301. Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971)

You can be the greatest lyricist in the world but unfortunately, the bottom line is, millions of people don’t care about words in pop songs. To them, if the tune is good, they’ll sing anything. And if you want proof, listen to Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. An upbeat song about either a baby bird or infant boy called Don being abandoned with a gibberish chorus, but an incredibly infectious one. Five weeks at number 1 in the summer of 1971 and fondly remembered even now.

Chirpy Chirpy, Cheep Cheep had been written and originally recorded by Lancashire singer Lally Stott in 1970. It reached the top 15 in France and was a minor hit in the US. His record company Philips was reluctant to release his version worldwide, and instead it was offered to brother-and-sister duo Mac and Katie Kissoon from Trinidad, who released their quicker-paced version first, and Scottish folk-pop quartet Middle of the Road, based in Italy.

Middle of the Road consisted of lead singer Sally Carr, drummer Ken Andrew, guitarist Ian McCredie and his brother Eric on bass. They had first worked together as Part Four in 1967 and then became the Latin American-style group Los Caracas. They won a series of ITV talent show Opportunity Knocks, but failed to gain momentum afterwards and decided to find fame in Italy instead. Opportunity knocked once more when they met producer Giacomo Tosti and recorded Stott’s tune.

Middle of the Road’s debut single did well in Europe, but flopped in the US and nearly did the same in the UK, coming so soon after the Kissoon’s version, which had flopped here. However, Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn took a shine to Middle of the Road’s recording, and it became a summer anthem.

The incredibly catchy drumbeat that opens the song means this is already a step up from Knock Three Times, and the chanting is certainly attention-grabbing… but what the hell was Stott actually on about? Sadly, he died many years ago so we’ll never know. The song’s title obviously suggests it’s a bird that’s been abandoned, but then there’s the lyric ‘Little baby Don’, which implies a boy without any parents. Which is really messed up, when you consider the answer to such a terrible event is ‘Ooh wee, chirpy chirpy cheep cheep’. Some people online seem to think the song is about the Vietnam War… this seems a bit of a stretch.

Of the three versions of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Middle of the Road’s is the worst, and that’s down to the vocals, which are really grating. I could forgive the weirdness of it all but Carr’s strange style is just too much to bear for me, especially combined with the way the backing vocals chirrup the song’s title. The Kissoon version is nicer, but a bit too lightweight, so if I had to pick one, it’d be Stott’s original. As the song fades out and Carr is really getting into it, telling everyone to join in, I just feel confused and queasy with it all. But as I’ve said before, what do I know?! Children in particular love this song, (and I confess I remember enjoying it in my schooldays), and Middle of the Road’s version has more youthful energy than the rest.

The group’s hits continued for the rest of 1971, with follow-up Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum climbing to number two and Soley Soley reaching number five. Going off the titles alone, I’d put money on these being more of the same, nonsensical but catchy novelty songs that went down a storm around Europe. 1972 saw their fortunes fade and Samson and Delilah/Talk of All the USA was their last top 30 entry in the UK, but they continued to do well elsewhere for a few years, particularly in Germany.

In 1974, early Bay City Rollers member Neil Henderson had joined the band on guitar, but Middle of the Road split in 1976. What chance did a band with such a name stand in the punk years ahead?

They have reformed with different line-ups since then for the nostalgia circuit, but Eric McCredie died in his sleep in 2007, aged 62. His brother is the only original band member still in the line-up.

Written by: Lally Stott

Producer: Giacomo Tosti

Weeks at number 1: 5 (19 June-23 July)

Births:

Conservative MP Brandon Lewis – 20 June
Rugby player Gary Connolly – 22 June
Northern Irish footballer Neil Lennon – 25 June
Football referee Howard Webb – 14 July

Deaths:

Scottish Nobel Prize physician John Boyd Orr – 25 June
Nobel Prize physicist William Lawrence Bragg – 1 July

Meanwhile…

21 June: Britain began new negotiations for EEC membership in Luxembourg.

24 June: The EEC finally agreed terms for Britain’s proposed membership. It was hoped that the nation would join the EEC next year. Ah, heady days…

1 July: The film Sunday Bloody Sunday is released, becoming one of the first mainstream British films with a bisexual theme.

6 July: Police launched a murder investigation when three French tourists were found shot dead in Cheshire.

8 July: Two rioters were shot dead by British troops in Derry, Northern Ireland.

13 July: Michael Bassett, 24, from Barlaston was found dead in his fume-filled car. Police identified him as their prime suspect in the triple French tourist murder case in Cheshire.

23 July: The final section of the London Underground’s Victoria line, from Victoria to Brixton, was opened by Princess Alexandra.

300. Dawn (Arranged by Norman Bergen) – 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.