Prog Rock isn’t quite the uncool evil it once was but I’m still of the conventional post-Punk opinion that it’s mostly too noodly, complicated, and plain silly at times. But when they reign in their indulgences and keep it pop-song length it can be quite magical like this.
Edited out of this clip is the bit at the end when the men in white coats come to take Peter Gabriel away.
I’m pretty sure 16-year-old me hated this in 1978, but in my old age I’ve developed a thing for that “clear as a village church bell” voice that a lot of female English folk singers have. Though I wish they wouldn’t all dress like a serving wench at a Renaissance Fair.
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.
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.
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.
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.