I just finished reading Ode To Billie Joe by Tara Murtha, a new release in the 33 1/3 series of books. Straying from the template of most other titles in the series, it isn’t devoted to an in-depth analysis of Bobbie Gentry’s debut album but is instead an investigative biography of the reclusive singer who made her last album in 1971 and completely vanished from the public eye in the early 80s.
Murtha has done a lot of digging in archives and spoken to people who worked with her, but with such a big hole at the center of the story — Gentry herself — it has a Rashomon-like quality with people offering conflicting stories and opinions about the singer which only makes her more mysterious by the end. The only thing that seems clear is Gentry was something of a feminist pioneer: writing and producing her own records, and negotiating her own business deals (very successfully), at a time when it was almost unheard of for a woman artist to do so.
It’s a terrific book full of fascinating trivia (I could do without knowing Gentry was a fan of Ayn Rand though) but sadly it can’t answer the really big question: Why did the driven, ambitious, and creative woman capable of writing beautiful songs like this just…quit. As Murtha says in the book, “Only one person knows, and she isn’t talking.”
The Pretenders were my favourite band in 1979 when this was filmed, even more than The Jam I think. I have a photo of me in my bedroom circa that year and there are three posters of them on the wall, and readers of this blog will know all about the massive crush I had on Chrissie Hynde, even writing letters to Smash Hits in her defense.
I was lucky enough to see the original line-up live in 1980 (with UB40 and Tenpole Tudor supporting) and I will carry the sight of Chrissie swaggering around stage in leather trousers until my dying day. The rest of the band were pretty good too as you can tell from this performance. Decided to post the entire show as it’s all great.
One of the many reasons why it was so great being a boy in the 1970s: 20-foot high billboards of Caroline Munro in a wet suit plastered everywhere.
Mott the Hoople are rightly famous for being one of the best rocking bands of their era, but they also did some lovely ballads like this one. I actually think Ian Hunter’s voice is more suited to slow, melancholy songs.
One curse of being a graphic designer is that it’s impossible to turn off your professional eye so you’re constantly noticing the design of things from the shittiest advert on the bus to the nicest record sleeve. The worst is the compulsion to mentally fix bad type kerning when you see it, which is often sadly.
It’s a curse that even Jenny Agutter is powerless to overcome, because my first reaction on seeing this picture was to admire the poster behind her and wonder who designed it. While 99% of the men looking at this are probably thinking “What poster?” I cannot control my eyes from being more interested in that than the lovely Jenny. Sad, isn’t it?
Of course I had to research it and, as I thought, the poster is the work of the great Seymour Chwast. Jenny had very good taste.