Patterns on the Window

Various Artists – Patterns on the Window: The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1974 [3CD Boxset]

Having recently enjoyed the 3CD Beatles covers box set We Can Work it Out, I decided to give Patterns on the Window – which is presented in a very similar format – a try. The subtitle is The British Progressive Pop Sounds of 1974; I’ve always thought of progressive pop as being something of an oxymoron, as our little niche is notoriously inaccessible. Nevertheless, there have been some successful crossovers; I’ve always thought that Bohemian Rhapsody – with its multiple operatic sections and complex vocalised middle part – fits squarely into the prog genre and yet remains enduringly popular. I’ve never needed (or even wanted) my music to be ‘pop’ but I decided to see what else Grapefruit Records would classify as ‘progressive pop’ to see if it would be appealing to me.

I feel as if I was misled, however. Normally, I leave discussions of liner notes until the end of my review, but compiler and essayist David Wells’ notes give me cause for concern. In the two-page spread that begins this booklet, there’s not one mention of the word ‘progressive’ or ‘prog’ at all. I only found this out after listening to all three CDs, which I did think seemed pretty light on the prog. It’s my current theory that Wells decided to gather up 67 of his favourite ‘British’ songs from that year and only after the set had been made did Grapefruit decide to slap the term ‘Progressive’ on the title, because a few of the songs are vaguely progressive and they wanted to appeal to the profitable prog crowd that are always hungry for more. Since ‘prog’ is an umbrella term, the definition can be extremely wishy-washy, but it’s the kind of thing that you know when you hear it, and I definitely didn’t hear it on a large swathe of these offerings.

So what the hell is this thing? Wells’s concluding paragraph states:

Patterns on the Window reviews 1974 from a British rock and pop perspective, gathering up the more interesting hit singles, a clutch of unfortunate misses, tracks from key albums and a handful of intriguing recordings that, despite their quality, somehow didn’t appear at the time.”

My first thought was “Why include misses at all?” until I realised he meant quality songs that didn’t do well in the charts. There’s no rule about the songs being prog whatsoever, despite the compilation’s subtitle. I also felt that 1974 seemed a rather arbitrary year to focus on until I realised that every track on the compilation would be turning 50 this year. Oh, how we humans do love round numbers!

Did you notice that I put inverted commas around ‘British’ a couple of paragraphs back? That’s because Wells seems to play fast and loose with this part of the title also. Does he mean British bands? Because Noosha Fox (singer of Fox) was an Australian while Carmen was formed in Los Angeles; both, however, had moved to the UK by 1974. So these were bands that were operating in Britain? Not true either, since Manchester-born Chalice had relocated to Perth by this time and released their singles on Australian Clarion. There also comes the political debate of whether Fruupp (who hailed from Northern Ireland) were technically British or not. It’s a fairly confusing part of the ‘rules’ for what made it on the compilation but there is an emphasis on keeping the songs British. Quite why, I’m not sure; music is music, after all, no matter where it’s from.

The set begins with a great track with a thumping beat by Roxy Music main man Bryan Ferry – a rocking reimagining of Dobie Gray’s The ‘In’ Crowd. After, we’re treated to the fun Hasta Mañana Monsieur by Sparks, which delivers witty lyrical fun with art rock accompaniments. The tasteful arrangements of the next two tracks – Judy Teen by Cockney Rebel and Billy Porter by Mick Ronson – gave me hope that this set would feature prog-lite throughout, although it wasn’t long before my hopes were dashed.

There’s more lyrical delights to be found in John Cale’s laid-back The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy (which reminded me of Kevin Ayers) the Bowie-influenced Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus by Be-Bop Deluxe and the surprisingly dark She Was Just a Young Girl (No Way) by Simon Turner. The latter track is sung in an upbeat major key but depicts the (hopefully fictional) case of an unfortunate fan of Turner’s who was rejected by him and ended up decapitated by a train. I do like pitch-black writing.

Unfortunately, the ‘prog’ seems to dry up around here and while you can point to an element or two of a song and claim that it’s prog, it’s not really the same. How is one supposed to justify Thin Lizzy, UFO and Status Quo as ‘prog’ exactly? Cos they do a tricky fill here and there? More egregiously, Paul Brett’s Soho Jack doesn’t even try and masquerade as a progressive pop song; it’s just straight-up country.

Thank goodness it’s followed by Dave Cousins’ delightful home demo of Lemon Pie which I daresay rivals the official Strawbs version released in January 1975 on the Ghosts album. This is one of a handful of tracks that were recorded in 1974 but were kept in vaults. Perhaps the best of these tracks is National Flag’s hard-rocking arrangement of Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter. Elsewhere there are a couple of single edits, namely of Tramp’s bluesy, soulful Put a Record On and UFO’s more famous Doctor Doctor, that would go on to be played at nearly every one of their concerts and get covered by Iron Maiden.

It was nice to be in some more familiar territory, especially on Disc Two. It’s a shame that Wells had to pick Peter Hammill at his dreariest with the forgettable Again from In Camera, but then I suppose there’s nothing that’s more ‘pop’ from his output that year. I was greeted once again by Stackridge with a song that I decried in my review of The Man with the Bowler Hat last year – The Road to Venezuela – which I dubbed the ‘biggest irritation’ of the record. Why, oh why did Wells have to include that song when there are so many better and shorter tracks on the album? Fundamentally Yours would have been a perfect fit, featuring the proggy whizz of the outro keyboard solos in the format of a concise pop song that only lasts two-and-a-half minutes. But I digress. I was just happy to hear something familiar amongst the more disappointing offerings.

Another familiar name was Procol Harum who had already reached their seventh studio album by 1974; lest we forget, they had a two-year head start on many of the other ‘progressive’ groups. This also means they had passed their peak by this point and this compilation draws from the disappointing Exotic Birds and Fruit album. Fortunately, Wells doesn’t pick the cringe-inducing Fresh Fruit from that album (how many pop songs do you hear about food, anyway?) and instead delivers the more substantial Beyond the Pale, which provides a great introduction to Gary Brooker as both charismatic vocalist and pianist.

I was beyond delighted, however, that a track by one of my favourite groups ever – Fruupp – was included too. While the track might not betray all of their ‘progressive’ tendencies, Fruupp are just as prog as they come, which makes this a perfectly eligible track in my estimation. The song in question is The Prince of Heaven which was released as a single only ahead of the band’s third LP, a concept album named The Prince of Heaven’s Eyes. A beautiful and whimsical number, it concisely teases the magical adventure that the protagonist Mud embarks on and has an anthemic coda that stays in your head and you might find yourself singing several hours after hearing it. As I mentioned in my review of Esoteric’s box set of Fruupp albums, my initial brush with Fruupp was also with a compilation – the 4CD Wondrous Stories, released in 2011 – but the song they had picked was so crap that I nearly chose not to explore Fruupp’s other material. Patterns on the Window has picked a much more representative track that both fits the ‘pop’ and ‘prog’ parts of the description and if at least one listener is compelled to explore Fruupp further after hearing this song, the compilation will have done its job.

But has this set influenced me to explore any other bands? Actually, yes! The most progressive song of the set, filled with all sorts of odd time signatures in its brief four minutes, is Be Not Too Hard (that’s what she said) by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, and though I’ve been aware of the group for the longest time, I still haven’t travelled down that rabbit hole. The included song makes me think I should rectify that.

But that’s not all. Another track that stood out to me was Carmen’s Flamenco Fever which features some elements of the Spanish style but in an unusually psychedelic, discombobulated manner that appealed to me as a lover of complex music. Coupled with a fan’s comment that they were ecstatic to see the underrated band Carmen featured on this compilation, I decided to do my own research and found the improbable story of an American band that settled in England incorporating flamenco and Spanish themes (such as bullfighting) into their undoubtedly progressive music. The mix of genres was utterly unique and on their first album Fandangos in Space the group kept surprising me with one musical twist after another; just when I thought I knew all their tricks, they had something else in the bag to keep me on my toes. It’s utterly wild that this band even existed – in the infinite monkey theorem, a monkey typing for an infinite length of time will eventually come across all combinations. Was the population of the earth in 1974 really large enough for this combination of individuals to play such wildly improbable music?

While We Can Work It Out fascinated me enough to read through every group’s bio paragraph, interlinked as they were, I must admit that I only skimmed this booklet as many of the artists didn’t appeal to me. Wells’s notes on each of them seemed insightful although his digression about Man’s Slow Motion album cover seemed like a rather random anecdote to include when there was no information about the included song One More Chance.

On the whole, Patterns on the Window did not fully satiate me as I felt that the advertised remit of ‘Progressive Pop’ was not adhered to. Even if others have different definitions, I doubt you could find anyone (other than maybe David Wells) who would agree that every song had an element of ‘prog’ to them; someone please make an argument for Soho Jack. Nonetheless, it’s a fascinating time capsule that takes the listener back half-a-century to hear those styles and timbres that were so symbolic of the era. And it also challenged me to think about what ‘prog pop’ might actually sound like, and I was very convinced by zany songs like the psychedelic soul of Venus Loon by T. Rex. I’m most grateful that I found some new musical avenues to explore as a result of this set but I disagree with the use of the word ‘Progressive’ in the subtitle.

Disc One

1. Bryan Ferry – The ‘In’ Crowd (4:36)
2. Sparks – Hasta Mañana Monsieur (3:54)
3. Cockney Rebel – Judy Teen (3:43)
4. Mick Ronson – Billy Porter (3:36)
5. John Cale – The Man Who Couldn’t Afford to Orgy (4:36)
6. Be-Bop Deluxe – Jet Silver and the Dolls of Venus (4:11)
7. Simon Turner – She Was Just a Young Girl (No Way) (2:40)
8. Brian Protheroe – Pinball (3:14)
9. Ronnie Lane – The Poacher (3:46)
10. Thin Lizzy – Philomena (3:44)
11. Status Quo – Break the Rules (3:40)
12. Medicine Head – Cajun Kick (3:36)
13. The Spencer Davis Group – Another Day (3:12)
14. Iain Matthews – Poor Ditching Boy (3:06)
15. National Flag – If I Were a Carpenter (3:52)
16. UFO – Doctor Doctor (Single Edit) (2:47)
17. Snafu – Lock and Key (2:49)
18. Jona Lewie – Papa Don’t Go (2:33)
19. Tramp – Put a Record On (Single Version) (3:15)
20. Chalice – In My World (3:23)
21. Rescue Co. No. 1 – As Long as You Want Me To (3:40)
22. Starry Eyed and Laughing – Everybody (5:48)

Time – 79:31

Disc Two
1. Richard and Linda Thompson – When I Get to the Border (3:27)
2. Roxy Music – A Really Good Time (3:47)
3. Fox – Only You (3:17)
4. Rod Stewart – Farewell (4:35)
5. Ron Wood – I Can Feel the Fire (4:54)
6. Georgie Fame – Everlovin’ Woman (3:06)
7. Cozy Powell – Na Na Na (3:29)
8. Man – One More Chance (4:29)
9. Peter Hammill – Again (3:39)
10. Kevin Coyne – River of Sin (3:24)
11. Kilburn and the High Roads – Rough Kids (2:25)
12. Compass – No More Whiskey (3:24)
13. Brinsley Schwarz – The Ugly Things (2:49)
14. Dr. Feelgood – Roxette (2:56)
15. Bridget St. John – Curious and Woolly (3:09)
16. Byzantium – I’ll Just Take My Time (4:42)
17. Procol Harum – Beyond the Pale (3:04)
18. Stackridge – The Road to Venezuela (4:42)
19. Holy Mackerel – Gemini (3:33)
20. Carmen – Flamenco Fever (3:28)
21. Dana Gillespie – Getting Through to Me (Demo Version) (3:53)
22. Fruupp – Prince of Heaven (3:33)

Time – 79:45

Disc Three
1. Marc Bolan & T. Rex – Venus Loon (3:04)
2. Hello – Tell Him (3:09)
3. Fancy – Touch Me (3:47)
4. Unicorn – Ooh Mother (3:52)
5. Pretty Things – Is it Only Love (5:07)
6. Ace – How Long (3:24)
7. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band – Be Not Too Hard (4:11)
8. Billy Kinsley – Make My Bed (2:46)
9. Splinter – Costafine Town (3:12)
10. Deep Feeling – Avalon (2:36)
11. The First Class – Bobby Dazzler (3:33)
12. Prophet – Have Love, Will Travel (2:56)
13. Dave Edmunds – A Shot of Rhythm and Blues (Alternative Version) (2:24)
14. Nazareth – Shanghai’d in Shanghai (3:44)
15. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band – Tomahawk Kid (4:36)
16. Slade – Far Far Away (3:38)
17. Tranquility – Midnight Fortune (3:19)
18. Stavely Makepeace – There’s a Wall Between Us (4:20)
19. Paul Brett – Soho Jack (3:23)
20. Dave Cousins – Lemon Pie (Home Demo) (2:41)
21. Lesley Duncan – Everything Changes (3:42)
22. Farm – Gypsy Mountain Woman (3:01)
23. The Medium Wave Band – Radio (2:34)

Time – 78:48

Total Time – 3:58:04

Record Label: Grapefruit / Cherry Red Records
Catalogue#: CRSEG3BOX142
Date of Release: 16th February 2024

Patterns on the Window – Info at Cherry Red Records