In the UK in the summer of 1967, the “Summer of Love”, Procol Harum was the new big thing. Their debut single “A Whiter Shade of Pale” was the #1 record for 6 weeks. It’s faux-classical theme, portentous lyric & “progressive” sound caused quite a stir. I can remember grown men discussing the meaning of “16 vestal virgins” & the like. Get out of here, music was for young people. “A Whiter…” was replaced at the top spot by “All You Need is Love”, the Beatles’ coming out as hippies anthem. “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)”, reduced a whole generation’s new explanation to gloopy balladry. British pop music was growing out of its adolescence, musicians & their audience expected barriers to be broken, experiments to be undertaken. In 1964, the “Summer of Beat”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “It’s All Over Now” & “A Hard Day’s Night” had been consecutive #1 hits. Progress ?…It’s a rhetorical question.
1967 was the year that the LP became the thing to record & the thing to have. “All You Need is Love” was fine, you needed “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (June) more. Jimi Hendrix’ “Purple Haze” & Pink Floyd’s “See Emily Play” are classic 3 minute long pop 45s. “Are You Experienced” (May) & “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn” (August) gave you 40 minutes of this new good stuff. The generation who had been buying vinyl since the Mersey Mania were working now, had more disposable income, but what about their little sisters ? They were unconcerned about kissing the sky or gazing through trees in sorrow. They wanted to spend their pocket money on a 7″ single that they could dance to made by pretty young men who looked dreamy on a poster on their bedroom wall. It was a pop music tradition, it was their right & they gotta have it.
In January 1968 “Everlasting Love”, the 2nd single by Love Affair was the toppermost of the poppermost. The record was an all-guns blazing cover of a current Soul tune by Robert Knight. The band were teenagers, the drummer, who was the manager’s son, was only 15. I’m sure they all could play but CBS insisted that the single be re-recorded before release. Producer Mike Smith’s sweeping orchestral & brass arrangements only needed the participation of singer Steve Ellis, the Sunday papers made quite a front page fuss about this “deception”, as if Jimmy Page’s contributions to 70% of the records made in London had never happened. The little girls didn’t care about any credibility gap, the hit follow up used the same winning formula, “Rainbow Valley”, same composers, same steal from Robert Knight.
Of course I preferred the original version of “Everlasting Love”. The Top 10 of the day included the Beatles, the 4 Tops & Small Faces, much more my glass of Vimto. There was another manufactured group on the charts. The Monkees had been assembled for a TV show, they didn’t write songs or, at first, play on records which were well-crafted commercial pop music designed to sell by the truck load & successfully doing so.Love Affair’s young Mod singer, Steve Ellis, had a fine voice & Mike Smith produced 4 Top 10 hits for the group. He picked up on a new English songwriter, Phillip Goodhand Tait. “A Day Without Love” & “Bringing on Back the Good Times”, beefed up in Love Affair style are good songs. Smith had got it going on in January 1968, his novelty, sound effects laden “The Ballad of Bonnie & Clyde” for Georgie Fame succeeded “Everlasting Love” at #1. At the end of 1969 a change of style bombed & Ellis left the group. He formed his own band, Ellis, then Widowmaker but he would always be the kid that the little girls were screaming at while the rest of us sat cross-legged listening to our hair grow.
Amen Corner’s first single “Gin House Blues”, a song Bessie Smith recorded in 1928, was a favourite of John Peel, the champion of the new, serious music, now with a Sunday afternoon show on the new BBC Radio 1 station. A 7-piece from Wales they favoured Blues & Jazz, the twin horn section certainly helping out on the Soul covers. After 2 Top 20 hits Amen Corner’s big breakthrough was a bit of a surprise when they pulled an old British trick of grabbing an American hit before it crossed the Atlantic. “Bend Me Shape Me”, originally recorded by the solid garage-pop band the Outsiders (check them out), was a US chartbound sound for the American Breed. Producer Noel Walker, whose big hit of 1967 was “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith (blimey !), tightened up the song, added punchy horns & got a top 3 hit for the boys. In one bound Amen Corner went from touring with Hendrix & Pink Floyd (some package tour that) to new teen sensations.
Once again the attention was on a teenage singer with a strong, distinct style. Andy Fairweather-Low was the poster boy of Amen Corner.The group had 3 more Top 10 hits, first with Deram, Decca’s increasingly cool offshoot, then joining Immediate, the label set up by former Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham. Of course, the formula, the screaming attention soon paled. After a stomping version of Roy Wood’s “Hello Susie” a Fairweather-Low produced cover of them Beatles’ “Get Back” failed to trouble the chart compilers & that was that. Andy formed Fairweather & had a fine solo career. I once heard Oldham asked why his label Immediate failed in 1970. He replied that it was because Fairweather-Low decided he wanted to be Jerry Garcia…hmmm.
Marmalade, unlike the other 2 groups, had knocked about a bit before 1968. As Dean Ford & the Gaylords they established a reputation as the top band in Scotland but 4 singles for CBS in 1964-65 failed to make a national impression. By 1967 they were working with Mike Smith, the hitmaker, recording their own songs. “I See the Rain”, a pop-psych classic, was one of 4 unsuccessful Marmalade singles & CBS decreed that something better change..or else. Smith brought them “Lovin’ Things”, an American song rejected by another of his hit groups, the Tremeloes. It was given an uptempo brassy arrangement, there’s a pattern emerging here, & the group were in the Top 10. Ever since the Beatles invented British pop music the maxim “you’re only as good as your last single” spurred artists on to new heights of invention & excitement. That generation were, in 1968, working on their albums, those still reliant on chart position stuck with the familiar made-to-order, radio-friendly but unchallenging pop. After a disappointing follow up to “Loving Things” Marmalade went for a very easy option & had a #1 hit.
“Ob-La Di, Ob-La-Da” Paul McCartney’s cod-Reggae novelty from the Beatles’ “White Album” was not released as a single in the UK so Marmalade nicked in with a cover version. This was no overhaul like Joe Cocker’s “With a Little Help from my Friends” more an insipid facsimile recalling the cheap copies of hits sold on the Embassy label in Woolworths. A #1 record…go figure ! The group were unhappy about recording other people’s songs & at the end of 1969 were able to secure a deal with Decca where they could produce themselves. Marmalade re-established themselves as capable soft-rockers with the songs of guitarist Junior Campbell & singer Dean Ford. In the next 3 years there were more Top 10 hits. Life goes on…brah !
In 1968 I was more concerned with the new groups from California, Country Joe & the Fish, Big Brother & the Holding Co, you know them. In the UK Steve Winwood with “Traffic” & “Ogden’s Nut Gone Flake” by Small Faces were examples of how the teen idols of 1966 had adjusted to the expanding horizons of the music scene. I was dismissive of the prefabricated teeny popsters & things did not improve. In 1970 session man Tony Burrows provided vocals for 4 hits, the groups assembled when the records sold ! Now I can appreciate melodic, well-produced late-1960s pop made for an audience with different taste & demands from myself. Ah…I was so much older then…