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Sounds on Sunday: 50 years on/15

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.

While Elvis Presley was hogging the No. 1 spot in the charts, a musical revolution was beginning in Manchester. The Mindbenders had broken up – leaving their last lead singer, one Eric Stewart, not in a group but with enough cash to buy a studio and indulge his dream of getting his own mixing desk.  He was trying out a new bit of kit with his mates – two session musicians the studio used, Lol Crème and Kevin Godley. They were playing around with recording drum beats and lightened the session with a bit of impromptu singing and guitar work.

A lucky coincidence saw Dick Leahy of the Mindenders’ record label drop by to catch up with Stewart, who played him the demo. Instead of just admiring the sound, Leahy declared it a potential hit – and, some weeks later, so it was. Neanderthal Man reached No. 2 in the UK and charted well in Europe and respectably in the USA, Canada and Japan. The drum beat and the nonsense lyrics just seemed to hit the mood that summer.

The promotional video for the track cut away from the deadpan musicians to some strangely gyrating women: that’s the 1970s for you. A similar lack of awareness led to the use of “Hotlegs” as a name for the band – inspired by a woman who worked at the studio who had “nice” legs and wore hot pants. Hmph.

The single led to an album but, more significantly, to the addition of Graham Gouldman and the metamorphosis of Hotlegs into 10cc. The advance paid to the group by the record company, and the subsequent sales, helped stablise and expand Eric Stewart’s studio and its equipment. As Strawberry Studios, it helped launch and relaunch many musical careers. What more can we say? Probably only “we’re not in love”…

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