Strawbs: “Autumn (i) Heroine’s Theme (ii) Deep Summer’s Sleep (iii) The Winter Long” (Hero & Heroine, 1973)
As I’ve worked my way through my UK Prog series, I haven’t bothered to break out any of the tracks I’ve included and do a full post on them, mostly because I have too much other stuff going on, and just putting these mixes and notes together has been pretty time-consuming.
But I do want to talk about this one at greater length. “Autumn” is one of my favorite songs, and really is the song that pushed me over the edge from shallow-end wading in the bits of progressive rock that crossed over to wider audiences and stayed stuck in the classic rock canon into the deep end, where I had to search hard to find bands I’d heard mentioned in a single sentence of an article about something else. Even today, with the cornucopia of the internet at my fingertips, some of the music I’ve tracked down has been difficult to find.
Back then, Strawbs were a band that took looking to find in this country. I did my record shopping at the local Circuit City and Borders, and though they were both astonishingly well-stocked for what they were, they had their limits. It wasn’t until the summer after high school that my then-friend-now-wife and I took a road trip up Interstate 91 to Northampton, Massachusetts, a college town sprinkled liberally with record stores that got well off the beaten track with their offerings.
There was one in particular that had a huge aisle of nothing but imports. I had heard “Autumn” on the best two hours of rock radio available to me at the time, Peter Z’s Sunday morning show on WPLR. I think Z was a legacy DJ, still hanging around from FM’s early glory days, when it was much more freeform than it largely is now. He played what he felt like playing, with no regard for the heavy rotation lists or what the station managers thought people might want to hear.
He played “Autumn” one Sunday, and I taped it, and scribbled the band’s name down on my ever-growing list of things to check out. Not long after, Rhino released its Supernatural Fairytales boxed set, a set of five discs offering a very light sampling of the variety of progressive rock sounds that existed across Europe during the 70s. It had two Strawbs songs on it, and they confirmed that this was a band I wanted to check out.
So in that store in Northampton, which probably no longer exists—I only remember that it was in a basement—I combed the import rack until I found A Choice Selection of Strawbs, a single-disc best-of compilation released overseas in 1992. It was $25, but I looked at the back, saw “Autumn” and immediately bought it. I even borrowed $5 from Andrea to afford it. It was the most I’d ever paid for a single CD, and on some level it seemed absurd, but on a much more important level, I had to have that music. I had to know what else I was missing.
I’m not nostalgic for the days when it was that hard to get your hands on music you wanted to hear. Seriously, it sucked not being able to find what you were desperate to hear. I understand what other oldsters are getting at when they talk about the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of the find, and I definitely loved both. But I’ll take being able to get what I want when I ant it in exchange.
These days, I have a bunch of Strawbs albums, and before I got those, I even replaced that first compilation with a better, two-disc one called Halcyon Days. “Autumn” is still unbeatable, the best song in a career that produced a lot of great songs. I think it was worth the search.
I don’t remember the name or location of that record store, but I remember the interior layout very well. Oddly, I also remember exactly where I parked the Toyota when we got into town. It was a single curbside space between the two driveways of a gas station.