An Unlikely Trio
Mike B. | 08/05/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Produced by Pete Townshend of The Who, "Hollywood Dream" was Thunderclap Newman's only album - and I'd say the best one-off by any rock band. It would be hard to imagine a more unusual gathering of musicians.
Songwriter, drummer and singer John "Speedy" Keen was a lanky Townshend look-a-like who had been his roadie and chauffeur. He wrote "Armenia City In The Sky" on "The Who Sell Out", and was prolific enough that Townshend put together a band to record his material. Enter multi-instrumentalist Andy "Thunderclap" Newman, an ex-postal service engineer. Though only in his late 20's at the time, the portly, bearded Newman looked like a 50-ish professor dressed up as Sherlock Holmes. Add to this a boy guitar prodigy (Jimmy McCulloch, who was 14 or 15), and you have a recipe for weirdest group ever. But what music they made!
"Hollywood Dream" is fantastic from start to finish. Not one bad song. Much of the credit for their distinctive sound has to go to Newman. He plays piano, saxes, oboe, tin whistle, glockenspiel, kazoo, flute, sleigh bells, finger cymbals, and Chinese temple block. His barrelhouse piano really jumps out of the mix. Also noteworthy is Townshend's bass playing, though he's uncredited.
"Something In The Air" was a worldwide hit single and concluded the album in high style. The other songs all serve as a build-up to this grand finale. So I don't like that they place the song first on this reissue. It makes what comes after seem anti-climactic. To hear it as intended, I'd advise skipping the first track and beginning with the real start - "Hollywood #1". The rest is sequenced properly, and you'll still hear the grand finale - albeit the hit single version of it, which is what most of us know best anyway.
The bonus tracks are terrific. We get to hear Andy Newman sing on "Wilhemina", and McCulloch shares vocals with Speedy on the radically re-worked and shortened "Accidents". This was the single version of the nearly 10 minute psychedelic magnum opus found on the album. McCulloch sings "I See It All", while "Stormy Petrel" is a piano/kazoo instrumental. Neither one sings as good as Speedy, but it's fun to hear them.
Townshend disbanded the group when Newman kept inserting too many old ragtime standards into their performance repertoire, which bored rock audiences and resulted in bad reviews. Speedy Keen went on to release 2 great solo albums that didn't sell well ("Previous Convictions" and "Y'Know Wot I Mean?"). He later produced Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers album "L.A.M.F.", and the first Motorhead. Sadly, he vanished from the scene after that and died in 2002 at age 56.
Jimmy McCulloch briefly joined Stone The Crows before being recruited by Paul McCartney for his band Wings, which he stayed with from '74 to '77. Jimmy played lead guitar on their hit albums "Venus And Mars" and "At The Speed Of Sound". To hear him at his flashy best, check out the "live" album "Wings Over America". Some McCulloch guitar made it onto their album "London Town", but he'd recorded those tracks a year earlier just before leaving the band. It's hard to understand why he left such a hit-making group. He landed with the briefly reunited Small Faces, then formed a band called The Dukes. Their one eponymous album wasn't good. He wrote and sang only one song on it ("Heartbreaker"), and it was the last we heard from him. He died that same year (1979) of a drug overdose at the ridiculously young age of 26.
Sole surviving member Andy Newman issued a solo album called "Rainbow" in 1971. It was an all-instrumental affair on which he made odd choices like performing "Rock Around The Clock" as a slow number, and (to my ears) ruined the whole album by overusing kazoo on nearly every track. He sat in with jazz combos for many years, and has recently started up Thunderclap Newman Band to celebrate 2009 being the 40th anniversary of "Something In The Air". They're playing all these old songs at their gigs, along with newer material. Of one thing I'm certain - whoever's singing couldn't possibly match the late great Speedy. And good luck to the poor guy stuck with duplicating the guitar wizardry of Jimmy McCulloch. I wish them well.
Rock, ragtime, psychedelia - Thunderclap Newman could do it all, often all together in one song. "Hollywood Dream" is a masterpiece."
One of a Kind!
Lee F. Bonaldi | Warwick, RI | 12/31/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have to say that I purchased this CD solely for the song "Something in the Air". Often times when I purchase CD's for just one song, I am disappointed with the rest of the songs. That is not the case with "Hollywood Dream". The vocals and instrumentals on this CD are Excellent and truly one of a kind! If you are a fan of "Something in the Air", however are not familiar with the other songs, this CD is certainly worth a try. It is rapidly becoming one of my favorites!"