I have in the past talked of those crossroads moments in life. The points where a momentary decision irrevocably alters the course of your existence. In musical terms the most significant of these happened to me in 1975.
It’s hard to credit now that there was a time when the enormous step of receiving your first album could have occurred at the age of 11. My four year old already has a Spotify playlist which could comfortably entertain your average Manhattan hot spot into the early hours. Although, I grant you, not in the manner the paying guests would have imagined upon entering.
But in the age of petrol coupons and the three day week, vinyl rations were not so liberal. “Tell me your favourite song and I’ll buy the album it appears on” said my brother helpfully, innocent of the fact that he had just plunged me into the first serious list-making dilemma of my life. A bit like saying “tell me your favourite parent and I’ll let you keep them.”
At this point you have to imagine me projecting my inner Gwynneth Paltrow as the two versions of the pre-pubescent Slender head for the Sliding Doors of the waiting tube train. Version one (we’ll call him Kid 1:0) professes a fondness for David Bowie’s “Jean Genie” and receives the “Alladin Sane” album for Christmas.
He goes on to explore other art-rock acts such as Roxy Music and Deaf School, discovers The New York Dolls and Suicide, encourages like minded souls to buy synthesizers and to produce performance art happenings and enjoys a successful career as a gallery owner and theatre impresario.
Bugger me, wouldn’t you know it, the doors close before he reaches the train. But wait, there was a plan B. Kid 2:0 also put in a request. Kid 2:0 lacks some of 1:0’s social and cultural finesse but he’s a bit quicker on his feet and squeezes into the carriage before the doors hiss shut. Where 1:0 has his finger firmly on the pulse of the postmodern zeitgeist, 2:0 enjoys unreconstructed cocks-out boogie. “Down Down” by the indefenceable Status Quo has shaped the subsequent 42 years of my life like the indelible thumb print of Patrick Swayze’s thick digit on Demi Moore’s vessel.
I’m sure I’ll hear some sniggering in the back row when I say this, but back then liking Status Quo was a bit of a left field decision. Sonically of course “Down Down” isn’t a million miles away from Mud’s raucous hand-jiving glee fest “Tiger Feet” and from what I recall of junior school discos, the same hands-on-hips dance did for both. But The Quo didn’t have a guitarist in a dress. The Quo wore denim. The Quo were serious musicians. I feel I should add “man” at this point. And at that point I suspect I did.
In retrospect of course, the appearence of drummer John Coughlan on the cover of album “On The Level” in a tragic kinky boots and waistcoat with no shirt outfit, puts paid to any sense of gravitas. But after decades of rock’n’roll 12 step therapy I’ve come to terms with my adolescent Quo flirtation. You have to admire a bunch of guys who discovered early on what they wanted to do, and did it. Repeatedly. Well into the following century. And if Slender 2:0 had looked down the train he would have seen carriages later to be filled with Canned Heat, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Ride, Spiritualized, White Stripes and Moon Duo.
So did Kid Slender 1:0 simply vanish? Blasted to oblivion and condemned to an eternity of Trout Mask Replica? Well, not exactly. He caught the next train (I’m going to be flogging this railway metaphor so you’d better get used to it) and gamely attempted to keep up. Occasionally the two Kids would find themselves on the same platform, exchanging puzzled sideways glances. Did they recognize each other? Had they met before? Maybe a book launch at the Groucho for that well reviewed but commercially unviable publisher. Or possibly they were in the bar queue together at the Bull & Gate before Treehugger started their set. Eventually Kid 1:0 began nudging his unpolished alternate self in what he thought was the proper direction. A little Left Banke here, a soupcon of Scott Walker there until one day there is a rent in the fabric of the time/space continuum (or something) and the two selves sit in adjoining seats (I think it was on the East London line next to the sign for handicapped travellers which had been cleverly altered to read “ease up his seat and pee on it”). The soundtrack to this clash of yin and yang? Why naturally, it had to be Status Quo’s majestic “You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today”.
Kid 1:0 finds the lush orchestration much to his liking. Kid 2:0 hears echoes of shoegazing in the wonderfully wobbly low register bass drone. Possibly one of the most glutinous sounds to grace mainstream pop. The new United State of Slender cackles gleefully at the opportunity to once again enjoy a band that he rightfully spent decades expunging from his past.
Still, that wasn’t, naturally, enough to motivate me to buy anything by the band so Kid 1:0 took it upon himself to once again intervene (yeah I know, I’m getting a bit tired of this too). It was mere weeks ago when doing a bit of research for this piece that I discovered the authors of the song were Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Not, sadly, a tune penned in a paisley shaded corner of the Scotch of St James club, but the creation of one of the most prolific songwriting partnerships to come out of New York’s pop production line, the Brill Building.
I wasn’t quite sure how to take this revelation. On the one hand I felt vindicated as it turned out I had better taste than I thought. Calling Goffin & King ‘prolific’ distracts rather from the breathtaking quality of an entire decade’s work. There are presumably hundreds of websites to give you an encyclopaedic overview of their output, but here is my hastily compiled list of favourites
“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” by The Shirelles
“Some Kind Of Wonderful” by The Drifters (or Marvin Gaye)
“It Might As Well Rain Until September” by Carole King
“One Fine Day” by The Chiffons
“Goin’ Back” by Dusty Springfield
“Pleasant Valley Sunday” by The Monkees
“I Wasn’t Born To Follow” by The Byrds
“(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” by Aretha Franklin
The latter being one of history’s most heinously abused songs, murdered as it later was by Bonnie Tyler, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and the ex-boyfriend of my upstairs neighbour in London, who would drunkenly wail the song at 2 am outside my bedroom window. I must confess, I was forced to get heavy with him. And not in that special way either.
There was also a sense of coming full circle as the dots were connected from my first album to one of my first musical memories, that of my sister (Big-Sis 1:0, obviously) revising for ‘A’ levels to the daily accompaniment of Carole King’s “Tapestry”. I like “Tapestry” and I like that it reminds me of a time when I could just like music for itself without caring if it was hip and without feeling the need to write a blog about it. Without worrying that Carole King’s version of “…A Natural Woman” sounds beige in comparison to Aretha’s or that The Everly Brothers version of “You’re Just What I Was Looking For Today” has more complex harmonies than The Quo’s.
In fact I feel a little resentful of Goffin & King for somehow denying that other great songwriting partnership Parfitt & Rossi their moment in the sun. While we’re all sneering at “Rockin’ All Over The World” I would love to think of them with a smile of smug self-satisfaction on their unconventionally handsome countenances, knowing that in 1967 they wrote one of rock’s forgotten classics.
Or maybe they preferred “Paper Plane”?