Alyson’s Archive #3 – David Bowie, Aladdin Sane and “The Jean Genie”

Welcome to this occasional series where I share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog”, courtesy of that as yet unthought of invention, the world wide web! 

One of the things I found in the archive box recently was an old pocket file containing lots of pin-ups from 1970s teen magazines such as Jackie, Fab 208 and this lesser known publication (and one I had forgotten about), called FAN. I can tell which of these pin-ups had appeared on my bedroom wall at some point as the corners are a bit damaged with drawing pin holes or sticky blu-tack. This one of David Bowie was in mint condition however which makes sense as at this time it was David Cassidy and Donny Osmond (I was only 12) who tended to grace my walls, but I had obviously been enough of a fan to carefully remove it from the magazine and keep it for posterity.

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What I’ve discovered to be the most interesting aspect of having kept all this stuff for over 40 years however, is that yet again I seem to have developed a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the musical heroes of my youth. It is only after reading the articles on the back of these pin-ups that you work out what was actually happening in the world of pop music in the early ’70s as opposed to what we choose to remember was happening. No need for a long wordy post with this one therefore as it’s just kind of interesting to read this 1973 interview with Mr Bowie as it stands – It took place right around the time of the release of the album “Aladdin Sane” (with it’s iconic lightning bolt cover) and just before he embarked on the tour that would culminate in the “retirement” of the character that had become his alter-ego, Ziggy Stardust.

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Question Time with David Bowie, not David Dimbleby!

Considering Bowie went on to make albums right up until his death at the beginning of 2016, it is bizarre to read in this 1973 interview that he fully intended to wave goodbye to the music industry at that time and concentrate on other projects. In fact he doubted that he would appear on stage again for a very long time!

Anyway, as the timing of this interview coincided with the release of “Aladdin Sane” (apparently a play on the words “A Lad Insane”), it is entirely appropriate that today’s featured song should be something from that album. The Jean Genie had been a hit for him in December 1972 reaching No. 2 in the UK Singles Chart. It had a protagonist that was partly inspired by his good friend Iggy Pop, or an “Iggy-type” character at any rate. Much has also been made about the title referring to the author Jean Genet however Bowie himself admitted that even if it was the case, it was probably done subconsciously.

The Jean Genie by David Bowie:

So, “What’s It All About?” – I’m loving looking back at all this material from over 40 years ago but time and time again I’m having to reappraise my memories of the times. Back in the ’60s, bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Kinks fully expected their careers to last for 2 or 3 years maximum, and being of the first rock ‘n’ roll generation there was no model to suppose it would turn out to the contrary. Likewise in the early ’70s David Bowie fully embraced that his music career was probably now over and I no doubt just accepted that as being the case back then. How bizarre then to think that I have a friend who is just back from seeing Sir Paul McCartney perform live at Madison Square Garden in New York, the Rolling Stones are still touring and Ray Davis has just been knighted. Who would have thought it?

The Jean Genie Lyrics
(Song by David Bowie)

A small Jean Genie snuck off to the city
Strung out on lasers and slash back blazers
Ate all your razors while pulling the waiters
Talking bout Monroe and walking on Snow White
New York’s a go-go and everything tastes right
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Sits like a man but he smiles like a reptile
She loves him, she loves him but just for a short while
She’ll scratch in the sand, won’t let go his hand
He says he’s a beautician and sells you nutrition
And keeps all your dead hair for making up underwear
Poor little Greenie

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

He’s so simple minded he can’t drive his module
He bites on the neon and sleeps in the capsule
Loves to be loved, loves to be loved

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

The Jean Genie lives on his back
The Jean Genie loves chimney stacks
He’s outrageous, he screams and he bawls
Jean Genie let yourself go!

Alyson’s Archive #2 – Old Magazines, Steely Dan and “Haitian Divorce”

As everyone who visits here must realise by now I’m a bit of a hoarder, but it’s all well catalogued and stored so when I heard the other day that Walter Becker from the band Steely Dan had died, I just had to have a search for this. Why would I want to search for a magazine with a picture of The Glitter Band on the cover I hear you ask? (They had just changed their name to The G Band by the way, perhaps having had the foresight to distance themselves from the former “Leader Of The Gang”). Well, between 1976 and 1978 I had a subscription to this publication and along with snippets of pop news and gossip, they also printed the lyrics to 25 chart, or smash hits.

img004.jpgThis was the first edition of 1977 and because the Steely Dan song Haitian Divorce was in the current UK Singles Chart, the lyrics appeared on page 3 (although credited to Steeley Dan I see – tut, tut, Mr Words editor). Now how is it possible that I can remember which page a set of lyrics appeared on from over 40 years ago but I can’t remember really important work-related stuff from just last week? Beyond me, but I imagine it all stems from the sheer amount of time that was spent pouring over such publications.

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During the mid ’70s I spent an awful lot of hours in a day listening to the radio. Combine that with the regular purchase of a fair number of music-related magazines during those years and it means that I still have a fairly good knowledge of just about everything that made it to even the lower reaches of the ’72-’78 charts. Haitian Divorce was the first Steely Dan single to enter the UK Top 20, and I was mighty impressed by it. First of all much use was made of that device called a talkbox, which created the distinctive robotic intro. Secondly it was about a couple called Babs and Clean Willie – None of the mums and dads I knew were called that, it was all Bill and Ann, or Mike and Fiona, so all very exotic. Finally it just had a great sound and feel to it because Steely Dan’s music was characterised by “complex jazz-influenced structures and harmonies”.

Haitian Divorce by Steely Dan:

What I wouldn’t have known back in 1977 was that the lyrics to Haitian Divorce were about the tourism ploy that led foreigners who were dissatisfied with their marriages to the country of Haiti. A simple and easy divorce could take place with hardly any restrictions and only one member of the married party had to be present. Of course this is what Babs planned to do but somehow the zombie cocktail, a Charlie and a bit of Merengue dancing leads to a tearful reunion back in the USA. Nine months later a kinky-haired baby is born, but nothing is said of it.

At 16 I really wouldn’t have got any of this and there was no internet in those days to offer up an explanation but it didn’t really matter as it was still just a great sounding song and started me out on a journey of Steely Dan fandom – Not in a big way like many of you out there but I do have a fair bit of their music on my digital database and unlike many of the songs that would have appeared in Words magazine (Haitian Divorce shared a page with Grandma’s Party by Paul Nicholas!), theirs have very much stood the test of time.

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Walter Becker in 1977

So, we say farewell to yet another of the artists of our youth and this time at the suddenly very young-sounding age of 67. This year has not been quite so brutal as last (so far) in terms of the sheer number of shock deaths from the world of rock and pop, but never a month goes by without someone’s name appearing amongst the obituaries, which is now to be expected I suppose.

Before I go, as I have added this post to the Alyson’s Archive series I should really share something else from that edition of Words magazine. I give you the “Sounds Around” feature where amongst other stories there is a piece about the New York club CBGBs – It was a place where, “If the music’s good, punk bands don’t need to degrade both themselves and their audiences to attract attention”. Nice to know.

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Until next time…., RIP Walter

Haitian Divorce Lyrics
(Song by Donald Fagen/Walter Becker)

Babs and Clean Willie were in love they said
So in love the preacher’s face turned red
Soon everybody knew the thing was dead
He shouts, she bites, they wrangle through the night

She go crazy
Got to make a getaway
Papa say

Oh – no hesitation
No tears and no hearts breakin’
No remorse
Oh – congratulations
This is your Haitian Divorce

She takes the taxi to the good hotel
Bon marche as far as she can tell
She drinks the zombie from the cocoa shell
She feels alright, she get it on tonight
Mister driver
Take me where the music play
Papa say

At the Grotto
In the greasy chair
Sits the Charlie with the lotion and the kinky hair
When she smiled, she said it all

The band was hot so
They danced the famous Merengue
Now we dolly back
Now we fade to black

Tearful reunion in the USA
Day by day those memories fade away
Some babies grow in a peculiar way
It changed, it grew, and everybody knew
Semi-mojo
Who’s this kinky so-and-so?
Papa go

Alyson’s Archive #1 – Eddie and the Hot Rods, Radio Stars and Squeeze

Welcome to this occasional series where I will very embarrassingly, share the contents of my archive box of teenage memorabilia. I always knew these random bits and pieces would come in handy some day, but little did I think back in the 1970s that they would find their way onto such a thing as a “blog” thanks to Sir Tim Berners-Lee and his little invention, the world wide web! 

Back in 1978 I used to keep a journal. Here is the extract from Friday, March the 3rd, the day I’d gone in to Aberdeen with the school boyfriend (s bf) to watch Eddie and the Hot Rods at the Capitol Theatre. The Capitol was used as a cinema most of the time but between the mid ’70s and mid ’80s I went to see an awful lot of bands and artists perform there. Eddie and the Hot Rods were the only band on the bill that night who’d had much chart success to date, having got to No. 9 in the UK Singles Chart with Do Anything You Wanna Do in August, 1977. The two support acts were Radio Stars and an unheard of, fledgling band called Squeeze.

If you can read the extract below you will see that I was a very “proper” and not very “cool” teenager (who also didn’t have brilliant writing skills it seems) but hey, I was wearing my new-fangled straight-legged trousers and was still flushed with the success of having won the prize for “Best Pogoing” at our local Community Centre (documented here) so despite my misgivings about punk concerts, it turned out to be a good night. Interesting also to note that the ticket cost only £2.50 but looking back that was what I earned from my Saturday job, working a whole day in a shop – It’s all relative.

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The strange thing is that in later life we seem to develop a selective memory based on subsequent events and I had always thought that the standout act that night was Squeeze – Looking back at my journal entry, the verdict was that “they weren’t bad”. How bizarre as down the line they became one of my favourite bands and Up The Junction is still one of my all-time favourite songs.

Eddie and the Hot Rods were apparently “very good” and we had “no qualms about jumping up and down pogoing”, although it was “an exhausting occupation” (it’s all just so embarrassing). I don’t really think that in the annals of punk, Eddie and the Hot Rods will be remembered as one of that movement’s biggest movers and shakers – They were more of a pub rock band from Canvey Island but I suppose back in 1977, they did fit that whole “new wavey” mould quite well.

It seems that the band I most enjoyed that night were the Radio Stars and looking at the picture of them now, I still remember the showmanship of their lead singer, Andy Ellison. He had bleached blond hair and certainly knew how to work the crowd – I remember how he effortlessly meandered through the audience, niftily navigating his way across the back of the seats in the stalls. Their minor hit record Nervous Wreck also went down well that night and funny how my memories of that night are so at odds with how the respective careers of each of these bands evolved. I don’t know if it’s just me but looking at him now, does he have a hint of the Joe Brown about him?

But I can’t leave it there, for although it seems I didn’t think that much of Squeeze that particular night, they went on to become one of the UK’s best-loved bands. The vast majority of their songs were written by Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook, but of course the band Squeeze also spawned one Jools Holland, who seems to have become a bit of a National Treasure and whose annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny is watched by millions. During the height of their popularity in the late ’70s/early ’80s they had hits with such classics as Cool for Cats, Slap and Tickle, Another Nail in My Heart, Pulling Mussels (from the Shell), Tempted, Labelled with Love, Black Coffee in Bed and Hourglass, as well as the aforementioned Up The Junction.

It was with great joy therefore, whilst watching live footage from Glastonbury this year, that I managed to catch Chris and Glenn pop up as guests in the outdoorsy green room area where Mark Radcliffe and (my other girl crush) Jo Whiley usually reside. They performed a very alternative version of Up The Junction complete with a band of kazoo players – This clip has appeared in my little corner of the blogosphere before but well worth another outing I feel.

Up The Junction (original version) by Squeeze:

So, “What’s It All About?” – Funny how we have a selective memory when it comes to reminiscing about the music of our youth. Just as Fred Astaire’s first audition went badly and notes were made to the effect, “Can’t act, can’t sing, slightly bald, can dance a little”, my diary entry from March ’78 was less than complimentary about Squeeze. Fortunately I soon saw the light and became a big fan down the line – I must have just been far too dazzled on the night by the energetic antics of Joe Brown lookalike Andy Ellison, to really concentrate on the talents of Messrs Difford and Tilbrook. That of course and all the pogoing – “An exhausting occupation”!

Up The Junction Lyrics
(Song by Chris Difford/Glenn Tilbrook)

I never thought it would happen
With me and the girl from Clapham
Out on the windy common
That night I ain’t forgotten
When she dealt out the rations
With some or other passions
I said “you are a lady”
“Perhaps” she said. “I may be”

We moved in to a basement
With thoughts of our engagement
We stayed in by the telly
Although the room was smelly
We spent our time just kissing
The Railway Arms we’re missing
But love had got us hooked up
And all our time it took up

I got a job with Stanley
He said I’d come in handy
And started me on Monday
So I had a bath on Sunday
I worked eleven hours
And bought the girl some flowers
She said she’d seen a doctor
And nothing now could stop her

I worked all through the winter
The weather brass and bitter
I put away a tenner
Each week to make her better
And when the time was ready
We had to sell the telly
Late evenings by the fire
With little kicks inside her

This morning at four fifty
I took her rather nifty
Down to an incubator
Where thirty minutes later
She gave birth to a daughter
Within a year a walker
She looked just like her mother
If there could be another

And now she’s two years older
Her mother’s with a soldier
She left me when my drinking
Became a proper stinging
The devil came and took me
From bar to street to bookie
No more nights by the telly
No more nights nappies smelling

Alone here in the kitchen
I feel there’s something missing
I’d beg for some forgiveness
But begging’s not my business
And she won’t write a letter
Although I always tell her
And so it’s my assumption
I’m really up the junction