Thunderclap Newman was a late 1960s One-hit wonder band from the UK. Their single, "Something in the Air", a 1969 UK Number One hit, remains in demand for television commercials, film soundtracks, and compilations.
In 1969, Pete Townshend, The Who's guitarist, created the band to play songs written by the former Who roadie, drummer/singer/guitarist John 'Speedy' Keen (miscredited as "Keene" on the single's label). Keen wrote the opening track on The Who Sell Out album, "Armenia City In The Sky". Townshend produced the single, arranged its strings, played its bass guitar under the pseudonym Bijou Drains, and hired for it GPO engineer and Dixieland jazz pianist Andy 'Thunderclap' Newman (born Andrew Laurence Newman, 21 November 1942, Hounslow, Middlesex) and the fifteen year old Glaswegian, Jimmy McCulloch.
Originally titled "Revolution", but later renamed because the Beatles released a single of that name, "Something in the Air" captured post-flower power rebellion, marrying McCulloch's sweeping acoustic and glowing electric guitars; Keen's powerful drumming and falsetto, Newman's legendary frostbite in boxing gloves piano solo and Townshend's (uncredited) electric bass.
The single was Number One in the UK Singles Chart for three weeks, holding off Elvis Presley in the process. The scale of the song's success surprised everyone, and there were no plans to promote Thunderclap Newman with live performances.
Eventually a line-up, augmented by Jim Pitman-Avory (bassist) and McCulloch's elder brother Jack (drums), played a handful of gigs. Personal records say the band played live only five times, although Keen referred to a two-month tour, playing "everywhere". Jack McCulloch and Newman have appeared on television to comment upon the anniversary of the first Moon Landing, to describe the extended concert that Thunderclap Newman were playing that evening.
"Something in the Air" appeared on the soundtracks of the films The Magic Christian (1969), Kingpin (1996), Almost Famous (2000), The Dish (2000), The Girl Next Door (2004), and The Strawberry Statement (1970); the last having helped the single reach Number 25 in the United States. The song also appeared in the deluxe edition of the Easy Rider CD. In the UK and US, a follow-up single, "Accidents", came out only in May 1970, and charted at No. 44 for only a week, but not charting at all in the US. An album, Hollywood Dream, again produced by Townshend and released the previous year, peaked in Billboard 200 chart at No. 163.
"Something In the Air" played at the end of the 26 March 2007 episode of The Riches on FX. An episode of the television sitcom, My Name is Earl also featured the song.
The members of the band had little in common. Newman once commented, in a 1972 interview with the NME, that he got on with Keen's music but not with him personally, whilst it was the exact opposite with McCulloch. Two more singles followed before the band split.
Newman recorded a solo album, Rainbow, in 1971 and appeared on Roger Ruskin Spear's first album, playing assorted instruments, whilst McCulloch had stints with a dozen or more bands, including Stone the Crows and Wings. McCulloch died of heart complications due to a heroin overdose in 1979, at the age of 26.
Keen reappeared with a solo album, Previous Convictions, for Track in 1973, and began recording a double album as a follow-up. Frustrated at his lack of progress at Track, he took the demos to Island Records, which pared it down to the single album Y'know Wot I Mean? and released it in 1975. Its single, "Someone to Love", received plenty of airplay but failed to sell.
Discouraged, Keen ceased recording after one more single in 1976. He tried the record producer's seat, working with punk band Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers on their debut album L.A.M.F. in 1977, and also produced Mot?Ârhead's first album before leaving the music industry. He appears on several tracks on the Best of Motorhead double CD All the Aces, as part of a live set originally performed under the name The Muggers. The set includes five songs written and sung by Keen, only one of which had appeared on his solo albums.
Keen suffered from arthritis for several years, and was recording his third solo album; however he unexpectedly died at the age of 56 on 12 March 2002.
They're mentioned in Thomas Pynchon's 2009 novel Inherent Vice (pg. 356).
List of artists who reached number one on the UK Singles Chart
List of British pop musicians of the 1960s
List of performers on Top of the Pops
UK No.1 Hits of 1969
List of NME covers
List of 1960s one-hit wonders in the United States