Thursday 14 July 2011


(#127: 30 June 1973, 7 weeks)

Track listing: Bye Bye Love (Everly Brothers)/Poetry In Motion (Johnny Tillotson)/Little Darlin' (The Diamonds)/Smoke Gets In Your Eyes (The Platters)/Chantilly Lace (Big Bopper)/Runaround Sue (Dion)/Devoted To You (Everly Brothers)/Great Balls Of Fire (Jerry Lee Lewis)/Running Bear (Johnny Preston)/Tequila (The Champs)/Tutti Frutti (Little Richard)/'Til I Kissed You (Everly Brothers)/I Love How You Love Me (Paris Sisters)/Runaway (Del Shannon)/Bony Moronie (Larry Williams)/Honeycomb (Jimmie Rodgers)/Why Do Fools Fall In Love (Frankie Lymon and The Teenagers)/Party Doll (Buddy Knox)/Linda Lu (Ray Sharpe)/Red River Rock (Johnny and The Hurricanes)/That'll Be The Day (Bobby Vee and The Crickets)/Born Too Late (The Poni-Tails)/Wake Up Little Susie (Everly Brothers)/Book Of Love (Monotones)/(You've Got) Personality (Lloyd Price)/Well...All Right (Bobby Vee and The Crickets)/At The Hop (Danny and The Juniors)/Alley Oop (Dante and The Evergreens)/Raunchy (Bill Justis)/Rock On (David Essex)/A Thousand Stars (Billy Fury)/Real Leather Jacket (Vivian Stanshall)/Long Live Rock (Billy Fury)/What In The World (Shoop) ("Stormy Tempest" - actually The Typhoons)/That's All Right Mama (Billy Fury)/Slow Down (Eugene Wallace)/Get Yourself Together (Billy Fury)/What'd I Say (Billy Fury)/It'll Be Me (Wishful Thinking)

(Author's note: For sanity-preserving reasons I have done my best to avoid the multiple spelling and credit errors present on the original LP's rear cover. Additionally, it should be noted that in light of protests by record companies regarding the domination of TV-advertised compilation albums in the chart, the British Market Research Bureau changed the rules, meaning that such records were confined to the separate compilation chart. This means that That'll Be The Day vanished from the chart completely after its seventh week at the top and that, to the great regret of this writer, the similar package for the film's sequel Stardust was not eligible for the main chart.)

"Of course we knew there were other things to sing songs about...our elders never stopped telling us...but rock and roll was our music: music for young people; performed by the young; and about the young."
(Ray Connolly, from his sleevenote to That'll Be The Day)

It, virtually needless to say, was never that simple, especially when this American phenomenon began to be heard and felt in Britain. Unless we happened to have been there, at the right age and in the wrong circumstances, there is no way of communicating how epochal, how life-commencing, it all was: the promise of everything coming to a nation which, in the late fifties, still had next to nothing; the need to wrench something out of this promise and hold onto it, make it ours. Was this living, or merely a way to avoid making a living?

But respond to rock and roll we did, and this story has told in part how it happened. If sometimes the shoddiness of presentation of the soundtrack to That'll Be The Day - a 40-track double - is annoying enough to make one wish that CBS or EMI had successfully won the rights rather than Ronco, its downbeat presentation (and its necessarily beaten appearance, thirty-eight years down the line) accurately matches the dour, doughy nothingness of its parent movie.

I am not sure whether the film That'll Be The Day has endured. Utilising a sixties Wednesday Play approach to describe a country still unable to forget or move beyond the war, David Essex, looking remarkably like Damon Albarn, is excellent in the fundamentally unsympathetic role of Jim Maclaine; Rosemary Leach is superb as his incrementally disappointed mother - of course, Maclaine's grief lies in the early desertion of his father, a role which he already knows he is doomed to repeat - and Ringo Starr is more than adequate as his new pal Mike; on screen he looks lighter than at any time since A Hard Day's Night.

But the question remains, and it's a major one; how far are we supposed to identify with this Pandora's box of resentment who throws his schoolbooks, and therefore probably his future, in the river, who, when shown a glimpse of what lies beyond, immediately turns into a ruthless womaniser, and who, finally, after making a pretence of returning home and getting down to compensatory business - running the family store, having a wife and child - abandons it all for the sake of a guitar and a train ticket? Either rock and roll was so potent, so comprehensively conquering, that it drove those under its spell to forsake family and friends to follow its pyritic trail, or Jim Maclaine is a thankless shithead who will (as Stardust later revealed) go crazy to the point of self-extermination. The film does not exactly scream "the future" or "colour" or "sex" towards us; rather a very familiar post-Ealing Studios melancholia that this is always how it will be, this ridiculous, pinched, pinching Britain.

It's clear that the soundtrack album works better than the film in explaining to us just how taken we were by all of this, and indeed outlines a summary of our reaction more efficiently and powerfully than the movie. The album is not quite what it pretends to be, and probably boasts the longest prelude or introduction of any number one album; an introduction that lasts three sides, and thirty songs. A registry of period favourites, or at least whatever Ronco could lease, and the mixture is as odd as one would expect, but in its own way quite revelatory.

As far as the oldies are concerned there is little need to expound on them at length; watching Essex walk off with that guitar at film's end, I was reminded of Chuck Berry's dictum that if he had the time over again he would get a degree in business studies and then learn to play the guitar. Chuck Berry, however, is not represented here, and neither are Elvis, or Gene Vincent, or Eddie Cochran, or Fats Domino, or for that matter Buddy Holly; the presence of two tracks from 1962's exercise in near-necrophilia Bobby Vee Meets The Crickets, including the title song, suggests that Ronco failed to secure the rights to the original - of these, Vee's "That'll Be The Day" is throatier, growlier and, in its final "day," desperate, but proves little match for the man who, by his death, inadvertently kickstarted Vee's career (he stood in for Holly that night), while "Well...All Right," perhaps the strangest of all Holly songs - its harmonies and arrangement presage the quieter Velvet Underground - resorts to bad impersonations.

There are a quartet of tracks by the Everlys; both "Bye Bye Love" and "Susie"'s power revolves around the unmentioned - there are sly hints in the final verse of the former that sexual inadequacy is the reason for his baby's desertion, while on further examination "Susie" is post-coital dread; it's clear that they've done it, and now they're making up frantic excuses. Both songs rely on their slashing, barline-cheating guitar lines to emphasise that which the Everlys themselves were too polite to express directly. On the other hand, "'Til I Kissed You" is a better Holly tribute (and develops on Holly's template) than Vee's, helped by Jerry Allison's trademark drum rolls, and the lovely "Devoted To You" reminds us just how keenly those two young lads in Liverpool were listening, as well as the Celtic roots (Scottish pibroch in particular) which helped inspire the duo's music in the first place.

In this collection, the second gathering of evidence in as many weeks, it's abundantly clear who's going to be their own man and who are in for the one miraculous shot. Given the ruckus they caused at the time, what is most remarkable about "Tutti Frutti" and "Great Balls Of Fire" at this juncture is their easy and instinctive sense of swing; yes, we know Jerry Lee was terrified of damnation by singing this (the Sun outtakes and studio dialogue attest to this) but in some senses this is a red herring - what is most overpowering about "Fire" is his incredulous joy ("Weellll....feels GO-HOOD!!" as though doing it for the first time), his reckless elbow piano runs, his extraordinary revelations Likewise, despite the standard depiction of Richard as untutored Wild Man, "Tutti Frutti" is furiously disciplined; every dip of rhythm is met by a swoop in voice and/or piano, and in lots of ways we are still evolving from the world of Jimmie Lunceford and Lionel Hampton. There's no doubt that Dion and Del Shannon are in for the long game; "Runaround Sue"'s gloriously insolent post-Darin Italo-cool man sneers (of course he's going to do the same thing himself in "The Wanderer"), and if "Runaway" finally did nothing to lead its writer and performer away from his own fatal dread, there is a definite feeling - and not in the Musitron solo alone - that new ground is being broken, and staked.

Otherwise it's the black performers, unsurprisingly, who sound the most vital. Lymon takes the nonsense of "Fools" and turns it into the most plaintive plea for reason that side of "Earth Song." Lloyd Price goes back to jump band territory (see also Jackie Wilson's "Baby Workout") all to beg, cry, the adoration or interest of his intended Other (although he already knows he's a fool even to try). Larry Williams conveys both grace and urge in his "Bony Moronie" whereas, in comparison, the Big Bopper booms and cackles oafishly and menacingly, like a trainee vampire. The Diamonds and Platters tracks provide us with a useful lesson in the interrelations between black and white music; Canada's finest take a decent Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs track and elevate it, via absurdity, into something approaching holistic trash art - authenticity be damned; this is far more exciting and sexy (in any case, the Monotones throw authenticity out the window with their adaptation of the Pepsodent commercial and its amazing harmonic snakes and ladders procedurals; the drummer, or book-thumper, seems for most of the record to be the only audible "musician"). In contrast the Platters take a Jerome Kern oldie and turn it into a portrait of dignified but increasing emotional breakdown; Tony Williams takes his time, slowly working up to his unholy, tortured, climactic, final "eyes" before collapsing as though shot. Equally "Born Too Late" and "I Love How You Love Me" give us a quick lesson in the development of a certain strand of white girl group pop; the Poni-Tails sound as though rehearsing to be the Shangri-La's, all whimpers and bafflement (their song is the precise obverse of "Young Girl"), whereas the Paris Sisters are there (as indeed, and crucially, is Phil Spector); their "I Love How You Love Me" floats weightlessly, ethereally, all blurred pianos and semi-stoned vocals, virtually pre-psychedelia, certainly pre-Julee Cruise.

There are a few other bits and pieces, and even a couple of curveballs; "Party Doll" is nothing much, apart from how startlingly Knox sounds like Neil Young. The already scared-sounding vocal of Danny Rapp on "At The Hop" indicates that he fully knows that this is all there will be (for him). The three instrumentals which conclude each of the first three sides are entertaining enough; the Pharaoh Sanders-anticipating sandblasting tenor of "Tequila," the relentless motorik of "Red River Rock" (it sounds like Neu!), the straightforward R&B thrust of "Raunchy" (and note how all three tracks, as with a surprising number of other tracks here, underline the centrality of the saxophone as a voice in early rock). The most intriguing curveball is "Linda Lu," a 1959 side by Fort Worth's Ray Sharpe (and a local hit only), striding confidently through the middle ground between blues and rockabilly; his stutters and word-ramming ("Herrealnameherrealnameherrealname is PATTI!") anticipating Daltrey.

But so much else belongs to the Light Programme's idea of rock and roll. "Sealed With A Kiss" is as scarily desolate (and at the same time absurdly adolescent) as ever but it belongs to a different time, a time which will acknowledge it four years later ("Caroline No"). It nevertheless towers over gaudy trinkets like "Poetry In Motion" (a re-recording; all others are originals) and the preposterous "Running Bear," the ghastly cover of "Alley Oop" (professionals pretending to be madmen, unlike the genuine maniacs Kim Fowley drew together as the Hollywood Argyles) and, perhaps worst, Jimmie Rodgers' gruesome "Honeycomb" which sounds drawn from a different century, with suitably grotesque imagery which I have no intention of replicating here. Nonetheless, all of this sets the scene for the extraordinary document that is side four.

Our immediate hurtling into the future with "Rock On" feels like a punch in the face after the previous ninety minutes of comfort, and nearly four decades on it still comes on as the future; beginning with a Dark Side Of The Moon heartbeat and slowly evolving into something between Chinese opera, Link Wray, Can and dub. In its chambers Essex sounds utterly lost, as was the intention ("And where do we go from here? Which is a way that's clear?") - its appearance is as shocking as that of "I Feel Love" after the careful pastiches of I Remember Yesterday, or "Good Vibrations" at the end of SMiLE. This, side four already seems intent on telling us, is exactly where we Brits took this rock and roll - and what did we do with it?

Enter the man whom British rock in 1973 had almost forgotten, despite having paved the way for almost all of it. "A Thousand Stars" was one of his old hit ballads, and he gives it a more than fine reading here; the voice isn't quite on top of things - yet - but the fullness of his accompaniment bucks him up, and his drawled, astronomical "more"s roll like the atoms of a cupcake. It is Billy Fury, in his gold lame jacket - do I really need to underline whom he is prophesising on that front cover? - and his five tracks on this side represent maybe four-fifths of a fuck-you comeback. We don't need to spend too much, or any, time on the non-Fury tracks here, although, with the exception of a routine run through Jerry Lee's "It'll Be Me," they all have their individual merits: Stanshall's shaggy-dog plot-summarising "Real Leather Jacket" (the original but then abandoned theme tune for the film) complete with hilariously ironic backing vocals, the lazy Stanshall-penned harmonica semi-instrumental "What In The World" ("...are you living for?" coo the backing singers, who have already completed "Real Leather Jacket" with a series of "oompah, oompah" chants, wonderfully echoed by the unmistakable staggered drum rolls of Keith Moon) and above all Eugene Wallace's very fine account of "Slow Down" (his voice somewhere between Terry Reid and Lemmy, and an underrated, and under-recorded, Irish singer-songwriter; sadly he passed away in 1999, but hear his 1974 album Book Of Fool - if you can find it - for yet another fruitful path British rock elected not to tread; somewhere between River and Pink Moon).

Fury's backing group was immense; alas, since the record came out on Ronco, no personnel details were given, and most of these have become hazy with time. Nevertheless, Moon, who certainly appears as "Stormy Tempest"'s drummer in the film, was present throughout (and Ringo may also have contributed some drums); Ronnie Wood and Pete Townshend appear to have shared guitar duties, Graham Bond is on sax, Steve Winwood on guitar and keyboards, Ric Grech and/or Jack Bruce on bass, and the Nashville Teens' John Hawken on keyboards. Others (possibly including Jeff Beck) may have been involved.

Townshend's "Long Live Rock," however, was essentially Fury with the Who; and when we think of the contemporaneous dereliction, soul-searching and outright rage of the Who's own Quadrophenia (which unfortunately peaked at #2 later in 1973 behind entry #133), we realise what an astonishing performance this is. In the film, it hardly feels like a seaside camp in 1958; even Moon forgets it is the fifties and starts being Keith Moon, and as for Fury - he is three-dimensional in a flat, monochrome world, he is the movie's punctum; he literally emerges as though coming through the screen. In "Long Live Rock," we have his "Suspicious Minds," his "Long Black Limousine," his '68 Special all in one; this is a furious burst of fearless defiance. At times - and this will be reflected in his remaining three tracks - he actually sounds as though trying to out-Bowie Bowie (his "I do, I do," his "There's room, there's room") and yet he also looks beyond this propulsion, towards something that already acknowledges what is happening on the King's Road - there is the unmistakable scent of Lydon in Fury's breath. The whole group rises to his challenge, the word of someone who was born, or reborn, with the original Britrock, and has now come back to declare that it continues, and thrives, and flourishes - his closing, protracted roar of "ALIVE!" over Moon's roaring drums is peerless, holy. It was the performance of his life, and he knew it; a shame that, thanks to legal wrangles, this and the other Fury performances collected here still await proper CD reissue.

He does "That's All Right Mama" as a confident, cocky strut; it is clearly Bruce playing bass, and Fury plays with and advances the song at the same time ("WAYYY you go!" he twice yells approvingly to usher in Winwood's piano solo); and if his "What'd I Say?" isn't Ray, then it's a fine, tongue-in-cheek reading, complete with deadpan doo-wop backing vocals (Ringo very evident in the latter) and some great squealing free alto playing from Bond. But Fury's own song "Get Yourself Together" is again remarkable; Winwood, Moon and Wood all pushing against, and through, the curtain, while Fury's increasingly intense imprecations to his Other ("I've gotta take you out!," "I wanna take YOU outsi-si-side!," "It's really lovely weather," "Come on, come ON, out-SYYYYYYYDE!!") really do make us think that punk has come early. If today it does not seem controversial to consider Fury the greatest British singer of his generation (and arguably, in pop music, one of the very greatest of any generation), the argument proferred here is unassailable and unanswerable; devil and angel, hidden and exposed, this music's rare power explains pretty forcibly and forcefully the issue of the British response to rock and roll; as with Roy Wood, Marc Bolan and others from the previous entry, the mission here, expressed far more strongly, is to right wrongs, to gather evidence as proof that rock still lived, that whatever spark it set off in our collective half a century ago, this is how far it spread, this is where everything stood, and somehow, that everything was going to be...well...all right.