March 14th, 2007
Between 1975 and 1977 my sister went from worshipping the Bay City Rollers and the ground they walked on to thinking The Clash were the greatest thing since sliced bread. That’s quite a big leap from “Shang-a-Lang” (or “Shag-a-Slag” as we called it – what wits we were!) to “White Riot” but she didn’t make it in one bound. In between the two she had a fling with The Steve Miller Band and their “Fly Like An Eagle” album which she bought because she liked the “Take The Money and Run” single from it. There’s no logical connection between Scottish teenyboppers, American soft rockers, and guttersnipe London punks but we probably all have these “stepping stone” records as we mature and go looking in all directions for new experiences as restless teenagers are wont to do. My sister’s fellow Rollermaniac friend Sue had a dalliance with Nils Lofgren before diving headlong into punk, orange hair and bondage trousers, and I got from ELO to The Jam via Bruce Springsteen.
“Fly Like An Eagle” is actually a pretty good album, a mix of catchy, Fleetwood Mac-esque soft rock and trippy electronics – what Miller called “space blues” – held together by a lazy, hazy vibe which suggests everyone got very high making the record. My favourite track “Wild Mountain Honey” is a very pretty ballad that floats along sprinkling fairy dust as it goes. Listening to it is like sinking into a warm bubble bath. The title track is fairly well known but this is the longer album version with the dreamy “Space Intro” beginning which is all electronic bleeps and wooshes that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Tangerine Dream album. Its spacey groove makes it sound very modern today, though back then they probably used steam-powered synthesizers.
Download: Wild Mountain Honey – Steve Miller Band (mp3)
Download: Space Intro/Fly Like An Eagle – Steve Miller Band (mp3)
Buy: “Fly Like An Eagle” (album)
January 16th, 2007
I could never understand why teenybopper girls like my sister screamed their knickers off over The Bay City Rollers, far as I could see they looked like a right bunch of twerps and made dreadful records. But David Essex I could understand because not only was he a very handsome chap – and I say that completely secure in my heterosexuality – but he also made some terrific music that even 12-year-old me thought was rather good. His records were far better than they needed to be, he could have made a mint and a whole career out of “Gonna Make You A Star” clones but his producer Jeff Wayne was far more ambitious than that. Along with Mickie Most’s production work for Hot Chocolate, Wayne made some of the weirdest-sounding, most inventive pop of the decade using all sorts of strange arrangements and studio effects (like playing percussion under water).
His 1975 album “All The Fun of The Fair” was the only one his my sister owned but I think she picked a winner. Like most of his oeuvre it’s a schizophrenic affair, divided between sweet ear-candy like “Hold Me Close” and “If I Could” (that one really made the girls melt) and darker matter like the subterranean “Circles” and the grand title track. This wouldn’t sound out of place among the lurid theatricality of “Aladdin Sane” with Essex playing a cracked actor fairground barker, rolling his tongue with relish around lines like “rrrrrroll on up, see the main attrrrract-shunnn” and leaning heavily on his Cockney like Bowie at his most Anthony Newley-ish. It gets increasingly deranged over its 6:40-minute length, Chris Spedding’s guitar fractures like broken glass and the track crashes in an ear-splitting pile before fading out into some maniacal horror-movie laughter that must have made all the Mums who bought the album for “Hold Me Close” drop their copies of Woman’s Realm in shock.
Julie Burchill once said that the musical tastes of teenage girls have never been taken seriously by rock critics and I wonder what Essex’s cred was at the time, whether he was given his due by the grand poobahs at the NME and Melody Maker or simply ignored as teen fodder with pretty blue eyes. What would you rather have? An ugly face and critical adulation or good looks and hordes of moist young girls throwing their knickers at you? Decisions, decisions…
Download: All The Fun Of The Fair – David Essex (mp3)
Buy: “All The Fun of The Fair” (album)