Let Me Take You Down: New York 1980

One day in December 1980 I was working as a bus driver and I was driving one of our old half cab buses into Manchester. My conductor, Bob, was kept pretty busy as we took a bus load of passengers into Manchester city centre for their jobs in shops, offices and other places. At one point Bob poked his head through the little window into the cab and told me that he had heard from a passenger that John Lennon had been shot in New York. It was shocking news and when we arrived in Piccadilly, we both ran to the news stand to read the news in the morning papers. There was nothing about Lennon in any newspaper and we wondered if it had been just a mad rumour. Later when we went back to the canteen for our break, we heard the news either on the TV or the radio. Lennon had indeed been shot and was dead.

I can’t claim to be a great fan of John Lennon. I liked him and his music and back then in 1980, I had a copy of one of his albums, Walls and Bridges and a few years later I bought Double Fantasy, his last album and also the last vinyl album I would ever buy but what did happen that day back in December, 1980?

It was a cold day in New York and a man called Mark Chapman took a .38 calibre revolver out of his pocket and calmly fired five shots at John Lennon who had just exited a limo outside his home in the Dakota building, just across from Central Park.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

Chapman was born on 10th May, 1955 in a place called Decatur, in Georgia, in the USA. Chapman’s home life was difficult; his father was abusive towards his mother and Chapman apparently lived in fear of him. In his early teens Chapman was involved with drugs and even once ran away from home. In 1971 he became a born again Christian and worked as a summer camp counsellor for the YMCA. He was very popular with the children at the summer camp and even won an award for his outstanding work. Later he worked with Vietnamese refugees at a resettlement camp and once again  impressed his colleagues and superiors.

After his work with the refugees finished, Mark went to college but there he began to feel depressed. He was no longer doing important work with the refugees and thought of himself as a failure. He dropped out of college to work as a security guard and then in 1977 he left home to travel to Hawaii where he intended to commit suicide. His attempt failed but he was able to gain support and help for his depression and even started to work as a volunteer at the hospital that had helped him.

Much has been written about Chapman’s love of Catcher in the Rye, a novel by JD Salinger and how the book somehow turned Chapman against Lennon and indeed inspired him to kill. I read the book many years ago and at the time I thought it rather dull and uninteresting and I remember being surprised that it could inspire anyone to do anything, let alone provoke someone to murder.

The main character, Holden Caulfield has learned he has failed all his classes at school and that he won’t be returning for the next term. He leaves and gets a train to New York where he basically wanders about feeling sorry for himself and moaning about ‘phonies’, presumably people who are false. In the December of 1980, Mark Chapman too was wandering about New York feeling sorry for himself and hating ‘phonies’. For him, the really big phoney was John Lennon.

Lennon was suffocated by the incredible fame of the Beatles, and had decided to relocate to New York in 1971. New Yorkers were not overwhelmed by his celebrity status and he found himself a large apartment in the impressive Dakota Building on the corner of Central Park West and 72nd Street. Lennon lived quietly with his wife Yoko Ono and son Sean and retired from public life during his son’s early years. His comeback album Double Fantasy was released in 1980.

Chapman had a copy of Catcher in The Rye with him when he shot Lennon on the 8th December, 1980. In his copy Chapman had signed ‘from Holden Caulfield to Holden Caulfield. This is my statement’. He had hung around the Dakota building in New York and when Lennon left for the Record Plant recording studio, he had pushed forward his copy of Double Fantasy, Lennon’s latest album, for the singer to sign.

Lennon signs Double Fantasy for his killer

Lennon wrote ‘John Lennon 1980’ on the record and handed it back to Chapman asking ‘Is this all you want?’ Chapman took the album back and Lennon jumped into a limo and was gone. A photographer named Paul Goresh was there and snapped a photo of Lennon signing the album. Chapman was excited about it and asked for a copy before Goresh left. Goresh promised to return the next day with a print.

Later the Lennons returned to the Dakota and Chapman was still there waiting. Yoko entered the building and Lennon was following when Mark Chapman pulled out his 38 revolver and fired five times at the ex-Beatle. Lennon staggered into the Dakota entrance saying ‘I’m shot’. Chapman dropped his gun and began reading the Catcher in the Rye until the police came and arrested him. Another Police car arrived and seeing that Lennon was losing a lot of blood carried him to the police car and took him directly to the Roosevelt Hospital. Staff there tried to revive Lennon but the wounds were too severe and he was pronounced dead at 11:15pm.

On a TV documentary for the ITV series First Tuesday which I found in my old VHS collection, one of Mark’s old girlfriends was interviewed. Judy Williams spoke about the Mark Chapman she knew as warm and gentle. ‘It just wasn’t Mark’ she said ‘He couldn’t have been in his right mind when he did it.’

So why did Chapman shoot John Lennon? Apparently, Chapman had been a fan of the Beatles and John Lennon’s solo music but felt that Lennon had become a fake, a ‘phoney’, someone who preached peace and love to the masses while his music made him a multi-millionaire. Chapman signed out of his security job as ‘John Lennon’ on his last day of work so it is even possible that he identified so much with Lennon that the other Lennon, the fake ‘Lennon’ had to die. Chapman also claimed at other times that he shot Lennon to promote Catcher in the Rye.

I’ve just finished reading Let Me Take You Down by Jack Jones and in the book the author prints pages and pages about Chapman and his disturbed ideas including the fantasy ‘little people’ who filled his imagination and tried to stop him going through with the killing. He had in fact visited New York on a different occasion to shoot Lennon but returned home without committing murder.

I can imagine Lennon in his room in the Dakota, looking down on New York and reflecting on how far he had come. Did he ever think of his home in Liverpool? I am sure he did. He corresponded regularly with his Aunt Mimi who brought him up at their home, Mendips, in Liverpool.

Years ago, when I used to work in Liverpool, I visited his childhood home. I had always imagined Lennon came from a rough council house background but his former home is in Woolton, a pleasant leafy suburb of Liverpool with semi-detached private houses and some rather nice pubs and shops. Not quite what I had expected.

Mendips, Woolton, Liverpool. Picture courtesy wikipedia

After reading Let Me Take You Down I dug out my old VHS documentary which uses numerous statements by Chapman, recorded secretly by the NYPD in the hours after his arrest. I listened to his various ideas about why he had to shoot John Lennon but I’m not sure we can ever understand the workings of a disturbed mind. ‘The Beatles changed the world’ Mark says at one point, ‘and I changed them.’

I like John Lennon of course and I was interested to read this book to see what really happened to him and to find out why Mark Chapman decided to shoot him. I had always thought that Chapman was just a madman and after reading this book I can see that basically, I was right. Chapman was mad. I suppose it was foolish of me to think that there was a definitive reason behind the shooting, some tangible reason, something that perhaps if Lennon or his people had been aware of, they could have taken some action to prevent the murder. At the end of the day, I don’t think there was or even that the actions of a disturbed person can be explained in simple terms. Chapman got it into his head that he had to kill John Lennon and he did.

Mark Chapman is still alive today. He is still serving his life sentence in Wende Correctional Facility in New York and first became eligible for parole in 2000. All Chapman’s applications for parole have so far been denied.

Today in 2021, Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono, still lives in the Dakota building.

Sources:

The Man Who Shot John Lennon. First Tuesday UK TV documentary written and produced by Kevin Sim.

Let Me take You Down by Jack Jones.


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A Brief History of the Disco Era (with a little help from Google)

I do love my music. At home when there is nothing much on the TV I like to flip through the recommendations that come my way on Spotify. In my car I listen to CDs. I have always told myself that my precious CDs were too good to be dragged about in my car so I lovingly copied them to writeable CD discs, carefully, in most cases editing out the tracks I didn’t like. I’d be my own invisible DJ making up new CD albums with a track from here, another from there and so on. Lately, I haven’t done that so much and seeing that I don’t play my CDs much at home, I decided not to copy them just to bring the original CDs themselves into my car.

The other day after a particularly bad day at work, a day that was busy, where things didn’t go so well and I was just wanting to forget about things and release all the stress that had built up, I searched for something new, some music that I hadn’t played for a while that would relax me. I chose a CD that was a 1970’s disco collection.

I cranked my motor up, turned up the volume and as I turned onto the M6 motorway heading for home, my mind went back to a better time, a younger, easy going more relaxed time. I went back to the disco era.

So when did the disco era start and what was the first disco record?

Looking on Google to answer that question gives up various results by numerous authors and music writers but the answers are invariably just the opinions of those same writers. One answer was Rock the Boat by the Hues Corporation, another was She’s a Winner by the Intruders. (Never heard of it.) It might even have been that disco classic, Never can Say Goodbye by Gloria Gaynor. When it comes down to it, there is no definitive answer.

A lot of disco music comes from the soul tracks of the early seventies by groups like the O’Jays, Harold Melvin and the Bluenotes and the Trammps. Later, traditional pop bands tried to emulate those soul groups and the resulting soul/pop sound that became disco began emerging in the early 1970s in US urban night clubs and discotheques.

Here’s another random disco fact: the word discotheque is a French word meaning a library of discs. Discotheque became used in France to describe a nightclub where playing records had replaced a live band in the 1940s during the Nazi occupation. Discotheques are where disco music began and something else that I noticed on Google were comments about the disco clubs of the seventies, the most famous one must have been the Studio 54 club in New York.  Another google result mentioned that Seventies Disco was born on Valentine’s Day 1970, when David Manusco opened The Loft in New York City.

Anyway, that’s enough of Google for a while so here are some personal memories.

The record I probably most associate with disco is The Hustle, by a group called Van McCoy. I have a feeling they were just one hit wonders but I might be wrong. The Hustle seemed to me to be the perfect disco record at the time. Great tune, a great dance beat and just really well put together. Looking back at the track today in 2021, it’s still good but it’s not the work of musical genius I once thought it was.

Back in the mid seventies I used to occasionally visit the discos of Manchester, places like Pips, Saturdays, Rotters, Fagins and a dozen other clubs I can hardly remember. There was a club called Sands in Stretford which was always packed to the seams but the disco I remember the most was one I wrote about in Floating in Space, it was called Genevieve’s.

Genevieve’s was in Longsight, which was a pretty rough area of Manchester and one of the hazards of the place was that if you went there in your car, you never found it in quite the same shape as how you left it, if you found it at all.

I remember one long ago Saturday night. My friends and I had to queue up for about ten minutes to get inside but we took that as a good sign. After all, a queue meant the club was busy. A group of grizzly bouncers scrutinised us and under their intense gaze we paid the entrance fee then went on inside. We were met by the warm fireside glow of soft lighting and the loud, pulsating beat of disco music. Coloured spot lights flashed over the four dance floors, in the hub of which sat the DJ, turning slowly around in a revolving booth.

There were five bars. Two small corner bars, two long bars, and a circular bar at the far end of the club. It really was a well set out place. We headed for one of the corner bars and my mate asked “bitter Steve?” I nodded and he called out to the barmaid.

A small army of bouncers was wandering around the club and as we waited for our drinks an argument broke out at one of the slot machines. Without any questions two burly bouncers grabbed the offender and propelled him expertly to the door. Another hooligan tried to come to the rescue by jumping on the back of one of the bouncers but a third bow-tied, black suited gorilla punched him solidly in the side, twisted his arm up his back and quickly removed him also. It was the sort of place where they didn’t stand any messing and the beer tasted like 3 parts water to one part beer and your feet stuck to the floor as you walked around. No one to my knowledge ever decided to complain to the management.

Genevieve’s attracted all sorts of people. There were smartly dressed, obviously wealthy people, peeling off rolls of bills to pay for whiskies and gins and other spirits. There were many attractive, well dressed girls. The younger girls drank halves of lager, sat in groups, and danced in groups to the Motown music of the sixties. They would drop their handbags onto the floor as they converged together for the formation dance routines for ‘Jimmy Mack’ and ‘Third Finger Left Hand’.

There were groups of lads too, who held cigarette packets and lighters in their hands, or placed them down in front of them on the tables while they drank, talked and eyed up the girls.

I spent a lot of my young life in that club. Despite the watered down drinks and the frequent fights, my friends and I had a lot of fun there until one day it either closed down or we found a better place to go.

The track that really reminds me of that club was Bus Stop by the Fatback Band. It had a strong disco beat and lyrics that just seemed to consist of ‘Bus stop!’ ‘Do the Bus stop!’ ‘Are you ready? Do the Bus Stop!’

In 1977 John Travolta appeared in the ultimate disco film ‘Night Fever’ and Travolta danced away to the music of the Bee Gees and tracks like ‘Stayin’ Alive’ and the title track ‘Night Fever’. I don’t ever remember there being dancers like that in any club I ever visited but what the heck, it was still a good film.

It wasn’t enough to buy the records and dance to disco records in clubs, you had to look the part too. I had a stack of shirts with ‘penny round’ collars and matching fat ties and quite a few pairs of flared trousers. Oh, and don’t forget the 1970’s platform shoes. I must have looked about seven foot tall back in those days.

Disco came to an abrupt end in 1979 in the USA where there seemed to be an outcry against the genre. Many music fans apparently felt that the music industry had been taken over by disco and many artists who had begun to produce disco music themselves, people such as Rod Stewart, were accused of selling out. In the UK and most of Europe, disco music morphed seamlessly into new electronic music. Artists like Michael Jackson took dance music to a new level and his album Thriller which spawned a number of hit singles became one of the best selling albums of the 1980’s.

What was the last ever disco single? The easy answer is that there wasn’t one. Dance music continued into the eighties and from there to the present day. Groups like Shalamar and Colonel Abrams just carried on producing dance tracks but if I had to put my finger on any one track as being the last of the disco era, I’d vote for I’m Coming Out by Diana Ross, released in 1980 when flared trousers were making way for drainpipes and when ties and shirt collars were thinning down.

What was your favourite disco track?


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A Kind of 70’s Music sort of Blog Post

I hope you had a good Christmas and New Year and didn’t eat too much turkey or drink too much of your favourite tipple. As usual I like to think I drank just the right amount (well, maybe slightly over) but as usual ate far too much. Anyway, one of my favourite evenings over Christmas was when Liz’s sister came over to visit from France with her French boyfriend and we settled down for a good natter, some wine and some good English Christmas food. On the menu this year was gammon with all the trimmings, roast potatoes, sprouts, carrots, little sausages wrapped in bacon and gravy and as usual we had some top music going on in the background.

Now I’m not a great present buyer at Chistmas, in fact I always despair at ever getting something for the lovely Liz that she might actually like. Despite some major failures in the past this year I did pretty well with at least one of my presents. I bought her a great CD; 100 Forgotten Hits of the 1970’s.

So I hope you can imagine the scene; the wine has been gently warmed by the roaring open fire. The Christmas tree lights are twinkling, our roast dinner is served and rather than sit in the dining room we are all cosy in the lounge by the roaring fire while the CD player tinkles away in the background.

The album kicks off with Fanfare for the Common Man by Emerson, Lake and Palmer, a great track and one I could have added to a music post from a few weeks back: 19 Outstanding Instrumental tracks. Next up was was Gudbuy T’Jane by Slade. Slade made the perennial Christmas hit Merry Christmas Everybody and Gudbuy T’Jane is an earlier hit from 1972. That particular track reminds me of years ago when my brother and I were children. My Mum had taken us into town and treated us for our birthdays. I was bought an LP by Gary Glitter (don’t say anything -it was the seventies then!) and he chose a cassette album by Slade which featured Gudbuy T’Jane, I think it was called Sladest. As time went on I began to prefer Sladest to my Gary Glitter LP. Money changed hands or items were swapped but eventually Sladest became mine. Cassette tapes of course do not last forever, the tape snaps or tape get snarled up in the cassette player and Sladest is long gone. That Gary Glitter LP is still in the loft though at my Mum’s house.

As we ate and chatted the 70’s tracks came and went. Sad Sweet Dreamer confused us for a while, we thought it was Michael Jackson but no, it was that forgotten 70’s band Sweet Sensation.

A superb track was Get Down by Gilbert O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan once had a successful career and produced some great hits, however in the mid seventies he felt that his record contract was not paying him enough despite the huge hits he had delivered. He sued MAM records and eventually won 7 million pounds from them before returning to the CBS record label in 1980. He issued one single, What’s in a Kiss, and a compilation album but then litigation kept him away from the charts until another compilation album The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan in 2004.  In 2018, O’Sullivan released his 19th studio album Gilbert O’Sullivan. The album entered the UK album charts at No. 20, his first UK charting studio album for over 40 years.

The next track that comes to mind is There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving by Guys ‘n’ Dolls. Not an outstanding track or even one that I had bought back in my vinyl single buying days but one that took me back to the 1970’s, back to evenings at home watching Top of the Pops on TV. Music by John Miles was a particular favourite of Liz’s but I preferred Hang on In there Baby by Johnny Bristol.

Another Track was Run For Home, a song I’d not heard for years. We all racked our brains trying to remember who the band was but in the end we had to look it up. It was Lindisfarne.

Time for the usual debate with French people. Do we have dessert before the cheese or the cheese before the dessert? Well the French way is the cheese first then dessert, that way you are staying with savoury before changing to sweet. Sounded good to me.

While we were nibbling on the cheese -not before refilling the wine glasses of course- a number of tracks came up for debate. Who sang I wanna Stay with you? (Gallagher and Lyle) Who sang Girls? (The Moments and Whatnaughts) Rock me Gently? (Andy Kim). What about You’re Moving out Today? (Carole Bayer Sager).

While I was writing this post I saw an interesting article on the BBC News. They were talking about the rise in streaming music tracks. Apparently over a 100 billion music tracks were streamed in 2019 and that was 7.5% up on 2018. Vinyl is still making something of a comeback with 43 million vinyl LP’s sold in the UK in 2019. They also said that tape cassettes were making a comeback with 80,000 sold in the UK in 2019. I have to say that does surprise me.

When I was much younger tape cassettes were something I loved playing with. I’d put together albums of music and even TV recordings and play them in my car. If I ever got fed up with them I’d record another and if the tape broke then once again I’d record another and if there was something on the radio I liked, I’d record it and play it on the way to work in my car.

Even today my car is the centre of my personal music. My car is filled with CDs both ‘proper’ music CDs and ones put together on my computer. I have to say though, making a cassette was so much easier.

The cheese went down well. I was hoping for some nice french imports courtesy of our guests but it was not to be although last year, Bernie and Angela managed to smuggle my favourite cheese, Rondele Bléu over on the flight from France. On the menu this year was a tasty  cheddar, a soft blue and some brie. In our wine glasses was a nice French Merlot courtesy of French supermarket Super U which went down rather well I thought.

I’m just wondering what music to finish on. Teenage Rampage by the Sweet? Nah! Storm in a Teacup by The Fortunes? Nah! Rock on by David Essex. Funnily enough I used to love that one back in the seventies. Sounds a bit whiney these days. Come What May by Eurovision winner Vicky Leandros went down well with the ladies but no, I’m going to go with this one by Helen Reddy. I love the quirky story of the secret lover who keeps her satisfied . . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977 and available from Amazon. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

 

19 Outstanding Instrumental tracks

As we come ever closer to Christmas, I think it’s high time for another music post. In the past I’ve done posts about Christmas chart hits, one about comedy chart hits and one listing some random hits from pop music’s vinyl past. These days I do like listening to chilled down electronic dance tracks, so I thought ‘what about a blog post about instrumental hits’? Anyway, here we go. I’ve tried to find advert free videos where I can but it’s not always been possible. Some tracks are film themes, some are TV themes and some are just great pop, jazz or soul tracks. Enjoy!

Theme from Rocky

One of the best things about the Sylvester Stallone movie Rocky has to be the theme tune. For a long time I used to have it as my ringtone on one of my first mobile phones. Its proper title is Gonna Fly Now composed by Bill Conti and the track made number one on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1977, the year the movie was released.

Axel F

Axel F by Harold Faltermeyer was the theme to Beverly Hills Cop, a forgettable film starring Eddie Murphy. If not for this catchy tune the film would long have been forgotton. The track made number 2 in 1985 but younger readers may remember the 2005 Crazy Frog version.

Theme from Hill Street Blues

Hill Street Blues was an outstanding TV show from the early 1980’s about a police station in an unnamed US city. The show won critical acclaim and according to Wikipedia won a total of 98 Emmy Award nominations. The show featured a lot of hand held camera work which gave the series a documentary look and the theme written by Mike Post reached number 10 in the Billboard top 100 and number 25 in the UK singles chart.

(Angela)Theme from Taxi

Angela was written by jazz pianist Bob James. The theme was written for episode 3 in the series but the producers liked it so much it became the main theme for the show.

Theme from Miami Vice

Miami Vice was an American TV cop show from the 1980’s and the theme music written and performed by Jan Hammer was released in 1985. The single reached number 5 in the UK charts.

Love’s Theme by the Love Unlimited Orchestra

Okay, that’s the film and TV themes sorted, let’s move on. Love’s Theme was by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Barry White’s backing band. I’ve always loved this track and many years ago I frequented a bar in Manchester known as the Playground where the DJ used it as his theme tune. Every time I hear it I never fail to be transported back to those days in the 1970’s.

Apache by the Shadows

The Shadows were British singer Cliff Richard’s backing band and this worldwide hit made it to the UK number one spot in 1960.

Classical Gas by Mason Williams

Classical Gas was a track by Mason Williams and it was a one hit wonder from the year 1968. Steve, the Matty character from my novel, Floating in Space played it for me back in the 1970’s and I fell in love with it straight away.

Pepper Box by the Peppers

Pepper Box by the Peppers is a track you may think you have never heard of but as soon as you hear it, you’ll probably recognise it. It was a popular track way back in 1974 when it peaked at number 4 in the UK charts.

The Hustle by Van McCoy

The Hustle, what a great track! It just brings back memories of nightclubs back in the 1970’s. The Hustle was a single by Van McCoy and the Soul City Symphony. It went to number 1 on the Billboard chart and number 3 in the UK. Even better, here’s a clip from 1975’s Top of the Pops with Pan’s People dancing to the track.

Pick up the Pieces by the Average White Band.

I’m not totally sure how to categorise this one. I suppose it’s 70’s funk but feel free to tell me if it isn’t. It was released in 1974 but failed initially to chart in the UK. After it took off in the USA the track begin to sell in the UK and eventually made the number 6 spot.

Hocus Pocus by Focus

Hocus Pocus is a song by the Dutch rock band Focus, written by vocalist Thijs van Leer and guitarist Jan Akkerman. It was recorded and released in 1971 as the opening track of their second studio album, Moving Waves. I remember hearing it originally on the Alan Freeman radio show. Heavy rock isn’t usually my cup of tea but I kind of like this one.

Time is Tight by Booker T and the MG’s.

This track was recorded in 1968 and was used in a film called Uptight released that same year. A slightly slower version of the track was released as a single in 1969 and reached number 4 in the UK charts.

Soul Limbo by Booker T and the MG’s

Soul Limbo was a hit for Booker T and his MG’s in 1968 but is probably best known in the UK for being the theme for BBC TV’s cricket coverage.

Garden Party by Mezzoforte

Mezzoforte were a jazz fusion band formed in 1977 and their biggest hit was Garden Party which made it to number 17 in 1983.

Song for Guy by Elton John

Elton is not exactly known for instrumental works but this was released as a single in December 1978 reaching the number 4 spot in January of 1979. Elton dedicated the song to Guy Burchett, a messenger at Elton’s record company Rocket. Guy was killed in a motorcycle accident on the same day that Elton wrote the song.

Jazz Carnival by Azymuth

Azymuth are a Brazilian jazz funk band formed in 1971. Jazz Carnival was a 1980 hit for the group reaching number 9 in the UK charts.

Take Five by the Dave Brubeck Quartet

Take Five was composed by Paul Desmond and originally recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in New York City on July 1, 1959 for their album Time Out. Two years later it became a hit and the biggest-selling jazz single ever. Numerous cover versions have been produced since then.

Theme from Shaft

The theme from Shaft was written and performed by Isaac Hayes and was the theme to the 1971 film starring Richard Roundtree as private eye John Shaft. The song won an Academy Award for best original song. In the UK the track reached number 4 in the music charts. I remember hearing this back in 1971 and after buying the single just playing it over and over. The flip side, Cafe Regio, was pretty good too and looking back this was the track that started off my love of soul and funk.

 


Steve Higgins is the author of Floating in Space, a novel set in Manchester 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

Elton John and Me

Way back in the 1970’s when I was a shy gawky teenager, one of my very best friends was a big fan of the Moody Blues. Everything that ever happened to him, life, love, romance, anything and everything really, he related back to something on one of the Moody Blues’ many concept albums. I really wanted something like that, a band or musician I could relate to and follow as they created more music. Very quickly I discovered Elton John.

I was sure Elton was American and it was with some surprise that I later found out he was English.

Elton was born Reginald Dwight in 1947 in Pinner, Middlesex. He started playing his grandmother’s piano as a young boy and began formal music lessons at the age of 7. At the age of 11 he won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music.

When he was 14 his parents divorced and his mother re-married and Elton, his mum and new step dad moved into a flat at 1A Frome Court in Pinner. According to Wikipedia he stayed there until he had 4 albums simultaneously in the US top 40.

1973 was probably my first record buying year. Up until then I really had little interest in music. The Beatles had pretty much passed me by and I was more interested in TV and film music rather than the pop charts. For Christmas 1972 my brother and received a shared present, a new stereo record player. Of course having a record player meant that I needed something to play on it. That’s when I discovered Elton John.

A big hit for Elton in 1973 was Candle in the Wind, Elton’s ode to Marilyn Monroe. I remember hearing it regularly on radio 1. After some investigation I found it was from an album by Elton, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road. I picked up the title track single cheaply, probably from a little music store I used to visit in Wilmslow, Cheshire where we were living at the time. Later I got to know more and more music stores, particularly in Manchester which I would visit every Saturday flicking through singles in the reduced section. Incidentally the flip side or B side on Goodbye Yellow Brick Road was another great track, Bennie and the Jets.

Later I bought the Album, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road which must be Elton’s best ever work. It was a classic double album and contained more hit singles like Saturday Nights alright for fighting.

I discovered Elton’s back catalogue and began buying albums like Empty Sky, Elton John, Tumbleweed Connection, Friends and Madman across the Water.

Elton’s next album was Caribou. I have to say I was a little disappointed at the album cover art. Yellow Brick Road had such an amazing cover and here was Elton’s next album with an oddball amateur looking cover of an embarrassed looking Elton with what appeared to be a Polaroid snap! The album wasn’t so great either.

His next album was Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, a nostalgic look back at Elton and his co-writer Bernie Taupin’s own lives. The title track is one of my all-time favourite Elton John tracks and the album came complete with little inserts of photo albums and other bits and pieces.

It’s worth stopping here for a moment to look at how Elton and Bernie’s partnership came together. In 1967 the pair answered an advertisement in the New Musical Express. Liberty Records were asking for musical talent and when Elton arrived at Liberty’s offices he was given a sheaf of lyrics written by Bernie Taupin and so Elton promptly began writing music to Bernie’s words. Their writing partnership continues to this day.

Back in the 1970’s Radio 1 began running the Elton John Story in various parts which I recorded onto cassette tapes. On one of the tapes, the two discuss their big hit ‘Your Song’. Elton claims Bernie wrote the lyrics about his then current girlfriend. Bernie denied that saying he wrote the lyrics after having eaten bacon and eggs at Elton’s mother’s flat in Pinner, while Elton was having a bath!

In 1975 Elton appeared in the film version of the rock musical Tommy and his version of Pinball Wizard became another chart hit. Another hit single was Elton’s fabulous version of John Lennon’s Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds with Lennon himself playing guest guitar on the track.

Elton’s next album was Rock of the Westies a sort of rock/funk album. It was, well OK I suppose but as we went into the 1980’s I found myself not really caring for Elton’s music much anymore. I liked the poignant Song for Guy, a song named after a young lad from Elton’s record company who was killed in a road accident but little of Elton’s music interested me in that period.

In 2001 Elton released the album Songs from the West Coast. The album was received warmly by the media and I remember hearing many great reviews saying how Elton had returned to his piano based roots and so on. On Wikipedia I see that the album was recorded on analogue tape as Elton felt that gave the sound a warmer feel. OK I thought, sounds like a good time to try some of Elton’s latest music. While I was waiting to pay for the CD in HMV I noticed another album of Elton’s, Made in England, in the reduced section so I grabbed that while I was there.

Anyway Songs from the West Coast was a total disappointment for me and not only that, I thought the whole thing had a tinny sound to it, not a warm one.

A few months later I noticed Made in England lying unplayed on a shelf so I popped it into my car to give it an airing. I’m so glad I did because Made In England is the album that to me, sounds much like his classic 70’s stuff with some outstanding tracks. A fabulous album just as good as Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.

Pity I missed the Elton John film Rocket Man. I’ll have to look out for it on DVD. I was going to finish with a YouTube clip from the film but I’ve always liked this TV advert from 2018. Enjoy . .


Floating in Space is a novel by Steve Higgins set in Manchester, 1977. Click the links at the top of the page to buy or for more information.

10 Great Christmas Singles from the 1970s!

It’s that time of year again and although I was a little bit behind in my blogging schedule last week, I have got it together, or at least hope I’ve got it together for this week.

For this Christmas post I started off trying to compile my favourite Christmas singles but then realised most of them were from the 1970s, so quick blog title change and here we have it, the best ever Christmas singles from the 1970s!

Although this hit single from the unlikely pairing of Bing Crosby and David Bowie was released in 1982, I’ve included it here because it was recorded for a television special in 1977.

This version of ‘When a Child is Born’ was released in 1976. Perhaps a little bit on the sugary side but what the heck, it’s Christmas!

A track I’ve always liked from Elton, ‘Step into Christmas’. This was a hit for Elton in 1974.

‘Wonderful Christmastime’ was a hit for former Beatle Paul McCartney in 1979.

‘I believe in Father Christmas’ was a hit for Greg Lake in 1975. According to Wikipedia, Greg Lake says the song was a protest at the commercialisation of Christmas.

‘Lonely This Christmas’ was a 1974 hit for Mud. Personally I prefer Tiger Feet!

Boney M had a number of hits in the 1970s. This was their Christmas hit in 1978.

Not my favourite Christmas hit. I never really liked this one back in the 70’s although now, forty odd years later, it’s starting to grow on me. I even posted a meme on Twitter the other day. It was a picture of lead singer Noddy Holder with a caption saying ‘It’s not Christmas until Noddy says so!’

‘RentaSanta’ is a record you might not remember. It’s a collection of clips from other songs with DJ Chris Hill providing some amusing links.

‘I wish it could be Christmas Everyday’ by Wizzard. I’ve  loved this record ever since I first heard it back in 1973 and I have placed it in its proper place at number 1, absolutely my favourite Christmas record ever!

Have a great Christmas!

The Third Man, George Michael, and HMV

The other day I turned on my DVD player for some serious TV viewing. I had The Third Man lined up and ready to watch. Cheese sandwich primed and alcoholic beverage at the ready. Orson Welles plays a great part in the movie but of course, he isn’t in it that much, which is why I have always thought it strange that the BBC showed the movie in 1985 as a tribute to Welles when he had just died. Citizen Kane would have been a better choice surely?

Anyway, as my DVD player flickered into life I noticed the George Michael documentary ‘Freedom’ was just beginning on live TV. The programme had been continuously hyped by Channel Four for the previous week so, what the heck I thought. Put The Third Man on hold and let’s see what George has to say.

The documentary was narrated and co-directed by George himself and completed just before the singer’s untimely death at the age of only 53.

A lot of the reviews of the film seem to say how honest the film was but it seemed to me to skim over a lot of things in his life. His arrest in a public lavatory in the USA by an undercover police officer was not mentioned. Neither was the incident where he fell out of his chauffeur driven car on the M1. Maybe he just preferred to concentrate on other things in his life. A big focus of the documentary was when he took his record company to court over his recording contract. That was fairly interesting but another event the film brought into focus was when George was the recipient of the best soul album award at the Grammys and a few members of the black music community apparently weren’t too happy. That experience fuelled George’s next album Listen Without Prejudice. The thing is, was Faith really a soul album? Was George a soul singer?

If you ask the question into Google, What is soul music? This is what comes back:

A kind of music incorporating elements of rhythm and blues and gospel music, popularized by American black people. Characterized by an emphasis on vocals and an impassioned improvisatory delivery, it is associated with performers such as Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, and Otis Redding.

I’m not sure George Michael fits into that category but then again, we’re talking about music not some mathematical computation. Music genres shift and merge, one man’s soul is another man’s jazz. Another man’s jazz is another man’s pop!

Another genre crossing track was David Bowies’s Young Americans which reached 28 in the US Billboard Top 100 in 1975 and I’m pretty sure topped the US soul charts too. Bowie himself said of Young Americans that is was “plastic soul, the squashed remains of ethnic music as it survives in the age of Muzak rock, written and sung by a white limey”.

A few years back my favourite radio channel was Jazz FM. My car was constantly tuned to it. I was always down at HMV in Manchester where they had an in store DJ. She was a really nice girl, very approachable and very into her music. She recommended all sorts of albums to me but I was usually in there hunting for some album or artist I had heard on Jazz FM. Then one day I tuned into to Jazz FM, only to find Smooth FM. What had happened to my radio station? Well, it went digital and as I don’t have a digital radio in my car I’m no longer able to listen to it. Still, at least I have my Jazz FM CDs. What’s quite interesting is that looking at them, they feature quite a lot of soul artists. After all, modern jazz is pretty much like soul in a way. Aren’t soul, jazz, and funk all related?

Anyway, getting back to George Michael, his documentary just wasn’t all that brilliant for me. There were a lot of big stars praising George, stars like Stevie Wonder and Elton John. Looking a little out of place was the foul-mouthed Liam Gallagher who despite knowing, presumably, that this was a tribute film about George, he managed to throw in a fair few F words and the occasional C word too. Liam is a big fan of John Lennon and although Lennon wasn’t a saint, the people of Liverpool can be pretty proud of Lennon and his achievements both as a musician and as a peace activist. Speaking as a Mancunian, it’s a pity we cannot say the same about Liam Gallagher.

HMV Manchester. Picture courtesy Manchester Evening News

As for HMV Manchester, I remember going in one day to find the in-store DJ had been replaced by a radio version, someone, presumably at head office in London, who broadcast music to all the HMV stores. Later, in 2013,  the  store closed down completely after more than twenty years on the same site. Browsing records and videos in HMV and then popping into my favourite book stores before settling down in some back street pub for a drink, ah, those were the days. I probably bought my Third Man DVD there, or was it Ebay? Certainly, the buying power of the Internet may well have played a part in HMV’s demise.

Anyway, for me, Saturday afternoons will never be the same again.

George Michael did make some good music and he was a good singer but I wouldn’t put him up there in the pop legends’ category. I don’t think I have a single one of his records in my collection but I do like this track he recorded with Mary J Blige. Great video too . .


If you enjoyed this post, why not try my book Floating in Space? Click the links at the top of the page or watch the video below for more information!

Music on the Move

Generally speaking, especially when a long journey is involved, I need music in my car. A quick trip to Sainsburys, ok, I can get along without it but to endure the forty-five minute motorway journey to work, I need music.

My taste in music has come a long way from my younger days in the 1970’s when I bought the latest chart singles (well not actually the latest. I always used to wait until they dropped down the top twenty and were reduced to half price!) Back then a top twenty single was three minutes of magic and how I must have driven my Mum and Dad demented when I played a new single time after time after time . .

Sorry Mum and Dad. . .

Anyway these days I like something that lasts longer than three minutes so here are a few of the CDs from my current in-car playlist.

Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds.

A firm favourite in my car is Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. Yes, not only music but an album that tells a story with some drama and narration from that fine actor Richard Burton. Yes, this is an album ready for a good listening to and it’s not just a few quick singles; it’s music, dialogue, a good story and some excellent music -the perfect accompaniment for a long journey. Richard Burton’s narration is excellent and the dialogue elements are highly enjoyable, as are the musical sections.

Justin Hayward reached the UK top five with Forever Autumn, a shortened version of the album track and there are more vocal contributions on the album from Julie Covington, David Essex and Phil Lynott.

The whole thing is a sort of mix between radio drama, pop/rock music and contemporary orchestral works. I love it.

Kate Bush

I don’t know about you but in the past I’ve never had any real interest in Kate Bush. I’ve never disliked her but I’ve never felt compelled to buy any of her music. In fact, her early work has always sounded good but sort of odd if you know what I mean. Her slightly screechy ‘It’s me, Kathy, come home again’ was interesting but I never bought a copy and ‘Babooshka Babooshka‘ was ok but again, I never felt compelled to buy Kate’s work.

Some time ago I watched a documentary about Kate on BBC Four and I found myself liking the sounds and the melodies I heard. Straight afterwards I started searching on Ebay for her albums and found her latest work was the music I liked. Aerial is a double album full of lovely rhythms and melodies. It’s perhaps more akin to music that comes under the genre ‘chill out’ than her earlier frantic singles. I love the quick changes of direction, the way one track merges into another or into some soothing morning birdsong. The tracks on this album do not comply with the standard three-minute rule and they ebb and flow with Kate’s mood. Lovely stuff but be prepared to sit back and enjoy. This album is not something you can easily put away.

Ministry of Sound Chill Out Sessions.

Now, you might be surprised to see the Ministry of a Sound as one of my musical choices but I do like my electronic music. These compilation albums of chilled down dance tracks are the sort of music that does it for me these days.

Bands include Groove Armarda, Air, Kinobe, Jakatta and Massive Attack and many of the tracks are alternate mixes; the Club Mix, Pete Heller’s stylus mix, or the Electric Lounge Session re mix.

A typical song title is something like I am the Black Gold of the Sun (4 Hero Remix Edit.) Crazy stuff when you are used to a record title like Brown Sugar by the Rolling Stones!

Yes, the motor car is a place of comfort, a highly personal space. Sometimes I think I should invest in a digital radio for my lovely motor, then again, WeBuyAnyCar.com have valued it at a measly £398 so is it worth it?

Well, whatever it is worth I am happy with my car. If it is another warm night when I finish my late shift tonight I might just drop the roof down and drive home with the wind rushing through my hair, imagining for all the world that I am Hollywood scriptwriter cruising down Sunset Boulevard in my convertible ready to drop off another million dollar hit at the studios.

I can see myself now, reaching for my hand-held tape recorder, dictating some idea for a script, another blog post, perhaps even the sequel to Floating in Space. My hands touch the steering wheel lightly as I slip smoothly through the gears. With the sound of Nitin Sawhney’s chilled down spiritual moods wafting over me I think for a moment and then an idea begins to form . .


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The Soundtrack to my Life (Part 2)

stmlstePart 1 of the Soundtrack To My Life, which you can read by clicking here began by me trolling through my old albums. These days I buy a lot of  CD albums but back in my younger days I was a singles man. Yes, those vinyl discs spinning at 45 rpm sent me into a spin too from the very first single I bought in 1973, well it was two together actually, Banks of the Ohio and What is Life, sung by my seventies heart throb, Olivia Newton John.

In a previous post I compiled my all-time top 100 singles. You might think it was hard, well it wasn’t but my original task, that of compiling my all-time top 12 was, which is why I ended up with 100 records, all vying to get into the top 12 slot.
In an idle moment, well, a few hours actually when I had some free time on my hands, I made a rather nerdy spreadsheet of my top 100 which you can download. 100besttracks. Here are a few of my favourite tracks in detail.

The oldest track in my top 100 is Moon River from Andy Williams. I’ve always liked Andy and used to look forward to his TV show when I was a child and there was a rather memorable moment when the song was used in Sex and the City, one of my favourite TV shows, when Mr Big decides to leave New York for his vineyard somewhere in the country.

Olivia Newton-John doesn’t feature in my top 100 but she did do a pretty good version of Gordon Lightfoot’s ‘If You Could Read My Mind’ but I think its only fair to have the original in my top 100.

I do rather like acoustic guitar music and so Peter Sarstedt, James Taylor, Carole King and Bob Dylan are entries from the late sixties. On one of my very first dates I took a girl called Beryl to see the movie Pat Garret and Billy the Kid. I always thought that it featured the Dylan song ‘Lay Lady Lay‘ but it was actually Knocking on Heaven’s Door which was another great Dylan track, anyway, despite the movie mix up on my part, Lay Lady Lay always reminds me of that date.

Two other sixties tracks are Burt Bacharach songs: ‘Do You Know the Way to San Jose?’ and Dusty Springfield with The Look of Love. As a child in the 1960s, I wasn’t really aware of pop music, and all the sixties tracks mentioned here came into my record collection retrospectively but I came to know Burt’s music through the many films that benefited from his songs.

When I first started work in Manchester as a fresh youth of sixteen in 1973, a new colleague told me she was into soul music and I remember wondering what soul music was. I eventually asked her and she couldn’t define the genre except to say that it was dance music which doesn’t really go far enough to explain soul. Anyway, the first soul track I bought was Stevie Wonder’s ‘Boogie on Reggae Woman’. Later I added ‘Superstition’ to my collection.  The Chi Lites and ‘Have You Seen Her’ was another great soul track and  I’ve always loved ‘Midnight Train to Georgia’ by Gladys Knight and the Pips.

In the mid-seventies I used to frequent a bar in Manchester called the Playground and the DJ in the evening, his name was Steve also, used Loves Theme by Barry White’s backing band, Love Unlimited, as his theme song. I can’t hear that single today without remembering that bar with its dance floor sunk low in the floor where drinkers could look down at the dancers and where on weekday lunchtimes, office workers like myself could watch the topless dancer who appeared at 1 pm to entertain the patrons. No wonder I always used to get stuck with the 12 o clock lunch slot!

Angie Baby by Helen Reddy was one of those haunting tracks with clever lyrics. It was released in 1974, the most popular year in my top 100 with nine records from that year. The Hustle by Van McCoy was a disco classic from 1974 but another record I love from that time was ‘How Long’ by a now long defunct group called Ace. The writer and lead singer was Paul Carrack who went on to greater fame with Mike and the Mechanics and as a solo performer. That song  always reminds me of the Salisbury, a pub just by Oxford Rd Station where my colleagues and I used to congregate at lunchtimes or after work.

Young Americans was a track from rock legend David Bowie which made the soul charts in the USA and David Essex sang Rock On looking incredibly cool in his white suit.

Walking in Rhythm was a track I used to dance to in Manchester in the dark and packed night clubs of the seventies.  I also boogied away to Can you Feel the Force, (The Real Thing) September, (Earth Wind and Fire) and Night Fever (The Bee Gees) but another quirky favourite was the Pino Colado song with its wonderful engaging lyrics. While on the subject of Manchester, I must mention that great Manchester band 10cc and their classic 1975 hit, I’m Not In Love, recorded in Stockport’s Strawberry studios.

I’m not a great Cliff Richard fan but in the 80’s he came out with some fabulous songs like Wired for Sound, again with wonderful lyrics.

Billie Jean was my favourite of Michael Jackson’s work and I much prefer it to the overhyped Thriller.

I was still liking the acoustic guitar in the mid-eighties with songs like Marlene on the Wall by Suzanne Vega but a ground breaking record was that of Nineteen by Paul Hardcastle that introduced computers and sampling into music making.

Two songs that were from movies were Into the Groove by Madonna from the film Desperately Seeking Susan and The Power of Love by Huey Lewis and the News featured in Back to the future.

I must stop to mention Bruce Hornsby and the Range from 1986 and ‘The Way it is’. What a great track that is, a major contender for my all-time top 10.

In the late seventies I was a great fan of Elton John, buying all his early albums but my interest in his work fizzled out in the 1980’s. Made in England was a single by Elton that re-acquainted me with his music after twenty or so years.

The newest tracks on my list were from 2002 and 2003. Vanessa Carlton released A Thousand Miles in 2002 and sang backing vocals on a version of Big Yellow taxi in 2003 by Counting Crows. Neither were ever heard from again.

I’m sure there must have been great singles released between 2003 and now but nowadays I don’t rely on radio stations to tell me what to listen to. Radio channels and adverts just don’t go together for me so I tend to favour the BBC and Radio 2 but I must admit to liking Smooth FM and its playlist of non stop classic pop.

After having written this post about my top 100 list compiled a few years ago I reckon it’s time for a 2017 update. The thing is, that might just mean my top 100 is going to become my top 150!

Before I sign off, I think it’s only fair to leave a link to an outstanding post from fellow blogger Dave Kingsbury that inspired me to write this one: https://davekingsbury.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/a-life-in-music/


Hope you liked this post. If you want to read more of my work why not try my book, Floating In Space? Click the links at the top of the page for more information.

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The Soundtrack to my Life

The soundtrack to my life? What’s that all about? Well, quite simply it’s music. I don’t know about you but I’ve been a music fan all my life and I have always bought records of one sort or another. Vinyl singles and albums, cassette tapes, CDs and yes, even the occasional download.

picmonkey-imageMy Christmas present in 1972, my shared present I might add, which I shared with my brother, was a record player. I don’t actually remember getting any records to play on it though but a few days afterwards I bought a collection of TV and film themes by John Barry in the post Christmas sales.. Barry scored the early Bond films and wrote the theme from the Persuaders, the 70’s TV show starring Roger Moore and Tony Curtis. So much is that record built into my memory that whenever I hear the tune from the Persuaders, it’s not Curtis and Moore that comes to mind but that small portable record player that spent much of its life in the bedroom that my brother and I shared many years ago.

31436280925_c1d7ff01eb_oThe first single I ever bought was by my childhood heart-throb Olivia Newton-John. I actually bought two singles together, The Banks of the Ohio and What is life. A single back in 1973 cost thirty-eight pence if I remember correctly and as both those singles had dropped out of the charts I was able to get the two singles for half price, nineteen pence each. Olivia Newton-John started out as a country/folk singer but found greater fame as John Travolta’s co-star in the hit movie Grease. Sorry Olivia but Grease just didn’t do it for me.

Olivia Newton-JohnI’ve never been one for albums, I’m much more of a singles man but in the 1970s I was very fond of Elton John’s music. When I first heard his records I just assumed he was an American so I was pretty surprised to find he was English and hailed from Pinner in Middlesex. His first hit single was ‘Your Song’ from his second album, Elton John but the first album I bought was ‘Goodbye Yellow Brick Road’. Elton worked closely with lyricist Bernie Taupin to produce some memorable songs. Taupin wrote the lyrics in the fashion of poems, passed them over to Elton who worked them into a song, which is the way they work together today some five decades later. I still have all my Elton John albums but after Elton made Rock Of The Westies I lost interest in his music a little. In the CD era I picked up some of my favourites of his music on CD and I have found some of his newer work that I really like, in particular Made In England which must count to me as one of his best ever albums.

img_0142Back in my single buying days a work colleague lent me his copy of Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds. I didn’t really fancy it but my friend was insistent that I would love it and he was right. The idea of a whole album telling a single story including snippets of dialogue and sound effects is brilliant. I copied the album onto cassette tape and today I have two CD versions, one for in the home and one for my car.

It seems to me sometimes that back in the 70’s buying music was so easy. Hear a record on the radio, go out to the record shop and buy it; job done. Nowadays when I sometimes watch music videos channels like the Box, I hear something I like but there are no music stores to visit to buy the recording. Not only that, when and if you find one, they’ve never heard of the track that you noted down! Actually its much easier to just go online and search for the music you want and then its just a few clicks to download. However, I’m not convinced a download is what  I really want. I want something physical, something I can pick up and look at, something with sleeve notes and inserts, that’s what I used to love about vinyl albums.

The last vinyl album I ever bouht, and the last one that John lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

The last vinyl album I ever bought, and the last one that John Lennon made. Double Fantasy. £2.99, what a bargain.

So, back to the present. The other week I was watching a programme on BBC 4 about Kate Bush. It was all pretty interesting and seemed to portray a Kate Bush that was a whole world apart from babooshka babooshka and Kath-ee,  let me in at your window, the slightly scary Kate Bush that I remember from the seventies and eighties.

I did an online search and on e-Bay I found myself three fairly cheap CDs. 1: The Sensual World. (Sorry Kate, this didn’t do it for me at all.) 2: The Red Shoes. (Pretty good, nice album.)  3: Aerial. Now this was more like it. A cracking double CD. Actually more chill out than the Kate Bush of the seventies I’m used to hearing. It has not been off my in-car stereo since I bought it. It’s a fabulous album full of exciting rhythms and sounds.

aerialSo, what music do you have on the soundtrack to your life?


If you liked this post, why not try my book Floating In Space set in Manchester, 1977? Click the links at the top of the page for more information or have a peek at the video below: