This time the 70’s hidden gem will be 1975’s Futurama by Be-Bop Deluxe. If there is any guitar player that sits at the top of any list of underrated 6 stringers it should be Bill Nelson. You probably won’t hear his name mentioned anywhere nor I bet you have even heard the name. Believe me, Bill can play! In my opinion, he sits in a class that few fit into. A guy who can make his guitar “sing”. He’s right alongside the likes of Gary Moore, Dave Meniketti, Uli Jon Roth, Ernie Isley and Frank Marino for having the skill and technique to do this. I know what you are thinking – man those are some big shoes to compete with.
Just give me time to prove it to you.
Be-Bop Deluxe was founded in 1972 by Bill in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England. Though Bill remained the leader and key writer, the band had various line-ups. The lineup I most fondly remember was the threesome of Nelson on vocals and guitar, Charlie Tumahai on bass and Simon Fox on drums.
They recorded 5 studio albums with Futurama being their second released in July 1975. The album was produced by Queen’s producer Roy Thomas Baker.
Be-Bop Deluxe’s style of music is described as a mixture of all those 70’s terms back in the day – glam rock with a mix of guitar driven hard rock influenced by progressive rock. They are unique that’s for sure. I just know that I loved it whatever it was.
It all started while listening to late night AM radio when the waves were clean and clear and you could pick up stations from far away. WISL radio out of Shamokin, Pennsylvania was a favorite choice. They seemed to play the harder edge unique stuff not easily heard here in Southern Ontario. So this one particular night in 1976 we heard a short blistering guitar driven song called “Maid in Heaven” by this unknown band called what? Bee Bop what?
Back then the record album was the format of choice and we would take our albums from house to house and party to party. Not only is Futurama my hidden gem it truly sits near the top of my all-time greatest albums of all time without hesitation. I regularly play the CD and it never gets old. I still get a tear in my eye, goosebumps on my arms and always makes me sing aloud while air guitaring my way through each of the songs. So with further ado, let’s break it down song for song.
PS – for this review, I will do only the 9 songs the way the record was originally released as newer versions have bonus, re-mastered and live tracks included.
Futurama is the 2nd album from England’s Be-Bop Deluxe released on Harvest Records in 1975.
All songs written by Bill Nelson
- “Stage Whispers” –Wow right off the hop we think there is 3 or 4 guitar players cranking this out but no it’s just Bill’s style of ferocious overdubbing to get things rolling. The perfect opening track to set the tone. The song which like many on here are layered with multiple switches of intensity that by the time you grasp what you think is going on, Bill has already left the scene and on to the next one. This guy can play! A reason why it never gets old.
- “Love with a Madman” – I used to wonder why after such a blistering start they would immediately slow things down but after 40 years and endless spins my ears are accustomed to what comes next and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A true melodic gem with Bill’s dreamy vocals surrounded by equally dreamy riffing. No lifting the needle needed here.
- “Maid in Heaven” – It truly is amazing what can be fit into one tiny less than 3:00 45 rpm. If it wasn’t for this song I may not have come across this band and who knows how that would’ve affected my musical direction way back then.
- “Sister Seagull” – Probably the signature song and a fan favorite. This song is just pure magic. That trademark opening riff along with the constant haunting sound of screaming lead guitar that builds and builds throughout. You just have to admire the screeching seagull squawks courtesy the 6 string at the end.
- “Sound Track” – Remember when I talked earlier about goosebumps on my arm – well this is the reason. This song is not only my album choice cut but one of the finest rock anthems ever. It actually intensifies layer upon layer into a frenzied climax that one would think was a 10-minute epic. But Be-Bop Deluxe compact this mayhem into just over 6 minutes. 6 minutes that has become the “Soundtrack” of my life. Not only is the guitar brilliant but you cannot ignore those keyboards!
- “Music in Dreamland” – Ok time for side 2, and what a start. Another classic Be-Bop Deluxe song that I have played countless times. Over and over again I dreamed along with it. It might’ve been 1976, 1982, 1996, 2005 or yesterday but it’s always the same – “Maybe we’ll make music in Dreamland tonight”. Opening lead riffs, wonderful lyrics, and vocals against perfect keys. Sing along if you like.
- “Jean Cocteau” – a short mellow homage to the named Beauty and the Beast French writer. Never one of my faves but still musically fabulous.
- “Between the Worlds” – a great little fast paced guitar driven gem that reminds me of what would become Be-Bop Deluxe’s signature sound of later albums. The chorus is a real sing-along killer!
- “Swan Song” – Another 6-minute epic that despite changing directions so many times it is tied together nicely and works as a perfect closer. Back in the day 9 songs was average for an album but surprisingly satisfying as well.
Today I have to continue my fix by grabbing a copy of Sunburst Finish to keep the flow going. Speaking of Sunburst Finish, the follow-up album to Futurama, I would highly recommend this CD as well. Classics like “Blazing Apostles”, “Ship in the Night” and what might be one of the mind blowing guitar solo songs of all time “Crying to the Sky” make this a must have for any rock collection. Not to mention one of the best album covers of all time too!
Bill still does the odd show here and there – mostly within the UK. As recently as in 2011 he was billed as Bill Nelson & The Gentlemen Rocketeers.
Hopefully one day the bucket list can get crossed off but time is running out for someone that rarely tours.
In summary, Futurama despite its age has never fallen too far from the top of the playlist pile of CDs. Always fresh and always a musical masterpiece that still delivers the goods.
As Bill Nelson once sang – “This guitar does not lie”!
Brian “That 70’s Guy” Ronald