I have to say, it’s a pure coincidence that this month kicks off again with a George Harrison related item and his American-made guitar. Not a Bartell fretless model this time though, rather a 1957 Gretsch 6128 guitar. He purchased it in Liverpool during 1961 and lovingly referred to it as his ‘old black Gretsch’ – I guess George obviously had a thing about naming his instruments. However, the love affair between the two ended when he later gifted it to Klaus Voorman, one-time bassist for Manfred Mann. Before the romance petered out, George actually posed with said instrument on the cover of his eleventh studio album “Cloud Nine” issued in November 1987. This was a significant release because it went on to introduce the world to The Travelling Wilburys when he teamed up with Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne and Tom Petty. “Cloud Nine” was, by the way, the result of George’s five-year hiatus from the music business due to his mounting frustrations with the changing musical climate at the time. And as mentioned last month, he had opted out to plough his energies into HandMade Films which, among other projects, was responsible for Water starring the delicious Michael Caine. When the music bug bit the ex-Beatle once more, he began working on new music in his home studio in Henley-on-Thames, recruiting his musical mates like Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Elton John to lend a helping talented hand. You may not immediately remember “Cloud Nine” but I’m sure when I mention “Got My Mind Set On You”, you’ll say ‘oh yeah, that rings a bell’. Anyway, despite the album being a huge success, George wasn’t encouraged to return to live gigs, although he did guest at the Prince’s Trust Concert with Ringo Starr when they performed “Here Comes The Sun” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. Nonetheless, the album encouraged George to stay with music, culminating with The Travelling Wilburys being born in the spring of 1988. The rest is history….
Still with a Beatle flavour, George’s group mate Paul McCartney also issued an album in November 1987, his second compilation outing titled “All The Best!” (The first was “Wings Greatest” in 1978) “Jet”, “Band On The Run”, “Listen To What The Man Said”, “Silly Love Songs”, “Pipes Of Peace” and “Ebony And Ivory” (with Stevie Wonder) were among the dynamic tracks. “All The Best!” soared to number two, being held off the top spot by George Michael’s first solo album “Faith” which we’ll come to a little later. Before leaving Sir Paul though, and zooming up to the present time, he swopped the musical note for the written word to release his book “The Lyrics”, in which he recounts his life through the prism of 154 songs from various stages of his career. There’s letters, photos and so on from his personal archive, and insights into his writing process – a real treasure trove of material, says the promotional blurb. Needless to say, it’s a big ‘ol book with an equally big ‘ol price tag at around £72.
Before digressing further, let’s return to 1987 and November’s top single – “You Win Again” from the Bee Gees, which marked the start of the brothers’ comeback, by soaring to number one where it stayed put for four weeks, much to George Michael’s annoyance who was stuck just below them with the single “Faith”. The Bee Gees’ forty-five swept across Europe, snatching top spots, and re-establishing them as an A-listed act. Nearly forgot, when “You Win Again” coveted the UK pole position (their first to do so in eight years I’m told) they were the first group to score a British number one in each of three decades, namely, 1960, 1970 and 1980. While most people believe the Gibb brothers to be Australian, they were born to English parents on the Isle of Man, later moving to Manchester until the 1950s when the family relocated to the Moreton Bay Region in Queensland. Long-story-short. The young brothers enjoyed their first hit with their twelfth single “Spicks And Specks” in Australia then decided to up stakes again to return to the UK in 1971, where they started working with producer Robert Stigwood who elevated them to international stardom. Saturday Night Fever was the major turning point in their career during 1977 as both film and soundtrack (which the brothers penned and mostly performed) hit the ground running, spiralling out of control, permeating disco music across the universe. By now, Barry’s falsetto had become their signature sound, replacing Robin’s pure vibrato lead vocals on their earlier hits, as, presumably, it was better suited to the type of material they were now writing. Whatever the reason, Barry’s voice was heard on the bulk of their future recordings.
So, finally we get to George Michael who, as mentioned earlier, was sitting patiently at number two with his first solo outing, clipped from the album of the same name, in the hope to displacing the Bee Gees. Oops – he didn’t! Never mind, because the “Faith” album shot to the top within days of its release. George said in an eighties interview with Countdown that “Faith” was never in line to be a single as it was only two minutes in length but as more and more people loved it, he decided to reconsider his decision. “There was no real guitar sound on it or anything…it’s great but it’s too short….so I went in and extended it. But it was originally never intended as a single. It was just going to be a really short track on the album.” Interestingly, the elpee spawned four chart topping American singles, namely, “Father Figure”, “One More Try”, “Monkey” and its title track earning Mr Michael the distinction of being the only solo British male to enjoy four number one hits from the same album. Unfortunately, this chart success wasn’t replicated in Britain. That’s the way it goes sometimes! And yet, listen up, the “Faith” album went on to become one of the best selling titles of all time, passing 25 million sales worldwide, earning armfuls of awards and honours as it did so, including a Grammy for Album of the Year, a trio of American Music Awards and goodness knows what else. A slight deviation here, as I’d like to mention the “Faith” single’s promotional video, as it was quite, erm, masculine compared to his stage clothes, performing antics and persona as one-half of Wham!. To say it was an eye-opening, gobsmacking image would be an understatement. Oh, am I still allowed to say the word ‘masculine’? Regardless, the video featured our Michael with noticeable stubble on his face, wearing Ray-Ban Aviator sunglasses, dressed in a pair of old Levis, cowboy boots, and black leather jacket showing logos for BSA and Rockers Revenge. Oh, and he was playing a guitar near a Wurlitzer jukebox. One critic noted he was a “masculine sex object” – there I’ve mentioned that word again. But something I didn’t realise, and have now checked it out, the video kicks off with slices of “I Want Your Sex” before being interrupted by “Faith”. And the single’s actual introduction is the chorus from Wham!’s “Freedom” played on a church organ. I think it’s best if we move on…
So, here comes Rick Astley and “Whenever You Need Somebody” sitting at number three. It was the title track from his debut album which according to his website has sold over 15 million copies globally and was, if it adds any weight to his credentials, the seventh best selling album of 1987 in Britain. I’ve always had a soft spot for Rick because his voice can be incredibly emotional, particularly when works with a choir behind him. I haven’t told too many people this … but….in 2019 I was invited by my family to see Take That performing in one of their arena concerts. Sitting on what appeared to be a concrete block at the side of the stage, my lower region was far from comfortable! Anyway, Rick was the support act. With hand on heart, I was blown away by his warm interaction with the massive audience, and thanks to the huge sophisticated sound system, his voice embraced the whole open air venue. I couldn’t see much of him, of course, relying on the huge stage screens to watch the act – but he was magnificent. As for Take That, well, let’s say, it was a one-off experience for me and I can see why they’re one of the top touring bands. The stage was colossal with colourful, breathtaking props and…….
Born and raised in Lancashire, Rick Astley joined the band FBI as a drummer shortly after leaving school. In just over three years, his professional career as a singer began, working with the celebrated Stock, Aitken, Waterman, where his debut single “Never Gonna Give You Up” hit the top in 25 or more countries. Due to its overwhelming popularity the song rapidly became his signature tune, and, if I dare say it, is as exciting today as it was upon first release. Fast track now through the years to 2021, when Rick was one of the few artists to honour our wonderful NHS and the gruelling work undertaken by nurses, doctors, emergency services and so on during the pandemic. “I felt helpless through the whole of Covid in terms of being able to do anything. My wife and I just came in one evening and said ‘we’ve got to be able to do more than bang a pot and pan'”. He subsequently performed a series of free concerts for those hard-working health workers. R-e-s-p-e-c-t!
From music to television now. That – oh – so popular television game show Play Your Cards Right hosted by Bruce Forsyth, ended this month. This meant viewers lost out on watching two contestants shouting ‘higher, higher’ or ‘lower, lower’ to win prizes from a winning line. Naturally, with Brucie’s quick wit and even snappier one-liners, he added icing to the cake, which often erupted into bouts of uncontrollable giggles. I miss him.
On a more ‘serious’ note now, BBC’s premier soap Eastenders hit the headlines when one of the programme’s controversial storylines attracted a deluge of viewer complaints. Colin Russell (played by Michael Cashman) puckered up to kiss the forehead of Barry Clark (Gary Hales). Some sort of smear campaign followed, branding the programme ‘filth’ and even dubbing it Eastbenders. This particular episode attracted a staggering 17 million viewers. The programme’s writers remained undeterred as Colin and Barry’s relationship was an on-screen attraction for several years. This was a public stand for the gay community on prime time television by highlighting issues like homophobia and gay legal equality. However, there were questions raised in Parliament over the viability of showing a gay kiss (on the forehead) in a family programme when AIDs was sweeping the UK. “This was a flagship BBC show, the most popular series in the country” Michael Cashman once said. “The relationship wasn’t sensationalised and the public devoured it…Quite a few activists thought Colin was too nice, but I thought he was just right. There was a fuss about his kiss with Barry which was sad. People should be upset by demonstrations of hate, not love.” A year later, Colin had a new partner named Guido Smith (Nicholas Donovan) and once again he found himself kiss-deep in controversy. The couple had their first mouth-on-mouth pucker, or rather, a chaste kiss on the lips. This time the viewing audience had increased by three million.
That’s it for this month. I’ll be back before you know it.