Despite being one of the UK’s biggest stars of the early-70s, Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan is probably most famous these days for this song, in which Top of the Pops dancers Pan’s People took the lyrics literally and paraded around in front of a load of dogs (see the clip below). But to be fair, the alternative interpretation wouldn’t have been great either…
Get Down was the first single from O’Sullivan’s third album I’m a Writer, Not a Fighter. Keen for another image change, this LP saw O’Sullivan dabbling his toes in rock and funk and using keyboards rather than the piano. The track had originally been a warm-up tune before he decided to flesh it out for his new album.
Get Down is a very different beast to O’Sullivan’s previous best-seller and ode to a little girl, Clair, but is problematic for a different reason. Either we take Get Down literally and it’s a bit of froth about his dog, or he’s talking down to a woman in a very derogatory way:
‘Told you once before
And I won’t tell you no more
Get down, get down, get down
You’re a bad dog, baby
But I still want you around’
So what were Pan’s People to do with this, to be fair? Dress up as an sexist-at-best, abusive-at-worst husband who treats his wife like crap? That would have made for an interesting dance.
And then the middle eight, other than a cat reference, seems to come from another song, where O’Sullivan mentions how he once said some wine and felt happy. Well, great, Gilbert.
Get Down is certainly better than Clair, and can get under your skin if you’re not careful, but it’s nothing more than a throwaway really. I do struggle to get the appeal of O’Sullivan’s whimsy, based on what I’ve heard.
He continued to have hits, though not to the same degree, scraping into the top 20 with follow-up Ooh Baby. Most successful was Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, released in November 1973, which went on to reach number six. His shot at the festive number 1 spot, Christmas Song, performed respectably too, reaching 12 in 1974. But I Don’t Love You But I Think I Love You the following May was his last hit of the 70s.
The main reason for this was the fact O’Sullivan became embroiled in a long and painful court case with his producer and manager Gordon Mills over royalties. Which must have made performing Clair a bit awkward (the girl in question was Mills’s daughter) to say the least. He left MAM Records after 1977 album Southpaw and returned to CBS
The 80s began promisingly, with What’s In a Kiss? returning him to the top 20. More importantly, in 1982 the court finally ruled in O’Sullivan’s favour, awarding him £7 million in damages. He mostly kept a low profile for the rest of the decade, releasing little in the way of new material.
He was back in court again in 1991, and was the victor once more, in a case against rapper Biz Markie over sampling rights for the song that shot him to fame in the 70s, Alone Again (Naturally). This case was partly responsible for sampling becoming so expensive afterwards.
O’Sullivan became more prolific as the 90s progressed and into the 21st century, releasing albums and compilations with witty names like Singer Sowing Machine (1997) and The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan (2004). In 2008 he performed at Glastonbury festival, and in 2011 BBC Four showed Out On His Own, a documentary devoted to him. His 19th, eponymous album released in 2018 is his latest to date.
Written by: Gilbert O’Sullivan
Producer: Gordon Mills
Music director: Laurie Holliday
Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 April)
17 April: British Leyland launched the Austin Allegro.