Thunderclap Newman: “Something in the Air”
You might call Thunderclap Newman a made-up band, but that shouldn’t lead you to confuse them with a band like The Monkees. Thunderclap Newman was actually encouraged/created by Pete Townshend around the existing talents of John “Speedy” Keen, a former chauffeur for The Who, who had already gained some attention for writing the great “Armenia City in the Sky” for The Who’s The Who Sell Out album. Keen sang and played drums and guitar for Thunderclap Newman, while the other members of the band were piano player Andy “Thunderclap” Newman (hence the band name) and very young (15!) lead guitarist Jimmy McCulloch, later to achieve greater reknown when he joined Paul McCartney and Wings in 1974, playing on such hits as “Junior’s Farm” (and later dying of a heroin overdose in 1979 at the age of 26).
The band released the “Something in the Air” single in 1969, followed by their only album, Hollywood Dream, in 1970. The song went to #1 in the U.K., but the album, despite including the song, didn’t do nearly as well. Playing live apparently didn’t work well for the band, and they dissolved soon after, becoming a true one-hit wonder, albeit a great one.
“Something in the Air,” produced by Townshend (who also plays bass on it under the pseudonym “Bijou Drain”), is a sweeping song with an anthemic feel reminiscent of some of the songs from The Who’s Tommy (such as “We’re Not Going to Take It”), which The Who put out that same year. Its slow tempo doesn’t drag it down, but rather adds to its “epicness” along with its instrumental midsection that breaks it up into movements, something Townshend put to good use on Tommy as well. Notice also the change in key about a minute into the song, a move that served to tighten the tension of the song and elevate it to a new level without speeding it up or adding additional instrumentation — and that tension suited the lyrics well:
Call out the instigators
Because there’s something in the air
We’ve got to get together sooner or later
Because the revolution’s here, and you know it’s right
I first discovered this song and album in the late ’70s, either on the radio or through reading about it in a music magazine (possibly Rolling Stone) — I loved both, and had the album for quite a long time on cassette, but that cassette has long since disappeared, and I finally replaced it with the CD last year. It was a great song that nailed the atmosphere of the late ’60s and, despite the likelihood that the band will remain obscure, should stand the test of time. The entire album of Hollywood Dream is highly recommended as well.
I also thought I’d include this video, which is of interest for seeing the band in action, although it’s a lip-synced performance (with worse sound quality than in the widget above). There seem to be a couple of extra band members involved, but I’m not sure who they are.