Sunday, April 12, 2015

Golden Earring

“Radar Love” is one of those hits that are both a blessing and a curse for any band with progressive ambitions. It is right up there with the best American and British classic rock songs of the Seventies and probably the best known song of Golden Earring; probably also the best known, most famous Dutch rock band ever.   

“Radar Love” broke the band in the USA, and internationally, in a big way and, on radio airplay alone, must be a good little earner for the songwriters. On the other hand it is probably the only Golden Earring tune most casual fans know and expect to hear at every gig.  It is also not even very typical of their general style of progressive hard rock. In the latter vein “Ce Soir (Kill Me),” for example, ranks as every bit as powerful and memorable.

The “best of” collection Earring’s Believing (1976) was my introduction to a representative selection of songs from the albums Eight Miles High (1969) to To The Hilt (1976.) The tunes are mostly progressive hard rock songs that, to my mind, would put Golden Earing in the same kind of category as Blue Oyster Cult of being a heavy band that was not just dumb heavy metal at all but put a premium on writing good, intelligent songs.

I wanted Earring’s Believing primarily because it had “Radar Love” but that was not the only Earring tune I knew at the time. In the early Seventies I had heard a couple of Earring tracks on the Saturday late night progressive rock show presented on the English Service of the SABC. The particular Golden Earring song that had caught my ear was “The Road Swallowed Her Name” with the opening line ‘Sitting down here and feeling annoyed’ the song title and opening line were both equally off-kilter brilliant and strange, just what one would expect of a European rock band.  I also think I’d heard “She Flies On Strange Things” or perhaps “I’m Gonna Send My Pigeons To The Sky.”  All of these songs fall into the category of what counted as progressive rock in those days, or sounded like it, and this must have been why the SABC radio host, who was well into Genesis, Yes, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, Airto Moreira, and others of that ilk, was allowed to play rock. It was not simply mindless pop but music of serious artistic intent and integrity with a premium placed on musicianship of the highest standard. I was just a kid at the time and listened to the radio show because it was real, and interesting, alternative, to the typical contemporary pop music I heard on Springbok Radio  or Radio Good Hope.

Earring’s Believing did not have “The Road Swallowed Her Name” but it did have plenty of other good songs I had not heard before, like “Landing,”  “All Day Watcher,” “Candy’s Going Bad,” “Sleepwalking” and “Tons of Time.” There was also the oddity of a pop narrative called “Buddy Joe” that (retrospectively) very much sounds like the inspiration for the Cape Town band McCully Workshop’s hit “The Buccaneer.”

The collection of songs emphasized that the Dutch had a quirky sense of what big rock should sound like, slightly odd English-as-second-language but overall rocked pretty hard.

Matters rested there. I never bought another Golden Earring record for many years. The two albums I knew well, at least from seeing the album covers in my local record store, were Eight Miles High and Moontan, from which “Radar Love” was pulled as hit single. I never bought the records because it seemed like a risky venture on a band I did not know relay well and also because the semi-naked figure of an exotic dancer on the Moontan cover would not have been welcome in my household, if I could have plucked up the courage to buy the thing.

It was probably only in the mid-Eighties, after 1983, that I found the 1970 album Golden Earring (apparently also known as Wall of Dolls from the cover photograph of the otherwise untitled album where the band members posed against a background of a wall full of dolls) in some discount bin.  I bought it for that reason, and because “I’m Gonna Send My Pigeons To The Sky” was on it. Golden Earring shows off the band in its early progressive phase with deeply philosophical lyrics commenting on the human condition.

From the late Seventies and into the Eighties Golden Earring shifted gear to become a typical, or so I was led to believe by record reviews, big rock act of the era, far removed from the quirky progressive style of the Seventies and I was under the impression that Golden Earing had decided, perhaps influenced by the prospects of continuing career in the USA, to cast their lot with the likes of Def Leppard, Foreigner, Asia, Europe, and other such MOR acts. Since I was not at all interested in the other bands this also suggested that I would not want to spend money on contemporary Golden Earring albums and I can say for the record that I have almost no idea of what any of these later records sound like and I pretty much still have no compelling reason to investigate them.

In the early years of the 21st century I found, shortly after each other, CDs of the USA version of Moontan, with a slightly different track listing and with a completely different, sanitized, cover than the original, UK and European version I was familiar with, and a compilation of well-known, early Earring tracks.  This compilation did not replicate Earring’s Believing and did not have “The Road Swallowed Her Name” either.

Fast track about 10 years to April 2015 when I found some video clips of Golden Earring shows from 1975 (Winterland, San Francisco), 1982 (RockPalast) and 2007, that piqued my interest in the band’s back catalogue from the era the tracks on Earring’s Believing were culled. Pretty much the entire Golden Earring catalogue is available on iTunes and one of the things I did was simply to look for the songs I remembered from Earring’s Believing and eventually buying them individually for a playlist I called “Earing’s Believing.”

My playlist did not follow the set list of the record I was trying to replicate and included “The Road Swallowed Her Name,” which was not on the record.  I then also googled the actual Earring’s Believing album, that I had thought was not available as a CD, and was not on iTunes, and found a reference to it as well as a track listing.  My memory had served me well, though this official track listing refers to a song *”God Bless The Day”), by the earlier version of the band, called the Golden Earrings, that I did not buy and do not really recollect from the record either though I suppose it was on it. Perhaps I should see if I can find it, and buy it too for inclusion on the playlist, for reasons of absolute authenticity.

 Moontan, the parent album of “Radar Love,”” also has “Candy’s Going Bad” but is otherwise firmly fixed in that progressive hard rock pattern with two tracks exceeding 9 minutes, two tracks exceeding 6 minutes and the remaining 2 tracks each longer than 4 minutes. The mixture of instrumental inventiveness and dexterity, solid tunes and masterful vocals serve to make the album seem shorter than it is. The songs are hook driven and rocking. Moontan deserves a reputation as a classic rock album of the mid-Seventies.

I’ve now also watched a documentary made by a Dutch filmmaker, probably in 1969 and during the time the band was recording the tracks for Eight Miles High, that shows off Golden Earring as a bunch of hippie rockers with ambitions to be successful beyond their homeland. George Kooymans seems to be forever playing guitar and singing songs at every opportunity and is the most articulate member of the band, albeit in Dutch. There is a long section showing the band setting up for a gig in a tent somewhere, with Barry Hay (vocalist and flautist) and Kooymans jamming on flute and acoustic guitar respectively on the banks of a narrow canal and then the band performing to an enthusiastic audience with plenty of freeform jamming. None of the tunes, except for the title track of the album, are familiar to me.  I suppose much of the type of footage would have been typical of any band of the era but the live footage in particular gives one an insight on how rock music was approached back then when the rigid divide between pop; and rock was still of recent invention and the role of tock musician as artist deserving of serous attention and special treatment was still quite novel. Rock was a young man’s game and, as the cliché had it, none of them expected to make thirty or forty years’ worth of career out of it.

Apparently Golden Earring, still with the four guys who made Moontan, is very active and plays about 200 gigs a year, mostly in Europe and possibly on the very lucrative classic rock circuit in the USA.  And each night the audience wants to he4ar “Radar Love.”

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