Monday, 23 January 2012

Paul's Incomplete Guide To Classic Pop 1975-79 Part 2

'That's Rock 'n' Roll' - Shaun Cassidy (1977)

In 1977 I was still a year away from being a regular (or even semi-regular) radio listener; and the main way I got to hear pop music was through after-school turntable play at friends' places; and of all the songs I got introduced to in this way 'That's Rock 'n' Roll' was easily my favourite. And I still like it a great deal...
      ...but, I’m prepared to admit that despite the fact that it was written by power pop wunderkind and sometimes genuine rocker Eric Carmen (yes it’s true, the guy who sang the exquisitely awful ‘Hungry Eyes’ from Dirty Dancing used to be good, very good; check out the first Raspberries album for proof), ‘That's Rock ‘n’ Roll’ fits nicely into sub-category of songs about rock ‘n’ roll that contain very little actual rock ’n’ roll (other prime examples being Billy Joel’s 1980 hit ‘It’s Still Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me’ and Starship’s massively over-produced ‘We Built This City’ from 1985); with the most glaringly un-rock ‘n’ roll aspects being the virtually non-existent drums, Cassidy’s overly breathy rendering of the lyric, and the sax fills and solo that no one would ever confuse with Clarence Clemons (or The Stones’ Bobby Keys).
      The Joe Hardy connection: At the time Shaun Cassidy was starring in a television series called The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries in which he played Joe Hardy, an ameuter sleuth, who together with his brother Frank (played by Parker Stevenson), maintained impeccable hairstyles (whilst solving the odd 'mystery'). 
      (The Hardy Boys story lines were interspersed with largely separate Nancy Drew mysteries with Pamela Sue Martin playing the feisty girl detective; and I managed to develop a bit of a pre-adolescent crush on Pamela Sue, which is probably not of any real interest to anybody, and is certainly not germane to the topic…)
      Anyway, the ninth episode in the first series ('The Mystery of the Flying Courier') opens with Joe Hardy giving a fully arranged rendition of  'That's Rock 'n' Roll'. The fact that Joe had no solid background in singing, let alone performing dead-on Shaun Cassidy covers, seems to have been conveniently overlooked in the name of stunningly cynical cross-promotion. I would say that it's worth seeking out the episode and/or the series on DVD, but that would be being untruthful...


'Mull Of Kintyre' by Wings

Mrs Parsons. She was the first (and only) teacher I had who name-checked pop singers and popular songs on a regular basis. She urged us to post a copy of the times-table on the back of the toilet door "next to a poster of Rod Stewart!". She was directly responsible for me starting to listen to the radio.
      In early 1978, one of her fellow teachers had managed to procure the sheet music to 'Mull Of Kintyre'; and when he came into our classroom to hand it over to Mrs Parsons she couldn't hide her excitement.
      "Ah, this is what I’ve been waiting for,” she said.
      Suddenly, the maths we were doing was of little or no importance. She went and got her nylon-stringed acoustic guitar out from behind her desk; she opened the booklet; and she started to strum her way through the (fairly rudimentary) chord changes. 
      Then she paused: “If you don’t know this song, then you don’t listen to the radio enough.”
      I didn’t know it.
      That night when I got home I tuned in to 3XY (1420 on the dial) and, in that moment, my world  turned from black and white into colour. I sat there transfixed as unfamiliar singles spilled out one after the other. (Songs I heard on that first night included 'Wuthering Heights' by Kate Bush, 'Stayin' Alive' by The Bee Gees, 'You Took The Words Right Out Of My Mouth' by Meat Loaf, and the reigning number one 'Isn't It Time' by The Babys).
      'Mull Of Kintyre' itself is a ponderous dirge of a thing and under normal circumstances wouldn't be a song that I'd give any thought to; but it was the catalyst for opening up a world that has sustained me during some very dark times. And that's good enough for me...

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Paul's Incomplete Guide To Classic Pop 1975-79 Part 1

'January' by Pilot (1975)

"January, sick and tired, you've been hanging on me." Heard that everywhere in 1975. Never knew what it meant. Never realised that January was a girl's name like May, April or June. Never realised that the song was, like a lot of vital art, probably alluding to a faltering relationship. I actually thought the lyric was "January, second time you've been hanging on me" and that the singer was lamenting the fact that he'd had a disastrous start to the last couple of years - damn that month of January.
      To latter-day ears it sounds a lot like what a mid-'70s McCartney-led Beatles single would have been like had they stayed together (one can easily imagine 'January' joining 'Michelle', 'Eleanor', 'Prudence' and the rest of an illustrious group of girls feted by the Beatles in song).


'Single Bed' by Noosha Fox (1976)

S-s-s-single bed. Clap. Clap. S-s-s-single bed. Clap. Clap. If the anemic, forty-something, Noosha Fox took a demo of this song to a record company today she'd be summarily escorted from the premises by security guards under strict instructions never to let her darken their door again - her mere presence having the potential to 'harm the brand' or some such. 
      In 1976, however, things were different. You could have very little going for you image-wise – she also had lank, lifeless hair and sang like a Frenchwoman impersonating an Englishwoman – but if your song had a hook that was catchy enough to get a run in the schoolyard, then you had a hit on your hands.
      Maybe the hint of permissiveness in the lyric also helped its chances. After all, Noosha spends much of the song affirming that her bed isn’t big enough for two. Is she happy about this state of affairs? No, we – the playground jury – assumed not. 
      There was still some ambiguity though: was the fact that “all (she) got is a single bed” an admittance of defeat, that she’d be sleeping alone, perhaps, to take it to its extreme, in perpetuity?; or would these would-be lovers run the risk of being cramped and make-do with the titular single bed?
      I personally think its success was all down to those handclaps…

'The Way That You Do It' by Pussyfoot
More Beatles influence (it sounds almost exactly like Ob La Di ob La Da). And more Gallic flavour (this time courtesy of a ludicrous, and stridently meaningless faux-French refrain that can best be 'translated' as "ooh nunna hiyah, ooh nunna hiyah, hiyah). 
      Again, the Beatles influence went unnoticed by me at the time: although other acts were having huge success releasing tracks highly derivatibe of the Fab Four (ELO and 10cc being the most obvious, but by no means only, examples), the Beatles themselves were not particularly in vogue either as a group (Beatles nostalgia as we know it today only truely kicked in with the advent of the CD and the re-release of their albums on that format), or as individuals (John had 'retired' and become the world's most musically gifted house husband; George was releasing hitless albums that you've never heard of like Extra Texture (1975) and Thirty-Three & 1/3 (1976); McCartney had hit a mid-career slump (Wings At The Speed Of Sound anyone? Didn't think so.); and Ringo, I'm not sure what Ringo was doing.


'Glass Of Champagne' by Sailor 

Hello Sailor...goodbye.