March was month of strange portents. In the north-east of England, the middle of the month saw unprecedented blizzard conditions, with 50cm of snow falling on Newcastle.
Politically, however, the United Kingdom’s history was turned on its head by the outcome of a referendum, and a motion of no confidence in the Government forcing an election.
The referendum, on 1st March, 1979, was for Scottish devolution. The Scottish people voted by a majority of 77,437 for the proposals for a Scottish Parliament: however, the legislation provided for devolution only if 40% of all Scottish voters were in favour. With a turnout of 64%, only 32.9% were in favour, and Scotland would wait another 20 years for any form of meaningful self-government.
Suitably enraged, the SNP joined with the Liberals and the Conservatives in a motion of no confidence against James Callaghan’s Labour Government. The subsequent election in May brought Margaret Thatcher to power.
Crisis? What Crisis? (Callaghan apparently never really said that, but like all such political stories, it seemed believable enough to enough people for that not to matter).
So, with all that going on, what music was being released this month 40 years ago?
My first selection from the month’s releases didn’t reference any of that, or indeed the previous year’s so-called ‘Winter of Discontent’ in the UK. This may be because Supertramp had decamped to the sunnier climes of California in 1977. ‘Breakfast in America,’ whilst not the outright satire of US culture that some supposed, dealt with American themes, and included four US Billboard hit singles.
Whilst I remember ‘Goodbye Stranger,’ the one that really stuck in my head – and got a lot of airplay amongst some of my friends – was ‘The Logical Song,’ which was annoyingly hooky. I’m pleased to learn from Wikipedia that it did, at least, win the Ivor Novello Award, both for lyrics and music, apparently.
Next up, a band I always liked whenever I heard a track of theirs, but never actually bought an album of (there’s a few of these).
Graham Parker and the Rumour released Squeezing Out Sparks this month: according to many critics, one of his best. You’d describe it as new wave, I guess: interestingly, while the Clash were looking to expand their sound, Parker was looking for a tougher, leaner sound on this album, with the outcome that Parker’s rhythm and blues session musicians all went to record on London Calling.
Standout tracks include ‘Discovering Japan,’ and ‘Protection,’ and, for me, ‘You Can’t Be Too Strong,’ even with its controversial subject matter.
Also this month in music: Elvis Costello gets in a fight with one of Stephen Stills’ touring entourage in a Holiday Inn in Columbus, Ohio. Costello’s disparaging remarks about America are rewarded with a punch. Kate Bush starts what will be her only tour for 35 years; Rod Stewart marries Alana Hamilton (was that number 2, or 3? Who knows); James Brown performs at the Grand Ole Opry; Ozzy Osbourne is fired by Black Sabbath.
My final album selection is another band I should have listened to much more than I have: the Fall’s debut album, Live at the Witch Trials, was recorded in a day and mixed the day after. Undoubtedly influential on a thousand bedroom solace-seeking outsiders who would go on to form their own shoegaze bands, the album has been described as ‘an album of staggeringly rich, mature music, inner questioning hand in hand with rock and roll at its fiercest, its finest, its most honest, rock and roll at its naked, most stimulating prime.’