I’ve now set up my new Rega RP3 and have started to put on vinyl in preference to my somewhat larger collection of CDs. My first record deck, bought from electrical and electronic retailer Comet within days of finishing work at Barrow’s Steelworks during the annual two-week shutdown in the summer of 1978 (when the UK still had a sizeable steel industry) was a Pioneer PL-512. This solid piece of kit had a heavy aluminium platter and a thick rubber mat and I really liked it. I wasn’t too fussed by the tone arm lifting at the end of an LP but it had a fairly basic design and I thought it sounded pretty good – I paired it with an Ortofon OM20 and though I passed this on to my brother-in-law in the mid 80s, I still have the original Pioneer screwdriver for attaching the cartridge.
Vintage (c.1978) Pioneer PL-512 turntable
When I was choosing my hi-fi I believed it important to stick to basics; there was a NAD turntable that came out shortly afterwards that could be played vertically but I thought that was rather gimmicky. The speed change on the Pioneer was a choice between 33 rpm and 45 rpm whereas the record player that I had been using at the family home, a sprung turntable in a walnut-finished stereogram, additionally included the ability to play at both 78 rpm and 16 rpm. Neither of the two Regas I’ve owned have had speed selector and you have to manually move the drive belt if you want to switch between single and album formats; the default position is 33 rpm.
One of the defining features of progressive rock is that the music expanded beyond the constraints of the three-minute single, allowing for development of ideas and sonic experimentation. It’s no coincidence that the time of progressive rock was also a golden period for album sales where the gatefold sleeve was a gateway to other worlds, allowing the listener to immerse themselves in intricate artwork and song words imbued with meaning.
I don’t believe I ever played a single on my old RP2 and I can’t play any on my RP3 because I don’t own any. I have bought singles in the past, the first of which was probably Solsbury Hill (1977) by Peter Gabriel, acquired in lieu of his first album to see if I liked the material enough to warrant going to see him on his first solo tour. I did. I had a good friend who also dabbled in singles though his first, And You and I with Roundabout on the B side (1973) was played at 33 rpm. I seem to recall he later went on to buy Don’t Kill the Whale (1978) as a single because I remember being unimpressed with the B side, Abilene; it actually reached no. 36 in the UK charts. His next 45 rpm purchase was Rock n Roll Star (1977) by Barclay James Harvest, from Octoberon, released the previous year. We’d been to Lancaster to see BJH during their Time Honoured Ghosts tour but Octoberon, like many releases by progressive rock bands at this time, had a more commercial sound than the earlier material. Rock n Roll Star reached no.49 in the UK single charts and earned the band a slot on Top of the Pops; though Wonderous Stories wasn’t really overtly commercial it was single-length and when Yes released that in 1977 it peaked at no.7 in the UK charts and appeared on Top of the Pops on more than one occasion but I had no need to buy the single because I already owned the album. There was also no need to rush out to buy Camel’s Highways of the Sun, the single released from Rain Dances (1977). This radio-friendly number was somewhat at odds with the jazzier and experimental tracks on the album but it still didn’t manage to climb into the Top 50. It was undeniably Camel at their most melodic but was also as concise as the other material on the album. Though the sleeve notes for the 1991 CD reissue suggest otherwise, I think it possesses a commercial or accessible quality that’s not present on the other songs. One thing I did buy was the Genesis Spot the Pigeon EP, left-over material from Wind and Wuthering (1976) that reached no. 14 in the singles charts in 1977. The two tracks on side A are somewhat throwaway, especially Pigeons, though Match of the Day is only slightly better - it’s these two songs that give rise to the title of the EP, a play on the ‘spot the ball’ football competitions. Side B is a very different kettle of fish, where Inside and Out, the only one of the three songs to feature Steve Hackett in the song writing credits, hints at early Genesis and includes enough changes of mood to warrant its inclusion on Wind and Wuthering in place of the uninspiring, insipid Your Own Special Way, a track that I believe signposts the direction that Genesis would take following the departure of Hackett.
Former ProgBlog purchase - Spot The Pigeon EP by Genesis
I bought Anita Ward’s Ring My Bell (1979), my only concession to popular music from Elpees in Bexley when I was a first year student on the same day that I bought a Deutsche Grammophon release of Handel’s Water Music. I have claimed that I bought it for the use of the syndrum but I think that I had to get it because I’d threatened to buy it and my friends probably didn’t believe me (I also attended an Ash Wednesday mass because I said I’d go as a joke and one of my devout Catholic friends didn’t believe me.) Though King Crimson treated Ian Wallace’s drums with a VCS3 synthesizer in 1972 and Carl Palmer used triggers placed on his kit for the synthesized percussion on Toccata from Brain Salad Surgery (1973), the Pollard Syndrum was the first commercially available electronic drum, invented by session drummer Joe Pollard and electronic engineer Mark Barton in 1976. After receiving encouraging feedback when prototypes were previewed to some prominent drummers, Culver City-based Pollard Inc. began selling two forms of Syndrum, the single drum 177 and the four drum 477. I didn’t play Ring My Bell very often and it’s long since been despatched to a charity shop, though I can still sing along when I hear it on the radio...
I lived at various addresses in Streatham during my final undergraduate year and for the first couple of years as an employee of the National Blood Transfusion Service and picked up singles by The Enid and Marillion from the bargain bin an independent record store. These were picture sleeve editions of Golden Earrings b/w 665 The Great Bean (from 1980) and Garden Party b/w Margaret (from 1983) respectively. Marillion managed to get to no. 16 but the humorous 665 The Great Bean, containing the lyrics “the discos in heaven all shut at eleven and they only serve pop in the bar, sir. I’ll put you at ease with some good Lebanese, a blue film and two or three jars, sir”, sung to the tune from The Devil from In the Region of the Summer Stars, failed to trouble the singles chart compilers. Though not over-impressed by the live recording of Margaret I did rather like the attack on elitism in Garden Party, the lyrical content in general and some great musicianship. I could see where the accusations of imitating Genesis came from but that was really only a small part of the music; I loved Pete Trewavas’ trebly, staccato bass lines. It’s therefore somewhat surprising that it took me so long to buy any of their albums. Also in the bargain bin were copies of UK’s Nothing to Lose and I did feel that perhaps I ought to have supported the band by buying a copy, even though I already owned both Danger Money (1979) and Night After Night (1979) albums.
Throughout my youth I resisted the urge to by the odd prog single even if I didn’t own an album version, the most tempting being Keith Emerson’s cover of Meade Lux Lewis’ Honky Tonk Train Blues (1976) and Greg Lake’s I believe in Father Christmas (1975) but I was unable to reconcile their value and cost. Once I was earning I did manage to find the funds for two Asia 12” picture-sleeve singles for the princely sum of £0.99 each from the Tooting branch of Woolworth’s in 1984 or 1985 that I gave to two girlfriends. These were the last singles I ever bought and because one was given to my wife-to-be, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes b/w Lying To Yourself and Midnight Sun actually remains in my household.
Asia picture-sleeve 12" single, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes - still in the ProgBlog household