Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Sire Records: Streets of London

When Ralph McTell wrote “Streets of London,” he intended to be on his first album “Eight Frames a Second” in 1968; however, the song didn’t make the cut, as he decided it was too depressing. He did, however, record it for his second album “Spiral Staircase” in 1969. Transatlantic Records, did not issue the song as a single, and numerous artists clamored to record the tune and have a go at it as a single.

McTell’s Transatlantic label mates The Johnstons was part of that number and released “Streets of London” in 1970. Since Transatlantic did not have a corresponding label in the US, Sire Records issued it as a single in North America. Richard Gottehrer, one of the two owners of Sire came to London to produce the single for Transatlantic’s Big T label (as well as for Sire).

The press released touted that “Ralph [McTell] considers The Johnstons’ interpretation of the song the best he has heard.” Incidentally it was The Johnston’s only release on Sire; two previous singles had been issued on Tetragrammatron Records. The Johnston’s interpretation of “Streets of London” failed to chart.

Starting with a harpsichord and then quite a bit of overproduction with horns, “Streets of London” featured the lead vocals of Adrienne Johnston. Others on the single include band members and multi-instrumentalists Mick Moloney and Paul Brady. There is some question on whether Lucy Johnston is on this record, as she left the band in early 1969, but she is depicted on two versions of the single’s picture sleeve.

Speaking of Mick Moloney, I had an opportunity to meet and chat with him after a concert in Beckley, WV in 1988. At the time, he was working on his PhD in Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania. He currently teaches in the Irish Studies program at New York University. Adirenne Johnston suffered a broken neck in a fall that led to her death in 1981. Some have suggested that her demise was not accidental.

As for McTell, Transatlantic remixed several songs from McTell’s 1969 albums including “Streets of London” in 1970. The remix was issued in the Netherlands as a single and peaked at #9 in 1972. McTell re-recorded the song and it was eventually released in the UK as a single in 1974. It charted at #2 and is considered by some his signature song.

Streets of London” also appeared on the American version of McTell’s 1971 album “You Well-Meaning Brought Me Here.” I first heard this LP in 1974 about 500 yards from where I am now sitting, and I would later procure a copy from a Huntington, WV radio station’s discard pile in 1979.

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