344. Suzi Quatro – Devil Gate Drive (1974)

1973 had been a great year for the songwriting/production duo ‘Chinnichap’, but 1974 was even better. Tiger Feet became the year’s biggest-selling single, then after four weeks it was usurped by another Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman single. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro was back at the top of the charts with another glam-pop-rock showcase for her skills. And there was certainly more stability in the charts than there was in Downing Street (see ‘Meanwhile…’).

Quatro had remained a presence in the UK charts since her first number 1, Can the Can, a year previous. 48 Crash, the opening song on her eponymous debut album, climbed to number three, and Daytona Demon, a standalone single, number 14. She also played on Cozy Powell’s Dance With the Devil, a number three hit in January 1974, written by their record label owner Mickie Most of Rak Records. Devil Gate Drive was the first fruits of her second album Quatro, although it didn’t appear on that LP’s original UK tracklisting. Like Can the Can, it featured Len Tuckey on guitar (he and Quatro were married between 1976 and 1992) and Alastair McKenzie on keyboards, but Dave Neal replaced Keith Hodge on drums.

Devil Gate Drive is Quatro’s most famous song, very similar in style to Can the Can, but more pop-friendly. It’s more overtly indebted to rock’n’roll – Chinnichap’s favourite era, clearly. The Devil Gate Drive in question seems to be the actual gates to hell, and Quatro points out how humans start sinning as young as the age of five. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying this is an insightful look at the human condition, but it’s cleverer than it appears, as Quatro knows that sinning can make us ‘come alive’. Quatro, you leather catsuit-wearing temptress. It makes a very nice change to hear her imploring everyone to get behind her, and hearing a load of burly male voices shouting back, rather than the screaming girls you’d have heard in pop most of the time. There’s some nice piano work from McKenzie too. It’s no Tiger Feet, but not bad at all.

A couple more hits followed for Quatro in 1974 – Too Big reached number 14 and The Wild One went to number seven, and then the law of diminishing returns began to apply. Critics of Quatro argue she was a mere novelty rather than a female role model, and was given substandard material by Chinnichap all along and her own material wasn’t good enough either. However in 1977 she not only had her first top 30 hit in three years with Tear Me Apart, she finally got noticed in the US thanks to her role as Leather Tuscadero in hugely popular nostalgic sitcom Happy Days. She appeared several times and was even offered a spin-off, such was the popularity of her character, but Quatro declined for fear of being typecast. The following year, If You Can’t Give Me Love showcased a more mellow sound and was her biggest hit since Devil Gate Drive (number four), and She’s In Love With You reached number 11 in 1979.

In 1980 Quatro’s contract with Most expired and she moved to Chapman’s Dreamland Records, but it marked a decline in her fortunes. It folded a year later, and she was without a label.

For much of the 80s Quatro could be found in more acting roles as well as releasing music. She starred in ITV comedy drama Minder in 1982, and crime drama Dempsey and Makepeace in 1985. The following year she featured alongside Bronski Beat and members of The Kinks on a cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” for the BBC’s Children In Need. Then in 1987 she (sort of) returned to number 1 thanks to her appearance on the Ferry Aid cover of The Beatles’ Let It Be, which raised money for the charity set up in the aftermath of the Zeebrugge ferry disaster.

Since then, Quatro has continued to release albums, which continue to sell to the fans who grew up in those heady glam rock days. Back to the Drive in 2006 saw her return to her heavier rock roots, and was her first charting album since Rock Hard in 1980. Andy Scott from The Sweet was the producer, and the title track was written by Chapman. Her autobiography, Unzipped, was released in 2007, and the most recent Quatro album, No Control, was released in 2019.

Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Weeks at number 1: 2 (23 February-8 March)

Deaths:

Radio sports commentator Raymond Glendenning – 23 February

Meanwhile…

27 February: As the country went to the polls, controversial Conservative MP Enoch Powell announced his resignation from the party in protest against Edward Heath’s decision to take Britain into the EEC.

28 February: Heath’s plan backfired badly. The General Election results in the first hung parliament since 1929. The Tory government held 297 seats, Labour, 301, and the largest number of votes. Heath made plans to form a coalition with Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party in order to cling on to power.

4 March: Heath failed to convince the Liberals to form a coalition and therefore announced his resignation as Prime Minister, paving the way for Harold Wilson to become Prime Minister for the second time with Labour forming a minority government.[5]

6 March: An improved pay offer by the new Labour government results in the end of the latest miners’ strike.

7 March: The Three-Day Week came to an end. For now, with Labour back in power, things began to stabilise and improve with the unions.

227. Tom Jones – Green, Green Grass of Home (1966)

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And so, after such a stellar year of chart action, we’re back at the Christmas number 1. For the first time since 1962, it isn’t The Beatles, who were working on Strawberry Fields Forever. Holding court as the top of the pops for the whole month, and most of January, was 1966’s best-selling single – Tom Jones’s cover of Green, Green Grass of Home.

Since his last number 1, the storming It’s Not Unusual in 1965, Jones’s popularity had slipped somewhat. Granted, his theme to What’s New Pussycat?, by Bacharach and David, did well, but his theme to the James Bond movie Thunderball wasn’t so popular. His manager Gordon Mills decided a new approach was needed, and steered Jones towards using that deep voice to become a light entertainment-style crooner.

Green, Green Grass of Home had been written by Claude ‘Curly’ Puttman, Jr, and was first made popular by flamboyant country star Porter Wagoner in 1965. Later that year, controversial rock’n’roller Jerry Lee Lewis recorded a version for his album Country Songs for Country Folks, and it was this version that made Tom Jones decide to give it a crack himself. His producer Peter Sullivan weren’t so sure – country wasn’t what they had in mind for Jones, so Les Reed, who had written It’s Not Unusual, arranged the track and took it in an easy listening direction.

Jones recalled in an interview for The Mail on Sunday in 2011 that Lewis was on a UK tour just before the single’s release, and met with Jones. He was bowled over by this new pop version, and told Jones he had a hit on his hands.

It’s an odd one, really. Green, Green Grass of Home is still considered one of Tom Jones’s best songs, and yet it leaves me rather cold. The arrangement is rather dated now, particularly when compared to the previous number 1, Good Vibrations. I think the Beach Boys classic would have made for a much more appropriate song to round the year off. But there’s no accounting for taste. Which leads me onto my next point.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m against the death penalty, but it’s hard to feel sorry for the singer once you know the twist – that he’s behind bars and reminiscing on his hometown before he is hanged. The likelihood here is that this man has done something terrible. An odd choice for Christmas number 1, all in all. I hate the ‘Mary/cherries’ rhyme as well.

Green, Green Grass of Home is a sign of what happens to the charts in 1967. After all this energy, vigour and innovation, things go somewhat downhill. 1967 was a great year for albums, and I used to think that once we got full-blown into the ‘flower power’ era, there would be some wonderful single number 1s. There’s far fewer than I hoped, and more often than not, the fashion sways back towards MOR.

Also that year, Tom Jones performed in Las Vegas for the first time. Like his friend Elvis Presley in the 1970s, his recording output suffered as his live act grew more flamboyant, and it was here he cultivated the sweaty, open shirt image that would make him a figure of fun over the years. There were still hits from time to time though, such as Delilah in 1968. From 1969 to 1971 he presented his own variety show on ITV called This Is Tom Jones. The year it ended he recorded one of my favourite Jones tracks, She’s a Lady, written by Paul Anka and later used to great effect in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Hunter S Thompson’s Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas (1998).

By the mid-70s his career had declined and he tried to get more film and TV work, but by the early 80s he was recording country material that failed to chart. The first of his many comebacks came in 1987 when A Boy From Nowhere made it to number two. Then the following year he teamed up with Art of Noise for a smash-hit cover of Prince’s Kiss. Unfortunately, someone missed the point of the original, and changed the lyrics from ‘Women, not girls rule my world’ to ‘Women and girls rule my world’, which sounds a bit seedy to me.

In 1992 he kickstarted the idea of ‘legends’ appearing at Glastonbury Festival, and had cameos on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and The Simpsons the following year. Also in 1993 he was back in the charts with If I Only Knew. I personally find this track hilarious for its opening, in which Jones’s bellow is used to headache-inducing levels. It’s hard not to enjoy it though. 1996 saw him cameo in Tim Burton’s sci-fi comedy movie Mars Attacks. He rounded off the millennium with Reload, an enormously successful collection of covers featuring the stars of the time.

It was around then I got a bit sick of Tom Jones. That bellow was everywhere, from the dodgy duet It’s Cold Outside with Matthews (which takes on new levels of meaning when you read he allegedly banged her over the mixing desk during the recording) to the especially irritating version of Mama Told Me Not to Come with Stereophonics. The biggest hit, Sex Bomb, with Mousse T, long outstayed its welcome. But the Queen loved him and he was given an OBE that year, before being knighted in 2006.

He’s never really gone away since the success of Reload, and is now a national treasure. There’s one more number 1 with which he’s involved, from 2009, so I’ll return to his story then.

Written by: Curly Putman

Producer: Peter Sullivan

Weeks at number 1: 7 (1 December 1966-18 January 1967) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Footballer Dennis Wise – 16 December
Rugby player Martin Bayfield – 21 December
Rugby league player Martin Offiah – 29 December
Comedian Mark Lamarr – 7 January
Actress Emily Watson – 14 January

Deaths:

Land and water speed record breaker Donald Campbell – 4 January 

Meanwhile…

12 December 1966: Harry Roberts, John Whitney and John Duddy are sentenced to life for killing three policemen in August.

20 December: Prime Minister Harold Wilson and Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith were in the news throughout the month as they attempted to negotiate the whole independence saga. On this day, Wilson withdrew all offers and announced that he will only consider independence when a black majority government is installed in Rhodesia.

22 December: A steadfast Smith announced he already considered the country a republic.

New Year’s Eve: Thieves stole millions of pounds worth of paintings from Dulwich Art Gallery in London.New Year’s Day 1967: The Queen decided to commemorate England’s World Cup achievement by making manager Alf Ramsey a Sir, and also awarded captain Bobby Moore with an OBE.

3 January: Stop-motion children’s TV favourite Trumpton began on BBC One.

4 January: Motorboat racer Donald Campbell was tragically killed while trying to break his own water speed record attempt on Coniston Water in the Lake District. Footage shows his Bluebird K7 and smash into the water. His body wasn’t found until 2001.

7 January: Another classic TV series began on BBC Two – The Forstyte Saga.

15 January: The UK entered the first round of negotiations for European Economic Community Membership.

18 January: The flamboyant Jeremy Thorpe replaced Jo Grimond as leader of the Liberal Party. He was a popular leader and increased the party’s voting stastics, but controversy would end his leadership early.