I write after having listened to the whole of the Racing Cars’ Downtown Tonight LP, and feeling about it very much the way I felt about They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (FF 1976 #7) after I first heard that, back in the summer of 1979 (rather late to this game, I was): pleasant and somewhat soothing music in a kind of late evening after the winebar sense, but not outstanding, and certainly not at all representative of Peel’s output in the latter half of the year it was released. Yet why should I be surprised at this? Looking at the session lists of the first half of that year, we see new recordings from Andy Fairweather Low, the Kursaal Flyers, Brand X, Lone Star, and first plays of LPs by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, the Jess Roden Band, Maddy Prior and June Tabor…it seemed that the show was stuck in a kind of rut from which it needed rescuing.
Yes, I know I’ve made this point ad nauseam, but the contrast between the two halves of that turbulent year are truly startling in retrospect, and for a mediocre act like Racing Cars to make such an impression was indicative of the fact that the Peel Show was standing somewhat forlornly on the precipice of soft rock, glancing hopefully at pub rock in the meantime. The band were formed in the Rhondda Valey in 1973, and that debut LP graced the LP charts top 40 in 1976, spawning a number 14 hit single in Horses the following year. The song itself takes part of a memory revivified by the 1969 film of the same name and attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a dance marathon with its sleepy, fairground lilting. It was the only track from 1976 to feature in Peel’s debut chart, but in a year that was so replete with much better material, it’s hard to give this one more than a passing nod.
Racing Cars recorded no less than five sessions for Kat’s Karavan (unbelievably, the last was in 1978, so JP can’t have lost faith yet), none of which have been made available, which is why I can’t offer you my usual session plus today.Their lack of commercial success in the ensuing years (although they reformed about ten years ago after Monty got a lot of session work) had a lot to do not only with punk but also that, as I’ve already said, their material was just not that strong, and certainly doesn’t stand up to repeated listening today.
Having said that, I wrote the above an hour ago and I haven’t stopped singing the bloody thing since. Reminds me of what Noel Coward said about the potency of cheap music. Bah.
Racing Cars, They Shoot Horses Don’t They?