Top Fifty 35: The Greatest Show on Earth – Horizons, 1970

[Originally posted March 2013]

88

Clever Stuff

Released in 1970 on Harvest, this is one of my favourite albums being special in having been purchased – I wish I could remember where – entirely on the strength of the cover, and perhaps where it was spotted: in London maybe, but I really have no recollection.

It is notable for the lead singer’s gravelly vocal and a horn section tailored to emulate the success of American bands like Blood, Sweat and Tears, and Chicago. There is also a strong organ presence, as on the swirling opening to first track Sunflower Morning. The singer Colin Horton Jennings replaced original American vocalist Ozzie Lane and the band’s apparent soul leanings [I haven’t heard anything before this album].

I think in many ways that though this is seen as progressive rock, and very much the Harvest label’s attempts to pursue and promote this genre at such an apt time, it is very much pop rock – the tunes having the former sensibilities with the horn arrangements wrapped around, and Jennings’ vocal giving it the clear rock credibility. Take second track Angelina which is a fine pop tune, but at 2 minutes into the song, it breaks to the melody’s instrumental riff that itself breaks into a superb freeform trumpet solo, the thumping riff continued in the background with horns and organ in unison. Third track Skylight Man is a weird amalgam of lounge horns, then fuzz, a little organ, then angelic vocals before that B,S &T pumping horn riff kicks in. I think it is quite distinctive in both its time and since.

Fifth Day of the Lady begins with a strange musical requisite of the time, a fairground ditty [with the noise of a door closing….?] which then converts to quite a pretty folk song with guitar and mandolin runs and close vocal harmonies. Sixth Real Cool World is a wonderfully pompous horn-driven number with semi-manic laughing and great downward organ rolls around the strident horns, and then a blazing fuzz guitar solo. This song has absolutely everything melodramatic and memorable. Seventh I Fought For Love is one of the most psychedelic, beginning with sustained fuzz guitar and a powerful organ combination, and then a soft vocal is treated to some exaggerated echo effects before Jennings’ signature rasp picks up the melody. There is a thumping – literally – interlude accompanied by organ and then staccato horns [again, echoes of B,S & T], and then it ends on some beautiful vocal harmonies, again pinched off by echoing effects.

The title song is a fourteen minute rousing concoction of more horns and fuzz to start, and then organ and horns dancing together, quite funky at times. There is a different kind of musical requisite here, the drum solo which is excellent [they always were, come on], then a bass with flute segment [with the fine flute solo played by Jennings], and it arrives back to another fuzzed-out guitar solo by Garth Watt-Roy which is then joined by Mick Deacon on organ: a genuine instrumental progressive gem of that period and genre, especially as the fuzz and organ end on an Iron Butterfly  heaviness and the song returns to its funky opening theme.

The album ends on an acoustic sweetness with Again and Again, Jennings singing sweetly to start and the flute providing a tinge of folk prettiness – that is, until the song moves into another pop-rock piece of heightened action. It is very clever, and very much a shame that this is an album that doesn’t seem to have attained the same status as others of this time.

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