January 20th, 2015
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)
November 28th, 2014
Speaking of the macho posturing of rock music, this is pretty much the dictionary definition of it — even though they all look like girls with that hair.
For all their ludicrous faults, Led Zep did have a killer rhythm section. I can forgive them a lot for that.
November 7th, 2014
I saw The Bee Gees at Wembley in the late 80s which was about as brilliant as you can imagine. They opened with “Tragedy”, encored with “You Should Be Dancing” and for the two hours in-between nearly every song in the show was a stone-gold classic. I’ve never seen a band with such an astonishing back catalogue before, only Stevie Wonder could touch them.
Bonus video: Because I can’t pick just one Gibb brothers record. We all know the God-like beauty of Al Green’s version of this but the ethereal original is pretty damn special too.
October 31st, 2014
This was a hit in 1971 but I only have a very vague recollection of it. There is something a bit “cult leader” about the lead singer, as if he’s preaching in front of his brainwashed followers. But I do like this, it straddles the thin line between sublime and ridiculous where a lot of great pop music lives.
In this clip you also get Ed “Stewpot” Stewart wearing an eyepatch. There used to be some bizarre stuff in the charts and TOTP could be quite weird as a result. Often marvelously so.
October 24th, 2014
My sister absolutely hated this record, saying that being 17 was bad enough without having to listen to a depressing song about it.
October 10th, 2014
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.
October 1st, 2014
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.
September 17th, 2014
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