362. Mud – Lonely This Christmas (1974)

Christmas 1974, and anyone refuting the claim glam had become too in thrall of the past would have been hard pushed to defend Mud’s second number 1 of the year. Rushing together an Elvis Presley spoof for the festive market, they took Slade’s Christmas crown with Lonely This Christmas.

To say the preceding 12 months had been good for Mud would be an understatement. They started the year with 1974’s biggest seller, and one of my favourite chart-toppers, Tiger Feet, then a number two with the inferior soundalike The Cat Crept In, and a respectable number six with Rocket. They also released a cover of In the Mood under the name ‘Dum’, which failed to chart.

The well was perhaps starting to run dry for Chinnichap’s songwriting, but they’d had a very impressive run over the last few years, and seeing the excitement the chart battle between Slade and Wizzard caused in 1973, they no doubt thought one of their acts could be in with a shout. If they could pull it off, it would be their third number 1 of the year.

There was some strong competition though. Mike Batt’s Wombles had enjoyed a good year and Wombling Merry Christmas was bound to do well, plus there was Bachman-Turner Overdrive’s You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet close to the top spot. Elvis too.

Speaking of which, how can you talk about Lonely This Christmas without comparing it to the work of ‘the King’? Although you could point out it’s more akin to his early-60s work than 50s material – Are You Lonesome Tonight? is the obvious song to note – there’s also his cover of Blue Christmas to consider, which he recorded in 1957. And of course, singer Les Gray’s voice was similar to Presley’s in general and it gave him an excuse to be the country’s best-selling Elvis impersonator over the holidays.

Now Lonely This Christmas is no Tiger Feet, nor is it of the same class as Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, but I’ve always been fond of it, and the sheer nerve of releasing it amuses me. The clip below, from Top of the Pops, of Gray miming sincerely to a sinister-looking (aren’t they all?) ventriloquist puppet is a classic, bizarre TV moment. Mud have always struck me as charming chancers who somehow lucked into being in the right place and the right time, and the sight of them struggling to keep a straight face when performing this proves it.

It’s not for everyone. It certainly doesn’t have the universal appeal of Slade or Wizzard’s festive classics, and the only way you could get emotionally attached to it would be if you really were unlucky enough to be going through a break-up with someone, and even then, you can’t, because the whole song is a joke, and you’d feel like you were being laughed at. But come on, it’s Christmas, a time for taste to go out the window. Embrace the tackiness, like a nation exhausted from elections and terrorism did at the time. It’s also quite a funny way for Chinnichap’s chart dominance and number 1s together to come to an end, although there was Mud’s final number 1, produced by them, to come.

So that’s 1974. An eclectic mix of pop, late glam, with a welcome return of some reggae and soul into the mix. Things were about to steadily slide downhill as the 70s progressed further. It seems the more the country slid into the economic doldrums, the worse the singles chart became.

Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 December 1974-17 January 1975)

Births:

Radio DJ Jason King – 6 January 1975

Deaths:

Artist James Henry Govier – 21 December 1974

Meanwhile…

22 December 1974: A rotten year for Conservative Party leader Edward Heath ends with his London home bombed by the Provisional IRA. Fortunately he wasn’t in but only cheated death by 10 minutes.

24 December: Former Labour government minister John Stonehouse is discovered living in Australia after having faked his own death. He is quickly arrested by Australian police, who initially believe that he is Lord Lucan.

6 January 1975: Brian Clough, the recently sacked former manager of Leeds United, is appointed manager of Second Division strugglers Nottingham Forest.

14 January: 17-year-old heiress Lesley Whittle is kidnapped from her home near Bridgnorth in Shropshire.

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.

343. Mud – Tiger Feet (1974)

Early 1974 was peak ‘Chinnichap’, with the writers/producers responsible for two number 1s in a row. This first one took Mud out of the minor leagues and made them one of the biggest names in glam rock. And rightly so, because Tiger Feet is a classic pop anthem and one of my favourite number 1s of the 70s. If you don’t love Tiger Feet, you are dead already.

The origins of the Surrey quartet begin with singer Thomas Leslie ‘Les’ Gray, born in Carshalton on 9 April 1946. Gray was a self-taught musician who originally played trumpet in a jazz band while still at school, before forming a skiffle group called The Mourners. When he left education he wrote commercials for cinema advertising legends Pearl & Dean, and then worked for Moss Bros.

By 1966, The Mourners featured guitarist Rob Davis, who had joined with drummer Dave Mounts, his companion in several previous bands. Along with bassist Ray Stiles, they became Mud that February. The following year they released their debut single on CBS Records, the very 1967-sounding Flower Power. It failed to make an impression, and nor did their next few singles, released on Phillips, over the next three years.

With psychedelia largely over, Mud were sinking (sorry) until they met impresario Mickie Most, whose Rak Records were fast becoming the hippest label around when they joined. Much like The Sweet before them, as soon as they began working with their new writers and producers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman (despite being on different labels), things swiftly improved.

In 1973 they scored three top 20 singles – Crazy (number 12), Hypnosis (number 16) and best of the three, Dyna-Mite, which climbed to number four. With the Chinnichap template of pop-rock, Gray’s sideburns and deep Elvis-style vocal and Davis’s increasingly outlandish get-up, Mud became a fully fledged glam band with this single, which had originally been rejected by labelmates The Sweet. And then came Tiger Feet.

But what the hell is it actually about, if anything? Much like Can the Can, it’s likely they just stumbled upon a phrase they liked and worked it into a song. Clearly, in general though, Tiger Feet is a come-on to some ‘dance hall cutie’, and Gray sees her as a kind-of sexual predator in the way she cuts a rug (I’m lost at ‘tiger lights’ though). Which is ironic, considering the dance that Mud and their crew made up to this song – which may be the least sexy ever witnessed in pop.

It may look ridiculous, but let me say in all seriousness that watching Mud performing the Tiger Feet dance is for me one of the most uplifting moments in pop music. It encapsulates the power of pop, and glam in particular, to make grown men act and look as stupid as possible, with all worries abandoned, totally lost in the moment. At the music night I used to DJ at with friends, I would, without shame, perform said dance time and time again, and I am proud of the fact. Everyone should try it.

So, yes, I am a huge fan of Mud’s first number 1. Ignore the words and any notion of being cool and feel the rip-roaring, childlike glee running wild throughout, from the manic rhythm guitar at the start to the ‘t-t-t-t-t-t-t-tiger feet’ at the song’s fade. It’s very difficult to analyse something so stupid and brilliant too much, so just enjoy it. Just like Slade, Mud gave the country some much-needed light relief in particularly trying times. This is 70s pop at its best.

Written & produced by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Weeks at number 1: 4 (26 January-22 February) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Actor Christian Bale – 30 January
Murderer Ian Huntley – 31 January
Sports presenter Ed Chamberlin – 6 February
Footballer Nick Barmby – 11 February
Singer Robbie Williams – 13 February
Singer-songwriter James Blunt – 22 February
Radio DJ Chris Moyles – 22 February

Deaths:

Novelist HE Bates – 29 January

Meanwhile…

4 February: One of the Provisional IRA’s most shocking attacks took place when 11 people, three of whom were civilians, were killed in the M62 coach bombing. 

7 February: In the midst of the Three-Day Week, Prime Minister Edward Heath, called a General Election for 28 February, asking who governed, he or the unions. During the campaign, the Labour Party and Trades Union Congress agreed a ‘Social Contract’ intended to produce wage restraint. 
Also this day, Grenada became independent of the UK.

8 February: The death toll from the M62 coach bombing reaches 12 with the death in hospital of a seriously injured 18-year-old soldier.

12 February: BBC One first aired the classic children’s series Bagpuss, made by Peter Firmin and Oliver Postgate’s Smallfilms in stop-motion animation. 

14 February: Birmingham City centre forward Bob Latchford becomes Britain’s most expensive footballer in a £350,000 move to Everton. 
Also this day, opinion polls showed the Conservative government in the lead for the forthcoming election.

331. Suzi Quatro – Can the Can (1973)

Finally, a woman! The early-70s weren’t a great time for female-fronted number 1s. Most were either relegated to providing sweet harmonies in male-dominated groups or performing sickly solo ballads. US singer and bassist Suzi Quatro proved women could be rock stars too.

Susan Kay Quatro, born 3 June 1950, was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. Her family name was actually ‘Quattrocchi’ (four eyes) but was shortened by immigration authorities (her paternal grandfather was an Italian immigrant). Quatro’s father Art was a semi-professional musician inbetween his job at General Motors. Her mother, Helen, was Hungarian. She was born into a large family, with foster children also thrown into the mix. One of Quatro’s sisters, Arlene, is the mother of Twin Peaks star Sherilyn Finn, and another sister, Patti, later joined one of the first all-female rock bands in the US, Fanny.

Quatro’s eureka moment for her love of music came when, aged six, she saw Elvis Presley performing on TV. She later said she had no direct female role models in music, although she did admire Billie Holiday and thought Mary Weiss of the pop group The Shangri-Las looked hot in tight trousers.

Quatro had formal training in playing classical piano and percussion, and she was still under 10-years-old when she joined her father’s jazz band, The Art Quatro Trio. She went on to teach herself the guitar and bass.

In 1964, inspired by The Beatles, Patti formed an all-female garage rock group called The Pleasure Seekers. She became Patti Pleasure, and Suzi joined too, as Suzi Soul. Arlene was later part of the group, and another sister, Nancy. Bedecked in miniskirts and wigs, they initially attracted attention purely on their looks, but people stayed for the music. By 1969 they had changed their name to Cradle.

The following year, Cradle were performing to an audience that included Mickie Most, who had been invited to attend by Suzi’s brother Michael, who was their manager. Most had founded RAK Records in 1969 and was on the lookout for acts to sign, particularly a strong woman who could fill the void left by Janis Joplin’s death. She left Cradle and moved to London in 1971.

Her debut single, Rolling Stone, was co-written by Quatro with future Hot Chocolate singer Errol Brown, and Phil Dennys. It failed to chart anywhere apart from Portugal, where it went to number 1. Most decided that to achieve UK success, Quatro needed the help of one of the hottest songwriting teams in the country – Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. They became the perfect match, with Chinnichap’s marriage of bubblegum pop and glam rock fitting Quatro to a tee. She also got herself a proper backing band at this time – Len Tuckey on guitar, Alastair MacKenzie on keyboards and Dave Neal on drums. They all wore dark vests and had matching long dark hair, looking like grumpy labourers next to Quatro, squeezed into a leather catsuit and rightly getting all the attention.

Can the Can is a fiery, rocking pop stomp set to a pounding beat. Quatro shrieks the words so high you can barely understand the verses, but that’s fine, because this song is a showcase for Quatro’s energy and personality, and the lyrics don’t stand up to much scrutiny anyway.

It makes slightly more sense when you learn that Chinn once stated the chorus and song title refers to the impossible. That is, you can’t put a can inside another can if they’re the same size, just as you can’t make a man commit if he has no intention of doing so. Hmm, it sort of works. But it never pays to pay much attention to Chinnichap lyrics, just enjoy the sound. Can the Can does slightly outstay its welcome though, and would have been more effective had it ended before becoming too repetitive.

Nonetheless, Quatro was established as a star in the UK, if not her own country (it took her Happy Days role to make it in the US), Chinnichap notched up their second number 1 of 1973, and there was a female rock star for young girls to aspire to be, at last.

Written & produced by: Mike Chapman & Nicky Chinn

Weeks at number 1: 1 (16-22 June)

Deaths:

Actor Roger Delgado – 18 June

325. The Sweet – Block Buster ! (1973)

We’re now in 1973, one of the peak years for glam rock, and one of the biggest bands of the era were London quartet The Sweet, who combined a nascent metal sound with the sugary pop stylings of hitmakers Chapman and Chinn. After several dire, strange number 1s in the latter half of 1972, they get the year off to a brilliant start with their classic, Block Buster !.

The Sweet’s origins lie in 60s London soul band Wainwright’s Gentlemen. Originally formed as Unit 4 in 1962, the line-up changed several times, and included from 1964 to 1965, future Deep Purple frontman Ian Gillan. Around the time Gillan joined, Mick Tucker from Ruislip became their drummer. In 1966, a Scotsman named Brian Connolly became their singer.

By January 1968 the band split, and Connolly and Tucker opted to form a new group. Hiring Steve Priest, a bass player from Hayes, Middlesex (who had previously worked with Joe Meek) and former Wainwright’s Gentlemen guitarist Frank Torpey, they called themselves The Sweetshop. They gained a following on the pub circuit and soon signed to Fontana Records, but upon hearing there was another band with the same name, they shortened theirs to The Sweet. Debut single Slow Motion was a failure, Fontana quickly washed their hands of the band, and so did Torpey. Mick Stewart, who had worked with Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, took his place in 1969.

The Sweet signed with EMI’s Parlophone and released three further singles, which also failed, so Stewart left. Around this time the remaining trio were put in touch with songwriting duo Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. Australian Chapman was working as a waiter when he first met struggling songwriter Chinn in 1970. They were looking for an outlet for bubblegum pop songs they’d worked on, and with session musicians performing, The Sweet recorded vocals for a track called Funny Funny. They auditioned for a new guitarist, hiring Welsh-born Andy Scott, who had worked with The Scaffold. The classic line-up had arrived, and they signed with Chapman and Chinn to RCA Records.

Funny Funny became a hit, climbing to number 13 in 1971, quickly followed by Co-Co, which did even better, stalling at number two behind Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep that July. An LP was quickly cobbled together – the unimaginatively titled Funny How Sweet Co-Co Can Be, released that November.

1972 saw further hits for The Sweet, including the seedy but infectious Little Willy and follow-up Wig-Wam Bam, which was still a staple in family holiday resorts in the early- to-mid 80s. The latter was also the first single to feature the band playing their own actual instruments, and it’s no coincidence the sound was a little heavier as a result. With both these songs reaching number four, the top spot was within reach.

With those sirens blaring, backing vocals wailing and an incredibly catchy Bo Diddley-style riff, Block Buster ! remains one of the great glam number 1s. Of course, no coverage of this song would be complete without mentioning the similarity to David Bowie’s The Jean Genie, in the charts at the same time and just missing out on the 1972 Christmas number 1 spot. Both acts always maintained that this was nothing more than an incredible coincidence. Chinn later recalled meeting Bowie, who stared at him deadpan and called him a cunt, before bursting into laughter and embracing him.

So, which is best? It’s incredibly close to call. The Jean Genie‘s surreal lyrics are smarter and edgier – Block Buster !‘s wordplay revolves around the nefarious sex pest Buster, who, well, needs to be blocked, because he’ll ‘come from behind’ and steal your woman out from under your nose’, especially if she has long dark hair. Over the years, the wordplay has been largely forgotten and it’s more commonly known as Blockbuster now, and used on countless TV shows, adverts, films etc to put across, well, blockbusters!

Where Block Buster ! does win out though is in it’s polished production with effects to keep you interested, and special mention must go to the late Steve Priest, the recently deceased bassist, responsible for the camp interjection ‘We just haven’t got a clue what to do!’. I’ll never tire of that, in particular the footage of the band on the Christmas special of Top of the Pops, in which Priest is dressed as a Nazi, who looks to have his arse pinched by Scott. This caused many complaints at the time and would probably be even less popular now. I’m going to go with a preference for The Jean Genie though, just because, David Bowie.

The Sweet were one of the hottest acts of that year and into 1974, with Hell Raiser, The Ballroom Blitz and Teenage Rampage all reaching number two. The second of those in particular is another classic, and almost as good as their sole chart-topper.

By the time of Teenage Rampage, the band were calling themselves simply, Sweet. Change was in the air, as despite all they had done for them, the group were tiring of Chapman and Chinn’s control. They ditched the outlandish outfits and decided to record an album (mostly) without them, appropriately titled Sweet Fanny Adams, which showcased a harder sound. During the sessions, Connolly injured his throat in a fight, and apparently his voice was never the same again.

Next LP, Desolation Boulevard, followed six months later, and Sweet proved they could cope fine on their own with self-penned hit single Fox on the Run. They couldn’t maintain the success though, and despite moving on from glam, which was dying out by the mid-70s, their career suffered too, and The Lies In Your Eyes, the first single from self-produced 1976 album Give Us a Wink was their last chart action for two years.

By the time Sweet made their comeback, they had switched to Polydor and began experimenting with classical and the new disco style. Sounds potentially awful, yet Love Is Like Oxygen, released in January 1978, is actually pretty good. It would be their last hit. Connolly’s drinking was getting out of hand, and he became increasingly estranged from the rest of the band during support slots for Bob Seeger and the Silver Bullet Band and Alice Cooper. By the time 1979 album Cut Above the Rest was released in 1979, he had quit.

A three-piece Sweet (get it?) soldiered on, with Priest taking the lion’s share of vocal duties. They made one last album, Identity Crisis, but it didn’t even get a UK release until 1982, the year after they had split.

The former bandmates spent much of the 80s forming their own new versions of Sweet and touring the nostalgia circuit. Connolly sparked fears for his health whenever he appeared publicly, and in 1997 he died of liver failure and repeated heart attacks, aged only 51. Mick Tucker died in 2002 of leukaemia, aged 54. Priest passed away in June 2020, aged 72, leaving only Scott from the classic line-up, who still tours with Andy Scott’s Sweet.

With their outrageous dress sense, raucous riffs and high camp, The Sweet certainly helped to liven up the early-70s, and it’s great to have had a classic to review once more. Chinnichap’ were to be responsible for plenty more chart-toppers.

Written by: Nicky Chinn & Mike Chapman

Producer: Phil Wainman

Weeks at number 1: 5 (27 January-2 March)

Births:

TV presenter Kate Thornton – 7 February
Presenter Sonia Deol – 8 February
Singer Peter Andre – 27 February

Deaths:

Cricketer Francis Romney – 28 January
Cricketer Harold Gibbons – 16 February
Novelist Elizabeth Bowen – 22 February

Meanwhile…

27 February: Civil servants and rail workers went on strike.

1 March: Prog-rockers Pink Floyd released The Dark Side of the Moon, which went on to become one of the best-selling albums of all time.