Reflections on The Marmalade

Dean Ford, whose real name was Thomas McAleese, was lead singer of The Marmalade, later renamed simply Marmalade. He died on New Year’s Eve 2018.

Like many of his generation he and his band were victims of poor management and vision. The Marmalade wrote some stunning songs, from their 1967 single, I see the Rain, to the remarkable lyrics and tune of Reflections of My Life released in 1969, and the gentle, compelling melody of Rainbow from the following year. These songs reveal tremendous potential as a serious songwriting band. That potential was never realised.

Looking back I feel it is useful to compare it with what did happen belatedly to Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond. After decades in the lucrative desert of middle of the road crooning they were rescued in the 1990s by a producer who recognised their genius despite the uninspiring years. This was Rick Rubin. Rubin gave Cash serious, credible covers to record along with Cash’s own new compositions. As he did with Neil Diamond, Rubin stripped away all the unnecessary strings and backing singers of their previous albums, forcing the songs and the renditions to stand on their own two feet. The results were superb, bringing deserved credibility back to both artists at the later years of their lives.

Had there been a Rick Rubin ready and willing to mentor The Marmalade I believe they could have become one of the great British bands of their generation. Instead, like some of their peers such as Lulu, Amen Corner, and to a lesser extent, The Move, they were dragged into the world of doing catchy, overtly pop songs. This gave The Marmalade great successes like Baby Make it Soon, Lovin’ Things, Wait for me Mary-Anne, and of course a number one hit with their version of Paul McCartney’s ultra-poppy Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da. They were also very well chosen; highest quality, well-crafted pop songs, my favourite being Lovin’ Things.

These hits were also great for the band members’ egos and celebrity status but a killer for any aspirations the band had as serious music artists. This was the era when Cream, Hendrix, early Led Zeppelin, Love, Van Morrison and others, including of course the Beatles, Stones, Who, Kinks and others were making albums the real focus of their work. We can tell from their album tracks of the time that The Marmalade were high quality musicians but the challenge was never laid down to them to produce more songs of the quality and lyrical depth of Reflections of my Life.

So it is in life. Not everyone’s potential is fulfilled, for many varied reasons. So for me as an admirer of Dean Ford / McAleese and The Marmalade I just have to sit back and enjoy the few classics they created, and let go of what might have been. As I do so I’ll be grateful to the artistic quality the band showed in those songs. There have been thousands of bands, singers, singer-songwriters who, despite their best efforts have never come close to writing songs of the quality this Scottish band managed in just a few short years.

Rest in peace Dean Ford / Thomas McAleese, and thanks for the beautiful music.

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© 2019 by Martin Stepek.