One of the greatest songs ever in my opinion, Something In the Air was released in 1969 after the band had been put together by Pete Townshend in the role of producer and Who manager Kit Lambert to highlight the talents of Speedy Keen as a songwriter. Keen was Townshend’s flatmate, drummer on some of his demos, writer of Armenia, City In the Sky, the opening track on The Who Sell Out – and Townshend’s chauffeur.
The band was put together with Keen on drums and vocals, Andy Newman on piano, Townshend on bass with the pseudonym Bijou Drains and a 14 year old Jimmy McCulloch on guitar. Originally they got together to put some music to a film, that fell through and Lambert and Townshend decided to continue the project and release it on their own Track Records. Something In The Air was the first single released in 1969, it went to No.1 for 3 weeks in the UK chart. (No.9 in Holland).
For live shows in 1969 Jim Avery took over on bass and McCulloch’s brother Jack played the drums with Speedy Keen moving to rhythm guitar so as the singer, he could front the band. By 1971 the line up consisted of Ronnie Peel on bass and Roger Felice on drums but by April of that year the band had broken up.
The Hollywood Dream album came out a whole year after their N0.1 single and although they released three more singles from the album Accidents (Uk. No.46) The Reason and Wild Country they never managed to follow up their initial success. But the album is a must for any record collection with its spontaneous recording and Keen’s distinctive falsetto and melodic songs.
Something In the Air has a special magic born out of disparate characters finding themselves together in a room. Andy met Jimmy at the recording session and met Speedy only the week before. You can read the details of the story in the links but in bringing together this post I found two fascinating interviews with Andy Newman and Pete Townshend that are well worth a listen if you are a fan and ever wondered like me, how it all happened.
In the US, the Something In The Air single reached No.37 on the charts. The Americans decided to change the cover art, featuring Speedy on the cover in front of the Hollywood sign (genius).
In 1973 Labelle covered Something In The Air on their album Pressure Cookin’ as part of a medley with Gil Scott-Heron’s, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. Tom Petty recorded the song for his Greatest Hits album in 1994, releasing it as a single in the same year. Eurythmics, Fish, Herbie Mann, The Lightning Seeds and others have also covered this perennial classic.
Jimmy McCulloch went on to replace Les Harvey in the Stone The Crows after Harvey’s tragic electrocution at Swansea Top Rank Suite in 1972. In his own short life McCulloch played key roles on major albums joining Wings between 1974-1977. He left to join The Small Faces reunion, played on two songs on their album and played with the band on tour. After that he formed Wild Horses with Brian Robertson, Jimmy Bain and Kenney Jones and finally The Dukes in the last year of his life. He died of heart failure in 1979 at the age of 26 following a heroin overdose.
Speedy Keen produced Johnny Thunders And The Heartbreakers album, LAMF and also produced and wrote for the early Motorhead. He did some session work and continued to write songs but died suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 56 in 2002.
Andy Thunderclap Newman recently reformed the band named after him.
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