31.1.20

THE WHO – ARTICLE ARCHIVE: 1964 – 1979


This bulky, uncredited Who scrapbook, containing 740 pages of UK and US press cuttings and photographs, first saw the light of day eight years ago but was foreign to me until very recently when my attention was drawn to it by a post on a Who-related Facebook page. Arranged in chronological order from August 1964 (reviews of The High Numbers’ single) to November 1979 (ads for the Quadrophenia movie) it is an absolute feast of delights for Who fans, especially for those who want to research the group during the Keith Moon era.  
         To be pedantic, the first thing in the book is the well-known picture of The High Numbers (Pete in a white jacket and shades holding a cup, the others lined up behind him) taken by Dezo Hoffman, followed by the shot of Roger’s 1964 wedding to Jackie Rickman, as seen in a few books now. Two pages later NME’s reviewer describes ‘Zoot Suit’ as a ‘medium twister with an inconsequential tune’ and is no more complimentary about ‘I’m The Face’: ‘compelling styling but weakish material’. Fortunately for our heroes Record Mirror is more enthusiastic, describing The HNs as a ‘sensational mod group’ and ‘I’m The Face’ as an ‘ultra-commercial blues-flavoured tune… by this new team who are kicking up a storm in London clubs’.
         Record Mirror, in fact, seem to have been the first UK music mag to take them seriously, and in their July 11, 1964, article Pete is quoted as saying: ‘I admit to spending a fortune on bright and in-vogue clothes. I go for the West Side Story look and Ivy League gear.’ John – referred to as John Allison – tells RM’s readers that he prefers classical to any other kind of music and Keith, whose age is given as 17, says: ‘I spend all my free time listening to music in various West End of London clubs’.
         It’s breathless stuff and we’ve only reached page seven of this huge book but all of this points to the fact that it’s the early Who articles that give most joy. This was an era when no group, not even The Beatles, imagined that a career in pop would last a lifetime, so The Who was no different from any other contenders in a field where they competed not only with the Fabs and Stones but with The Seekers, The Fortunes, The Rockin’ Berries, The DC5, Herman’s Hermits, The Honeycombs, Gerry & The Pacemakers and sundry others who would drop out of the race once refinement and evolution set in. In this respect the Archive reflects the topsy-turvy excitement of The Sixties when every day might bring on a new ‘pop sensation’.
         There’s far too many choice entries from hundreds here to mention, but amongst them is what was probably The Who’s first coverage in Rolling Stone, a Jann Wenner interview with Pete from January 1968 that I hadn’t seen before, and their review of Who Sell Out a month later which opens with ‘This album is fantastic’. On the following page, however, RS reports that Radio WMCA (‘the number one pop station in New York’) felt differently and had banned the album, its musical director Joe Bogart branding it as ‘disgusting’ and adding, ‘I won’t even let my children see the cover’. Another humdinger is the Montreal Gazette’s report of when The Who spent eight hours in jail after trashing a hotel room in the city in December 1973.
         I was more interested in the American entries than the British ones, most of which I have read in my time, but I was delighted to see the UK Fan Club newsletter from May/June 1967 with a list of honorary members that included Terence Stamp, Marianne Faithfull and Jimi Hendrix. The competition was for thinking up next month’s competition (!) and the winner was a member who opted for how many words you can make from the letters that form JOHN ENTWISTLE.
         Many of the columns that Pete wrote for Melody Maker in 1970 and 1971 are included, and I was charmed to see my review of Who Came First, Pete’s first solo album, from MM dated October 14, 1972. Keith’s death doesn’t quite bring the book to a close – there are features on The Kids Are Alright and Quadrophenia movies – but there is still a sense that, like Matt Kent and Andy Neill’s superb Anyway Anyhow Anywhere chronology, the compilers of the Archive retain that sense of wonder we all share for the era when Keith was up there with Pete, Roger and John.
         On the negative side, the pictures in the Archive are scanned or Xeroxed in low resolution so the quality isn’t that great, and some of the articles are hard to read for the same reason. Furthermore, a few of the magazine credits looked wrong to me and, of course, the whole thing is of questionable legality from a copyright point of view. Nevertheless, whoever compiled it makes the point that it has been produced on a not-for-profit basis and is for academic use, so these issues are largely irrelevant. At £12.90 it’s still a genuine bargain and it can be obtained here:




           

27.1.20

A RECURRING DREAM


Ever since I first head ‘If I Needed Someone’, George’s song on Rubber Soul, I’ve always been a sucker for songs that feature jangling guitars. ‘Recurring Dream’, an early Crowded House song, fits the bill nicely; built around lovely ringing arpeggiated lines played in double time that undulate throughout the track like an updated Byrds riff, reminiscent of, say, ‘Bells Of Rhymney’, on which George is reputed to have based ‘If I Needed Someone’, or any number of early R.E.M. tracks. Apart from a lull before the instrumental break, it resonates throughout ‘Recurring Dream’, rising and falling in reverberated ripples, tricky to play but very easy on the ear. Initially released only as a B-side, it is also the title of CH’s 1996 Best Of compilation, and the more I think about the more I realise how apt the title is.
         In the last two decades I have had a regular recurring dream about being sent back to America to become Melody Maker’s US editor again but being unable to do the job. In the dream I have been in New York for maybe two or three weeks but haven’t written a single word or been able to contact anyone in the music industry to request review tickets or interviews. I’m usually wandering round the streets. I don’t seem to know anyone there anymore and I’m dreading the call from London – ‘What’s going on? Why haven’t you done any work?’ – but I’m somehow impotent, incapable of doing the job I’m supposed to be doing through a combination of incompetence and laziness. So I feel incredibly guilty at my uselessness – and then wake up.
         So why the anxiety-filled recurring dream? It wasn’t often that I began my working week during that period by wondering who or what I was going to write about. Most often it was decided for me, either through a request from London or my own instinct telling me that an act, not necessarily one that was well known in the UK, was worth writing about. My deadline was every Thursday afternoon by which time I would have all the interviews and show reviews written and packaged up in a fat envelope that was collected by a courier anytime between two and three in the afternoon. It was delivered to MM’s London office the following morning.
         Nevertheless, my time was my own and it was up to me how I used it. I worked unsupervised from home insofar as my apartment doubled as my office. There was certainly the opportunity to be lazy, to put writing off until tomorrow, to lie in bed, to wander out into Central Park with a good book, find a shady spot and read for a few hours. No one checked up on me or knew what I was doing at any hour of the day or night. In the late summer of 1975 I was back in London for three months while another MM man, who shall remain nameless, took my place and succumbed to that temptation, so much so that he was soon recalled and given his marching orders. I was sent out again to repair the damage.
         So if I wanted to do sod all on a Monday I could do so and no one would know about it but me. I did feel guilty sometimes if I squandered a morning doing the crossword puzzle in the New York Times instead of writing my review of a show I saw the previous night. I sometimes found myself having to cram a lot of writing into Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The last thing I wrote was always the New York news column which I cobbled together from press handouts, snippets lifted from Rolling Stone or the Village Voice, and any gossip I’d picked up in my wanderings downtown or at record company press receptions. It was sometimes a struggle to finish it.
         One Thursday lunchtime in May, 1975, MCA Records threw a party in a recording studio to launch Captain Fantastic And The Dirt Brown Cowboy, Elton’s album of semi-autobiographical songs. The timing was bad for me as I had to wait for the courier and at around two pm I got a call from Elton’s publicist. ‘Why aren’t you here?’ she asked. ‘Elton’s asking for you.’ So I called the courier, asked him to get to my apartment pdq, which he did, and arrived at Elton’s party a bit on the late side. He seemed relieved that I’d made it at all, greeting me like a long lost relative, which is a bit odd considering his status at the time, and the following day I did an interview with him at his New York hotel.
         But I digress. How to explain my recurring dream? Perhaps the constant grind of always writing up a couple of interviews, two or three shows reviews and that blasted news column every week did wear me down more than I realised. Perhaps I missed being supervised. Perhaps in my subconscious I long to be back in New York doing that job again but of course it’ll never happen. Perhaps in hindsight I’ve realised how incredibly lucky I was to have that job, and that at the time I wasn’t fully mindful of this, something I nowadays sheepishly regret. I don’t dream about any other aspect of my years on Melody Maker, only a sort of updated New York situation that is full of endless frustration.
         Within myself, a secret world returns’, sings Neil Finn in his song. I know precisely what he means.

15.1.20

ROCK & ROLL HALL OF FAME 2020 INDUCTEES



The news came through earlier today that two of my choices for induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame for 2020 – Depeche Mode and T. Rex – are amongst the six chosen, although, confusingly, I was asked to pick just five from among the 16 nominees. As well as Dep Mode and T. Rex, I also voted for Todd Rundgren, Kraftwerk and Motörhead, so once again Todd and the German electronic maestros have been snubbed, of which more later. Motörhead, my final choice, were the most popular among readers of my blog. They hadn’t been nominated before so might get another chance to enter the Gilded Palace of Cleveland but with Lemmy now four years gone (and Fast Eddie, Phil Taylor and others also casualties), who’s left to pick up the award if they do?
         The other 2020 inductees are The Doobie Brothers, Nine Inch Nails, The Notorious B.I.G., and Whitney Houston.
         This will come as something of a disappointment to fans of the Dave Matthews Band, Pat Benatar, Soundgarden and Judas Priest who grabbed first, second, fourth and fifth places respectively in the fans’ vote, a fairly recent innovation that seems to have made little difference to the final selection. Although I didn’t vote for any of them, I can’t help but wonder what was the point of this exercise when the top two fans’ choices were rebuffed. For the record, in this poll the Doobies came third, Whitney sixth, Depeche Mode seventh, Nine Inch Nails eleventh, T. Rex twelfth and Notorious B.I.G. thirteenth.         
         The fans’ vote underlines the truism that, unlike most rock critics, the majority of American rock fans have rather conservative tastes. The bottom five in the fans’ poll were T. Rex, B.I.G., Rufus/Chaka Kahn, Kraftwerk and MC5, all of whom, although hardly alternative by most standards, were the most alternative among the choices on offer. And the top five were the least alternative.
         I’m glad that Marc Bolan has finally found a resting place alongside many of his friends, although inducting T. Rex when Marc is so long gone (as are Steve Peregrin Took and Mickey Finn) is on the same level as Lemmy and Motörhead – see above. Nevertheless, I feel quite strongly that between 1971 and 1975 T. Rex were outgunned and outclassed by the criminally overlooked Slade when it came to making hit singles. I suppose Marc deserves his posthumous induction if for no other reason than it is now over 50 years since he released his first record and in his time he served rock’s cause honourably, which is why I voted for him. I wonder who’ll collect his award.
         Of the other winners, The Doobie Brothers have been around a long time too, and on this count they were probably the favourites anyway. Nevertheless it is ignominious that, unless I’m mistaken, the infinitely superior Little Feat have never been nominated, let alone inducted. Anyone who happened to see both bands any time between 1973 and 1976 will know what I’m on about.
         Re the rest, Trent Raznor seems like the kind of guy I would enjoy a drink with; Dep Mode, whom I voted for, made some ace records; I’m not a rap fan so can’t judge B.I.G., who died of shotgun wounds in 1997, on his work but it’s notable that he’s been inducted in his first year of eligibility; and Whitney probably got the nod for having so many hits even though she isn’t rock’n’roll in my book regardless of those top notes she could hit.
         I’ve lost count how many times Kraftwerk have been nominated but not inducted. Their pioneering use of synthesiser and repetitive beats are the foundation for modern dance music and for them to have been snubbed again seems to reflect an ongoing anti-European bias that I’ve commented on before. They certainly deserve to be inducted, even if the way in which they conducted their career was the antithesis of the clichéd rock'n'roll lifestyle. There are bitter feelings amongst the members of the ‘classic’ KW but Ralf Hütter’s annexation of the group as his personal domain is no reason to disbar them.
         I am far more surprised that Todd Rundgren hasn’t been inducted as he seems to fit the HoF’s requirements to a tee: a cult musician with some fabulous songs (inc. ‘Hello It’s Me’ & ‘I Saw The Light’) and two classic albums (Something/Anything & A Wizard, A True Star) in his CV, leader of two bands (The Nazz & Utopia), a record producer (Grand Funk & NY Dolls), innovative electronics pioneer and all-round DIY, slightly eccentric rock’n’roll talent. He’s even had an interesting personal life so what’s not to like about Todd?
         The induction ceremony will take place at the Public Auditorium in Cleveland on May 2, later in the year than usual. This year, for the first time, HBO will broadcast the event live rather than edited and aired a few weeks later, so with a bit of luck the speeches won’t be censored as they have been in the past.