When I wrote to Smash Hits

Published August 31, 2016

Like many of my generation I was an avid Smash Hits reader. Especially for me, as a Swede in my early teens, the tone of the writing was just about right: not as impenetrable as something like the NME, yet really good and informative interviews and reports. I bought the first issue in 1978 and then began subscribing in the summer of 1979.

But! Nothing's so good that it can't be improved, as I saw fit to point out in a letter that was published in the first Smash Hits issue of 1980. It's about the charts, you see, something that interested me a great deal back then.

The letter and the reply:

Letter to Smash Hits 01

Letter to Smash Hits 02

Their reply made quite a lot of sense, I have to admit, and there were in fact a number of very generous people who began sending me the charts. I didn't quite know how to handle that, I'm afraid, so the lack of responses in kind eventually put an end to all that. But at least I was published in Smash Hits!

P.S. As every Swede will know, the spelling of my address is a bit off. I got that from my dad who, when he was out on trips in the early Seventies, changed all the "ä" characters to "e". Naturally, the young and naïve me thought you had to do that so that foreign postal workers wouldn't be confused, when in fact they will only look at "SWEDEN" and not bother about the spelling of the rest of the address. I later asked him why he wrote it like that, and he said he wasn't aware that he'd done that. Thanks for making me look a fool in Smash Hits, dad!


1971 - Never A Dull Moment book review

Published August 10, 2016

In 1971 I was six years old and living in Sweden, so I didn't quite experience that year in the same way that David Hepworth did. While I was probably wondering if there was any way I could get to hear 'Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep' more often than when it happened to be played on the radio, Hepworth was 21 and living in the UK, smack in the middle of the British music scene (or at least on its outskirts) and old enough to be fairly perceptive of what was going on there and in the United States. In his book 1971 - Never A Dull Moment, published earlier this year, he argues that 1971 was "rock's golden year": the year when the highest quota of important albums were released and when the seeds were sown for much of what has happened in the 45 years since then.

Whether you agree that this one year can actually carry all that weight on its tiny shoulders - Hepworth's counter-argument for anyone who might feel that other years were more important for them is, "There's an important difference in the case of me and 1971. The difference is this: I'm right" - is beside the point. The point is rather that this is a well-argued read that is never less than entertaining and that will encourage you to reconsider your views on popular music and our culture in general. In my book, if you excuse the pun, there is no higher recommendation. 1971 - Never A Dull Moment made me want to revisit music that I've listened to hundreds of times, and it made me want to seek out music that I've never heard before, so you can tick off that particular "music book recommendation" box as well.

Is 1971 the most important year in popular music? Well, I've long felt that the late 1960s and the early 1970s may be the only period when all the popular music genres were truly great at the same time, so I think Hepworth may be on to something. I know that Ram, released in 1971, is my favourite Paul McCartney album, so that must also count for something. On the other hand, since I know many readers of this review will be ardent ABBA fans, what did the four members have to offer this year? I'm afraid it was 'Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa' ("There's No Cure For That"), which doesn't much strengthen the case for 1971.

Anyway, as I've made clear in an earlier blog, I'm a David Hepworth fan, and if you're interested in popular music history but not interested in the same old tired opinions being re-hashed, you should read this book. Click the ordering links to the right.

Come And See Us again

Published May 27, 2015

As I'm looking through old music papers in search for ABBA reviews, for ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, I often stumble across interesting non-ABBA-related articles that I would dearly like to read or make a copy of, if I only had the time. But much as it pains me, I mostly have to ignore it and continue my research.

Except, of course, if it's something really important. Such as discovering "Janet" from the TV series Come And See Us (which I've blogged about before) on the cover of an album entitled First Offence by obscure UK act Bunk Dogger. The ad appeared in the June 24, 1978 issue of the New Musical Express. From what I've been able to hear on Youtube, Bunk Dogger's music has very little in common with the theme music from Come And See Us, Jesse Green's Nice and Slow, to which "Janet" perform choreographed moves (I hesitate to call it dancing) in the opening credits.

As for what "Janet's" supposed to be measuring on that album cover, I dare not even imagine.

Kaj Kindvall retires

Published December 12, 2014

Back in my teens, when home taping was killing music, the cassette recorder was a gods-end for music fans such as me who lacked the financial resources to buy all the music I wanted to own. During those years I was a keen listener to a show called Discorama, which aired on the P3 channel on Saturday afternoons. Hosted by Kaj Kindvall, who has just announced his retirement, it served up an eclectic mix of new record releases, mainly from the UK and the US, but also from other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. From about 1978 up until the show's cancellation in 1984 I don't think I missed a single episode. If I wasn't at home when it was aired, I left careful instructions to my mother to switch on a reel-to-reel tape recorder so that I would catch the show anyway.

Kaj Kindvall was hardly a John Peel-type DJ, where the point was to be a kind of curator - "I like this, therefore I'm going to play it" - but seems to have viewed his job as serving up a little bit of this and a little bit of that, introducing the tracks in a dispassionate, factual manner. Discorama was basically a news show, playing single sides and tracks from new albums by established as well as up-and-coming acts, and it also highlighted current hits on the UK and US charts, whatever their genre. Therefore, while you would get to hear songs from British new wave and synth pop acts, the next track might very well be a slice of American yacht rock, followed by UK chart hits such as 'Clog Dance' by Violinski, 'Luton Airport' by Cats UK or 'Day Trip To Bangor' by Fiddler's Dram (however, I can't recall that they played 'There's No One Quite Like Grandma'; even Discorama had its limits).

I really liked this non-judgmental approach, and I credit Kaj Kindvall and Discorama with a large part of whatever knowledge of popular music history I possess today. If a certain current hit single was a cover version, they would often play a bit of the original recording as well: for instance, the playing of Don McClean's 'Crying' - a UK hit in 1980 - was a preceded by a few bars from Roy Orbison's original. So you learned a little about older music as well.

After Discorama was cancelled in 1984, Kaj Kindvall started a chart show called Tracks, which he hosted until just a few years ago. While I never warmed to this show, the longevity and immense popularity of it means that to most people he is Mr Tracks. For me, though, he will always be Mr Discorama.

So thanks then, Kaj, and enjoy your retirement.


Come And See Us

Published September 14, 2013

It's Sweden in the late Seventies or early Eighties. You're sick and home from school. There's only two TV channels to watch. There's nothing on. Except school TV. You're a bit of an Anglophile, so you watch anything that's even remotely connected to England.

And if you're lucky, there it is: an episode of Come And See Us! Produced in 1977 to help Swedish pupils learn English. It's slooow. It's silly. It's...something that can't quite be put into words. But it's utterly delightful. It's cult TV at its most cult-ish. Briefly, two London-based siblings, Martin and Carol, are invited to visit their cousins, Janet and Alan, in the countryside over the summer holidays. They get up to all sorts of not-very-exciting "adventures" and....well, that's basically it.

This was never used in my school, at least not in my English classes. Yet, everyone I knew watched it if they were home sick from school and it happened to be on. A friend of mine even ordered two copies of the booklet that came with the series - one for her, one for me.

Anyway, Nicholas Lyndhurst fans, listen up! The TV series Only Fools And Horses was never broadcast in Sweden, as far as I can recall, but was huge in Great Britain (and possibly elsewhere as well, for all I know). The point is: no-one in Sweden knows who Nicholas Lyndhurst is. I remember being in London many years ago, picking up a VHS copy of Only Fools And Horses and somehow recognising one of the faces. "But...it's Alan!" Yes, dear readers, this is the dark history of Nicholas Lyndhurst's pre-Only Fools And Horses days. In Sweden no-one knows about this series - if they know him at all, it's as Alan in Come And See Us.

Annoyingly, I only ever thought to catch one episode of Come And See Us on video tape, episode two: "Where's Captain?". I've just uploaded it here. Someone else has uploaded episode one, "The 2 o'clock Train". I can only hope that the remaining three episodes, "Martin and the Dog", "I''ll Get You!" and "Have a Sandwich!" will also be uploaded some day. ("I'll Get You!" is the one I'd really like to see again.) I think this series says a lot about Sweden and Great Britain in the Seventies.

P.S. There was another Swedish school TV series entitled Switch On which starred a pre-fame Leslie Ash. And I also remember seeing an episode of another, similar series, the name of which escapes me, in which David Van Day of Dollar (way before his Dollar days) had a bit part. Fancy that!