It’s Only A Movie

by Patrick Little.
archived from Song For Me website.

It's Only A Movie

Well, here we have the final official long player from Family, and it was recorded and released as a farewell album. Palmer left at the end of 1972, and was immediately replaced by session man Tony Ashton, probably to support live commitments. Even with this strong lineup, the core of Family (Chapman, Whitney, and Townsend) felt there had been too many changes, and decided to finish it before it finished them.

In the styles leading up to this time, Family had continued to both soften and expand their sound a bit, embellishing it with horns and strings. New songs seemed to point towards America a little bit, touching on rootsy elements like gospel, and rhythm and blues. This album even throws in a little Dixieland into some songs. Maybe a love a letter to the land that eluded the band.

By this time Chapman/Whitney had a lighter approach in both composition and execution, with the knowledge that this was a time to have fun with the music. This “good-time” era of Family was somewhat inspired by Rod Stewart’s style at the time. Chapman: “We we’re definitely starting to drink.” But Chapman soon tired of settling to be the “boozin’ boogie band” of the final years.

Sometimes Derek and the Dominoes comes to mind when I hear this album, possibly due to similar early 70’s laid-back rock. I played this album for a friend who had no knowledge of Family, and they commented that some tunes reminded them of a cross between Randy Newman’s voice and Leon Redbone’s musical style. On this last period of songwriting, Chapman has said: “The choruses came more and more. As you write you can’t help but standardize yourself.” The move from “progressive” to truly talented had occurred. And thus ended Family.

  1. “It’s Only a Movie” – I’m not sure what lies behind this title, if it’s a metaphor for life in general, or for the career that Family was drawing to a conclusive end. “That’s Entertainment…”? Neat song, in any case, throwing in some Old West effects (out-of-tune piano, coyotes, pistols, horses, stagecoaches). Big guitar line starts it off and double voices sing the main sections. Some “narration” serves as an alternate voice (not sure who – Whitney?). As the chorus progresses the song takes some subtle turns into becoming a funky rocker. The saloon-piano brings it back to the original feel. There are some really cool delicate effects that lie quietly within the song, partly because of the talents of Tony Ashton, possibly the best player to have been in the Family camp. Oh yes, there is Mellotron too!

  2. “Leroy” – Banjo-like picking and a deep harmonica continue the “Western” theme, Chapman takes on a nice drawl for this biographical tune. Some thick strings are mixed with the pedal-steel-like guitar and sparse piano. Solos from harp and guitar.

  3. “Buffet Tea for Two” – A hybrid of epic and delicate themes. Begins with a classic Whitney chordal riff (C’mon, you can learn it too!), and uses horns to add some power with dignity. Gentle singing comes in, with piano flourishes that could ONLY come from a player like Ashton. Then it takes a turn into a classic country feel, but with the old Chapman warble. For some reason, the old songs like “Dim” come to mind – simple and folky. Jazz-inflected piano solo, and a building string section which actually gets percussive.

  4. “Boom Bang” – A strong back-up by Linda Lewis gives a gospel feel to this heavy rocker, and it appropriately starts with a bang. The scorched throat of Chapman is just bubbling up in this one, and each chorus goes over the top. Simple guitars and a constant hi-hat make up the wall of sound.

  5. “Boots `n’ Roots” – As if to not ruin the mood, the band returns to lighter fare in this. A drooping Dixieland horn section quotes “Wait Till The Sun Shines Nellie” and Chapman gives a drunk’s hiccup to kick off the song. Talk about atmosphere! The song is really split in half, with two treatments of the same sections. Some more great piano joins the horns for a syncopated New Orleans sound. Then this blends into an acoustic picking section, with some mandolin-like strumming. An incredible run from the 12-string makes for a nice solo.

  6. “Banger” – This could be a 50’s rock ‘n’ roll instrumental. Some strolling drum lines with a heavy sax and guitar lead line. Some swirling organ leads add to the nostalgia. A bonus track for some original pressings of the album?

  7. “Sweet Desirée” – This is tune touches on some of the funkiness that Chapman/Whitney would later do with Streetwalkers. Pounding piano chords kick it off, and some slunky playing with a little cowbell set the tone before a chorus of bluesy voices build up the sound. Kinda like a neighborhood jam in the barrio, complete with call-response and an urban-sounding horn section. Very organic, with lots of stuff coming in and out of the whole sound. Not sure about the other voices. Ashton? Cregan? If I had been in on the final mix, I would have suggested to fade out before the last 30 seconds or so, but hey, too late.

  8. “Suspicion” – Sort of a honkey-tonk blues tune here. Again, lots of horns to embellish the sound (heavy on the trombone), and good stride piano. Growling voice from Chapman and good shuffling drums. Interesting walking bass on the choruses.

  9. “Check Out” – Almost a 70’s Keith Richards riff to kick this off, another favorite of mine. Faster tempo and more solid than other tunes from this album. The feel is just like that LaBelle song “Voulez-vous Couchez…”. I wonder which came first? Some more bluesy growls from a double tracked Chapman (harmonizing with himself) and some warm Hammond organ. Cool slide riffs are on top with the ever-present horns, in a shifting “chorus” section. Linda Lewis returns for a couple of words (reminds me of the Lynyrd Skynyrd ladies), before the “get down” cue for a small jam. Not a bad way to finish a feel-good album… your basic bar-band tune with a more developed sound.

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