All Right Then – Music in July 1970, UK
Updated: Aug 3
UPDATES @ End of story
For some reason, I have strong memories of that July, half a century ago.
I had just finished my first year at university, and managed to get a pass mark (and better in some subjects) which, after spending so many nights playing cards and then missing morning lectures, gave me a real kick. If I could pass after that, with a bit of work, I could get the degree. Or at least, that was my reasoning.
Come July, I was now back in an industrial training period at Derby Locomotive Works, and seeing some of the apprentices I'd been with the previous autumn, I realised that it was really worth passing those finals. A degree did not ensure a better life, but it certainly got your more chances. I was privileged, even if I hadn't realised this before.
At the beginning of the month (see earlier OT post, "The Night Ferry", 141Rs, France etc) I went to the 'real abroad' for the first time.
The other thing that stands out is the music, and one hit single in particular. Written by bassist Andy Fraser*(See update) in an inspired ten minutes after a poor gig at Durham University, All Right Now catapulted the four-piece band Free into stardom.
The song has an iconic riff that pundits call 'anthemic' and continues to win fans half a century later.It's here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lSdBtoIIYT4
Depending on which UK chart you take as the gospel of rock achievement, All Right Now made it to number one or two in June and July that year, and in a bunch of other countries to boot.
If I'm honest, I can't say it made me a special fan of the band at the time. In those days, it seemed exciting singles were still coming out on a regular basis, despite the dross commercial stuff that had been increasingly dominating the top 30 since 'serious' bands began to turn to albums around 1967.
In truth, it took a full decade before I really began to appreciate Free. In 1980, a friend – “Big Steve” the chef - lent me a cassette tape of the double album “The Free Story”.
By then it was some seven years after they'd last played together and four years after their enigmatic lead guitarist, Paul Kossoff, had tragically died on a plane in the USA.
The son of successful actor David Kossoff, Paul is ranked 51st in the World's Greatest Guitarists of all Time by Rolling Stone. If they'd give bonus marks for impassioned writhing during solos a mere 0.1 centimetres in front of his speakers, Koss would surely be number 1.
(see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a03WOGMYAxE at 10.00)
Whatever, that cassette, and I still have it (sorry Big Steve) totally changed my perception of the band.
Free sure were into rock, but most of my favourite material is to be found among their melodic, emotionally laden ballads such as Be My Friend, Come Together in the Morning, and Love You So, songs that, more often than not, focus on the desolation of lost or unrequited love.
(True, some would have it that the last mentioned was written as a dedication to Kossoff, who, by the autumn of 1970, had set out on the destructive, downward spiral path of drug addiction. See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XEHyBjY_mXE )
Yet for all the pathos of their ballads, I have to acknowledge their piece de resistance, Mr Big, is, for me, the best rock song ever, and no apologies to Cream, Zep or Purple fans.
Starts at 06.50: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a03WOGMYAxE
I base my judgement not only on Kossoff's spectacular build up into the screaming, syncopated, lead solo and Paul Rodger's surly, masculine vocals – these are the obvious stand-outs.
The bonuses are the unique, mazy bass runs of Andy Fraser's solo that follows, before turning into the ultimate, exhausting coda-climax. All this with the whole caboodle underpinned by Simon Kirke's metronomic skin bashing, and that on kit so simple that no rookie drummer would be seen dead playing today.
(And talking of exhausting, just look at Kirke's state at 12.30 in the clip above. He barely has the energy to down a gulp of water before Rodgers announces the next number.)
Mr Big, by the way, had another run for its money, and collected more fans on the way, in the 2015 psycho-drama “Demolition”, when star Jake Gyllenhaal memorably dances his way through crowds of well-heeled workers in New York's financial district.
Oh, I haven't said so much about July 1970 after all. I'd better go back, because Free's hit single wasn't even the best track in the charts that month.
(Kossoff himself is cited in Wikipedia as referring to All Right Now as “frivolous” against more serious, weighty songs such as Be My Friend.)
That July acclaim must go to Fleetwood Mac and The Green Manalishi (With The Two Prong Crown), their last hit in the original line up – although from memory it only made the number 11 slot at best.
That's my memories from July 1970 folks. It's probably through rose tinted specs, but from here, looking back half a century, it sure felt all right then.
UPDATE: * Paul Rodgers, in a documentary entitled Free Forever, lays claim to writing they lyrics to All Right Now – which seems somewhat at odds with Andy Fraser's version of things. See 24.40 in https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g42abRDuUBs
As a final note, I tried and tried to get an image of the LP cover to Fire and Water to illustrate this post - but I couldn't seem to comply with copywrite regulations. If anyone has a jpg or can take a photo of the album and send me, I'll hoy it up.
UPDATE2: Thank you, Sarah in Cumbria for sending the piccie. (It was Sarah who first introduced me to the album Fire and Water, which included All Right Now among its tracks.)
UPDATE3 - Sadly, four days after posting this, the BBC has announced that founder and lead guitarist of Fleetwood Mac, Peter Green, has passed.