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Step back to 1979 – Part 1

June 2nd, 2011 4 comments

As we enter 1979 and the songs that take me back to that time, I’m still living in the house in which I had spent the first 13 years of my life. In early summer we moved into a new house. So this lot of songs are old-house songs. In May, at the end of the time under review in part 1, I went to Bavaria for a week or two on a “cure”, organised by the medical aid scheme, for stressed kids. Because a stressed kid I certainly was.

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Gebrüder Blattschuss – Kreuzberger Nächte.mp3
It was a time for comic novelty songs in Germany. Big-nosed Mike Krüger had Germans in a LOL hysteria with his instruction ditty playing on the word “nipple”, while swathes of Germans were engaging in a collective ROFLMAO at the frankly unhilarious antics of comedians Dieter Hallervoorden and Helga Feddersen in their cover of the Grease hit You’re The One That I Want (their hit riffed on the phonetic rendition of the English title, “Du die Wanne ist voll”, which roughly means – be still, chuckling heart – “Hey, the bathtub is full”), and some fuckwit from Hamburg split a nation’s side just by virtue of his moniker, Gottlieb Wendehals (you see, an uncool first name and a surname that means “twist-neck” is as close to Monty Python’s funniest joke ever as you’ll get). And the brothers Blattschuss joined the comedy revolution by singing this song about prolific beer-drinking in the working-class Berlin suburb of Kreuzberg, where the nights apparently are long. It includes a few good puns and a rousing chorus which even the most inebriated joker can sing, which elevates the song above the rest of the mirthless comedy. Obviously I didn’t buy or even like the record. I remember the song chiefly for its performance on the Disco music TV show, during which leadsinger  Jürgen von der Lippe, who’d become a big German TV personality, lit up a cigarette.

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Status Quo – Accident Prone.mp3
For years, the chorus of this mid-tempo number resided in my repertoire of permanent earworms, the songs whose lines I might absent-mindedly sing as I go about buttering my toast, or whatever. The critics didn’t love it – I’ve read that some believed Accident Prone to be the Quo’s nod to disco, but I really can’t hear that at all. It certainly is a Rick Parfitt song though, less boogie than Francis Rossi’s material. The guitar solo is pretty good. I bought the single, as I had bought Again And Again (featured in part 3 of 1978). Then I bought the If You Can’t Stand The Heat album, and never listened to it in its entirety. In fact, of the three Quo LPs I have owned (the live double set, Rocking All Over The World, and …Heat), I don’t think I ever listened to any of them in full.

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Thin Lizzy – Rosalie (live).mp3
Rosalie was my introduction to Thin Lizzy. This version is from the great Live And Dangerous album. Lizzy frontman Phil Lynott was one cool guy. He is so cool when he expresses his appreciation for the audience participation on this live version of the song written by Bob Seger (whose Hollywood Nights might have featured in this series, come to think of it). Of course, towards the end, Lynott was not cool, in the ways heroin addiction is not cool. His death in early 1986 (from pneumonia, not an overdose) was a tragedy; the man had so much more to give. So it’s much better to remember Lynot as the charismatic frontman of a great live band, not a tragic junkie. On that subject, can anyone explain to me why intelligent individuals ignore everything they know about the hyper-addictive dangers of heroin, and try it anyway? Fun trivia fact: heroin got its name from the German pharma-giant Bayer (who in their guise as IG Farben supplied the Nazis with the Zyklon B used in the gas chambers).

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Hot Chocolate – I’ll Put You Together Again.mp3
Man, I loved Hot Chocolate’s disco stuff. Heaven’s In The Backseat Of My Cadillac and You Sexy Thing and all that. I also loved the slower songs, especially So You Win Again and Emma. This was one of those slower songs, and I think I got the single for my 13th birthday, on which my friends and I were allowed to share a bottle of white wine (well, it amounted to a small glass each). Errol Brown’s vocals are fine, but it’s the melody, which I’m sure was inspired by some piece of classical music, that really appealed to me. Brown had had a hand in writing all big Hot Chocolate hits other than this and So You Win Again (written by Russ Ballard). I’ll Put You Together Again was co-written by Geoff Stephens, one of those songwriters whose work is much better known than his name. Among the songs he wrote are The Crying Game, There’s A Kind Of Hush, Winchester Cathedral, Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James, Sorry Suzanne, It’s Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas, The Lights Of Cincinnati, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, and Silver Lady.

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Queen – Mustapha.mp3
My friend Arne was a big Queen fan, and introduced me to more Queen stuff than News Of The World, which I already had. So when Jazz came out, I bought it – and put up the poster of all the naked women on bicycles (or Fat Bottomed Girls on a Bicycle Race) on my wall. And my mother didn’t mind, tolerant woman that she was. Mustapha was the strangest thing I had ever heard in rock. It still is bizarre. Presumably inspired by Freddie Mercury’s experience as Faroukh Bulsara in his birthplace of Zanzibar, it sounds like a Muslim call to prayer which halfway through gets the pomp rock treatment. Muezzin rock, if you like.

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Suzi Quatro – If You Can’t Give Me Love.mp3
I liked Suzi Quatro back in the day. Too Big was my favourite sing of hers. Recently I saw her Top of the Pops performance of Devil Gate Drive, which sparkles with the exuberance and rocking choreography. Suzi Quatro opened doors for chicks with guitars (and I’m using the word in the nicest possible way). So her comeback in 1979 was anticipated. Alas, Suzi had grown pout of rock-chickdom. A few months earlier, she had recorded a duet with Smokie singer and fellow RKA label mate Chris Norman, Stumblin’ In, the contemplation of which makes me feel slightly ill. And yet, I bought the LP, titled If You Knew Suzi… Well,I thought I knew Suzi. High-kicking, guitar-thrashing, super-gurning Suzi. This was housewive Suzi whose Smokie music was going to appeal to our mothers. I couldn’t give her love, and I gave it to somebody else.

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Clout – Save Me.mp3
The South African band featured in 1978 with Substitute (and I’m still looking for the original of that by the Righteous Brothers, as well as for Gloria Gaynor’s take). Save Me was also a cover version of a Merrilee Rush’s 1977 original (she had the first hit version of Angel In The Morning, as recounted in The Originals Vol. 39). Rush’s version was a mid-tempo country-pop affair; Clout turned it into a proper pop song.  Save Me is almost as good as Substitute, which I’d designate as a perfect pop song. By now Clout had lost their gorgeous keyboardist Glenda Hyams, and wasn’t even an all-girl group anymore, with the inclusion of two dudes (who’d later join Johnny Clegg in Juluka). I don’t know what became of the Clout members, other than Cindy Alter, one of the lead singers, who now performs with South African pop veteran Stewart Irving.

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Gerard Kenny – New York New York.mp3
So good they named it twice, sings Mr Kenny as he fellates the Big Apple. I had this on a compilation album (titled Disco Laser, it also included hits by the likes of Leif Garrett, Racey, Supermax and Chic, among a whole lot of people that were never heard of again, such as Wallensten and Snoopy). I rather liked it as a companion piece to Billy Joel’s My Life, a favourite at the time. It really should accompany New York State Of Mind; either way, it belongs in the same genre as Billy Joel (with whom Kenny once was in a band, apparently). Gerard Kenny has been something of a prolific songwriter; his resumé includes Barry Manilow’s I Made it Through The Rain and I Could Be So Good For You by Dennis Waterman (off TV’s Minder). He continues to perform.

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Patrick Hernandez – Born To Be Alive.mp3
This was the anthem of every school disco in the West-Germany of 1979. I wonder if schools in other cities did that stupid aerobic dance: legs together and jumping from one side to the other, if possible in beat to the music. The song, by a French Euro disco singer with a football player’s bubble perm, was absolutely ubiquitous, and there are no words to describe how much I hated it. Just as I hated school discos, with their bad music, cheap crisps and ban on Coca Cola, because somebody decreed it was not good for 13-year-olds, whereas Fanta was. For that reason Born To Be Alive does not conjure cheerful memories, but today I can acknowledge just how good a Euro-disco song it is. Hernandez later gave the young Madonna her first break as a dancer.

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Dschinghis Khan – Dschinghis Khan.mp3
Germans have earned themselves a reputation of having slowly developed an awareness of and sensitivity to their country’s terrible history in relation to the Holocaust; the noble project of Vergangenheitsbewältigung (and bless the German language for its compound words). In 1979, all good intentions notwithstanding, West-Germany was not quite there yet. The country’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest that year was a rousing ensemble number extolling the masculine virility of the Mongol warrior Genghis Khan, whose name the performing group adopted for good measure. All that might have seemed like a good idea at the time, except that the host city of the contest was Jerusalem. It does not send a message of Vergangenheitsbewältigungsbestätigung when Germany sends its minstrels to Israel to sing about a genocidal megalomaniac. The Austrian entry was much more sensitive with the title “Today in Jerusalem” (presumably not a protest song about the condition of Palestinans in that city).

In the event, the German entry placed fourth (ahead of Britain’s Black Lace, who took revenge a few years later with the appalling Agadoo), while Israel defended their title with Milk & Honey’s melodious and very annoying Hallelujah, a song a visitor to Israel cannot avoid hearing even three decades later.

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Frank Mills – Music Box Dancer.mp3
I think it’s fair to say that I bought some pretty decent singles when I was 13, though that will reveal itself only in parts 2 and 3. And amid all those cool records, I bought this, a record which Richard Clayderman must have condemned as too soft. I have no interest in hearing his cover version (of course he recorded one!), but by comparison it probably rocks hard. It has to. Musicx Box Dancer has as pretty melody, admittedly, and as such is a very dangerous earworm. It’s no accident that ice cream vans around the world are playing the tune. It’s not surprising then to learn that one town has declared ice cream van music illegal. Oh yes, if you signal the availability of soft-serve in Stafford, New Jersey, you’ll go down, man. “At no time shall a vendor be permitted to use a sound device, mechanical bell, mechanical music, mechanical noise, speakers, amplifiers or any other similar type of sound device,” The Man has ordained. You may use a bicycle bell, however. Can you play Music Box Dancer on a bicycle bell?

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George Harrison – Blow Away.mp3
As mentioned in the intro, in May 1979 the medical scheme packed me and a few dozen other kids from across West-Germany off to a cure in Bavaria. On the train journey there, we encountered a pederast who liked to suck the feet of pubescent boys (not mine, I’m relieved to report). In Bavaria I met for the first time a person named Adolf, our bus driver on excursions, though he tried to disguise his unfortunate name by inviting us to call him Dolf. He was a nice guy, so we didn’t even make jokes about him. The small town where we stayed, with the satisfying name Pfronten, had a small record shop. One day we were passing it when our group, probably headed for another bloody uphill hike through Bavarian forest, paused for a few minutes. I quickly jumped into the shop to see what was new. And what was new was George Harrison’s new single, which I bought unheard. Happily George’s bubble perm did not deter me, for Blow Away is a great song; indeed, it’s my favourite solo song by Harrison, with a great sing-along chorus.

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More Stepping Back

Step back to 1974 – Part 2

December 4th, 2009 6 comments

And here is the second part of my recollections of 1974, the year I turned 8. As always, I’m at pains to emphasise that I am not endorsing all songs featured — they are here by virtue of their power to transport me back to the year, like a smell or a taste or the shade of a particular colour might. Read more…