PROLOGUE TO HISTORY 1971 – 1976
Personal histories are a ragbag of memories, secrets and well-worn tales subject to myth-making. Our memories are fallible things. Reminiscing and wrestling with the past, you regularly encounter problems trying to recall how things were, pinning them down to certain dates and then putting them in order with the detail intact; the first person you kissed; what the field looked like before the new housing estate was built; the name of the cool seventeen year old in your year at school killed on his motorbike.
In the deep waters of our memory, it’s not so much a case of pinpointing a specific event, as trawling through murky impressions. But if there’s one thing I’m certain of, it’s that the Sex Pistols changed my life. From the moment I saw them on 29th June 1976, the stifling tradition of my past turned to dust in favour of the new, the different and the reactionary. It wasn’t a pose. It wasn’t bullshit punk rhetoric. In my year zero everything really did have to go, the records I’d been listening to sold off not because they were worthless, but because they were no longer relevant. But as the years have rolled by, the more I’ve come to appreciate how the soundtrack of my adolescence prepared me for that life changing night at the 100 Club, and that in truth, my musical rite of passage began five years before.
It’s a fact that anyone who’s going to develop a love affair with music does so by the age of ten or eleven, twelve at the latest. In January 1971 I had just turned eleven so I was ripe for the picking. Preoccupied with footie up the park, adventuring in the woods and fields surrounding the cosy suburban sprawl I was born and raised in, and getting through life in a new grammar school ten miles away, I had never been interested in pop before. Alienated from the secondary modern kids I’d grown up with, the innocent pursuits of my childhood had been replaced by the adolescent boy’s natural obsession with girls and music.
Perhaps my memory has been tainted by the fact that the few photos I have are mainly black and white, but in 1971 everyday really was like Sunday, more specifically every wet, mid-November, Sunday afternoon between the hours of three and five. In an era of flared fashion, greasy long hair, school caps, corporal punishment, trolley buses, camping holidays, outside toilets, Sunday School, roast beef, pink blancmange, Green Shield Stamps, Spot The Ball, Till Death Us Do Part, The Black and White Minstrels, polyester carpets, my Auntie Joan’s council flat and Saturday afternoon wrestling by fat blokes in pants, pop hinted at a world of colour beyond such monochrome mundanity. How I got there was more problematic.
Barely out of shorts, my meagre pocket money was enough for a copy of Shoot magazine and a handful of Bazooka Joe bubble gum, but not nearly enough to buy a seven inch single, much less an album. Instead, my first shaky steps on the road to pop nirvana came not from the original records, but from Music For Pleasure’s budget Hot Hits LP’s and their dodgy, oompah loompah cover versions of the top twenty. Optimistic and innocent, gloopy and sentimental, with oceans of easy listening, catchy pop reggae, maudlin ballads, novelty songs and the occasional rock hit, they were a fabulous introduction to pop and perfect for miming along to with my homemade, hardboard guitar. But even at my tender age, I knew there had to be something else, something more.
Amongst all the novelty schlock and dreck I was losing myself in shone a deceptively elemental tune that opened the wardrobe door and slipped me into Narnia. Explicitly teen orientated, T. Rex’s ‘Get It On’ bought glam sharply into focus and kept me going back for more, the satin and tat, corkscrew curls and pure pop androgyny of Marc Bolan speaking in an entirely different language to the holiday camp singalongs I’d been listening to.
If Bolan was my first pop crush, his brilliant teen anthems the first records funded by a succession of grotty, part time jobs I endured to feed my new addiction, on 6th July 1972, David Bowie sashayed onto Top Of The Pops, casually draped an arm around Mick Ronson and caused a seismic shift in my understanding of pop culture. For those who witnessed his appearance that night, the new world we were shown in those three and a half minutes violated every moral and social boundary, cliché and value we had been programmed with since birth.
Irreverent glamour verging on the sacrilegious, it was dark, dangerous and transformative. For me and the thousands like me, music would never be the same again. It may have been dystopian, confusing and vaguely disconcerting, but when you’re a callow twelve year old you take your cultural salvation in any shape it comes. Feeling useless, unworthy and out of place in a small minded, smalltown suburb, Bowie sowed the seed of discontent that gave me permission to accept myself and discover a sense of identity that had nothing to do with a controlling mother, despot teachers, hypocritical priests or their God. The future had finally arrived!
Greedy for knowledge, I began listening to anything I could beg, borrow or steal from the handful of similarly disaffected strays and stragglers I hung around with. That way I got to hear a whole bunch of rock, pop, reggae and soul I might never have heard otherwise. With an obsessive fandom forged in the white heat of adolescence, the colour, sex and rebellion of those records influenced everything from my feathered haircut to my stack heeled shoes, but more than that, they provided a safe haven from the ravages of boredom, the shadowy nemesis of every teenager.
The only place to buy records was Reading town centre, which apart from the concrete monolith of The Butts Shopping Centre, still looked pretty much like it had in the fifties. Anthracite and grey, the town’s industrial heart of the Courage Brewery and Huntley & Palmers vast biscuit factory belched smoke and stench, producing a fog that gave a surreal, ghostly sheen to buildings and citizens alike. We spent our Saturdays seeking out girls to impress, insulting rival school gangs and making a cappuccino and cheeseburger last two hours in The Rafina café before getting down to business in old fashioned music shops like Rumbelows and Hickies where, informed by our weekly dose of the NME, we would stand in a sound proof listening booth to hear as many new releases as the miserable, middle aged assistants would allow. Sirrell’s Secondhand shop along the Oxford Road was another, arguably more important, stopping off point where precious, long deleted gems like The Doors Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine and The Velvets White Light/White Heat awaited discovery beneath piles of discarded Rick Wakeman and Gilbert O’Sullivan albums.
Curiously, despite living in a town famous for its annual music festival, without a decent venue to call its own there was no chance of seeing any of our favourites live, and at thirteen or fourteen, travelling to London always seemed like one adventure too far. The only groups we got to see were local, teenage hard rockers with names like Silver Fox or T.N.T. No more than human jukeboxes, their only purpose was to match the sound of the original records, which goes some way to explaining the dearth of musical ambition and artistic self-belief in the mid-seventies. Nonetheless, it didn’t take too much persuading for me to join one such outfit just starting out.
When a trio of nerdy fourth formers asked me to drum in their band, I faced something of a dilemma. Discarding my ridiculous, self-defined notion of cool wasn’t a problem, nor was the small matter of never having drummed in my life, but their excretable taste was. So I set to work by renaming them Midnight Creeper and drafting in my Rod Stewart lookalike mate to sing before weaning them off their rotten Beatles set list to incorporate the likes of Bowies ‘Panic In Detroit’, The Stones ‘Rip This Joint’, Motts ‘Whizz Kid’, Lou Reeds ‘Hangin’ Round’ and Alex Harvey’s ‘Faith Healer’. Rehearsing religiously three times a week, we wrote a few songs and played a few sparsely attended shows in out of the way village halls. At fourteen years old it was a brilliant grounding in the mechanics of being in a group, and yet despite our endeavours providing a sense of purpose, we had no real belief that we had it in us to be any good.
The distraction of playing and listening to music certainly helped keep the thought of being an adult and accepting responsibility at bay, but by 1975 that terrifying prospect could no longer be avoided. In what turned out to be a turbulent twelve months of O Levels, fighting off my mother’s strict dogmas of religion, class and respect for authority and being packed off to be ‘fixed’ by a man in a white coat, it finally dawned on me that I didn’t have to impale myself on her burden of expectation. Given how love was in such short supply in our house anyway, and the apathy that greeted my hugely successful exam results, I took the only form of resistance left open to me and started bunking off school, everyday, all day.
Caught in the wasteland between adolescence and impending adulthood, I dreamt only of escape. Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait long before the housemaster very politely asked me to leave. Just a week before Christmas on the last day of the autumn term, I felt a little disappointed, expecting some sort of emotional charge or sense of significance at moving on, but there was none. Two weeks later on the 2nd January 1976, having finally reached the required school leaving age of sixteen, I signed on the dole for £9 a week. With a secondhand 50cc Yamaha FS1E to get me around and my first regular girlfriend in tow, I was freer than I’d ever been.
A raggedy blonde with hazel eyes, I understand now how I’ve built Natalie up to be someone she almost certainly never was, but over the winter and spring of 1975/76, our infatuation was so absolute that we embarked on a thrilling, typically smalltown rite of passage that was so intense and at times so reckless even now I shudder to think of the possible consequences. Pushing our limits physically while unconsciously seeking some kind of truth and meaning to cling onto, we seized the day in our crazy, chaotic lust for life.
With her by my side I felt like I could take on the world, so when she left me for the local bad boy loser and his Ford Capri, I was completely lost, aware that an important chapter in my life had ended but with no idea of when the next would start. How ironic then that a little over a month later I would find exactly what we’d both been looking for? Possessed by burning youth, as old friends disappeared to become estate agents, insurance salesman, brick layers, shop assistants and teenage mothers, Johnny Rotten lifted the lid on a brave new world that empowered me to cast off the shackles of my past, venture forth and build a future of my own.
ASHTON, GARDNER & DYKE ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ (Single A Side January 1971)
The first record I called my own was Hot Hits 4, picked out from a revolving rack at my local Martin’s newsagent. Featuring twelve iffy versions of recent chart hits, to a naive eleven year old yet to hear the originals, songs like ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Chestnut Mare’ and ‘Right Wheel, Left Hammer, Sham’ sounded fantastic, but best of all was the foot stompin’ ‘Resurrection Shuffle’.
Also: C.C.S. ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (Single A Side September 1970)
ERIC DONALDSON ‘Cherry Oh Baby’ (Single A Side May 1971)
Sue had lived two doors down my entire life. As young as we were, we had stories to tell and memories to share. A year older, she had graduated to late sixties/early seventies pop reggae hits and misses by the likes of Desmond Dekker, Johnny Nash, Jimmy Cliff, Dandy Livingstone, Dave & Ansil Collins, Bob & Marcia, and my own favourite, Eric Donaldson’s ‘Cherry Oh Baby’.
Also: DAVE & ANSIL COLLINS ‘Double Barrel’ (Single A Side March 1971)
JOHN KONGOS ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ (Single A Side May 1971)
In the first half of 1971 I went through a hugely transformative stage of learning in my pop development, moving from ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ and hummable dross like ‘Me And You And A Dog Named Boo’ to a different kind of pop thrill in a matter of months. ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’ was a major step forward, a thundering, insanely tribal classic made by a long haired, South African, Jesus freak.
Also: THE EQUALS ‘Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys’ (Single A Side November 1970)
T. REX ‘Get It On’ (Single A Side July 1971)
What an amazing thing to line up at the start of puberty with the glam of Bolan, Bowie, Roxy, Mott The Hoople and a multitude of others as the party tape playing in your head. Arriving at a time when pop was in desperate need of something new to galvanise a generation who didn’t know or care about The Beatles or the crooked myths of the sixties, glam screamed if you’ve got it flaunt it and if you haven’t got it cover yourself in stardust and fake it. Blessed with a distinctive talent for twisting a couple of basic chords into pop magic, Marc Bolan was at its core from the beginning, banging out an irresistible new single every couple of months for the hordes of pubescent kids awaiting their own teenage dream.
Also: T. REX ‘Children Of The Revolution’ (Single A Side September 1972)
DAVID BOWIE ‘Lady Stardust’ (The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars LP June 1972)
When I look at my iPod or Spotify playlists I know that without The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars they would look so different and so much worse. The first thing you could call art I consumed in its entirety, while it changes all the time, and anything from Hunky Dory, Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs or Station To Station would serve equally as well, there’s something about ‘Lady Stardust’ - a solitary, piano led moment of relative calm that kicks off Side Two on possibly the most influential album of them all - that hit the spot in 1972 and continues to do so; my own secret Bowie tune.
Also: DAVID BOWIE ‘Time’ (Aladdin Sane LP April 1973)
MOTT THE HOOPLE ‘All The Young Dudes’ (Single A Side July 1972)
On the verge of calling it quits after years as the archetypal, British failure suffering shows in provincial ballrooms, shitty B&B’s and service station fry ups, Mott The Hoople were saved by Bowie’s gift of ‘All The Young Dudes’, a song that has come to encapsulate my generation almost as much as ‘God Save The Queen’. The greatest hymn to glam there is, not only did it change Mott by launching them on the road to stardom, it changed me too.
Also: MOTT THE HOOPLE ‘Roll Away The Stone’ (Single A Side November 1973)
GARY GLITTER ‘I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Til’ I Saw You Rock’n’Roll)’ (Single A Side September 1972)
Now he’s personae non grata in extremis, but there was a time when Gary Glitter really was the leader of the pack. Simple, flash and wrapped in Bacofoil, the strange, stupid genius of his early seventies glam stomps not only resurrected the hit single, they injected some much needed fun into the pop mainstream.
Also: THE GLITTER BAND ‘Rock On’ (Hey! LP September 1974)
LOU REED ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ (Transformer LP November 1972)
If Ziggy Stardust was your role model, you should never think anything is abnormal or weird. And yet, released just a few months later, the wonderfully sleazy, dark cabaret of ‘Walk On The Wild Side’ sounded completely out of sync with just about everything else around. Not quite a teenager, I knew nothing of Andy Warhol or Factory stars Holly Woodlawn, Candy Darling, Jackie Curtis and Joe Dallesandro, but the poetry of Lou Reed and Transformer painted a picture of the New York netherworld that was so exotic and so enticing I had no choice but to find out more.
Also: LOU REED ‘White Light/White Heat’ (Rock’n’Roll Animal LP February 1974)
SWEET ‘Blockbuster’ (Single A Side January 1973)
Not everyone could be as talented as Bowie, Lou Reed or Bryan Ferry, but even when the production line chancers moved in to serve up groups like The Sweet, the music and images remained hugely exciting. In 1973, I was still so fabulously young and naïve that I believed the frenzied, cartoon rush of their Chinn and Chapman penned singles to be the greatest pop noise ever.
Also: SWEET ‘Teenage Rampage’ (Single A Side January 1974)
ROXY MUSIC ‘Pyjamarama’ (Single A Side February 1973)
Over forty five years later it’s impossible to understand just how futuristic and fantastical Roxy Music were. Rock was a drab, dreary affair, but looking and sounding like an unashamedly post-modern, retro sci-fi version of the future, Roxy were clearly very different. The hanging chord intro to ‘Pyjamarama’ and a Top of the Pop’s appearance was all it took to get me hooked before For Your Pleasure became the first album I bought with my own money, a landmark moment I literally couldn't afford to get wrong.
Also: ROXY MUSIC ‘Beauty Queen’ (For Your Pleasure LP March 1973)
ALICE COOPER ‘Generation Landslide’ (Billion Dollar Babies LP February 1973)
It’s easy to forget Alice Cooper’s impact as a group of authentic rockers straight out of Detroit as opposed to a reformed, pantomime villain swinging his clubs with the stars. Too young to notice ‘I’m Eighteen’ and nonplussed by ‘Schools Out’, there was no avoiding Billion Dollar Babies. Brilliantly packaged as a bright green, snakeskin wallet, songs like ‘Hello Hurray’, ‘Elected’, ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’ and ‘Generation Landslide’ mirrored the dream of decadence, outrage and rebellion I was craving.
Also: ALICE COOPER ‘Teenage Lament 74’ (Single A Side January 1974)
THE FACES ‘Borstal Boys’ (Ooh La La LP March 1973)
Rod Stewart and The Faces loomed large in the first years of my teenage, my best mucker inheriting the early albums from his older sister when she left home. To his eyes and ears the mildly irritating Rodney was as cool as they come. In fact, while my hair followed the unruly, DIY, Keith Richards model, he spent a fortune on his carefully coiffured homage to the lead Faces thatch. He also played the records a lot, so much so that I can still remember the words to every song.
Also: ROD STEWART ‘Lost Paraguayos’ (Sing It Again Rod LP August 1973)
IGGY & THE STOOGES ‘Gimme Danger’ (Raw Power LP March 1973)
I liked Iggy more for the way he looked on the massive poster in my bedroom than his music, Raw Power just another album to buy on Bowie’s recommendation. The nihilistic appeal of ‘Search And Destroy’ and the title tracks ‘dance to the beat of the living dead’ weren’t immediately obvious to a thirteen year old still debating the relative merits of Lou Reed, Roxy Music and The Sweet, but I couldn’t resist the seductive sleaze of ‘Gimme Danger’, the title alone the epitome of teenage intent.
Also: THE DICTATORS ‘Two Tub Man’ (Go Girl Crazy! LP March 1975)
THE WAILERS ‘Kinky Reggae’ (Catch A Fire LP April 1973)
It’s weird to think that within the microcosm of my white, rock orientated world I would ever get to hear Bob Marley, much less see him, but on 1st May 1973, The Old Grey Whistle Test aired The Wailers playing ‘Concrete Jungle’ and ‘Stir It Up’ from their first major label LP Catch A Fire. The following Saturday I went out and bought a copy in its nifty, flip top Zippo sleeve, my first taste of the duppy conqueror and roots reggae.
Also: THE WAILERS ‘Get Up Stand Up’ (Burnin’ LP November 1973)
SLY & THE FAMILY STONE ‘If You Want Me To Stay’ (Fresh LP June 1973)
STEVIE WONDER ‘Higher Ground’ (Innervisions LP August 1973)
WAR ‘Me And Baby Brother’ (Deliver The Word LP August 1973)
While individually we had our own favourites, my handful of friends tended to share the same likes and dislikes. That is until latecomer Gary appeared in our midst. An unimposing, lanky, streak of piss from the inner city rather than the suburbs, his specialist subject was funk and soul. To us Neanderthal, white boy rockers that meant the Chi-lites or Stylistics hamming it up in their shiny, satin suits on Top Of The Pops, so his liking for such stuff was the source of much amusement and confusion.
During our weekly ritual of swapping albums, Gary would stand to one side bemoaning the fact that no-one wanted to borrow his coveted vinyl until one week, underwhelmed by the option of Wings Red Rose Speedway or Van Morrison’s Hard Nose The Highway, I borrowed Fresh, Innervisions and Deliver The World and was immediately intoxicated by some of the most perfectly crafted, radical and galvanizing music I’d experienced thus far on my rocky rite of passage.
Also: CURTIS MAYFIELD ‘If I Were A Child Again’(Back To The World LP June 1973), THE TEMPTATIONS ‘Law Of The Land’ (Single A Side August 1973), ISLEY BROTHERS ‘Sunshine (Go Away Today)’ (3 + 3 LP August 1973)
DAVID ESSEX ‘Rock On’ (Single A Side August 1973)
His appearances in That’ll Be The Day and Stardust and the dark, percussive dub of ‘Rock On’ suggested that David Essex was a major talent wasted because the screen and music businesses could only think of him as a pretty boy. Sometimes good looks can be a curse as well as a blessing. His late period 19th century gypsy attire certainly was, a questionable fashion statement we gleefully adopted to aggravate the local yokels.
Also: SUZI QUATRO ‘Devil Gate Drive’ (Single A Side February 1974)
HAWKWIND ‘Urban Guerrilla’ (Single A Side August 1973)
Catchy and subversive, ‘Urban Guerrilla’ was the ‘Anarchy In The UK’ of 1973. Suffering the unfortunate synchronicity of being released during a period of sustained IRA violence and bombings, it was rapidly withdrawn but not before I found it in a Boot’s bargain bin. A thunderous sonic squall of noise, it was my first peek into the warped mind of vocalist Robert Calvert with scarcely a whiff of Hawkwind’s patchouli soaked ancestry.
Also: ROBERT CALVERT ‘The Aerospaceage Inferno’ (Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters LP May 1974)
NEW YORK DOLLS ‘Jet Boy’ (New York Dolls LP August 1973)
Less obviously arty than The Velvets, and with more conventional, genuinely great songs than The Stooges, The Dolls were a strictly no frills, sexually ambiguous bunch of New York misfits living out their own debauched version of the rock’n’roll dream. In many ways the perfect next step for a mixed up kid schooled by Bowie, the sleeve of their debut LP alone caused my mother to seriously doubt my mental state!
Also: THE TUBES ‘White Punks On Dope’ (The Tubes LP June 1975)
ROLLING STONES ‘Dancing With Mr D’ (Goats Head Soup LP September 1973)
Bowie aside, The Stones were the one constant in my youth; from Sticky Fingers in its real zip sleeve being passed around the class and Goat’s Head Soup - the first Stones LP I bought with my own money - to the blowouts, blowjobs and break up’s soundtracked by Black and Blue at a time when we were playing out our boys own, rock’n’roll fantasy for all it was worth. Hell, we even dressed in our mothers fake furs and had our own Anita Pallenberg and Marianne Faithfull in tow, 15-year-old versions naturally! Oh how I miss those times when we were defined by our own records, when our music was ours alone and no-one gave a fuck about The Stones except us.
Also: ROLLING STONES ‘Memory Motel’ (Black And Blue LP April 1976)
BRYAN FERRY ‘These Foolish Things’ (These Foolish Things LP October 1973)
Oddly, it was probably because of my staunch, socialist upbringing that I was so captivated by Bryan Ferry’s fantasy of aristocratic high jinx, one in which I played the bright young aristo upstairs despite knowing for a fact that my ancestors had been the spotty footmen and buxom housemaids downstairs. The son of a farm labourer, Brian Ferry had that same feeling except he managed to turn his dream into reality. I had to make do with Brideshead Revisited.
Also: GARY SHEARSTON ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You’ (Single A Side September 1974)
THE SENSATIONAL ALEX HARVEY BAND ‘Next’ (Next LP November 1973)
Deep down, I always knew that I didn’t come from the safe, provincial world of tea and cakes, mowed lawns and Hi-De-Hi niceness my parents created. But it was only when I spotted Alex Harvey on The Old Grey Whistle Test in a soiled hooped shirt and tail coat singing a Jacque Brel song about army brothels, queer lieutenants and gonorrhea that I knew for certain my roots must have come from somewhere older, darker and riper.
Also: HEAVY METAL KIDS ‘Hey Little Girl’ (Single B Side May 1976)
VELVET UNDERGROUND ‘White Light/White Heat’ (1969 LP April 1974)
In the spring of 1974, I came across two records definable only in their opposition to the status quo of glam hand me downs, dreary rock and virtuoso prog. The Doors Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine compilation and The Velvet Underground’s1969 just didn’t fit, which in 1974 was unusual in itself. The pictures Jim Morrison painted with his words made me want to write. The Velvets made me want to take up the drums and join a band. If Mo Tucker could do it so could I, although in the end I found out that actually I couldn’t. A sublime, shambling racket of Lou Reed standards played to what sounds like ten reluctant bystanders in a pub, it remains the most informative introduction to the Velvets there is, and the greatest live recording of all time.
Also: THE DOORS ‘Riders On The Storm’ (Weird Scenes Inside The Goldmine LP January 1972)
SPARKS ‘Amateur Hour’ (Kimono My House LP May 1974)
As glam moved into its late period baroque phase, I became fascinated by Sparks and the genre juggling brilliance of Kimono My House. Tapping into the smorgasboard of disparate influences from their LA childhood, sinister Hitler clone Ron and his cherubic, younger brother Russell distilled Philip K Dick, Doris Day, Cabaret, The Sound of Music and Groucho Marx into a work of stunning pop genius, and in the process turned themselves into the most unlikely teenybop idols of the 20th century.
Also: FOX ‘Imagine Me, Imagine You’ (Single A Side May 1975)
COCKNEY REBEL ‘Psychomodo’ (The Psychomodo LP June 1974)
Oozing arty sleaze and decadent decay, Steve Harley’s embrace of literate composition, kitsch and the avant-garde turned our teenage heads. Proving our devotion by penning the Cockney Rebel logo on our arms, we ignored the abuse of schoolmates openly mocking us for liking such a ‘mincing dummy’. But there was nothing mincing about the vaudeville madness of The Psychomodo or The Best Years Of Our Lives when ‘Make Me Smile’ turned Steve Harley into a bonafide star idolised by the same kids who had ridiculed us so mercilessly.
Also: STEVE HARLEY & COCKNEY REBEL ‘Mr Raffles (Man It Was Mean)’ (The Best Years Of Our Lives LP March 1975)
JOBRIATH ‘Ooh La La’ (Creatures Of The Street LP August 1974)
Cockney Rebel were the first in a handful of artists - early Queen, Heavy Metal Kids, Be Bop Deluxe, Fox, Doctors Of Madness - admitted into our exclusive, members only club expressing an ideology which somehow said we were different until a hit record pushed them under the spotlight. Unlike Cockney Rebel or Queen, the spotlight never did fall on Jobriath, otherwise known as plain Bruce Campbell from the fabulously named King of Prussia in Pennsylvania. Hyped as the American Bowie and gorgeous enough to stir a strange fancy in our hearts, Creatures Of The Street was pleasingly bereft of testosterone and tiresome, macho posturing even when it rocked.
Also: QUEEN ‘Killer Queen’ (Single A Side October 1974)
BRETT SMILEY ‘Va Va Va Voom’ (Single A Side September 1974)
As someone who grew up on Top Of The Pops, I believed in the myths and legends of pop as much as anyone. I loved the glitz and the glory, the wetting of knickers and the debauched deadly lifestyle. Equally, I loved the one hit wonders, the penniless, slightly crazed, forgotten nobodies who ended their lives anonymously behind the closed curtains of the council flat next door. One of glams great lost stars, Brett Smiley never made it onto Top Of The Pops and his only single was never a one hit wonder, but I can still remember its strutting beauty as if it was yesterday.
Also: HELLO ‘Star Studded Sham’ (Single A Side January 1976)
ENO ‘Third Uncle’ (Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy LP November 1974)
Everything Eno did best was on the two albums he knocked out following his departure from Roxy Music. Wonderfully ramshackle, he was certainly no singer, but by taking the raw, early spirit of his former group and turning it into songs of simplistic whimsy, he tapped into something that was both stupidly catchy and wonderfully experimental.
Also: ENO ‘Needle In The Camels Eye’ (Here Come The Warm Jets LP January 1974)
GENESIS ‘Carpet Crawlers’ (The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway LP November 1974)
LED ZEPPELIN ‘Trampled Underfoot’ (Physical Graffiti LP February 1975)
With little experience of either, I was introduced to Genesis and Led Zeppelin over the course of one summer when I befriended a boy whose family lived in the old servant’s quarters of a mansion house a couple of miles west of Pangbourne. With the entire top floor to himself, we spent many a weekend messing about with old motorbikes and guns, listening to his rock and prog collection, drinking his father’s potent, home brewed red wine and sleeping where we fell. On the cusp of young manhood, it was one of those brief yet enchanted summers soundtracked by a handful of unlikely and unexpected records I would not hear again for another thirty years.
Also: GENESIS ‘I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)’ (Selling England By The Pound LP October 1973), LED ZEPPELIN ‘Over The Hills And Far Away’ (Houses Of The Holy LP March 1973)
MICK RONSON ‘Billy Porter’ (Play Don’t Worry LP February 1975)
When Ziggy broke up the band, Mick Ronson went out on his own only to find that the perfect sidekick should remain just that. Remaining loyal because of his Bowie connection, ‘Billy Porter’ was one of the few songs to get close to the brilliance of his former master.
Also: BE BOP DELUXE ‘Night Creatures’ (Axe Victim LP June 1974)
IAN HUNTER ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ (Single A Side April 1975)
It didn’t seem to matter that Ian Hunter was a 35 year old ale drinker from Shrewsbury because he understood instinctively the mystery of rock’n’roll, his songs for Mott The Hoople possessing that rare indefinable otherness that only comes along every so often. The rabble rousing ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’ was no different, transmitting that same feeling to a bewildered lost boy high on the energy and passion of youth yet imprisoned by the mind numbing boredom and crushing expectations of his surroundings, Ian Hunters ordinariness giving me faith in the belief that there really was a better life out there somewhere.
Also: IAN HUNTER ‘Letter To Britannia From The Union Jack’ (All American Alien Boy LP May 1976)
KRAFTWERK ‘Autobahn’ (Single A Side April 1975)
I’d love to say that I recognised Kraftwerk’s genius from the moment I heard ‘Autobahn’s repetitive, electronic pulse, but I’d be lying. In reality it was no more than a pleasingly eccentric novelty to be played for a couple of weeks and then discarded. Hovering somewhere between glams last stand and the genesis of disco, my sonic comprehension hadn’t yet stretched to the pioneering exploits of a quartet of German machinists five years ahead of their time.
Also: NEU! ‘Hero’ (Neu! 75 LP April 1975)
HAMILTON BOHANNON ‘Disco Stomp’ (Single A Side May 1975)
When I first ventured out, disco was less a genre and more a place to go on a Saturday night. A fusty church hall jammed with excitement starved kids high on Woodpecker cider and ten Number Six dancing to the hits of the day, it was as much about Elton John, ELO and Abba as Barry White, KC & The Sunshine Band or Hamilton Bohannon’s forgotten and impossibly hard to find ‘Disco Stomp’.
Also: DISCO DUB BAND ‘For The Love Of Money’ (Single A Side April 1976)
FUNKADELIC ‘Get Off Your Ass And Jam’ (Let’s Take It To The Stage LP July 1975)
Raised on a diet of chart records, the strange and fantastical world of George Clinton’s P-Funk felt as weird as it sounded. Sure I’d heard plenty of Stevie Wonder and Sly Stone before but it was nothing like Funkadelic’s raw, slower than sludge mess of grunts and groans. Arriving with immaculate timing at a point when I was bored with pretty much everything rock’n’roll had to offer, Let’s Take It To The Stage provided a handy staging post dripping with funks hypnotic, carnal energy but littered with giant, fuck off, rock riffage.
Also: PARLIAMENT ‘Give Up The Funk (Tear The Roof Off The Sucker)’ (Mothership Connection LP December 1975)
RAS MICHAEL & THE SONS OF NEGUS ‘None A Jah Jah Children (Single A Side August 1975)
JUNIOR BYLES ‘Fade Away’ (Single A Side September 1975)
BURNING SPEAR ‘Slavery Days’ (Marcus Garvey LP December 1975)
When Quicksilver Records opened in the autumn of 1975 on the first floor of The Butts Centre, we suddenly had direct access to a whole host of obscure reggae singles that were never going to find their way into shops like Rumbelows or Hickies. With a healthy roots and dub import section, Quicksilver’s young and enthusiastic shop assistants would deliberately crank up the shops sound system to such a gut rumbling volume that any long haired rockers present would immediately scurry for the exit.
Also: FRED LOCKS ‘Black Star Liner’ (Single A Side August 1975), SYLFORD WALKER ‘Burn Babylon’ (Single A Side September 1975), MIGHTY DIAMONDS ‘Right Time’ (Single A Side January 1976)
BANBARRA ‘Shack Up’ (Single A Side December 1975)
BRASS CONSTRUCTION ‘Movin’ (Single A Side March 1976)
Soul and funk records became as much a soundtrack to our teenage years as our more predictable favourites, The Calcot Hotel on Mondays, The Peacock cellar bar on Fridays and The Top Rank on Saturdays becoming regular hang outs as we edged closer to sixteen. Entry was for over eighteen’s only, yet rarely did I see anyone of that age there, seventies licensing law enforcement being so slack that it was perfectly possible to be a raging alcoholic by the time you were 15. A step up from the out of the way pubs we had been frequenting, discotheques and nightclubs were basic and unsophisticated by today’s plush standards but to us they were the height of luxury and excitement.
The majority of records played at these places were selected from the top thirty, but upstairs at The Top Rank was The Night Owl, a club within a club for the slightly older, more discerning connoisseurs of funk and what would soon be known as disco. Thick with the fug of dope, the predominantly black clientele would groove the night away to awe inspiring, rare cuts from the likes of The Ohio Players, The Fatback Band, War, The Isley Brothers, The O’Jays and Brass Construction. The only time I really engaged with underground club culture, I wasn’t averse to pulling some moves of my own to ‘Superstition’ or ‘Sex Machine’ but that was about it. I was no dancer and I knew it. I was just happy to be there furthering my education.
Also: PEOPLES CHOICE ‘Do It Anyway You Wanna’ (Single A Side August 1975), FATBACK BAND ‘(Are You Ready) Do The Bus Stop’ (Single A Side November 1975)
PATTI SMITH ‘My Generation’ (Single B Side April 1976)
PERE UBU ‘Final Solution’ (Single A Side April 1976)
Purchased on the off chance from the Quicksilver import rack, in hindsight it’s easy to hear how Patti Smith’s live mauling of ‘My Generation’ and Pere Ubu’s creepy ‘Final Solution’ were a portent of my punk future. And yet, despite their obvious anger and frustration chiming with my own, I was too busy unpicking the final few threads of childhood conditioning to believe that my own future remained unwritten.
Also: NICO ‘You Forget To Answer’ (The End LP October 1974), DOCTORS OF MADNESS ‘Waiting’ (Late Night Movies LP March 1976)
DILLINGER ‘Cokane In My Brain’ (Single A Side May 1976)
In the spring of 1976 you couldn’t walk past any pub or club without hearing Dillinger’s nonsensical ‘a knife, a fork, a bottle and a cork’ booming out. Based on the loping rhythm of the People’s Choice hit ‘Do It Anyway You Wanna’, it was everywhere.
Also: MAX ROMEO ‘War Ina Babylon’ (Single A Side March 1976)
JAMES BROWN ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ (Single A Side May 1976)
Apart from seventies disco staple ‘Sex Machine’, I knew nothing of James Brown’s illustrious life as Soul Brother Number One, but it was impossible to ignore the glorious dancefloor rush of his last truly great track? Of course ‘Get Up Offa That Thing’ would disappear from my life almost as quickly as it arrived, yet the irony of popular music is that while it’s often poo-pooed as the most ephemeral, trivial and temporary of art forms, and songs inevitably fade from view, no matter how old you get, they are sure to return at some point.
Also: CANDI STATON ‘Young Hearts Run Free’ (Single A Side April 1976)