I fondly imagine that the homes of most Town Folk are filled with music for much of the time, and have been since childhood.
As I have mentioned previously, Mrs Happiness mistrusts as a matter of course any of the music I enjoy, having awoken once too often to the dulcet strains of Trout Mask Replica, Oar, a bootleg tape of Smile, or something by the Incredible String Band while dozing with our eldest still on board as I tested the theory that babies will respond positively once born to music they have heard in the womb.
Consequently, although music plays almost constantly in my head, almost all of my actual listening is through headphones, as is the (electric) piano practice of our first-born. I will occasionally pluck up the courage to strum an electric guitar unamplified as far away from where she sits reading as possible, but mostly we enjoy a house full of silence, punctuated only by the bickering of children and the happy screams of an over-stimulated 5 year old trying to use up the last of his energy before bedtime.
I am quite used to it, having grown up in an environment where music might as well not existed. Mrs H’s dislike of The Rock and All Of Its Doings is nothing compared to the pathological disdain exhibited by my Father towards any music other than the big bands of Glenn Miller or Joe Loss, whose records he still wouldn’t have in the house. It came as a real shock when I discovered a few years ago that he and my Mother met at a weekly dance: I had to go and listen to Trout Mask Replica, Oar, Smile, or something by the Incredible String Band to get over it.
When I was about 4 or 5, he brought home a Radiogram, comprising a high-end-of-the-market record player and a fantastic looking valve radio that lit up when it was switched on but which despite many Dad and Son hours trailing a long aerial made of pink plastic out of the back and through the house in a variety of directions we never actually succeeded in getting it to work. It was a great big piece of furniture as tall as me at the time and wide enough for myself and both of my younger sisters to lay behind end-to-end without any part of us sticking out, and speakers more than adequate to provide cover during games of hide and seek. I was not supposed to touch it, but eventually he gave up trying to stop me as I acquired records of my own and demonstrated vinyl-handling techniques to his satisfaction.
The coming of the Radiogram heralded the arrival of a box-set, or at least a large number of albums encased in an Apple Green vinyl sleeve with gold lettering. Dad would wake up on a Sunday morning, make a cup of tea, repair to the front room and the house would be full of the sound of these records, played at quite startling volume.
I can’t remember exactly how many records there were in the set, although the number 12 seems to have stuck in my memory.
Side one began with a rush of steam, the closing of doors and a whistle, then a slow clanking growing faster, as the Flying Scotsman – brought into service on the 24th February 1923 – set off on its record-breaking journey from London to Edinburgh, a journey of eight hours on the fastest steam train of them all.
It has been said many times that Lou Reed‘s Metal Machine Music is repetitive; some even find it boring, but at least it doesn’t simply go CHUFF-chuff-chuff-chuff CHUFF-chuff-chuff-chuff across 24 sides of vinyl without respite, apart from having to either flip them over or change the record. Neither does it take 6 minutes longer than my average working day plus a half-hour lunch break to listen to in its entirety. Mum would take us out for the day and we’d get home in plenty of time for the final WHOOOOOOOSSSSSSSSHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH as the driver opened the thingy to let the steam out. Lou may have thought that he looked cool in those specs on the cover, but compared to this baby he wasn’t even trying.
Here is a 28-second clip of this magnificent machine in action, which is probably enough for most of us, but there are many more hours on YouTube if you feel inspired to investigate further.
I have searched high and low across the internet for a copy of the set, mainly to prove to myself that it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination, and to confirm how many records it did actually contain, but have drawn a complete blank. A considerable body of evidence would suggest that the bulk of them have ended up in Germany, while something more than circumstantial evidence points to Malcolm McLaren and Brian May having owned them as well.
It was about halfway through the 1970s when I started to notice that the history contained in those grooves had started to permeate popular music. There was something quite CHUFF-chuff-chuff-chuff-y about the disco records of Giorgio Moroder and others coming out of Europe – take a listen to the drums on Donna Summer‘s “Love To Love You Baby” (on which the CHUFF-chuff-chuff-chuff-iness is at its most pronounced) and “I Feel Love.” One can almost picture Giorgio sitting in his studio in Berlin, his mates encouraging him to come down the pub for a pie and a pint, and being sent away because he had only got to side seven of the Flying Scotsman box set.
And then – during the session – the drummer playing along with side 11 for 17 minutes and 4 seconds while the bassist tries anything he can think of to distract the listener from the traininess of it.
And finally the executives at Casablanca: “Hey Giorgio, we think this instrumental has something, but how about getting Donna Summer to fake an orgasm for quarter of an hour over it to stop it sounding quite so trainy?”
By now the steam-driven floodgates were wide open, 1977 bringing the greatest album side ever in the history of album sides which sounded exactly like a train: Kraftwerk’s “Trans-Europe Express.” They may claim that it was inspired by German trains, but I bet if you took a look around Kling Klang you’d not have to look far to find that great heap of vinyl in its green plastic cover with gold lettering, full of proto-techno promise.
I will spare the Hall clips of Malcolm McLaren’s protegees Bow Wow Wow and Adam and the Ants, and even in the midst of their schism Malcy’s copy must surely have inspired not only the drumming on most early PiL records but also the Metal Box the second album came in – they may have all told the music papers that they were inspired by the Burundi drummers, but that sure sounds like the LNER Class A3 4472 rumbling from London to Edinburgh to me.
I considered posting a clip of Queen doing “We Will Rock You” – if that wasn’t inspired by a ruddy great green engine clattering along at 100 mph then my name’s not Stan and my other half isn’t called Mrs Happiness.
She definitely wouldn’t like this one: Can, looking and sounding like they’ve reached side 23 with the prospect of just one more to go.
Happy birthday Flying Scotsman, harbinger of Great Rock Things!