This is the second installment of a series. Due to the subjective nature of what quantifies a One Hit Wonder, how much of the band must be dead to be a One Hit Wonder With Dead Guys, etc., etc., etc., there will be some shifting of the goal posts across these essays. Such is life and rock ‘n roll.
Pete Townshend’s chauffeur. A postal worker fond of 1920s roadhouse piano. A teenage guitar prodigy. Put ‘em together and what have you got? Thunderclap Newman and the psychedelic perfection that is the 1969 song “Something In The Air.”
It helps to be talented, and it also helps to have good connections. John “Speedy” Keene (died of heart failure, March 2002, at age 55) was a talented singer/drummer/keyboardist around London in the mid ‘60s. He also happened to share a flat with, and drive for, Pete Townshend, and he wrote “Armenia City In The Sky” on The Who Sell Out. Not bad.
Andy “Thunderclap” Newman played Dixieland piano and worked for the General Postal Office. He didn’t want to get into music full-time, because he didn’t want to lose his pension. Townshend and Who producer and manager Kit Lambert cajoled and pleaded, and Andy “Thunderclap” Newman left the Postal Service and his pension behind.
Jimmy McCulloch was sixteen when “Something In The Air” came out. But this young buck Glaswegian was a great guitarist, great enough to play with The Small Faces, Harry Nilsson, Bette Midler and Wings (this just in: Paul McCartney was a pretty fair musician). And he was probably great enough to feel invincible, as he died of heart failure from a heroin overdose at age 26 in 1979.
“Something In The Air” spent all of three weeks at #1 on the UK charts in July 1969. Initially there were no plans for Thunderclap Newman beyond the single, but the success of the single led to some touring before the band ultimately disbanded. It was a flash-in-the-pan song, but it’s afterlife has been remarkable and varied, with appearances in advertisements for the Austin Mini and British Air, television shows such as “My Name is Earl” and films such as “Kingpin” and “Almost Famous.”
It’s just one of those songs: you hear it and you know it, even if you don’t know it. Especially the chorus: “And you know that it’s right”, with those descending arpeggios underneath. It sounds familiar, just tip-of-your-tongue.
And here it is…