Nearly Died From Hospitality

Thirty-four years ago this week, as spring began to break for real over southern Wisconsin, one of the songs I couldn’t get out of my head was “Couldn’t Get it Right” by the Climax Blues Band. It broke into the Top 40 at the end of March and peaked at Number 3 on the Hot 100 toward the end of May. It seemed to be on the radio constantly, on whatever station I listened to, and why not? It’s a fine funky clatter that even the most vocally challenged fan could sing along with. I did, and I do. “Couldn’t Get it Right” is an artifact from a very happy season in my life, and it’s been on my Desert Island list as long as I’ve had one.

Like many British musicians who came up in the late 60s, the members of the Climax Blues Band were fans of American blues. They were originally known as the Climax Chicago Blues Band, although they dropped the “Chicago” in 1970, reportedly to avoid confusion with Chicago Transit Authority. They also became a more conventional rock band in the early 70s, scoring significant hit albums with FM Live in 1974, Stamp Album in 1975, and the 1976 release Gold Plated, which contains “Couldn’t Get it Right.” Their 1979 album Real to Reel contains the superb “Children of the Nighttime,” which deserved to be a smash but was not. They had one smash left in them, however: the 1980 album Flying the Flag contained “I Love You,” which was miles removed from both Chicago blues and “Couldn’t Get it Right.” Allmusic compares it to Badfinger or Paul McCartney, and neither is a bad comparison. “I Love You” is as powerfully and irresistably romantic a record as either of those artists ever made. It blew out the phones at radio stations back in the summer of 1981, and on those occasions when it plays now, people will still call wanting to know, “What was that song?” How it reached only Number 12 in Billboard I have no idea.

After “I Love You,” the Climax Blues Band got lost in shifting musical tastes, although they continued to record steadily through 1988. Since then, they’ve made only two albums, one in 1993 and one in 2004. An edition of the band still exists today. It contains none of the founding members, although lead vocalist Colin Cooper was part of the band until his death in 2008.

You’ve heard “Couldn’t Get it Right” and “I Love You” a million times. (A million and one if you clicked the links above.) So be sure to listen to “Mole on the Dole” from the 1973 album Rich Man, which features a most surprising instrument taking the solos. And dig “Children of the Nighttime,” below.

Recommended Reading: Sound engineer Roger Nichols, nicknamed “the Immortal” by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen for his work with Steely Dan, died earlier this month. Here’s his New York Times obituary. And also, the headquarters of Malaco Records, the Mississippi label that produced “Groove Me,” “Mr. Big Stuff,” and other, lesser-known landmarks of southern soul, was leveled by a tornado last weekend. The building that housed the label’s master tapes was among those destroyed. Find out more at Flea Market Funk. While you’re there, consider this provocative question: “Is Record Store Day a Bunch of Bullshit?”, and the response from the folks who organized the event.

“Children of the Nighttime”/Climax Blues Band (buy the compilation 25 Years 1968-1993 here)

5 responses

  1. Luckily, the 45 version of “Couldn’t Get It Right” with the single tracked vocal on the intro appeared on iTunes recently, on the Gold Plated album.

    I worked at an A/C station that actually played “Gotta Have More Love” in the Winter of 1980, but that song really went nowhere.

  2. “Couldn’t Get It Right”, in addition to being an unsinkable jam, is significant to me as the first record I would purchase (for at most .95 cents at Kmart) on the Sire label. There’d be more, particularly in the decade to follow.

    So the 45 mix is different from the LP? I’ll have to compare the CD/digital version I have…what exactly am I listening for?

    Roger Nichols’ passing was noted via “Third World Man” at the end of my show this week. I also commemorated Easter with Lee and Paul’s “The Chick”, first heard by me on this blog. Public radio is fun.

  3. “Children of the Nighttime” was a very good song from the album “Real To Reel” (which I have in my album collection). But, my favorite song from that album was “Fat City” which we played on the radio while I was doing some part-time weekend airshifts on WXXQ/Freeport, Illinois back inthe summer of 1979. One of my favorite lyrics from “Fat City” goes, “The Taxman’s ax can’t wait to get you into the ground.” If you love a great saxophone solo, you’ll appreciate the one you hear in “Fat City.”

  4. @Jeffrey: Listen closely to the words “TIME WAS DRIFTING” and “RESTLESS FEELING” during the opening verse. If those words are sung in a single-tracked vocal, you have the 45 version. If those same words include an added harmony vocal, you’re listening to the LP version, which is, by far, the most common CD/digital version available.

    Two more LP/45 first-verse-only differences: the album versions of the Association’s “Six Man Band” and the Ohio Express’ “Chewy, Chewy” each have backing harmony embellishments on the opening verses that are missing from their respective 45s. And the tweaks go on…

  5. Just listened to “Couldn’t Get It Right.” Now’s the time when the light bulb goes on in my head, I nod and go, “Oh, that’s Climax Blues Band too??” Of course, I knew “I Love You” was by them, but now the Blues Band part makes a lot more sense.

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