Harry’s Hundred: No. 89

Posted: February 6, 2012 in Music
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“Hollywood Dream” by Thunderclap Newman (1970)

Tom Petty enjoys acknowledging his influences, and in 1994 he released a single that paid tribute to Thunderclap Newman.

You’ve heard “Something in the Air,” whether it’s the original or the Petty version. Either way, you’re familiar with the line “We’ve got to get together sooner or later, because the revolution’s here.”

That type of sentiment better captured the spirit of 1969, when Thunderclap Newman took “Something in the Air” all the way to No. 1 on the British charts (No. 37 on this side of the Atlantic). And then …

Nothing.

Thunderclap Newman was a one-hit wonder, albeit not your garden-variety type: Its lone album, “Hollywood Dream,” was produced by The Who’s Pete Townshend, who also played bass. Drummer Speedy Keen, who also provide the vocals somewhere up the Jon Anderson range, wrote “Armenia City in the Sky,” the opening track on “The Who Sell Out.” Guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, only 15 years old at the time, went on to play with Paul McCartney’s Wings. And Andy Newman … well, he worked for the British post office, but he could play a heck of a piano.

Whatever the case, “Hollywood Dream” makes for an exceptional debut/farewell, with a solid lineup of tracks showcasing Keen’s songwriting talents and the instrumental prowess of Newman and McCulloch. The title tune – sort of; it’s called “Hollywood,” opens the album and is reprised near the end – evokes the golden era of the Silver Screen in a way unmatched by anyone save Ray Davies with “Celluloid Heroes.”

Other highlights include a cover of Bob Dylan’s “Open the Door, Homer,” which to that point was unheard by anyone outside those few with access to what later became “The Basement Tapes”; “Hollywood Dream,” which I guess is the real title track, serving as an understated guitar workout for McCulloch; and “Wild Country,” which features an even more infectious chorus than “Something in the Air.”

And that was that.

The band played a handful of gigs, and the members went their separate ways. Keen did session drumming until his death in 2002. McCulloch not only played with McCartney, but also with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, Stone the Crows and the re-formed Small Faces in the late ’70s; he died of an overdose in 1979, just 26.

Newman, the sole survivor, actually resurrected something called Thunderclap Newman that has recorded and toured the past couple of years. Good for him, but with two-thirds of the original membership unable to participate, the validity is kind of shaky.

On the other hand, none of us who enjoy “Hollywood Dream” would mind hearing those songs again, no matter who is performing them.

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