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Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me ) - Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel

When an artist starts out as part of a band, and then renames the band as them AND the band, it always seems like a unwarranted act of vanity.

It was fine for people who started out that way like Cliff Richard and the Shadows, or the great Tommy James and the Shondells, or even Katrina and the Waves, but I feel Diana Ross did herself no favours when the Supremes became Diana Ross and the Supremes, and Eric Burden and the Animals will always just be a later version of the Animals to me even though their personnel had all changed apart from Burden. And who could imagine Robert Smith and the Cure? Or Sting and the Police? Or even Bono and u2?

In 1974, after the lack of success of the magnificent "Sebastian" (see last post), Cockney Rebel had UK top ten hits with the excellent "Judy Teen" and "Mr Soft" whereupon the whole line-up apart from drummer Stuart Elliot left the band because Steve Harley wouldn't let them have any songwriting input. To be fair to Harley, he had been clear when he recruited them that Cockney Rebel was his vehicle and no-one else's. But it's the modesty that counts, false or not, and the ethos of the collective which invests their image with an implicit guarantee of group-tested quality. An interesting example is that of Paul McCartney and Wings. I recall overhearing a couple of girls in a record shop way back in 1972 who'd come across the album "Wild Life" by Wings reading out the credits:

"Paul McCartney: vocals, guitar, bass guitar, piano, recorder

Linda McCartney: vocals, keyboards

Denny Laine: guitar, recorder

Denny Seiwell: drums.....

oh no, don't say Paul's left the Beatles!"

After the relative failure of the record, which McCartney rightly or wrongly put down to the lack of visibility of his name, the band became "Paul McCartney and Wings" for their next two, very successful, albums, before reverting to the original "Wings". McCartney's self-effacing modesty extended for a further six years until the group split up in 1979.

Stave Harley, for a moment at least, had it both ways. He was so bitterly upset by what he saw as the desertion of his group that he wrote the song for which he will always be remembered, "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me )", as a musical "up yours" to his former bandmates.

"You've broken every code

and pulled the rebel to the floor

you spoiled the game

no matter what you say...."

Then he recruited a new band, henceforth, so no-one got the wrong idea, known as "Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel".

Ironically, their first single post namechange was said "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me )", a UK number one, and, according to Alex Petridis of the Guardian, one of the most-played songs in British broadcasting history. Even now, nigh on 50 years later, retro deejay's, lost for something to play to the last dregs of parties in the small hours, will, with a sigh, reach for "Make Me Smile", sure that it will have them staggering to their feet like extras from a George A Romero movie.

The accompanying album, also a smash hit, was the unconsciously appropriately titled "The Best Years of our Lives" as this proved to be the peak of Harley success, with no further significant hits except the band's 1976 version of the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun" and his 1986 duet with Sarah Brightman of "The Phantom of the Opera", surely as unmemorable a song as was ever sung in a West End theatre.

He disbanded Cockney Rebel in 1977, to record "solo albums, only to reform it for touring purposes, presumably because he realised that the addition of Cockney Rebel was a bigger draw than just Steve Harley and back-up band. Of his LP's, the best by far is the first and probably least commercially successful, "The Human Menagerie", even if it does reveal his early East London influences, Marc Bolan, the Kinks, Kurt Weil via Bowie via Mott the Hoople.

The fact that apart from "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me )", Harley wrote hardly any decent songs after the departure of the original line-up of Cockney Rebel, suggests that had he allowed input from the other band members it may have saved him from composer burn-out, so maybe he should have listened to them. But there again, the song he wrote to avenge himself against them has since received so many radio plays, has featured in so many movies and has been covered so many times, he never had to work again unless he wanted to. What's now known as the Harley Conundrum. Or is it a Faustian pact?

Whatever it is, it's a pop masterpiece, the stop-start whimsey of Harley's magical pierrot vocals, dreamy Beatles-style "pah pah pah pah pah's" and "ooh la lala's" and that heavenly acoustic Spanish guitar solo. Get up you zombies, time for one last dance.....!


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