Progressive music. Not Prog Rock. An important distinction and a potentially interesting discussion. I like progressive music and I love progressive pop music. How it transformed into self indulgent prog rock in the Seventies is a fascinating/dull story depending on your preferences. Progressive music always seemed so interesting to me insofar as it was, to use the word as a verb, progressing music into unknown realms that I had never previously heard. To hear something that was progressive was part of the scene – it was groovy – out there – cool -fab – etc.
This is a 3 CD “box set” from Grapefruit Records and it covers 1971, the year that David Hepworth categorically states was the best year in music. In his book, “1971 Never A Dull Moment” he claims that 1971 is rock’s “annus mirabilis”. Unnecessarily flamboyant use of Latin in my opinion but he gives examples of great tracks released each month in 1971. My favourite tracks that he mentions are as follows: January – “Domino” by Van Morrison. February – “Little Green” by Joni Mitchell. March – “Poor Boy” by Nick Drake. April – “Family Affair” by Sly & The Family Stone. May – “Brown Sugar” by The Rolling Stones. June – “Glistening Glyndebourne” by John Martyn. July – “Riders On The Storm” by The Doors. August – “I Don’t Want To Talk About It” by Crazy Horse. September – “Motel Blues” by Loudon Wainwright III. October – “Surf’s Up” by The Beach Boys. November – “Stairway To Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. December – “Virginia Plain” by Roxy Music. It’s quite hard to argue with the idea that 1971 was a good year. For music anyway.
However, this box set restricts itself to purely British music and it focusses on obscure stuff although “Back Street Luv” by Curved Air reached Number Four in the UK singles charts. Lead singer Sonja Kristina said “the song was about skipping school and hanging around with undesirable older boys and men”. Different times, I guess. She was born Sonja Christina Shaw in Essex and was the granddaughter of a Swedish actress. Curved Air were the first live band I saw at Royal Holloway College on my first day in 1972. However, I didn’t know anybody so I left early and went back to my room by myself. I remember that as a very desolate evening wondering what the hell I was doing. From that point on, I refused to listen to Curved Air until this box set arrived and now I realise what I have been missing.
There are seventy one tracks on this box set. One of my favourites is “Mister Westwood” by Pluto. I had never heard of them. They were named after Mickey Mouse’s pet dog which must have been humourous at the time. “Mister Westwood” should have been titled “Mister Westward” as the song concerns an impending journey. The instrumentation is very laid back, probably not that progressive to be honest, but the harmonies are lovely and the coda at the end of the song is soothing. I love the photos of the band and the posters in the video which give a real flavour of 1971.
The box set includes tracks by well known groups such as The Kinks, The Hollies, The Move, Procol Harum, Emerson Lake And Palmer, Status Quo and Barclay James Harvest but I had never heard any of the songs before. They are all in the “Progressive Pop” genre so, for example, the Emerson Lake And Palmer track is a short rock’n’roll spoof inspired by Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It”.
Much more obscure is “Mr Middleton’s Lament” by Corn And Seed Merchants which had never been issued until this year. It is very redolent of The Move; it was produced at George Martin’s AIR studios; the two members of the band had previously been in Mandrake Paddle and went on to form Prowler, Liverpool Echo, Starbuck and True Adventure. That’s four different groups. It’s a great song, beautifully produced and it is very easy to imagine how it could have been a hit.
Geoff Simpson and Ron Jay were the principle members of Airbus whose “pocket masterpiece” (according to David Wells, the compiler of this box set), “This Time Tomorrow” was also not released until this year. Ron Jay’s brother, Martin Jay sung lead vocals on this song. He owned the Venus Recording Studio in Whitechapel where the recording was made. He also sung “Get It On” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” on “Top Of The Pops Volume 18” a budget series of covers that reached Number One in the album charts.
1971. The good old days. We’ll never see the like of 1971 again. Thank goodness: January – 66 people killed at a stampede at a Rangers v Celtic match. February – 24 people killed in an earthquake in Tuscany. March – William Calley is found guilty of 22 murders in the My Lai massacre. April – Charles Manson is sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment). May – an earthquake in Turkey kills more than 1000 people. June – a midair collision over California kills 50 people. July – an attempted coup in Morocco results in 186 deaths. August – race riots in New jersey following the following the beating to death of a Puerto Rican motorist by city police. September – an air crash in Alaska kills 111 people. October – an explosion in Scotland kills 22 people. November – a bridge collapses in Rio de Janeiro killing 48 people. December – a bomb explodes in Belfast, killing 15 people. Everything is relative I suppose. The amount of good music that has been released so far in 2020 will make for an interesting perspective in fifty years time.