Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Built For Two: The Mixtures: "The Pushbike Song"

And now we head, dear readers, back down to Australia.  We haven’t been here a while, and something interesting happened when we were gone.  Due to disputes about airplay and royalties, there was a huge chunk of 1970 where Australian radio refused to play music by British or Australian acts on major labels.  As a result, big songs from the UK were covered by smaller Australian bands and they did very well indeed on the charts, including The Mixtures’ cover of “In The Summertime.”  (American music kept right on being played as usual, in case you were wondering.)  There were some who defied the ban, as per usual, but for the most part stations across Australia suddenly were awash with music from independent, smaller labels who ordinarily wouldn’t have gotten nearly as much airplay (as I understand it) as they usually would.  The Mixtures got to #1 with their cover, and promptly wrote this song that is, unmistakably, inspired by it, as least in its basic rhythms and oooh-ah-ah-ooh-ah-ooh sensibility. 
There is something very home grown about this song nevertheless; the narrator isn’t in a car but on a bike, pursuing a woman who is attractive to him; at some point he is on a bicycle built for two and at the end, there they are together, the woman presumably won over by his constant cries of “you look so pretty” and manly grunting and panting as he tries to keep up with her.  This may be a song of the 70s but it may as well be from a century ago (there’s a Mixture riding a penny farthing in the video, Prisoner fans) – a time when winsome girls wearing long skirts* presumably didn’t mind being amiably pursued by a possible swains.
There is another thing here that needs to be mentioned, however; that is a bit bigger than boy-meets-girl-chases-girl-gets girl.  This song is clearly inspired, shall we say, by Mungo Jerry's hit; not so much that it would cause a lawsuit, but enough that even blunter ears could have guessed what The Mixtures' hit was on big-label-deprived Australian radio.  The song that kept it at #2 for weeks was also naggingly familiar, to anyone who remembered The Chiffons' "He's So Fine" from 1963.  The Mixtures avoided a lawsuit, but Harrison didn't, and I am sure there are those who felt it was wrong - wrong! - for an ex-Beatle to have to go through a court case over  something he wrote.  Aren't there only so many chords, chord progressions, etc.?  Well, the songwriters and publishers didn't think so, and the pop audience of the time may not have noticed or cared, really.  The Mixtures openly covered Mungo Jerry and were thence entitled to make hay while the sun shone on them; Harrison's case was divided between Beatles loyalists, those who were too young to remember the song in the first place, and those who did remember the song who found his appropriation of it more than a little icky.  Pop was beginning to, as they say, eat itself, as the division (which I will write about in a future entry) between pop and rock was growing.      
But even behind this there’s another parallel issue, and this is the anonymity of groups like The Mixtures; so many groups that were faceless to the UK public were appearing now that cover albums – ones that were done in mere days, consisting of songs**  that were hits in the past three weeks or so – began to appear.  Studio musicians and singers would listen to the songs, try to get them down, and then record them, and these albums were sold cheaply, to a public more than willing to buy them.  (Songs by name acts also appeared, of course, the gap between original and copy being that much more crevasse-like.)  This was a kind of ultimate degradation in a way, or elevation, depending on how you look at it.  Is the Song what counts, or the Musicians? 
I will only note, for now, that this is the kind of song now only played on the radio during chart shows; like so much early 70s music it was disposable then, and almost forgotten about now.  Once the Australian radio dispute was settled, and radio went back to normal, hardly any Australian bands got to #1, and The Mixtures themselves had one more big hit, “Henry Ford,” continuing on through the 70s, well-known at home but one-hit wonders abroad.  Is pop in crisis?  No one would have heard of The Mixtures outside of Australia if it wasn’t. 
Next up:  yet another one-hit wonder!     
*Is it just me, or did they pick someone who looks like Mary Hopkin?   
**I will be writing about some of the songs featured on this album.

1 comment:

Mark G said...

Funnily enough, this was on one of the recent editions of TOTP2 (I saw it on the iplayer), get it while you can!