The Greatest Show On Earth (1952) is an American drama movie starring Betty Hutton, Cornel Wilde and Charlton Heston. It took place in the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. The film, produced, directed and narrated by Cecil B. DeMille, won the Academy Award for Best Picture. The storyline is supported by lavish production values, actual circus acts, documentary and behind-the-rings looks at the massive logistics effort which made big top circuses possible. The Greatest Show On Earth is also a book published in 2009 and written by British biologist Richard Dawkins. It explains the evidence for biological evolution. However, probably few people still know that The Greatest Show On Earth was also a rock band in the early seventies.
In 1970 this British rock band recorded two albums for the famous Harvest label: Horizons and The Going's Easy. They became well-known for their European hit Real Cool World. The band had been conceived by Harvest in an attempt to create a horn-based rock combo as a counterpart for American bands like Blood Sweat & Tears and Chicago. The band was also notable for its album covers designed by the artist group Hipgnosis. Recently both albums got a great remastered re-release by Esoteric Recordings with the usual liner notes and historic pictures.
Horizons and The Going's Easy contain fantastic music that probably will be enjoyed by many lovers of progressive rock. Since the band was meant to be a counterpart for the aforementioned American bands, the label requested the octet to find a new vocalist. This became the versatile Colin Horton-Jennings, who began to compose original songs, which would allow them to add new material to their live set. This was needed in order to replace the R&B covers that had previously dominated the live sets. Next to Colin Horton-Jennings (guitar, flute, bongos, vocals),The Greatest Show On Earth featured the talents of Dick Hanson (percussion, trumpet, flugelhorn), Ron Prudence (conga, drums), Garth Watt-Roy (guitar, vocals), Norman Watt-Roy (bass, vocals) and Mick Deacon (organ, piano, harpsichord, vocals).
Their debut album Horizons includes the single Real Cool World, but it has much more to offer. Beside the influences from Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago the music tends toward soul and rock, although the progressive rock elements are clearly present and made me think of bands like King Crimson and Alquin. Listen for example to the long fourteen-minute title track and you know what I mean. There's strong playing on the organ and the flute, and the many great guitar solos show that they cherished this musical style.
This can also be said about The Going's Easy, their second and final album. The light and airy Magic Woman Touch became later a hit single by The Hollies. Storytimes & Nursery Rhymes features some of the band's best vocal performances and can be considered to be the highlight on this album on which once again strong progressive rock elements come to the surface. The re-release of the second album contains two bonus tracks: Mountain Song and the single version of Magic Woman Touch. However, these tracks have no added value to the original album. Unfortunately this album had little to non-consumer or industry interest which resulted in the split up of the band in 1971. After the decease some of the musicians started to work with acts like Vinegar Joe, Graham Parker, The Darts, Suzi Quatro, Shaking Stevens and The Marmalade.
When you listen to the music of The Greatest Show On Earth nowadays, you'll discover that the band consisted of skilful musicians who could play all kinds of musical styles. Sure the music sounds most of the time rather outdated, but that doesn't mean that you can't enjoy Horizons and The Going's Easy. I certainly did because of the many prog rock influences that made me think of King Crimson and Alquin.
*** Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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