May 08

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

FT + Popular94 comments • 7,685 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. 61
    DJ Punctum on 7 May 2008 #

    This is what happens when you stop the rain from falling if they ask you to.

  2. 62
    Tom on 7 May 2008 #

    Alright alright, I’ll see what I can do :)

  3. 63
    rosie on 7 May 2008 #

    But don’t start it raining yet. I’ve only just got my sandals and summer skirts out in the last two days!

  4. 64
    DJ Punctum on 7 May 2008 #

    Snow expected next Monday!

  5. 65
    Tom on 7 May 2008 #

    No, he only got to #2.

  6. 66
    Matthew H on 7 May 2008 #

    65 posts to get to the punchline. Is that a record?

    No, a record is a black vinyl disc wi…

  7. 67
    Waldo on 8 May 2008 #

    Tom – I’d do anything for you, your wish is my command.

  8. 68
    DJ Punctum on 8 May 2008 #

    Words cannot express how much regular Popular updates mean to me!

  9. 69
    Waldo on 8 May 2008 #

    Yeah, Marcello, but maybe given time you’ll have a change of heart.

  10. 70
    Waldo on 8 May 2008 #

    If it takes forever, Tom, will we be prepared to wait?

  11. 71
    Drucius on 8 May 2008 #

    “Hottest overall summer (June-Aug): 1976.”

    Ah me…playing tennis in Baxter Park with Sally Ann, burning up on Monifieth beach…happy days.

  12. 72
    Erithian on 8 May 2008 #

    Drucius – seriously, that sounds like a lyric to an evocative song, maybe something on an early Springsteen album. Good stuff.

    I’ve got some of those type of memories, but they belong further on in the summer. The Wurzel weeks were more a case of sitting in a school classroom trying to cool down, or watching the Windies rack up several hundred mainly due to Viv Richards.

  13. 73
    DJ Punctum on 8 May 2008 #

    For a second I misread that as “burning up on Kelly Monteith.”

    He was a very popular funnyman in 1976 also.

  14. 74
    Waldo on 8 May 2008 #

    I know what Erithian means. As a Surrey CCC member (well, a junior member back then), I was present at the Oval Test, when the words of one Tony Greg came back to bite him seriously on his Springbok botty:

    “These West Indians are great cricketers, but when they’re down, they grovel. And I intend to make them grovel!” Cue Mr Greg crawling across the Oval turf…

    How sad the Windies are so wretched these days. Those Clive Lloyd-led sides were simply magnificent.

  15. 75
    Erithian on 8 May 2008 #

    Waldo – yes, we always yearned to beat them when they were at their peak, but it’s a lot less satisfying now they’re in their current state. And some commentators were saying last year you can’t even put it down to the influence of American sports.

    A favourite piece of commentary from Richie Benaud on Richards batting in a one-day game: “(Excitedly) It’s in the air … (long pause) … it’s still in the air … it’s six!”

  16. 76
    Dan R on 8 May 2008 #

    I’m fairly sure Kelly Monteith came later to British television. 1978/9 maybe? I always liked his show when I was young, until he did the strange meta-comedy series in which he seemed to be working through the aftermath of a messy divorce, without much comic distance.

  17. 77
    Waldo on 8 May 2008 #

    Erithian – My own diagnosis is that few modern West Indian Test players supplememnt their trade by playing County Cricket in England, whereas in the seventies, they all did. I have every reason to suppose that the sport still thrives in the islands but the skills are simply not nurtured adequately; and when rather untested (no pun intended) talent, no matter how enthusiastic, finds itself locking horns with Australia (the most sports-happy nation on earth) or even England, the slaughtering of the innocents is the result.

  18. 78
    Mark G on 8 May 2008 #

    Do you think they’re appreciating the Wurzels over at the Richie Benaud appreciation society? :)

  19. 79
    Erithian on 8 May 2008 #

    Waldo – not that I’m obsessed with Viv having mentioned him three times now, but this time last year he was on TMS during the Headingley Test, and during the frequent rain delays he talked very eloquently about his time as a youngster at Somerset, being coached alongside Botham by Brian Close. The affection was clearly very genuine, and it was great radio. (It was also possibly the coldest day’s Test cricket ever!)

  20. 80
    rosie on 8 May 2008 #

    I can recall passing through the car park of the Kelsey Kerridge Sports Centre, which overlooks the Fenners gound in Cambridge, while a match between Cambridge University and Somerset (ob. Wurzels) was in progress. Just as Joel Garner – no mistaking him – was coming in to bowl off a short run. Two steps up to the crease, and middle stump was flying towards the fine leg boundary.

  21. 81
    forum cat on 8 May 2008 #

    Heineken spot:


  22. 82
    Waldo on 9 May 2008 #

    I’m very impressed you know where fine leg is, Rosie. It was always euphemistically known as “Gooch’s Gloomy Place”.
    I loved that!

    Erithian – I’ll never forgive Sir Viv for what he and Somerset (ob. Wurzels) did to Surrey in the 1981 B&H Final. It was a demolition job, although I do have a happy memory of it. This was chiefly caused by running into Somerset fans equipped with giant containers of their home-made (ahem!) “apple juice”, which my 20 year-old self was only too happy to sample. On reflection, it is amazing that I remember anything at all!

  23. 83
    Drucius on 9 May 2008 #

    Erithian #79 “Drucius – seriously, that sounds like a lyric to an evocative song, maybe something on an early Springsteen album. Good stuff.”

    Thanks very much, good of you to say so. I was going to evoke “the smell of a teenage catholic girl’s long, lustrous hair”, but I thought that was probably too much information, as it were.

  24. 84
    Erithian on 9 May 2008 #

    Veering into Sinead O’Connor territory, but feel free to elaborate!!

  25. 85
    Billy Smart on 2 Jun 2008 #

    Light Entertainment Watch Update! I’ve found a more detailed catalogue… Other appearances included;

    THE BIG TOP VARIETY SHOW: Featuring Lionel Blair, The Wurzels, The Krankies, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Bernie Winters & Schnorbitz (1980)

    KEN DODD’S WORLD OF LAUGHTER: Featuring Ken Dodd, The Wurzels, Faith Brown (1976)

    THE RONNIE CORBETT SPECIAL: Featuring Ronnie Corbett, Jim Davidson, The Wurzels, Beryl Reid (1979)

    SEASIDE SPECIAL: Featuring Tony Blackburn, The Wurzels, Peters & Lee, Frankie Vaughan, New Edition, Roy Hudd, Larry Grayson (1976)

    SEASIDE SPECIAL: Featuring Tony Blackburn, Jim Davidson, The Wurzels, Vera Lynn, Tony Selby, New Edition(1977)

    THAT’S LIFE: Featuring The Wurzels (1977)

    3-2-1: Featuring Ted Rogers, The Wurzels, Les Dennis (1981)

    The Big Top show was a Billy Smart production, I note…

  26. 86
    Alan on 2 Jun 2008 #

    I have a performance of this on an old Cheggers Plays Pop i got off uknova.

  27. 87

    […] know as “scrumpy and western.” “Combine Harvester” features what Tom Ewing, writing at Popular, calls “surely the best (or maybe worst) innuendo to grace a chart-topping record” and […]

  28. 88
    enitharmon on 7 Feb 2012 #

    AS good a place as any, I think, to mention that I passed my NPTC Tractor Competence test today.

  29. 89
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 7 Feb 2012 #

    :) well done rosie!

  30. 90
    punctum on 7 Feb 2012 #

    Hurrah! No stopping you now, Rosie…oi, get your grips off my turnips!

  31. 91
    Jimmy the Swede on 11 Feb 2012 #

    Nice going, Rosie! Acres of land await.

  32. 92
    flahr on 5 Oct 2013 #

    Turns out, the Wurzels didn’t even write this one. The original rewriter was Brendan O’Shaughnessy, and it had been a number one hit (in Ireland) for Brendan Grace the year before.

  33. 93
    lonepilgrim on 13 Nov 2019 #

    i was taking my o levels in June 76 and can remember sweltering in the school hall. thankfully it meant I did not have much time to encounter this song with its self-satisfied assumption of shared bonhomie.

  34. 94
    Gareth Parker on 2 Jun 2021 #

    #13 Er, the Troggs were formed in Andover in Hampshire, which is not the West Country. 2/10 for the Wurzels.

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