What do Ronnie James Dio, The LA Dodgers and Bach have in common?
At first glance, not a heck of a lot. But even the most tenuous link between them can be worth exploring, as there is a lot of relevance to kids of a certain age.
You see, each of these songs was played during the Children's television timeslot on the ABC, circa 1978-1979, as fillers between programs. As the ABC doesn't show commercials (except promos for its own programs), and as some programs were of odd lengths, gaps would appear in the schedule. And what better to fill them with than some cool music and, just maybe, influence a generation of youngsters into digging something more musically interesting? These days, the ABC does similar, but it fills the gaps with kiddie crap like The Wiggles, tailor-made for kids, whereas in the late 70s, there wasn't much of that kind of stuff.
The three songs shown below certainly were interesting, even if the vids themselves were not necessarily all that entertaining (Fleetwood Mac, I'm looking at you). They may have played more than these three songs, but these are the ones I remember most from that period. Each song holds up well under musicological scrutiny, and one would find there is much to learn from each track here should they wish to delve deeper.
1: "Love is All" - Roger Glover and Friends.
I was discussing this song with some friends over dinner the other night and they admitted they'd never heard it before. How could you not know the happiest song ever written? In fact, if this is NOT the happiest song ever written, please tell me so I can shut up about it.
As a song, it has an odd lineage. It was designed as a project for Jon Lord, keyboard player for Deep Purple. He didn't have time to fulfill the project so he handed it over to Roger Glover, who had not long left Deep Purple. He enlisted a whole heap of musos for the album, some of whom were more renowned for their much heavier music than this. He enlisted (then-)current members of Deep Purple (Glenn Hughes, David Coverdale), ex-members of the Spencer Davis Group, and various session musos who were doing the rounds at the time (Liza Strike and Barry St John sang on "Dark Side Of The Moon" for example).
The album relates to the various members of the forest who have all been invited to a grand feast and ball. This track is the "party" song, where all the characters make their way to the ballroom and have a great night. The artwork (and animation in the video) is extremely brightly coloured and endlessly detailed. The song itself is one of three on the album that feature the vocals of one Ronnie James Dio, who was about to make a big splash as the vocalist in a band with another former ex-Deep Purple member, Richie Blackmore's Rainbow.
The album and single on its original release in 1974 didn't really do much, but the ABC played it frequently in 1978-79 and it started selling and became a top 10 Australian hit at the time.
2. "Tusk" - Fleetwood Mac
We all know how successful Fleetwood Mac were in the late 1970s. The album "Rumours" went stratospheric, and they needed to come up with a suitable followup to capitalise on their momentum. The resulting LP was Tusk, and the title track was one of the lead singles from the album. It's one of the strangest and most ambitious albums ever made by a major label artist, but its musical adventurousness is what makes it fascinating.
The Song itself was based around a riff that guitarist Lindsay Buckingham bashed out during soundcheck at gigs. They took the riff, added copious amounts of tribal drumming along with a handful of pithy, mumbled lyrics and a marching band and there you go. Recipe for a classic hit? Hardly. If nothing else, it demonstrates the condition of a rock musicians cocaine-addled mind in the late 1970s.
The video was filmed in an empty Dodgers Stadium in LA with the University of S. California Trojan Marching Band. In fact the footage looks like a montage of bits from the cutting room floor that were spliced together to make a clip. Hell, one member of the band was absent, so he appeared in the clip in the form of a cardboard cutout.
3. "Tocatta" - Sky
Here is another great song that was played regularly during this period. I think these sorts of tracks were chosen not necessarily because they were populist, but because they held broader appeal than, say, the B52s. Then, as now, this is a chilling piece of music. Bach really knew how to conjure up a dark mood, and while he did it many times I think he did it best with "Tocatta and Fugue in D Minor", from which this piece is drawn. Sky were amazing, and so was John Williams, who played the electric acoustic on this track.