308. The New Seekers – I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony) (1972)

The first new number 1 of 1972 was the first time a song was a mammoth hit because of its association with a TV advert. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames topped the charts in 1966 with Get Away, which was used in a commercial for petrol, but I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony), used by Coca-Cola, is probably the most famous example of all, and the one that opened ad men’s eyes to the idea of how much money could be made this way.

It all began in Ireland a year previous. Bill Backer was the creative director for the McCann Erickson advertising agency in the US. Backer was supposed to be meeting songwriter Billy Davis in London to discuss new radio jingles for the soft drink giant. Davis had written several brilliant hits for soul star Jackie Wilson, including Reet Petite (1986 Christmas number 1) and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher and he had then moved into the lucrative advertising world. Davis was to be joined by British hitmakers Roger Cook and Peter Greenaway.

London fog had caused Backer’s plane to land in Shannon, Ireland instead. Understandably, Backer noticed how angry some of the passengers were at being forced to stay there overnight until the fog lifted. But the following day, he noted many of those people were sat laughing and joking, many drinking from bottles of Coke. An idea began to form.

When he met with the others in London, Backer told them of his idea of ‘buying the world a Coke’. Davis wasn’t bowled over, saying if he had his way he’d buy everyone a house and give peace and love to all first. Backer told him to start writing and he’d show him how his concept could fit in with it. Together with Cook and Greenaway, who let them use the tune of a single they wrote for Susan Shirley called Mom, True Love and Apple Pie, they came up with ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’. A month later the jingles were released to US radio, and did so well, Davis’s DJ friends told him he should consider a single version.

Meanwhile, Backer was busy coming up with one of the most famous adverts of all time. So famous, it inspired the ending of one of the best US drama series of the past decade (I won’t say which, just in case you’re still watching it). Filming began on the white cliffs of Dover, but constant rain moved the shoot to Rome instead, where eventually 500 young people were assembled to lip sync to the catchy jingle. The epic advert, which you can see here, hit TV screens that July. It was huge.

Davis wanted The New Seekers to record a rewritten single version, but their manager said they were too busy, and so instead he arranged for session singers to record it, and christened them The Hillside Singers. The new version dropped all references to Coke, including their ‘It’s the real thing’ slogan. With the single climbing the charts, suddenly The New Seekers found themselves available.

Ironically, much like ‘New Coke’ in the 80s, London-based pop act The New Seekers had little connection to the Australian folk group The Seekers, who had achieved two UK number 1s in the 60s. They had split in 1968, and one of the quartet, Keith Potger, decided to use the name to give his new group, who he managed, a leg-up. Formed in 1969, they originally consisted of Laurie Heath, Chris Barrington, Marty Kristian, Eve Graham and Young Generation member Sally Graham (no relation).

The first album made no impact, so Potger shuffled the line-up around, adding himself, Lyn Paul, Peter Doyle and Paul Layton and removing Heath, Barrington and Sally Graham. Despite some US success, they continued to struggle in the UK until June 1971 when their cover of Delaney & Bonnie’s Never Ending Song of Love spent five weeks at number two. The reworking of the Coke jingle could be a great way to keep the ball rolling.

There’s no denying the infectious quality of Cook and Greenaway’s tune – so much so that expert pilferer Noel Gallagher adopted it for one of my favourite Oasis singles, Shakermaker. And obviously, the message of the Coke advert really struck a chord with America in particular, a country desperately in need of peace, love and unity as the war in Vietnam raged on (one has to wonder if ad companies are working on a similar thing during the coronavirus pandemic). But as a standalone single, it’s too twee and lightweight to deserve the mammoth sales it enjoyed. It sounds more like a Eurovision single circa 1968, playing catch-up with the hippy idealism of the time.

Nonetheless it established The New Seekers, who had a second number 1 in 1973. And Coca-Cola had another associated number 1 in the UK – the earnest power ballad First Time, by Robin Beck, in 1988.

Written by: Bill Backer, Bill Davis, Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway

Producer: Al Ham

Weeks at number 1: 4 (8 January-5 February)

Births:
Conservative MP Gavin Barwell – 23 January
Take That singer Mark Owen – 27 January

Meanwhile…

9 January: The National Union of Mineworkers held a strike ballot in which 58.8% voted in favour of industrial action. Coal miners began a strike which lasted for seven weeks. It was the first time they had been on strike officially since 1926, but more action would take place in the 70s.

20 January: Unemployment exceeded the 1,000,000 mark for the first time since the 30s – almost double the 582,000 who were unemployed when Edward Heath rose to to power less than two years previous – but that’s the Tories for you.

30 January: Bloody Sunday. After several years of growing tension in Northern Ireland, the most infamous incident of the Troubles took place when 14 Roman Catholic civil rights protestors were gunned down by British paratroopers in Londonderry. A further 14 were injured.

2 February: In retaliation for Bloody Sunday, protesters burned down the British Embassy in Dublin. 

3–13 February: And yet Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed as one team at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. But they didn’t win any medals. 

242. Georgie Fame – The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde (1968)

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What a strange year of number 1s we have lined up for 1968. We have the good, the bad, and even The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

The Beatles were still at number 1 for most of January with their Christmas chart-topper, Hello, Goodbye, before finally running out of steam. They were replaced by Lancashire-born jazz cat Georgie Fame and his third and last number 1, The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde.

Before hearing this track I assumed it would be taken from the soundtrack to the 1967 movie Bonnie and Clyde, starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. I was wrong, but that didn’t surprise me, as not only have I never seen the film, I don’t actually know much about the subject matter either.

Arthur Penn’s multi-Academy Award-winning landmark crime biography detailed the rise and fall of Bonnie Parker and Clyde Burrow. In the Great Depression of the 30s, the duo captured the imagination of the US on a two-year crime spree. Although the romantic image of the duo as Robin Hood-style characters has endured, the reality is their many bungled robberies resulted in innocent people being killed. The movie is considered one of the first films of the New Hollywood era, prompting more filmmakers to show sex and violence in their work. At the time, the duo’s death was considered a truly shocking end to a Hollywood movie.

Songwriters Mitch Murray (the man behind both Gerry and the Pacemakers number 1s – How Do You Do It? and I Like It) and Peter Callander saw the film and felt inspired to write a 30s-style jazz spoof telling the tale of the duo. Georgie Fame, who had enjoyed two number 1s with The Blue Flames (Yeh Yeh and Get Away) was the perfect artist to record their new track.

Since Get Away topped the charts, the band had enjoyed two further top 20 hits with Sunny and Sitting in the Park. They released one more album, Sweet Thing in 1966, before Fame chose to sign with CBS Records and go solo. The Blue Flames disbanded, and drummer Mitch Mitchell became a third of The Jimi Hendrix Experience soon after. Fame released his first solo album Sound Venture later that year. His first two solo singles failed to chart, but The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, released in 1967, became number 1, and was his only top ten hit in the US.

This quirky, rickety little track certainly gets 1968 off to a weird start. It may not have been in the film, but without it, there’s no way Fame would have outsold The Beatles. It’s not without its charm, and I always enjoy a Georgie Fame vocal, but by reducing the story of Bonnie and Clyde to a bit of fun, it’s nothing more than a throwaway novelty track.

It’s quite a sparse recording, featuring mainly Fame and a banjo, but there’s some brass too, plus sound affects, including the sound of gunfire as it reaches its climax. I think we’re supposed to go ‘Awww!’ when Fame sings ‘Bonnie and Clyde/They lived a lot together/And finally together/They died’, which is going a bit easy on bankrobbing murderers really. I’m now trying to imagine other inappropriate tunes, such as The Ballad of Fred and Rose West, or Peter Sutcliffe’s Sad Sad Song.

Fame’s hits began to dry up soon after, but Somebody Stole My Thunder in 1970 is a strong shot of R’n’B. He formed a partnership with organist Alan Price, formerly of The Animals, and they had a hit with Rosetta in 1971, but they split two years later. Much of the early 70s was spent writing jingles for television and radio, and making the soundtrack for the Till Death Us Do Part big-screen spin-off, The Alf Garnett Saga (1972). In 1974 he reformed The Blue Flames, but by the 80s he was back in the advert industry.

In 1989 he began working with cantankerous Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison as his producer and performing in his live band, as well as recording their collaborative LP, How Long Has This Been Going On in 1996. This partnership lasted until 1998, with occasional work together ever since.

Fame suffered tragedy in 1993 when his wife, Nicolette Powell, jumped off the Clifton Suspension Bridge to her death. They had married in 1972 after having a baby while she was still married to Alistair Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 9th Marquess of Londonderry. When tests proved the baby was theirs, the Marchioness had divorced him for Fame. Suffering from depression, Powell had left a suicide note in which she said she had no purpose in life now their children had grown up.

In 1998 Fame also became a founding member of former Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings, with whom he worked for a couple of years before going it alone again. He has released albums ever since and has performed at Glastonbury Festival. His live band sometimes includes his two sons Tristan and James. What a shame Nicolette didn’t live to enjoy their performances.

Written by: Mitch Murray & Peter Callander

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 January)

Births:

Journalist Matthew d’Ancona – 27 January
Rapper Tricky – 27 January

Deaths:

Spymaster Maxwell Knight – 27 January