May 08

THE WURZELS – “Combine Harvester (Brand New Key)”

FT + Popular93 comments • 6,599 views

#390, 12th June 1976

Much like “No Charge”, this wears an idea too thin: but at least it’s a good idea. Spotting the potential for Wurzelisation in the ramshackle whimsy of Melanie’s “Brand New Key” was a stroke of pop genius that deserved the reward of a No.1. “Combine Harvester” kicks off with surely the best (or maybe worst) innuendo to grace a chart-topping record and rides a wave of sheer goodwill until at least its third verse.

The Wurzels had only turned to this kind of pop adaptation because original Wurzel Adge Cutler had died – his original comic folk songs had made the band a West Country hit and with no songwriters to replace him, “Combine Harvester” was the beginning of a new and narrower remit for the band. Given a national stage, the bumbling yokel humour the group trade in as much reinforced stereotypes as mocked or indulged them, but that shouldn’t detract from the fact that “Combine Harvester” is one of the more thoroughly enjoyable comedy records we’ll be meeting.



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  1. 31

    i think a faust-wurzels collab might have stopped time itself — it wd have been like “the enigma of kaspar hauser”

    (actually the einsturzende-showaddywaddy thing was a bit of a damp squid tho wan’t it)

  2. 32
    DJ Punctum on 6 May 2008 #

    Well yes because all that happened was that both bands came on and did their own thing in separate sets rather than working together as would surely have been the selling point of the exercise.

  3. 33
    rosie on 6 May 2008 #

    There is, of course, a world of difference between “I don’t find this song at all funny” (perfectly acceptable) and “this song isn’t funny in any way” (demonstrably untrue because it makes me smile even if others are immune.)

    Something else amusing me it at the moment is the sound of those who charge Yes/ELP/Genesis with disappearing up their own arses, muffled by their own tightening sphincters. Naturally, anybody is welcome to disagree with me but if what I say really pains them, perhaps they’d like to go off to one of the many boards where nobody will disagree with them! :)

    Melanie’s original, by the way, features one of the great mondegreens: “I don’t go to bed but I go pretty far”

  4. 34
    DJ Punctum on 6 May 2008 #

    What you have to realise is that disappearing up one’s own arse presupposes having an interesting arse.

  5. 35
    mike on 6 May 2008 #

    The Acker one I remember specifically because I was doing Grade IV clarinet at the time and I had to learn the tune.


    (“Just think, Mike: keep practising, and you could end up like that Acker Bilk from the Pop Charts!”)

  6. 36
    mike on 6 May 2008 #

    (Also, a warm round of applause for the exchange at #33 and #34 above. That’s class, that is!)

  7. 37
    Billy Smart on 6 May 2008 #

    By popular request! (See 12) here’s light entertainment watch. I imagine that this is only a representational list, rather than a complete one. The first show sadly did not survive, but all the others did;

    GEORGE HAMILTON IV AND OTHER FOLK: Featuring Friday Brown, King’s Singers, The Wurzels (1973)

    THE BASIL BRUSH SHOW: Featuring John Inman, The Wurzels (1978)

    THE BIG TOP VARIETY SHOW: Featuring Gladys Knight and the Pips, The Wurzels, The Krankies (1980)

    RONNIE CORBETT’S SATURDAY SPECIAL: Featuring The Wurzels, Hinge & Bracket, Tony Monopoly (1977)

    SEASIDE SPECIAL: Featuring Terry Wogan, The Wurzels, Stuart Gillies (1978)

    SEASIDE SPECIAL: Featuring Peter Powell, Petula Clark, The Wurzels (1979)

  8. 38
    mike on 6 May 2008 #

    Adge & The Wurzels were also regulars on an afternoon telly show, whose name escapes me…


    The Great Western Musical Thunderbox.

  9. 39
    DJ Punctum on 6 May 2008 #

    Peter Powell, oh the shame (“classic Wurzellie tracks”)…

  10. 40
    David Belbin on 6 May 2008 #

    I was a big fan of Melanie’s first few albums but I wasn’t keen on the original of this, even aged fourteen, so the parody didn’t offend me, nor amuse me. It’s sad that the original novelty song is most people’s memory of Melanie as ‘Candles In the Rain’ is a cracking album. I shared Mike’s Macy Gray experience, during which at least two of our party left and went for a drink (I suspect it was Mike and I who stayed in our seats out of some perverse ‘it can only get better’ instinct). Anyway, I’m only emerging from my usual lurkerdom because it so happens that I’m going to see Melanie for the first time next Monday, in a tiny 250 seater theatre in Leicester. If she plays ‘Brand New Key’ and mentions it being a number one for the Wurzels, I shall report back here, but I rather doubt that either thing will happen.

  11. 41
    rosie on 6 May 2008 #

    I’m quite fond of Alexander Beetle myself.

    I note that CD reissues of Candles in the Rain have Alexander Beetle at track 6 instead of Close To It All as on my cherished old vinyl LP with the cheap red wine stains. It doesn’t fit, somehow. I wonder what happened?

  12. 42
    David Belbin on 6 May 2008 #

    So they do, Rosie. Most odd. I note that the 60th birthday 2cd edition gives you ‘Close To It All’ (one of my favourites) and a whole other out takes LP (‘Leftover Wine’) plus loads of bonus tracks, some of which I recall favourably, all for a fiver on Amazon. If the cover weren’t so horrible, I’d be tempted.

  13. 43
    David Belbin on 6 May 2008 #

    Ah, I’ve solved the mystery. ‘Close To It All’ first appeared on her first album ‘Born To Be’ and ‘Alexander Beetle’ is on the US version of ‘Candles In The Wind’. So it’s us Brits who have the skewed (but improved) version of her third album.

  14. 44
    mike on 6 May 2008 #

    I shared Mike’s Macy Gray experience, during which at least two of our party left and went for a drink (I suspect it was Mike and I who stayed in our seats out of some perverse ‘it can only get better’ instinct).

    I remember this clearly. I was one of the two who tried to go for a drink (during yet another “pad out a 45 minute debut album into a 90 minute show by inserting a shitty guitar jam” moment)… only to find that they’d shut the bloody bar!

  15. 45
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    One risible “comedy” record follows another to the top of the hit parade. I could only put it down to the drought, which had started to take hold by now. This was to be a summer without parallel (ditto the winter of 1962-63 when Waldo was but a sweet sleeping babe). 1976 was bonkers and people were keeling over and dying. At Wimbledon (the first of Borg’s five) not one second of play was lost to rain breaks, the only time in history, I think, and I was on a school field trip to Arundel, Sussex. The farmer, whose property we visited as part of this, was almost suicidal. Ironically, his name was Snow.

    At Westminster, Premiere Callaghan introduced a “Drought Minister” in the genial form of Denis Howell, whose brief at that time was Sport. It was one of modern history’s truly great political appointments, as no soon as it was made than it started raining cats and dogs and just wouldn’t stop. Howell was sacked and then it did. No wonder they called Callaghan “Sunny Jim”, the slippery old bastard.

    Meanwhile back on the farm, the Wurzels came along and corrupted Melanie big style. Why they chose “Brand New Key”, I can’t possible imagine but the result was something which most of us could surely have done without. It always reminded me of an inferior imitation of a “Two Ronnies” sketch than a crap end-of-the-pier act striking lucky. Appalling.

  16. 46
    rosie on 7 May 2008 #

    As I’ve already pointed out, Waldo, the drought hadn’t taken hold by this time; the Saturday of the Lord’s Test was lost to rain. Pay attention at the back there!

  17. 47
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    A mute point, I think, Rosie, although to be fair to you, the “Drought” as we know it probably began around Wimbledon time (Last week of June/first week of July), as you are probably suggesting. In any case, Saturday at the Lords Test lost to rain notwithstanding, I can assure you that in some parts of the country even May was dammed hot, let alone flaming June when we were infested by Wurzels.

  18. 48

    sukratic designer-perversity alert: i remember the 62-63 winter better* than the extremities of this summer — probably bcz i lived in the country, in a fairly lush rural area (probably also bcz for most of my teens and some years after i lived very much deep in my own head: i wz a very dreamy kid)

    *meaning i remember explicit winter-related events — the fountains on the campus in welwyn garden city being frozen and my mum’s dad helping me build a little duck out of snow — than ANY drought-related activity, which somehow just didn’t impact on me!

  19. 49
    rosie on 7 May 2008 #

    The winter of 62-63 – on the Wirral for me – meant sitting in the school hall for dinner time after dinner time for weeks on end because the playground was too icy. And the school milk in dinky little bottles arriving frozen, with the aluminium tops pushed out by ice. The bottles were thawed on the radiators and you had to drink it at morning break. I can feel the nausea wash over me even as I write. One of the two good things Maggie Thatcher ever did was abolishing the school milk! (The other was handbagging Iain Macleod when he was all set to strangle the infant Open University.)

    But this discussion surely belongs to the wall-to-wall Cliff/Shads/Shads-spinoffs of early ’63 – is it any wonder a film called Summer Holiday was such a success at the time?

  20. 50
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    Didn’t Macleod not keel over within days of becoming Chancellor under Ted? If so, Maggie’s handbagging must have been extremely swift out of the blocks having been made Education Secretary in that first Cabinet.

  21. 51
    Billy Smart on 7 May 2008 #

    MacLeod lasted six weeks as Chancellor, so it would probably have been Anthony Barber, who served for the remainder of the Heath administration.

  22. 52
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    It was indeed, Billy.

  23. 53
    rosie on 7 May 2008 #

    I refer my honourable friends to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_University

    The election of the new Conservative government of Edward Heath in 1970 led to budget cuts under Chancellor of the Exchequer Iain Macleod (who had earlier called the idea of an Open University “blithering nonsense”).

    Macleod was Chancellor long enough to introduce an incoming government’s budget, which almost led to the complete axing of the OU.

    It’s all part of OU lore. I am, proudly, BA(Hons)(Open)

  24. 54
    DJ Punctum on 7 May 2008 #


  25. 55
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    Wey-Hey-Hey, Rosie, girl!!!!!

  26. 56
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    Actually, Rosie, that OU link is good reading. Amazed that Macleod squeezed in a budget so soon after the election. It appears that instead of Macleod axing the OU, he found himself being axed by an even higher school of learning himself. Silly Billy! (oh no wait, that was the Labour idiot).

    I’m thus asuming that Maggie (being in favour of the OU) then rounded on Macleod and stiffed him…


  27. 57
    Erithian on 7 May 2008 #

    Waldo (#47) – re when the drought took hold, you maybe missed my earlier post at #20 noting that the heatwave started towards the end of the Wurzels’ run. It lasted into the next number one, which must be a contender for the highest average temperature during any run at number one (any other ideas? – maybe some one-week wonder in 2003?) We can reminisce about heatwaves and the drought in the next few Popular entries as well, cos they’ll definitely bring it all back.

    Anyway, for weather info on the summer of ’76 in more detail than is probably healthy, see http://www.netweather.tv/forum/index.php?showtopic=29546 .

    BTW Waldo, good luck Eastbourne Borough in the playoff final v Hampton & Richmond tomorrow night!

  28. 58
    Waldo on 7 May 2008 #

    Thank you, Erithian. I appreciate that. Big, big night. What wonderful fixtures await us next season if they can do it.

  29. 59
    Tom on 7 May 2008 #

    Where does ’76 rank these days in the hottest summers record?

  30. 60
    Kat but logged out innit on 7 May 2008 #

    Good ‘ole wikipedia:

    Hottest June: 1846
    Hottest July: 2006
    Hottest August: 1995
    Hottest overall summer (June-Aug): 1976.

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