Open main menu

Black or White (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel song)

"Black or White" is a song by the British rock band Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, released in 1975 as the lead single from the band's 1976 studio album Timeless Flight.[1] On occasions, the song has been titled "Black or White (And Step on It)".[2] It was written and produced by Harley.

"Black or White"
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Black or White Single German Cover.jpg
Single by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel
from the album Timeless Flight
B-side"Mad, Mad Moonlight (Live)"
Released14 November 1975
Format7"
GenrePop, rock
Length5:43
LabelEMI Records
Songwriter(s)Steve Harley
Producer(s)Steve Harley
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel singles chronology
"Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)"
(1975)
"Black or White"
(1975)
"White, White Dove"
(1976)

Contents

BackgroundEdit

After the success of their 1975 album The Best Years of Our Lives, which spawned the UK number-one single "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)", the band soon returned to the studio in the summer of 1975 to record their next album Timeless Flight. "Black or White" was recorded, remixed and cut at Abbey Road Studios, London. It features a 10-piece choir, made up of members of the band and other backing vocalists, including Madeline Bell, Yvonne Keeley and Barry St. John. The song's strings were arranged by keyboardist Duncan Mackay.[3]

Preceding the album, "Black or White" was released as the lead single in November 1975. Despite the band's success earlier in the year, the song failed to reach the UK Top 50, which in turn gave the UK's music press the chance to predict Harley's commercial eclipse.[4] However, "Black or White" did reach No. 2 on the BMRB's UK Breakers Chart on 22 November 1975 (which would be equal to No. 52 on the UK Singles Chart, at a time when the national singles chart only ran to the Top 50).[5] Speaking to Record Mirror & Disc in 1976, Harley commented: "I knew it was either going to be massive - top three - or a complete stiff. It turned out to be a stiff."[6] Later in 2011, Harley added: "They didn't get it in the right shops at the right time and promote it properly."[7]

"Black or White" was inspired by the 1925 poem The Hollow Men by British poet T. S. Eliot. Talking to The Observer in 1976, Harley revealed that T. S. Eliot was a big hero to him, and that he nicked the form of "The Hollow Men" for the song.[8]

ReleaseEdit

"Black or White" was released by EMI Records on 7" vinyl in the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Japan.[9] In the UK, a promotional demo/DJ copy was also issued by EMI.[10][11] The Japanese edition of the single, unlike the other countries, was promotional only.[12] The B-Side was "Mad, Mad Moonlight (Live)" - a live version of the album track from The Best Years of Our Lives album. It was recorded live at the Hammersmith Odeon, London, on 14 April 1975.

All releases of the single came with a picture sleeve except for the UK. The Belgium and Netherlands editions used the same photograph of the band on the sleeve, but with a different design. The German and Japanese releases had separate close-up photographs of Harley. The single had two covers in Italy - one featuring a close-up shot of Harley playing guitar and singing on stage, while the other used a crest-like drawing, featuring a girl figure and two Union Jack flags.[9]

Following its release as a single, and on Timeless Flight, the song would later appear on various Steve Harley compilations, including 1980's The Best of Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel,[13] and 1996's The Best of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel[14] and Premium Gold Collection.[15]

PromotionEdit

A music video was filmed to promote the single. It was directed by Mick Rock and filmed in Studio 3 at Abbey Road Studios. Rock also took the photographs and designed the album sleeve for Timeless Flight.[16] Speaking to the fan site Harley Fanzone in 2004, Harley said: "We did a great video of "Black or White" at Abbey Road with Mick Rock."[17] The hoodie that Harley wore in the video was made by Yvonne Keeley, Harley's girlfriend and backing vocalist of the time.

In the UK, the band performed the song live on the ITV music programme Supersonic. The footage has since been wiped and presumed lost. A full A4 advert was also published in a November 1975 issue of UK music magazine Melody Maker to promote the release of the new single.[18] In the Netherlands, the band performed the song on the AVRO TV show TopPop.[19] In May 1976, the Dutch-Belgian magazine Joepie reported of the band's performance on TopPop: "Chances are that Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel group will never occur in the Netherlands. While shooting for TopPop (where their single "Black or White" - also flopped!), he was anything but cooperative, and gave the director a lot of headaches. Steve Harley is underdone as a tough guy, but this time it was really from the scuppers."[20]

In November 2012, the band performed the song live at the Birmingham Symphony Hall. On the night, Harley and the band, supported by an orchestra and chamber choir, performed the first two Cockney Rebel albums in their entirety, along with "Black or White". It was released on CD and DVD in 2013 as Birmingham (Live with Orchestra & Choir).[21]

Critical receptionEdit

Upon release, Dutch-Belgian magazine Joepie felt the song was "a worthy successor" to "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)".[22] Record Mirror predicted that the song was a certain number-one single and better than Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". A 1976 issue of Record Mirror & Disc noted that the song had been a "controversial single, adding: "some people have said that it's a load of self - indulgent rubbish, a minority love it".[23]

Angus Mackinnon of Street Life reviewed Timeless Flight and encouraged listeners to "swoon to the widescreen piano arpeggios introducing "Black or White" and the song's orchestral arrangements, both courtesy of Mackay". Speaking of the album's lyrical messages, Mackinnon mentioned the song again: "...you can savour Harley's pontifications concerning the spiritual state of man in "Black and White"".[24] Another UK music magazine review described the song as a highlight of side two, adding: "I still rate [it] as a great track despite the derisory snorts that have assailed it from all quarters of the business ever since it was released as a single".[25] Another UK music magazine published a review by Jonathan Barnett, felt side two was "nowhere near as emotionally energetic as side one", "apart from the inexplicable single flop, "Black or White"".[26] Stewart Parker, for his "High Pop" column in The Irish Times said: "T. S. Elliott verses kick off the second side, in "Black or White (and Step on It)", which contains perhaps the most tuneless singing on the album."[27] Jon Marlowe of the American newspaper The Miami News reviewed the album and spoke of the song in contrast to the album's theme: "...what it is, though, is a fine record that shows Harley obsessed with cabaret and color this time out as evidence the title - "Red is a Mean, Mean Color", "White White Dove", and "Black or White"."[28]

Dave Thompson of AllMusic retrospectively reviewed Timeless Flight and felt the song displayed "deliberately impenetrable wordplay", but highlighted it as an album standout by labeling it an AMG Pick Track.[2] In 2003 Martin Aston of Q wrote: "Timeless Flight bears plenty of Harley's melodic hallmarks, but some complex tripwires keep popping up: "Black or White" is a rare showing of Rebel soulfulness but the tempo is lethargic".[29]

Track listingEdit

7" Single
  1. "Black or White" - 5:43
  2. "Mad, Mad Moonlight (Live)" - 5:03
7" Single (UK promo)
  1. "Black or White" - 5:43
  2. "Mad, Mad Moonlight (Live)" - 5:03
7" Single (Japanese white label promo)
  1. "Black or White" - 5:43
  2. "Mad, Mad Moonlight (Live)" - 5:03

Chart performanceEdit

Chart (1976) Peak
position
UK Singles Chart[30] 52

PersonnelEdit

Cockney Rebel
Additional personnel
  • Lindsey Elliott - percussion
  • Madeline Bell - backing vocals
  • Peter Clarke - backing vocals
  • Yvonne Keeley - backing vocals
  • Barry St. John - backing vocals
  • Larry Steele - backing vocals
  • Liza Strike - backing vocals
  • Leroy Wiggins - backing vocals
  • Joy Yates - backing vocals
  • John Kurlander - engineer
  • John Leckie - engineer
  • Tony Clark - remix engineer
  • Chris Blair - master cutter

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Black Or White at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  2. ^ a b Guarisco, Donald A. "Timeless Flight - Steve Harley, Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel : Songs, Reviews, Credits, Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  3. ^ https://www.discogs.com/Steve-Harley-Cockney-Rebel-Timeless-Flight/release/1331706
  4. ^ https://books.google.com/books?id=L2kGAQAAMAAJ&q=steve+harley+black+or+white+cockney+rebel&dq=steve+harley+black+or+white+cockney+rebel&hl=en&sa=X&ei=D1ENUd_-LuOL0AWzxYCoBg&ved=0CC4Q6AEwADgK
  5. ^ Chartwatch magazine (Issue 46). Chartwatch. November 1993. pp. Breakers 1974-75 section.
  6. ^ "Hard Harted Harley". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  7. ^ Booklet of 2011 CD BGO issue of Timeless Flight
  8. ^ "Meet Rock Crusader - magazine article". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 31 May 2016. Retrieved 29 June 2012.
  9. ^ a b "Timeless Flight". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 22 November 2014. Retrieved 9 February 2013.
  10. ^ "Steve Harley And Cockney Rebel - Black Or White / Mad, Mad Moonlight - EMI - UK - EMI 2369". 45cat. 14 April 1975. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  11. ^ "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Black Or White (Vinyl) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  12. ^ "STEVE HARLEY&COCKNEY REBEL-BLACK OR WHITE-JAPAN ISSUE PROMO WHITE LABEL 7'". eBay. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  13. ^ "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - The Best Of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  14. ^ "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - The Best Of Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  15. ^ "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Premium Gold Collection (CD) at Discogs". Discogs.com. 29 August 1996. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  16. ^ "Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel - Timeless Flight (CD, Album)". Discogs.com. Retrieved 10 October 2016.
  17. ^ https://web.archive.org/web/20141107114053/http://www.harleyfanzone.com/Interviews/Harley04.htm
  18. ^ "STEVE HARLEY - BLACK OR WHITE large press clipping 1975 30x40cm (29/11/75)". eBay. 29 November 1975. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  19. ^ YouTube (29 December 2010). "Cockney Rebel-Black or White". YouTube. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  20. ^ "Nederland". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  21. ^ "Birmingham - Live With Orchestra & Choir: Amazon.co.uk: Music". Amazon.co.uk. Retrieved 25 February 2014.
  22. ^ "Nieuwe Rebel". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  23. ^ "Hard Harted Harley". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 7 November 2014. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  24. ^ "Timeless Flight Review". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  25. ^ "Timeless Flight". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  26. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 10 December 2014. Retrieved 15 January 2017.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  27. ^ High Pop: The Irish Times Column, 1970-1976 - Stewart Parker - Google Books. Books.google.co.uk. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  28. ^ [1][dead link]
  29. ^ "Timeless Flight Review". Harleyfanzone.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 2 February 2013.
  30. ^ Chartwatch magazine (Issue 46). Chartwatch. November 1993. pp. Breakers 1974-75 section.

External linksEdit