My Sister’s Records

Originally published March 2007

Between 1975 and 1977 my sister went from worshipping the Bay City Rollers and the ground they walked on to thinking The Clash were the greatest thing since sliced bread. That’s quite a big leap from “Shang-a-Lang” (or “Shag-a-Slag” as we called it – what wits we were!) to “White Riot” but she didn’t make it in one bound. In between the two she had a fling with The Steve Miller Band and their Fly Like An Eagle album which she bought because she liked the “Take The Money and Run” single from it.

There’s no logical connection between Scottish teenyboppers, American soft rockers, and guttersnipe London punks but we probably all have these “stepping stone” records as we mature and go looking in all directions for new experiences as restless teenagers are wont to do. My sister’s fellow Rollermaniac friend Sue had a dalliance with Nils Lofgren before diving headlong into punk, orange hair, and bondage trousers, and I got from ELO to The Jam via Bruce Springsteen.

Fly Like An Eagle is actually a pretty good album, a mix of catchy, Fleetwood Mac-esque soft rock and trippy electronics – what Miller called “space blues” – held together by a lazy, hazy vibe which suggests everyone got very high making the record. My favourite track “Wild Mountain Honey” is an ethereal ballad that floats along sprinkling fairy dust as it goes, with Miller’s breathy vocals giving it a lovely warm and intimate feel. The title track is fairly well known but this is the longer album version with the dreamy “Space Intro” beginning which is all electronic bleeps and wooshes that wouldn’t sound too out of place on a Tangerine Dream album. Its spacey groove makes it sound very modern today, though back then they probably used steam-powered synthesizers.

Download: Wild Mountain Honey – Steve Miller Band (mp3)<
Download: Space Intro/Fly Like An Eagle – Steve Miller Band (mp3)


My Dad’s Records

Originally published April 2013.

My old man was quite the cool dude in his youth, wearing sharp suits and listening to Frank Sinatra, Dave Brubeck, and the Modern Jazz Quartet. But just as his marriage didn’t survive the social and cultural upheaval of the 1960s, his old taste in music didn’t either, by the 1970s he’d dropped all that square stuff and was listening to adult-oriented soft rock like James Taylor, Paul Simon, and The Eagles. He’d also grown a beard and wore his hair longer so he looked like a mellow Californian soft-rocker too.

As an opinionated young man into The Jam and Joy Division I was very disdainful of the “hippie rubbish” my Dad liked and knew that the older stuff he liked was far cooler. He used to have parties at his house in the summer and Boxing Day and at one of them I put the Getz/Gilberto album on the stereo only to come back into the room a little while later to find that he’d taken it off and put on Hotel California instead. I was appalled and tried to explain to him just how naff he was being, but I suppose it’s the job of your parents to embarrass you.

The record that reminds me most of my old man is Steve Winwood’s 1980 album Arc of a Diver which he played all the time, especially the opening track “While You See a Chance” which would set him off grooving around his living room in a very Dad-like way (I dance like that myself now). That synth intro always washes over me like a Proustian wave bringing back memories of those parties at his house, thinking I was very grown-up drinking Scotch and Ginger Ale, talking about movies with my Dad, and smoking joints with my Uncle Peter.

I can’t say I really loved the album at the time but I also didn’t leave the room muttering snottily when he put it on either because Winwood had one of the best white-soul voices the UK has ever produced and the synths on it made it sound fairly modern.

My Dad was in his 40s around this time which is younger than I am now, and I must admit that I do enjoy the occasional Paul Simon or Fleetwood Mac record myself these days, a lot more than I ever play Joy Division. I still think Stan Getz is cooler than The Eagles though.

Download: While You See A Chance – Steve Winwood (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

Stevie Nicks with ex-Mac guitarist Bob Welch and Mick Fleetwood on cow bell jamming up a storm to produce probably the best version of this song I’ve heard.

At the end she says “They never let me go long on this song!” with so much happy gratitude it makes me sad to think the rest of Fleetwood Mac are bossing Stevie Nicks around. You just know that “they” is Lindsey Buckingham, right?

The Lost City

I know a fair bit about the history of pop but I’m not a trainspotter about it like some people. That could be why until recently I had no idea that Tapestry wasn’t the first album Carole King recorded after leaving New York and settling in Laurel Canyon. Before her epochal solo debut she made the 1968 album Now That Everything’s Been Said as part of a trio called The City which was reissued a couple of years ago after decades as a lost rarity.

Sound-wise it sits in a real sweet spot between the Brill Building pop she’d been writing before and the more naturalistic vibe of her solo albums. It’s packed full of great tunes but shockingly wasn’t a success (King had stage fright and didn’t want to go on the road to promote it) and was the only album the group made. But I guess if it had done well we wouldn’t have got Tapestry so, you know, silver lining.

This track is a Carole King/Gerry Goffin song that was first recorded by The Byrds but I prefer this version because it’s more soulful.

Download: Wasn’t Born To Follow – The City (mp3)

In The Sunshine

I’ve never been to California but in my imagination it’s like this song: Driving down a highway in a convertible with the sun on your face, the wind in your hair, and the smell of palm trees and the Pacific Ocean in the air. The reality is probably more like being stuck in an endless traffic jam on a freeway outside a smog-covered LA.

The weather has been nice here the past few days but it definitely feels like summer is over so this is my farewell to it. Soon New England will be ablaze in the oranges and reds of Fall leaves on the trees. Then they’ll fall off and I’ll have to rake thousands of the buggers up from our back garden.

America were pretty crap but this is a lovely tune. The only other group I can think of named after a country is Japan. Anyone know any others?

Download: Ventura Highway – America (mp3)