Was there ever a song from the seventies that you secretly liked but knew you could never ever tell anyone about ? I think after 50 years I can come clean.
It was August 1972 and I was on the verge of manhood at the age of fourteen.
The radio was on in the background and I heard the dulcet tones of a brass band playing a short intro. Hardly rock ‘n roll. Mum must have changed the channel to Radio 2 as I normally had it tuned to Radio 1.
A soft voice, more a husky whisper, and a sparse piano accompaniment talking about leaving a dance. More Hoagy Carmichael or a northern Noel Coward, than Bolan or Bowie. No wailing guitar or four on the floor back beat.
Now the chorus ‘You’re a lady, I’m a man’. You don’t say. That’s original. In come the brass band again. That mellifluous euphonium and cornet give me a bit of a flutter though.
Crescendo. Slowly getting louder. It’s only a soppy love song John.
Back to the pleading voice and the scant piano. I must admit it’s all a bit melancholy.
Now the bold brass and the coursing chorus – and a choir. No not a choir! Strap yourself to the mast John. Don’t be dashed on the rocks with this siren song.
Rallentando. Slowing down. A bit of a reprieve. No, here we go again. Bringing out the big brass. Cranking up the choir. My bottom lip’s beginning to quiver. Hold on, there can’t be much more of this.
Flourished octaves up and down the keyboard. It’s Liberace with a cloth cap and whippet. Watch t’ candelabra ! I wur oop aw’ night polishing that !
It’s too much. The floodgates have opened. Pass me the Handy Andys.
It’s the Hovis advert, wet cobblestones and Lowry pictures all rolled into one and I’m a sucker for it.
IF there was any justice in the world, I’d be sitting in my plush 30-roomed mansion this Christmas surrounded by the trappings of untold wealth.
But there’s not…and I’m not.
So where did it all go wrong? Well, I’m blaming several unscrupulous record company A&R types who snaffled five original Christmas songs I’d sent them, gave them a tweak and passed them off as their own.
I’ll be the first to admit my song-writing showed signs of immaturity, but I can put that down to, erm, being immature.
I penned my batch of Christmas tunes as a teenager back in the early 1970s and sent them off to all the big record companies in the hope of getting them recorded.
I never heard anything back, not so much as a rejection slip. Ever since then I’ve suffered in silence as, one by one, the songs have gone on to be huge festive hits worth squillions of pounds.
Not a penny has come my way in royalties down the years and those wounds run deep. Angry? Yep. Bitter? You betcha.
Now I’m not saying these hit songs are exact replicas of the ones I wrote, but there are more than enough similarities to suspect an element of plagiarism is involved.
Anyway, I’ll lay out the facts as I see them for my original songs and let you decide for yourselves.
Slept In To Christmas
Back story: This was my first ever attempt at writing a song and the inspiration was my paranoiac fear of missing out on my Christmas tips by sleeping in for my paper round. I’d knocked my pan in all year, hadn’t shirked a single shift and was relying on the gratuities to pay for Christmas pressies. The lyrics bounce between my thoughts and those of my customers, but I thought it worked well.
Favourite lyric: Welcome to my Christmas song, I’d like to thank you for the year, So I’m leaving you this Christmas tip, To say it’s nice to have you deliver here.
Little Plumber Boy
Back story: A mate of mine had just landed a job as an apprentice plumber and told me how his time-served mentor would always hum away to songs on the radio without knowing the words. This is where the pa-rum-pum-pum-pum part of the song comes in. When I sent off the tune to the record companies I even suggested it should be a double act of an old crooner and a young rock legend.
Favourite lyric:Come they told me pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, A U-bend leak to see pa-rum-pum-pum-pum, Our finest tools we bring pa-rum-pum-pum-pum
Back story: This one came about after one particular Christmas Day when I somehow squeezed in two dinners – one with my family and the other at my girlfriend’s. I was so bloated when dessert came around for the second time that I handed over my serving to my girlfriend. It was intended to be some sort of love token, but it went down like a lead balloon. The whole experience made me think seriously about fasting at Christmas.
Favourite lyric:Fast Christmas I gave you lime tart, But the very next day you gave it away, This year, to save me from tears, I’ll give you some Tartan Special
All I Want For Christmas Is Yule (Log)
Back story: I had long since abandoned any thoughts of fasting by the following Christmas mainly thanks to my mum’s baking prowess. She knocked out a home-made chocolate Yule log to die for and I was smitten enough to write a song about it.
Favourite lyric:I just want you for my own, More than you could ever know, Make my chocolate wish come true, All I want for Christmas is Yule.
Sherry Xmas Everybody
Back story: This was inspired by my grandma who was tee-total all year round but would let her hair down on Christmas Day by having a wee sherry or two. The challenge for us grandkids was to prise her glass away – no mean feat, I can tell you – hold it up for all to see and say: “Whose sherry is this?” Then we’d all shout: “It’s grandmaaaaaa’s”. I even made this the intro to my song as a tribute.
Favourite lyric:Does your granny always tell ya, That Cockburn’s is the best, Then she’s up and drinking Rolling Rock with the rest.
I can’t help feeling I’ve been stiffed and wish I’d known something – anything, in fact – about copyright laws back then. Who knows? It might have been kerchingle bells for me.
Mmm..I feel another song coming on.
(Post by George Cheyne from Glasgow – December 2022)
Russ Stewart (of this parish) knows a thing or two about music so when he says the blistering guitar solo at the end of the The Carpenter’s “Goodbye to Love” is every bit as good as anything 70s heavyweights, Clapton, Beck, et al, have produced, then it’s worth considering.
The only issue is that 99% of us would have no idea who the soloist on the Carpenters track was.
Actually the player in question goes by the name of Tony Peluso, who at the time was a guitarist with a little known band called Instant Joy. Richard Carpenter wanted to add some fuzz-guitar to a track he was recording called “Goodbye to Love” and had been impressed when seeing Tony live, so he invited him to play on the session and was so taken with the result that he became part of the Carpenters band.
When you get into it, the world is awash with great solos and contributions from musicians that fly so low under the radar that you need to carry out a deep-dive to unearth them.
Take the excellent guitar work by Amos Garrett on Maria Muldaur’s sultry one-hit-wonder “Midnight at the Oasis”. Listed as one of Jimmy Page’s favourite guitarists, Garrett has played with Stevie Wonder and Todd Rundgren as well as releasing several albums of his own. His solo on Muldaur’s hit is often referenced and is considered by many musician’s to be a classic, but he’s not exactly a household name.
Similarly, Elliott Randall is another hired hand who’s intro and guitar work on Steely Dan’s “Reeling In The Years” is the stuff of legend. Randall preferred to stay out of the spotlight, turning down invites to join Steely Dan as well as Toto, and even said no when he was offered the musical director gig for the Blues Brothers project. Randall spends a lot of time in the UK now and can often be seen playing in pubs just for the fun of it.
As always, axe-men get most of the glory but they’re not the only players who can steal the show….
Unless you’re a big Rolling Stones fan the name Bobby Keys may not mean anything to you, but you’ll be familiar with his work – he’s the guy playing the raspy saxophone solos on hits like “Brown Sugar” and “Miss You”.
Keys, a Texan, was born on the same day as Richards and was best man at Jagger’s wedding, and apart from a brief period in the 70s he remained an integral part of the Stones inner sanctum until his death in 2014. When he wasn’t on the road or in the studio with The Stones, Keys was an in-demand session player, featuring on albums by George Harrison, Joe Cocker and John Lennon where his sax playing on “Whatever Gets You Thru The Night” is immense.
Thick as thieves with Keith Richards, Keys was sacked by Jagger in the mid 70s, when he found he’d filled a hotel bathtub with Dom Perignon and drank most of it leaving the band with a heftier than normal room service bill. Keith managed to bring his old drinking buddy back into the fold once Jagger had calmed down though.
Staying with horn players, David Sanborn is another saxophonist with a mountain of credits including some unique solos that you will definitely have heard. It’s his distinctive alto-sax you can hear on David Bowie’s “Young Americans”, The Eagle’s “The Sad Cafe” and Stevie Wonders “Tuesday Heartbreak”. Sanborn has carved out a decent solo career and alongside Tom Scott and the Brecker Brothers, he was the go-to horn player for most of the big recording sessions in the 70s.
(John Allan wrote a great piece on Tom Scott that you can find using this link… Tom Scott)
Not renowned for their solos, even bass players can get in on the act every now and again.
Probably the most recognisable bass line in popular music was released almost 50 years to the day. It was written and played by Herbie Flowers a veteran English session player who doubled up with an electric bass and a double bass to get the sound he wanted for Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side”. Instead of getting a writing credit for producing one of the best song intros of all time, Flowers received a flat fee of £17.
Another bass solo that’s not so well known but just as distinct and striking was constructed and played by a young Anthony Jackson at a recording session for the O’Jays “For The Love Of Money” in 1974. This song’s always been a favourite of mine but to be honest I didn’t learn till recently that the intro to this funk classic was actually played on the bass. Jackson who started off in Billy Paul’s band has gone on to have a long and fruitful career as a top session player featuring on albums by Steely Dan, George Benson and Paul Simon. His contribution to the O’Jays hit was so profound however that he actually received a writing credit from Gamble & Huff, and they didn’t hand those out lightly.
Jackson was one of the lucky ones, a lot of 70s session guys never got credited even though they were helping to create platinum albums whilst being paid a set hourly rate.
So, the next time you hear an amazing solo or a great piece of playing spare a thought for the unsung hero who got a measly £17 for creating a piece of magic.
I did a piece recently on Santana’s version of The Zombies ‘She’s not There’, and someone followed up by asking what my favourite 70s cover version is.
I tend to go with my gut reaction on these type of things otherwise you end up trawling through your music library, second guessing yourself and choosing songs on the basis that they have a bit of street-cred.
My initial pick was a song I first heard at my local youth club, although I have to admit that I wasn’t even aware it was a cover version at the time – Matthews Southern Comfort’s version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’.
On reflection, I decided that I couldn’t choose the Joni cover, because at its core, the definition of a great cover has got to be when an artist takes a song you’re already familiar with, puts their stamp on it, and makes it even more listenable than the original.
That helped me to narrow it down to my next gut choice – Billy Paul’s version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ .
I can remember the first time I heard this track like it was yesterday, I’d come back from a party as you did in those days, to the realisation the morning after, that half your records were missing, replaced with other peoples discs…. the time honoured tradition of writing your name on the record label or cover seemed to make no difference and searching in vain for your Roxy Music – ‘Pyjamarama’ single only to pull out ‘Paper Roses’ by Marie Osmond was to put it mildly – a real pisser!
As it happened, following this particular party I ended up with someone else’s copy of Billy Paul’s ‘Me and Mrs Jones’ and noticed that the B side contained a version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. Out of curiosity and with extremely low expectations, I put the needle on the groove, and then sat transfixed for six and a half minutes as a euphonious masterpiece emitted from the speakers.
It was hard to describe what I was listening to. It was definitely ‘Your Song’, but not as I knew it.
Part Jazz, part Gospel, part Philly sound, It was a musical feast which had to be played again…. and again…. and a few more times after that.
I was dumbfounded, Billy Paul was a crooner, the married dude who was meeting Mrs Jones ‘every day in the same cafe‘ what was he doing ambushing me like this… with a fricking Elton John ballad?
I remember marching down to my mate Jay’s house armed with the single getting him to close his eyes as I lined it up on his record player to make him listen to it.
Jay and I had similar tastes in music but were constantly trying to outdo each other when it came to presenting new tracks. I needed to introduce him to this musical extravaganza as a matter of priority AND be there to gauge his response.
Apparently gauging first responses to 70s songs is a YouTube phenomenon at the moment but we were all doing it 50 years ago.
I never get tired of listening to Billy Paul’s version of ‘Your Song’, even now. It runs for 6 minutes 36 seconds but every time it comes to the faded ending I just want it to keep playing.
It’s a classic example of an early Gamble & Huff production driven by Billy Paul’s Jazz-infused vocals and the full might of the MFSB Philly session players, who’ve played on everything from ‘Love Train’ to ‘Disco Inferno’.
So there you have it, my favourite 70s cover. It may not be the coolest, but it’s my choice and like Billy Paul says, he definitely ‘got a song!’
Of course there are lots of honourable mentions when it comes to great 70s covers so I threw together a quick playlist where in all cases (*bar one) the cover versions are better (in my humble opinion) than the originals.
*It’s a universal fact that it’s impossible to improve on any Steely Dan track….
You’re stranded on a desert island and you’ve found a washed up solar-chargeable iPod that contains 3 albums in the audio section.
As luck would have it, they’re your three favourite albums… What are they?
(NB – no ‘Best Of’s, ‘Compilations’ or Box Sets allowed).
My criteria was to choose albums that I rarely get tired of listening to, that include a selection of songs with thought provoking lyrics, mood enhancing melodies and good grooves.
On top of that they need to be ‘all killer and no filler’. I ain’t got no time to be skipping songs, I’ve got fish to catch, stars to gaze at and a raft to construct….. which is gonna take a bit of time because I was crap at woodwork at school!
Album #1 – Songs in The Key Of Life: Stevie Wonder
For a start, it’s a double album (with a bonus EP) so I’m getting more bang for my buck, but if quantity rather than quality’s your thing, you can always choose ELP’s six-sided ‘Welcome Back My Friends’…. particularly if you’re partial to the excruciating sound of a wounded Moog synthesiser and you’re a fan of a drum solo or six.
Two years in the making, Stevie’s 1976 opus is the perfect union of quality & quantity and represents his finest moment, which is saying something when you consider his run of albums leading up to ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ – ‘Talking Book’, ‘Innervisions’ & ‘Fulfillingness First Finale’.
In the mid 70’s Wonder was awash with ideas and was producing material not only for himself but for artists like Rufus, Minnie Ripperton, Syreeta, The Supremes and Roberta Flack. Due to his copious output ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ soon developed into a double album.
Including the bonus EP there are 21 tracks on ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ and apart from the saccharine sweet ‘Isn’t She Lovely’ I could happily play the album on a loop. It helps that there are a host of musical styles on the record… from the big-band funk of ‘Sir Duke’ to the hypnotic orchestration on ‘Pastime Paradise’.
I’ve always been blown-away by the fact that Stevie played most of the instruments on his 70’s albums himself, (particularly the drums, check out Superstition), but he breaks with tradition here and it unquestionably works.
You’ll find Herbie Hancock displaying his ubiquitous keyboard talents on ‘As’, whilst George Benson exhibits his distinctive guitar and scat vocal style on ‘Another Star’….. memorable cameos that elevate the album to another level.
Stevie never recaptured the magic of ‘Songs In The Key of Life’ which I’m not sure was humanly possible anyway. The album won four grammy’s, sold ten million copies in the US alone and was a number one album across the globe.
Album #2 – Aja: Steely Dan
When I listen to Steely Dan I often think of a quote credited to the late, great music journalist Ian McDonald who made the following introduction on reviewing the ‘Gaucho‘ album….
“Crassness is contagious. Fortunately, so is intelligence – which is why listening to Steely Dan is good for you”.
In truth I could easily have picked three Steely Dan albums, therefore narrowing it down to one is something of a ‘Sophies choice’.
Sonically it doesn’t get much better than Aja and it’s no coincidence that the album is consistently favoured by audiophiles, who still use it to check out the latest audio equipment on the scene.
Despite their excellent canon of work it can be argued that this was the bands pinnacle…. an example of the final product being greater than the sum of its parts, and the sum of its parts in this case were pretty awesome.
Also, if you’re looking for thought provoking lyrics then Steely Dan’s cryptic, ironic themes are a big part of their schtick, having a bit of down-time on this island will enable me to work some of them out at last.
Aja consists of seven great tracks, including the immaculate ‘Deacon Blue’ and the pertinent ‘Home at Last’, a song about exile inspired by Homer’s Odyssey.
Well the danger on the rocks is surely past Still I remain tied to the mast Could it be that I have found my home at last Home at last
Album #3 – AWB by The Average White Band
By autumn 1974 my record collection was starting to look a bit different- The album section was still dominated by white blokes with long hair like Zep, The Who, Bad Company, etc but the singles section was reflecting what I was hearing in nightclubs and bars – Barry White, Gil Scot-Heron, the Philly Sound, etc.
It’s somewhat ironic then that one of my favourite bands turned out to be a bunch of white blokes with long hair who just happened to be soul and funk masters from down the road.
Like most people, when I first heard ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ I assumed it was The JB’s or another American funk band, so it came as a shock to discover that there was a Hamish, a Molly and an Onnie in the group.
I bought the AWB ‘white album’ as much for the provocatively brilliant cover art as anything else…. then I got home put it on my trusty Sanyo music centre and played it so much that it had to be industrially removed from the turntable.
In truth it was like nothing I’d heard before, the music defied definition, white blokes from Scotland just weren’t supposed to sound as good as The Ohio Players or The Isley Brothers.
The sessions for the album were marshalled by Arif Mardin, the legendary Aretha Franklin producer whose deft touch was all over the record.
On reflection, it was a perfect storm…. a hungry band with great songs, immense talent and a master at the helm.
AWB would go on to make many more fine albums but the ‘white album’ is undoubtedly their masterpiece.
So that’s my three albums…. well today anyway!
Of course I could wake up tomorrow and add Court & Spark by Joni Mitchell or Dark Side of the Moon or Bowie’s Station to Station, depending on what mood I’m in, but I’m pretty happy with the three I chose… well today anyway!
Next time we’ll check out the video section of the iPod….