From the fifties last month, we’re heading across to the kaleidoscope decade where music, fashion and lifestyle rarely stood still for a minute. A slight exaggeration perhaps but it was an exciting time to be alive, when, for example, music was far from boring. Let’s check it out….
We’ll kick off with the singles chart and a song that didn’t travel well through the years as few people admitted to having it on their radar. I guess those of a certain young age will remember “In The Summertime” by the British rock group Mungo Jerry, a happy-go-lucky single from 1970 that easily soared to the top of the chart. But how many, like myself, will scratch their heads trying to recall the follow-up which was this month’s number one named “Baby Jump” by the same group. Nah: I thought not. So perhaps a little backstory is needed. The single originally hit the chart at number 32 before dropping out due to lack of sales. This was attributed to a national postal strike at the time. Two weeks later, with the strike over, the single returned to climb to the top. The success of “Baby Jump” made Mungo Jerry, with Ray Dorset on lead, the first British act since Gerry and the Pacemakers, to enjoy two number one titles with their first two singles. And they very nearly made it three in a row with their next outing “Lady Rose” but the single was hastily withdrawn due to the controversial flipside “Have A Whiff On Me”. Mungo Jerry never really recovered from this lapse of judgement.
However let’s return to “Baby Jump” which was as different as chalk and cheese from/to (never sure which is right) “In The Summertime”; in fact, it’s hard to believe the same group was responsible as they dumped the featherweight sound of their debut for a rock tempo with Ray Dorset adopting a growl rather than a singing note. Actually one reviewer claimed the single outstayed its welcome which made the false ending all the more annoying. Yeah, about that false ending. The group decided the single was too short, so repeated the trick used on their first single, by creating a false ending which led to the song kicking in again. Then there was concern about Ray Dorset’s lyrics, a situation which seemed to have been swept under the carpet at the time of the single’s life. I checked the verses on the internet just now, and was rather disturbed at what I read. Ray wrote about a young girl wearing a see-through sweater and black stockings, then sang “you bet your life I’ll attack.” I’m not printing any more as, in today’s society, they’re quite sickening. Ray once said his inspiration to write such trite came from his admiration of Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper lover, and even more unsettling, the erotic novel “Lolita.” Finally, Baby Jump” like “In The Summertime” before it, was released as a maxi-single playing at 33 rpm, the turntable speed for albums, instead of 45 rpm for singles. Oh and should it cross your mind why the group was so named, Ray Dorset borrowed it from the poem “Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer” from T. S. Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book Of Practical Cats.”
Sitting at number two was ex-Beatle George Harrison’s beautifully crafted “My Sweet Lord”, a song he wrote in December 1969, and which was influenced by his work on Radha Krishna Temple’s “Hare Krishna Mantra”. Ironically, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were always considered to be the greatest songwriting duo of the modern age, which, of course, meant George was relegated to the back row while a member of The Beatles. Sure, he pushed himself to the front row now and again with his compositions, but the bulk was always Lennon and McCartney’s work. Now the time had arrived for George to flex his composing muscle which over the years had blossomed into a very special and unique quiet talent. In fact, it was George with “My Sweet Lord” who scored the first solo Beatle number one hit. Stand back John and Paul, the quiet one meant business!
Apparently, George originally penned the song for Billy Preston for his “Encouraging Words” album with the Edwin Hawkins Singers on background vocals. Probably in a light bulb moment, George decided to record it himself and to this end, stripped down the song, included the Hare Krishna mantra and the third verse of the Guru Stotram, an ancient hymn praising Hindu spiritual leaders. Said the ex-Beatle “Mantras are, well, they call it a mystic sound vibration encased in a syllable. Once I chanted it for three days non-stop driving through Europe, and you just get hypnotised.” However, as “My Sweet Lord” peaked, George was slapped with a heavily publicised copyright infringement suit due to the similarity to The Chiffons’ smashing 1963 hit “He’s So Fine”. To be fair, his song does sound like he swiped some of the chords to the extent that many fans believed it was a cover version with extras. Phil Spector, who produced the single was blamed, while George publicly retaliated saying he had used a copyright-free Christian hymn “Oh Happy Day” as his inspiration. The legalities of the case were, of course, spread over several years and covered George saying he subconsciously copied “He’s So Fine”, the selling and buying of record companies, staff being sacked, all leading to George eventually owning the rights to “He’s So Fine”. You can’t make it up can you? But working for The Beatles’ record company, EMI Records at the time, I can confirm it was a rather tense time in the history of the group because if he had lost the case, George would have lost a considerable chunk of his fortune in damages. “My Sweet Lord” spread like a rash across the world, selling millions of copies, to become the biggest selling single of 1971.
In a 1980 interview John Lennon said George must have known he had copied the song because “he’s smarter than that. He could have changed a couple of bars in that song and nobody could have touched him, but he just let it go and paid the price.” In another interview Paul McCartney confessed The Beatles “stole a lot of stuff from other artists” and added that George nicking from “He’s So Fine” was validated because he “avoided the boy-girl thing and offered an important spiritual message.”
A less controversial single stalled at number three – “The Pushbike Song” by the Australian group The Mixtures. Written by brothers Evan and Idris Jones, this novelty song hit the Australian chart at the top but was held off moving up by Mr Harrison. I’ve no recollection at all of this single so checked YouTube which to be honest didn’t help at all. The music video though was rather unmemorable too, showing the group and a few friends cycling through a busy six-lane arterial rod in Melbourne. A variety of contraptions were used from penny farthings, tandems and roller skaters.
Other singles in the top ten were more inspiring like the beforementioned Mr McCartney with a so-so “Another Day”; Ashton, Gardner and Dyke’s upbeat “The Resurrection Shuffle” and “Sweet Caroline” from Neil Diamond, that much-loved drinking song! Sitting in between these at number eight was The Supremes with “Stoned Love”. When Diana Ross left the trio to pursue a solo career as a singer and actress, Jean Terrell replaced her, bringing with her a wonderfully distinctive voice so suited to their material. So, Jean, with Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong as support vocalists, brought alive the Kenny Thomas/Frank Wilson composition that embraced a plea for love and peace, and the hope of ending conflicts like the Vietnam War. It wasn’t a song about drugs as many, like myself, believed at the time. Then I learned something else. The song’s title was actually “Stone Love” recorded in the Spring of 1970 with the backing track laid down by Motown’s inhouse group The Funk Brothers and 30 session musicians in their Detroit studio. The Supremes then added their voices while in New York. Something went astray because by the time the song was ready for commercial release, the record label mistakenly read “Stoned Love”. It was easier – and cheaper – to just leave it.
Just as viewers were settling into the brilliant BBC2 series Elizabeth R starring the amazing Glenda Jackson in the starring role, over on ITV screened Sesame Street for the first time. This children’s educational series was, of course, famous for Jim Henson’s Muppets – and that’s a whole different story! To be honest, there was no other programme like it for those of a young learning age and to show just how popular it was – by 2001 it had been watched by 120 million viewers across the world, and by its 50th anniversary in 2019, 190 million children had viewed over 160 versions of the programme in 70 languages. Now that’s what you call successful!
A couple of soundtrack albums now and with one I can sense I’m heading for trouble. So first things first. Alongside compilations from Jimi Hendrix “The Cry Of Love” and The Rolling Stones’ “Stone Age”, Elton John released “Friends”, the soundtrack for the film of the same name. As it turned out, the title track was a poor selling single, yet the album was nominated for a 1972 Grammy in the Best Original Score Written For A Motion Picture. The film itself was a British-French teenage romance starring Sean Bury and Anicee Alvina (I don’t know who they are) that attracted scathing reviews for its portrayal of teenage sex. “Just plain dirty” was one, while “the audiences are made to feel like peeping toms” and “rather exasperating” were a couple of others. I think I’ll stick with Hendrix and the Stones, at least you know where you are with them!
Also released was a budget priced album “You’ll Never Walk Alone” from Elvis Presley, offering previously released gospel tracks dating back to 1957; the third from the British group Mott The Hoople titled “Wildlife” and one from one of our best groups The Kinks – and this is where I could come a little unstuck. The album is the soundtrack to the British comedy film “Percy” starring Denholm Elliott, Hywell Bennett, Britt Ekland and Elke Sommer. The storyline went something like this. An innocent young man named Edwin was hit by a naked man falling from a high rise building. He was holding a chandelier. Edwin’s penis is cut to pieces in this rather bizarre accident and was amputated. Ouch! Edwin, played by Hywell Bennett, becomes the proud recipient of the world’s first penis transplant thanks to the falling man who died. However, as the dead man was a committed womaniser, Edwin’s new, erm, attachment was rather on the large size. He named it Percy and then set off to enjoy himself. The film went on to become the 8th most popular at the British box office in 1971, with a profit of £43,000 a year later, eventually raking in £500,000.
As for the music, The Kinks released a four-track EP featuring “God’s Children”, “The Way Love Used To Be”, “Moments” and “Dreams”. All the tracks were written by group member Ray Davies and marked their final album for Pye Records. During 1998 and 2004 it was released on CD with bonus tracks, while in 2014 a super dooper deluxe 2-CD package was available featuring several different song mixes.
That’s it for now. I’ll be back again next month with the time machine cranked up and ready for the off.