In The Air (UK Pop Psych May 1969)

Pete Townshend, off of the Who, got his flatmate/chauffeur a record deal with his managers’ label. John “Speedy” Keen had written “Armenia City in the Sky”, recorded by the Who on their “Sell Out” LP. A couple of other musicians were invited to the studio, Pete produced & played bass & by May 1969 there was a ready-to-release debut 45. In the first week of July “Something In The Air” by Thunderclap Newman, you know it, everybody does, displaced the Beatles’ “Ballad of John & Yoko” from the top of the UK charts. It’s a distinctive, accomplished record, perhaps diminished by its overuse in films about the period & commercials, but back then it sounded like the zeitgeist, of not only music but also of the way things were, had been captured on a 7″ plastic disc.

Image result for thunderclap newmanThey were an incongruous trio Thunderclap Newman. Drummer/vocalist Keen had the songs. Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, prodigiously talented, was just 15 years old (he looked younger!) when the single was released. Andy Newman was 26 (he looked older!), his boogie-woogie/honky-tonk piano insertions added a different even unique dimension to the music. Surprised by instant success & under-rehearsed, hurriedly augmented by a rhythm section, the group set out on a tour of small UK venues. They were the hottest band in the country but, as we shall see later, their mentor Pete Townshend was busy with other things.

Image result for thunderclap newman hollywood dreamIt took another year, a long time in Pop music, for Thunderclap Newman to complete their debut LP, “Hollywood Dream”. I know a lot of people who like a lot of different music & many great obscure albums from this time are not that “lost”, they can be found round at my friends’ houses. It’s only this month (as part of y’know “research”) that I have listened to the whole of this record & it seems that an interesting, varied, adept work has passed all of us by for so long. Speedy’s voice may be a taste to be acquired but the songs have a touch of Ray Davies Englishness to them. Jimmy is an obvious talent, handling that acoustic/electric blend that Townshend was so good at while Andy’s idiosyncratic keys ties the whole thing together. I had always thought that the follow-up 45 “Accidents”, released in June 1970, cut from 10 minutes to 3, was a hit too but I thought wrong. “The Reason” was too similar to “Something …” to make an impression. There was to be just this one LP before the trio went their separate ways. Missed opportunities & poorly scheduled releases meant that Thunderclap Newman would be a one-hit wonder & what a hit it is.

Image result for idle race days of broken arrowsMeanwhile in May there was a new single from the Idle Race, their fourth to be issued in the UK. “Days of Broken Arrows” was one to hear because the ones that came before were pretty good. Perhaps they had missed their main chance when, in February 1968, “The Skeleton & the Roundabout”, a whimsical tale of the ups & downs of fairground life, had failed to sell despite support from some DJs on the national Radio 1. The demise of the 24 hour a day pirate stations did mean that lesser known groups struggled for attention & a follow-up, the Beatle-esque “The End of the Road”, was similarly neglected after making an initial splash. Idle Race evolved from the Nightriders, a leading group on the Birmingham scene. When the group lost a couple of major players they enlisted a young singer/guitarist with a stash of songs influenced by the Fab Four. You may not have heard Idle Race but you know the work of Jeff Lynne.

Image result for idle raceThere are two albums by this incarnation of the Idle Race. Inventive instrumentation & production, light on psychedelia, heavy on the influence of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” & very good they are too. Lynne’s lyrics are idiosyncratic though the collections, like the singles, perhaps lacked the immediacy & the substance to attract a wider audience. Any fan of late-1960’s British Pop will not be disappointed on further investigation. Jeff’s next move was to join the Move, led by former Nightrider Roy Wood. Wood knew how to put the flesh on the bones of a song & make it a hit. “Brontosaurus”, their first recording together, made the UK Top 10. A more confident Lynne eventually usurped Wood as the Move metamorphosed into the Electric Light Orchestra & a bunch of platinum records followed. Post-E.L.O. he moved into production & the rest, or some of it at least, is Wilbury.

So, on May the 17th 1969 The Who released a double album, a concept album, a Rock Opera no less, about a deaf, dumb & blind boy. Pete Townshend had always been interested in the Art of Pop & while he was a master of the 3 minute single was frustrated by its limitations. There had been an attempt to link songs on “A Quick One” in 1966, the jingles & commercials of “The Who Sell Out” gave a great album an entertaining continuity. “Tommy” was to realise Pete’s big idea, he had given it away in interviews & then had to write the music so that the record walked it like he talked it. Recording sessions were interrupted because the Who had to play gigs, they needed the money. Failure was not a option.

Image result for the who tommy albumWe had been given a taste of things to come with the single “Pinball Wizard” in March. Three non-album 45’s had been released in the previous year & however much I liked them there had not been the group’s accustomed commercial success. “Pinball Wizard” is, of course, now a classic & it sounded like one in 1969. It put the Who back on the UK & US charts, the perfect lead-in for the album. “Rock Opera” may have been the tagline of the day but thankfully there was more of the former than the latter. The grand opener “Overture” introduces musical themes to come while confirming that Townshend, Entwistle & Moon were the most imaginative of music’s great power trios (proof of Daltrey’s expanded vocal range came later). The libretto may have been vague in parts but Tommy’s amazing journey struck a chord with a bigger world-wide audience than the Who had ever attracted before. In the summer of 1969 “Tommy” was all the rage.

The Who - Stonehenge Rock Bar - September 1978 - Mini PrintWhatever your opinion on the growing aggrandisement of Rock at this time, an ambition to be more expansive possibly to the detriment of the adrenaline rush of a perfect Pop 45, there’s no doubt that “Tommy” contributed, as Pete intended, to a more serious consideration of popular music. He was just 23 years old when he challenged his developing talent to find a new way to tell a story. None of that old stuff like writing a novel, making a movie or painting a picture but y’know, for the kids. Now, 50 years later, when a shot of the Who’s Maximum R&B is just what you need the Pop Art of the preceding albums can do the trick. The sheer heft of “Live at Leeds” & “Who’s Next” are unmatched while “Quadrophenia” can be considered a more successfully realised “concept” than Pete’s first attempt. If “Tommy” is your selection there will be no reduction in quality.  It’s a great album, a landmark in the development of our music. Here, have another track.

I See Rainbows In The Evening (The Move)

Out here on the perimeter of the Interwebs there is stuff that you hope to one day find but it is probably not going to happen. A personal grail is to discover live footage of the astounding raunchy funk of Ms Betty Davis…yeah,one day. This week I found the 17 year old Alex Chilton singing a Box Tops’ hit in bad, phonetic Italian. Who knew that the Memphis blue-eyed soul boys were so big in the Italian speaking world (that’ll be Italy then !). It’s good, I was not aware of its existence but it is a novelty really. This though is the real deal…as the young people say..WTF !

I have read about the Move’s live performances but by the time they made it into our TVs the rough edges had been smoothed a little. The auto-destruction & pyrotechnics made them rivals to  the Who but, while Ace Kefford & Trevor Burton certainly were  the guys to have by your side in a tight situation, the band went for the pop-psych Roy Wood songs. They were memorable hits, there is a lot of love for the Move among my fellow bloggers & around my F-book karass. So here is the garage-psych of 1966, the mean & moody arsonists leaving an impression & a few scorch marks behind them just as the first single “Night Of Fear” is about to come around.

“Watch Your Step” is just brilliant. An incantation running into a freak out while stuff around the stage burns. Carl Wayne had always, in my view, seemed a little marginalised as Roy stepped forward. Here Carl leads his men over the top, setting about a smoking TV set with a fair-sized axe. Roy is content to whip up a raging feedback somewhere else on the caliginous stage. This is why the Move were considered to be a premier live act at a time when Jimi & the Who were raising the bar for beat group brouhaha. Even Bev Bevan, quiet man/loud drummer, a stalwart of the band, is moved to raise himself from his seat !

Let’s have a bit more then. The next 3 years should have been fun & games for the hit makers. It seems to have been more games than fun. First Ace, after an indulgent tour with Jimi & the Floyd, left as did Burton who complained of a pop bias. The Move spent 1969 playing the UK cabaret circuit a fairy tale…grim… when there was a growing reputation in the US as a rock band. Roy Wood, a quiet man, seemed to put up with it all. His hit songs really are a fine body of work but as late as 1970 the LP “Shazam” was half self-penned, half covers, none of which were singles. When Carl Wayne finally left Wood roped another Brummie, another writer, into the band & the Move, which was a brand with contractual obligations but barely functioning as a group, finally got busy.

Jeff Lynne had been a face on the Birmingham beat scene for some time. His band the Idle Race had come close a few times with some clever Beatles inspired pop. Not close enough, I remember plenty of those 45s but there is not one video clip of the group in action. Having Jeff around inspired Roy Wood to get some songs finished & there was a 2nd LP in 1970. “Looking On”  lacks consistency as some of the songs seem to be experiments rather than a commitment to a new sound. “Brontosaurus” put the Move back in the Top 10 but the  bluesy “When Alice Comes Back To The Farm” , just one of the directions investigated by the band, missed out even though it is a superior bit of work.

There was one more Move LP & there is plenty of good musicfon “Message From the Country”. Wood & Lynne were set on their Electric Light Orchestra project. I think that Roy felt that the Move could not make the change & Lynne was not going to let this second chance go. E.L.O. was not a joint concern for too long. It seemed that Wood just gave it away, retreating behind the hair, make-up &  the Spectoresque rock & roll of Wizzard. The later work of the Move is substantial enough. I have thought about checking for the subsequent work of Jeff Lynne but I have heard a couple of E.L.O. songs & life is too short for that.

This last clip though is not one of the last 4 singles the band released. It goes back to the original 5 giving it loads to sell the 2nd single on French TV. They were smart young Mods who were not wrecking the joint. Carl looks as if he is in another band entirely with no idea about the lyrics he is singing. Ace & Trevor are the naughty boys while Roy is almost hiding behind them, not even bothering to lip-synch his parts & Bev hits some stuff. The song, “I Can Hear The Grass Grow” is an absolute powerpop-psych classic. Lovely stuff.