In 1970, Malaysia was still licking her wounds from the May 13, 1969 sectarian riots while elsewhere in the region, the US invaded Cambodia and the Vietnam war raged on.
Much of the world was confronting uncertainty, very much like today.
Musicians then, including in Malaysia, were influenced by various events, and ably connected with the growing number of confused and disillusioned people.
Fortunately for us, that meant a whole lot of bands in the country.
Groups like Santana, the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin had a strong influence on youth of that era.
Through the 70s, deejays like Patrick Teoh, Constance Haslam, Vicky Skelchy, Alan Zachariah, Nor Nikman Dadameah and A Radha Krishnan from AM band, Radio Malaysia Blue Network, also took control of music lovers.
They were influential, broke new boundaries and redefined the role of deejays with their playlists.
In the continuing series of stories you haven’t heard about a song you love, FMT sat with A Radha Krishnan, the ‘Black Stallion’, to talk about gems from 1970 that have turned or are turning 50 this year.
We feature some songs that Radha Krishnan sang as the frontman for the Cellar Hi-Five band, rocked the airwaves as a radio presenter, and spun as a deejay in clubs such as Hobbit in Wisma Central.
“There are many songs from the rocking 70s that continue to stand the test of time and I still sing some of them every chance I get,” said Radha Krishnan, who was also lead vocalist for then popular bands, Electric Orgasm and Steelyard Corporation.
One of Radha Krishnan’s belters is The Guess Who’s ‘American Woman’, the music and lyrics that were improvised during a jam on stage.
Guitarist Randy Bachman, who was alone on the stage during the first break, began playing a repetitive riff while re-tuning his guitar as if to signal frontman Burton Cummings and the other members to get back on.
The audience loved it and Bachman continued playing the riff as he did not want to forget it.
The other band members returned to the stage and Bachman prompted Cummings to start singing something — anything — and the words, “American woman, stay away from me” rocked the arena.
According to Cummings when he sang the line, he meant “Canadian woman, I prefer you.”
He rationalised that girls in the US seemed to get older quicker than Canadians and that made them “dangerous”.
The song owes the re-creation of the lyrics to the portable cassette recorder.
A kid in the crowd was caught using the device strapped to his leg to tape the gig. So, they listened to the tape, jotted down the lyrics, and made it a No 1 hit.
Did you know The Guess Who, Canada’s first supergroup, were known as Chad Allan & the Expressions in 1965?
Another of Radha Krishnan’s favourites is ‘Mama Told Me Not to Come’ by Three Dog Night, a cover of the original by Eric Burdon and written by Randy Newman.
It is about a drug party that caused uneasiness to the writer at a time when the drug scene was emerging among American middle class.
The first line, “Will you have whiskey with your water or sugar with your tea?” was a vague reference to acid.
The song was the first No 1 hit on the American Top 40 syndicated radio show, hosted by Casey Kasem, that became popular on AM radio worldwide until its decline in the mid-1990s.
It beat The Beatles’ ‘The Long and Winding Road’ – their last hit before the final breakup – and Elvis Presley’s ‘The Wonder of You’ for top chart honours.
The band took their name from an Australian expression describing low night-time temperatures in the outback – the colder the night, more dogs were needed to keep warm while sleeping.
Guitarist Carlos Santana was a major influence on bands here and ‘Oye Como Va’ is until today in most rock groups’ playlists even if they can’t replicate the guitar wails.
Santana’s cover, which follows the original music by salsa legend Tito Puente in the early 50s, brought Latin rock to the world.
“Oye” means listen and a “Mulata” is a woman of Caucasian and African descent. Thus: “Listen to my rhythm, good for fun, mulata”.
Santana formed the Santana Blues Band in 1966, with fellow street musicians, bassist David Brown and keyboard player Gregg Rolie, who joined Journey in 1973.
When discussing terrific singers in the world of heavy metal, few come close to the desperate vocals of Black Sabbath’s Ozzy Osbourne.
In ‘Paranoid’, Ozzy marches to his own beat just as the man in the song who is paranoid.
It’s a drug thing; when you’re smoking a joint you get paranoid about people; you can’t relate to people.
The word “Paranoid” is never mentioned in the song, one of the band’s signature tunes. It was written by bassist Geezer Butler as an afterthought for the album ‘Paranoid’.
The band’s moniker came from their 1969 doomy hit, ‘Black Sabbath’, inspired by a horror movie of the same name, introduced by Boris Karloff.
Formed in 1968, Black Sabbath was first called a sissy Polka Tulk Blues Band, named after the cheap brand of talcum powder, used by Ozzy’s mother.
Many also assume that the Chicago classic, ‘25 or 6 to 4’ is a coded allusion to drugs.
The boring truth is that composer Robert Lamm was writing a song late at night. He checked the clock and it was 25 or 26 minutes before 4am.
Amid a strife-stricken period, Mungo Jerry’s lead singer Ray Dorset captured an appreciation to life’s simple pleasures with ‘In The Summertime’.
The popularity of the song spawned the equally popular ‘Mungo Jerry Bak Kut Teh’ (non-halal pork rib dish) outlets in Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
On a softer note, there are songs like ‘Let It Be’, by the Beatles which Radhakrishnan says is a signature ditty that “tells you how to solve basically anything.”
Inevitably, the song took on religious overtones as many people thought “Mother Mary” was a biblical reference.
Paul McCartney wrote this song, inspired by his mother, Mary, who died when he was 14.
It is said one night when he was paranoid and anxious, he had a dream where he saw his mother who brought him peace when he needed it.
The Beatles weren’t the first to release this song. Aretha Franklin released it on her album ‘This Girl’s In Love With You’ in January 1970, two months before the lads from Liverpool.
Radha Krishnan remembers that ‘Your Song’ by ivory-tinkling megastar Elton John helped alter the musical landscape of the early ’70s.
“Your Song encouraged singer/songwriters like James Taylor and Carole King to produce successful heartfelt songs featuring a prominent vocal and a soft piano or guitar,” he adds.
Elton, who co-wrote the song with Bernie Taupin, said the song which is about absolute naivete in love is not about anyone in particular.
‘Your Song’ was titled as if to tell listeners they could claim the song was about them. Elton’s 1975 song ‘We All Fall In Love Sometimes’ is about the writing of this song.
Did you know?
Before Elton hit it big, he was the warm-up act for Three Dog Night and played keyboards on several of the Hollies’ tracks including ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’.
Songs of comfort reigned in 1970. On Sunday March 15, Simon and Garfunkel spent the third of their six-week supremacy on top of the Billboard Hot 100 charts with their haunting ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
It’s about providing comfort to a person in need. That same day, ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’, another song about carrying aloft the disadvantaged, was number nine.
A new entry at number 96 was ‘Reflections of My Life’ by Marmalade. The song spans the scope of human emotion, “the greetings of people in trouble, oh, how they fill my eyes.”
Fifty years on, the weighty messages of the epic ballads have re-emerged as musicians are engulfed in misery – their passionate careers and creative triumphs interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.