Grace Jones with Jimmy Baio, Divine, Julie Budd, Nona Hendryx and a few unnamed dancers
In the ‘70s and ‘80s we all had our fun, and now and then we went really too far. But, ultimately, it required a certain amount of clear thinking, a lot of hard work and good make-up to be accepted as a freak.—Grace Jones
If a single photo series could encapsulate ‘70s disco dust debauchery and fun… this document of Grace Jones’ 30th birthday party held at LaFarfelle Disco in New York on June 12, 1978 would be IT. Famous guests included Elton John, Divine, Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, Jimmy Baio (Scott Baio’s cousin, of course), Julie Budd and Nona Hendryx.
To have been a fly on the wall for this birthday party. Can you imagine all the shit people were up to when the cameras weren’t flashing?!
‘When You’ve Heard Lou, You’ve Heard It All’ Lou Rawls advertising career covered insurance and booze.
Musicians have long depended on patronage from the rich and powerful to sponsor their careers as artists. As far back as composers such as Haydn or Mozart, who earned his keep with a string of patrons starting with Prince-Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg. It’s the same today with pop stars taking the cash offered by brands like Coke and Pepsi to pay for their tours or alimony or undisclosed bad habits.
While some stars promote things they believe in—guitars, charities—there is always a longer list of those who would sell out for some unbelievably low rent shit—Rod Stewart pimping shoes, Elton John peddling pinball, the Yardbirds shilling toiletries. Occasionally, there are those who are smart enough to use the brand to sponsor their ambitions, like Lou Rawls who sold Budweiser but used the brand to sponsor his telethons. Neat, but not all of the following are in that category.
When Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck sold perfume in sexist sixties ads: ‘She’s among the Yardbirds. She goes for groups. They go for her. She has her own group too. Named after her. Miss Disc. A very ‘in’ group indeed…’
Late 1960s, Dave Brubeck attempts to convince the gullible to buy Sears-Kenmore products in ads for magazines like Better Homes and Gardens.
Rod the Mod was once famous for his sartorial elegance, but here he is dressed as if Walt Disney puked on him.
More mighty musos shilling for money, after the jump…
Elton John joked he was in Sweden to play a few gigs and watch some pornography in this documentary from 1971. What kind of porn, he didn’t say, but what Elton was doing, in a jokey and laddish way, was confirming a stereotype the English had about Sweden during the late sixties and early seventies, that the country was a haven for the stuff. This was before Abba, and today’s stereotype of depressed, unconventional detectives with their interesting knitwear and tics, such as Kurt Wallender or, Saga Norén from The Bridge, who may have Asperger’s syndrome—though we’re never quite sure. There’s a paper to be written on how such misleading stereotypes have shifted from sun-bleached free love, to washed-out politics and murder.
Elton was at the start of his long and successful career when this documentary of his performance at the Gröna Lund amusement park in Stockholm was made. Already we can see the dress sense that would define his image during the seventies, as he takes to the stage in red Mickey Mouse lederhosen, and winged Kickers. He was also developing his distinctive soulful vocal style, and stage persona, while his song-writing relationship with Bernie Taupin was delivering another harvest of choice songs, including “Your Song,” “Can I Put You On,” “Friends” and “Burn Down the Mission.” The backing band of the late Dee Murray (bass) and Nigel Olsson (drums), gave John a pulsating rhythm section, and are featured in the interview.
You see, there was once a time when my childhood ambition was solely focused on becoming the comic turn in a double-act. My inspiration was, of course, the hugely popular British TV comedy duo, Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise. I saw myself more of an Eric, than an Ernie—though one couldn’t work without the other. I watched their shows, their films, read their biography, bought their vinyl and learnt-by-heart the sketches contained therein.
The comedy duo’s original writers were Dick Hills and Sid Green, who claimed they could devise a Morecambe and Wise script in the time it took them to pass each other on opposite sides of a London Underground escalator. Hills and Green’s best known skit is probably “Boom-Oo-Yata-ta-ta,” which still holds-up today. Moving from Independent TV to the BBC saw Morecambe and Wise eventually change writers.
In 1969, they were joined by Eddie Braben, who created the defining Morecambe and Wise Show. Of course, the repertoire and roles were already there, but Braben brought a surreal element to their traditional Music Hall comedy that made Morecambe and Wise the favorite comics of the nation, obtaining viewing figures of around 20-million per show, and a record 27.5 million for their Christmas Show in 1977.
Braben also introduced a series of running gags that started with guest Peter Cushing, who claimed he had not been paid for his last performance; the keen harmonica player Arthur Tolcher who was never allowed to play (“Not now, Arthur”); the regular mini-drama, Ernie’s “the play what I wrote,” which featured such stars as Glenda Jackson, Vanessa Redgrave, Frank Finlay, Edward Woodward, Frankie Vaughan, Diana Rigg, and even Elton John.
I liked Elton John, and the star-crossed mix of Morecambe and Wise, together with “Hercules” was “must see.” Elton had already appeared on the ‘76 Xmas show, and there was much speculation of his return. The skit was okay—a running gag in which he was given the run-around before finally performing his song “Shine On Through” to Morecambe & Wise in drag (as two cleaners), at the very end of the show.
The song was a taster for Elton’s twelfth studio album, A Single Man, which is amongst the most under-appreciated of his recordings. This may, in part, have been because the album marked a break from writing partner Bernie Taupin, who was working with Alice Cooper, and a change of his regular backing band. It was also the first time he collaborated with lyricist Gary Osbourne. However, the album again proved Elton’s genius for crafting word and music together into a beautiful song.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the album, and it is certainly worth time re-evaluating A Single Man.
Below, the whole of Elton’s appearance on The Morecambe & Wise Christmas Special, 1977. The song starts at 5:52.
The Château d’Hérouville where David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Elton John, The Grateful Dead, The Sweet and Fleetwood Mac recorded is up for sale.
Located near the town of Auvers-sur-Oise, in France, the property is described as a coaching station, built in the 18th century, which includes 30-rooms, and 1,700m ² of living space.
The selling price is 1, 295, 000 Euros.
In 1962, composer Michel Magne purchased the property and developed it into a recording studio. Magne is best known for his Oscar win for Gigot.
The Château was particularly popular with British artists, starting with Elton John, who recorded three albums at the studios, Honky Chateau, Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only The Piano Player and Goodbye Yellowbrick Road. Elton suggested the studio to Marc Bolan where he recorded his 1972 album The Slider; and Bolan recommended it to David Bowie who record Pin-Ups in July 1973, and then Low in 1977.
But the Château wasn’t just known for its considerable musical pedigree. Producer Tony Visconti claimed star-crossed lovers Frederic Chopin and George Sand haunted the building—Chopin had trysted with Sand while living at the mansion. Bowie also noted the studios supernatural feel.
When I was young, I really loved Elton John and owned all of his albums, but I totally went off him after punk happened and never really thought about him much after that. He seemed like a spent force in the 80s, but then again so did most of his 70s contemporaries. After a point the cocaine stopped working for him and started working against him…
A few years ago, I put together a 5.1 surround sound system and was looking for stuff to play on it, when I saw that the classic Elton John albums had been remixed in 5.1 and I thought Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (an album once ruined for me by a girlfriend who played it in heavy rotation for years around our apartment) would probably sound pretty good. And so I bought it and it did. Then, in short order, I (re)bought Captain Fantastic and The Brown Dirt Cowboy, Madman Across the Water and Honky Chateau. (Those albums are among the very best-sounding recordings I’ve ever heard. You can hear the sound of his feet on the pedals of his piano, they’re so good).
In any case, I became a born-again Elton John fan, at least to a certain point. Here, then, are two prime examples of Elton John—back when he was legitimately “cool”—live in concert. The first, a BBC In Concert set from 1970, captures the pensive piano man singer-songwriter with a setlist drawn from his earliest records, abd backed by a small orchestra. It’s all very Nick Drake.
Sixty Years On
Take Me To The Pilot
The Greatest Discovery
I Need You To Turn To
Burn Down The Mission
The second, a much more full-on affair—broadcast live in 1974 on The Old Grey Whistle Test from the Hamersmith Apollo—is more of a “greatest hits” show, with the raging Elton John Band backing him up.
It’s remarkable to compare the difference between the way Elton John presented himself when he was first starting to make it, versus the completely over-the-top showman he became just a (very) short time later.
As I was saying before, cocaine, it’s a hell of a drug…
The Alice Cooper Certificate of Insanity (issued by the School for the Hopelessly Insane) was a limited edition document given away free with Cooper’s album From the Inside, in 1978. Whether this was a recommendation or, a comment on the quality of the record, was never made clear. What is known is that rather like the source for Malcolm Lowry’s excellent novella Lunar Caustic, Cooper’s album was similarly inspired by the singer’s stint in a New York sanitarium for his alcoholism.
From the Inside was co-written with Elton John’s song-writing partner, Bernie Taupin.
Drummer with the Bonzo Dog Band, “Legs” Larry Smith upstages Elton John at the Royal Command Variety Performance Show in 1972.
Not be the best picture, but still an enjoyable moment, one which was quite risky for Elton to sing a cheerful ditty about a needy teen and his manipulative approach to suicide to the rich and spoilt Royals . And yes, this is still miles better than Coldplay.
Bonus solo version of ‘I Think I’m Going To Kill Myself’, after the jump…
After a series of massive hits in the early 1960s ( “Calendar Girl,” “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do,” “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen”) and a sharp career decline post-British Invasion, singer-songwriter Neil Sedaka staged an improbable comeback after Elton John signed him to his newly formed Rocket Records label in 1973.
“It had been like Elvis coming up and giving us the chance to release his records. We couldn’t believe our luck,” the future Sir Elton, a huge Neil Sedaka fan, said at the time.
The second album Sedaka released on Rocket Records was The Hungry Years in 1975. “Bad Blood,” the first single from the album was essentially a “call and response” style duet between Neil Sedaka and an un-credited Elton. The song’s lyrics basically essay two “bros” giving a third some hard-knock advice about a woman who is taking advantage of him. (Don’t expect that you’ll ever be hearing “Bad Blood” sung by two female contestants on Duets is all I have to say!)
“Bad Blood” spent three weeks at the top of the US singles chart in October and was certified gold. (The song would ironically be knocked off its #1 perch by Elton John’s “Island Girl.” I recall buying both singles as an Elton John crazy 9-year-old with my birthday money and playing both records until the grooves wore out).
Oregon -based artist Kay Petal makes these whimsical sculptural needle-felted rock star dolls. Kay says, “Using single, barbed felting needles I sculpt wool fibers into solid felted wool characters with heart and soul. My characters are soft and flexible yet strong and durable.”
And guess what? Kay will even make one of YOU! You can contact her on the website Felt Alive for more information.
The platform shoes to-die-for were Frank N. Furter’s in The Rocky Horror Picture Show - those bejeweled white heels made Tim Curry’s first appearance as the sweet transvestite the epitome of glam. And gorgeous he was too.
Elton John may arguably have had the best platform shoes, but his tended to veer into stage props, eventually leading to those sky-high Doctor Marten boots in Ken Russell’s Tommy. And of course, there was David Bowie, Twiggy, and a host of pop stars sashaying around London on pairs of ankle-breakers. Like Oxford bags, bell bottoms, high-waisters, and bomber jackets, the platform shoe epitomized the androgynous nature of seventies fashions. Originally devised as stage shoes in Greek theater, platforms have been in and out of style through the centuries, at various times used by prostitutes to signal their availability and profession (to literally stand out from the crowd), and were popular in the 18th century as shit-steppers, used to avoid effluent on the road. However, their greatest impact was in the 1970s, when they were the boot of choice for seemingly everyone under 30.
I had a pair of 5 inch heels, blue patent leather, divine to walk in, impossible to run in, and not the expected school uniform. This British Pathe featurette takes a look at the trend of platform shoes from 1977.
If you want to know what British TV was like in the 1970s, well, apart from watching the repeats on BBC4, this will give you a fair idea. Elton John and Michael Caine getting all “Knees-up Mother Brown” round the olde joanna on Michael Parkinson‘s show.
All this the same year The Sex Pistols released “Anarchy in the U.K.” on EMI, The Ramones singled “Blitzkreig Bop” and Patti Smith “Pissing in a River”. Cor blimey, guvnor.
Although I have always appreciated his music (“Ride a White Swan” was one of the first 45s I ever bought), I have never been what you would call a Marc Bolan/T-Rex fanatic. Don’t get me wrong, I am indeed a fan, but I’ve always put Marc Bolan in the same category as I do Chuck Berry, Little Richard or Eddie Cochran. Translation: a decent greatest hits is probably all I probably really need to own (Bolan also stole shamelessly from each of these artists, of course).
In actual fact, I own quite a few T-Rex albums, even some releases from the deeper catalog. Probably my favorite song by Bolan is the little known “Jasper C. Debussy.” It’s not like I’m ignorant of his work, it’s just that a lot of it sounds pretty formulaic and “samey” to me. Bolan had “a thing” that he did quite well, but he just kept doing it and that’s the problem I have with his music.
Having offered the above disclaimer, last week I picked up a Japanese import copy of the “deluxe” Born To Boogie DVD reissue from a few years back in the bargain bin for a mere $7 bucks. A friend of mine had the film on VHS and I saw it twenty years ago and quite enjoyed it, but the DVD version, with a monstrously powerful 5.1 surround mix done by the great producer Tony Visconti, truly blew me away. It must be the apex of Bolan’s artistry. Nothing short of stunning.
You know there’s always one guy on every block who has one of those huge fuck-off audio systems that the neighbors for a quarter mile radius can hear? I’m that guy. After watching Born To Boogie on an HDTV with the sound cranked up so loud it would have drowned out a airplane landing on my rooftop, I finally, after nearly 40 years, really got Marc Bolan, and can see clearly why the flame of eternal fan love for him will never die.
Born To Boogie was directed by Ringo Starr and produced by Apple Films. The concert segments were filmed at the Wembley Empire Pool in 1972 at the absolute height of T-Rextasy and Bolan, Mickey Finn and the band are in fine, fine form. Bolan’s guitar is just FAT sounding here and the 5.1 mix is outstanding. Listening to it cranked up is like having, well… a Tyrannosaurus Rex stomp all over your head… in a good way!
There’s also a stellar jam session with Elton John and Ringo that was captured at the Apple Studio on Saville Row and some “surreal hijinks”—like the Mad Hatter’s party bit which was filmed on John Lennon’s estate—that bring to mind Magical Mystery Tour. Still, it’s the concert segments that dazzle the most with Bolan’s 500 megawatt charisma in full effect.
If, like me, you missed out on Born To Boogie when I came out in 2005, and this sounds like something you might enjoy, chances are you probably will. There are TONS of extras and both the earlier, late afternoon concert and the full show that was used in the film are included.
10/10 for content, audio/visual quality and overall “Wow factor.”
Below, “Children of the Revolution” with Sir Elton and Ringo.