In my new scheme of alternating weeks, it is time for another trip down memory lane. This week I’m taking you back to the Seventies, which was a decade that included some great music. Well, until disco and punk came along, that is…
There is no particular order to these in terms of my preferences. I just like them: simples! However, without even trying I have somehow managed to present them in chronological order: the tidy mind of a Virgoan at work, I think. Only four of these charted in the US – two of them fairly minor hits – so I’m hoping that I’m introducing you to some songs you’ve not heard before. This week’s first tune is a classic one hit wonder:
No one sleeps while they’re on! That one lit up the early part of 1971 here in the UK, when it first charted in February and worked its way up to #3, where it spent two weeks in April. It was a kind of throwback old style rock and roll song, but boy did it light up the dance floors! It was also a hit – briefly – in the US. Tom Jones covered it and put it on a B-side there to one of his singles. This got it picked up on the radio, leading to it spending several weeks in the Billboard 100, peaking at #40. If you watch this on YouTube you’ll see a lovely comment from the daughter of the guy in the red vest, playing trumpet – he’s still playing now, which is great!
Next up is another one from that year, which is also driven by a great drum beat:
John Kongos comes from South Africa, and is of Greek ancestry. This was a #4 hit here in 1971, and also reached #70 in the US. It has been covered several times, including a version by Happy Mondays in 1990. They renamed it Step On, and got to #5 here and #57 in the US. To my mind, though, the original is far better. Kongos wasn’t a one hit wonder – he had two! The other was Tokoloshe Man, which again drew on his South African origins and also reached #4 here in 1971. It was also covered by Happy Mondays, but only for an album release. Tokoloshe refers to a mystical beast of the same name in African mythology, which is thought to terrorise and eat people at night. Scary! John Kongos has four sons, who are together in a rock band called…Kongos. What else could they call it?
There must have been something about 1971, as this one also comes from that year. Jethro Tull have long been a favourite band of mine, and I’m doing my best to make up for not including them much so far in this series: two weeks running now! This was, I think, not released in the US, though it later appeared there on the Living In The Past compilation album. Here, it was the lead song on a five track EP:
I bought this when it was released, and played it to death. It was beautiful then, and it is beautiful now. It reached #11 in our charts, and I felt it was robbed by not even making the top ten. Ian Anderson’s flute is lovely on this, and that final line ‘Life’s a long song, but the tune ends too soon for us all’ gets me every time I hear this.
Two David Bowie songs for you now. First, one that he had the hit version with:
This was on Bowie’s Aladdin Sane album, which was released in April 1973 and reached #1 here in the UK, the first of nine UK #1 albums for him. It reached #17 in the US – I think they missed a trick here, as it is a great album. This song was released as a single ahead of the album, in November 1972, reaching #2 in the UK and #71 in the US. A little story about the song, from Wikipedia:
Some controversy arose in the UK when fellow RCA act Sweet issued the song “Block Buster!”, utilising a riff very similar to “The Jean Genie”. Sweet’s single, written by Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn, and recorded and released slightly later than Bowie’s song, made No. 1 in the UK charts and No. 73 on the US charts while “The Jean Genie” was still in the UK Top 10. All parties maintained that the similarity was, in Nicky Chinn’s words, “absolute coincidence”. Chinn described a meeting with Bowie at which the latter “looked at me completely deadpan and said ‘C*nt!’ And then he got up and gave me a hug and said, ‘Congratulations…'”
The second David Bowie song in this week’s selection is one that was the title track of one of his albums, released in 1970, but which wasn’t released as a single by him. Then this cover version came along:
The song has been covered by many artists, including Midge Ure and Nirvana, but this, for me, is the best cover by miles: I find it difficult to choose between this and the original. That may not be surprising when you know that the collaboration on this was prompted by Bowie himself, who felt it would fit Lulu well. He and Mick Ronson produced the track, and Bowie and his band played on it. The saxophone is him, and if you listen for the backing vocals, that’s him too. It is said that during the recording sessions he kept encouraging Lulu to smoke more cigarettes to get a huskier tinge to her voice, and the 20s Berlin cabaret style of this video really fits with that mood. I think it is a great version, and it reached #3 here in the UK when it was released in 1974.
I’m moving a little further forward into the Seventies with this week’s final tune. This is another of those songs that became an instant favourite of mine, and I still love the band, though they haven’t made a record since 1991! I bought all of their albums, and they have made some of the best music I know. This was their debut single:
That was released in May 1978, and reached #8 in the UK and #4 in the US – pretty impressive for a new band! It was also the opening track of side 2 on the band’s debut album – Dire Straits – which was released in October 1978, peaking at #5 in the UK and #2 in the US. The album version is longer, as it includes the full guitar solo in the play out: I encourage you to check it out, as it was our first introduction to one of the best rock guitarists ever. His finger picking style of playing is a little unusual for a rock band, but it is so very good! This first album, and others they released, has been a little eclipsed by the runaway success of Brothers In Arms, but it is one that I still go back to – it’s a very good album!
That’s all for this week, so I hope you’ve enjoyed them. I have a steadily growing list of songs from the Seventies that I haven’t yet shared with you, so I think I’ll be doing this again. I’m toying with the idea of doing an all-American version, to even things up a bit. Good idea? As I said, it was a good decade for music, for the most part, so however I do it the songs will be worth hearing again (or anew).
Until next time, I bid you good health and happiness. TTFN 😊