The Peculiar Truth
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The Peculiar Truth

The Peculiar Truth about Thunderclap Newman

left to right: John “Speedy” Keen, Andy “Thunderclap” Newman, Jimmy McCulloch
  • England, 1968: The Who’s Pete Townsend was writing his rock opera Tommy.
  • During that period, he and The Who’s manager Kit Lambert formed a new label, Track Records.
  • Townsend wanted to produce albums for friends who were undiscovered musicians.
  • But Lambert wanted Townsend to focus on his own music. He persuaded Pete that instead of producing an album apiece, his musician friends should form one group. Townsend agreed and created the band.
  • At the time, John “Speedy” Keen was Townsend’s personal driver and former London flat mate. He played drums in the new band.
  • Keen had written the song “Armenia City in the Sky,” which was the first track on the album The Who Sell Out.
  • Next came Andy “Thunderclap” Newman, a pianist who looked more like a university professor or a stockbroker than a rock musician. Townsend had met him in art school.
  • The third member was Jimmy McCulloch on guitar. He was only 16 years old.
  • Townsend played bass using the pseudonym Bijou Drains.
  • Collectively, the quartet was billed as Thunderclap Newman.
  • The group met for the first time at Townsend’s home studio in December 1968.
  • In January, they recorded their first track, which they called “Revolution.” Speedy Keen wrote and sang the tune.
  • Then they recorded other songs that featured each musician’s talents.
  • Their album, Hollywood Dream, was released in 1969.
  • They changed the name of the single, however, to avoid confusion with the Beatles’ song of the same name.
  • Instead of “Revolution,” they titled it Something in the Air. (Refresh your memory and listen to it here.)
  • To the band’s amazement, the single sold over a million copies and became a gold record.
  • They never intended to play live, but Keen, Newman, and McCulloch (sans Townsend) toured for two years as an opening act.
  • They were unhappy. The three men never quite got along with one another. Townsend was the only connecting thread, and he had returned to The Who. So the musicians went their separate ways.
  • Thunderclap Newman became a one-hit wonder, and they never played together again.
  • Keen and Newman struggled with solo careers that never really materialized.
  • Jimmy McCulloch joined Paul McCartney’s Wings during the band’s peak in the mid-70s. He died of heart failure from substance abuse at age 26.
  • Keen and Newman passed away, too. Only Townsend remains.
  • But Something in the Air has lived on. Tom Petty covered the tune for his greatest hits album. The memorable song has appeared in film soundtracks and TV shows for decades. Listen to it here.

Dan is the author of over a dozen novels. His latest is Tight Five. He publishes ‘The Peculiar Truth’ every Tuesday.

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Dan Spencer

Dan Spencer

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Author of over a dozen novels, including Tight Five. I publish The Peculiar Truth every Tuesday. https://medium.com/the-peculiar-truth