FLY AWAY PAUL by Lesley-Ann Jones

Earlier this year I reviewed The McCartney Legacy Volume 1 – 1969-73 by Allan Kozinn & Adrian Sinclair, a 700+ page book that covered this period of Paul McCartney’s life in extraordinary detail, perhaps too much so, though I was sure obsessive fans would love it. Now along comes Fly Away Paul which, to a certain extent, covers the same period, albeit in a far more reader-friendly fashion, with less emphasis on the minutiae of recording sessions and more on how events, both past and present, shaped the life and personality of the former Beatle who turned 81 in June, most especially how he coped with losing the group he loved.

Not too well, according to Lesley-Ann Jones, a prolific writer of books about musicians in which she seeks not so much to tell their story as psychoanalyse their characters through scrutinising their past, their loves and their music. Paul McCartney, robbed of his mother at 14, precociously talented, ever anxious to please yet somewhat of a control freak and foil for the caustic jibes of John Lennon, serially promiscuous until he found The One, offers fertile ground for investigation, Jones’ speciality, inherited from her journalist father, a distinguished sports writer, and honed during an ongoing career writing feature articles for national dailies. 

To this end, Jones delves deeper into the personal and domestic life of the McCartney family than is to be found in other McCartney books on my shelves, which serves to make it considerably more interesting than the album/tour/year off and around again cycle that fills page after page of too many duller rock books. Thanks to Jones, I now know all about the history of ownership of High Park Farm, Paul’s Scottish hideaway, a remote and austere abode, its climate unforgiving, where the first Mrs McCartney not only coped with Spartan furnishings, but nursed her man back to life after a nervous breakdown brought on by all the fussing and fighting. 

In Jones’ telling Linda, with whom she was on first name terms, was precisely what the footloose McCartney required, a home-maker unconcerned with outward appearances whose inner strength delivered to Paul the antidote to the madness that surrounded The Beatles, to wit much needed stability in the form of a ready-made family of one daughter, soon to be augmented by two more, followed by a son. For the most part, Fly Away Paul dwells on the closeness that Paul and Linda enjoyed during an unusually long and happy marriage in a business where separations and divorce are all too frequent, and how she faced down negative comments over her role in her husbands post-Beatle group Wings. Linda’s passing, which occurs towards the end of the book, is dealt with sensitively, while Paul’s subsequent ill-fated relationship with Heather Mills, outside of the book’s dateline, is mentioned only briefly, as is the infinitely more suitable wife number three, Nancy Shevell. 

        Clearly a fan, Jones is generous in her appreciation of McCartney and Wings’ music, correctly identifying the song ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ and 1973 LP Band On The Run as the stand-out items in an ever-lengthening post Beatles catalogue, but she’s generous to other LPs too, citing them as marker points in her teenage life. The formation of Wings, their early concerts and McCartney’s desire that, even with him on board, they could somehow start from scratch offers plenty of opportunity for comment on Paul’s rather naïve optimism. 

Though much of the biographical information in Fly Away Paul can be accessed in Beatle and McCartney literature elsewhere, Jones has a way of conveying it to suit her mission. It’s not communicated chronologically – there are leaps that would stump a pole-vaulter – but it all makes sense in the context of her rather spiritual book. She’s not above bringing herself into the story when her paths cross with the McCartneys and while this might be perceived as a bit of name-dropping, there’s rhyme and reason for these diversions and if nothing else they serve to authenticate her opinions, which are liberally scattered throughout, sometimes in the form of questions she answers herself, at other times left hanging. If there is a flaw, it’s unwieldy detours into areas only tangentially connected with McCartney: among them several pages on the topic of session musicians, Scottish pipe bands and even the fate of Jo Jo Laine, an appealing, high-spirited girl of immodest disposition who set her sights on Paul but ended up marrying Wingman Denny Laine and, before her death in 2006, engaged in a sex act with a transsexual in the Cabinet War Rooms. (Paul wasn’t present.) 

        Oddly, Fly Away Paul opens with a sort of memorial, a list of deceased, beginning with those associated with The Beatles and following on with a random bunch, the purpose of the exercise seemingly to comment on Paul’s longevity. “Why me?” Jones muses, assuming the mind of her subject. Happily, it closes with her wishing him many more years of ‘extraordinary odyssey’. “Long may the Beatle dwell among us,” she concludes.

        The not overlong 265-page book has an eight-page photo section, and a further 73 pages with an up-to-date McCartney timeline, extensive chapter notes, random quotes from interested observers (including this writer) and an index. 



There is no escaping the tenderness of ‘Now And Then’, the ‘new’ Beatles single; a melancholy hankering for the era when The Beatles were young and happy and close and in love with the music they were making, above all making it together. John, its principal vocalist and the writer of the song, acknowledges the group’s closure with sadness in his heart. “Now and then I miss you,” he sings. “Now and then I want you to be there for me.” It’s almost as if he intended that one day the others might hear it and read within its lyrics a simple message to the three of them: for all we’ve been through, for all we might have said, for all the fussing and fighting, it’s been great to have you alongside me. And I’m still here if you want to call. That he wasn’t there to be called adds a further level of poignancy to this parting shot from the group who changed everything. 
Rightly, ‘Now And Then’ has been lauded as a vast improvement on ‘Free As A Bird and ‘Real Love’, the other two songs resurrected from the demo tape that Yoko gave to Paul when he was seeking something new to add to the Anthology albums The Beatles released in the 1990s. By all accounts ‘Now And Then’ was deemed unsatisfactory at the time, with George the principal naysayer, but advances in technology since then, largely the result of methods pioneered by film producer Peter Jackson on the Get Back film, have enabled Paul and Ringo to rework the song, overdubbing guitars and additional vocals on to John’s piano and lead vocal. Paul had added a slide guitar solo and fills reminiscent of George’s distinctive keening style, the guitar that gently wept. 
George’s reluctance to pursue the song seems difficult to understand now. The simple, wistful melody of ‘Now And Then’ is on a par with ‘Imagine’; the ringing acoustic guitar that joins John’s keyboard in the opening lines reminds me of George’s acoustic strumming in ‘My Sweet Lord’; Ringo’s metronomic rimshots cement the melody into place, adding muscle; and when Paul joins John on the chorus the wonderful choral landscape that lifted so many of the songs they wrote, or were credited with writing, together is recreated as if by magic. Just after the half way mark there’s a harmonic chorus, surely Paul double-tracked, maybe with Ringo, that sounds as if it was lifted from outtakes from Abbey Road. It launches the guitar solo, enhanced by strings, the production now full and fat, setting the scene for John’s closing vocal. By the end it’s as if we’ve been listening to a song that could have graced any of the Beatles post-1966 LPs. 
Of course, it’s quite possible that John intended this to be a love song to Yoko. He was writing hymns to her a lot during the period he made this demo, but like all the best songs its meaning is ambiguous. It can mean what you want and in the minds of the Beatle fans in Liverpool who queued up overnight to buy it first thing yesterday morning it can mean only one thing: John still loved his fellow Beatles after he abandoned the group as much as he did during the 1960s. 
There’s an assumption that ‘Now And Then’ finally closes the door on The Beatles story. I don’t think it does. Paul will still sing Beatle songs for as long as he tours. Ringo will sing ‘Yellow Submarine’ if called upon to do so. Both will continue to be asked questions about this period of their lives (whether they like it or not). We will all continue to mourn John and George. When all four have passed their music will live on, continually inspiring young musicians. Books will continue to be written. Their story will be told again and again. The Beatles will always be now, as well as then.
A top-quality video has been produced to accompany ‘Now And Then’ which features footage of The Beatles at various stages in their career, cleverly positioning them as if they are playing the song, its lovely closing sequence is a sort of fast rewind, all the way back to when they were children. You can view it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Opxhh9Oh3rg


WHO'S EXHAUSTED? Is "Too Much of Everything"... too much?

I have known Tony Fletcher since the mid-1980s when he wrote his first book for Omnibus Press, on Echo & The Bunnymen. He's since written many more, of course, among them Dear Boy: The Life Of Keith Moon, also published by Omnibus, which many regard as among the greatest rock biographies in print. Most recently Tony has posted some of the interviews he did for Dear Boy on Substack, which can be accessed here: https://tonyfletcher.substack.com/

Tony has also written a great review of the recent Who's Next Super Deluxe box set which he has suggested might find a home on Just Backdated, so with his approval I have posted it below (web link:https://tonyfletcher.substack.com/p/whos-exhausted). 

Back when I was writing Dear Boy, tracking down rare recordings by The Who was detective work, and I loved it. On the days that someone would send me a cassette in the mail of something never officially released, I’d have an extra spring in my step. Alternate versions were a bonus elitist treat, though I had a more humbling discovery when I found a collection of just about every UK Who 7” single ever at a shop in Newquay, bought the lot – they were fairly priced and in excellent condition - and quickly discovered that the “I’m A Boy” and “I Can See For Miles” that I had grown up with on the seminal compilation Meaty Beaty Big and Bouncy were not, in fact, the original 7” versions.

After the book was published, tapes started showing up more regularly. A very good person with a very generous heart and possibly the most extensive collection of Who live recordings on the planet took it upon himself, as a mark of gratitude for my contribution to Whodom, to send me VHS tapes of rare shows, including Tanglewood 1970, and the San Francisco Cow Palace 1973, legendary filmed concerts both, though for very different reasons. But then he moved onto CDs, and my mailbox started to groan under the weight of new packages containing home-burned live Who discs. While it was wonderful to feel so appreciated, I eventually had to beg him to stop; even in my late 30s, I knew that there just weren’t enough eight-minute blocks left in my life to listen to yet another live version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”…

…Which is probably how even the most ardent of Who fans felt upon seeing that a new Who’s Next/Life House (Super Deluxe) package was to drop in mid-September, with a 10-CD plus BluRay plus 172 page graphic novel plus 100-page extensive liner notes book with contributions from Pete Townshend but of course as well as from Andy Neill and Matt Kent, plus various so-called souvenir paraphernalia for those who have around $250-$300 to spare, and with all nine-and-a-half hours of music nonetheless provided on the streaming platforms for those of us who don’t. Me, I have spent a lot of money on the Who over the years – contrary to what you my think, the limits of my relationship with the group is that I occasionally get access to their own block of prime-seating concert tickets, which of course comes at a prime-seating price – and I balked at the prospect of shelling out this kind of lump sum for physical copies of bonus recordings that I may or may not already own, even if there was the prospect that somewhere within that 172-page graphic novel and 100 pages of liner notes, we might all now finally discover what Lifehouse was meant to be all about.

Certainly, nobody but Townshend himself knew at the time, and it was incumbent upon producer Glyn Johns to insist to the band’s composer and all-round genius visionary that he climb down from his lofty ambition of a cosmic rock opera to topple Tommy and instead, with his bandmates’ full-throttled endorsement and encouragement, get on with selecting and recording the best dozen or so songs from an extensive catalogue of demos and abandoned Kit Lambert productions in New York (more of which later), go into Olympic Studios in London for a fresh session, and see where it left them.

Where did it leave them? Only with the Greatest Rock Album Ever, of course. Just nine songs eventually, clocking in at what was then a maximum hi-fidelity LP’s length of 43 minutes and 45 seconds. Nothing superfluous, no bonus cuts, no over-riding concept, not even a gatefold sleeve, just a  picture of four blokes pissing against an obelisk and with it, a new blueprint for rock. We should leave it there in turn.

But we won’t. Because naturally, and if only because The Who means more to me than any other band on earth, I have waded through all eight hours and 45 minutes of new Super Deluxe bonus material, and found that sure enough, amidst the music that was never intended for original release, and amidst all that which has trickled out on other previous Deluxe packages though now assembled in correct contextual place, there are enough absolute gems to merit a 12-song playlist –a Single Bonus CD if you can find one that will run 84 minutes. (The Spotify playlist follows at the end of this article.) My thanks to the person who sent me Andy Neill’s extensive track-by-track notes for six of the nine additional discs, which has helped me dig down and cherry-pick from the following categories:

1: Pete Townshend demos: For the most part, Townshend was a consummate enough songwriter and musician that he typically supplied the band with completely finished arrangements, requiring of the rhythm section only that they improve upon his rudimentary playing – and being that the rhythm section was John Entwistle and Keith Moon that wasn’t a tall order. When it came to the vocals, however, there was always the awkward truth that Townshend was (and remains) a superb singer, and that for many listeners, his softer, more yearning tone, if not always preferable to Roger Daltrey’s, certainly supplied the crucial counter to the front man’s classic roar. Where would “Baba O’Riley” truly be, for example, without Pete singing the “teenage wasteland” breakdown?

Indeed, for all those who refer to that song as “Teenage Wasteland” because it seems so obviously the song’s natural title, it turns out that Pete originally felt the same way. Intriguingly, his early demo of the song that would become Who’s Next’s opening track starts not with the defining organ refrain, but piano and acoustic guitar, the “Out here in the fields” opening verse afforded an entirely different melody, as is that eventual middle section “Don’t cry, don’t raise your eye…” Indeed, the song is halfway through its seven-minute workout before we finally get a recognizable Who’s Next melody – the “Sally take my hand” line. Until then, it is effectively a different song entirely, albeit one with familiar lyrics.

Only later did Townshend develop the metronomic, arpeggiated refrain on his Lowry organ (not on an ARP synthesizer as commonly believed) that would become one of the most recognizable riffs of all time. And when he did, he blissed out on it – wouldn’t you? - laying it down as a 13-minute instrumental entitled “Baba O’Riley” that is mind-blowing for being so far ahead of its time, Townshend toying with EQ filters about twenty years before the first techno DJs and artists took such ideas onto the nightclub dance floors.

Listening to the two demos back-to-back, as I place them on my playlist though they come at opposite ends of CD2 on the Super Deluxe package, offers a fascinating insight into the songwriting process, for at a certain point it obviously occurred to Townshend to set the former composition to the latter’s arrangement, change tunes accordingly, and edit that lengthy bliss-out into something more closely resembling a rock song. The rest, as they say, was history.

Also on these two discs is a beautiful, and remarkably complete demo of what was then simply called “Too Much,” a song performed live at the time of the sessions, duly recorded for Who’s Next, but not released (as “Too Much of Anything”) until Odds And Sods in 1974. In case you didn’t already know or merely guess as much, the song’s concluding chorus line “Too Much of Everything… is too much for me” served to inspire this article’s subtitle.

Pete’s early demo of “Behind Blue Eyes” also merits inclusion because of its tenderness and for how, my earlier comment about finished arrangements aside, the song does not kick into fourth gear with the famous middle section (“When my fist clenches…”), but rather continues in the same gentle vein, Pete harmonizing with himself where Daltrey later soared solo. Historically, it is hard to argue against a Who’s Next rock rendition that formed part of the 1970s rock canon and my own musical education with it, but there are reasons to claim that this is a more emotional and satisfying rendition.

2: Unreleased Songs: There’s an obvious temptation to say that if Townshend’s songs weren’t good enough to make it into the studio or live show at the time, they probably weren’t good enough, period, and in the cases of “Mary,” “Greyhound Girl” and perhaps even “There’s a Fortune In Those Hills,” I am tempted to agree. But “Finally Over” – not to be confused with “The Song Is Over” – is an absolute treasure, proof that Pete Townshend’s toenail clippings are better than most songwriters’ career masterpieces and, perhaps, an opportunity missed.

3: Record Plant recordings: This is the supposedly disastrous week-long session in New York, with manager/producer Kit Lambert ostensibly at the controls but emotionally AWOL. Again, the argument against releasing this these cuts (though many already have seen light of day on earlier Deluxe packages) is that if the Who rejected them at the time, why subject us to their confessed failures this far down the line? And it’s true, most of these preserved takes – the pick of the week’s crop, according to the sleeve notes - are inferior to Who’s Next, lacking cohesion, concentration and drive.

Nonetheless, I actually prefer this rendition of “Love Ain’t For Keeping” with Leslie West on lead guitar along with an uncredited organ player from Patti LaBelle’s band: it’s harder, more direct, less frivolous, evidently benefiting from being recorded live-to-tape.

Ditto “I’m In Tune” as it was then known, for similar reasons. Additionally, there’s a particular melodic vitality to John Entwistle’s bass playing on these New York sessions that I would argue is superior to the eventual recordings at Olympic Studios in London. Compare this cut with the “Getting In Tune” from Who’s Next and tell me you don’t agree.

4: Alternate edits: There’s a good reason that most songs have vocals on them, and there’s an equally good reason that some are edited down. Still, for those of us who came of age marveling at the majesty of Nicky Hopkin’s piano playing, being afforded a version of “The Song Is Over” stripped of all vocals allows that majesty to shine with all due regality. And for those like me – and admittedly there may not be many – whose first exposure to The Who was the 1972 single “Join Together” and who then was subjected to a ten-year quest to find a physical copy of the non-LP 45, having an extra 90 seconds of music here makes up for lost time. A little.

“Join Together,” btw, was just the third in a series of once-a-year non-LP singles that started with “The Seeker” in 1970, added “Let’s See Action” in ‘71 and concluded with “Relay” in ‘73, though you can factor in “Long Live Rock” too, which was recorded in the same period and eventually released in 1979 to promote the documentary The Kids Are Alright. All five A-sides and their generally excellent B-sides are included here in various official and bonus forms. “Join Together” is still the only Who cut I have ever dared to DJ for a nightclub dancefloor – and only once at that; where was the 13-minute “Baba O’Riley” instrumental when I needed it?

5: Live recordings. By this point in their unending career, we the dedicated followers of fashion have surely had enough official Who live recordings to take us through not just the rest of this life but the next one, too. Nonetheless, four of the nine bonus CDs here are culled from two distinct, lengthy concerts. The first was at the Young Vic Theatre in Waterloo, London – not the rehearsal shows with which Townshend originally hoped to cement his vision of audience engagement, but rather one consigned to tape via the Stones’ 16-track mobile studio on April 26, 1971, halfway through the recording process as an attempt to document their current state of play. Reviews I’ve read of the box set have repeated Andy Neill’s sleeve note assertion that the performances are “tentative” and to an extent that is true, but the actual arrangements are far more developed already by this point than that might lead you to believe, and the fact that they have not yet reached the Epic, Classic Rock status is occasionally a winning argument.

As proof, I offer up both “Naked Eye” – a song that just failed to make the album at the time – and, perhaps controversially, “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” I really like this version: it is more relaxed, loose, and raw than it would soon become, not yet acknowledged by an arena-sized audience as an Anthem of a Generation, and there is a reason to adopt it as a personal keepsake going forwards; the definitive studio recording version will show up on your local classic rock station soon enough anyway.

The last two CDs are given over to a concert at the Civic Auditorium in San Francisco eight months later, on December 13 1971, parts of which have been released officially over the years, and which in its entirety here is already being held aloft as a peak period piece, The Who at their early-1970s unrivalled in-concert best. It’s hard to disagree – the band are absolutely on fire  and for all that I have had a copy of this concert on the aforementioned gifted CDs for the last 25 years or so, it turns out mine was only a truncated edit of the show, absent much of Tommy (which is not relevant to this particular conversation) and the truly incendiary nine-minute version of Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Baby Don’t You Do It.” A live staple at the time, and one that showed up on the back of “Join Together” in deftly edited fashion, it serves to remind everyone that for all the legend around the writing, recording and performing of Who’s Next/Life House, at heart The Who were an R&B band brought up on Black American music, and that nobody, but nobody, butchered it – in the most professional sense of this vegan’s reluctant used of the verb – better.

And with this, we can only hope that The Life House Song Cycle Saga is, indeed, finally over. Whatever Lifehouse was imagined to be, and however much Pete Townshend may have felt his inability to capture it at the time represented some sort of Epic Fail, he can now hopefully retire in the knowledge that he put everything out there eventually, 172-page graphic novel and all. His extensive efforts at the time to rewire popular music were hardly in vain: not only did they give us Who’s Next, the Greatest Rock Album Ever, but a series of non-album A-sides and B-sides equally unrivalled during the early 1970s. Along the way, The Who transformed additionally into the Greatest Live Band Ever as well, and it’s to the Super Deluxe package’s ultimate acclaim that, despite its frighteningly obsessive and overwrought breadth and depth, it renders these claims not so much of a subjective opinion as an objective fact.

Tony Fletcher, October 2023.

[i] Of the various reviews I have read to help me along, Alexis Petridis on Super Deluxe Edition – yes, there is a website of that name – sums up the confusion surrounding Lifehouse best. “Retold in the box set’s 100-page book, the saga of Life House’s making is so extraordinarily convoluted and confused, so filled with cross-purposes, misunderstanding and – occasionally – straightforward sabotage, that this writer confesses he ended up frantically taking notes: not as preparation for this review, but just in a desperate attempt to try and keep up with what was going on… The best moment in the book may come when Townshend furiously protests that “when people say I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about, what they’re actually doing is revealing their own complete idiocy because the idea is SO FUCKING SIMPLE”, which, with all due respect, sounds remarkably like something you’d say if you had succeeded in completely confusing yourself.”


THIS GUITAR HAS SECONDS TO LIVE: A People’s History Of The Who by Richard Houghton

It’s a poster, a t-shirt and now a book cover. This Guitar Has Seconds To Live is the name bestowed upon a famous photograph taken at an infamous Who concert. The photographer was Nigel Dickson who was on hand at the Odeon Theatre in Newcastle on November 5, 1973, Bonfire Night no less, to witness a Pete Townshend meltdown of colossal proportions. Incensed at the failure of the Quadrophenia backing takes to function to his liking, Pete demolished everything in sight, tapes included, and assaulted long-suffering soundman Bobby Pridden, causing a 25-minute stoppage before the concert resumed, Quadrophenia abandoned.

Also on hand were Who fans Bill Monks, Peter Smith, Jim Robson, Ian Potts, Colin Petersen, Brian Dickinson, Brian Goulden and John Robson, all of whom offer their accounts of the concert and its aftermath in this book, which is in fact a new edition of Richard Houghton’s The Who: I Was There, published by Red Planet in 2017 and reviewed on Just Backdated here: https://justbackdated.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-who-i-was-there-by-richard-houghton.html

Of all the fans, the most loquacious is Peter Smith who reports that during Quadrophenia, “[They] got as far as ‘5.15’ [about half way through – CC] when things started to go wrong. The backing tapes they used to play along with weren’t working correctly, and apparently not at all during ‘5.15’. Pete went crazy, totally losing it. From upstairs we could see him shouting at someone to the side of the stage; he then started punching the guy and smashed his guitar to the floor of the stage. He started ripping wires out of their equipment. Roger, John and Keith were just staring at him, wondering what on earth he was doing. The theatre obviously realised that something was going seriously wrong, and they dropped the big white safety curtain.

“We sat in darkness for 15 or 20 minutes until the band reappeared. The Who launched into ‘Magic Bus’ followed by a lengthy jam and finished by playing ‘My Generation’ for a second time. Pete was in a wild, strange mood, swearing at us all, calling us ‘fucking bastards’. I recall being very upset with him and shouting back at him, as did many others. He then smashed his Gibson guitar, threw one of his amps to the ground and Keith crashed through his drums, knocking them all over the stage. They received thunderous applause as they left the stage.

“It had been a strange, surreal and brilliant night. We went home on the train, everyone talking about what they had just witnessed.”

By all accounts Bob Pridden walked out of the theatre after the incident, hotly pursued by manager Bill Curbishley and lighting man John Wolff who persuaded him to return. To add insult to injury, Pridden was obliged to stump up for a new Gibson Les Paul because he was the only one in the entourage with sufficient cash on him to buy one from a Newcastle instrument shop. 

The following night Pete and Keith appeared on the local TV show Look North, confirming that the two other shows booked at the Newcastle Odeon would go ahead as planned. Pete was a bit sheepish and didn’t say much but when Keith was asked if he felt that fans were disappointed, he replied: “Well, nobody asked for their money back, did they?”

The new, retitled edition of The Who: I Was There is much improved, a large format hardback with 368 pages, printed on art paper which enhances the photographs, many of them carried forward from the old book. 


IMMEDIATE – The Rise & Fall of the UK’s First Independent Record Label by Simon Spence

The major theme of this book about Andrew Oldham’s Immediate Records bears a striking resemblance to the rise and fall of the Tory government led by Boris Johnson. In charge of both were reckless, over confident ne’er do wells who arrived with the wind in their sails, squandered vast amounts of money and goodwill, and left with their tail between their legs. Both relished disorder, made enemies galore and had a lasting impact, not necessarily for the better, on the milieu in which they served. And both profited enormously from the mess they left behind. 

“Oldham was terrible,” says music journalist and PR Keith Altham. “He was rude, obnoxious, bad-tempered. He humiliated people and he was dreadful.”

Much the same thing, of course, can be said of man who occupied 10 Downing Street between 2019 and 2022. The big difference is that while Johnson has left behind a heap of nothing, Oldham’s legacy is a heap of great music. 

        Andrew Loog Oldham – the Loog was the surname of the father who was killed before he was born, Oldham his mother’s name – shook up the complacent sixties British record industry by throwing two grenades into its midst, then sat back to watch the chaos he engineered. He threw the first by promoting The Rolling Stones, whom he managed during the early part of their career, and then, even more impishly, threw another when he and his partner Tony Calder launched Immediate Records, the UK’s first truly independent exclusively pop-focused record label, the precursor to them all – Track, Chrysalis, Island, Charisma, Stiff and many others. Fearless and unrestrained, Oldham changed the record industry from a comfortable berth for middle-aged men in suits to a free-for-all populated by rebels like him, spivs in their twenties, duckers and divers, free thinkers and free loaders, and brilliant mavericks with nowhere else to go.

        Simon Spence’s very readable book, which explains how all this came about, has had an erratic publishing history since it was first published as a large-format illustrated title in 2008. Simon updated it in 2012, and it will soon be available again, text only, through Backstage Books, a small publisher specialising in music titles in which he has a vested interest. It is immensely detailed insofar as it mentions just about every record that Immediate ever released, and chronicles in equal detail the irresponsible behaviour that brought about the label’s downfall. It features a cast of luminaries from the world of rock from Mick and Keith of the Stones on down, not least Jimmy Page who was for a time Immediate’s A&R man and go-to guitarist for studio work, often alongside arranger John Paul Jones. Then there’s the saga of The Small Faces, covered equally well in All Or Nothing, Simon’s warts-and-all oral biography of Steve Marriott, and other hit makers like Chris Farlowe, Amen Corner and PP Arnold.

        Oldham’s motive for launching Immediate was his dissatisfaction with the UK’s major labels, principally Decca to whom the Stones were signed, which reflects the origins other indies insofar as The Who’s managers launched Track, Jethro Tull and Ten Years After’s managers launched Chrysalis and The Nice’s manager launched Charisma. Unlike the men behind those labels, however, Oldham was unable to bring to his label his biggest client, the Stones, and thus ensure a solid foundation. Instead he went out and signed everyone and anyone that caught his ear, with the result that the label’s policy seemed scattershot; adventurous certainly but hardly likely to bring in the cash that commercial success would ensure. For that he relied on his own ability to gather up funds wherever and however he could, not always with probity uppermost on his mind. 

        Oldham’s dreams and schemes are the meat of Simon’s book. While it’s all very commendable to read about all the acts and their records (and the numerous detailed biographical footnotes), it is Oldham’s erratic, often cocaine-fuelled behaviour, aided and abetted by the more restrained Calder, that make this a page turner. What’s more it didn’t pay to cross him. During the sessions for Own Up, an ambitious album by an Oldham hopeful called Twice As Much, members of a string ensemble were overheard disparaging the group’s work in the toilet. Writes Simon: “Oldham obtained all their names and booked them again on a really hot day, turned the air con off and had nothing for them to play. He just sat in front of them for three hours.”

        This is but one of many eye-opening anecdotes recalled in the book. Oldham would blame Immediate’s ultimate demise on everyone around him, mostly the inability of Columbia Records to promote the label’s acts sufficiently in the USA, but the truth was he was out to lunch most of the time, let potential stars slip through his fingers and threw good money after bad. “Oldham was never a dishonest person, just nutty,” says Ken East, manager director of EMI at the time Immediate went under. “He was just so up in the air about everything.”  

        Just like that straw-haired PM. 


WHATEVER HAPPENED TO SLADE?: When The Whole World Went Crazee by Daryl Easlea

At last! At last an author with insight, sympathy and commitment has written a substantial book about Slade that dissects the highs and lows of a career that is unique in the annals of British pop. During the first half of the 1970s Slade were enormously successful, multiple UK chart-toppers that drew 18,000 fans to a show at Earls Court, yet they somehow lost their way, briefly found it again, then lost it for a second time. Try as they might, they never really recovered, and certainly never achieved the recognition they were due. “Slade have slipped between the cracks of pop history,” notes Bob Geldof in his Foreword to this book, but author Daryl Easlea is probably more on point when he writes: “[Slade] frequently appeared out of step with the time they were in and their position in the music industry in the 1970s.”

How did this happen? It’s the conundrum upon which Whatever Happened To Slade? focuses and one I have wrestled with for years but first, before looking at the book in detail, I must declare an interest. The immediate benefit of joining the staff of Melody Maker in 1970 was the opportunity to rub shoulders with my rock heroes, John Lennon and Pete Townshend in particular, but more lasting satisfaction came from discovering rock heroes for myself. Slade weren’t exactly unknown when I first encountered them but their fortunes were a bit shaky and needed a boost. An album and single released in 1969 went nowhere. When former Jimi Hendrix-manager Chas Chandler found them, an ill-advised and rather hasty image change to skinheads backfired, and the first three singles and album he produced for them also failed to set the world alight.

I entered their story in October 1970, as things were getting desperate. Identifying them immediately as a terrific live band, well-drilled and bursting with energy, I wrote about them in MM accordingly. This was eight months before they had their first chart hit, so I was in at the beginning of their rise to glory if not the formation of the group, which can be traced back to 1966. Once within their orbit, however, I clung on for a topsy-turvy ride that lasted about five years. I don’t think any music writer wrote more about them than myself. I observed their extraordinary chart success, watched them grow as performers and saw them on stage many times in the UK, Continental Europe and America. I became their ‘official’ biographer in 1983, and contributed sleeve notes galore for both vinyl and CD albums, all the way up to 2005. 

        The four members of Slade, Noddy Holder, Jim Lea, Dave Hill and Don Powell, and Chandler, became good friends of mine insofar as music writers can become friends of musicians, but it always seemed to me to be more meaningful than a mutually beneficial relationship contingent on my support in the media. (They were, incidentally, the only group of note ever to visit me in my homes, both in the UK and US.) However, I always knew that if I crossed an unspoken line the relationship might wither, as it may have done more recently, albeit not from the point of view of everyone involved, that is all four members of the group and their current management. 

        I mention all this to set the record straight; an explanatory preamble to reviewing Whatever Happened To Slade?, the first biography of substance since my own which, in the meantime, has been joined by Holder’s two volumes of anecdotal memoirs and one each from Powell, which I commissioned and edited, and Hill. Whatever Happened To Slade? is bigger and better than any of them, far longer, far more detailed, far more considered, with far more attention paid to their music, and it is bang up to date, having been completed earlier this year after a lengthy gestation*. Furthermore, I was interviewed by its author, sent an early draft of the manuscript to ‘fact-check’ and my name appears in it 97 times.

Your man from Just Backdated with the four members of Slade at Gatwick Airport, April 17, 1973. Noddy is doing his best to obscure me. 
My copy of this shot is credited to Syndication International, a photo agency operating at the time. 

        So, I’m hardly impartial, but I can state without hesitation that what we have here is not only the nearest thing we are ever going to get to a definitive Slade biography but a book that, unlike my own, gains immeasurably from having been written with the benefit of hindsight; that takes into account perceptions and trends in popular music that did Slade no favours in the long term. Having worked within the music business as well as writing extensively about those who create the product on which it depends, Easlea knows how it operates and is therefore well placed to analyse the highs and lows of Slade’s frankly bizarre career. He’s also good at setting the scene, placing them (and how they dressed) within everything else that was happening in the 1970s, political, social and musical. Although the book isn’t ‘authorised’ per se, I happen to know that two members of the group, sympathetic to its aims, assisted in its research, and he’s spoken to numerous people who observed their ups and downs, several fellow musicians, some of whom appeared as support acts to Slade in their heyday, others who admire them greatly as well as present-day music critics and industry figures. Nevertheless, the two most important support staff who might have helped his inquiries, manager Chandler and long-serving tour manager Graham ‘Swin’ Swinnerton, died in 1996 and 2015 respectively. Specialist music industry accountant Colin Newman, who has handled their business affairs since Chandler gave up the reins in the early 1980s, has not been involved. 

        It’s unnecessary for me to go into detail about their career, but Daryl Easlea covers all the bases: how the four eventually found one another from among the West Midlands beat group scene of the mid-sixties, bonded while playing hundreds of semi-pro (and then pro) gigs as The ’NBetweens, including a four-month season in the Bahamas that has echoes of The Beatles in Hamburg, and stumbled into an early record deal that went nowhere. In 1969 they were taken on by Chandler and, two years later, had a minor hit with ‘Get Down And Get With It’, a raucous cover of a Little Richard bone-shaker. Once they’d got their foot in the door, however, there was no stopping them. With Chandler producing, Lea composing the music and Holder the lyrics, a glorious run of stomping hit singles with calculatingly misspelt titles followed: 12 top ten placings between 1971 and 1974, including six number ones, and three number one LPs, which positions them statistically and unequivocally as the top UK chart act of the era. 

        Simultaneously, their five-year stage apprenticeship ensured scores of concerts were not only instant sell-outs but knees-ups that raised the rafters in theatres of ever-increasing size throughout the UK and elsewhere. Holder, with his powerful voice, and the never-underdressed Hill were zealous OTT showmen; Lea, an accomplished multi-instrumentalist, and sturdy drummer Powell, a strapping, unswerving backbone. The sum of it all was one of the UK’s greatest ever rock’n’roll showbands, unforgettable performers to their legions of fans. Easlea covers all of this in fine and entertaining detail. 

        Slade’s ascent reached its apex at that legendary 1973 Earls Court concert, almost immediately after which Powell was seriously injured in a motor accident in which his girlfriend was killed. By a slightly macabre quirk of fate, this event marked a turning point in the group’s fortunes and, thereafter, things would never be quite the same. Slade In Flame, their movie, was brave but uncharacteristically bitter and hit the wrong note, and no sooner had Powell recovered, at least partially, than they opted to relocate to the US in a forlorn attempt to replicate their UK success there. When after 18 months they abandoned their American dream, the UK had gone cold on them. 

        The period that followed is, to my mind, more interesting than their rise, and was certainly more appealing to Lea, a theorist distrustful of the celebrity thrust upon him. With their backs against the wall, Slade fought doggedly against a tide of indifference, heroically refusing to concede defeat. In the eyes of many, this perseverance was as impressive as their run of hits, and Easlea tracks their bumpy progress well, not least in terms of analysing the music they continued to produce, much of which, he correctly points out, was as good as anything they’d recorded earlier. Trouble was, Slade was passé and few were listening. 

        Then, out of the blue, there was the renaissance that followed a barnstorming appearance at the 1980 Reading Festival, bringing about a resurgence in popularity that didn’t quite match their earlier triumphs but was certainly well earned. By this time their influence was being felt by others, most notably Kiss and Cheap Trick (and possibly even Bruce Springsteen), who saw in them a template for mixing rock chops with high-spirited showmanship. All of this might even have translated into success in America at last were it not for a bit of bad luck, bad timing and ill-health. 

        Slade last toured in 1984 and though new records, some produced by Lea, continued to be released for the remainder of the decade, enthusiasm in the ranks was on the wane. While no official announcement was ever made, the group ceased collective endeavour following an impromptu appearance at a fan convention in Walsall in April, 1991. Holder, who hadn’t wanted to do it, was furious at being coerced into appearing on stage and, ever since, has resolutely opposed a reunion. 

        The final chapters cover all of this and beyond and, in part, answer the question posed by the title: whatever happened to Slade? But the reality is far more complex and, after covering the post-Slade activities of the individuals, Easlea concludes his book by dipping further into the Slade quandary, drawing an astute analogy between their fate and the name by which they were known before they became Slade, The ’NBetweens. “[It is]… exceptionally apt for the group they became,” he writes, “in between genres, in between fan groups, too English for America and when they ‘got serious’, they were in between the sombre music heads and their teenybop fans; their film was too grim for the majority of their followers, yet unseen by those who should have seen it; in between the class divide of the music industry; they were the real thing, and, as a result, somehow almost totally eclipsed by others who were far less popular than them in the day.” 

        If the book has a flaw, it is the author’s tendency to downplay anything disreputable or contentious. There’s plenty of rock’n’roll in the book but not much sex and drugs, and while Slade were hardly in the same league as Led Zeppelin or The Who when it came to on-the-road indulgences, there were occasions when their behaviour was maybe less than saintly. Perhaps more significantly, in a commendable attempt to remain impartial, apart from a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reference to Lea playing guitar parts in the studio, Easlea has side-stepped any mention of the division of labour within Slade, a prickly issue that has plagued inter-band relationships in recent years. In the 1990s Lea told me, “They didn’t play a note I didn’t tell them to,” a quote that appears elsewhere among Slade posts on this blog (which the author was invited by me to reference at will in his book), and the fact that Lea wrote almost 100% of the music while Holder the lion’s share of the lyrics, is not made clear. Similarly, there is no mention of Lea’s ongoing displeasure at newspaper articles in which Holder is invariably described as the ‘writer’ of ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’**, nor of his spats with Ray Davies and John Bonham, both of which Lea has talked about in the past. Also unmentioned is the disparity in wealth – Holder and Lea are rich, Hill and Powell aren’t – that has driven a wedge between them in the past two decades. Furthermore, unlike disappointed fans, he declines to comment on the merits or otherwise of ‘Slade’ groups fronted by Hill, of which both Holder and Lea have been dismissive in the past, and the two eight-page picture sections, which lack images of Chandler and Swinnerton***, are miserly to say the least.

        Of greater significance, however, is the book’s crucial contention, which I share, that a profound injustice has been perpetrated upon Slade. They have never received a Brit Award, let alone a Grammy. Holder and Lea have never been nominated for an Ivor Novello Award, traditionally given to hit songwriters but also to those who have made an outstanding contribution to British music – like having 25+ top thirty singles, not to mention penning the country’s favourite Christmas song, perhaps – and the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland has stubbornly ignored them (despite attempts on my part to bring Slade’s achievements to their attention). Some lesser awards may have gone their way but apart from Holder’s MBE, awarded in 2000, they have been persistently snubbed by the music industry establishment.

        Whatever Happened To Slade? does its best to rectify this. It’s a terrific read, in-depth and thoughtful over 480 pages, with an extensive discography and bibliography, index and an afterword by Jim Moir, aka Vic Reeves, who impersonated Noddy Holder in Reeves & Mortimer’s hilarious Slade spoof. Most importantly, the book bestows upon Slade the long overdue re-appraisal this great British rock band unquestionably deserves. Finally, I should add that Slade fans, as loyal a group of fans anywhere, anytime, ever, now have a new bible. They’ll know what I mean.


* Contracts for this book were exchanged in 2016. 

** The inspiration for ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ came from Lea’s mother-in-law who suggested he write a Christmas song. Initially reluctant, Lea came up with the chord sequence and proposed Holder fashion lyrics with a Christmas theme. 

*** Inexplicably for a book of this scope, pictures of Slade with busking bagpipe player Victor Herman (who played on their recording of ‘Auld Lang Syne’), with an underdressed ‘singing telegram’ girl, and a Slade tribute act are preferred over shots of Chandler and/or Swinnerton. 


THE WHO IN ROME, PALASPORT, September 14, 1972.

Around 51 years ago this month The Who were playing concerts in Europe on a tour that saw them attract 400,000 to a concert in Paris, their biggest ever audience. Aside from that show, it was a low-key tour, with several days off between cities and all bar Keith flew home to the UK between shows. Keith and Dougal drove around Europe from show to show, looking for trouble I suppose. 

I caught up with them in Rome, on the last date of the tour, and there are two things I remember from this trip. After the show Keith, Dougal and myself took a taxi around Rome looking for female company in a club or a bar, but found nothing, and wound up back at the hotel a bit disappointed. The following day there was a mix-up with the plane tickets. They’d flown me out first class, very nice of them, but the first-class section was overbooked for the return, and I was relegated to coach. Pete thought this was very funny. “Melody Maker writers are second-class citizens,” I recall him saying, much to the amusement of John and Roger. 

        Below is my report as it appeared in MM, verbatim. I actually sat on the stage, up on a platform behind John's speakers, and wasn't to know that the sound in the hall was pretty bad, and that this was why Pete smashed his guitar. The picture above is the cover of a bootleg of the show I found on the internet, but I haven't heard it. Nor do I know if the photo on the front is from that night in Rome. The picture below is a cropped scan of the page from MM. Much of what I write about The Who these days is written with hindsight, but this isn't. 

Pete Townshend shed his white kaftan and slumped in an angular fashion across the dressing room table. Red braces upheld his baggy white trousers which were both soiled and stretched at the knees. A small white Meher Baba badge stood out against his tanned skin.

He gulped some brandy and pointed an accusing finger at sound engineer Bob Pridden. “I’m gonna cut your thumbs off,” he threatened.

Alan Smith, Townshend’s own roadie, came towards us with an unopened bottle of expensive Napoleon brandy. He dropped the bottle which smashed into a thousand pieces at Townshend’s feet. Townshend laughed and shook hands with an American kid who had somehow crashed through into the dressing room.

“It was great show. I know those kids out there didn’t like it but I thought it was fantastic,” said the young American. Townshend smiled and acknowledged the compliment. The young American babbled a bit about being a guitarist himself. He asked for some tips, then asked for a job as a roadie with The Who.

“We have a road team of ten and they are the best in the world,” replied Townshend.

Bob Pridden knew his thumbs were secure after all.

“I always cut Bob’s thumbs off at the end of a tour but they usually grow in time for the next one,” Townshend told me.

All this took place in Rome last Thursday when The Who wound up a three-week European tour, their first in three years. They played a massive sports hall in this ancient city and attracted an audience of around 10,000 Italian rock fans who sat impassively throughout the kind of set that most groups would swap their PAs for. It didn’t satisfy Pete Townshend but nothing but the best ever does. 

Roger Daltrey didn’t like the sound in the hall and John Entwistle was fed up with travelling around anyway. Only Keith Moon seemed happy enough about the outcome of the tour. 

It was the group’s first visit to Rome in a long time so reputation alone must have attracted those fans. Who’s Next sold only 7,000 copies in Italy. Tommy fared better and consequently drew a better reception from those peaceful Romans but it was all rather low key for a group of The Who’s stature. 

“They are always like that in Rome,” the young Italian promoter told me later that night. “All they want to do is listen. That is because they have never seen The Who before and won’t see them again in a long time. They wanted to make the best of it. If The Who plays again next week there will be a riot because these kids know they are good. They don’t want to show it too much in case the police stopped the concert or future concerts. “

He was speaking loudly because Entwistle and Moon were within earshot. But you can bet your shirt that whether they heard or not, The Who won’t be playing Rome again next week.

It seems an almost unbelievable situation: fans are unable to demonstrate their appreciation of an act for fear of arrest and future banning of rock show. Imagine, just for example, if some upholder of the law banned rock concerts at London’s Rainbow because a band succeeded in drawing fans from their seats to stamp, clap and cheer. 

In the north of Italy demonstrations like this during and after concerts have had these consequences. These Romans have obviously learned their lesson.

But back to The Who, who haven’t played in Britain now since the opening of the Rainbow last November. They won’t be playing in England for a while either, until they’ve finished their next album so that a new stage act can be presented. It seems unlikely this will be before the end of the year. And there are tentative plans for an American West Coast tour next February with a possible trip to Japan thrown in.

It was virtually the same act from The Who in Rome as it was 12 months ago in England. Point the accusing finger of “same old stuff” if you like, but remember many Europeans haven’t seen The Who in ages, so for many it would be a first-time experience anyway. 

It’s as good as it always is – a combination of violent excitement, near perfect sound and those power-packed Who songs. 

Townshend is the most fluid mover I’ve seen since those Olympic gymnasts. He twists and turns and spirals around, leaping from one side of the stage to another, spinning his arm like a propeller from start to finish. He falls over, somersaults and crashes to his knees like a man on a trampoline. 

Someday he’ll go head first into his stacks of speakers, break both legs and an arm but that’s his style and he couldn’t change it if he tried. He has to be the ultimate in visual rock guitarists.

At Rome only one new song was included in the set – ‘Relay’ , a Townshend rocker in the accepted Who style. The rest were as familiar as the Coronation Street theme tune: ‘Can’t Explain’ (which has to be the best ever opener), ‘Summertime Blues’, a selection from Who’s Next, ‘Magic Bus’ (which died a rather tragic death), ‘Pinball’ and ‘See Me Feel Me’ from Tommy, and the inevitable ‘My Generation’ for closing.

Townshend smashed his guitar into fragments – the first break of the tour – at the end and the Italian fans didn’t know what had hit them. He swung it wildly at Moon’s kit, and took three heavy blows against the stage floor before the instrument succumbed. The body left the neck and the whole mangled mess arrived in the front row. The police moved in and the ovation was stifled as a result. No one wants a truncheon across the skull no matter how good a band performs.

The Who were disappointed in the gig and it showed. It was nobody’s fault but if the blame has be credited to something, then doubtless the group themselves are more than just a teeny bit tired of playing the same numbers for so long despite the demand for them.

On a different scale, it’s not unlike the man at the car factory who spends all day every day screwing door knobs on car doors. A monotony has crept in and a selection of new material would help the group overcome the lethargy that arises from playing the same songs over and over again.

The Who are so good they could probably put their shows over with their eyes shut. The inevitable problem arises: what next for The Who?

Well, Townshend has just completed work on the orchestral version of Tommy which, among others, features Maggie Bell and Steve Winwood. He’s writing more material for The Who which they will soon be recording for their next album.

John Entwistle has completed his second solo album and in a week’s time he’s off to the States for three weeks to promote the album in America. His first solo album was vastly more successful in the States than over here and his single ‘My Size’, which failed to make any impression here, was a big seller in the States, especially in Los Angeles where fans thought it was a Who single.

Roger Daltrey is also working on a solo album which, knowing Roger’s personal tastes, is likely to me marked step away from the Who’s style. I predict an almost acoustic sound for his record.

Keith Moon, following in the footsteps of Ringo Starr, is getting himself involved in films and we can soon expect to see his grinning face on the big screen in some obscure comic role. A serious acting role really isn’t on for Keith Moon.


EDDIE COCHRAN In Person by Lee Bullman

“Eddie came by my apartment and we were having a rehearsal,” Jerry Capehart, Eddie Cochran’s manager and co-writer is quoted as saying in this book. “Recording was scheduled the next day, so I said, ‘Well, why don’t we write something? Summer’s coming, OK, there’s never been a blues song written about summer, call it ‘Summertime Blues’. So, Eddie says, ‘Hey, you know, I’ve got this really great riff on the guitar…”

Shouldering his orange Gretsch 6120 Chet Atkins guitar, Eddie would have hit hard on his strings, an open E chord, followed by an open A, then an open B7 and back to the E, pretty easy, even for a beginner, but it’s thinking of the sequence, and its rhythm, in the first place that counts. “Maybe… youll think that what he did wasnt so special, that any other kid with a guitar could have done the same, even down to you or me,” Lenny Kaye would write in the sleeve notes to a posthumous Cochran collection. “But thats only because he was you or me, and any other kid with a guitar could have had the chance if hed wanted, simple as that. In the years that Eddie worked and created, the secret of rock’n’roll lay in this clandestine knowledge, grasped by everyone within reach of a top-40 station, uncared about by virtually anyone else.” 

        “Everything Eddie Cochran ever did in his life had to have humour in it,” adds Capehart. “For example, his favourite performer at the time was the Kingfish from Amos’n’Andy days and the little voice you can hear on Eddie’s version of ‘Summertime Blues’ [presumably ‘I’d like to help you son, but you’re too young to vote’ – CC] was really his salute to the Kingfish. I think that ‘Summertime Blues’ was really indicative of Eddie’s imagine to his fans. That song gave him his individuality.”

        Capehart is right about the playful nature of Eddie’s songs. In so many of them there’s a light-hearted quality, like the guy who’s too tired to rock after climbing 20 stories to see his girl because the elevator has broken down, or Shorty who cuts across the field in the race to win Miss Lucy’s hand, or the guy in ‘Somethin’ Else’ who dreams of the girl and the car, and can’t quite believe he ends up with both. ‘Summertime Blues’ has a similar feel, teenage frustration mixed with eternal hope, and was first released on June 11, 1958, reaching number eight on the US charts that September, Eddie’s first hit. In the UK in November, it reached number six. It’s been a rock’n’roll staple ever since, covered by just about everyone who’s ever hung an electric guitar around their shoulders, perhaps most famously by The Who, as heard on Live At Leeds and at countless concerts during their heyday. 

Of course, The Who were by no means alone in trumpeting their fondness for Eddie Cochran. The first song 15-year-old Paul McCartney played to 17-year-old John Lennon, on 6 July, 1957, at Woolton Church Fete in Liverpool, was ‘Twenty Flight Rock’ and thereafter The Beatles included it and three other Cochran songs (‘Three Steps To Heaven’, ‘I Remember’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’) in their stage set, while their version of a fifth (‘Hallelujah, I Love Her So’), written by Ray Charles, owes everything to Eddie’s arrangement. Among countless other premier league acts who’ve recorded his songs are The Rolling Stones (‘Twenty Flight Rock’, on a live record from their 1982 tour), Led Zeppelin (‘Somethin’ Else’, from their 1970 Royal Hall show) and Rod Stewart (‘Cut Across Shorty’ on Gasoline Alley, 1970). Bruce Springsteen has a crack at ‘Summertime Blues’ on the 3-CD set recorded in 1978 at Cleveland’s Agora Ballroom, while US rockabilly band The Stray Cats, and their singer/guitarist Brian Setzer in particular, are virtually indistinguishable from an Eddie Cochran tribute act.

        Though a handful of Eddie Cochran’s most famous songs have been permanently wedged in my consciousness since pre-Beatles times, I knew next to nothing about Eddie until a double LP of his in UA’s Legendary Masters series, with those sleeve notes by Lenny Kaye, arrived in my desk at Melody Maker in 1971. Lenny’s notes were terrific, full of enthusiasm, written with a real love of Eddie’s music, but it wasn’t until I read Eddie Cochran In Person that I truly grasped all there was to know about the life of the handsome young rocker who tragically died on 16 April, 1960, in a car crash at Chippenham while on his way to Heathrow after a concert in Bristol. 

        Eddie Cochran books are thin on the grounds these days and this is a lovely, large format, illustrated one with 186-pages printed on art paper. It’s subtitled In Person because it benefits from photographs of the contents of a locker that contained all of Eddie’s possessions, collected by his mother and sister, that remained unopened until 2021 when it was offered for sale and bought by an English fan called Sonny West. Alongside an authoritative biography by thriller writer Lee Bullman, we get almost 100 photographs, both professional and personal, many seen here for the first time, press cuttings he collected, touching letters from fans (and one, extraordinarily heartfelt, from girlfriend Sharon Sheeley), cheques, royalty statements, posters advertising his concerts, records from his own collection and expressions of sympathy following the events in Chippenham. 

        In July 1963, Heinz reached number five in the UK with ‘Just Like Eddie’, a tribute song produced by Joe Meek that featured Richie Blackmore playing a catchy little phrase on guitar. Oddly, it’s the only tribute unmentioned in a final chapter that summarises Eddie’s gift to the world. Eddie Cochran In Person will make a fine gift to his fans. 


THE WHO – Civic Arena, San Francisco, December 13, 1971

Back in 1993, charged with compiling tracks for what became 30 Years Of Maximum R&B, The Who’s 4-CD box set, I was offered (and eagerly accepted) a live version of ‘Bargain’, recorded at this show. In an essay for Crawdaddy magazine shortly after the set was released in 1995, I wrote that ‘Bargain’ was the best reflection of The Who at their finest on the whole box set. “This is a truly stupendous performance, fluent, confident, full of highs, a perfect example of The Who at the peak of their ability, reckless yet somehow still in control, flowing with their music, relishing their skills.”

This version of ‘Bargain’ had already been made available on MCA’s Who’s Missing, released in 1985, while two other songs performed at this concert, John’s ‘My Wife’ and Don Nix’s ‘Goin’ Down’, a spontaneous closing jam, appeared on Two’s Missing a couple of years later. I ought to have pressed for more from the show for 30 Years, just as I pressed for a whole live Tommy as a fifth CD, but I had a hunch there was a covert strategy to hold back material so that it might be used on future re-issues at some unspecified date. Then again, it might be that the estate of Bill Graham, whose BG Productions promoted the Civic Arena shows, had tried to claim ownership of the recordings, as they had with other concerts, and this issue needed to be settled before the entire concert could be released. 

Whatever the ins and outs of the matter, it has now been made available on two CDs among the ten included in the Who’s Next 50th Anniversary super-deluxe box set, just released by Polydor and costing a whopping £224.99 on The Who’s own website, with slight price variations elsewhere.

The Who’s 25-day American tour at the end of 1971 holds special memories for me as I was present at the opening date, at Charlotte, North Carolina, on November 20, on what was my first ever visit to the USA, and I have written about this elsewhere on this blog. The two concerts in San Francisco on December 12 and 13 followed 15 others across the South and West Coast of America, with the tour concluding on December 15 in Seattle. I am reliably informed that contrary to what it might state elsewhere, the show on the two discs in the bells and whistles Who’s Next is from the 13th and not the 12th; also that the live ‘Bargain’ on 30 Years was from the 13th, and not from the 12th, as stated in the track listing. 

But all this is academic. What really matters is that The Who were on the form of their lives that December, the greatest rock band in the world performing the greatest music they ever made, a combination of brilliant songs from Who’s Next and Tommy sprinkled with bits of their past and a hint of the future. They were also cresting a wave of Stateside popularity, so a massive anticipatory ovation greets Bill Graham as he introduces the group in typically sonorous tones, like a Master of Ceremonies announcing distinguished guests at a VIP banquet, pausing for effect between each name: “Four of the greats and four very nice people,” he says. “On bass, Mister John Entwistle, … on vocals, Mister Roger Daltrey, … on drums, Mister Keith Moon (which, inevitably, prompts a flourish around the kit), … on guitar, the king, Mister Peter Townshend. The Who.”

Within seconds the staccato chords of ‘I Can’t Explain’ ring out loud and clear, like a hammer on an anvil, and they’re off, electrifying their fans as only The Who could in those days. Roger sounds angry on an angry song; John’s lines complement Pete’s chords; Keith sounds like an automatic rifle on the chorus. ‘Substitute’ follows, tight and snappy, and somehow even better, the combined vocal attack in perfect sync. All four are on top form tonight and know it. Roger introduces ‘Summertime Blues’, a belter, as ever, similar to Leeds except Pete solos mainly above the 12th fret, high frequency, and ‘My Wife’, “by our bass player, affectionately known as The Ox”, which explodes after the second verse, Roger repeatedly yelling “Keep on moving” and “Oh, she’s coming” as Pete solos and Keith goes manic. After another verse this whole eruption is repeated, only this time they step back to idle for a moment, clearly improvising, enjoying the moment, then tumble back in for another bout of sheer pandemonium. It is a portent of things to come. At just over six minutes ‘My Wife’ is the longest work out so far. Prolonged cheers ensue.

“Here’s a song [for] which we use a tape to put a synthesiser sound on stage,” announces Roger. “It was a lot easier than getting someone to play it. We couldn’t handle that, getting someone else. Anyway, Pete plays the synthesiser on the tape so it’s just like playing with two Petes if you like. [In the background, you can just hear Keith yelling, ‘One’s enough!’] It’s a great song. I really like this one. The lead track off Who’s Next, ‘Baba O’Riley’.”

By my reckoning this is the first live version of this Who staple, as performed by them, ever officially released and there’s a freshness to it here not found elsewhere, especially in Roger’s vocals and the moment when Pete urges us not to cry as it’s “only teenage wasteland”. The crunch chords sound like bells and the accelerating harp coda last just over a minute before arriving at a sudden, unexpected, well-drilled stop. Perfect. 

It’s Pete turn to talk. “No sooner have we taken you up than we’re gonna take you down again, very slowly,” he says. “This is a cameo, if you like, of a Who performance. It starts off nice and easy and ends up sort of bouncing all over the stage. We start off without Keith Moon and end up with him.”

This is the cue for some horseplay from the drummer, the light-hearted repartee that so often took the edge off Pete’s intensity, furnishing The Who with a skittish sense of humour rarely found in rock groups of their stature. “All right then I’ll piss off,” we can hear Keith muttering. 

        “I wasn’t trying to get rid of you or anything,” retorts Pete. 

        “It’s been nice working with you,” adds Keith, acting pissed off. “I’ll see you later.”

“It’s called ‘Behind Blue Eyes’,” says Pete before telling the audience that the set for tonight has been changed, presumably from the previous night. Knowing full well that Who fans would be attending both nights, he seems to delight in second-guessing them. Perhaps inspired by Moon’s quips, he adds: “It’s special but it’s all rehearsed, you know. We work out these dance steps, me and Roger, for hours.”

There follows one of the loveliest versions of one of The Who’s loveliest songs I’ve ever heard. As in ‘Baba’, Roger is pitch perfect, moving effortlessly from the purity of the verses to the tough middle section and back again. Pete’s hammering on and off during the arpeggios is clean as a whistle and when Keith re-joins the group their focus is pin sharp. 

And so, we come to ‘Bargain’, “a song about what you get from being here,” says Pete. “If you’re alive, whether you’re rich or you’re poor, if you’re up or you’re down. If you’re alive, you’re getting a bargain.” 

I wrote about this performance of ‘Bargain’ at length in my essay for Crawdaddy, and I can’t improve on it, so here we go again. During the opening chords Pete gleefully shouts something off mike which is difficult to make out, but it sounds like a call to arms that simply enhances the anticipation. Roger leaps in over Pete’s rumbling guitar before the song’s real highlight, the emotional contrast between Roger and Pete’s separate vocal lines. I especially love the way Pete’s keening vocal refrain is counterbalanced by John’s lovely bass melody and how Pete yells ‘pick me up’ at the top of his voice after his final line. Keith and John take up the challenge in a thrilling bass and drum rumble that launches Pete into a magnificent solo. The song itself, like many that Pete was writing at the time (including – most notably – the climax to Tommy), is a prayer of yearning in which the singer prostrates himself before the blessed one – ”I’d pay any price just to get you,” sings Roger – while in his refrain Pete admits his inadequacy: “I know I am nothing without you”. In some ways it’s possible to mistake ‘Bargain’ for a love song, but when you get your head around the idea that it really is a hymn (to Meher Baba, Pete’s spiritual guru), then it becomes all the more impressive. Then there’s that extended coda, one of The Who’s on-stage trademarks, in which the song appears to be over until Pete launches into a series of fragile chords before finding his way into another riff, taking the others if not by surprise then at least by the lead as he pounds on, carried along by the momentum, confident that the band are on such good form at this moment that it would be a crime to stop just because the song is at an end. Quite wonderful. Then there’s another roar from the crowd.

Up and down. Dark and light. Earnest and comic. “If you were here last night you will have noticed my knees trick,” says Pete as the cheers die down. “If you’re wondering why I’ve got such funny shaped knees it’s because I’m wearing knee pads, so I don’t agitate the fractured knee cap.”

“Have it off,” yells Keith. “Amputate.”

Next up is ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, mid-set in 1971, again as fresh as you can imagine, sharp and precise, another triumph for Roger, the ensemble playing along with the synthesiser track faultless, Keith an almighty presence both before and after the synth interlude. Roger’s roar at the climax is leonine. In a review of the deluxe Who’s Next in Mojo, Mark Blake wrote of this reading of ‘WGFA’ that it “sounds like The Who achieving the transcendental lift-off that Townshend claimed they managed on a good night, and also suggests drummer Keith Moon might spontaneously combust.” He’s not wrong.

More humour. Pete tells us his Doc Marten shoes have bouncy soles. “High jumpers should wear these,” he adds. “What are we doing now? This one is an old tune we used to do when we very first started, and it would be very nice to think there was at least one person here who saw us in London at the Marquee Club and maybe heard us play this number. We played a lot of Tamla Motown stuff in those days. It was very hip, trendy to play Tamla Motown. We used to play ‘Heatwave’, ‘Dancing In The Street’ and this one. Roger will tell you what it is while I change my guitar. I have to use a special Tamla Motown type guitar.”

“For a change,” says Roger, “we actually feature Mister Keith Moon.” This is the cue for a bit more silliness until Keith charges into ‘Baby Don’t You Do It’, a fierce work-out on the Tamla song recorded by Marvin Gaye, highlighted by Keith’s energetic drumming throughout, Roger’s strident vocals and The Who’s unique ability to turn soul into furious rock at the drop of a hat. Playing off one another as no other band can, there’s some lovely bass work from John, and Pete’s buzz-saw guitar solo towards the end is terrific. During a furious ‘head for home’ climax Pete, John and Keith play their hearts out with Roger hollering to be heard above the din. Then, just to stress the point, there’s a false ending and the band rev up yet again, only for Roger to have the last word. An edit of this recording would become the B-side of ‘Join Together’ the following year.

“Let’s have an English song now,” yells Pete as Roger blows his harmonica. “We’re gonna sell you something. We’re gonna sell you a bus… a magic bus. You’re gonna have to pay us… but it’s worth it.” Keith taps the blocks, John thumps away on one note, playing his bass like a drum, and Pete gives us what Charles Shaar Murray once described as a masterclass in rhythm guitar. At 17 minutes ‘Magic Bus’ is far and away the longest individual song of the night, retaining its tense Bo Diddley tempo and the preposterous horse-trading banter between Roger and Pete until the ten-minute mark when Keith switches to his kit and all hell breaks loose. Then, just when you think it’s all over, it’s not. A false ending is followed by another coda: Roger back on the harp, accompanied only by Keith’s rolls with Pete improvising more lyrics, all building to another breath-taking extended finish. 

After all that most bands would be taking a bow and heading for the dressing room, perhaps returning after two minutes for an encore. Not The Who. It’s time for Tommy. Professor Keith Moon is introduced as the conductor. “Daltrey, stop drinking on stage,” he yells. “John, stand still you ruffian.”

“He’s breathing,” says Pete.

Keith: “I’ve told him not to move on stage.” 

Pete: “Actually I’ve seen him moving in hotel rooms.”

Keith: “He gets up to turn the television on and off.”

Pete: “He picks the phone up. Room service…”

Keith: “Hot tuna sandwich.”

After a count in from Keith – “three million, four million” – The Who launch into the ‘Overture’ from Tommy, played with its usual panache, followed by Pete’s unaccompanied solo guitar piece, much of it improvised, leading into the intro to ‘Amazing Journey’. This is followed by the instrumental ‘Sparks’ on which, for the first and only time, the guitar mix seems too low, at least for the first two or three passes until the octave drops sweep in. A minute later it’s all back on balance, and the three instrumentalists are up and away, sailing head-on into the ‘Underture’ storm with Keith leading the charge for a full four minutes. The audience erupt at the end. 

        After a breather ‘Pinball’ arrives, Pete’s furious strumming punctuated by John’s stabbing bass, another hell-for-leather ride leading to ‘See Me Feel Me’, the spiralling Tommy hymn which, as ever, raises the roof as The Who pay tribute to their audience, climbing mountains and seeing the glory, a truly majestic performance.

        But it’s not over yet. “It feels good to see you standing up,” says Pete. “This one is where we drive you back into your seats again. ‘My Generation’ – are you in it?”

        And off they go yet again, into their biggest, most sacred hit, a faster version that on record, Roger screaming the lyrics, John rattling off the bass solo, Pete finding a riff in his solo, then another, then another while everyone follows him into unchartered territory until John and Keith cotton on to where he’s going and gamely follow while Roger sings whatever comes into his head. After eight minutes it settles and Pete works his way into the nagging riff of ‘Naked Eye’ which Roger sings beautifully, the other three straining at the leash until, as in so many other songs tonight, the structure breaks open to allow more free-form soloing which this time morphs into the bluesy ‘Going Down’, after which the concert finally ends. The combined length of ‘My Generation’, ‘Naked Eye’ and ‘Going Down’, all segued together, is almost 24 minutes, this on top of the 90 minutes plus beforehand. It goes without saying that the final climax is explosive, electrifying. I have no idea how long the cheering continued as only a minute can be heard on this recording. There would have been no encore. 

* * *

Sometimes, just occasionally, even though there’s pictures of them as young men on the walls of my home, I forget how great The Who once were; when they were young and pioneering, forever moving forward, lighting a path that no other group of their era could tread. For my money, The Who in 1971 left every other group on the planet in their wake. For a few glorious years they were simply untouchable, playing out of their skulls night after night, the greatest rock concerts ever. I’m not that enamoured of the recent activities of Pete and Roger, though I don’t blame them for carrying the torch, playing their music in whatever form they choose to present it these days for those that still want to hear it played on stage. They are musicians and that’s what musicians do. I’m just not that interested any more. 

What I am still interested in, however, and still delirious about, are Who recordings like this 1971 San Francisco Civic Auditorium concert, just as I was over the Moon about that 1968 New York Fillmore show. My review of that, by the way, has had almost 50,000 hits, far and away the most of any posts on Just Backdated. So, I’m not alone in feeling this way.  

It’s been fun writing again about The Who I loved so much. 

(The photo at the top of this post was taken by Jim Marshall at the San Francisco concert on December 12, 1971.)