Saturday, 9 April 2011

Wizzard - Rock & Roll Winter (1974/ No. 6/ 7 weeks/ Warners)

It’s a wonderful rock n’ roll winter, baby...

Although Roy Wood was one of Britain's most popular and successful pop stars for eight years or so, I always sense a strangely jinxed, underdog, feel to his career. 'Rock & Roll Winter' is an interesting case in point. A literal sequel to 'I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day', it should have been released the moment when that song fell out of the top ten and kept the narrative going without hiatus. Instead, Wizzard changed labels from EMI to Warners, the single got caught up in red tape, and so this brilliant love song to both a woman and a season came out in April 1974.

That fits the record in a way, too. The song twines the girlfriend to the season completely, fixing the relationship to a single point in time, looking forward to the wonderful rock 'n' roll winter that lays ahead for them. Heard when the clocks have gone back and with twilight at half past eight, it gains a sense of retrospective reflection and a certain sadness, a mood already posited in the listeners' mind from the first line;

It’s so sad to leave you cryin’ in the rain
Silly girl - those drops won’t mend your heart again
If your most important things don’t go your way -
Come on - come on - come on -
Let’s save the day...

Its written to a specific woman, too, pulchritudinous fellow popstar Lyndsey De Paul, of 'Sugar Me' fame. So the anticipated joys of winter are to be realised in making music together, creating mutual consolation and purpose, shelter from the harsh season;

Through the icy rain the northern winds may blow
But now your friendly music keeps me warm each night
It’s the perfect pleasure you might never know -
Come on - come on - come on
You’ll be alright...

Two little moments in this always strike me as exceptionally tender and true;

Oh we’re gonna make some rock n’ roll this winter
Now my teenage heart has said hello to you

Even if you had no idea who Wizzard were, it doesn't sound like a song made by actual teenagers. The teenage heart suggests a renewed and fragile youthful hope and optimism. And;

Almost every song I dream of in the end
I could dedicate to you my lovely friend

I often think that "My lovely friend" is the best concise term of endearment imaginable... Genuine fondness is a surprisingly rare emotion to come across in pop. Its a romantic song, not through being bedecked in hearts and flowers signifiers, but in its specific delight in, and concern for, the other.

Part of what makes Roy Wood’s singles so compelling to me is their element of subdued madness. There’s a very bipolar aspect to the project – as if somebody who experiences terrible lows and fears is desperately trying to keep a manic phase going by testing his virtuosity to the very limit. It’s like watching a conjourer spinning dozens of plates simultaneously, how many different hooks and phrases he keeps going in his performances.

Amongst this body of work, Rock & Roll Winter is a funny one. Its clearly intended as a five minute epic symphony; the backing vocals are powerful and compressed, saxophones and strings are all present and correct, it even retains the sleighbells from I Wish It Could Be Christmas. And yet... the arrangement still comes across as muffled and distracted to me - as though it was recorded simultaneously in another studio while Roy sat on his own next door, with only headphones, microphone and a mixing desk for company.

Like the other Wizzard records 'Rock & Roll Winter' sounds gloriously made-up, but also particularly genuine and truthful, too.

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