Carole King and The Brill Building: Another Special Place In Time

We are nearing the end of summer, always a sad time of year for me. I’m a great fan of daylight and soon there will be more hours of darkness in any 24 hour period. All those activities best suited to the great outdoors will be on hold for another year, and we’ll be tucked up inside keeping cosy. Oh no, that’s right, this winter we’ll struggle to keep cosy as the thermostats will be firmly turned down, but hey, that’s another post for another day.

I’ve run quite a few ‘series’ since starting this place but I’m all out of workable ideas at the moment, which is a bit annoying, because I don’t have anything to return to and augment. As we are nearing the start of September I thought a series of posts about months of the year could be something to focus on (September seems to pop up often in a song title), but it turns out some of the other months have not been as inspirational for songwriters. Inevitably, one of the first songs I stumbled upon was this one by a very young Carole King, It Might as Well Rain Until September from 1962.

It Might as Well Rain Until September by Carole King:


I’ve always liked the song, although it’s not really about the month of September at all, but about how the world is no longer a beautiful place because the singer’s love interest is not around. As far as they are concerned the fine weather of the summer might as well be replaced with grey, rainy days. Thinking back I was often of the same opinion when I was a teenager (and this song was definitely aimed at teenagers), as the routines of term-time were often replaced with lots of time spent on your own, as your friends were either off on holiday with their families, or scattered around the country, the new academic year not starting again until September. If you’d found romance during term-time, the summer break was often not your friend.

But of course the Carole King that wrote this song with her husband Gerry Goffin, is not the same Carole King that has appeared on these pages before. That would be the Carole who by the early ’70s had moved to Laurel Canyon, Los Angeles, and had massive success with her 1971 album Tapestry. No indeed, this Carole was the girl from Brooklyn who was a bit of a musical genius and at age 16 had turned up at the Brill Building in Manhattan with a bunch of songs oven-ready for the teen market.


I have often heard of the Brill Building as back in the early ’60s, after Elvis had enlisted (and they thought rock ‘n’ roll was over) but before the British Invasion had begun, it was the place where songwriting teams flourished, producing hit after hit record. The ground floor of the building was home to the Brill family clothing store, but the upper floors were rented out to people in the music industry. Music publishers like Don Kirshner were based there and offices were kitted out with cubicles, each containing a piano, a bench and a chair where songwriters could partner up, one person writing the lyrics and the other coming up with the music. This was songwriting to order, but the songs were aimed at the lucrative new teen market and they were given to some of the many girl groups that had formed in New York City at that time (the Shirelles, the Shangri-Las, the Ronettes and the Chiffons) and also to many of the up-and-coming teen idols (Bobby Darin, Bobby Vee and Gene Pitney).

 The Brill Building is located at 1619 Broadway on 49th Street, in the NYC borough of Manhattan

Before starting this blog, I was often unaware of who had written a particular song as I had always been more interested in the artist who performed it. As time went by however the same names kept popping up, and many of those names were songwriting partnerships who first got together in the Brill Building:

Burt Bacharach and Hal David
Neil Sedaka and Howard Greenfield
Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry
Gerry Goffin and Carole King
Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil
Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller
Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman

A lot of famous faces in that montage above and impossible to name them all individually. To finish off I’ll add another couple of clips of songs that came to life in the Brill Building. I know I was bemoaning the end of summer in the opening paragraph, but today has indeed been a very fine, sunny day here in the North of Scotland. I don’t think that’s the kind of fine day The Chiffons were singing about in 1963 but a perfect example of the kind of songs Goffin and King were writing for the girl groups of the Brill Building.

One Fine Day by The Chiffons:


As this post has predominantly focussed on Carole King, it would seem silly not to end with the song Neil Sedaka wrote about her. They had both gone to the same high school in Brooklyn and had briefly dated (when she was still a Carol without the ‘e’). Oh! Carol was Neil’s first big domestic hit and the song also reached the No. 3 spot in the UK Singles Chart in 1959.

Oh! Carol by Neil Sedaka:


Yet again I’ve kind of gone way off piste on this one but once I’d listened to Carole’s September song I decided to find out more about that place in NYC which was a veritable music factory in the late ’50s/early ’60s. Most of us of a certain age have grown up listening to songs that we may or may not have known started life in The Brill Building. I like these posts where I actually take the time to find out geographically where these special places were/still are located. Right there in Midtown Manhattan it seems, just along from Tin Pan Alley where the sheet music of an earlier era had started life.

As for my series about songs referring to months of the year, I’ve not abandoned the idea yet, so if you do have any September songs you’d like me to write about, do let me know. For the record, the Earth, Wind and Fire one has popped up around here a couple of times before, but there will be others I’m sure.

Until next time…

It Might As Well Rain Until September Lyrics
(Song by Carole King/Gerry Goffin)

What shall I write?
What can I say?
How can I tell you how much I miss you?

The weather here has been as nice as it can be
Although it doesn’t really matter much to me
For all the fun I’ll have while you’re so far away
It might as well rain until September

I don’t need sunny skies for thing I have to do
‘Cause I stay home the whole day long and think of you
As far as I’m concerned each day’s a rainy day
So It might as well rain until September

My friends look forward to their picnics on the beach
Yes everybody loves the summertime
But you know darling while your arms are out of reach
The summer isn’t any friend of mine

It doesn’t matter whether skies are grey or blue
It’s raining in my heart ’cause I can’t be with you
I’m only living for the day you’re home to stay
So It might as well rain until September
September, September, oh
It might as well rain until September

Aretha, Clarence and Muscle Shoals: Another Special Place In Time

A new year and a renewed vigour to find out more about the music that’s accompanied me through life. In 2020, I finally got round to pinning down Laurel Canyon on the map. I’d known about it as a place for years, and of how it became a hotbed of creativity for those musicians who went to live there in the late 1960s, but I’d never taken the time to investigate the geography of it. The special place I’m going to pin down this time, is Muscle Shoals.

Strangely enough, although I’d often heard of Muscle Shoals as the place where musicians gravitated to whenever they wanted to create a bit of rhythm and blues magic, it hadn’t clicked that the spelling is not the one used for the shellfish. Anything linked to the word shoal must surely be fishy related and coastal I thought, but no, Muscle Shoals is a smallish town (called a city in the US) in the far north-west corner of Alabama. It does sit on the Tennessee River however and early settlers did find a shallow area where mussels and clams were gathered. Before the distinct spelling for the shellfish came about, they simply called the place Muscle Shoals.

The first film I went to see back at our local cinema after a pandemic-enforced break of 18 months, was Respect, the Aretha Franklin biopic. I learnt so much more about her from watching it, and now understand how she became the Queen of Soul. None of that might have happened however if she’d not made her way down to Muscle Shoals at a crucial juncture in her career.

Rick Hall, Producer/Engineer and his FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals

In the late 1950s, a very driven local lad called Rick Hall set up a recording studio in Muscle Shoals and recruited session musicians from nearby Sheffield and Florence. These musicians became known as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, and despite being individually unremarkable, they soon became a tight unit and ended up creating a unique sound, fusing the blues, country and gospel. It came as a great shock to many black artists, such as Wilson Pickett, to find his backing band full of very ordinary looking ‘white dudes’.

The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section later known as the Swampers

But back to Aretha Franklin. After years of trying to make it as a jazz singer, she was persuaded to start finding songs that ‘moved her’ rather than trying to come up with a polished image. After securing a deal with Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records, they both headed down to Alabama where she paired up with Rick Hall and the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Their modus operandi was not to work with an arranger, or with sheet music, but to instead jam their way to a hit record. Her first recording with them was, I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You). The hits then just kept on coming. Aretha had found her new ‘sound’.

I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You) by Aretha Franklin:

Many artists and bands recorded at Rick Hall’s studio over the years, the Rolling Stones, Percy Sledge, Candi Staton, Etta James, Clarence Carter and many more. As often happens however, in 1969 the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section jumped ship and set up their own rival studio, also in Muscle Shoals. Rick wasn’t deterred and soon replaced them with new musicians who also knew how to create that very special crossover sound. Both studios did well and this small town, for a time, became the unlikely epicentre of the music business.

When trying to learn more about Muscle Shoals earlier on this week, I discovered a wonderful 2013 documentary on YouTube (link here). You may well have seen it already, but if not I would thoroughly recommend it. It explains how the Muscle Shoals sound could really only have happened in that geographical area. Those ‘white dudes’ had grown up absorbing black music so it was part of their DNA. There were no barriers when making music together and whether black or white, everyone had ‘soul’.


In 1974 the band Lynyrd Skynyrd had a big hit with the song Sweet Home Alabama. I’ve always liked it but only now understand the significance of the following lines of lyric:

Now Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers
And they’ve been known to pick a song or two

Lord, they get me off so much
They pick me up when I’m feelin’ blue
Now how about you?

The song is a bit of a controversial one, and was written in answer to two songs by Neil Young. That verse however was added to acknowledge the help given to the band by the Swampers in their early days, making demo reels with them at their Muscle Shoals studios. A nice tip of the hat. Lynyrd Skynyrd remain connected to Muscle Shoals, having since recorded a number of times there and making it a regular stop on their concert tours

Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd:


But this is the song that’s stayed with me more than any other since watching the Muscle Shoals documentary. In the interviews with an older Rick Hall, it came across loud and clear he had been brought up dirt poor and although he knew his dad had done his best, the desire to pull his family out of poverty was the driving force behind his phenomenal work ethic, without which there would have been no Muscle Shoals sound. Patches was a song written by the lead singer of Chairmen of the Board, but when Rick Hall heard it he felt it related to his own personal history, and he persuaded Clarence Carter to record it at his FAME Studios. In 1971 it won the Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Song.

Patches by Clarence Carter:


As happened with my Laurel Canyon post, I finally feel as if I understand what happened in Muscle Shoals back in the 1960s/70s and how it came about. I also now realise it’s not a place on the Alabama coast after all, but a small town on the Tennessee River. The geography of the place definitely had a lot to do with the magic that was created there but none of it would have happened without Rick Hall, or Patches as he was called as a boy, because his clothes were so ragged. Without him there would have been no studio, and no Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section. Without those musicians there would have been no special sound, and perhaps no Aretha. Most definitely a very special place in time.

Until next time…

Patches Lyrics
(Song by Ronald Dunbar/Norman Johnson)

I was born and raised down in Alabama
On a farm way back up in the woods
I was so ragged that folks used to call me Patches
Papa used to tease me about it
‘Cause deep down inside he was hurt
‘Cause he’d done all he could

My papa was a great old man
I can see him with a shovel in his hands, see
Education he never had
He did wonders when the times got bad
The little money from the crops he raised
Barely paid the bills we made

For, life had kick him down to the ground
When he tried to get up
Life would kick him back down
One day Papa called me to his dyin’ bed
Put his hands on my shoulders
And in his tears he said

He said, Patches
I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

Two days later Papa passed away, and
I became a man that day
So I told Mama I was gonna quit school, but
She said that was Daddy’s strictest rule

So every mornin’ ‘fore I went to school
I fed the chickens and I chopped wood too
Sometimes I felt that I couldn’t go on
I wanted to leave, just run away from home
But I would remember what my daddy said
With tears in his eyes on his dyin’ bed

He said, Patches
I’m dependin’ on you, son
I tried to do my best
It’s up to you to do the rest

Then one day a strong rain came
And washed all the crops away
And at the age of 13 I thought
I was carryin’ the weight of the
Whole world on my shoulders
And you know, Mama knew
What I was goin’ through, ’cause

Every day I had to work the fields
‘Cause that’s the only way we got our meals
You see, I was the oldest of the family
And everybody else depended on me
Every night I heard my Mama pray
Lord, give him the strength to make another day

So years have passed and all the kids are grown
The angels took Mama to a brand new home
Lord knows, people, I shedded tears
But my daddy’s voice kept me through the years

Sing,
Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

Oh, I can still hear Papa’s voice sayin’
Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
I’ve tried to do my best
It’s up to you to do the rest

I can still hear Papa, what he said
Patches, I’m dependin’ on you, son
To pull the family through
My son, it’s all left up to you

California Dreamin’: Laurel Canyon, A Special Place In Time

Like many others I’ve not had a holiday this year, but I did spend much of last week in Laurel Canyon, that hotbed of creativity that became the epicentre of the late ’60s folk rock scene. First of all I watched the two-part series Laurel Canyon, A Place In Time and then I revisited Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, where much of the action takes place in the same location, at the same point in time. (Both can be found on Amazon Prime.)

I’ve watched many documentaries over the years about the music and lifestyles of those who resided in Laurel Canyon, but this was a particularly good one, as the only two ‘talking heads’ were photographers from those days (Henry Diltz and Nurit Wilde) who shared many of their candid shots. We saw Joni Mitchell looking all loved up with Graham Nash, Peter Tork larking around in Frank Zappa’s back garden, Jim Morrison on his bicycle and David Crosby hanging out with future sidekick Stephen Stills.

During my first year of blogging, as some regulars might remember, I kept returning to the year 1967, as for some reason there is a special place in my heart for the music from that era. Perhaps it’s because I was just a little too young to remember it from first time around, so still have many new discoveries to make, or maybe I’m just a bit of a hippie at heart and if I could hire an honest-to-goodness time machine for a day, I think I would head back to Laurel Canyon. In the early ’60s the music industry was still very much centred in New York, but by 1967 many Greenwich Village folk artists were moving west to California and setting up home in the houses and cabins which littered the hillsides of the West Hollywood district of Los Angeles. Doors were left unlocked, residents hung out and partied, but best of all, they made great music.

Laurel Canyon in the Hollywood Hills, a district of Los Angeles

As for choosing a featured song for this post, there are literally too many to choose from. I took notes whilst watching the first episode of the documentary and they stretched to six pages. The names of some of the people who lived in Laurel Canyon in the late ’60s are as follows:

The Byrds, ‘Crosby, Stills and Nash’, Love, Joni Mitchell, Brian Wilson, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Buffalo Springfield, Jim Morrison, Frank Zappa, Alice Cooper, Peter Tork, Mickey Dolenz and The Mamas & the Papas.

Considering Mama Cass used to have an open house policy, and seems to have been one of the main figures of Canyon life, maybe this song would be a good choice. It was written when the Mamas & the Papas were still based in cold and wet New York, but were contemplating a move to California, which just like many others before them is exactly what they did.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

California Dreamin’ by the Mamas & the Papas:


But of course all good things come to an end and that’s kind of what happened to this free-loving, drug-fuelled community a few years later. Doors could no longer be left open after The Manson Family killings, and a couple of the key players died way before their time (Jim Morrison and Mama Cass). As we headed into the 1970s bands like the Eagles entered the frame, and the music became more about making money, which was a new direction for Canyon residents. One by one they started to head down to more salubrious residences in more upmarket districts such as Beverley Hills.

The film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood is set in 1969, and is a tribute to the final moments of Hollywood’s golden age. The main character is Rick Dalton (played by Leonardo DiCaprio), a star who fears his career is fading, and his stunt double Cliff Booth (played by Brad Pitt) who now acts as his gofer. As ever with Tarantino, the plot follows multiple storylines all coming together at the end. Rick’s house on Cielo Drive is right next to the one rented by Sharon Tate (a Manson Family victim) and her husband Roman Polanski. I won’t spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, but suffice to say it was vintage Tarantino. Cielo Drive is not in Laurel Canyon but a bit further west, however it’s still located in the Hollywood Hills. With winter now approaching here in Scotland, I know where I’d rather be (without the murders of course).

I’ve long known about the community who took up residence in these hills, just a stone’s throw from downtown Los Angeles, but I never took the time to work out where on the map Laurel Canyon is actually located. Now I’ve got that sorted it’s time to revisit the good times, before it started to go wrong, and enjoy the music that was inspired by the place.

There was a lovely story in the documentary about how the song Our House by Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young came about. Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell, both young and in love, had gone down into Los Angeles for some breakfast. On the way they’d stopped at an antique shop where Joni bought a simple, blue vase. When they got home, Graham suggested she stroll through the woods to pick flowers for the vase. Rather than build the fire he had promised, he sat down at her piano and began writing a song about their shared domestic bliss: “I’ll light the fire, you put the flowers in the vase that you bought today”. I’m an old romantic so really loved that story but find it hard to believe that by the time the song was released, they were no longer a couple. Makes me sad.

This one by Buffalo Springfield always sends shivers down my spine, and it has appeared in many a Vietnam War film. Although often considered an anti-war song, Stephen Stills was inspired to write it because of the Sunset Strip curfew riots in November 1966, a series of early counterculture-era clashes that took place between police and young people.

Of course we can’t forget about Joni Mitchell, that Lady of the Canyon.

Finally, something from Jim Morrison and The Doors, one of the most iconic and influential frontmen in rock history, who sadly died at the age of 27 in 1971. Jim was a true bohemian and poet who struggled to cope with his fame. Perhaps his brooding good looks were a hindrance to him, but he remains on many a deep-thinker’s bedroom wall to this day.

Until next time….

California Dreamin’ Lyrics
(Song by John Phillips/Michelle Phillips)

All the leaves are brown and the sky is grey.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

Stopped in to a church I passed along the way.
Well I got down on my knees and I pretend to pray.
You know the preacher liked the cold;
He knows I’m gonna stay.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray.
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today;
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day.

The Cotton Club, Ella Fitzgerald and “Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good)”

One of the new things I discovered during my month of abstinence from all things computer-related (should have waited until lent really) was a telly channel called Talking Pictures. I have bemoaned of late that hardly any of the mainstream channels show old black and white movies any more, and I miss that. Here however (I think it’s No. 81 on Freeview) was a channel totally dedicated to such fare. It bothers me somewhat that there will be a whole generation of people who have never heard of Humphrey Bogart or Fred Astaire, and have never laid eyes on any of their prodigious output.

Talking-Pictures

One film I recently re-watched on Talking Pictures wasn’t black and white however, in fact it was an extravaganza of colour, but was set right at the start of the 1930s so fitted the channel’s ethos well. Many years ago I had one of those “lost weekend” kind of things. My two flatmates were away for the duration; I had recently split up with the long-term boyfriend; and, for two days had no other commitments, so I holed up in my comfy indoors-y clothes and watched telly. We didn’t have a VCR back in those days, just a basic Radio Rentals telly, but one of the flatmates had recently acquired a new job in sales, and had been given a machine with a built in video-player to dazzle her potential customers. That weekend I aimed to make full use of it, but ended up watching only one film, four times, as I was so blown away by it. The film I rented was Francis Ford Coppola’s The Cotton Club and I can still remember most of the dialogue verbatim. (This clip seems to start in the middle, so needs to be reset.)

Two weeks ago I wrote about the film Paint Your Wagon and about how it was both a Western, and a Musical. The Cotton Club was a Crime-Drama, but also a Musical and like Paint Your Wagon didn’t get brilliant reviews when it came out, as it didn’t particularly appeal to either audience. Personally I loved it and couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been more successful. With the passage of time that opinion has been reassessed however and a remastered version was released in 2017.

The Cotton Club was the name of a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s during the era of Prohibition and Jim Crow racial segregation. Black people could not patronise the Cotton Club, but the venue featured many of the most popular black entertainers of the era, including musicians Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Adelaide Hall, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, and dancers such as Bill Robinson and The Nicholas Brothers. In its heyday, the Cotton Club served as a hip meeting spot, with regular “Celebrity Nights” featuring guests such as Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, Paul Robeson, Al Jolson, Mae West and Fanny Brice, amongst others.

taxis-outside-cotton-club

There were some great musical performances in the film and we got to witness what it would have been like to experience Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway (he of Minnie the Moocher fame) in their prime. The song I most enjoyed when I first watched the film 35 years ago was Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good) and all these years later it was still the song I most enjoyed. The actress Lonette McKee was given the task of singing it, however over the years it has been recorded by all the greats, Frank Sinatra, Dinah Washington and Ella Fitzgerald to name but a few. The song was composed by Harold Arlen who also gave us the soundtrack to The Wizard of Oz. Yes, he was the man responsible for taking us Somewhere Over The Rainbow.

Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good) by Ella Fitzgerald:

One observation from having typed the word “ill” several times for this post, depending on the typeface you use it can look like the number three in Roman numerals. A capital “i”, and the letter “l”, often look the same, but I can assure you it’s neither a song by Lonette McKee the Third, nor a level Three Wind, it is indeed about a wind that we really don’t want, just like the one that whisked Dorothy off to the land of Oz.

These old movies on the Talking Pictures channel are not for everyone but I’ve watched a few now and they are a real insight into our social history. Some of the best lines in The Cotton Club came from a young Lawrence Fishbourne who played mob boss and bookmaker Bumpy Rhodes. They made a real impact on me when I watched the film 35 years ago and his short speech has never left me. Last week I wrote about the BRIT awards and how rapper Dave was responsible for the most powerful performance of the night. 90 years on and I’m realising they are not a million miles apart.

Until next time….

Ill Wind (You’re Blowin’ Me No Good) Lyrics
(Song by Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler)

Blow ill wind,
Blow away,
Let me rest today.
You’re blowin’ me no good,
No good.

Go ill wind,
Go away,
Skies are oh so gray
Around my neighborhood,
And that ain’t good

You’re only misleadin’ the sunshine I’m needin’,
Ain’t that a shame
It’s so hard to keep up with troubles that creep up
From out of nowhere,
When love’s to blame.

So ill wind, blow away.
Let me rest today.
You’re blowin’ me no good.

So, ill wind, blow away,
Please let me rest today.
You’re blowing me no good, no good, no good.

Poetry Assignments, Steve Strange and “Fade to Grey”

Well, I have been largely absent from these pages this month and largely absent from the comments boxes of the blogs I follow, but on the home stretch now of a particulary busy time for me. Today I have decided to timetable my day into four sections in order to fit everything in, and these sections reflect the very diverse strands to how my life has turned out since giving up my sensible, secure job a year and a half ago.

The final assignment for my college course is due in on Wednesday, so I decided to tackle it first thing this morning. The course was meant to be my main focus this year but of course regular visitors will know all that changed when my elderly mum had a fall, and instead of becoming a full-time student last September, I became a full-time carer for a time. As it turns out, the shift to part-time was probably a wise one, and for some time I managed to kill two birds with one stone so to speak, as my Saturday blog post (when I was still sticking to that regime) often inspired the “homework” I endeavoured to complete for the course on a Sunday. I am still amused by the fact my tutor gave me most praise for a poem I dashed off after writing about the song Shades of Gray by the Monkees, following the  death of Peter Tork (link here).

hqdefault
The Monkees

The song had formed a bit of an earworm over the course of the weekend, so a hybrid list/concrete poem developed after referring to a paint chart courtesy of either Mr Crown or Mr Dulux (can’t remember which now) and it was my take on the Brexit shenanigans going on at the time.

Shades of Grey

But hey, there are plenty of other songs about the colour grey, and the first that comes to mind is Fade to Grey by Visage. I see this song is attributed to the genre new wave, but in my mind it can only be classed as New Romantic where Steve Strange, the man who almost single-handedly started that movement, performed lead vocals.

Fade to Grey by Visage:

The whole New Romanticism movement came along half way through my four years as a full-time student first time around, and I probably embraced it more than any other in terms of how I dressed at the time. It was a long time since I’d had to court the approval of my parents in such matters and I was still nowhere near entering the “real world”, where sensible suits rather than flamboyant frills and falderals would have to be adopted.

Many trips to both the local Oxfam and fabric/haberdashery shop were all that was needed to acquire the necessary apparel. Ribbons, tassels, hats and big coats were the order of the day, as were shirts with ruffles and simply made but colourful skirts. Two metres of fabric and a roll of flat sewing elastic was all that was needed. I still had my granny’s old Singer sewing machine in my student room but it needed an upgrade, so I asked for a new sewing machine for my 21st birthday later on that year. Back in those days clothes were still relatively expensive compared to income, especially a paltry student income, so my evenings were split between leaning over the books, and leaning over the sewing machine.

Also in my student room was my beloved black and white portable telly, which in those far less technologically saturated times, was the only one in our flat shared by six people. Come 7.30pm on a Thursday we of course all piled in to watch TOTP, and in 1980-81 this was the kind of music that pretty much filled each show. Fade to Grey was released in 1980, on the same day as the band’s debut album. It reached No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart and made the No. 1 spot in Germany and Switzerland. The song is sung in English and spoken in French. The music video became one of the first directed by Messers Godley and Creme after leaving the world of 10cc behind and becoming masters of that new medium.

Steve Strange formed Visage with Rusty Egan and Midge Ure from Rich Kids, Billy Currie from Ultravox, and Barry Adamson, John McGeoch and Dave Formula from Magazine, so a veritable supergroup. Steve had appeared in the video for David Bowie’s No. 1 hit Ashes to Ashes (first spotted at 0:30), a song which helped propel the burgeoning New Romantic fashion movement into the mainstream. Both he and Rusty Egan worked at Blitz, the influential New Romantic nightclub in London, from 1979 until 1981. They famously only allowed entry to the weird and the wonderful and apparently Mick Jagger was once refused admittance. Egan and Strange later opened up the Camden Palace nightclub, also in London, where they continued to spread and influence the development of electronica music in the UK.

Blitz Club 1980s.png

Sadly Steve died at the age of only 55 back in 2015. He had frequently appeared on those talking head shows in the years prior to that, and it didn’t seem as if the years had been kind to him. He certainly left his mark however in that he was responsible for a whole cultural phenomenon right there at the cusp of the ’70s/’80s. He was also responsible for the honing of my sewing skills, which I have to say have come in very handy over the years.

So, that’s the blog post written, which was the second item on today’s timetable. Now it’s time to get Mr WIAA’s latest batch of beautiful things dispatched to their new owners, and then, later on today, I welcome the next set of guests to my holiday hideaway. No time to write any stories about that new venture in this post, but they will definitely follow.

Until next time….

Fade To Grey Lyrics
(Song by Billy Currie/Chris Payne/Midge Ure)

Devenir gris
Devenir gris

One man on a lonely platform
One case sitting by his side
Two eyes staring cold and silent
Show fear as he turns to hide

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Un homme dans une gare désolée
Une valise à ses cotés
Des yeux fixes et froids
Montrent de la peur lorsqu’il
Se tourne pour se cacher

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Sens la pluie comme un été anglais
Entends les notes d’une chanson lointaine
Sortant de derrière un poster
Espérant que la vie ne fut aussi longue

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)

Feel the rain like an English summer
Hear the notes from a distant song
Stepping out from a backdrop poster
Wishing life wouldn’t be so long

Devenir gris

We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)
We fade to grey (fade to grey)
Devenir gris

Postscript:

Ashes to Ashes was a fantasy police drama series set in the 1980s and the sequel to Life on Mars which has been written about around here before. Needless to say music from the era played a big part in the show, and what better song to include but Fade to Grey. Here is a clip from the show which features the man himself, Steve Strange.

Chic, “Le Freak” and Studio 54

We all experience those freaky coincidences from time to time don’t we, when we start thinking of a song we might not have heard in ages, only for it to pop up on the radio a few minutes later. I had such a freaky coincidence this week, which ironically involved the 1978 Chic song, Le Freak.   

Over at My Top Ten, Rol has resumed his Hot 100 Countdown. Every week he chooses a song to represent a number, counting down from 100 to 1. This week suggestions were sought for songs that mention the number 54 in the title or lyrics. As expected quite a few of these suggestions included Le Freak, as the lyrics include the lines:

Just come on down, to 54
Find a spot out on the floor

A reference of course, to the legendary Studio 54 in New York City, which in the late 1970s was probably the most famous nightclub in the world, the home of disco, and frequented by A-listers from the worlds of music, film, art and fashion. 

As a suggestion for a 54 song, it was a good one, so I too offered it up in the comments boxes. I also left a lame remark about how I had loved Le Freak back in the day, but had no idea at the time what the reference to 54 meant, coming from rural Aberdeenshire as opposed to The Big Apple. Needless to say, once I had slept on it, I realised I could have yet again made a bit of a naïve faux pas, perhaps not realising the number 54 was code for the kind of hedonistic activities that went on there during its heyday (I have been caught out with this number malarkey before). I wasn’t even up yet, but I decided to do a quick Google search on my phone, to find out what the 54 in the song was all about. Yes, you’ve guessed it, just as I clicked on the first entry thrown up by the search engine, I hear the words ‘Ah…, Freak Out’ coming out loud and clear from my new radio alarm. 

As a coincidence, I thought this was an extreme one, but Mr WIAA merely brushed it aside, saying these things happen all the time. Personally I think we have far more influence on the world around us than we will ever understand, and because some of us were collectively thinking of the song Le Freak for Rol’s countdown on Tuesday night, the gods of radio playlists picked it for the Wednesday morning schedules. Oh, and for the record, I hadn’t actually been naïve after all, as it turns out Studio 54 was located at 254 West 54th Street, so that’s how it got its name. But enough about freaky coincidences, how about we actually listen to the song?

Le Freak by Chic:

I think most of us have watched reruns of TOTP2 often enough by now to know the story behind the song, but it seems Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers of Chic wrote it after being denied admission to Studio 54, even though they had been invited along by Grace Jones. Their earlier hit Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah) was played often inside, but they weren’t on ‘the list’ so the doorman, who didn’t recognise them, turned them away. It was New Year’s Eve, 1977, but they now had nowhere to go, so ended up writing this song as a reply to the doorman. They called it ‘F**k Off’ but when they decided to record it, to appease Bernard Edward’s sensibilities, they changed it to ‘Freak Out’. Incidentally, the stomping at the Savoy line in the song makes reference to Edgar Melvin Sampson, nicknamed The Lamb. He was an American jazz composer, arranger, saxophonist, and violinist born in New York City, his most notable composition being Stompin’ at the Savoy

The disco genre was massive between 1977 to 1978, when I was in my final year of school and heading out every weekend to socialise with my friends. Even in rural Scotland, the venues (local hotelier’s unused function suites) were transformed overnight into mini-Studio 54s, complete with a DJ, glitter balls and floors with flashing lights. We’d also now had the films Saturday Night Fever, and Thank God It’s Friday, which had kind of made disco go mainstream. Young people want to get together and meet other young people at the weekend, and this was a really easy and accessible way to make it happen. (Link here and here to my previous disco-related posts.)

The band Chic were probably the most stylish of all the disco acts at the time, and of course Mr Nile Rodgers is still doing his thing today, having worked with some of the most successful acts of the last 40 years. Back then, they were inspired by Bryan Ferry’s ‘look’ after watching him with Roxy Music, but safe to say, nowadays Nile has adopted the look of a street hippie, and looks very comfortable in his skin I must say. 

Getting back to Studio 54 and its history, it apparently first opened in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House, but it was short-lived. After changing its name several times it eventually became a CBS radio and television studio. Then, in 1977, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager created the space that became the world-famous nightclub and discotheque. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on professional lighting design and kept many of the former TV and theatrical sets, creating a unique dance club that became famous for its celebrity guest lists and restrictive (and subjective) entry policies, based on appearance and style.

I am reminded of a scene from the film American Hustle when one of the main characters, Bradley Cooper, has a night off from his FBI duties and takes Amy Adams dancing at Studio 54. I remember being impressed at how many of the details they got right in terms of fashion and hairstyles for this movie. It reminded me that even in rural Aberdeenshire, back in 1978, the boys took to having their hair permed. A strange sight back on the building sites on a Monday morning (and no doubt a lot of teasing from their older workmates) but ’twas the times. Tough to find a suitable clip, but this one gives a feel for what it must have been like in its heyday.

Something I never knew before, were the names of the two girls who sang lead on Le Freak. For the record they were Alfa Anderson and Luci Martin but in the Chic Choir we also had future luminaries such as Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown. The Chic Strings completed the line-up.

So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – I think I have opened a can of worms here, as there was just too much information to get through in order to write only one post on the whole disco phenomenon. If I have a rummage in the loft, I’m sure I’ll be able to find some pictures of me in my dancing gear (basically a leotard, footless tights and a wraparound skirt), and the diary entry reviewing my first night out in one of Aberdeen’s new nightspots. Most of the cinemas had seen better days by the tail end of the ’70s so they were being converted to places like Ruffles (on Diamond Street) and Fusion (on Bridge Place). I think I was unusual in that I truly went to dance, and could often be found hogging that sweet spot in front of the DJ, along with the boys who, like John Travolta, enjoyed a bit of ‘showboating’.

I will leave you with another Chic clip, this time featuring Norma Jean Wright on lead vocals. Everybody Dance got to No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart in April 1978. Enjoy.


Until next time…

Le Freak Lyrics
(Song by Bernard Edwards/Nile Rodgers)

(One, two)

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Have you heard about the new dance craze?
Listen to us, I’m sure you’ll be amazed
Big fun to be had by everyone
It’s up to you, it surely can be done

Young and old are doing it, I’m told
Just one try, and you too will be sold
It’s called le freak, they’re doing it night and day
Allow us, we’ll show you the way

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

All that pressure got you down
Has your head spinning all around
Feel the rhythm, check the rhyme
Come on along and have a real good time

Like the days of stomping at the Savoy
Now we freak, oh, what a joy
Just come on down, two 54
Find a spot out on the floor

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Now freak!

I said freak!

Now freak!

All that pressure got you down
Has your head spinning all around
Feel the rhythm, check the ride
Come on along and have a real good time

Like the days of stomping at the Savoy
Now we freak, oh, what a joy
Just come on down, two 54
Find a spot out on the floor

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Ah, freak out!
Le freak, c’est Chic
Freak out!

Canvey Island, Brit Funk and the “Southern Freeez”

Considering we in the UK are experiencing a bit of a heatwave at the moment, this post title sounds a bit ironic but all will soon make sense, so please bear with me. Living up here in the North of Scotland, there are lot of places “down south” that I’ve heard of, but don’t necessarily know much about. One such place is Canvey Island and since starting this blog, it keeps coming up in the research as having spawned an awful lot of bands. But where is Canvey Island, and is it indeed an island? Well technically it does seem to be, but like a few other similar landmasses, it’s separated from the mainland of Essex by a mere sliver of water.

Canvey_Island_OSM_map_2010
Canvey Island off the coast of Essex

The first time Canvey Island came up in the research was when I wrote about Eddie and the Hot Rods (link here) as they came from the place, as it seems did The Kursaal Flyers and the band who came to be known as “Canvey Island’s finest”, Dr. Feelgood. The whole pub rock musical genre flourished there in the 1970s and that part of Essex became the destination of choice for artists such as Graham Parker, Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello.

But it’s not pub rock I’m going to write about here, it’s another phenomenon that found its roots on Canvey Island – A genre of music that came to be known as Brit funk. Again, living in the North of Scotland I would have had no idea such places existed, but in the early ’70s an old coastal Country Club was turned into a nightclub called the Goldmine. The DJ in residence was Chris Hill and the club came to specialise in “soul nights” where only serious and devoted fans came to get their fix. By 1978 however coach loads of soul fans were arriving from all over the country to experience a piece of the funk action and this unprepossessing building on Canvey Island was firmly on the map as the soul, jazz & funk mecca of the UK – Strange but true.

Acts that came to be associated with Brit funk were Light of the World, Level 42, Beggar and Co, Linx and Freeez. These bands enjoyed chart success in the early ’80s making regular appearances on TOTP, but today’s featured song is the one I remember best from that era, and have fond memories of – Southern Freeez by the band Freeez. It reached No. 8 in the UK Singles Chart in February 1981 with the very “cool” Ingrid Mansfield Allman providing the vocals.

Southern Freeez by Freeez:

The reason I have fond memories of this particular song, despite not really knowing anything about the whole Brit funk scene at the time, is because it came about the year I turned 21. I was a student back then and just about every week an invitation to a fellow student’s birthday bash popped through the mailbox. Mid-week venues were plentiful as many a landlord was happy to throw open the doors to their unused function suites, and provide DJs of varying abilities in return for lucrative bar takings. Being a dance record, and having been a hit early on in the year, Southern Freeez regularly made it onto the playlist and the lyrics always made me smile. I don’t think it happens so much nowadays, but back then an awful lot of romances started life on the dancefloor and all down to whether you “liked their style”, “saw it in their eyes” or were driven to distraction watching them “on the floor doing the Southern Freeez” (which it turns out was a dance move – the band dropped out for a bar and everyone froze).

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As someone who (until recently) always had a closer relationship with the whole sound and feel of a song as apposed to the lyrics, I kind of liked how you could tell so much about a person by how they danced. Mr WIAA and I were always the dancers in our social group and because of that we always gravitated towards each other, being “soul” mates of sorts. It seems that nowadays, where relationships invariably start life on Tinder or via some other virtual medium, attraction is down to looks alone and with a quick “swipe” you are out of the picture for good. Such pressure on everyone to look a certain way, and sometimes all very false and unreal. If I could bottle it I would, but when you really immerse yourself in the music on the dance floor, you are showing your true colours – Nothing false or unreal there. (Fervent non-dancers however, will probably choose to disagree?)

Getting back to Brit funk, it seems that many 1980s pop groups such as Haircut 100, Wham! and notably Spandau Ballet tapped into the style and sound to help launch their careers. This scene reduced racial boundaries in the clubs and raised the profile of black and white musicians working together – All down to a converted Country Club on Canvey Island!

Until next time enjoy the sunshine, but if it all gets a bit too much, you could always drop out and freeze.

Southern Freeez Lyrics
(Song by Andy Stennett, John Rocca, Peter Maas)

Love saw it in your eyes
Sensed it in your smile
Boy I like your style
Oh yeah

When I saw you on the floor doing the southern freeez
Then I knew you were the one the only one for me

Love feel it in your touch
In the way you move
I like it very much yes I do

Time time is moving on
Guess it’s getting late
Soon you’ll take me home

People everywhere doing the southern freeez
Laughing all the time this is the life for me

Heartbeat whisper in my ears
Now it won’t be long no
Just you and me my dear yeah
Sweet darling making love so slow
Your so beautiful yes you are
You got me all a glow

When I saw you on the floor doing the southern freeez
Then I knew you were the one, the only one for me

Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, “The Night” and Northern Soul

Last night I finally got round to watching the film Northern Soul which had been recorded on the machine the previous week. It was made in 2014 but was all about the dance culture that emerged in the working-class industrial towns of the North of England in the early 1970s. Instead of chart music, the DJs in the various dance halls and youth clubs of Bury, Bolton, Blackburn, Burnley and Rochdale, played American soul music from the mid ’60s. And, this wasn’t mainstream soul music familiar to these youngsters, these DJs played the more obscure records that had never even charted (e.g. Tony Clarke: Landslide, Gloria Jones: Tainted Love, The Salvadors: Stick By Me Baby) but somehow they managed to attract large crowds of young people on a weekly basis, who literally danced all night.

The film Northern Soul is what would probably be classed as a gritty drama but told the story of two lads from Lancashire who immersed themselves in this culture, working in a factory by day but playing DJ at night, and at the weekends frequenting the big all-nighters at venues such as Wigan Casino. Watching them dance, this was early break dancing, what with the spins and the athletic moves. Who knew it all started in Lancashire?

For me, the standout record in the film was The Night by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons. I knew this song well but didn’t realise that although it was originally released in 1972, due to poor promotion, didn’t chart. It did however become a popular track on the northern soul circuit and subsequently became a hit in 1975 reaching No.7 in the UK Singles Chart. An oh so familiar tale of a boy pleading with a girl he likes to resist the advances of another – Sadly all the pleading in the world is not going to work in a case like this as we girls all seem to go through a (probably) hormonally-induced phase of being attracted to the wrong kind of boy.

The Night by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons:

But going back to northern soul, as a great fan of chart music between 1972 and 1975, carefully recording the chart rundown every Sunday night, it had not escaped my attention that there were a fair few listings around that time attributed to bands with the word Wigan in the title – There was Wigan’s Chosen Few with Footsee in 1975 and later on that year Wigan’s Ovation with three separate chart entries. They turned up on TOTP and we witnessed this very energetic style of dancing, so different to what we were used to down the local youth club. I didn’t give it much thought at the time but in later life have been intrigued by how this movement took off to such an extent. It was hard enough getting boys to dance at all where I came from so to see a whole dance hall full of, let’s face it, very macho males showboating on the dancefloor was surprising indeed.

I will leave you with a couple of clips that kind of sum up what it was like back then – The dance halls had seen better days and life was a bit grim on the outside but when all that great American soul music was being blasted from the sound systems, life it seemed, was sweet. I am pretty sure the Frankie Valli track that has become an earworm over the last 24 hours is not representative of the music that was played back then, and there are some music bloggers like Marie from It’s All In The Grooves who are experts in the kind of ’60s soul played at these venues, but watching the film it did remind me how much I loved Frankie’s falsetto. Still touring it seems at the grand old age of 82 and tickets selling fast so if you live in the North of England and want a little reminder of your days down at the Casino, get online fast!

The Night Lyrics
(Song by Bob Gaudio/Al Ruzicka)

Beware
Of his promise
Believe
What I say
Before
I go forever
Be sure
Of what you say

So he paints a pretty picture
And he tells you that he needs you
And he covers you with flowers
And he always keeps you dreaming
If he always keeps you dreaming
You won’t have a lonely hour
If a day could last forever
You might like your ivory tower

But the night begins to turn your head around
And you know you’re gonna lose more than you found
Yeah the night begins to turn your head around

Beware
Of his promise
Believe
What I say
Before
I go forever
Be sure
Of what you say

For the words may come too easy
If you don’t believe I’m leaving
And goodbye will come too quickly
If you really think he loves you
If you really think he loves you
You would give your love so sweetly
If that day could last forever
You would fall in love completely

But the night begins to turn your head around
And you know you’re gonna lose more than you found
Yeah the night begins to turn your head around