Single of the week

Albatross (Fleetwood Mac)

This week’s choice is a number one instrumental named after a bird, the albatross, which is mentioned in the classic poem The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Coleridge. As a child Peter Green, guitarist and singer with Fleetwood Mac read the poem and it gave him the inspiration he needed for the song.

DJ Tony Blackburn once said this classic “It’s the most crushingly boring tune in the world. It just drones on. It starts, then it continues and then doesn’t go anywhere.” Many people have probably said that of Tony Blackburn.

Peter once admitted later that Albatross may have been drug influenced, he said, “I took two big LSD trips that went on forever and ever and ever.” In the late sixties and early seventies, Peter Green was ranked as one of the great guitar heroes alongside Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix and David Gilmour. B.B. King once admitted that Peter Green was “the only guitarist in the world who could make me sweat.” The first time George Harrison heard it he said “it knocked me sideways.”

Some sources state that Santo & Johnny’s 1959 track Sleepwalk became an inspiration but it bears much more than a passing resemblance to a Chuck Berry 1957 instrumental called Deep Feeling which has many of the same elements including a call and answer style of guitar playing, and the permanent bass in the background. Chuck made no attempts to sue for plagiarism as Deep Feeling was, in turn, based on the 1939 country-tinged, Floyd’s Guitar Blues by Andy Kirk & his 12 Clouds Of Joy. The tracks in feel gives the effect of a calm sea and an airy breeze. Green only used four chords and Fleetwood only used timpani mallets so as not give it a heavy drum sound.

Peter explained further about the title, “I heard John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers’ cover of Jimmy Rodgers’ The Last Meal –  that’s the blues singer not the country and western one. I thought I would take it and develop it. I called it that because of that reference to the back of a giant albatross mentioned in the Traffic record Hole in My Shoe.”

Fleetwood Mac were formed in 1967 and comprised Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood, John McVie and Jeremy Spencer. In August 1968, another lead guitarist, Danny Kirwin, was drafted in to give the group a jazzier feel. Although not evident on Albatross he is prominently featured on the B-side Jigsaw Puzzle Blues.

By 1970 Peter Green’s health was failing following his involvement with LSD and both he and Spencer quit. With various personnel changes including Stevie Nicks, Christine Perfect (later McVie) and Lindsey Buckingham, the group were elevated to supergroup status during the seventies and eighties.

In an interview in 2003, Peter Green said of Albatross, “I’d like to do that again on Hawaiian guitars with Eric Clapton. I always liked Eric’s playing: he was much better than Hendrix, although I thought Jimi was a great person.”

Musically, Albatross inspired the Beatles song Sun King which appeared on their 1969 Abbey Road album. In 2005 Marks and Spencer used it for one of their television adverts.

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Tossing And Turning (Ivy League)

Like so many acts, their first hit is not always necessarily where their career began. That is certainly the case for this week’s choice. The Ivy League first popped up in 1965 with Funny How Can Be, but the men behind it were very around the record business long before that.

The two men in question are the Birmingham-born John Carter and Ken Lewis. They began writing songs together and submitting them to various publishing companies, they travelled to London and got themselves a manager, Terry Kennedy who realised their potential and suggested they form a band and record their own songs rather than give them to other people. So in 1961 they formed Carter Lewis and the Southerners and released a number of singles, some of which featured a young Jimmy Page on guitar, which were extensively played on the BBC Light Programme, particularly Saturday Club. John Carter, who was born John Shakespeare in 1942 and Ken Carter who came into the world as Kenneth Hawker were the primary song writers many of which they wrote for other acts. Their first hit, as songwriters, came in 1963 when That’s What I Want by the Marauders just scraped into the top 50. The following year The Fourmost’s How Can I Tell Her got to number 33 and then a month later Brenda Lee cracked the top 20 with Is It True? Vocally they were first heard as the high-voiced backing singers on The Who’s 1964 hit I Can’t Explain.

In 1964, Carter and Lewis broke up the southerners invited studio engineer Perry Ford and formed the Ivy League and within a few months they had their first hit with Funny How Love Can Be which reached number eight and had been recorded by the Rockin’ Berries previously, but never issued. The following year they charted two songs, the number 22 peak of That’s Why I’m Crying and, this week’s suggestion, Tossing And Turning, a simple love song about a woman who has left and the subject has many restless nights now that she is not there anymore. It reached number three.

In 1967 they left to form The Flowerpot Men and had a worldwide hit with Let’s Go to San Francisco with session singer Tony Burrows on lead vocals. John realised that he preferred to write hits for other people and combined with getting bored of touring he left the band to concentrate on writing. He teamed up with another British songwriter, Geoff Stephens and together they wrote Semi-Detached Suburban Mr James for Manfred Mann. The same year Carter recorded a demo for Stephens’ outfit, The New Vaudeville Band. That demo was Winchester Cathedral which was a novelty song based on the 1920s vaudeville style particularly Rudy Valee. He cupped his hands round a microphone to sound like a megaphone and Stephens loved it so much he kept it as the finished article. It was released and became their debut single peaking at number four. Four months later Carter and Stephens penned the follow-up Peek-A-Boo and that reached number seven. Between them, the pair wrote three hits for Herman’s Hermits in the late sixties and in 1970 wrote Knock, Knock Who’s There? which was the British entry into the Eurovision song contest as sung by Mary Hopkin which came runner up in the chart as well as the contest.

Between 1970 and 1974 Carter released a few songs under various guises including Chelsea under the name Stamford Bridge which was co-written by Ken Lewis and a wonderful track called Dreams Are Ten a Penny under the name Kincade which sadly missed the chart.

Carter began writing songs with his wife, Gill Shakespeare and in 1974 formed a band called First Class as an outlet to release their songs. They reunited with Tony Burrows as lead singer but despite releasing over a dozen singles, Beach Baby became their only hit. One of the reasons for this was that none of the people involved with the recording had any interest in touring to promote the songs, so they sent a bunch of nobodies out on the road which proved a waste of time. John Carter had, by now, had enough and pulled the plug on first Class saying, at the time, “Making the First Class albums was a very happy and creative time. Who knows if we ever come up with another suitable song, maybe we will all get back together one day and record under that name again.”

He later turned his hand to writing television advert jingles including Rowntree sweet and Butlins holiday camp the latter being so catchy and popular that it was released as a single called The Sound of Summer by Starbreaker.

As for Ken Lewis suffered from depression and quit the music business in 1971 and moved to Tyneside. In the nineties he moved to Cambridgeshire but suffered from diabetes and died in a nursing home in August 2015.

John was on the board of the British Academy of Composers and Songwriters and a member of the Performing Rights Society. These days he and his wife run their own publishing company and record production company which promotes his entire back-catalogue.

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When You Say Nothing At All (Keith Whitley)

There is an old saying which is actions speak louder than words and invariably someone’s body language will give more away than any words could ever do. Very often silence allows you to convey all that you need and want to say and that’s exactly what makes this week’s suggestion resonant with so many people.

When you Say Nothing At All was written in 1988 by two experienced country songwriters Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, Paul’s big song was Love Can Build a Bridge as originally recorded by the family group The Judds and covered for a UK number one by Cher, Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton, Don has written dozens of songs which were huge on the American country music scene, but his best known in the UK was Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler. The pair had success in the UK with Forever and Ever, Amen which became a hit for Randy Travis.

Paul and Don had met up for a writing session and this song was the product of what had been a lousy and uncreative day. They had been working for hours and came up with nothing, essentially they’d hit a brick wall. “We were just joking around humming and saying nothing,” Paul told Ace Collins, “As we tried to find another way to say nothing it just led to the song.”

They wrote the song there and then and although the sentiment was right, they were not overly impressed and thought it was just OK. In all the anguish and heartbreak he could feel there was some magic in the song and so stuck with it. All they needed was someone to record it.

Enter Keith Whitley, a Kentucky-born singer who got his break at the age of eight when he appeared with Buddy Starcher in a radio show in Charleston, West Virginia. He later formed his own band, The East Kentucky Mountain Boys which featured another future country star, Ricky Skaggs, then in 1974 he became the leader singer with Ralph Stanley’s band and earning himself a reputation as a quality bluegrass singer. In 1983 he moved to Nashville but it took him three years before he registered his first hit, Miami, My Amy. He followed it with the Country top 10s Ten Feet Away, Homecoming ’63 and Hard Livin’. In 1988 he registered his first of five consecutive country chart-toppers with Don’t Close Your Eyes, When You Say Nothing At All became his second and most successful. The other three were I’m No Stranger to the Rain, I Wonder Do You Think of Me and posthumously, It Ain’t Nothin’. When Overstreet and Schlitz, who still weren’t overly-impressed with the song, played it to Whitley he told them that they had written a classic and proved it to them. “Keith did a great job singin’ that song,” Schlitz said in an interview with Tom Roland. “He truly sang it from the heart.”

He had the potential to be a really major country star but unfortunately, Keith Whitley did not have as much confidence in himself and had turned to drink but no one quite knew why. His closest friends knew he was a binge-drinker but outside of that group, few other’s knew and he preferred to drink in private. Following his stint of number ones his drink habit seemed to diminish, but on 8th May 1989 Keith spent the night on his own as his wife, Lorrie, was on the road with her own band, and he began drinking heavily but this time went too far. He died just after midnight of alcohol poisoning, it was later discovered that he was five times over the state limit and just about twice the lethal limit for a human body. He was just 33. Keith’s third country number one, I’m No Stranger to the Rain, won the CMA award for Single of the Year and Lorrie was there to accept the award in his memory.

The song was successfully revived in 1995 by Alison Krauss & Union Station when it make number three on the US Country chart and went on to win the CMA Single of the Year. Screenwriter Richard Curtis was always keen to find the right songs to include in his films. Wet Wet Wet’s revival of Love Is All Around was integral to Four Weddings and a Funeral, and for the new Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film, Notting Hill, he wanted the key song to be When You Say Nothing At All. He suggested it to Ronan Keating from Boyzone, who said, “As soon as he mentioned the title, I was hooked.” Ronan’s version lacked the soul and warmth of the original but at least he did bring a brilliant, and, then, a fairly obscure song in the UK, to the British public’s attention.

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The Shape of Things to come (Headboys)

Back in the 1970s, the daytime DJs on Radio One used to pick a record of the week, this was purely the DJ choice, not the producer, of a song they particularly liked and hoped would get into the chart. The chosen song would get a guaranteed play on that particular presenter’s show every day from Monday to Friday. Some DJs used to pick quite obvious material that was likely to get into the chart anyway, but the more musical aware DJs like Mike Read, David ‘Kid’ Jensen and DLT would find the time to listen to a batch of new releases and often chose something a little more obscure. This week’s choice was a former Mike Read record of the week, just before he began presenting the breakfast show. This was the first time I heard this song and loved it straight away.

The song is The Shape of Things to Come by Scotland’s Headboys. The original line-up comprised, singer and guitarist Lou Lewis, bass player George Boyter, Calum Malcolm on keyboards and Davy Ross on drums, Lou and George had been working with some other musicians playing songs that Lou and George had written. They didn’t have a record label deal but Lou believed in their songs and so went searching, “George and I had gone to London and had a meeting with EMI publishing,” Lou explained to Lorraine Wilson, “They said they liked the band but couldn’t really see anything they could use. We asked if we could come back in a couple days and he agreed. I bought a £10 guitar, we locked ourselves away for a couple of days and emerged with some new songs to take back to the next meeting. Malcolm had just created Castlesound Studios in Edinburgh and so they recorded some demos which were sent out for publishing of which MCA records agreed to sign them, but the one thing they didn’t have was a name, so they called themselves Badger. Unfortunately the music the label wanted from the band was not what they were prepared to do, so they returned the advance they were given and walked away and dropped the name.

Lou said, “It was time to write as a band and not for publishing people. I had been going to the 100 club when I was in London and watching some punk and new wave bands and loved what I heard.” In 1978, they added saxophone player Bobby Heatlie to the line-up and recorded some more demos. “EMI showed interest again and because they had new younger employee they began to distribute our tapes to various A&R men,” Lou continued. There was a bidding war between EMI and Robert Stigwood’s RSO label and, as Lou recapped, “to be honest, we looked at both labels and thought RSO might be more fun and so we were signed by them for £100,000,” but, once again, they had no name.

Next came a change of image, “I got a severe haircut,” said Lou, “then went to a school wear shop to buy a school shirt, tie and blazer. I then went to the Army and Navy store in Union Street because they sold enamel badgers. I bought one for Calum which said ‘Head Girl’ and that’s how were became the Headboys. They went out on tour supporting Wishbone Ash and even did a gig with a newly-formed Irish band called U2.

The Shape of Things to Come, despite radio support, reached number 45 in the UK and 67 in the US. Three further singles, Kickin’ the Kans, Schoolgirls ‎and Something’s Happening followed ‎but all failed to make any impact. By 1981, they had had enough. “We were in our thirties so the fame thing wasn’t what we were after. My only regret is not going to America with the band but I am proud of the fact that we handed back the advance so we could start from scratch.”

They recorded one self-titled album which went un-noticed but in 2013 it transpired that they had actually recorded a second album which remained unreleased but was eventually that year under the title The Lost Album which had 10 tracks and came with a 34 page booklet telling the whole Headboys story and was dedicated to the memory of Ross, their drummer who passed away in November 2010.

Malcolm continued with his studio and worked with the Blue Nile and Prefab Sprout, he sold it in 1998 but is still in the music business. George turned to art and has enjoyed an award-winning career as a creative director in advertising in London and now lives in Oxfordshire. As for Heatlie, he went on write Aneka’s 1981 chart topper Japanese Boy and four hits for Shakin’ Stevens including the seasonal Merry Christmas Everyone which annually brings him a handsome income.

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Il Silenzio (Nini Rosso)

Instrumental track don’t tend to sell as well as classic vocal songs. There are a few exceptions of course, Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore is one and The Shadows’ Apache is another, in fact, the biggest selling instrumental hit in the UK is Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra from 1973 which was the theme to the massively successful Thames television series Van Der Valk with Barry Foster in the lead role. On its initial release in November 1972 it just missed the top 40 but it re-entered the chart 10 months later when the series was in full flow and the track went to number one. This week’s suggestion was a top 10 hit in 1965 and sold an estimated five million copies in Europe within two years.

The track is Il Silenzio which was co-written by its performer trumpet player Nini Rosso in collaboration with Guglielmo Brezza. Nini was born Raffaele Celeste Rosso in 19 September 1926 in San Michele Mondovì which is about 50 miles south of Turin. He learned trumpet at school and on completion of his education he chose to play music professionally despite his parents wanting him to attend university. He ran away from home and made his way to Nice in France and began playing in a nightclub. Eventually the police found him and returned him to his parents who now realised he was serious about music so let him continue where he eventually formed a small orchestra and began touring around Europe. He even had a few gigs in India.

In 1961, he’d signed a deal with Italy’s Sprint records and the following year released his first single, I Verdi Anni. The flip side of that track was called Concerto Disperato which Rosso had co-written ‎with Silvana Simoni and Angelo Lavagnino and it was covered by Ken Thorne and his Orchestra and became a number four hit in the UK under the title Theme from the Film the Legion’s Last Patrol (Concerto Disperato).

Although Rosso is credited with writing the track, its roots go right back to 1880 when Tchaikovsky had used the piece known as the Italian Cavalry bugle call to open his Capriccio Italien, Opus 45. If you’re wondering why a Russian composer came to be singing an Italian bugle call, well I shall tell you, Tchaikovsky was married to Antonina Miliukova but it had gone badly wrong and so he decided to take a holiday, with his brother, in Rome and whilst there he began composing what would be become Capriccio Italien.

So Rosso’s piece became an extension of the bugle call, which is often mistaken for the U.S. military bugle call known as ‘Taps’, and although it is predominantly an instrumental it does have the spoken lines ‘Buona notte, amore, Ti vedronei miei sogni, Buona notte a te che sei lontano’ which translates as ‘Goodnight love I’ll see you in my dreams, Goodnight to you who are far away.’

When released in the summer of 1965 it sold well across Europe making number eight in the UK and top three in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands but was most successful in Italy where it spent six weeks at number one and in West Germany (as it was then) with five weeks atop the chart selling two million in Germany alone. It also reached number two in Australia.

It has had many uses over the years beginning in May 1965 when it was commissioned to be played on the 20th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany and has been used every year since to conclude the annual memorial concert. Part of the track was used in all the Italian barracks to mark the end of the day as well as becoming the official anthem of the Slovak football club FC Spartak Trnava being played before every home match.

Britain’s most well-known trumpeter, Eddie Calvert covered the track as did the New Orleans jazz trumpeter Al Hirt but neither of them charted. In 2015 a version was recorded by the London Swing Orchestra too. Most recently the Dutch trumpeter, Rik Mol, has recorded a version this year which appears on is album C’est La Vie.

Rosso died on a brain tumour in 1994 aged 68.

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