Step back to 1974 – Part 1
It was a most significant year for me: I discovered two passions that have remained with me ever since: football (or what our American friends call soccer) and reading. The latter came first, in the shape of comic books. I never had much time for the Marvel comics type, which weren’t that big in West Germany anyhow. My first comic purchase, in 1973 when I was I Grade 2, was a rendering of Laurel and Hardy, known in Germany by the less than gratifying moniker Dick und Doof (Fat and Dim), which I bought on a train journey with my sister. But that wasn’t as good as the old film shorts which were shown on German TV on Friday afternoons. So I went on to the comic book version of Looney Tunes, with Porky Pig (or Schweinchen Dick), Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Yosemite Sam, Tweety and Sylvester, Roadrunner et al. This coincided with a failed campaign to persuade German TV not to pull the weekly Looney Tunes show from its schedule, a decision made due to the cartoons’ violence.
At about the same time, I picked up on the Fix & Foxi cartoons, a rather tame comic book with a cast of characters of varying attractiveness. My older brother by six years scoffed at Fix & Foxi, and waged a brutally relentless propaganda campaign against the comics and their originator, Rolf Kauka, whose good reputation my brother impugned in slanderous ways of such factually challenged nature, it would make Rush Limbaugh seem like a model of thoughtful tact and scrupulous truth. His objective: to get me reading the weekly Micky Maus comics (I now suspect that he figured he wouldn’t need to buy a copy if I did, and at the age of 13-going-on-14, he didn’t really want to be seen buying Micky Maus). So Fix & Foxi were dumped for the Disney comic, henceforth to be ridiculed and scorned. And he was right: I absolutely loved the adventures of Donald, his nephews and Onkel Dagobert (Scrooge), though I followed Micky and Goofy’s stories only halfheartedly. One winter-related memory stays with me: standing in the local, rather small supermarket by the very hot gas heater, which was covered with a polished stone slab, above which the magazines were kept (clearly the relationship between intense heat and paper did not worry the managers). Never since have I felt so comfortable in a shop.
Also in 1974 I read Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Langstrumpf (Pippi Longstocking) trilogy, which I knew from the Swedish TV series (I had a big crush on Anika). A few years ago, when Any Minor Dude was younger, I read the books with him. I still enjoyed them very much, probably as much as he did.
And so to the music that soundtracked my year1974. As always I am anxious to issue the caveat that I do not necessarily endorse the songs featured.
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Lobo – I’d Love You To Love Me.mp3
This was first released in 1972, but entered the German charts only I late 1973, and topped the hitparades in early 1974. But before we amuse ourselves at the tardiness of German hipness, let it be recorded that I’d Love You To Love Me became a massive UK hit only in the summer on the back of its European success. I’d Love You To Want Me came into demand after playing in the background of an episode of the hugely popular police detective series Der Kommissar (the cultural inspiration behind the title of Falco’s huge 1982 hit), which just about every German watched on Friday nights. I think the youngest of my older sisters had the single. The singers name, Spanish for wolf, sounds like he belongs in the cast of the contemptuous Fix & Foxi comics. It will surprise most readers to learn that Lobo was not the singer’s real name. At passport control, he was better known as Roland Kent Lavoie. And one may be tempted to maintain a low opinion of a singer calling himself Lobo, but our man’s first group, The Rumours, also included Gram Parsons and Jim Stafford.
Walter Scheel – Hoch auf dem gelben Wagen.mp3
As far as I can recall, this was the last record I brought at grandmother’s prompting, possibly because I could take very little pride in it. Still, it is a record of some historic interest. There can’t be many leading politicians whose careers featured a sojourn into the pop charts. Walter Scheel was West Germany’s foreign minister when he recorded this, a traditional German song (of the Volksmusik genre) about hitching a lift with a postal carriage, which he recorded with the Düsseldofer Männergesangsverein (Düsseldorf men’s singing club). It is said that Scheel recorded the single in a bid to obtain support for his ultimately successful bid to become German president, a lagely ceremonial position, in 1974. Before becoming president, Scheel also briefly served as interim chancellor after the great Willy Brandt resigned over a spying scandal (one of his top aides was exposed as an East German spy). Scheel’s successor as foreign minister was the treacherous Hans-Dietrich Genscher, who never had a Top 10 hit. (Thank you to Teena for turning up the MP3 of this.)
The Sweet – Teenage Rampage.mp3
Teenage Rampage was the hit in early 1974, The Six Teens (which will feature in 1974 Part 2) later in the year. It may be the nostalgia speaking, but I think these are my favourite Sweet songs. Teenage Rampage is the anthem for the revolution of the youth with The Sweet as the insurrection’s heralds, as though they are The Who for the bubblegum brigade (The Sweet were big Who fans, and Townsend in turn praised the group). “The kids are finally startin’ to get the upper hand. They’re out in the streets, they turn on the heat and soon they could be completely in command. Imagine the sensation of teenage occupation.” It was like punk need never happen.
Ringo Starr – Photograph.mp3
A good case could be made for Photograph being the best solo single by an ex-Beatle. In fact, some people argue that Ringo’s was the most impressive of the Fab Four’s post-Beatles careers. I don’t think I would agree with those people as much as I disagree with those who dismiss Ringo’s solo output, which did produce a handful of fine songs. The truth is that Ringo started from a base of low expectation: for the haters, it’s the easy (and lazy) option to claim that he failed to proceed from that, and the advocates of Ringo’s genius might be overegging things because John, Paul and George did not quite meet the genius of the Beatles era. In any case, Photograph — Ringo’s best solo song and biggest hit — was co-written with George Harrison.
Dan The Banjoman – Dan The Banjoman.mp3
Where is the banjo the title is promising us? The synth-like sound was apparently created by the overlaying of several guitar tracks. Sounds more like someone blowing on a comb to me. You don’t really hear instrumentals in the charts anymore — well, not since the 1970s. Back then, every year one or two instrumentals would become big hits. Before Dan the Banjoman there was Popcorn and Mouldy Old Dough. And Springwater’s mournful I Will Return, (which, like Popcorn, featured HERE). Dan The Banjoman was a project of the same guy who did Springwater, the multi-instrumentalist Phil Cordell, who died in 2007. It became a West German #1 hit twice, returning to the top spot after featuring in a commercial for orange juice.
Vicky Leandros – Theo, wir fahr’n nach Lodz.mp3
Otto Waalkes – Das Wort zum Montag.mp3
Goodness, this is an awful novelty Schlager song. Vicky informs the titular Theo with deafening stridence which broaches no dissent that they are going to Lodz, a city in Poland. But Vicky clearly hasn’t thought this through, even as she correctly identifies the sound a cow makes (oh, but she does). To travel from the capitalist, imperialist Federal Republic of Germany to the socialist workers’ paradise of Poland was not as simple as packing an overnight bag and hopping into your Volksie bus. Just organising the visa was a bureaucratic nightmare. And then there were the border controls as Vicky and Theo would enter the workers’ and peasants state of the Democratic Republic of Germany! No, Theo, you don’t really want to go to Lodz. I wonder how many German readers of my age adapted the lyrics to: “Steh auf, Du altes Murmeltier, bevor ich Dir die Fresse polier’”? For our German friends, the skit by the once very funny comedian Otto Waalkes, riffing on Theo in sermon mode.
The Rubettes – Sugar Baby Love.mp3
The reader may be surprised to learn that Any Major Dude With Half A Heart has quite a vocal range. Your correspondent can drone a manly baritone, whirr like a tenor, and squeal a mean falsetto, even without testicular interference. But your humble servant’s falsetto cannot reproduce the ear-bursting, dog-attracting eunuch’s call in Sugar Baby Love without risking damage to the vocal chords. This was one of the big summer hits of 1974, alongside Lodz-bound Theo, the universally beloved Seasons In The Sun, MFSB’s Philly soul anthem TSOP, and the next song.
Charlie Rich – The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.mp3
I would sing this at a karaoke, with good cheer and no measure of embarrassment. I’d be the Thinning-hair Fox. They called Charlie Rich “The Silver Fox”, and I cannot think of any other grey-haired performer in the upper reaches of the charts at the time, or many at any time (if we discount the legions who dye their hair, of course). So here we have a true innovator, a man who not only embraced his middle age, but flaunted it — grey hair, midlife-crisis denim shirts & cowboy boots combo, the whole old geezer thing. It’s tempting to dismiss the song because it was popular, but it’s a damn good country song. The man’s heartbreak and regret are palpable, possibly because he realises that the age of disco is approaching and he won’t ever again pull most beautiful girls in the world like he used to.
Candlewick Green – Who Do You Think You Are.mp3
Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods – Who Do You Think You Are.mp3
Opportunity knocked for Candlewick Green. The group won the famous British TV talent show, and were signed by Decca (a label forever condemned to finding the new Beatles in compensation for Dick Rowe’s failure to see talent in the original Beatles, at an audition at which they really did suck; a failure which even the signing of the Rolling Stones could not make up for). It took Candlewick Green a couple of years to score their solitary hit, and even then stalled at #24 in Britain. The song, written by Des Dyer and Clive Scott of fellow one-hit wonder band Jigsaw, was a North American hit in the version by Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods, whose version I include here for my transatlantic friends (they also covered Paper Lace’s Billy Don’t Be A Hero). If any of the songs here sounds like 1974, I’d say it’s Who Do You Think You Are.
Santana – Samba Pa Ti.mp3
Samba Pa Ti was originally released in 1970, but became a hit in West Germany only in 1974. I suspect somebody in my immediate surroundings had the record, but who? Of those in my family who bought records, only my mother would have bought this, but I knew all her records, and she didn’t have that. So I can only guess that the amiable couple who lived above us, Peter and Karin, with whom our family regularly socialised, had a Santana thing going on. Either way, I was impressed with Samba Pa Ti (another instrumental, of course), which sounded terribly adult to me. When I hear it, I smell a particular strawberry-scented bubblegum which was very popular at the time, which goes to show just how suggestive of faint memories music can be.