Tag Archives: steely dan

Desert Island Distractions (The Music)

Paul Fitzpatrick: June 2022, London.

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).

Three albums

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

Home at Last, featuring the famous Purdie Shuffle


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….

1972 – All The Young Dudes

Paul Fitzpatrick: June 2022, London

My good mate Jim Martin (of this parish), sent me the above graphic, listing a selection of albums released 50 years ago in 1972.

Looking at the list we joked that our musical tastes haven’t progressed much as we continue to binge on a daily diet of much the same content.

I expect it will be a similar story next year when we reflect on the top albums from 1973 and no doubt for a few more years to come, probably until 1978, or should I say, 2028.

As far as music critics are concerned it’s well chronicled that 1971 is seen as being the most prolific/creative year for popular music.

Seminal albums like Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’, Joni Mitchell’s ‘Blue’ and ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ are all lauded as being among the best and most inspirational albums of their type.

1971 RELEASES

Whilst there’s an argument to be made that 1971 was music’s high point, surely it’s also a moot point, for when it comes to music, or for that matter any art-form, there’s no right or wrong…

One man’s Elvis can be another man’s Shakin’ Stevens, because beauty, as we know, is in the eye, or in this case, the ear, of the beholder.

Despite what highbrow critics will lead you to believe, music isn’t measurable… just because a critic in The Guardian awards 5 stars to the latest ‘Let’s Eat Grandma’ album, it doesn’t mean you’ve got to love it too, or there’s something wrong with your tastes if you don’t.

Music is about opinions, personal taste and the emotions certain songs invoke, particularly tunes from your formative years.

Take 1971 – there’s no doubt it was a classic year, but in truth as an early teen who was just getting into music, it passed me by.

I caught up of course, and looking at my vinyl collection today, Joni, Marvin & Zep are all well represented but in 71 I’d no idea who Joni Mitchell was and the first Zep album I listened to in full was Zeppelin III in 1973.

Cut forward 12 months and things were different, I feel I was present for a lot of the marquee releases in 72 and remember them well, particularly those by Roxy Music, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Mott The Hoople, Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple and of course the baptism of fire that was Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, which still sounds great today.

Maybe I wasn’t as switched on as I thought I was though, two of my all-time favourite bands, Steely Dan and Little Feat, also released albums in 1972 that I’d no idea about at the time.

Steely Dan – Can’t Buy A Thrill
Little Feat – Sailin Shoes

So why should 12 months make such a difference?
I think I figured it out…

In the summer of 1971, I was adjusting to the evolution of becoming a teen as well as navigating & negotiating the ensuing boundaries.
I was into music but my inputs were basically restricted to two sources – Radio One and Top Of The Pops.

Fast forward to the summer 72, I was heading into my 3rd Year at school, edging ever closer to the coveted back row of seats on the school bus (and the cinema!), I’d experienced my first kiss, had my first beer and there was a new found confidence that on reflection came from nowhere.

Looking back, I relate this embolden sense of self to the scene in Young Frankenstein where Gene Wilder introduces the Creature on stage –

“From what was once a mass of inarticulate lifeless tissues, may I now present a cultured, sophisticated man about town”

Of course the Creature fell on his arse as we all do when we get a bit cocky.

In terms of musical awareness though, the difference between 71 to 72 was enormous and it was primarily down to access.

The incremental freedom I enjoyed in 72 vs 71, enabled me to access a lot more music via….

The Youth Club – where the older girls had great tastes and dominated the record player.
Record shops – I was now allowed to go into town unchaperoned.
Late night listening – Old Grey Whistle Test & Radio Luxembourg.
Gigs – my first gig was at the Greens Playhouse in 72 to see Humble Pie, supported by Peter Frampton.

So, thank’s Jim for triggering some great memories although we both know there’s a glaring omission from the list of albums.
That album being The Temptations ‘All Directions’ which features a 12 minute version of ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’.

A track that Jim & I used to listen to open mouthed, in 23rd Precinct’s listening booth on a Saturday afternoon, when there was no football.

I look forward to receiving the 1973 list of albums next year.


*Inspired by this trip down memory lane I’ve cobbled together a playlist of tracks released in 1972. A mishmash of singles and less obvious album tracks for your listening pleasure….

All Aboard the Yacht

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, May 2022

A common ice-breaker in the 70s was… “what kind of music are you into?”

Typical responses would be – Rock, Punk, Reggae, Soul, Prog, Glam, etc, but you’d rarely hear anyone reply…. ‘Smooth, light and catchy’.

However, if you were into the Doobie’s (Michael McDonald era), The Eagles, Hall & Oates or Christopher Cross in the late 70s then ‘smooth, light and catchy’ was fundamentally what you were buying into.  

It was a sound that was initially classified as ‘Soft Rock’ or ‘Adult Orientated Rock’…. not a description you’d want to crow about.

Fast forward 30 years and the very same sound was revived, repackaged and re-christened as ‘Yacht Rock’ (YR) by a bunch of guys who set up a comedy web-series that both lampooned and paid homage to the genre.

‘Yacht Rock’ the web-series, is set in LA’s Marina del Rey and fictionalises the life’s of 70s musicians like Michael McDonald, Hall & Oates, The Eagles and Steely Dan as they hang out, bicker and make music.

The show quickly attained cult status, with John Oates crediting it for rekindling interest in Hall & Oates as well as introducing a younger fanbase to the band.

If you haven’t seen it, it’s fun and well worth a catch-up on YouTube. It’s an easy watch with each episode lasting about 5 minutes.


The golden-era of Yacht Rock fell between 1976 to 1984 and whilst it’s a tricky genre to define, the music can be characterised as smooth and melodic, typically combining elements of jazz, soul, and rock….. the perfect music to listen to whilst you chill out on a yacht basking in the Californian sunshine… quaffing a few margaritas.

In terms of identifying the archetypal Yacht Rock sound, the following factors commonly apply…

High production values.
The inclusion of elite studio musicians and producers.
Lyrics about heartbroken foolish men, with bonus points if the word ‘fool’ is featured.
An upbeat rhythm driven by the electric piano, nicknamed the ‘Doobie Bounce’.

A perfect example of a Yacht Rock classic that ticks all the boxes is the Doobie Brothers… ‘What A Fool Believes’.


Following the web-series, the interest in Yacht Rock escalated and what started life as a parody developed into a bona fide genre, initiating documentaries, books, compilation albums, radio channels, playlists, live events, tribute bands and podcasts.

Initially an American phenomenon, Yacht Rock tribute bands and events are pretty widespread now and the inherent humour inspired by the web-series lives on, with bands like….. ‘Hot Dads in Tight Jeans’ and ‘Yachty by Nature’

Whilst the tribute-band scene flourishes in bars and smaller venues the appetite from the masses for the original acts is still very much alive.
Guys like Steely Dan, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, The Doobie Brothers and Hall & Oates, are still selling out stadiums and larger venues whilst rolling out their 70s Yacht Rock hits.


It’s a tribute to its longevity and quality that the Yacht Rock sound is still actively being produced today, with new bands like ‘Young Gun Silver Fox’, and established artists, like Thundercat, who recently cut a track with Michael McDonald & Kenny Loggins on vocals.

Ironically, for a genre that started out as a bit of fun, Yacht Rock can be taken a bit too seriously by some YR aficionados who like to go into great detail about why certain bands or songs attain Yacht Rock status whilst others don’t.
In answer to this, and with typical humour, a bunch of yacht rockers set up a website called Yacht or Nyacht? To help the uninitiated identify what’s yacht and what’s not!
https://www.yachtornyacht.com/

Truth be told, Yacht Rock escapes exact definition, and it’s hardly an exact science. For many listeners, it comes down to a feeling or a mood that can’t be found in other types of music
Simply put…. you’ll know a YR track when you hear it, but at least when anyone asks you what type of music you’re into you, you can now find a better way of saying ‘Smooth, light and catchy’.

I had fun collating a short Spotify playlist of some of my favourite Yacht Rock classics, (although a couple may be on the Nyacht list!) link below….

Bonus points for anyone who can identify how many tracks Michael McDonald features on?

18 With A Bullet – Midnight At The Oasis by Maria Muldaur

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.

18 With A Bullet – ‘How Long’ by Ace

Paul Fitzpatrick: London, March 2022

Selected 70s hits from across the pond

How Long by Ace

When I checked my iTunes music library recently, I found to my astonishment that the most played track is a one-hit-wonder from a 70’s pub-rock or blue-eyed soul band, (take your pick) called Ace.
The track is ‘How Long’.

On reflection I shouldn’t have been taken aback.

Firstly – I love the song, it’s timeless
Secondly – It’s got a habit of finding its way onto a lot of my playlists
Thirdly – Unlike many other tracks, I only have one version downloaded, there are no re-mixes, re-edits or remasters, the original version still stands up.

Ace, a British band based in England’s steel town, Sheffield, were formed in 1972 and How Long was their debut single. It would be the bands one and only hit before they fizzled out in 1977.

Taken from the bands eponymous Five a Side album, ‘How Long’ went on to become a massive hit in the US, reaching number 1 on Cashbox in March 1975 whilst scraping into the top 20 in the UK.

Written by Paul Carrack the bands vocalist and keyboard player, most people assume the songs lament is aimed at a cheating spouse but the muse for this particular song was actually the bands bass player, who had been caught moonlighting with a rival band…. The Sutherland Brothers & Quiver – “the friends with their fancy persuasions” in the songs barbed lyrics.

With it’s pulsating bass intro, soulful vocals and tight, rhythmic groove the song was the epitome of ‘Blue-Eyed Soul’, a genre championed at the time by artists like Hall & Oates, the Bee-Gees, Robert Palmer and Boz Scaggs.

Unlike the rest of the band post Ace, Paul Carrack went on to enjoy a successful career both as a solo artist and as a sideman in groups as diverse as Roxy Music, Squeeze, Eric Clapton, Roger Waters and most famously with Mike + The Mechanics where he was the lead vocalist on their uber hit – ‘The Living Years’.


A three and a half minute jukebox classic that got plenty of airplay in its day, ‘How Long’ has been covered amongst others by Rod Stewart and Bobby Womack, although perhaps the best cover and the closest to the Motown vibe that Ace were aiming for is a Northern Soul version by JJ Barnes in 1977.


The song is another great example of how the best ‘one hit wonders’ can prevail, maintaining kudos for artists that didn’t achieve all that much in their hey day. It even popped up on one of my sons playlists the other day which brought a big smile to my face.

Carrack is very much alive and kicking, and 48 years after its release, ‘How Long’ is still the pinnacle of his live shows.
He is currently touring Europe as a solo artist and below is a recent short interview with him, where he talks about Ace and their glorious one hit wonder….

My First Gig – King Crimson

Russ Stewart: London, November 2021

Fifty years ago, October 11th 1971, I attended my first proper gig, at Glasgow’s Green’s Playhouse. 
Oddly, as I am not really a prog rock fan, it was in the court of prog royalty – King Crimson.

Half a century on, I still retain a soft spot for the band, though not soft enough to have paid 100 quid to see them play live in London a couple of years ago.

Featured below is the actual ticket for the gig courtesy of Roger Brown who found it attached to a King Crimson album he purchased from me many moons ago….

King Crimson’s support act that evening was a solo acoustic guitar/singer called Keith Christmas.
Due to alliteration, I was suspicious as to whether this was his real name.
Still gigging today Christmas played guitar on Bowie’s Space Oddity album.

My erstwhile near neighbour, Alan Doig was the one who introduced me to King Crimson and he was part of the group who attended this gig.

Alan’s father had been a provost of Bearsden and had a symbolic single blue provost street light outside his house indicating the holding of such past office.  I believe that this entitled him to kill a swan with a crossbow on Kilmardinny Loch each eve of Michaelmas.

Alan had a great sound system which did help influence the appeal of the new Crimson album at that time, ‘Lizard’. In particular it projected the fantastic, bombastic synth riff in the middle of the track Cirkus

Aged 14 I was impressed with Peter Sinfield’s lyrics on the Lizard album, particularly as I strove to find the deeper meanings embedded in his ditties. 
I now realise they are incoherent nonsense.

The gig: after Mr Christmas’ plaintive noodling the lights dimmed and a mellotron chord rang out.  C sharp minor 7th flattened 5th, though I could be mistaken ( ……or bullshitting).   


The band: Robert Fripp sitting down playing guitar and mellotron.  Boz Burrelll on bass and vocals, Mel Collins on sax and a drummer dude. 

Most of that line up later deserted the prog camp.  Boz Burrell left to form Bad Company, Mel Collins played with the Average White Band and Kokomo whilst Lyricist Sinfield went on to write for the likes of Buck’s Fizz and Leo Sayer.

Fripp now makes YouTube videos of himself accompanying the terpsichorean insanity of his fruity little wife, Toyah.

Beware, once you see it you can’t unsee it

I have continued to dabble in prog listening and I’m grateful for the school friends who dragged me along to selected prog gigs in those early days. The likes of Graeme Butler, Simon Brader and Ralph Jessop helped me to open my ears somewhat, to Genesis, Greenslade and Magma.  

Glasgow City Halls usually accommodated the lesser known prog bands in those days and one could easily wander backstage to chat with the musicians post gig. 
I recall a schoolboy French conversation with the blue chinned caveman, Christian Vander, who led Magma. 

Magna’s bassist played a Fender bass covered in  baby oil ( …. the bass that is).  They talked about the philosophic works of Ouspensky, which meant as much to me as King Crimson’s lyrics.   

As I write I notice that Van Der Graaf Generator are touring the UK soon… maybe worth a punt. 

Talking about gigs, my own band is playing the Three Kings Pub in Twickenham on New Years Eve. 
There will be no prog rock, or baby oil… though there will be some Steely Dan, Todd Rundgren, Michael McDonald and Doors covers in the set.

Teenage kicks – Ian Hutchison

There appears to be a Courthill theme developing here!

Name: Ian Hutchison

Where were you brought up: Courthill/ Mosshead Estate, Bearsden

Secondary school: Bearsden Academy

Best mates at school: Ian Gilmour, Ian McIntyre, Allan Neill, Alan Cruikshank

Funniest memory from school: During school dance/disco vomiting in Mr Crossley’s (Chemistry) coat pocket in the staff cloakroom. An appropriate addition to his nickname “Chunky.”

First holiday with your mates in UK: Long weekend in Oban, 1976 with Dave Bell and Tim Cumming. Slept in a Simca 100, failed miserably chatting up girls in Mactavishes Kitchen.

That old ‘pull my finger’ routine was big back in the day!

First holiday with your mates abroad: Excluding the school cruise that is, sorry Colin! 1979, Inter Rail card for a month’s travel across Europe with Dave and Tim. Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain.


Took £130 spending money for the month spent every penny.
So many memories… in the Hague being introduced to a film director, he asked if we wanted to see his gun. Ahh run for the hills!
Teaming up with Angus Mackinlay in Geneva for a few days bevying, I mean sight seeing, but that’s another story….

What was your first job: Apprentice Mechanical Engineer in Hope St, Glasgow from 1975-1977.

Who was your musical hero in 70s: Hendrix, Steely Dan, Jan Akkerman, Hatfield and the North so many….


What was your favourite single: American Pie – Don Maclean

Favourite album: Hunky Dory, Close to the Edge, L. Zep II & IV

First gig: ELP, Greens Playhouse, 1971’ish, was bloody awful. Keith’s organ kept breaking down (Ooh Missus!)

Emmerson stabbing his keyboard – no wonder the bleedin’ thing wasn’t working!

Favourite movie in 70s: Young Frankenstein @ the La Scala,               Sauchiehall St, with Mackie, Gilly and Jabes.
Few pints of Tartan Special in the Director’s Box, Hope St, first.

Who was your inspiration in 70s: Was going to say Deputy Head Deuchars, maybe not, let’s say Les Kellet.

We’re all Les Kellet…

Posters on your wall: Footballers, Hendrix, Easy Rider, Tennis lassie scratching her erse.

On many a boys wall in the 70s

What do you miss most from the 70s: All the gorgeous girls and probably a pint @ c. £0.20 (or 4/- in real money!)

Farrah Fawcett AND beer – You’re Welcome!

What advice would you give your 14yr old self: Don’t worry too much about the future it’s going to be a blast! Get out there and make every minute count.

70s pub session: Can only be the Brae bar of the Stakis Burnbrae hotel – Keith Moon for the laughs, Howlin’ Wolf, Janis Joplin and Lowell George for the jam session.

The late, great Lowell George
Hutch – still crazy after all these years!

the way we were (Part 1)

Paul Fitzpatrick: April 2021 London.

According to the Harvard professor and cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, mankind’s never had it so good.

He reasons that by almost every metric of human wellbeing, the world is getting better —everything from war, violence, and poverty (all declining) to health, wealth, happiness, and equality (all improving).

I’m not about to argue against the Prof or his logic but despite the obvious progress there are still a few things from the 70s that I’m sure we all miss.

I don’t mean major things, like – loved ones or youth or waistlines, they’re a given of course, however, I’m not talking about superfluous things either, like Golden Cups or Sea Monkeys.

I readily admit that my choices are all minor in the grand scheme of things but they’re particular to me….

1) Jukeboxes:
I know we can stream music from a grain of sand nowadays and Spotify can provide us with 70 million downloadable songs at the touch of a button, and really, I’m grateful for that, it’s progress, it really is.

But I do miss a great jukebox in a pub, because it’s the way it should be, it’s democracy at its finest, everyone has a choice and if the proprietors are smart and curate the best of each genre then it doesn’t matter if you’re a Rock fan and the jukebox is playing Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding or Wichita Lineman by Glen Campbell, the chances are you’ll still appreciate best in class.  

The alternative is generally hit or miss and usually in the hands of a disinterested staff member who’s happy to put on anything for a bit of background noise.

I’ve left pubs before because the music was so banal.

In my local they have an online jukebox system called Secret DJ where you can log-in using the pubs Wi-Fi and make your own choices (everyone that logs in has 3 free choices before you have to pay), there’s not a great selection to choose from to be honest but there’s a bit of Steely Dan & The Doobie Brothers & Al Green and of course Wichita Lineman & Dock of the Bay…

It’s not as good as a finely curated jukebox of course but it’s better than listening to Adele on a loop.

2) Robert Halpern:

In the late 70s one of the best nights out for me was a visit to The Pavilion in Glasgow to see a stage hypnotist called Robert Halpern.

I must have seen the guy 20 times at least, and over the course of a few years I dragged along everyone I knew to see his act… mainly for the show but also to witness their reactions, which were usually hysterical.

The premise of the show was pretty simple and never really changed.

He would hypnotise about 40 people every night.
Most of them hypnotised within the first 10 minutes of the show, unknowingly put under, whilst sitting in their seats.

He’d then home-in on about 12 principal characters (usually the mouthy ones) who would become the stars of the show.

I took a friend who on attending the show for the first time got hypnotised, and I watched it all unfold.

One minute he was sat beside me saying it was all claptrap the next he was trudging up to the stage like a zombie with his fingers clasped so tightly that his hands and arms were shaking.

At the end of the show my mate vehemently denied that he had been hypnotised and insisted that he’d been fully aware of everything that had gone on.

I so wished I had a camera phone back then to show him his ‘awareness’ at work.

He didn’t think it was strange at all, that…
He was up on stage in front of 1,500 people… Or that he was eating raw onions that supposedly tasted like sweet apples…. Or that he would start taking all his clothes off when he heard a certain song… Or that he was stuck to a chair that he couldn’t get out of for 10 minutes…. Or that he was trying to feed a carrot to a wooden horse…. Or that he believed the number 3 didn’t exist so when he counted his fingers, he had 11 digits… despite him working for a bank!

He said he was just performing for the benefit of the show, which I guess on some level is how ‘response to suggestion’ works… which is at the core of hypnotism.

Anyway, as you can probably guess, the star of the show every night as always, was the great Glasgow public.

There was always a gallus wee punter telling the hypnotist to ‘f*ck off ya clown!’ or a schemie laying into him with ‘do ya think I’m buttoned up the back, ya dobber!’.

At the height of his popularity this dobber was earning £25,000 per week, had added a Bengal tiger a set of gallows and a spaceship to his act and was swanning about in a Rolls Royce.

Halpern and baby tiger

Things didn’t end well for Halpern though.
A girl hypnotised by him marched off the front of the stage into the orchestra pit, when as part of the act he’d convinced her she needed a pee and was desperate for the bathroom.
She broke her leg, damaged her back and sued.

Halpern, a regular at the casinos, was by now allegedly bankrupt.

Even though I knew the drill I miss those shows, they were funny, chaotic, very live and obviously spontaneous.

One of my favourite parts was the wooden horse routine –

“when you wake up you will see a beautiful stallion, a Grand National winner, you love that horse and no one else is allowed to go near it, if anyone touches your horse you will be livid…. 1-2-3 Wake Up!”

Cue wee Glasgow punter when he wakes up and sees another wee Glasgow punter sitting on the wooden horse – “hey you, ya thieving b*stard, get aff my f*cking horse!!!”

3) Laugh out loud movies:

I never laughed so much in the cinema as I did in the 70s – Blazing Saddles, Life of Brian, Kentucky Fried Movie, Young Frankenstein, The Jerk, *Caddyshack, *Airplane, etc…

(*the last two were actually released early in 1980 but were devised & written in the 70s and filmed in 79, so I’m claiming them for the 70s)

Don’t get me wrong there have been some great comedies in subsequent decades – Borat, Step Brothers, In Bruges, In the Loop, etc, but nothing quite as hilarious as Mel Brooks and The Pythons at their best.

The depressing thing about a lot of those 70s movies however is that none of them would get made in todays ‘cancel culture’.

Don’t get me wrong, if something is genuinely offensive then it shouldn’t see the light of day, but nowadays a big section of society gets offended by everything and being outraged seems to give some people the right to take the moral high ground and say ‘I’m offended therefore I’m principled’…. permitting them to jump on whatever bandwagon is rolling through social media that week.

Creatively, this leads to a culture of fear and reduces risk taking, which in turn stymies talent and imagination.

Take Blazing Saddles as an example.. as brilliant as it is, that screenplay would never be pitched to studio execs today.

It’s mistakenly referred to as a racist movie by some, when in fact it’s actually one of the greatest anti-racist movies of all time…

Co-written by Richard Pryor, who also advised on the language, the films original title was Tex X: it was planned to be an homage to Malcolm X, and was conceived from the outset as an unflinching attack on racism

True, it requires a modicum of critical thinking to work out who the butt of the satire, sarcasm and absurdity is aimed at, but surely we can trust the general public to work that out for themselves without the need for a ‘3-minute racism warning message’ recently added to the start of Blazing Saddles (and Gone With the Wind) on HBO in America.

Likewise, was The Life of Brian really blasphemous or was Brian just “A very naughty boy” who happened to be born next door and on the same day as Jesus?

On reflection, maybe I’m using Movies as a means of bitching about todays ‘woke culture’, so I best stop there before I get cancelled!

oh how we didn’t laugh

Russ Stewart: London, 2021


70s British comedies. 

Pavlovian catch phrases.  
Class and race/ethnicity stereotypical themes.  
Telegraphed slapstick routines. 
Sexual innuendo from leering, creepy old goats.

Benny Hill, On the Buses…………….

The odd gem: 
Reginald Perrin, Dad’s Army and Fawlty Towers…. excellent although all fell back on lazy 70s comedy devices on occasion.

I live near a showbiz retirement home in Twickenham… I see odd 70s era characters venturing out to exercise their gums on Werther’s originals.   

Mad Frankie Fraser was a resident.  
Probably the funniest guy there.  He must have had an equity card to get in (from appearing in some sycophantic gangster worshipping TV show).  
My pal, ex mayor of Richmond borough, encountered Frankie during an official visit.  
Frankie eyed up his mayoral bling. 

I digress….

Contrast to US comedy of the 70s era. 
The Odd Couple, MASH, Taxi, Mork & Mindy, All in the Family, SOAP……..

US comedy had sharper dialogue, more nuanced themes and juxtapositions of pathos / humour.  
They had a phalanx of writers on each script and hence 3.5 jokes per iambic pentameter.

One imagines the typical two man UK comedy writing team collaborating, in their diamond Pringle pullovers, eying their watches for their afternoon golf appointment with Tarby, and hence agreeing to pad out a script with a prat fall and an unfunny one liner so they can meet the submission deadline and the tee off time.

A key characteristic of US comedy writing is sharp dialogue, which in turn is probably influenced by the strong Jewish presence in US showbiz. 
I have noticed it in US literature too.

For example:  I can re-read works by  Philip Roth, James Elroy, Elmore Leonard and Michael Connolly  due to the wit, menace and rich content of the dialogue. 

On the music front Steely Dan lyrics are as evocative as the music. 

I digress again… 
On balance there are some British gems.  Reginald Perrin hit the spot, genuinely sad and funny, albeit occasionally reverting to the catch phrase and the “catch image” (the hippo mother in-law was actually funny on repetition).  

Even Fawlty Towers could not resist the catch phrase and use of the ethnic comedy device, with the Man(uel) from Barcelona as the foil.  

The brilliance of Capt Mainwairing and Sgt Wilson’s exchanges, in Dads Army, were often interrupted by irritating repetitions of “we’re doomed” and “don’t panic”.  

UK comedy has evolved, in the context of so many great, current comedians. 
Steve Coogan, Paul Whitehouse and Ricky Gervais are the homo sapiens that have evolved from the primordial swamp that produced Bernard Manning, Mike Reid et al.  

The Office is a work of genius, albeit descended from Rob Reiner’s Spinal Tap. 

Some say there are many funny UK sitcoms. 
I don’t believe it….