Monday, January 25, 2010


How's this for a rock and roll fantasy? Imagine being the chauffeur for The Who in the late 1960s. You get to know Peter, Roger and the gang on an intimate level and eventually hand Peter Townsend the songs you have written. You want to be a rock star. He gets back to you and agrees to produce your first album and play bass on your first single. Such is the story of Thunderclap Newman, a vehicle created by Townsend to produce the songs of his former chauffeur and Who-roadie, John 'Speedy' Keen. Along with Keen on vocals and percussion, Townsend enlisted the aid of Dixieland pianist Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman and 15 year old Glasgowian guitarist Jimmy McCulloch to create the recording band. Their first single, "Something In The Air", (originally titled "Revolution", but retitled when a certain other British band released a single under the same name), with Townsend on bass under the pseudonym Bijou Drains, was a number one hit in England and rose to number 37 on the American charts. The song, an apocalyptic lofty ballad with full orchestra enticing a memorable guitar riff has earned itself a respectable reputation, having been featured in several recent movies and TV shows including "Kingpin", "Almost Famous", and "My Name Is Earl". The subsequent album, the Peter Townsend produced "Hollywood Dream", (1969) their one and only album, was also successful in Britain and developed a cult following in The States. I was introduced to THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN on a cool Autumn night when I was about 13 years old. I took a walk around the neighborhood to see what was shaking and ran into some older guys under a street light talking about music. They were buzzing about Thunderclap Newman and apparently listening to their debut, "Hollywood Dream" in stereo headphones was nothing short of nirvana. I was invited in to one of their homes to sample the album in headphones, and I soon understood their excitement. The music took me immediately. Particularly there was a harmonica piece that crackled brilliantly through headphones as if opening a psychedelic portal in my adolescent brain. For this 13 year old this was some heavy adult stereo shit. Who can explain what happens to what is essentially a one-hit-wonder band? A second single, "Accidents" from "Hollywood Dream" , culled from it's 9 minutes and 40 seconds album length, reached number 46 in England but didn't chart at all in the States, and two more singles made no noise whatsoever. The band broke up in 1971. Keen and Newman each made solo albums, and Keen produced Motorhead's first album. He died in 2002 apparently of complications from arthritis. McCulloch played with Paul McCartney and Wings and died from a heroin overdose at age 26 in 1979. Newman has recently resurrected the band under the title, The Thunderclap Newman Band and has performed some gigs in England.

The original American album cover of Hollywood Dream

Somewhere behind me is a trail of lost and forgotten records where you can find a copy of the American edition of "Hollywood Dream". It's cover, a life-sized cardboard picture of a man (Keen) propped up against the Hollywood Hills, is different than the pic on the British album whose cover now graces the CD. I'm pretty happy with the CD, (1991 PolyGram). It contains the entire album plus alternate versions and a few unreleased songs. Heavily influenced by The Beatles' Sgt. Pepper, the nearly 10 minute long "Accidents" cues all things British by Beatles' standards (think a crime ridden Penny Lane) along with jazz piano, guitar solo, harmonica and kazoo interrupted by a steady stream of screeching tires, sirens, and general shattering of glass, leading up to a psychedelia a la "A Day In The Life". There's a sweet post-hippie naivety to "The Reason", a song as pleasant and dreamy as "Something In The Air", and the name has changed but the sentiment is the same in a cover of Dylan's "Open The Door, Homer", which becomes open the door, Richard expressing the point of view of a chauffeur turned rock star. "Look Around" is a 3 minute McCoys like jangle made melodic by an addictive electric piano refrain, and "Stormy Petrel", offers a kazoo solo which, in it's simplicity reaches an uproarious comedic height.
So Jim Stone and Kevin Childs, if you happen across my blog some day - dig this, - I AM STILL LISTENING TO THUNDERCLAP NEWMAN! You can hear and see the band mock playing "Something In The Air" here in a vintage video, and the complete "Accidents" can be heard here.

The Thompson Twins have said they were living as squatters in an abandoned building in London before becoming a 1980s pop sensation. The Twins, - Tom Bailey, Alannah Currie, and Joe Leeway, not related and certainly not twins, were trimmed to a trio after Bailey, (keyboards, vocals) experimented with several other TT lineups for their first two albums. 1983's "Side Kicks", titled "Quick Step and Side Kick" in England, became a major success in England and a minor one in the U.S. The followup album, 1984's "Into The Gap", became hugely successful on a global scale due greatly to the phenomenal sales of the single, "Hold Me Now". Leeway left the group after the next album, 1985's "Here's To Future Days", leaving The Thompson Twins a duo. Bailey suffered a nervous breakdown during the making of "Here's To Future Days", which proved to be only a moderate success. Bailey and Currie were married in 1989 after publicly revealing their relationship after the birth of their first child the previous year. They had a second child and were divorced in 2003. Sales of subsequent Thompson Twins albums declined sharply in the late 80s and the band disbanded in 1993. Bailey still works in the music business as producer and songwriter. The reason The Thompson Twins are in my collection is their constant appearance in thrift store record bins. At 49 cents a copy how can I resist near-mint copies of a promotion only "Side Kicks", (Arista 6607), and "Into The Gap", (Arista 8-8200). I also have the "Hold Me Now" single, (AS1-9164).

"Side Kicks" introduced The Thompson Twins buoyant new-wave pop to most American audiences although a previous album received little airplay. "Love On You Side" is an infectious new-wave anthem, and "Watching" is truly bizarre with a mock operatic vocal track provided by Grace Jones. "Into The Gap", offers the singles, "Hold Me Now", still as crisp and catchy today as it was in 1984, "Doctor, Doctor", a more desperate love song, "You Take Me Up", a chain gang meets pop meets gospel singalong, and the title track where The Thompson Twins in all their niceness attempt a global political message with middle east musical scenery. The "Hold Me Now" single has an experimental instrumental B-side called "Let Loving Start". Here's the video for "Doctor Doctor".

Another band from the 1980s, TILL TUESDAY made a new-wave glitzy splash with a hit single off their first album. "Voices Carry", an emotionally charged ballad that builds to a canopy of swirling vocals and hook laden orchestration is TILL TUESDAY'S signature song, but it is "Coming Up Close" off their second album; a piano tinged, countrified lament that name drops Bob Dylan that I had to hear again and again. While critics buzzed about singer Aimee Mann's strong songwriting skills, that second album, "Welcome Home", suffers from being a too ordinary example of lightly feathered, heavily produced 80s pop songs. A third critically celebrated album was the swansong for the group and Mann has gone on to a successful solo career in the indie rock vein. I own Till Tuesday's "Welcome Home" CD ((Epic) and the "Voices Carry" single. Here is "Coming Up Close" mock sung by the group in a mock concert. Aimee Mann looks stunning.

No comments: