That'll Be The Day/Stardust
That'll Be The Day dedication:
For David Puttnam,
For David Puttnam,
dedication: To Francesca
The blurbs on the back:
That'll Be The Day
The dawn of the 1970s saw a major development in popular music: for the first time ever it was clear that this was the end of an era. All previous transitions, from Bill Haley onwards, had been pretty seamless, but now there was a definite full-stop. Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison all died within a few months of each other, and - most important of all - the Beatles split. The 1960s were very definitely over and done with and, in consequence, nostalgia became all the rage.
Actually there'd been a hint of nostalgia already. The Beatles had gone out to the sound of 'Get Back' rather than 'Strawberry Fields', the Stones had abandoned all that 'We Love You' stuff in favour of 'Honky Tonk Women', Dylan was on John Wesley Harding and The Band and Creedence Clearwater Revival were busy reversing into the future: in short, simplicity was the new psychedelia. And elsewhere Richard Nader was making his name as a promoter by putting on major rock & roll revival shows with the original artists.
It was only a matter of time before the cinema caught up with the new direction of popular culture. In 1973 George Lucas became a star director with American Graffiti (his last watchable movie) whilst we made do with our own English Graffiti, otherwise known as That'll Be The Day. Starring David Essex, Ringo Starr and the great Billy Fury, it told the story of a struggling rock and roll band, The Stray Cats, but was really a study of Macmillan's Britain with some incidental music. A kind of Dennis Potter Lite, if you will.
Jim Maclaine (David Essex) in rocking days
That'll Be The Day was a critical and commercial hit and spawned a sequel in Stardust. Starting with the assassination of Jack Kennedy at a time when the Stray Cats are just about to make it, and ending in the decadence of 1970s rock, with Jim Maclaine (Essex) a reclusive drug-wrecked solo star, it was a tad ambitious and much more focussed on the music industry than on English society.
The first film has faded somewhat in its critical standing, while Stardust was never given full credit in the first place, and nowadays the two can probably be seen quite happily and comfortably as a twin-set. Writer Ray Connolly's experience of life inside the rock machine of the late-60s was presumably more limited than his knowledge of the era of skiffle and National Service but even so the second movie comes off as a triumph, partly because David Essex is more impressive as a '60s star than he was as a rocker, partly because the ever watchable Adam Faith co-stars as his sidekick, and partly because the theme song is one of the great works of 1970s pop. (Chris Spedding's guitar solo is a masterpiece of understatement - my nomination as solo of the decade.)
The decadent years
The book's no embarrassment either. Connolly keeps his focus tight on the characters, doesn't attempt any detailed depiction of the industry, and makes sure we don't lose sight of the past - Maclaine's abandoned wife and child make an unexpected re-appearance (shades of Cynthia and Julian?). The result is a rapid and readable book: it may not offer any startling insights, and it's probably not as strong a piece of writing as That'll Be The Day was, but it's more fun in its own way.
Trick or Treat
ENTERTAINMENT VALUE: 3/5
HIPNESS QUOTIENT: 3/5