❉ Glam was the headline, but the entire rock spectrum was a haven for the twee, the outcast and the strange in 1972, writes Huw Thomas.
2016’s Let’s Go Down And Blow Our Minds: The British Psychedelic Sounds Of 1967 was a landmark release for Grapefruit Records, compiling 80 tracks of dizzying psych from names familiar and not-so. It was to be the first in a series of “British psychedelic sounds” compilations tracking the exploits of the era’s grassy-bottomed gawks. Psychedelia’s tint had faded by 1970, prompting a rebrand for New Moon’s In The Sky: The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1970. Now comes Beyond the Pale Horizon – The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1972, a 3CD set that finds the decade’s staple quandary of back-to-basics vs progression in full whorl as things all go a bit Whistle Test.
The set begins with Van der Graaf Generator’s blissed-out take on Theme One, the George Martin fanfare commissioned to bookend BBC Radio 1 and Radio 2 upon their inception. His recording remained a grand vestige of 1967 until it was phased out in the mid-1970s, making it an inspired choice to open the latest release in this series. ‘67 bleeds in further with fresh cuts from Nirvana and the Moody Blues, while the mighty 10538 Overture constitutes Electric Light Orchestra’s first and greatest shot at their oft-repeated modus operandi: to pick up where the Beatles left off.
Scattered across the set’s three discs are major hits. Several demonstrate rock’s uneasy alliance with the charts at this time. The superb Paper Plane brought Status Quo’s rock ‘n’ roll hopscotch to the top ten for the first time. The band’s allegiance to that alchemy, to the taut harmonies peering out from behind 24 bars, remains in place to this day. By contrast, Whiskey in the Jar was a breakthrough hit Thin Lizzy resented and never played live. A rocked-up Irish folk song they cut on the insistence of their manager, its success may have stung but it still sounds remarkably fresh. Fresh enough, maybe, to compensate for the clumsiness of placing a proudly Irish band on a compilation of “British progressive pop”.
Among other hits are Hawkwind’s sole offering to the UK top 20 Silver Machine, an ascendant record that mirrors the Quo’s devotion to floor-filling thrum but forgets about a ceiling. Like many acts included on Beyond the Pale Horizon, Hawkwind were building on a strong following on the open-minded university/college circuit. Virginia Plain is here too – it’s a record everyone who buys this set is likely to know like the back of their hand but the context here serves to highlight what made Roxy Music such an odd and exciting proposition. There are some real surprises from the old guard, though. Not to be discouraged by heavy metal, one-time hit merchants the Troggs make a blistering appearance with Feels Like a Woman, a track that leaps ahead of the teenage wildlife they’d inspired.
Non-album singles by album-oriented acts find a natural home on Beyond the Pale Horizon. The frenetic, brilliant Sarah’s Concern comes from the sessions for Curved Air’s Phantasmagoria while a typically knotty version of Paul Simon’s America was the first Yes release with Rick Wakeman. The optimism of the 60s was still in the air if anyone expected those singles to be hits. Roy Wood’s batty When Gran’ma Plays The Banjo from his excellent album Boulders missed the charts too but its’ pretty B-side Wake Up received some radio play and it’s a highlight of this set. A particularly illuminating inclusion comes from that most liminal of chart acts White Plains, who show off some serious psych credentials on the Moodies-tinged Beachcomber.
Among the obscurities, the never-previously-released Funny by folk-poppers Open Road glistens while the lovely Maybe I’m Lost Without You by Neil Harrison is a resigned, McCartney-like ballad. If there’s a running theme, it’s yearning – folk-inflected tracks like The Very First Clown by Shape of the Rain, Coast to Coast by Trapeze and Tigers Will Survive by Plainsong share a pretty, melancholy mood. Particularly special is Sewing Machine, an earnest B-side by Yeovil outfit Tuesday with a graceful rock arrangement. It really deserves a wider audience. Glam will be always be the headline, but it seems to me that the entire spectrum of rock music was a haven for the twee, the outcast and the strange in 1972.
Naturally, Beyond the Pale Horizon features a generous helping of kooky records. Few would consider the Beach Boys’ ode to the benefits of podiatry a potential hit, but Summer Wine’s single recording of Take a Load Off Your Feet outstrips the Surf’s Up original with a driving rhythm section. A less reverential tribute to the boys comes from the Bonzo Dog Band; a falsetto Neil Innes leads a tedious pastiche called King of Scurf for five minutes of unfun. Better is Hamburgers, a slice of bizarro Americana by lifelong vegetarian Rupert Hine. Strangest of all is the final track of the entire set; I don’t often laugh out loud at music but the sheer WTF factor of Patto’s Mummy had me in bits.
Beyond the Pale Horizon is exhaustive – and exhausting. Sets like this sometimes feel like feats of licensing rather than curation. The content, though, is uniformly deserving and there’s great value for money with 65 tracks and a detailed booklet. With Grapefruit having covered bubblegum and novelty records of this era in Bubblerock Is Here To Stay! The British Pop Explosion 1970-73, glam in Oh! You Pretty Things: Glam Queens And Street Urchins 1970-76 and hard rock in I’m A Freak Baby: A Journey Through The British Heavy Psych & Hard Rock Underground Scene, this series could be destined for diminishing returns if it continues. For now, though, Beyond the Pale Horizon is a rewarding overview of British rock at one of its most eclectic junctures.
❉ ‘Beyond The Pale Horizon – The British Progressive Pop Sounds Of 1972’ 3CD Box Set (Grapefruit CRSEGBOX091) is available from Cherry Red Records, RRP £19.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Huw Thomas is a musician and writer from Radnorshire, Wales. His special interests include Northern Irish band Cruella De Ville, Cardiacs, Back to the Egg and Oh No It’s Selwyn Froggitt. He tweets as @huwareyou.
Header image: British rock group Status Quo photographed in London by Terry O’Neill, 1972. Source: https://twitter.com/groovyhistory/status/1371612372318715913