Oh man, now Ed “Stewpot” Stewart has gone and died too, that’s another massive part of my childhood taken. I listened to his show Junior Choice in my bedroom nearly every weekend morning when I was a kid and he was to my early years what John Peel was to my late teens and early 20s, the one who provided a large part of its soundtrack and whose voice immediately brings the past back with all its sounds, images, and feelings.
I still know every note of the songs he played regularly like “Puff The Magic Dragon”, “Jake The Peg”, “The Laughing Policeman” and, of course, the amazing “Excerpt From A Teenage Opera” which is wrapped up with so many memories I had to unpack them on one of the earliest posts on this blog. But the thing I most associate with his show isn’t a song at all but “Sparky’s Magic Piano”, an audio story from the 1940s which he ran in installments seemingly over and over again. While I have many fond memories of this the robotic voice of that piano always creeped me out and still does.
This is the whole thing, it lasts 18 minutes but the file isn’t too big.
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.
Did anyone ever know Jimmy Savile (apart from his mother)? Behind the hair, the cigar, the tracksuits, the jewelry, the charity work, and the colourful, now then now then public personality he was a peculiar old bird with perhaps some dark and dodgy corners and a lot of whispers about his private life. But I don’t want to go there because I have no idea and neither does anyone else either, for someone who was famous for so long he remains a bit of an enigma. But his place in British pop history is secure at least because he was there from the beginning on our televisions and radios and, like him or not, was the face presenting many of our happiest pop memories.
All the old TOTP presenters liked to have pretty young girls standing next to them but none more than Jimmy (who sometimes veered into dirty old man territory) and this must have taken some determined organizing.
PS: Don’t Frida and Agnetha look terrific in this?
I’m sure you don’t need yet another reminder that you’re getting older but today is the 25th anniversary of the Live Aid concert. Yes, it was a quarter of a century ago. I had conflicting feelings about the event at the time, being a cynical young lefty student who had absorbed the anti-hippy attitudes of punk at an impressionable age I was a bit sniffy about the idea of pop stars thinking they could change the world by singing a few choruses of “Give Peace A Chance”, especially when those pop stars included Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones. And looking back we can “blame” Live Aid for the fact that nearly every major tragedy since has come with it’s own usually-dreadful charity single and worthy televised celebathon.
But it’s easy to sit on the sidelines lobbing snarky grenades at other people’s good intentions or blame Bob Geldof for not overthrowing international capitalism instead, and I wasn’t enough of an arrogant prick to begrudge the fact that at least someone was doing something and what I thought about their records or motives or haircuts was beside the point. Though those feelings never led to me actually giving any money to Live Aid, something I felt a little guilty about that summer particularly as I had donated quite a few quid to support the families of striking miners.
So I wasn’t entirely caught up in the whole thing and actually missed the first part of the concert as I was on a train back to London from Kent where my second year of art college had ended the day before and I’d been to an end-of-term party. Though I was a little miffed at missing The Style Council I don’t remember feeling that I’d missed the moon landing or the first half of a World Cup final or something because, to me, it was just a charity rock concert and it was only as the day went on that it became this massive, history-making, must-see global EVENT that we all know it as today — I think even Geldof and Midge Ure were a little surprised at the scale of what they had started.
But I must have thought Live Aid was important enough to have kept The Daily Mirror from the following Monday who did one of their great wraparound covers for it (click here for a full-size image of the whole thing). In case you’re wondering what was on the telly that night, the BBC were showing ‘Allo ‘Allo while on ITV there was a repeat of The Sweeney plus Des O’Connor Now with guest Engelbert Humperdinck.