Jimmy Campbell Special Edition: Jimmy Campbell — “Michel Angelo”, Jimmy Campbell — “Mother’s Boy”, Rockin’ Horse — “Biggest Gossip in Town”: Brace for the Obscure (60s rock)! — February 18, 2023


This blog o’ mine gives me great joy, as when I played as my 22nd song “Michel Angelo”, by Jimmy Campbell and his band at the time the 23rd Turnoff. I called the song “[o]ne of the most gorgeous songs I have ever heard.” It is certainly the greatest ever pop psych ballad I have ever heard. But the blog also can give me great sadness, as when today, I focus again on Jimmy and how his talents were left to wither by cruel fate and an indifferent public. As dpnewbold comments, “This guy is so under-rated it hurts.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yI-KHv7u4qE) Yes, it does.

Matty Loughlin-Day aptly states that:

[Jimmy Campbell is a] songwriter who, for this writer’s money, could go toe-to-toe with any of the more celebrated prodigies from the region, yet who’s name is frequently met with blank faces or a shrug of the shoulders. A writer who, in a sane universe, would be esteemed alongside . . . yes, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Jimmy Campbell is arguably the archetypal lost son of Liverpool. A talent that was never quite reciprocated by the buying public and the victim of some cruel twists of fate, his is a name that is for one reason or another, never quite mentioned when discussing the plethora of musical talent that the city has produced. . . . [H]is songs entice immediately and gradually work their way into the sub-conscious.


Mark Johnston seconds the thought:

Campbell should rightfully be considered closer to a Merseyside Bob Dylan than the sullen working class Nick Drake he is often painted as. He could have been the Poet Laureate of England! How is it that one day of the greatest sonic creations in his fascinating and flawless back catalogue should be gathering dust for the past thirty-three years?

liner notes to the CD reissue of Yes It Is

And Richie Unterberger poignantly sums things up:

[Jimmy was] perhaps the most unheralded talent to come out of the Liverpool ’60s rock scene, as he was a songwriter capable of both spinning out engaging Merseybeat and — unlike almost every other artist from the city, with the notable exception of the Beatles — making the transition to quality, dreamy psychedelia. . . . It seems as if Campbell needed just a bit more encouragement, and his groups just a little more studio time, to develop into a notable British psychedelic group that could combine solid pop melodies, sophisticated lyrics and arrangements, and touches of English whimsy. Unfortunately they didn’t get that chance . . . .

Campbell’s slightly moody yet catchy melodies, as well as his drolly understated lyrics, mark him as perhaps the best ’60s Liverpool rock songwriter never to have a chart record . . . .

https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-dream-of-michelangelo-mw0000351105, https://www.allmusic.com/album/son-of-anastasia-mw0000811484

Spencer Leigh writes in Jimmy’s obituary that “he once told me, ‘A lot of my songs are cries for help and I suppose that’s why they didn’t make the grade.'” (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/jimmy-campbell-436273.html)

To give a touch of Jimmy Campbell’s early and later history, Matty Loughlin-Day writes that:

Campbell’s first band, The Panthers, were formed in 1962 and were at the heart of all things Merseybeat. Legend has it that at one gig, John Lennon stood in front of the band, keen to suss out local competition; one must assume he was impressed, as before long, the band were able to add ‘supported The Beatles’ to their CV. Convinced by Cavern-legend Bob Wooler to change their name to The Kirkbys (in homage to their home suburb) and looked after by Brian Epstein’s secretary Beryl Adams, Campbell et al toured across Western Europe and recorded a handful of songs, including the Rolling Stones-esque stomper It’s a Crime . . . [see #648]. . . . [I]nitial singles found success in, of all places, Finland. . . . [but a]t home, the singles fared less impressively, and a second name change soon followed.  The Kirbys became the 23rd Turnoff, again based in local geography, named after the M6 junction required for Kirkby. . . .

With a short European tour in 1972 backing Chuck Berry . . . and fortunes truly fading, Campbell decided he’d had enough. . . . [A]pparently rejuvenated and able to muster the strength to record a fourth solo album during the 80’s, Campbell, on completing it, went to the pub to celebrate, only to return home to find his house ransacked and the only master tapes of the album gone, along with a range of equipment. The guy, it seemed, could just not catch a break. . . .

By all accounts, a life of hard-living took its toll and he sadly passed away in 2007 after battling emphysema.


736) Jimmy Campbell — “Michel Angelo

The 23rd Turnoff’s “magnum opus was ‘Michaelangelo,’ a gorgeous if somewhat downbeat single that should’ve fit right in with pieces like “Nights in White Satin,” among other melancholic hits.” (Bruce Eder, https://www.allmusic.com/artist/23rd-turnoff-mn0000545093/biography) It is “a highlight of 1967 British psychedelia as a whole in its hazy bittersweet swirl”. (Richie Unterberger, https://www.allmusic.com/album/the-dream-of-michelangelo-mw0000351105) As to its incarnation on Jimmy’s ’69 solo album Son of Anastasia, Richie Unterberger says that “[b]est of all is the gloriously melancholy ‘Michaelangelo[]’ . . . which sounds quite lovely as a stripped-down acoustic tune here.” (https://www.allmusic.com/album/son-of-anastasia-mw0000811484)

As to the album, Unterberger continues:

[It] was his first full-length release . . . . While . . . contain[ing] a few songs he’d recorded in released and unreleased versions in the 23rd Turnoff days in 1967, it was a marked change in direction for Campbell, in his style if not his songwriting. For Son of Anastasia is largely a folky, acoustic album, occasionally venturing into orchestrated folk-pop, even if Campbell is more a pop/rock songwriter than a folk one. . . . It’s an attractively introspective record laced with some bittersweet irony, but the combination of bare-bones and lightly orchestrated arrangements doesn’t always ideally suit the material. . . . [O]ccasionally riffs are taken by what sound like either kazoos or someone (Campbell?) trying to imitate a trumpet with mouth noises, which not only adds an unappetizingly vaudevillian flavor, but leaves the impression that there wasn’t enough budget allotted for proper instrumentation. . . .


And Matty Loughlin-Day says:

[W]hen Campbell returned, this time as a solo act with the spare, largely acoustic album Son of Anastasia, it failed to garner anywhere near as much attention as it deserved. Featuring subdued reworkings of many 23rd Turnoff songs (Mother’s BoyPenny in my PocketAnother Vincent Van Gogh and an almost baroque reinterpretation of Michaelangelo), it nevertheless marked a further maturity in Campbell’s writing, with his style becoming increasingly idiosyncratic and less formulaic. . . . Despite sporadic TV and radio appearances and positive reviews, it largely sank without trace. Perhaps this was the result of a strange first single – the trippy On a Monday; a superb song, but hardly singalong material – or maybe Campbell laid himself too bare for mass attention . . . but either way, . . . Anastasia faded away. Listening some 50 years later, elements of the album have dated somewhat. The inclusion of kazoo on some tracks is misguided to say the least. But it still stands as a brilliant album in the singer-songwriter canon and by all rights, much of it should be included in the great Scouse songbook.


Here’s a demo:

Here is a 23rd Turnoff demo version:

737) Jimmy Campbell — “Mother’s Boy”

Also from Son of Anastasia, Funkadelphiarecords comments that “Mother’s Boy” is “[a]s great, if not better than any Beatles song from 1967 which says quite a lot about the quality of this tune.” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3Ra1cRF_jU)

Here is a demo from the 23rd Turnoff:

Here is a solo demo:

738) Rockin’ Horse — “Biggest Gossip in Town”

Rockin’ Horse was formed by Jimmy and former Merseybeat Billy Kinsley (see #725). Bruce Eder says that “[t]he goal of Rockin’ Horse was to revive the classic Liverpool sound — in that regard, Yes It Is is a phenomenal album”. (https://www.allmusic.com/album/yes-it-is-mw0000549559) Matty Loughlin-Day calls it “earworm pure pop genius”. (https://www.getintothis.co.uk/2019/06/lost-liverpool-25-jimmy-campbell-the-greatest-songwriter-youve-never-heard-of/) To put it more bluntly, how was “Gossip” not a f’*cking hit?!

As to the album, Loughlin-Day goes on:

Although elements of it have dated somewhat more than his solo work – it could almost be the great lost album The Beatles recorded in between Let it Be and Abbey Road – it contains some of Campbell’s finest yearning pop in Biggest Gossip in TownDon’t You Ever Think I Cry? and Yes it is. Inevitably, in a post-Beatles world, it – you guessed it – bombed.


Kinsley says that:

There was a coffee shop that all of the bands went to in Liverpool called the Kardomah and all the biggest gossips hung out there. It’s pure pop. Jimmy said I should write the middle section so I went to another room and half an hour later I’d finished it. I tried to do a Shirelles type middle eight. I had grown up on all the Shirelles albums and I loved all the lesser-known tracks off their albums. I was very, very influenced by the, the Exciters and all that US girl group stuff.

liner notes to CD reissue of Yes It Is

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