Punk, Late ’70s Fashion and The Wrong Trousers

Wrote a very serious post last time so a bit of a change is called for I think. If like me you were aged around seventeen in 1977, you will remember that not only did the musical landscape change quite dramatically that year, so did the trousers!

As we had entered the ’70s, trousers still had a hint of the ’60s about them. They could even be ordered from the music papers and were called “loon pants”. As the decade progressed we often copied the fashion sense of our favourite pop stars and wore flared velvet or satin trousers, as worn by Marc Bolan and Rod Stewart. When Scotland became responsible for the latest teen “mania” by producing those boys-next-door The Bay City Rollers, some of us even took to having a stripe of tartan down the side of our trousers (but not me just to be clear).

loon-pants

In 1976, a stroke of marketing genius by the Brutus Clothing Company made their jeans the must-have brand. David Dundas sang the song for their advert, then had a hit with it later on that year reaching No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart. The song was simply called Jeans On and the lyric was changed from “Pull my Brutus jeans on” in the advert to “Pull my old blue jeans on” for the single. Of course I had to have a pair and the must-have top to go with them that year was a cropped, cheesecloth shirt that tied at the midriff. Of course this was not the kind of outfit that parents were too keen on seeing their daughters head off into the night wearing (those were more demure days), so a long jacket was always worn until you made it to the end of your street, after which the jacket came off and went into the (coincidentally very large) handbag.

By this time, jeans were the only type of trouser any self-respecting teen would wear and of course they had to have wide flares. The music of the moment was very much American country rock, and the more we looked like dudes who would hang out on dark desert highways drinking in those tequila sunrises, the better. If like me you were a girl, your shoes would also have sported massive soles and wedge heels – All the better for that swathe of flared trouser fabric to drape across. Cleverly worn, you could add a good few inches to your height, like those circus-type performers who look really, really tall but are simply walking on stilts.

But of course this is a music blog (or is it a fashion blog tonight?) so what song comes to mind when writing about all of this. Well first of all it was actually a book that came to mind, by Tony Parsons, called Stories We Could Tell. I read it a few years ago but have just downloaded another copy in order to read it again. The story all takes place on one night in August 1977 when a group of diverse, music-loving young people, each have life-changing experiences. It really highlighted how that was a time of real cultural change in the UK and if you were young, like me, you will remember it well. The music of the moment was no longer that of The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac, it was punk and new wave. All of a sudden the very American, western-style clothing we wore looked ridiculous, and in order to be part of this brave new world it was imperative you get a pair of tight-fitting, straight-legged trousers, pretty damned quickly.

Always keen to be at the forefront of fashion, I prided myself on being the first of my group to acquire a pair of these new revolutionary trousers – They weren’t even denim, but a very fetching brown corduroy (of the elephant variety). The first time I wore them out, they were the talking point of the night – Everyone wanted to know where I’d bought them and what they cost. Sounds ridiculous now but after years of wearing acres of denim and checked shirts, this new pared down look was definitely something just a bit different.

Of course we were now used to the new style of music that was sweeping the country but it wasn’t all contrived or out to shock. My favourite punk/new wave band from that period was The Stranglers and in 1977, just after the night at the centre of the book I am about to revisit, they gave us the classic No More Heroes. Their sound (having just looked it up) was driven by Jean-Jacques Burnel’s melodic bass but also gave prominence to Dave Greenfield’s keyboards (every day’s a school day). Hugh Cornwell was the lead singer and quite rightly he didn’t look like a teen idol but his gruff vocals were perfect for the band. Over time, they grew more refined and sophisticated and managed, quite amazingly, to have a record in the UK Singles Chart every year between 1977 and 1992. Summing up their contribution to popular music, critic Dave Thompson wrote, “From bad-mannered yobs to purveyors of supreme pop delicacies, the group was responsible for music that may have been ugly and might have been crude – but it was never, ever boring.” Amen to that.

No More Heroes by The Stranglers:

No More Heroes Lyrics
(Song by Hugh Cornwell/Jean Jacques Burnel/Dave Greenfield/Jet Black)

Whatever happened to Leon Trotsky?
He got an ice pick
That made his ears burn

Whatever happened to dear old Lenny?
The great Elmyra,
And Sancho Panza?

Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?

Whatever happened to all the heroes?
All the Shakespearoes?
They watched their Rome burn

Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more

Whatever happened to all the heroes?
All the Shakespearoes?
They watched their Rome burn

Whatever happened to the heroes?
Whatever happened to the heroes?
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more
No more heroes any more

Postscript:

And if it seems somewhat bizarre to have leapt from writing about Burt Bacharach songs to writing about The Stranglers in one post, the astute amongst you will remember that in 1978 the wonderful Bacharach and David song Walk On By was indeed recorded by The Stranglers (there’s the link). Dionne Warwick it wasn’t but somehow it just worked and was right for the times – Wonder what Burt thought?

Maurice White, “Boogie Wonderland” and The Last Days of Disco

As anticipated, the blog is in danger of turning into an obituary column. Yesterday we heard the news that Maurice White of Earth, Wind and Fire had passed away. Again he had been ill for some time and died of an age-related condition and again, I am very sorry for his friends and family. My husband did remark however that the news story is now more about the sheer number of artists who have passed away in the last month, and is not so much about the individual any more so we have to be careful not to dwell on it too much. It is going to be a perfectly natural occurrence that will happen on a much more regular basis. Also the radio station I mainly listen to is aimed at an older audience so what is news to a 50-something would not be news to my daughter or her friends.

It has however, been a bit of a wake-up call for all of us of a certain age as we consider our own mortality perhaps a little bit more than usual in view of the events of the last month. We now may be considering moving retirement plans forward a little and that can’t be a bad thing.

As usual this latest death has brought back great memories of the music. Maurice White was the founder member of Earth, Wind and Fire. He wrote the songs, sang the songs and produced them so he was essentially Mr EWF. If you haven’t seen them perform on stage, it was like witnessing a riotous fancy dress party with vast numbers of musicians, singers and dancers filling ever corner of the stage. They were essentially an R&B act but in the late ’70s Disco was King and their music did fit neatly into that genre making their songs a must-play on the dancefloors of the nation. In 1979 they realeased Boogie Wonderland with The Emotions (even more people on stage in wildly flamboyant costumes).

Listening to this song again, Mr White appears to have had a cold when recording it as there is a definite nasal quality to his voice but that didn’t stop it getting to the top of the charts and it was great fun dancing along to it on a night out. Looking at the outfits I can’t believe now that so much was made of Bowie’s look and style only five years earlier – He was positively tame compared with these guys! Maurice is definitely the ringleader here though and he is obviously enjoying himself immensely. (A receding hairline for a black man sporting an afro must have been troublesome for him but so much else going on we didn’t notice.)

On a personal note, being a fan of Earth, Wind and Fire was a bit of a problem for me in 1979 – I was a 1st Year student going through that transition period where a big change in lifestyle has taken place. I still had my best friend from school but we hadn’t quite morphed into full-blown students yet (although that followed). Disco fever was still rife and if you loved dancing and getting dressed up there were plenty of places to go. I remember buying some yellow and black shiny material that I made into a skirt with a side split in the Student’s Union sewing room (yes there was one). Worn with footless tights and a black top that I’d cut diagonally across the front leaving one arm free and one covered, I was all set to boogie. If you were a student, it wasn’t cool to like disco music, dress in shiny clothing or go out dancing but we were clinging onto a bit of our old lives for a while yet. By the following year I had found myself a boyfriend and instead of dancing, we sat up late listening to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. The shiny clothes went and we started buying our “student uniforms” in charity shops and workwear outlets. But during that last disco-frequenting summer of 1979, we made the most of the sounds of Mr White and his high energy brand of music. RIP Maurice.

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Boogie Wonderland Lyrics (a song for dancing to, so bear that in mind!)
(Song by Jon Lind/Allee Willis)

Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland
Midnight creeps so slowly into hearts of men who need more than they get
Daylight deals a bad hand to a woman who has laid too many bets
The mirror stares you in the face and says,”Baby, uh, uh, it don’t work”
You say your prayers though you don’t care; you dance and shake the hurt

Dance, boogie wonderland
Ha, ha, dance
Boogie wonderland
Sounds fly through the night; I chase my vinyl dreams to Boogie Wonderland
I find romance when I start to dance in Boogie Wonderland
I find romance when I start to dance in Boogie Wonderland
All the love in the world can’t be gone
All the need to be loved can’t be wrong
All the records are playing and my heart keeps saying
“Boogie wonderland, wonderland”

Postscript:

The striking Earth, Wind and Fire album covers were by Japanese artist Shusei Nagaoka and usually featured an Egyptian theme – Maurice White had conceived the name of the band from his star sign Sagittarius which has the elemental quality of Fire and seasonal qualities of Earth and Air. This all contributed to the band’s colourful and mystical style. As I’ve said before, I miss album cover art – It was most definitely a very special art form.

The Partridge Family, David Cassidy and “Could It Be Forever?”

Thinking yesterday about my first crush (Davy Jones) inevitably led me to think of my second big crush, David Cassidy. Thankfully this David is still alive and well although now 65 which would have made him around 21 when he first came into my life in the early ’70s. He starred in The Partridge Family which was shown midweek in the kid’s TV slot just before the early evening news.

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It was inevitable because of his amazing good looks and great singing voice that he would become a teen idol. There had been chart hits already with The Partridge Family but in April 1972 David had his first solo hit as himself, and not as Keith Partridge. Could It Be Forever was the perfect vehicle to cement David’s place as one of the two biggest “pop stars” of the day (the other being Donny Osmond but we’ll leave him for another time).

Looking back at the dates now, I realise that this song must have been around during the last few weeks spent at my Scottish primary school. It is also the first song that made me cry – I still remember those tears welling up as I listened to it being played on the radio. Young girls are highly emotional beings and at around 12, just when the hormones are kicking in, we have to leave the familiar surroundings and friendships of our junior school and enter the serious, scary world of secondary school. We end up losing our sanity a bit when it comes to our pop idols and behave in a totally irrational and frenzied manner. We buy all the magazines that have their pictures and create scrapbooks and fanzines. We cover our bedroom walls with their posters. We even iron picture transfers onto our pillowcases. (Yes guilty of all the above.) Of course we dream of them being our fantasy boyfriends, without really understanding what having a real boyfriend would mean.

The really frenzied behaviour however happens if we are ever lucky enough to see them in concert, or in the flesh, and whenever David came to Britain there were hordes of girls at the airport to greet him. It always amazes me when we see old footage of these scenes, that young girls simply headed off to Heathrow en masse unsupervised. We have become a nation who heavily supervises its young people until they are practically at the stage of leaving home – Wasn’t so in the early ’70s obviously. Also, the girls are practically on the tarmac and hanging off every balcony/rooftop vantage point. Compare that to the massive security operation nowadays of getting people shoeless, belt-less and scissor-less through to their plane of choice.

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As with most teen idols, David’s time in the sun didn’t last and it was practically all over by 1974. He had become disillusioned with it all by then anyway and who could blame him. It can be a curse to be that good-looking as you are going to have a stratospheric rise to fame but then lose all control of your life in the process. Unless you are incredibly grounded, realistic and well-managed you will find it very hard to cope with life when it’s over. He also suffered the double-whammy of having a fan die in the crush at one of his concerts which he never quite got over. He did attempt a bit of a comeback in the ’80s but it was short-lived. Young girls are very fickle and grow up fast – Once they’ve moved on to “real boys” the career is over.

As for me I will enjoy listening once more to the first song that really made me weep. His second solo single How Can I Be Sure didn’t just make me weep but sob. Yes the hormones and move to “big school” were really kicking in by then. Thank goodness for DC Thomson of Dundee who could be relied upon weekly, to provide plenty of reasonably priced centrefold posters of our idol in Jackie magazine. Hope this David lives a long and healthy life.

Could It Be Forever Lyrics
(Song by Wes Farrell/Danny Janssen)

Could it be forever or is my mind just rambling on
Well I touched you once and I kissed you once
And I feel like you’re mine
Well I feel like you’re mine and I see in your face
I’m not wrong to have these feelings
Well I feel like you’re mine and I’ve never known a time before
That’s had so many meanings

Could it be forever or is my mind just wasting time
Well I don’t think so because you let me know
You make me feel like you’re mine
Well I feel like you’re mine and I can’t remember
When the feelings have been stronger
And all I know is I can’t let go of you
Or be with you just a little while longer

All my feelings come together
All of me is here
Never known when I felt better
Cause I know this won’t disappear

But could it be forever
Or is my mind just rambling on
Maybe it is, if it is
Then I’ll be moving on

Well, I feel like you’re mine
And I see in your face
I’m not wrong to have these feelings
Well, I feel like you’re mine
I’ve never known a time before
That’s had so many meanings