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May 26th, 1965: A Review of The Greatest Pop Concert On Earth - Part Two

A Review of The Greatest Pop Concert On Earth - Part Two

The events we write about at Gaslight Records happened in some form or another 50 years ago to the day. Roll along with us and imagine you are back in 1969.

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The Rolling Stones entered the arena to the biggest ovation of the first-half of the NME Pollwinners concert in 1965. Jagger swung directly into his moody pomp routine and the band fell in behind him. NME critic Keith Altham wrote that the performance demonstrated the band's "faultless timing", along with Jagger's ability to "put the emphasis in his phrasing" at exactly the right moments. On the contrary, I'd say the first half of the Stones' performance was particularly sloppy when compared with the slickness and magnetic stage presence of their later live incarnations.

There's no doubt, however, that Jagger was the first bona fide rock star to take the stage during the Pollwinners concert--a point emphasised by the hysteria that accompanied even his slightest demonstration of attitude and stage play. They got it together for the last couple of songs, "Around and Around" and "The Last Time". But considering how great we know the Stones can be, the Pollwinners performance seems fairly minor.

Following the intermission, Cilia Black lacked neither spirit or melodramatic tremelo. She held onto resolution notes for as long as she could to the point of ad nauseam--think a lower pitch version of Joan Baez.

Donovan's introduction of course included the comparison that has haunted his entire career--"I hate people who say he's a copy of Dylan because I think he's very talented in his own right."

As Altham put it, "This was the act so many fans had been waiting for, if only for its curiosity value. Would Donovan match up to his publicity?"

I've been guilty of beating up on Donovan a little in the past, but his performance of "You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond" is actually a breath of fresh air amid the upbeat pop vibes of other acts. "Catch The Wind" doesn't escape its status as clunky Dylan tribute in the live setting, however.

The atmosphere shifts when Van Morrison enters the fray along with his band (Them). Up until this point the crowd had been treated (for the most part) to chart topping pop acts whose sound didn't necessarily carry with it a timeless quality. Even the Rolling Stones were still in the early stages of development. Of course, their sound would become iconic, but in early 65 they were still mostly just a covers band trying to discern a style of their own.

Van Morrison, on the other hand, always had the air of someone who was just born ready; as though no maturation process was required for him to become 'Van Morrison'. Others (Mick Jagger, for example) develop a stage persona over time via trial and error; they have to put on an 'act' in order to be magnetic. Van Morrison, it seems, just got up and behaved like himself, sans bells and whistles. The result is a stripping back of pomp and ceremony to reveal a more honest approach. Van doesn't play pop star here. He seems completely disinterested in the screaming teenagers or the gravity of the situation. He's a guy interested in the core of song and storytelling, and that idea echoes in the heartfelt nature of "Here Comes The Night" in particular.

A Review of The Greatest Pop Concert On Earth - Part Two
Van Morrison - 1965

The Searchers' "Let The Good Times Roll" sounds amateurish coming as it does after Them's performance.

Keith Fordyce's banter is awful. It's like watching a really unfunny, uncharismatic Dad trying to entertain his daughter's high school friends.

Knowing what we now know about Jimmy Savile, it's impossible to find him anything but creepy.

Dusty Springfield opens with "Mockingbird". Sorry but all I can think of when I hear this song is Lloyd Christmas's chipped tooth and bowl haircut.

Springfield is another one who took a while to grow into herself. She lacks, at this early point in her career, the sexed risque that would later characterise her sultry voice in songs like "Son Of A Preacher Man".

Eric Burden is bad ass, no other way to put it. He's the kind of guy you'd want on your side in a bar fight. He just exuded a 'couldn't give a fuck' attitude that all but pre-dated the hedonist rock and roll movement, making him a pioneer of sorts. Burden and his band, The Animals, open with a raucous version of John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom". They follow it with "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood", signifying a return to Van Morrison levels of quality.

The Animals must have scared the hell outta the parentals in 1965. At least The Beatles were respectable looking young lads, even if their music was a bit too sexed up. Burden and his mates, on the other hand, resembled wild men on a mission to drag well-to-do daughters into the ways of ill-repute.

Then come The Beatles...What more is there to be said about the hysteria that surrounded this group's every public performance in the 60s--screaming mania to the point where the music is all but drowned out. The NME Pollwinners concert was no different. Lennon and co grin and plough on through opener "I Feel Fine", but with the benefit of hindsight we now know that playing to such an audience in a time before PA systems were equipped to conquer crowd noise was torturous for the group.

A Review of The Greatest Pop Concert On Earth - Part Two
The Beatles - 1965

The Kinks close out the show, oddly enough. Not to say The Kinks aren't amazing, just that it seems strange to put anyone on after The Beatles. Even still, the crowd seem happy enough--screaming their little heads off when Ray Davies and co hit the stage. The rendition of "You Really Got Me" demonstrates the challenges facing live acts in the early sixties. Generally speaking, fold-backs weren't available on stage, meaning that bands often couldn't hear what they were playing. And as any musician will tell you, not being able to hear yourself makes the job near impossible because you have no idea whether you're staying in tune. The backing vocalist for The Kinks hits some rank high notes that render parts of the performance unlistenable.

Check out the full concert below:

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