25th ANNIVERSARY FEATURE
Dick Greener (written in 1997)
After Tony Hooper's departure in Aug 1972, Dave Lambert had made his first "official" appearance with the band at their single remaining UK date for the year at Watford Town Hall on 28 Sep. The new line-up were reported to be rehearsing a completely new repertoire. Reactions were to be fairly sharp about the band's new rocky image - some for, and some very much against. Meanwhile, the Strawbs quickly made their way into the studio to capitalise on their new lead guitarist, to record, in Oct 1972 for immediate release that same month, the track that would take them into the UK charts - "Lay Down".
The single's release date was 13 Oct 1972 - the same date as Dave Cousins' solo album Two Weeks Last Summer (see Two Weeks 25th anniversary special feature on this) and the single was backed by "Backside", an odd spoof track about David Bowie with mildly offensive lyrics, which was credited to Ciggy Barlust and the Whales From Venus.
A&M's promotional copies told reviewers:
'"Lay Down" is the Strawbs first real attempt to crack open the singles market. Primarily an album act - their Grave New World has been voted one of the best albums of the year in the Melody Maker poll - the Strawbs, with their new guitarist Dave Lambert, will feature "Lay Down" as an integral part of their stage act, though it will not feature on any future LP. Written by Dave Cousins, this single emphasises the Strawbs' further development into rock music."
The assertion that "Lay Down" would not be included on album looks odd with hindsight - A&M quite frequently released non-album tracks as either A- or B-sides and it may well have been their honest intent at that point (look at the various B-sides of Strawbs singles which did not appear on album until the release of the UK Halcyon Days CD in 1997). However, strictly speaking it has to be said that A&M didn't include this track, as the single version of "Lay Down" is a different recording of the song to that which appears on LP.
With a little help from my friends
Dave Lambert had a crucial input into this important single. Dave Cousins recalled in a radio interview in 1977:
'I remember sitting round at home when I first came up with "Lay Down" and said to Dave I need something in the middle here - you know it was a sort of secret trial before he realised that he was going to join the band - it was ... "What do you think of this?" - He said "Well that's good, but how about in the middle there ... either a middle eight, which I wasn't very keen on, or something to transpose the whole song....'
Lambert suggested the riff and Cousins agreed instantly.
In the studio
Cousins further recalled the process of recording the track, emulating:
"... the Faces' approach to songs which was to go on stage (we always had a reputation for being a boozy sort of band and the Faces had a simliar reputation) they used to go and have this great fun in the studio and it used to sound like it was fun on record. I said "Let's go in and do a record like that, where the drums just hit the offbeat of the snare drum rather like the Faces and really give a good old thump on it." And so Hud went in and did just that. And the bass drum sound was a bit muddy, but the overall effect of the record was very powerful.'
The song as performed live these days sounds quite different. A mistake was made in the mixing (both for the single and album versions) so that the backing vocal overpowered the main melody in the chorus, with the result that the chorus appeared to descend rather than go up at the end of each line.
Carry on up the charts
Reviews were positive: "Best single the Strawbs have ever put out ... it really made me sit up" said one reviewer, whilst another, though he thought it "rather polite rock music ... like a number from a superior God-rock musical."
The single entered the UK chart on 28 Oct 1972, staying there for 12 weeks. The single also did well in Australia and was released in other territories. In the UK, it reached number 12, and the Strawbs donned their new-found glam, velvet and glitter to appear on Top of the Pops, not on the staid album slot as they had once before, but in earnest for the teeny-boppers themselves.
You can't please all of the people ...
Their appearance on Top of the Pops obviously stirred up a storm of criticism in the Mailbag of Melody Maker, which Dave Cousins responded to in an open letter, with a full page photo on the cover of the 9 Dec 1972 issue entitled "Strawbs Boss Hits Back":
'It comes as a great disappointment to find a that a few people who have followed the Strawbs progress through our last albums, and who have presumably seen us on stage in the past, have now taken it upon themselves to act as Judge and Jury without trial because of our present singles success. I wouldn't mind if they were against us because of any change in our music - each to his own opinion - but in their eyes we've committed the mortal sin of appearing on Top of the Pops and of having Tony Blackburn play our record between his early morning anecdotes.'
Cousins then made the obvious point that the band had previously played TOTP and their tracks been played by Tony Blackburn without controversy - no-one complained of a sell-out because those records never made the charts.
'Accuse us of selling out if you've nothing more constructive to talk about. But if you meant it when you said you were into our music, then listen again to "Lay Down". I'm proud of it lyrically and musically. If we had recorded enough for an LP then "Lay Down" would have been one of the tracks, it could even have taken its place on Grave New World and then the handful of pseudo-musical hypocrites who claim to bear the cross for the nation's musical integrity would have been spared the sight of seeing us on that "sordid" TV show.'
'We've spent most of the last three months in the studio and we're likely to still be there when you are eating your Christmas dinner. "Lay Down" happened to be the first track we finished recording. In January we'll let you hear it all on our new album and we're going to be making the biggest tour of this country that you've ever seen. We've always worked hard at entertaining the people that come to see us, it's the only way we know and having a single in the charts doesn't change what we've taken three and a half years to achieve. After the new album and after the tour .... that's the time to criticise not before. .... We're looking forward to seeing you all next year - but keep your minds open.'
It must have been galling for Cousins to have succeeded in one of the Strawbs' original ambitions - a hit single - and then to be subjected to pointed criticism from those who felt that the Strawbs musical credentials were at risk. The original Strawbs had veered significantly towards quality pop with a number of the songs on the unreleased version of their first album, some of which cried out for single release. If that version of Strawbs had been released, then the folk-based and subsequently rock-based development of the Strawbs which ensued might never have taken place - Dave and Tony might have preceded Amen Corner and Blue Weaver into the pop charts back in the late 60s.