322. Gilbert O’Sullivan – Clair (1972)

I said you’d never get a song like Mouldy Old Dough at number 1 now, and it also applies to this song that toppled it in the winter of 1972. Thanks to 60s and 70s celebrities like Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Gary Glitter (two of which had number 1s), any song referencing love for a child is understandably looked upon with suspicion nowadays. In this song, Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan professes his love for his manager’s young daughter.

O’Sullivan was originally Raymond Edward O’Sullivan, born in Waterford on 1 December 1946. The family moved to Battersea, London when he was seven, and Swindon, Wiltshire a year later. O’Sullivan attended St. Joseph’s and the Swindon College of Art, and he briefly played drums in the band Rick’s Blues. Rick was Rick Davies, who went on to form Supertramp. He taught O’Sullivan drums and piano.

1967 was a big year by O’Sullivan. His then-manager Stephen Shane suggested a name change from Ray to Gilbert as a play on ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. At the time his songs were avant-garde – so much so, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band expressed an interest in recording some. He was then signed to CBS Records by Mike Smith, producer of number 1s by The Marmalade, The Love Affair and The Tremeloes.

His first three singles, all credited to just ‘Gilbert’, got nowhere, but things improved after O’Sullivan sent demo tapes to Gordon Mills, manager of Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. Mills signed him to MAM Records, despite not being a fan of his idiosyncratic image. At a time of long hair and flares, O’Sullivan was going against the grain with a retro look consisting of a pudding-bowl hairstyle, cloth cap and short trousers.

In 1970 O’Sullivan had his first top 10 hit with Nothing Rhymed, considered one of his best tracks. He built on this success the following year with his debut album Himself and singles We Will and No Matter How I Try, which was recognised as Best Ballad or Romantic Song at the 1972 Ivor Novello Awards.

Then came his most famous single. Alone Again (Naturally) was a bleak introspective tale of a man contemplating suicide after being jilted at the altar. This critically-acclaimed 7-inch reached number three here, but topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

Upon the release of his second album Back to Front, O’Sullivan ditched the old image and went to a different extreme, perming his hair and displaying his hairy chest like labelmate Tom Jones. Despite this, the music contained within was still light melancholic pop with a touch of music hall.

Clair begins as a straightforward love song. O’Sullivan and Clair began as friends, but he knew from the start this was special, and his feelings grew even more as the friendship did. But hang on, there’s an age gap, which has clearly thrown a spanner in the works:

‘But why in spite of our age difference do I cry.
Each time I leave you I feel I could die.
Nothing means more to me than hearing you say,
“I’m going to marry you. Will you marry me? Oh hurray!”‘

Wonder what the gap is… sounds tricky, a teen perhaps?

‘I’ve told you before “Don’t you dare!”
“Get back into bed.”
“Can’t you see that it’s late.”
“No you can’t have a drink.”
“Oh allright then, but wait just a minute.”
While I, in an effort to babysit, catch up on my breath,
What there is left of it.’

Oh… he’s her babysitter… and it’s his manager and producer’s daughter… right.

Now, I’m not going to be silly enough to suggest O’Sullivan is a paedophile, or that everyone who kept this at number 1 for a fortnight condones such behaviour. Clearly they saw this as nothing more than a cute song about this lovely little girl and how he can’t help but love her. They perhaps also liked the punchline of it being about a child, in the same way they Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses for Me at number 1 for six weeks in 1976. Times have changed.

But yes, there’s no escaping how problematic some of the lyrics are, namely the fact he can see himself marrying Clair eventually, and most of all ‘I don’t care what people say, to me you’re more than a child.’ When we’re only a year off the likes of Glitter conquering the charts, it can’t help but make modern listeners feel queasy.

Songs about children are a precarious concept. Even a musical genius like Stevie Wonder overdid it with Isn’t She Lovely, a nice tune that went on far too long and didn’t need baby noises thrown in. John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) just about stays on the right side of sentimentality. It’s very easy to be too twee and make the listener feel sick, and that’s what Clair does for me, particularly that ‘Oh Clair’ and the giggle at the end. Yuck.

Written by: Gilbert O’Sullivan

Producer: Gordon Mills

Weeks at number 1: 2 (11-24 November)

Meanwhile…

18 November: 100 years to the day since the England men’s team played its first official association football match, the women’s team did the same, against Scotland, in Greenock. They won 3-2.

321. Lieutenant Pigeon – Mouldy Old Dough (1972)

1972 was a particularly strange year in the singles chart. Glam rock was yet to totally take over the charts, and some real oddities not only did well, they became huge. The year’s biggest seller was a bagpipe cover of Amazing Grace, and the second was this dirty knees-up from experimental musicians recorded in a living room, featuring the tuneless growling singer’s mum playing honky tonk piano. Mouldy Old Dough would rank highly in any chart of the oddest number 1s of all time. It’s also the only one to feature a mother and her son. It’s also the sound of a nation having a nervous breakdown.

Singer Rob Woodford and drummer Nigel Fletcher had been playing in bands since 1963. Woodward, under the name Shel Naylor, recorded for Decca in 1963 and 64, and one of his singles was One Fine Day by Dave Davies of The Kinks.

By 1969 the duo, obsessed with mad genius producer Joe Meek’s productions, were making recordings in the front room of Rob’s mother Hilda’s house, under the strange name Stavely Makepeace. Their first single was (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog. Their 1972 single Slippery Rock 70s found its way into the Edgar Wright 2007 comedy Hot Fuzz.

Deciding that things weren’t weird enough, they teamed up with bassist Steve Johnson and Hilda to create an outlet for their tendencies to create novelty tunes. Why Lieutenant Pigeon? Why not?

This debut single sank without trace on its first release at the start of the year, as their manager said it would, but somehow it was picked up for use as the theme to a Belgian TV current affairs show, and it went to number 1 there. Decca decided to give it another go, then Radio 1 DJ Noel Edmonds loved it, and it’s thanks to him in part that it did so well.

Opening with woodwind from Johnson, Lieutenant Pigeon’s debut Mouldy Old Dough initially sounds like a children’s TV or sitcom theme, until Hilda’s relentless piano takes over. One of the most unlikely number 1 band members ever sounds like a stoned version of Winifred Atwell. So far, so bizarre. But then it gets really messed up when Rob starts singing the song’s title. I say ‘singing’… he sounds like a tramp on turps. Apparently ‘mouldy old dough’ was a play on the 1920s jazz phrase ‘vo-de-o-do’, but it fits the feel of the song totally. The whole thing conjures up what many imagine when they think of the 70s in the UK. A rotting, brown, smelly, seedy old mess. You know how Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities is always used as a soundtrack to 80s montages on TV? This should be used for the 70s.

But this is no bad thing. How incredible that this was a number 1?! That the Top of the Pops crowd of kids can actually be seen getting down to this swamp song in the clip above? We’ll never see its like again, that’s for sure. The group look like they can’t believe their luck, especially Rob as he growls ‘Dirty old man’.

Lieutenant Pigeon even managed another hit when they reached number 17 with Desperate Dan, also in 1972. It’s almost exactly the same, but not as good. They reached number three in Australia in 1974 with a cover of I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.

The original incarnation decided to stop touring in 1978. Johnson reformed Lieutenant Pigeon with a new line-up in the 80s. These days the original duo still record as Lieutenant Pigeon and Stavely Makepeace, creating jingles and releasing music on their website. Hilda, who looked very old in 1972, was actually only 56 at the time (everyone looked older than they should have in the 70s). She died in 1999, aged 85.

Written by: Nigel Fletcher & Rob Woodward

Producer: Stavely Makepeace

Weeks at number 1: 4 (14 October-10 November)

Births:

Actress Samantha Janus – 2 November
Actress Thandie Newton – 6 November
Rugby player Danny Grewcock – 7 November

Deaths:

Broadcaster Douglas Smith – 15 October

Meanwhile…

16 October: The first episode of Yorkshire Television’s rural soap Emmerdale Farm was broadcast on ITV. Before they shortened the title, it was a much more gentle drama, like a bleaker version of The Archers.

19 October: Royce Ryton’s play Crown Matrimonial premiered at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. Concerning the abdication of Edward VIII, it was the first time a living member of the Royal family (Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) had been represented on stage.

22 October: England football team goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks suffered a serious eye injury in a car crash in Staffordshire.

23 October: Access credit cards were first introduced as a rival to Barclaycard.

6 November: The Government introduces price and pay freezes to counter inflation.

320. David Cassidy – How Can I Be Sure (1972)

The Osmonds were the biggest teen-pop family in 1972, but The Partridge Family weren’t far behind. Unlike The Osmonds, they weren’t really related. The US sitcom, which began in 1970, turned David Cassidy, who played eldest son Keith, into a superstar. But Cassidy wasn’t happy to be a pop idol, and this first UK number 1 was his way of showing the world he wanted to be taken seriously.

David Bruce Cassidy, born in New York on 12 April 1950, was the son of famous singer and actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward, whose ancestors were among the founders of Newark, New Jersey. As his parents were on the road so much, Cassidy was raised in his early years by his maternal grandparents in West Orange, New Jersey. Jack and Evelyn divorced when he was four, and he didn’t find out until two years later, when his neighbours’ children told him.

Fast forward to 1968, and Cassidy had gained his high-school diploma and was living with his father, second wife and award-winning actress Shirley Jones and his half-brothers in Irvington, New York, working part time at a textile firm while he sought fame as an actor or singer. In 1969 he made his Broadway debut in The Fig Leaves Are Falling but it closed after four shows. However a casting director saw something in him and Cassidy passed a screen test, moving to Los Angeles. He signed with Universal Studios and starred in episodes of Bonanza and Ironside, before his big break landed.

The Partridge Family was loosely based on a real-life musical family, the Cowsills, who were popular in the late-60s. In a blurring of real-life and fiction, Cassidy’s stepmother Jones was already cast as the widowed mother Shirley Partridge when he got the job as her eldest son Keith. Studio bosses were impressed with Cassidy’s voice, and decided he would sing for real on the spin-off music recordings released under The Partridge Family name. Much like The Monkees, session musicians (often The Wrecking Crew) backed Cassidy and occasionally Jones. The rest of the cast were lip-synching.

The series became huge, and although it was mainly a US concern, several of their singles performed well in the UK. First single I Think I Love You reached the top 20. Meanwhile Cassidy became such a big star he began releasing material under his own name in 1971, which was what he had really wanted all along.

In early 1972 his debut album Cherish was released, and the title track reached number two on these shores. The fresh-faced Cassidy was four years older than his 16-year-old TV character, and much less squeaky-clean. The attention from young girls drove him mad – so much so, he decided to pose naked for the cover of Rolling Stone, for an article in which admitted to enjoying drink and drugs. Despite the controversy, he failed to capture a more mature audience, and the girls still loved him. Perhaps a ‘grown-up’ song could help?

How Can I Be Sure was originally a self-penned hit in the US and Canada (a number 1 there) for American rock band The Young Rascals in 1967. Three years later Dusty Springfield tried to make it a UK hit, but to no avail. Cassidy loved the song, and recorded it for next album Rock Me Baby, and it became its first single.

I often admire and sympathise with any pop star who tries to break out of the straitjacket being one often creates, and Cassidy is no exception. The introspective, uncertain lyrics of this song are certainly more palatable to my ears than Donny Osmond’s insipid Puppy Love that’s for sure.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do. Cassidy overdoes his vocal and tries too hard, and his voice doesn’t appeal to me. Fair play for aiming for the adult market, but I don’t think much to the song either – it’s too old-fashioned for 1972 and when it’s surrounded by bands like Slade and Alice Cooper, he still comes across too ‘light entertainment’.

So the girls still lapped it up, but because of that, they did give Cassidy his first UK number 1, so mixed blessings, all in all.

Written by: Felix Cavaliere & Eddie Brigati

Producer: Wes Farrell

Strings and horns arranged by: Mike Melvoin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (30 September-13 October)

Deaths:

Paleontologist Louis Leakey – 1 October
Footballer Syd Puddefoot – 2 October
Broadcaster Douglas Smith – 15 October

Meanwhile…

10 October: John Betjeman was appointed as Poet Laureate.

13 October: Bank rates were abolished and replaced with the Minimum Lending Rate.

319. Slade – Mama Weer All Crazee Now (1972)

In 1972 Slade were becoming wise to the glam rock movement springing up around them. They were already changing from their skinhead look, growing their hair out again, but they also began wearing increasingly outlandish outfits – particularly guitarist Dave Hill.

They also became obsessed with the idea of entering the charts at number 1 in week one, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since The Beatles and Billy Preston with Get Back. Last single Take Me Bak ‘Ome had been number 1 for a week earlier that year, but… well it wasn’t great, really. They needed something stronger. While recording it, as stated in the accompanying blog, Noddy Holder ad-libbed halfway through, and bassist Jim Lea liked what he heard… but asked him to save it as it had given him an idea for a new song.

The tune for Mama Weer All Crazee Now was for the first totally written by Lea. In a 1984 interview with Record Mirror, he recalled he had attended a Chuck Berry gig in 1972 where the legendary guitarist kept stopping his songs to let the crowd sing them for him, and he decided to write a readymade anthem where they could do the same. Combining it with the aforementioned ad-libs and recalling Holder’s comment after surveying the aftermath of one of their own gigs at Wembley Arena (‘Christ, everyone must have been crazy tonight’) he came up with My My We’re All Crazy Now.

And thus, the Slade formula was finally born. And what a formula it was. Holder letting rip over a simple but memorable riff, a simple ear-worm chorus fit for a stadium with crowd-like backing vocals, lyrics about having a good time… that’s all there is to it. But it hits that sweet spot so well. There were even better number 1s to come, but Mama Weer All Crazee Now is great fun. Ok, not a lot going on lyrically – it’s basically about wanting to get pissed on whisky. But what’s that bit about filling up ‘H’ Hill’s left shoe – is that a reference to their guitarist?

It doesn’t matter, it’s about the energy, and the climax, where Don Powell hits the drums repeatedly and Holder shouts ‘MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA’ is brilliant.

Slade didn’t quite go straight in at number 1 this time around, but they did enter at two, and they got there in the end.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 3 (9-29 September)

Births:

Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky – 9 September
Oasis singer Liam Gallagher – 21 September
Breaststroke swimmer Richard Maden – 21 September

Deaths:

Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher – 15 September

Meanwhile…

11 September: BBC One broadcast long-running quiz series Mastermind was broadcast for the first time, with Magnus Magnusson asking the questions until 1997. John Humphrys has been presenter since 2003.

12 September: The second Cod War was triggered when two British trawlers were sunk by an Icelandic gunboat.

13 September: 20 years after their debut in France, hypermarkets came to the UK when Carrefour opened in Caerphilly, South Wales.

18 September: On the orders of dictator Idi Amin, thousands of deported Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK.

19 September: A parcel bomb killed a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in London.

318. Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well (1972)

‘Rod the Mod’, after years of striving, became a solo superstar off the back of Maggie May in 1971. And his group Faces did well out of it too, releasing third album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse later that year and scoring a hit with the raucous Stay With Me. But there was some tension among the band, despite them helping out on Stewart’s next solo album Never a Dull Moment, that he was concentrating a little too much on his own career.

Featuring covers of Jimi Hendrix and Sam Cooke as well as songs co-written with Ronnie Wood and Martin Quittenton, his fourth solo LP was released in July 1972, and You Wear It Well was singled out the following month.

It’s a sequel of sorts to Maggie May, also co-written by Stewart and Quittenton, in which the singer, now in Minnesota, is writing to a lover. Something went wrong along the way and he ‘blew it without even trying’, and he doesn’t know if she’ll ever even get his song/note, but he’s offloading anyway. The tone of the song is so similar, both lyrically and musically (the drumming at the start is surely a deliberate nod?) it seems very likely to be for Maggie to me, especially when you consider the references to age and ‘radical views’ (see my Maggie May blog for more on the origins of that song)

As with Maggie May, Stewart is very good at telling a story and creating compelling characters. I don’t know what went wrong, but Stewart was clearly a great songwriter back then. His style was intelligent and impressive and it’s not easy to tell such vivid stories in pop songs. You can forgive him his innate laddishness when there’s such wit on display.

Unfortunately, it’s so similar to his previous number 1, you can’t help but compare, and despite a nice backing from the other Faces, it’s not as strong a song, and it’s lacking the bright sound of the mandolin. Nothing wrong with a song lacking a chorus, it’s a brave move, but this time around, it’s missing it.

By the time Stewart had his third number 1 in 1975, he had changed record labels, moved to Los Angeles, and Faces had split.

Written by: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton

Producer: Rod Stewart

Weeks at number 1: 1 (2-8 September)

Births:

Actor Idris Elba – 6 September

317. Alice Cooper – School’s Out (1972)

How fitting. As I write this, school’s out completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m still recovering from a ‘week off’ work where I was responsible for home-schooling my children. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice moments, but I hated science at school and a day of experiments with an eight-year-old demanding answers and a five-year-old who would rather show me a fairy she’d sat on a tree stump left me in pieces. My mum has always insisted I should be a teacher and last week proved I was right all along.

UPDATE: as I prepare this to go live, the kids have actually returned to school at last, making this all rather ironic. How long it will last before another lockdown, we shall see.

Anyway, School’s Out. A summertime classic and rock standard, used in every film or TV show that wants to capture that feeling of childhood ecstasy, knowing that for a few weeks, freedom is there for the taking. This song turned Alice Cooper into a superstar. But did you know that originally, Alice Cooper was the name of his band? Me neither.

Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier on 4 February 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. Far from the ‘Godfather of Shock Rock’ he became, Furnier was from a family of evangelists and was active in church too as a boy. He was a sickly child, and following several bouts of illness, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended Cortez High School. Years later, Furnier’s high-school yearbook was found and inside he had written his ambition was to be ‘a million record seller’.

When Furnier was 16 in 1964, he was keen to take part in a school talent show, so he and four of his cross-country teammates, including future Alice Cooper band members Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway, became a Beatles spoof group called The Earwigs. Guitarist Buxton was the only one with an instrument so the others mimed. Their parodies of Fab Four hits went down a storm and they won.

They decided to form a garage rock band and bought instruments from a pawn shop, and with Buxton writing songs and teaching the others how to play, they became The Spiders. Furnier sang, with Dunaway on bass. In 1966 Michael Bruce became their rhythm guitarist, and a year later, now known as Nazz, Neal Smith became their drummer.

In 1968, now living in Los Angeles, they discovered there was already a band called The Nazz (featuring Todd Rundgren). Searching for a new name, Furnier believed they needed a gimmick and reckoned an innocuous name like Alice Cooper made for a nice counterpoint to the grisly theatrics they began to adopt when performing. For a long time there was an urban legend that the band came up with the name via a ouija board, but it was later discredited.

Developing outrageous antics on stage via cross-dressing, face paint and their primitive psychedelic rock, they began to cause a stir. One gig in Venice, California saw Alice Cooper empty the venue in 10 minutes. Music manager Shep Gordon thought this was brilliant and saw a way such negativity could get them noticed. He arranged them an audition with cult counterculture icon Frank Zappa, then looking for unusual acts for his new label Straight Records. He asked Alice Cooper to be at his house for seven. They thought he meant in the morning and woke him, but he was impressed by their commitment and signed them.

Alice Cooper’s first LP, Pretties for You, was released in 1969, the same year they made the papers for an incident in which a live chicken was thrown into the crowd, where the wheelchair users of the front row proceeded to tear it to pieces. Horrible, but the singer later claimed it was an accident. Whether it was or not, the press made it even more extreme and claimed he bit the chicken’s head off and drank its blood. He denied this but Zappa told him to pretend otherwise.

Despite the controversy, Alice Cooper weren’t actually selling many records. Their first two albums tanked. They were teamed up with Bob Ezrin for their final Straight Records release, Love It to Death, scheduled for 1971. Preceding single I’m Eighteen was a hit, and this is very much down to the partnership of Ezrin with the band, who Cooper later described as ‘our George Martin’. He toned down the weirdness and cranked up the volume, with a heavy but clean sound, more palatable for rock fans.

Despite the work on their recorded output, the live shows became ever more theatrical and dark, featuring the androgynoius Furnier (by now calling himself Alice Cooper) wrapped in a boa constrictor, baby dolls covered in blood and even a mock execution at the gallows. There had never been anything quite like it. This was the Devil’s version of glam rock. Next album Killer was also a success, and in the summer of 1972, just in time for the holidays, came the follow-up School’s Out and then the title track hit the singles chart.

So ingrained is School’s Out in popular culture, it’s hard to critically assess it with fresh ears. That mighty riff from Buxton is very memorable, and fits in perfectly with the glam rock scene in the UK. But of course, a song with lyrics about blowing up your school, featuring the nursery rhyme ‘No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks’ being sung by children… how could it not be a hit? Cooper’s snarling vocal is perfect, and actually, listening anew has made me appreciate what a great pop song it is. And the balls of Cooper, to actually sing in one verse ‘We can’t even think of a word that rhymes’, just because he could. Great stuff, and pretty shocking for the 1972 charts. The teachers complaining about Slade misspelling their song titles must have been beside themselves when this toppled them.

Among those complaining was miserable busybody campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who persuaded the BBC to ban the video. Cooper sent her flowers for the free publicity.

Alice Cooper’s tours broke box office records in 1973, and they reached their commercial peak with the album Billion Dollar Babies, but their gruelling schedule was taking its toll. Muscle of Love, released in 1974, was the last album by Alice Cooper, the band.

As we all know, Alice Cooper, the man with the woman’s name, continued. He changed his name legally to avoid any legal issues with his former group, and his first solo album Welcome to my Nightmare, recorded with Lou Reed’s backing musicians, was a big hit in 1975. Bruce, Dunaway and Smith formed a short-lived new group, Billion Dollar Babies, which split after one album in 1977. They would occasionally reunite with Buxton, but sadly he died of pneumonia in 1997, aged 49.

Although Cooper has remained a star throughout his solo years, there have been struggles with alcoholism, which became so bad, he entered a sanitarium in 1977. It provided inspiration for his 1978 album From the Inside, co-written with Bernie Taupin. His recovery was short-lived though – Cooper claims to have no recollection of recording any of his albums from the early-80s. With fortunes fading, he was hospitalised with cirrhosis of the liver, and the next few years he dealt with his own personal demons and divorce.

He returned to the fray in 1986, and fitted in very nicely during the years of slasher horror films. His song He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) was used in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives that year, and he had cameos in Prince of Darkness (1987) and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). Cooper also had a guest spot at WrestleMania III in 1987, standing in Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ corner against the Honky Tonk Man.

In 1991, Cooper guested on the Guns N’ Roses album Use Your Illusion I and had a memorable, brilliant cameo in the music comedy Wayne’s World in 1992. His musical output became more sporadic, and as the decade continued his brand of rock went out of fashion, to be replaced by grunge. In October 1999, fans of the band Alice Cooper rejoiced as all four surviving members performed together at the second Glen Buxton Memorial Weekend. Since then they have reunited several times with guest guitarists, including for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

2015 saw Cooper unveil Hollywood Vampires, a rock supergroup also featuring actor Johnny Depp and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. The group honours and is named after a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 70s. Aged 72, Cooper has defied the odds to outlive many of those old club members.

Written by: Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Denis Dunaway & Neal Smith

Producer: Bob Ezrin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (12 August-1 September)

Births:

Scottish field hockey forward David Ralph – 17 August
Presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell – 18 August

Deaths:

Aviator Francis Chichester – 26 August
Prince William of Gloucester – 28 August

Meanwhile

26 August-10 September: Great Britain and Northern Ireland won four gold, five silver and nine bronze medals at the Olympics in Munich, West Germany.

28 August: Prince William of Gloucester, 30-year-old cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is killed in an air crash near Wolverhampton.

1 September: The school leaving age at the end of the academic year in England and Wales was raised from 15 to 16. Temporary buildings were erected in secondary modern and comprehensive schools to accommodate the older pupils, while some authorities raised the secondary school transfer age from 11 to 12 or 13. The age was also raised in Scotland and Northern Ireland. ‘Well we’ve got no choice/All the girls and boys’…

316. Donny Osmond – Puppy Love (1972)

Of course, the first half of the 70s wasn’t just glam rock. Catering for the teenage and pre-pubescent girls were squeaky-clean singing sensations The Osmonds. And most popular of them all was Donny, who scored their first number 1 with a Paul Anka song.

George Virl Osmond, Sr and Olive Osmond, living in Ogden, Utah, were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They raised nine children –  Virl, Tom, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny, Marie, and Jimmy.

Their music career began in 1958 when Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay, all aged between three and 10, formed a barbershop quartet, in part to raise money for hearing aids for Virl and Tom, who were born with severe hearing problems. George thought his boys had something special, and he took them to an audition in California. It fell through, but they visited Disneyland, and while there, a bigwig spotted the boys singing with the theme park’s Dapper Dans. He was so impressed he hired them to perform on a TV special, Disneyland After Dark.

Among those sat watching at home was easy-listening legend Andy Williams’ father. He thought they would be a perfect fit for his son’s TV show and urged him to book them, and they became regulars from 1962-69. In 1963 the quartet were joined by five-year-old Donny, the Osmonds’ seventh son, born 9 December 1957.

As the 60s went on, the boys had ambitions to become a proper pop group. George was initially sceptical, but they won him over and record producer Mike Curb was brought on board to help them garner a major label recording contract, which they did, with MGM Records. Their first single with MGM, One Bad Apple, was originally intended for The Jackson Five. It made The Osmonds number 1 in the US, and the hits went on.

A year later, Donny, who had shared lead vocals with Merrill, was singled out for a solo career to run alongside working with his brothers, thus cornering that all-important ‘impressionable girls’ market. Debut single, the aptly-named Sweet and Innocent, was a number seven smash in the US, and follow-up Go Away Little Girl was a number 1 in America.

Whoever had the idea to make Donny record Puppy Love, I hope they were rewarded. Anka’s 1960 rock’n’roll tearjerker had been written by the wunderkind (who had the biggest-selling UK single in 1957 with the similarly-themed Diana for Annette Funicello, with whom he was having an affair. This maudlin ballad was tailor-made to make young hearts swoon for poor Donny, who keeps being told he’s not old enough to know what love is. How dare they!

It’s very hard as a 41-year-old cynical old sod to relate to this, and it’s really not helped by the fact Donny sounds even younger than his true age of 15 back then. His overacted whining of ‘Someone help me/Help me please’ is nauseating, but to be fair, not as annoying as Anka’s own version. In its defence, it’s a nice tune, well-produced and Donny sings it well, other than the lines I just mentioned.

In short, I’d take Crazy Horses over this every time. But compared to the next Osmond-related number 1, Puppy Love is a classic…

Written by: Paul Anka

Producers: Mike Curb & Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 5 (8 July-11 August)

Births:

Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – 6 August

TV presenter Sarah Cawood – 7 August

Meanwhile…

21 July: Nine people died and over a hundred were injured on Bloody Friday in a series of explosions by the Provisional IRA in Belfast city centre.

28 July: Thousands of dockers went on strike, leading to Edward Heath declaring the second state of emergency of the year on 4 August.

31 July: In Northern Ireland, the British Army started to regain control of the ‘no-go areas’ established by Irish republican paramilitaries in Belfast, Derry and Newry.

Also that day came, sadly, Bloody Monday, in which three car bombs in Claudy, County Londonderry killed nine. In 2010 it was discovered that a local Catholic priest was an IRA officer believed to be involved in the bombings, but his role had been covered up by the authorities.

6 August: Ugandan dictator Idi Amin announced 50,000 passports were to be expelled from his country to the UK within the next three months. 

9 August: Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar made its West End debut.

315. Slade – Take Me Bak ‘Ome (1972)

By the dry, dull summer of 1972, glam rock was on the rise. T. Rex had already peaked with their four number 1s, but other acts were now breaking through. The Sweet had scored several hits with Co-Co and Little Willy and two landmark albums were released in June – Roxy Music’s eponymous debut LP, and most importantly, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the first week of July he made his famous appearance on Top of the Pops for Starman, putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson and making rock history.

That same week, Slade were celebrating their second number 1. Since 1971’s Cos I Luv You, the Wolverhampton glam-rockers had turned down a multi-million-dollar campaign in the US to star in their own TV series and tour. But while the chance to become the next Monkees must have been appealing, singer Noddy Holder reportedly told the NME that they didn’t want to cancel commitments and let down their UK fans.

In January 1972 they released follow-up single Look Wot You Dun, written mostly by bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell, with some help from Holder. The song reached number four, and Record Mirror reported they were annoying teachers by setting a bad example and releasing two misspelt singles in a row. Look Wot You Dun wasn’t as good as their number 1, but it proved Slade were no one-hit wonders. In March came Slade Alive!, recorded in front of 300 fan club members and featuring a storming version of Get Down and Get With It.

Take Me Bak ‘Ome, like their previous number 1, was written by Holder and Lea but according to Lea in the group’s 1984 biography Feel the Noize! it originated from an old tune he had made, with a bit of revamping and a phrase or two from The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.

Of Slade’s six number 1s, this ranks as the least memorable. It’s only really worth hearing to get a better insight into how the band were striving and struggling to find the winning formula that they achieved from their next number 1 onwards. It’s meat-and-potatoes rock without the unique element of danger in Cos I Luv You and no anthemic chorus to latch on to, which they later excelled at. Lyrically, it’s a laddish story of boy-meets-drunken-girl-who-stinks-of-brandy. He tries it on, only to flee in fear of her boyfriend a ‘Superman’ who’s twice his size. And it was ‘alright’, apparently.

Take Me Bak ‘Ome climbed to number 13, and Slade were booked to perform at the Great Western Festival in Lincoln. The field of rock fans booed when Slade were announced to be performing imminently. They were worried they were considered too ‘pop’ and had blown it before even starting, but they won over the crowd with their heavy material, and it helped propel them to their second number 1.

Interestingly, Holder had ad-libbed over the riff in the middle of the song’s recording but Lea suggested he change what he came up with as it had given him an idea for their next single…

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 July)

Meanwhile…

1 July: The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in London, with approximately 2,000 participants.

314. Don McLean – Vincent (1972)

US singer-songwriter Don McLean is best known for American Pie, his folk-rock epic that referenced the plane crash that killed some of the brightest stars of the 50s. However, his first UK number 1 was its follow-up, the ode to Dutch artist Vincent Van Gogh, Vincent.

Donald McLean III was born 2 October 1945 in New Rochelle, New York, with roots on his father’s side to Scotland. His mother was Italian. The young McLean suffered severe asthma and was forced to miss long periods of school, so he took solace in folk music, particularly The Weavers.

When McLean was 15, his father died and he immersed himself in music once more, buying his first guitar and starting to make contacts in the industry, including befriending Fred Hellerman from The Weavers. He graduated from preparatory school in 1963 and dropped out of Villanova University after four months and became a part-time student so he could devote himself to folk music. He became a regular at venues in New York and Los Angeles.

1968 was a pivotal year for McLean, where he finally chose music over education. He turned down a scholarship in Colombia and later on received a grant from the New York State Council on the Arts to expand his live performances. He took advice from folk legend Pete Seeger and supported him in 1969.

While the Berkeley student riots went on around him in California, McLean recorded his debut album Tapestry. The album was rejected 72 times, until the small label Mediarts released it in 1970. McLean may well have remained unknown, had the company not been bought out by United Artists Records. With a much bigger budget behind him, he recorded his follow-up American Pie.

As the world knows, the title track, released in late 1971 after the album, was the biggest song of McLean’s career. This sprawling epic, inspired by the deaths of Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper in 1959, popularised the term ‘the day the music died’ after the plane crash that killed them. It also charted his youth and developments in youth culture – at least, that’s the theory, as McLean has never explained. American Pie reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, but stalled at number two in the UK. It took Madonna to make it a number 1, in 2000.

Track three on the LP, Vincent, was inspired by McLean looking through a book about Van Gogh one morning. One of the artworks he came across was The Starry Night. This oil on canvas, pained in June 1889, depicted Van Gogh’s view from the east-facing window of his asylum room at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence psychiatric hospital. Van Gogh was prone to psychotic episodes and delusions, and had famously cut off part of his left ear during an argument with Paul Gaugin. Van Gogh had entered this hospital a month prior to his painting, and a year later he was dead from a self-inflicted shot to the chest.

The Starry Night is a beautiful painting, and the opening to Vincent is too.

‘Starry starry night
Paint your palette blue and grey
Look out on a summer’s day
With eyes that know the darkness in my soul’

Unfortunately, it’s downhill from there. I must admit Vincent has never interested me beyond that intro and upon further research, I’m put off even less. The lyrics are rather patronising – McLean gives the impression that he understands the fate of Van Gogh because he too is some kind of tortured genius, and that we mere normal people will never understand it. Maybe so, but this isn’t a work of genius, it’s average, and I have to confess I’ve always found American Pie somewhat overrated too. So yes, McLean, to paraphrase, I would not listen, I’m not listening still, and perhaps I never will. I can live with that.

It would be eight years before McLean’s next number 1, a cover of Roy Orbison’s Crying.

Written by: Don McLean

Producer: Ed Freeman

Weeks at number 1: 2 (17-30 June)

Meanwhile…

18 June: British European Airways Flight 548 crashed near Staines in Surrey. 116 of the 118 people on board were dead by the time ambulances arrived, and the two survivors died before reaching hospital. It was the worst UK disaster for 16 years, until the Lockerbie bombing. An inquiry later revealed the pilot had a heart condition and an argument with crew may have caused the plane to have a deep stall.

23 June: Chancellor of the Exchequer Anthony Barber announced a decision to float the pound as a temporary measure. It has floated ever since.

313. T. Rex – Metal Guru (1972)

With a triumphant ‘Aaaaawh yeah!’ to kick things off, Metal Guru was a return to form after the lacklustre Telegram Sam. It was their fourth number 1 single, but it was to be their last chart-topper, and Bolan would be dead only five years later.

March 1972 was a busy time for the band, with two nights headlining at the Empire Pool, Wembley, filmed by Ringo Starr, who was to direct a T. Rex film, Born to Boogie. That same month the group began recording their third album The Slider. It was made at Château d’Hérouville near Paris, France, after Elton John suggested it as a way to avoid paying tax. Produced once more by Visconti, it captured T. Rextasy at its peak, but the fall was to be steep.

Metal Guru was rightly picked to be the opening track and gets the LP off to a blistering start. Bolan had been inspired to write about religion, and when explaining the message behind the song, proclaimed to believe in a god but wasn’t religious. Metal Guru was to represent all gods. Its mentions of the guru sitting in an ‘armour plated chair’, ‘all alone without a telephone’ create a vague image of a godhead who can communicate without the aid of BT, but as usual it’s an excuse for Bolan to conjure up some brilliant lines, and some terrible ones, even within the same verse. Consider;

‘Metal Guru has it been, just like a silver-studded sabre-tooth dream
I’II be clean you know pollution machine, oh yeah’

First line, brilliant, second, not great.

Fortunately the music behind Metal Guru is better. No great change to what had come before, but the similarities aren’t as obvious as Telegram Sam, and the sound is bigger and more muscular without sounding bloated, which it often became once Visconti stopped working with Bolan. The ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ chant brings to mind the end of Hot Love, but rather than comparing it to past glories, you’re likely to notice how much Panic by The Smiths sounds like it, which Morrissey and Marr did deliberately, both being huge T. Rex fans.

Metal Guru enjoyed a month at number 1, and with a new album set for release later that summer and the film to follow, it seemed T. Rex would be around for a long time to come. The Slider is very much Electric Warrior Part Two, but that’s no bad thing, and with tracks like Baby Strange, it’s a great glam time capsul. But Born to Boogie, released in December, was a surreal mess of a movie, blasted by critics but loved by fans. It was Bolan’s very own Magical Mystery Tour.

Children of the Revolution was released inbetween the two projects, and although it was another excellent single, but it missed the top spot. They also recorded fourth album Tanx. Finally moving on from the sound of the last two LPs, Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman were ditched as backing vocalists and replaced with a gospel sound. It’s patchy at best.

Much better was the standalone single 20th Century Boy, released two months after Tanx in March 73. Muscular and sparky, it’s the first T. Rex song I ever heard, and still my favourite, thanks to its use in a Levi’s advert starring Brad Pitt in 1991, having been re-released at the time.

Although Bolan shouldn’t be criticised for finally trying to develop his sound, it came too late. His friend/rival David Bowie was now racing ahead thanks to his Ziggy Stardust creation, and Slade were the most popular glam outfit. Bolan was also putting on weight, no longer that attractive, elfin glam god. 1974 album Zinc Alloy and the Hidden Riders of Tomorrow – A Creamed Cage in August was credited to ‘Marc Bolan & T. Rex’. The line-up was expanded to feature second guitarist Jack Green and pedal steel guitarist BJ Cole, and Bolan’s lover Gloria Jones featured in backing singers The Cosmic Choir. It’s an interesting listen, but the magic was getting harder to find. They were dropped in the US before the album could be released, and drummer Bill Legend quit.

Soon after Bolan’s already huge ego became out of control. He sacked Visconti and Mickey Finn left the group. The single Zip Gun Boogie was released as a solo single but performed so badly he took on the T. Rex mantle again.

He produced the next album Bolan’s Zip Gun (1975) himself, and it was savaged. The music press mocked him for his weight gain and he became a tax exile in Monte Carlo. The production became even more far-out on Futuristic Dragon, featuring disco backings and even a sitar. It also performed badly, but it’s a pretty interesting listen.

Single I Love to Boogie, also released in 1976, was a return to a simplistic sound, and with punk on the rise, suddenly a comeback was on the cards. Bolan slimmed down and toured with punk pioneers The Damned. He set to work on Dandy in the Underworld, released in March 1977 to critical acclaim.

Six months later, he was even fronting his own TV show. Marc, broadcast over six weeks on ITV, saw Bolan introducing some of his favourite new punk bands including The Jam and Generation X, as well as T. Rex performing old and new songs, albeit miming. The final episode featured none other than Bowie, then producing some of the most adventurous music of his life, produced by, ironically, Visconti. Both singers were glad to see each other and wrote a song together, Madman, before recording the show. In an eerie symbolic premonition of what was to come, during their duet, Bolan tripped on a microphone cable and fell off the stage. This final episode of Marc was broadcast on 20 September, four days after Bolan’s fatal accident.

According to Vicky Aram, a former nightclub singer who had been invited to discuss recording with Bolan after a party, she was driving behind Bolan’s Mini, being driven by his girlfriend Jones and with Bolan beside her, when the Mini hit a steel-reinforced fence post after failing to negotiate a small humpback bridge near Barnes, south-west London. She found the car near a sycamore tree (now a rock shrine). Bolan had died from a horrific head injury due to an eye bolt in the fence, and Jones was severely injured.

Of the classic T. Rex line-up, only Legend remains. Guitarist Steve Currie played with Chris Spedding before moving to the Algarve in Portugal, where he too died in a car crash in 1981 in Portugal. Finn played as a session musician for The Soup Dragons and The Blow Monkeys before his death in 2003 of possible liver or kidney failure.

Bolan’s star shone relatively briefly compared to some musical legends, but it also shone brighter than many. Were it not for him, who knows if glam rock would ever have happened. He took a potentially moribund decade and made it fun, sexy and cool. Pop had been declining ever since The Beatles had split, and Bolan brought it back to life. It’s likely that his 1977 comeback would have been short-lived, as his musical range was limited, but we’ll never know. What we do know is that T. Rex at their best – Hot Love, Get It On, Metal Guru, 20th Century Boy – have not only aged extremely well, they sound better than ever, all these years later. For as long as there is the teenage dream, there is Marc Bolan, and there is T. Rex.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 4 (20 May-16 June)

Births:

Cricketer Martin Saggers – 23 May
Footballer Steve Crane – 3 June
Actress Debra Stephenson – 4 June
Athlete Curtis Robb – 7 June

Deaths:

Poet Cecil Day-Lewis – 22 May
Actress Margaret Rutherford – 22 May
Edward, Duke of Windsor – 28 May (see Meanwhile…)

Meanwhile…

22 May: The Dominion of Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka.

24 May: The final stretch of the M6 motorway opened between junctions 6 (Spaghetti Junction) and 7 north of Birmingham.
Also that day, Glasgow-based Rangers FC won the UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup, beating FC Dynamo Moscow 3-2 in the final at Camp Nou in Barcelona. Celebrations were marred by a pitch invasion from their supporters, which led to the team being banned from defending the trophy next season.

26 May: State-owned travel company Thomas Cook & Son was privatised.

28 May: 35 years after he abdicated the throne, the controversial royal Edward, Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, died of cancer at his home in France.

30 May: The Official Irish Republican Army declared a ceasefire in Northern Ireland.

1 June: Hotels and boarding houses became required to obtain certification when the Fire Precautions Act 1971 came into force.

3 June: A Protestant demonstration in Derry turned into a battle.

5 June: The funeral of The Duke of Windsor was held at Windsor Castle.