Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Racey Get The Green Flag

The period covering the late 70s through early 80s represented, arguably, the most turbulent phase in popular music history. Without getting all analytical about the commercial and cultural impacts of various movements and genres that have evolved over the more than half a century since the explosion of rock and roll, my own strictly subjective appraisal of that era, has led me to conclude that commercial success was open to, and often inviting of, a hugely diverse range of musical styles and influences. Disco, new wave, punk, post punk, adult oriented rock, prog-rock, the West Coast sound, goth rock, ska, roots rock, electro clash, synth-pop, new romantics, arena rock, easy listening ballads, country, funk, dance-pop, soft rock, power pop, heavy metal, pub rock, early rap, guitar driven rock, and just about every combination and fusion of said elements, had a chance of being played on mainstream commercial radio, and had a shot at making its presence felt on the pop music charts. That’s not to say it was a completely open door policy, as the popular music industry has never been that liberal in their treatment of the creative entities who constitute its very heart and soul. Many innovative (and established) artists, and styles, of that time, found it nigh on impossible to break the stranglehold of the major record labels, and media conglomerates, and there were less alternative avenues/venues by which to circumvent the established pathways, than are available to artists today. But in general, in any given week, a cross section of the mainstream popular music charts offered up a richly diverse range of artists and music styles. I would qualify that by saying, that observation applies more in respect of the Australian and British charts than the American charts, which at that time (and still to this day) seemed to reflect a narrower range of music tastes (that’s not to say the U.S. has a narrow range of music tastes - its just what shows up in the top forty charts over time).

Given such an openly tumultuous, and even daring, popular music environment, it’s perhaps no great surprise that a straight up, formula driven teeny-bopper pop group such as Racey made such a huge splash in the musical melting pot, above and beyond the roar and rage of punk, the pretence and posturing of new wave, and the glitz and glamour of disco. Perhaps it was because they were so far removed from the verve and vibrancy of cutting edge trends and media hyped fads, that Racey came to be noticed by a section of the music buying public, and media, who longed to engage with a simpler, no frills brand of melodic pop music.

By the late 70s, Mickie Most’s RAK Records label had established itself as one of the major players on the British pop music scene. It had been the label stable for the likes of Suzi Quatro, Mud, Smokie, Sweet, and Hot Chocolate, and had played a leading role in the explosion of glam/glitter rock a few years previous. Two of the key components in the RAK Records machine, were songwriters Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman. From the early 70s the Chinn-Chapman song writing team had been behind major hits for the Sweet, Suzi Quatro, the Arrows, Mud, Smokey, and Exile, churning out a seemingly endless stream of infectious, radio friendly pop fodder, known in some circles as the ‘Chinnichap’ brand, in others as bubblegum music. A lot of their material adhered to a formula of rock ‘n’ roll edged, teeny-bopper pop, heavy on lighter pop sensibilities. Their songs didn’t feature overtly complex arrangements, thought provoking lyrics, or virtuoso solos, but they didn’t need to. They were catchy and memorable, and more often than not catchy and memorable is what sells. The Chinn-Chapman team also produced many of the artists they penned hits for, though by the late 70s Nicky Chinn had taken a back seat in proceedings, and Mike Chapman began branching out on his own. Among Chapman’s production credits during the late 70s, were Blondie, Pat Benatar, and of course The Knack (see previous post). During 1979, Chinn and Chapman formed their own, short lived, Dreamland record label, but had maintained ties with Mickie Most’s RAK Records label.

Chinn and Chapman had penned a series of songs during 1978, several of which found their way to the debut album for an up and coming pop group called Racey. Racey hadn’t just sprouted into existence overnight though, and had already racked up several years of playing together. Guitarist Phil Fursdon and drummer Clive Wilson had known each other from school, and formed their first band in 1967, known as Phoenix Press. Through a series of ups and downs, Phoenix Press soldiered on into the 70s, with Fursdon and Wilson joined by a number of different players of the years. Eventually the line-up settled down with the arrival of keyboardist/vocalist Richard Gower, and bassist Pete Miller. By 1974, the quartet had adopted the moniker of Alive ‘n’ Kicking, and built up a solid following across Britain, Germany, and Denmark, with their brand of high energy, good time pop-rock. They were mainly a covers band at that time, and performed material by Eagles, Steely Dan, the Beatles and the like, with their smooth vocal harmonies being a feature. They became one of the resident acts at the Three Queens pub in Weston-Super-Mare, and packed the house for every show. During that period, around 1977, they’d recorded a few tracks on a demo tape, which found its way to producer Mickie Most. A few weeks later, Most checked the band out for himself at one of their Three Queens gigs. He was impressed enough to arrange for them to spend some time at his RAK Records studios to lay down some more demo tracks.

Most signed the quartet to a five year recording deal, with an option to record one album and several additional singles. Punk was at the peak of its anarchic surge, but Most had an ear for good old fashioned, clean cut, commercial pop talent. The band was given an image overhaul, with matching attire, and renamed Racey - it was a short, sharp and catchy name, in keeping with the style of music they’d become known for. Racey’s first single was released in the summer of ‘78, and had been written by Smokie members Chris Norman and Pete Spencer. ‘Baby It’s You’ didn’t set the charts on fire (UK#64), but it did receive some airplay, and generated some passing interest in the band. Racey’s next single would launch them into the pop stratosphere.

Note - I couldn’t find a video for ‘Baby It’s You’, so although it’s chronologically out of step, here’s the video for a later Racey hit.


Captain Fancypants said...

Loved seeing them, rather him at the Countdown 2 concert. Keep up the brilliant reviews! Captin Fancypants from CDU

A. FlockOfSeagulls said...

Thanks Cap, I didn't have the chance to see the Countdown 2 shows, but I understand there were a few 'bands' performing who were only represented by one or two original members - but still would have been great to see. I'll be posting part two of my Racey review over the coming weekend. Got some Allniters and Models on the way in the next week too - so stay tuned :)
Cheers mate