sat 20/07/2024

Reissue CDs Weekly: Peephole In My Brain - British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971 | reviews, news & interviews

Reissue CDs Weekly: Peephole In My Brain - British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971

Reissue CDs Weekly: Peephole In My Brain - British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971

A fresh perspective on the year glam rock began flexing its muscles

Without sheen and shine, Status Quo on stage in 1971

The title comes from the lyrics of “Andy Warhol”: track two, side two of David Bowie’s late 1971 album Hunky Dory: ”Put a peephole in my brain, Two new pence to have a go, I'd like to be a gallery, Put you all inside my show.” The new pence reference recognised Britain’s recent adoption of decimalised currency.

Whatever the album’s sales on release it was only in 1972 that Bowie hit the single’s chart with “Starman”, the proof he was more than 1969’s “Space Oddity” one-hit wonder.

In 1971, Marc Bolan and T.Rex were cleaning up as a singles phenomenon. “Ride a White Swan”, issued in 1970, was still on the charts in the New Year. The year began with Dave Edmunds’ “I Hear you Knockin’” in the top spot and ended with Benny Hill’s “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)” holding the same position. For Bolan, “Hot Love”, “Get it on” and “Jeepster” steamrollered their way into the nation's pop consciousness as the year unfolded. George Harrison becoming the first former Beatle to get to number one with “My Sweet Lord” was a big deal. But not as big a deal as Bolan’s triumphs. Fellow Sixties-era triers Slade and Sweet also became chart regulars with – in time – both shedding their previous styles to glam-up: roughies repackaged as glam; bubblegum poppers transformed into glam rockers. Sheen and shine.

Peephole In My Brain British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971 coverContrasting with this reading of 1971, the Bolan-free 71-track (71 for 1971), three-CD set Peephole In My Brain – The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971 takes a different tack. There is little sheen and shine. The text in the booklet within the card slipcase describes it as examining “the sounds of 1971 as made by musicians and songwriters who were keen to make muscular, melodic, radio-friendly music without succumbing to the sappiness or vacuity of the MOR/bubblegum brigade clogging up the airwaves.”

The set's opening track is Dana Gillespie’s superb version of “Andy Warhol”. Bowie's heard on 12-string acoustic guitar and backing vocals along with Rick Wakeman and the players who became The Spiders From Mars. The collection ends with Phase 3’s “Bill Bailey”, a just-about prog rock version of the standard. (pictured below left, Dana Gillespie with David Bowie)

Peephole In My Brain British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971_ dana gillespie david bowiePeephole In My Brain though is not about prog rock but “progressive pop”, a categorisation in the ear of the beholder. Is Disc Two's Jonathan King version of “Sugar Sugar” progressive? Released as by Sakkarin, it's heavy but is still a form of bubblegum. Curiously, while promoting it on Top of the Pops King was backed by Fairport Convention.

Pretty obviously, these three CDs represent an unconventional take on 1971, one constantly taking left turns and throwing curve balls. Kevin Ayers’ “Stranger in Blue Suede Shoes” and Stackridge’s “Dora, The Female Explorer” are wonderful art-pop gems. The Hollies’ self-consciously rocky “Hey Willy” prefigures the glam stomp, while John Kongos’ “Tokoloshe Man” is as oddball as it ever was. Status Quo’s “Mean Girl”, in a mix which was unissued at the time, sounds incredibly fresh. Within Peephole In My Brain's imprecise remit, 1971 was an anything-goes year. Hence the inclusion of the obscure Dear Mr. Time, Nimbo, Sweeny Bean and Zior alongside Atomic Rooster, Barclay James Harvest, the Edgar Broughton Band and Emerson Lake & Palmer.

On the face of it, what’s rounded up initially seems a hodgepodge, the aural analogue of flinging darts at a dartboard with no thought as to where they’d land. Yet this is not what the listening experience is like. There’s a consistency, an ebb and flow evidencing an attentiveness to the end result. The ostensibly scattershot Peephole In My Brain – The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1971 may not bring to mind 1971 as it’s remembered, but it does offer a provocative fresh perspective.

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