Brisbane boys, briefly

It is our national day, here in Australia. Imaginatively called “Australia Day”, 26 January is the anniversary of the proclamation of a British penal colony, New South Wales, in 1788. The date is becoming increasingly contested. Indigenous people resent it, calling it “Invasion Day”. There are more prosaic reasons for wanting a change. Australia is a federation of states, of which NSW (though the oldest, largest, richest and most powerful) is only one. The presumption “NSW = Australia” is simple common sense in NSW but it annoys the rest of us mightily.

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All class, Australia Day is. Image: Adelaide Now

So, the date is becoming a battle in the culture wars. The odd thing is that until twenty years ago, no one really cared much about Australia Day. It was a a public holiday like Labour Day and the Queen’s Birthday: a welcome day off, but otherwise something about which people knew little and cared less.

Me, I am not big on flag-waving. I love my country, but my country drives me mad. I am a proud Australian, but often Australia makes me sick with shame. I imagine that this is pretty much how every thinking person feels about their homeland. Still, it seems appropriate to mark Australia Day with something Australian. Well, kinda Australian.

The brothers Barry, Robin, and Maurice Gibb were born on the Isle of Man. In the late 1950s, the family migrated to Australia. It was in Brisbane that the brothers Gibb began performing as the Bee Gees, and it was here that they had their first hit, “Spicks and Specks”, in 1966.

The Gibb boys are best remembered for their 1970s disco period, but they were more of a soft rock band before then. And they were good, they really were. Lovely tight harmonies, excellent song-crafting, polished arrangements. The lyrics, not so strong. But still, this disc from their pre-disco era stands up well. “Mr. Natural” didn’t chart anywhere much except Australia, and this track, the B-side, never even made it onto an album – but it is a good pop song.

Okay, let’s face facts. In 1967, which is to say as soon as they possibly could, the Bee Gees returned to the UK. But for a decade or so, these Manx-born Britons who went on to become one of the most successful pop bands in recording history, lived in suburban Brisbane. Does this make them Australian? As Australian as many other things we claim in these parts. It doesn’t matter much to me.

  • Artist: Bee Gees
  • A Side: Mr. Natural
  • B Side: It Doesn’t Matter Much To Me
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Spin
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: K-5492
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Dancing on the wall

It was a year of miracles, 1989. The Iron Curtain which had divided Europe for 40 years, which seemed as permanent and indestructible as the pyramids, was swept aside. Communist regimes, ruthless police states all, collapsed like portable picnic tables hit by a car. And the most amazing thing? Scarcely a shot was fired. People were just fed up, and they gathered in town squares and demanded that the revolting, corrupt apparatchiks of the Communist government surrender power. And they did! People were dancing on top of the Berlin Wall! It was smoother in some places than others – there was real bloodshed in Romania. But it seemed a new dawn, a chance for the world to become a better place.

Oh, and there was Bros. A pair of pretty boys. In the classic English style, they had a hint of breaking both ways. They put out records, and were hugely successful.

I confess: it is a little hard for me to understand why. Having been around in the 1980s, I can take polished hi-gloss dance-orientated synth-pop, or I can leave it. To my ear, Bros is a kind of vanilla-flavoured Michael Jackson. But Planet Vinyl is a broad church. It is always a good thing that people make music, and Bros do what they do well. This is “Astrologically,” the B side of one of their many top ten singles. Profound it ain’t; danceable it is.

No idea if the people dancing on the Berlin Wall had Bros on the boombox, but it is perfectly possible. In a strange way, that is the point. People should be able to dance to whatever music they like – that is freedom.

  • Artist: Bros
  • A Side: Too Much
  • B Side: Astrologically
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: CBS
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: 654647 7
  • Year: 1989

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

Hardrock and Coco and Joe

Gene Autry, the first of the great singin’ cowboys of American popular culture, was also a dab hand at a Christmas tune. His biggest ever success was one: “Here Comes Santa Claus”.

3064This is another, now pretty much forgotten, but a huge hit in its day. Released in 1951, “Thirty-two Feet – Eight Little Tails” was backed with “Three Little Dwarfs”. It was something like a two-song concept album, riffing on the theme of Santa’s sleigh. The numbered feet and tails refer to the reindeer doing the pulling, but my fave is the B side, in which we learn about three extra passengers in le traîneau magique du Père Noël. The song is as fluffy as an reindeer’s tail, but it is good, harmless fun.

Happy Christmas to my fellow Christians. Happy holidays to those of different faiths, and the agnostic and atheist too. We all have our place, here on Planet Vinyl. Regardless of belief, can I share the old Christmas prayer? “Peace on Earth, and goodwill to all”. Man, do we need that right now?

  • Artist: Gene Autry with Carl Cotner and his Orchestra and Chorus,
  • A side: Thirty-Two Feet – Eight Little Tails
  • B side: The Three Little Dwarfs
  • Format: 10”, 78 rpm, shellac, mono
  • Label: Columbia
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: DO-3509
  • Year: 1951

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

Reckless driving

Boy bands are the mayflies of pop music. More even than most in an ephemeral industry, time’s swift chariot presses close behind. Today, the object of the passionate love of a million teenage girls; tomorrow, the subject of universal derision.

Sometimes, a lad of strong character gets through it all, reinvents himself. Paul Anka, George Michael, (in my part of the world) John Farnham: but they are scarred survivors of an army which loses most along the march.

BayCityRollers1976RobBogaerts

Exhibit A: The Bay City Rollers. They started in Scotland the late 1960s as a Beatles cover band. In the hands of an unscrupulous manager, Tam Paton, they were raised to stardom, absolute lord-of-all-I-survey stardom. Then came the pop music career arc known as “Icarus”.

After peaking in 1975, with UK and US number one hits … well, the Virgin Encyclopedia of Popular Music takes up the story:

Disaster was heaped upon disaster. [Singer, Les] McKeown was charged with reckless driving after hitting and killing a 75-year-old widow, [guitarist] Eric Faulkner and [bassist] Alan Longmuir attempted suicide. Paton was jailed for committing indecent acts with underage teenagers.

Another member starred in a porn movie, another died from AIDS. You get the picture.

As is usual on Planet Vinyl, we will ignore the hits. “Money, Honey” was top ten in much of the world in 1975. Hard to see why, in retrospect – the Rollers here try to rock out, which ain’t their strength. The B-side is a lightweight love song, one of those “choose a woman’s name, add passion, stir” pop numbers. But they play and sing well, and the arrangement is skillful. They sound a bit like the Beatles cover band they started out as and which, in truth, they might have been happier and healthier staying. Money, honey, isn’t everything.

  • Artist: Bay City Rollers
  • A Side: Money Honey
  • B Side: Maryanne
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl
  • Label: Bell
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: BELL-10986
  • Year: 1975

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

Vaguely about the end of a relationship

The lecturer held up an LP cover. It was Supertramp’s 1975 album, Crisis? What crisis?. The sleeve pictures a man reclining with a drink under a beach umbrella, but instead of a beach he is set against a bleak factoryscape, a nightmare of grey industry spewing pollution. What, the lecturer wondered, does this mean, exactly? Does it, in truth, mean anything? He was not dismissive, not scornful, just raised the question: is this, maybe, a problem?

Supertramp_-_Crisis

Image via Wikimedia

This all happened longer ago than I care to tell, in my first year at university. The lecturer’s name was Jack Clancy. He was a pioneer in the study of communication in Australia. He was also a lovely man: I came to know him slightly, and remain friends with his son, Rob. Sadly, Jack Clancy departed this life a couple of years ago.

But Jack’s question has stayed with me. Does it matter if communication may, or may not, mean anything? I was an earnest literalist back then. Too earnest all round, actually. But I have mellowed and relaxed with time. I have no problem now with stuff which might not mean very much. Art which is ambiguous demands that the audience bring its own meaning. That requires searching your heart, which is never a bad thing.

This reminiscing came because the Planet Vinyl shuttle has landed on a Supertramp single, “It’s Raining Again”. This was released in 1982, and I remember it from the radio – indeed, anyone who was a teen at the time will know it, as it was a top ten hit almost everywhere.

Frequent visitors to the Vinyl Planet will know that usually we favour the rarity, the B-side, the obscure. In this case, though, we are going with the hit. Reason being? The B side, “Bonnie”, is a love song addressed to a girl of that name. Planet Vinyl is a broad church, but it is fair to say that “Bonnie” is a lyrical clunker:

Yes I got my fortune read
And here´s what the gypsy said
That we´ll live and love and share eternity

That, and rhyming “please be nice” with “paradise”, and “golden skies”?  Nup.

However the A-side stands up well as pop song. No, it isn’t really clear what is means. Vaguely about the end of a relationship, but you can kinda read it how you want to, and the music is great: lovely sax and electric piano.

Sending this out to the late Jack Clancy. Scholar, thinker, teacher, footballer and fine man. Thanks for your teaching.

  • Artist: Supertramp
  • A Side: It’s Raining Again
  • B Side: Bonnie
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: A&M
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: K 8910
  • Year: 1982

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

 

 

You can honk your own horn!

Guest post by “Green Strobe”

“Excuse Me” is the final track on Alison MacCallum’s album of the same name, which turned out to be her last. A powerfully-voiced Australian blues/rock/soul singer, she released a couple of well-regarded albums, but is best remembered nowadays as the vocalist of the successful “It’s Time” jingle which emotively helped Gough Whitlam to victory in the 1972 Australian federal election.

whitlam_131011_getty

“It’s Time” was one of the great jingles. The T-shirts, not so much. Image via SBS

The single was issued in 1974, and the album in 1975. The single and its B-side are a pair of opposites – one an expression of love, the other a diatribe about a failed relationship.

0622 b“Excuse Me” is a lush number arranged in the mid-1970s manner, telling us how much she misses her other half. It’s rather unfair to say so, as the song predates Sherbet’s, but during the orchestral build-ups you may half-expect her to start singing “how-ow-ow howzat!”.

The B-side, “Honk” was not included on the album, making the single that much more attractive. And it’s pretty racy! A song of scorn directed at an ex-lover, the double entendre is not exactly subtle (it is on the Albert label) – “you can honk your own horn!”.

Rather explicit for the time, it takes a swing at male sexual gratification, mixing metaphors along the way (moving to sweets and gluttony, instead of maintaining the theme of lust and automotive and/or musical horn-blowing). It’s more of an upbeat tune, and brings to mind the angry feminism of the time – until you realise it was written by men! Pop svengali Simon Napier-Bell arranged, produced and (with Antonio Morales) wrote both sides. Nothing is ever what it seems…

  • Artist: Alison MacCallum
  • A Side: Excuse Me
  • B Side: Honk Honk
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm, vinyl, stereo
  • Label: Albert
  • Made in: Australia
  • Catalogue: AP-10476
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs

 

‘Obscure English singer-songwriter’

It says in the Bible:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

That is the King James translation, at any rate. If you want to get all-1970s and groovy, there is the Message version:

I took another walk around the neighbourhood and realized that on this earth as it is— The race is not always to the swift, Nor the battle to the strong, Nor satisfaction to the wise, Nor riches to the smart, Nor grace to the learned. Sooner or later bad luck hits us all.

Hmm. Not perhaps the finest moment in the Message. Anyway, you get the point. Life ain’t always fair. Sometimes, people do something wonderful, and get no recognition.

Leno BCase in point. In 1974, Sam Leno released his one and only LP. It was on Anchor Records – not a major label, but home to Alice Cooper among others, so big enough. I am a researcher by trade, so to find out more about Leno did not seem like a challenge. Mainstream release, mid-1970s: should be easy. But no. The sole reference I can find to Sam was written four decades later – in a piece mostly about someone else.

John Apice, in the roots music journal No Depression, compares a contemporary artist, Comrad, to “an obscure English singer-songwriter named Sam Leno”, who:

had one wonderful album called “Ordinary Man,” … these two artists are on the same wave-length, kindred spirits, soul-brothers. … It’s a rich, ignored musical style … Tin Pan Alley, pop songs of the 1920s and dance hall frivolity … Leno’s album was filled with these kinds of light, well-recorded, fun to sing melodies … Comrad is not imitating Sam Leno. How could he? I doubt Comrad ever heard of Sam Leno.

Neither had I, but Apice is apt in his description and justified in his appreciation. This is the B-side of one of Leno’s handful of singles. It is a gem. It deserved to succeed, but didn’t. No further albums followed, and I don’t know what happened to Leno. The race is not always to the swift.

  • Artist: Sam Leno
  • Single Title: Oh, Joanna
  • Track: B-side, “You Know What I Mean”
  • Format: 7”, 45 rpm
  • Label: Anchor
  • Catalogue: ANC-10646
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: 1974

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs