287. Christie – Yellow River (1970)

Here’s a number 1 with an unusual story. Yellow River, Christie’s sole chart-topper, could in a sense also be classed as The Tremeloes’ third number 1, if they hadn’t thrown it away.

Leeds-born singer-songwriter Jeff Christie, born Jeffrey Christie on 12 July 1946, had been a member of rock band The Outer Limits, who had released singles in the late 60s. He had been inspired to write Yellow River after imagining a soldier looking forward to returning home to Yellow River (probably a mythical place) after the American Civil War, and probably thought it would work well with the anti-Vietnam War sentiment of the time.

Christie offered the song to The Tremeloes, who liked it, and recorded it ready to release as a single, but then they went to number two with, ironically, Call Me Number One, and they decided to steer away from pop towards a more progressive sound.

Tremeloes guitarist Alan Blakley’s brother Mike was in a struggling band called The Epics, which also included guitarist Vic Elmes. The story gets muddy here, but someone, possibly Alan, to help Mike, and maybe feeling guilty about ditching Yellow River, suggested its songwriter travel to London to record a new vocal over the track himself, and he did so, forming a new band for its release, called Christie and featuring Elmes and Mike. Their debut single was released on 23 April.

The chorus to Yellow River has existed in my subconscious for years, after I heard a snatch of it on some advert for a compilation album, but also due to the jingle being used in adverts for phone book Yellow Pages when I was a child, before the days of JR Hartley. Bad move by The Tremeloes – it’s a good tune, and way better than their previous number 1s Do You Love Me? and Silence Is Golden.

Apparently, Christie were keen to be considered the British answer to US country rock trio Creedence Clearwater Revival, and they do a great job of living up to that here, except of course, it’s not them behind that speedy finger-picked guitar, effervescent rhythm and top drumming – it’s The Tremeloes. Okay, there’s a fair few number 1s better than this in 1970, but that chorus in particular is a real ear worm. It’s easy to see why it topped the charts, even if it was for only a week. Steer clear of the later remake as it’s leaden by comparison.

Follow-up single San Bernadino, also from their eponymous debut album, was released in October, and reached number seven in the UK, and number 1 in Germany. But the success proved short-lived, and Blakely left before the release of 1971 album For All Mankind. Elmes’s departure in 1973 left Christie as the only remaining original member. No amount of line-up changes (and there were more) could capture that initial momentum though, and in 1976, after Navajo reached number 1 in Mexico, they split up.

Jeff Christie went solo in 1980 for a couple of singles, and then probably did quite well out of the Yellow Pages campaign. He reformed Christie in 1990 with backing from members of the band Tubeless Hearts, and they bid to represent the UK in the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest with Safe in Your Arms, but failed. They have toured and recorded intermittently ever since.

Written by: Jeff Christie

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 1 (6-12 June)

Deaths:

Novelist EM Forster – 7 June

Meanwhile…

10 June: Earlier in 1970 the Tories were enjoying a few months after the Conservatives had enjoyed opinion poll leads of more than 20 points, and looked likely to form the next government, but the tide had turned. Labour were now several points ahead of the Conservatives, with eight days to go before the general election. Labour’s win would be a record third-in-a-row, if it happened.

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