350. Ray Stevens – The Streak (1974)

Think of the fads of the 70s and you’ll likely think of spacehoppers, rollerskates and lava lamps. But what about all the naked men and women that made the headlines for streaking at sporting events? This was still popular during my childhood in the 80s, and I just assumed it was something that happened every now and then because, well, people are silly and it’s funny to take all your clothes off and run around until you’re caught (I imagine). I didn’t realise until now it became a ‘thing’ in the 70s.

There were examples going back way further though. In the 15th century, the Adamites protested the Holy Roman Empire’s morality by running naked through their Bohemian village. Apparently, the Quakers revived the pastime in the 17th century. Modern streaking started up in the free and easy 60s at US universities, and peaked in 1974, with a streaker at the Oscars and ever more elaborate and organised stunts taking place.

That February, one of the most famous sporting streaks happened at the England v France rugby match at Twickenham Stadium, when an Australian named Michael O’Brien decided to take to the field with his genitals flapping in the breeze. The subsequent photo of the police covering his bits with a helmet became iconic, and kickstarted all the UK sport streaks that followed. So novelty song and country singer-songwriter Ray Stevens’ opportunism paid off when he decided to immortalise streaking in song.

Ray Stevens was born Harold Ray Ragsdale on 24 January 1939 in Clarkdale, Georgia. His love of music began with his first piano lessons, aged six. At 15 he formed an R’n’B band called The Barons, and three years later he enrolled in Georgia State University as a music major. That same year he released his first material as Ray Stevens on Capitol Records’ Prep Records, but his cover of Rang Tang Ding Dong sank without trace. Further material was released sporadically over the next few years.

In 1961, Stevens signed with Mercury Records and began to get noticed for his novelty songs. With titles like Jeremiah Peabody’s Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills, that was always likely. The politically incorrect Ahab the Arab was a number five hit in the US in 1962, and Harry the Hairy Ape reached number 17 the following year.

But Stevens also wanted to release serious country material too, and so he signed with Monument Records in 1968 and Mr Businessman followed, giving him his first US hit in five years. He also released the first version of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down by Kris Kristofferson (later a hit for Johnny Cash). Novelty songs still could do well for him though, and Gitarzan reached number eight in 1969.

It was in 1970 that Stevens’ career went up a notch. He was working in Nashville when his gospel-tinged ballad Everything Is Beautiful, preaching against racism and extolling tolerance of others, became huge, topping the US charts and reaching number six in the UK – his chart debut over here. He kept on dabbling in novelty songs though, notably Bridget the Midget (The Queen of the Blues), a UK number two in 1971. Interesting to see how Stevens could preach about a better world in his country material, and then make cheap jokes in his comedy material… a sign of the times, perhaps.

Stevens was on a plane flicking through a magazine when he came across an article on streaking. He thought it would make a good idea for a comedy song and made some notes. Some time later, he woke up one morning and streaking was all over the news – 1973 and 74 were peak years in the US for the phenomenon. He quickly finished The Streak and recorded it ASAP for maximum topicality.

The naked truth is, The Streak is dross. Over a hoedown-style backing, Stevens plays a news reporter interviewing a redneck (also Stevens) at various disturbances caused by ‘The Streak’. Despite the redneck shouting ‘Don’t look Ethel!’ every time the naked guy appears, Ethel has a gander, and by the end, she’s joined in the streaking. Do you think that sounds like a bad record? Try listening to it.

So many things annoy me about The Streak. The tacky production, the ‘boogity boogity’ backing vocal on the chorus, the kazoo, Stevens’ cliched characters, the childishness, the canned laughter. If you have to add canned laughter to point out where the jokes are on a comedy record, there’s something wrong. This makes Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) and even My Ding-a-Ling look like high art by comparison. I can’t think of a single positive thing to say about it.

To be fair to Stevens, at least he wasn’t a one-trick pony. In 1975 he just missed out on another UK number 1 with a country cover of jazz standard Misty. Two years later, his final UK chart entry saw him cover Glenn Miller’s In the Mood in the style of a clucking chicken under the pseudonym Henhouse Five Plus Two. I listened to five seconds here and had to stop.

But I can just about forgive Stevens all this because in 1981 he sang Cannonball, the opening song to the celebrity-packed car chase film The Cannonball Run. It’s not just for nostalgia reasons either, this is a great song!

Stevens’ last serious album Me, was released in 1983. He’s concentrated on novelty material ever since. He opened his own theatre in Branson, Missouri in 1991 , which lasted two years, and he began selling videos to his old songs, The Streak among them (guess what, it’s awful). In 1996 he received thousands of sympathy cards after online news of the wrestler Ray ‘The Crippler’ Stevens confused fans. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999, but he beat it and received a clean bill of health.

Stevens’ love of comedy and videos found its natural home online on YouTube, where he posts cheap novelty songs with equally cheap videos declaring his outspoken political views. One I found, Obama Nation from 2012, slates the then-President. Abomination/Obama nation, get it? Hmm.

Written & produced by: Ray Stevens

Weeks at number 1: 1 (15-21 June)

Births:

Radio presenter Natasha Desborough – 21 June

Meanwhile…

15 June: The National Front clash with counter-protestors in London’s West End. The Red Lion Square disorders resulted in the death of 21-year-old Kevin Gateley, a university student.

17 June: A bomb explodes at London’s houses of Parliament, damaging Westminster Hall. The IRA claimed responsibility. 

349. The Rubettes – Sugar Baby Love (1974)

The Rubettes’ retro 50s and 60s vibe fitted right in with the tail end of the glam years, yet the best element of their sole number 1, Sugar Baby Love – that soaring, Frankie Valli-style falsetto, wasn’t from a member of the band. Somehow, a demo became a number 1 single for a month.

The idea of the band originated in 1973 from the head of A&R at Polydor Records, Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington. Together, they had been in The Pete Best Four and went on to write songs, including soul favourite Nothing but a Heartache in 1969. Bickerton and Waddington were considering writing a rock’n’roll musical and had come up with four retro bubblegum pop songs – Sugar Baby Love, Tonight, Juke Box Jive and Sugar Candy Kisses (which became a hit for Mac and Katie Kissoon). In October 1973 they arranged for demos of the tracks to be recorded, with the possibility of putting the first in the running for a shot at the Eurovision Song Contest. They assembled, among others singer Paul Da Vinci for the lead, backed by keyboardist Pete Arnesen and drummer John Richardson, among others.

With the song demos finished, they offered the material to Leicester-based rock’n’roll revivalists Showaddywaddy (which would have been highly appropriate) who turned them down, as did former vocalist with The Move, Carl Wayne. Bickerton and Waddington decided to clean up Sugar Baby Love but in essence release the original demo, under a random 50s-sounding name, hence The Rubettes. What they didn’t expect was to then have to quickly assemble a real group to promote the song when it started to gain momentum. And it posed a problem, as Da Vinci wasn’t able to join them as he was under a solo contract elsewhere. Richardson and Arnsesen returned, and joining them were Alan Williams as singer, Tony Thorpe on guitar, Mick Clarke on bass and Bill Hurd on keyboards. The Rubettes were bedecked in white suits and cloth caps to help them stand out in these days of frequently outlandish outfits.

But it’s Da Vinci’s stunning falsetto that stands out on Sugar Baby Love, both uplifting and sad at the same time and conjuring up the hits of The Four Seasons. Unfortunately, as good as it is, that’s really all the song has going for it. It could be that I’m not a fan of doo-wop and Valli in general, but I’ve never enjoyed Sugar Baby Love. Perhaps because it was only ever meant as a demo, it strikes me as being an empty, soulless pastiche, and a warning that glam was running out of ideas, if you can even really call it glam.

The idea of the song is better than the reality. Da Vinci is urging the listener not to make the same mistake as him. He clearly regrets hurting his love, and implores them to ‘Love her anyway, love her everyday’, which is a good lyric, to be fair.

Nobody was any the wiser as Williams mimed along to the demo on Top of the Pops, which they only lucked their way on to after Sparks had problems with work permits. This must have been pretty annoying for the Mael Brothers, as Sugar Baby Love kept This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us from the top spot. I wonder how Da Vinci felt, too?

The next two singles, Tonight and Juke Box Jive, came from the original demos too, and the latter in particular did well, reaching number three at the end of the year. I Can Do It reached number seven in 1975, but then they started to lose their ground, and they ditched the doo-wop. Arnsesen left later that year, followed by Hurd in 1976. They reached number 10 with the country-styled Baby I Know, sang by Thorpe, and never had another top 40 entry. He departed the band in 1979 following arguments.

The Rubettes dissolved in 1980. Since then, they have followed the well-trodden path of reforming, splitting into several different versions, and going to court over the use of the band’s original name, which lets face it, is what gets the punters flocking to see these bands of yesteryear. Currently, there’s The Rubettes featuring Alan Williams, The Rubettes featuring John, Mick, & Steve (February 2019) and The Rubettes featuring Bill Hurd.

As for Da Vinci, he reached number 19 with solo hit Your Baby Ain’t Your Baby Anymore in 1974. Further failed attempts followed, so in 1977 he went back to session work. He wrote Any Way You Do It, the first single by disco group Liquid Gold in 1978, and in 1981 he sang on Tight Fit’s Back to the 60’s Part II medley.

Luke Haines’s indie rock band The Auteurs released a song called The Rubettes in 1999, which referenced their number 1.

Written by: Wayne Bickerton & Tony Waddington

Producer: Wayne Bickerton

Arranged by: Gerry Shury

Weeks at number 1: 4 (18 May-14 June)

Births:

Presenter Denise van Outen – 27 May
Ventriloquist Nina Conti – 5 June

Deaths:

Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester – 10 June

Meanwhile…

20 May: The first meeting was held by The Centre for Policy Studies, a Conservative social market think tank established by Keith Joseph, Margaret Thatcher and Alfred Sherman.

28 May: Following a strike by unionists, power-sharing in the Northern Ireland Assembly collapses.

1 June: An explosion at Flixborough chemical plant kills 28 people and seriously injures 36. Had it happened on a weekday the numbers would have been much higher.

5 June: Snow Knight, ridden by Brian Taylor, was victorious in the Epsom Derby. The odds were 50/1.

8 June: Jon Pertwee became the third actor to relinquish the role of The Doctor in Doctor Who, citing the death of his friend and TV enemy Roger Delgado in 1973. The final episode of ‘Planet of the Spiders’ saw Pertwee regenerate into Tom Baker.

10 June: The Queen’s last surviving royal uncle, Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, dies at his home in Northamptonshire, seven years after his last public appearance. His funeral is held at Windsor Castle on 14 June.

348. ABBA (Bjorn, Benny, Anna & Frida) – Waterloo (1974)

I’m not giving you earth-shattering news when I point out that ABBA are one of the best-selling groups of all time. But here’s a few statistics to set the ball rolling. With nine UK number 1s between 1974 and 1980, they’ve had more than any other mixed-sex group in history. Seven of those number 1s occurred in the 70s, which is the most any single act had in that decade. They were the first group from a non-English-speaking country to have consistent success in English-speaking charts like the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Estimates suggest that their total sales are over 150 million. They’re easily the most successful group to have ever entered the Eurovision Song Contest, and ABBA Gold is one of the best-selling compilations of all time.

ABBA became cool again in the 90s, with their songs turned into the musical Mamma Mia! in 1999, before it was adapted into a hit film in 2008, spawning a sequel a decade later. In 2020 it was reported that they just might be making a comeback, though that could just be wishful thinking for a world turned on its heels that needs the pop bliss conjured up by Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid once more.

And yet despite all this – and I’m in agreement that Dancing Queen is one of the best number 1s of all time – a lot of ABBA’s output does little for me. I think a lot of it is down to the sheer overload during my 20s of ABBA covers and media coverage shoving them down the nation’s throats. Some truly awful acts were recording their songs, and they may have become guilty by association in my mind. Perhaps I will now grow to appreciate them more, as I work my way through their biggest hits?

Before I look at the song that first made them stars, some background knowledge, as the story usually begins with ‘Swedish pop group ABBA entered Eurovision and became famous’.

Songwriter Benny Andersson, from Stockholm, joined his first band, The Hep Stars, aged 18, as their keyboardist. They were known as Sweden’s answer to The Beatles and often performed covers of international hits. Soon, Andersson was composing original material for them, and scored his first Swedish hit with No Response in 1965.

While touring, occasionally The Hep Stars would cross paths with folk-skiffle group The Hootenanny Singers, who featured Björn Ulvaeus as their songwriter and guitarist. In June 1966 the duo wrote their first song together, Isn’t It Easy to Say, which was recorded by The Hep Stars. The manager of The Hootenanny Singers (and later founder of Polar Music), Stig Anderson, encouraged them to write together more often. Andersson and Ulvaeus became friends and would occasionally join each other on stage in their respective bands, both of which were fracturing by 1969. Their first real hit together, written with Anderson, was Ljuva sextital (Sweet Sixties), recorded by Brita Borg that year.

Also in 1969, Andersson submitted Hej, Clown into Melodifestivalen 1969, the competition to decide Sweden’s Eurovision entry that year. He narrowly lost out, but he did meet a singer there called Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and within the month they had become a couple.

Lyngstad had become a jazz singer in 1967, winning national talent competition New Faces and appearing on television with the song En ledig dag (A Day Off). She signed with EMI Sweden and in early 1968 while appearing on TV she briefly met a singer named Agnetha Fältskog, who was performing her self-penned first single, Jag var så kär (I Was So in Love). A few months later Fältskog met Ulvaeus for the first time. In May 1969 they met again on a TV special and fell in love.

In 1970 Andersson and Ulvaeus recorded an album together called Lycka (Happiness). Both Lyngstad and Fältskog featured on the LP, with the latter co-writing a song. The two couples performed together for the first time while on holiday in Cyprus in an impromptu performance for soldiers stationed there. That November they presented a cabaret show, Festfolket (Party People) in Gothenburg, performing material by all four, but it was panned, and further collaborations were shelved, but not for long, as Hej, gamle man from Lycka, credited to Bjorn & Benny but featuring all four, became their first hit in Sweden.

Ulvaeus and Fältskog married in July 1971, and began performing live with Andersson regularly soon after. The collaborations became more frequent, and in 1972 the Swedish hit People Need Love was credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. Anderson had also encouraged them to make another attempt at entering Eurovision that year. They missed out again, but Säg det med en sång(Say It with a Song), performed by Lena Anderson (another Anderson!), also did well in Sweden, and may have even done well in the US had it been on a bigger label.

In 1973, they tried for Eurovision again with Ring Ring, a direct, catchy pop song with interesting production techniques designed to emulate Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’, and English-translated lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody. This was a good little pop song, but Eurovision still wasn’t ready for them. Despite that, it became the title track of their first album, credited to Björn Benny & Agnetha Frida. Anderson recognised this name was a bit unwieldy though, and began referring to them as ABBA, using the first letter of each member’s first name. It was also the name of a fish-canning company based in Gothenburg, and the band asked Abba for their blessing. They said it was fine as long as they didn’t do anything to make them feel shame for the association. I’m sure they were happy with the way things turned out.

In late 1973 the group was invited to take part in Melodifestivalen 1974, and set to work finding a song. They considered Hasta Mañana, sang by Fältskog, but decided to work on something that gave Fältskog and Lyngstad an equal chance to shine. Waterloo, originally titled Honey Pie, was inspired by the nostalgic rock’n’roll sound of Wizzard’s 1973 number 1 See My Baby Jive, and the lyrics came from Anderson.

Waterloo was a brave move for Eurovision, as at the time, the standard template was to use dramatic ballads, sung in the mother tongue of the country being represented. From 1973, the language rule was lifted, and Anderson and ABBA knew if they could garner a Eurovision win with an English language song, they could make it big beyond the competition.

Recording commenced on 17 December 1973, featuring regular ABBA session musicians Janne Schaffer on guitar (he wrote the guitar and bass parts), Rutger Gunnarsson on bass and Ola Brunkert on drums. Swedish and English versions were recorded, with German and French versions recorded in March and April 1974 respectively. The French version was adapted by Claude-Michel Schönberg, who later went on to co-write Les Misérables.

I’ve a new-found appreciation of the fact Waterloo was something new for Eurovision, and I loved See My Baby Jive, so I should love the retro jive of Waterloo. The lyric is a clever conceit too – it’s a bold move to start a pop song in the mid-70s with ‘My my/At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender’ and to compare a historical moment with surrendering your love to someone. And I have always liked the way Andersson attacks the piano here. I just can’t love Waterloo, for some reason. I’d never listen to it by choice. One for the ‘admirable, but doesn’t connect with me’ pile.

But Waterloo connected like no Eurovision song ever had before with the public, or probably since. Credited to ABBA (Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida) in Sweden and ABBA (Björn, Benny, Anna & Frida) in the UK, it was released on 4 March, and on 6 April, they made history at The Dome in Brighton, rocking out in their glam rock-influenced outfits and huge platforms. The beautiful Faltskog particularly stood out – you could easily argue she may be the most beautiful woman to ever grace the pop world, without wishing to sound sexist. After winning the competition, ABBA partied all night in – of all places – the Napoleon suite of the Grand Brighton Hotel. Waterloo climbed the charts and a month later, they were number 1 in the UK. They also topped the charts all over Europe, and went top 10 in the US, but surprisingly didn’t hit number 1 in Sweden.

For a while however, it appeared ABBA could end up a one-hit wonder in the UK. Their second album, also named Waterloo, didn’t light up the charts, and a European tour led to cancelled dates due to poor ticket sales. Would ABBA become a footnote in 70s pop?

Of course not. Waterloo was voted the best Eurovision song of all time at Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005.

Written by: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus & Stig Anderson

Producers: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 May)

Births:

Singer Lynden David Hall – 7 May

Deaths:

Writer LTC Rolt – 9 May

Meanwhile…

4 May: Liverpool win the FA Cup for the second time with a 3-0 victory over Newcastle in the final at Wembley, with two goals from Kevin Keegan and one from Steve Heighway.

6 May: The inauguration of full electric service on British Rail’s West Coast Main Line through to Glasgow.

17 May – The Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force carries out the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in the Republic of Ireland. 34 people died in the bombings, which were responsible for the single deadliest death toll in the Troubles

347. Terry Jacks – Seasons in the Sun (1974)

It’s another death disc! And one of the most famous, and controversial, as Canadian singer Terry Jacks’ loose cover of Jacques Brel’s Le Moribond (The Dying Man) has as many critics as it does fans.

Terrence Ross Jacks was born 29 March 1944 in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The family moved to Vancouver in the early-60s, around the time Jacks first took up the guitar. He formed his first group, The Chessmen, when he was 18, and they gained quite a following in the area. He then formed, with future wife Susan Pesklevits, psychedelic pop group The Poppy Family, who had a big Canadian (number 1) and US (number two) hit with Which Way You Goin’ Billy?, written and produced by Jacks, in 1969.

Jacks didn’t enjoy performing live, and the pressures of fame resulted in him disbanding the group in 1972. He wanted to concentrate on production, and was honoured when his friends The Beach Boys asked him to work with them. The song he chose was singer-poet Rod McKuen’s reworking of Brel’s Le Moribond.

The Belgian songwriter’s theatrical songs were becoming influential among the counterculture, and singers including Scott Walker and David Bowie. Le Moribond was substantially different to Jacks’ number 1, musically and lyrically. The similarity in the chorus is clear, but Brel’s song is faster-paced, like a march. Jacks later recalled that Brel told him over dinner how he had written Le Moribond in a Tangiers brothel, and that it was about an old man dying of a broken heart, after learning his best friend was having sex with his wife. Brel had retired shortly before Jacks’ song came out, and six years later it became apparent he had been fighting cancer, which he succumbed to in 1978.

Jacks liked McKuen’s translation of Brel’s song, and it struck a chord with him, as he was losing one of his best friends to leukaemia. He flew to Brian Wilson’s house to work on it, with an idea of getting his brother Dennis to perform the lead. But Brian was in a fragile state still, and tried to take over the sessions. In the end, Jacks felt he had no choice but to walk out, and he chose to record it himself instead.

The first thing you hear in Seasons in the Sun is a guitar that sounds like it’s from a grunge or indie tune several decades later (which might explain why Nirvana eventually covered this), and Jacks’ vocal is unusual too. Combine these, and the cheesy organ, with the morbid subject matter, and you can understand why this song is so divisive. In fact, I can’t decide what I think of it myself. I used to like it, finding the lyrics, in which the dying singer says goodbye to an old friend, his father and daughter, rather moving, and of course, whatever your opinion, you can’t deny that’s a great commercial chorus. But listening to it again for this blog, I found the production offputting and a bit nauseous, truth be told. I preferred Brel’s original arrangement.

Having said that, it still has a curious appeal, is a better death disc than the number 1 that directly preceded it, and is better than the awful Westlife version, a double-A-side with a cover of ABBA’s I Have a Dream, which somehow became the final number 1 of the 20th century. I voted it the worst Christmas number 1 of all time here.

Jacks was as surprised as anyone at his number 1. It became the biggest-selling Canadian song in history at the time and has sold several millions worldwide. Despite the arrangement being his own, as well as the last verse, he missed out on royalties by not bothering with a songwriting credit. But he bought a boat and named it after the song. Jacks had another Brel/McKuen cover hit in the UK with If You Go Away, but that was his last success here.

As the 70s went on, Jacks withdrew from the public eye, and found religion while travelling around on his boat. He would occasionally produce other artists, however. He’s only recorded three other albums since the 1974 one named after his number 1 – in 1975, 1983 and 1987. His private life has occasionally made headlines – his first marriage dissolved, and in 2001 he was accused of spousal abuse by second wife Maggi Zittier, and the police cautioned him for improper storage of a firearm while they were there. Jacks has been a strong campaigner for environmental issues for decades and has won several awards.

Written by: Jacques Brel & Rod McKuen

Producer: Terry Jacks

Weeks at number 1: 4 (6 April-3 May)

Births:

Spice Girl singer Victoria Beckham – 17 April

Meanwhile…

6 April: A Swedish pop quartet called ABBA win the 19th Eurovision Song Contest at the Dome in Brighton with a song called Waterloo. More on that next time.

24 April: Leeds United win their second Football League First Division title.

27 April: Manchester United are relegated from the First Division of the Football League, where they have played continuously since 1938. Their relegation is confirmed when they lose 1-0 at home to Manchester City in the penultimate game of the season. The only goal of the game comes from former United striker Denis Law.

1 May: Sir Alf Ramsey, the man who led the England football team to victory in the 1966 World Cup, is dismissed by the Football Association after 11 years. 

2 May: The National Front gains more than 10% of the vote in several parts of London’s council elections, but fails to net any councillors.

346. Paper Lace – Billy – Don’t Be a Hero (1974)

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)

Births:

Snooker player Mark King – 28 March
Radio DJ Scott Mills – 28 March
Conservative MP John Glen – 1 April

Meanwhile…

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.

345. Alvin Stardust – Jealous Mind (1974)

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)

Meanwhile…

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.

344. Suzi Quatro – Devil Gate Drive (1974)

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)

Deaths:

Radio sports commentator Raymond Glendenning – 23 February

Meanwhile…

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.[5]

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.

343. Mud – Tiger Feet (1974)

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*

Births:

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

Deaths:

Novelist HE Bates – 29 January

Meanwhile…

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.

Christmas!

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Try Every UK Number 1: The 50s, available on Amazon for £10.99 in paperback, £3.99 on Kindle.

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.