Hard to believe I know, but I haven’t always been the aged, music master I am today. In the dreary, fallow years before punk, when rock in its many forms ruled absolutely, I bought and loved a whole bunch of albums that became a source of huge embarrassment as soon as year zero’s scorched earth policy kicked in. Even now I struggle to admit such heinous crimes. In my defence, I could offer that I was a mere strap of a lad barely into puberty, but I’m not sure even that gets me off the hook.
The kids of today have it far easier, as indeed we all do. They can listen to any album whenever and wherever they want on Spotify or any other streaming site, and it doesn’t have to cost them a thing. Back in the archaic seventies it was a lot more trial and error. Apart from the odd single and inaccurate music press review, we had absolutely nothing to go on. That’s why album sleeves were so important. Being a sucker for such things, I got caught out all the time so inevitably bought as many duds as I did everlasting favourites. Yet because I couldn’t afford to let my hard earned pennies go to waste, I learnt to love them all no matter how briefly.
Some folks reckon that the older you get, the less understanding you have of what’s cool and what’s not. I’d say the reverse is true, although there is certainly a substantial lessening of giving a shit. Maybe that’s why, with the continual re-evaluation and subsequent rewriting of music culture, some of the albums here have been allowed to creep back into the comforting folds of rocks rich tapestry. But can there really ever be any excuse for Uriah Heep, Manfred Mann’s Earthband, Nazareth, Eric Clapton or Bad Company? I think not!
URIAH HEEP / THE MAGICIAN’S BIRTHDAY (November 1972)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Sunrise’
The best thing about airy fairy progger’s Yes was always Roger Dean’s covers. Going through a Tolkien, myths and legends phase, I was intrigued by the fantastical worlds he created, so initially bought my secondhand copy of Magician’s Birthday solely for his sleeve art. Of course, Uriah Heep’s tales of lady’s, kings and mystic happenings were really no better than those of Yes, but they did carry a lot more rock oomph, were tens of minutes shorter, therefore far more enjoyable if you liked that sort of thing. Clearly, for a few months in 1973, I did.
STRAWBS / BURSTING AT THE SEAMS (February 1973)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Stormy Down’
‘Part Of The Union’ was a big tune in our house, my 70 year old, card carrying, socialist grandfather bashing it out on the old piano at every opportunity. The lead single for Bursting At The Seams, it was completely at odds with the rest of the albums folky, symphonic prog. Nonetheless, Dave Cousin’s very English vocals and gorgeous melodies were sufficiently different to my usual glam diet for me to succumb to its charms. In fact, I still play the odd tune occasionally when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic.
GENESIS / SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND (October 1973)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Dancing With The Moonlit Knight’
Bought purely through peer pressure, Selling England By The Pound arrived three months into my teenage when, for the briefest of moments, I looked up to the older, serious longhairs wandering around school with King Crimson and Pink Floyd LP’s tucked ostentatiously under their arms. Despite being experienced veterans of five albums in four years, Genesis became the new kids on the prog block off the back of their surprise hit ‘I Know What I Like’. And yet while Peter Gabriel’s voice and the underlying theme of an England going to the dogs did spark a fascination with him that lasted into the eighties, ultimately I could hear little in Selling England By The Pound that offered anything more substantial than a very sterile type of musical virtuosity.
MANFRED MANN’S EARTHBAND / SOLAR FIRE (December 1973)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Father Of Day, Father Of Night’
The vast majority of albums here are evidence of my early struggle between buying the music I thought I should like and the music I really did, and in 1973 I didn’t have a clue. A couple of weeks after buying the New York Dolls cool as fuck debut, I handed over the cash for Solar Fire, an album touted in the music press as more intellectual, more proficient, more worthy and all those things that in the end mean absolutely nothing. OK, so I didn’t love Manfred Mann’s majestic, if ridiculously pompous, proggy clichés in quite the same way as the Dolls raucous rock’n’roll, but I loved it all the same.
NAZARETH / RAMPANT (May 1974)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Shanghai’d In Shanghai’
The seventies were jam packed with hard rockin’, hard workin’ second division outfits like Nazareth. They were nothing special but I liked them anyway, drawn in by top 20 singles such as ‘Broken Down Angel’, ‘Bad Bad Boy’ and a full on version of Joni Mitchell’s ‘This Flight Tonight’. Rampant was slightly more adventurous than their regular, balls to the floor, razamanaz although by 1974, my enthusiasm for hard rockin’ of any kind was fading fast.
ERIC CLAPTON / 461 OCEAN BOULEVARD (July 1974)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Let It Grow’
Encapsulating everything that was wrong about seventies music, 461 Ocean Boulevard was exactly the type of record punk set out to destroy. A solo LP by a sixties guitar ‘God’ and recovering heroin addict, it shouldn’t have been anywhere near my radar. And yet, bored out of my mind on a family holiday in a rainswept, West Country seaside town, it must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Taking laid back to a whole new dimension, in amongst Clapton’s blues tributes, a note for note version of Marley’s ‘I Shot The Sheriff’ and some self-penned confessionals, over four decades later, the sweetly mellow ‘Let It Grow’ is the only tune I can bear to listen to.
BAD COMPANY / STRAIGHT SHOOTER (April 1975)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’
More shameful even than Clapton, Straight Shooter found a place in my increasing pile of albums via a convoluted, typically teenage love story surrounding my dodgy school band, a crummy version of Bad Company’s hit single, a lunchtime arts festival and a dancing girls come on, all played out at a time when I knew nothing about the reality of making love yet was incapable of thinking about anything else. For once I did eventually get the girl, but when I played her Straight Shooter, the album her advances inspired me to buy, she told me as sweetly as she could that I shouldn’t have bothered because Bad Company were shit and completely irrelevant to the likes of us. And you know what, she was right!
BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN / BORN TO RUN (September 1975)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Backstreets’
In 1975, so desperate we're we for records to spark our imagination and take us away from the drudgery and boredom of mid-seventies Blighty, it was inevitable that it would eventually fall to blowsy, blustery Brucie and his strictly blue collar, American version of escapism to save our souls. Born To Run was deeply rooted in emotive rock’n’roll idealism fueled on a litany of lovers, loners and losers, the thundering title track alone promising salvation to a bunch of 15 year olds stuck in Nowheresville looking to break out anyway they could, ideally in a Cadillac with a girl called Wendy.
THIN LIZZY / JAILBREAK (March 1976)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Romeo And The Lonely Girl’
As it turned out, Phil Lynott was a bit of a no good, sexist, junkie, control freak which is unfortunate because for a month or so in 1976 we thought he was tops. We even forgave him his dodgy, spiv tache. Of course, Lizzy were a seriously macho lad’s band who wrote about seriously macho lad’s things like male camaraderie, getting the girl and busting out of jail; heroic romantic’s one minute, brutal outlaws the next. Having just turned 16, that kind of cinematic reverie and rockin’ thrust helped me through some particularly grim times. Then again, I guess you had to be that young to fall for it.
HEAVY METAL KIDS / KITSCH (November 1976)
FAVOURITE TRACK ‘Chelsea Kids’
There were two bands at my school whose very names guaranteed howls of derision from the self-appointed hipsters. The first was Status Quo (obviously), the second was the Heavy Metal Kids. With a distinct lack of music press kudos, critically they even made Uriah Heep look good. Neither glam nor rock, it was Gary Holton’s Artful Dodger, Clockwork Orange persona that provoked such blind devotion in my youthful clique of strays and stragglers. Arriving five months into my great punk adventure, Kitsch was strictly off limits but I just had to have it. What’s more I still do, albeit gathering dust in the garage with the remnants of my once proud collection.