My Pop Life #21 : That’s The Way Of The World – Earth Wind & Fire

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That’s The Way Of The World   –   Earth Wind & Fire

..Don’t hesitate – ’cause the world seems cold
Stay young at heart ’cause you’re never never never old at heart…

September 1976, I’m back from my gap-year trip round the United States with Simon, and I’m in my first week at LSE – The London School of Economics – where I’d signed up for a degree in Law.   There was a student bar downstairs in Carr-Saunders Hall on Fitzroy Street W1, and we gathered there to meet the other first years. One chap – Derek Sherwin – had been at Priory with me, and he introduced me to Norman Wilson from Barnsley and Lewis McLeod from Glasgow.    Football was the first point of contact with lads.   Derek and I were Brighton & Hove Albion fans, Norman was Sheffield Wednesday til he died, and Lewis was Rangers.   “Oh” I said, “Does that mean you’re a Protestant then?”   Lewis paused for effect, then in the thickest accent I’d ever heard intoned :  “I think that’s a very naive question actually”.   So everything was fine after that.  As we played darts I noticed a dark-eyed woman across the bar.   Like a vision of something.   She noticed me staring at her, but instead of looking away in embarrassment I maintained my stare right into her big brown eyes.  Electricity !   At some point in the ensuing days we introduced ourselves and became an item.   Mumtaz was from Pakistan and had just finished her degree, I was just starting mine, but she was working at the halls of residence for spare cash.   She became my second ever proper girlfriend.   We would be together from that time, on and off, for nine years.   At that point Mumtaz lived in William Goodenough House on Mecklenburgh Square WC1, which is enough syllables to keep anyone entertained.   Deepest Bloomsbury, just behind Russell Square, and kind of on the way from where I lived (right underneath the Post Office Tower) to the LSE which is on The Aldwych, just beneath Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

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Mumtaz had a number of LPs which I’d never heard before.  I’d like to pay tribute to three of them here : Fulfillingness First Finale by Stevie Wonder (amazing), Holland by The Beach Boys (fantastic) and That’s The Way Of The World by Earth Wind and Fire, which is stunning.  It was their first LP,  has quite incredible vocals, an amazing feel, and embodies the word “soul”.   I’d never even heard of the band.   The LP came out in 1975 while I was in the 6th form in Sussex but it hadn’t dented my periphery, now it was part of the soundtrack to my second great love affair.   The opening song “Shining Star” is irresistible uptempo affirmation : “you’re a shining star, no matter who you are” and then comes track two, the title track, slow burn, laid-back groove, incredible vocals : “Hearts afire create loves desire takes you high and higher to the world you belong…” and an almost spoken word section, gospel-flecked, soft, reaching up and out to a pleading harmonic shape which is one of the peak moments in soul music for me.   Wonderful music.

At some point that winter I told Simon – now in his first year at Cambridge – about Earth Wind & Fire, because Simon had been my bullshit detector and music guru at school.  Not 100% – there were bands I loved that he really didn’t (Gentle Giant!) – but on the whole I respected his taste – he had an older sister Deborah, who was going out with a guy who played the drums properly – Andrew Rankin – and so Simon’s musical filter was more shall we say ‘refined’ than mine.  “Nah” he said “they’re not anything much”.  I disagreed.  I was right.  Sometimes I am!

Or in this case, Mumtaz was right.   She had great music.   She was born in Aden, schooled in Murree in the Himalayan foothills and her parents lived in Karachi.   They didn’t know about me for years.   She’d come to England to get a degree, and was now doing the Legal Exams and studying to be a solicitor.  We were a secret for quite a long time, snuck away in William Goodenough House in Mecklenburgh Square WC1.

My Pop Life #2 : International Feel – Todd Rundgren

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International Feel / Never Never Land   –   Todd Rundgren

…there’s always more…

I’d never heard of Todd until I got to London aged 19 – it was 1976 – and started at The London School Of Economics – the LSE, reading Law.   I  quickly fell in with the music lovers & dope smokers who hovered around the ENTS office, next to the college newspaper Beaver.   Bands were booked from here, LPs played, regulars included extreme groover Andy Cornwell, Tony Roose & Pete Thomas and Nigel.   Nigel hadn’t cut his extremely long hair for at least five years, and he loved Todd Rundgren.   After a stoned listen in the Vauxhall flat he shared with similarly long-haired Anton one night, so did I.  Glittering pop jewels, soul vocals, heavy guitar, ballads, rockers, curios, often all instruments played by Todd, it was all fantastically impressive.   When Todd and his band Utopia came to The Venue in Victoria  a few years later I went to see him six nights in a row.  The resulting live LP Back To The Bars is a compendium of his best and most ambitious tunes – but this song isn’t there.

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I had to wait until 2010 when, in a pleasing circularity of multi-intrumental pop genius, Martin & Paul Steel and I made the Hammersmith Odeon pilgrimage from Sussex to see Todd playing his entire masterpiece the 1973 LP “A Wizard, A True Star” live with Utopia members, including the great Prairie Prince (from The Tubes) on drums.  He appeared to get into a different costume for each song, and this was a tremendous gig.  These are the opening two tracks.

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The second song Never Never Land is taken from the stage musical of Peter Pan with music by Julie Styne.

While filming Wayne’s World 2 in Los Angeles in 1994, Mike Myers, Dana Carvey and I discovered a mutual love of Todd Rundgren, and Dana even gave me 3 CDs of his which I’d never heard – Nearly Human, 2nd Wind and Healing.  Dana had become a friend of Todd’s since both appeared on Saturday Night Live one night and reckoned he wouldn’t have any problem replacing them…which I thought was very sweet of him.