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Step back to 1977 – Part 1

1977, the year I turned 11, was a pivotal year in my life, perhaps more than any other. My family was torn apart by my father”s sudden death, I discovered love and became a serious fan of pop music. We”ll deal with the first two in part 1. As always, I must stress that all songs are included here because they have the power to beam me back to the time under discussion. Some I like, and some I most certainly do not endorse. Don”t despair, things will get better as I get older”¦
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Electric Light Orchestra – Livin” Thing.mp3
Until this point, the Electric Light Orchestra had passed me by, and they would again do so until 1979/80, when I really liked their hits Don”t Bring Me Down, Confusion and Shine A Light from the Discovery album. There were other songs in between, and every friend”s long-haired, bumfluff-moustached older brother had a few ELO albums, alongside the ubiquitous Heart LP (the one with Barracuda, which to this day remains Annoying Older Brother music to me). But I didn”t dig ELO. Except Livin” Thing. Perhaps not coincidentally, it sounds much like the Discovery era ELO. The production is brilliant, of course (the strings especially), but it”s the chorus that must have grabbed me then. For all values that I have come to appreciate about ELO since then, I don”t think they were that great with choruses.

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Bay City Rollers – Yesterday”s Hero.mp3
In West Germany, the little girls maintained a rivalry between the Bay City Rollers and Sweet. If churning out the better hits in 1977 is the yardstick by which we shall measure victory, BCR won, even as the song”s title was becoming increasingly apt. Yesterday”s Hero is a bit of a stomper in the Saturday Night vein. Written by Harry Vanda and George Young, it was originally recorded in 1975 by John Paul Young, who”d score a couple of worldwide hits in 1977/78 with Love Is In The Air and Standing In The Rain (an Italian cardinal was such a great fan, he adopted the singer”s name upon becoming pope in August 1978). George Young, incidentally is AC/DC”s Angus and Malcolm Young”s older brother. With Vanda, George had been a member of the Easybeats. They then recorded as Flash and the Pan. They also produced AC/DC”s Powerage and High Voltage albums.

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Bonnie Tyler – Lost In France.mp3
If any record my mother bought was going to excite me, then it had to be one that included the timeless lyrics: “Hoolay-hoolay hoolay-hoolay-dance”. It might have supposed to sound like ooh-la-la ooh-la-la dance, but Mrs Tyler (no doubt she was married, because she looked like a Hausfrau) gave the French phrase her own Welsh twist. Lost In France, which sounds like a Smokie song, was recorded before Tyler had an operation on her vocal chords, which gave her already smoky voice that distinctive rasp. Within a year Tyler had an even bigger hit, with It”s a Heartache, and in 1983 with the magnificent Jim Steinman production Total Eclipse Of The Heart.

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Frank Zander – Oh Susie (Der zensierte Song).mp3
While my interest in German Schlager had diminished by 1977, I couldn”t escape the likes of Peter Alexander, Roberto Blanco, Costa Cordalis and Howard Carpendale on the radio or TV. Compared to those ingratiating chumps, Frank Zander was fairly cool. With his almost tuneless voice and faintly amusing lyrics (well, up to a point), he certainly stood apart from the chumps. He had first come to general notice in 1975 with Ich trink auf dein Wohl Marie, the supposed humour of which resided in his supposed drunkenness (hell, at nine years of age, I was amused). Two years later, he had moved from the adult Marie to jalbait Susie, of the “uncensored song” which through the medium of country-pop operates on the fun to be had with bleeped out double entendres. Oh, how we almost laughed. An “uncensored version” was also released, with Zander voicing over the supposed words that were bleeped out, but those were not really objectionable either; a comedic double bluff, in other words. Zander later became a full-time practitioner of the novelty song, doing unhilarious spoof covers of Trio”s Da Da Da and, under the pseudonym Fred Sonnenschein released particularly inane Scheiße.

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Lynsey De Paul & Mike Moran – Rock Bottom.mp3
Ah, the days when Britain still had a shot at winning the Eurovision Song Contest; before bitter regional enemies in the Balkans would divvy up the highest numbers of points between one another (except this year, when Germany won). Rock Bottom was the runner-up in the 1977 contest. France won that year, with Marie Myriam”s L”oiseau et l”enfant, a song I would not even pretend to recognise if it stuck its tongue down my throat while humming itself. And while Croatia is happy to give Serbia 12 points, Ireland gave Rock Bottom nil points. Austria”s entry, Eurovision cliché watchers will be pleased to know, was titled Boom Boom Boomerang. Mike Moran went on to produce David Bowie and write the theme for crime TV series Taggard. De Paul had already enjoyed a career as a singer and songwriter (including Barry Blue”s hit Dancin” On a Saturday Night). At around the time that Moran co-wrote Kenny Everett”s not entirely welcome Snot Rap, De Paul was singing songs for the Conservative Party.

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Space – Magic Fly.mp3
This was a bit of an instrumental novelty hit in the way that there always was at least one every year in the German charts. Unlike some of the others, however, Magic Fly is rather good. Space were a pretty cool French disco act whose music might well be sought out by aficionados of the genre. I had the single of this. It got stolen at the last church youth camp I bothered attending, in 1979. The youth leaders didn”t even bother to investigate the theft of my records (the violation of the commandments about theft and coveting thy neighbour”s goods notwithstanding). That annoyed me, because in 1976 they had a whole scene from The Shield going when some hapless goon stole a popular guy”s pocketknife. Nobody asked what the cool guy was doing with a knife in a church camp in the first place. But to the religious church camp regime, rightful ownership of weapon clearly was more important than pop music. So, you know, fuck them.

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Oliver Onions – Orzowei.mp3
I actually didn”t like this song that much; my younger brother was a great fan of it (and, yeah, the chorus is quite catchy, in the way choruses with the phrase “nananana-nananana-nananana-na-na” often are). Little bro” was also a great Bud Spencer and Terence Hill fan, so he had an Italian obsession already which would only later incorporate the finer aspects of that country”s rich cultural heritage. Oliver Onions (named after the British writer) were Italian film writers Guido & Maurizio De Angelis, who wrote for Bud Spencer & Terence Hill movies. Orzowei was the theme song for what I think was an Italian mini-series titled in Germany Weißer Sohn des kleinen Königs, a story about a white boy brought up in an African tribe. It was a German #1 in late May and early June, which was, as we will see in the next entry, a rather significant point in my young life.

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Julie Covington – Don”t Cry For Me Argentina.mp3
In early June, my mother bought the single of this. One night she played it for my father, a theatre and opera buff who probably would have liked any of the crap inflicted upon us by that revolting grease-head Andrew Lloyd-Webber. And, indeed, Mom and Dad, sitting together on the green suede lounge suite, really enjoyed that song together. A couple of nights later (the anniversary of which is on Saturday), a shrill scream echoed through our house, alerting me to the notion I was now fatherless. My father had collapsed with a heart attack at work; we had been notified that he had been taken to hospital, but didn”t know that he made his final, apparently artificial breath in the ambulance.

In the subsequent weeks, my mother was totally obsessed by Don”t Cry For Me Argentina, playing it over and over and over, her loud sobs disregarding Evita”s injunction not to shed tears for her or, by extension, my father. I cannot have an objective opinion of that song”s merits. I love that song because it evokes such intense emotions. And I hate it for the same reason. Catch me on the right day, and you’ll find that the strings that open Don”t Cry For Me Argentina can still produce a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach, or a tear in my eye.

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Smokie – It’s Your Life.mp3
Readers who are familiar with the oeuvre of Smokie will rightly question my good judgment in including this song, and, if there had to be Smokie, not one their bigger hits of 1977, Living Next Door To Alice (and you may very well ask politely who is Alice) or Lay Back In The Arms Of Someone, both far less rubbish tunes than this. But the point of the series is to include songs that have the power to transport me back to a particular time. It”s Your Life, a tempo-changing mish-mash of cod-reggae, bubblegum pop and Beatles-homage, does just that. It evokes the summer of 1977. When it comes to the bridge, and the backing singers start singing: “How does it feel”¦” I am inclined to continue “”¦one of the beautiful people”. The fleeting similarity to the Beatles” Baby You”re A Rich Man is not subtle. And the chorus borrows more than a bit from George Harrison”s My Sweet Lord (or, indeed, The Chiffons” He”s So Fine).

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Rod Stewart – Sailing.mp3
Yes, I know, it was a hit in 1975. Yet it belongs here. In August 1977, my brothers and I went on a church camp. The regular reader may recall from the 1976 installment that the previous year”s camp (the one with the pocketknife incident) had been intolerable due to my older brother”s Gauleiter complex, bullying me mercilessly. This year, he was totally cool. The whole group of about 40 kids from 9-15 was great and grew close over two weeks. It was one of the best fortnights of my life. And I fell in love with the lovely Antje, with her dark hair and little freckles on her nose. Of course I was too shy to do much about it, other than carving her name on my bed”s headboard (and anywhere else I found suitable). A night or two before our departure “” the day we received news of Elvis” death “” we had a disco evening. I was intent on asking Antje for a slow dance, and practised with one of the youth leaders, the generously bosomed Doris, to Ralph McTell”s Streets Of London. The next ballad would be my cue.

After loads of Sweet and T Rex songs, played by my DJing older brother, the opening notes of Rod Stewart”s Sailing sounded. Being totally sexy in my tight white jeans and navy T-shirt, I got up and made a beeline across the dancefloor for the lovely Antje. Halfway down, approaching from the right flank, came a chap called Roland. I had not known that he too had taken a fancy to the lovely Antje. For all I knew, he might have had his sights on any number of girls cliqued together in the lovely Antje”s vicinity. Still, somehow I sensed his intended target right at that moment.

It was like High Noon; tumbleweed blowing as nervous eyes darted here and there. Little me and big Roland, both after the same girl, with the entire crowd watching from the sidelines. Our paths met. Instinctively, I shoulder-charged my rival out of the way. As he tumbled away I reached the lovely Antje, stood in front of her and boldly asked her to dance to Rod Stewart”s Sailing. She looked inquiringly at her best friend, who nodded her consent. So Antje and I had our awkward first “” and, alas, last “” dance, with all my pals giving me the thumbs up, and Roland plotting a revenge which never came. After the camp, I never saw Antje again. But not a year goes by when I don”t think of her, of the feeling of my hands on the back of her slightly clammy T-shirt and her soft breath brushing against my neck.

So when I think of 1977, the shock and grief caused by my father”s death comes to mind, but also the intensity of my puppy love and the comfort of my holiday with a great group of people. The year had awoken in me an intense consciousness of life, and I would soon direct that intensity towards the fanatical acquisition of music.

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  1. June 4th, 2010 at 19:45 | #1

    Interesting how we were shaped by much of the same music growing up – that probably explains a lot about our tastes now. For me, it was ELO’s “Turn to Stone” as well as “Don’t Bring Me Down.” But for some reason, I absolutely fell in love with “Twilight,” which I think was around 1982. It barely scraped the Top 40, but it still gets a lot of play on my iPod.

    Bay City Rollers? S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night…

  2. June 5th, 2010 at 21:43 | #2

    That’s quite a skill you have there Dude – cashing in on the heavy yet distant memory bank. I seem to have put my stash in a ‘safe place’. Unfortunately I can’t remember where the safe is, never mind the key.

    Lovely post … as always.

  3. halfhearteddude
    June 5th, 2010 at 22:14 | #3

    Up to the ’90s, I can recall which month I bought a record, and sometimes even where. As of the mid-’90s I have no such memory. Sometimes I imagine some big hit from 2003 was big in 2007…

  4. June 5th, 2010 at 22:56 | #4

    Brilliant post, Dude. In the space of maybe three minutes it had me laughing out loud (“Rock Bottom”) and sighing with a lump in my throat (“Sailing”). I, too, had an Antje, though I never got even one dance. Consider yourself a fortunate man.

  5. Douglas
    June 7th, 2010 at 16:44 | #5

    Loved the camp story. Conjured up some maudlin moods of my own.

  6. June 9th, 2010 at 23:49 | #6

    Splendid blogging Major, as ever.

  7. carol
    June 11th, 2010 at 02:05 | #7

    What a storyteller! It’s not only the music that keeps me coming back, Mr. Dude. Thanks….

  8. Da5id
    June 20th, 2010 at 12:21 | #8

    Love your stories and memories! Thanks!
    In 1977 I was 9 years old, and I remember Meco’s disco version of the Star Wars theme. I also remember hearing and liking Heaven On The Seventh Floor and ‘Days Of The Old School Yard’ by Cat Stevens and ‘Telephone Line’ by ELO.

    It would be next year before I begged my parents for a copy of the Grease soundtrack (which I got for Christmas :)

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