The Songwriters – Albert Hammond

Here’s a man who has been making  a very good living writing songs for  decades without quite becoming a household name.

Albert Hammond has several claims to fame: he’s the guy who, in the early 1970s, did It Never Rains In Southern California and Free Electric Band, both hits in his own name. Fast forward 30 years and he had a rock star son: Albert Hammond Jr of The Strokes.

But what of the rest of the life of Albert Hammond Sr? Well, let’s start with The Air That I Breathe, an anthemic hit for The Hollies in 1974, and since covered by a  host of acts from Cilla Black to Judy Collins and Julio Iglesias to Simply Red.

But none of these songs represented the start for Hammond. In 1967 there was a cutesy (i.e. irritating) song by Leapy Lee called Little Arrows, while Irish middle-of-the-road singer Joe Dolan did well in 1969 with Make Me An Island.

This is the sort of opening salvo of a songwriter’s career that makes it quite clear he’s not going to sit around and wait for his mature classic to appear; he has a living to make and whatever catchy nonsense falls from his brain, he’s going to make some money from it if he can.

While the following are nothing to be ashamed of – and they sold in chart-making quantities in the UK – they’re unlikely to make  many people’s list of classics either: Freedom Come Freedom Go (Blue Mink), Gimme Dat Ding (The Pipkins) and Good Morning Freedom (The Fortunes).

As it happens, Hammond’s gift did mature. From his early days working with Mike Hazlewood (he always wrote with a partner) he went on to collaborate with Hal David, Carole Bayer Sager and Diane Warren, none of whom would have wanted to taint themselves with substandard material.

The songs that flowed from Albert Hammond after the initial period form part of the adult-oriented rock canon, from  Tina Turner’s I Don’t Want To Lose You to One Moment In Time, Whitney Houston’s version of which was used as the theme song for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (I don’t know if they used Little Arrows during the archery events) .

Hal David provided the words for 1984’s To All the Girls I’ve Loved Before (Julio Iglesias and Willie Nelson), while Diane Warren was on the scene by the time of Don’t Turn Around, originally recorded by Bonnie Tyler but a hit for Aswad in 1989 and Ace of Bass later on.

One rather strange credit for Albert Hammond is connected with Radiohead’s breakthrough hit Creep, which some people seemed to think bore enough of a similarity to The Air That I Breathe to warrant a threat of legal action. I must have listened to both songs a hundred times and it never occurred to me, but Radiohead conceded there was a strong similarity and Hammond settled out of court for a percentage of the royalties.

The mercenary nature of the music business was demonstrated again when  Starship, which had evolved from the ultra-hip 1960s counterculture beast that was Jefferson Airplane, made a bucketload of money out of Hammond and Warren’s Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now.

Mission accomplished, then, for Albert Hammond, who has done what he was put on this earth to do – and good luck to him (and thanks for one or two nice ones along the way).

 

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The Songwriters – Graham Gouldman

The firmament of 1960s British pop music wasn’t all Beatles and Motown; there were hundreds of singers and bands hoping for a crack at this wacky new world where they could be an unknown, selling nail varnish in Woolies’ or suits in Burtons one day and appearing on Ready Steady Go the next. It hadn’t yet become a case of writing your own stuff, not for most people, anyway, so there was a market for songwriters, and one who burst through was Graham Gouldman.

Later to become famous as one quarter of 10cc, Gouldman was a Jewish lad from Manchester who just happened to have tunes popping into his head, and he found himself ploughing two distinct furrows at the same time. While he was providing the sort of out-and-out pop that the chart-oriented acts needed, he was also having his sleeve pulled by The Yardbirds, an altogether more rootsy outfit, brought up on blues and soon to branch out into psychedelia, and boasting future legendary guitarists, not one but three, in their ranks.

That Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page should all pass through this British combo is little short of miraculous, but even so, the way of things at the time was that they needed hit singles. Gouldman gave them For Your Love, later covered by plenty of people, including a version by Fleetwood Mac in between the Peter Green and Lindsey Buckingham eras. He gave them Heart Full of Soul, which was edging towards that strange psychedelic sound, and Evil Hearted You, a tougher, darker thing that American alternative rockers The Pixies would, much later, sing in Spanish, for some reason.

Of the mainstream pop material he was generating, Gouldman assisted the Hollies’ soaring 60s trajectory with Look Through Any Window and Bus Stop, both evocative as well as tuneful, but the one that has always fascinated me is Herman’s Hermits’ No Milk Today, in which an empty milk bottle on a backstreet doorstep symbolises the singer’s lost love. Pretentious? Nah. It’s just a nice image:

But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up two down

Another one with a bit of character, a bit of uniqueness, is Tallyman, a minor hit for Jeff Beck, which tells the story of a family paying for goods “on tick”, whereby the housewife is given the clothes or whatever by the salesman and is then visited once a week for repayments.

The early and mid 60s are famous for their gritty, kitchen-sink novels and films, and Tallyman and No Milk Today are cut from the same cloth: little slices of life that paint as much of a picture as going down the dancehall to check out the girls and the beat groups.

Once 10cc had got together in the 1970s, Gouldman started concentrating on his own song needs, and that’s what brought us  I’m Not In Love, sometimes voted as the greatest love song of all time. And there was the melodramatic, oddly gripping I’m Mandy Fly Me and the cheeky swipe at the Caribbean, Dreadlock Holiday.

If songs are handed out by God – or however you believe it happens – Graham Gouldman certainly received, and passed on, more than his fair share.