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….
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.
For those of us a bit longer in the tooth, Valentines day has turned into a bit of a routine if we’re being honest.
Gone is the nervous anxiety we used to experience from dispatching a Valentine card to a teenage crush who’d no clue you’d been admiring them from afar…. or at least from the other side of the playground.
Unfortunately those heady days are in the dim and distant past, and the euphoria has been replaced by a tired and trusted template for most of us….
Step 1) Try to write something witty in said card that’s neither too flippant or too soppy, oh and something different from last year (if you can remember what you actually wrote 12 months ago!).
Step 2) Procure an over-priced bunch of flowers, inflated by 50% for the special day… but never from a petrol station (we’ve all learned that lesson the hard way!)
Step 3) Source a romantic dine-in meal for two from your favourite supermarket complete with customary Prosecco and chocolates.
Truth be told we all know that Valentines Day has become a commercial juggernaut and whilst the tradition should have every reason to grind to a halt in todays age of instant messaging, it’s still chugging along just fine…
In the UK alone, just under half the population spend money on their Valentine beau’s and around £1.3 billion is spent on cards, flowers, chocolates, etc, with an estimated 25 million Valentine cards being sent.
Whilst we all appreciate, nay expect, a Valentine card from a long-term partner, if we’re being honest, it’s akin to receiving a birthday card.
As we all know, the authentic Valentine experience centres on intrigue, ensuring that all the fun is in the detective work…. looking for clues to uncover the secret admirer.
I’m going back 50 years or so here of course to when we were impressionable teens and such things were deemed important.
I did receive one anonymous Valentine card… when I was 13, but I didn’t dare think about who it was from until I forensically compared the handwriting to my Mum’s in order to rule her out of the equation.
I’ve still no idea who sent it but thank you whoever you were, I should have framed it… although having a 50 year old Valentine card hanging up in your living room wall would be a bit weird.
I also sent one anonymous Valentine… to a girl in Primary 7, I say anonymous but when I walked into class that day with a big chunk of hair missing because someone had convinced me that enclosing a ‘lock of hair’ was a Valentine tradition…. I probably gave the game away.
With no comprehension of how meagre a ‘lock of hair’ should be, I struggled to close the envelope due to the mass of curls I’d tried to wedge into the card. I imagine the curls sprung to life like a jack in the box as soon as the envelope was opened, attacking her like the creature from Alien and scarring the poor girl for life.
One thing I remember about Valentines back then was the trend to utilise every inch of space on both the card and the envelope with messages, acronyms and rhymes.
Classics like – “Postie postie don’t be slow, be like Elvis, go man go”
SWALK (Sealed With A Loving Kiss)
The origin of acronyms on envelopes stems from soldiers writing to their sweethearts during the war, using coded initials to convey secret messages. Some acronyms were sweet like HOLLAND (Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies) whilst others were a bit more risqué like NORWICH (Nickers Off Ready When I Get Home).
We were normally en-route to school when the postman came a-knocking on the 14th Feb, which gave opportunity for some hopeless romantics to day-dream about an avalanche of mail waiting for them on their doorstep.
For a good mate of mine this scenario actually happened, although it wasn’t on the 14th of February.
Unbeknown to him, an ex-girlfriend who wasn’t best pleased with him sent his picture, a dewy-eyed story about him being lonesome, and a heart-felt request for female pen-pals, to one of the popular teen mags of the day. When he got home from school his Mum greeted him at the door with a sackful of mail and a hearty – “what have you been up to now, you little shit?”.
Of course, at the time he had no idea what was going on, but he still had hours of fun ploughing through his ‘fan-mail’, replying to a selected few.
It’s a great story, but it’s his to tell, so I’ll see if I can entice him to share it in all its glory on the blog sometime.
Coming home to a bagful of fan-mail from strangers who thought you were cute must have been uplifting, but I suspect he, like the rest of us, probably falls into one of three camps when it comes to Valentine’s Day now…
Camp 1) The – ‘it’s a scam and a waste of money, and I refuse to be ripped-off ’ brigade. This guy is normally single!
Camp 2) The – ‘I’m a hopeless romantic, and it’s a special day’ brigade. This guy is normally single!
And perhaps the most popular….
Camp 3) The – ‘I better make an effort or else I’ll be in the shit’ brigade.
It came to my mind recently that lunch tends to get overlooked these days. Brunches & Suppers are regularly championed by Nigella and Jamie, we’re constantly bombarded with dinner ideas on MasterChef and up until intermittent fasting came along we were hoodwinked into thinking that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.
By the way, do you know who’s credited with that oft-repeated and very famous quote? None other than John Harvey Kellogg…. yeah THAT Kellogg!
Subsequently, lunch has dropped down the ‘square meal’ league table into the relegation zone which is a bit of a comedown. Once upon a time it used to run away with the title but that was before Gordon Gekko’s “lunch is for wimps” claim in the movie Wall Street.
In its glory years lunch was called dinner, it was the main meal of the day and was eaten any time between late morning and mid afternoon. Then the industrial revolution came along at which point sustenance was required between morning and afternoon shifts to enable workers to sustain maximum effort throughout the day, hence the regimented one hour lunch break, we know now.
Cut forward to today and lunch for many consists of a quick sandwich in front of a computer screen, checking out social media and looking at Nigella’s recipes for supper, or if you’re male, and of a certain age, just checking out Nigella!
Back in the 70s however, when we were at school or newbies in the workplace, lunch WAS the most important meal of the day… by a long chalk.
Maybe it was by default… after all breakfast was relatively basic, a plate of cereal or a slice of toast before you ran out the door to catch the school bus. Dinner, on the other hand, was a bit more formal in most households, the table would be set but you had to wait till your faither got home.
To be honest dinner was a bit hit or miss in our house.
You see, my dad was an offal man for his offal – kidney, Tongue, liver, tripe, all the stuff that was popular in its day and made fancy window dressing at the butchers…. but offers good reason to turn vegetarian now.
It got worse though, if the raw materials my mum had to work with weren’t great, then her cooking skills only compounded things.
I love my Mum to bits, but she was no Fanny Craddock and trying to mask the stench of charred liver from my favourite Fred Perry polo shirt, (by splashing on copious amounts of Brut) before heading out to impress, was not a pleasant experience.
So, whilst breakfast was on the hoof and dinner could easily have consisted of hoof…. lunch was always to be savoured for a few reasons…..
Firstly, although we may not have been enduring the same hardships as our distant relatives from the 1800’s, lunch still broke up the day perfectly – and if like me you were stuck in a dull lesson pre-lunch, then you could start counting down to the lunchtime bell before meeting up with your pals to eat, blether, and release some of that pent up energy.
Secondly, free-will, which was in scant supply back then, came to the fore as we were able to take ownership of our daily lunching choices.
You could go to the canteen for school dinners if you were seduced by the day’s menu offering, (beef olives was always a favourite), or if you fancied a wee donner (the walk not the kebab) then you could take your lunch money and saunter down to Bearsden Cross to the bakers for a sausage roll or a sandwich…. always accompanied by a carton of ski yoghurt for pudding. It was probably the best hour of most school days!
School holidays meant lunch at home, and after a bit of trial and error, home lunches became a slick operation, i.e. straight out of a can – Campbell’s chicken soup and cold Ambrosia Devon Custard…. tasty, low-maintenance stuff that even I could prepare without the need to splash any Brut on afterwards.
It’s strange but I can’t remember much about school lunches at primary school, I lived about 15-20 min’s walk from school so I doubt that I lunched at home every day. I do remember a few kids having packed lunches though and thinking that themed lunchboxes were cool, but I don’t think soup and custard would have travelled that well.
Another weekly treat during school holidays was going to Drumchapel swimming baths, not so much for the eye-stinging chlorine or the daredevil belly flops off the dale, but rather for the delicious pie & beans in the adjoining canteen afterwards.
As we moved into the workplace, lunchtimes were a saviour, it broke the day up and gave you time to regroup and recharge your batteries.
I worked in a small office in central Glasgow when I left school. There was just 5 of us and I was the youngest by some 20 years, so come lunchtime I was a lone-wolf – until my good mate Billy Smith started working in Frasers in Buchanan St a few months later. This was a tremendous turn of events as I used to go with Smiddy to their excellent staff canteen where we’d fill our faces and gawk at all the elegant cosmetic girls, before meandering about town to wile-away the rest of the golden-hour.
It was a splendid arrangement and when Smiddy told me he was thinking of quitting his job for a more lucrative one, I did what every good mate would do in the same situation….. and tried my darnedest to convince him to stay.
“what about the great staff discounts” “what about all the pretty girls in the cosmetics dept” “what about the opportunities for promotion” “what about the fact you’re working in an iconic building” “what about – the subsidised staff canteen for Christ’s sake!!“
Of course, Billy very selfishly took up the life changing opportunity, leaving me to lope around as a lone-wolf once more, although I used to regularly meet my mate Joe Hunter on a Friday and we’d head to Paddy’s Market to get our outfits for the weekend. If ever clothes required a splash of aftershave, it was those ones!
As enjoyable as all those lunch times were back then, you knew the pleasure was temporary, you always had an enemy – the clock!
As you get older and escape the constraints of the clock, lunch offers a great social opportunity to catch up with friends and family and the lunches I look forward to the most now are the leisurely ones you have on holiday. Looking out at a sun-splattered, turquoise ocean, with a cold beer or a chilled glass of wine accompanied with never-ending portions of seafood or salty tapas… living in the moment with nothing to rush back for.
I reckon most people can remember who they shared their first romantic kiss with… although perhaps we’re reaching an age now where some of us are struggling to remember who we shared the last one with!
That first kiss can be a defining moment, a conclusion to months and in some cases years of anxiety…. they don’t call it teenage angst for nothing.
For our troop of wannabe Romeos, any thoughts of engaging with the opposite sex didn’t emerge until the lead up to the Qualifying (Quali) Dance in primary 7. Up until then we had more important things to focus our blossoming brains on, like Football, Subbuteo & Airfix models.
Whilst the Quali Dance appeared to be the tipping point for this seismic shift in interests, the real catalyst I think was the onset of puberty which was having its impact on the fairer sex as well…. why else would they show any interest in a monosyllabic boy sporting a matching shirt & tie abomination hand-picked by a mum who thought Peter Wyngarde was a style guru?
The Quali Dance of course was a school ritual and part of said ritual was to ‘escort someone to the dance’… except it never really worked out that way. There were no limousines, corsages, bowls of punch or live bands like the feted American high-school proms…. just teuchter music, unbranded fizzy-pop, dollops of awkwardness and an evening that seemed to go by in a flash.
Despite all the talk and bravado I don’t remember anyone from our year popping their ‘kissing-cherry’ at the Westerton Primary School, Quali Dance of 1970. Not even our resident man-boy…. a lad with a voice like Barry White and a full thicket of short & curlies at age 11, who’s hormones were obviously running amok whilst the rest of us were popping champagne corks if we located a single strand in the nether regions with a magnifying glass.
I didn’t think about it at the time but looking back I imagine the dynamics in the girls changing rooms were pretty similar.
Our transition to the ‘big school’ several months later presented fresh opportunities and challenges. There were lots of new people on the scene now and more social events…. however, this just seemed to ramp up the pressure as you sought to avoid being the last in your peer-group to land that first smooch.
There was also some anxiety around the question of technique – kissing wasn’t something you could practice by yourself (or with a mate!) like football, so how could you tell if you were doing it properly?
What if you banged her teeth or bit her lip or she swallowed your chewing gum? The word would surely get out and no one would ever want to kiss you again.
You’d be kiss-shamed and canceled!
There were one or two awkward near misses before the big event took place, notably a spin the bottle session with an older crowd, resulting in a couple of consolatory pecks to the cheek and forehead… which wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t been sitting eyes closed, lips pursed, in anticipation.
As it turned out, my first kiss was with a girl I’d known since primary 3 and although it wasn’t articulated, I think we were both motivated by a shared need to get this kissing monkey off our respective backs. In that respect I suppose it was more a kiss of convenience than an explosion of passion.
Don’t get me wrong, it was nice, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t chip her teeth or block any airways with my Wrigley’s Juicy Fruit, but I don’t remember there being any fireworks…. just a joint sense of relief before we went our separate ways to share our news.
I think we appreciated we were in the same boat…. it was a rite of passage for both of us.
Fast forward a couple of years and the kissing floodgates were well and truly open now – I remember this bizarre ritual at local disco’s where revellers would just start snogging mid-song and I’m not talking about the slow songs at the end of the evening, as that was par for the course. There was no verbal interaction, no please or thank you’s, no “you’re looking ravishing tonight”…. just a tap on the shoulder, two and a half minutes of shuffling around to 10cc or Cockney Rebel followed by a 30 second snog and then you’d be on your merry way before the DJ played the next song…. I’ve often wondered if it still happens today?
This was an era when you would go to the cinema ostensibly to ‘winch’ your way through whatever blockbuster was showing that week. Bearing in mind that double bills were the norm in the 70s, that was a lot of smooching, particularly as you only came up for air when the lights came on for the obligatory half-time refreshments… Kia-ora and choc-ice.
I think it’s fair to say that the back rows of the local cinemas were always chock-a-block on a Friday and Saturday night and it wasn’t to get a panoramic view of the screen
This was also the period when ‘love-bites’ came into prominence (as did polo-necks, funnily enough) with girls applying makeup (and toothpaste?) to conceal their perceived marks of shame whilst boys strutted around like Mick Jagger, parading their vampiric contusions as a badge of honour.
There was plenty of anxiety around this practice too – what if I suck a bit too hard and draw blood, will I turn into a bat?
It was a curious phenomenon.
Some people even practised the art on themselves (well, I’m guessing the love bites on their arms didn’t get there any other way!) whilst others used the suction from a coke bottle or similar to make it look like they’d been party to an amorous encounter… when really they’d been in their bedrooms alone, listening to Gilbert O’Sullivan and waiting for the ice-cream van.
Looking back, love-bites were horrendous things but like tartan scarves, Gloverall duffel coats and first kisses, at a certain point, we all had to have one!
I couldn’t say for certain when I first became aware of the magic of Christmas, but when I did, it all seemed a bit too good to be true.
Toys, pantomimes, comic annuals and a treat called selection boxes – a seasonal novelty which offered more confection in a day than you were normally allowed to consume in a month….
Roy Wood & Wizzard weren’t wrong!
On reflection, the whole Santa concept was akin to some form of ‘cult-indoctrination’ – ‘If you believe in him you will be rewarded’.
So of course, we believed!
The big fella only popped down our lum once every twelve months but his presence was felt throughout the year, like the Sword of Damocles
“Santa won’t be receiving your letter, if you don’t go to bed”
“Your report card better be good if you’re expecting Santa to visit this year“
It was all a bit Machiavellian but we were conditioned to go along with the narrative – to believe… even in the face of logic.
At some point we learned about the Nativity and were informed that Santa was a moniker for Saint Nicholas a fourth-century do-gooder, at this point I realised that Santa and God had a lot in common – they were both omnipresent, they had lots of helpers and they had the power to punish or reward, based on your behaviour or belief system.
This holy connection further endorsed the sentiment that there was absolutely no upside in being Santa-agnostic. Ours was not to reason why, it was simply to keep schtum, play along, and reap the rewards.
Phase Two: What A Fool Believes
But then it happened.
I can’t remember how it happened or exactly what age I was when it happened (probably older than I think, perhaps 9 or 10?), but sure enough the genie escaped from the bottle and all our suspicions were confirmed – The big fella was a hoax!
We kind of saw it coming, but it was still a blow and was exacerbated by the realisation that all the adults we’d trusted in our life had been playing us like fiddles.
For some kids it triggered an existential crisis – “Is God real”? “How about the Tooth Fairy? Am I still going to get recompensed by her for all the teeth I’m about to lose due to these damn selection boxes”?
Some folks reading this will think ‘how could you be so old and not know the truth about Santa’? but we’re talking about a much simpler, more sheltered time here – social media and satellite tv hadn’t even featured on ‘Tomorrow’s World’ yet!
On the plus side, once you got over the subterfuge you soon realised that all the upsides of Christmas were still in place and were shortly going to be supplemented with exciting new additions like… the Kelvin Hall Carnival & Circus and Xmas discos.
Also, now that you were in the loop, so to speak, you couldn’t help but feel a bit more grown up, which at the time felt like progress, but perhaps ignorance IS bliss…..
Phase 3: It’s not Christmas until Hans Gruber falls off the Nakatomi Plaza
With Santa out of the picture we faced a different kind of Christmas.
Gone were the cute letters to Santa, and the trips to his grotto… on the plus side we were introduced to the best social lubricant known to teenagers (until tequila came along!) – a miraculous white berried twig with mystical powers that gave us the confidence to snog the girl or boy we’d fancied from afar for the past 6 months but had never spoken to.
As we left school and moved into the workplace the festive season evolved into a malaise of parties, nights out, and social occasions, which for the most part was fun, although you can get too much of a good thing.
The down-side to phase-3, (hangovers apart), was that Xmas day itself changed from being the best day of the year to probably the dullest… as you found yourself stuck indoors with nowhere to go – this was lockdown 70s style, everywhere was closed on Xmas day!
By this point the essence of Xmas as you remembered it, had vanished. There were no surprises anymore – unless someone bought you something other than the customary soap-on-a-rope or Aramis, and the highlight of Xmas day was whatever blockbuster was being premiered on TV that year.
The ultimate phase-3 movie (and some say the ultimate Xmas movie) Die Hard!
Phase 4: Step (Back) Into Christmas
And then just as you’re getting used to the idea that Xmas is nothing more than a capitalist racket, you have kids, nephews, nieces, god-children of your own, experience Christmas through their eyes, and before you can say Peter Pan, it becomes a magical time of the year again.
From my daughters Nurse Nancy outfit to my boys first pair of football boots or Stone Cold Steve Austin, WWF action figures, the joy in their little faces on Xmas morning was priceless and of course we wanted to make Christmas a special time for them…. everything it was for us, plus more.
Like most families, we have Xmas traditions which we still try to maintain to this day – Watching It’s A Wonderful Life on Xmas eve (which IS the best Xmas movie!); Playing Phil Spector’s Xmas album on Christmas morning; and being a bit too competitive in the annual Xmas-day post-lunch quiz.
Up until last years covid-hit-Christmas the five of us had managed to spend every Xmas day together…. hopefully we’ll be able to get back on track this Christmas, Omicron permitting.
I’m guessing the 4 phases of Christmas are still relevant in some form today, although I’m pretty sure that the digital age and the new licensing laws have progressed the landscape quite a bit from our experiences in the 60s/70s.
What’s always been around however, is Christmas Songs. My favourite comes from Xmas 73, it’s not the coolest or the most meaningful, lyrically, but it’s a great little Xmas pop song from someone who was at the peak of their powers.
Every time l hear it, it encapsulates the season of goodwill and takes me back to a happy place….
“So merry Christmas one and all There’s no place I’d rather be Than asking you if you’d oblige Stepping into Christmas with me“
Back in the early seventies there was only one provider of contemporary music to the masses – The BBC.
Radio One ruled the airwaves unchallenged from 1967 until the commercial radio stations came along in the mid 70s, although to be fair if you could get a decent signal, Radio Luxembourg was a reasonable late night alternative… until you got fed up listening to adverts for Timotei Shampoo and Aqua Manda cologne.
In terms of TV, the Beeb had it all sewn up with its weekly chart show aimed at the teenage market – Top of the Pops, which launched in 1964. Seven years later the OGWT came along and focused on the more discerning album buying audience.
TOTP had its moments of course, but epiphany’s like Starman or Virginia Plain were rare and for every ‘Jeepster” there was a ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’
The OGWT on the other hand, was a voyage of discovery, it wasn’t always great but it was always watchable. The truth is that we rarely knew who was going to be on the show, but it mattered not, we just tuned in and went along for the ride, building our musical knowledge and refining our tastes as we went along.
The OGWT became a weekly ‘event’ and a post-mortem of each episode was mandatory. I can still remember an attempt to describe the debut performance of Focus to a mate at school who’d missed the show.
“They’re a Dutch quartet with an amazing drummer, an unbelievable guitarist and a guy who looks like Archie Gemmill on keyboards…. who yodels a lot”
I’m not sure he rushed out to buy the album based on my summary.
The show was famous for its live studio performances, but in the early days tracks that couldn’t be performed live were usually accompanied by old black & white film footage, compiled by film archivist Philip Jenkinson. A couple of those home-made videos left a lasting impression.
The first time I heard Queen was on the OGWT in 1973. A rendition of ‘Keep Yourself Alive’ soundtracked over a vintage black & white movie clip.
My favourite though was the footage that accompanied Led Zeppelin’s – Trampled Underfoot. I’ve no idea how they synch’d a 1920’s silent movie clip so seamlessly with Zep’s homage to Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, but they pulled it off.
I have too many great memories of the show to mention and have spent many an hour disappearing down OGWT, YouTube rabbit holes but when I reflect on what made the show special, there are a few elements that spring to mind….
1)The OGWT excelled at introducing us to new artists: Putting aside the broadcasting monopoly that the Beeb enjoyed I still have to credit the show for introducing me to – Neil Young, Queen, Robin Trower, John Martyn, Bill Withers, Joan Armatrading, Talking Heads, Lynyrd Skynyrd, New York Dolls, The Wailers and many more.
2) The show wasn’t just electric, it was eclectic: If you happened to tune in when – Dr Hook, Rick Wakeman, John Martyn and Mike Oldfield were all featured you could have been forgiven for thinking that the majority of the acts mirrored the presenter, i.e. white men with beards and long hair…. but the show was actually a lot more diverse than that.
For instance, it was perfectly normal to have Bill Withers on the same show as Tangerine Dream or Curtis Mayfield with Captain Beefheart. BB King would feature alongside Kris Kristofferson and Joni Mitchell could be on the same bill as Roxy Music. It’s fair to say that every musical genre was given a fair crack of the whip on a show where the only criteria was quality.
3) The show produced seminal performances that live on forever: At the end of the day it was the live studio performances that we all talked about and they remain the iconic moments of the show. It’s difficult to cherry-pick as there were so many classic OGWT moments, but a few favourites that spring to mind are….
Bowie – Queen Bitch Little Feat – Rock ‘n’ Roll Doctor Sensational Alex Harvey Band – The Faith Healer Roxy Music – In Every Dream Home a Heartache Gil Scott-Heron – Johannesburg
The OGWT of course was synonymous with whispering Bob Harris and his reign as the main presenter from 1972-79 covered the golden-age of the show. Nothing lasts forever though, and as the punk movement gained momentum Bob started getting a bit grouchy and wasn’t handling the change of the guard very well…..
Bob had ‘previous’ of course, labelling Roxy Music as a triumph of ‘style over substance‘. And goofily described The New York Dolls as “mock rock” at the conclusion of a blistering rendition of ‘Jet Boy’….
Harris, subsequently became a target for New Wavers and Punks and narrowly escaped serious injury when Sid Vicious tried to ‘glass’ him in a London nightclub. Rescued ironically by a team of Procol Harum roadies, Bob escaped relatively unscathed, but suffered cuts, bruises and a damaged ego.
Worn down by the abuse and feeling that he was swimming against the cultural tide, Bob would step down from his OGWT duties soon-after.
The show ploughed on for another 9 years post Bob, with a revolving door of presenters but by then there was bona fide competition from other channels and shows, like C4’s The Tube.
Gone but certainly not forgotten…. Fortunately we can still relive some of the shows iconic moments via clips from the vaults, many of which have millions of views.
So it’s this prime-time OGWT – the ‘Bob Harris years 72-79’, that helped to shape my musical tastes as a teenager that I would propose for the TV Hall of Fame….
Monty Python’s Flying Circus is of course a benchmark for comedy and an example of 70s television at its finest. A collective that spawned countless TV and cinematic moments of gold and inspired endless playground retellings and re-enactments… from ‘The Ministry of Funny Walks’ to ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition’.
John Cleese and Fawlty Towers apart however, the rest of the Python’s solo work tends to fly under the radar. In comparison, it’s similar in many ways to the Beatles solo projects, which rarely got the appreciation they deserved…. step forward ‘All Things Must Pass’ by George Harrison.
Take Eric Idle’s excellent Rutland Weekend Television, although it hatched the excellent Beatles parody – The Ruttles, it was cut short after two series and was never truly appreciated in the UK. Likewise, Ripping Yarns by Michael Palin and Terry Jones was restricted to 8 episodes after the initial pilot… the hilarious ‘Tomkinson’s Schooldays’.
If you’ve never seen it, Ripping Yarns was a shameless parody of British culture. To be fair it could be a bit hit or miss, but when it hit the sweet-spot it was as funny as anything that’s ever been on TV. There were nine 30 minute episodes presented in the style of Boys Own adventure stories, set in an era when all a chap needed was a stiff upper lip and a healthy dash of derring-do.
The series was tucked away on BBC2 at 9pm on a Friday night but once discovered, it became an essential part of my weekend.
In 1977, Joanna’s Night Club in Glasgow was my Friday night destination of choice, so as part of my weekly ritual I’d get spruced up, go round to my partner in crime Paul Fitzpatrick’s house and we’d watch the latest episode of Ripping Yarns before heading into town, armed with quips from the show still in our head. Quips I hasten to add that confused the hell out of anyone that hadn’t seen the show (about 99.9% of the population), but would amuse the hell out of us.
My brothers George and David were also big fans of the show and we used to have some very surreal conversations in front of our bemused parents about Spear & Jackson shovels and black pudding (in Yorkshire accents) – as an homage to our favourite episode, ‘The Testing of Eric Olthwaite“. There are too many great comedy moments in this 28 minute masterpiece, to break down, but the opening 3 minute sequence (below), will give you a taste.
A Yorkshire banker, Eric was sooo boring that his Father pretended to be French to avoid talking to him whilst his mother would feign bilious attacks or even death. Heartbreakingly, Eric’s family run away from home to avoid further contact with him, he was just that tedious.
A confused and devastated Eric can’t understand why people find him so dull and you can feel his pain as he protests in his thick Yorkshire accent…. “It were hard to accept I were boring. Especially with my interest in rainfall”
Eric’s obsession with precipitation and shovels drive his family to distraction and ensure he’s friendless but like all good tales there’s a twist… if you’re interested to find out what it is, you can catch the full episode below and become like me… a fully paid-up member of the Ripping Yarns fan club.
If you’re a Bowie fan you probably have a selection of his albums, tapes, cd’s and downloads in your music collection…. hit-after-hit stretching across six decades from 1969’s Space Oddity to 2016’s Blackstar.
For a few years though, until his WOW moment on TOTP in 1972, as implausible as it sounds, Bowie was on course to be a one-hit-wonder…. just like Thunderclap Newman with ‘Something in the Air’ or Norman Greenbaum with ‘Spirit in the Sky’
Then along came Ziggy Stardust and the rest as they say is history. Bowie went on to become arguably the most influential artist of the 70s…..continually reinventing his sound and persona and influencing the tastes of a generation along the way.
As an example of the latter, on October 1974 David Live was released, it was a decent album showcasing Bowie’s transition from Glam to Soul with a great version of Eddie Floyd’s ‘Knock on Wood‘, but what captured my attention as much as the music was the powder blue suit DB wore on the cover.
Up until this point Bowie’s wardrobe had consisted of elaborate Japanese jumpsuits, kimonos and leotards.
Distinctive, perhaps, but not the kind of thing you could buy in Top Man and wear to Shuffles night club on a dreich Saturday night in Glasgow!
Bowie’s cool new look was something we could relate to on the other hand, so on our next pay-day, a few of us travelled to Glasgow city centre to Jackson the tailors to order our own made to measure version of the tin-flute Bowie sported on the David Live record sleeve.
After a few weeks the suits were ready and when we hit the town that Saturday night we all felt ‘gallus’ in our high-waisted trousers, and double breasted jackets, as did half the male population of Glasgow, who seemingly all had the same idea!
I was pretty much hooked from the minute I saw Bowie perform Starman on TOTP in 72 and stayed a fan all the way through his career. I loved his 70s personas and of course the music, particular the Thin White Duke period which frustratingly he never talked much about… owing to the fact that he had absolutely no recall of making the Station to Station album!
In fact he was so bonkers and strung out during this period (75-76) that he reportedly kept his own urine in a fridge. This in part was due to a falling out with Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page….. Bowie became paranoid that Page (well known for dabbling in the occult) would engage some form of black-magic against him if he got hold of his bodily fluids.
Based in LA and weighing in at a meagre 7 stone, his diet at the time consisted of milk, peppers and heaps of Colombian marching powder. It’s well documented that Bowie fled this life of excess to regain health and sanity in Europe, specifically Berlin, and by the release of Heroes in 1977 he was in a much better place, both physically and mentally
I actually came into The Starman’s orbit very briefly in 1983.
I was working at Levis and we were developing a campaign to promote our 501 Jeans, which at the time, we couldn’t give away in the UK, in fact the only European country who sold them in any volume was Sweden.
UK retailers didn’t want to stock them as they were more expensive than regular Levis jeans and they reasoned that consumers didn’t like the American fit (low waist, straight leg).
Nonetheless, our chiefs in San Francisco had planned a global strategy around the 501. It was the original 5 pocket jean and the main point of difference for the brand in the US, where Levis was coming under threat from designer brands like Calvin Klein…. so we had no choice but to try and make it work in Europe.
A team was put together tasked with coming up with innovative ideas to support the 501 campaign in Europe and as a first step we came up with the simple idea of getting contemporary icons to wear 501’s by highlighting the fact that it had been the jean of choice for James Dean & Brando in the 50’s and guys like Springsteen were now wearing them.
It was a classic ‘seeding’ strategy which more or less consisted of gifting product to opinion leaders (musicians, actors, sportsmen, models, etc), in order to get the product seen on the right people.
It’s a concept that can work pretty well if all the planets align.
As an example…
In early 1983 we sent some Levis denim jackets to an up and coming band coming out of Dublin called U2. The lead singer Bono cut the sleeves off his jacket and wore it relentlessly. The band released the albums War and Under a Blood Red Sky and 83 became U2’s big breakout year hence Bono was everywhere… wearing his self-customised, sleeveless Levis jacket
As an example of seeding at work – around this time met I Charlie Nicholas in a Glasgow bar as we had a mutual friend, when Charlie heard I worked for Levis he asked me if I could get him a Levis denim jacket “to cut the sleeves off… same as Bono“.
Charlie wasn’t the only one with the same idea and within months, retailers started selling out of our denim jackets, sales tripled and we eventually had to increase our jacket production and develop our own sleeveless version.
The other avenue we explored was official sponsorship… ‘let’s get influential artists to wear and promote Levis by sponsoring their tours’. Everyone does this now but it was a new concept back then.
This was trickier than you’d think… some people in the room actually thought it would be a good idea to approach the gods of double-denim, Status Quo and there were a couple of Gary Numan fans in there as well… however to most it was clear we needed someone with gravitas, credibility and a wide appeal.
After some debate and research we discovered that Bowie was scheduled to launch his Serious Moonlighttour in support of his new album – Let’s Dance, so after some discussion he became the prime candidate.
To be honest we weren’t over optimistic that he’d go for it as he wasn’t big on commercial ventures but he liked the brand and the sponsorship helped to finance the tour… so the mighty DB came on board.
The concept worked so well that we repeated it over the next few years with tours and one-off events, but the tipping point for the brand in Europe came when we launched the famous 501 Laundrette ad with Nick Kamen in 1985, which also propelled ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’ to number one in the charts.
Ironically, the same retailers who claimed they couldn’t sell 501’s in 1983 were now begging for as much stock as they could get their hands on….
One of the conditions of most tour-sponsorship deals is for the acts to meet customers post-gig however we knew Bowie was never going to do meet and greets. Sting and Ultravox on the other hand were contracted to meet customers and prize winners briefly after their gigs, which they mostly did with good grace, particularly Midge Ure who was extremely affable.
My brief Bowie moment came when he popped into our London office to pick out some jeans and shirts, he looked incredibly healthy and was friendly and charming. He signed a few bits and pieces for some of us including a tour programme and the Let’s Dance album (pics below ) before making his exit.
In truth, I struggled a bit with the 90’s Bowie, particularly the Tin Machine period but I got back on board in the noughties…. a return to form, spring-boarded by his stellar Glastonbury performance in 2000 when he decided to give the people what they wanted…. a set-list made up of his best songs.
Although I’d been a big fan in the 70s I had never seen Bowie live and the first time I saw him perform was when we took some customers to see his Serious Moonlight gig at Murrayfield in Edinburgh in June 83.
The next time I saw him perform live was the most memorable. It was at the Hammersmith Odeon in October 2002, his first return to that venue since the shock July 1974 retirement announcement when he ‘broke up the band’ live on stage…. to their complete bemusement.
“Not only is it the last show of the tour, but it’s the last show that we’ll ever do. Thank you.”
It helped that we had fantastic tickets for that show, centre stage, six rows from the front. I’ve no idea how long Bowie was on stage for but it must have been close to 3 hours… he played 33 songs starting with Life on Mars, finishing with Ziggy Stardust and included a song he’d only ever played live once before… the majestic Bewlay Brothers from Hunky Dory.
I also saw Bowie the following year at Wembley arena on his last live date in London. He seemed so fit and healthy at 56 but six months later whilst still on the same gruelling ‘Reality’ tour he had a heart attack on stage in Hamburg and that proved to be his last ever gig.
He released an album in 2013, The Last Day, which raised hopes that he was fit and well but it all went quiet again, and then out of nowhere a new album – Blackstar dropped 3 years later on his 69th birthday, this was the encouraging news we’d all been waiting for… maybe we would even see him play live again?
He died two days after its release on the 10th of January.
There was much outpouring of grief when the news broke, he meant so much to so many people and it’s probably the only celebrity that I’ve ever felt sustained grief over. I had grown up with Bowie from age 13, my kids had grown up listening to him, he’d been a fixture in my life for 45 years, and suddenly he wasn’t there any more.
But even in the end Bowie did the most Bowie thing ever, bowing out on his own terms with an innovative, out-of-the-blue, jazz-infused album that we knew nothing about until the day of its release.
If you listen to the lyrics it’s an album made by a man who wasn’t ready to leave us but knew he wasn’t going to be with us for long. To this day I still find it hard to listen to that album…….
‘Something happened on the day he died Spirit rose a metre and stepped aside Somebody else took his place, and bravely cried’ “I’m a blackstar, I’m a blackstar”
All hail the Starman, we’ll never see his like again…..
My Bowie top 20 changes all the time, but for anyone who’s interested here’s this weeks selection….
I remember the evening like it was 50 years ago…. an evening that would change my life….
My Dad had just brought home a film projector…. A slice of Hollywood was coming to our humble suburban abode and life, surely, would never be the same again.
I had visions of Mum serving up choc ices and Kia-ora as I sat on the family sofa with my chums watching all the new releases… Planet of the Apes, The Graduate, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid…. there would be a blockbuster every week.
Deveron Road was about to turn into Hollywood Boulevard… all we needed was a red carpet and a popcorn machine.
Setting the contraption up, my Dad explained that he’d got it from a friend who had kindly included a couple of reels of film to get us started.
The first reel was a home movie featuring the family who’d previously owned the projector, frolicking in the Clyde at Wemyss Bay where they lived. Not exactly The Poseiden Adventure but we had to start somewhere and at least it helped us to get all the settings aligned.
We sat in eager anticipation as he set up the next reel and to give us a clue he mentioned that the upcoming feature was a ‘classic black & white movie’.
“Laurel & Hardy?” I suggested…. “It’s a Wonderful Life?” my Mum volunteered….
I’m sure I spotted a wee smirk on his face as he turned the lights off and pressed start.
The room and the screen were in complete darkness before the title appeared, accompanied by the eeriest church organ music known to man……
There were to be no kind-hearted Angels earning their wings in this horrendous feature…. Nosferatu, was a terrifying German-Expressionist horror movie, made in 1922….. the first film ever in fact, to be based on Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel.
The protagonist, Count Orlok wasn’t your run of the mill, tall-dark & handsome gigolo of a vampire with slicked back hair either…. ala Christopher Lee or Vincent Price… he was the spookiest, creepiest, most chilling looking dude I’d ever laid eyes on in my young life.
I was transfixed with fear…. I didn’t want to watch it, but I wasn’t going upstairs to bed on my own either… lying there in the dark, listening to that horrific organ music, allowing my vivid imagination to run amok!
I always thought of myself as a pretty robust kid…. True, the Singing Ringing Tree (SRT) had given me a few sleepless nights when I was 7 or 8 but this was a whole new ball game…. the SRT was like Andy Pandy compared to this carnage!
I don’t recall getting much sleep that night.
In fact for what seemed like the next couple of years, I had a pathological and (admittedly) illogical fear of vampires.
Vampires were supposed to be a myth, but not to me… and I went to extreme lengths to protect myself from them… I wasn’t taking any chances.
I kept a bible on my bedside table. I ‘borrowed’ a silver Cross from my Mum’s jewellery box, that I wore at night. I ‘borrowed’ a little vassal of holy water from an Aunt which I kept under my pillow. And the piece d’resistance……. A wooden stake (carved then ‘borrowed’ from the school woodwork lab) kept under my bed, in case I had to go full Van Helsing on the Count’s ass.
I should also add that I tried my best to acquire some garlic but every time I added it to the weekly shopping list, I got the strangest looks.
I know it sounds ridiculous, but I dreaded night time… daybreak just couldn’t come fast enough.
Looking back, I fully related to George Clooney’s character in the excellent From Dusk till Dawn when he said….
“And I don’t want to hear anything about not believing in vampires. Because I don’t f***ing believe in vampires! But I believe in my own two eyes! And what I saw is f***ing vampires!“
(it’s funnier when he says it, watch clip below)
If there was a Hammer House of Horror movie on, (and there seemed to be one every Friday night) I’d creep downstairs and covertly sit on the bottom step of the landing, to listen to it. I knew I was tormenting myself, but at least I wasn’t upstairs on my own, thinking the worst.
My Dad, (a non-believer!) thought this was all a big joke so one Friday night when I’d been chased from the bottom step back up to my room, he thought that it would be a jolly jape to throw pebbles up at my bedroom window from the back garden.
Thinking, quite reasonably, that it was a Vampire (in the form of a bat) trying to get into my room I jumped out of bed, ran downstairs quicker than you could say “I have crossed oceans of time to find you“, only to find my Dad pissing himself laughing and my Mum chastising him… “you’ll give the poor lad a heart attack Joe!“
Reflecting on my ‘wimpish past’… apart from the Singing Ringing Tree the only other thing that had given me the heebie- jeebies prior to this monstrosity of a movie was an episode of the ‘Alfred Hitchcock Hour’ called Final Escape, about John, a convicted bank robber.
Determined to escape his sentence, John befriends an inmate named Doc, who’s in charge of the prison infirmary.
They hatch a plan to hide John inside the coffin of the next inmate who dies.
The coffin will then be buried and dug up by Doc after the gravediggers and guards leave.
It all goes according to plan, until Doc fails to dig John up. A terrified John learns why, when the shroud slips off the face of the corpse sharing the coffin with him: It’s Doc, who died of a heart attack the night before….Ahhhh!
I’m not sure when I ‘grew out’ of my Vampire phobia, I think it probably just got ‘trumped’ by The Exorcist which was much scarier and even more realistic.
I remember at the time you couldn’t pick up a newspaper without reading about some poor sod being possessed…. ‘an exorcism being performed in a town near you’…. or some other form of paranormal activity.
Fast forward a couple of years when the movie Jaws was breaking box office records and guess what? From nowhere, shark attacks started to be tabloid front page news with shocking regularity. “Great White seen at Helensburgh pier“
Life imitating art or just a way to sell more papers?
Of course Vampires are uber cool now so no one’s stocking up on bibles, or wooden stakes anymore… instead, windows are left wide open and saucer’s of blood are left on the ledge to beckon the undead….
Yesterdays persona non grata has become today’s big poster boy.
Anyway, give me the old-school ghouls any day of the week, at least Count Orlok was a scary looking mo-fo… not like these pretty boys below!