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Oct 04

THE SHADOWS – “Wonderful Land”

Popular11 comments • 2,304 views

#134, 24th March 1962

It reminds me of America, one of the Shadows told Jerry Lordan when he played them his latest instrumental. America seems like a wonderful land, said somebody else, and the name stuck. A sweetly-struck six-note figure becomes a sweep of the arm taking in America’s open skies, its nobility, its glamour, its youth, its space – so much space! – and for the cramped Britain that kept the Shadows’ record at the top for six weeks, its exotic difference.

On the 24th March, as the record reached No.1 in Britain, the young President of the Wonderful Land was in bed with its most beautiful, starriest star. According to Marilyn Monroe’s biographer, Donald Spoto, the night she spent with Kennedy in Palm Springs was the only verifiable time the pair were ‘intimate’. Their affair is one of history’s too-perfect, too-corny moments (even if, like most hopeless flings, its reality was sad and grubby) – two star-crossed icons! But icons of what? Of a sixties that didn’t end up happening. You can hear it in the two widescreen minutes of “Wonderful Land” – no tension, no division, simply optimism and energy, a promise that things would not only get better but get better smoothly.

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Comments

  1. 1
    Anonymous on 28 Jan 2006 #

    Doctor Mod says:

    The Shadows never made an impression over here in the “Wonderful Land”–some sort of sorry irony there, no?

    And I’m sorry to say that for all my lifelong obsession with British pop, I’ve never taken much interest in Cliff or the Shadows; ergo, I’ve no comment about the song per se.

    But your historical contextualization of the recording is, well, WONDERFUL. How better to describe the delusions of glamour (as opposed to grandeur) that we so wanted to embrace on both sides of the Atlantic at that time! I was a mere child of eleven, but I clearly remember the enthusiasm that everyone–even my usually self-defeatist parents–experienced for that one brief shining moment.

    WE (i.e., Americans) never had it so good–or at least we had the blissful illusion.

  2. 2
    wichitalineman on 11 May 2008 #

    Interesting take, as I’ve always thought it sums up the wide eyed optimism of post-war Britain, people moving to the new towns ringing London, the space and light in the bright open spaces of Crawley and Stevenage (or the modernist sweep down to the water in reconstructed Plymouth, the Gerry Anderson-like underpass and flyover in Croydon). There is also a definite melancholy to the song, possibly in the melody and string arrangement’s huge sense of promise, and its awareness that the promise is too huge to ever be truly fulfilled – as a trip to Plymouth or Stevenage will swiftly confirm.

  3. 3
    Erithian on 17 Mar 2009 #

    – aha, yes, it works!

  4. 4
    Brooksie on 16 Feb 2010 #

    Along with ‘Apache’ – the best Shadows # 1.

  5. 5
    crag on 13 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Richard Noble, driver (1998).

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 23 Jan 2014 #

    Only 36% of people who have voted on Popular ’62 give this 6 or more, yet Wonderful Land has a 7.9 rating here. Is this the wildest difference between a year-end poll and a stand-alone Popular entry?

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 18 Jan 2015 #

    I like this a lot, and I’m not always a fan of The Shadows. For me, it strikes a precise balance between modernity and tradition – the melody has a moebius strip like quality that suggests that it could go on forever which is maybe why it puts me in mind of later dance music – the melancholy tone that underlies the twanging and plucked guitar notes also puts me in mind of Neil Young (who I believe has cited Hank Marvin as an inspiration)

  8. 8
    Erithian on 5 Jan 2016 #

    Browsing among Popular’s backwaters as I do occasionally, here’s a record that could do with a few more people commenting on it. I have an emotional attachment to this one for obvious reasons (and if they’re not obvious see post #3) – I posted it on Facebook to mark my 50th, with pride at having arrived while such a sumptuous tune was number one (five days later and it would have been Nut Rocker) – and a good friend of mine remarked that they looked a bit like the Thunderbirds crew. Hey ho…

  9. 9
    Jimmy the Swede on 5 Jan 2016 #

    Fair request from Erithian and I shall oblige. This is a fabulous little piece of music and I find myself in agreement with #4 who bracketed it with “Apache” as the cream of the Shads’ work. The American reference is interesting as WL does clearly resemble the theme to “The Big Country”, a truly magnificent score. Both pieces are bursting with optimism and one can understand how WL stayed so long at the top during a year which nearly saw the world destroying itself, Norma Jeane topping herself and just a year before Macmillan’s government imploded and the second of the star-crossed icons was made a monkey of in Dallas.

    Talking of Thunderbirds, I’m pretty sure that Cliff and the Shads did indeed pop up on one of the episodes. I think they were supposed to be the sons of the originals. The virginal Tin Tin was suitably enthralled.

  10. 10

    An episode possibly also, but they famously appear — or their children do — in the film Thunderbirds Are Go!, playing at a kind of space nightclub, to which the even more virginal Alan squires Tin Tin (except sadly it’s all a dream).

  11. 11
    Cumbrian on 5 Jan 2016 #

    I think I prefer FBI and, especially, Man of Mystery to Wonderful Land and Apache but all 4 are very good. Whenever I hear them, I think someone could do a movie with the best Shadows early work as the whole soundtrack – I suspect it could come off really well. That remake of Brighton Rock that moved it to the 60s would have been a good one, for instance. Or has this idea already been done?

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