My Sister’s Records

Smokie (originally spelled “Smokey” until they were threatened with a lawsuit by a certain Motown legend) were a band from Bradford who had had been kicking around for years without any success before coming under the wing of the songwriting and production team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman in the mid-70s. Though “Chinnichap” were famous for the Bubble-Glam hits they penned for Suzi Quatro, Mud, and The Sweet, they showed their versatility (and smarts) by not forcing the denim-clad Smokie into this mould and instead wrote some laid-back, country-rock songs for them that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on an American FM radio station.

There must have been a gap in the market for a Northern English version of The Eagles — grey Yorkshire houses on the album cover instead of California hotels — because they were very successful. Their second album Changing All The Time was a big seller in 1975 down to the presence of the Chinnichap hits “If You Think You Know How To Love Me” and “Don’t Play Your Rock & Roll To Me.” They also wrote the title track which is a really lovely song, hard to believe it’s by the same guys who wrote “Blockbuster” and “Tiger Feet”.

Because of those hits my sister got the album for Christmas 1975 as a present from our Gran. She was 14 at the time and up until then had only owned Bay City Rollers and Osmonds albums so this might have been her first non-“teenybopper” record. Two years later she was into The Clash, but I don’t think Smokie were directly responsible for that. These days she really likes The Eagles which you probably can blame them for.

Download: Changing All The Time – Smokie (mp3)
Download: Don’t Play Your Rock & Roll To Me – Smokie (mp3)

I’ve always loved the cover of this album, a nicely evocative bit of pre-Photoshop collage and hand-tinting.

Something for the Weekend

My sister absolutely hated this record, saying that being 17 was bad enough without having to listen to a depressing song about it.

My Sister’s Records

I’ve mentioned here before how my sister went from being a screaming, tartan-scarf-waving Bay City Rollers fan to loving those noisy punk rockers The Clash which is obviously something of a radical jump but people made a lot of radical jumps during 1976 and 1977, not just in musical taste but in the length of hair and width of trousers too.

My sister never actually became a punk herself — too sensible at the end of the day, my sis — but her friend Sue went the whole hog into bondage trousers, safety pins, and dyed, spiky hair. Nowadays no one would bat an eyelash at the “punk” look (it’s almost quaint now) but back then I remember walking down the street with Sue in all her pierced, ripped, and bound finery and people would visibly bristle when they walked past us, looking at her in disgust as if she had some disease or her very appearance was an affront to decency. Sue found it all very amusing and, like a lot of punks, took pleasure in playing up to the tabloid guttersnipe stereotype. One time we were out, some little kids were staring and pointing at her so Sue took a big swig from her can of Coke, turned to them, and belched very loudly in their faces. They ran away, probably going home to tell their mum how rude those nasty punks were. It wasn’t all fun and games though, one day she was spat on by a Teddy Boy while walking down the King’s Road where there were often fights between Punks and Teds during the summer of 1977. I actually used to be a little scared to go down there at the time.

Punk didn’t just cause a rift in English society either, for a while it caused a big split in our house too because one thing The Clash had in common with The Bay City Rollers was that I hated them both. As I’ve also noted here before, I originally thought this album was just a horrid, moronic noise that was like being hit over the head with a brick by a gang of angry yobs. As much as it pains me to admit it now but my sister was hipper than I was at the time. It really pains me to admit that. But I eventually got hip myself (and of course became far hipper than my sister, ho ho) and came to hear what was so incredibly great about it. Obviously it’s essential, vital, life-changing etc. etc. and I think the best album The Clash made, tighter and more focused than London Calling (which I have to say I’ve always found to be just a teensy bit overrated) without an ounce of fat on it.

They never repeated the primitive and visceral punch-punch-punch of this and to their credit they never tried to either and moved on musically. This was a quickly-taken snapshot of a moment that, like punk itself, shone brightly for a very short time and burnt itself out. But what a “moment” it was while it lasted.

I still think it sounds like being hit over the head with a brick by a gang of angry yobs — but in a good way.

Download: Hate and War – The Clash (mp3)
Download: London’s Burning – The Clash (mp3)
Download: Protex Blue – The Clash (mp3)
Buy: The Clash (UK version of course)

My Sister’s Records

For a boy band looking to gain some artistic credibility there are a few options they can choose. Hook up with the latest trendy producer who can give their sound a hip edge; record an album of moody acoustic ballads to show what deeply poetic souls they really are; cover a Joy Division song in an “ironic” way; or have the lead singer reveal that he has a heroin problem.

But in the pre-punk 1970s there was another option that probably isn’t available these days: the concept album. This was the choice made by The Osmonds who, in an effort to prove that they were more than just toothy pin-ups, released the self-composed and produced “The Plan” in 1973 which was a concept album about their Mormon faith of all things. Hardly the most rock and roll of subjects to choose from but they were at least sticking to something they knew a lot about. The Osmonds were the world’s most famous members of that religion and the only things I knew about it I learned because of them. For instance, Donny Osmond’s favourite drink was 7-Up because Mormons weren’t allowed to drink alcohol or caffeine. I read that in one of my sister’s Jackie or Fab 208 magazines and for some bizarre reason I still remember it.

This was the only Osmonds album my sister bought and she probably got it because it had the big ballad “Let Me In” on it which is a lovely song but in the context of the album it sounds more like they’re singing it to Jesus instead of some young girl. It’s so dreamy I doubt if she noticed or cared though.

Download: Let Me In – The Osmonds (mp3)

Unfortunately for her the rest of the album was nothing like this. Instead the brothers went all out for the grand artistic statement and produced an overblown brew of acid rock, psychedelia, funk, and rootsy soul numbers with some dreadfully earnest and preachy lyrics. It has its moments but songs like “Traffic In My Mind” probably just made my sister wish she’d spent her record token on that David Cassidy album instead. In the lingo of the day, this is heavy, man.

Download: Traffic In My Mind – The Osmonds (mp3)

In The Crowd

I’m sure we’ve all been to concerts that have been a little spoiled by overly-enthusiastic and aggressive people jumping around elbows flying like crazed loons knocking into everyone near them. Then there’s those twats who push in front of you right before the band come on, spoiling the nice view of the stage you got there early to secure. I hate those bastards.

This photo reminded me of the time I saw The Clash at The Lyceum in 1980 and I was surrounded by these skinheads who kept shouting “DO WHITE RIOT! DO WHITE RIOT!” and I’m thinking to myself “Please, don’t do ‘White Riot'” because I didn’t fancy being caught in the middle of a group of blokes wearing steel-toed Doc Marten’s all going berserk. I’d gone to that concert with my sister who insisted on standing right at the front centre stage so she could be near Joe Strummer (her latest object of desire at the time) though I told her not to because it would get crazy down front the minute the band kicked off. But you know what sisters are, don’t want to take advice from their younger brothers. Well, two songs in (“Clash City Rockers” and “Safe European Home”), I could see her from my nice spot at the side and she looked like she was drowning in a violent sea of bodies crushing her and knocking her all over the place and had this look on her face that said “Help!” so I had to wade into the heaving throng and pull her out. I didn’t like to say I told her so but I did. She’d been to a Bay City Rollers concert so you think she’d be used to an out of control crowd, those girls could be more aggressive than any punk or skinhead.

I’ve had a few hairy moments at concerts myself (being knocked to the floor and trampled on at a Banshees gig comes to mind) but nothing compared to standing on the terraces at a football match when a goal is scored and the crowd surges forward, literally sweeping you off your feet into a body-crushing mass of people. Though I must admit that could be as thrilling as it was scary.

Anyway, I’m not going to play “White Riot” either, here’s the b-side of “Complete Control” instead.

Download: City of The Dead – The Clash (mp3)

My Sister’s Records

I’m just about old enough to remember a time when The Beatles were still together and making records but while they might have been bigger than Jesus back then they weren’t a major presence in our house when I was growing up. The only record of theirs my Mum had was a 45 of “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” which I don’t remember her ever playing (though years later I would discover the lovely “This Boy” on the b-side and play it to death) and to be honest I preferred it that way, I’m glad I grew up thinking Sinatra was God and not John Lennon.

The only other Fab Four-related record in the house was this Wings single my sister bought in 1977 and I would like to congratulate her on her good taste, if she had to buy only one I’m glad it was this. When the day comes that Sir Paul is up in heaven with Lennon and the two of them are sitting on a cloud arguing about who wrote the best post-Beatles song this one should be top of Paul’s list, especially this live version. One listen to this and John would concede defeat.

Download: Maybe I’m Amazed – Wings (mp3)
Buy: “Wings Over America” (album)

My Sister’s Records

He was a good-looking bastard that David Essex, with his sparkly eyes and dimply grin, and in the mid-70s there probably wasn’t a girl in England who didn’t want him to be her boyfriend. He flirted shamelessly with that desire on his lovey-dovey ballad “If I Could” which painted a picture of romantic bliss in such humdrum, ordinary-bloke terms — going to the pictures, having tea, picnics in the park, riding the bus — that every “Jackie”-reading teenybopper who heard it was able to imagine what it would be like if David really was her boyfriend in real life. He’d meet her outside the school gates wearing a blazer like the one he had on in “That’ll Be The Day” and make all her mates really jealous, they’d hold hands walking down the street, sit in the back row of the pictures, and maybe go to the Wimpy Bar for a Knickerbocker Glory afterwards. It’s like a “My Guy” photo romance set to music, and for a picture of schoolgirl heaven you couldn’t beat this verse:

Could you picture us
On a Number 9 bus
To Canning Town
We two

I always really liked that bit, back then pop lyrics were all about Jean Genies, Telegram Sams and Crazy Horses and I’d never heard a big pop star singing about something as ordinary as taking a bus — if Ray Davies had been a handsome teen idol he might have written something like it. So while the song is soppy as hell I did find David’s Cockney barrow boy charm very appealing (even if he does lay it on thicker than marmalade sometimes) and could understand how all the girls could go so weak at the knees and moist in the knickers over it — and they really did, I saw him sing it live on the telly back then and when he got to the line “If I were a plumber would you love me?” you could hear the voices of a thousand swooning young ladies scream back “YES DAVID!!!!”

Hell, I think I wanted him to be my boyfriend too.

Download: If I Could – David Essex (mp3)

My Sister’s Records

Like every other girl her age in the early 1970s my sister had a major crush on David Cassidy who was the archetypal 70s teen heartthrob, a slim pretty boy with dimples and soft, feather-cut hair who exuded a fresh, tanned and clean all-American healthiness — plus he was a whole lot better looking than that goofy Donny Osmond kid.

Cassidy initially appeared on our radar as lead singer of The Partridge Family which was the first introduction into pop fandom for both me and my sister. They were the first pop group she ever had on her bedroom wall* (to be precise it was our bedroom wall at the time, we shared a room until I was 10) and the first single I remember owning (not one I bought myself) was their version of “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do.” We both watched the TV show every week and while she was swooning over David I may have had a thing for Susan Dey, though she looked a little too much like my sister for me to be entirely comfortable with that thought now.

Until the Bay City Rollers came along David was bigger than sliced bread and Jesus among the teenybopper set, at one point his fan club had more members than any other in pop history and in 1973 he sold out Wembley Arena six nights in a row which was a record at the time. Unfortunately David-mania got badly out of hand the following year when a fan was killed and hundreds were hospitalized in the hysterical crush at his White City Stadium concert. At the inquest the coroner blamed “trendy, high platform shoes” for so many girls falling over and being trampled — so 1970s fashions weren’t just ugly, they could kill you too (as I can attest to myself after once getting my flares caught in the front wheel of a speeding bike and being hurled head-first over the handlebars.)

I really liked his single “Could It Be Forever” at the time but I was only 10 when it came out and hadn’t yet learned that I was supposed to regard my sister’s taste as a bit naff and girly. With it’s whispery vocal and pillowy mountains of strings it’s as soft and dreamy as David’s smile, and listening to it now I don’t mind saying I think it actually is rather good, beautifully-produced soft pop in the mold of The Carpenters. I still wouldn’t stick a picture of him on my bedroom wall though.

Download: Could It Be Forever – David Cassidy (mp3)
Buy: “Cherish” (album)

*The first pop poster I put on the wall was of The Jackson Five so I like to think I was hipper than my sister even then.

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com