Today’s Pop Junkie is brought to you by the letters A and P. For no good reason (his birthday was back in April) other than I want to write about Alan Price. I bought his ‘Geordie Boy; The Best Of’ a couple of years ago because I needed to own his version of Randy Newman’s Simon Smith & His Amazing Dancing Bear, which is the happiest, jolliest song ever and always makes me smile. Such a bizarre song but it really swings. Now that’s a song to have at your funeral.
Oh, before we leave SS & his bear, it even got the thumbs-up from the great Dirk Bogarde, who played it on Radio 2 when covering for David Jacobs back in the late 1980s. He said, rather wistfully, that it reminded him of happy days in the 1960s…
Back to the Best Of, the album contained a couple of other tracks that made me think that £15 (or however much it was) wouldn’t be entirely wasted.
How right I was. Among the exhaustive exploration of his post-Animals solo career, I was to discover another great Randy Newman cover – So Long Dad, plus an awesome slab of late 60s orchestral pop (one of my favourite genres) in The Trimdon Grange Explosion. This traditional folk ballad tells the horrific story of an 1882 mining disaster but is turned into something golden in the hands of Price and his orchestra.
Ninety seconds in, after a couple of verses, Price launches into the most percussive and thrilling jazzy piano break in pop (and I do mean pop – not rock ‘n’ roll. It’s great, but don’t expect Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard). It’s such a massive song, but incredibly flopped upon its 1969 release.
When I first heard the song I played it over and over again for about 3 weeks. I’ve been doing the same this week. I must have played it six times already today.
The album also contains the self-penned The House That Jack Built; his hit in tandem with Georgie Fame, the annoyingly infectious Rosetta; a couple of more-than-decent songs from his highly acclaimed O Lucky Man soundtrack, where it looked for a while as if he could pick up the social-realism-in-song baton from a flagging Ray Davies, but the career seems to have faltered in the mid-70s after his Top 10 hit with Jarrow Song.
I’m not saying this is a great album. There is a whole load of mediocre and some bad stuff, but there are several great songs here and he seems to me to have become the forgotten man of great 60s pop (The Moody Blues seem to have suffered a similar fate).
I suppose that (like Davies) he became old hat. He donned a bow-tie and went for a market that prefered something a little lighter (similar to the move made by Karl Wayne from the Move with TV appearances reduced to a lunchtime slot on Pebble Mill at One).
A shame, because at his best he was bloody good.