The Way She Used To Be


Pick up any Chill Out/Trip-Hop compilation CD from the end of the 20th century (there were lots of them) and you’ll see a whole host of bands who only flickered very briefly and are almost forgotten now: Sneaker Pimps, Smoke City, Olive, Dubstar, to name a few. They all had a signature song – usually because of it being used in a film or television commercial — but then failed to make much impact beyond that.

London duo Mono were another of those. They released one half-decent album Formica Blues in 1997, and then – poof! – they broke up. The album mostly follows the standard Trip-Hop template of drowsy electronic beats over movie-soundtrack instrumentation, but this single verged away from that into Saint Etienne territory and is all the better for it.

Download: Slimcea Girl – Mono (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



This is the single PSB released after the massive “West End Girls” but it only got to #19 in the charts and there was a brief moment when I thought they were going to be one-hit wonders. Think it’s one of the loveliest records they made though.

PS: Is that Courtney Pine on sax? It is!

Low Fidelity


Speaking of Lo-fi music technology, this was our family record player for most of the 1970s, a fact which may have influenced my memory of how music sounded back then. It’s a Fidelity HF42 which, according to my research, only cost £13.95 from Argos in 1976 which seems ridiculously low even for 40 year ago. It was mono and made of plastic — even the “wood” bits — with a whopping output of 1 1/2 watts of tinny music power. Sad to say, my mum probably bought it because it was the cheapest one there was — we were poor, you know.

The Fidelity was where I first played such epochal albums of my youth as All Mod Cons (I’m amazed I could hear Bruce Foxton’s bass), but the record I most associate with it is the 45 of “Telephone Line” which I played incessantly for a while. I think I literally played it a dozen times in a row the day I bought it. I listened to a lot of ELO records on that thing and was probably only hearing about 25% of the sumptuous production, but Jeff Lynne’s songs were so strong they still sounded great on a shitty record player, or radio.

Download: Telephone Line – Electric Light Orchestra (mp3)

We eventually got a Panasonic music centre at the end of the decade which felt like a top-of-the-line Bang & Olufsen system to me — two speakers!

No Static At All


I often think that the difference between British and American pop music in the 1970s can be defined by a difference between radio frequencies. Back then — except a few hours in the evenings and weekends — our national pop station Radio One only broadcast in Medium Wave (known as AM in the States) which meant that our listening experience was mostly tinny and lo-fi, the ideal aural environment for the primitive Glam Rock, New Wave, and tacky novelty songs that filled our charts during the decade. It’s also a pretty good metaphor for dismal 1970s Britain, even our radio reception was shoddy.

The United States, on the other hand, was the land of plenty with radio stations broadcasting in the crisp hi-fidelity tones of stereo FM; perfect for the sophisticated, well-produced Soft Rock of bands like The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac which to me is the signature sound of American pop in the 70s. In my imagination it’s playing on the stereo FM radio of a big convertible, sounding as clear and warm as a California swimming pool.

It’s a generalization but that’s the impression I’ve always had. Medium Wave was all about the single, while FM favoured the album. One was Cum On Feel The Noize, the other Hotel California.

Beyond being a radio frequency, “FM” also signified a whole culture and style in the States, there was even a movie called FM set in a Los Angeles radio station made in 1978. I never saw it (I don’t think many people did) but I did have the soundtrack album which was a guilty pleasure for me at the time. Liking an album full of Bob Seger, Boston, and James Taylor felt like a subversive act in Punk and Post-Punk England, about the least hospitable place for slick AOR made by rich, suntanned Americans with beards.

The only new song on the soundtrack was the terrific title tune by Steely Dan which, not surprisingly for them, takes a cynical view of the very thing the movie was celebrating. Their records might also have polished, FM-worthy production but, unlike the other bands on the album, Becker and Fagen’s literate East Coast cool has meant they’ve always been hip.

Download: FM (No Static At All) – Steely Dan (mp3)

Something for Le Weekend



I will defend to the death the right of dirty old Frenchmen to seduce our nice English girls into faking orgasms on record.

I know we’ve all heard this a million times but I’d never seen the video before and it is — how you say? — très jolie.

Je suis Serge.

Everyone Knows It’s Windy


I slept through the infamous storm of 1987. I had no idea what had happened until I was woken early in the morning by a phone call from my mum asking me if I was OK. Then I noticed that our electricity had gone out. I still went to work later that day — Spirit of The Blitz and all that, you know.

Poor old Michael Fish, 30 years of forecasting the weather on the BBC — mostly accurately I imagine — and all he gets remembered for now is blowing the call on the biggest storm to hit England in 300 years. It reminds me of that “And you shag one sheep!” joke.

Download: (He’s Our Dear Old) Weatherman – Mark Wirtz (mp3)

This happy paisley number is from the 1960s legendary unfinished Teenage Opera project.

Something for the Weekend



Eight minutes of magnificently over-the-top glam rock and roll brilliance. Just when you think it’s climaxed Marc finds another level.

Apparently the reason this was called “Bang A Gong” in the US was because there was already a song called “Get It On” in the charts by some group called Chase. I’d never heard of them before either.

Commercial Break


Looks like she enjoyed Last Tango In Paris. I think this is outside the Prince Charles Cinema in Soho.

Download: Good Girls – Merry Clayton (mp3)

You don’t need me to tell you that Merry Clayton was the wailing backing voice on The Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” or that her own version of the song is fabulously funky. “Good Girls” was the b-side of that and is also on her 1970 debut album.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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