Sunday, 8 January 2017

Music I Love - 'H'

Welcome to my first article for 2017 - a little late in coming I know, but with it, I return to my music series where I pick out artists whose music has touched me.

Today we've reached the letter 'H' and I kick off with Bill Haley and The Comets. To modern eyes he looks an extremely unlikely rock star. Born in 1925 he was only a whisker away from being thirty when his first hit entered the British charts in December 1954. (As a baby of only 9 months, to be honest this first exposure to rock and roll didn't leave an immediate impression with me...) It was, of course, Shake, Rattle and Roll. Ha! Got you!

Rock Around The Clock was his second chart success. It went to No.17 early in 1955, but then came back into the charts in October that year and shot to No.1. In fact it entered the charts no less than eight times, hitting No.5 in September 1956, No. 24 in December 1956, No.26 in January 1957, No.22 later in January 1957, No.20 in 1968 after being re-issued and finally No.12 in 1974 having been re-issued once again and entering the charts in the week of my 20th birthday!

I have several of his 78 rpm discs including the original See You Later Alligator that was in my parents' old record collection.

Daryl Hall and John Oates, with a couple of typical 1980s hairstyles, had a few singles that I really enjoyed and that have a tendency to become ear worms if I mention titles such as She's Gone, I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) or Maneater. Oh no... what have I done...?

Now, scoff if you like, but I always had a soft spot for Geri Halliwell. [This is your conscience speaking - don't do the joke!] Oh... ok... She had more personality than the rest of the Spice Girls put together and brought out some some catchy singles once she left them, that made the most of a voice that didn't always reach the heights of said personality. Calling is probably my favourite and a good case in point in that it didn't call for her to have to belt out the lyrics. And it wasn't hard [Oy! I'm still watching you!] to watch her videos... [Ok, but that's as close as you are allowed to get!]

A little bit of my own personal history can creep in here... Way back in 1972 I was playing lead guitar in a band called Spiral around north Manchester and we heard a couple of comedy tracks off this album by Mike Harding and bought the album on the back of them.

Then later that year we found ourselves playing support for him at a day care centre in Rochdale. I wore a cowboy jacket with leather tassels (like the one worn by Cleavon Little in Blazing Saddles) and whether that was the inspiration or not, a few months later Mike released Rochdale Cowboy which hit No.22 in the charts and led to an appearance on Top Of The Pops that he later described in hilarious fashion on his album One Man Show.

Even for a pre-teen male there was something mysteriously pffffoooaarrr about French girls. Francoise Hardy definitely had this strange ability to make me feel a bit weird [ahem!] - shut up! - and even now I can quite happily listen to All Over The World and melt...

Jet Harris and Tony Meehan were members of The Shadows who I only knew from records. By the time I first saw The Shads live on stage they had left to be replaced by Brian 'Licorice' Locking and Brian Bennett. As a duo they had a few hits which remain eminently listenable today. All released in 1963, Diamonds got to No.1, whilst Scarlett O'Hara and Applejack reached No.2 and No.4 respectively. And that was it. Tony Meehan had one minor hit the following year with The Tony Meehan Combo but Jet would trouble the chart compilation team no more. On the sleeve notes of at least one early Cliff Richard album he is credited as the leader of The Shadows.

The "Quiet Beatle" was never-the-less the first to have a No.1 hit as a solo artist when My Sweet Lord hit the charts in early 1971. It brought George Harrison years of heartache and court appearances where the repeated playing of three notes from The Chiffons' hit He's So Fine would have done anyone's head in. Yet listen to his penned tracks on Beatles albums and you easily realise that in any other group he would have shone out like a blinding light. His light had to compete with the stellar supernovas of Lennon and McCartney. After a break of several years, he came back to the singles charts with a couple of great foot tappers in Got My Mind Set On You and the wonderfully evocative When We Was Fab.

American band Heart took ten years to become known in the UK, but with the release of their self-titled album that all changed. I first heard and saw them on Jenny Powell's '80s music TV show No Limits, which seems to get mentioned here and there in this series. Singles: These Dreams, Never and What About Love came from this album with Who Will You Run To, There's The Girl and All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You coming from the following album, Bad Animals.

I'm a guitarist, so I imagine you expected this artist to appear. [You're not including the album cover for Electric Ladyland here, right?] Shush... Though it is the only Jimi Hendrix album that I own to be honest. With tracks like All Along The Watchtower and Burning Of The Midnight Lamp I was in awe of his guitar playing. Even though the track was on the album, when he died at the age of 27 in 1970 I went out and bought the special tribute single of Voodoo Child (Slight Return) which is still a treasured possession.

It wasn't just the guitar playing though. Just look at that photo of him. Look at the style, the individualism, the casual adoption of cool. I'm so glad I've got that too. [What???] I've told you...shush!

The Hollies were one of my early fave groups. The 3-part harmonies that were their trademark burned into my brain and taught me to identify harmony parts at an early age and that has paid dividends for the two of us in Creeping Bentgrass as we are often told that our harmonies are what brings audiences back again and again. I have several Hollies albums from the early Reflections to later hits compilations that include songs that had still to be written when Hollies Greatest came out in 1968. Far too many wonderful singles for me to list. This is one band that didn't have to fill a hits album with songs that were B-sides or album tracks!

Another guitar hero. Buddy Holly left an amazing legacy even if you ignore his guitar playing and the fact that he was one of the first innovators. If all he was known for was his song-writing then he would still be a legend. I have several 78 rpm records in addition to the inevitable greatest hits album.

"Well we wanna hear her and I mean that most sincerely folks..." Only a short time later was Hughie Green to announce to his Opportunity Knocks audience that last week's winner Mary Hopkin had been signed by Paul McCartney to record for The Beatles' new label Apple Records. Her first single for them, Those Were The Days shot to No.1 and is instantly recognisable today, almost 50 years later. The photo is from the album cover of Postcard. It had a few good tracks but I was rather disappointed with it if truth be told when I bought it in 1969. The singles though kept coming: Goodbye, Temma Harbour and then Knock, Knock, Who's There which was the UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1970. Her chart successes dwindled after that with only a few minor entries, but she remains an active performer.

Whitney Houston, daughter of chart songstress Thelma Houston, had an amazing career with a string of Top Ten hits and No.1s such as Saving All My Love For You, How Will I Know, Greatest Love Of All, I Wanna Dance With Somebody, One Moment In Time, I Will Always Love You, I Have Nothing... You get the idea. She remains one of those singers against whom all others are measured.

But enough of all this pop music stuff. If you want to talk mega stardom - sorry - MEGA STARDOM, then here is Jack Hylton and his Orchestra who from the 1920s all the way into the 1940s, churned out hit after hit, several thousand recordings in his own right as well as backing just about every major British artist including George Formby and Gracie Fields, comedians Leslie Sarony and Arthur Askey etc. etc. Many of the 1930s and 40s band leaders had spent time learning their craft in his orchestra and when it was time to leave the orchestra behind he went full time into a very successful impresario role, giving first breaks to another generation of singers, comedians and young hopefuls. Some became quite famous. Morecambe and Wise for instance...

I have a good two dozen 78 rpm records plus several recordings from the old Dance Band Days programme and CD compilations of Jack Hylton and they are a delight to listen to. In the late 1970s The Pasadena Roof Orchestra made a successful career of bringing back the sound and songs.

And that's it for the letter 'H'. A few other artists came close to being included. I had hoped to feature Bruce Hornsby and The Range, but that's just the way it is...

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