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Step back to 1978 – Part 3

March 24th, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

By the second half of 1978 I was clearly done with punk — much like the rest of the civilised world. Now the word was Grease, even if You’re The One That I Want became unbearably overplayed. Other than a really great roadtrip holiday, the latter part of 1978 seems to have been quite uneventful for me: I cannot remember anything interesting at all happening other than playing football in ankle-deep snow in winter.

John Paul Young – Love Is In The Air.mp3
I knew this track by the Australian singer who prompted two popes to adopt his name in 1978 for quite a while before the event I associate it most with: a summer holiday in what was then East-Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Austria. Love Is In The Air was on a K-Tel type sampler cassette we played ad nauseam on that road trip in a Volkswagen camper, mainly because we didn’t have much else with us by way of musical entertainment. The tape also included J.J. Cale’s Cocaine, Eric Clapton’s Lay Down Sally, and Eruption’s cover of I Can’t Stand The Rain. I think the latter might have followed Love Is In The Air, because when Young’s song ends, I expect to hear the opening synth notes from the Eruption number. It could be that we gave that tape away to an East German family we met in Prague, with whom we struck up a friendship that extended beyond the holiday (I met the daughter again last year, for the first time in 29 years). To East Germans, all forms of Western media were like golddust. On our later visits to our friends, I’d smuggle Bravo magazines over the border, and act that was regarded as quite audacious, indeed almost heroic.  Love Is In The Air was also the first song I ever sung at a karaoke.

Clout – Substitute.mp3
In this series I have reported on my barely pubescent crushes on Agnetha of ABBA and Debbie Harry of Blondie. They were joined by another blonde in the form of the Glenda Hyam, the keyboard player of South African girl group Clout. The thing is, I turned out have a greater preference for darker women (not that I am inclined to discriminate on the basis of excessive pheomelanin). Alas, Glenda soon left the group, to be replaced by two much less fanciable but more hirsute blokes (who would later joined Johnny Clegg in Juluka). The dudes, no less curly than the rest of Clout, turned up for the follow-up hit Save Me, which will feature in the course of this series. Substitute, a great unrequited love number, is a cover version of a song by the Righteous Brothers. If anyone has the original, I’d be most grateful to receive it.

Supermax – Love Machine.mp3
Austrian disco, long before Falco! Goodness, this played everywhere in Germany, and at the time I hated it. Now I actually like it. Imagine Pink Floyd going disco (in which case the lyrics, with gems like “I am a love machine in town, the best you can get 50 miles around”, would need to be read ironically). Long-haired, moustachoid Kurt Hauenstein’s band was multi-racial (though not as predominantly black as the single cover would lead us to believe), and as such it became the first international multi-racial band to tour South Africa in 1981. It was a thankless venture. The apartheid authorities were not exactly pleased at the racial mixing – just imagine the potential of miscegenation among these degenerate disco hippies! – especially since the Austrians were also playing in the “homeland” of Venda, which is so off the beaten track that it probably has not seen any international music acts since. And the international artistic community failed to see the humour in anybody touring apartheid South Africa, racial diversity notwithstanding. Even if just a few years earlier the likes of Percy Sledge and George Benson had done exactly that.

Umberto Tozzi – Tu.mp3
A year earlier, Umberto Tozzi had enjoyed a big hit with Ti Amo. I liked that song very much. In 1978, Tozzi had a hit with Tu. By then I was wary of Italian balladeers whose schlock lent themselves to German covers by Schlager singers with an excess of blow-dried hair. Oddly, I don’t recall this being turned into a Schlager. Perhaps the absence of a chorus deterred the Schlager industry. Or perhaps they didn’t know how to translate “ba-badda-darm” into German. A year later, Tozzi released Gloria, which in 1984 became, much to my astonishment, a hit for Laura Branagan. I must confess that I do have a bit of a weakness for the Italian San Remo festival kind of songs.

Robert Palmer – Best Of Both Worlds.mp3
Much as I liked the song back then, it’s a bit of a mess, with its cod-Reggae beat and aggressively out-of-tune vocals. It was a fair hit in Europe, I think, but didn’t even dent the Top 75 in Britain. I think what I found most attractive about it are the minor notes 2:12 into the song. A year later Palmer had a bigger hit with Bad Case Of Loving You. At the bumper car rink at the local Rummel (as a travelling funfair is known in German) that year, the ticket-booth DJ held a name-the-artist competition when Bad Case Of Loving You came on. The prize was something like tokens for five free rides. Trouble was, I was already driving in a bumper car. To my frustration, nobody knew the answer, which I did. I called the answer out to my younger brother, but all I got in return was a deaf “heh?”. Of course, he wasn’t the idiot in that situation. I was. Obviously I should have abandoned my single ride in order to get five freebies – and the satisfaction of strutting to cash in my free rides knowing the answer to a tough question none of the assembled ignoramuses knew. File under “Regrets, I’ve had a few”.

Nina Hagen Band – TV-Glotzer.mp3
I must be honest: I don’t like Nina Hagen’s obnoxious vocals much. I bought this single (the cover of which seems to have been used for every Hagen release around that time) because it seemed the rebellious thing to do. There simply was very little of this kind of thing in German music at the time. The indictment of consumerism and the public’s passive, indeed mindless, acceptance of it appealed to my nascent leftist tendencies (translated lyrics are here). The consumerism must have been striking to Hagen, who had come from East-Germany only two years earlier after her singer stepfather, Wolf Biermann, was expelled by the communist regime. Backed by what would become the Neue Deutsche Welle band Spliff, TV Glotzer is a cover of The Tubes’ far superior White Punks On Dope.  So Hagen and especially TV Glotzer were hugely influential in the rise of the German new wave movement.

Status Quo – Again And Again.mp3
For the first three years of my record-buying career, I bought loads of Status Quo records. Then I went off them, righteously repudiating the Quo. By the time I was a young adult, I joined the consensus that they were rather ridiculous and easily spoofed cliché mongering two-chord wonders. What utter foolishness! What deprivation did I subject myself to? No good case can be made for Status Quo being rock & roll’s equivalent of Dietrich Buxtehude, but, damn it, for pure energy and fun it’s hard to beat songs like Again And Again. Denims on, strike pose standing with legs apart (position of mirror optional), engage air guitar, stand shoulder-to-shoulder with imaginary fellow guitarist rocking forward and backward, jump in the air with final chord, look in panic at doors and windows to ensure that they were shut…

Olivia Newton-John – A Little More Love.mp3
Livvy’s career was stuttering to a bit of a halt before her appearance in Grease. On strength of that movie I bought her Totally Hot album, which contained rather too much disco-pop and too little by way of quality ballads, such as the wonderful Hopelessly Devoted To You from Grease. It really set the scene for the later Physical, the opening chord for the ghastly ’80s. A Little More Love is one of those songs that suffers from a lack of direction. It’s not clear whether it’s supposed to be a West Coast rock number or a disco track. The pedestrian verses call to mind a b-side recorded under duress by Linda Ronstadt, but the glorious chorus sounds like it was written by the Bee Gees in their pomp, even though the song’s composer was John Farrar (who also wrote Hopelessly Devoted To You and You’re The One That I Want). As much as I hate Physical, I was pleased to see Newton-John appear on Glee last year; not as the sweet individual of her doubtless merited reputation, but as a bitch who outdoes the wonderfully ruthless Sue Sylvester.

Al Stewart – Song On The Radio.mp3
I had ended 1977 by buying singles by Harpo and The Runaways. I ended the following year by buying an Al Stewart album. I was staying with family friends in another city for a week or so over New Year’s Eve. They were quite different from my family. To begin with, they were communists. Not communists of the variety that had beards (even the men), carried Mao’s pocketbook and a displayed velvet poster of Che Guevara. These were proper activists, registered members of the German Communist Party, the DKP, and as critical of the corruption of communism in the East as they were of the capitalist society in the West. Communists of the ilk of Nina Hagen’s stepfather Biermann. I never adopted their politics, but I was influenced by them to see the word in a different way. So I was with them when I bought Al Stewart’s Time Passages album. When I asked them to play it, they appeared less than keen; much as I would feel if a 12-year-old asked me to put on their latest favourite record by what I would presume to be an autotuned muppet or derivative emo goon. When they finally relented, they liked what they heard and even asked if they could tape the LP (buying it would just have given profits to owners of the means of production, of course). I felt great validation that adults of intellectual character would like the music I bought.

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  1. Brian
    March 24th, 2011 at 10:33 | #1

    Just love this series dude – i’ve been an avid follower for a couple of years now & the memories these posts stir up are priceless. That Righteous Brothers song can be found on the newsgroups, unfortunately my news server’s retention doesn’t stretch beyond 400 days but perhaps someone else will assist.

  2. Nick Lord
    March 24th, 2011 at 11:58 | #2

    You didn’t mention that Kurt Hauenstein died earlier this week. Presumably he’ll be in the next In Memoriam post?

  3. March 24th, 2011 at 12:22 | #3

    “Substitute” by The Righteous Brothers? No problem.

  4. halfhearteddude
    March 24th, 2011 at 15:30 | #4

    Oh, I didn’t pick up on that yet. What a shame.

  5. March 24th, 2011 at 16:34 | #5

    I never got a real “disco” vibe from ONJ’s “Little More Love”…it always struck me as closer to, as you said, the Linda Ronstadt late 70’s school. And I always felt the verses were downplayed just to set up that chorus. I think it’s one of her best songs, and I still get a charge from hearing it.

    Status Quo was on a roll in that year and the year preceding, thanks to a live album that was very popular and one of their best ever releases Rockin’ All Over the World, which was in constant rotation on my turntable that year. The B-side of “Again and Again”, “Too Far Gone”, is from that album.

    The second half of 1978 was pretty important for me…I graduated high school in May, got my first real job in October, and started dating the girl who I’d eventually marry in June. Those were the days!

  6. Max
    March 24th, 2011 at 23:06 | #6

    Really like your blog and insightful analysis of songs – hits or otherwise.
    PS The link for the Al Stewart mp3 actually links to the cover jpeg.

  7. halfhearteddude
    March 25th, 2011 at 09:29 | #7

    Thanks for your kind words, and for alerting me to the mis-linkage of the Al Stewart song. The link should work now.

  8. pferde
    March 26th, 2011 at 00:20 | #8

    By the way there is a german cover version of Umberto Tozzi’s Tu by Costa Cordalis called “Du”.

  9. halfhearteddude
    March 26th, 2011 at 08:58 | #9

    There is? I would dread to hear it, I think.

  10. March 29th, 2011 at 03:12 | #10

    The Al Stewart album – now on CD, of course, although the vinyl I bought in ’78 is still in the stacks – regularly makes its way to the player in the back room, which seems to be the only place that CDs are played in their entirety around here. It’s still a favorite of mine. The Olivia and the J.P. Young are remembered as well, though I don’t seek them out.

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