The Best Years of Our Lives (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel album)
The Best Years of Our Lives is the third studio album by Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel, released in 1975. It was the first album that featured Harley's name ahead of the band's (the band was previously known simply as Cockney Rebel). The album contains the band's only UK number one, the million-selling "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)". The album was produced by Harley and Alan Parsons.
|The Best Years of Our Lives|
|Studio album by|
|Producer||Steve Harley, Alan Parsons|
|Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel chronology|
In July 1974 the original line-up of Cockney Rebel split at the end of a major British tour, promoting their second album The Psychomodo. As the tour progressed the band faced growing tensions. After receiving a 'Gold Award' on 18 July for outstanding new act of 1974, Cockney Rebel disbanded a week later. Jean-Paul Crocker, Milton Reame-James and Paul Jeffreys quit the band after having demanded to write material for the group, despite the initial understanding that Harley was the sole songwriter. In August Harley announced to Record Mirror that he was going to return with "the greatest rock 'n' roll band ever heard". In 2014 he recalled: "The people at my record label, EMI, were right behind me. They believed I could find new band members without too much of a problem and continue on to a new level of success. They believed it wasn't a major stumbling block."
Harley quickly began assembling the new line-up. As the original band were booked to play Friars Aylesbury and the Reading Festival, on 24 and 25 August respectively, Harley formed a temporary line-up for the two shows. With original member Stuart Elliott remaining, on drums, the line-up featured accomplished guitarist Jim Cregan, keyboard player Francis Monkman and bassist George Ford. The new line-up was soon finalised and featured the same musicians, minus Monkman who was replaced by keyboardist Duncan Mackay. Harley renamed the group Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel. The new band played their first concert on 18 October 1974 at the Rainbow Theatre in London. In November and December 1974 the band recorded Cockney Rebel's third album, The Best Years of Our Lives at Abbey Road Studios and Air Studios in London. Meanwhile, at the beginning of November, Harley released his debut solo single "Big Big Deal", which aimed to keep the momentum of Cockney Rebel's recent hit releases going.
Preceding The Best Years of Our Lives was the single "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)", which was released in January 1975. Becoming the band's biggest hit, the song reached the number one spot on the UK Chart in February, and received a UK Silver certification that month. As of 2015 it has sold around 1.5 million copies in the UK. Years later, Harley would reveal that the lyrics spoke about the split of the original band and were vindictively directed at the former band members who, he felt, had abandoned him. Over 120 cover versions of the song have been recorded by other artists.
Following the success of the single, The Best Years of Our Lives was released in March 1975, and reached #4 on the UK Albums Chart. It debuted at that position on 22 March and remained in the Top 50 for nineteen weeks. The album's second single, "Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)", was released in May and became another UK hit, reaching #13. The song's titular character refers to the fictional thief A. J. Raffles, created by author E. W. Hornung.
To promote the album, the band embarked on a UK and European tour from March onwards. On the tour, the band hired guitarist Snowy White to play rhythm guitar. In a January 1975 issue of Record & Popswop Mirror it was announced that the upcoming tour would feature "a specially built set and lighting to reflect songs and images featured on the forthcoming album". Later in the year they toured America, as a support act for The Kinks.
To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the album, along with "Make Me Smile", a 16-date UK tour was announced for November 2015. Harley, who has continued to play with various Cockney Rebel incarnations since the 1970s, reunited with the surviving members of the original second line-up for the tour; Cregan, Elliott and Mackay. The band's bassist, George Ford, had died in 2007. The tour marked the first time that the line-up had played together since 1976. On the tour the band performed two sets at each show: one featuring a selection of tracks from Harley and the band's career and the second featuring The Best Years of Our Lives album, in its entirety. Speaking to Classic Rock, in March 2015, Harley commented: "The three guys are still my mates. The fun we had back then, when we toured and recorded together, holds fabulous and special memories. I'm thrilled to think they'll be up there on the great UK concert hall stages with me once again."
The album was released by EMI Records on vinyl across the world, including in the UK, US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Netherlands, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Finland, Yugoslavia and Sweden. Later in 1991, the album received its first CD release through EMI, which featured two bonus tracks; "Another Journey", the B-Side to "Make Me Smile", as well as a live version of "Sebastian", recorded at the Hammersmith Odeon in London on 14 April 1975. In 2001, BGO Records released a remastered edition of the album. Although it did not feature any bonus tracks, the album was remastered from the original master tapes, and featured faithfully restored artwork with additional sleeve notes.
On 23 June 2014, a definitive edition of the album was released by Parlophone as a four CD + DVD box-set. On disc one, aside from the original album, the B-Side "Another Journey" is included, as well as early demo version of "Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)" and "The Best Years of Our Lives" - both previously unreleased. The second and third discs feature live tracks from the band's concert at the Hammersmith Odeon on 14 April 1975. The 28-minute DVD features footage of the same concert. The edition's project manager was Bethany Dawson, while the sleeve notes were written by Geoff Barton.
In August 2014, a 180-gram vinyl reissue of the album was released in the Netherlands by Music on Vinyl.
Upon release, Record Mirror commented: "Forget No 1 singles; this will change everything. In nine songs, Harley wipes out his two-album apprenticeship with a stunning change of direction and commitment. Using the license of someone who knows he's on top, Harley continually swaps style and musical approach to present a progressive collage of youth. It is a coming of age, a political and religious protest, a brilliant snap-book for a generation, a puzzle. In short, this third album demands attention. It is completely fulfilling, a monster unleashed." American magazine Cash Box commented: "Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel have a surefire smash with their latest on EMI. This five piece band cooks and grinds in the David Bowie style with the emphasis on the spacey light pop rock sound that is very heavy today in the pop market. This should get heavy FM play with our favorites "The Mad, Mad Moonlight," "It Wasn't Me," "Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)" and the title cut. So get yourself a tuneup with Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel."
Donald A. Guarisco of AllMusic retrospectively said: "By his third album, Steve Harley had developed a strong grasp of how to combine his artistic ambitions with strongly crafted pop tunes that win the casual listener over to his artsy cause. The result was The Best Years of Our Lives, the most successful album of his mid-'70s heyday. All in all, it is a fine, slickly crafted album that will delight Steve Harley enthusiasts and will also appeal to fans of glam-oriented 1970s English rock."
All songs written and composed by Steve Harley.
|1.||"Introducing The Best Years"||1:07|
|2.||"The Mad, Mad Moonlight"||4:30|
|3.||"Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)"||4:33|
|4.||"It Wasn't Me"||6:02|
|6.||"Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)"||4:00|
|7.||"Back to the Farm"||5:53|
|9.||"The Best Years of Our Lives"||5:45|
|1991 EMI CD bonus tracks|
|11.||"Sebastian (Live at Hammersmith Odeon)"||10:54|
|2014 Parlophone definitive edition CD1 - bonus tracks|
|1.||"Another Journey (B-side)"||2:51|
|2.||"Mr Raffles (Man, It Was Mean) (Single Version)"||3:03|
|3.||"Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me) (Rough Mix)"||3:17|
|4.||"The Best Years Of Our Lives (Acoustic Version)"||5:31|
|2014 Parlophone definitive edition CD2 - Live at Hammersmith 14 April 1975 - Part 1|
|1.||"The Mad, Mad Moonlight"||5:13|
|6.||"Mr. Raffles (Man, It Was Mean)"||5:08|
|7.||"Back to the Farm"||6:43|
|2014 Parlophone definitive edition CD3 - Live at Hammersmith 14 April 1975 - Part 2|
|5.||"The Best Years of Our Lives"||5:06|
|6.||"Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me)"||4:34|
- Steve Harley - vocals
- Jim Cregan - electric guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
- George Ford - bass guitar, string bass, backing vocals
- Duncan Mackay - electric piano, grand piano, elka, clavinet, synthesizer, Hammond organ
- Stuart Elliott - drums, percussion, marimba
- Tina Charles – backing vocals
- Martin Jay – backing vocals
- Yvonne Keeley – backing vocals
- Linda Lewis – backing vocals
- Liza Strike – backing vocals
- Steve Harley - producer
- Alan Parsons – producer, engineer, mixing
- Gary Edwards – tape operator
- Peter James – tape operator
- Andrew Powell - horn and brass arrangement (track 5)
- Chris Blair – mastering
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