273. Thunderclap Newman – Something in the Air (1969)

While I only usually mention UK events within this blog, 50 years ago to the day I am typing this, man first set foot on the moon. The reason I mention news from another planet? Because it seems very appropriate that the number 1 at the time was Something in the Air, by one-hit wonders Thunderclap Newman.

But before I probe deeper, what was happening closer to home? Well, fans of the Rolling Stones, and the band themselves, were shocked to hear on 3 July that recently departed band member Brian Jones had died (more on that next time).

A week later, the trimaran Teignmouth Electron sailing vessel was found empty and drifting in the mid-Atlantic. It belonged to Donald Crowhurst, British businessman and amateur sailor. He had been taking part in the Sunday Times Golden Globe round-the-world race, in an attempt to save his failing business. Nothing had been heard from him since 1 July, and up to that point, he had been falsifying his position in the race. Once his vessel had been investigated, it began to look as though Crowhurst had suffered a breakdown due to his guilt, and quite likely had committed suicide by jumping into the sea.

In lighter news, Tony Jacklin, the most successful British golfer of his generation, won the Open Championship on 12 July.

So there was indeed something in the air in July 1969, but it wasn’t just Apollo 11. The peace and love espoused by hippies in the mid-60s had mutated into frustration over Vietnam and the old world order. 1968 had seen protests taking place in the UK, the US, and France, among other countries. Groups such as Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin’s Yippies in the US would talk of revolution, and in the UK, left-wingers wanted reforms on drugs, abortion, gender roles… they wanted change. John Lennon, before going solo and becoming a full-blown ‘working class hero’, had written of his indecision over these matters in the 1968 B-side to Hey Jude, Revolution.

At around the same time, a man named John ‘Speedy’ Keen had been turning his thoughts into a call-to-arms, also called Revolution. Keen shared a flat with the Who guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend, and he worked as their chauffeur. He had been in a few bands before then, was adept at several instruments, and dabbled in songwriting, most famously at that point by writing one of my favourite songs by the Who, the psychedelic rocker Armenia City in the Sky, which became the opening track of their classic LP, The Who Sell Out (1967). This was the only song written for the Who by a non-member, so the band, particularly Townshend, clearly thought he had potential. He also had a pretty big nose, like him, so they were kindred spirits.

Townshend had been branching out from the Who at the time (he had already helped the Crazy World of Arthur Brown with their debut LP and number 1 single, Fire), and was looking for a way to showcase Keen’s songs. He contacted a teenage guitarist called Jimmy McCulloch, whose band One in a Million supported the Who in 1967 (he was only 14 at the time), and an eccentric keyboard player called Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman, who had earned his nickname due to his idiosyncratic playing style. Newman was still working for the General Post Office as a telephone engineer when the trio met at Townshend’s home studio for the first time around Christmas 1968. They became Thunderclap Newman, with Keen on vocals and drums, McCulloch on guitar, Newman on piano and Townshend producing and performing bass under the pseudonym Bijou Drains. Among the material they worked on was Keen’s song of revolution, now renamed to avoid confusion.

You could argue that the power of Something in the Air has been reduced over the years due to its overuse in TV and films. Yet despite its lazy use as the soundtrack to vintage footage of hippies and protests, and particularly its appearances in several advertising campaigns, I have never once tired of it. Even when it was on practically every advert break when used by TalkTalk, sponsors of Big Brother on Channel 4 one summer, I still loved it.

Keen’s lyrics, and vocal performance signal a very British type of revolution. He isn’t blessed with the best voice, but its the perfect fit for his reticent lyrics. Close inspection reveals its actually quite critical of the hippy movement. ‘The revolution’s here’, but they’re not ready yet (‘We’ve got to get together, sooner or later’)… is everyone too stoned to sort their shit out? Sounds likely, especially when he sings ‘We have got to get it together’ in the refrain.

Then after another attempt to rouse the troops, things get weird. In a very Beatlesque move, the mood changes completely, and we’re treated to a long heavy-handed piano solo from Newman. Only fair, when the band is named after him, really. Although this section breaks the mood, I consider it a good thing. Nothing wrong with a taste of the unexpected in pop music. And only a fool could not be moved by the way the song moves up a gear as it reaches the rousing finale, returning to Keen singing ‘Hand out the arms and ammo, we’re going to blast our way through here’ and the appearance of stirring strings.

Becoming the last act to knock the Beatles from number 1, and topping the charts while Neil Armstrong made one giant leap for humankind… what a time to be alive. The Who never had a number 1 single, so it must have been a proud moment for Townshend.

The popularity of their debut single took Thunderclap Newman by surprise. Having had no plans to tour, they now needed to augment their line-up for live shows supporting rock band Deep Purple, and they couldn’t rely on Bijou Drains to play the bass. Jim Pitman-Avery replaced him, and McCulloch’s older brother Jack became their drummer so Keen could concentrate on singing and rhythm guitar.

Following the tour they recorded their sole album, the critically acclaimed but long-forgotten Hollywood Dream, which closed with a slightly different version of Something in the Air. Released in October 1970, they had left it too late to capitalise on their success, and none of its singles charted.

In January 1971 the band found a new line-up with Australian musicians Ronnie Peel on bass and Roger Felice on drums – but not for long. The core trio simply didn’t gel personally, and Thunderclap Newman split up on April 10.

Keen tried his hand at solo stardom and released a couple of albums in the 70s. By 1976 he realised it wasn’t going to happen and he moved into production, working with Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers. He then produced Motörhead’s eponymous debut album in 1977, and even performed with them, before leaving music altogether. In 2002 he was attempting to record a third solo album when he unexpectedly died of a heart attack, aged 56.

McCulloch was even younger when he died. He played with John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers following the split, then helped Harry Nilsson, among others, as a session musician. After a stint with Stone the Crows and contributing to Keen’s first solo album, Previous Convictions in 1973, he joined Wings in 1974, making his debut on the single Junior’s Farm.

McCulloch left Paul McCartney’s band in September 1977, before their mammoth-selling Christmas number 1, Mull of Kintyre, to join the reformed Small Faces, but they soon split and he and their drummer Kenney Jones formed a new, short-lived band, Wild Horses, then in 1979 he joined the Dukes. That September, his body was discovered in his flat by his brother. He had died of heart failure due to morphine and alcohol poisoning, aged only 26.

Which leaves only Newman. In 1971 he recorded a solo album, Rainbow, and worked with ex-Bonzo Dog Band member Roger Ruskin Spear. Then he left music and worked as an electrician, until he decided to begin a new version of Thunderclap Newman in 2010. Featuring Townshend’s nephew Josh and Big Country’s drummer Mark Brzezicki, they recorded a new album, Beyond Hollywood, and played at the Isle of Wight Festival in 2012. Newman died in 2016, aged 73.

There’s a pretty good version of Something in the Air out there, by Elbow, recorded in 2002 for War Child, but it’s not a patch on the original. This one-hit wonder is a rock classic and one of my favourite songs of 1969.

Written by: Speedy Keen

Producer: Pete Townshend

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 July)

Deaths:

The Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones – 3 July

258. The Beatles – Hey Jude (1968)

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15 September saw the Great Flood of 1968 bring exceptionally heavy rain and thunderstorms to the south east of England. The following day, the General Post Office divided post into first-class and second-class services for the first time.

Rewind seven months, and the Beatles travelled to Rishikesh in northern India to take part in a Transcendental Meditation course under the guidance of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Without Epstein to keep them under control, John, Paul, George and Ringo were struggling to stay together since McCartney had attempted to take the reins. Drugs were also having an impact. Perhaps spirituality could help?

It did and it didn’t. They were supposed to stay for three months, but Starr was the first to leave, after ten days. He likened it to Butlin’s. McCartney left after a month. Lennon and Harrison, who had been the first to try acid, were more open-minded, and of course Harrison was deeply interested in India. However, they both left a month later upon hearing the Maharishi was trying it on with female members of their entourage. Lennon, desperate for a father figure, was particularly hurt, immortalising the experience in Sexy Sadie.

But India had helped unlock the group’s creativity, to the extent they started work on their eponymous double album that May. Upon their return, they also announced the creation of Apple Records. Apple Corps Ltd was originally conceived after the death of Epstein, with their film Magical Mystery Tour its initial release under Apple Films. Their shop, Apple Boutique, opened in December 1967, but was gone by the following June. The failure was prophetic. The Beatles were overreaching. They were the greatest band of all time, but they weren’t businessmen. Far from bringing them closer together, Apple Records helped quicken the end, behind the scenes. The press conference implied that the new label would create a utopia, where anyone could send in their music, and although it was by far the most successful part of the empire, this was largely because of the music of the Beatles.

Many believe Hey Jude was the debut release on Apple Records. ‘Apple 1’ was a single pressing of Frank Sinatra singing Maureen Is a Champ to the tune of The Lady Is a Tramp. It was a surprise gift for Starr to his wife Maureen for her 21st, apparently. The confusion arose from Hey Jude‘s marketing as one of the ‘First Four’ singles on the label.

It was clear from the start that Paul McCartney was aware of just how popular his new ballad would be. Originally called Hey Jules, he has always said it was written in sympathy for Julian Lennon. His father had left his mother for the artist Yoko Ono in May, and McCartney thought it could help heal wounds. Cynthia was touched by the gesture when McCartney played it for them in a surprise visit. McCartney had already changed the name from ‘Jules’ to ‘Jude’, but there was no doubt to its meaning.

Macca would perform his latest composition at any given opportunity, including while producing the Bonzo Dog Band’s I’m the Urban Spaceman under the pseudonym Apollo C  Vermouth. Lennon, who had often struggled with McCartney’s choices for singles over the past few years, loved the song – in part because he thought it was actually written for him, ironically as a message to move on and stick with Ono. Paul also later said that he felt Hey Jude was perhaps aimed subconsciously at himself – his relationship with Jane Asher was nearly over. He had begun an affair with Linda Eastman, and was also involved with Frankie Schwartz.

That’s the beauty of Hey Jude. It’s essential message, that love hurts, but it’s worth the struggle, so chin-up, can be applied to anyone. It helps to know you’re not alone.

Famously, when the song was first presented to John and Yoko when they visited Paul on 26 July, he told them he would fix the line ‘the movement you need is on your shoulder’, John replied, ‘You won’t you know. That’s the best line in the song’.

The Beatles first rehearsed the song three days later at Abbey Road over two nights. Recordings prove that despite the animosity within the group, they could still get on and produce magic when working on the right material. However the mood did sour when Paul refused to let George play a guitar line as a response to the vocal.

They entered Trident Studios to record the master track on 31 July, after hearing it was equipped with an eight-track console rather than the standard four. The basic track featured McCartney on piano and lead vocal, Lennon on acoustic guitar, Harrison on electric guitar and Starr on drums. On 1 August they overdubbed McCartney’s bass, backing vocals from Lennon, McCartney and Harrison, and tambourine by Starr.

At some point they had decided the song was to feature that legendary lengthy coda that spawned a thousand imitations, and beefed it up with a 36-piece orchestra. All but one member of the orchestra joined in with singing and clapping on the record, which was deliberately faded out slowly until the record was allegedly deliberately made to last one second longer than Richard Harris’s MacArthur Park. For 25 years, Hey Jude was the lengthiest number 1 single. Meat Loaf’s I’d Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That), released in 1993, ran for 7:52. If you simply can’t get enough of Hey Jude, the mono version lasts that little bit longer.

Depending on whether you can hear the accidental swearing in the Kinks’ You Really Got Me (I can’t), Hey Jude is also the first number 1 to feature audible swearing. At around 2:57, listen with headphones and you hear a ‘Woah!’ followed by ‘Fucking hell!’. For a few years now I assumed this was Lennon, and some sources claim it was a result of him listening to a playback and the volume being too loud on his headphones. But according to Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, the swearing is from McCartney who had hit a bum note. Lennon persuaded him to keep it in, insisting nobody would ever know but those in the studio. Once you’ve heard the swearing, you’ll never miss it again.

Hey Jude is one of the greatest singles of all time. I won’t be persuaded otherwise by naysayers in recent years, who’ve scoffed at the fact it’s rolled out by McCartney at the Olympics and seemingly every big UK celebration. Overfamilarity hasn’t dulled its beauty for me. As I’ve said above, it’s a beautiful, sincere message from McCartney, and it’s sung with real tenderness until the coda.

Some scoff at the coda, calling it overblown, and laugh at McCartney’s soulful interjections during the chant. They’re wrong. I recall reading somewhere a review of the song that suggested the moment the orchestra represents the moment that Jude realises the singer is right, a sort-of ‘eureka’ moment. I love that idea, and if you go along with that, it makes McCartney’s excited performance perfectly appropriate. He’s chuffed that Jude has got the message, and is thrilled for him.

You can’t blame Hey Jude for all the substandard rip-offs that followed in its wake, either. And to be fair, it was also responsible for some really good rip-offs, eg David Bowie’s Memory of a Free Festival a year later. It has been misused over the years, adopted by other singers/bands as a cheap way of lengthening their set (Robbie Williams at Glastonbury in 1998, for example), but when heard at the right time, in the right atmosphere, it can bring a tear to the eye, or make you feel pure ecstasy (the writer himself at Glastonbury in 2004, for example).

Hey Jude was released on 26 August. As mentioned earlier, it was one of the initial four Apple singles released to the public. The other three were Mary Hopkins’ Those Were the Days (produced by McCartney) which would knock the Beatles from the top spot), Jackie Lomax’s Sour Milk Sea (written and produced by Harrison) and Thingumybob by the Black Dyke Mills Band (produced by McCartney).

Michael Lindsay-Hogg was hired to film videos for the single and the B-side Revolution (for some reason, they were a double-A-side in the US, but not here). Together, they worked on a mock-live performance, where the Beatles performed to a backing track with live orchestra and vocals, as they reached the coda, the audience invade the stage and envelop the group, creating a beautiful image of band and fans as one. An enduring image, but as false as John, Paul, George and Ringo pretending they were still a cohesive unit. The Beatles were growing up and outgrowing each other.

But in September 1968, the Beatles were back on top with the best-selling single of 1968, and four out of the next five number 1s were linked to the Fab Four. After the commercial misfire of Magical Mystery Tour the year before, they ruled the world once more.

As for Hey Jude, I predict that unfortunately it’ll take the death of Paul McCartney for popular opinion to turn round and for it to be recognised as the classic it undoubtedly is, and for its writer to be recognised as a true genius alongside John Lennon.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (11-24 September) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Politician Grant Shapps – 14 September
Television presenter Philippa Forrester – 20 September 

Deaths:

Scottish golfer Tommy Armour – 12 September 

118. The Temperance Seven with vocal refrain by Mr Paul McDowell – You’re Driving Me Crazy (1961)

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The 1961 number 1s really were all over the place, and this is as sure a sign as any. The Temperance Seven were a group of young men performing jazz covers from the 1920s and 30s, and their cover of You’re Driving Me Crazy was an affectionate look back to an earlier period in recorded music – indeed, the era in which vinyl recordings first became popular. They were retro before the term existed (I think).

The Temperance Seven were founded at Christmas in 1955 by students at the Chelsea School of Art. Its three founder members were Paul McDowell on trombone, Phillip Harrison on banjo and drummer Brian Innes. Eventually they expanded to a nine-piece, and their name was suggested to them by Douggie Gray from the Alberts, an influential comedy group of the era. Why the number seven, when there were nine of them? It’s an ironic use of the word ‘temperance’ which my tired brain doesn’t really get right now. In 1960 they recorded with Goons comedian Peter Sellers, and their producer was George Martin. Martin had joined EMI in 1950, and took over the Parlophone imprint five years later. It was regarded as relatively unimportant back then, and was mostly used for classical, novelty and comedy recordings. Martin’s work with Sellers became well-known, and more and more comedians began working with him, so the Temperance Seven seemed a natural act for Martin to produce.

You’re Driving Me Crazy had been written by Walter Donaldson in 1930. The song became a hit for several acts, including Lee Morse. It also featured in the racy Betty Boop cartoon, Silly Scandals, the following year. While singing the song, Boop’s dress kept falling down, to reveal a lacy bra and make her squeal. Shocking stuff at the time. Like many of Donaldson’s songs, this track became a standard, and was later recorded by Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé and Peggy Lee, to name but a few. Donaldson also wrote Makin’ Whoopee, My Baby Just Cares For Me, and Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.

I’ve been a huge fan of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band for decades, and have seen the Temperance Seven name-checked many times in relation to them, so I had high hopes for You’re Driving Me Crazy, but was left rather disappointed. There’s none of the anarchic spirit of the Bonzos here, it just seems a very straight and stiff run-through of a Donaldson song that isn’t as good as any of the ones I’ve listed above. McDowell’s vocal doesn’t have the character that dear old Vivian Stanshall had. I now understand why some Bonzo band members would be annoyed by the Temperance Seven comparison – it’s quite lazy really. The intro and the end go on far too long too, though that is entirely in keeping with most recordings of the 20s and 30s. Having said that, I like Martin’s production just before the final vocal kicks in, in which the instruments create this kind-of circular sound (my apologies, I’m not great with proper musical terms).

Nonetheless, for a time the Temperance Seven were big, with Paul McDowell having to quit his role in the Experimental Theatre Club revue. He was replaced by future Monty Python’s Flying Circus member Terry Jones. Later in the summer of 61 they appeared at the London Palladium for a fortnight run as top of the bill. It was never going to last, though, and the original incarnation disbanded in the mid-60s, just as the Bonzos were starting to make a name for themselves with riotous performances at the Bull’s Head in Barnes. Chris Hook took charge of the band when they reformed in the 80s, and this incarnation still tours today. McDowell went on to star in Porridge as Mr Collinson, and died aged 84 in 2016. And producer George Martin? Well, his name is going to crop up a fair few more times, obviously.

Written by: Walter Donaldson

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 1 (25-31 May)

Births:

Comedian Harry Enfield – 30 May 

77. Lord Rockingham’s XI – Hoots Mon (1958)

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On 13 September 1958, Oh Boy!, the first all-music show for teenagers began on ITV. Producer Jack Good had previously worked on the BBC’s Six-Five Special, but had wanted to make it music-only. When the BBC declined, he resigned. The show featured top stars and future hit-makers, including Cliff Richard, Shirley Bassey, Conway Twitty and Billy Fury. The show’s house-band were Lord Rockingham’s XI, a group of session musicians led by Harry Robinson, who had also worked on Six-Five Special. Other notable members included Benny Green on saxophone (he later became a Radio 2 presenter) and Hammond organ player Cherry Rainer.

In addition to backing artists on the show, they began recording novelty instrumentals for Decca. First single Fried Onions didn’t chart, but Robinson was on to a winner when he decided they should record a jazz-rock’n’roll hybrid version of traditional Scottish song The Hundred Pipers. The lyrics were ditched and replaced with four terrible over-the-top Scottish dialect outbursts, namely, ‘Och aye’, ‘Hoots mon’, ‘There’s a moose loose aboot this hoose’ and ‘It’s a braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht’. As Robinson was Scottish he decided he should be the one to perform these, risking inciting hatred from his fellow countrymen. All in all, it sounds like a terrible idea, doesn’t it?

It wasn’t. Hoots Mon is an excellent novelty single and I love the fact something like this was once able to make it number 1. The band are having a whale of a time, and it’s infectious, you really can’t help but enjoy it too. It’s also surprisingly heavy sounding for its time. Apparently, the engineer wasn’t happy with the bass and wanted the band to re-record it. Record buyers with lightweight needles even complained that the vinyl would jump, and it became banned in some factories as workers couldn’t stand the noise. It would have made a great Christmas number 1 and nearly was, but Conway Twitty’s It’s Only Make Believe overtook it after three weeks at the top.

Oh Boy! was replaced in 1959 by another Good project, Boy Meets Girls. Lord Rockingham’s XI hadn’t been able to maintain their fame, and also had to settle out of court with the real Lord Rockingham (hang on, there’s a real Lord Rockingham?), so they disbanded at the same time. Robinson moved into arranging and conducting songs for musicals, and subsequently became a noteworthy string arranger for several folk artists of the late 1960s. In particular, his work on Nick Drake’s River Man is sublime and sometimes I think it might be the best use of strings I’ve ever heard in a ‘pop’ song.

I first heard Hoots Mon, like lots of 50s and 60s songs, in an advert. Maynard’s Wine Gums used it in 1993 and rewrote the most famous line, coming up with ‘There’s juice loose aboot this hoose’. A mad caricature of a Scotsman manically chews sweets while items around the house come to life courtesy of Aardman Animations (incidentally, this very track was number 1 when Nick Park was born. Clearly, it was meant to be). If only all adverts were as ridiculous and fun as this. I hope Robinson enjoyed this remake. Sadly he passed away in 1996.

One of my favourite groups of all time, the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, reformed in 2006 for an amazing anniversary gig at the London Astoria. One of the live highlights of my life, they decided to carry on for a while, and released an album, Pour l’amour des Chiens in 2007. It was patchy, but one of the highlights was Hawkeye the Gnu (get it?) a reworked version of Hoots Mon, featuring vocals from Stephen Fry. An inspired decision, and I’m only surprised the band never recorded it in their original incarnation.

While Hoots Mon was riding high, The British Electronic Computer Exhibition, the world’s first of its kind, was held at Earl’s Court in London. It ran from 28 November to 4 December. On 30 November, viewers of Armchair Theatre were left puzzled when actor Gareth Jones disappeared inbetween scenes during the play Underground. The drama was broadcast live, and Jones had suffered a fatal heart attack. Bizarrely, his character was supposed to suffer one later in the programme. The rest of the cast were forced to improvise an ending, which I imagine was a bit of a mess. As winter began, the country’s first motorway, the Preston Bypass, was opened by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan on 5 December.

Written and produced by: Harry Robinson 

Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 November-18 December)

Births:

Animator Nick Park – 6 December

Deaths:

Actor Gareth Jones – 30 November