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Steve Harley + Cockney Rebel: The Best Years Of Our Lives

Expanded reissue of singer’s high-water mark.

The kids awaiting their idol outside Hammersmith Odeon on April 14, 1975, seen at the beginning of the live DVD of the concert that accompanies this reissue, were in no doubt. “Bowie’s faded,” declared one. “Steve Harley’s taken his place.” Harley may not have the status of the era’s big three – Bowie, Bolan and Ferry – but for a time he was up there. And this record marked his peak.

His fourth album – but first with his name in lights, above Cockney Rebel – it was his most successful, bequeathing one of the most memorable singles of the era: Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me). His only No.1, it contains everything that, albeit briefly, made Harley such a star: the sneering singing style, like a South London Dylan; the literate, allusive lyrics that were enigmatic yet populist; the undeniable melody; and audacious pauses ahead of the gorgeous guitar break and closing ‘la-la-la’s.

A mouthy would-be messiah, Harley’s leadership qualities are all over this Alan Parsons-produced album as he fires missives both personal (The Mad, Mad Moonlight) and religious (Mr Raffles, the album’s other hit) over sax-fuelled glam boogie (Panorama) and funk (49th Parallel). And although some of the music has dated, as a period piece it can’t be beaten.

CDs 2 and 3 showcase Harley and co. live at Hammersmith, playing earlier singles (Judy Teen, Mr Soft) and Human Menagerie (1973) and Quasimodo (1974) material. The DVD comprises footage of the same gig, with Harley in full theatrical flight. Harley was a contender – a serious one.

Paul Lester is the editor of Record Collector. He began freelancing for Melody Maker in the late 80s, and was later made Features Editor. He was a member of the team that launched Uncut Magazine, where he became Deputy Editor. In 2006 he went freelance again and has written for The Guardian, The Times, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph, Classic Rock, Q and the Jewish Chronicle. He has also written books on Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Bjork, The Verve, Gang Of Four, Wire, Lady Gaga, Robbie Williams, the Spice Girls, and Pink.