IN PERFECT HARMONY: SINGALONG POPIN ’70S BRITAIN
by Will Hodgkinson (Nine Eight £25, 576pp)
Say what you like about the 1970s, but it was quite a decade. And I should know: I was there. I saw the films, I listened to the music, I wore the chocolate-brown flared corduroys.
Will Hodgkinson, at a guess, is a few years younger than me. But his heart is also in the Decade That Taste Forgot, an era of threeday weeks, Larry Grayson and avocado bathroom suites.
His task here is to reconsider and recalibrate the pop records of the era, but not the ones everyone still admits to liking — the Pink Floyds, the David Bowies, the Led Zeppelins — but the ones no one will admit to ever having liked. The novelty songs, the cheesy tunes of a uniquely cheesy decade: these are Will Hodgkinson’s great loves, and I am his ideal reader, because I love them, too.
British pop group Showaddywaddy in May 1979. Showaddywaddy were eight in number because they were two Leicester bands who had merged and no one wanted to leave
This is a world of Grandad by Clive Dunn, Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes), The Bay City Rollers and The Wombles.
‘As soon as I had a hit with Underground, Overground I knew I had a problem,’ says Mike Batt, creator of The Wombles’ musical oeuvre. ‘I had been concerned with not being a one-hit wonder and, just my luck, my first hit was a Wombles song.’
Batt soon worked out that every Wombles single would have to sound drastically different from the last: ‘The Bay City Rollers could get away with releasing a new single that sounded exactly like the last because they had screaming girls who wanted to go to bed with them. This wasn’t the case with The Wombles.’ This must be the great tragedy of his long and productive life.
Hodgkinson’s book is awash with startling trivia — I didn’t know that Showaddywaddy were eight in number because they were two Leicester bands who had merged and no one wanted to leave. He has spoken to everyone who is still alive and functional, from hit Roger Greenaway to members of Mud, Slade and The Sweet.
Scottish pop group the Bay City Rollers, circa 1975. Left to right: Eric Faulkner, Les McKeown, Alan Longmuir, Stuart ‘Woody’ Wood and Derek Longmuir
Hodgkinson’s book ranges far and wide, well beyond the notional limits of his subject, so there are digressions on Delia Smith, The Muppet Show, Bugsy Malone and The Brady Bunch, which makes for a highly entertaining ragbag of a book, an enormous splurge of popular culture rather than a coherent thesis.
This may annoy some, but I was captivated by the breadth of his interests and his kindness to songs no one has been very kind to before. To describe Tie A Yellow Ribbon Round The Ole Oak Tree, by Tony Orlando And Dawn, as ‘a song of easy charm, reassurance and emotion’ with a ‘hummable melody and impermeably relatable story’ when it is, as we all know, the work of the Devil, is generosity beyond the call of duty. But Hodgkinson has come to rehabilitate these records, not bury them deeper.
His Golden Age of Pop comes to a close in 1980, with synthesisers and Mrs Thatcher, a combination hard to resist. As is this book, a treasure trove of primary colours with more jokes about Jimmy Savile than some will consider entirely decent…