, dear readers, that apart from their own works the songs here are all from the pre-Beatles era; effectively, before those awful 60s happened, when things were nice and serene and uncomplicated. An awful lot of the early 70s is caught up, one way or another, with nostalgia for this time, a time before not just The Beatles but Dylan, hippies, miniskirts, and all kinds of other moral outrages that middle America (the Osmonds are from Utah, that state where Bill Bryson, in The Lost Continent, finds his utopian nice USA town, or comes closest to it) never had much time for**. The Osmonds are miles away from any genderbending glam platform progress, and yet were just as popular during the Glam Slam era, causing hordes of female fans to scream so loud that they had to play louder than anybody outside of The Who to be heard. But the screaming pretty much ended in '75 for The Osmonds; Donny and Marie had a variety tv show starting in '76 and the rest worked on the show with them, behind the scenes.
That so many girls and guys loved the Osmonds and that they have effectively been written out of UK pop radio (save for chart countdown shows) is a shame; they were the well-scrubbed conservative face of US pop, to be sure, but they were just as much part of this time as anyone; and nowadays it is Glam that gets the respect and museum exhibitions, while the nice Osmonds, with their Mormon concept album and puppy-doggish charms are consigned to the "you had to be there" whitebread nostalgia corner, alongside the Patridge Family and so on. But it's hard to feel too much nostalgia for songs that were themselves covers of songs from before things got messy. I can sense the UK's lasting preference for Glam over the US family-style pop is due to Glam's being British and therefore tough and ridiculous and ironic - and in effect more masculine, as opposed to the sweet feminine "girly" US pop of the time. And I can imagine girls waiting for the Osmonds to appear on TOTP, just as the guys were waiting for...well...you know...
Next up: popcorn double feature.
*And it's not just these songs; think of Donny's solo hits, all of them from the early 60s/50s, from "Young Love" to "The Twelfth of Never." I have no idea if these songs were picked for their nostalgia factor, or just because Donny could sing them. The Osmonds were a kind of smiley-face-button of pop, albeit one that tugged heartstrings pretty mercilessly, particularly ones of young girls.
**Dale and Grace were in Dallas that day, young and in love with a number one single, and a few moments after having waved to the President & First Lady everything changed; radio went silent for days, their single was obviously no longer popular, and they broke up a few months later, instantly outdated by the arrival of The Beatles.