337. Wizzard – Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) (1973)

Glam rock’s debt to rock’n’roll continued apace in the autumn of 1973, as Wizzard enjoyed their second number 1 within months with Roy Wood’s lesser-known paen to his 50s youth with Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad).

I mentioned in my blog for See My Baby Jive that Wizzard’s debut album, Wizzard Brew, wasn’t anything like their singles. Released just before that single, it wasn’t very much like anything before or since. A lo-fi kaleidoscopic trawl through psychedelia, blues, rock, brass, metal, it’s a much underrated piece of work and I urge you to find it.

Inbetween Wizzard’s two number 1s, Wood also released solo album Boulders. Recorded between 1969-71, he wrote every song, played every instrument and drew the artwork. This is also considered a lost classic.

Although all Wizzard’s singles harked back to the 50s, Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) is Wood’s most overt tribute. The clue, not that you need one here, is in the bracketed part of the title. The lyrics are full of romantic 50s teen imagery, including Wood driving a motorbike to a cafe, a Dion poster on his girlfriends’s wall, a record playing… It’s as if Bruce Springsteen grew up in Birmingham in the 50s.

Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) may not be as instant as See My Baby Jive or I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, but it’s a lovely track with a real yearning quality, as Wood strives to capture the feeling of young love, rock’n’roll and those magical teenage years. It’s also slightly less cluttered, which gives the poignancy more of a chance to shine through. Spector would be impressed. Or would have threatened to shoot him, depending on how much cocaine he had in his system.

And then came I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. One of the best festive songs of all time, Wood took See My Baby Jive and added extra tinsel, in yet another tribute to Spector’s Wall of Sound. Unfortunately for Wood, it was up against one of the other greatest yuletide anthems, and Wizzard lost out to Slade. Incredibly, it wasn’t even number two in the top 10 that Christmas, lagging behind Gary Glitter and The New Seekers. This is very, very wrong.

It’s worth noting that nobody hears the 1973 version of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday anymore. It doesn’t exist. In 1981, EMI contacted Wood to say they wanted to give the single another crack at the Christmas charts, but they couldn’t find the master tapes. They were never found, and Wood had to re-record the song in a week with Muff Murfin producing. Murfin recalled Wood painstakingly recreated the original, and played every single instrument. The original choristers, from Stockland Green Bilateral School in Birmingham, were replaced by pupils at Kempsey Primary School. So the only way to hear the original is if you have a copy of the original 1973 vinyl. And if the versions on YouTube that are 1973 versions are real, there is no discernible difference. Which makes Wood’s remake an amazing feat, really.

1973 was intense for Wood, and it took its toll the following year. Several live dates were cancelled and the single Rock’n’Roll Winter (Looney’s Tune) was delayed until the spring. Second album Introducing Eddy and the Falcons was another tribute to the 50s, a concept album about a fictional band, inspired, no doubt by The Beatles. It was supposed to be a double LP, with the second half an experimental jazz-rock collection, but this material didn’t see the light of day until 2000’s Main Street.

The early momentum of Wizzard soon dissipated. Wood struggled to afford such a large line-up and ran up huge studio costs. Bassist Rick Price once recalled a rumour that the group spent more time recording their last number 1 than Paul McCartney & Wings spent on the whole of the Band On the Run album. Cellist Hugh McDowell departed in 1973 to return to the Electric Light Orchestra, and keyboardist Bill Hunt left a year later. In 1975, Wood split Wizzard up. Farewell single Rattlesnake Roll failed to chart.

Saxophonist Mike Burney went on to work with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and The Old Horns Band, which was a joint venture with other former Wizzard members. He was also a session player for a wide variety of stars including Chaka Khan, The Beach Boys and Cliff Richard. Burney died in 2014. After ELO, McDowell joined new wave group Radio Stars and featured on albums by Saint Etienne and Asia. He died in 2018.

Price joined Wood in his short-lived project Wizzo Band after Wizzard, a jazz-rock project that was ill-received critically and commercially, with only one album, Super Active Wizzo in 1977. They split the following year. He married Diane Lee of Peters and Lee in the 90s, and they tour performing hits and new material. He’s also a member of The Rockin’ Berries.

Wood released a second solo LP, Mustard, in 1975, which featured Phil Everly. It wasn’t as successful as his first however, and his third, On the Road Again, didn’t even get a UK release in 1979. After The Wizzo Band’s demise he largely disappeared from the public eye. He led Roy Wood’s Helicopters between 1980 and 1982, and the following year recorded with Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Chas Hodges as The Rockers. 1986 saw him record the ABBA song Waterloo with Doctor and the Medics. In 1987 came another solo album, Starting Up, and then another group, Roy Wood’s Army. Two years later he recorded with his former ELO bandmate Jeff Lynne, but the songs never saw the light of day.

Like Slade, Wood will always be associated with Christmas, and it helps that he looks rather like Santa Claus. There was a remake of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday in 1995, credited to Roy Wood’s Big Band. Weirdly, he and Mike Batt’s The Wombles teamed up in 2000 for an ill-advised mash-up called I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Everyday. It was awful. Seven years later, thanks to his appearance in an Argos Christmas advert, it reached number 16. In 2010, Wood featured in a cameo on the Christmas special of ITV comedy drama Benidorm.

Wood’s most recent troupe of musicians call themselves The Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band. In 2018 they made the news when their touring equipment was stolen in a ram-raid on a warehouse in Leeds, but it was later recovered. Sadly, it transpired that he was a hardcore Brexiter. So much so, he joined The Brexit Party in 2019. Ah well, everyone has their flaws, even a musical genius.

It’s a shame Wood is only remembered for one song, even if it is a bona fide classic. From his days in The Move, to forming ELO, to Wizzard, Wood was an eccentric musical magpie in the 60s and 70s, able to turn his hand to most forms of music, but always with an eye for a winning pop tune. Perhaps his unassuming nature and inherent shyness are further reasons he is underappreciated. He’s not bothered about reminding the world about his number 1s Blackberry Way, See My Baby Jive and Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) and his other classics like 10538 Overture, he’s content to show up from time to time at Christmas and then he’s gone again. I imagine it will sadly take his death before his resume is reappraised, but until then, the UK remains grateful at least that Wizzard kept the UK smiling during The Troubles and the Three-Day Week.

Written & produced by: Roy Wood

Vocal backing: The Suedettes & The Bleach Boys

Weeks at number 1: 1 (22-28 September)

Deaths:

Peeress Barbara Freyberg, Baroness Freyberg – 24 September
Labour Party MP George Porter – 25 September

336. Donny Osmond – Young Love (1973)

Only a few months since Donny Osmond’s last number 1, which was a cover of a 50s ballad, the teen heartthrob hit the top once again with… a cover of a 50s ballad.

Young Love, like The Twelfth of Never, was taken from his most recent solo album Alone Together. Since its release, The Osmonds had released an ambitious LP, The Plan, best described as a Mormon concept album with aspirations to be progressive rock. Young Love was nothing like this.

This was the first time a previous number 1 had returned to the top spot – well, sort of – there was Answer Me in 1953, and Singing the Blues in 1957, but both were hits released by two different artists at the same time, competing against one another. Young Love was originally recorded by Ric Cartey in 1956. Cartey had co-written it with Carole Joyner, but it was country star Sonny James who first made it a hit, and then US actor Tab Hunter went all the way to number 1 and made it one of the best-selling singles of 1957.

When I reviewed Hunter’s version (available in my book Every UK Number 1: The 50s), I remarked how Warner Bros. Records were really on to something, picking a good-looking film star to sing a dreamy love song for the teenage girls to go wide-eyed over. 16 years on and the girls are still going ga-ga for handsome young singers. I also said Hunter’s version was better than ‘dross’ like the Osmonds would release in the 70s. I was perhaps harsh there, as boy bands and teen pop is never going to be my bag, but the Osmonds did also record some good material. Donny’s Young Love is serviceable enough – it’s the best of his three solo number 1s. But the slushy backing from Don Costa is a bit overbaked and I preferred the subtlety of Hunter’s take and the uncertainty of his vocal.

Donny continued to release material under his own name, but only two more releases charted in the UK – When I Fall In Love, also 1973, and, fittingly enough, Where Did All the Good Times Go the following year. He was growing up and his voice wasn’t the pre-pubescent squeak with which he had first found fame.

He had more luck in his duets with sister Marie in 1974 , with I’m Leaving It (All) Up to You reaching number two. Marie’s presence renewed interest up to a point, but the sight of siblings singing love songs while looking deep into each other’s eyes proved too much for many. In 1976 they began hosting their own variety show, The Donny & Marie Show, which ran until 1979.

The 80s weren’t a great time for Donny’s music. He and his brothers were considered desperately unhip, and his audience dwindled, although he did return to the charts briefly here in 1988 with Soldier of Love.

In the 90s Donny guested on an album by Dweezil Zappa and performed music for animated films including Disney’s Mulan in 1998. From there he began to record more solo work, inbetween appearances on reality shows like Dancing with the Stars, voiceover work and Vegas appearances with Marie. He even returned to the UK top 10 for the first time in 31 years in 2004 with Breeze On By, co-written by Gary Barlow. His most recent album The Soundtrack of My Life, went into the top 20 in 2014. Donny has kept a loyal following since the 70s, of women who look back fondly on their young love for the boy wonder.

Written by: Ric Cartey & Carole Joyner

Producers: Mike Curb & Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 4 (25 August-21 September)

Births:

Athlete Darren Campbell – 12 September
Racing cyclist Jason MacIntyre – 20 September

Deaths:

Actor Stringer Davis – 29 August
Writer JRR Tolkien – 2 September
Composer William Henry Harris – 6 September
Anthropologist EE EVans-Pritchard – 11 September
Welsh scholar CH Dodd – 21 September

Meanwhile…

8 September: The Provisional IRA detonated bombs in Manchester and Victoria Station in London, with injuries obtained.

10 September: Further IRA bombs at King’s Cross and Euston railway stations in London injured 13. 

12 September: The terror campaign continued, with more bombs exploded in Oxford Street and Sloane Square.

335. Gary Glitter – I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!) (1973)

I’ve been dreading this ever since I started this blog. How to review the music of one of the, if not the first pop star to be effectively erased from modern times. Gary Glitter was one of the most popular glam rockers of the 70s, and through several comebacks in the 80s or 90s, was a national treasure (and yes, I thought he was great), until his ill-fated trip to PC World and the discovery of child pornography on his computer in 1997. He’s now rightly a figure of hate. At best, he’s ammunition for cheap jokes. His music is rarely heard anywhere, and made the headlines recently for its use in the Todd Haynes’ acclaimed Joker (2019). In the world of cancelled culture, musicians have mostly escaped unscathed. I’ve already reviewed number 1s by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Chuck Berry. But Glitter is another matter.

Paul Francis Gadd was born 8 May 1944 in Banbury, Oxfordshire. His mother, a cleaner, raised him with the help of her mother. He never knew his father. Gadd was a troublesome child, and he was 10 when he and his brother were taken into local authority care. He would frequently run away and head for London, and he became determined he would one day be a star there.

In 1960, aged 15, Gadd released his first record with Decca Records under the name Paul Raven, Alone in the Night. It got him nowhere, but he did well performing in nightclubs in and around Soho. A year later, Raven signed with Parlophone and worked with future Beatles producer George Martin. A further two singles, Walk On Boy and Tower of Strength (a number 1 for Frankie Vaughan that year) also tanked.

Fast-forward to 1964 and Raven was struggling, serving as the warm-up man on ITV’s Ready Steady Go!. He was also wearing a wig, as he had gone bald at 18. Raven starred in TV adverts and auditioned for films, and around this time he first met producer Mike Leander. In early 1965 he joined The Mike Leander Show Band, and soon was helping as a deputy on some of Leander’s production sessions. When the band split, Raven helped form Boston International and toured the UK and Germany. Several singles were also released, sometimes under the name Paul Monday, including a cover of Here Comes the Sun.

Raven must have felt fame would never be his, until he watched on from the sidelines as glam rock began to rise thanks to T. Rex. He searched for a new name. Working backward through the alphabet, he tried to find an alliterative name… Vicky Vomit, Terry Tinsel and Stanley Sparkle were among those considered, before he settled on Gary Glitter.

Glitter and Leander went into the studio and worked on a 15-minute jam session that was to finally catapult him into stardom. Splitting the jam into Rock and Roll, Parts 1 and 2 became Glitter’s first single release in 1972, reaching number two in the UK. With a stomping, deep beat, filthy guitar sound and echoey, double-tracked vocals to hide a poor singing voice, the trademark Glitter sound was there from the start. Rock and Roll, Part 1 paid tribute to the music of Glitter’s past, but Rock and Roll, Part 2 was most popular worldwide. It was instrumental, save for Glitter’s ‘Hey’. This was his only US hit and became used extensively in sport there, where it became known as ‘The Hey Song’. It was also the version in Joker, and in 1988, was reworked by Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond, aka, The KLF, aka in this instance The Timelords, as Doctorin’ the Tardis, where it shot to number 1 and gave Glitter his umpteenth comeback.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. With his flamboyant outfits, bouffant wigs and demented stare, Glitter became an instant glam icon, who loved to mythologise himself in a string of hit singles. After years of missing out, his simple, direct glam rock was a case of right place, right time. Debut album Glitter went top 10, and another track from it, I Didn’t Know I Loved You (Till I Saw You Rock and Roll) reached number four.

After the success of Rock and Roll, Parts 1 and 2, Glitter and Leander knew they would need a regular backing band for live shows. The Boston Showband became known as The Glittermen and soon after settled on The Glitter Band. The group consisted of John Rossall (trombone and musical director), Gerry Shephard (lead guitar and vocals), Pete Phipps (drums and keyboards), Tony Leonard (drums), John Springate (bass and vocals), and Harvey Ellison (saxophone).

In 1973, Glitter came ever closer to the top spot, with two singles from Touch Me, Do You Wanna Touch Me and Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again reaching number two. Rossall and Ellison took part in the sessions for Touch Me, but the rest of the instruments were once again Glitter and Leander. However, it seems more likely to have been purely Leander, as it was Glitter who claimed he helped, and who can believe a thing he says?).

I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!) became the first of three number 1s for Glitter, and, until he was uncovered as a paedophile, one of his most enduring anthems and giving him the nickname ‘the Leader’.

So here I am listening to Gary Glitter songs in full for the first time in over 20 years. It’s a weird experience to say the least. When the Michael Jackson documentary Leaving Neverland was shown last year, I wondered if I could ever listen to his music again, but I have done, from time to time. When it came to listening to Glitter, I did it in an empty house, with earphones, with a sense of shame and a feeling of being complicit in something terrible.

And yet I had a strange feeling of nostalgia listening to I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!). I loved it as a boy, the slow ‘Come on! Come on!’ stomp building in speed and power, and I also liked Glitter, despite being scared by his manic staring. I like Leander’s production on Glitter’s hits and it’s a shame his work has also been wiped from public consciousness – I don’t know if it’s the associations Glitter’s discography now has, but there’s an uneasy, eerie feeling to these songs… I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s a unique, exciting sound.

However, any sentiment I might have felt about this number 1 vanished after I heard Glitter laugh after singing ‘I’m the man who put the bang in gang!’. It disgusted me, brought me to my senses and also made me think I’ve found the reasons Glitter is reviled so much and his work will never be reappraised. Most of the lyrics at best sound seedy, at worst, boastful of his behaviour, like barely hidden clues, as if daring us to find him out. He’s never shown the remotest bit of remorse for his crimes. There’s footage of him on YouTube, leering and winking and mock-shushing people for hinting at his love of schoolchildren on This Is Your Life. He was a fake in his public and private life. A fat, bald pervert, pretending to be a children’s hero. His music would have to be incredible to make you forget all this and enjoy it at all. It isn’t.

Written by: Garry Glitter & Mike Leander

Producer: Mike Leander

Weeks at number 1: 4 (28 July-24 August)

Births:

Terrorist Richard Reid – 12 August
Northern Irish radio presenter Stephen Nolan – 20 August

Deaths:

Race car driver Roger Williamson – 29 July
Actor James Beck – 6 August
Motorcycle designer Edward Turner – 15 August
Labour Party MP George Benson – 17 August
Prime Minister of Northern Ireland Basil Brooke, 1st Viscount Brookeborough – 18 August

Meanwhile…

30 July: 18 coalminers were killed in the Markham Colliery disaster near stately, Derbyshire when the brake mechanism on their cage failed.
Also that day, £20,000,000 was paid to victims of the Thalidomide scandal following a court case that had run for 11 years.

31 July: Militant protesters of Ian Paisley disrupted the first sitting of the Northern Ireland Assembly.

8 August: Stoke City and England goalkeeper Gordon Banks announced his retirement from football. He had lost sight in one eye in a car crash in October 1972.

20 August: Len Shipman, president of the Football League, called for the government to bring back the birch to deal with the rise of football hooligans.

21 August: The coroner in the inquest into Bloody Sunday accused the British army of ‘sheer unadulterated murder’ following the jury’s open verdict.

334. Peters and Lee – Welcome Home (1973)

Take Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts’ blind uncle and a Yorkshire actress and what have you got? You’ve got folk, pop and TV stars Peters and Lee, light entertainment mainstays of the 70s, who reached number 1 with this easy listening tune, most famous these days for its use in a long-running crisp advert campaign with ex-footballer Gary Lineker.

Lennie Peters, AKA Leonard George Sargent, was born 22 November 1931 in London. At the age of five he was knocked down by a car and as a result was blinded in his left eye. In a bizarre, surreal, even blackly comic turn of events, when he was 16, he was blinded in his right eye too. While sunbathing, louts began throwing stones. After admonishing them, Peters returned to relaxing, until one threw a brick that hit his face. Two operations later, the sight in his right eye was restored. However, the night before he was due to be discharged, Peters noticed the man in the bed next to him was about to fall and hit the floor. He rushed over to save him, and in doing so, the sudden strain detached the retina from his recovering right eye. He remained blind for the rest of his life. There’s bad luck, and then there’s Lennie Peters.

Peters had considered becoming a prizefighter, but following his incident, he became more immersed in music. He began singing and playing the piano in the pubs of Islington, and signed with Oriole, releasing several singles. Peters began to get noticed, appearing on BBC radio and television, and in 1966 he signed with Pye and released his version of Stranger in Paradise, a number 1 for Dean Martin in 1955. During the time he was often on the gruelling northern club circuit in 1970, he met Diane Lee.

Lee, born Dianne Littlehales in February 1949, was brought up in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. She had wanted to be a ballet dancer and moved to London to achieve fame, but was instead performing as part of a duo with her cousin Liz. Peters and Lee decided to team up, with Lee performing backing vocals. They made their debut during a Rolf Harris live show in April, originally calling themselves Lennie Peters and Melody.

1973 was to be their year. After seven winning performances on ITV’s talent series Opportunity Knocks, they released their debut single, Welcome Home on Philips Records.

Originally written by Jean Alphonse Dupre and Stanislas Beldone in French, with English lyrics courtesy of Bryan Blackburn, Welcome Home is a simple, old-fashioned but pretty likeable slab of MOR pop. A man is missing his love and imagining what it’ll be like when she returns. From the word ‘someday’ in there, I’ll wager she’s not actually ever going to return, and Peters is hoping against hope.

The verses are boring, but the chorus is a classic punch-the-air moment. ‘Come on in and close the door’ seems slightly silly though. You’ve waited who knows how long for your lover to return, and all you can do is complain it’s a bit drafty? No wonder she left…. Joking aside, I’ve been running a mile from these type of songs of late, but I can’t help but enjoy this. It’s interesting to see how Lee barely gets a look-in though, you don’t even hear her at first. It’s all about Peters.

Not only did Peters and Lee get to number 1 with their debut single, but their LP We Can Make It went to the top of the album charts in the same week, making them the first act since The Beatles to do so. They topped the bill that year at the Royal Variety Performance. Further hits followed, most notably Don’t Stay Away Too Long in 1974 (number three).

The mid-70s were a busy time for the duo on TV, with appearances on The Des O’Connor Show and The Golden Shot to name but two and in 1976 came their own show, Meet Peters & Lee. But the writing was on the wall and they released their farewell album, called, er, The Farewell Album, in 1980.

While Lee went into acting, Peters returned to a solo career, but only one LP followed – Unforgettable, in 1981. He also briefly appeared as a criminal in 1984 crime film The Hit. Two years later they reunited and released Familiar Feelings as a single. Two more albums followed, Peters and Lee in 1989 and Through All the Years in 1992, but Peters succumbed to bone cancer on 10 October that year, aged 60.

Lee went on to marry Rick Price from Wizzard and she released solo album Chemistry in 1994. She and her husband are still touring, performing old and new material.

In 1995 Walkers Crisps used Welcome Home in an ad campaign with football hero Lineker, fresh from playing in Japan. It was so successful, he starred in many more, and the company even changed their salt and vinegar flavour to ‘Salt and Lineker’.

It’s also worth noting that this was producer Johnny Franz’s 10th and last number 1. Franz, known as the ‘last of the great pros’, was one of the biggest producers of the 50s and 60s. His first number 1 was Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party in 1954. It had been seven years since his ninth, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Dusty Springfield in 1966. He also helped his close friend Scott Walker when he first went solo in the late 60s. Franz died of a heart attack in 1977, aged 54.

Written by: Jean Alphonse Dupre and Stanislas Beldone/Bryan Blackburn (English lyrics)

Producer: Johnny Franz

Orchestra directed by: Peter Knight

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 July)

Births:

Travis singer Fran Healy – 23 July
Actress Kate Beckinsale – 26 July

Meanwhile…

26 July: Parliamentary by-elections at the Isle of Ely and Ripon resulted in both seats being gained from the Conservatives by the Liberal Party candidates – media personality Clement Freud and David Austick respectively.

333. Slade – Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me (1973)

Those number 1s just kept on coming for Slade in 1973. Fresh off the success of Cum On Feel the Noize, this was their second chart-topper in a row to go straight in at pole position – a rare feat, unsurpassed for over 20 years.

Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me was recorded by the band at A&M Studios in Los Angeles. Bassist Jim Lea had been inspired to write the call-and-response chorus after visiting the Trumpet pub in Bilston, Wolverhampton, where local pianist Reg Kierle was performing.

Earlier in 1973, the flamboyant Dave Hill debuted his ‘Superyob’ custom-built spaceship-styled guitar, and it’s this you can hear, triple-tracked, in the intro.

Unfortunately, Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me is a bit mediocre, especially compared to Slade’s other number 1s. It’s better than Take Me Bak ‘Ome, but that’s lukewarm praise. The chorus gets very repetitive, and for once, Noddy Holder’s vocal is veering into irritating territory. The lyrics are a bit iffy, too: ‘And I thought you might like to know/When a girl’s meaning yes she says no”. That wouldn’t get through in 2020, that’s for sure. But the reference to their female fans not knowing how to spell is a nice sly dig at those critics who hated Slade misspelling their song titles.

To be fair to the Black Country boys, they must have known this particular well was running dry, as this was the last single with a critic-baiting title, and next single My Friend Stan saw Slade take a new tack.

But on 4 July, during Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me‘s first of three weeks at number 1, Slade nearly lost drummer Don Powell. A car crash left him in a coma and his girlfriend, 20-year-old Angela Morris, dead. Instead of celebrating, the future of Slade hung in the balance.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 June-20 July)

Births:

Comedian Peter Kay – 2 July
Actress Emma Cunniffe – 3 July
Golfer Bradley Dredge – 6 July

Deaths:

Soldier Charles Ernest Garforth – 1 July
Cricketer Wilfred Rhodes – 8 July
Scottish soldier John Brown Hamilton – 18 July
Actor Jack Hawkins – 18 July

Meanwhile…

1 July: The British Library was established by the merger of the British Museum Library in London with the National Lending Library for Science and Technology at Boston Spa, West Yorkshire.

6 July: The James Bond movie Live and Let Die was released in British cinemas, with the spy being played by 45-year-old Roger Moore for the first time. I’m no big Bond fan, but Moore would always be my favourite.

10 July: The Bahamas gained full independence within the Commonwealth.

331. Suzi Quatro – Can the Can (1973)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written & produced by: Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn

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

Deaths:

Actor Roger Delgado – 18 June

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown

Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell

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

Births:

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

Deaths:

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

Meanwhile…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Despite being one of the UK’s biggest stars of the early-70s, Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan is probably most famous these days for this song, in which Top of the Pops dancers Pan’s People took the lyrics literally and paraded around in front of a load of dogs (see the clip below). But to be fair, the alternative interpretation wouldn’t have been great either…

Get Down was the first single from O’Sullivan’s third album I’m a Writer, Not a Fighter. Keen for another image change, this LP saw O’Sullivan dabbling his toes in rock and funk and using keyboards rather than the piano. The track had originally been a warm-up tune before he decided to flesh it out for his new album.

Get Down is a very different beast to O’Sullivan’s previous best-seller and ode to a little girl, Clair, but is problematic for a different reason. Either we take Get Down literally and it’s a bit of froth about his dog, or he’s talking down to a woman in a very derogatory way:

‘Told you once before
And I won’t tell you no more
Get down, get down, get down
You’re a bad dog, baby
But I still want you around’

So what were Pan’s People to do with this, to be fair? Dress up as an sexist-at-best, abusive-at-worst husband who treats his wife like crap? That would have made for an interesting dance.

And then the middle eight, other than a cat reference, seems to come from another song, where O’Sullivan mentions how he once said some wine and felt happy. Well, great, Gilbert.

Get Down is certainly better than Clair, and can get under your skin if you’re not careful, but it’s nothing more than a throwaway really. I do struggle to get the appeal of O’Sullivan’s whimsy, based on what I’ve heard.

He continued to have hits, though not to the same degree, scraping into the top 20 with follow-up Ooh Baby. Most successful was Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, released in November 1973, which went on to reach number six. His shot at the festive number 1 spot, Christmas Song, performed respectably too, reaching 12 in 1974. But I Don’t Love You But I Think I Love You the following May was his last hit of the 70s.

The main reason for this was the fact O’Sullivan became embroiled in a long and painful court case with his producer and manager Gordon Mills over royalties. Which must have made performing Clair a bit awkward (the girl in question was Mills’s daughter) to say the least. He left MAM Records after 1977 album Southpaw and returned to CBS

The 80s began promisingly, with What’s In a Kiss? returning him to the top 20. More importantly, in 1982 the court finally ruled in O’Sullivan’s favour, awarding him £7 million in damages. He mostly kept a low profile for the rest of the decade, releasing little in the way of new material.

He was back in court again in 1991, and was the victor once more, in a case against rapper Biz Markie over sampling rights for the song that shot him to fame in the 70s, Alone Again (Naturally). This case was partly responsible for sampling becoming so expensive afterwards.

O’Sullivan became more prolific as the 90s progressed and into the 21st century, releasing albums and compilations with witty names like Singer Sowing Machine (1997) and The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan (2004). In 2008 he performed at Glastonbury festival, and in 2011 BBC Four showed Out On His Own, a documentary devoted to him. His 19th, eponymous album released in 2018 is his latest to date.

Written by: Gilbert O’Sullivan

Producer: Gordon Mills

Music director: Laurie Holliday

Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 April)

Meanwhile…

17 April: British Leyland launched the Austin Allegro.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Jerry Livingston & Paul Francis Webster

Producers: Mike Curb & Don Costa

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

Births:

Actor Jamie Bamber – 3 April

Meanwhile…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

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

Births:

Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt – 4 March

Deaths:

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

Meanwhile…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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