‘One hit wonders’ are an interesting aspect of pop and rock music and Wikipedia has a very informative entry on the subject here.
However, in some cases, it’s not the success that such acts achieved that’s significant and of lasting merit, but their failures.
Thunderclap Newman – the subject of this article – are best known for their hit ‘Something in the Air’.
This was a so-so piece of hippy revolution fluff that dominated the UK charts in the summer of 1969 and reached #1.
The band was probably more interesting than their big hit based, as it was, around trad jazzer Andrew ‘Thunderclap’ Newman on piano, John ‘Speedy’ Keen on vocals, guitar and drums and Jimmy McCullough (who was only 15) on lead guitar.
With the aid of a powerful friend – no less than Pete Townshend of the Who – Newman and McCullough were brought in to help Keen record the hit. The original idea was for Townshend to mentor each of the three and help with their own individual projects. However, to save time, one project only emerged – the band named after the oddball pianist Thunderclap Newman.
So, ‘Something in the Air’ came and went and the inevitable album was released on the back of the hit – ‘Hollywood Dream’.
Now, ‘Dream’ is an OK album, but it contains one diamond in the rough – a sprawling 9 minute track called ‘Accidents’.
This was totally rejigged and re-recorded as a sub 4 minute single as the follow-up to ‘Something in the Air’ and peaked at a disappointing #46 in the UK.
I say disappointing because it’s one of my favourite songs ever and a small and perfect but woefully neglected gem.
Dealing as it does with children disappearing through accidents, it was described thus by critic Nathan Morley:
One would have to listen to Wagner in a funeral parlour for something even more morbid than Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Accidents’
However, Morley shares my love for the song:
…which chronicles the deaths of various hapless children who all meet a very nasty end – Poor Mary falls in a river whilst waiting for the Queen to sail by and little Johnny is killed by a speeding car. That said – the song, orchestration and performance are simply brilliant. It is captivating and without doubt their best recording.
The lyrics conclude:
Life is just a game, you fly a paper plane, there is no aim
However, set against a somewhat jaunty backdrop with some nice guitar from McCullough and some well-scored brass, woodwind and strings, drumming that sounds like Paul McCartney to me and some remarkably effective acoustic rhythm guitar, its somewhat depressing message is somehow leavened by the almost singalong and upbeat sound.
It’s one of those pop songs that are quintessentially English – like the Kinks’ ‘Autumn Almanac’ – and like Ray Davies’ creation is almost like a little operetta with various movements all leading to a full-blown coda.
I think another thing that makes ‘Accidents’ very special to me is that I can remember exactly when and where I was when I first heard it.
Somehow I’d blagged a gardening job for the Head of English – Raymond Willis, a great bloke – during the late spring of 1970, which was the year I took my ‘A’ Levels.
It was a Saturday morning and I was re-digging a flower border (a tedious and unpleasant job as he owned a big and very smelly dog which used to shit all over the garden like a fucking elephant) and I had my transistor radio on tuned to the Kenny Everett Show.
Everett always had great taste – usually good melodic pop stuff – and he raved about the track before he played it.
Well, it knocked my fucking socks right off and I tried to buy it as soon as I could, but with no luck.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I heard it again when a neighbour lent me a CD reissue of ‘Hollywood Dream’ and I was able to hear the single version of ‘Accidents’ once more (a bonus track) and also the 9 minute album version.
You’d have thought that maybe a wait of something approaching 40 years might have ended in disappointment.but it didn’t and the track has become very precious to me.
So, what happened to the band?
Well, Andrew Newman still gigs the band although he’s the only original member, John Keen is out of the business after a brief career in music which included producing Motorhead’s first recordings and Jimmy McCullough is dead of a heart attack following a heroin overdose just after he left Wings – yes, that Wings.
I suppose therefore that poignant is the right word for this track – Everett’s dead, Jimmy McCullough’s dead of fucking smack and I’m guessing my old English teacher is too, as he’d be over 100 if he was still alive.
Plus you’ve got children disappearing and a rather nihilistic message.
Perhaps Morley was right after all…
As ever, the music should really do the talking, so here’s the single and the best version of ‘Accidents’ –’ video’ here but good for sound only.
Should you wish to hear the 9 minute album version it’s available on YouTube.
Filed under: BBC, Education, Guitars, Music, Personal stuff, Stuff which makes me happy | Tagged: Accidents, Hollywood Dream, Jimmy McCullough, Kenny Everett, Pete Townshend, Speedy Keen, Thunderclap Newman | 1 Comment »