My sister absolutely hated this record, saying that being 17 was bad enough without having to listen to a depressing song about it.
One of those songs that always reminds me of soul boys in Farah trousers and slow dances in disco pubs. Spent many a Saturday night dancing with a girl to this one — or trying to. This is a really fabulous performance of it.
The group’s organ player mentioned in the clip is a young man from Cleethorpes who went on to write Rock With You, Off The Wall, and Thriller amongst others.
I think even back then we knew Fanny Cradock was a bit deranged. I love the way she says “A PROPER OMELETTE PAN!” as if she’s going to come round your house and hit you with a ruler if you don’t use one. And how crappy that stove looks now compared to the fancy, well-appointed kitchens Nigella and Jamie cook in. But at least it’s something her viewers might actually have themselves — looks like the stove we had, in fact — and not some aspirational Aga range which cost more than most people’s cars.
This is the Christmas episode from 1975 and apparently things were so bad that year — terrorism, unemployment, inflation — British housewives were reduced to making their entire holiday feast out of mincemeat. It’s all rather sad and desperate and Fanny even gives a little speech at the end about the “appalling present conditions” as if the country was in the middle of the Blitz. Pretty sure we had turkey as usual that year.
Sparks are known for their hyper, outré style but my favourite record of theirs might be this beautiful, stately ballad which actually sounds quite heartfelt by their standards.
Download: Never Turn Your Back On Mother Earth – Sparks (mp3)
I was going to add it’s a perfect candidate for a cover version but discovered that several people have already done one.
Photo: Lady Bridget Poulett as ‘Arethusa’ by Madame Yevonde, 1935
The BRIT Awards weren’t always the slick extravaganza they are today, you know.
If it wasn’t for the presence of Ian Dury and Nick Lowe you wouldn’t have any clue that popular music had just gone through something of a revolution (and notice that neither of them got actual BPI awards). Rock industry awards are notoriously conservative but this is even less edgy and rock n’ roll than an episode of The Two Ronnies.
Not being in the mood for anything new I re-read Jonathan Coe’s nostalgic novel The Rotters Club on holiday the other week. The book is set in Birmingham in the 1970s and one of the major events in it is the horrific bombings at the Mulberry Bush and Tavern In The Town pubs in the city which killed 21 people on one night in November 1974.
Two characters in the story are in the latter pub that fateful night and one detail Coe adds is that the last song playing on the jukebox of the Tavern In The Town right before the bomb went off was “I Get A Kick Out Of You” by Gary Shearston. I can only assume Coe made that up because I can find no reference to it anywhere else, but it’s perfectly feasible as the record was a big hit at the time, getting to No.7 in the charts the month before the bombings.
Though she already had a version of the song by Frank Sinatra my mother bought the record because she loved Shearston’s lazy, laconic take on it — complete with an acoustic guitar intro stolen from “My Sweet Lord” — which really brought out the urbane ennui of Cole Porter’s lyrics. Despite his Ferry-esque croon, Shearston (who died last year) was actually an Australian folk singer and this was a one-off novelty hit that he recorded for a lark. Part of the success of such an old-timey record was probably due to the 1970s nostalgia vogue when even Laurel & Hardy and Glenn Miller got in the charts.
This is one of the records that most reminds me of my mother so I was a little bothered by Coe placing it in the terrible context of the Birmingham pub bombings, as if he was messing with my own memories. But one of the book’s strengths is that Coe avoids the superficial, I Love The Seventies! version of the decade — nothing but flares, Glam Rock, and big sideburns — which a more obvious signifier of the era like Bowie or T. Rex would have been. Going with a forgotten one-hit wonder — and slightly cheesy one at that — can tell you more about the actual, ordinary reality of the 1970s than “Starman” does.
Download: I Get A Kick Out Of You – Gary Shearston (mp3)
PS: How nice looking was the Charisma Records label?
The Saturday job I had in the record department of the Putney WH Smith in the late 70s might not have been as hip as working at Rough Trade or Groove Records, but the guy who ran the department was a serious music geek as were the kids I worked with and we stocked plenty of Post-Punk and Indie records, and had a good section of 12″ singles. There were three independent record shops on Putney High Street at the time (three!) and we considered them our competition, not Woolies or Boot’s.
The naff brown blazers and ties we had to wear didn’t make us look very cool but if you came into the store on a Saturday you’d be just as likely to hear The Jam or Joy Division playing than Neil Diamond or ABBA, much to the annoyance of the store manager. One time he came over when we were playing Gary Numan’s The Pleasure Principle album and said “Take this off and play something more popular!” to which one of the kids snarkily replied “Actually, it’s Number One at the moment.” First time I ever heard Unknown Pleasures was while working there.
But Smiths were still a “respectable” High Street chain better known for selling books and stationery than edgy records. One Saturday in 1979 a letter arrived from corporate HQ in Swindon telling us to remove from the racks all copies of the debut albums by Public Image and Stiff Little Fingers as the company would no longer be selling them — in other words, they were being banned.
The letter never gave any reason (it may have actually been two separate letters at different times, my memory is hazy on that point) but it wasn’t hard to figure out why they considered SLF’s Inflammable Material so controversial with it’s abrasive songs about the Northern Ireland conflict. We were a little puzzled about the Public Image album, but decided that it was down to the “sacrilegious” song “Religion” which would probably still ruffle a few feathers today.
The strange thing was that both albums had been out for a while, the Public Image album was nearly a year old, so this was a case of shutting the barn door after the horse had bolted. I can only imagine that the old duffers who ran Smiths were a bit slow on the uptake, or maybe they’d had a few Mr. Angry letters from outraged customers — I once had a woman return a Billy Connolly album to the store complaining that one of the sketches on it was “blasphemous”. The Stiff Little Fingers ban was obviously blatant political censorship though, the Chairman of Smiths at the time was a chap called Sir Charles Hugh Willis Troughton and with a name like that you can imagine what his political sympathies were. He probably went to public school with half the Thatcher cabinet.
I don’t remember any of this being in the news back then, not even the music press who you think would be outraged at the establishment once again banning rock records, but the whole event seemed to be unnoticed except for those of us who worked at Smiths.
Smiths doesn’t sell music anymore (neither does any other High Street store) and now John Lydon does butter commercials while Stiff Little Fingers are on the punk nostalgia circuit. But there was a time when they were considered an affront to the decent law-abiding citizens who popped into Smiths to get their TV Times and the latest Barry Manilow album. You can’t say this about a lot of music from back then, but these records do still sound confrontational. Still worth banning, really.
I’ve been playing this song a lot lately. I’ve known it since it was a hit in 1973 so it’s far from being a new record to me but I heard it again recently and was suddenly struck by what an utterly great pop-soul record it was, with a sunny and breezy charm that’s quite, well, magic. Music is funny like that sometimes, one minute a record is like wallpaper — always there but not really noticed — the next you see it’s beauty with new eyes (or ears in this case).
And what a great name for a band Limmie & The Family Cookin’ is. They were formed in Ohio by Limmie Snell and his sisters Martha and Jimmie — the latter of whom is the sweet voice on this — who never had any hits at home but scored three in the UK of which “Magic” was the first and biggest.
Not sure if a song that got to #3 in the charts can qualify as a “lost” classic but I think this is one of those records that only people of a certain age know, and for some of us perfectly captures Radio One in the 1970s.
Download: You Can Do Magic – Limmie & The Family Cookin’ (mp3)