300. Dawn – Knock Three Times (1971)

Back in the days before Tinder, US pop singer Tony Orlando of Dawn had a novel approach to dating. He proposed a system where, if the girl was game, all they had to do was knock three times on his ceiling. If they found his methods a little intense and sinister, they were to hit their pipe twice and he’d hopefully leave them alone, and not follow this up with a note attached to one of his vital organs. At least, I think that’s the message we should take from the first of this pop singer’s two number 1s.

Orlando was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis on 3 April 1944 in New York City. The son of a Greek father and Puerto Rican mother, he spent his childhood in Hell’s Kitchen before they moved to New Jersey.

In 1959 at the age of 15 he formed doo-wop group The Five Gents. The demo tapes they recorded got the interest of Don Kirshner, who hired Cassavitis to write songs in a building across from New York’s Brill Building, with other future big names including Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka. He also began recording as Tony Orlando, and was only 16 when he had his first charting song in 1961, Halfway to Paradise, which did much better in the UK when it was covered by Billy Fury, reaching number three that year too.

Orlando would score a few more minor hits before Kirshner sold his company to Screen Gems. In 1967, the same year Kirshner’s new project The Monkees became a phenomenon, Orlando was hired by Clive Davis to work for Columbia Records, heading up subsidiary April-Blackwood Music. By the end of the 60s Orlando was vice president of CBS, where he signed co-wrote and produced Barry Manilow, and worked with artists including The Grateful Dead.

In 1970 Orlando found himself tempted back to singing when producers Hank Medress and Dave Appell were working on a track called Candida. Blues singer Frankie Paris had tried, but the producers wanted a more ‘ethnic’ feel, and contacted Orlando to help them out. The backing vocals had already been laid down by the song’s co-writer Toni Wine (who sang on Sugar Sugar) and Jay Siegel. Orlando was reluctant, as he was doing perfectly fine in his job and working for Bell Records probably wouldn’t go down well. Medress reassured him they wouldn’t use his name, and he relented. He was glad he did, as Candida, by Dawn, became a hit worldwide, and number 1 in several countries.

Medress and Appell were understandably keen to repeat the formula, and had a song written by Irwin Levine and L Russell Brown. Inspired by Up on the Roof, they cooked up this tale of a man in love with the woman living in the apartment directly below him. Afraid to be direct, he wants her to let him know either way by banging instead. Wine was back on backing vocals, alongside Linda November, who sang the famous Miaow Mix TV advert.

If it wasn’t for the weird lyrics, Knock Three Times wouldn’t make an impression at all. It’s an old-fashioned lightweight pop cheesefest, but the singer’s obsession gives it a sinister edge, at least, to a cynic like me.

It would appear Orlando has fallen for this woman after laying on the ground and listening to her dancing to music alone night after night, ‘One floor below me, you don’t even know me’… And yet he expects her to be interested in him? How does that work? By hitting her ceiling three times, apparently. The weirdest lines are ‘If you look out your window tonight/Pull in the string with the note that’s attached to my heart’.

It may be cheap to take these words so literally, but if I didn’t, I’d have hardly anything to say about Knock Three Times at all. I think there’s a cowbell in there, which is always nice I guess. Orlando’s vocal is far too serious and snarky for such a silly song. The Vic Reeves version from Shooting Stars, here, is pretty special though.

Nevertheless, it was even bigger than Candida, reaching number 1 in the US and UK. Orlando decided to quit the day job and go on tour, so he needed a permanent duo of singers to work with. Enter Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent, who had previously sang on Freda Payne’s Band of Gold. Upon learning there were six group touring under the name Dawn, they became Dawn featuring Tony Orlando.

Written by: Irwin Levine & L Russell Brown

Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 May-18 June)

Births:

Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – 23 May
Actor Paul Bettany – 27 May
Footballer Lee Sharpe – 27 May
Journalist Richard Gunn – 28 May
Conservative MP Julian Sturdy – 3 June
Northern Irish actress Susan Lynch – 5 June

Deaths:

Theatre director Sir Tyone Guthrie – 15 May

Meanwhile…

20 May: 1970 FA Cup winners Chelsea won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with a 2–1 win over Spain’s Real Madrid in Athens, Greece.

23 May: Jackie Stewart won the Monaco Grand Prix.

7 June: Long-running children’s show Blue Peter buried a time capsule in the grounds of BBC Television Centre, which was due to be opened on the first episode of the year 2000.

14 June: The first Hard Rock Cafe opened near Hyde Park Corner in London.
Also on this day, Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher became known as ‘Thatcher Thatcher milk snatcher’ when her proposals to end free school milk for children aged over seven years were backed by a majority of 33 MPs.

15 June: Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into liquidation.

75. Connie Francis – Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid (1958)

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Thanks to Who’s Sorry Now? Connie Francis had become a star. MGM changed their minds and offered her a new contract. The problem now was, how do you follow it up? Her next two singles, I’m Sorry I Made You Cry and Heartaches, sank without trace. Francis needed another track that would appeal to both young and old listeners. As luck would have it, she got one of each.

Yet again, her father suggested wisely when he picked Carolina Moon. Like Who’s Sorry Now? it was an oldie. It had been written by Joe Burke and Benny Davis in 1924, and was a hit for Gene Austin four years later. Both songwriters were responsible for a number of famous tunes – Joe Burke came up with Tiptoe Through the Tulips and Davis wrote Baby Face with Harry Akst.

Carolina Moon is a sweet, wistful ballad, tenderly sang by Francis. She’s missing her love and is hoping the moon will find him and tell him she’s ‘blue and lonely’. They can’t have had a decent postal service near Francis, I guess. Crap joke aside, it’s a good showcase for the singer, and the plaintive harmonica solo is a highlight. On it’s own though, I doubt it would have reached number 1. Luckily for Francis, her luck turned once more.

Howard Greenfield and Neil Sedaka were still in their teens and struggling to get their foot in the door of the world of songwriting. Eventually they wound up at the office of Aldon Music, a new company formed by producers Don Kirshner and Al Nevins. I say office… by all accounts the tiny room was a piano, two desks and lots of boxes as they had only just moved in. Nonetheless, Kirshner was impressed (Nevins less so), and he contacted Francis to say the boys could help her out.

Kirshner, Greenfield and Sedaka were surprised to see Francis was still living in humble surroundings, in a small house with no carpet. They played ballad after ballad to her and Bobby Darin (the singer had started in music as Francis’s songwriter). She later recalled in an interview for DISCoveries Magazine that hours later, after Kirshner had left, she said, ‘Look, fellas. I hate to tell you this and don’t get me wrong, your music is beautiful, but it’s too educated. The kids don’t dig this kinda stuff anymore. You guys are putting me to sleep. Don’t you have something a little more lively?’ Greenfield told Sedaka to play a sample of a new song they had written for the Shepherd Sisters. Sedaka was horrified. He considered Francis way too classy to even suggest such a thought. He relented, played her Stupid Cupid, and finally Francis, Kirshner, Greenfield and Sedaka got what they looking for. A big hit.

Stupid Cupid was inspired. Sedaka might not have thought it was classy, but music didn’t need to be anymore. It had witty lyrics, a memorable tune and great production from Morty Kraft. The bass player remains unknown but whoever it was, their work is considered some of the best in rock’n’roll up to that point. The guitar twang every time Francis reaches ‘Stupid Cupid, stop picking on me’ is clever or annoying depending on your mood, but the way Francis sings that line is perfect. She certainly had a knack of owning the songs she worked on

Spending six weeks at number 1, Carolina Moon/Stupid Cupid finally established Francis, and although she never reached the top again, the hits continued. Lipstick on Your Collar is still considered a 50s classic.

She continued her winning ways around the world for years to come, and had further number 1 success in the US into the 60s, but the 70s were tough on the singer. She was raped and nearly suffocated in a motel in 1974. The attacker was never found, and Francis became reclusive and addicted to medication. In 1977 she completely lost her voice following surgery. When it returned, she had to learn to sing all over again. She began performing again, but in 1981 her brother was murdered by Mafia hitmen, and she was diagnosed with manic depression before being committed to 17 different hospitals.

Having led such a rollercoaster life, she decided to put pen to paper. Francis released her autobiography, Who’s Sorry Now? in 1984, and it became a bestseller. Despite her tribulations she is remembered as one of the biggest stars during a time that was mainly male-dominated. Greenfield and Sedaka of course became very successful, and Sedaka later a star in his own right, and Kirshner earned himself the nickname ‘The Man with the Golden Ear’, managing, among others, The Monkees, before they broke free.

Written by:
Carolina Moon: Joe Burke & Benny Davis/Stupid Cupid: Howard Greenfield & Neil Sedaka

Producers: Connie Francis/Leroy Holmes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (26 September-6 November)

Births:

Novelist Irvine Welsh – 27 September
Musician Thomas Dolby – 14 October
Duran Duran singer Simon Le Bon – 27 October 

Deaths:

Birth control advocate Marie Stopes – 2 October
Cricketer Charlie Townsend – 17 October
Philosopher GE Moore – 24 October
Physicist Stephen Butterworth – 28 October 

Meanwhile…

1 October: The sovereignty of Christmas Island is transferred from the UK to Australia.

11 October: The start of BBC sports programme Grandstand, which lasted until 2007.

16 October: Legendary BBC children’s TV series Blue Peter began, which continues to this day.

21 October: The first women take to their seats in the House of Lords.

28 October: The State Opening of Parliament was broadcast on TV for the first time.