Just wanted to say…

We begin this second selection of retro greetings cards with an atomic baby:

Happy 1st Birthday 1965

There’s a propogandist feel here.  Those eyes are looking forward to a new political dawn, the future light upon the face the glow of a protective atomic bomb.

I’m reminded of my mother telling me that two friends decided not to have children because, in the era of the Cuban missile crisis, the prospects for world peace looked so bleak.

 


Here is a playful take upon the paternal role in bringing up baby, again from 1965:

Giving Birth 1964

The handy father seems to be somehow supporting the pram.  This was back when prams still resembled spindly, nannyish devices from the Edwardian era (a year after Mary Poppins) not the armoured personnel carriers of today.

 


Staying with 1965:

Now You are 1 1965

That perenniel favourite, the cute kitten seen here with some kitsch acoutrements and hint of a Spanish holiday souvenir.

 


Now we are four and it’s 1968:

4 Today, 1968

Local newsagents were packed with cards like this.  The fezed monkey seems especially redolent of the time.

 


This has a decidely continental air:

Just for You, 1972

Slightly Bohemian, faux naive yet somehow also sophisticated.

Looking in shops today, I notice the very limited palette of most cards; often just one colour is used to offset monochrome and its typically red, pink, mauve in descending order.

But here vibrant, gypsy hues and an overall patterned design evoke European folk art.

 


This might be a scene from a Sunsilk shampoo advert.

Mother's Day 1974

The orange, nostalgic glow definitely pins this picture to the early-mid 70s.  1974 to be precise.

 


How many flowers can you fit into a dessert bowl?

Happy birthday card

Faking spontaneity, this sweet concoction would have been very carefully assembled indeed, probably with a little help from adhesive.  Its 1972 miniaturist precision is a million miles away from the boutique, long stemmed, au naturelle look of 2018.

 


We end with this wholesome scene from 1969:

Birthday child's 1966

A Little Something Especially for You

 


Moving House 
Growing up with Lego
Cuisenaire rods
Playplax

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A Little Something Especially For You

Among the many family belongings I am still sorting through are stacks of greetings cards from the early 1950s to the early noughties.  

I thought I’d share some of those from the 60s/70s in random order across two posts. 

 


Is this charming or merely kitsch?

Happy Birthday 1969

It straightaway reminds me of the highly sentimental portraits of children lining the walls of department stores in the 70s (Woolworths, Boots, Timothy Whites).

Those shop waifs and strays invariably possessed doe eyes crying tears of dubious size down dimpled cheeks.  But this cheerful twosome have something of Bill and Penelope about them.

 


The Woolworths associations apply even more strongly to this portrait of cute, moral uprightness from the mid-late 60s probably aimed at doting grandparents:

Best wishes card

The prayerful pose would probably never find its way onto cards in our far more secular age, at least not outside of cathedral bookshops.  This isn’t how we want children to be any more.

 


I’m surprised that this Wedding Anniversary card dates from as late as 1966:

Birthday 1966

It could easily be from at least a decade earlier.  I imagine the vase carefully positioned in a palatial hallway by a butler’s begloved hands.

My collection is stuffed with variations on these rather stiff bouquets in as assortment of urns and classical vases.  They strike me as emblems of prestige though not of material aspiration, representing a kind of official good taste.  But they are also dull and respectable, joyless even.

In an age of care bears and other fluff, it’s the adult seriousness of this card which dates it most.

 


This has 1960s stamped all over it:

Anniversary card 1960s

The chequered brown, yellow and green background adds a modernist touch though the card belongs squarely next to a gilt carriage clock on a tiled mantelpiece.  When I look at this, I hear Frank Chacksfield, Royal Daffodil or perhaps Jim Reeves. 

 


A card which inspired a dozen These You Have Loved  LP covers.  Or was it the other way round?

To My Darling Wife, 1960s

To be given accompanying a large box of assorted milk chocolates.  The surprisingly underplayed message is rather endearing and all the more effective for that.

 


An Englishman’s home is his castle.

It’s 1969 and here we have a reassuring image of sturdy masculinity in the making:

5 Today, 1969

Background props are crucial; the bookcase implies inculcating a love of learning but the fireplace spreads parental warmth.

More choice selections in two weeks time.

 


Moving House 
Growing up with Lego
Cuisenaire rods
Playplax

Bee Gees – 2 Years On

If Cucumber Castle was hyperbolic, 2 Years On is pervaded with an insipid feel and, for me, a sense of disappointment and anti-climax.  They got back together – for this?  Had the brothers used up their stock of quality material on their 1970 solo albums?  Perhaps but thankfully, as it turns out, they were also stock-piling for 1971’s Trafalgar.

Off their high horses

It’s clear the Bee Gees weren’t going to get back on their art-pop high horses to continue where Odessa left off.  Given the splintering in rock which had grown into a chasm during that 1969/70 hiatus, it just wouldn’t have been a credible move.  Indeed, the low-key feel of 2 Years On can be heard as a deliberate antidote to the ‘excesses’ (which I would argue were not excesses at all) of their red-velvet high watermark.  Only Lonely Days (the album’s only single) feels vital and attention grabbing here, though being just short of a Beatles‘ pastiche it is hardly impressively original.

For once, Bill Shepherd’s arrangements seem to suck the life out of the (fairly lifeless) songs.  Most are slow paced and sometimes over-stretched; The First Mistake I Ever Made is a repeat offender.

We have so-so country (Portrait of Louise), a would-be weepie (Tell Me Why) whilst the raw, lively though slightly out-of-place tour blues lament Back Home is annoyingly allowed to dissipate.  2 Years On might have worked in Robin’s Sing Slowly Sisters style but as an album opener it’s just uninspiring and meandering (nice chorale prequel though).  Sincere Relation is Robin at his most eccentric but with its gravely portentous ‘but then he died …’ can’t make me feel much – a shame as I sense it’s probably a most personal piece.  Robin’s contributions generally come off worst of the three.

Sub-prime Bee Gees

Hearing 2 Years On makes me long for the clipped precision of songs such as Lemons Never Forget.  The album actually feels most successful at its most incongruous – the stripped-down Back Home, the swampy Every Second, Every Minute (mimicking 1968’s The Earnest of Being George) and rootsy Lay It On Me which playfully hints at Maurice’s drink problem.  But these diversions into sub-prime Bee Gees territory often feel more forced than earlier excursions such as Lemons Never Forget (why do I keep coming back to that song?)

The brothers are in good voice and of course it’s great to hear them harmonising again but this hardly trumpets a return to form let alone an inspirational new departure.  Overall 2 Years On lacks identity, feels pedestrian and fails to create much in the way of atmosphere.

Already two albums into the new decade but it seems as if the Bee Gees are adrift in the 70s.  Thankfully they get it together on Trafalgar.

 


2 Years On [1970]

Bee Gees - 2 Years On

Side 1
2 Years On
Portrait of Louise
Man For All Seasons
Sincere Relation
Back Home
The First Mistake I Made

Side 2
Lonely Days
Alone Again
Tell Me Why
Lay It On Me
Every Second, Every Minute
I’m Weeping

 


Singles 1970 [related to Two Years On]

Lonely Days
Man For All Seasons


-> Trafalgar
<- Cucumber Castle

 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees Home Page

Bee Gees – Cucumber Castle

High drama meets sock-it-to-me sentiment in big productions numbers.  The Bee Gees may be down to a duo but what they lack in manpower they make up for by delivering an onslaught of thick, multi-layered, multi-tracked, cavernous sound.

Cucumber Castle is moderately enjoyable as a genre-pastiche album, the genre being a kind of schlocky, Spectoresque take on country but it’s too dripping with sentiment to truly engage.  Talk about over egging the pudding…  And most worryingly, the songwriting has gone down a couple of notches as well.

Lacquered emotion

If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else is an uncharacteristically reflective, unassuming opener but thereafter we’re mostly drowning in choirs, horns and oodles of emotion.  I Lay Down and Die plasters it on so lavishly you have to admire its bravado whilst Bury Me Down by the River successfully marries a dark lyric to an instantly singalong, though somewhat generic, gospel-country melody.  I prefer to end the album with Turning Tide reaching out to Trafalgar so as to avoid the lacquered emotion of Don’t Forget to Remember.

My problem with Cucumber Castle is that it unashamedly pulls out all the stops for massive and massively sentimental ballads, providing the band’s detractors with all the ammunition they need for decrying the Bee Gees as appealing to bored, middle-aged housewives.  In contrast, Odessa carries sentimentality aloft amidst waves of unabashed grandeur, the orchestration aspiring to splendour not whipped up ersatz cream.  If there is a link between the two albums it is First of May which just about works within the context of Odessa but alarmingly signals the degree to which the brothers were prepared to ratchet up the sentimentality.

Cucumber Castle tires you the more you hear it.  And the stark corrective of Robin’s contributions are missed.


Cucumber Castle [1970]

Side 1
If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else
I.O.I.O.
Then You Left Me
The Lord

I Was the Child
I Lay Down and Die

Side 2
Sweetheart
Bury Me Down By the River
My Thing
The Chance of Love
Turning Tide
Don’t Forget to Remember

 


Singles 1969/70 [related to Cucumber Castle]

Don’t Forget to Remember
The Lord

If Only I Had My Mind on Something Else
Sweetheart

I.O.I.O.
Sweetheart


Unreleased 1969/70

Who Knows What a Room Is


-> 2 Years On
<- Odessa 

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page

Bobby Goldsboro – Look Around You (It’s Christmas Time)

The 60s are relatively bereft of Christmas pop which has stayed the course fifty years on.  The exceptions are The Beach Boys Christmas Album and Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift From You though even The Beach Boys’ Little Saint Nick is not heard with anything like the ubiquity of offerings from the 70s (you know which ones).

Looking to see what has been forgotten, I came across Look Around You (It’s Christmas Time), a chugging, self-penned 1968 single by Bobby Goldsboro with a Jimmy Webb/Glen Campbell feel.

 

 

Conscience at Christmas 

What’s interesting is Goldboro’s take on 60s’ social conscience given a seasonal twist.

The lyrics paint a dismal, dysfunctional picture of plastic trees, empty churches and a one armed beggar selling pencils for a dime.

The twin contemporary evils are materialism and alcohol, especially the latter:

We will deck the halls with holly if we make it off the floor.

Sometimes the social commentary is heavy handed, bordering on the unintentionally comic:

Santa Claus on every corner
As he braves the winter night
Bells are ringing in his left hand
And a bottle in his right.

Yet despite the imploring title, the message is ultimately reassuring: to simply remember the true meaning of Christmas.

I don’t think this obscurity is about to be revived anytime soon but it’s interesting to discover a piece which sits a little differently alongside Bobby Goldboro’s resolutely conservative back catalogue.

Odessa – unlistenable?

I’m dumbfounded by David N. Meyer’s assertion that Odessa is ‘sentimental and derivative, harder to sit through than “Number 9” on the White Album’.*

First of May is a far more obvious candidate for the ‘sentimental’ tag with its oodles of strings and full blown nostalgic appeal to never-ending love.  And as for derivative, derivative of what precisely?

He also describes Odessa as ‘pretentious and unlistenable.’*  I can understand the ‘pretentious’ label because Odessa is straining at the leash of the three minute pop song; it’s a deliberate attempt to reach for new territories and one can argue about whether it succeeds.  But ‘unlistenable’ is harder to stomach when Meyer reserves his highest praise for Robin’s pained and frankly painful Avalanche, a brave experiment in emotional catharsis, possibly but hard to endure.

* David N. Meyer, The Bee Gees: the biography (2013) pages 80/82.

Odessa album review

Bee Gees – Odessa

The Bee Gees’ red velvet masterpeace (sic) brims with drama and melodrama.

Side 1 forms the core of a concept album of sorts, far-reaching yet highly personal, albeit in the brothers’ characteristically oblique fashion.

Then side 2 takes us on a wholly unexpected diversion – five songs in styles vastly different from what has gone before and from each other kicking off with the languid Marley Purt Drive (a competent but unimaginative Band tribute/rip-off) and wrapped up by the startling Whisper, Whisper – teetering melody, stoner vocal, slyly knowing late 60s in-referencing.

Forgotten concept

On sides 3 and 4, Seven Seas Symphony, With All Nations and finale The British Opera attempt, like some remonstrative baton-tapping conductor, to restore some semblance of over-arching order.  We’ve probably forgotten whatever concept there was by then anyway and perhaps that’s the point – the lushness, the grandiosity, the sheer sumptuous magnificence and the emotions conveyed – are the concept.

At times, Odessa barely feels like a rock album at all, not even a rock opera album.  The title track is almost devoid of conventional pop/rock elements and the theatrical Lamplight luxuriates in conservatism.

Magisterial

One thing hugely in the album’s favour is that, although epic and magisterial, only rarely is Odessa pompous (the choral/instrumental tracks and then knowingly so) and never is it dull.  The whole edifice hangs together with a certain strange splendour.

Far from fading with passing years, time has actually lent that red velvet a lustre in the eyes of fans and critics it never acquired at the time. Only now can Odessa’s unique delights take their place alongside the great albums of a great year in rock.


Odessa [1969]

Side 1
Odessa (City on the Black Sea)
You’ll Never See My Face Again
Black Diamond

Side 2
Marley Purt Drive
Edison
Melody Fair
Suddenly
Whisper, Whisper

Side 3
Lamplight
Sound of Love
Give Your Best
Seven Seas Symphony
With All Nations (International Anthem)

Side 4
I Laugh In Your Face
Never Say Never Again
First Of May
The British Opera


Singles 1969 [related to Odessa]

First Of May
Lamplight

Tomorrow, Tomorrow
Sun In My Morning


Unreleased 1969

Nobody’s Someone
Pity

* released on Odessa Rhino reissue, 2009


-> Two Years On
<- Idea

Bee Gees Top 50 1966-72
Bee Gees’ Home Page