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My Musical History Part 6

May 22, 2021

The Queen celebrating and the King leaving the building.

In 1977 the focus of the UK was on an event that, for many, would give a welcome respite from the trials and tribulations of a country that was still recovering from one of the worst economic periods in living memory at that time. The Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II was the first major royal celebration since the Coronation, and it involved a large number of events culminating in an extra Bank Holiday on June 7 where people up and down the country held street parties. Not everyone was happy to celebrate, however, as there was a small but vociferous minority of Republicans who felt that the institution should be abolished. Punk rock made the news that month when the Sex Pistols released God Save the Queen. I didn’t hear the song until a few years later, but at the time I was able to guess that it wasn’t the National Anthem! All I remember is that on the Top 20 on a Sunday night and Top of the Pops announced that it was in the charts – reaching Number 2 on Jubilee week itself – but that neither was allowed to play it. That, in itself, gave the record a popularity, and an air of danger, which would probably have escaped it had the BBC not banned it. The actual Number 1 that week was I Don’t Want to Talk About It by Rod Stewart, although rumours persist that it sold fewer copies and was kept at Number 1 to avoid embarrassing Queen Elizabeth.

August 16 1977 saw the death of the biggest star of the 50s and 60s. Although Elvis Presley was already a figure of concern to some, and derision to others, as a result of his ballooning weight it was still a massive shock when his death was announced. It is one of those moments that I can remember exactly where I was. Elvis was only 42 when he died and the outpouring of grief from his grieving fans was a testament to his enduring popularity. There is a tendency to split Elvis’ career into the success of the 50s & early 60s followed by increasing artistic failure thereafter. This isn’t the place to analyse that, but I first got into his music with the previous year’s ballad My Boy and Moody Blue from March. Way Down which was released just after his death stormed to the top of the charts and demonstrated the heights that his voice could still reach. After his death I discovered his early records and his place in my musical affections was secure.

The Grand National and upheaval for cricket

In 1977, the Grand National was at the peak of its popularity. This was due entirely to one horse, Red Rum. He was a sporting star in his own right, and huge numbers of people tuned in to the race to see if he could finally win his third Grand National. After wins in 73 and 74, followed by 2 second places in 75 and 76, it was widely seen as his last chance to write himself into the record books. I was one of the millions glued to the TV on 2 April 1977. As well as watching it, I also recorded it on my cassette player and listened to the race so much in the months afterwards that I became almost word perfect! It was almost as if Red Rum himself knew that it was his last chance. Initially a horse named Boom Docker blew the field away, arriving at the start of the second circuit with the biggest lead ever at that stage of the race, at which point he refused to jump the next fence. This put Red Rum into second place. He hit the front after the leader Andy Pandy fell at Becher’s Brook, and from there on there was only one winner. He came home 25 lengths clear of Churchtown Boy and history had been made. Red Rum retired the day before the following year’s Grand National and had a long retirement before his death at the grand age of 30. Fittingly, he was buried at the winning post at Aintree after becoming the most famous horse in British sporting history.  

The beginning of the year saw me glued to the radio in the early mornings as Test Match Special brought news of England’s rare victory over India in a test series played there, thanks chiefly to Tony Greig’s inspirational leadership and tactical brilliance. Then in March we actually saw highlights of the Centenary Test Match in Melbourne, a rare treat for all UK based cricket fans at the time. It was there, unbeknown to us that the preparations for World Series Cricket clicked into gear, with Tony Greig himself as a leading figure. Once the news broke, Greig became public enemy Number 1, with the cricket establishment and the traditional supporters piling in to denounce him. I was immediately a huge supporter of World Series Cricket because if he believed in it then so did I. The way he was treated by the MCC and by some sections of the public was appalling. He stuck to his guns throughout and never wavered in his belief that he was doing this for the good of cricketers everywhere. The years have proven him right, and the highly paid players of today owe him and Kerry Packer a huge debt of gratitude. At the time, it was the county players who saw an immediate improvement. Before World Series Cricket, players were employed by the counties for 6 months a year and left to fend for themselves for the other 6. Cricketers would be drawing the dole from October to April in some cases and selling Christmas trees to make ends meet in others! This was a thing of the past for most as the players started to be paid wages that would last them throughout the year. Mike Brearley, who took over as England captain, insisted on having Greig in the side, who were looking to regain the Ashes, throughout that series, and although the impending court case he was involved in distracted him and left him a reduced figure he still managed to chip in with important runs, vital wickets, and brilliant catches. He might have been a hate figure in some people’s eyes, but he remained my hero and I am pleased that he lived long enough to see that he was right and that the MCC, and the rest of his detractors, were wrong!  

American cops and anarchic puppets on the box and in the charts

Television in 1976 went up a gear with the arrival of two wise cracking US cops with charisma to burn and an iconic car, the bright red Ford Torino with white stripes. Starsky and Hutch, played by Paul Michael Glaser and David Soul became the biggest stars on UK TV as their series ran rings round the bucolic British detectives with the exception of the ever brilliant Sweeney. I was very quickly a member of the Starsky and Hutch fandom and Saturday nights were much more exciting as soon as you heard the iconic theme tune. Not content with his success on prime time TV, David Soul showed another side to his talents as a rather brilliant singer of ballads. His first Number 1, and the first new Number 1 of the year, the dreamy and soulful Don’t Give Up on Us was the biggest hit of 1977 until Wings blasted into the Christmas charts with Mull of Kintyre. It sold over a million copies and set Soul up for a year of continuous chart success with follow up singles, Going in with my Eyes Open reaching Number 2 behind Abba’s huge anthem Knowing Me, Knowing You in March, and Silver Lady giving him a second Number 1 in October. This wasn’t a case of a successful programme giving a would be singer a boost, because he had been a singer in the late 60s where he became famous as the ‘Covered Man’ wearing a mask to avoid being marketed for his looks! For most of 1977, Starsky and Hutch pictures joined Julie Dawn Cole on my wall as I became obsessed with the show!

The other crossover success of 1977 came in the form of The Muppets. The Muppet Show had started in 1976 and was shown on Sunday nights by ITV. It quickly became a huge favourite of children, who loved the anarchic puppets, and adults who enjoyed the knowing humour and the A list guest stars. Singers such as Elton John and Debbie Harry, actors like Dudley Moore and Peter Sellers and even ballet star Rudolph Nureyev appeared on a show that quickly became a sensation. The great and the good queued up to be subjected to the Muppet treatment and the charts were not immune from the influence of this groundbreaking show. In May, the ultimate earworm, Mah Na Mah Na was featured in the show and the original record by Piero Umiliani was rushed out, reaching Number 8 in the charts. I can only imagine how parents up and down the country felt as it quickly became a song that most children had in their repertoire for months on end! Even now, the mere sight of those words on a page will have those of us of a certain age singing along in our heads! The other Muppet single to reach the charts was sung by Kermit’s nephew Robin and featured an old A. A. Milne poem set to music. Halfway Down the Stairs was a gorgeous song with a wistful air and lyrics that were easy to learn. For me, it was a single that was probably the last ‘children’s record’ I bought, but it was a record that allowed me to escape to a time when life was simpler and I wasn’t being bullied every day at school. In that sense it allowed me a respite from real life, and for that I will always be grateful. That Christmas, the Number 1 album was The Muppet Show and I was overjoyed to find it under the Christmas Tree. As you might expect I was pretty much word perfect on it before New Year’s Day 1978!!     

Plays and Films hit the charts.

In 1977, my favourite James Bond film of the series was released, and I went to the cinema to see it with my Dad and my cousin. The Spy Who Loved Me had everything, a top performance from Roger Moore, an iconic new villain in Richard Kiel’s Jaws, a brilliant opening scene ending with the Union Flag parachute and then to top it all, the best James Bond theme of the lot! Nobody Does it Better was just perfect, capturing the appeal of Bond and boasting a marvellous vocal from the great Carly Simon. It was a song that captivated me as soon as it blasted from the speakers in the Odeon Cinema in Rochester and one I never tire of hearing. The trailers for that film included one for an American sci-fi film that looked pretty exciting. By the time Star Wars reached the Odeon in January 1978 the expectation had built to fever pitch and I was sixth in a very long queue to see the first performance. It didn’t disappoint and I saw it a further 5 times that year. The release of Star Wars/ Cantina Band by Meco in October saw me rush to the record shop. It was a definite appetiser for the main course and an incredibly catchy tune in its own right. Compared to the TV sci-fi of programmes like Doctor Who it looked impossibly futuristic and exciting. Although Doctor Who struggled on against falling ratings for another decade, the big screen phenomenon of Star Wars showed up its lack of money and, as much as Tom Baker continued to make it an essential part of Saturday nights, the writing was on the wall.

In January, Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber released the first track from Evita, their forthcoming musical. Don’t Cry for Me Argentina was an instant smash, and the first single I bought that year. I couldn’t tell you why it captivated me so completely, but at the age of 11 I knew that I had never heard anything so dramatic and powerful before. Although the hint of a much bigger story that intrigued me, it was the incredible performance from Julie Covington that made me buy it with some of my Christmas money. It is one of those tunes that raise the hairs up on the back of your neck no matter how often you hear it. It was many years later that I saw my first stage musical, but that track gave me the musicals ‘bug’ and it continues to infect me to this day!

The charts show little sign of the upheaval to come

In the first year of punk, only No More Heroes by The Stranglers really came on to my radar, and although I didn’t buy it I was struck by the power of the vocals and it sent me to the encyclopedia (in the days before Google) to find out about Leon Trotsky and whether he really had had ‘an ice pick that made his ears burn’! Although punk lay largely dormant after that for a while the seed of future listening was there as was my lifelong fascination with the USSR.

Other than that, though, my tastes were still fairly middle of the road and everything that punk was fighting against! It was also the year when instrumental music showed me its power. The prog rock reworking of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man by Emerson, Lake and Palmer was an exhilarating piece of music that took the power of the classical original and turned it up to 11! Another iconic track gave me my first taste of the electronic, synthesiser based music that was to become the soundtrack to my later teens with Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene Part IV. It was like a message from the future that took the listener into another world where technology made anything possible.

Showaddywaddy were still churning out the hits with three more cover versions that reached the Top 5, but I was learning that my continued affection for the band needed to be kept quiet inside the school grounds! However, When and, in particular, the marvellous You Got What it Takes proved that in 1977 at least that Leicester’s finest still had what it took! It’s interesting how your memory sometimes plays tricks on you. I had thought that the sensual vocals of Baccara with their only hit, the Number 1 smash Yes Sir I can Boogie, was the soundtrack to that summer. It turns out that it hit the top just before Halloween! Whenever it was, it was a fantastic song that introduced me to the more European influenced pop that would appear in my record collection from time to time.

The year of punk’s arrival ended with Wings halfway through a 9 week stay at Number 1 and sales of 2 million for Mull of Kintyre, the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band at Number 2 for 6 weeks with The Floral Dance, and Bing Crosby who had died in September, during a round of golf, back in the Top 5 with White Christmas, a song first released in 1942! The old guard were clearly in no mood to move over for the young upstarts quite yet!

Next Time   

Grease is the word as the film and the soundtrack dominates the year 1978!

From → Musical History

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