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Paul Fitzpatrick: July 2022, London
I went to see Baz Luhman’s ‘ELVIS’ recently, Austin Butler, the guy who plays Elvis is incredible in the role.
Tom Hanks hammy portrayal of Colonel Tom Parker aside, it’s a pretty spectacular piece of cinema.
Growing up in the 60s and 70s, big Gordon Ross, a one-man Elvis fan-club who would turn the volume up to the max whenever an Elvis song came on the radio, was the only Elvis fan I knew – to the majority of us The King just wasn’t relevant.
It was understandable really, in the early 70s we still saw Presley through the lens of his lame 60s movies, whilst the ensuing Vegas circus-act of the seventies wasn’t too appealing either.
He may have been The King to some but poor Elvis didn’t stand a chance with our generation against the Jagger’s, Plant’s or Bowie’s.
On reflection, we were too young to appreciate what a pioneer Elvis had once been, and we weren’t to know that with no Elvis, or for that matter no Chuck Berry (pre ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ of course) there would probably have been no Jagger, Plant or Bowie anyway.
Our lack of awareness also blind-sided us to the fact that there was a moment in time when Elvis re-invented himself musically and made some quality recordings that deserved our respect.
By the late 60s Elvis had become sick of the cheesy formulaic movies he was contracted to churn out, his ambition to be the new James Dean thwarted early on by Manager/Svengali – Colonel Tom Parker, who always went for the quick buck.
The contract that Parker had seduced a teenage Presley into signing ensured he would pocket 50% of Elvis’s earnings.
Parker also had a colossal gambling habit to support so long-term planning was never part of his strategy.
The turning-point came in 1968 when Elvis decided to return to making the music he loved which was R&B, Gospel & Country.
The Trojan-Horse for this musical comeback would be a corny Xmas NBC Special promoted by Parker.
Parker had envisaged Elvis singing a medley of seasonal ditties around a Xmas tree, surrounded by kids whilst promoting a range of Xmas sweaters, but a reinvigorated Elvis had other ideas.
Clad head to toe in black leather and assisted musically by his original Memphis band of brothers, the ‘68 Special‘ as it became known, showcased Elvis as a contemporary artist and told his life story in music.
Instead of singing a Christmas carol at the finale as initiated by Parker, Elvis debuted a new song, a tribute to his friend, the recently assassinated Martin Luther King called ‘If I Can Dream’, a peach of a song showcasing Presley’s vocal powers, that would go on to give Presley his first top 10 hit in years.
Energised by the positive reaction to the ‘68 Special‘ and motivated to pursue the music he loved, Elvis headed off to Memphis’s own American Sound Studios to work with renowned producer Chip Moman on his next project – From Elvis In Memphis, an album that would include his first number one for many years ‘Suspicious Minds‘.
‘Suspicious Minds’, my all time favourite Elvis track, was written by Mark James who also wrote ‘Always On My Mind‘.
James had initially recorded ‘Suspicious Minds’ for himself, but it tanked, so when Elvis came to town Chips Moman played him the track which Elvis loved, and it became the last track they recorded for the session.
There was a problem though, Colonel Tom Parker only permitted tracks to be released that Elvis (and he) got a percentage of publishing royalties on – even though Elvis had no input in the writing process.
When Parker’s team approached Moman with the ‘offer he supposedly couldn’t refuse’ his response was….
“You can take your f…ing tapes, and you and your whole group can get the hell out of my studio. Don’t ask me for something that belongs to me. I’m not going to give it to you.”
In the end, Elvis had to intervene to tell Parker that he loved the song and wanted it released regardless of any publishing issues.
Suspicious Minds was a platinum selling single which garnered critical acclaim but that made no difference to Parker who never forgot the publishing rights dispute and put the kibosh on Elvis ever working with Chips Moman again – despite the fact Elvis had just made his best and most successful album for many a year.
Now that Elvis had turned his back on movies The Colonel had to find other ways to milk his cash cow and focused instead on Presley’s return to music and touring.
After the critical and commercial success of From Elvis In Memphis, RCA and Parker would cash in by releasing 23 Elvis albums in the next 4 years, including a Christmas album – The Colonel always got his way.
With such prolific output, quality control as you can imagine, was lacking, but there were still a few classic Elvis moments in there – ‘Burning Love’, ‘It’s Only Love’, ‘In The Ghetto’ and ‘I Just Can’t Help Believing’ – a few of the diamonds that could still be found amongst the rough.
Elvis who’d wanted to take his live show overseas, instead got tied into an exhaustive Vegas residency at the International hotel on the Las Vegas strip.
He would later learn that Colonel Tom Parker was actually an illegal (Dutch) immigrant with no passport. Therefore, if Parker ever left the US he wouldn’t be allowed to return and he wasn’t about to let Presley, his prized asset, out of his sight.
The ‘68 Special‘ and From Elvis In Memphis should have been a creative springboard for Elvis, it was a period where he wanted to get back to making the kind of music he loved, tour overseas and take back control of his career, but he never could free himself from The Colonel’s iron grip and the contract he’d signed as a teenager.
By 1970, Elvis had already been pimped out to Vegas by The Colonel and in December 1976, an exhausted Elvis played his 837th and final show at the International Hotel.
Elvis Aaron Presley would die aged 42 in 1977, in poor health, strung out on a cocktail of tranquillisers, barbiturates and amphetamines, however his legacy lives on and new generations are finding out that there are quite a few gems in The King’s back catalogue…. however, none shine quite as bright as ‘Suspicious Minds‘
Paul Fitzpatrick: July 2022, London
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….
Paul Fitzpatrick: July 2022, London.
This is about a British band formed 60 years ago, who are still performing today and who aren’t The Stones or The Who.
It’s about musicians that have flown under the radar for most of their career but who have also produced moments of real quality and cultural significance along the way.
The Zombies came to life in 1961, five music-obsessed school chums who sang as choristers at the local abbey.
As it turns out, the Abbey in question is in Saint Albans which has been my home town for nearly 40 years, and to remind everyone of the bands cultural significance to the city there’s a blue plaque outside the Blacksmith Arms pub where the lads first got together over 60 years ago.
Saint Albans is proud of The Zombies and there are plenty of old hippies dotted around the pubs of the cathedral city who’ll tell you that they were there to see the band make its debut performance.
To showcase the bands feats I’ve chosen 4 tracks from 4 different points in their musical journey……
1) ‘She’s Not There’ by The Zombies and Santana.
The Zombies were a pretty big deal in the 60’s, their career bookended by two massive hits, the first of which ended up being a lifeline for another iconic 60’s band……
‘She’s Not There’ was the Zombie’s debut single and was a global hit topping the charts from America to Japan, the song also holds the distinction of being the second British number one in America after The Beatles ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’
Written by Rod Argent the bands keyboard player, his trademark Hohner electric piano and Colin Blunstone’s wistful vocals were the key components that the Zombies signature sound would be built around.
‘She’s Not There’ was one of those songs I’d catch on the family transistor radio and make a mental note of liking when I was a kid, but it got tucked away in the recesses until I heard the Carlos Santana version in 1977.
I immediately liked the Santana rendition because it stayed true to the original even down to the melancholy vocals (of Greg Walker), however it wouldn’t have been Santana if it didn’t feature a bit of on-brand latin percussion and Les Paul shredding, which of course it did, and this is what transformed it from a 60’s analogue classic to a Santana anthem.
The song proved to be the catalyst for a welcome and much needed Santana revival after the band had seen their popularity diminish from the early 70’s, a decline even the bands exquisite album art couldn’t arrest.
The Moonflower album the track was lifted from would be Santanas biggest seller for 30 years and helped the band regain momentum.
2) ‘Hold Your Head Up’ by Argent.
I knew all about Argent the band before I realised Rod Argent was chief Zombie in crime.
I knew this because his band Argent and this song were smack bang in the middle of my musical sweet spot in 1972.
Rod Argent had formed his self-titled band as soon as the Zombies broke up in 1968 teaming up with another local lad, Russ Ballard, who would sing lead vocals on this track.
We all loved a guitar hero but a funny thing happened on the way to the Forum in the early 70s and guys like Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Jon Lord started to muscle their way into the rock-god scene with their elaborate banks of keyboards and dexterous solo’s that could take up the side of an album.
Rod Argent was one such keyboard virtuoso and with ‘Hold Your Head Up’ he unveiled the radio friendly version of prog-rock. A keyboard-heavy track that found it’s way onto TOTP and into the top 20.
Argent would go on to have three top 40 hits including the Ballard penned ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’ later adopted and made famous by KISS.
3) ‘I Don’t Believe in Miracles’ by Colin Blunstone
Like many 60’s bands The Zombies imploded over management and financial issues, and despite the commercial success of having two number one’s in America, Blunstone had to find work as an insurance clerk for a period before embarking on a solo career.
His old mucker Rod Argent came to Blunstone’s aid, encouraging him to record his 1971 debut album which spawned the hit single ‘Say You Don’t Mind’, a track written for him by Denny Laine who had just formed a band called Wings with some geezer by the name of Paul McCartney.
Blunstone’s second album, released in 1972 featured the song ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles‘ written & produced by Argent’s new partner in crime – Russ Ballard.
Ballard would leave Argent in 1974 to pursue a solo career and to focus on writing hits like ‘Free Me, for Roger Daltrey, ‘Since You’ve Been Gone’ for Rainbow, and just to showcase his versatility, ‘So You Win Again‘ for Hot Chocolate.
Released in 1973 at the peak of Glam Rock, ‘I Don’t Believe In Miracles‘ was only a minor hit but it became Blunstone’s signature tune and kept his distinctive vocals on the airwaves.
It’s a song I remember well despite its lack of airplay, and I can proudly say that I contributed to its chart position by purchasing a copy from Woolworths as a gift for a girls birthday.
Unfortunately, the record she wanted, Python Lee Jackson’s ‘In a Broken Dream’ wasn’t in stock, so I plumped for something similarly melancholy!
4) ‘Time of the Season’ by The Zombies
In 1967, the summer of love, The Zombies recorded their last album, except there wasn’t a lot of love in the room and the band split before the album was formally released in April 1968.
Finances and record company control were at the centre of the disharmony and things came to a head when Blunstone snapped on the recording of a new Rod Argent song ‘Time of the Season’, which ironically would go on to give the band their biggest hit.
After they split, a fake Zombies touring band was put together in America by the record company to cash in on the bands chart success. Two of whose members, Frank Beard and Dusty Hill would go on to form ZZ Top.
After various band and solo activities in the 70s The Zombies eventually got together again for projects and reunions through the 80s and 90s and formally reunited in 2001.
They have been together ever since.
In 2019, The Zombies with four of the original five band-members still involved, were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, coincidentally, performing live at the event 50 years to the day that ‘Time of the Season‘ had been number one in America in 1969.
So there you have it…. let’s hear it for a band that no one talks about, that have been going for the best part of sixty years, who have been feted by the likes of Paul Weller and Kurt Cobain and who are likely to be appearing at a venue near you soon….
Paul Fitzpatrick: London, June 2022
In 1971, when Bill Withers, already in his thirties, recorded his signature tune, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, he was still gainfully employed in a factory making toilets for Boeing 747’s.
Withers who grew up with a debilitating stutter had only picked up the guitar a few years earlier. Inspired to play after attending a Lou Rawls gig, he was impressed that the soul star could collect a $2,000 fee for 90 min’s work, as well as having his pick of the attractive female fans in attendance.
Driven to change his life for the better, Withers bought a second hand guitar from a pawn shop, taught himself to play and started writing his own songs.
He saved up to make a rough demo which he hawked around LA until an independent label recognised his talent and hooked him up with producer Booker T. Jones (from Booker T & the MG’s fame) to record his first album.
Withers, who at this point had never set foot in a recording studio was intimidated by the environment and the established session players assembled, and on the first day of recording ambled up to Booker T to ask him who was going to be singing the songs he’d written.
“You are” replied Booker T.
Unnerved, and out of his comfort zone, Withers found it tough to relax until Graham Nash who was at the sessions, encouraged Withers to chill-out and bolstered his confidence by telling him that ‘he had no idea just how good he was‘.
Armed with a notebook of all the songs he’d written to this point, 10 tracks were selected and the album was recorded in a few short sessions. The picture on the album sleeve was taken during a lunch break at the toilet factory, Withers posing lunch box in hand.
One of the songs on the album, ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’, had been inspired by a movie Withers had watched on TV called ‘Days of Wine & Roses’, starring Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick about a doomed relationship.
The song was actually unfinished and a verse short when he came to record it so as a vocal placeholder Withers spent the entire 3rd verse repeating the words ”I know”, however, when they heard the end result they liked it so much that they kept it as is.
As the album’s stand out track it was released as the debut single, winning the 1972 Grammy for the best R&B song and propelling Withers into the mainstream.
The song crossed over, storming the pop charts, and when it went gold on its way to selling a million copies, Withers was presented with a gold toilet seat by his record label, as a symbol of how far he’d come in such a short space of time.
Withers next album released a year later, was primarily made up of songs from his notebook that hadn’t made it onto the first album, and included two top 10 hits, ‘Lean On Me’ and ‘Use Me’ .
Withers would go on to record six more albums and win another two Grammy’s.
In 1988 I was fortunate enough to see Bill Withers in concert at the Hammersmith Odeon. I was immediately taken by how relaxed and engaging he was, sharing stories between songs and charming the audience.
He ran through all his classics, was note perfect, and it all seemed so effortless to him.
As we watched him perform with the audience in the palm of his hand, we had no idea that this would be his last tour and one of his last ever live performances.
He would drop out of the music scene soon after; weary of record label constraint’s, and frustrated that they spent more budget and energy promoting a novelty album by Mr T from The A Team than his latest work.
Withers was nominated to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015 and although he attended he didn’t perform, instead, asking his friend Stevie Wonder to perform ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’ while he sat by his side.
The song has become a standard and there are of course multiple cover versions from Herb Alpert to UFO but two of the best are live performances that have been captured on camera.
The aforementioned Stevie Wonder’s performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and an Unplugged version by Paul McCartney with Hamish Stuart of the Average White Band on vocals and McCartney on drums.
Bill Withers passed away in 2020, aged 81, but his legacy and his signature song live on.
Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
Selected 70s hits from across the pond
If like me you thought ‘Horse With No Name’ must have been written under a star-kissed New Mexico sky by a young troubadour then you’d only be half right.
It was actually written in a London bedsit and recorded at the home of Arthur Brown (yes, him of “Fire, I’ll take you to burn“) by Dewey Bunnell who was one third of a trio who imaginatively called themselves America because they were the sons of American servicemen stationed in Britain.
By 1971, the band still in their teens, had already released their debut album without much success and were packed off to Arthur Browns home-studio in Dorset by Warner Brothers with the brief to come up with a hit single.
Inspired by Salvador Dali paintings of surrealist deserts and fuelled with memories of growing up as airforce brats on military bases in Arizona and New Mexico. Early versions of the track were titled ‘Desert Song’ with Bunnell realising that the desert symbolised the tranquility he was searching for whilst the horse represented the means to reach this tranquility.
Released in December 1971, the song dovetailed perfectly with the singer-songwriter vibe of the time, which no doubt helped it to race up the UK charts, early January 72.
On the back of the songs European success, the bands debut album was re-issued to include the single and by March of that year, both the single and the album had reached the respective number one spots in the US charts, catapulting them to instant fame.
So far so good, but this rookie band and their mellow ‘soft-rock’ anthem would hit a few speed bumps along the way to the top of the charts.
On initial hearing, a large majority of people thought they were actually listening to Neil Young and when they realised it was a bunch of rookies mimicking their idol it resulted in a backlash from Neil’s loyal army of fans.
As fate would have it when the song eventually did get to number one, the record it knocked off the top perch was, you’ve guessed it, Young’s ‘Heart of Gold’.
(get it up ye Neil!)
Neil and his followers were far from happy that he’d been trumped by these young imposters, but to be fair, Bunnell never hid his admiration for Young and admitted that he’d always been a big influence on the band.
Apart from the accusation of plagiarism, the band also had to fend off allegations that the song contained sinister undertones, namely that the ‘Horse’ in the song, was a (not so subtle) reference to heroin.
Accused of promoting narcotics, radio stations in Kansas banned the song due to this misplaced reasoning.
Then, if that wasn’t enough, at a time when Bob Dylan’s verbal dexterity was the benchmark for troubadours, the band came under fire from critics and fellow artists alike… (step forward Randy Newman), for the simplistic nature of the songs lyrics…..
“There were plants and birds and rocks and things“
In his defence Bunnell explained that he was a teenager when he wrote the song in a mates bedsit and it was completed in under two hours as the lyrics and melody just came to him, as if he’d awakened from a dream.
Before starting this piece I wasn’t aware of any cover versions of note until I discovered that Michael Jackson had sampled the main acoustic riff from the song for a track released posthumously, called ‘A Place With No Name’.
It’s actually worth a listen, the trademark MJ grunts and yelps combined with the original two-chord backing track shouldn’t really work, and maybe they don’t, but it’s an interesting coming together.
This of course wasn’t the first time a Jackson family member had sampled a track by the band.
Janet Jackson also sampled America and their song ‘Ventura Highway‘ several years earlier on her platinum hit – ‘Someone To Call My Lover‘
No wonder Dewey Bunnell is worth a few quid!
Like a lot of classic 70s songs the popularity of ‘Horse With No Name’ has endured and finds new audiences with every generation.
As a recent example, who can forget the viral video of the young Amsterdam couple interpreting the song in their own way during the recent lockdown….
Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
Selected 70s hits from across the pond
She’s Gone by Daryl Hall & John Oates
I can remember the first time I heard this song….
It was on an overnight coach journey from Glasgow to Blackpool for the September weekend in 1974. The lights on the coach were dimmed and the sax solo and wah-wah guitar seeped into my consciousness as I was entering that transitional stage from wakefulness to sleep
I went to buy the single as soon as I could but on the advice of the record store I ended up buying the album, ‘Abandoned Luncheonette,’ as it featured an unedited version of the song.
That turned out to be one of my smarter decision as it’s still a favourite to this day.
Despite high hopes the single and album sank without trace and Hall & Oates disappeared from the scene.
You can’t keep a good duo down however, and they came storming back in 76 with a stunning blue-eyed soul classic called ‘Sara Smile’ which would become a mega hit for them in the US.
On the back of this new found success, ‘She’s Gone’ was dusted down and re-released, and started to get the airplay and credit it deserved, becoming their next big hit.
The song, co-written by the duo was inspired by a New Years Eve date that never happened when John Oates got stood up and returned to his New York apartment alone and despondent, but with an idea for a song.
The resultant track and album was produced by the legendary Atlantic producer, Arif Mardin who’s credits include Aretha Franklyn, The Average White Band, George Benson, Chaka Khan, Carly Simon, Donny Hathaway and The Bee Gees.
If the song deserves high praise then it’s fair to say that the home-made promotional clip they made to support it in 1973 is not in the same league.
To put it in context the video was the duo’s two-finger response to their home town Philadelphia’s version of Top Of The Pops, and a request by them to lip-synch to the song during a live studio performance.
Aggrieved at the thought, Hall & Oates made their excuses, cut the home made video in an afternoon and sent the clip to the show.
On viewing the video the show refused to play it and were so offended by its content that they banned Philly natives, Hall & Oates from ever appearing on the show again, whilst also trying their damnedest to get the song banned from every radio station in Philly.
The video features Hall & Oates, their road manager and Sara Allen, Hall’s girlfriend at the time and the very same Sara from ‘Sara Smile’.
There are a few decent covers of ‘She’s Gone’, including a Lou Rawls version, but the best known is by the American soul/disco band, Tavares who’s version provided them with their big breakthrough hit in 1974.
In fact, when Hall & Oates re-released their original version of ‘She’s Gone’ two years later in 1976, most people complimented them on a great cover of a Tavares song!
Hall and Oates never looked back and would go on to become the most successful duo of all time with six number ones, eclipsing Simon and Garfunkel and the Carpenters.
Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
Selected 70s hits from across the pond
I can’t claim to be religious but the odd times I do attend the Lord’s house for weddings, funerals or christenings, I generally struggle with the words to hymns, except for one.
Probably, like most people from my era, I’m not sure I even realised that ‘Morning Has Broken’ was a hymn before it became a pop song by Cat Stevens 40 years later.
The hymns lyrics written by English author and poet Eleanor Farjeon in 1931 were set to a traditional Scottish folk song called Bunessan, after a village of the same name on the isle of Mull.
The songs positive message was ‘to give thanks for each day’ and it was added to the updated hymnbook or ‘Songs of Praise’ of 1931.
Cat Stevens idea to include a version of the hymn on his 1971 ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ album was initially met with much resistance by his record label ‘Island’, who were busy trying to promote Stevens as the English James Taylor.
The albums producer Paul Samwell-Smith was also against the songs inclusion for more practical reasons as the hymn has no chorus and consists of only 4 verses which made it’s initial recording time a paltry 44 seconds long.
Undaunted, Stevens reached out to session musician Rick Wakeman to ask if he could help with a piano arrangement for the song.
On the day of recording, Wakeman, as part of his preparation, started playing some melodies he’d written for his ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ project.
Cat Stevens, impressed with what he’d just heard, said… “perfect Rick, let’s use that for ‘Morning Has Broken”!
Wakeman reluctantly agreed and basically came up with arrangements for the start, middle and end of the song, which extended the track to 3 minutes 20 seconds.
Delighted with his contribution, Wakeman was devastated to receive no credits on the album and for the meagre £10 he was offered for all his hard work.
Rick would have the last laugh though when Cat Stevens realised they had no idea how to play the song live on stage without Wakeman’s input.
Wakeman would perform his keyboard skills on some other classic tracks that year, including Life on Mars for Bowie and Get It On for T-Rex before joining the band Yes.
He did eventually forge a solo career and released ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ to critical acclaim in 73.
The ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ album would produce 3 hit singles – ‘Moonshadow’ and ‘Peace Train’ were both released with moderate success before ‘Morning Has Broken’, which became a massive global hit reaching number one in the US.
Stevens surfed a wave of success in the 70s with hit singles, hit albums, sell-out tours & great reviews…. and best of all, he even got to date Carly Simon & Joni Mitchell.
Maybe you can get too much of a good thing, and Stevens famously turned his back on his successful career after a near-death experience off the coast of Malibu when he feared he was drowning.
He allegedly cried out “God if you save me I will work for you” at which point a wave appeared and swept him to shore.
Auctioning off all his guitars and devoting his time to the Islamic faith, Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam but after two decades gradually returned to the public eye with new music and tours.
‘Morning Has Broken’, like ‘Amazing Grace’, is one of the few hymns that has crossed over from the church to the charts and Stevens deserves enormous credit but I can’t help but feel that the contribution of Wakeman with his beautiful piano arrangement, also deserves some songs of praise.
Below is a short but funny audio clip of Wakeman telling his side of the ‘Morning Has Broken’ story….
Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
Some songs are ubiquitous… you’re not even sure where or when you first heard them. They seem to drop out of the ether and once heard you just can’t get them out of your head.
So it is with Maria Muldaur’s sublime ‘Midnight at the Oasis’
I didn’t know much about Muldaur in 1974 apart from the fact that she was a latin beauty, with a distinctive voice and had recorded one of the best singles of the year.
Born in New York as Maria D’Amato, Muldaur was part of the Greenwich Village scene alongside Dylan before her self-titled, debut album was released in 1973 featuring ‘Midnight at the Oasis’
Set in a desert trapping, the song centres on a romantic but playful encounter, where the female protagonist takes the lead….
“I’ll be your belly dancer, prancer. And you can be my sheik“
Sensual and evocative, Muldaur’s song, alongside those by Barry White, Donna Summer and Marvin Gaye, is (anecdotally) credited as being one of those songs that a lot of 70’s babies were ‘conceived to’.
Beautifully crafted, the musicianship on the track is superb as would be expected from some of the best session musicians of the day, with drummer Jim Gordon, who is credited by Muldaur with coming up with the songs groove, probably being the most heralded.
Gordon’s impressive canon of work includes, Layla with Derek & The Dominoes, My Sweet Lord with George Harrison and Steely Dan’s – Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.
Tragically, the drummer is currently in prison, sentenced in 1984 for killing his mother with a hammer and a butchers knife.
Unbeknown at the time, Gordon suffered with acute schizophrenia which wasn’t diagnosed until after his arrest.
Midnight At The Oasis was a top 10 hit in the US for Muldaur in 1974. It also did well in Canada and Australia but only scraped into the top 30 in the UK and would be her only UK hit.
It was one of those classic radio songs that was popular across all formats and crossed over all musical tastes.
Muldaur who went on to release nearly 40 albums also collaborated with The Doobie Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Elvin Bishop whilst touring extensively with the Grateful Dead, as both a support act and a backing vocalist.
Her last album, released in 2021, was a jazz/ragtime album.
There have been several covers of Midnight At The Oasis over the years, the most prominent being the 1994 remake by acid-jazz aficionados Brand New Heavies, which became a bigger hit in the UK than the original.
Reflecting on her breakthrough hit, Muldaur reminisced that Midnight At The Oasis was a last minute addition to her debut album as the producer required ‘one more track’ to complete the session.
So in an ironic twist of fate a track that was basically an afterthought and an ‘album filler’ went on to become Muldaur’s signature tune.
Muldaur now 78, still performs the song live at every show and takes great pride in the fact that no two performances of the song are ever the same.
By Alan Fairley: Edinburgh, March 2022
Latest in the line of One Hit Wonders from the 1970s is the mystical, thought provoking Angie Baby by Australian songstress Helen Reddy which reached Number 5 in the UK charts back in early 1975.
Hold on, I hear you say.
Helen Reddy, a one hit wonder?
What about Delta Dawn? What about I Am Woman?
Then there’s – Ain’t no Way to Treat a Lady, Leave me Alone (Ruby Red Dress), not to mention You and Me Against the World.
One hit wonder? you’re winding me up, pal.
Well, It’s true that Delta Dawn and I Am Woman were number one hits in the USA while the others mentioned reached the top ten both across the pond and, unsurprisingly, in Reddy’s native Oz but the British charts? – not a sniff, leaving Angie Baby as her sole intrusion into our country’s musical psyche.
And what a spectacular intrusion it was.
Angie Baby was written by Alan O’Day who, despite sounding like he was one of Robin Hood’s merry men, was a successful American musician/songwriter and it centred around the unfulfilled life of a teenage girl who was clearly suffering some form of mental illness, as evidenced by the use of the words ‘touched’ and ‘crazy’ within the lyrics.
Throughout the song, O’Day touches on subjects like mental health, sexual deviation and female empowerment, all of which were relatively taboo subjects back then, often swept under the carpet but which are nowadays very much mainstream societal issues.
Angie spends all her spare time shut away in her bedroom, listening to the radio and fantasising about mysterious lovers who come into her room every night and dance with her until her father tells her to switch the music off.
The story takes a sinister twist when a local boy, who had been spying on Angie through her window, takes advantage of the fact that her parents are away by making his way into her room.
Fuelled up with testosterone, its clear that the dirty bugger’s not planning to have a chat with her about the newsworthy events of the day such as the Watergate scandal and the imminent cessation of the Vietnam War.
Nope, Laddo just wants to get his leg over a vulnerable girl but Angie soon cuts him down to size, quite literally as it happens, as she uses the supernatural power of the volume control on the radio to slowly reduce him to virtually nothing before he gets swallowed up by the speaker as Reddy finishes this part of the song with the haunting words ‘never to be found’.
At this stage, the boy’s probably wishing he’d been guided by his head as opposed to any other body part, and whilst everyone else (Angie apart) thinks he’s dead, he’s actually trapped inside her radio and brought out whenever his services are required…. as described in one of the closing lines -‘a crazy girl with a secret lover who keeps her satisfied.’
Maybe it worked out ok for the lad after all.