In a few years between 1960 and 1964, everything changed for young people in Britain. Teenagers were recognised as an emerging social class with some spending power and influence, and pop music replaced traditional band music as the choice for most people under 25. With the music came new dances, rebellious attitudes, and fashion statements. Sides were chosen, and young people dressed to show their affiliations to one kind of music or another.
The once-famous Chris Barber band and their singer posing for a publicity photo at the Marquee Club in London, 1960. It would not be too long before they would have trouble getting work performing to young people.
Young people ‘Jiving’ at the Lyceum Ballroom in London, 1960. This building is once again a theatre, and hosts the long-running musical, The Lion King.
Teddy Boys posing on a London Street. They preferred Rock and Roll music, and later allied with ‘Rockers’, who rode powerful motorcycles and liked the same style of music.
Then the ‘Mods’ arrived. Smart dressers who rode Italian scooters and liked Soul music and Ska.
One young model showing off Mod clothes here (light couloured suit) is Marc Bolan, later famous as the singer in T-Rex.
It wasn’t long before The Mods and The Rockers were clashing. They used to congregate at seaside resorts close to London, and had many famous ‘battles’ on the beaches.
These young middle-class people are showing off what they believe to be the Mod style. They didn’t get it quite right, unfortunately.
A small gathering outside the famous Flamingo Club in London. Originally a Jazz club, it adapted to the new music favoured by Mods, as did The Marquee Club. One of them is Zoot Money, a popular musician, and another is Andy Summers, who later found fame in The Police with Sting and Stewart Copeland.
Zoot Money is on the right. Andy Summers is 2nd from right (Photo by Jeremy Fletcher/Redferns)
When I was under 14, in 1965, I heard a really good soul song, with a driving beat. To this day, I cannot remember where, but it really got to me. I asked around at the record shops, but wasn’t able to nail it down, so couldn’t buy it. Some years later, in the early 1970’s, I heard the song again, in a London club. It was called ‘Tainted Love’, and was sung by Gloria Jones. She had just achieved recognition, as the girlfriend of Marc Bolan, front man of T-Rex. I still couldn’t find the record for sale though, and it was another couple of years, before I was able to buy the single on vinyl. By this time, it had become a firm favourite on the ‘Northern Soul’ scene, and was being played in all their premier venues, including Wigan Casino.
I plodded along quite happily with this version, until I was somewhat surprised, when a new one started to be played on the radio. Very similar to the original, but with clearer, and harder vocals, I soon learned that it was by a two-man British outfit, called Soft Cell. It was introduced to a completely new generation, and marketed along the lines of electro-pop, and glam rock, a world away from the soul roots it had emerged from. Nonetheless, it was a pretty good version, and showed me the vocal range, and obvious talent of the singer, Marc Almond. Although somewhat slower in tempo, and using synthesisers to replace instruments, I had time for this cover version, and looked out for more from the duo. They later released ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, one of my favourite torch songs ever, and Almond went on to a brilliant solo career, covering lots of famous artists, including Jaques Brel.
Unusually for me, the cover was almost more powerful than the original, and led me to an appreciation of a very different performer. The Marylin Manson cover is best ignored, and will not be featured here.
Here is a You Tube clip of Gloria Jones singing the song, with an interesting ‘Mod’ photo montage.
And here is the Soft Cell version, with Almond in full voice.
I hope you enjoy them, but will understand if they are not your ‘thing’.
When I was a teenager, British groups The Rolling Stones, and The Beatles, dominated the pop music scene around the world. However, there was another vibrant music trend going on at the same time, though not all the bands involved enjoyed the same success. This early British Pop was the proving ground for many of the Progressive Rock supergroups to come. In the 1960’s these groups had a predominantly Mod feel, and dressed in the style popular at the time. They had their roots in earlier Blues music, and this can be heard in some of their cover versions, and use of organs and harmonicas. Some are now long forgotten, others became giants of the music industry. This is where it all started, for most of them.
Go Now. Originally recorded by Bessie Banks in 1962, her ( I think better) version was eclipsed by this Moody Blues cover, from 1964, with Denny Laine on lead vocals, as the American pop market avidly sought out anything to do with the new craze for British groups. The Moody Blues went on to become one of the biggest bands of their time, though without Laine, who left in 1966. He later went on to join Paul McCartney’s band, Wings. When I was still only thirteen, this was one of my real favourites.
You Really Got Me. The Kinks were a London group, fronted by Ray Davies, and his brother Dave. They had a style that sounded immediately English, despite influences of both Blues and Rock. They went on to great success, and various splits in the band, though they are still performing, in various incarnations, to this day. This was not their first release, but their first big hit, reaching Number One in the UK charts, in 1964.
For Your Love. There hadn’t quite been anything like this single from the Yardbirds, when I first heard it in 1965. This Blues influenced band was to give us some of the most famous names in rock music. Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, all three played with the band at some stage. This song was written by Graham Gouldman, who later formed 10cc, and the connections from this band are too numerous to list here. I thought it was really something then, and I still do.
She’s Not There. With Rod Argent on organ, and the marvellous Colin Blunstone singing lead vocals, this English group had a huge hit with this song in 1964, on both sides of the Atlantic. Argent went on to form his eponymous supergroup, and Blunstone became one of the most respected vocalists in the UK. His vocal range is demonstrated here, and in the following song suggestion as well. You can tell, I like him.
Say You Don’t Mind. In 1972, the now solo Blunstone released this single. Not a rock anthem, or pop song, rather an emotional and powerful love song. The string arrangement is famous, and Colin’s range is simply wonderful. The video clip is from some years later, and he has still not lost his touch! (There are some synch problems on this video)
All Or Nothing. Again coming from the London Mod scene, and an undeniable influence on later musicians, especially Paul Weller, the Small Faces had a string of hits, during the short time that they were together. Drummer Kenney Jones later went on to become the drummer in The Who. In 1966, this record went to number one in the UK, and became one of their biggest sellers. Singer Steve Marriott left the band in 1968, going on to form Humble Pie, with Peter Frampton. Marriott became a heavy drinker, and died during a fire at his home, in 1991. The band re-formed, with some original members, and Rod Stewart as vocalist. Renamed The Faces, they went on to considerable success.
Handbags and Gladrags. Written by Mike D’Abo, of Manfred Mann fame, this is the definitive version of this classic power ballad, sung by Chris Farlowe, in 1967. Farlowe was a powerful Rock and Blues singer, best known for his cover versions of Rolling Stones songs, especially ‘Out of Time’, and ‘Paint it Black’. He had solo hits with versions of both songs. He later joined two of the better-known UK supergroups, Colosseum, and Atomic Rooster. Now 73, he still performs occasionally.
This Wheel’s On Fire. This 1968 version of the Bob Dylan song, by Julie Driscoll, and Brian Auger and The Trinity, was one of the first progressive pop songs to have the psychedelic and mystical feel that became so fashionable within a few short years. Still popular today, and used as the theme song for a long-running TV series in the UK, this instantly recognisable song is a tribute to Julie’s haunting vocal style, and Brian Auger’s arrangement.
White Room. By 1968, pop had gone progressive, and supergroups outnumbered ordinary ones. Cream was a trio of former Blues musicians, with Jack Bruce on bass and vocals, Eric Clapton on guitar and vocals, and Ginger Baker on drums. Their mix of Blues, Rock, and psychedelia, similar to that being played by Jimi Hendrix, was an immediate success, even though by this time they were on the verge of breaking up, after only two years together. This is one of their signature tracks.
So there you have it. A short look at the roots of British band music, and the early days of some of the biggest groups of the last few decades. Lots missed out, I grant you, but that, unfortunately, is the nature of the beast of blogging. The Internet awaits those of you who wish to learn more.
Continuing what seems to be a musical theme this week, I am recalling some of the soul songs, and dance classics, of my teenage years. They are all from America on this occasion, as the main alternatives here at the time were the Mersey Sound, or belated Rock and Roll. I doubt that this selection will attract that wide an audience, or receive a great deal of appreciation, as it is all in something of a niche market. However, as a memento of the parties and clubs of my youth, it is a priceless personal souvenir.
Tell it like it is. ( 1967) The ultimate slow dance track, from the smooth voice of Mr Aaron Neville. I was not much past fifteen when this was released, and I have played it regularly ever since, for over forty-six years.
Louie Louie. Not the original 1957 version, but the 1963 release by The Kingsmen. This became a Mod classic in the UK during the early 1960’s. Covered many times since, nobody beats the early funky feel of this dance-floor essential. Despite sounding like a group of black singers, with very soulful lead vocals, they were actually all white, and appeared strangely camp, clad in cardigans, and wearing caps. Can’t beat the 60’s!
Seven Days Is Too Long. (1967) This simple soul dance hit from Chuck Wood became a big hit in the UK, on more than one occasion. It has become one of the hall of fame records for fans of so-called ‘Northern Soul’, the American records played almost exclusively in clubs in the North of England. Even at 61, I cannot keep my feet still!
Nothing Can Stop Me. (1965) Snappy suited, with a Motown look and feel, Gene Chandler got feet tapping with this one. Better known for the huge hit ‘Duke of Earl’, Chandler moved on to greater things with this track, another adopted by those Northern Soul aficionados.
Barefootin’. Again in 1965, Robert Parker ensured that dance floors were filled with this upbeat recording. The subject of a few covers over the years, this is the original, and best, from the man himself.
Cool Jerk. A year later, in 1966, The Capitols released this one-off. Almost in its own genre, it is still undoubtedly a classic; as the numerous cover versions, and inclusion in film soundtracks, can testify.
Comin’ Home Baby. This 1962 song, by Mel Torme, is not a soul song at all. It could be called Jazz, possibly even Swing. Looking back at Mel through modern eyes, he seems somewhat ridiculous. Sharp suit, bulging eyes, college-boy haircut, and snapping fingers clutching a cigarette. But he was the epitome of cool in 1962, and to my mind, this is still one of the coolest records ever made. This video is like watching a history documentary, but they are still doing this sort of crap on ‘Strictly Come Dancing’. Perhaps better to not watch him though. Close your eyes and listen.
I Get The Sweetest Feeling. Already well known for ‘Reet Petite’, and ‘Higher and Higher’, Jackie Wilson made the journey from Doo-wop, to modern soul, throughout the 50’s and 60’s. This track is on my list for the memories it brings back to me, from 1968. His influence is self explanatory, when you recall the Van Morrison song ‘Jackie Wilson Said’, recorded in 1972.
When I’m Gone. Saving the best until last perhaps, this short love song from the wonderful Brenda Holloway sums up the early years of Tamla Motown, from 1965, and I simply love it.
There are many, many more, but this is just a snapshot of the party tunes of my youth. I enjoyed them, then and now, and I hope that you do too.
I am always aware that music tastes are very personal. They can often be associated with memories, upbringing, and the choices of our peers. In some cases, they are regionally biased, and in others can depend on an urban, or rural background.
For those of you who have never heard of Ska music, or are too young to remember it, or the 2-Tone revival many years later, I suspect it will be a case of immediate love or hate. I write this as a personal memory, although I also suggest some tracks to listen to, and perhaps enjoy. Do not confuse this with Reggae music, which is another genre altogether; and despite possible similarities, one I do not actually like.
Originating in the West Indies, specifically Jamaica, during the late 1950’s, Ska got its name from the pulsing, shuffle-sounding beat that is the basis of every song of this type. These songs began to arrive in the UK in the early 1960’s, when I was just a teenager. Many were cover versions of well-known, or earlier recorded songs, with the tempo adapted to the Ska rhythm. One of the problems in trying to discuss this music, is the constant debate about whether a song is really a Ska song, or if it is rather in a Reggae, Rude Boy, or Blues Club style. As with any intensely followed style, artist, or subject, this will always be open to interpretation. For the purposes of this article, I will state that I regard my suggestions as either Ska, or 2-Tone, and will be prepared to argue the point, if necessary. Although the Ska beat was often slowed down, when it became known as Rock Steady, it is notable that in the 2-Tone revival, the original, almost frenetic speed was re-introduced by the young groups who formed this new movement. Some of the earliest hits were instrumental, and the use of a brass section, later adopted by bands like Madness, was common. Once you heard a real Ska record, you could always recognise the style, and feel the beat. Later tributes, by bands such as Madness, Bad Manners, and The Specials, might have introduced listeners to the names of Prince Buster, Desmond Dekker,The Skatalites, and the Ethiopians, but added little to the raw excitement of the original recordings.
As with any musical trend, it was accompanied by special club events, some difficulties obtaining the more obscure singles, and a fashion style, later parodied or copied by the 2-Tone groups. Shiny suits, slim-cut, with short jackets, narrow ties, and the ubiquitous pork-pie hat, were de-rigueur for aficionados, many of whom also habitually wore sunglasses. Despite the popularity of the music with the English Mods, Ska fans would never be seen wearing parkas, or riding scooters; they were much too cool for that. It also brought a welcome inter-racial togetherness, at a time when tensions in this area were high. Young black fans danced side by side with the emerging white audience for the music, and there were rarely any of the problems experienced elsewhere at the time. It was a relatively short-lived musical trend, arguably consumed by Reggae, and the popularity of Bob Marley, and other Reggae groups favouring the slower beat of that music. But to me, it remains part of my youth, something that stays with me into retirement, and that I enjoy as much today, as I did almost fifty years ago.
Without listing every Ska artist and record for your consideration, I am forced to make choices, based on the most popular artists, and the best-selling records. To get a feel of the music, it is best to listen to some of the most famous instrumentals, as well as the best known vocalists. If you choose to do so, it may dawn on you that you have heard them before, perhaps in their second incarnation as a 2-Tone cover version, or maybe covered by non 2-Tone bands, like the English pseudo-Reggae group, UB40. Often, the origins of the songs can be most surprising; for example, a well-known song, ‘Red Red Wine’. This was actually written by Neil Diamond, the famous American entertainer. I first heard it and liked it, as recorded by Tony Tribe, who released a Rock Steady version in 1969. The Reggae themed version by UB40 was a huge hit, topping the UK charts in 1983.
As early as 1963, Prince Buster, the first Ska performer to really come to my attention, was having success with records such as ‘Madness’ (this is where the UK group got their name from, and covered the song also), ‘One Step Beyond’ (also later covered by madness) and ‘Al Capone’. These three records are some of my first memories of Ska arriving in the UK, and through the later cover versions, are still well-known today.
In 1967, The Skatalites even adapted the popular theme to the hit film ‘Guns of Navarone’ into a Ska instrumental, again later covered during the 2-Tone revival. This was a strange concept, adding the frantic Ska beat to such a well-known theme, but it worked.
At around the same time, The Ethiopians released the almost definitive Ska song, ‘Train to Skaville’. The falsetto vocal, together with repetitive horns and shuffling guitar beat, absolutely typifies the slower Rock Steady side of Ska, and was again covered during the 2-Tone tears, by The Selecter.
I do not intend to just keep listing tracks and links. I think I have established that the roots of many later hits and acknowledged classics can actually be found in the Ska of the early 1960’s; if not in the actual songs, then in the beat and rhythms, and the overall construction. Other artists must be mentioned though. Desmond Dekker, often wrongly called a Reggae artist, enjoyed great success here with songs such as ‘Israelites’, ‘It Mek’, and 007 (Shanty Town), a Rude Boy smash in Jamaica. He performed for many years, right up to his death, in 2006. In the late 1960’s, Dandy Livingstone had a minor hit with the song ‘Rudy, a message to you’. This was later covered by the Specials, and became for many, the signature song of the 2-Tone movement.
In the late 1970’s, Jerry Dammers was the keyboard player for Midlands group The Specials. He is credited with coining the name 2 Tone, for a new type of music, that was actually not so new. Taking the basics of Ska, sometimes speeding it up, and adding some elements of Punk into the mix, The Specials, and other bands, succeeded in reviving Ska, and introducing it to a new audience. Along with The Specials, were The Beat, The Selecter, Bad Manners, and Madness. All these bands took elements from Ska and Rock Steady, and in some cases, directly covered previous hits. Madness had hits with covers of Prince Buster songs, and The Specials and The Selecter also issued cover versions of Ska classics. This was a relatively short-lived revival, and soon faded. However, some of the groups involved, notably Madness, and The Specials, went on to great fame and fortune, adapting their songs and music to suit the times, enduring personnel changes in some cases, and for The Specials, even name changes. They were originally known as The Special AKA, and some founder members later became Fun Boy Three, before the other band members returned to being known as The Special AKA once more. During the time they were together, they released the two classics of 2 Tone, ‘Free Nelson Mandela’, and ‘Too Much Too Young’. Neither of these were cover versions, and took the style of music to the next level, giving 2 Tone its own identity.
Fashion was still a feature of this movement. Pork pie hats were still in evidence, as were slim-fit suits, ties and waistcoats. However, elements had crept in from other trends. Braces and button-down shirts, favoured by Skinheads, as well as short Crombie overcoats, a staple garment of the Suedehead, and later Mods. These were also mainstream pop records now, with high chart placings, frequent appearances on TV, and all very much a part of the regular music scene. This was especially true of Madness. The North London group, often jokingly referred to as ‘The Nutty Boys’, had started their career with covers of Ska classics. Very soon, they were performing their own songs, alongside other covers of non-Ska records, most notably Labi Siffre’s ‘It Must Be Love’. With the increasing popularity of the pop video, Madness found their true talent as performers, taking their videos to new levels of craziness. They later became even more mainstream, and very English in style, releasing massive hits like ‘Our House’, ‘Baggy Trousers’, ‘House of Fun’, and ‘Embarrassment’. They are still performing occasionally today, and have become the most enduring of all the Ska revival bands, an English institution.
I sometimes wonder where it all went, and how it might have sounded, had it remained popular, and was still being performed today. The closest I can get to it, is from 1985. After The Beat split, two of the band joined a talented vocalist, Roland Gift. Calling themselves The Fine Young Cannibals, they released an album, with a track on it that is probably the closest to what might have been modern Ska. (Despite a cover version of ‘Suspicious Minds’…) It contained this classic song, that is as good as forgotten by everyone. The driving beat, plaintive vocal, even the jerky performances and mod-inspired clothing on the video, all scream Ska for the 1980’s. ‘Johnny Come Home’; it doesn’t get much better than this.
Well, I hope that you might have found something you like. If not, it has been a nice trip down memory lane for me.