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Sounds on Sunday: 50 years on/12

POP MUSIC was once so new and daring: it’s shocking to think that it’s over 50 years old. Some standards have been around for over half a century… What, then, were we listening to 50 years ago? It was an odd year, 1970. The influence of the older generation saw a good deal of old school easy listening in the charts – while the movements that were to develop during the 1970s were not yet established. Come with us – whether it’s down memory lane or to unknown territory – and remember or find out what it was all about.

It took six weeks for Freda Payne to be knocked off the number one spot in the Charts. It was Matthews Southern Comfort who took her place, with a dreamy musing called Woodstock. The single is not often heard today, and neither is the sentiment it expressed. When you look back at what’s happened in the world since MSC hit the top spot, you can’t help feeling that it would have been a better world if the ideas the song expressed had in fact taken over. And it would be a rather better musical world if we had been playing this song on a weekly basis since its chart success.

The song is one of those 1970s numbers that harks back to the 60s rather than fashioning a new style of music for the new decade. It pays homage to the Woodstock Festival of peace and love which had taken place the previous summer. Do listen to the lyrics. If you are one of those people who finds it hard to fathom the words of a song, look them up before you listen – but this snippet is the heart of the song:
They were half a million strong
Everywhere there were songs and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
Turning into butterflies
Above our nation.

Woodstock was written by Joni Mitchell, who released it as an album track and used it as the “B” side of her great success Big Yellow Taxi.  If you like Joni Mitchell, and apparently some people do, you’ll probably like her recording. It was then released by her mates Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Sadly, their melodically wayward version did not deliver on the promise of the great guitar riff they bunged into the start.

MSC were the third act to release Woodstock in 1970 – and it was worth the wait. Their record produces a song which is uniformly gentle, caressing, dreamy – perfectly in tune with the spirit it expresses. Their success came about almost by accident. They first sang the song when they needed to fill out a concert set, then put it on an album, then agreed to release it as a single. MSC were musicians rather than pop stars and, sadly, the success of Woodstock precipitated Matthew’s split from his Southern Comforts. Both elements continued to record music, but without chart success.

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