It was probably written as a hymn to America....but what I hear in it is a British dream of the future, the primary coloured optimism of post-war Britain, people moving to the new towns ringing London, the space and light in the bright open spaces of Crawley and Stevenage...just months before the Beatles' annexation of British pop, Wonderful Land sounds vast, blue-skied and still so sad.
Which is lovely. But here's another thing. I was barely into my teens when it came out and yet it already made me think of times gone by. I was talking to Richard Williams at Word In Your Ear about great Saturday night records and he said his favourite disco singers always have a little sadness in their voices. Maybe that's just one feature of a bigger thing. The great disco records actually have some nostalgia and melancholy about them, as if the best Saturday night were long in the past and the best you can hope is to summon up a little bit of what it felt like. "Wonderful Land" isn't a disco record but the land it refers to seems to be in the past.
"Wonderful Land" is also one of those records which can never sound quite as good as you remember them sounding the first time you heard them. I listened to it on You Tube just now and it didn't glow the way it does in the back of my mind, which is a double hit of nostalgia, I suppose. That's a feature of any record you've lived with for fifty years. The version imprinted on your memory, the version you can call upon any time you close your eyes, is always going to be the most powerful one.
You could go further and say that actually the truly great pop records are the sad ones. Funny that a form of entertainment meant to celebrate the now should be so nostalgic.
I'll be talking to Bob about his book at next week's Word In Your Ear at the Old Queens Head. We'll also have Mark Lewisohn, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer and the amazing giant 45s of Morgan Howell. Tickets here.