Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — November 27, 2021

263) Pete Atkin — “Beware of the Beautiful Stranger”

A gorgeous, like nothing else on the air (except for, maybe, Nick Garrie (who wasn’t actually on the air)) song by Pete Atkin with lyrics by Clive James. Christopher Evans says in All Music Guide that:

Atkin’s music [drew] on every form of popular music from show tunes through folk, jazz, and rock. . . . [H]is deadpan and very English voice was the perfect vehicle for James’ wryly melancholic musings . . . . [T]he title track [was] a beautifully constructed comedy sketch set to music in which a lovesick young man consults a dodgy soothsayer . . . .

As Pete Atkin recalls:

I’d sung a few of my own silly songs at [Cambridge] Footlights . . . concerts, and one day Clive simply handed me a lyric and said “Hey, sport, do you think you can do anything with this?” . . . [W]e soon started turning out songs . . . . [W]e did imagine our songs being sung famously by successful singers, which is partly what led me to organize some amateurish recordings . . . and to assemble a couple of privately-pressed LPs. The idea was to sell enough of them to unwitting friends . . . to cover the costs and use the rest as demos. . . . [T]he demo LPs did lead us in late 1969 to the publishers Essex Music [and] some proper studio sessions to record some of the songs. And those, amazingly, are the recordings you have here. . . . [The producer Don Paul was] a mate of Kenny Everett, at that time the most famous and influential DJ in the land with his Saturday morning show on BBC Radio 1. Don played him a couple of the tracks, and he . . . played them on his show several week running. . . . And so I became a recording artist, which hadn’t originally been the idea at all . . . . Although the album didn’t, as they used to say, trouble the charts, it did pretty well really, perhaps partly because it didn’t sound much like anything else. It might have done even better, but the trouble was it didn’t sound much like anything else.

Liner notes to the CD reissue of the ‘70 Beware of the Beautiful Stranger album.

“On the midsummer fairground alive with the sound and the lights of the Wurlitzer merry-go-round the midway was crowded and I was the man who coughed up a quid in the dark caravan to the gypsy who warned him of danger. ‘Beware of the beautiful stranger.’ . . . ‘The lady in question is known to me now. And I’d like to beware but the problem is how. Do you think I was born in a manger? I’m in love with the beautiful stranger.’ The gypsy . . . bent low to her globular fragment of star. ‘This woman will utterly screw up your life.
She will tempt you from home, from your children and wife. She’s a devil and nothing will change her
Get away from the beautiful stranger. . . . Slip me your wallet, sit tight and believe and the powers-that-be will arrange a pre-release of the beautiful stranger.’ . . . [W]ith a click came a form and a face
that stunned me not only through candour and grace, but because she was really a stranger. A total and beautiful stranger.”

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