Jan 02

The Cottage Industry Of Moments

FT/4 comments • 11,283 views

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”.


  1. 1
    Doctor Mod on 30 Sep 2006 #

    I love it. Never was this neglected subgenre ever so well defined–and appreciated. Perhaps the sheer Britishness of it kept it from going over quite so well in the US, but I think it represented a finer form of pop than its US equivalent. The best songs (e.g., Edison Lighthouse’s “Rosemary,” The Flowerpot Men’s “Moment of Madness,” Jefferson’s “The Colour of My Love”) were beautifully crafted examples of pure pop, admirable in and of themselves.

    They expressed a sense of youth and innocence without having to resort to the nursery, as most of their US analogues did. Then and now I find the idea of prepubescent children (Jackson 5, Osmond Brothers) expressing adult or even adolescent sentiments semi-obscene at worst and inane at best. The BritBubblegum voices were those of individuals of an appropriate age, and thus could address both teen audiences and young adult ones as well. I may be wrong, but somehow I think that this is what pop is supposed to do.

  2. 2
    son of haggart on 14 Oct 2006 #

    Thanks for a thoughtful of summary of an era I leave though in my pre and early teens. I loved that White plain stuff even though I knew in my heart it couldn’t last

    Tore your shirt again, fighting in the rain

    With whats-his-name

    Shoe-black on your face, you’re really a disgrace

    Mummy smiles and all the while

    Because she loves you

    She will worry so

    And if you’re good you know

    That when you grow to be a king

    Never do a thing

    Four and twenty blackbirds sing along

    Royal gifts they all will bring

    When you are a king

  3. 3
    ian on 19 Nov 2006 #

    Thank you, never thought I`d track down a discussion on a era i still rememebr with fondness. Anyone one remember `Tintin` and the lyrics “toast and marmalade for tea, sailing ships upon the sea….?”

    Good times,


  4. 4
    wichita lineman on 28 May 2008 #

    Yes, Tin Tin’s greatest moment sits nicely alongside When You Are A King. There seems to be endless amounts of this stuff that hasn’t been compiled. I love Tony Burrows’ solo 45s Melanie Makes Me Smile and Every Little Move She Makes on Bell. And one gem that has been digitalised is the Tony Hazzard album just re-issued by Rev-Ola – it has spot-on versions of Listen To Me (The Hollies), Fox On The Run (Manfred Mann) etc. by this under rated writer.

    It was a bit of a golden age and the perfect genre for Brit songwriting teams too: Cook/Greenaway, Macaulay/McLeod, Arnold/Martin/Morrow, Fletcher/Flett, Hammond/Hazelwood, and John Carter with a few collaborators (Alquist, Stephens, Lewis and Shakespeare (his missus). Denmark Street was the Brit Building.

    I always think of this genre as ‘soft pop’ rather than ‘bubblegum’, maybe because the Kassenetz/Katz school of writing always seemed so cynical and short-term; the UK stuff generally seemed much more crafted.

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