3 – Couldn’t Get It Right – Climax Blues Band
Lacking a much needed hit for their 1976 album Gold-Plated, the Climax Blues Band at the behest of their record company RCA, conjured up Couldn’t Get It Right from, according to bassist Derek Holt, “absolutely nowhere”. The song was written about being on tour in the US and made it to #10 in the UK singles charts and hit #3 in the US Billboard charts the following year. The band, originating from Stafford, formed in 1968 under the original name of the Climax Chicago Blues Band. In 1972, following pressure from the American band Chicago Transit Authority, they shortened the name to the Climax Blues Band.
Why is it a classic?
Not only does it sound like The Bee Gees, Wall era Pink Floyd and 10cc flirting with Chic style funk but it is more American sounding than the majority of Amercian releases of that year. The likes of Funkadelic and Parliament edge it in terms of sheer funkiness, but the Climax Blues Band managed to capture probably the most infectious groove ever to come out of Stafford!
Year of release – 1976
Highest UK Chart Position – #10
The most recent cover of the song was by Fun Lovin’ Criminals.
‘Tis the season to be jolly and so for the next Golden Oldie I have chosen one of the lesser known Christmas songs.
2 – I Believe in Father Christmas – Greg Lake
Released in November 1975 the song, now part of the familiar canon of Christmas songs, was intended to be a protest against the commercialisation of Christmas. The lyrics were written by Pete Sinfield who was also one of the main lyricists for Greg Lake’s band, 70s prog rockers Emerson Lake and Palmer. Sinfield states that the little boy in the song is based on his own experience of being 8 years old and coming down stairs to see a wondrous Christmas tree. The song then takes on the wider issue of how Christmas becomes more about commerce than sentiment. To prevent the song venturing too far off into the bleak midwinter, Sinfield wrote a hopeful and cheery last verse claiming the song on the whole to be a humanist song.
Why is it a classic?
The best Christmas songs combine a sense of nostalgia with a subtle hint of melancholy (see Lennon’s Happy Xmas (War is Over), Wham’s Last Christmas and The Pogues Fairy Tale of New York). Lake’s song has both these elements wrapped up in a warming 70s pastel-shaded blanket. With brass and choral sections the traditional sounds of Christmas are well catered for and there is even room for a classical excerpt at the end, based on Prokofiev’s “Lieutenant Kije Suite“. This was arranged by Lake’s band member Keith Emerson. The melody was written in Drop-D tuning which produced the cascading riff but Lake didn’t really have an idea as to what the song could be. Driving along one day and with the melody playing on his mind he realised that Jingle Bells fitted perfectly over the top of it and he decided that it could be worked into a Christmas song. It was kept off the number one spot by Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Year of release – 1975
Highest UK Chart Position – #2
The most recent cover of the song was by U2.
In the first of a new feature, we take a look at some classic songs that, due to the inevitable passing of time, aren’t heard very often yet are too good to be forgotten and consigned to a dusty grave.
1 – Witchita Lineman – Glen Campbell
Made famous by Glen Campbell, Witchita Lineman was originally written in 1968 by Jimmy Webb. Hailed as the “first existential country song” it was inspired by a drive through Washita County in Oklahoma, where Webb passed a seemingly endless row of telegraph poles and spotted in the distance the silhouette of a solitary lineman atop one of them. The lyrics tell of the loneliness of the solitary linesman as he goes about his work whilst yearning for his absent lover. Wishita was replaced by Witchita in the song, because it sang better according to Webb. Campbell stated that Webb had invested part of his real life experience into the song, alluding to his first love who married another man.
The BBC declared it was “one of those rare songs that seems somehow to exist in a world of its own – not just timeless but ultimately outside of modern music” and in 2004 it was ranked #172 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.
Why is it a classic?
It is a cherished country gem that drifts along on a wave of melancholy and reflection culminating in Campbell’s soaring high note that signifies release and freedom from the solitude. The musical structure of the song also emphasises a feeling of loneliness and longing as the tonic chord (which denotes the reference point for all other pitches of the piece) is played only once at the beginning and never repeated hence the sense of a journeyman trying to find home.
Year of release – 1968
Highest US Chart Position – #3
Highest UK Chart Position – #7
The most recent cover of the song was by REM.