Tag Archives: Christmas

Number One Singles of 1974 (Part 1)

As I have mentioned before, the first two weeks of 1974 found Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” riding the crest of the UK singles chart. Quite the worthy achievement for a seasonal ditty.

By contrast, the most recent (2009) “Christmas Number One” (previously a massive badge of honour) – an offering from grunge-metallists Rage Against the Machine – couldn’t even stay there beyond a  single week, despite heaps of hype being lavished upon it. A sign at how far the music industry has changed since the last century and why, to be honest, I have a hard time getting ‘into it’ these days. 

Slade’s 1974 tenure at the top of the heap was finally usurped by the New Seekers with  You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, a warbling lightweight pop song which gave the group their second UK number one. (Their first, EFA70’sTRO-documented here). 

The New Seekers were formed out of the ashes of the popular Australian folk combo The Seekers who, with sweet-voiced Judith Durham at the helm, enjoyed a string of nine HUGE hit singles in the 60’s including “A World of Our Own“, “The Carnival is Over“, “Morningtown Ride” and the title track to the movie “Georgy Girl” 

Given the ubiquity of the Beatles and the Stones people often overlook the harmonies and folk-pop stylings of the Seekers, but I personally feel their songs stand up with some of the very best the sixties had to offer. 

Melanie (Safka), whose songs would be hits for the New Seekers and... erm... The Wurzels

I think it’s fair to say that the New Seekers were nowhere in the same league, but they still enjoyed a string of successes in their own right, starting in 1970 with their cover of Melanie’s “What Have They Done to my Song, Ma” and including their 1972 Eurovision hit “Beg, Steal or Borrow“. 

“You Won’t Find….” would prove to be the New Seekers’ final Number One and they seemed to struggle with chart success after it. The band fractured internally – arguments over money forcing members to leave – and whilst it still exists (for touring purposes), the 2009 New Seekers bears little relation to the one that had the hits back in the seventies. 

Pop Songwriting duo Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (mentioned before in these hallowed pages) racked up their third Number One hit single with Tiger Feet by Mud, which – peculiarly – appears to have stood the test of time as a good-time ‘party record’ 

Mud formed back in 1968 and once toured as a support act to American crooner Jack Jones. They suffered years in the ‘pop wilderness’, releasing a succession of failed records. Then they met producer Mickie Most and signed to his RAK Records label, where they were introduced to Chinn & Chapman and had an almost immediate Top 20 success with “Crazy” 

The band adopted a mock “glam Teddy Boy” image and often created a silly dance to accompany many of their songs, the one for “Tiger Feet” (which can be seen in that 1974 Top of the Pops performance) no less irritating than any of the others. 

“Tiger Feet” would turn out to be the biggest-selling single of 1974, but it would not turn out to be Mud’s biggest song of the year… as a future EFA70’sTRO page will testify. 

Mud’s personable lead singer Les Gray succumbed to throat cancer in 2004. Drummer David Mount sadly committed suicide at the end of 2006, whilst bassist Ray Stiles joined (of all the bands you could possibly imagine) The Hollies – yes that Hollies – as a touring member. 

Kylie. Yes, I know, ANY excuse, right?

Trivia fans will doubtless already be aware that Mud’s somewhat effeminate and toussle-haired guitarist, Rob Davis, is now a succesful songsmith in his own right, having penned a handful of classic modern pop hits including Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” 

If they indeed possessed laurels Chinn & Chapman certainly didn’t sit on them. 

Their number one hit from Mud was followed by… a Chinn/Chapman-written number one hit from leather clad pop rocker Suzi Quatro. “Devil Gate Drive” was the second Quatro number one for the duo, the first, “Can the Can”, written about here 

The number one spot was then passed from one leather-clad rocker to another, although this new one snazzed it up with a diamond-crusted glove which he seemed to be permanently pointing at the camera! 

Alvin Stardust had already enjoyed a minor pop career back in the sixties – when he was known as Shane Fenton – but a leather ‘overhaul’ and new name (given to him, allegedly by Lord Levy, who owned Magnet Records) kickstarted everything again. 

Jealous Mind turned out to be Alvin’s only chart-topper, but his singing style – and unique way of holding the microphone – was parodied for years after. 

More recently Alvin (Do his friends know him as Alvin, Mr Stardust, Shane Fenton or Bernard… his real name?) he has moved – like many 70’s performers of his ilk – into musical theatre, starring in London West End shows such as “Godspell”, “David Copperfield” and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” 

Paper Lace were a band from Nottingham who – like a few others in the 70’s – first found fame following an appearance on ITV’s talent show Opportunity Knocks (which I have talked about before

Billy Don’t Be a Hero was the band’s debut single, immediately topping the chart for three weeks. The band sadly missed out on capitalising on the song’s success in the USA, especially given its anti-Vietnam sentiment. Another group – Bo Donaldson & the Heywoods – released their version first, and enjoyed the BIG American hit (A Billboard #1 no less) with sales of Paper Lace’s completely cannibalised. 

Paper Lace enjoyed a couple more hit singles – “The Night Chicago Died” (which somewhat made up for their earlier failure, itself reaching Number 1 in the USA) and “The Black-Eyed Boys” – before falling off the public’s radar and disappearing into obscurity. 

[“Number One Singles of 1974” continues in Part 2…]

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December 25th 1973

“Crismis Day – Got a guitar”

Evil child that I was, I always hunted for – and invariably found – my wrapped Crismis Christmas presents many weeks before Santa’s big day. Of course, as a result of them being wrapped I was not always 100% sure of the gifts inside but the size and shape of the packages was usually a giveaway.

However, I can honestly say that my parents genuinely surprised me with this guitar. (I later found out Dad had hidden it by hanging it inside one of his work suits, itself inside a suit hanging bag, at the back of their wardrobe)

This guitar was a half-sized model which – rather than learning to properly play – I instead posed with in front of whichever mirror I could find. Yes, I would adopt clichéd poses with it. Yes I would pretend I was a rock star and mime along with hits on it. I’d be a liar if I said otherwise.

Dad – with some considerable hope – also bought me Bert Weedon’s Play in a Day tutorial book in the vain hope that I would actually read it and learn how to properly bang out tunes on the guitar.

Instead I merely limited myself to bashing out the opening chords to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water” – or *ahem* variations thereof – imagining myself to be a kind of folksier Richie Blackmore. I also taught myself the irritatingly repetitive riff to Cream’s “Sunshine of your Love” as well as “the Status Quo riff”

Not whole songs I hasten to add, just the riffs. I could amuse myself for hours by doing this, as well as wildly improvising, creating noises with the strings (by rubbing bottles, pens and any other implements to hand over them) and messing with the tuning knobs. I was practising to be an avant garde savant.

As time progressed it was inevitable that the guitar would fall into less and less use. I remember that when I left home and moved into my first flat the guitar had become more of a repository for record label promo stickers than anything I picked up and played. I think the thing got damaged during – and was consequently thrown away – my next house move.

Years and years later – in the early 90’s – a girlfriend of mine decided that I needed a guitar so likewise bought me one as a Christmas gift. Again it was a nice surprise. This time the bonus was a complete set of guitar lessons with a local teacher. I opened the guitar bag and hefted this – now full sized – instrument out, popped on the strap, stood up and…..immediately played “Smoke on the Water”. This wasn’t going to end well.

It didn’t. The girlfriend & I broke up before I had the first lesson, and as she was paying for them I didn’t feel it prudent to push the point during our break-up negotiations.

Thus, the world can squarely blame her for England not having a “second Nick Drake” to fawn over.

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December 23rd / 24th 1973

• “Worked in morning”
• “Worked all day – Good laugh!”

Good laugh?

Must have been the only time I worked in retail in the two days prior to Christmas that I could have described as a “good laugh”

Maybe supermarket customers aren’t quite as … er … ‘frustrating’ … as hi-fi or music buyers proved to be later in my career?

Mind you, given the other kinds of things I got up to as a spotty-faced 15-year-old, a “good laugh” could have referred any number of questionable activities… so we should maybe approach these diary entries with a slight shudder and one eyebrow sternly raised.

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December 20th 1973

“Got 16 Crismas cards at school”

They like me, they really really like me!

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December 19th 1973

Xmas panto – load of ttsphs


Hmmm… what can I mean by “ttsphs” I wonder?

Panto – or pantomime – is a peculiarly English tradition. It is also a tradition that is peculiar.

Usually performed around the Christmas holidays – but rarely having any obvious references to Christmas – Panto is a form of theatre designed for a family audience. A Panto storyline is invariably based on old-fashioned children’s books such as Aladdin, Beauty & the Beast, Cinderella, Goldilocks & the Three Bears, or Peter Pan.

That's SIR Ian McKellen as Window Twanky

When I say “based on” I truly mean it. The fairy tales are padded out with convoluted side plots, satirical asides and, let’s just day, ‘extreme’ character development.

The Panto also carries with it a certain set of (unwritten, but recognised) performance conventions which include – but are no means limited to – the fact that any leading male character is usually played by a female actress dressed in tight-fitting clothing, there is a man in drag playing an older woman (the wicked witch etc), there will be a pantomime horse or cow somewhere and the story will ensure that lots of ludicrous slapstick will ensue.

Cilla Black is Cinderella. Oh no she's not!

Perhaps the thing that most seasoned panto go-ers remember is the audience participation. That theatrical “fourth wall” is broken constantly as the crowd is not only encouraged to boo any villain they spot, but also tell the people on stage where that villain might be. Shouts of “He’s behind you” are turned into minor farce when the victim around just as the villain hides behind another piece of dodgy plywood scenery. “No he’s not” – “oh yes he is” etc., ad infinitum

I hasten to add that I’ve written all of this exclusively for my non-British readers. My “homeys” will know – all too well and with a certain level of cringe-worthy familiarity – exactly what a Panto represents.

Back when I had my own business in England, I remember buying tickets to a Panto as a Christmas gift for one of my shop managers. I thought he would relish the opportunity to take his young daughter with him to the theatre. The day after the show he jokingly called me names that questioned my parentage. He said his daughter LOVED the night out with all the call and response moments, the water spraying of the front rows and all the sweets that were thrown from the stage. She couldn’t stop talking about it. My manager,  however, said it was one of the worst bits of entertainment he’d ever experienced. I think he too called it ttsphs?

Bring on Toyah Wilcox!

Did I mention that the major pantomimes in England all tend to feature B, C or D-list celebrities?

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Number One Singles of 1973 (Part 4)

[… “Number One Singles of 1973” continued from Part III]

October to December

David CassidyDaydreamer/The Puppy Song
Released as a Double A-side to (somewhat cynically I feel) extend its shelf life and radio play, this was teen idol Cassidy’s 6th UK hit.

It would prove to be his last Number 1 in Britain and spent three weeks atop the chart.

“Puppy Song” was written by Harry Nilsson. It was composed at Paul McCartney’s request in 1969. The Beatles’ new Apple Records’  label had just signed teenfolk sensation Mary Hopkin and Paul needed a song for her debut album “Postcard”. Presumably talk of dreams being nothing more than wishes and a dog that would never bite him fitted the bill?

Gary GlitterI Love You Love Me Love
This was Glitter’s second Number One of 1973 and another that appears ironic in light of the revelations surrounding his later lifestyle choices.

It was written by respected seventies songwriter – and Glitter’s producer – Mike Leander, who had already worked with such pop luminaries as Billy Fury, Van Morrison, The Small Faces and Marianne Faithfull,  The Drifters and Ben E King.

Trivia nuts may care to know that in addition to four Top 10 hits by Gary Glitter, Mike Leander also wrote “Privilege (Set Me Free)”, the Patti Smith Group’s follow-up single to “Because the Night”

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
They say that cream always rises to the top. The end of 1973 saw Slade nab the Christmas Number One with a song that sounds as fresh today as it did back then.

OK, so I have to declare early – and extreme – bias in these words of mine. For me “Merry Christmas Everybody” is THE ultimate Christmas song. I love it so very VERY dearly. Yes, I have a fondness for Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime“, Wham’s “Last Christmas“, Bing’s “White Christmas” and I’ll even hum along to Wizzard’s “I Wish it Could be Christmas Every Day“, but Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” is the one which, without, Christmas is dead to me.

Case in point…. several winters ago my wife and I spent a relentlessly-marvellous time in my (other) “old home town” of Copenhagen in Denmark. Although we had coped quite nicely for food most of the time we had been there, we found ourselves a little short on choice come Christmas Day itself. We discovered that the Hard Rock Café – situated on the outskirts of the Tivoli Gardens – was open most of the day. So, that’s where we went. We ate like kings, celebrated with several imbibements, wore paper hats and listened to the groovy seasonal music coming over the speakers.

After an hour or so, I became depressed. We’d heard all the ‘likelys’ in terms of Christmas songs – the Elvis numbers, the endless “Sleigh Rides” and “Frosty the Snowmen”s and the fact that, yes, Santa Claus IS bloody well coming to town. I’d even endured the damned Pogues and that turgid John Lennon song. Can you guess what we hadn’t heard?

I remarked to my totally understanding and sympathetic wife that we hadn’t heard Slade’s classic. She patted my hand in a way that only wives sarcastically can and told me she was sorry.

I continued to complain. Outwardly I was being jokey about it all, inside I felt empty as could be. (Only emotionally you understand, I think a man can only eat so many multi-topped Hard Rock burgers washed down with Danish lager?)

It came time to leave. Still no Slade. I went to the till and paid. Still no Slade. Then, in what still seems like one of the most magical moments of my life, just as we were putting our coats back on to protect us from the Copenhagen snow outside “Merry Christmas Everybody” came over the PA system.

I stood, in my coat, hat and scarf, in the middle of the Hard Rock Café and just listened. I’ll even admit to shedding a tear. My Christmas with the wife in my favourite country in the whole wide world had just turned “perfect”.

Now of course, and to my wife’s utter chagrin, whenever Christmas morning unveils itself I tend to play “Merry Christmas Everybody” over and over again on what must feel to her like an endless loop.

I never, ever, tire of hearing it. Even if it shuffles up on my iPod on the hottest day of summer I will never skip it, Noddy Holder’s screeched “It’s Chriiiiiiiiiiiiiiistmaaaaaaaaaaaaaas!!!” as satisfying now as it was 36 years ago.

Holder admits he wrote the song to deliberately be joyful and as complete contrast to what the UK was going through in 1973. There were power cuts, the 3-day working week was about to be introduced and much of the population was depressed as it could be. He took a melody he had originally written 6 years earlier, kicked the rhythm up a bit, changed a few lyrics about with the aid of band member Jim Lea and tried to intentionally make it a ‘working class Christmas anthem’ – which is what it undoubtedly became.

It was released on December 7th. By December 15th it had already sold a million copies, and was the surefire Number One, a position it held far into 1974. It stayed in the Top 30 until the end of February, an almost unheard of result for a seasonal single.

As if to further highlight its never-ending appeal in the UK it has been reissued almost every year since 1973 and has reached the Top 40 no less than FIVE further times; 1981, 1983, 2006, 2007 and 2008. I have no doubt it will be there or thereabouts again in just a few months time.

I often say that I would LOVE to be Noddy Holder at “quarterly residuals” time in March every year.

However, I’d settle for shaking his hand and saying “Thank You”

Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall?
It’s the time that every Santa has a ball
Does he ride a red-nosed reindeer?
Does a ‘ton up’ on his sleigh
Do the fairies keep him sober for a day?

So here it is merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

Are you waiting for the family to arrive?
Are you sure you got the room to spare inside?
Does your granny always tell ya that the old songs are the best?
Then she’s up and rock ‘n’ rollin’ with the rest

So here it is merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun

What will your daddy do
When he sees your Mama kissin’ Santa Claus?
Ah ah
Are you hanging up a stocking on your wall?
Are you hoping that the snow will start to fall?
Do you ride on down the hillside in a buggy you have made?
When you land upon your head then you’ve been slayed

So here it is merry Christmas
Everybody’s having fun
Look to the future now
It’s only just begun…..

(© 1973 N.Holder/J.Lea)

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December 25th 1972

“Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Dan, Daan, Da, Dan, Today is Chrismas, Today is Crismas, Today is Xmas, Today is Xmas, Today is Xmas, Today is Xmas, Today is Xmas” / “I got Emerson lake etc LP, Mains Adpt, Scrabble, Chess”

Later in life I would become FAR more cynical about Christmas – mainly as a direct result of one particularly upsetting one when Mum was very ill – but it would seem that at 14 I was very much “an excited little boy”?!

I can’t recall getting the game of Scrabble, but I do remember the chess game. It was a little electronic version with tiny pegged plastic pieces that you moved around a board with holes in it. It meant I could hone my chess skill by playing with myself (pauses for jokes). I actually held onto that game until just a few months ago when I donated it to the local thrift store (charity shop), hoping that another kid gets as much enjoyment out of it as I did for years after this Christmas.

The mains adaptor was for my cassette player, meaning I could probably stop having to buy batteries… and having to report on their lifespan in the pages of my diary!

The ’emerson, lake etc LP’ comment refers to ELP’s debut album. (Why, I wonder, could I not be bothered to write the word “palmer” instead of “etc”?)

This album – originally released in 1970 – contains just 6 tracks, 4 of them incorporating melodies and themes heavily influenced by Keith Emerson’s adoration for classical compositions by the likes of Bartók and Bach. All of them are somewhat lumbering and charmless to be honest.

The stand-out tracks on this album – at least, for me – are both Greg Lake compositions. The first, “Take a Pebble” on Side 1, is one of many signature love songs by the band’s bassist & vocalist. The other is “Lucky Man” which closes the album. This whimsical piece – allegedly written by Lake when he was just a child – is perhaps ELP’s most well-known commercial contribution to “pop” music. It is still played regularly (almost too regularly – even by my own admission!) on “classic rock stations” from coast to coast across America.

Years later, my wife introduced me to the aural pleasures of Bob Rivers and his superb “Twisted Tunes” collection of parodies.

Amongst them, a send up of “Lucky Man” entitled “What An Ugly Man he Was“. This is now the version I sing!

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