MY MAMA, CASS: A MEMOIR by Owen Elliot-Kugell

Shamefully, the death in London of ‘Mama’ Cass Elliot on July 29, 1974, made just a few short paragraphs on page five of the following week’s Melody Maker. She’d just completed a series of concerts at the Palladium near Oxford Circus, the opening night of which MM’s reviewer described as ‘dreadful… a totally depressing evening out’. The heart attack that felled her was misreported as ‘choking on a ham sandwich’, her manager’s idea of a more fitting end to a woman whose generous physique played a macabre role in her too short life.

All of which paints a rather gloomy picture of Cass Elliot but in the almost 50 years since her death she has achieved redemption, of sorts. It’s now acknowledged that Cass, Ellen Naomi Cohen to her family, possessed a fine vocal range and that without her The Mamas and The Papas, the quartet that catapulted her to fame in 1965, wouldn’t have been half as successful had not John Phillips invited her to join the group, albeit reluctantly in light of her appearance. Furthermore, she was a key social networker amongst the musicians that resided in the canyons of Los Angeles in the mid-sixties, instrumental in making introductions that resulted in significant partnerships, most notably John Sebastian and Zal Yanovsky who became The Lovin’ Spoonful, and bringing Graham Nash to the attention of David Crosby and Stephen Stills. 

Owen Elliot-Kugell is Cass Elliot’s daughter, an only child. Born in 1967, she last saw her mother leaving JFK airport for that fateful trip to the UK in 1974 and thereafter was raised by her aunt Leah, Cass’s younger sister, and her husband Russ Kunkel, whose CV as a session drummer reads like a list of inductees at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. On hand too as a sort of proxy mother throughout her early years and beyond was Michelle Phillips, now the only surviving member of the Ms&Ps, and it was Michelle who helped trace her father, a bass player called Chuck Day, whose identity was a mystery until the 1980s.

Elliot-Kugell has written an affectionate memoir that does its best to further that redemption but try as she might it’s hard to shake off the feeling that her mother’s greatest moments were with the group she left behind. Albums released before and after the group somehow failed to sell in any appreciable quantity, which Elliot-Kugell invariably blames on ‘poor promotion and marketing’ and there’s a general feeling that Cass never really reached her potential. There were ill-advised career moves, a disastrous appearance in Las Vegas and poor health, attributed to efforts to lose weight, was an issue that never went away. When Cass died she was broke and though her debts were eventually paid off, it wasn’t until the CD era that her estate became solvent.  

It’s a sad story. The first half of the book offers up plenty of family background, followed by the rise and fall of the Ms&Ps and Cass’s subsequent solo career, the information gathered largely from Elliot-Kugell’s talks with many of those who knew and admired her mother. The second half dwells on the author’s childhood and life thereafter, which has had its ups and downs. Included are details of her friendship with the children of other LA musicians, among them Carnie and Wendy, daughters of Brian Wilson, and Chynna, daughter of Michelle and John Phillips, who formed the successful ’90s trio Wilson Phillips. Elliot-Kugell, a singer herself, was unfortunate not to have joined them. She also lays to rest the canard about the ham sandwich – the story was concocted by Cass’s manager to allay speculation that hers was another death from a drug overdose, and in 2000 Elliot-Kugell actually met the journalist who first reported it. “It had been for the protection of my mother’s name and legacy,” she writes. 

Like other children of musicians who’ve passed Elliot-Kugell has found herself accepting awards on behalf of her mother. She was there alongside John, Denny and Michelle when the Ms&Ps were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998, and in the eight-page photo section there’s a picture of her alongside John Sebastian, Stephen Stills and Michelle when her mum’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star was unveiled in 2022. The book has 262 pages, is set in rather large type and lacks an index. 

        Finally, excuse me while I have a rant. 

        As those familiar with Just Backdated may know, in 2017, through a literary agent, I tried to get a publishing deal for a memoir by Amanda De Wolf, the daughter of Keith Moon, that would have been co-written by myself. It didn’t happen. I was told by numerous publishers that because Mandy last saw her father in 1975 (when she was 12), she ‘didn't know him well enough’ or ‘didn’t spend enough time with him’ to write a book that was substantial enough for publication. In the end I gave up but two years later, with Mandy’s permission, I posted my proposal for the book on this blog*. It has now had 36.6k hits, the second highest number of hits of all the 1,000+ posts on Just Backdated. Many of those who read it, among them no doubt Who fans galore, expressed amazement that the book was never published, which suggests there was a market for it. 

        Owen Elliot-Kugell last saw her mother Cass Elliot when she was seven, and was unaware of the identity of her father until she was 19. With respect to Elliot-Kugell, for all sorts of reasons Keith Moon was far more celebrated than her mother and Mandy’s story, which as well as featuring a father who was rock’s craziest hedonist, involved her overcoming alcoholism, two divorces and a degree of angst with regard to the behaviour Ian McLagan, her mother’s second husband. To my mind, it was at least as worthy of publication as this book. 

        All of the above is not meant as a criticism of My Mama, Cass, merely an observation about the quirks of the publishing world, of which I was once a part. And although it’s unmentioned, there is a morbid Keith Moon connection: the Mayfair apartment where Cass Elliot died in 1974 was the same one where Keith would die four years later. Rant over. 

*https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/moon-girl-my-life-in-shadow-of-rocks.html. For personal reasons, Mandy no longer wishes to pursue the book. 



After her passing, the most regrettable aspect of Amy Winehouse’s life and career is the paucity of recorded material she left behind. All we have to savour are two studio albums, Frank and Back To Black, and a Hidden Treasures CD that collects most of the odds and sods. All three are alongside me as I type this and, counting up, there are but 38 tracks in total. I wish there was more. 

        That the world lost an enormous talent when Amy overdid the vodka in July, 2011, is made abundantly clear in Back To Black, Sam Taylor-Johnson’s sympathetic biopic, titled after her Grammy winning second LP which has been cited as the most important pop record of the century thus far. In terms of grit, taking control and revealing personal issues in song, it’s magnificent and I wonder whether we’d have had an Adele or Taylor Swift without it. 

        I watched the movie last night in the luxurious Light Cinema at Addlestone. Somehow, the Light’s huge, comfortable seats, spaced well apart, and first-class lounge ambience add an extra star to any movie and this one, unfairly disparaged as pedestrian by many critics in my opinion, deserves four or five, not least for the bravura performance of Marisa Abela as the doomed singer, secure in her own talent yet crossed in love by the roguish Blake Fielder-Civil, played by Jack O’Connell, who leads her into temptation. It’s a tragedy, of course, albeit it one enlivened by fabulous music scenes that lead to a scenario that we know in advance will end in tears.

        The film opens warmly, with Amy as a budding star in a family singsong, its purpose to impose the belief that music runs in her veins, inherited from her practical, taxi-driving dad Mitch, played by Eddie Marsan, and her vivacious, supportive nan Cynthia, to whom she is especially close and who once sang professionally, played by Lesley Manville. The song Amy sings, in which she is joined by her dad, is ‘Fly Me To The Moon’, most famously recorded by Frank Sinatra but also by Tony Bennett, and it serves to stress how music from the swing era, not rock or even soul, informs Amy’s musical background and imagination. 

        Thereafter the film closely follows the trajectory of Amy’s career. We see her composing with a guitar on her bed, her boyfriend sending a rough demo of her songs to a prospective manager who interests Island Records and the recording and release of Frank, her moderately successful debut album. It comes as no surprise that Amy is on the lippy side, displeased when advisers suggest she stop playing guitar on stage and concentrate on her singing and bristling, too, at being managed by the same company that handles The Spice Girls, for whom she harbours a haughty disdain. Such is her frustration at a meeting to address these issues that she walks out and heads for the pub where, in what is by far the film’s most riveting scene, she meets Blake whose courtship dance rivals that of those exotic birds we see angling to mate in David Attenborough’s wildlife programmes. 

        On the positive side, Blake introduces Amy to The Shangri-Las, thus influencing her beehive hairstyle, lovingly created by nan Cynthia, but he’s also responsible for leading her astray which in turn explains the three year delay between Frank and Back To Black. This is largely due to Amy’s mind being elsewhere during their pub crawling and drug abuse, and here we see them cavorting in some familiar locations, Ronnie Scott’s in Soho and Camden’s Dublin Castle and Good Mixer among them. It’s a troubled relationship, with Blake more inclined to walk than Amy, and when he tells her he wants to return to his former girlfriend she’s heartbroken, pouring her sorrow into the songs that became Back In Black. The death from cancer of her beloved nan only adds to her melancholy.  

        When the record’s a hit Blake returns. The idea that he’s after her money, as suggested by an odious friend, is dismissed and although things are still a bit rocky, they marry in Florida, much to Mitch’s disapproval. Soon after Blake is imprisoned for assault but while he’s inside he cleans up his act and opts to end it with Amy who’s broken hearted for a second time. With pressure mounting on her to concentrate on her career and the paparazzi on her heels, dad Mitch persuades her to go into rehab but no sooner is she off the booze than she buys that lovely house in Camden Square where she succumbs to the vodka bottle, this time with fatal results. We are left to assume it was all a terrible accident. 

        As Amy, Marisa Abela is in every scene, never off the screen, whether she is singing on stage or in the studio, and her impersonation of Amy’s vocals are uncanny. She captures Amy’s slightly hesitant stage mannerisms to perfection and also looks, wears make-up and dresses like her. Most of the songs we associate with Amy are included in the soundtrack though unless I missed it I never heard ‘Love Is A Losing Game’ which is surprising considering how the relationship with Blake takes centre stage. Perhaps more importantly, she offers us a side of Amy Winehouse for which I was unprepared: a London girl who sang so well it overwhelmed her yet more than anything wanted simply to find a boy who loved her and would give her a family of her own, just like the one we saw in that opening scene.   




My friend Mandy De Wolf, Keith Moon’s daughter, tells me that she has become a grandmother, which means that her father has, in absentia, become a great grandfather. “Our daughter Sam and her boyfriend Nate welcomed lovely little Zoe on October 3, 2023,” she writes. As far as I am aware, Zoe is the first great granddaughter offspring from The Who. I think she has her great grandfathers eyes. 

        Mandy and I have stayed in touch since our aborted plan for her to write a memoir about her life. When it became clear to us that book publishers weren’t interested in our proposed book, in 2019 I posted my synopsis of the book – Moon Girl: My Life In The Shadow Of Rock’s Wildest Star – on Just Backdated, and to date it has received 34,600 hits, making it the second most read post on the blog. This is the link: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2019/09/moon-girl-my-life-in-shadow-of-rocks.html

        Mandy also drew my attention to this podcast in which she is interviewed about her life on Billy Brew Radio. https://www.facebook.com/watch/?extid=CL-UNK-UNK-UNK-IOS_GK0T-GK1C&mibextid=w8EBqM&v=544275519750261

    [Unfortunately I cannot seem to transfer live links onto my blog but they work if you copy and paste - CC]


DUANE EDDY – Melody Maker, October 10, 1973

Duane Eddy, who had died aged 86, was the first great solo guitar hero of the rock’n’roll era. Arriving a couple of years before Hank Marvin in The Shadows and Bob Bogle in The Ventures, Duane was the first instrumentalist to motivate young rock’n’roll guitarists in the UK, among them 14-year-old John Entwistle who always cited Duane’s twangy style as his first inspiration. 

        “Clocking the American guitarist Duane Eddy’s propulsive ‘Ramod’ single on Radio Luxembourg, Entwistle became an instant convert,” writes Paul Rees in The Ox, his authorised Entwistle biog. “By rote, he learned the sax parts to Eddy’s 1958 album Have Guitar Will Travel.” Later, Rees explains how John sought to emulate Duane Eddy’s trademark ‘twangy’ sound in the bass solo on The Who’s ‘My Generation’. 

        Duane’s records, alongside those by Elvis, Buddy and the Everly Brothers, were among the first I ever owned, and my favourite was ‘Because They’re Young’, a more melodic slice of twang that I always thought Joe Meek had in mind when he wrote ‘Telstar’ for The Tornados. 

        I got to meet Duane when I interviewed him in Los Angeles in September, 1973. He was one of those strong silent types, as I recall, a no-nonsense guy, a man who thought carefully before he spoke, a gentle giant. A loquacious interviewee, he reminded me a bit of the character James Coburn plays in The Magnificent Seven. 

There was no specific reason for interviewing Duane Eddy. He wasn’t about to release a new record or play a concert. I somehow knew he lived and worked in LA – as a music publisher as it happened – and thought he’d be an interesting subject. In the same week I interviewed Iggy Pop, quite the opposite in every way, and the two interviews appeared side by side in Melody Maker – “Los Angeles Report by Chris Charlesworth”! – issue dated October 10, 1973. Here, word for word, is my piece about Duane. 

The first real guitar superstar of the rock and roll age sits in an office no larger than a bathroom on North Vine off the Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a music publishing office and he’s there to listen to songs, to cast his experienced eye over good and bad, and reject or accept according to their worth.

There’s a stand-up piano behind his crammed desk, a tape player to his right and, apart from some papers, little else. There are no gold records on the wall, none of the plush furnishings you come to expect in music business offices and no indication that the man behind the desk was voted top guitarist in the world year after year during the late fifties and early fifties. His name isn’t even on the door.

His name is Duane Eddy, and his rumbling, twangy guitar blasted out of every juke box in the land 12 years ago. Just what contribution he made to worldwide sales of the instrument is incalculable; how many budding guitarists he influenced is anyone’s guess. 

His hits, in case you don’t remember, included ‘Rebel Rouser’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’ and ‘Because They’re Young’. They were all on the London/American label, the outlet that spawned so many of his contemporaries and accounted for a high percentage of my record collection in pre-Beatle days. 

Duane was casualty of the Liverpool boom. After The Beatles, his records stopped selling and now he’s more involved with publishing and production, although he plays concerts occasionally and plans a working trip to Britain in the near future. He has fond memories of the UK and hopes to be playing in Britain before the end of the year.

Stretched out on the swivel chair behind his desk, he talks slowly and knowledgeably with the air of a man who’s seen everything, summed it all up and formed unshakeable opinions. He’s a big guy whose firm wrist greets my handshake and a smile escapes his lips only when something is genuinely funny. The greased quiff from the fifties has been replaced by a shortish Beatle-cut and he’s wearing a short but tidy beard.

His last project, about which he’s most excited, is the production of an album by Phil Everly, who’s a close friend from way back. He’s made no recent records of his own, though he did play on the Phil Everly sessions, and it’s more than two years since he stopped performing regularly. 

“The records stopped selling and that had a lot to do with my decision to stop recording,” he drawls with a wry smile. “There was nothing exciting happening for me. There was a lot of acid rock and that’s not my type of thing. What I was doing wasn’t of any interest to anybody but me and the few people involved. Now things are changing around and acid rock doesn’t seem as popular as it was. People want the old records and they might just want some new records by the old people, as they’re getting tired of hearing the same stuff again and again. I’d prefer to do some new stuff in the same style but more updated.”

Duane notched up eight gold records and a few British silver ones during his heyday. It all started in a studio in Phoenix, Arizona, when Lee Hazlewood, the producer and a long time friend, decided to make some instrumental records. Hazlewood knew Duane played guitar and brought him in to make a record called ‘Moving And Grooving’ which was released by a small Philadelphia label called Jamie Records. It made the fifties in the charts and encouraged Duane to go back into the studio and make ‘Rebel Rouser’.

“We did the Dick Clark Show playing ‘Moving And Grooving’ and ‘Rebel Rouser’ but we had to find a number to finish with. One of the guys in the group, Al Casey, had written a song called ‘Ramrod’ and we did that. The show was on Saturday night. One the Monday morning we had 100,000 orders for the record. We went back in and produced it very quickly.

“That was a hit and they all followed on after that. Then there was ‘Cannonball’, ‘Detour’, ‘The Lonely Ones’, ‘Some Kind Of Earthquake’, ‘Shazam’, ‘Forty Miles Of Bad Road’, ‘Because They’re Young’, ‘Guitar Man’, ‘Peter Gunn’. It’s quite a list and I can’t think of them all.

“I toured from the time ‘Rebel Rouser’ came out – 1958 – until the time The Beatles got very big in 1964.  It was frantic all the time, just like Beatlemania expect that it was rock-mania. The crowds in the US were very vocal, screaming and everything, and it was a real surprise when I played in London for the first time. I got up and did my show and half way through there was dead silence. They were actually listening and there was polite applause after every song. We thought we were doing very poorly until the end of the show when we discovered how wrong we were. They were stamping and yelling for ten minutes and pulling the place apart.”

In 1964, he says, England had her revenge on America. “When I was touring England about 80 per cent of the charts were American records. In 1964, when I did another tour, the charts were reversed. I was pleased for them. It was only fair. The American had had their own way for too long.”

So, Duane came off the road and rested after six years of hard work. He made the odd album and played the odd concert anywhere in the world, wherever and whenever he felt like it. He tried acting in a couple of Westerns, did a few TV shows and took things easy. Hard rock, with its accompanying drug scene, was the final blow. 

With a kind of father-like concern, Duane has much respect for today’s guitarists. He still considers he was the best guitarist in his day – in his particular field.

“I believe I won one of those polls not too long ago, just a few years ago, when I shouldn’t have,” he says, grinning. “There was a lot of good guitarists around in those days, but I had the hit records and my name was the best known. I certainly think I was the best guitarist at the time, but it depends on how you judge it. What I did on guitar nobody else could do as well, but it becomes a very subjective thing. I can’t play one lick of classical music. Segovia is the man I would consider the best in that field, but there are several others that other people might choose.

“Chet Atkins* is probably the best all-round guitarist in the world. When you get into the jazz field there’s Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery and countless others, and there’s no way to measure who’s better than another. When you get among the best in any field, they can all do the job,

“I had a lot of imitators, who could probably do some things better than I could, but instead of doing those things they tried to copy me. They were coming in on my terms and they got nowhere. I remember The Shadows, who were an excellent group, and they didn’t try to imitate me, and The Ventures who were also an excellent group. They’re still going, selling thousands of albums.”

Duane has much respect for Eric Clapton. “The guitar solo he did on George Harrison’s ‘Something’ was one of the finest guitar solos I have heard anywhere. [He was wrong there. George played it but I didn’t wish to correct him – CC.] But Cream did not impress me at all. They were just a jazz trio with the volume turned up full blast so you had to stand 20 feet away to even begin to hear what they were playing. I know a lot of guys who just jam and I felt that’s what they were doing basically. 

“I guess Clapton has gone the same way I did, tired of doing the same things over and over again. Once you have established a great sound and great style, you find it difficult to know what to do next. He probably just enjoys playing for himself now.

“I miss doing the shows and that’s why I’m hoping this visit to England is going to come off. There’s the nostalgia thing going now, and the kids don’t even remember the records I made. I believe I could make it for a second time if I put my mind to it. I don’t want to sound conceited but if I really concentrated on it I could do it again. I’m torn between record producing and concerts, and while I still like to play a concert once in a while I need to find something more challenging.”

Today Duane still plays his guitar “two or three times a week” for his own amusement. He’s been playing nylon stringed guitar to develop his technique, but he still cherishes the old Guild that the firm made for him and which he was pictured playing countless times. “I have between 18 and 20 guitars at home, all different types. I don’t say I play them every day but I’ll play with some young singer/songwriter to help him along. I’ve never been a singer myself. I tried but it didn’t work too well.”

Duane has lived in Los Angeles for the past eight years, although he was born 35 years ago in Arizona, where it all started for him. He has stayed away from the rock and roll revival shows that are being promoted in the States this year, partly because he wants to do something new, and partly because he feels the old rock and rollers are being exploited by promoters.

“I don’t think there’s any harm in the rock and roll revival shows but there are people making a lot of money out of it right now, just the same as before. They are hiring these groups for two bob a night, as you’d say in England, getting them out there to do their old hits and packing in 20,000 people to see them. They make 60 or 80 thousand from a concert which has cost them five to ten thousand to put on. The ones I’ve done I’ve been well paid for. I didn’t really do it for the money but for the fun of the whole thing.

“I’ve been waiting for something new to be started by the old people but it hasn’t happened yet. I think rock and roll is a type of music, like country or blues or jazz, that will assume a place for itself for ever more. One day they will have a rock and roll chart like they have country or soul charts, or easy listening charts. I think this will happen over the next year or two. When rock and roll started they said it wouldn’t last, but it’s 1973 now.”

* I interviewed Chet Atkins while I was in LA too, again for no specific reason besides wanting to talk to him and thinking MM’s readers might be interested in reading about him. That interview appeared in the November 24, 1973 edition


HAVE YOU GOT IT YET: The Story Of Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd (Sky Arts)

Among the strangest episodes in the strange saga of Syd Barrett was his unexpected, unexplained arrival at Abbey Road Studios while Pink Floyd, the group he once led, was recording Wish You Were Here during June, 1975. He wasn’t recognised, not at first anyway. Some thought he might be an EMI technician or even a cleaner, others someone who’d wandered in off the street and somehow evaded security on the door. When he was eventually identified, the members of the group were stunned into silence and, by all accounts, Roger Waters began to cry.

        Until I watched this 105-minute documentary on Sky Arts over the weekend, I’d seen no visual evidence of Syd’s visit to Abbey Road. With a sense of timing that defies rationality, it occurred just as Messrs Waters, Gilmour, Wright and Mason were in the midst of recording ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’, the lengthiest track on WYWH, written by them as an opaque tribute to the man without whom Pink Floyd would not have existed. It turns out, however, that Phil Taylor, the PF roadie responsible for David Gilmour’s guitars, had a camera with him that day and took a couple of photos of Syd sat on an easy chair in the control room, both of which are seen in this documentary. I thought it was a scoop and I was nearly right. I’m now informed by a PF expert, however, that one of these photos appeared in Nick Mason’s 2004 memoir Inside Out, but the PF drummer has always refused permission for them to be used elsewhere, which explains why I was seeing them here for the first time. 

        Well, I’m not surprised no one recognised Syd. Overweight, his hair balding at the front and cropped at the back, he was wearing a white polo shirt with hooped brown stripes and looked more like a no-nonsense bouncer outside a dodgy nightclub than the man who once sang, played guitar and composed for Pink Floyd. “He was fat and bald,” says my friend Glen Colson who at the time worked for PF manager Steve O’Rourke and also happened to swing by Abbey Road that day. 

“Dave looked at me and said, ‘Do you know who that is?’” says Nick Mason in the documentary. “I said no. He said, ‘That’s Syd’.”

“He hadn’t been seen for six years,” says Storm Thorgerson, the documentary’s co-director and Hipgnosis designer largely responsible for PF’s more surreal LP sleeves. “He asked if he could help,” adds Storm with a bemused grin. 

By all accounts, the studio engineer, Brian Humphries, played an extract from the closing section of ‘Shine On…’ in which keyboard player Rick Wright briefly incorporates the melody of ‘See Emily Play’, the Barrett-composed song that in 1967 became PF’s first hit. Syd failed to recognise it. 

The presence of Storm Thorgerson in Have You Got It Yet discloses its age. The film was in the works when Storm died in 2013, and in the meantime many of those interviewed have also passed on, among them my old friend photographer Mick Rock, all of which gives it a rather dated, almost nostalgic, feel. It is, nevertheless, the last word we’re ever likely to have on the man whom many consider to have been PF’s “founding genius”, and it certainly didn’t warrant the somewhat mean-spirited review I read in Sunday’s Observer that drew a gratuitous and slightly cynical parallel with Spinal Tap

Lots of those who knew Syd are interviewed, including the three surviving members of PF, many friends from Cambridge, some contemporary admirers and several former girlfriends, all of whom are as lovely today as they were when they fell for his boyish charms. Also interviewed is Syd’s sister Rosemary who cared for him in later years and, in her down-to-earth, decidedly un-Sydlike manner, seems rather bemused at the fuss surrounding her famous brother. Almost all of them take the view that Syd simply fell out of love with being a pop star and that his intake of drugs, principally LSD, merely accelerated his withdrawal from a music scene he was beginning to detest anyway. Others, not in the film, have told me that Syd enjoyed “acting mad” in front of people with whom he did not wish to interact, just so they would go away. “Then one day he actually turned mad,” said one. 

Syd’s music, fragile, whimsical, minimalist and out of kilter with just about everything else that was happening in 1970 when his two solo LPs were released, provides much of the soundtrack. Strikingly unusual, it signposts the way Syd’s mind was heading after Pink Floyd, with replacement Gilmour, opted simply not to bother collecting him on the way to gigs. A few later live shows petered out in farcical circumstances, the final one with a group he called Stars at Cambridge Corn Exchange in February 1972 that inspired my Melody Maker colleague Roy Hollingworth to write what I believe he thought was a sympathetic, albeit truthful, account of what he saw. When Syd read it he evidently thought otherwise and drew the curtains on his musical career that same day, at least according to the film’s voiceover. Roy, who loved Syd’s music, would have been mortified had he known, which I don’t think he ever did. 

The only flaw in Have You Got It Yet – its title inspired by a ‘song’ that Syd attempted to teach his bandmates, only to keep changing its chord sequence, so they’d never get it – was the inclusion of scenes wherein actors of different ages imagine themselves as Syd strolling through forests, green fields and doing weird things like diving into an empty swimming pool. Included presumably to emphasise the surreal nature of the subject matter, these scenes were unnecessary. I have always taken the view that the strangeness of Syd’s story speaks for itself, without embellishment. 


PHIL OCHS, Avery Fisher Hall, New York, April 1974.

Fifty years ago this week, as Melody Maker’s man in New York, I was at the Avery Fisher Hall to review a concert by Phil Ochs, whose LA apartment I’d rented for three months the previous year. This unusual situation, about which I’ve written at some length in my forthcoming memoir, offered me a unique insight into Phil’s world, instilling in me a warm feeling towards him and his music that lingers to this day. 

    I saw more concerts than I can possibly remember while I lived in New York, and the week I saw Phil I also reviewed shows by Captain Beefheart and The New Riders, all of which can be found on the Caught In The Act pages in MM dated April 27, 1974. I saw Phil perform only twice, this concert and another in New York’s Central Park in the summer of 1975. Here’s what appeared in MM 50 years ago this week. 

The day of the protest singer is not quite over, even if his warnings were ignored in the sixties, and artists like Phil Ochs will always have a platform on which to air their leftist views and criticism of the current US administration.

Ochs gave a sell-out show at the Avery Fisher Hall in the Lincoln Centre last week and was a resounding success. He was an original New York protest/folkie when Dylan walked the streets of Greenwich Village and this alone gives him an authority that more recent protesters will never have.

Each song was linked with the kind of rap that could have him deported, but the audience lapped it up. His most damning statement – that Kennedy’s killing really was a right wing plot by the establishment – struck home harder than most of his musical offerings. 

Ochs is a shabby, portly fellow with short hair and gold rimmed glasses. He looks like an unkempt, underpaid college professor. His guitar, which he doesn’t play well, is old and battered and the strings buzz at certain frets. There’s strong chance he hasn’t re-strung it in many a year.

Looking, then, as if he’d just walked in off the street after an hour’s busking on the subway, Ochs delivered a series of songs in which the lyrics mattered far more than the vocal or musical attributes of the performer. Hard hitting lines were applauded in mid-song and there was a respectful silence so that his messages could get through. 

He’s written some pretty tunes too. He opened with his charming song about singing bells, and followed that up with a trilogy of songs written by artists who had all spent time in jail and written about the experience. ‘There But For Fortune’, his own song, was the highlight. 

Och’s protest songs sound awfully dated in 1974, however. ‘I’m Gonna Say It Now’ and ‘Outside A Small Circle of Friends’, for example, are both songs in which couplets at the end of each verse are repeated, rather like ’Blowin’ In The Wind’, in fact, and written to encourage a group of singers or the audience in a club to join in at the appropriate moment. This was all the rage 12 years ago but appears a bit dated today. 

The gold lamé jacket* appeared for an encore but there was none of the rock and roll Phil performed at the controversial Carnegie Hall concert two years ago. His voice has deepened as a result of an attack with intent to rob during his recent stay in Africa. He was nearly strangled, apparently, and lucky to escape with his life. 

Had he not escaped, the US would have lost an outspoken but sincere critic. After the show he invited one and all backstage to discuss his views, and several hundred accepted the offer.

* This was probably the same gold lamé suit that I tried on one day while I lived in Phils flat in LA. It was far too big for me - but it might fit me now. 


KING MOD: The Story of Peter Meaden, The Who and the Birth of a British Subculture by Steve Turner

In July of 1963 Peter Meaden returned to the UK from a sojourn in Spain to discover that his erstwhile friend and sometimes business partner Andrew Oldham had become the manager of The Rolling Stones, a group rapidly in the ascendant in the wake of The Beatles. He wasn’t pleased. Although nothing had been formally agreed, Peter believed that any enterprise in which Oldham was involved would involve him too, but there was no role for him in the management of the Stones. 

“Peter took his revenge by having 2,000 stickers made up offering the sexual services of an experienced madam,” writes Steve Turner in King Mod, his biography/appreciation of the man who turned The Who into High Numbers, “with Andrew’s business phone as the contact number, and posting them in central London public conveniences. This successfully tied up the office phone for three weeks.”

This is but one of many entertaining yarns in this unusual book. The first 133 pages of King Mod comprise a well-researched, eminently readable and heavily illustrated biography of Meaden, opening with his birth in 1941 and covering his entire life, with and without The Who, up to his death by his own hand in 1978. The next 80 pages are given over to an unabridged transcription of the series of notable interviews that Turner conducted with Meaden, beginning in May, 1975, initially for A Decade Of The Who, a songbook with additional editorial features published in 1977, though the interviews that appeared therein were drastically reduced. Further extracts from it were subsequently published in NME, then in A Sharper Word, an anthology of Mod writing that came out in 1999, and six years later in an NME Originals magazine on Mod. 

        The heart of the book, the interviews with Meaden, reveal him to be as garrulous as he was fascinating, and in King Mod they are published in their wild and wonderful entirety for the first time. They emphasise not just Meaden’s utter dedication to the Mod cause – and impeccable taste in all things Mod – but his chaotic nature, his inability to focus, how his enthusiasm invariably trumps reality. Extensive footnotes help make sense of it all, not least because some of what Meaden says seems well OTT to me – like 50,000 fans trying to get into a Who gig in Brighton in 1964?  

Of all the characters that fell under The Who’s spell in the early sixties, none paid a higher price for their devotion than Meaden, King Mod to his admirers. You can read about him in the early pages of Who biographies, that period when under his influence they called themselves The High Numbers and recorded ‘I’m The Face’, their very first single, but after that he more or less disappears from the picture, ousted by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp who gave him £500 to go away. The truth is he probably never had a written agreement to manage them anyway. He simply ‘advised’ them after an introduction via his hairdresser. He certainly wasn’t a businessman, as the book makes clear. But The Who, and Pete Townshend in particular, never forgot Meaden’s early contribution to their image and, along with later manager Bill Curbishley, did their best to help him in the mid-seventies, by which time drugs, notably LSD, had taken their toll on his already fragile psyche. 

It’s an Icarus-like tale. Like a few other enlightened pioneers of the post-war generation, Meaden escaped his provincial, deathly colourless, family life but flew too close to the sun in his quest to discover its converse, influencing the zeitgeist as he travelled yet somehow losing the plot when confronted with everyday life. 

        The book closes with a heartfelt postscript that places Meaden’s accomplishments, such as they were, in context, not just in his lifetime but how Mod continues to influence popular music. The interview, Turner believes – and I agree with him – is a significant cultural document. “It gives an unprecedented look into the mind of a man who was the most influential mod in the early-to-mid Sixties,” he writes, “and who managed for the first time to forge a link between important British youth subculture and what was to become a major rock band.” 

        Essential reading if you really want to understand where The Who came from. And, by the way, Oldham must have forgiven him for that telephone number prank as he’s contributed a foreword to King Mod



As I wrote in my introduction to the Melody Maker singles reviews of mine that I posted a few days ago, it wasn’t often that this job fell on my plate but it happened again in late 1975 while I was in London between stints in the US, and for a few weeks too. So, since that post seemed to go down well, here’s another of my singles reviews, from the issue dated September 27 that year, with a few big names. 

        I seem to remember that my merciless dissing of Peters & Lee inspired a few angry letters to MM because one half of the duo, Lennie Peters, was blind. The tone of the letters suggested that because of this he and Dianne Lee were beyond criticism and that I was a heartless bastard destined for eternal damnation. I disagreed. Physical disadvantage is unfortunate but did not confer an obligation for positive reviews in MM, or anywhere else for that matter.

Although there was no compulsion on the part of MM’s singles reviewer to predict whether a record would be a hit or a miss, for interest’s sake in this post I’ve added some hindsight facts and figures culled from The Complete Book of the British Charts that reveal whether I was right or wrong in my predictions. 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: ‘Born To Run’ (CBS). I joined the ranks of converted Springsteen writers in Norfolk, Virginia, two years ago after seeing a stunning concert full of energy and enthusiasm that had been sadly lacking of many acts I’d seen. Like many, it took a live show to become fully aware of his talents as the first two albums, though good, never lived up to the promise of the man himself. This is the title track from his third album and it’s a knockout, an unbelievable riff leading into Bruce’s hoarse vocals that speak with all the urgency of the committed artist. Listen to that break after the solo about two-thirds of the way through: perfect use of dynamics, a key change and a rocket-propelled take-off back into the song. This must be a hit; it’s already one in the US. 

[‘Born To Run’ wasn’t a hit until a live version reached number 20 in the UK charts in 1987, by which time Bruce could sell out Wembley Stadium three nights in a row.]

ELTON JOHN: ‘Island Girl’ (DJM). A thudding bass riff opens this new single from Elton which, like many of his songs, seems fairly innocuous at first but grows on the listener after a few plays. It’s a jumpy soul rocker in the tradition of ‘The Bitch Is Back’ with gutsy lines: “She’s black as coal but burns like a fire, she wraps herself around you like a well-worn tyre.” There’s a rather curious steel drum solo towards the end which seems to have been mixed down rather low, but the overall effect is a vast change of mood from Elton’s last single, ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’. The B-side is on interest to Eltonmaniacs: his version of ‘Sugar On The Floor’, a slow and quiet Kiki Dee song which has Elt as his most expressive. The A-side is from EJ’s forthcoming Rock Of The Westies album. Good or bad, it’ll still be a hit, but this one deserves to be.

[Number 14 in October ’75, disappointing by Elton’s standards.]

SPARKS: ‘Looks, Looks, Looks’ (Island). Sounds more like Manhattan Transfer than Sparks who adopt a big band approach to this dated sounding single that fits snugly into the novelty bracket. One could imagine Fred Astaire tripping along to the horn solo, and Ginger Rogers encouraging the Mael brothers from the gallery. A bit too gimmicky for my taste but probably a hit since their following seems among the most loyal around. 

[Reached number 26, low for them at the time.]

FRED ASTAIRE: ‘The Wailing Of The Willow’ (UA). And talking of Fred Astaire, here he is, with a new single in the Perry Como/Bing Crosby mould. He hasn’t the voice of his contemporaries but I’ve been impressed by his casual acting style in recent movies. Strictly for the over fifties I’m afraid. A miss.

[Failed to chart. As for movies, I was probably thinking of The Towering Inferno.]

MELANIE: ‘You Can’t Hurry Love/Mama Said’ (Neighbourhood). A curious single from Melanie, blending the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit with a song I haven’t heard before that segues very conveniently. Despite the odd choice of material, the Melanie vocal cords ring out unmistakably but I fear that her following in this country has waned of late and there aren’t enough fans desperate to pick up this record. A miss.

[Failed to chart. The original, by The Supremes, reached number 3 in 1966.]

JACKSON FIVE: ‘Forever Came Today’ (Tamla Motown). Internal squabbles, record company problems and the group’s decision to abandon a British tour to avoid any recurrence of the Cassidy-crush situation have all contributed to a certain loss of favour for the Jackson Five whose musical ability always overshadowed their rivals, the Osmonds. In the US their popularity is still high but here new heroes seem to have snatched their crown. Unfortunately, I can’t predict a comeback on the strength of this single which has none of the immediacy of their earlier efforts. A reasonable toe-tapper, orchestrated and adequately produced, but Michael Jackson’s voice is sadly missing due, presumably, to nature, and with it has gone the J5’s essential trademark. With competition at its height, I must be pessimistic. A miss.

[Failed to chart, a disappointment no doubt.]

RAY STEVENS: ‘Indian Love Call’ (Janus). Stevens drops his novelty bag for a lush ballad which, I suppose, is meant to be taken seriously. Alternating between falsetto and tenor and swamped with back-up vocals, he plummets to new depths. A waltz schmaltz of no distinctions whatsoever and a huge miss to boot.

[Reached number 34.]

PETERS & LEE: ‘The Crying Game’ (Philips). This pair, with whom I have little patience, have contributed not one jot to the progression of British music but have nevertheless chalked up a few hits with their Butlins Holiday Camp act and music. This, like their others, is a sentimental weepie taken at snail’s pace and is thoroughly disposable for its typical blandness and general lowest common denominator appeal. Enough… and probably a hit as these things, regrettably, are out of my hands.

[Failed to chart. How disappointing! The original, by Dave Berry, reached number 5 in 1964.]

MFSB: ‘Let’s Go Disco’ (Philadelphia International). It doesn’t take a degree in contemporary music to work out that this is an instrumental aimed directly at the disco market where it will probably score as a dancing number. In the cold light of day, however, it’s rather tame listening, a forgettable tune played at a monotonous pace, with a repeated chant of ‘Let’s go disco’ at irregular intervals. A miss.

[Failed to chart, though a number with the same title, by Real Thing, reached number 39 in 1978. Trivia note: The bass player in the Real Things touring band, John Tilley, was an old schoolfriend of mine.]

BILLY JOEL: ‘If I Only Had Words To Tell You’ (CBS). It is not only consumers who receive poor quality records, but reviewers too, so I’ll take this opportunity to slag off the CBS quality control department for allowing this lump of vinyl to find its way out of the factory. Not only is it seriously warped but the hole in the centre is so big the record spins on an irregular axis. Discordant piano chords abound and the unfortunate Joel sounds like he’s imbibed a potent Indian curry on top of several pints of strong draught beer. Any intelligent comments on his new single are therefore out of the question but I might add that I liked ‘Mr Piano Man’. No excuses CBS, you’re caught red-handed. For Billy’s sake I can only hope this is an isolated pressing and thousands haven’t rattled off the production line in this condition.

[Failed to chart. Billy’s chart career in the UK didn’t get going until 1978.]

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: ‘Soul Sister’ (Reprise). Allen Toussaint’s recent contributions to the music business have been justly lauded in often glowing terms and it’d be nice to see him in the British chart with this medium paced, immaculately produced piece of soul. Very smooth and silky, though a little more urgency would drive the song along better. Unfortunately, I can’t be optimistic. A miss.

[Allen Toussaint never reached the UK charts.]

BARRY MANILOW: ‘Could It Be Magic’ (Arista). Manilow, a pianist, singer, arranger and composer of jingles for American television, was Bette Midler’s musical director until Clive Davis signed him to Arista and notched up the company’s first big hit with his version of the old ‘Brandy’ hit which was retitled ‘Mandy’ for no apparent reason. I can’t see him repeating his success here, especially with this very slow tune which seems to get slower the longer it spins. Straight ballad over piano with built-up production reaching dramatic crescendo in the usual MOR fashion. Miss. 

[A miss on release but reached number 15 when it was reissued in 1978.]

MELISSA MANCHESTER: ‘Midnight Blue’ (Artista). Another Clive Davis prodigy and there’s more hope here, although Ms Manchester ought to be seen live to be fully appreciated. At the piano, her red hair flying, she’s dynamite, but on record much of her charisma is lost. This is a pleasantly attractive song with a repetitive sing-along chorus that could catch with the right airplay. Perhaps a hit. 

[Perhaps not. Never reached the charts.]

THE PLATTERS: ‘Only You’ (Contemporaries). The Platters are another Fifties group whose many personnel changes have resulted in several acts calling themselves The Platters appearing in various parts of the world at different times. Their original hit was the lovely ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ in the late Fifties but this one appeared with some success almost two years later, and represents a fine vocal performance and flawless production on a standard song. With oldies of doubtful distinction hitting the charts these days, one can only hope that a distinguished recording like this will follow the same path. It is, incidentally, the same song recorded recently by Ringo Starr. 

[No chart action on this reissue but it reached number 5 in 1956 as a double A-side with ‘The Great Pretender’ and then again – as I state – in 1957 when it reached number 18 in its own right. Covered by loads of acts.] 

SAM & DAVE. ‘Under The Boardwalk’ (UA). My favourite Drifters hit that was actually covered by the Stones on their second album and turns up here by the legendary Sam & Dave whose identity has been a matter of debate before now. Not a bad stab at this venerable classic but I’d prefer the Drifters’ original which evokes all the atmosphere of the seaside in two minutes of absolutely masterful technique and atmosphere that inspired Guy Paelheart and Nik Cohn to create their Rock Dreams book last year. Perhaps Atlantic will oblige with the original if chart action is imminent. 

[Failed to chart. I still have my original copy of Rock Dreams, acquired in 1974. Wonderful book.] 

BUDDY MILES: ‘Rockin’ And Rollin’ On the Streets Of Hollywood’ (Casablanca). Not, as might be imagined, a rock and roll song at all but a straightforward lump of funk from the lumbering drummer of dubious reputation. Plain and direct, but too samey to get anywhere in the market for which it was produced, or anywhere else for that matter. A Miss.

[Failed to chart.]

BILLY SWAN: ‘Everything’s The Same’ (Monument). A re-write of ‘I Can Help’ from Billy Swan whose album earlier this year was one of my favourite plays at the time. An apt title, indeed, for the backing track is in the same rockabilly style as his previous hit and the singing style is far too familiar. The girly backing vocals remove the crisp edge of his earlier hit and introduce a disappointing element of MOR commercialism towards the end. A miss. 

[Failed to chart]

JOHNNY NASH: ‘Let’s Be Friends’ (CBS). Not as strong as ‘Tears On My Pillow’ but the same commercially orientated reggae formula, spoilt a little by the whistling chorus line. Easy-going, understated and laid back in the extreme. Nash has hit on a style that the public obviously likes. Another hit methinks. 

[Reached only as far as number 42, a bit of a set-back after his number 1 with ‘Tears…’]


NEW POP SINGLES - Reviewed by Chris Charlesworth


I wasn’t often called upon to do the singles reviews for Melody Maker. It was Chris Welch’s job and he had an idiosyncratic style that seemed as if he didn't take the job too seriously. However, he must have been on holiday 51 years ago this week as my by-line appears above them in MM dated April 14, 1973. There was a small room adjacent to the main office that was set aside for listening, and I would have sat in there one afternoon that week alongside the office record player, a pile of 7” singles and an old manual typewriter, playing the records and thinking up what to say about them. 

Here’s what I wrote:

FREE: ‘Travelling In Style’ (Island). A track from Free’s last album Heartbreaker, and a rather low-key song for Free to release as a single, though the group probably had nothing to do with its release. Paul Rodgers’ inimitable voice sings rather lazily over acoustic and slide guitars with a honky-tonk piano in the background. I can’t see it doing too well as most Free fans will have the album by now.

THE SURFARIS: ‘Wipe Out’ (Paramount). Re-release of a golden (?) oldie instrumental which every budding guitarist in the world flexed his fingers to around 1963. A ridiculously simple number with a break every other bar for a drum roll between the straight 12-bar melody line. A hit in 1963 but today? I doubt it. Of interest to collectors only. 

WIZZARD: ‘See My Baby Jive’ (Harvest). Roy Wood comes up with a mock Spector production that will doubtless sweep the country within days. It deserves to. If Dave Edmunds can get away with it on a total rip-off basis, then Roy Wood’s original composition, with the Suedettes on backing vocals, should clock up plenty of sales. A good catchy pop song which is good value as it lasts one hell of a long time. Roy Hollingworth tells me he was at the session when it was mixed. B-side is ‘Bend Over Beethoven’, Wood’s answer to ELO, a turgid instrumental and not much of an answer.

JOHNNY JOHNSON AND HIS BANDWAGON: ‘Give Me Your Love Again’ (EMI). The usual formula of brassy soul from Johnny Johnson who seems to have a hit every six months and then vanish into thin air until his next record is released. It’s a Mitch Murray/Peter Callander pop song with all the ingredients to warrant a series of plugs on Radio One, at least two appearances on Top Of The Pops and, if lucky, a Tony Blackburn record of the week. A hit.

MATT MONRO: ‘I Am In Life’ (Columbia): The one-time bus driver with the pint-sized frame warbles through a nice straight ballad with all the charm of Frank Sinatra. Come to think of it, he sounds remarkably like Frank Sinatra too. Too old fashioned to make it in the current hectic hit parade race.

LOGGINS AND MESSINA: ‘Thinking Of You’ (CBS): Here’s a touch of class. Loggins and Messina harmonise beautifully over slide guitars and country rock. Their two voices have an early Everly Brothers air about them, and the song rips along in fine style. A hit single would bring Loggins and Messina to a whole lot of people so I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

CLODAGH RODGERS: ‘Carolina Days’ (RCA): This song was written by Marmalade’s Junior Campbell and marks a departure from the sing-along type of Eurovision material that Clodagh has been saddled with for most of her career. Pretty, catchy and could be a hit.

BLOODSTONE: ‘Natural High’ (Decca): I always thought Bloodstone were a bunch of loud rock and rollers and with a title like this I expected an ear-shattering experience. However, it turns out to be a quiet, tasteful song in the Curtis Mayfield vein. It’s a track from their album of the same name which hasn’t been released yet so it acts as a good trailer. Lovely singing and a great arrangement. 

ARSENAL FC: ‘Good Old Arsenal’ (Pye). The Arsenal footballers yell along to Rule Britannia, substituting loyal slogans about Charlie George for the bits about ruling the waves and never being slaves. As a confirmed Leeds United supporter, I really cannot bring myself to comment favourably on this offering. Seriously though, I am of the opinion that footballers should stick to playing football and leave records to musicans.

FLO AND EDDIE: “Flo And Eddie Meet The Wolfman’ (Reprise): I’m not too sure whether this has been sent into the MM office for a serious review or to give us a giggle. The record – both sides – consists primarily of an interview between those loveable cuddly turtle Mothers, Marc Volman and Howard Kaylan, and whether it’ll be on sale to the public is debateable. However, it’s a bundle of fun and is packaged in the best singles sleeve I’ve ever come across. There’s also a little music included but it’s so short it’s hardly worth a mention. 

ISAAC HAYES: ‘I Don’t Want To Be Right’ (Stax). With his size and bulk, it never ceases to amaze me that Isaac Hayes hasn’t a more powerful voice. This record disappointed me – there’s none of the funky guitar that took ‘Shaft’ into the charts; instead there’s a rather limp Isaac singing a ballad over brass backing. Rather disjointed, too.

STEELY DAN: ‘Reelin’ In The Years’ (Probe): There’s hope yet. Steely Dan comes up with the best single I’ve heard this week. Good, intricate vocal harmonies, clear, precise guitar work and a commercial enough song to break the charts. Probably not commercial enough for Radio One, though, which will doubtless halt its progress but I’m keeping my fingers crossed. 

BARRY BLUE: ‘Dancing (On A Saturday Night)’ (Bell). Barry Bell collaborated into the writing of ‘Sugar Me’ for Lynsey de Paul, co-wrote most of the songs on her album and now comes up, surprisingly enough, with a song written by the same young lady. It’s a catchy, poppy offering that stands a good chance of reaching the dizzy heights of the top ten. 

THE PIONEERS: ‘At The Discotheque’ (Trojan): Perhaps Led Zeppelin doing reggae has finally put the seal of approval on this style of music. This is a pretty standard reggae offering extolling the local discotheque and expressing the hope that a certain young lady will be there at the necessary time. 

CLIMAX CHICAGO: ‘Shake Your Love’ (Harvest). Bo Diddley rhythms from Climax Chicago and not too hot either. Monotonous, messy and I’d have expected better from a band that has been around as long as they have. Try substituting the words ‘Shake Your Love’ for ‘Not Fade Away’ and you’ve got the general idea.

A FOOT IN COLDWATER: ‘In My Life’ (Island). This week’s winners of the unusual group competition are a Canadian band which is unusual for Island who specialise in British acts. This is an acoustic ballad that builds up for five minutes until a whole orchestra join in for the last verse. Average to good. 

TREMELOES: ‘Ride On’ (Epic). Rock and roll in the Status Quo style from the Trems who have obviously abandoned their instantly commercial sound. But there isn’t half the guts that Quo inject into their stormers. There’s an unusual guitar break in the middle but the track would be so much better if played faster. 

HOT BUTTER: ‘Percolator’ (Pye). It never ceases to amaze me how some acts can just repeat a record as their follow-up in the hope that it will achieve the same success as its predecessor. Here, Hot Butter serve up another Moog offering which sounds pretty much the same as ‘Popcorn’ but with the addition of an orchestra. While the melody changes slightly, the backing riff is identical. 

LITTLE RICHARD: ‘Tutti Frutti’ (Specialty). Talk about a blast from the past – I can remember purchasing this record at the ripe old age of 11 and playing it on a wind-up record player. It was a 78 in those days and the record was on the brown and silver London label. Now it’s on Specialty, the original American label, and it’s one of a batch of oldies released as single that are now collectors’ items – or were until this lot arrived in the shops. In the same series we have ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ by Lloyd Price, ‘Justine’ by Don and Dewey, ‘I’ll Come Running Back To You’ by Sam Cooke (what a great singer he was), ‘Bonie Maronie’ by Larry Williams and a host of others. They’re all released through the Sonet company. I can’t see today’s record buyers lashing out their money on these singles, but they might serve a purpose in showing where it all came from in the first place. 


ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE: THE END OF THE BEATLES – An Oral History By Those Who Were There by Peter Brown and Steven Gaines

NDAs – non disclosure agreements – were invented during the 1980s to protect trade secrets, principally in the mushrooming tech industry, but it wasn’t until quite a bit later that celebrities from all walks of life saw them as a means of preventing dirty laundry from being washed in public. Nowadays, if you get a job working for a family like, say, the Beckhams or the Osbournes, it’s a pound to penny you’ll be asked to sign one for neither David nor Victoria nor Ozzy nor Sharon want anyone to know what really goes on behind closed doors. 

        They certainly weren’t an issue when Apple insider Peter Brown got together with author Steven Gaines to write The Love You Make, their best-selling 1983 biography of The Beatles. It followed close on the heels of Shout!, Philip Norman’s breakthrough book on the group, thus losing some of its shock value, at least in the UK, and while Norman’s book was marginally more literate, Brown and Gaines’ book was more eye-opening. Both books opened the floodgates to other revealing biographies of rock stars and probably motivated some to consult their lawyers about NDAs. 

This new book by Gaines and Brown is a selection of faithfully transcribed interviews with three of the Beatles and over thirty others who were close to them, from the beginning to the end, and while the lion’s share of the questions and answers deal with the group’s demise, herein lie many tales not told before, almost all of them revealing, though some are questionable and others conflicting. Recollections of events vary and memories fade but many interviewees confirm the generally accepted notion that The Beatles lost their way after the death of manager Brian Epstein. Reading between the lines, however, the book goes further, suggesting that this event was crucial to everything that followed, as responsible for their ceasing collective endeavour as the arrival of Yoko or Linda or Allen Klein, or Paul’s need to dominate, or John’s lethargy, or George’s frustration, or any other of the innumerable factors that observers have claimed laid them to rest. Who knows how history might have been reversed had Epstein survived the accidental overdose that killed in him in August 1967?

Gaines and Brown were certainly industrious in their research for The Love You Make, and they somehow managed to snag Paul, George and Ringo, all of whom knew the interviews were to form part of a book. It seems from the transcripts that they conducted many of the interviews together, with Gaines asking most of the questions and Brown nudging things along with a comment here and there that could only have come from an insider. 

        There are heroes and villains among the interviewees, and more fun is to be had with the latter. Alexis ‘Magic Alex’ Mardas, a conman who snared John, comes across as not just dislikeable but dishonest to boot, Klein was “a bully and all-round shifty character… he even looked like a crook, sloppy and fat,” according to Brown – and a lengthy interview with him does little to dispel this portrait – while Vic Lewis, who promoted Beatles tours abroad, was more concerned about getting his share of the box-office than the hostility The Beatles faced on their calamitous visit to Manila. “Did you get the money?” Lewis repeatedly asked a clearly traumatised Epstein as their plane took off. “Vic Lewis leaned over me and tried to slap Brian in the face,” writes Brown. “I grabbed him away and forced him down the aisle.” 

There are some unlikely heroes, Epstein’s long serving and ill-served assistant Alistair Taylor, Apple records boss Ron Kass and poor, innocent Cynthia Powell, among them. As for the other wives, Maureen Starkey, Mrs Ringo, seems bemused by everything that happened while Pattie, sweet as she is, comes over as rather naïve. Linda is absent, as is Jane Asher, Paul’s sweetheart during the frantic years, nowadays the only Beatle insider never to have uttered a word about what it was like or how she felt to be at the centre of the tornado. 

        Those willing to comment suggest Epstein’s troubled sexuality was at the heart of his neurosis, not to mention his lingering guilt at allowing millions of dollars in merchandising income to slip through his fingers. There are several illuminating accounts of the trouble in Manila, George’s being the best, but his interview dwells a bit too much on his inner light. Paul is lucid, if a trifle calculating, while Ringo comes over as the matter-of-fact, cuddly Beatle that we always knew him to be. “[We were] still the best band there ever was,” he concludes. 

Nevertheless, we can be thankful that NDAs weren’t commonplace at the time Gaines and Brown embarked on The Love You Make. If they had it wouldn’t have been written, and neither would this illuminating follow-up. The 340-page book is an easy read, illustrated with eight pages of pictures from Browns archives but is not without the odd error.