Saturday, December 13, 2008

Something in the Air, Thunderclap Newman (1969)

Pete Townshend apparently needed a hobby back in 1969 (guess releasing a groundbreaking rock opera the same year was not enough) so he created a band for some of his friends to record songs that he would try his hand at producing. That's the genesis of the classic 60s song Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman.

The friends were pianist Andy "Thunderclap" Newman and John "Speedy" Keen, a drummer, singer, and former roadie to John Mayall's Bluesbreakers/Townshend chauffeur who had also written their 1968 song Armenia, City in the Sky, allegedly the only song The Who ever performed written by someone other than themselves.

Newman was a postal worker who wanted to hold on to his pension and simply enjoyed playing jazz in his local pubs of an evening. Nonetheless, Townshend intended to make him a star, and teamed him up with Keen, who wrote and sang the song in a distinctive falsetto, and the teenage guitarist Jimmy McCulloch to make up the group. Newman's amazing piano boogie break is one of its fine features. Townshend himself played bass and adopted the persona Bijou Drains. With its members having only just met each other at the recording sessions, it was an experiment that fizzled within the year with no further hits and one underrated album.

Although the song was #1 for three weeks in the UK, surprisingly, given the times, it never got past #37 in the US. Yet for me it defines that protest-drenched time before and during my senior year in high school, a year that would end with the shameful shootings at Kent State University and general mayhem around the country. Angst over the Vietnam war was at an all-time high. Just a few months later, more than half a million demonstrators would march on Washington, D.C. calling for withdrawal from the war.

I still remember the fellow student who was the first kid in school to have a brother killed in combat. We wore black armbands, and were ordered to remove them by our ex-Marine principal. Freedom of expression was hard to come by at Walnut Ridge High School. And probably at a lot of others.

1 comment:

KarmaSartre said...

Great song, sort of anthemic. Your write-up really captures the feeling of the times and the song. The stoned antithesis of "Street Fightin' Man". I'm still trying to get used to the piano bit in the middle.

Re. The Who singing "covers", at the Fillmore in 1967 they sang "Run Around Sue". The B-side of the English "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" single was Otis Blackwell's "Daddy Rolling Stone". The English version of the USA "Happy Jack" album was "A Quick One", and had their version of "Heat Wave" on it. The last two are on youtube, and their version of Heat Wave is, uhh, hot!