Saturday, 25 July 2009

Wizzard: This Is the Story of My Love (Baby) (a-side)

Roy Wood has had a varied musical career, forming and playing in some of rocks greatest bands.

In 1966 he formed the Move, who became one of the legendary sixties bands. Their single "Flowers in the Rain" was the first ever record to be played on BBC's Radio One. Roy's next musical venture was to team up with Jeff Lynne to form the Electric Light Orchestra. ELO’s first single, "10538 Overture", entered the charts as The Move’s final single, "California Man" left the Top 10.

Eventually, after leaving ELO in Jeff Lynne's hands he went on to his next venture. Wizzard were born from Roy's love of '50s rock & roll and a desire to mix the hard rock of the Move with a sound reminiscent of that produced by Phil Spector with his "wall of sound". If the music was big and bold then the image was bolder still. Wild, multi-coloured hair; face paint and an outlandish dress sense, (even for the glam rock period) made Wizzard an assault of sight and sound.

Wizzard's debut in the charts was "Ball Park Incident". This was followed up with two number 1’s in "See My Baby Jive" and "Angel Fingers" and the Christmas classic "I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday". At the same time Roy was having hits under his own name and gave new meaning to the term "solo album" when he wrote, produced and played everything on the LP, "Boulders".

At one point in January 1974 Roy Wood's solo single "Forever" was at number 7, overtaking Wizzard's Christmas song at number 10. In the summer of that year, Roy Wood, Wizzard, and the Electric Light Orchestra were all in the charts at the same time.

By the end of 1975, Wood was all but burnt out. He had created a total of eleven band and solo hit singles, two Wizzard albums, and added a second solo album. But contractual problems added to over-work led to a slowing down process and live work became a casualty and was eventually abandoned. Wizzard disintegrated and record releases became less frequent. The group's fortunes, even as a singles band, faltered after this.

Wizzard's most famous album is "Wizzard's Brew" But it was the follow up that totally immersed itself in Wood's brash rock ’n roll pastiche. "Introducing Eddy & the Falcons" was released in 1974. One of the singles from this album is the powerful “This Is the Story of My Love (Baby)”.

In a similar vein to "Angel Fingers" it uses The 'wall of sound' production to great effect. Unfortunatley the single and the album were both a critical and commercial failure. “This Is the Story of My Love (Baby)” only reaching number 34 in the UK charts.

For a brief time Roy Wood and Wizzard released a series of varied pop singles that perfectly reflected the bright, 'over the top' music of the times. Hitting some fantastic peaks (Angel Fingers) but sometimes delivering derivative dross. (When Gran'ma Plays the Banjo).

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

Andy Scott: Lady Starlight (a-side)

At the end of 1975 with glam rock taking it's last dying breath, Andy Scott guitarist with the Sweet released his first solo single titled "Lady Starlight".
The version here is the single cut, the song also appeared on Sweet's "Desolation Boulevard" album, but with a softer remix. A live acoustic version was also captured at a sound check before a gig in Japan.

Lady Starlight is often voted as Sweet's best ballad on fan forum sites, but is over-looked in critical appraisals of Sweet's music. This is a shame as in my opinion it stands up well in the Sweet's musical output during their heyday.

Scott didn't release his second solo single, "Gotta See Jane", until 1983 under the name "Ladders". It was a cover of the R. Dean Taylor Motown hit. A number of other solo singles were also released following this, but his only real solo musical achievement was "Lady Starlight".

Friday, 17 July 2009

Suzi Quatro - The Wild One (a-side)

Suzi Quatro seemingly emerged from nowhere in 1973, but she had been playing professionally for nearly a decade with The Pleasure Seekers a band consisting of her sisters Arlene and Patti. They were one of the few all girl garage bands to play their own instruments. In 1968 Arlene left the band to raise her kids (one of whom is actress Sherilyn Fenn) and was replaced by another sister Nancy.

In the early 70's British producer Mickie Most saw her play in her home town of Detroit and wanted to work with her as a solo act. Six months later she was on her way to London.

Her first single flopped, so she was hooked up to songwriters Chinnichap. The first 45 written for her Can the Can was a number one hit in the UK in 1973. Over the next few years the songwriting team would write about ten other British chart hits for her, including four top ten entries.

Quatro and her then husband Len Tuckey did write some of her material, though these were usually left for album tracks or B sides. A few of which might turn up on this blog at a later date.

She remained largely unknown in her native US until the late 70's when she had a semi-regular acting job in the sitcom Happy Days, as the guitar playing Leather Tuscadero. In 1979 she made the American top five with another Chinnichap song Stumblin In, a duet with Chris Norman of Smokie.

Suzi Quatro is unusual, in that she is probably the only woman to have success in the glam rock genre, and she did it by being more aggressive and masculine than her male contemporaries. Suzi Quatro showed that it was possible for a petite woman to play bass, sing and wear tight leather.

The Wild One is a 1974 a-side that reached number 7 in the UK singles chart, and was written by Chinnichap. It is one of her lesser known singles but one of my favourites.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn (Songwriters/Producers)

The two people who had the most glam hits in the 70's were two men who never even appeared on Top of the Pops.

Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn (commonly known as Chinnichap) are the songwriters responsible for the hits of the Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud and Smokie to name just a few. From 1973 until 1978 they had an unbroken run of hit singles. In 1973 and 74 alone they had 19 hits in the top 40 of the UK singles chart, including 5 number ones.

Both men were already in the music industry when they first met. Chinn was a part time songwriter and Chapman a musician with the band Tangerine Peel.
The two of them joined up with Mickie Most's RAK label and began writing songs for the Sweet.

With the help of the two men, Sweet had an uninterrupted string of hits over the next few years, and Chinnichap went on to enjoy equal success with Mud and Suzi Quatro, including number one's with Tiger Feet, and Lonely This Christmas for Mud and Can the Can and Devil Gate Drive for Suzi Quatro.
Smokie were the next group to benefit from the Chinnichap magic having five hit singles between 1975 and 78.

Though often accused of churning out 'mechanical' music, no one can deny the popularity of their compositions. A lack of respect at the time, and since has led to accusations of 'deliberate commercialism, degrading the standard of music' Which is a bit rich when you consider the present day music industry.

In an interview with Nigel Thomas in 1974 Mike Chapman said:
"We write singles, but they're very much harder to sell than an album. Singles you've got to sell in three and a half minutes and you've got to sell it quick, and you've got to sell it good"
The duo were famous for beginning their songs with the title and then writing the song around that, for example 'Wig Wam Bam'. The songs were written rapidly, often overnight and recorded with equal speed. Later songs written for Smokie became more thoughtful and emotional, but still as catchy and tuneful.

It was only with the advent of punk rock that their star began to wane as fewer performers wanted to work with them. They continued to write hit songs well after the glam rock period had ended, such as Mickey a number one for Toni Basil and Kiss You All Over by Exile, but despite this Chinnichap eventually separated during the early 80's. Chapman turned to production with his greatest success being Blondie's Parallel Lines in 1978, while Chinn eventually left the music business all together. The only comparable songwriting partnership since with as great a success rate was the Stock, Aitken and Waterman team in the late 80's.

Tom Tom Turnaround is a song written by Chinnichap and performed here by the Sweet, but was originally a hit for Australian pop group New World in 1971.
"The bottom line is this. writing songs might be easy to do, but it's incredibly hard to do well"Mike Chapman, Guardian interview 2000.