❉ David Geldard travels back to the era of horizontally held microphone stands, scarves, loon pants and Double Diamond Pale Ale.
Ahhh, the Classic Rock compilation. For fans of the genre, essential for those long car journeys but all too often featuring the same brilliant but frustratingly overused tracks. After all, there’s only so many times you need to own All Right Now, The Boys are Back in Town and Won’t Get Fooled Again. Thankfully, this new 3 CD box set from Cherry Red’s Grapefruit label, Riding the Rock Machine – British Seventies Classic Rock, shows a bit more care and imagination, making for a far more engaging listening experience. As well as featuring plenty of the giants of the era, it deviates down the road less travelled and brings us some real obscure gems.
So, let’s get in our musical TARDIS and travel back to the era of horizontally held microphone stands, scarves, loon pants and Double Diamond Pale Ale.
Disc one kicks off with Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow and sensibly steers clear of compilation favourite Since You’ve Been Gone. Instead, we get the 7” version of Long Live Rock n’ Roll featuring the soaring vocals of the late Ronnie James Dio and the thundering magnificence of the legendary Cozy Powell. The song’s chorus was used for many years as a jingle on Alan Freeman’s Saturday Rock Show on Radio One.
Amongst some choice cuts from the likes of The Moody Blues, Uriah Heep, and The Alan Parsons Project, there’s the single version of Foghat’s Slow Ride, a song which gained a new lease of life in the 2007 when it was featured on the video game Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock.
One of the real highlights on disc one is a vivacious cover of The Who’s I Can’t Explain by Yvonne Elliman. The track features guitar from Pete Townshend himself and was sampled in 1996 by Fatboy Slim on the track Going Out Of My Head.
The Who themselves make an appearance with the John Entwistle-penned song Success Story (originally from their 1976 album The Who By Numbers and a B-side to the single Squeeze Box). It’s a great track with cynical, autobiographical lyrics and one of the highlights of that particular album.
After taking in some wonderful choices from Trapeze, The Faces, Chris Squire, Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, there’s the tremendous Boston Tea Party by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. Fun fact: charismatic Glaswegian frontman Alex Harvey could count the likes of Nick Cave, Robert Smith, Joe Elliott and Fergie (Duchess of York, not the other one) as fans!
Disc One closes with The Sweet’s Action. There’s more than a hint of Queen about the track and it’s certainly one of their best. It was later covered by the likes of Raven, The Scorpions and Def Leppard.
Disc Two opens with the slick, U.S. radio friendly production of Foreigner’s Feels Like The First Time, followed by This Flight Tonight by Scottish rockers Nazareth. It’s a pleasure to hear this track again, it doesn’t seem to get much airplay these days. This Dumferline band (and particularly Dan McCafferty’s vocals) were a huge influence on the young Axl Rose and he actually requested them to play at his wedding.
One of this writer’s all-time favourite bands appear next, Free, with the classic track Wishing Well from their final studio album Heartbreaker (1973). To be fair, it’s probably one of the most well-known songs featured on this compilation but with the double whammy of Paul Rodger’s soulful vocals and Paul Kossoff’s passionate guitar playing, it would be churlish to moan about its inclusion.
As well as featuring plenty more well-known British rock acts of the era (Electric Light Orchestra, Hawkwind, Status Quo, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Magnum), disc two offers us a fair few lesser known gems. Momma’s Boy by Birmingham band, City Boy, suggest that although individual band members went on to big bigger things, they perhaps should have been a more important band than they were. Here they were produced by a young Mutt Lange, who later went on to produce ACDC’s Back In Black (1980) , Def Leppard’s Hysteria (1987) and Bryan Adam’s Waking Up The Neighbours – all multimillion sellers. This track proves he had a commercial ear from a young age.
Rococo’s Hoodlum Fun didn’t even get a release at the time, which beggars’ belief as it is a cracking track! If you heard it on the radio, you would swear it was a lost Thin Lizzy recording. The vocalist sounds so much like the great Phil Lynott.
Disc Two also features the sublime Mick Ronson track Only After Dark from Ronno’s debut 1974 album Slaughter On 10th Avenue. In hindsight, this should have probably been an A-Side (it was B-side to a cover of Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender). It eventually became a regular on the playlists of the clubs that would spawn the New Romantic movement (The Blitz in London, The Rum Runner in Birmingham and Pips in Manchester). It has also had two high profile cover versions from two legendary Sheffield bands, Def Leppard and The Human League.
Disc Three kicks off with another Glam classic, Roxy Music’s Street Life, from 1973. The inclusion of Roxy’s art-pop never fails to bring a touch of class to proceedings. Talking of Glam, We Are Cult favourite Dana Gillespie is featured with the gloriously provocative Get My Rocks Off. Her sultry, bluesy vocals really shine.
Then there’s the bubblegum Glam rock sing-a-long of the Russ Ballard-penned New York Groove by Hello, which was later covered by Kiss axeman Ace Frehley in 1978.
The iconic Mott the Hoople are included with the track Ready for Love/After Lights from their classic 1972 LP All the Young Dudes. Again, as magnificent as the title track is, it’s great to hear a lesser appreciated piece.
As well as superstars like Thin Lizzy and 10cc, disc three has the lion’s share of obscure acts. The superbly named Fat Mattress, the equally brilliantly named Smokestack Crumble with the very silly but fantastic track I’ve Got a Bad Leg and Brian Eno’s post-Roxy backing band The Winkies appear here with a previously unreleased cover of the Peggy Lee classic Fever.
All in all, this is a superior compilation of 1970s British rock that deserves praise for stepping away from the same old, same old tracks, by including less-frequently featured acts alongside the major acts of the time.
If you grew up loving Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman’s Saturday Rock Show on Radio One (Not ‘arf!) or find yourself regularly tuning into Joe Elliott’s show on Planet Rock every week, you need this compilation in your collection.
❉ ‘Riding The Rock Machine: British Seventies Classic Rock’ (Grapefruit CRSEGBOX088) will be released on 23 April 2021 by Cherry Red Records, RRP £19.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ David Geldard is a regular contributor to We Are Cult and loves Sci Fi & Horror, Doctor Who, Starburst Magazine, Stranger Things, The 60’s Avengers, Twilight Zone, The X-Files, cult movies and weird shit. He tweets as @BungleSir.