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Number One Singles of 1974 (Part 2)

[… “Number One Singles of 1974” continued from Part 1]

• The song “Seasons in the Sun” has had quite the glamourous life, both before and after Terry Jacks took it to Number 1 (for 4 consecutive weeks) in 1974.

It started life in 1961 as a dreary little French song called “Le Moribund“, written and recorded by Jacques Brel.

In 1964 the lyrics were translated into English by Rod McKuen and the end result was recorded by The Kingston Trio. In 1968 it was also released as a single by then-happening Merseybeat pop combo The Fortunes (of “You’ve Got Your Troubles” fame).

4500 miles from Liverpool, in Vancouver, Canadian singer/songwriter Terry Jacks  discovered the English version of the song and went as far as recording it with his wife Susan under their band moniker of The Poppy Family.

The Poppy Family had a huge hit in 1970 with “Which Way You Goin’ Billy?” before splitting up, both professionally and personally. Jacks continued to write and produce songs for his (now) ex-wife and became so highly regarded for supervising studio work that The Beach Boys invited him to California to oversee some recordings they were doing. During these sessions, Jacks persuaded the group to record “Seasons in the Sun” but they refused to release the finished product… which then prompted him to re-record and release it himself.

This morbid, despondent song about a man’s final moments – where he pays deathbed tribute to the people he has loved – went on to be a HUGE international hit for Jacks, eventually selling a staggering 6 million+ copies worldwide.

The song has since been covered by acts as varied as Nirvana, Bad Religion, Black Box Recorder and Me First & the Gimme Gimmes. It also enjoyed another spell at the top of the UK chart in 1999, courtesy of Irish boyband Westlife, and has also been sampled by reggae star Shabba Ranks for his Jamaican Dancehall smash “Twice My Age“.

• Eurovision – or the Eurovision Song Contest – is an annual competition held amongst the countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU).

Each country selects and submits a song to represent them, these songs are then performed on the show which is broadcast live – and simultaneously – on TV across all the participating countries. Votes are then cast to determine the most popular song in the competition. The contest has been broadcast every year since 1956, and is one of the longest-running television programmes anywhere in the world.

It is also one of the most-watched annual broadcasts in the world with recent audience figures quoted as high as 600 million viewers internationally.

Back in 1974, at the Brighton Dome in England, the Swedish entry – a pop act called ABBA – took to the stage and gave this stunning performance of their song “Waterloo”

I often wonder what happened to ABBA

The Rubettes were formed by the songwriting team of Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington. Bickerton was head of A&R at Polydor Records, so there’s no prizes for guessing who was responsible for signing this foppish pop act to…erm… Polydor Records!

With a sartorial nod to glam rock, the band wore shiny white suits and (no, I am not making this up) shiny white berets on stage. Their first release was “Sugar Baby Love” which went on to top the charts for 4 weeks and prove to be, by a large margin, their biggest ever hit single.

They were pants.

• Talking of pants, or rather “no pants”, 1974’s next Number 1 hit single came from Ray Stevens with “The Streak

Stevens’ penchant for novelty songs (OK, I’ll admit that “Bridget the Midget” is a guilty pleasure) came about as a result of his hit USA TV show in the early seventies and his desire to break away from his country and gospel music roots (He had enjoyed a massive gospel-tinged hit single with “Everything is Beautiful“)

The Streak was based on the Seventies fad of “streaking”, basically people running about – usually at major sporting events – with no clothes on. It was a bloomin’ AWFUL song, but paled in comparison to Stevens’ later chart success in 1977…. that of pretending to be a chicken and clucking out Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood

Gary Glitter ‘s “Always Yours” was never one of his best songs. His star was already fading, and this would indeed prove to be his last chart-topper.

As a result of Glitter’s early seventies chart ubiquity I have written about his … erm.. ‘ legal troubles ‘ before. More recently however, I discovered that his ‘persona non gratis‘ status had been extended to modern-day TV repeats of old Top of the Pops shows. It would appear that his performances have been deliberately edited out of any ‘vintage’ shows that are now shown on the BBC or its European counterparts, effectively deleting his contribution to pop history.

This seems a shame to me. I’m sure it can be put down to producers somehow wanting to stop him from profiting from his past fame, but there have been many other pop and rock acts who have committed crimes and whose music still gets attention everywhere.

Yes child pornography is atrocious, but so is beating up one’s partner (James Brown, Rick James, Lou Rawls, Jackson Browne, Hank Williams Jr., Yanni) , hit & run (Glen Campbell), drug dealing (50 Cent), attempted murder (Jay-Z), sexual abuse of a female (Tupac Shakur) and murder (Phil Spector). I don’t see many of their records being banned from radio play as a direct result of these atrocious activities. (Indeed, there remains an argument that Yanni’s music should be banned for ALL kinds of reasons… mainly that it’s awful meandering rubbish)

Witness too the recent media deification of Michael Jackson following his death. The allegations of sexual abuse of underage children remained with him, despite his various attempts to pay off the supposed victims. I didn’t see radio or TV scaling back their support of Jackson. Instead they praised him to the hilt as a bona fide 20th century pop icon and “Thriller” felt like it was being played on repeat across all channels.

Now before people accuse me of somehow defending Gary Glitter here, I am not. I’m merely pointing out the relative hypocrisy that appears to exist in the media and its apparent inability to separate Gary Glitter, pop star, from Gary Glitter, kiddie fiddler.

[“Number One Singles of 1974” continues in Part 3…]


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Number Ones of 1972 (Part 4)

… [continued from Part 3]

With 1972 already seeing the likes of Donny Osmond and Marc Bolan at Number 1, it was shaping up to be “the year of the teen idol”

As if to cement the notion, along comes David Cassidy and the (IMHO) awfully turgid “How Can I be Sure

The son of actress Shirley Jones, Cassidy had already appeared on TV shows like “Bonanza” and “Ironside” before landing the part of Keith Partridge in “The Partridge Family“.

The Partridge Family was a kind of pseudo-reality sitcom that MTV would kill for these days. It was about a musical family who played together to stay together, touring America whilst trying to maintain a semblance of normal life.

Cassidy, initially happy about the success of The Partridge Family soon grew weary of its constrictions, not least being his requirement to maintain a squeaky-clean lifestyle in keeping with his character in the show.

In May 1972 he gave a revealing interview to Rolling Stone magazine where he expressed his unhappiness at playing Keith Partridge. As if to underline his point he also posed nude for the cover, shocking the show’s producers whilst simultaneously titillating his young fans.

EFA70’sTRO would like to briefly leap out of the Partridge Family closet and openly admit that one of his favourite romantic ditties of all-time is “I Think I Love You“. As fine a pop song as it is, he just wishes it wasn’t by The Partridge Family.

Quiz time….. Name all the bands you can think of whose band members feature a mother and her son playing together. (The Partridge Family don’t count because they were fictional).

I can think of one – Lieutenant Pigeon – and their hit “Mouldy Old Dough“, a ramshackle pub-singalong slice of nonsense that was Number 1 for a staggering 4 weeks.

The song is held together by the ragtime piano of Hilda Woodward, mother of band leader Rob whose vocals consist of throating just three words…. “Mouldy”, “Old” and “Dough”

Somewhat staggeringly, this song was the SECOND biggest selling single of 1972 (after that crappy bagpipe bollocks). I LOVE it and often find myself ‘singing’ it in the shower! (If it was at the local bar’s Karaoke night I would definitely grab the mic!)

Oh, btw, the correct pronunciation of the band’s name is LEF-tenant Pigeon and not LOO-tenant Pigeon. Thought I’d just clear that up for my American readers otherwise ignorant of English *giggle*

Claire was Gilbert O’Sullivan‘s 6th UK hit single in two years, but his first Number 1.

The whistle-infused song was written about his young niece, the lyric “Will you marry me Uncle Ray?” referring to O’Sullivan, whose real first name is Raymond.

It’s sad that Gilbert never gained the worldwide popularity I personally feel he deserved. His lyrics, melodies and vocal style are all as assured as, say Billy Joel’s or Elton John’s, and his notions of ‘whimsy’ and ‘romance’ are always evident.

His relative lack of success compared to his peers can actually be blamed on a massive mid-70’s court case he got embroiled in. He discovered that his contract with MAM Records was skewed heavily in favor of the label’s owner, with Gilbert earning next to no royalties for the hits he had created, including his massive USA Number 1 “Alone Again (Naturally)“. The case rumbled on for over 5 years, during which time he was unable to record a note, so the hits – and his visibility – just fizzled out.

In 1980, he was awarded £7m in damages. A large sum of money, but doubtless FAR less than his earnings otherwise could have been had he remained in the public eye.

I picked up the (terribly-titled) “Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan” a year or so ago, which obviously contains “Claire” and 19 other songs, most of which are surprisingly recognisable and memorable. A great singer-songwriter.

Chuck Berry is one of the pioneers – if not THE pioneer – of Rock & Roll. It’s even been said that he invented it.

Think of all the classic songs he’s been responsible for… “Johnny B Goode“, “Rock and Roll Music“, “Sweet Little Sixteen“, “Roll Over Beethoven“, “School Days” and so many, many more.

The antithesis of all his classic songs is the horrendous “My Ding-a-Ling“, sadly his ONLY UK Number 1.

Recorded live at a concert in Coventry, “My Ding-a-Ling” is little more than an exercise in Benny Hill-style double entendre, so it’s astonishing in retrospect that many radio stations refused to play it!

I guess because it always forms a backdrop to office parties and family get togethers, the UK Christmas Number 1 has always carried an air of ‘reverence’ about it.

Well, christmas parties in 1972 must have been REALLY scary affairs, with everyone living in fear of having to hear Little Jimmy Osmond with “Long Haired Lover from Liverpool

Younger – and spottier – brother of Donny, this scored a big 10 on the “crap-o-meter” for many people, myself included. Even my aural fondness for a “novelty hit” refuses to acknowledge this as worthy.

[continued in Part 5]….

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Number Ones of 1972 (Part 1)

In this “debut diary year” of 1972 I have spoken a lot about the albums I either bought, borrowed and/or taped.

It would be fair for readers to think these albums would represent what I would have listened to the most in 1972.

Fair, but wrong.

Every Sunday, almost without fail, I would avidly listen to the “Pick of the Pops” show on BBC’s Radio 1, recording it in real time and then replaying it over and over during the following week.

This show played the UK’s Top 30 singles (as compiled by the British Market Research Bureau) in their entirety, announced by stalwart BBC DJ Alan “Fluff” Freeman (Later the show was presented by Tom Browne, even later by Simon Bates).

My fascination for, and capability to listen to, all kinds of music – not just the Prog Rock I was otherwise listening to – was what probably set me on to a later career in the business and, most definitely, an appreciation of “pop” in all its various guises.

In 1972, the “Top 30” was – as the British charts have always been – a mish mash of established artists, one-hit wonders and novelty acts with sappy love songs, early disco material, glam rock classics and pop masterpieces all thrown into the mix.

If I’m being honest there wasn’t a lot I really didn’t like, and most – but NOT all – of these Number Ones of 1972 have as much room in my musical heart as any of the bombastic pieces by ELP…..

The New Seekers started off the year with a perfect piece of “cross promotional” pop in the shape of “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony)“, a song which started life as a TV commercial for Coca Cola. It’s got appallingly crass lyrics – I’d like to build the world a home and furnish it with love, grow apple trees and honey bees and snow white turtle doves – but that’s what makes it so good IMHO.

The New Seekers were followed by Marc Bolan’s T.Rex with their third No.1 hit single in the shape of “Telegram Sam“.

This song, featuring Bolan’s self-referential lyrics “Me I funk, but I don’t care, I ain’t no square with my corkscrew hair” and “I’m a howlin’ wolf” was the first release on Bolan’s own “T.Rex Wax Co.” imprint at EMI Records, and was an ode to his then manager Tony Secunda (his “main man“).

The song was much later covered by goth band Bauhaus who in the process of roughing it up took away its campness. (My wife has just blown me a raspberry)

From T.Rex we went to the very first Number 1 to feature a moog synthesiser and a song which is such a “earworm” my brain whistles it at its mere mention!

Chicory Tip‘s “Son of my Father” could be described as “synthpop” in its earliest form. It’s mind-bogglingly repetitive, but not quite irritating enough to turn off whenever it appears – and yes its a regular visitor – on my iPod some 30+ years later.

Trivia fans may care to store away this fascinating little nugget of info about “Son of my Father”… the synthesizer – which was actually a tiny stylophone– is played by Chris Thomas, who later went on to produce records by (amongst many others) Pink Floyd, Roxy Music, INXS, Pulp, Paul McCartney… oh, and the debut album by a little band called The Sex Pistols

[continued in Part 2]…

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December 2nd 1972

“City 1 Ipswich 1” / “Sold records – Beatles + Grandad – 50p”

Our newsagent used to have a display board in its front window where local residents – for 2 or 3 pence a week, or something silly – could post hand-written cards advertising things for sale.

Indeed, the very same newsagent continues to offer the service. The last time I flew over and stayed with my Dad in England, the board was still in the window. The cost had gone up – 50p I believe – but it was nice to see the tradition remains.

I used the newsagent’s service to advertise records for sale. LP or singles that I’d got bored with or no longer wanted, as well as 45’s I’d picked up cheap and then sold for a small profit. Yes, I was doing that kind of trading at the age of 14! Talk about prescience!

I have no idea what the Beatles record was. Knowing my luck, it was probably one which sells for oodles and oodles of cash on eBay nowadays!

I know what “Grandad” was though.

Yes, it’s embarrassing.

In the 70’s, the UK singles chart was virtually awash with novelty hits. Many of them the famous “wonders” of the one hit. 

Clive Dunn’s “Grandad” was such a record.

Clive Dunn is an actor who found fame playing a doddery old butcher in Dad’s Army, a British TV sitcom about the home guard during World War II. The series’ huge audience (18 million weekly) almost guaranteed that anything involved with the show would also be loved by the public.

Dunn met famous session bassist Herbie Flowers (it is his bass line that opens Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side”) whilst at a party and challenged him to write a hit single for him.

Flowers contacted his friend and fellow songwriter, Kenny Pickett (former member of 60’s freakbeat combo Creation) who turned up a little later ringing Flower’s doorbell. The doorbell’s simple ‘ding-dong’ apparently gave the pair the hook for the song! (“Ding” + “Dong” = “Gran” + “Dad”)

(How do I know this story? Permit me a “brush with the stars” moment. Flowers was an unlikely member of Marc Bolan’s T.Rex for (what turned out to be) their final tour, just months before the tousle-haired pop pixie died in a horrible car crash.  Along with several friends, I attended the final date of the tour in Portsmouth and we were all able to get backstage and into the changing rooms after the show.  We never met Marc, but Herbie was an extremely affable gent, sharing his wine with us and regaling us for a while with his tales of the music business… including his involvement with “Grandad“)

Anyway, Clive Dunn recorded the song with a children’s choir and its awful cheese (“Grandad, Grandad, you’re lovely“)  made Number 1 in early 1971 (incongruously sandwiched in between Number 1’s by Dave Edmunds and George Harrison!) and stayed on the charts for a mind-boggling 27 weeks! 

Now, let it be known – to my wife’s repeated horror – that I am something of an aficionado of ‘novelty hit singles’. However, even I think Clive Dunn’s “Grandad” is a novelty just TOO far!

Judge it for yourself… if you dare!


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