British Bubblegum Pop 1968-1972
“Sunday morning, up with the lark,
I think I’ll take a walk in the park,
Hey hey hey, it’s a beautiful day …”
Daniel Boone, “Beautiful Sunday”, 1972
British bubblegum pop, circa 1968-1972 – as distinct from its more worldly and sophisticated American equivalent – is a pure insight into a country long gone. It’s simplistic, childish, over-excited, innocent, full of absolute certainties and safe knowledges.
It’s fabulous stuff.
It essentially bridged the gap between the poppier end of the mid-60s beat boom and glam rock, and because it was based around faceless studio conglomerates of anonymous producers, singers and session musicians it didn’t have the instantly-recognisable and memorable personalities on which a music’s recollection in the mass media depends. Its essential stylelessness and lack of any recognisable “auteurs” of the Kassenatz-Katz ilk has turned critics against it as well. They are fools, unable to accept pop in any terms other than a modified form of rockcritology. Just listen to an early example – the charming, sun-kissed flight of The Casuals’ “Jesamine” or the Love Affair’s “Everlasting Love”, or the grinning rush of The Tremeloes’ “Suddenly You Love Me” – and sense the optimism coming through, not in a cloying or false way, but appealingly (and unreachably) pre-ironic.
As “serious” rock bands began to concentrate on albums (even those like The Rolling Stones who continued to release singles would issue them far less frequently), the singles charts were left for bubblegum to make their own. Peter Sarstedt’s “Frozen Orange Juice”, Family Dogg’s “Way Of Life”, at a pinch even The Equals’ football crowd favourite “Viva Bobby Joe” – all still leave you smiling and inexorably upbeat if you get yourself in the right mood.
Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway’s creation Blue Mink – Madeline Bell, Herbie Flowers etc. – arrived at the end of 1969 with “Melting Pot” – it sounds twee now, for sure, Alan Partridge’s anthem, but it’s easy to forget just how grimly segregated large swathes of British life were at the time, and how important it was to push any sort of plea for greater integrity from
the subcultures of the day into the pop world. And the chutzpah and sheer audacity of the line “I’d better call up the Queen, it’s only fair that she knows, you know, because … WHAT WE NEED IS A GREAT BIG MELTING POT …”, daring to invoke a distant, revered establishment figure and call on her to experience the new society they were building: such optimism, such zest for the future, such encouragement of togetherness, such vitality!
1970 shone with other gems – mainstream nostalgists might snigger at The Pipkins’ “Gimme Dat Ding”, and chartologist bores obsess over Tony
Burrows’s several simultaneous appearances on Top Of The Pops with several mediocre records (Edison Lighthouse’s absurdly overpraised “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”, the original Brotherhood of Man’s boring “United We
Stand”) but the real gems are less obvious: Butterscotch’s “Don’t You Know?” (as rosily innocent as 1955, impossible even a year later), Pickettywitch’s “That Same Old Feeling” (wistful, a kind of bubblegum equivalent of folk-rock if such a thing can be conceived) and White Plains’s “I’ve Got You On My Mind” (the first good Burrows track, with a wonderful string intro and chorus that walks on air). And Christie! Such bounce to “Yellow River”, such determination to get where you need to end up! Such drive!
The year’s twin highpoints had contrasting moods. Mr Bloe’s “Groovin’ With Mr Bloe” was the last great groove-driven pop record of the 60s, but the genre could often be at its best at its quietest. Marmalade’s “Rainbow”, also harmonica-led, is a desperately poignant final aim for a love (or rather, perhaps, a feeling of personal contentment) fading inexorably, desperately looking out to feel it as it dies. It’s a wonderful song of yearning, and is the perfect farewell to the dying 20 years of shared national innocence.
The brilliance flowed into 1971. We all know about the tedious Eurogum (Middle of the Road – alright, I’ve mentioned them, no more, please) and “Pushbike Song” by Australian invaders The Mixtures (better, in that it is at least great fun the first time you hear it). The year’s highpoint, though, was Blue Mink’s Salvation Army-themed (!) “Banner Man”, their second masterpiece, and one of many hits in this genre from the Cook / Greenaway stable. Its theme is naturally distant from today, but it’s one of the few chartpop records to make ritualism sound like a perfectly normal and enjoyable part of life (which I guess it was back then, at least for more people than now). Marmalade stuck around for the brilliant “Cousin Norman”, a fantastically laid-back tribute to some kind of eccentric hippie relative, and Tony Burrows made his second good song – White Plains’s impeccable, mock-regal “When You Are A King”.