If Music be The Food of Love, Play On

A few weeks back I wrote a post about things I couldn’t do without. It was pretty light hearted and I wrote it after reading a similar post in which the things that the writer couldn’t do without actually turned out to be things that not only could I fully do without but in fact, didn’t even care about at all.

One particular thing that I didn’t mention in my post was music.

It was a little like the time I worked out my top 10 favourite films of all time and then later, realised I missed out one of my absolute favourites. It was a momentary error, a quick brain fade but something that needs redress. So here it is, a post about music and just to make it more interesting, I think I’ll throw a few links in to some of my favourite tracks.

This isn’t the first music post I’ve written. I did one a few years back called The Soundtrack to My Life. It was all about my favourite singles and then I followed it up with one about my favourite albums and as I wasn’t feeling particularly creative that day, I called it The Soundtrack to My Life Part 2.

Way back in 1972 when everything was black and white and the internet hadn’t even been invented and wireless was an old-fashioned word for the radio, on Christmas Day that year my brother and I received a joint Christmas present. It was a stereo record player. It was a compact model and the twin speakers clipped onto the top and there was a carry handle making it easily portable.

Another present was a record to go with our record player. I can’t remember if it was another joint present but the record was The Persuaders. It was an album of TV and film themes by John Barry who wrote much of the music for the James Bond films as well as the theme from The Persuaders. I still have that album today so it was either my personal present or I have just managed to keep it away from my brother for the past fifty years. (Fifty years! I can hardly believe it’s been that long. He kept the record player by the way so I think I can count the record as mine.)

The following year, 1973, I was keen on expanding my record collection and I began to purchase a lot of similar TV and film themed albums. Then I discovered Radio One and I moved on to the pop music of the time. Back then the new Top 20 was released every Tuesday and the Radio One DJ Johnnie Walker did a show counting down through the new chart, finishing with that week’s number one. Later on Thursday, the BBC show Top of The Pops did a similar thing on TV.

The first single I ever bought was by Olivia Newton John, my teenage heart throb and in fact it was two singles, Banks of the Ohio and What is Life and as they were no longer in the charts, I managed to get them for half price which initiated a lifelong passion for flipping through half price vinyl singles in record shops. I say lifelong passion but then again, these days in 2022, finding a record shop isn’t easy and even if I could find one, I doubt if there would be many 7-inch singles on sale. Having said that, I keep reading that vinyl is making a comeback so maybe it’s not impossible after all.

Back in 1973 I started a record collection that just grew and grew and today occupies a great deal of space upstairs in my back room. I’m not sure what was the very last vinyl single I ever bought. I guess it was sometime in the 1980’s but one day I’m going to go through those records and find out what the heck it was. One day I started buying CDs and today I must have two or three boxes of them although only a few are CD singles. I used to spend a lot of time in places like Woolworths flipping through CD collections in the reduced section. One of my best buys was a compilation that I bought just for one track which was A Horse With No Name by America. I love that track but another track on the album I was surprised to find was Desiderata by Les Crane, a musical version of the poem by Max Ehrmann, a track I love which I hadn’t heard for years.

I’ve got a lot of Beatles CDs, in fact for a while I decided I was going to buy, one by one, all the Beatles albums on CD. What I found though, and I’m guessing this might be a bit controversial, was that a lot of their album tracks just weren’t that good. Their hits are of course, absolute classics but a lot of their other album tracks really weren’t my cup of tea so after a few disappointing buys I gave up on that particular project.

A similar thing happened with Elton John. I stopped buying Elton’s albums in the 1980’s after all, people get older and tastes change. Later I started buying his albums on CD, not all of them, just the ones I particularly liked which were mostly his pre-1980’s albums. One later album I did like very much was Elton’s Made in England. I’d seen Songs From the West Coast get some great reviews and picked it up in my favourite music shop HMV. As I was about to pay, I saw Made in England in the reduced section and picked it up. Songs from the West Coast wasn’t that good so I never played Made in England which was a pity because when I finally picked it up months later, I thought it was outstanding.

Nowadays, even CDs seem to be on the way out. The usual way to purchase music today is to either download it or stream it. I have downloaded a few albums even though I mostly burn them to a CD and play them in my car. If I want to listen to music at home, it’s so easy just to click on the Spotify app on my iPad and slip on my earphones. In fact, I’ve got so used to Spotify I wish there was a way I could perhaps link my phone or my iPad to my car radio and play the stuff I listen to at home while I’m driving.

A few years back I decided to compile my personal top twenty. I did it years ago back in the 70’s and in fact my old friend Steve and I made a short audio tape in which we interviewed each other and talked about our favourite music Desert Island Discs style. When I went to do it once again a few years ago I found it was pretty hard to do, in fact I ended up making a list not of my top 20 but my top 100. I even made it into a spreadsheet so I could sort it by artist or year of issue. Later I made it into a Spotify playlist. Technology, isn’t it wonderful?

I like all kinds of music although opera and rap really don’t do it for me at all. I’m not a great classical music fan but there quite a few classical pieces I enjoy and interestingly most of those have come to me through my love of the cinema. Things like The Blue Danube by Strauss from 2001 A Space Odyssey and March of Pomp and Circumstance from Young Winston.

Just recently I saw a short video on TikTok. It was a young lady playing the cello in a wood and as she played, animals from the wood cautiously came forward seemingly to listen to the music. I loved that music so much I had to get it on a CD. It was Bach’s suite number 1 for cello.

A lot of the music I listen to these days is chilled electronic music and one of my favourite artists on Spotify is Nora Van Elken. Now I’ve never seen a CD on sale by Nora. Not only that I have no idea what she looks like or even if Nora Van Elken is a group rather than a person.

Having said that I thought I’d do a quick search on the internet. The answer from cyberspace is that she is an American producer and DJ. I couldn’t find much else about her but does that mean she doesn’t write songs but just produces them? Basically, I don’t know so I might as well plug my earphones in and just carry on listening.

My Top 100 singles can be downloaded as a spreadsheet. https://commendatoreblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/100besttracks.xls

Listen to my Top 100 on Spotify! https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3QSNCQYaOpE6W49AdWN3RY?si=ZD41K1M1S7C7TA3GeFpnQw


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Blogging Out Loud

It’s really quite fascinating the way digital publishing is moving ever forward. Although I suppose I’m very much still an amateur writer I publish a blog post every weekend just like this one. I can also be found in various videos over on YouTube and many of my blog posts can be listened to as a podcast. I say many although in fact there are only nine podcasts available at the present time. I could make more I suppose, after all, I’m now retired and I’ve got plenty of time to make them as well as owning that special essential, a top quality microphone. The thing is I’m not really sure how I feel about my podcasts. I’m not a trained actor or public speaker and I’ve never been that keen on my voice. Someone once told me I sounded a lot like Terry Christian. You may not have heard of him but he’s a Manchester DJ and minor TV personality and he sounds a lot like a very northern working-class Mancunian which is pretty much how you might describe me.

A few years ago I wrote a poem about the way I sound over on Writeoutloud. I won’t reproduce it here because it wasn’t that good (although feel free to click that Writeoutloud link) but it did get a lot of comments. In the poem I mentioned that I wanted to sound like Richard Burton. I’ve always admired Burton’s rich speaking voice. He made many films and I listen to him from time to time on my CD recording of Under Milk Wood. Of course, Burton’s voice didn’t come naturally. He was a miner’s son from Wales and was born Richard Jenkins. He spent many years perfecting that wonderful voice under the tuition of his teacher Philip Burton.

To improve my podcasts and voice-overs I have subscribed to a couple of YouTube channels which explain the rudiments of public speaking and voice control but even so, I still reckon I sound pretty much the same.

I’ve mentioned many times that one of my favourite writers is Dylan Thomas. Dylan had a wonderful voice and made many recordings of his poems and plays. In fact quite a lot of his plays were written for the radio. One of the keys to appreciating Dylan’s work is his love of words, particularly the sound of words, which is at the heart of all Dylan’s work, especially his poetry. If you think about it, there must be a connection between the sound of a word and its meaning, a deep organic connection. After all, how did words begin? Imagine some ancient caveman, just wanting to get some concept over to his mate. What are the deepest and strongest feelings for a human being? Well, for a caveman food must be one, and love too. Surely love was present in those primordial days when every caveman went out on Saturday with his club looking for his mate. There must have been a moment when ancient man strived to say something to his mate, tried to express his feeling and a sound that was the precursor to the word love slipped uneasily from his lips.

Terry Christian. Picture courtesy BBC

I make great use in my video voice-overs and podcasts of one particular program on my laptop, my Magix sound mixer. I’m able, to a great extent, to cut out my mumbles and ums and ahs, add some bass and make myself sound just a little bit better than I actually do.

On one of my short videos, I once tried to dub my own voice with a new recording. You’ve probably seen on TV and films how this can be done. There are some amazing over dubs in the Bond films for instance. In Goldfinger, Gert Frobe played the eponymous villain but the actor was German and spoke poor English. His voice was dubbed by an actor called Michael Collins. Many films in the 60’s, particularly European films were made with a fully dubbed soundtrack so how hard could it be?

I got set up with my video, the text of what I was saying and my microphone and off I went. About two weeks later having got about ten seconds of useable video and having come pretty close to smashing my laptop to pieces, I finally realised that audio dubbing wasn’t as easy as I thought it was and made the video in a different way.

Over on Anchor where I produce my podcasts, they have the facility to take one of my blogs and convert it into a podcast by having it spoken by an electronic voice so none of the recording and editing that goes into making a podcast would in theory be necessary. Some of the voices available actually sound pretty real but they all fall down in things like pronunciation of odd words or names or sometimes when I’ve tried to render a particular accent into the text. Yes, I think I’ll stick to my own voice for the time being.

I’ve always found it fascinating how a particular sound can jog our memory. Some time ago I wrote a blog about Mr Todd’s projector. Mr Todd was a teacher from my junior school and every Christmas he set up his projector and screen in the hall and put on a film show for the school. The films were mostly cartoon shorts like Sylvester the cat, Daffy Duck and even some of Disney’s wildlife films. I loved those Christmas film shows and what brought back the memory was that wonderful sound of the projector, that clickety click sound of the film running through the machine.

One year, I think it must have been my last at the school, Mr Todd retired and there was no final Christmas film show. Instead, we were treated to some dreary school choir or something which was such a disappointment. Of course, there had been a final film show. It had been the one the previous year, only at the time, like many things in life, we didn’t know it would be the last.

Here’s one final thing about sound. Music. I do love my music and like most people I associate various songs and music tracks to various times in my life. The very first vinyl singles I ever bought were by Olivia Newton John and since then I’ve amassed quite a collection of records, tapes and CDs. My record collection fills a small corner in the spare room in my mother’s house but these days, youngsters have even bigger collections than mine kept either on a small device or in cyberspace. I have to say I do like to have physical versions of music. I like my record and CD covers. I like the sleeve notes and I like to see the small notes I have made myself on my own records, things like the date of purchase and so on.

Many years ago one of my favourite things to do on a Saturday afternoon was to sift through racks of records in the music shops in Manchester. It’s hard to even find a record shop these days. I was a big music fan and back in the seventies and eighties singles were marked down in price as soon as they dropped out of the charts and vultures like me were there to buy up cheap records. I started buying singles in 1973 and the last one I bought must have been in the late eighties or early nineties. I wish I knew which record it was. In the eighties I started buying picture singles which were singles in clear vinyl with a picture running through. My favourite is probably Alexi Sayle singing ‘Hello John, got a new motor’ which comes in the shape of a Ford Cortina With Alexi Sayle on the bonnet.

The day came, probably sometime in the nineties, when the pop charts became a mystery to me, singers and bands were in there that I’d never heard of with records I had no interest in buying. Just then, almost like a thief in the night, vinyl disappeared and the CD era began.

In the box room at my Mum’s house are four or five boxes of my singles, another box of LP’s and two boxes of 12 inch singles which started out in the eighties as a single but with a longer or different mix or sometimes with an extra track. I like my vinyl records, I like the smoothness of the plastic, the static electricity, the album covers, the sleeve notes (can anyone really read the sleeve notes on CDs written in that tiny writing?) and the inserts. I still have all the booklets that came with Elton John’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy and I so wish I’d written the lyrics to that Cliff Richard song, ‘Wired for Sound’; power from the needle to the plastic.

I’m not much of a downloader but I do have a shedload of CD’s I’ve picked up over the years and I’ve gradually started to use my MP3 player, especially on holiday. I even have fun making up playlists on Spotify just like in the old days when I’d copy my vinyl singles onto cassette tapes.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ve really changed at all from the teenager I used to be.


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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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Movie Themes

Can music really make a good film? Can a really great theme lift a good or even mediocre film up into the lofty heights of the great films? I’m not sure but that’s today’s blog theme and here are a few examples.

Rocky.

Rocky is a pretty good film. It actually won the best picture Oscar in 1976. It’s good, actually pretty good but was it really worthy of a best picture Oscar? I’m not sure. Anyway, it’s about boxer Rocky Balboa played by Sylvester Stallone in his first starring role. Rocky is at the bottom end of the boxing ladder taking cheap weekend bouts as a boxer while he works as a strongarm man for the local loan shark. An incredible piece of luck comes his way though; Apollo Creed, the world champion finds that a multi million dollar bout has fallen through. Wanting to recoup something from the fiasco, Creed decides to fight an unknown boxer in an exhibition match in the hope of saving the event from cancellation. He randomly chooses Rocky. Rocky though, starts to wonder if he can win and backed by his old trainer he starts training and is soon on the path to fitness. Creed wins but Rocky goes the distance with Creed, the first opponent of Creed’s to do so. The second film in the series involves their re-match and is pretty similar to the first as are most of the following films. Rocky doesn’t seem to have much of a technique he just seems to get battered and when his opponent runs out of steam, Rocky usually lands the knockout blow.

The whole series of films in the Rocky saga are pretty much the same. I’ve watched 1 and 2 and gave most of the others a miss until Rocky Balboa. I’d heard it was a good one and picked up a copy of the DVD in a charity shop and to be fair it is an excellent film. Rocky has retired from the ring, his wife has died of cancer and Rocky gets by managing an Italian restaurant where fans come not only for the food but to chat with Rocky himself. Rocky then gets involved in a computer fight with the current champion, an idea based I think, on the computer fight between Rocky Marciano and Mohammed Ali. It’s a bitter sweet film but well put together. All the films use variations of the famous Rocky theme but my favourite is probably in the first Rocky where Stallone takes his fitness routine through the streets of Philadelphia, through the Italian market, finally alighting at the Museum of Art where apparently there is now a statue of Rocky himself. Did the Rocky theme tune really lift this film right up? To be fair it is a good film anyway but that theme tune gave the film, and the series, just that extra boost.

It’s not really relevant but I must add my favourite Rocky story here. Stallone wrote the script in three and a half days after apparently watching a boxing match between Muhammed Ali and Chuck Wepner in 1975. Wepner was expected to be easily beaten but made it through to the 15th round. United Artists liked the script but wanted an established star to play the role, even offering Stallone a million dollars to let James Caan play Rocky. Stallone turned them down, played the part himself and the rest is history.

Verdict: Great film, great theme.

The Magnificent Seven.

The Magnificent Seven was a 1960 remake of Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai. Director John  Sturges directed this version, set in the American Wild West. Yul Brynner produced and starred in the film and the cast also included Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach, Charles Bronson and Robert Vaughn. The story concerns a small Mexican village who hire a group of gunfighters to protect themselves from bandits. Only three of the seven survive the eventual gun fight.

As much as I love a good western, I’ve never really cared for this film. It was, according to Wikipedia, a box office disappointment in the USA although a smash hit in Europe. The score was an Oscar contender but lost out to Ernest Gold’s score for Exodus.

Verdict, love the music but essentially, the film was nothing outstanding and I know it’s a bit mean but if not for Elmer Bernstein’s theme I think The Magnificent Seven would be a forgotten film today.

Mission Impossible.

Mission Impossible was a movie adaptation of the 1960’s TV show about a small team called the IMF (Impossible Missions Force) that take on, you’ve guessed it, impossible missions. This film became the first in a series of films produced by and starring Tom Cruise. Cruise plays Ethan Hunt who is sent to stop the theft of a list of agents kept inside the American Embassy in Prague. The mission fails and Jim Phelps, the agent in charge is wounded and all of his team are killed except for Ethan Hunt. There is clearly a double agent or mole at work and various things happen until we find out the mole was Jim Phelps which was just a little bit sneaky because all of us who watched the 1960’s TV series knew that Jim Phelps was a character in that show and therefore could not possibly be the mole. The fact that he was made me feel a little cheated by this film because they used my nerdy TV knowledge against me. In the TV show Jim Phelps always gets a taped message with instructions for his mission that then self destructs. Tapes are a little old fashioned now in the high tech world of the 21st century but there are a few little nods to the old series along the way.

The last instalment I saw was the fast moving Mission Impossible: Ghost protocol. It was pretty exciting and one particular part was interesting. Ethan Hunt and his people visit the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the tallest building in the world. In one sequence Hunt has to climb outside to get to another room in the building. The sequence looked pretty impressive even though I assumed, it was shot with a green screen in a studio. It was with some surprise then to find that the scenes were shot actually on location with Tom Cruise doing his own stunts, actually climbing outside this impressive structure. He was held safely by cables which were digitally erased in post production. I take my hat off to you Tom but seriously, next time, do it in the studio!

The Mission Impossible theme is an iconic one written by Lalo Schifrin. There are many versions of the theme but personally I like the one from the TV show. Has it enhanced the films? Yes, I think so and of course it makes the connection between the TV version and the films.

Titanic.

Titanic is a 1997 film written and co produced by James Cameron. The production had a budget of 200 million dollars, a staggering amount and included a full scale replica of the ship at Baja in California. The replica was not an ocean going vessel but one built into the dockside and incorporated with a 17 million gallon water tank which provided a sea view and a ramp which could tilt the whole structure for the sinking sequence. Only parts of the ship were fully made, most of the ship itself was just a steel outer structure.

Director Cameron wanted the singer Enya to create the music for the film but she declined. Instead he turned to composer James Horner. The two had fallen out during the making of Cameron’s film Aliens but managed to put that behind them and collaborate on Titanic. Cameron did not want music with singing in the film so Horner composed My Heart Will Go On in secret and played him the demo when he thought Cameron might be responsive. According to Wikipedia, another factor was that a hit song would be a positive factor surrounding the film.

Verdict: I love the music and feel it enhances the film in many ways, so much so I bought the soundtrack CD.  Titanic is an epic production with some outstanding production elements that cement Cameron as a director of the first echelon.

So, what is your favourite movie theme?


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A Mostly Musical Slice of my Locked Down Week

The other day I was idly lazing about in the lounge in what might be described as my default position. You know what I mean, in my favourite chair, the TV remote within easy reach, my iPad just beside me.

After scanning through several TV channels in search of something to watch, I settled on plugging my earphones in and listening to Spotify. What I love about Spotify is that as you listen to the various tracks that you love, Spotify will create playlists for you of not only your favourite music but also similar music which it thinks you just might like also. You can also build your own playlists and recently I turned my old Top 100: one hundred of my favourite tracks I compiled quite a while ago, into a playlist.

Another great thing is that you can listen to new music, free of charge before you shell out and buy the CD or download the track. Recently I listened to the new album by Paul McCartney which seems to be pretty popular. McCartney wrote, sang and played all the instruments on the album which he recorded himself in his own studio during the lockdown. Now, you don’t need me to tell you what a talented guy Paul McCartney is but the fact is I didn’t think McCartney III was that good at all. I liked the first track, actually an instrumental one but the rest was pretty forgettable.

A few years back I decided that I was going to try and buy all the Beatles albums on CD. Not all in one go of course, just gradually, as and when I saw them up for sale. I started with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which was pretty good except for one awful George Harrison track. George, in the latter days of the Beatles, was getting a little fed up with Lennon and McCartney because he wanted some of his songs on the albums and they wanted, well just Lennon and McCartney ones. I can kind of see the Lennon/McCartney point of view because on the Sgt Pepper’s album, I copied all the tracks to a new CD for use in my car, but cut out George’s song because it was pretty awful. Harrison must have been fairly pleased with the Beatles break up because then he didn’t have to argue the toss about getting his music recorded, he just did what he wanted and in fact made some pretty successful albums.

Anyway as I bought more and more of the Beatles albums I actually became a little disillusioned. I’ve always found that even though the great Beatles hits are actually great, a lot of the other tracks on their albums are actually not that great at all so my project for buying all their albums gradually fizzled out except for getting most of their hit collections.

In the canteen at work the other day where we all sit at separate tables due to social distancing, I couldn’t help overhear two of my colleagues discussing music. One said that she and her husband had oceans of CDs between them but as they were all copied to their ‘master hard drive’ and that as streaming throughout the house of this music had somehow been enabled (I’m pretty low tech so don’t ask me to explain) she was urging her husband to get rid of his CDs. Get rid of his CDs? I couldn’t think of a greater blow she could have hit her husband with if I had tried. Get rid of his CDs? Outrageous!

One of the things I love about music is not just the music itself but the actual disc and the packaging and the sleeve notes. Now sleeve notes are not what they were back in the 70’s and 80’s. An album back then, a vinyl album of course was pretty big, twelve inches actually which gave the artist plenty of room to talk about his work, include the lyrics, details of the recording sessions and so on. It’s hard work getting all that stuff on a much smaller CD package but even so, I like the physicality of a record or a CD and although a download is pretty convenient sometimes, I still prefer my CDs.

Getting back to the afternoon that I started off with, there I was, listening to music and just generally meditating when I became aware of a nose hair. Now generally speaking, I am all for some personal grooming most days but now when the lockdown has stopped us going to restaurants and pubs and so on I suppose I’ve been a little lax in that department. You know how it is, like me you’ve probably been lazing about under lockdown in the same old jogging pants and sweatshirt you’ve been wearing for ages. Not going out to restaurants or pubs means I’ve not been grooming myself in the bathroom mirror as much as usual and as all the barbers and hair stylists are closed, my hair has been getting noticeably longer.

The result of that non-grooming soon became evident because as I relaxed I idly passed a hand over my nose and to my dismay I discovered a random nose hair dangling out from my left nostril. Going by touch only, it appeared to be a pretty long one so as my appearance is pretty important to me -heck I am a well-known writer, blogger and YouTuber– I thought the best thing was to yank it out. Now I’ve removed nose hair before, but this particular removal sent me into a paroxysm of pain and some serious sneezing. It put me in mind of a cartoon I snipped out from a magazine years ago and glued into my scrapbook. It was a guy at the dentist and he was having a tooth pulled out. The caption went something like ‘this might hurt!’ and it showed the dentist pulling out the tooth which had such a long root it also pulled out the fellow’s private parts.

My parts were intact, but that hair removal certainly made my eyes water.

What else happened last week while I was glued to my couch; grooming, listening to music and watching TV? Oh yes, Joe Biden was sworn in as the next President of the USA. All the living former Presidents with the exception of the poorly Jimmy Carter came to see Joe being appointed as President. One particular guest was missing though; that was Donald Trump, the outgoing President. Of course he wasn’t expected to attend because the whole thing was a stitch up because Joe, Trump maintains, stole the election. Well as far as I know, despite this terrible crime of election tampering being committed, no actual evidence of the tampering has come forward or been revealed.

On a BBC2 documentary the other day they showed a tearful young woman crying for the loss of Trump and all he stood for and has done. What he actually stands for, I don’t know and what he has done, well actually I don’t know that either. He was keen on building a wall to keep out the Mexicans but I’m not sure if he did that. He promised to lock up Hillary Clinton but he definitely didn’t do that. I know for a fact he’s played a lot presidential golf but that wasn’t one of his election promises.

I have always felt that Trump’s supporters would most likely be his fellow millionaires and billionaires but the majority of people who rampaged through the Capitol building the other week didn’t look like millionaires to me either, unless they were all disguised as para military fatigue wearing rednecks. Trump then leaves the White House as a bit of an enigma. Some pundits think he might even leave the Republicans and start his own party. Wonder who the first presidential candidate for the Trump party will be?

I spent some time this week looking back through my old posts in search of inspiration. I didn’t get an idea for anything new, but I did begin to think that one of my old posts, Four Simple Secrets of Self Publishing could be made into a video. I do love tinkering about, editing video so I decided to shift my lazy behind, crank up my laptop and create something for my YouTube channel.

There are probably two ways to make the kind of video I had in mind, one is to put a rough cut together with an eye on what I think I’m going to say in the voiceover. The other way is to record the voiceover first and then cut some images together to fit the voiceover, which is what I did.

So there you have it, the story of a few of my locked down days: Some music, some TV, some grooming and a little bit of video editing. How was your week?

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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.

A Week that was Too Good to be Forgotten

This week started off with a tune running through my head. That’s not unusual. I often wake up with a tune in my head. It’s usually a leftover from our local pub quiz where they have a great music round, ten tracks with points on offer for song title, artist and year of highest chart placing. As it happened the tune was nothing to do with the quiz and sadly I didn’t have any words to go on, just a bit of a tune which irritatingly, kept floating around my head.

Thursday is the night of the pub quiz. We like to dine out beforehand so we settled on the Moghul, an Indian restaurant in St Annes. We’ve not been for a few years but were happy to see that the long complicated menu has been slimmed down and the food was particularly nice. Eating poppadums with Liz reminded me of many years ago when my friends and I would go into the Plaza Café in Manchester after a night of drinking. The curries on offer there were of three varieties, mild, hot and suicide.

It always brings a smile to my face when I remember calling for ‘Three suicides please mate!’

Those were the days. My dining experiences nowadays are much more relaxed.

This week’s music quiz was interesting, although I didn’t exactly cover myself in glory. One of the tracks played was a cover version of the Beatles hit ‘Yesterday’. It had to be either from 1965 or 1968 and being something of a Beatles expert I mentioned to my fellow quizzers that as Yesterday was one of the later Beatles hits it couldn’t have been 1965. It had to be 1968.

It turns out that although the Beatles included the track on the album ‘Help’ released in the UK in August 1965, it was not released in the UK as a single (actually an EP) until the following year. As the recording was essentially a solo performance by Paul McCartney, the group initially vetoed its release as a single. That left Matt Munro free to release his version and claim chart success in October 1965, all of which shows I’m not so much as a Beatles expert as I thought I was which didn’t go down too well with my fellow quiz team members. No gallon of ale for us that week!

‘Yesterday’ is, according to Wikipedia, one of the most recorded songs in history and in fact has an entry in the Guinness book of records as such, having by January 1986 more than 1,600 cover versions recorded. Paul McCartney claimed the entire melody came to him in a dream and unable at first to come up with a proper lyric, he dubbed the song scrambled eggs until he could produce more suitable words.

Now I think of it, and I’m really not trying to compare myself to Paul McCartney but quite a lot of my writing, especially poetry has come to me in dreams. In fact I once dreamt an entire story which unfolded before my eyes like a film and when I awoke I jotted it down and later made it into a film script. Because of that I became pretty fascinated by my dreams and placed a notebook by my bed so I could record any profound thoughts or dreams I’d had when I awoke in the morning. After a few weeks of noting stuff down then going for a wash and making a brew then coming back to look at various garbled nonsensical notes, well I soon gave up the practice.

‘Yesterday’ by the way, won Paul McCartney an Ivor Novello award in 1965 and was ranked 13th in the Rolling Stone’s 2004 list of the 500 greatest songs of all time.

Prior to coming back to St Annes I spent my usual five days looking after my elderly Mum in Manchester. Her dementia seems to be getting worse and it’s hard to imagine that this old lady born on the day of the Wall Street Crash in 1929 was, only a couple of years ago, doing her own shopping and cooking. I used to call her up and say ‘can I get you any shopping in Mum?’ She would always reply ‘no, the day I can’t get to the shops is the day I’m finished.’

She used to trek slowly along pushing her little trolley over to the shops every single day. Always buying no more than she needed for that day then back again the next day. Today she endlessly repeats herself, asks for the breakfast she has already eaten and agonises about the Sunday lunch she will never make again. After a particularly stressful day the endless news reports about Brexit are a welcome distraction.

Sometimes I feel that she has died already but her body refuses to go and that like the Dylan Thomas poem some inner force she possesses rages foolishly against ‘the dying of the light’.

It’s always a relief to hand over caring to my brother and get back to St Annes.

This last week I too felt a little like Paul McCartney although instead of humming the tune to ‘Yesterday’ and trying to think of better lyrics I kept humming the tune which had annoyed me all week. I hummed it to Liz but it didn’t ring any bells with her either.

Now one thing that is important to do in these situations is not to say anything to yourself like ‘Dammit, I just can’t remember what that tune is!’

A statement like that sends a clear message to your brain that you can’t remember so you may as well not bother. The best thing to say to yourself is this: ‘I can’t recall the title of that tune presently, but It will come to me later!’ That is a much more positive message to send to your brain and one which according to all the positive thinking books I used to read years ago should provide much more positive results, eventually.

A few days later I had a few actual words. Something, something, blah blah forgotten. Now I was getting somewhere! Then I had a brainstorm, it was too good to be forgotten!

A quick lunge to our good friend Google and I finally had it: Too Good to be Forgotten by the Chi-Lites! What a cracking soul track.


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.

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.