Death discs! Remember them? No? Don’t worry, it’s been a while. They hadn’t been in fashion since the mid-60s, and the last proper one to top the charts was Johnny Remember Me in 1961. Yet here we are in 1974, with two in a row. First, thanks to their success on Opportunity Knocks, Nottingham-based pop group Paper Lace were at number 1 with Billy – Don’t Be a Hero.
Paper Lace formed in 1967 as Music Box, consisting of Cliff Fish, Dave Manders, Roy White and Phil Wright. They performed contemporary covers by bands including The Beach Boys. In 1969 they became Paper Lace, named after their city’s long history with lace. While working their way through club gigs a year later they auditioned for Opportunity Knocks, the ITV talent show presented by Hughie Green. Nothing came of it at first, but they signed with Philips and released the album First Edition in 1972. The following year they were finally called up to appear on Opportunity Knocks, and they went down a storm, winning five weeks on the trot. By this point, the band consisted of Philip Wright on drums and lead vocals (very unusual, especially in these days), Mick Vaughan on guitar, Fish was still there on bass, and Chris Morris on guitar and vocals.
Meanwhile, hitmaking duo Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, last seen on this blog having written 1968 number 1 The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde for Georgie Fame, had written Billy – Don’t Be a Hero and were looking for someone to record it. Murray, the man behind Gerry and the Pacemakers’ three number 1s in 1963, wanted an established group to record it, but Callander’s wife saw Paper Lace on TV and suggested them to her husband.
Opening to a chirpy military drumbeat and whistling, Paper Lace’s solo number 1 is the weakest chart-topper of 1974 thus far. It sounds more like a single from the golden era of death discs and it’s too cheesy and naff to get much enjoyment out of. As an anti-war song, some suspect it was a brave move for Billy – Don’t Be a Hero to be released during the Vietnam War and that it was a comment on the situation, but clearly it wasn’t. There are references to ‘soldier-blues’ and ‘riding out’, and on publicity photos and one Top of the Pops appearance, the band (now bolstered by new member Carlo Santanna – not Carlos Santana – on guitar and mandolin), they’re wearing Union outfits. It’s a song about the American Civil War.
But yes, whichever war it’s about, the message is a good one. Don’t be a hero Billy, stay and marry your fiancée. But alas, no. Come the final verse, Billy has indeed died a hero, and his girlfriend throws the letter away. There’s no denying Callander and Murray in particular know how to write a tune, but their songs sound so stale in a year where disco is right around the corner. Having said that, it is unfortunately perhaps a sign of things to come, because there are some truly awful pop songs to come throughout the rest of the decade too.
Considering the subject matter, you’d think Paper Lace might have had a chance with a hit in the US. So it must have been pretty annoying when Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods got in there first and went to number 1 with their rushed cover. The Nottingham boys had more luck second time around though, when Murray and Callander gave them Prohibition-set tune The Night Chicago Died as a follow-up. It climbed to number three on these shores, but they scored a number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Third collaboration, The Black-Eyed Boys, just missed out on the top 10, also in 1974. With their second album, Paper Lace and Other Bits of Material released too, it was a busy year. It didn’t take long for Paper Lace to unravel though, and by 1976 the ‘classic’ line-up was no more.
Paper Lace resurfaced with different members in 1978 and scored a top 30 hit when they teamed up with Nottingham Forest FC to record a version of We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands. They split up in 1980 but by 1983 another version had formed. In 1990 Wright, Vaughan and Morris re-recorded Billy – Don’t Be a Hero but it was never released due to the Gulf War. The original was on a list of songs banned by the BBC at the time.
These days there are two versions of Paper Lace, each containing different members from their hitmaking days. Why can’t everyone just learn to get along?
Written & produced by: Mitch Murray & Pete Callander
Weeks at number 1: 3 (16 March-5 April)
Snooker player Mark King – 28 March Radio DJ Scott Mills – 28 March Conservative MP John Glen – 1 April
18 March: Most OPEC nations end a five-month oil embargo against the US, Europe and Japan.
20 March: After wounding four people, crazed gunman Ian Ball fails in his attempt to kidnap Princess Anne and her husband Captain Mark Phillips in The Mall, outside Buckingham Palace. When he wrestled her to the floor of the Rolls-Royce and commanded her to get out, the princess’s response was ‘Not bloody likely!’. Passing heavyweight boxer Ronnie Russell came to the rescue, punching Ball twice in the head. Princess Anne’s parting words were ‘Just go away and don’t be such a silly man.’ Ball is still ‘away’, in Broadmoor Hospital.
29 March: The new Labour government re-establishes direct rule over Northern Ireland after declaring a state of emergency.
1 April: The Local Government Act 1972 comes into effect in England and Wales, creating six new metropolitan counties and redrawing the administrative map. Newport and Monmouthshire are legally transferred from England to Wales.
Gary Glitter wasn’t the only 60s has-been to become a glam icon in the 70s. Thanks to a singer-songwriter called Peter Shelley (not the Buzzcocks singer), minor pop star Shane Fenton assumed the mantle of Alvin Stardust. Among the hits that followed was this sole number 1.
Fenton was originally Bernard William Jewry, born 27 September 1942 in Muswell Hill, Middlesex. The Jewrys moved to Mansfield in Nottinghamshire when he was still young, and his mother ran a boarding house often used by singers and entertainers. He made his stage debut in a pantomime at the age of four. As a boarder at Southwell Minster Collegiate grammar school he fell in love with blues, jazz and rock’n’roll, listening to the American Forces Network and Radio Luxembourg.
Jewry got to know a local band called Johnny Theakstone and the Tremeloes, and he helped them carry their equipment. However, Theakstone died suddenly as a result of a childhood illness that had weakened his heart. The group split up, but a former member was later contacted by the BBC’s Saturday Club radio show. Theakstone had sent in an audition tape, calling himself Shane Fenton. Theakstone’s mother gave the band her blessing to reform and give it a go, and Jewry was asked to join the band as Fenton. Shane Fenton and the Fentones went down well and signed to Parlophone in 1961. Several minor hits followed, most notably Cindy’s Birthday in 1962. Jewry even featured in the Billy Fury vehicle Play It Cool that year, but soon after, the group split.
Jewry spent his years out of the spotlight in music management, and performed at small venues alongside his first wife Iris Caldwell (sister of Rory Storm). In the meantime, Shelley had worked his way into the music industry in the mid-60s, working under EMI producer Norman Newell. He became a talent scout for Decca Records, discovering number 1 artists Amen Corner, among others. In 1973 he co-founded Magnet Records with Michael Levy, and the first release on the label was My Coo Ca Choo, written, produced and performed by Shelley under the alias Alvin Stardust. Not the most original moniker considering David Bowie was still using Ziggy Stardust as a name in 1973. But then, Shelley wasn’t expecting a hit when he appeared on children’s TV show Lift Off with Ayshea under that name.
My Coo Ca Choo, stormed the charts, leaving Shelley with a conundrum as he had no desire to continue performing, but didn’t want to be a one-hit wonder either. Jewry’s manager suggested him and for the second time, he stepped into an alias, only this time he was more successful.
Bowie said that Ziggy was based on 50s rock’n’roller Vince Taylor, and Jewry’s look as Alvin Stardust was an even more overt tribute, with his huge quiff, sideburns and black leather outfit. And the black gloves topped things off nicely, creating a pretty menacing figure. The new Stardust’s first appearance on Top of the Pops, miming to My Coo Ca Choo, caused quite a stir, actually scaring some children at the time, and I have to confess I found it a little unnerving in my teens when I first saw him via a UK Gold repeat. That might sound ridiculous now, but seeing a lone figure hovering in front of some lights, stood stock still and staring down the lens, holding the mic in an unusual way, looked quite menacing. It did the job anyway, and Stardust’s debut went to number two.
Unfortunately, despite second single Jealous Mind getting the all-important top spot, it’s not half as memorable as My Coo Ca Choo and is barely remembered these days. I’d guess that Shelley quickly knocked this off to capitalise on the momentum, in the hope that more of the same would suffice, which it did, but only for a week in 1974.
It’s very similar, plundering that same 50s greaseball-meets-Norman Greenbaum guitar sound, but it’s rather lacklustre. Stardust does a decent job of sounding like Shelley on the chorus (and Buddy Holly with the vocal tics) but sounds different on the verses, making it uneven. But not half as uneven as the guitar track, which is all over the place! I’m not sure if it’s Shelley performing it, but I kind of admire the fact it’s doing its own thing in a way. It’s not enough to save the track though. Which is a shame, as I’ve a soft spot for Stardust.
His hits continued for a while, particularly throughout 1974 with Red Dress and You You You in the top 10, but Good Love Can Never Die (1975) was his last top 20 hit for six years.
Stardust had come along at the tail end of glam, and wasn’t able to adapt quick enough. He did however feature in a famous public information film for the Green Cross Code campaign ‘Children’s Heroes’ in 1976. Stardust’s is the most memorable, due to him pointing menacingly at the naughty children with his one black glove, and incredulously exclaiming ‘you must be out of your tiny minds!’. Watch here, and enjoy.
Stardust had a successful comeback in 1981 with a cover of Pretend, previously a number two hit for Nat ‘King’ Cole in 1953. It was Stardust’s first release on hip indie label Stiff Records, and I can still remember the sleeve for this peering out of my big brother’s record box. The rest of his Stiff releases did indeed stiff, but he was back in the top 10 via Chrysalis with I Feel Like Buddy Holly and I Won’t Run Away in 1984. He attempted to enter Eurovision in 1985 but came third in A Song For Europe with The Clock on the Wall.
It was around this time Stardust moved into the acting game, with a lead role in the Lloyd Webber–Rice musical Cricket in 1986. Other similar roles came in Godspell, David Copperfield – The Musical and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. In 1989 he presented his very own Sunday morning children’s series on ITV, It’s Stardust. In 1995, Stardust had a regular role in Channel 4 soap opera Hollyoaks. His second marriage, to actress Liza Goddard, came to an end after he converted to Christianity, and he remarried again, with actress Julie Paton. Adam, a son from his first marriage, became drum’n’bass DJ Adam F in the 90s.
In 2010, Stardust released I Love Rock’n’Roll, an album featuring new recordings of his old hits. Four years later he was weeks away from releasing a brand new album, Alvin, when he died on 23 October from prostate cancer, aged 72.
Written & produced by: Peter Shelley
Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 March)
10 March: 10 miners are killed in a methane gas explosion at Golborne Colliery near Wigan, Lancashire.
11 March: Convicted armed robbers Kenneth Littlejohn and brother Keith, who claim to be British spies in the Republic of Ireland, escape from Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison.
15 March: Architect John Poulson, embroiled in a major political bribery scandal in 1972, is jailed for five years for corruption.
1973 had been a great year for the songwriting/production duo ‘Chinnichap’, but 1974 was even better.Tiger Feet became the year’s biggest-selling single, then after four weeks it was usurped by another Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman single. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro was back at the top of the charts with another glam-pop-rock showcase for her skills. And there was certainly more stability in the charts than there was in Downing Street (see ‘Meanwhile…’).
Quatro had remained a presence in the UK charts since her first number 1, Can the Can, a year previous. 48 Crash, the opening song on her eponymous debut album, climbed to number three, and Daytona Demon, a standalone single, number 14. She also played on Cozy Powell’s Dance With the Devil, a number three hit in January 1974, written by their record label owner Mickie Most of Rak Records. Devil Gate Drive was the first fruits of her second album Quatro, although it didn’t appear on that LP’s original UK tracklisting. Like Can the Can, it featured Len Tuckey on guitar (he and Quatro were married between 1976 and 1992) and Alastair McKenzie on keyboards, but Dave Neal replaced Keith Hodge on drums.
Devil Gate Drive is Quatro’s most famous song, very similar in style to Can the Can, but more pop-friendly. It’s more overtly indebted to rock’n’roll – Chinnichap’s favourite era, clearly. The Devil Gate Drive in question seems to be the actual gates to hell, and Quatro points out how humans start sinning as young as the age of five. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an insightful look at the human condition, but it’s cleverer than it appears, as Quatro knows that sinning can make us ‘come alive’. Quatro, you leather catsuit-wearing temptress. It makes a very nice change to hear her imploring everyone to get behind her, and hearing a load of burly male voices shouting back, rather than the screaming girls you’d have heard in pop most of the time. There’s some nice piano work from McKenzie too. It’s no Tiger Feet, but not bad at all.
A couple more hits followed for Quatro in 1974 – Too Big reached number 14 and The Wild One went to number seven, and then the law of diminishing returns began to apply. Critics of Quatro argue she was a mere novelty rather than a female role model, and was given substandard material by Chinnichap all along and her own material wasn’t good enough either. However in 1977 she not only had her first top 30 hit in three years with Tear Me Apart, she finally got noticed in the US thanks to her role as Leather Tuscadero in hugely popular nostalgic sitcom Happy Days. She appeared several times and was even offered a spin-off, such was the popularity of her character, but Quatro declined for fear of being typecast. The following year, If You Can’t Give Me Love showcased a more mellow sound and was her biggest hit since Devil Gate Drive (number four), and She’s In Love With You reached number 11 in 1979.
In 1980 Quatro’s contract with Most expired and she moved to Chapman’s Dreamland Records, but it marked a decline in her fortunes. It folded a year later, and she was without a label.
For much of the 80s Quatro could be found in more acting roles as well as releasing music. She starred in ITV comedy drama Minder in 1982, and crime drama Dempsey and Makepeace in 1985. The following year she featured alongside Bronski Beat and members of The Kinks on a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the BBC’s Children In Need. Then in 1987 she (sort of) returned to number 1 thanks to her appearance on the Ferry Aid cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be, which raised money for the charity set up in the aftermath of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster.
Since then, Quatro has continued to release albums, which continue to sell to the fans who grew up in those heady glam rock days. Back to the Drive in 2006 saw her return to her heavier rock roots, and was her first charting album since Rock Hard in 1980. Andy Scott from The Sweet was the producer, and the title track was written by Chapman. Her autobiography, Unzipped, was released in 2007, and the most recent Quatro album, No Control, was released in 2019.
Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn&Mike Chapman
Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 February-8 March)
Radio sports commentator Raymond Glendenning – 23 February
27 February: As the country went to the polls, controversial Conservative MP Enoch Powell announced his resignation from the party in protest against Edward Heath’s decision to take Britain into the EEC.
28 February: Heath’s plan backfired badly. The General Election results in the first hung parliament since 1929. The Tory government held 297 seats, Labour, 301, and the largest number of votes. Heath made plans to form a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party in order to cling on to power.
4 March: Heath failed to convince the Liberals to form a coalition and therefore announced his resignation as Prime Minister, paving the way for Harold Wilson to become Prime Minister for the second time with Labour forming a minority government.
6 March: An improved pay offer by the new Labour government results in the end of the latest miners’ strike.
7 March: The Three-Day Week came to an end. For now, with Labour back in power, things began to stabilise and improve with the unions.
Early 1974 was peak ‘Chinnichap’, with the writers/producers responsible for two number 1s in a row. This first one took Mud out of the minor leagues and made them one of the biggest names in glam rock. And rightly so, because Tiger Feet is a classic pop anthem and one of my favourite number 1s of the 70s. If you don’t love Tiger Feet, you are dead already.
The origins of the Surrey quartet begin with singer Thomas Leslie ‘Les’ Gray, born in Carshalton on 9 April 1946. Gray was a self-taught musician who originally played trumpet in a jazz band while still at school, before forming a skiffle group called The Mourners. When he left education he wrote commercials for cinema advertising legends Pearl & Dean, and then worked for Moss Bros.
By 1966, The Mourners featured guitarist Rob Davis, who had joined with drummer Dave Mounts, his companion in several previous bands. Along with bassist Ray Stiles, they became Mud that February. The following year they released their debut single on CBS Records, the very 1967-sounding Flower Power. It failed to make an impression, and nor did their next few singles, released on Phillips, over the next three years.
With psychedelia largely over, Mud were sinking (sorry) until they met impresario Mickie Most, whose Rak Records were fast becoming the hippest label around when they joined. Much like The Sweet before them, as soon as they began working with their new writers and producers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (despite being on different labels), things swiftly improved.
In 1973 they scored three top 20 singles – Crazy (number 12), Hypnosis (number 16) and best of the three, Dyna-Mite, which climbed to number four. With the Chinnichap template of pop-rock, Gray’s sideburns and deep Elvis-style vocal and Davis’s increasingly outlandish get-up, Mud became a fully fledged glam band with this single, which had originally been rejected by labelmates The Sweet. And then came Tiger Feet.
But what the hell is it actually about, if anything? Much like Can the Can, it’s likely they just stumbled upon a phrase they liked and worked it into a song. Clearly, in general though, Tiger Feet is a come-on to some ‘dance hall cutie’, and Gray sees her as a kind-of sexual predator in the way she cuts a rug (I’m lost at ‘tiger lights’ though). Which is ironic, considering the dance that Mud and their crew made up to this song – which may be the least sexy ever witnessed in pop.
It may look ridiculous, but let me say in all seriousness that watching Mud performing the Tiger Feet dance is for me one of the most uplifting moments in pop music. It encapsulates the power of pop, and glam in particular, to make grown men act and look as stupid as possible, with all worries abandoned, totally lost in the moment. At the music night I used to DJ at with friends, I would, without shame, perform said dance time and time again, and I am proud of the fact. Everyone should try it.
So, yes, I am a huge fan of Mud’s first number 1. Ignore the words and any notion of being cool and feel the rip-roaring, childlike glee running wild throughout, from the manic rhythm guitar at the start to the ‘t-t-t-t-t-t-t-tiger feet’ at the song’s fade. It’s very difficult to analyse something so stupid and brilliant too much, so just enjoy it. Just like Slade, Mud gave the country some much-needed light relief in particularly trying times. This is 70s pop at its best.
Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn&Mike Chapman
Weeks at number 1: 4 (26 January-22 February) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Actor Christian Bale – 30 January Murderer Ian Huntley – 31 January Sports presenter Ed Chamberlin – 6 February Footballer Nick Barmby – 11 February Singer Robbie Williams – 13 February Singer-songwriter James Blunt – 22 February Radio DJ Chris Moyles – 22 February
Novelist HE Bates – 29 January
4 February: One of the Provisional IRA’s most shocking attacks took place when 11 people, three of whom were civilians, were killed in the M62 coach bombing.
7 February: In the midst of the Three-Day Week, Prime Minister Edward Heath, called a General Election for 28 February, asking who governed, he or the unions. During the campaign, the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress agreed a ‘Social Contract’ intended to produce wage restraint. Also this day, Grenada became independent of the UK.
8 February: The death toll from the M62 coach bombing reaches 12 with the death in hospital of a seriously injured 18-year-old soldier.
12 February: BBC One first aired the classic children’s series Bagpuss, made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s Smallfilms in stop-motion animation.
14 February: Birmingham City centre forward Bob Latchford becomes Britain’s most expensive footballer in a £350,000 move to Everton. Also this day, opinion polls showed the Conservative government in the lead for the forthcoming election.
For most of the first month of 1974, Slade held firm at the top. This is often the case with Christmas number 1s, which I’ve always found strange. Surely you’ve had enough of that song by the time the decorations have come down?
However, you can’t blame the British public for holding on to Merry Xmaƨ Everybody for a few weeks longer. The Three-Day Week began on New Year’s Day, the country was in its first recession since the Second World War, and living in fear of explosions courtesy of the IRA. But eventually people stopped buying it, which left The New Seekers to move up a few notches and claim their second number 1, and this time, they didn’t owe it to Coca-Cola.
Fresh off the success of I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony), the group represented the UK in the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest, held in Edinburgh. Beg, Steal or Borrow finished in second place and reached number two in the charts. Circles climbed to number four later that year, but 1973 saw a dip in their fortunes and their chart placings dropped for singles including their medley of The Who’s Pinball Wizard-See Me, Feel Me. Peter Doyle perhaps felt they couldn’t recover, so he left and was replaced by Peter Oliver. They took to putting members in the forefront and singing leads more often than the five-piece harmonies of old, and You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me was Lyn Paul’s turn.
Lynda Susan Belcher, born 16 February 1949 in Wythenshawe, Manchester, became a child actress as early as 1960, attending regular classes in dance and musical theatre. She led teenage girl band The Crys-Do-Lyns before qualifying as a dance teacher. With the 60s drawing to a close, she changed her name to Tanzy Paul and tried to become a solo star before joining Mancunian group The Nocturnes. Also in its line-up was Eve Graham, who left to join The New Seekers. When Sally Graham left the group, it was Eve who suggested Paul.
Opening with a bawdy blast of brass, You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me is too upbeat sounding for its theme, really. Paul gives a great performance, belting the lyrics with gusto, but it’s a pretty sad song deep down, seemingly about a girl who’s in love with someone in a relationship elsewhere, who won’t commit to her, but keeps going back for more anyway. Having said that, it’s not as if lyrics have to fit the mood of the song, and for what it is, it’s not a bad piece of pop, really. I enjoy it more than their previous number 1.
However, after one-more big hit in March (I Get a Little Sentimental Over You), it was announced that The New Seekers were to split. There had been arguments from the band that they weren’t being paid enough, and both Graham and Paul wanted out. They had recorded enough material for Polydor Records to release Farewell Album.
It only took two years though, and The New Seekers were back, but with Kathy Ann Rae and Danny Finn replacing Paul and Peter Oliver. They couldn’t recapture their earlier success, and only I Wanna Go Back in 1976 and Anthem (One Day in Every Week) in 1978 troubled the top 30, and that year, Graham and Finn left the group to marry. In 1980 Marty Kristian was the only original member remaining in the group when they were disqualified from entering the Eurovision Song Contest due to performing a song they had already performed a year earlier. The competition was won by Prima Donna, a group featuring Finn in the line-up.
Since then there have been several versions of The New Seekers. Graham and Finn occasionally toured together and Graham recorded a couple of solo albums. Finn died in 2016 of of pulmonary embolism. Kristian finally left the group in 2002 and has recorded solo work. Doyle also went solo and made advertising jingles for Sugar Puffs and Ribena, before returning to Australia. He died of throat cancer in 2001.
Out of all the members, Paul became the most famous. She had success with It Oughta Sell a Million in 1975, which featured Doyle on backing vocals, and it was used on a Coca-Cola advert, of all things. After a quiet decade in the 80s, she became a West End star in the musical Blood Brothers in 1997 until 2010, and also appeared in Footloose – The Musical! and Cabaret, among others. Paul has also been a semi-regular on Emmerdale and starred in Doctors and Holby City.
The UK singles chart is the soundtrack to our lives and a barometer of the nation’s mood and tastes. And ever since 1952, the battle for the number one spot has had us all talking as well as dancing.
In this fascinating spin-off from everyuknumber1.com, as seen in the Daily Mirror, music journalist Rob Barker comprehensively reviews all the best-sellers of the 50s, delving into the wild lives of the artists and the real stories and secrets behind the hits. He also counts down the influential events that shaped them, as we moved from rations to never having it so good.
Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard were among those who transformed the lives of young people throughout Britain, and taught a country battered by war how to have fun again.
Find out which chart topper was written by an illiterate rapist who formed his own prison band. Who was the first woman to top the charts? And which hitmaker lives on as Cockney rhyming slang?
Every UK Number 1: The 50s has all the answers on the decade in which pop took its first steps, before rock’n’roll shouldered in and left the baby boomers all shook up.
‘IT’S CHRISTMAAAASSSSSSS!’. It’s not. It’s currently mid-August 2020 and we’re coming to the end of a blistering heatwave, which, if you know the story behind Slade’s final number 1, you’ll know is how the song was recorded. Little did they know it would become not only the most famous of their six number 1s, it would become perhaps pop’s greatest festive staple.
And yet, in summer 1973, the future of the band looked in doubt. While Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me was at number 1, drummer Don Powell was in a car crash that killed his girlfriend Angela Morris and left him in a coma for nearly a week. Luckily he successfully recovered, although he still suffers acute short-term memory loss and sensory problems.
Back in 1967 when Slade were The ‘N Betweens, Noddy Holder had written a song called Buy Me a Rocking Chair, with the very psychedelic chorus ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Despite liking the chorus, the verse needed work, so they scrapped it. Speaking to the Record Mirror in 1984, bassist Jim Lea recalled he was taking a shower in New York in 1973 when he came up with ‘Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall?’. Lea remembered Holder’s chorus and thought the two could fit together well, and producer and manager Chas Chandler had been nagging them to write a Christmas song. Holder thought the idea had legs, and penned the lyrics at his mother’s house in Walsall in one draft. They played the finished song to Chandler on acoustic guitars.
As hinted at earlier, Slade recorded Merry Xmaƨ Everybody in the middle of a September heatwave in New York while on tour there. Powell had returned to the fray at the Power Plant, where John Lennon had just finished recording his album Mind Games. Lea didn’t look back on the recording fondly, claiming the others weren’t as interested in him at rehearsing, though he did acknowledge Powell was still recovering and his memory was shot. Lea put in the most work, laying down the bass, piano and harmonium (the latter on loan from Lennon). They weren’t happy with the first completed mix as they wanted a bigger sound for the chorus, so they re-recorded it down a corridor, getting baffled looks from passers-by (Slade were virtually unknown in the US). After five days, the song was complete.
With several months to go until they could release their hopeful festive number 1, Slade released a compilation, Sladest, and new single MY FRIEИD STAИ (which looks slightly satanic). For the first time since Christmas 1972, they didn’t get to number 1. It was a departure from the usual Slade formula, but they had to change tack at some point, and it’s a nice little song. So, were they going to miss out on the Christmas top spot for the second year in a row?
Of course not. Merry Xmaƨ Everybody became the first Christmas-themed Christmas number 1 since Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957, and couldn’t have come at a better time. As everyone knows, the UK was going through a particularly grim time in late-1973. You’ve only got to look down at the ‘Meanwhile…’ section to see the Three-Day Week was about to begin, and the first post-war recession had started. Plus there was the OPEC oil crisis, and the IRA could strike at any moment. Glam acts like Slade and Wizzard were sorely needed to keep spirits up, and they did the job then and still do close to 50 years later. ‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun’. How we could do with some of that optimism in winter 2020.
One of the most important factors that explains the magic of Merry Xmaƨ Everybody is its inclusivity. It’s less rocking and more poppy than previous material. It’s aimed at all the family, with mentions of Granny ‘up and rock and rolling with the rest’. ‘ In 1971 Lennon asked ‘So this is Christmas, and what have you done’, in 1973 Slade said ‘everybody’s having fun’. There’s a nod (pardon the pun) to Christmas songs of old with the reference to ‘momma kissing Santa Claus’.
In 2017 I listened to every Christmas number 1 in one sitting and wrote about it here, and came to the conclusion Merry Xmaƨ Everybody is the best festive chart-topper of all time. I pointed out the production is lacking all the trimmings such as sleigh bells etc, and I think that’s another reason it’s stood the test of time so well. It doesn’t need them, as Holder’s ‘IIIIIITTTTT’S CHRIIIISSSTTTMMMMMASSSS!’ at the song’s conclusion gets the childhood joy of Christmas Day across like nobody has before or since.
Slade won the chart battle with Wizzard, who actually only reached number four in Christmas week, but nevertheless the sense of competition between the two glam rock outfits helped to create the battle for christmas number 1 that the media have latched on to ever since. The singles chart for Christmas week was now an event, and that’s thanks to Slade. Which is entirely appropriate, when you consider how glam’s low-budget sense of fun, bordering on the tacky, is Christmassy like no other genre.
Slade’s biggest seller was also a great way for the band to finish their run of number 1s. Six within just over two years is pretty impressive and puts them up there with some of the biggest acts of all time. Their fall was slow and steady, but there were also unexpected twists and turns.
1974 began with the release of the LP Old New Borrowed and Blue, which showcased a more piano-led sound and even a ballad as a single, Everyday, which went to number three. Much of the year was spent filming their film Slade In Flame, a surprisingly gritty drama about the rise and fall of a fictional group called Flame, played by the members of Slade. It was released in November, and although it was critically acclaimed (it has gained somewhat of a cult following in recent years), and the first single from the soundtrack Far Far Away reached number two, the theme song How Does It Feel only made it to number 15. Thanks for the Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam), in 1975, was their last top 10 hit of the 70s.
Understandably feeling they had peaked in the UK, in 1975 Slade decided to move to the US and try and hit the big time there. They toured with rock acts like Aerosmith and ZZ Top, and released an eclectic album. Nobody’s Fool, but not only did they fail to make much of an impact, their UK fans accused them of selling out.
By the time they returned to the UK in 1977, punk and the subsequent new wave rendered Slade very unfashionable. Their contract with major label Polydor had ran out and instead they signed with Chandler’s Barn Records. They performed single Gypsy Roadhog on Blue Peter and found themselves banned by the BBC due to its drug references, but the notoriety couldn’t help them up the charts. The next album, Whatever Happened to Slade, was an all too appropriate name.
As the band slid into irrelevance they would release singles based on football chants (1978’s Give Us a Goal) and covers of cheesy party classics (Okey Cokey in 1979) and some material failed to even reach the top 200. Disagreements between Lea and Chandler resulted in the former and Holder producing their back to basics album Return to Base in 1979. It was another failure, and the band briefly went their separate ways. Lea formed a new group, The Dummies, with his brother Frank, poor Hill resorted to driving couples to their weddings in his own Rolls-Royce to make money (it didn’t work), and Holder was briefly considered as AC/DC’s new singer following the death of Bon Scott, but he still thought Slade may have a future and reportedly turned the Australian rockers down.
In 1980, Slade had some luck at last when Ozzy Osbourne cancelled his headlining appearance at Reading Festival late in the day. Organisers rushed around looking for a last-minute replacement, and asked Slade. All but Hill were keen, but the only way he could be persuaded was when Chandler visited him at home and pointed out it could be their big farewell gig. To Hill’s surprise, they went down a storm. The split was forgotten about, and they acted fast to keep the momentum going. Showcasing a sound more in keeping with heavy metal, therefore pleasing the Reading Festival crowd, 1981’s We’ll Bring the House Down (title track to their next album) became their first top 10 hit in six years, and they returned to larger venues after years of touring small clubs and universities.
Slade and Chandler finally parted ways and they signed with RCA Records, who released their heaviest material yet, Till Deaf Us Do Part. That Christmas saw the first of many re-releases of Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, which reached 32. RCA began to demand hits from the band, and set them to work with producer John Punter. The resulting album, The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome, was released in December 1983, and featured two decent tracks. Power ballad My Oh My very nearly gave them their second festive chart-topper, but was held at bay by The Flying Pickets’ version of Only You. It was followed by Run Runaway, a fair stab at a Celtic-flavoured, Big Country-style sound.
Unfortunately, Holder wasn’t keen on Punter, and troubles in his private life resulted in a cancelled tour. They tried again for another Christmas single, All Join Hands (an inferior retread of My Oh My), but it couldn’t crack the top 10. And the final decline began, with a mainly synth-led album in 1985, Rogues Gallery, followed by a cheap Christmas cash-in LP, Crackers – The Christmas Party Album, along with the umpteenth release of their final number 1. It would take more than returning to deliberately mis-spelling their material to return Slade to form, and You Boyz Make Big Noize, released in 1987, was their final album. They did (sort-of) return to number 1 with Wizzard and lots of other festive hits, courtesy of Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ sampling them on Let’s Party in 1989.
In 1991 the Slade fan club organised a 25th anniversary show, and it was the last time they played live. Radio Wall of Sound, recorded for a compilation, was their final chart hit. In March 1992, Holder finally called it a day, and Lea, his much underrated songwriting partner, couldn’t see a future for Slade without their singer. He retired too, leaving Hill and Powell to form Slade II.
Slade II have continued since with various other members, and made the news in 2003 when convicted serial killer Rosemary West announced her engagement to bassist Dave Glover. Glover claimed this was a misunderstanding and he had only written to her about her case, but Hill of course sacked him. In February 2020 Powell claimed he had been sacked by Hill via a rather cold email, which Hill denied. He was all set to start Don Powell’s Slade but suffered a stroke, and with live music practically comatose post-lockdown, it remains to be seen if we end up with two separate Slades on the road.
Lea has largely remained out of the public eye, other than making solo album Therapy in 2007, and revealing he had been treated for prostate cancer.
Holder became a national treasure following Slade’s demise, taking up acting and making a decent job of it in ITV comedy drama The Grimleys. He has presented radio shows, documentaries, and made numerous cameos on TV. He reportedly loved Vic Reeves’ portrayal of him in the Slade at Home sketches on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer in the early-90s, but Hill wasn’t so fond of Bob Mortimer’s portrayal of him as a disapproving mother figure.
All four members of Slade attended Chandler’s funeral in 1996, and in 2010 had a group meeting to consider a farewell tour, but nothing came of it. It’s unlikely they will ever play together.
Slade deserve more credit. Yes, this final number 1 is the best Christmas chart-topper of all time, but before then they released some excellent singles too. Holder had one of the best rock voices of all time, and together with Lea, they wrote several classics. The flamboyant Hill was mainly responsible for their showmanship, and Powell fought back from a near-death experience and continued to belt out the beat. They may have lacked in innovation, but like all the best glam acts, they sparkled and rocked the nation during stormy years.
1973 was by and large very similar to 1972 for number 1s, but better. There was still some old-fashioned pop doing very well, and Donny Osmond and David Cassidy catering for the teens, but there were also glam classics that have stood the test of time.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 December 1973-18 January 1974)
Historian Lucy Worsley – 18 December Comedian Paul Foot – 24 December Matt Tebbutt – 24 December 1973 Spice Girl Melanie C – 12 January 1974 Radio DJ Edith Bowman – 15 January Model Kate Moss – 16 January
Princess Patricia of Connaught – 12 January 1974
19 December: The 17.18 Paddington to Oxford express train was derailed between Ealing Broadway and West Ealing. 10 died and 94 were injured.
31 December 1973: As a result of coal shortages caused by industrial action by the miners, Prime Minister Edward Heath’s energy-saving measures, the Three-Day Work Order, came into effect at midnight, making for the darkest New Year celebrations for decades. Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days, TV broadcasts would end at 10.30pm on alternate nights for BBC and ITV, and most pubs were closed.
1 January 1974: But it wasn’t all bad news, as New Year’s Day was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time. Also that day, the Northern Ireland Power-sharing Executive is set up in Belfast.
70s glam rock star and secret monstrous paedophile Gary Glitter slowed things down on this second of three number 1s. Like his first,I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!), I Love You Love Me Love was one of his most famous anthems.
Weirdly, this track was produced in mono. As Mike Leander died in 1996, we’ll never know if he knew of Glitter’s misdemeanours. Let’s hope not, and if he didn’t, be glad he died before having to have a large part of his production legacy tarnished. Of course Leander worked with other artists than Glitter, and most famously was called up by The Beatles to work on She’s Leaving Home when George Martin was unavailable, and a great job he did, too.
I’m procrastinating to avoid the awkwardness of reviewing another song by this bastard. Sad fact is, it didn’t upset me to hear it as much as his first number 1. Perhaps because it wasn’t so self-referential and you could imagine someone else covering it (yeah, right). It’s a swaying, drunken, stupid lurch of a love song, with a really catchy chorus.
Glitter and his girl (possibly literally in his case unfortunately) have stood by each other through thick and thin, and this is his boastful review of what they’ve had to contend with. As usual though, it’s actually all about Glitter, because despite everyone disliking his hair (wigs) and clothes (well, they were stupid), he was ‘strong enough for two’.
It works as a ‘lighters aloft’ style of song, with Glitter’s ‘gang’ projecting their love on their idol, who gives it right back at them. Especially anyone who looks under 16, no doubt. Ah well, only one more by this wretched human to cover.
Written by: Gary Glitter & Mike Leander
Producer: Mike Leander
Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 November-14 December)
Footballer Ryan Giggs – 29 November
Aircraft engine designer Sir Roy Fedden – 21 November Scottish inventor Sir Robert Watson-Watt – 5 December Crime fiction writer Anthony Gilbert (Lucy Beatrice Malleson) – 9 December Novelist Henry Green – 13 December
26 November: The OPEC oil crisis in the Middle East caused Peter Walker, the Secretary for Trade and Industry, to warn that petrol rationing may have to be introduced in the near future. Britain’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia commented at the time that the oil price rise represented ‘perhaps the most rapid shift in economic power that the world has ever seen’. It’s a shift the UK has never recovered from.
5 December – The speed limit on motorways was reduced from 70mph to 50 mph until further notice.
9 December: The Sunningdale Agreement was signed in Sunningdale, Berkshire by Prime Minister Edward Heath, Irish premier Liam Cosgrave and representatives of the Ulster Unionist party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party and the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland. It was an attempt to establish power sharing in Northern Ireland and a cross-border Council of Ireland, but it collapsed in May 1974.
David Cassidy continued his existential battle to be loved for his music rather than his looks throughout 1972 and 1973. After his first number 1 How Can I Be Sure, the star of The Partridge Family had further hits with the title track to Rock Me Baby and I Am a Clown, which was lifted from his debut LP Cherish.
There were also more albums by The Partridge Family, Cassidy’s fictional TV brethren, on which he had made his name and would have rather been rid of by this point. In October 1973 their final album, Bulletin Board was released, alongside Cassidy’s third solo effort, Dreams are Nuthin’ More than Wishes. To get the point across that he was in charge of his own music, he wrote notes for his reasons for choosing each song. This second number 1 release was a double A-side of tracks from the album.
Daydreamer was written by South African professional songwriter Terry Dempsey, who had written for many big names including Cliff Richard and The New Seekers. In 2910, Dempsey was killed in a bizarre accident when he was struck by the blades of a gyrocscope making an emergency landing during a ceremony in which the family were scattering ashes.
Cassidy stars as a heartbroken loner, walking round in the rain, chasing rainbows in which he may find someone new. Nice, clever wordplay there. It’s reminiscent of 1956 Christmas number 1Just Walkin’ in the Rain by Johnnie Ray, not just due to the obvious mention of rain, but in the sense there’s a melancholy that’s quite comforting at play, that he’s actually kind of happy being on his own and wallowing in misery.
Unfortunately, as with How Can I Be Sure, I can’t enjoy Cassidy’s voice. For someone so determined to be admired for his ability, his singing is so affected, it doesn’t do a lot for me. Once again though, I’d take this over any of Donny Osmond’s number 1s.
The Puppy Song was penned by Harry Nilsson of Without You fame, and had featured on his album Harry, released in 1969. He had written it on request from Paul McCartney for Mary Hopkin’s debut album Post Card, which also included her number 1 from 1968, Those Were the Days.
More light-hearted than the flip side, the two songs complement each other well, with Cassidy’s daydreams moving on to thoughts of owning a dog, to replace the hole left by his love. The second verse comes from the viewpoint of a puppy daydreaming about having a friend to hang around with it. It’s a very ‘Nilsson’ kind of song, with a music-hall feel like a lot of his late-60s work, and an interesting departure for a teen idol, but again, I couldn’t warm to it too much. However, I do like the opening lines, which were paraphrased and became the title of Cassidy’s album.
Cassidy remained a familiar presence in the UK charts over the next few years, with hits like If I Didn’t Care and a cover of The Beatles’ Please Please Me in 1974. However, that same year, he was performing at London’s White City Stadium when nearly 800 people were injured in a crush at the front of the stage. 30 fans were taken to hospital, and 14-year-old Bernadette Whelan died four days after her injuries. Cassidy was devastated.
In 1975, Cassidy was free of The Partridge Family, and was the first person to have a hit with I Write the Songs, later to be Barry Manilow’s signature tune. But the follow-up, Darlin’ was his final top 20 entry for 10 years. In 1978 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a role in Police Story, and he starred in David Cassidy: Man Undercover in 1979 but it was cancelled after one season.
The early-80s saw Cassidy performing in musical theatre, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Blood Brothers. He returned to the charts in 1985 with The Last Kiss. It featured backing vocals from George Michael. Another teen idol with ambitions to be recognised for his ability over his looks, Michael cited Cassidy as an influence, and the duo no doubt had much in common. It was his last UK single of note though, despite occasional chart action in the US.
Cassidy struggled over the years with his public image, and claimed the death of Whelan would haunt him all his life. He was arrested several times in later years for drink-driving incidents. Former Page 3 model Samantha Fox claimed on a 2017 Channel 4 documentary that he sexually assaulted her in 1985.
In 2008 he went public with his alcohol problem. Then in February 2017 he struggled to remember lyrics while performing, and fell off the stage. Despite assumptions he had been drinking, Cassidy announced he had Alzheimer’s and retired soon after. That November Cassidy was hospitalised with liver and kidney failure. He was induced into a coma, and although he came out of it, doctors failed to find him a liver transplant in time, and he died of liver failure on 21 November, aged 67. It was revealed after he died that he hadn’t had Alzheimer’s.
Written by: Daydreamer: Terry Dempsey/The Puppy Song: Harry Nilsson
Producer: Rick Jarrard
Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 October-16 November)
BBC Controller Gerald Cock – 10 November
31 Octobe: The sixth series of much-loved BBC One sitcom Dad’s Army opened with the episode ‘The Deadly Attachment’. It’s the one featuring the line ‘Don’t tell them, Pike!’
8 November: The second Cod War between Britain and Iceland came to an end.
12 November: Miners began an overtime ban, while ambulance drivers started selective strikes. Also this day, long-running BBC One sitcom Last of the Summer Wine began its first series run, following a premiere in the Comedy Playhouse on 4 January. Roy Clarke’s whimsical comedy set in rural Yorkshire would run for 31 series spanning 37 years.
14 November: Eight members of the Provisional IRA were convicted of the March bombings in London. Also, The Princess Royal married Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey.
1973 wasn’t quite as weird as 1972 when it came to its number 1s. Few years are. But this piece of instrumental library music picked for crime drama series Van der Valk did enjoy a month at the top of the charts in the autumn and is remembered as one of the most popular TV themes of the 70s. It also led to the bizarre sight of an orchestra on Top of the Pops.
If you delve deep, library music, especially of the 60s and 70 and early 80s, can be a treasure trove of fascinating music, where composers would record stock music to be used on film, TV and radio. They were often given free rein to use (then) cutting-edge instruments, which give such pieces a charm of an imagined future that never happened. Think hauntology, but more upbeat, usually.
This number 1 was originally written by Dutch composer Jan Stoeckart for the De Wolfe Music Library, based in the UK and the oldest of its kind. Stoeckart had worked for De Wolfe since the 60s and over the years composed somewhere around 1,300 pieces for the library under a variety of pseudonyms. He came up with Eye Level, then known as Amsterdam, in the early-70s and used the name Jack Trombey. It was loosely based on an 18th-century poem known as Catootje in Dutch, which used the opening bars of Non più andrai from Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro.
Thames Television picked the piece for their new series Van der Valk, which first aired in 1972. It was based on the novels by Nicolas Freeling about Commissaris Simon ‘Piet’ Van der Valk, a cynical detective in Amsterdam, played by Barry Foster. With Britain set to enter the EEC in 1973, it was the perfect time for such a series, and was filmed in the Netherlands. It was renamed Eye Level to refer to the ever-present horizon in the Low Countries, which is always at eye level.
Simon Park, leader of the orchestra that performed the theme, was born in March 1946. Raised in Market Harborough, he began playing the piano aged only five. He gained a Bachelor of Arts in music at Worcester College, Oxford.
So, an unusual number 1 indeed. I think it’s the first time library music had been in pole position, and the first example of a TV theme gaining that spot. Russ Conway’s Side Saddle in 1959 was from a TV show, but that was incidental music. But while it’s certainly a strange sight to see a group of middle-aged men on Top of the Pops at the height of glam rock, I’m all for it. It’s a prime example of the eccentric tastes of the Great British Public and it’s a nice piece of music, that really lodges in your brain. I first became aware of it in 1991, aged 12, when ITV brought the series back, and have never forgotten it. It has of course been used elsewhere since.
I’m not sure it’s a great theme for Van der Valk though. I’ve never watched it, but from clips and research, it’s pretty dark and gritty, and Eye Level isn’t. It sounds more like the theme to a gardening series or comedy drama. it’s bright, breezy, jaunty and uplifting, and so I think it became a number 1 because of the disparity rather than in spite of it. Fans of the show would have bought it, but you’d also have had older music fans purchasing it too, just for its pleasantness and anything to get that awful noisy rock music off Top of the Pops.
Despite what I said about the novelty of seeing this on the BBC’s flagship music show earlier though, I soon became bored while watching repeats of seeing these men parping away, and not for the first time, found myself wondering how something so out of place stayed at number 1 for quite as long as it did. But that’s novelties for you.
Columbia Records cashed in on the success of The Simon Park Orchestra, releasing two albums of their work, Something in the Air (1974) and Venus Fly Trap (1975). Park also made the music for ITV war drama Danger UXB in 1979. He went on to compose for films, notably Nutcracker (1982) and Ever After: A Cinderella Story (1998).
Van der Valk was revived in April this year, with Marc Warren as the detective. Fans of the original were apparently in uproar over the fact Eye Level wasn’t used as its theme, with just a slight nod to it instead. Considering there was a worldwide pandemic lockdown also going on, any uproar seems a little unjustified. It didn’t really work as the theme in 1973, it’s not going to work in a world as depressing as the post-Brexit, COVID-19-ridden Earth in 2020, is it?
Written by: Jack Trombey
Producer: Simon Park
Weeks at number 1: 4 (29 September-26 October)
Presenter Beverley Turner – 21 October
Poet WH Auden – 29 September Conservative MP Walter Montagu Douglas Scott, 8th Duke of Buccleuch – 4 October Actress Hilda Plowright – 9 October
8 October: London Broadcasting Company, Britain’s first legal commercial independent local radio station, starts broadcasting.
16 October: The thriller Don’t Look Now is released in a double bill with horror The Wicker Man.
20 October: The Dalai Lama makes his first visit to the UK.
26 October: Firefighters in Glasgow stage a one-day strike as part of a pay dispute, leading to troops being drafted in to run the fire stations.