Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Bert WEEDON: 22 Golden Guitar Greats


(#176: 20 November 1976, 1 week)

Track listing: Dance On/Wipe Out/Wheels/Diamonds/40 Miles Of Bad Road/Yakety Axe/Kon Tiki/Ginchy/Pepe/Sleepwalk/Guitar Boogie Shuffle/Walk Don’t Run/Scarlet (sic) O’Hara/F.B.I./Sorry Robbie/Marie (sic) Elena/Shazam/Perfidia/Man Of Mystery/Hava Nagila/Albatross/Apache

When Bert Weedon died earlier this year, a couple of weeks short of his 92nd birthday, I wonder how many people still remembered him or what he had done. Indeed, I cautiously posted something on the I Love Music message board about his passing, and many American readers were astonished to discover the extent and significance of his achievements, as he was little known outside Britain. Growing up in mid-seventies Britain, I had no real idea who Bert Weedon was either. He was often on television, turning up on variety shows or game shows, a genial, middle-aged fellow who always got a warm reception from the audience, and I mentally filed him alongside Henry Cooper or Lionel Blair, a celebrity well known for being a celebrity, an all-round sporting chap who regularly turned out and did much good work for the Variety Club of Great Britain, and so forth…but what had he actually done in the first place?

I knew from listening to Jimmy Savile’s Double Top Ten show on Radio 1 and reading Tony Jasper’s 20 Years Of British Record Charts, 1955-1975 that he had had some success as a guitarist in the late fifties and early sixties. From the weekly magazine series The Story Of Pop I also realised that he was rather more significant than chart data alone might disclose, but didn’t really feel the need to delve deeper. And when he appeared on TV screens in the autumn of 1976, cheerfully advertising his 22 Golden Guitar Greats, I had him firmly pegged down as light entertainment.

Listening to this album now – which in its day sold over a million copies – the unwary might justifiably wonder what the fuss was about. Twenty-two easy listening renditions of instrumental oldies from what was already a rather distant past, performed by a fifty-six-year-old man in smart suit and moustache (apart from Perry Como, the oldest living individual performer to have a number one album up to this point?) – what did this have to do with something like The Song Remains The Same?

It could hardly be acknowledged at the time that without this self-effacing, courteous man from East Ham, The Song Remains The Same could arguably never have happened, and that not only was he the chief architect of British rock music, but he was also (so to speak) instrumental in getting the guitar recognised as a legitimate musical instrument in his country. Weedon spoke many times about how he felt, even as a teenager in the thirties, he was on something of a mission to push the guitar to centre stage; until he did something about it, the instrument was chiefly known in Britain from its appearance in singing cowboy films. He initially took lessons from a classical specialist, James Newell, who didn’t have much time for jazz or Western swing (Weedon’s two main musical passions at the time) but convinced Weedon of what the instrument could express; he also taught Weedon something of yoga, Buddhism and philosophy.

After war service he began to establish himself as a guitarist, principally on the dance band circuit, working with Ted Heath, Mantovani, the Squadronnaires and others; with his jazz hat on, he struck up a long working and personal relationship with Stéphane Grappelli. At one engagement he found he had contracted TB, and was out of action for some months and also told to avoid working in smoky nightclubs and dancehalls. Initially perturbed, he opted to become a studio player and quickly gained a reputation as a session musician.

It was while working with Cyril Stapleton’s band that the breakthrough happened. Stapleton gave him a copy of an obscure import record he had sourced from the States – “Rock Around The Clock” by Bill Haley – and rather than turning his nose up (as virtually every other British musician of his generation did) Weedon welcomed the new music and adapted his style accordingly. Through the fifties and early sixties he kept a foot in both camps; he worked with many young British rockers, including Tommy Steele and Adam Faith, but was also first call guitarist for visiting American superstars, called upon to back Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Tony Bennett and others.

Somewhere in the midst of all this activity, he carved out a career for himself as a named musician. His first and biggest hit was a cover of “Guitar Boogie Shuffle,” originally written and recorded by one Arthur Smith in 1945 but a big US hit (on reissue) for Philadelphia group The Virtues in the spring of 1959. Others followed (two of which, “Ginchy” and “Sorry Robbie” are also re-produced here); he was first off the block with “Apache,” arranging the song from the original sheet music, but unaccountably sat on his version for several months before releasing it, only for the Shadows’ cover to have conquered all in the interim.

It’s fair to say that as the Shadows rose, Weedon’s star dipped a little, but he remained a busy and popular musician. His greatest legacy, however, was his 1957 guitar tutorial book, Play In A Day, inexpensive and easy to follow. The equivalent of Sniffin’ Glue’s “three chords, now form a band” manifesto a generation later (significantly, taking effect at the same time as 22 Golden Guitar Greats), every British rock guitarist of note bought the book, learned from it, practised for many months and developed; it has been cited as an essential starting point by, amongst others, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Brian May, Mike Oldfield and, inevitably, Hank Marvin and Bruce Welch – while it might be a slight overstatement to suggest that British rock could not have happened without Play In A Day, Weedon’s book was the crucial catalyst, and if the mind baulks at so many Shadows covers on the present album, it might reasonably be argued that without Weedon these records might never have existed in the first place.

The lever behind the album was Warwick Records, a newish entrant to the budget TV-advertised compilation market, whose address – 120 King Street, London W6 – now houses the Hammersmith Holiday Inn. They tended to specialise in easily leasable (or re-recordable) compilations of hits by artists not quite in fashion; their roster included Vera Lynn, the Bachelors, Ken Dodd, Adam Faith and Frankie Laine, and their Various Artists albums incorporated things like David Hamilton’s Hot Shots. Quickly, however, Warwick realised that getting studio musicians in to re-record well-known hits of old was much faster and cheaper than obtaining leases for the originals, and so earlier in 1976 Instrumental Gold appeared, a collection of largely non-guitar dominant hits (although “Apache” again appears, as does Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser”), largely from the pre-Beatles era, re-recorded by sundry stalwart British jazzers and sessioneers, Don Lusher, Stan Roderick, Jack Emblow and Gordon Langford among them, and spent five weeks at #3 over May and June. Clearly the “songs more important than the artists” market was still a goldmine waiting to be tapped (although the album’s version of “Telstar,” credited to “The Mellotronics,” is decidedly more bizarre than the original).

22 Golden Guitar Greats was designed as a sort of sequel to Instrumental Gold and Weedon was called upon to pick, choose and record the tracks (this we sort of gather from the anonymous sleevenote, written by someone for whom English was clearly a second language). Weedon went into the studio – not just any studio, but Konk Studios in Hornsey, owned by Ray Davies and the Kinks – with a band of rep reliables; Andy White, who played on “Love Me Do,” is the drummer, Rex Morris, whose provenance went back to Lord Rockingham’s XI and who played on “All You Need Is Love,” “Revolution 1” and “Honey Pie” (not to mention all of Weedon’s original hits), is on tenor saxophone, and Bill McGuffie, from the Radio 4 satire show Week Ending, is one of the keyboard players. The whole was co-produced (with Chris Harding) by none other than Brian Matthew, the venerable BBC broadcaster who now presides over Radio 2’s hugely popular show Sounds Of The ‘60s, a programme whose core audience is I feel not too far removed from the one that largely bought this album; in other words, elderly people who were always secretly rather disappointed with the Beatles, looking back to merry days of Craig Douglas, Jimmy Justice and the Fourmost, clinging onto their memories like oxygen masks. The recording engineer was Roger T Wake, an important figure in British jazz and improvised music of the period; among his other credits are Westbrook’s Citadel/Room 315 and Louis Moholo’s Spirits Rejoice!. The “Golden Guitar” may have been a tribute to Weedon’s golden Hofner, although it is not clear whether he used this on the record.

What about the record itself? Well, I don’t mean to render insult – quite the opposite – by comparing it with Italian café music, but that’s what it reminds me of (or perhaps French, in the M Hulot’s Holiday soundtrack way); “Dance On” and “Wheels” are exactly the sort of thing you’d hear while eating your tub of coppa whisky ice cream on a hot Wednesday afternoon in Venafro (listen to the work of the Marino Marini Quartet and you’ll see what I mean). Or, closer to home, Biggar in Lanarkshire, or Portobello, near Edinburgh, or maybe even Blackpool out of season, which latter might be the loneliest place in the world; distant echoes of British studios, polite, muted playing (Weedon’s guitar on “Wheels” made me think, for no good reason, of “Pink Frost” by the Chills) – and yet the slight reggae lilt to both of these tracks makes me wonder how good a reception this album might still get had it been recorded in Jamaica in 1964.

On the whole, the British covers work better than the American ones. There is no whooping or cackling on Weedon’s “Wipe Out,” although White’s drums here are outstanding – indeed, White stops just short of walking away with the record, as his work on “Diamonds,” “Scarlett O’Hara” and “Shazam” proves. Meanwhile, McGuffie treats the track as a jazz workout, daringly morphing McCoy Tyner block chords before the rest of the band come back in, just as it is about to turn into a Bill Evans Trio tribute. But the Duane Eddy tracks do not really work, since Weedon did not grow up in Tucson and Brian Matthew is not Lee Hazlewood, so they are proficient but no more, and the yelps and whoops on Weedon’s “Pepe” are, to put it mildly, forced. He does better with the Ventures (who indeed covered “Ginchy” in return), his “Walk Don’t Run” pitched noticeably higher than theirs. “Yakety Axe” is the Benny Hill theme.

Of the five Shadows covers (seven if you count the Jet Harris/Tony Meehan ones, and leaving “Apache” aside for the moment) it would be unhelpful for me to say much about them at the moment, since I don’t believe it’s a spoiler to say that I will be getting back to the Shadows themselves very soon; suffice it to say here that Weedon’s tone and intonation, as they are generally on the rest of the record, are very much classical in nature, very clean and precise (and so the nearest direct stylistic heir to Weedon in British rock is probably Brian May, who likewise tends to be very careful with the notes he picks and avoids ungainly smudging), and in terms of dealing with a group who were essentially half Weedon’s age, there is a definite teacher/pupil symbiosis going on here; how far ahead (if at all) the pupils jumped from their teacher remains to be seen.

This more or less leaves seven tracks worthy of closer attention. Of these, three are re-recordings of Weedon’s own hits, and the enthusiasm and commitment he and his band show when he is on his own territory are immediate. “Guitar Boogie Shuffle” is effectively Page One of British rock, let there be light, etc., and almost a literal textbook demonstration; Weedon starts out with the simplest of patterns and then gradually and methodically introduces other, slightly more complex variations on the theme. But in comparison to the polite 1959 original (produced by a very young Tony Hatch) this reading has far more vigour to it, and one can tell how and why he went down so well at the Roundhouse in 1970 (recorded on the splendid but hard to find Rockin’ At The Roundhouse); suddenly everyone is raising their game; there is real ebullience and teamwork, McGuffie at times veering off towards Taylorish elbow-on-keyboard abstractions. “Sorry Robbie” is a cha-cha which quickly cha-chas somewhere else; Morris’ grainy tenor is so impressive both here and on “Ginchy” that it intertwines with both tracks’ underlying proto-ska feel so effectively that you remember that we are just three years away from “One Step Beyond.” Likewise, his effortless take on “Hava Nagila,” the essential rite of passage for any tyro guitarist in those days – faster, faster! – is performed with absolute assurance; he even drops in a quote from Eddy’s “Peter Gunn” towards the end, as though trying to demonstrate a point (to which I will return).

“Ginchy,” though, is the revelation; with his introductory E minor/tremolo arm epilepsy “glide” chord, Weedon invents My Bloody Valentine, and the track then proceeds into what I can only term “klezmer ska”; there are also hints here of what will happen with Roxy Music and, indeed, Led Zeppelin. If the slightly menacing/out-of-synch tone of the track is familiar, it could be because Weedon co-wrote it with Jack Jordan, writer of the sinister “Little Red Monkey,” which, in its 1953 hit version by Frank Chacksfield, is probably the first British hit single to utilise an electronic keyboard.

Weedon also does well with the brace of American slowies. His “Sleepwalk” is tidier than the Shadows’ rather fumbling version (although Marvin’s fumbling is a great part of their version’s charm) which even McGuffie’s Tatum voicings cannot disrupt. But his “Maria Elena” is better still, and although Brazilian duo Los Indios Tabajaros had the big hit with the tune in late 1963, it should be remembered that Jimmy Dorsey took the song to number one on Billboard in 1941; given that Xavier Cugat also had the original hit version of “Perfidia” in 1943, it is worth noting that Weedon probably not only remembered the originals, but played them at the time, in the various dance bands in which he worked. So maybe he is reaching out to a longer and more distant memory here, but the deceptive delicacy of his rapid fire single notes – all cotton bud kisses – not only points the way to Mike Oldfield and, indeed, to the Jimmy Page of “The Song Remains The Same” and “The Rain Song” but also reminds us that in the late forties, with Julian Bream, he provided the music to a London stage production of Lorca’s Blood Wedding. Morris’ desolate Sven Klang sax joins in for a mournful abandoned dancehall scenario; all very impressive indeed.

But it is with the last two tracks that Weedon perhaps reveals the real subtext behind 22 Golden Guitar Greats. “Albatross” is the only song here to date from after 1963; the “pulsating sounds of the Guitar,” as the sleevenote has it, is otherwise strictly limited to that idyllic lotus of a time (to the record’s core audience) between Elvis going into the Army and the Beatles going up the charts. When things were good, and you could still make sense of them. Peter Green – another Play In A Day disciple – was inspired to write it by Santo and Johnny’s original “Sleep Walk” and by the inspiration of the Shadows in general. Its emergence at the end of 1968 suggested coming out a long sleep in a long, dark tunnel; what has changed, since we came out the other end and found ourselves still to be alive? So Weedon plays it, very faithfully (the high guitar call-and-response also suggesting the influence of “Indian Love Call”), but with a bit more twang than Green. Keep note of that “twang.”

For the entire record finishes with “Apache,” and not the Shadows’ “Apache” either, but “Apache” as Weedon himself originally envisaged and arranged it. And it is a markedly different affair from the Shadows; musically far busier, rhythmically much rougher; for the first time on the record, Weedon distorts his notes, plays faster, more jaggedly (there may even be some laughter in the background), and then we realise the record’s real mission. Pushing forty as the Shadows, and then the Beatles and everything else, took hold, one might be forgiven for thinking that the original John the Baptist of British rock had simply been left behind, that everyone else had caught up with him and long since overtaken him. But no, that’s not what he’s doing, or saying, or playing, here; what is happening is…

…he is playing “Albatross” like Hank Marvin and “Apache” like Peter Green…

…and so proving that the rock he helped invent was, and is, a circle, and everything comes around, and everything owes everything to everything else. “We could go on and on,” says the rather optimistic annotator…but really there is no need; at this moment we realise exactly who Bert Weedon was, and why he still matters. And, yes, when I was growing up, I also knew him from a line in a Bonzo Dog Band song: “We are normal and we dig Bert Weedon” (written by Neil Innes, and we’ll be getting back to him soon enough), but really most things in British rock were normal until it started to dig Bert Weedon.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

LED ZEPPELIN: The Soundtrack From The Film The Song Remains The Same


(#175: 13 November 1976, 1 week)

Track listing: Rock And Roll/Celebration Day/The Song Remains The Same/The Rain Song/Dazed And Confused/No Quarter/Stairway To Heaven/Moby Dick/Whole Lotta Love

“I think this is a song of hope.”
(Robert Plant, introduction to live version of “Stairway To Heaven”)

First things first, so a caveat; the version I have of The Song Remains The Same is not quite the same record that went to number one in 1976. It is the 2007 Atlantic…well, “reissue” seems a paltry term here; this is more of a “total reconstruction,” re-sequenced, re-edited and remixed under the supervision of the surviving band members themselves, none of whom had any great enthusiasm for the original. Beautifully packaged, with two CDs and a two-hour-plus running time – featuring six previously unreleased performances – as well as an effusive new sleevenote from Cameron Crowe which is short on specifics but does feature useful comments from Page and Plant, the only thing that’s missing is a DVD of the film itself. But then again, I remember watching the film in my student days with its somnolent “fantasy sequences” so perhaps its absence is a bonus. Nonetheless, if you want to get The Song Remains The Same then the 2007 edition is beyond question the one to have; the sound quality is markedly improved and the songs now appear in a rough sequence which approximates what a full Zeppelin concert would have been like, and I think to the songs’ benefit. Some tracks have been discreetly trimmed down (“No Quarter,” “Stairway To Heaven,” “Moby Dick,” “Whole Lotta Love”) while a whole new three minutes have been found to extend “Dazed And Confused” to just short of half an hour.

But what relevance did the album have in an autumn which had already seen a live album by Dr. Feelgood at number one? No doubt there were many who took one listen to “Moby Dick,” cocked an eye to the film’s fan fiction segments and decided something had to give. Both album and film were put together, or sorted out to a successful issue, by a Zeppelin still unable to tour; so these were acts borne out of boredom. Taken from three nights of concerts at Madison Square Garden in mid-March 1973 – in other words, just after Houses Of The Holy had been released – there might also have been a reinvigorating or restorative element at work; if Presence suddenly saw the band thrust into a galactic trash disposal unit which they were compelled to escape, then it must have been refreshing for them to look back to the days, just three years previously, when they cocked the walk and didn’t need to think of such matters as impermanence.

As it is, side one (although I am not referencing the original issue, I have opted to retain its running order) is pretty much unassailable. In Crowe’s sleevenote, Plant speaks of “Rock And Roll” as the group’s “call to arms” and although he noticeably sings the song an octave lower than on the original record – as will become apparent, this is to preserve his voice for later forays – it is an endearingly sloppy beginning, Page digging in like Johnny Ramone’s encouraging uncle, and an underlying dynamic that really isn’t that far away from the Feelgoods. The song segues straight into “Celebration Day”; Plant’s voice warms up some more and Page pays explicit tribute to Hendrix in his solo.

The title track goes beyond what the band do with it on Houses Of The Holy; for its greater part we might be listening to Back Door, or Tony Williams’ Lifetime, or any such number of early seventies British-informed fusion power trios. An initial hecticity clears to make the way for Plant’s “crazy dream” and the singer inhabits a landscape somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Roger Daltrey, although, as previously noted, the overall mood is far closer to the former. Indeed, the meditative section is so thoughtfully wonderful that one almost regrets Page’s move back into power; yet he pushes the trio into choppier waters than he did in the studio, at one point reaching the harmolodic ambiguity of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time. Even Plant is encouraged to join in, whipping himself up into dervish mood (“Do it! DO it!”)

The song segues suddenly, as if slamming up against a glass wall, into the pastoralism of “The Rain Song, with vocals and guitar only. John Paul Jones then adds in some mellotron textures which look forward to his work with R.E.M.; the whole is like a patient tug of war between Son House and Debussy. Finally Bonham makes his pronounced entry, and Page does a little essay on rock guitar history which takes in a good deal of Hank Marvin and again anticipates what is to come in the nineties (the song’s key, indeed, is the same as that of Buckley’s “Last Goodbye”). There is a climactic explosion, particularly with regard to the drumming, and a final wistful Shadows coda.

Then comes “Dazed And Confused.”

The other notable double rock live album of 1976 was Frampton Comes Alive, a record (or records) which did well enough here (peaking at #6) but was nowhere near as omnipresent as it was in bicentennial America’s summer. And perhaps there’s a reason why punk took so long to take off in the States and was far more readily successful in Britain; in the USA, the mood and climate didn’t take to bitter, grey isolationism. These were, as unbelievable as it may today read, optimistic times; Vietnam was done, Jimmy Carter was running for election, there was generally “a more positive attitude.” Swimming pools and freeways alike swam and bounced to the gently euphoric chimes of “Show Me The Way.” Even when Frampton seeks to unleash the detonator – his fourteen-and-a-quarter-minute “Do You Feel Like We Do?,” the performance which some say wrote the first page of the final history, an unexpectedly uncompromising (“hyperthyroid” is indeed the best way to describe it) octopus of an improvisation on a song which implies that this summer may not be endless – we still do not listen to it and think “apocalypse,” even if it took one arm of rock and pushed or pulled it as far as it could humanly go (including the talking box); instead we view it as an affirmation, a collective chant of as yet unchained power and freedom.

But this “Dazed And Confused” spells a different kind of end, and beginning, and ones which maybe could only be fully appreciated in 1976 Britain.

It begins just as it did in 1968, with Jones’ methodically stealthily crawling bass, and we are back in a leaky London basement with the blues. Except Page is already impatient to get out of that basement, lest it turn out to prove a dungeon. There is hardly any “conventional” guitar being played here; it is if the guitar is playing him, teasing him with wah-wahs, delay pedals, volume controls, as though sneaking around, not wishing to be unmasked. The collision of ancient and modernist in this sequence leads directly to the work of Portishead. Plant cautiously sidles into the picture but doesn’t take long to settle in; by verse two he already thinks he’s James Brown (and there is some similarity between his vocals here and Brown’s on “Stone To The Bone,” recorded later that same year; a non-encapsulated air of desolation, betrayal). Soon he and Page are ebbing in and out of each other’s whirlpool, Plant resorting to Cathy Berberian gabble to usher in the fast section, a section so furious and intent, and so unconventional melodically, that one is almost in the SoHo lofts (as documented on the Wildflowers set of albums recorded live in summer 1976, some tracks of which feature me as a member of the audience). This moves into a more pensive section. Plant paraphrases Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco” – casting around for memories, anything to remind him of how things once were – but soon the band swells up again and his voice is tossed around on board the stormy whaling ship. The group launch into a Fleetwood Mac-ish section which manages to invoke both Peter Green and Lindsey Buckingham, while Plant wails far in the distance.

And then, after some hard-set guitar, bass and drum unisons, Page is left on his own, with his effects pedals, the two necks of his guitar, and a violin bow.

How many pasts, presents and futures does Page’s solo echo? Here are a few observations:

1. When he applies the violin bow to one neck and somehow manages to keep playing on the other – however this was addressed in performance or post-production – it is reminiscent of Jerry Goodman jamming with John McLaughlin in the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

2. When he utilises his effects pedals to work on expanding his solo’s modal base, he somehow helps invent shoegazing.

3. The sequence of distended riffing broken up by long but gradually decreasing pauses, followed by what can only be described as free improvisation violin, is highly reminiscent of the title track of the Revolutionary Ensemble’s 1976 album People’s Republic.

4. The “violin” tones, initially conjuring up thoughts of Papa John Creach with a headache, are processed into areas so violently abstract that one thinks of Derek Bailey’s 1977 work with Tony Oxley (Soho Suites) and Evan Parker’s landmark solo 1976 recording Saxophone Solos. The same unending chirruping and abrupt howls, like blackbirds newly shorn of Eden.

5. Page’s work does not sound particularly close to that of Bailey, Fred Frith, Hans Reichel, or others who appear on the 1976 Caroline anthology Guitar Solos, but would also fit in perfectly there.

6. When Plant begins to yell wordlessly in the background behind Page’s abstractions, I think of the more jagged/euphoric moments of Ovary Lodge’s eponymous 1976 album. One member of Ovary Lodge, Julie Tippetts, was once Julie Driscoll, secretary of the Yardbirds Fan Club.

7. Page then launches into an ungainly Hendrix-type march before slamming back into the rock at an impossibly fast speed, then into a James Brown-style funk workout (Plant bellows “Uh!” and somewhere within this dense undergrowth the group are playing “Cold Sweat,” which very naturally mutates into “Crosstown Traffic.”

8. Page’s nearly ceaseless invoking of Hendrix echoes another live double album of this time, Miles Davis’ Agharta. Whether his own trumpet, or wah-wah organ, or via the two faces of Hendrix Miles projects onto Pete Cosey and Reggie Lucas, you are left with no ambiguity towards whom the music is about. Page even nods at “Are You Experienced?”

9. Following some gargled vocal/guitar fanfares, then call and response, guitar locks in with bass and drums like an out of control sack race, the rhythm section snapping open and shut like a sadistic money box. Then Page calls up “Sabre Dance,” done by Dave Edmunds and Love Sculpture in the same year “Dazed And Confused” was first recorded.

10. The violin/guitar pseudo-interplay, and the genuine interplay with the rhythm section, make this track sound at times like an outtake from King Crimson’s Larks’ Tongues In Aspic.

11. Then Page starts playing the “Black Sabbath” riff, so fast as to be psychotic. The band speeds up and up, plateaus and starts playing…

12. …Punk rock! If “Dazed And Confused” is a statement of any intent, then far from being the reason for punk, it if anything is calling up all the punks – here we have witnessed the rhythmic attack of the Damned, the lyrical quietude of mid-period Siouxsie and the Banshees and the post-everything approach of Public Image Ltd., amongst many others. In its way it is spelling out the end of one chapter, or history, of rock, perhaps even sealing Zeppelin’s own doom. And we are still “only” in 1973.

There is not much else for Page and Plant to do here except go back to the song’s “head.” Page opts for his Albert King mode while bass and drums pick the song up behind him, and without anyone really noticing, moves into Hendrix. Meanwhile, Plant impersonates a police siren. “Ohhhhh, SUCK it!” he is reduced to exclaiming. He roars as though still in the Tottenham Royal, almost demanding Lydon and Strummer and all the rest of them to make themselves known. “Jimmy Page, electric guitar,” Plant announces at the end, as though the Light Programme were still in the present tense.

There is no sentient response to this half-hour, nor any other way in which it can satisfactorily be followed up. So, in the second album, instead of seizing this terrifying new music and taking it and their audience into the future, they fall back on the oldies and goodies; “OK,” they seem to say, “you’ve seen how far out we can go – now let’s get back to the classics you’ve paid to come and hear tonight.”

“No Quarter” is decent enough, with Plant’s phased vocals almost implanting AutoTune a generation too early. Page’s solo starts interestingly in Jeff Beck territory before again morphing into Hendrix; as Bonham’s drums buffer against his guitar, the whole begins to resemble Santana, although 1973-4 Traffic is a more accurate pointer (particularly with Jones’ very Winwood-ish organ lines). On the reconstituted 2007 edition it sits far more comfortably on CD1, as part of a long, meditative section that also takes in the abovementioned title track and “The Rain Song” before the latter’s climax leads, very naturally, into a thunderous reading of “The Ocean” (and, on the same CD1, as “Black Dog” comes charging out of “Celebration Day,” you can feel a euphoria and certainty which would most assuredly be at home in the realms of Stupidity).

Then it’s the “hits.” “Stairway” is done more or less straight, with a longer Page solo, a looser, more improvisatory feel to the performance as a whole, and some meaningful audience asides from Plant (“Does anybody remember laughter?”). “Moby Dick” is the band going backstage for some dandelion and burdock while Bonham does his party piece (look, no hands! Look, phasing! Look, is there a human being there?), clearly a child of Krupa (as opposed to Keith Moon, always an Elvin Jones – via Phil Seamen – kind of man) with his references to “Sing, Sing, Sing.” Impressive if you’re the type who’s impressed by it, but the football chant of “John Bonham!” at the end sums it up most succinctly. Finally it’s a flag-waving-bring-the-boys-home “Whole Lotta Love”; despite some very adventurous improvising here (Page at one point struggling to keep up with Bonham, and then vice versa) including Eno whoops and Sharrock-via-Sun-Ra free guitar swirls, one senses the multi-coloured lasers at work on the stage. Then suddenly it’s Plant and Page alone doing a bit of Elmore James business before the band launch into the otherwise (i.e. in the group’s lifetime) unrecorded “Boogie Mama” and suddenly become a rockabilly group (“Shake it down for Elvis, alright!”). Page plays a slightly pained solo against Jones and Bonham’s fifties swing, recalling everything he had learned from his Play In A Day book, before the band switch triumphantly back into “Whole Lotta Love,” Plant shrieking, invocating Wolf (“I won’t be your back door man”) and Cliff (“Move it!”). He says goodnight to New York, and New York remembers it, and him, and them, forever.

Me? I think the first album (as the original issue stands) is far better than the second, although probably needed the second album to justify its release. I also think that labelling Zeppelin as the root cause of Why Punk Had To Happen is extremely misleading; punk had many causes, musical and non-musical, and perhaps the sword-and-sorcery stuff in the film did have a part to play; but get beyond the façade and listen in particular to the extraordinary “Dazed And Confused,” the musical implications of which I do not believe have been fully followed through. There is one more Zeppelin album to come, at a time when it could have been reasonably (if erroneously) argued that Britain had forgotten about them, but like it or not, and regardless of what was or was not about to happen, they are, at this stage, and on this stage, still on top. On top of what, though? Now there’s the rub.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

VARIOUS ARTISTS: Soul Motion



(#174: 30 October 1976, 2 weeks)

Track listing: You To Me Are Everything (The Real Thing)/You’re The First, The Last, My Everything (Barry White)/Lady Marmalade (LaBelle)/It’s In His Kiss (Linda Lewis)/T.S.O.P. (The Sound Of Philadelphia (MFSB)/Get Up And Boogie (Silver Convention)/Disco Lady (Johnnie Taylor)/Ms Grace (The Tymes)/This Is It (Melba Moore)/That’s The Way (I Like It) (KC and The Sunshine Band)/When Will I See You Again? (The Three Degrees)/More, More, More (Andrea True Connection)/Armed And Extremely Dangerous (First Choice)/Didn’t I Blow Your Mind (This Time) (The Delfonics)/Me And Mrs Jones (Billy Paul)/Lovin’ You (Minnie Riperton)/Wake Up Everybody (Harold Melvin and The Blue Notes)/Let’s Do The Latin Hustle (Eddie Drennon and BBS Unlimited)/(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop (The Fatback Band)/Love Train (The O’Jays)

(Author’s Note: The above track listing is based on the actual order in which the tracks appear, as opposed to the order incorrectly listed on the album’s rear cover. In addition I have preserved the actual song titles and artists, correcting the numerous errors and omissions on the sleeve, in an act more to do with exasperation than slavish fidelity to record covers.)


In the sixteen-and-a-half years I spent commuting daily between Oxford and London, I got quite used to seeing the low-rise K-Tel office building on Western Avenue, and even though K-Tel’s best days were firmly behind them by the time I had started commuting, it still baffled me a little as to how successful a multinational conglomerate could be satisfied with such pokey little offices, in the limbo of M40 motorway between Park Royal and Acton Town. In fact the building is set just before the crest of a hill, at the top of which only a slight twist in the road reveals the first sighting of London as it is known and recognised; the Post Office Tower (I know it is now called the BT Tower, but let love and life rule and call it the Post Office Tower) in the distance, and soon afterwards the recognisable west London skyline, dominated by the outline of Charing Cross Hospital (and, later, the Hammersmith Ark). I passed it twice every day, where the K-Tel sign remained until well into the nineties, following which it disappeared and the building degenerated into FOR SALE disuse.

Going back through some of those old K-Tel collections, it is perhaps easier to understand the appeal of such undemonstrative premises, for K-Tel, despite its Canadian origins, always struck me, in its British manifestation, as a cheerful cottage industry, clearly limited by budget constraints and whatever major labels were prepared to license out to them on a fixed-term basis, a business not too bothered how its end products looked as long as they were in some way useful, as well as inexpensive.

To sum the philosophy up, the sleeve of Soul Motion, designed by Peter Eaton & Partners Ltd, pays so little attention to classical formalities such as getting track orders, song titles and artists correct that it’s almost as if someone had thrown together a C90 (or, to be fair, a C120) tape and scribbled a rudimentary track listing on the front. Nor is there any room left for the stock monochrome artist photographs we find on the likes of 20 Dynamic Hits; instead we have a graffitied wall where people think to spray-can the likes of Linda Lewis and Eddie “Drennan.” It was the third in a series of grab-bag compilations of current and recent soul and disco hits produced by K-Tel, its two predecessors being Super Bad (1974) and Souled Out (1975 – there’s a title we’ll be coming across again), and all similarly designed. Was social deprivation really concomitant with the often highly sophisticated music to be found on the records themselves? How worse could the punning titles get?

Or did K-Tel have a better and more realistic idea of what albums meant to the people who bought and listened to them? Do glorified tape compilations satisfy what we want from an album? The history of the album, as this tale has in part tried to demonstrate, has frequently been a struggle between the respectable craving for long-form works of art (which were why albums were originally invented, so that those listening to a lengthy classical work didn’t need to get up and change the record every three minutes or so) and a corporate cynicism trying to make more short-term profits by taking a currently popular artist, shoving their one or two hits together with ten tracks of filler, and calling the end result an “album.” Art and cynicism are about the last two things I’d associate with K-Tel; they wanted to make money, not create a definitive, annotated retrospective, but they were also very clear in their motives – no filler (well, not much), some condensing of tracks to get twenty on one album, a cheaper and easier way to buy and own the hits you hear on the radio and maybe dance to. The cover of Soul Motion suggests a different demographic from the faux-sophistication of The Best Of The Stylistics Volume II; I’d be surprised if many over the age of about twenty bought it.

Yet bought it they did, enough to get the record to number one for a fortnight and therefore into this tale, and you hardly need, I think, to be reminded that multi-artist compilations had by now sneaked back, or been allowed to sneak back, into the album charts, and there they will stay until the end of 1988. Given the frequency with which “Various Artists” will assert themselves, it has to be concluded that a vast swathe of record buyers wanted all the hits, together in one neat bargain of a package, and weren’t too fussed about how the package was delivered or presented to them. Some might say that the blunt honesty of this kind of approach is more “truthful” than a thousand concept albums, but plenty of others would say the exact opposite.

As a coherent album, Soul Motion doesn’t really have anything to say about itself; its twenty tracks range from 1971 to 1976, just over half of them were number one hits in either the UK or the USA (none did the double), and its programming is fairly conventional – many immediately recognisable hits up front, followed by more hits and the occasional curveball, then a sequence of slow jams for the ladies, and then gradually revving the mood and tempo up again. I don’t believe there is any deeper subtext to the programme; these are hits ordered and siphoned by professionals. So examination of the album as a whole is pretty pointless, but that does not of course mean there’s nothing to say about the songs or artists themselves. That being the case, it is best to examine artist by artist and find out just why the record would have been such an attractive proposition to impressionable teenagers, from George Michael to Siouxsie Sioux.

The Real Thing
The only fully British track on this record; they came from Toxteth, Liverpool, and some of them were in an early sixties group called the Chants and knew Paul McCartney from the Cavern days. As The Real Thing they got by for six years until they managed to land a spot on New Faces (I always remembered them as being on Opportunity Knocks but see the comments section below); they won repeatedly and their “debut” single quickly went to number one. Even in the lamentable mid-1976 days of Top Of The Pops it’s not difficult to see how “You To Me Are Everything” would stand out so readily; a natural number one with Eddie Amoo’s lead vocal skilfully combining vulnerability with emotional generosity. The strings (or possibly string synthesiser?) towards the end quote “Love’s Theme” as a sort of acknowledgement of influence. They had further hits, with successive lower chart peaks, and by 1977 had delivered the concept album 4 From 8, including “Children Of The Ghetto,” to a deaf world. In 1979 they enjoyed something of a comeback with “Can You Feel The Force?,” their best record; yet some still recall above all else the jingles they recorded for the Godfrey Davis car hire firm.

Barry White
Born in Galveston and raised in South Central LA, a first-hand witness to the Watts riots, it’s not surprising that White wanted to put something of the past far behind him. Hence the sighing flutes and echoing harpsichords characteristic of his early work as a performer; a lushly romantic counterpart to Isaac Hayes’ sternly classical approach. Were you to depend on British oldies radio stations as a reliable barometer of anything, you’d think “You’re The First…,” his only British number one, was the only record he ever made. Unlike the version routinely trotted out on radio, this retains the crucial spoken intro (or at least some of it) but manages to omit the entire second verse and chorus and is quick to fade the song out before the spoken coda (hence we have an incomplete understanding of the pain and struggle which lie behind the fact that White and his Other have “made it”). Best to find the original albums, particularly 1974’s Stone Gon’, which Paul Lester once urged me to listen to, saying that side two was practically the Cocteau Twins. And he was right.

LaBelle
One of many perspectives on Philadelphia to be found on this record, they were once Patti LaBelle and the Bluebells before jazzing themselves up for the seventies. Again, radio here appears to think that “Lady Marmalade” was their only record – thus omitting, amongst many other achievements, “Morning Much Better,” their remarkable nine-minute-plus take on Cat Stevens’ “Moonshadow” and, from the same album as “Marmalade” (Nightbirds), “You Turn Me On” and “What Can I Do For You?” In fairness, one can understand the record’s continuing appeal; the opening chants of “Go, Sister Soul” sound like pre-emptive Girl Power war cries and Allen Toussaint’s cowbell-heavy production doesn’t put a foot wrong; the performance sounds live, the organ both light and provocative, the singers give deep collective breaths which resonate like a gong, the horn-dominated middle-eight provides an entirely unexpected Picardy third, and Patti LaBelle’s French soul coaxing tutorials are delivered with as much dynamic urgency as her phenomenal 1978 reading of “Teach Me Tonight” (last seen in its full version on the Soul Jazz compilation Barrio Nuevo which unfortunately is currently out of print; please petition the label for a reissue). Given the involvement of Philadelphia, New Orleans and (via co-author Bob Crewe) New Jersey, this is one of the junctions in seventies soul music where everything seems to meet. And given its chart-topping, million-selling status in the USA, its continuing popularity and the fact that two subsequent cover versions made number one in Britain, how could the original have stopped at #17 in our charts in the spring of 1975, prevented from climbing higher by such heavyweights as Mike Reid, Peter Shelley, the Rubettes and Kenny?

Linda Lewis
From West Ham, but with a record made in America, Linda Lewis’ early work belies the misleading picture of her given by her short list of hits. Possibly the first British black female singer-songwriter to attain critical and commercial success – folk-tinged albums like Lark (1972), Fathoms Deep (1973) and Heart Strings (1974) paved the way for everybody from Joan Armatrading to Corinne Bailey Rae – this volatile Betty Everett cover from 1975 was her biggest British hit, though the arrangement and production were by Tony Silvester and Bert deCoteaux. She certainly attacks the song with great gusto; her five-octave vocal range put her in the same class as Minnie Riperton although the extreme highness and glee with which she delivers the song is near-childlike. An enthusiastic Michael Jackson is certainly near the mark, a predicative Clare Grogan even more so as Lewis scarcely sounds older than twelve – her sopranino shoots up like a rocket to shower the instrumental break with colour and verve.

Philadelphia
The Philadelphia story goes almost back to the beginning of post-war popular music, to the days of Dick Clark and American Bandstand. If one of the unspoken purposes of Soul Train was to show that which Bandstand would never dare – in terms of styles of music, that is; Clark was instrumental in demolishing the colour bar on his own show, and many soul and R&B stars benefited from his and the show’s patronage – then its theme tune, “T.S.O.P.,” was a calling card of action. Gamble and Huff had experimented for some time with the next logical step from Motown – marrying easy listening strings with blues rhythm sections and singers somewhere in between, thereby creating an opulent earthiness – but “T.S.O.P.,” a US #1 in 1974, was a largely instrumental gesture of radicalism. Here, the carefully balanced males and females – strings and brass for the first major key theme, answered by saxes for the second minor key riff – are artfully held together by the purposeful rhythm section; guitars, bass and drums echo off each other in a manner that anticipates Simple Minds. Tension is carefully built up until the Three Degrees finally enter; their entry is later than Bowie’s on “Sound And Vision” but then this record partially persuaded Bowie to go to Philadelphia and find himself a way out. “People all over the world,” they call out when words are formulated (see also the final entry in this section), “let’s get it on.” Disco is born, and although in terms of its timescale this isn’t quite America getting over, or rid of, Watergate, it does say, “Don’t worry, America – there is a future, and here is where it starts.” Oh, and the MFSB Sigma Sound studio orchestra acronym stands for exactly what you think it stands for.

Silver Convention
Originally called Silverbird, until an American band objected, and once nearly having Donna Summer in their line-up, Silver Convention were the creation of Munich-based writers and producers Sylvester Levay and Michael Kunze. The modus operandi was simple chants alternating with long instrumental workouts. “Save Me” attracted many ears in the spring of 1975; “Fly Robin Fly” was their breakthrough, reaching number one on Billboard later the same year; and 1976’s “Get Up And Boogie” was a US #2 and their biggest British hit. As ever, they don’t have much to do except sing the title over and over with vague rock chick accentuations, with abrupt “That’s right!” exclamations from the producers and plenty of funky clavinet and a strange string chart which sounds like von Karajan’s Berlin Philharmonic auditioning at the Grand Ole Opry. So on one side of mid-seventies Germany you had Kraftwerk and Autobahn, and on the other side this. Slow it down a little and you practically have “Autobahn” here; it’s the same beat, more or less, and the same clear lyrical minimalism.

Johnnie Taylor
The only real dud on this album; “The Philosopher Of Soul” sounding a very long way from the pioneering soul/country/urban fusion of “Who’s Making Love?” and the startling anti-balladry of 1973’s “I Believe In You (You Believe In Me)” but then by 1976 he needed a hit, and this one went all the way on Billboard whereas his previous works of distinction had not. It sounds like Warren Beatty’s Shampoo idea of disco; interminable and ponderous, I doubt whether anyone would dance to it now. Taylor does his best but is clearly slumming it – his “Shove it in, round about”s are one step short of humiliating – and his committed delivery and the gospel-derived antiphonal handclapping do not lift the record out of its mud. “Girl you oughta be on TV – on Soul Train,” he bellows at one point, and the word “discotheque” makes its always unwelcome appearance. Still, hear how the bored bassist decides to start improvising towards the end, the free wah-wah guitar squelches punctuating the middle eight, and Taylor at one point lamenting “Lord, I miss you so.” One can understand his dilemma.

The Tymes
Part of the original Philly sound, their big American moment was 1963’s “So Much In Love,” followed by nothing much except, in Britain, a bizarre deep soul reading of the show tune “People” in 1969, a comeback of sorts in 1974 with “You Little Trustmaker” (the “doobie-doobie-doobie” vocal bassline sounds like Kevin Ayers) and finally a UK number one with “Ms Grace.” A deliberate old-school doo-wop finger-snapper decorated by florid seventies orchestrations, the song is rare amongst hits of its period in that it actually swings, and the passing of the lead vocal line between all of the group’s frontline is refreshing.

Melba Moore
Like so many others, she got her break in the Broadway production of Hair, proceeding to several well-received albums in the early seventies. But then her career temporarily ran out of steam, and so Van McCoy was prevailed upon to bring her back. “This Is It” has an ebullience entirely lacking in the later work of the Stylistics, and what is most remarkable about the record is that Moore phrases the entire thing like a jazz song; her vocal mumbles between each line, the way she makes lines like “I’m lost for words” become a one-breath melange of abstract vowels. A blast of optimistic freshness to a British chart which badly needed it.

KC and The Sunshine Band
Miami, of course, and although George McCrae got the breakthrough hit with “Rock Your Baby,” it was the backing band who got the career. Like “Lady Marmalade,” “That’s The Way” works as an intersection of world music – here there are Latin features, African influences, Brill Building insolence, horns that seem to breathe in and out (like Gil Evans once did for Claude Thornhill) and disco, as an epicentre of Utopia, brings them all together into an unmistakeably American blend. In addition, Harry Wayne Casey’s vocal answers questions I have asked myself for many years; where does that voice come from? And, listening to this anew, it dawned on me; listen especially to his two “babe, oh babe”s about halfway through the song – it’s Neil Young! The Sunshine Band to cut Tonight’s The Night and “Like A Hurricane”? Would that really be the strangest thing that has ever happened (have you heard Americana yet?)?

The Three Degrees
They were, quite consciously, Gamble and Huff’s Supremes, and there are moments on their eponymous debut album – released in 1974, fully eleven years after the group had formed – which will make you shrivel up with tears (“If And When”) and others which will make your blood course with renewed fury (“Dirty Ol’ Man”). But this was their big hit, the only Philadelphia International single to make #1 in the UK (and in doing so held off “You Make Me Feel Brand New”). Fourteen years down the line, the record only makes sense as a sequel to “Will You Love Me Tomorrow?” If in the earlier song the girl was perhaps fearing sex, or its aftermath, more than welcoming it, “When…?” is the resigned sigh of the same girl, now a grown woman, who has done it but is still wondering whether there is anything more to life, including love. Bobby Parker’s electric piano boils like a smouldering kettle underneath the arches of strings and brass and the Degrees’ coos. As was the custom with Philly records, emotion only leaks into the closing moments, when rhetorical questions turn to pleas and cajoles. If only their most famous fan, Prince Charles, had listened to the song more attentively.

Andrea True
Straight out of Nashville, a porn star who got her one musical break in Jamaica; finding that she could not take the money she had earned from working in Jamaica out of the country, she instead set to recording “More, More, More.” Producer/arranger Gregg Diamond had the song ready and waiting, and it is noticeable how True’s need amplifies and spreads with each set of verse and chorus. The trumpet solo set against percussion – including, again, that cowbell – perhaps anticipates Herb Alpert’s “Rise.” And then there is that eight-bar break in the middle, the sample heard around the world, which a generation later Toronto record store owner and DJ Marc Costanzo would use for a song he was making for his band Len, entitled “Steal My Sunshine” – a record which could stand as the bridge that connects one century and millennium to another. Also involved in the record was Toronto musician Brendan Canning, and he used the money he made from its international success to kick-start the Broken Social Scene collective into being – a group which, it seems to me, have addressed and answered all the questions which beset musicians in our time and forged a path towards the future, a group whose implications go far beyond Canada, and music, and perhaps even society. And so a one-off dance record – made when Canning was barely nine – helped make now possible. These connections are apt to happen.

First Choice
Also from Philadelphia, the corny Dragnet intro to “Armed” is almost enough to deflate the most enterprising listener, but the percussion track has been sampled many times, and despite a rather forlorn echo being placed on her voice, lead singer Annette Gaunt depicts a convincing picture of the dangerous streets of America, if not quite Womack’s “Across 110th Street.” On which subject…

The Delfonics
…it is perhaps the most moving sequence Tarantino has ever directed; despite the restrained humanity of the acting in Jackie Brown, it is still a highly silly film with a sillier story. Pam Grier’s Jackie is in the apartment of Robert Forster’s bondsman, Max Cherry. Neither is young, and they mutually admit that, but they are growing closer together. Forster asks if he can put a record on; Grier says yes. The song is “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind (This Time)” and Forster, who admits he is not much good at small talk, attempts to explain exactly what this song means to him. Grier doesn’t need to hear it, of course, but likes the fact that he tries, and also that he is clearly a vulnerable man in need of love. So they bond. And, going past the tally-ho French horn intro, it is also the work of Thom Bell. The song’s procession is stately and elegant, performed with great beauty and control – but that is not what the song is about. The bridge is menacing – “Get this thing through your head, there’ll be no more” – and it gradually becomes clear that the singer is leaving her, and that the title is a disappointed rhetorical question. Didn’t I do it? Why didn’t I? Towards the end, a cry of “I got to leave you baby!” makes the intention entirely clear, but Dave Marsh reckons the guitar on this record predicates grunge, and indeed this is in many ways an archetypal Nirvana song. There was always a disturbing undercurrent in Bell’s work with the Delfonics that is either not present, or very carefully suppressed, in the Stylistics.

Billy Paul
Consider the setting. Tinkling piano, alto sax, cocktail guitar. It could almost be 1942, not 1972. It could be a response to “When Will I See You Again?” if that singer shouldn’t really be with him. But they meet every day, at the same time in the same café, “holding hands, making all kinds of plans.” They know this is so disastrously wrong, but as Paul stutters, it’s much too strong “to…let, it, go, now.” He holds that last “now” after the song’s harmonies modulate so that a feeling of dissonant poignancy is revealed. Then he can’t hold in his emotions any longer. He pronounces the title as an anguished acappella. “It! Hurts! So! Much!” he exclaims. The orchestra seem to be pummelling against the singer, but not in the same way they did with Humperdinck on “The Way It Used To Be” – what if she did pass by one day, this Mrs Jones, hear the song and remember something she’s spent half a lifetime trying to forget? The singer keeps repeating her name and appellation, rolling it around his throat as if he cannot quite credit it, or the situation. They know it’s dangerous – the same place, the same time; surely they must be found out sooner or later? As the song wanders towards its end, he breaks out and improvises – and here is where things become really disturbing. “We’re gonna hold hands like we used to,” he sings – implying that he may have known Mrs Jones for rather longer a time than, say, Mr Jones. If he himself has a wife, he never mentions it. And, finally, and scariest of all: “We know…THEY know…it’s wrong…” Who are “they”? In one way the song is a follow-up to “Running Scared” except now both parties are afraid that Mr Jones “might show.” But think about the wider implications; this was America’s number one over Christmas of 1972, a time when the nation had just re-elected Nixon without really knowing what it was doing, or letting itself in for – cannot the metaphor be extended and amplified, the notion of having to spend half one’s life creeping around, under cover, being “extra-careful,” while all the time doing something one knows is fundamentally wrong – isn’t this song really about Watergate? Listen to the same singer’s “East,” recorded nearly at the same time, and watch those doubts fly like scattered recording wires fleeing a bullet.

Minnie Riperton
A number two hit in 1975 Britain, and therefore not my remit to review it; furthermore, any personal thoughts I do have about the record – and there are many – fall, I regret to say, into the None Of Your Flipping Business category. So the synthesised birdsong, the “Black Bull” production credit (Stevie Wonder, for Taurean and contractual reasons), the minimalist but empathetic musical setting, the unavoidable poignancy of the “while we grow old” section sung by somebody who never got the chance to grow old, the song’s origins as a lullaby for the infant Maya Rudolph, the Rotary Connection history – you’re going to have to wait for Lena’s thoughts on all of these, and I am sure more.

For God’s Sake, America – WAKE UP!
Written in 1975 by McFadden and Whitehead, and used as the Democratic anthem for Jimmy Carter’s presidential campaign the following year, this is an optimistic warning of a song; Teddy Pendergrass sings the words with great restraint and emotional profundity, even the bitterly sardonic references to “Let It Be,” although this edit loses out on the crucial verse about the doctors and the elderly. Note how both strings and bass are stung into action by the words “war and poverty” and how, again, Pendergrass emotionally takes off into Levi Stubbs country once the song proper is done. “WAKE UP!” he barks frantically towards fadeout. You mean we are dreaming this record?

Eddie Drennon
I don’t think I’ve heard it since it was in the charts, over thirty-six years ago, but Drennon, from Newark, is a far more substantial character than the record in itself suggests; a violinist, composer and arranger – as a musician, Stuff Smith was among his early tutors – Drennon is also an important figure in Latin, salsa and charanga music; at the time of “Latin Hustle,” he was part of the group Orquestra (Tipica) Novel. And yet something about the record is strangely familiar, namely the main two-flute riff. Strings and brass thicken the sound in individual layers; a wordless chorus materialises and eventually sings the title over a flurry of flamenco handclaps. Air? An Associates instrumental (it could so easily be)? And then the “A”s travelled to the Avalanches, who I remember sampled the track for Since I Left You. Everything leads to its own poignancy.

The Fatback Band
From New York, and harder than most of the rest of the music under consideration here – both saxophonist George Adams and keyboardist Don Pullen were members at one time or another – “Bus Stop” crept into the overall terrible UK charts at the end of 1975, and even in this truncated form it is startling. Nothing about the record seems to fit with anything else on it, and that’s a big part of its magic; the bass and organ suggest a midway leyline between Booker T and Derek Forbes. There is what Lena calls “the wonderful bossiness of dance records” (thanks as always to Lena for many of the ideas and terminologies used in this piece) – a sergeant major type appears: “Don’t stop! Keep the groove!” His barks of “Don’t stop!” steadily become more demented (“I’ll tell you when!”). There is a fake fadeout. There is a decided resemblance to “Family Affair” – it is as if the sun of Sly Stone, in imploding, has afforded all those satellites to drift into orbit. It is a salutary reminder that such radical music was still capable of getting into our Top 20 at a time when radicalism seemed to be the last thing on the menu.

All Join Hands
For it is about Philadelphia, and the cowbell – why not call this album Cowbell Motion? – and the O’Jays, getting their time, and their US number one, at last with this affable update of “Peace Train.” But of course this is a peace and a happy ending hard won – this joy is also capable of radiating to things like “992 Arguments” and “For The Love Of Money” – and we can close by noting that this is the last song on the soundtrack of Stillman’s The Last Days Of Disco; it is the song danced to by the couple in the subway train, and as everyone else joins in, the meaning of that term “people all over the world” is instantly and intimately understood. If only we had the nerve to see that vision through in the Oxford Tube coach, somewhere in the vicinity of 620 Western Avenue.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

DR. FEELGOOD: Stupidity



(#173: 9 October 1976, 1 week)

Track listing: Talking About You/20 Yards Behind/Stupidity/All Through The City/I’m A Man/Walking The Dog/She Does It Right/Going Back Home/I Don’t Mind/Back In The Night/I’m A Hog For You Baby/Checking Up On My Baby/Roxette/Riot In Cell Block No. 9/Johnny B. Goode

(Author’s Note: The last two tracks appeared only as a 7” single packaged with the first 20,000 copies of the original vinyl album release; the 1998 Grand Records CD reissue restores these tracks to the running order, although I have to point out that track seven is not, as the CD listing would have us believe, entitled “She Does I Right”)


“The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flamed, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe…”
(John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, lines 60-64)

“Stand and watch the towers burning at the break of day
Steadily slowing down, been on my feet since yesterday…”
(Dr. Feelgood, “All Through The City”)

If the above juxtaposition sounds fanciful, it’s down to Wilko Johnson; he quoted Milton’s lines in Julien Temple’s documentary Oil City Confidential in an attempt to express the wonder he felt, and still feels, at the sight of the huge Coryton oil refinery on Canvey Island, seen at the break of dawn; huge, impossibly modernist yet strangely reassuring towers seemingly materialising out of the mist every morning, clearly visible in the darkness.

I am not sure whether I should ask you to go and visit Coryton before listening to this record, and if I did you wouldn’t have much time left in which to do it, as the refinery is now due for demolition, its owner, Petroplus, having last week gone into administration. In large part this is due to changing habits. Whereas the purpose of Coryton and its various connected sites such as Stanlow was to turn crude oil into something people might buy, the increasing demand for biofuels and fuel efficiency on the part of drivers has led to a decrease in interest in refined oil, and the refineries most in demand at present are the larger complexes in Asia and the Middle East, whose product has paradoxically led to a surfeit of refined oil.

So Coryton’s days are numbered; there is talk of converting the site into a storage terminal and, that most repugnant of phrases, “logistics park,” neither of which will require as many employees. As Coryton was for almost sixty years the principal source of employment for the people of Canvey Island, this has led to some distress and dissatisfaction. Never mind that when daylight fully breaks, the tomb-like mystery of the refinery is revealed to be a rather shabby and rundown set of buildings which look distinctly less attractive the closer you get to them; it is the end of something – whereas the album under consideration in this entry defiantly marks the beginning of something.

To understand fully why Dr. Feelgood had such an impact in the mid-seventies, far greater than many of their “pub rock” colleagues of the time – even Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Graham Parker failed, or have so far failed, to score a number one album – is to understand that they literally rose from the middle of nowhere. Canvey Island is some thirty miles away from London, far enough for you to notice the difference in its air; it is visible from the top of Canary Wharf and beyond that view is nothing but the North Sea. In contrast to the California of the Beach Boys, Canvey Island is not the promised west, but as far east as you can go; it is connected to Essex only by an intricate set of creeks. There is the refinery and there is the sea and that is it; plenty of time to think, ponder and act. Southend-on-Sea, twenty-four miles up the Essex coastline, is perhaps less determinedly remote, but can still feel an extremely long way from anywhere else. “A Whiter Shade Of Pale” makes full sense if you interpret it as a signal coming from nowhere, out where there is only sea and a vague notion of the rest of Britain (so clearly it was always going to be a pirate radio hit; the boats weren’t anchored that far away), and Southend’s Procol Harum have maintained that distance ever since; it brings new meaning to songs like “A Salty Dog” and by the autumn of 1975 they had scored a surprise hit single with the Leiber/Stoller-produced “Pandora’s Box,” a song in part dating back to 1967 but, while not even remotely punk rock, did raise an air of unease about what might happen in the near future (“And though I know the lifeguard’s brave/There is no one for him to save”); in its time, only Murray Head’s “Say It Ain’t So, Joe” rivalled it for portent.

But back to Dr. Feelgood. What instantly set them apart from practically all of their peers was the certainty that they were playing and singing about their own lives, their particular Canvey Island world. Johnny Green and Roxette are recognisably Canvey Island characters, all their low-key dramas played out against the unchanging and dominating background of the refinery. David Byrne has remarked how their first album, 1974’s Down By The Jetty, affected him enough to want to turn Talking Heads into a going concern. Who else in British rock was even thinking about jetties back then?

They gained a fairly fearsome live reputation, but the albums didn’t quite match up; some reserve crept in and despite strong songs such as “Keep It Out Of Sight” their studio work was disappointing. 1975’s Malpractice showed no real advance. By the time they were due to record a third album, Johnson, bereft of new songs or ideas for new songs, suggested a live record. Their record company, United Artists, were less than thrilled at this prospect; the late Lee Brilleaux hinted that they would have preferred the group to make a more “commercial” and “accessible” album which would break them in the American market.

But the band prevailed; the first seven tracks on Stupidity were recorded at Sheffield City Hall, and the remainder came from a homecoming gig at the Kursaal Ballroom in Southend. Aided by some skilful marketing, the album made number one in its second week on the chart, precisely at the point where punk was on the verge of breaking big.

While there is nothing particularly punk about Dr. Feelgood’s work, nothing that is apart from the incredible and palpable energy which the band put into every song, some younger readers may be mystified, in which case I can only say that context is not quite everything here, but a fair proportion of it, although Stupidity is in no way a museum piece. Why, they may ask, should a pub rock band doing covers of “I’m A Man,” “Walking The Dog” and “Johnny B. Goode” be considered the beginning of anybody’s time? How come it, and they, were so popular? What, if anything, are we missing?

From the cover down, I don’t think it has yet been properly acknowledged how violently and completely Stupidity went against the grain of things in 1976, let alone number one albums. Chris Horler’s cover shot was clearly a lucky accident but sums the group up perfectly; against perfunctory, low budget lettering – the record still looks like a smuggled artefact from some rebel faction; The Best Of The Stylistics Volume II this is not – there is on the right of the photograph dark, oxblood-coloured space. On the left is Lee Brilleaux, in his loosely-fitting suit, blowing fervently into a harmonica while staring expectantly at the audience. In the middle, and slightly back from and behind Brilleaux, is the extraordinary physiology of Wilko Johnson, his skeletally thin head bulging with veins, his mouth open in a shocked gasp, his frantic and not-quite-with-the-rest-of-us eyes darting towards Brilleaux, as though he had just poked Johnson in the ribs with a dagger cane. The rest of the album’s pictures show the band in action, Johnson leaping across the stage, holding his guitar up to his neck vertically, and other poses – including his pudding bowl haircut – which Paul Weller would take up barely six months later.

Johnson is, I think, the key Feelgood factor. Today, aged sixty-four, he has close-cropped white hair, unruly eyebrows only partially covering deep-set eyes and a don’t-fuck-with-me frown which, if you’re not attentive, sometimes turns into a sheepish grin. It is easy to understand why the makers of the TV series of Game Of Thrones hired him to play an executioner. He does not look anything like the wiry twenty-eight-year-old pictured on Stupidity. And yet he is apt to quote Milton; prior to Feelgood, he spent some time as an English schoolteacher, and I think went some considerable way towards making Feelgood something just short of art rock.

More than anything, however, Johnson is passionate and highly protective of the way of life with which he grew up, and it is this passion, and the supplementary awareness that there is also something else, however hard to define, which made Feelgood at their peak seem untouchable. Even Joe Strummer’s 101’ers never matched Feelgood’s fire. If you doubt that, then listen to the scarily confident way the band sweep into the opening track on Stupidity, a not particularly well-known Chuck Berry number, and instantly grasp it by its collar. “Talking About You” is a song about the urgency of communication, sung by Brilleaux in his gravelly baritone – but Brilleaux is quick to break away from the song’s metric fabric, comes out of bar line restrictions and barks Johnson’s guitar solo into existence. By the third chorus Brilleaux’s gabble is more Gertrude Stein than Chuck: “you you you you you you you YOU!”

Perhaps some of Brilleaux’s compelling magnetism stems from the fact that he was not actually British; born in Durban, South Africa, his family did not move to Canvey Island until he was thirteen. So there remains more than a trace of the outsider about his work, even if, by being on Canvey Island, he couldn’t have been more “outside.” His harmonica on the ska-flavoured original “20 Yards Behind” chatters more than it blows; it leaps up like a sudden gust-blown pile of leaves (“All right, Mr Brilleaux!” exclaims a satisfied Johnson, who takes the lead vocal).

If part of the Feelgoods’ appeal was their unspoken word that anyone could do it, the title track – originally a Solomon Burke tune – quietly proved that not many people could. There is a long, rambling introduction, John Martin (a.k.a. The Big Figure)’s drum dramatics alternating with free-form guitar cadences, before the song properly begins, and even then the band manoeuvre it effortlessly into a tricky ending in a different key. Drums are also key to “All Through The City” – a far more convincing reading here of the nearest thing they had to a theme song, or anthem, than on Jetty - and spirits are palpably high, Brilleaux exhorting Johnson’s guitar with his yells. They seem to be deriving a great deal of joy from playing, and the feeling is contagious. On “Walking The Dog” Brilleaux quickly resorts to barking out the second verse and uttering an exultant scream after the second chorus. Note how John B. Sparks’ bass takes off under Johnson’s solo, like a Harrier jump jet on the runway of an as yet unbuilt London City Airport. On “She Does It Right” there is a logic to the song’s architecture that puts me very much in mind of early Beatles, with very Lennon-esque shouts of excitement from Brilleaux (from another perspective, the song’s mood is in part reminiscent of “Cold Turkey”), a big audience cheer before Johnson’s solo, a sublime moment where the rhythm section cuts out altogether, leaving just Johnson’s curiously No Wave-anticipating guitar abstracts, before everyone re-enters and doubles up on the aggression before song’s end. Never mind Rock ‘N’ Roll; this is the music Lennon should have been making in 1976 – and then comes the inevitable double take; didn’t the Beatles, at some point in the past, once sound and play like this?

The Southend/Kursaal section wastes no time; Martin’s machine gun drums ushering in “Going Back Home”; co-written by Johnson, guitar riff by his hero, Mick Green of the Pirates. Brilleaux is particularly distinguished on harmonica here; he has two solos, both of which demonstrate horn-like phrasing, and locks in beautifully with Johnson’s raging guitar and the rhythm section (even the false ending midway through cannot dispel the excitement). Martin has fun on his tom-toms in “I Don’t Mind,” a Berry-ish rocker (with a “Memphis, Tennessee” flavour); once again, Brilleaux roars Johnson into being, his pick-free playing alternating chords with scythe-like single note runs. “Back In The Night” has a surprisingly glam rock intro which soon clears into a more familiar R&B strut, albeit with some extraordinary guitar commentary from Johnson, who, when not under the spell of Hubert Sumlin, even hints at playing “out” at points in his two solos, the second of which is markedly more fuzzy and dense. By the time we reach the Coasters’ “I’m A Hog For You Baby,” I have to remind myself that I am not listening to Sonic Youth; hear the way in which the band hit and hold on a high-pitched drone and work it into the aerosphere at the song’s crescendo. Meanwhile, Johnson, perhaps helped by Brilleaux’s unruly slide guitar, bounces up and down his scales as though tied to a test-your-strength machine at the fairground. We then hit the Sonny Boy Williamson/Otis Rush perennial “Checking Up On My Baby” where Johnson at several points starts playing the “Shakin’ All Over” riff (his violent jerky stage movements were in part homage to Mick Green). The harmonica/guitar relationship strikes up another thought; didn’t the Yardbirds once play like this? There is some superb voice/guitar call and response work in the final verse, and the requisite big finish. “Roxette,” again clearly very influenced by ska, features an urgent, rasping harmonica solo and a hyped-up double-tempo finale to rising cheers from the crowd.

Before I move on to the final two tracks, I should pause and return to their Sheffield reading of “I’m A Man” which I consider the key performance here. Almost wholly Johnson’s work – he takes lead vocal as well as all the guitar – this is one of the most remarkable rock performances of its time. I am aware that a repeat, onstage visit to the work of the group once known as the New Yardbirds is not far off, and crave your patience in terms of why yet another cover of “I’m A Man” should have mattered in the autumn of 1976, but nonetheless this must be heard.

The drums pound, slowly and patiently, like an amplified heartbeat. After some time has elapsed we are made aware that the audience are clapping along. Johnson sings and strums, Brilleaux blows a blue harmonica counterpart. The audience, sensing that something exceptional is happening, move to whoops and cheers. You know the song; you’ve heard it at least a thousand times from a thousand different people. But not like this. At times I wonder if Johnson, in his singing, is trying to undercut Jagger (before remembering that, yes, once the Stones played like this). Then his guitar cuts loose, ranting and thrashing, before bonding with Brilleaux’s harmonica and then ascending into single note satellites and crashing parachutes of unimaginable chords.

And then I listen more closely to Johnson’s voice, and I think; wait a minute – why does this sound so familiar? I look up old TV footage to remind myself of how Johnson moved on stage – let alone the familiar way he looks on the cover – and it all falls into place. He is not shouting the blues; his voice is sometimes hesitant but usually remarkably intent. It is low set and not pitch perfect but that doesn’t matter; at times, Johnson’s voice wanders into a worried limbo of drone. Ian Curtis? While Joy Division, technically speaking, have not yet even begun life as Warsaw? But it’s there, all right – when Johnson unleashes his second guitar eruption, terrifying noise abruptly receding into silence, we are already next door to “Atrocity Exhibition.” Talk about psychotic reactions.

But there are two more Southend tracks to come, on the bonus 7” single originally and subsequently fully incorporated into the CD edition, and to me they are both symbolic and prophetic. Martin again demonstrates great skill on “Riot,” cymbal kisses giving way to more AK-47 snare rattles and then a furious 6/8 tempo (and the similarity to Alex Harvey’s “Framed” is not missed). This is a long introduction, and Martin’s drumming puts me in premature mind of “A Design For Life.” Sparks’ bass roves, John Cale-like, underneath the choruses. There is a lengthy, rippling drum coda like a disgruntled reader closing a disappointing book. A song by Leiber and Stoller – will the circle ever be unbroken? – and an unmissable message: “There’s a riot going on,” and with these fellows, you believe it.

The record ends as only it could with the fastest “Johnny B. Goode” I can remember, and it is exultant. No need to pinpoint whom the exhortation “Go, Johnny, go!” is aimed at – it is late 1976 – and there’s an expert take-down and repeat build-up wherein Brilleaux does his best to deconstruct the words “bye bye” and turn them into abstract scat poetry; the audience is going mad, and everything rises once more to enable a final flourish.

Riots about to go on, go on Johnny; there is to my mind no question that the sequencing of these tracks is deliberate in terms of what they are predicating. As I said near the beginning of this piece, we have to remember the context and what Stupidity was reacting against; a “pop” chart largely, though not entirely (Can were there, as was James Brown, while Eddie and the Hotrods were on the touchline, blasting out Bob Seger’s fervent “Get Out Of Denver” on the stage of the Marquee), filled with Abigail’s Party-type placebos, a bunkering down, a keeping of calm, a fatal acceptance of things as they were, a concealment. The influence of the Wilko stare and style immediately cascaded down to the Clash, the Jam and even the Boomtown Rats and Madness. And in the States, entirely independent of what else was happening in Britain, Blondie and Richard Hell’s Void-Oids, as well as Talking Heads, were sufficiently affected by the Feelgoods’ work to press on with their own methods of attack and overthrow. If there was no clear parallel in American music at the time, then it’s impossible to think that, say, Cheap Trick could not have heard their work, and addressed their own work accordingly.

It should also be noted in passing, albeit a startled passing, that Wilko Johnson was born in the same year as Robert Plant. Draw your own conclusions from that. But if Dr. Feelgood reminds us of any other specific group, in terms of its energy, intensity, openness and lack of fear or restraint, then it has to be Mötörhead, who were also getting started at the time (an early single appeared on Stiff, a record label initially financed by a £400 loan from…Lee Brilleaux); we will come to their work in due course, but for now it need merely be noted that Lemmy has never considered his group to be doing anything other than forwarding and maintaining the original rock ‘n’ roll tradition. Likewise, Stupidity signals an important change, although it will not become fully evident in the album chart for some while, or perhaps just an important reminder; that in 1962 Hamburg this was how the Beatles sounded, and these were some of the songs they would have played, that in the past this was all that rock ‘n’ roll needed, and that things had since come to such an unpretty pass that it was necessary to wipe the board and go right back to the beginning, back to Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, and locate and enhance that original magic once again, in order for there to be any future, for the light to become visible behind or ahead of prematurely gleaming towers. But at the same time, it's important not to lose sight of the idea that much of the Feelgoods' power, not entirely paradoxically, lay in their art. In the spring of 1977 there were arguments over tracks for their next album, Sneakin' Suspicion - an album which sounds exactly like what you would expect a 1977 album entitled Sneakin' Suspicion to sound like - and Wilco left the band, who then became merely proficient and reliable, in a business where these two things are wrongly automatically taken to be advantages. But the art in the midst of nothingness persists; two of the last decade's most important albums, Primary Colours by the Horrors, and Hidden by These New Puritans, arise from that same Southend/Canvey nexus, fully aware that when you surface in the middle of nowhere, quite often you need to shout just to be heard. Inward oracles to all truth requisite for men to know, as Milton once put it.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

The STYLISTICS: The Best Of The Stylistics Volume II


(#172: 2 October 1976, 1 week)

Track listing: Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)/Hey Girl, Come And Get It/Sixteen Bars/The Miracle/Love Is The Answer/You Are Beautiful/Can’t Help Falling In Love/Sing Baby Sing/Star On A T.V. Show/Na Na Is The Saddest Word/Thank You Baby/Funky Weekend

(Author’s Note: both the front cover and spine of the vinyl edition of this album – it has never appeared on CD – identify the subtitle Weekend but for reasons which should prove fairly obvious I have opted not to use it in this piece)


I suppose what really attracted me to Laurence was that he looked, acted and felt like a man. A proper grown-up, you might say. I don’t know how many lads fancied their chances with me, all those Friday nights at the Tottenham Royal. People would come over there on a Friday night from all over the place back in the late fifties – Stamford Hill, Edmonton, Hackney, even as far out as Ilford or Romford, like myself. I like to think of myself as sophisticated but also someone who recognises and values the importance of home.

We’d dance to all the latest rock and roll sounds, and quite a few of the ballads, too – that is, if we were lucky enough to get the chance. I danced with so many boys, I can’t remember all of their names. I remember they hung out in little groups, or cliques if you will, just like us girls, and if one came over and tried the chat with me then the rest of them would come over too, or stand at a distance, earnestly watching and sometimes laughing. Some became really good friends, though. I remember a young boy who called himself Don, came over from the bus garage at Leyton – he was a mechanic who worked on buses and he always brought his mates. Strange names, they had; Sandy, Steve, Edwin. I mean, what nineteen-year-old in 1959 was called Edwin? Don was lovely; he looked a little like a young Elvis and he had this helpless grin on his face which immediately endeared him to me. I could never have gone with him, though; he looked so young and needy I thought if I took him out on a date, I’d have to tuck him up in his cot and give him a hot drink! To his credit, though, he recognised this and respected this. He was always full of plans, though, was Don. Buses themselves were just a starting point for him, he’d tell me; one of these days, he said smilingly with unbelievable confidence, he’d love to drive me in a Routemaster bus all the way out to Greece! In your dreams, I thought to myself, but like I say, he had so much confidence about himself that you momentarily thought he might just pull it off. Better wild ideas than no ideas, if you ask me.

But in truth I preferred the slightly more grown-up group of men I’d see hovering in smart suits at the back of the dance hall. Laurence was part of this group, but probably the least forthcoming of them. Not something you could say about his friends, though, Tom and Jerry. No, I’m not making that up; those were their names – Tom Good and Jerry Leadbetter. They’d been to university and everything, and already making careers for themselves; they were in their mid-twenties or thereabouts and to be honest I sometimes wondered what they were doing somewhere like the Royal. Weren’t they a bit too old for this scene? A bit like your dad or your teacher turning up, trying to be trendy and embarrassing themselves in the process?

Actually, Laurence reminded me a lot of my father, and that was definitely one of his main attractions to me. He was quiet, a bit reserved; I could see he was rather shy. But I found this endearing – he didn’t try it on like some people I could have mentioned, and so I wanted him to come closer to me, feeling, knowing that he could reassure me, protect me, maybe even take care of me.

But it took a lot of egging-on from Tom and Jerry – both of whom were perfect gentlemen and still close friends; I won’t hear a word said against them – before Laurence would pluck up the courage to come and ask me for a dance. Of course I would; I played hard to get for a moment or two but Laurence gave me a slow smile which suggested that he knew that I was playing, and I guess that’s when I just relented and said yes.

I still remember the song – “Dream Lover” by Bobby Darin, the new teenage idol of the time. Laurence looked slightly rougher than Tom or Jerry – I was reminded of a more civil Gene Vincent – but he was gentle and courteous and soon we began to exchange small talk. He was just out of university and was working as an estate agent, but he was also taking night classes because he wanted to qualify as a solicitor. He read English rather than Law at University; he told me that he had had to make the choice at sixteen, a terrible age to have to make your mind up about anything, and English just seemed more interesting to him than slogging away for five years learning law books by rote. He was ambitious, wasn’t satisfied to be twelfth best, and that also attracted me. We continued to meet regularly at the Royal on Fridays, and then he asked me out on dates with him. It all seemed very natural.

I have to outline what I was doing to make a living at the time, which is that I was working on the perfume counter at Selfridge’s. I hadn’t gone to university myself because I wanted to get straight out of school into the adult world and start earning money. My mother certainly approved of that way of thinking. I didn’t want just to stay there for the rest of my life either; I found I was good with customers, had a way of persuading them to buy such-and-such a scent, and on the quiet, whenever they asked me, I’d give them some tips on how to improve their bodies. I suppose this helped set me on the road to becoming what I like to call a “quondam beautician” but for the time being I knew I had to get some hard experience behind me before I could even think of such a career.

Being in Selfridge’s, you got used to dealing with some distinguished customers, some really famous ones. One afternoon Tommy Steele came in; he was wearing jodhpurs and a monocle but I was on to him straightaway. He explained that he was rehearsing for a movie where he had to play two parts, a working-class boy and a posh duke, and the idea was that one could stand in for the other. So he was testing out his appearance, his accent, his behaviour, as best he could. He was only about twenty-two. So cute.

But some of the reps you’d get in from the perfume companies, oh my God, or, worse still, the freelancers, the travelling salesmen. One particularly bothered man rushed in one morning, flushed of face and somewhat breathless. His name was John Cummings; I’d seen him in the store before. To be fair he was never the world’s greatest perfume salesman, but his pitches were so earnest and secretly pleading that I’d end up buying or ordering stuff from his case just because I felt sorry for him. He explained that he’d be able to give me a better pitch but his car got stolen, so he has to use buses and tubes, which don’t always get him to the store on time.

“What kind of car was it?” I asked.
“It was a Ford Anglia. Brand new. Bought it from this showroom near Paddington. Meadows, the chap’s name was, Lionel Meadows.”
“Ford Anglia, eh? Couldn’t you save up and buy a Jaguar?”
“Ha, ha, I wish!” he laughed in reply. “If only I could afford one!”

I explained that my American friend Peggy had quite a liking for Jaguars. “You must introduce us sometime!” he chuckled before rushing off to his next appointment. I never saw him again, though; maybe he opened up a store of his own.

Peggy was an American penpal of mine over from Brooklyn for a year’s work experience. She had secretarial skills but what she really wanted to do was break into the advertising industry. We had many laughs together – she used to tell me about the incredible things Americans had in their homes; refrigerators, huge televisions, coffee makers. They loved their cars over there in America, that’s for sure, and Peggy had a notion about Jaguars in particular. Once she told me: “If you were a man, I’d say you should look at the Jaguar as your mistress. Expensive, but glamorous. And keep another car – what do you call them here, the Ford Anglia? – as your wife, for everyday business. The Jaguar is for when you want to break out of yourself, momentarily stop being yourself.”

All this talk was a bit too deep for me, but I smiled in mute agreement. She sounded as though she’d go far, although at times she might resent the actions which such progress might require.

Anyway, Laurence was very tickled by what I did for a living, and although he never came into Selfridge’s, he’d more often than not stand outside the entrance at the end of work, waiting for me to come out.

And he was marvellous. He’d take me to restaurants, to the pictures, even to museums, though to be truthful I sometimes struggled to stay awake in those places. Sometimes he’d drive me out into the countryside, or to another town, say Brighton, or Reading. You always had a sense of variety and unpredictability with Laurence, so unlike some of these boys at the Royal.

One thing led to another, I suppose, and we became engaged and finally married, Valentine’s Day, 1962. It was the proudest and happiest day of my life, and I’ll never forget the song played for our first wedding dance – it was “Can’t Help Falling In Love” by Elvis. Oh, what a star he was, and still is – I feel he’s grown up with us, and yes, he’s had his painful moments, but we went out to see him in concert in Las Vegas in 1972 and he was magical – he wasn’t completely together; at one point he loudly called for the pink light to be turned off, at another point he asked one of his backing singers for a towel, but the aura of the man. He could sing a song as though it were a page from your diary, and he had a way of looking right at you and making you think you were the only person in the world for him, the only one he was singing for. It’s something very few singers pull off – in fact, the only other singer I can remember with the same skill and ability on stage is Neil Diamond; that man is truly something – but say what you will about him, Elvis has it.

And so we were married, and we moved into this bungalow in Romford, not far from my parents. We were blissfully happy, knowing that our lives were spreading out in front of us. Oh, Laurence was still an estate agent, still doing his night classes – some nights I’d hardly see him, he’d come back so late – but we both knew there was better to come.

I made sure of it, from my point of view at least. I did a beauty course at a small college in South Woodford and got a certificate entitling me to work as a qualified beautician anywhere. That was my ambition, to set up my own beauty parlour, attract the very best customers and give them the best hands-on treatment. Until I saved up enough to do that, I would continue at Selfridge’s, but I was going up the career ladder anyway; I was put in charge of the whole perfume section in June 1963 and quickly established myself as a firm but fair manager. Not that I really needed to be firm; I was friends with all the girls there, we’d go out together at lunch to the local Lyons Cornerhouse, and they were thrilled to be working with me, not a square old crow from the Boer War days! I was decidedly modern in my style and approach, and always, but always, optimistic.

More optimistic than Laurence, perhaps. Gradually it became evident to me that he wasn’t getting anywhere. He was still earning his keep, but it was still an estate agent, and even in the early sixties an estate agent’s salary wasn’t going to pay for a compact, bijou penthouse-style bungalow in leafy Romford. We remained in regular touch with Tom and Jerry but it looked as though they were racing ahead on the career motorway; they were now professional draughtsmen, designing engines for aircraft, furnishings for converted attics, and gaining a fair reputation in their trade. Jerry had met this very hoity-toity woman, if you ask me, called Margo, and married her. Tom was already married to a girl named Barbara he had met down the Royal. Now they lived next door to each other, in Surbiton of all places, I’ll have you know, and they were as happy as anybody could be.

But I couldn’t work Laurence out sometimes. I’d come home from work and there he’d be, listening intently to Beethoven or Stravinsky. I don’t mind a bit of classical myself from time to time, but come on, when you’re young, life’s for living, not sitting around and brooding to 200-year-old music without drums! It all got a bit oppressive. He’d talk about upcoming exhibitions at the Tate or the National Gallery, and he’d be really excited by them, but me, I just glassed over. What was he hiding from?

Eventually we had to face the truth. There was something missing. Laurence admitted it. It wasn’t as though we hadn’t tried – goodness knows we tried our best, and sometimes our best was very excellent indeed – but something was wrong; we couldn’t conceive. We saw the local gynaecologists but all they did was outline the condition they thought I had, using big words that I nodded at but didn’t really understand. All I knew was that Laurence and I couldn’t be parents; we couldn’t have kids. A big blow to both our sets of parents, not to mention to us. We thought about adoption, and one day I even went to our local adoption service to find out more, but it was no use; for obscure reasons we didn’t meet the criteria, and anyway some of the people I saw down there were perfectly dreadful; this woman about my age called Cathy, for instance, screaming and crying all the time about “the authorities” trying to take her baby away. Well, I thought to myself, if you can’t feed your baby, then don’t have a baby! There’s a song for someone to sing.

Meanwhile, the music slowly changed. It was no longer the fifties and rock and roll; oh, Elvis and Cliff were still around, we knew they’d always be around, and the Beatles were lovely when they didn’t scream too loudly, but most of the young groups coming up were alien to us. The Stones? The Animals? The Who? I’m afraid I didn’t understand any of them. Noise and shouting and to what end? At least Little Richard had tunes. The girl singers – they were good, though. Dusty, Cilla, Sandie, Lulu – the “Big Four” we used to call them – they had a way of getting through to me that reminded me of old times.

I think I didn’t listen to anything except Dusty and Cilla when Laurence abruptly disappeared in the autumn of 1966. It was a huge shock, I can tell you, and I cried for nights on end. I asked my mother, what had I done? Was it because we couldn’t have children? Then Margo rang me in a panic and said: “I don’t know how to tell you this, but Jerry’s gone too.” Now the hurt turned into a mystery. Vanished into thin air – nobody at their work knew anything about this, and if Tom knew something he was keeping schtumm.

Not long afterwards, both Margo and I were visited by distinguished-looking middle-aged gentleman in smart suits – very posh. Mine introduced himself as a “Colonel” and he told me not to worry; Laurence and Jerry had not vanished off the face of the earth, but they were up in Wales (Wales, I exclaimed to myself) doing what he described as “top secret work.” He was terribly apologetic that he couldn’t tell me anything more, but asked me to be patient – when they had done their work, they would be back. Maybe six months, perhaps a year – who knows?

“Top secret work?” I wondered aloud.
“Ah, yes, well – the jobs that your husband and Mr Leadbetter were doing – they were covers. For other, higher work, you know.”
I’d had no idea of any of this.
“I’ve already told you more than I strictly should do, but suffice it to say it’s to do with matters of national security.” He saw my incipient tears. “Oh, don’t be sad, my dear – they’re thinking of you all the time; I know this for a fact. It’s just that they have this vitally important work to do. Carry on with your life for now, that’s the best policy. Trust me.”

Well, I did my best to trust what the “Colonel” said – and Margo told me she had a nearly identical conversation with another “Colonel” – but really, to run out on his domestic responsibilities now, and for how long, and for what reason? All my “Colonel” would confirm was that they hadn’t run off together. I would have hoped not. It was still illegal then for a start, and, goodness, the embarrassment it would have caused me in the face of our neighbours!

I carried on as best I could, right through 1967. By now the Beatles might as well have been addressing me from the planet Jupiter, they seemed so far away and so incomprehensible. Peppers? Strawberries? Pennies? I didn’t understand any of it, and they didn’t appear to be singing for people like me any more in any case. Far more approachable were the new singers who had come up, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck. Oh, I loved those two and still do – they both had greatest hits records out last year, and of course I went straight to Woolworth’s to buy them – they reminded me so much of Elvis, very manly but very sympathetic too; unlike the hairy pop groups they seemed to be singing of simple things that everyone could understand, like love and loss and hopelessness. Where all the pop groups came across like children, these two were unmistakably men.

And then, in the spring of 1968, both Laurence and Jerry reappeared. They looked and sounded very tired and were almost in tears about the fact they hadn’t been able to say goodbye to us properly. I still had my doubts but what could I do – he was my Laurence, and he was back, and I’d been totally faithful to him all the time he’d been away, although mind you I did have my chances, I wasn’t bereft of offers, but just like in 1959 I had my morals and my principles. Laurence would never talk about it, though, acted like he didn’t want to talk about it or be reminded of it, and, though still mystified, I had to respect that.

Then all of a sudden it was the seventies, even though there was nothing sudden about the way we lived; we just kept on going as we had done, even if we knew it was now all simply routine, a matter of habit, that we were more or less stuck in our lives and unable to escape them. But I’ve never been sentimental about things like that; I was raised to get on with things no matter what, and if we were stuck, wasn’t everybody else? You made the best of a less than ideal situation. I was still in Selfridge’s, he was back in the estate agency, like nothing had happened. And perhaps nothing really did.

The music was something I was a little more able to connect with than in the sixties. I knew all of these “glam” groups weren’t for me as such – perhaps if we had managed to have a child, they might have been able to tell us more about T Rex and Slade – and people like David Bowie were just too disturbing for me. However, I did enjoy Elton John; a true showman and a very sensitive songwriter. Paul McCartney and Wings – he proved again and again with his hits who the real talent was in the Beatles. And I loved, and still love, Rod Stewart; again, very manly, which has always appealed to me, and he does give the impression that he doesn’t take anything too seriously, which is surely the only way to deal with life sometimes.

But, just last year, we got this call from Jerry, down in Surbiton. Ostensibly it was an invitation to dinner, which Laurence and I are very grateful for but don’t usually take up – I mean, Surbiton is practically on the other side of the universe from Romford! – but really he wanted us to come down because he was worried. Tom had chucked in his job, just like that, as Tommy Cooper (another of our great favourites) would say. Apparently this had all been coming to a head for some years. Both Tom and Jerry were equally skilled and inspired draughtsmen, but Jerry was always better with people than Tom was; he was very outgoing and welcoming, able to make connections and establish lines of communication, whereas Tom just absorbed himself into his work as though the rest of the world didn’t exist.

As a result of this, Jerry had been promoted above Tom at work, and indeed was now Tom’s line manager. Jerry found this problematic; he couldn’t exactly boss around his closest friend, yet he felt very frustrated, and one afternoon expressed his frustration at Tom. He told Tom that he had idolised his work, and yet he had climbed the ladder in his company while Tom had remained exactly the same. Where was his ambition, Jerry wondered aloud. Tom laughed, shrugged and told Jerry not to worry; he had been planning to leave anyway.

Leave? How will you make a living?”
“Why, I’m going to live a life of self-sufficiency!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Grow our own food, raise our own livestock – we’ll do it in our garden, Jerry, it’s all right, you needn’t worry!”

Jerry couldn’t help but worry, and Margo was outraged when he told her the news. But it quickly became clear that the Goods couldn’t be stopped, and so the Leadbetters slipped into the equally frustrating roles of the Goods’ protectors. Anyhow, Laurence and I went down there – a two-hour drive; believe me, it was unbelievable – and it was great to see everyone again; we did get a little tipsy and started reminiscing about our old lives. And it was then, in an unguarded moment, that Jerry told us that he and Laurence had been recruited as secret agents while at university, and that their jobs and extracurricular activities were indeed covers for this “top secret work.” Who’d’ve known? They had been called, in 1966, to go to this resettlement, or possibly retirement, camp in Wales to deal with a particularly difficult old friend of theirs. Even when tipsy, they protested they had already divulged too much, but swore us all to silence. All they were prepared to admit was that, while in Wales, they had worked under the aliases of “Chambers” and “Cobb.” Sounds like a dodgy firm of solicitors, I laughed semi-mirthfully, while thinking: well, where can we possibly go from here?

Normal life, or as normal a life as can be expected, resumed and carries on to this day. Laurence still sends me wild with his enthusing over piles of bricks in the Tate and somebody called Steve Rice, who apparently is an American musician of some kind who uses lots of repeating marimbas? All beyond me, I fear. For my part, I do my best to keep up with modern music today – I love Barry Manilow, he is like a new, younger and handsomer Humperdinck. Demis Roussos is wonderful, too; he reminds me of this guy I met on holiday in Greece back in ’67, when I was still trying to get over Laurence’s disappearance, who promised to “make my dreams come true,” as if he could know what my dreams truly are. I listen to him sing “Forever And Ever” and he sounds so sunny, so light (even though he is a large guy), so full of promise and everything I’ve wanted in my life but never quite managed to have. I even bought that saucy record “Love To Love You Baby,” the one they wouldn’t play on the radio, like “Je T’Aime” all those years ago, because I thought it might get Laurence and me…well, going again. It’s not that we can’t do it – believe me, despite everything that’s happened, we can – but the child thing, it’s still there, and the only way I can get rid of the pain is to dislodge it, sideline it, push it onto poor Laurence, but to be fair he’s so much like a child at the best of times that I sometimes wonder whether I should tuck him up in his cot and bring him up a hot drink. I wouldn’t trust him to look after himself, I must admit.

But I do like the Stylistics. When we were at that get together with the Goods and Leadbetters last year, they played us a greatest hits thing - The Best Of The Stylistics - which was really lovely. I knew them as a Motown-y sort of soul group who appeared on The Two Ronnies a lot but they had such beautiful songs, so beautifully sung they could make you melt. “You Make Me Feel Brand New” – how often I’ve wanted a man to tell me that throughout my life.

Well, now they have a second volume of Best Of out, and it’s packaged like a weekend diary planner – the one on the cover looks just like mine, in fact, so obviously I bonded with it straightaway! Many of the songs here are well-known from the charts – “Can’t Give You Anything” went all the way to number one – but these performances are just as spellbinding and gorgeous as on their first record. When you don’t drive yourself mad dancing to “Funky Weekend,” there are also plenty of smoochers.

I played it to Jerry, in fact, just recently, and he wasn’t so sure. He told me that the songs on the first record had been arranged and produced by a “Tom Bell” (not the actor?) and that the group were now under the direction of two Italians, Hugo and Luigi, who go back to the fifties, and that some magic had been lost; the new songs weren’t as good as the old ones, there was a bit of formula coming in, some laziness, perhaps.

Me, though, I can’t really see the difference. “Can’t Give You Anything” is a super disco dancer, great for cruises, and about such a common and understandable subject; it doesn’t matter how much money you don’t have, if you have love, you’re the richest man in the world! “Hey Girl, Come And Get It” is a bit Carry On, a little blue (“Come and get it, while I’ve still got it” – I don’t think they’re singing about a pint of milk!) and rather like that “Rock Your Baby” disco hit from quite recently. In truth there are not a lot of words in this song; they chant “umba, umba” a lot. “Sixteen Bars” has that loud but charming trumpet which reminds me of Eddie Calvert (it’s on “Star On A T.V Show” as well) and has some really up-to-date lyrics (“I’m really gone on you”) and a great moment when a guitar starts chunking away after they sing about “The sound of sweet guitar.”

“The Miracle,” like “You Are Beautiful,” both seek to recreate the magic of “You Make Me Feel Brand New” with two sets of lead vocals, and while neither song is as good as “Brand New” – but then, what song is? – they are very beautiful indeed. In “The Miracle” there are not one, but two key changes, so awe-inspiring that the group is shocked into silence and stop singing. “Love Is The Answer” is the same song as “Can’t Give You Anything” but with some social comment. Indeed, this song sounds like the one at the end of the new Rod Stewart LP, the one where he sings “Love is the answer/But nobody’s buying” – it’s a sad, mad old world out there in 1976, and no mistake. “You Are Beautiful” really hits me hard, but not in a violent way; it’s a terrific ballad which culminates in them singing that “You are beautiful… because of what you are inside,” and I’m moved to tears because I’ve waited all my life for someone to say this to me, and nobody ever has, not even fucking Laurence, who thinks he can flounce off and be James Bond for 18 months without so much as a by-your-leave, and I understand this song even if you don’t.

I gasped when I heard the opening track of side two. It’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” our wedding song from fourteen years ago, now done up for the modern disco era, all uptempo and Pied Piper flutes and fast, purposeful singing. Then there’s “Sing Baby Sing,” a chirpy, cheerful song about falling in love and getting married. “Star On A T.V. Show” is a beautiful ballad, or would have been had I not caught the line where the singer compares the woman to a Jaguar….

…which reminds me. Halfway through 1967, while Laurence was still away, I got a transatlantic call from my old friend Peggy in New York! Well, she worked her way up the advertising ladder for sure, and even became a junior partner in her agency. But there was a problem. The agency was approached by Jaguar, of all people, wanting a campaign. Peggy trotted out her old line about how you should treat your Jaguar as a mistress and so forth. It was an inspired idea and was adopted, although relationships between Peggy and the other partners remained frosty. Frustrated that she wasn’t getting enough respect for her input, Peggy left the agency, and the contract was passed on to her colleague, a woman called Joan. The trouble was that the man from Jaguar took the “mistress” analogy a little too seriously and informed Joan that the only way to secure their contract was if she slept with him. She didn’t want to, but she was a single mother and needed the money so shut her eyes and complied. As a result she has been made a junior partner. Peggy’s old boss, a guy named Don (no, not the same one who worked on the buses in Leyton – at least, I don’t think it’s him…but wouldn’t it be something if it were him?), heard of this and rushed to stop Joan, but by the time he got there, the deal was done.

“Na Na Is The Saddest Word” is pretty and sad, though I’ve never heard anyone using the expression “na na.” “Thank You Baby” is another beautiful ballad, this time in the line of “You Are Everything,” and says “You, my love, are the meaning of my life” and that their love makes the world “a better place.” No one has ever said that to me either. But it’s a marvellous record and I play it all the time, especially when I have neighbours around and I want to throw a little dinner party. Jerry says he is not convinced by any of these songs, that no real emotions are ever expressed in them, and that the arrangements are generally so corny and overblown that they squeeze out of the songs whatever little life they have. But I think he’s being rather petty, you know. No one understands the Stylistics like me, I don’t think, and Laurence can roll his eyes all he likes, but I go to his bloody museums, so he can listen to my Stylistics. He’ll still be rolling in eyes in twenty-five years’ time, God bless him, and I’ll still have to look after him. After all, I still like to recognise and value the importance of home, especially ours, and the absolute importance of showing everybody else around us how important it is.

I am not saying that Beverly is wrong here – it’s interesting, if predictable, that in her whole story she never once tells you her name – but I listen to this record and I just cannot hear or feel what she does, or like she does. All I hear is a grotesque, toothy travesty of everything Thom Bell’s Stylistics stood for. Hugo and Luigi might have had a pedigree, but it was a severely dated one – all those vaguely promising songs ruined by elephantine trumpets and French horns, but then that’s more down to Van McCoy’s hamfisted arrangements. Unlike Bell, who knew the exact diameter between voices and musicians so that his arrangements could complement and enhance the emotion of the songs and performances, McCoy just overloads every song to breaking point; frequently the orchestra are too harsh and two-dimensional, getting in the way of the music.

Not that this is great music. “Can’t Give You Anything”’s otiose propulsion obscures the realisation that the “I’m Stone In Love With You” lyrical mindset is now exhausted; so he hasn’t got any money, so what now? The question is not resolved by the thunderstorms raging behind “I’m just an ordinary guy” and McCoy’s desire to quote “The Hustle” throughout the later choruses. Lena describes “Hey Girl” as a “big hunk of cheese with a Best Before date stamped on it. It’s just one of the most pointless songs I’ve ever heard." The hapless attempts to recreate the old magic of “Brand New” on two tracks push Airrion Love to his limits – and one wonders how Russell Thompkins Jr manages to keep a straight face throughout all twelve songs and not want to strangle or shoot the producers. In “The Miracle” we are informed that “God was just another word to say” and that, moreover, “the sun belongs to the sky.” The key changes and general air of airless slush point the way to Westlife and their ilk. “You Are Beautiful” likewise plods rather than floats. That “Love Is The Answer” mentions “the Devil’s wine” and trampled-on flowers perhaps goes without needing to be said (or do they still think it’s 1968?). The word is “clunky.”

“Can’t Help Falling In Love” is grotesque, the cattle-prod falsetto “you”s (not helped by the crappy flute) making love sound like a big mud puddle into which the Stylistics keep falling (Lena’s analogy). “Sing Baby Sing” starts out wanting to be “Daydream Believer” and deteriorates from there; am I the only listener who finds something scary and creepy about the couplet “So cry baby cry/The wedding bells are ringing”? Also, the rest of the song sounds like the far superior theme from
The Mary Tyler Moore Show (apart from the fadeout where the electric piano begins to improvise on “This Guy’s In Love With You”). “T.V. Show” is positively icky, from its tick-tock drum intro (a long way from the let-me-out-of-this-box hammering bass drum introducing “Hey Girl”) to its lame metaphors (rhyming “latest” with “greatest”). “Na Na” proves that not every record featuring a harpsichord is great, and this treacly ballad is interminable. As for “Funky Weekend,” it takes something from everything surrounding it – a bassline from “Inner City Blues,” a clavinet from Stevie Wonder, strings from Norman Whitfield, the general cut-price air of the Top Of The Pops Orchestra, a song which in 1976 still uses the word “discotheque” and an outro which has the group sounding like a herd of maiden aunts sitting around and howling. “Thank You Baby” is so clunky it could be 1984-period Spandau Ballet with its impenetrable metaphors (“A lullaby you never knew”). Also, on “Sixteen Bars,” “a thousand violins” do not make you “Misty.”

My impression is that this record is entirely artificial, and not in a charming way. The songs are, if anything, creepy, in the Peter Wyngarde sense, betraying a clown-like scariness. And yet this was a group once responsible for things like “People Make The World Go Round” and…oh, what’s the point, you’ve read what I had to say about that already. The record – which I’m not sure ever found a release in the States, where their stock had dramatically declined following the onset of Hugo and Luigi – did markedly less well than its predecessor, just one week on top and only 21 weeks on the chart in total (compared with 63 weeks for the original
Best Of). Set against such contemporaneous records as I Want You and Songs In The Key Of Life, this really is miniscule bread in comparison.

One week, however, is enough to get it in here, so after asking myself (and Lena) who would have bought this, I think it has to have been Beverly and Laurence, and the many less-than-happy couples like them all over Britain, to give some air of sophistication to their dinner parties and bridge nights. And poor old Beverly doesn’t know what’s coming, and she should be grateful for that; in less than a year from now she will be a widow, and she’ll wonder what she did wrong. Maybe she’s still wondering now, out there in Romford, if she didn’t turn around and make that move to Madison Avenue.

But that doesn’t make it easier for me. I look at all these records, and can’t imagine this is simply a random agglomeration of things thrown together by virtue of relative popularity and the times in which they prospered. I believe that this order is not random, that every one of these number one records (and the hundreds of other records which lie behind each) is connected, and that somehow they all connect to something beyond music; what would this picture of society tell us when, or if, it is completed? I like to think of a world not entirely governed by happenstance, where the most minute details can set off eruptions elsewhere; after all, had some young German men not heard and be captivated by the “throwaway” “Barbara-Ann,” they would not have transmogrified it into “Autobahn” eight years later. Everything, if not everyone, finds its home.

It is now very late at night, however, and I must go on contemplating this picture, this universal jigsaw puzzle where every piece, no matter how awkwardly, fits into another. But I have to ask: why? The reason – one reason, anyway - is that I am trying to find out about my own life, and whether these records, all this music, tells me more about it, how it fits me and where I fit in with it – or whether I have to acknowledge that at the stage when I saw these records topping the charts in real time, there were people who were waiting for me to stop absorbing myself in the tale they had to tell and do something for, or with, them in reality?

That was the thing with Chambers, or Laurence. He couldn’t stop talking, couldn’t desist from proclaiming to others why he was right and they weren’t. I know – I was due to meet with him when it all happened, and he never turned up.

How was I to know he had been recruited ahead of, or because of, me?