306. Slade – Coz I Luv You (1971)

“Get down and get with it!” Wolverhampton glam rockers Slade are one of the most fondly remembered bands of the 70s. Six number 1s between 1971-73, 17 consecutive top 20 singles, and according to The British Hit Singles & Albums, they were the most successful British group of the decade for singles sales. And I’m only just getting round to mentioning Merry Xmas Everybody, which I picked as the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time here.

All four members of Slade grew up in the Black Country area of the West Midlands. In 1964, drummer Don Powell, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was in a band with Dave Hill (born in Devon) called The Vendors. Meanwhile, Walsall’s Noddy Holder was guitarist and occasional singer with Steve Brett & the Mavericks. who released three records on Columbia in 1965.

The Vendors became The ‘N Betweens and gained momentum, supporting The Hollies and The Yardbirds, among others. Meeting on a ferry on the way to separate gigs in Germany, Powell and Hill tried to persuade Holder to join The ‘N Betweens, but he declined. Once they were all back home though, Holder changed his mind and became their lead singer. They had recently recruited multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea on bass, too.

By 1966 The ‘N Betweens had moved on from blues to a more R’n’B sound. They released their first single, a cover of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run, in 1966, produced by Kim Fowley, arranger of Nut Rocker.

They didn’t return to a studio for a few years, but in 1967, with flower power at its peak, Holder worked on an unnamed song with a chorus that went: ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Six years later it became Merry Xmas Everybody.

A local promoter alerted the band to Jack Baverstock, head of A&R at Philips. After spending a week recording their debut album Beginnings in the label’s studio, he offered them a deal with Fontana Records – if they changed their name. Despite misgivings, they became Ambrose Slade, inspired by Baverstock’s secretary, who had named her handbag ‘Ambrose’ and her shoes ‘Slade’… as you do…

Beginnings and instrumental single Genesis sank, but on the plus side, they found a new manager in Chas Chandler, former bassist with The Animals, who helped Jimi Hendrix rocket to fame. It didn’t mean instant success, but Chandler did set them on the right path, telling them they needed more original material and a new image. They adopted the skinhead look in an attempt to keep up with prevailing trends and as The Slade they released the single Wild Winds Are Blowing, which tanked.

A new decade, a new name: Slade. They featured on Top of the Pops in 1970 with their cover of Shape of Things to Come, but to no avail. They added lyrics to Genesis and reworked it as Know Who You Are, but neither that nor November’s LP, Play It Loud, got anywhere either.

Finally, their fortunes changed. In 1971 Chandler suggested they record one of their most popular live numbers. Their cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down with It (later covered by Little Richard) – retitled Get Down and Get with It, came out that May, and it climbed to number 18 in August. And for good reason, it’s an electrifying performance, particularly Holder’s raw vocal, and really captures an infectious, fun, live sound.

Slade were already growing their hair long once more when Chandler demanded they come up with a follow-up themselves. One evening Lea turned up at Holder’s house with his violin and an idea for a simple song, along the lines of T. Rex’s Hot Love, and half an hour later, they had written their first number 1.

They played Because I Love You acoustically to an enthusiastic Chandler the next day, who confidently predicted it would be their first chart-topper. He booked them into Olympic Studios in Barnes. Slade were less keen on its chances, thinking it too soft and poppy, until they were allowed to add foot-stomping to the rhythm. They also decided to change its title, and Holder came up with the idea to misspell it to fit in with their dialect. Thus, Coz I Luv You, the first of their songs littered with spelling errors, was born.

Coz I Luv You is a nice signpost to the full-on glam sound Slade would develop. It doesn’t have the immediate ‘wow’ factor of Hot Love or Get It On, but it’s a great introduction to what was to come. It’s interesting that they all thought it was too lightweight, and maybe the footstomping really did make the difference, but this track actually has a bit of a sinister edge to it, thanks to Holder’s vocal styling. Inadvertently or not, he makes ‘Don’t you change the things you do’ sound like a threat, and Lea’s violin at times adds to the slightly uneasy feeling.

Soon Slade developed their more raucous, straightforward take on Bolan’s glam rock. They were never bothered with maintaining a cool mystique like he was, and began to also be known for their ridiculous glam outfits, before going on to become national treasures. For now though, they were just a slightly weird rock band who had finally made the big time.

Coz I Luv You would later be covered by fellow Black Country musicians, indie band, The Wonder Stuff.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)

Births:

Olympic rower Cath Bishop – 22 November
Actress Emily Mortimer – 1 December
Triple jumper Ashia Hansen – 5 December

Deaths:

Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November

Meanwhile…

22 November: Five children and one adult die after becoming stranded for two nights in blizzards on the Cairngorm Plateau. It is still regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.

2 December: The Queen’s yearly allowance was increased from £475,000 to £980,000. I’m sure millions of republicans were very pleased for her.

4 December: The highest death toll from a single incident in The Troubles to date took place when 15 people were killed and 17 injured in the McGurk’s Bar bombing. The Ulster Volunteer Force are believed to have been behind the bombing.

302. T. Rex – Get It On (1971)

Moving fast to make the most of his long-awaited stardom, Marc Bolan returned to the studio to make a new T. Rex LP while Hot Love peaked at number 1 in March 1971. The result, Electric Warrior, is considered the first glam rock album.

Drummer Bill Fifield, who had made his debut on the last single, became a full-time band member and was renamed ‘Bill Legend’. This may have affected Bolan’s relationship with percussionist Mickey Finn, who apparently was hired more for his looks than musical ability in the first place. Although he contributed to Electric Warrior, he is absent from Get It On.

While in New York, Bolan asked Legend to work with him on drum patterns for a new song inspired by Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie. Returning to Trident Studios, Tony Visconti was back on production, and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan returned for backing vocal duty.

Two progressive rock musicians were also involved, with King Crimson’s Ian MacDonald providing baritone and alto saxophones, and Rick Wakeman on the piano. In 2010 he recalled on BBC Radio 2’s The Glory of Glam that he was desperate for work to pay his rent when he bumped into Bolan on Oxford Street, who offered him the session. When he turned up, Wakeman pointed out to Visconti the track didn’t need piano, and the producer suggested he did some glissandos. Wakeman noted Visconti could do that, and he replied ‘You want your rent, don’t you?’. Wakeman earned £9 for those little touches of sparkle.

Built around that formidable Berry riff, steeped in sexuality and with some brilliant lyrics, Get It On is the sound of an artist at the top of his game. Coming after the last two number 1s, it’s a blessed relief, and it might well be the ‘coolest’ chart-topper up to this point.

It’s less polished and not as weird as Hot Love, and not as raucous as a lot of the glam rock to come, including 20th Century Boy (my favourite T. Rex single), but it’s such a groove. Yes, the riff is stolen (and would be ripped off again by Oasis with Cigarettes & Alcohol), but Bolan makes it totally his own, albeit with a cheeky ad-lib of ‘And meanwhile, I’m still thinking’ from Little Queenie itself during the fade-out. He comes on to his ‘dirty and sweet’ girl with some startling comparisons, the best of which are ‘You’ve got the teeth/Of the Hydra upon you’ and ‘Well you’re built like a car/You’ve got a hubcap/Diamond star halo’ (Bolan was a big fan of cars).

For the hardcore Tyrannosaurus Rex fans who remained faithful, there’s also a ‘cloak full of eagles’. Not that there were many of those left – the more the teenagers flocked to T. Rex, the more they accused him of being a sell-out, and it was Get It On that finally turned John Peel off. He dared to criticise it on air, which finished their friendship. They only spoke once more before Bolan died.

Released on 2 July as a taster for Electric Warrior, it only took three weeks for Get It On to become the second of four T. Rex number 1s. It also became their only US hit, climbing to number 10, retitled as Bang a Gong (Get It On) to avoid confusion with a recent hit by jazz-rock band Chase in the States.

Get It On would be covered by 80s supergroup The Power Station (featuring Robert Palmer and members of Duran Duran and Chic) in 1985. It was a hit, but the beefed-up sound robbed it of its charm.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 4 (24 July-20 August)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Michael Hughes – 2 August
Newsreader Kate Sanderson – 9 August
Electronic artist Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin – 18 August

Deaths:

Northern Irish footballer Charlie Tully – 27 July

Meanwhile…

29 July: The UK officially opted out of the Space Race when its Black Arrow launch vehicle was cancelled.

6 August: Chay Blyth became the first person to sail around the world east to west against the prevailing winds.

9 August: British security forces in Northern Ireland detained hundreds of guerrilla suspects and put them into Long Kesh prison – the beginning of their internment without trial policy. In the subsequent riots, 20 died, including 11 in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

11 August: Prime Minister Edward Heath took part in the Admiral’s Cup yacht race, which Britain won.

15 August: Controversial showjumper Harvey Smith was stripped of his victory in the British Show Jumping Derby by judges for making a V sign.

298. T. Rex – Hot Love (1971)

In March 1971, singer-songwriter Marc Bolan appeared on Top of the Pops to promote T. Rex’s second single Hot Love, as shown below. His stylist, Chelita Secunda, had suggested he wear glitter under his eyes, and it was this appearance that spearheaded the glam rock movement and gave Bolan the stardom he had strived for. Forget ‘Mungo-mania’ – ‘T. Rextasy’ was the first true pop phenomenon in the UK since ‘Beatlemania’. Pop was rejuvenated.

Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30 September 1947. He was raised in Stoke Newington, East London until the Felds moved to Wimbledon in southwest London when he was a young boy. Around this time he, like so many of his contemporaries, fell in love with rock’n’roll, particularly stars like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He was only nine when he was given his first guitar and he formed a skiffle band, and soon after he was playing guitar for Susie and the Hula Hoops, whose singer was 12-year-old Helen Shapiro, who would have two number 1s in 1961 with You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness.

Feld was expelled from school at 15 and around this time became known as ‘The Face’ due to his good looks. He joined a modelling agency and appeared in catalogues for Littlewoods and John Temple wearing Mod getup just as The Beatles were first making waves.

In 1964 Feld made his first known recording, All at Once, in which he aped Cliff Richard. Next, he changed his name to Toby Tyler when he became interested in the music of Bob Dylan, and he began to dress like him too. His first acetate was a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind.

The following year, he signed with Decca Records and changed his name to Marc Bowland, before his label suggested Marc Bolan. First single, The Wizard, featured Jimmy Page and backing vocalists The Ladybirds, who later collaborated with Benny Hill. None of his solo singles, in which he adopted a US folk sound, made any impact.

Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds and John’s Children, a struggling psychedelic rock act, first met Bolan in 1966 when he showed up at his house with a guitar, proclaiming that he was going to be a big star and wanted Napier-Bell to work with him. Bolan was nearly placed in The Yardbirds but was placed in John’s Children as guitarist and songwriter in March 1967 instead. The group were outrageous, and Bolan proved to be a good fit, writing the single Desdemona, which was banned by the BBC for the lyric ‘lift up your skirt and fly’. Only a month later, they toured as support for The Who but were soon given their marching orders for upstaging the headliners (Bolan would whip his guitar with a chain). John’s Children also performed at The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace that month. Yet by June Bolan had left the group after falling out with his manager over their unreleased single A Midsummer Night’s Scene.

Bolan formed his own group, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and after one rushed, disastrous gig, he pared the band down to just himself and their drummer, Steve Peregrin Took, who would play percussion and occasional bass alongside Bolan and his acoustic guitar. For the next few years, Tyrannosaurus Rex amassed a cult following, with Radio 1 DJ John Peel among their biggest fans. Bolan’s fey, whimsical warbling could get a bit much at times, and I speak as a lover of 60s psychedelia, but the signs of a very talented singer-songwriter are there right from their debut single Debora and first album, the brilliantly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), produced by Tony Visconti. Peel even read short stories by Bolan on their albums.

This was the last album to feature Took, who had been growing apart from Bolan, who was working on a book of poetry called The Warlock of Love. Bolan’s ego didn’t take kindly to the thought of Took contributing to songwriting, so he replaced him with Mickey Finn for fourth album Beard of Stars, released in March 1970. David Bowie’s follow-up to Space Oddity, The Prettiest Star also came out that month, with Bolan on guitar. The single tanked.

As the new decade dawned, Bolan was outgrowing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was simplifying his songwriting while reintroducing an electric band setup to the mix. Visconti had been abbreviating the band’s name to T. Rex for a while on recording tapes, and while Bolan didn’t appreciate it at first, he decided to adopt the name to represent the next stage of development.

While preparing to release their first material in their new incarnation, Bolan replaced The Kinks as headlining act at the Pilton Festival at Worthy Farm, the day after Jimi Hendrix died on 19 September. 50 years on, it’s known as Glastonbury Festival, the king of the UK festival scene.

T. Rex released their first single, Ride a White Swan in October. This, simple, catchy layered guitar track caught on, and finally Bolan had a hit on his hands, narrowly missing out on the number 1 spot due to Clive Dunn’s Grandad in January 1971. T. Rex’s eponymous debut also went top 10 in the album charts. Bolan was now famous, but he needed to capitalise and go one better to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

Hot Love was recorded on 21 and 22 January at Trident Studios – the week Ride a White Swan peaked at number two. Seizing the moment, Bolan decided to flesh out T. Rex’s sound and adopt a classic four-piece line-up. With new bassist Steve Currie making his recording debut, Bolan and Visconti hired Bill Fifield as drummer, leaving Finn relegated to just handclaps. After helping out on T. Rex, this single saw the return of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals. The duo had been founding members of The Turtles, and as Flo & Eddie had recently been part of Frank Zappa’s group The Mothers of Invention. Kaylan and Volman’s slightly unhinged harmonies became an integral part of the classic T. Rex sound.

Although Ride a White Swan served notice that Bolan was moving on from his old self-limited sonic boundaries, the lyrics were still very much the Tolkien whimsy of your average Tyrannosaurus Rex track. Hot Love featured a more simplistic, direct lyrical approach. Bolan is merely telling you about his lover.

Taken as read, much of T. Rex’s lyrical output can seem childish, sometimes even ridiculous, yet most of the time Bolan pulls it off, and he does so here. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the lines ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha’ and the charming camp of ‘I don’t mean to be bold, a-but a-may I hold your hand?’ but I’d never noticed the ludicrous ‘I’m a labourer of love in my persian gloves – a ha ha’ before. My favourite lyric of recent memory, right there.

There’s no point spending too much time dissecting Bolan’s words though, it’s more about the feel they add to his songs, and Hot Love feels sexy, which isn’t a label you could ever give his Tyrannosaurus Rex material. It’s fascinating to me how a voice that’s so fey, singing such daft words, can at the same time be so sensual.

The tune displays a key ingredient of glam rock – 50s rock’n’roll. Bolan has updated a simple bluesy riff and, thanks to the input of Visconti’s glossy studio sheen and string arrangement, updated it for 70s audiences. Kaylan and Volman’s backing vocals keep a certain strangeness in place and stop things getting too smooth, but this is a high definition Bolan that hadn’t been heard before, and Hot Love is just one reason why Visconti is rightly one of the most famous producers of all time.

The second half of Hot Love shifts into a ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la’ Bolan, Kaylan and Volman singalong, akin to Hey Jude, but faster and weirder. It’s a real earworm, and no doubt helped it to number 1, but I find it goes on a bit too long, and I prefer the first half personally. Having said that, it really does show up the previous number 1, Baby Jump, as lumpen and turgid by comparison. A much-needed breath of fresh air in the charts, to put it mildly.

Released on 12 February on Fly Records, Hot Love rocketed up the charts, in part thanks to those famous Top of the Pops appearances. Bolan displayed star material in spades, and was perhaps the first musician since Elvis Presley to prove that image could be a vital ingredient in pop. Looking every inch the rock star with his glitter and guitar, he made glam rock about appearance as well as the sound, and other acts like Slade and friend/rival Bowie were watching and taking notes.

The 70s were often a drab, moribund decade. Glam rock may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the way Beatlemania did, but in the UK it was sorely needed, and brought about some of the best number 1s of the next four years. Bolan was integral in this.

T. Rex would prove to have a formula that Bolan couldn’t advance much from, and his star burnt out quick, but in the early 70s he gave pop the kick up the arse it needed. There are better T. Rex songs. However, Hot Love is one of the most important number 1s of the decade.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 March-30 April)

Births:

Scottish actress Kate Dickie – 23 March
TV presenter Gail Porter – 23 March
Scottish racing driver David Coulthard – 27 March
Cricketer Paul Grayson – 31 March
Scottish actor Ewan McGregor – 31 March
Cricketer Jason Lewry – 2 April
Conservative MP Douglas Carswell – 3 April
Liberal Democrat MP John Leech – 11 April
Actress Belinda Stewart-Wilson – 16 April
Scottish actor David Tennant – 18 April

Deaths:

Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April

Meanwhile…

1 April: All restrictions on gold ownership were lifted in the UK. Since 1966 Britons had been banned from holding more than four gold coins or from buying any new ones, unless they held a licence.

11 April: 10 British Army soldiers were injured in rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.

15 April: The planned Barbican Centre in London was given the go-ahead.

18 April: A serious fire at Kentish Town West railway station meant that the station remained closed until 5 October 1981.

19 April: Unemployment reached a post-World War Two high of nearly 815,000.

27 April: Eight members of the Welsh Language Society went on trial for destroying English language road signs in Wales.
Also on this day, British Leyland launched the Morris Marina, which succeeded the Minor.

285. Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky (1970)

The devil doesn’t always have the best tunes. Dana’s old-fashioned All Kinds of Everything was booted from the top by one of the most memorable one-hit wonders of all time. Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky heralded a new decade with its fuzz-guitar sound and could be considered a forerunner to the glam rock that was to come. This one-hit wonder, combining a riff you’d sell your soul for with holier-than-thou lyrics, was so good, two different versions have been number 1 since. Not bad going for an unassuming, enigmatic Jewish dairy farmer.

Norman Joel Greenbaum was born in Malden, Massachusetts on 20 November 1942. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish household, and as a teenager in the late 50s and early 60s he fell in love with southern blues and folk music. In high school he began performing in bands and went on to study music at Boston University, but dropped out and moved to Los Angeles in 1965.

In 1966 he formed the psychedelic jug band (think a less intense and more wacky The 13th Floor Elevators) Dr West’s Medicine Show and Junk Band and he penned their novelty single The Eggplant That Ate Chicago. They split in 1968. Clearly, Greenbaum was a unique talent.

Going it alone after signing with Reprise Records, Greenbaum set about writing a religious rock song, getting inspiration from country singer Porter Wagoner and enjoying westerns as a child. There was something in the air in the late 60s, with lots of songs moving away from references to drugs and turning to religion instead. Despite being Jewish, Greenbaum opted to sing about Jesus, because he knew it’d be more marketable then Jehovah. In an interview years later, he said it was ‘the spirit in the sky’ people should be taking notice of in his song, not ‘Jesus’. He took the phrase from a greetings card.

The music took a lot longer than the lyrics (which he claimed were done in 15 minutes), but it was worth the wait, with Greenbaum coming up with a laid-back yet fiery boogie groove in a San Francisco studio. The music provides a stark contrast to the holy lyrics and is so strong, it’s seen the song used in countless films and on TV. When Spirit in the Sky was mixed, he says it was optimised to sound good on car stereos without dynamic range, giving it an earthy, primitive quality.

Joining Greenbaum on the sessions were lead guitarist Russell DaShiell, bassist Doug Killmer from Crowfoot and drummer Norman Mayell, formerly of Sopwith Camel. The backing singers adding the gospel touch were The Stovall Sisters trio from Indiana. Before joining Earth, Wind & Fire, Philip Bailey was their percussionist.

The song became the title track of Greenbaum’s album, but Reprise were unsure this strange, lengthy track would make it as a 7”. Two other singles came out first, and they got nowhere, so they took a punt on Spirit in the Sky, released in the UK in December 1969.

And what a punt. I must have heard Greenbaum’s original a million times and yet I love it as much as ever. It’s a hell (pun intended) of a groove and I love the juxtaposition between the raw production and guitar effects and happy-clappy lyrics. It’s easy to get enveloped in it, and I could happily listen to a 10-minute version, and always feel it’s a shame it fades abruptly as the guitar stretches out. Future glam stars were certainly paying attention, for example Alvin Stardust’s My Coo Ca Choo is pretty similar.

Greenbaum may have never had another hit but some acts could take years to come up with one this good. He didn’t disappear straight away though – this was followed up by the bizarre Canned Ham, and he recorded two further albums – Back Home Again later this year, and the all-acoustic Petaluma in 1972.

Eventually Greenbaum’s music fizzled out, and he went to work in a friend’s café around the start of the 80s. Then in 1986 Doctor and the Medics released their cover, which took everyone by surprise when it reached number 1. The renewed interest sparked its use in films, and Greenbaum never needed to work again.

The one-hit wonder made headlines in 2015 when he was the passenger in a car accident that killed a motorcyclist and left him in a coma for three weeks. With perhaps a new-found appreciation of life, Greenbaum, now 77, returned to performing.

And yes, Spirit in the Sky went to number 1 yet again in 2003, with a version for Comic Relief by Gareth Gates with The Kumars, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. I’m in no rush.

Written by: Norman Greenbaum

Producer: Erik Jacobsen

Weeks at number 1: 2 (2-15 May)

Births:

Cricketer Chris Adams – 6 May

Deaths:

Novelist Jack Jones – 7 May