331. Suzi Quatro – Can the Can (1973)

Finally, a woman! The early-70s weren’t a great time for female-fronted number 1s. Most were either relegated to providing sweet harmonies in male-dominated groups or performing sickly solo ballads. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro proved women could be rock stars too.

Susan Kay Quatro, born 3 June 1950, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her family name was actually ‘Quattrocchi’ (four eyes) but was shortened by immigration authorities (her paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant). Quatro’s father Art was a semi-professional musician inbetween his job at General Motors. Her mother, Helen, was Hungarian. She was born into a large family, with foster children also thrown into the mix. One of Quatro’s sisters, Arlene, is the mother of Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Finn, and another sister, Patti, later joined one of the first all-female rock bands in the US, Fanny.

Quatro’s eureka moment for her love of music came when, aged six, she saw Elvis Presley performing on TV. She later said she had no direct female role models in music, although she did admire Billie Holiday and thought Mary Weiss of the pop group The Shangri-Las looked hot in tight trousers.

Quatro had formal training in playing classical piano and percussion, and she was still under 10-years-old when she joined her father’s jazz band, The Art Quatro Trio. She went on to teach herself the guitar and bass.

In 1964, inspired by The Beatles, Patti formed an all-female garage rock group called The Pleasure Seekers. She became Patti Pleasure, and Suzi joined too, as Suzi Soul. Arlene was later part of the group, and another sister, Nancy. Bedecked in miniskirts and wigs, they initially attracted attention purely on their looks, but people stayed for the music. By 1969 they had changed their name to Cradle.

The following year, Cradle were performing to an audience that included Mickie Most, who had been invited to attend by Suzi’s brother Michael, who was their manager. Most had founded RAK Records in 1969 and was on the lookout for acts to sign, particularly a strong woman who could fill the void left by Janis Joplin’s death. She left Cradle and moved to London in 1971.

Her debut single, Rolling Stone, was co-written by Quatro with future Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown, and Phil Dennys. It failed to chart anywhere apart from Portugal, where it went to number 1. Most decided that to achieve UK success, Quatro needed the help of one of the hottest songwriting teams in the country – Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. They became the perfect match, with Chinnichap’s marriage of bubblegum pop and glam rock fitting Quatro to a tee. She also got herself a proper backing band at this time – Len Tuckey on guitar, Alastair MacKenzie on keyboards and Dave Neal on drums. They all wore dark vests and had matching long dark hair, looking like grumpy labourers next to Quatro, squeezed into a leather catsuit and rightly getting all the attention.

Can the Can is a fiery, rocking pop stomp set to a pounding beat. Quatro shrieks the words so high you can barely understand the verses, but that’s fine, because this song is a showcase for Quatro’s energy and personality, and the lyrics don’t stand up to much scrutiny anyway.

It makes slightly more sense when you learn that Chinn once stated the chorus and song title refers to the impossible. That is, you can’t put a can inside another can if they’re the same size, just as you can’t make a man commit if he has no intention of doing so. Hmm, it sort of works. But it never pays to pay much attention to Chinnichap lyrics, just enjoy the sound. Can the Can does slightly outstay its welcome though, and would have been more effective had it ended before becoming too repetitive.

Nonetheless, Quatro was established as a star in the UK, if not her own country (it took her Happy Days role to make it in the US), Chinnichap notched up their second number 1 of 1973, and there was a female rock star for young girls to aspire to be, at last.

Written & produced by: Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn

Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 June)

Deaths:

Actor Roger Delgado – 18 June

330. Wizzard – See My Baby Jive (1973)

Lighting up the charts in 1973, Wizzard became one of the biggest bands in glam rock. Literally, too, as there were eight full-time members, creating an all-mighty cacophony of tributes to Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’. They were also visually striking, an explosion of colour, filling the stage with outlandish outfits and make-up. This was all down to their unassuming genius leader, Roy Wood.

Wood, born 8 November 1946 in Kitts Green, Birmingham, was no stranger to pop stardom, having already been at number 1 in 1969 with Blackberry Way in The Move. Their story was covered in greater depth in my review of said song, but prior to that hit, Wood had first learned guitar as a teen, and was a member of various bands in and around Birmingham, the first being The Falcons. He later joined Gerry Levene & the Avengers, who recorded a single before splitting in 1964, then joined Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders, later to become The Idle Race. Around this time he as expelled from Moseley Art College.

By 1967 The Move were a constant presence on the singles chart thanks to Wood’s ability to write catchy pop-rock songs with a psychedelic edge. By the end of the decade he was also their lead singer following Carl Wayne’s departure.

Wood was also one of the founders of the Electric Light Orchestra. He came up with the project with the desire to combine classical instruments with a rock sound, picking up where The Beatles had left off. After initially declining, Jeff Lynne of The Idle Race joined The Move on the condition they focused more on ELO. Originally intended to be a B-side for The Move, the epic, excellent 10538 Overture became ELO’s first single.

The Move were supposed to end in 1970, but contractual obligations meant both groups existed until 1972, which proved a pivotal year for all concerned. That March saw the release of Electric Light Orchestra, which would be the only ELO album to feature Wood, who couldn’t see eye-to-eye with their tough manager Don Arden. He departed that July. Wood decided to start a new project, where he could take his ELO experimentation up a notch and see just how many instruments it was possible to add to pop songs.

In addition to being singer in Wizzard, Wood played guitars, saxophone, woodwinds, strings, keyboards and percussion. Also on board were Mike Burney (saxophone, clarinet, flute), Charlie Grima (drums, percussion, vocals), ELO members Bill Hunt (keyboards, French horn) and Hugh McDowell (cello, synthesisers), Rick Price (bass), formerly of The Move, and Keith Smart (drums). Quite a set-up.

Making public Wood’s intention to pay tribute to the rock’n’roll of his youth, Wizzard made their debut at The London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium only a month after leaving ELO. They set to work on their first recordings, and debut single Ball Park Incident reached number six in January 1973.

In his excellent book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Bob Stanley noted that ‘Roy Wood loved pop. He was a superfan. He wanted to be all of pop, all at the same time.’ This is certainly apparent on See My Baby Jive, a joyous audio romp in which a million things are happening all at once. So much so, this song understandably has its critics, who say it’s just too much for their ears to cope with. Not me, I love it, and am fascinated by Wood’s production technique. I thought the reason Wizzard’s singles were so muddy and harsh was down to primitive technology of the time, but apparently he insisted on adding a ring modulator to mess up the quality deliberately. Despite the fact there’s so much going on, and it’s over five minutes long, the tune is so effervescent it seems to be over in a flash.

Wood was of course made for life when he made I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, and I’ve always found See My Baby Jive to be the Christmas song you can enjoy all year round. Try hearing Wood singing ‘Well every one you meet coming down the street/Just to see my baby jive’ and not hear ‘So let the bells ring out for Christmas’. So on that limited knowledge of Wizzard I wondered if this particular project was a one-trick pony. Then I heard their debut LP, Wizzard Brew.

All glam rock is indebted to rock’n’roll to some degree, and became more so as the years went by, but See My Baby Jive is a full-on tribute to the ecstasy of the dancehalls of the 50s, and was also a big influence on ABBA’s first number 1, Waterloo. But you could argue that Wizzard weren’t glam rock at all. If you listen to Wizzard Brew, you get what Stanley meant, and that Wood should be considered one of our greats, not just as a man who got lucky with a Christmas song. More on that when we get to Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad).

Written & produced by: Roy Wood

Vocal backing: The Suedettes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (19 May-15 June)

Births:

Comedian Noel Fielding – 21 May
Presenter Dermot O’Leary – 24 May
Comedian Leigh Francis – 30 May
Comedian Iain Lee – 9 June

Deaths:

Painter Montague Dawson – 21 May
Comedian Jimmy Clitheroe – 6 June

Meanwhile…

20 May: The Royal Navy sent three frigates to protect British fishing vessels from Icelandic ships during the Cod War dispute.

23 May: The Matrimonial Causes Act changed the law of divorce in England and Wales.

29 May: The Princess Royal announced her engagement to Captain Mark Phillips.

329. Dawn (Featuring Tony Orlando) – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (1973)

These number 1s of the early-to-mid-70s seem to fall roughly into three categories. You have the teen pop idols like the Osmonds and David Cassidy, the glam rock movement for older teenage boys and girls and young adults, and then the really odd or bad, often old-fashioned easy listening-styled light entertainers, who must have been bought in their droves by older parents and grandparents. The difference between the three resulted in very disparate chart-toppers, and trawling through does at times make me miss the often wall-to-wall classics of the mid-60s.

So here’s another weird one, and the biggest of 1973, to boot. Two years after Dawn were at number 1 with Knock Three Times, here they were again, with singer Tony Orlando getting a credit this time around. Which is fair enough, considering Dawn were now him and backing singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, settling on that line-up after the overwhelming sales of Knock Three Times required a stable act for live shows.

Their first, eponymous album under their new name was released in 1971, and What Are You Doing Sunday was another big hit in the UK, reaching number three. Somehow 1972 passed with no chart entries, but they certainly made up for it with this track.

So what the hell is a song with a title like Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree all about? US songwriters Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown were writing from the point of view of a convict whose sentence is up. He’s written to his woman and is wondering whether she wants him back or not after three years apart. If she does, he wants her to tie a yellow ribbon round a tree. Interestingly, they offered the song to Ringo Starr but Al Steckler of Apple Records found the idea ridiculous and told the duo they should be ashamed of themselves.

Is this song meant as a sequel to Knock Three Times? Let’s not forget that it concerned a guy seemingly stalking a woman who lived below her, who’d asked her to knock on the ceiling if she liked him. Perhaps he freaked her out and has been to jail over the situation? The punchline is, after asking the bus driver to check for him, as he’s too scared, the whole bus cheers, as there’s a hundred ribbons. So, either all is forgiven, and his old flame really loves him/really likes tying ribbons, or the dirty bugger has sent multiple letters to multiple women!

Weird as the premise is, it does have historical precedent, and has taken on new meaning since. A song, ‘Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon dates back hundreds of years, and in the 19th century, women would wear them in their hair as a sign to their partners serving in the US Cavalry. John Wayne starred in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1949. Arguments over the song’s origin nearly caused Levine and Brown to face a court battle, when newspaper columnist Peter Hamill claimed they stole the idea from an article he wrote for the New York Post in 1971, in which students met an ex-con who was waiting for a yellow ribbon to be tied to a tree for real. It was turned into a TV movie in 1972. The lawsuit was dropped when Levine and Brown could prove how far back the idea went.

It’s a very weird one, this. A happy, jolly ditty in which we’re meant to feel sympathetic towards a former prisoner, who may also be a serial shagger. Had they made him a solider, I might feel a bit more sympathy. Orlando’s performance is soulless. He doesn’t sound concerned in the slightest about this ribbon. Although, if he’s had a hundred women, I guess he thought the odds were in his favour he could look forward to more nookie. I’m hoping to never hear this again.

To say Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree was huge would be an understatement. It wasn’t just the UK that showed questionable taste – it was also number 1 in the US, Australia, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Norway… the list goes on.

Following their next top 20 hit, Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose, the trio became known as Tony Orlando and Dawn. Their final top 40 entry was Who’s In the Strawberry Patch with Sally, also in 1973. But their popularity remained in the US, to the extent they even had their own variety show in 1974 called Tony Orlando and Dawn. He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) was their second US number 1, in 1975, but their fortunes faded from then on.

In 1977, Dawn split. Orlando had issues with cocaine, obesity and depression, and he had recently lost his sister and close friend Freddie Prinze, who had committed suicide. Following a brief spell in an institution, he went solo and had a few hits before beginning a residency in Las Vegas and occasionally acting. Vincent and Hopkins also continued alone in showbiz, performing in concerts and making film and TV appearances respectively. The trio have reformed as Tony Orlando and Dawn several times.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree has been covered by a multitude of artists, including Kay Starr, Dean Martin and even S Club 7. Connie Francis made an answer song in 1973 called The Answer (Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?). The original became popular in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1981, and again during the People Power Revolution of the Phillipines in the early-80s. Yellow ribbons became popular during the Hong Kong protests of 2014, with pro-democracy protestors tying yellow ribbons to street railings and using them on social media. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this song subsequently became, surely, one of the most unlikely protest songs there’s ever been.

Written by: Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown

Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 April-18 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Radio host Geoff Lloyd – 26 April
Footballer Chris Perry – 26 April
Scottish race car driver Dario Franchitti – 10 May

Deaths:

Singer Owen Brannigan – 9 May
Cricketer Russell Everitt – 11 May
Philosopher AC Ewing –
14 May

Meanwhile…

28 April: Liverpool and Celtic were crowned football league champions in England and Scotland respectively.

1 May: 1.6 million workers went on strike over government pay restraints.

5 May: BBC Two aired the first edition of the landmark documentary series The Ascent of Man.

5 May: The FA Cup final stunned football fans when Sunderland AFC defeated Leeds United 1-0 at Wembley Stadium. It was the first time an FA Cup winning team had not contained a player to be capped at full international level, and the first postwar FA Cup to be won by a side outside the First Division.

10 May: Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party took control of Liverpool council in the local council elections. 

15 May: Prime Minister Edward Heath coined the phrase ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ to describe payments made by conglomerate Lonrho to Duncan Sandys through the tax haven of the Cayman Islands. Little did he know at the time how much further down that road his party would go.

328. Gilbert O’Sullivan – Get Down (1973)

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)

Meanwhile…

17 April: British Leyland launched the Austin Allegro.

327. Donny Osmond – The Twelfth of Never (1973)

You just couldn’t keep the Osmonds down for long in the early-70s. After a brief fightback from glam rock acts, they were back at the top once more, this time it was golden boy Donny with his second number 1.

Since his last solo number 1, Puppy Love, Donny’s voice had broken. Despite this, and while the Osmonds experimented with rock on the unlikely classic, Crazy Horses, he ploughed the same furrow of romantic ballads from the 50s and 60s. The title track of his fourth solo album, Too Young, climbed to number five, and double-A-side follow-up Why/Lonely Boy reached number three. With two albums per year, not counting LPs released with his siblings, you certainly can’t accuse the Osmonds of laziness. They were milked for all they were worth, which was a fortune.

The first track off his fifth album, Alone Together, The Twelfth of Never dates back to 1956. Penned by Jerry Livingston (who co-wrote songs on Disney’s Cinderella) and Paul Webster (the lyricist on 1953 best-seller Secret Love), the tune was inspired by the 15th-century English folk tune The Riddle Song.

Crooner Johnny Mathis was the first to record it, a year later, as the B-side to his hit Chances Are, but he didn’t think much to the song. Then Cliff Richard released a version in 1964, which reached number 8.

Coming after Block Buster ! and Cum On Feel the Noize only makes The Twelfth of Never seem that much duller than it already is. Osmond’s voice may have broken but he still seems too young to be singing about how he’ll love his girl forever. It needs a crooner with gravitas, and is far better suited to Mathis. It has a pretty nice tune, but the lyrics have aged – and the ending in which is noted that the twelfth of never is ‘a very long time’… no kidding!

Mike Curb and Don Costa’s production is polished but barely conceals a rather lacklustre affair, when all is said and done. Not as nauseating as Puppy Love though, and certainly better than his little brother Jimmy’s effort.

Written by: Jerry Livingston & Paul Francis Webster

Producers: Mike Curb & Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 5 (31 March-6 April)

Births:

Actor Jamie Bamber – 3 April

Meanwhile…

1 April: Value-added tax (VAT) first came into effect, and phase 2 of the Price and Pay Code came into effect, restricting rises in pay and prices as a counter-inflation measure.

6 April: Peter Niesewand, a correspondent of The Guardian newspaper and the BBC, was jailed in Rhodesia for an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act.

326. Slade – Cum On Feel the Noize (1973)

‘BABY BABY BAAAAAABY!’. From one glam classic to another, The Sweet’s Block Buster ! was toppled after five weeks in pole position by another 1973 anthem. Slade finally achieved their goal with their fourth number 1 – Cum On Feel the Noize was the first chart-topper since Get Back to enter the charts as a number 1. There was no stopping the Wolverhampton wonders now.

Slade had recently suffered a slight dip in fortunes however. For the first time since 1971, they released a single that didn’t climb to number 1. Gudbuy T’Jane was kept from the top by Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling, of all things – although Noddy Holder is in the crowd of that actual performance.

This single was originally called Cum On Hear the Noize, but, recalling a 1972 concert by his band, Holder described being able to feel the sound of the crowd pounding in his chest. A wise move, as it makes the song that much more visceral. As Stuart Braithwaite of Scottish post-rockers Mogwai once said, music should be felt, not heard.

It was another tailor-made anthem by Holder and bassist Jim Lea, building upon their last number 1, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, in which the band describe the atmosphere of performing for their ever-growing army of fans. The initial ‘Baby, baby, baby’ was intended as a mic test, but it worked as a great intro to such an exciting song.

This brilliant call-to-arms stomp is Slade firing on all cylinders. Were it not for Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, it would probably be even better recognised, but this is a Slade single that’s for life, not just for Christmas.

The lyrics, as always with Slade, are pretty simple, but there’s some wit displayed here, as Holder winds up his detractors, most notably with ‘So you think my singing’s out of time, well it makes me money’. As with their previous single, it’s a masterstroke to add audience-style backing vocals chanting the chorus, creating another easy chant for maximum audience interaction. Everyone involved is having the time of their lives here, knowing that this was their time. I particularly like Lea’s busy bass throughout. This song remains a total joy from start to finish, and must have been immense at live shows of the time. A welcome distraction from continuous IRA-related terrible news in the early spring of 1973.

In 1983, US heavy metal act Quiet Riot had a big US hit with their cover, with slightly different lyrics and a very hair-metal sound. Then in 1996 at the height of their fame, Oasis made it an extra track of their single Don’t Look Back In Anger, memorably performing both tracks on one edition of Top of the Pops. While it may have made sense for a band like Oasis to cover this (both acts had large followings, distinctive lead singers, were at the height of their powers), neither of these covers match the original.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 March)

Births:

Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt – 4 March

Deaths:

Ornithologist David Lack – 12 March
Playwright Noël Coward – 26 March
Conservative MP Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton – 30 March

Meanwhile…

3 March: Two IRA bombs exploded in London, killing one person and injuring 250 others. 10 people were arrested later that day at Heathrow Airport.

8 March: In the Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, 98.9% of voters in the province wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. This was the first referendum on regional government in the UK.

Also that day, more IRA bombs exploded in Whitehall and the Old Bailey in London. 

10 March: Richard Sharples, the governor of Bermuda, and his aide-de-camp were assasinated.

17 March: The new London Bridge, replacing a 19th-century stone-arched bridge, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. 

21 March: Seven men are killed in flooding at the Lofthouse Colliery disaster in West Riding, Yorkshire.

26 March: Women were admitted into the London Stock Exchange for the first time. 

325. The Sweet – Block Buster ! (1973)

We’re now in 1973, one of the peak years for glam rock, and one of the biggest bands of the era were London quartet The Sweet, who combined a nascent metal sound with the sugary pop stylings of hitmakers Chapman and Chinn. After several dire, strange number 1s in the latter half of 1972, they get the year off to a brilliant start with their classic, Block Buster !.

The Sweet’s origins lie in 60s London soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen. Originally formed as Unit 4 in 1962, the line-up changed several times, and included from 1964 to 1965, future Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan. Around the time Gillan joined, Mick Tucker from Ruislip became their drummer. In 1966, a Scotsman named Brian Connolly became their singer.

By January 1968 the band split, and Connolly and Tucker opted to form a new group. Hiring Steve Priest, a bass player from Hayes, Middlesex (who had previously worked with Joe Meek) and former Wainwright’s Gentlemen guitarist Frank Torpey, they called themselves The Sweetshop. They gained a following on the pub circuit and soon signed to Fontana Records, but upon hearing there was another band with the same name, they shortened theirs to The Sweet. Debut single Slow Motion was a failure, Fontana quickly washed their hands of the band, and so did Torpey. Mick Stewart, who had worked with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, took his place in 1969.

The Sweet signed with EMI’s Parlophone and released three further singles, which also failed, so Stewart left. Around this time the remaining trio were put in touch with songwriting duo Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. Australian Chapman was working as a waiter when he first met struggling songwriter Chinn in 1970. They were looking for an outlet for bubblegum pop songs they’d worked on, and with session musicians performing, The Sweet recorded vocals for a track called Funny Funny. They auditioned for a new guitarist, hiring Welsh-born Andy Scott, who had worked with The Scaffold. The classic line-up had arrived, and they signed with Chapman and Chinn to RCA Records.

Funny Funny became a hit, climbing to number 13 in 1971, quickly followed by Co-Co, which did even better, stalling at number two behind Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep that July. An LP was quickly cobbled together – the unimaginatively titled Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be, released that November.

1972 saw further hits for The Sweet, including the seedy but infectious Little Willy and follow-up Wig-Wam Bam, which was still a staple in family holiday resorts in the early- to-mid 80s. The latter was also the first single to feature the band playing their own actual instruments, and it’s no coincidence the sound was a little heavier as a result. With both these songs reaching number four, the top spot was within reach.

With those sirens blaring, backing vocals wailing and an incredibly catchy Bo Diddley-style riff, Block Buster ! remains one of the great glam number 1s. Of course, no coverage of this song would be complete without mentioning the similarity to David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, in the charts at the same time and just missing out on the 1972 Christmas number 1 spot. Both acts always maintained that this was nothing more than an incredible coincidence. Chinn later recalled meeting Bowie, who stared at him deadpan and called him a cunt, before bursting into laughter and embracing him.

So, which is best? It’s incredibly close to call. The Jean Genie‘s surreal lyrics are smarter and edgier – Block Buster !‘s wordplay revolves around the nefarious sex pest Buster, who, well, needs to be blocked, because he’ll ‘come from behind’ and steal your woman out from under your nose’, especially if she has long dark hair. Over the years, the wordplay has been largely forgotten and it’s more commonly known as Blockbuster now, and used on countless TV shows, adverts, films etc to put across, well, blockbusters!

Where Block Buster ! does win out though is in it’s polished production with effects to keep you interested, and special mention must go to the late Steve Priest, the recently deceased bassist, responsible for the camp interjection ‘We just haven’t got a clue what to do!’. I’ll never tire of that, in particular the footage of the band on the Christmas special of Top of the Pops, in which Priest is dressed as a Nazi, who looks to have his arse pinched by Scott. This caused many complaints at the time and would probably be even less popular now. I’m going to go with a preference for The Jean Genie though, just because, David Bowie.

The Sweet were one of the hottest acts of that year and into 1974, with Hell Raiser, The Ballroom Blitz and Teenage Rampage all reaching number two. The second of those in particular is another classic, and almost as good as their sole chart-topper.

By the time of Teenage Rampage, the band were calling themselves simply, Sweet. Change was in the air, as despite all they had done for them, the group were tiring of Chapman and Chinn’s control. They ditched the outlandish outfits and decided to record an album (mostly) without them, appropriately titled Sweet Fanny Adams, which showcased a harder sound. During the sessions, Connolly injured his throat in a fight, and apparently his voice was never the same again.

Next LP, Desolation Boulevard, followed six months later, and Sweet proved they could cope fine on their own with self-penned hit single Fox on the Run. They couldn’t maintain the success though, and despite moving on from glam, which was dying out by the mid-70s, their career suffered too, and The Lies In Your Eyes, the first single from self-produced 1976 album Give Us a Wink was their last chart action for two years.

By the time Sweet made their comeback, they had switched to Polydor and began experimenting with classical and the new disco style. Sounds potentially awful, yet Love Is Like Oxygen, released in January 1978, is actually pretty good. It would be their last hit. Connolly’s drinking was getting out of hand, and he became increasingly estranged from the rest of the band during support slots for Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band and Alice Cooper. By the time 1979 album Cut Above the Rest was released in 1979, he had quit.

A three-piece Sweet (get it?) soldiered on, with Priest taking the lion’s share of vocal duties. They made one last album, Identity Crisis, but it didn’t even get a UK release until 1982, the year after they had split.

The former bandmates spent much of the 80s forming their own new versions of Sweet and touring the nostalgia circuit. Connolly sparked fears for his health whenever he appeared publicly, and in 1997 he died of liver failure and repeated heart attacks, aged only 51. Mick Tucker died in 2002 of leukaemia, aged 54. Priest passed away in June 2020, aged 72, leaving only Scott from the classic line-up, who still tours with Andy Scott’s Sweet.

With their outrageous dress sense, raucous riffs and high camp, The Sweet certainly helped to liven up the early-70s, and it’s great to have had a classic to review once more. Chinnichap’ were to be responsible for plenty more chart-toppers.

Written by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Producer: Phil Wainman

Weeks at number 1: 5 (27 January-2 March)

Births:

TV presenter Kate Thornton – 7 February
Presenter Sonia Deol – 8 February
Singer Peter Andre – 27 February

Deaths:

Cricketer Francis Romney – 28 January
Cricketer Harold Gibbons – 16 February
Novelist Elizabeth Bowen – 22 February

Meanwhile…

27 February: Civil servants and rail workers went on strike.

1 March: Prog-rockers Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon, which went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time.

324. Little Jimmy Osmond with The Mike Curb Congregation – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (1972)

What fresh hell is this? By installing nine-year-old Little Jimmy Osmond as Christmas number 1, the UK record-buying public’s collective nervous breakdown of 1972 was complete. The Osmonds were the biggest pop sensation of the year – but this was a step too far.

James Arthur Osmond, born 16 April 1963, is the youngest member of the family, born in Canoga Park, California. His brothers were already TV stars as regulars on The Andy Williams Show at this point, and Jimmy was taught by tutors, his parents preparing him from a young age to follow them into the music industry.

Long Haired Lover from Liverpool was originally a single by Christoper Kingsley (credited on the Osmond version as Christopher Dowden for some reason) from 1969. I’m assuming the title is a reference to The Beatles, then still a going concern. It’s almost identical to the Osmond version, though as it’s sung by a grown man, it’s not as irritating. Examining the vinyl label suggests the backing singers on the original are the same as Osmond’s version, namely The Mike Curb Congregation. Curb, a film score and TV theme writer, had formed the group in the 60s to sing on his work. In 1969 he had merged his company with MGM Records, which soon became home to The Osmonds. He also co-produced this abomination.

The original version bombed, but Jimmy’s mother Olive heard it as it was distributed by MGM, and a horrible, terrible idea formed. It was a cute little tune… her boys had cornered the market in teenage girls… Christmas was around the corner, the boys were about to visit the UK… Jimmy could release it as a single!

A few years back I listened and reviewed every Christmas number 1 in one sitting here. I rated Long Haired Lover from Liverpool as the worst of the 70s, and I stand by that. Comments included ‘Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing I can say about this that’s remotely festive, but it’s not meant as a compliment… It’s memorable I guess, but so is a bout of diarrhoea’. Nothing has changed since then to change my opinion, and although there have been plenty of weird choices in 1972’s number 1s, this still stands out as particularly stinky.

Osmond’s voice is just awful – but he was only nine (still the youngest person to ever have a UK number 1), so his parents are to blame. And the fools who kept this at the top of the charts for five weeks. FIVE WEEKS?! You can almost excuse it happening in the silly season, but for a month afterwards? And it kept David Bowie, T. Rex and even his brothers from number 1 with The Jean Genie, Solid Gold Easy Action and Crazy Horses respectively. The only plus point is it’s over quick.

Amazingly, Osmond scored further hits with Tweedle Dee and I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door (none of these songs fared anywhere near as well in his home country). His recordings became sporadic as the Osmond empire declined in popularity, and in the 80s he moved into management, though he would still occasionally appear on stage with his siblings. He opened the Osmond Family Theater and became president of Osmond Entertainment, running their merchandise and producing TV.

Since the new millennium began, Osmond has been a pantomime mainstay in the UK and appeared on TV time and time again, including I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, Come Dine with Me and Celebrity Masterchef. He seems a thoroughly nice guy, and we all do silly things in our youth, so lets forgive him for this aberration.

1972 must rank as one of the weirdest years for number 1s to date. Lots of the ‘grown-up’ stars were still concentrating on albums, and although glam rock ensured great releases by Slade and T. Rex, it wasn’t as huge as it was to become. At least January 1973 was a blockbuster month…

Written by: Christopher Dowden

Producers: Mike Curb & Perry Botkin Jr

Weeks at number 1: 5 (23 December 1972-26 January 1973)

Births:

Actor Jude Law – 29 December 1972
Kula Shaker singer Crispian Mills – 18 January 1973

Deaths:

Art historian Gisela Richter – 24 December 1972
Scottish novelist Neil M. Gunn – 15 January 1973
Northern Irish actor Max Adrian – 19 January

Meanwhile…

1 January 1973: A big day for the UK, as it officially entered the European Economic Community along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark. Membership refusals in 1963 and 1967 had both been vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle. Edward Heath later said entry into the EEC was his greatest accomplishment as Prime Minister.

11 January: The BBC’s Open University awarded its first degrees.

19 January: Super tug Statesman was sent to protect British fishing vessels from Iceland’s ships in the Cod War.

22 January: British share values fell by £4 billion in one day.

25 January: English actor Derren Nesbitt pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife Anne Aubrey after she told him she had been having an affair. They divorced a few months later.