Forever destined to be most closely associated with the Wombles and ‘Bright Eyes’, the Watership Down theme sung by Art Garfunkle, Mike Batt has an illustrious CV as a performer, arranger and composer and this 36-track, 2-disc album is an expansive career retrospective.
Not only does it include selections from his original solo material, it also includes Batt’s own recordings of hits he wrote for other artists. Along with his version of the aforementioned ‘Bright Eyes’ there’s also his own versions of ‘A Winters Tale’ (a 1983 hit for David Essex) and (I Feel Like Buddy Holly’ (a 1984 hit for Alvin Stardust) – an ideal fit for Batt’s unmistakable vocal just as much as those who originally had hits with them.
‘Summertime City’, a hit for Batt under his own name and the theme to the BBC’s Seaside Special TV series in the seventies, also gets an airing – with Batt musing: “For many years, despite its success I looked back on it with embarrassment but now I am proud of it as a good, strong pop record. I insisted that Sony ‘delete it forever’ and the rights to the song reverted to me. So this is the first time (apart from the MB Music Cube) that it has been released since 1975.”
Batt’s Wombles days are not neglected either. ‘The Wombling Song’ an a couple of others are included but not, sadly, ‘Remember You’re A Womble’ – certainly one of my favourite hits of 1974 as an 8 year-old and surely the most splendid glam rock/folk rock mash-up of all time.
The rockier more upbeat side of Batt’s career, however, is represented by tracks like ‘Imbecile’ which features Family’s Roger Chapman on vocals as well as a beautifully unmissable solo from Rory Gallagher. Chapman also contributes vocals on another track, as does the Zombies’ Colin Blunstone whose trademark vocal graces ‘Tiger In The Night’.
An instinctive ear for a pop melody, a prolific orchestral composer and an instantly recognisable voice in his own right, Mike Batt has made a major contribution to British music over the past four decades and The Penultimate Collection is a worthy retrospective. Just why oh why was ‘Remember You’re a Womble’ missed off?
Released digitally on 8th May 2020 and in physical album format on 6th June 2020
In the early 70s the likes of Bolan, Bowie and Slade were pioneering both the sounds and the looks that would come to define glam rock. Emerging in 1971, building momentum in 1972 and absolutely dominating the UK charts by 1973, glam was everywhere by 1974. Even non-glam bands were at it.
Here we look at five bands who managed to release great glam rock singles in 1974.
1. AC/DC – Can I Sit Next To You Girl
Released as their debut single in July 1974 the original version of ‘Can I Sit Next to You Girl’ is the only AC/DC release to feature Dave Evans on lead vocals, prior to Bon Scott taking over. The band would re-record the track with Scott but here you can see and hear the original. Angus is in his schoolboy uniform, of course, but the rest of the band are looking spectacularly glammed up. And it’s not just the image that’s glam either. The vocal delivery, arrangements and guitar riff all have far more of a glam rock than a hard rock feel to them. Now I love the sleazy hard-rocking Bon Scott-era of AC/DC and wouldn’t want to change a thing – but this debut single gives a delicious glimpse of how things might have been in some parallel universe.
2. Mungo Jerry – Long Legged Woman Dressed In Black
When ‘In The Summertime’ became the band’s first big hit in 1970 Mungo Jerry’s laid-back jug-band sound couldn’t be further away from glam rock if you tried. By 1974, however, it’s blindingly clear that glam was having an influence. It’s not just lead singer Ray Dorset’s studded white leather sleeveless jacket over his bare chest, we have a drum beat that wouldn’t be out of place on a Glitter Band release and a sing-along chorus that just screams pure unadulterated glam. My particular memory of this song was at my 8th birthday party when my dad crammed me and half the kids down the street into the back of his Ford Anglia to take us to the park. On the way back this came on the radio at full volume and we had all the widows open, screaming along to it at the top of our voices.
3. The Wombles – Remember You’re A Womble
Although their first single and (the theme tune from the BBC series) epitomises the lush orchestral pop that creator Mike Batt has been associated with much of his career, for the Wombles’ second single they went down a much rockier route. Joining Mike Batt (vocals/keyboards) were session musicians Chris Spedding (guitars), Les Hurdle (bass), Clem Cattini (drums), Ray Cooper (percussion), Rex Morris (saxophone), Eddie Mordue (saxophone) and Jack Rothstein (violin). Not only was the single a brilliantly bouncy slice of glam rock but, thanks to the glorious fiddle solo, it’s a brilliant slice of folk rock, too. As such it remains the greatest glam-folk single ever made. Tim Hart of Steeleye Span kind of agreed. In his book ‘Electric Eden’ Rob Young recounts that Hart “bought a triple LP of Wombles tunes and was impressed with the clarity of it’s sub glam power pop”. Batt was hired by the band and the result was Steeleye Span’s own glam-folk smash ‘All Around My Hat’.
4. The Rolling Stones – I Know It’s Only Rock n Roll
This July 1974 single and title track of the Stones’ album later that year originally emerged out of a jam session Mick Jagger had with Ronnie Wood and Kenney Jones of the Faces, along with David Bowie and bass player Willie Weeks. The track was polished up, some guitar licks were added by Richards and a Rolling Stones classic was born. Easily the most glam-influence song the Stones produced it really reminds me of T.Rex. And, of course, if you are going to release a glam rock single you need a glam rock video to go with it. Directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg the video shows the band dressed in sailor suits and playing in a tent which eventually fills up with bubbles. According to Keith Richards, the idea for the sailor suits came about at the last minute because none of the Stones wanted to get their own clothes ruined with detergent bubbles.
5. ABBA – Waterloo
Waterloo was written specifically as ABBA’s bid for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, after the group finished third with ‘Ring Ring’ in the contest for Sweden’s entry the previous year. With a driving guitar riff and a rocking upbeat tempo the song was quite a departure from the romantic ballads of previous European winners and, indeed, of ABBA’s later releases. Throw in the knee-high silver platforms, the glittery costumes and the star-shaped guitar and ‘Waterloo’ is a glam rock classic in all but name. Indeed, Abba themselves had cited ‘See My Baby Jive’ by English glam rockers Wizzard as a major influence at the time. My Nana, who was babysitting for us that night, let us stay up to watch them win Eurovision.