Sunday Music – Anthem

Posted on Sun 04/23/2017 by


Today’s music video is Anthem and the song is performed here by the Scottish band The Sensational Alex Harvey Band.

Link to Video at You Tube

This video was posted to You Tube by cojwat

I’m willing to say here that very few, if any of you, have heard this song. It was released in late 1974, and it didn’t receive any airplay, as it was too long for radio, and was on an album that sold well in Scotland, but wasn’t heard much outside that Country.

It comes from a time in my life when things were happening at a hectic pace, and has so many back stories to it. I was in the Royal Australian Air Force at the time, and I loved reading, almost as much as I loved my music. My record collection was growing, and there was so much wonderful music out there.

As a member of the Air Force, I got pretty regular medical checkups, because they wanted their people to be healthy. Part of that was regular dental checkups, once every six Months or so. During one of those visits to the Dentist, the man checking my teeth mentioned that I was grinding my teeth in my sleep. That seemed pretty specific, that he should actually know something like that, and I had no idea because, well, I was asleep. He said he noticed from my teeth the wearing, and he said that most people usually did grind their teeth while they slept, without even knowing they were doing it. I was surprised really. He then gave me a clue as to how I could stop doing it, and that was by reading for a half hour or so before going to sleep at night. I loved reading already, but at night I would usually watch some TV, and when the time came, go off to bed. So I started to read during that hour or so before falling asleep, and I liked to have the radio playing softly in the background, as I had already found I learned so much from listening to late night radio.

Oddly, this song did actually receive radio airplay in the area where I was stationed with the Air Force. One of the DJ’s at one of the radio stations liked the song, but just part of it, as it was too long to play the full song on the radio, so what he did was tape just the last (Instrumental) section of the song, which only went for just on three minutes. That section had bagpipes in it, and there were very few popular songs for radio airplay which did have bagpipes in them. He started playing the song on his show in early November, and it caught on with his listeners, during daytime radio, and he would often get calls to play that new Christmas song with the bagpipes, as everyone thought it was a song for the Season as Christmas approached. Other radio stations in the area also got calls to play the song as well, and not knowing what it was, they then had to find out, and they did the same thing, just taped that last section of the song and played just that, as it fulfilled the radio meme of nothing longer than three and a half minutes.

I heard the song, as it was played pretty regularly now, being so popular, but I didn’t think all that much of it, just another song released to cash in on the Christmas theme.

A few weeks after that, I was detached away from my home base on deployment to Darwin and I didn’t hear the song at all, so promptly forgot about it. There was a Cyclone in the last week or so of our deployment, Cyclone Selma in early December of 1974. As we had around 15 Mirage fighter aircraft with us, at the word of the Cyclone’s approach, the deployment was hastily ended a week early. As the Cyclone approached, we rushed to pack up the aircraft and all the equipment and get as much as we could back to our home base. A small crew was left to ride out the storm and then after it abated, we would leave, and that was just three days later, after the main crew and all the aircraft left. I was part of that remaining crew, and we moved out of our fairly flimsy temporary accommodation, and into the more solid concrete structure of the large ablutions block, and we spent just two nights there. Luckily, the storm did not hit directly, but there was howling winds and blinding rain for two day before it abated, with relatively little damage at all on the Base we were at and in the surrounding Darwin area. When the storm ceased we hurriedly packed up what was left, got on the Transport aircraft and flew back home to our home base.

As it was now mid December, it was time to go to my family home for Christmas Leave, so I was only at our home base for about a week before leaving for the home where my family lived. On the Wednesday night prior to leaving on the Friday, I was in bed reading, as I was now always doing, with the radio playing in the background. As it was late night radio, (and how often have I mentioned that I picked up so much good music from listening to late night radio) the announcers could play whatever they wanted, no matter what the length of the song was. Not really listening all that hard, I heard the announcer say that this song was receiving widespread play in the local area, but that the song being played was only one small part of the whole song. When It started, I recognised the intro as part of the start of the song which was getting that airplay, and I thought it sounded different. Then the vocals and guitar came in. It was amazing really, as it was a totally different song altogether than the truncated one which was being played fairly regularly at other times. I loved the song, mainly for the way the vocals were being sung, and the wonderful guitar work. At the end of the song, nearly eight minutes long, the announcer came back on and said that this long version gave the song a whole new meaning. He mentioned the name of the song, Anthem, and the band, and when he said it was The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, I just thought that the word sensational was an added thing from the announcer, attributing what he thought them to be to the title of the band.

The following day, the Thursday was the day of late night shopping in our State, so, after work, I drove into Newcastle and visited my local record shop where the owner now knew me as a regular. I asked if he had an album by Alex Harvey, and he found the album, his latest release, The Impossible Dream, and it was then I noticed that the name of the band actually included the word sensational as part of the band’s name. There was the song I was after, on that album, so I purchased it right then and there. My record guy said that this was the first copy of that album he had sold. He knew the story of how it had been presented on radio locally, but still had no call to sell it, as the song was not released on a Single, due to its length.

It was only a localised hit, and only because one DJ had truncated the song, and people thought it was just a Christmas special release song.

I played the song numerous times, and the more I played it the more I liked it. The rest of the songs on the album were really only average, and this was the only song I did like on that album. There was one song I did recognise, and that was the song released as a Single from the album, the only Single, and that song was Money Honey, a cover version of the 1953 song written by Jesse Stone, and first recorded by Clyde McPhatter and The Drifters. I had heard another cover version on a wonderful album by Ry Cooder, Into The Purple Valley, and although they were versions of the same song, one was hardly recognisable from the other, as they were done so differently by the two artists.

The vocals for this song, Anthem were from the leader of the band, Alex Harvey, and as is quite obvious, he has a very distinctive voice, coming as he does from Scotland. This band was popular in Scotland, but they never really made the big time outside of Scotland. They had a dedicated local following, but it was nothing in the scale that could be referred to as huge.

Alex Harvey was a long time journeyman in music, and had come up via jazz, then into the Blues, then R and B, and then into what was referred to in those days as glam rock, nothing to do with the music, but more for the way the band appeared dressed on stage.

The band’s albums sold reasonably well, enough for them to make a comfortable living, and to ensure a good round of gigs to play at, but they were never really a huge name band outside of Scotland.

Sadly, Alex died in 1982 of a massive heart attack, just a day short of his 47th Birthday.

This song effectively covers just so many different styles, all in the one song. The soaring vocal accompaniment is from Vicki Silva, in much the same manner as Clare Torry’s vocalising on Pink Floyd’s The Great Gig In The Sky from that monster album The Dark Side Of The Moon.

Zal Cleminson plays the wonderful lead guitar breaks in this song, and the keyboards are from Hugh McKenna.

While the instrumental sound in that last section of the song seems to be bigger, there are in fact only the two Pipers playing here, and they are from the London Scottish TA Regiment, and it is clever the way Zal Cleminson blended his guitar work in with those bagpipes.

The lyrics of the song are somewhat dark in nature, which is seemingly at odds with the shortened way that the song was originally played on air, and the way people thought of it as a Christmas themed song, something it is definitely not.

It’s a wonderful song for so many different and mostly personal reasons.

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