Sunday, 3 April 2016
Oliver: The Mighty Avengers - Blue Turns to Grey (25 January 1992)
Over the weekend of 25/26 January 1992, the long running Radio 4 series, Desert Island Discs celebrated its 50th anniversary. To mark its golden anniversary, the programme got in a suitably heavyweight guest in the shape of then Prime Minister, John Major. If David Cameron and chums are mocked as the Bullingdon Club running the country, Major was held up as the grey man who stepped out from behind the Iron Lady's skirts. In background, he was a million miles away from the ruling elite we now have, although the issues that were to plague his Premiership, notably Europe remain as relevant now as they did then.
Peel, who as a former castaway and a man who gave the impression at times that he spent more time listening to Radio 4 than he did Radio 1 in early 1992, marked Major's appearance with a suitably topical choice of record. A 1965 non-hit for Coventry based band, The Mighty Avengers, Blue Turns to Grey was written for them by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, with whom The Mighty Avengers shared a manager, the incomparable, and at times unbelievable, Andrew Loog Oldham.
I was still a year or so off discovering The Rolling Stones music in any great depth, when Peel put this track into the show on 25/1/92. When I did so, and went around armed with a copy of High Tide and Green Grass, I told anyone who would listen that I considered the Stones the better band between 1964-66 and The Beatles better between 1967-70. I've stopped seeing things in quite such dogmatic fashion in the years since, but nevertheless, my thinking at the time was that Jagger and Richards's writing In those years cut a lot deeper than Lennon and McCartney's seemed to. In retrospect, this isn't really fair because Lennon and McCartney wrote and recorded warts and all. Even if it was a filler or a work song as McCartney called Hold Me Tight, they were still getting it out there. Jagger and Richards came up more slowly, practiced and honed their skill before they took total control of the music they recorded. And why not? There were plenty of R'n'B standards they could record while they waited to get confident enough in their own material. The merits of their own respective tracks can be debated ad infinitum, but a key advantage that Jagger and Richards had was in the songs they wrote for others. Not for them the moon/June simplicity of Bad To Me or I'm In Love (which I actually really like) but rather a more angsty take on heartbreak and the ennui that sets in and devastates when you try to convince yourself you're over someone before you really are. It may be a minor song, but all the psychological acuity that they would bring to Satisfaction/Get Off of My Cloud etc is still there. Crucially, you could see the Stones actually performing this in a way which you never pictured The Beatles performing the tracks that they gave away. Brilliantly performed by The Mighty Avengers, with lead vocalist, Mike Linnell clearly modelling himself on Jagger for the "Find her. Find her. Find her" refrain and with the charming flute part acting as a smile raising reminder of how one of Loog Oldham's obsessions in the 60s was to try and get as much work for the Andrew Loog Oldham Orchestra as possible.
Video courtesy of haulofrecords.