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Step back to 1978 – Part 1

November 11th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

In 1977 I started to build a record collection; in 1978, the year I turned 12, I began to be really serious about music, buying singles by the Sex Pistols and Jethro Tull alike. And I became a Blondie fan before anyone else I knew was even aware of them. In early 1978 I had my first kiss (which also was the last for a while), went to my first rock concert (ditto), and made a friend whom I recently met again for the first time in 29 years (but more of that at a later stage). The first part of my 1978 nostalgia trip ““ on which songs are chosen only if they have the power to transport me back to the time ““ covers the first three months or so of the year.

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Blondie – X-Offender.mp3
What a difference a couple of months make when you”re 11. In the autumn I had bought a single by teen herbert Leif Garrett; in winter I bought a single by NYC punk scene regulars Blondie. Or, better put, my not yet impressive penis bought it. I saw the cover of the re-released X-Offender single (it had originally been issued in 1976), and fell for Debbie Harry. Like a week or so before with the Runaways record, I tingled with excitement at the thought of hearing Debbie Harry sing. The very sexy spoken intro followed by the rapid drums and that guitar which sounded unlike anything I had heard before instantly broadened my musical horizon. I am still impressed with my nascent trendspotting talents: Blondie”s breakthrough with Denis was still a couple months off, but I already was a fan, even if I knew only X-Offender and the rather good b-side, Man Overboard.

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Long Tall Ernie & the Shakers – Do You Remember.mp3
A few years before Stars on 45 afflicted us, fellow Dutch nostalgia merchants Long Tall Ernie and the Shakers visited their Sha Na Na stylings upon us in medley format. Actually, it isn”t at all bad, as these things go. In the song lead singer Arnie Treffers introduces the notion of nostalgia and memories of Buddy Holly, and then the rest of the band lets go with songs like Little Richard”s Lucille, the New Beats” Bread And Butter and the Everly Brother”s excellent Bird Dog (one of my constant earworms), occasionally enquiring of us whether we can remember. Obviously I couldn”t, having been not even nearly alive in the 1950s. In fact, those early days of rock & roll seemed very distant to me in 1978, so that the song was something of a history lesson for me. Considering that the songs in the medley were all about 20 years old at the time, today”s corollary medley might include songs by Tracy Chapman, U2, Kylie Minogue, DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Crowded House and Babyface.

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Uriah Heep – Lady In Black.mp3
Uriah Heep – Free Me.mp3

Originally from 1971, Lady In Black was re-released in Germany in 1977, and became a Top 20 hit. This and Free Me, which I bought in March or thereabouts, are the only Heep records I have ever acquired. But Lady In Black is important for a very good reason: it reminds me of my first kiss. I would like to say that it was a beautiful moment, like Kevin and Winnie”s first kiss in The Wonder Years. Alas, it was more the product of a bet. My friend, who was just half a year older than me but much more advanced, dared me and my “girlfriend” to French kiss. So we accepted the dare, rather unsure about what to do with our tongues once our open mouths met. Our tongues touched lightly before we both withdrew them in mild disgust, yet excited by the sensation. It was dark and it was winter. I felt her warm breath exhaling on my face, which was probably more sensual than the meeting of lips. And, er, her long hair was blowing in the mid-winter wind”¦

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Tom Robinson Band – 2-4-6-8 Motorway.mp3
Around the time I bought this, Tom Robinson was causing a bit of a furore with his song Glad To Be Gay, sentiments that were not often publicly expressed. At a time when punk was finally seeping into the German consciousness, Robinson”s proclamation was so counter-cultural as to include him in the movement. Of course, like many others who were included under the punk banner, Robinson was more of a pub rocker. Or pop rocker. Still, his lyrics were militant for their time (Motorway itself has a gay subtext, of course), and I think I can credit Robinson for making an important contribution to my unconditional rejection of homophobia.

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Bonnie Tyler – It”s A Heartache.mp3
In February 1978 I saw my first live concert, a multiple bill organised by Bravo magazine, headed by Slade. It was not in our city, so my friends Jens and Andreas and I took a train to the town where the gig was held, about 250km away. Jens, the leader was 12, Andreas and I were 11 (and some fraction which I”m sure we were willing to state as an indication that we were, in fact, closer to being 12 than 11). Times have changed, I think. I have no memory of how we found our way from the station to the arena, but we got there. The bill included a British teen outfit called The Busters (whose identifying gimmick consisted of having black hair and wearing identical denim jackets), Schlager singer Bernhard Brink (who had a white man”s “fro) and Bonnie Tyler, who was just then having a big hit with It”s A Heartache. A year previously ““ hell, two months previously ““ I would have liked the song. Now I had tasted Blondie, and Jens and I were into punk. Tyler was for the housewives. We enjoyed Slade though. Dave Hill, he of the stupid haircut, no longer had a stupid haircut: he was now completely bold, at a time when shaved heads were very unusual. I cannot say whether it was a good gig, but I remember emerging from the hall into the cold winter’s evening air soaked in sweat.

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Sweet – Love Is Like Oxygen.mp3
My affection for Sweet was such that I bought the Level Headed LP when they made their comeback on the Polydor label, a big financial outlay which requireed much sacrifice (that is, at least that of three singles). By now, Andy Scott was wearing a middle-aged men”s beard, as though he was going to join the Beach Boys; Steve Priests looked sober and serious, and Mick Tucker and Brian Connolly were about to shear their locks. The music now was much more prog than pop rock. The lads obviously wanted to be taken seriously. Well, they might have been, had they not produced an album that was even more boring than one by Barclay James Harvest, and less deprived of the Zeitgeist than Emerson Lake Palmer. The lead single, however, was pretty good, like a song by the Electric Light Orchestra.

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Darts – Come Back My Love.mp3
The inclusion of Long Tall Ernie may have tipped off the reader that I rather enjoyed the odd bit of retro-rock & roll, even if I fancied myself at the time as a bit punk (though I didn”t dress punk, or act  punk, or hated society any more than my non-punk mates). Among the revivalists, The Darts were the greatest. I remember buying the Darts LP, alongside The Tubes” What Do You Want from Live, on a trip to Stockholm. I still have the Darts album; the Tubes LP was lost long ago. Daddy Cool/The Girl Can”t Help It was the bigger hit, and it was that song which turned me on to Darts. But soon I preferred the cover of the Wrens 1954 song, which featured in The Originals Vol. 3 (as did the original of Daddy Cool by The Rays).

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Sex Pistols – No One Is Innocent.mp3
Sex Pistols – My Way.mp3
At the time it seemed the height of impertinence: Sid Vicious ““ we didn”t know yet just how undeserving of adulation that miscreant junkie was ““ first warbling and then quite amusingly violating My Way, by way of telling Sinatra: “Oi, old geezer, your song is shit!” We had no idea at the time that Sinatra himself hated the song and, if he had cared to acquaint himself with Mr Vicious” interpretation, he probably applauded its defilement, in the principle of it, if not in execution. My Way just is too easy and obvious a target to be subversive, really. Roping in Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs for what was initially presumed to be the a-side was a touch more seditious. Musically, the song was, well, not very good. Biggs deserved to be locked up just for singing in public.

Of course, at the time I also had The Sex Pistols” Never Mind The Bollocks LP. It is fair to say that my brother, two years younger than I, did not like their music much. So one day he scribbled on the vinyl with a ballpoint pen, apparently in retaliation to my alleged act of iconoclasm involving his poster of Winnetou, the noble Native American friend of Old Shatterhand dreamt up by the 19th century German author Karl May (who had never been to the USA, never mind the Wild West, but whose stories are still hugely popular in Germany). As far as disproportionate responses go, my brother belonged in the camp of those who sought to exterminate and subjugate Winnetou and his people”¦

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The Stranglers – Nice “n Sleazy.mp3
My friend Jens had a fine collection of punk albums, which I tried to match with punk singles. Of course, time would show that most of the stuff we called punk wasn”t punk at all. Still, Jens had albums by the Damned, Boomtown Rats, Ultravoxx and so on. I had Holiday In The Sun and later No One Is Innocent/My Way. And I had this single, a fine track with expert sneering featuring one of my favourite rock riffs ever, though I had no idea what sleazy was (till I looked it up and found the answer richly satisfying). The pun, of course, passed me by, seeing as I was still learning English. Same day I bought a single by an outfit called The Killers (not to be confused with the currently successful band). That single “” it had a German shepherd on the cover ““ was utterly horrible.

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Brian & Michael – Matchstalk Men & Matchstalk Cats & Dogs.mp3
One of the great discoveries in 1978 was the weekly radio broadcast of the latest UK charts ““ it might have been the Top 10 or Top 20 ““ by which I got to know all the latest tunes (like Brian & Michael”s number) before they would finally make it in West-Germany. So I would sit with my grandmother”s cassette-radio portable and recorded most songs. The recorder very usefully had a fade-out button, so the shock of the inevitable cut forced by jabbering DJs was not as brutal as it otherwise might have been. At the time, I might have bought records by the Sex Pistols and the Stranglers, and by Gerry Rafferty and Kate Bush and the Rolling Stones ““ but I was still 12. Of course I liked Matchstick Men & Matchstick Cats & Dogs, even if I didn”t buy the record, because that certainly would not have been at all cool. And how could a song featuring a children”s choir be cool? Here it was the St Winifred”s School Choir, who would later torment Britain with songs about their collective grandma. On Matchstalk Men, they are singing the children”s song The Big Ship Sails On The Alley-Alley-O. Matchstalk Men, incidentally, was a tribute to the northern English artist LS Lowry, who died in 1976 and is mentioned in the song.

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Wings – With A Little Luck.mp3
I admit it: I liked Mull Of Kintyre, which I bought the week it came out in 1977. By the time With A Little Luck was released, Kintyre was still a massive hit in Germany, and I was beginning to get sick of it. In fact, I liked With A Little Luck better; so much so that I bought the London Town album (or it might have been on the Greatest Hits album, which I think came out before that, and which I also bought. Anyone know which came first?). It’s a charming little tune, with a synth that actually sounded warm. I liked the “with a-little-luck-a-little-luck-a-little-luck” bit, and the double “we can do it”, which sounds like it was a production mistake. Now, do I have an unnecessarily dirty mind when I detect a sexual meaning in this line: “With a little love, we could shake it up, don”t you feel the comet exploding”?

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  1. Rhod
    November 12th, 2010 at 23:29 | #1

    Another excellent mix of fine tunes

    Regards

    Rhod

  2. Jenny
    November 13th, 2010 at 05:23 | #2

    Am I the only one who finds the ronnie biggs song stupidly enjoyable?

  3. Tony
    November 13th, 2010 at 20:00 | #3

    I’m coming out of my shell and now commenting on the blogs I’ve been following for a while. Yours is one of my faves. 1978 is a great year in music for me, and even though I grew up in the States I always appreciated what was popular in Europe more. Keep up the good work, your commentary and choices are excellent!

  4. halfhearteddude
    November 13th, 2010 at 21:00 | #4

    Thanks for commenting, Tony. Every blogger feeds off comments, so your kind words are much appreciated.

  5. November 16th, 2010 at 22:12 | #5

    Yes, dude – this is seriously fine work and your efforts are appreciated. From what I recall, the year gets better and better?

  6. November 30th, 2010 at 01:16 | #6

    Agree with you on ‘With A Little Luck’, and in fact that whole album’s underrated. There’s the usual McCartney nonsense filler (‘Children Children’ and ‘Famous Groupies’), but I really love the title track and the last two tracks on side 2 especially, ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ (trite advice for the depressed, I know, but a great tune), and ‘Morse Moose and the Grey Goose’ – stupid title, but good if you don’t mind the kind of bombastic rock epic that was probably seriously out of style already by that point.

    Speaking of stupid, I’ve been listening to Nice ‘n Sleazy for over 30 years, and I still haven’t picked up on any pun. ‘Nicen sleazy’? ‘Nigh Sense Lee Z’? Please enlighten me!

  7. halfhearteddude
    November 30th, 2010 at 07:16 | #7

    Nice and easy does it every time…

  8. November 30th, 2010 at 15:28 | #8

    Ah, cheers. I was too close to the wood to see the trees.

  9. bbq_bod
    December 8th, 2010 at 22:54 | #9

    Darts – ‘Come Back My Love’ was the first record I ever bought. I was age 10.

    Nice blog bro! Thanks for the shares.

    peace

  10. walter
    December 19th, 2010 at 20:17 | #10

    Love your step back’s, dude , I’m 5 years older, but I do recognize a lot in your tellings. The late 70s were great years in music… I can guess what’s coming now: Undertones, Madness, Police, Kim Wilde, Nena, ain’t it? Thanks !

  11. December 30th, 2010 at 14:12 | #11

    Sorry to be so late but I wanted to add another McCartney-esque thumbs up for ‘With A Little Luck’ – a gorgeous track I have loved for 30 years. The truncated version (single edit) you sometimes hear doesn’t do it justice, it’s the full-length album versh we need. I think Wing’s Greatest Hits came out just before Christmas 1978; London Town back in the spring. You continue to do sterling work here AMD. Happy New Year dear boy.

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