316. Donny Osmond – Puppy Love (1972)

Of course, the first half of the 70s wasn’t just glam rock. Catering for the teenage and pre-pubescent girls were squeaky-clean singing sensations The Osmonds. And most popular of them all was Donny, who scored their first number 1 with a Paul Anka song.

George Virl Osmond, Sr and Olive Osmond, living in Ogden, Utah, were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. They raised nine children –  Virl, Tom, Alan, Wayne, Merrill, Jay, Donny, Marie, and Jimmy.

Their music career began in 1958 when Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay, all aged between three and 10, formed a barbershop quartet, in part to raise money for hearing aids for Virl and Tom, who were born with severe hearing problems. George thought his boys had something special, and he took them to an audition in California. It fell through, but they visited Disneyland, and while there, a bigwig spotted the boys singing with the theme park’s Dapper Dans. He was so impressed he hired them to perform on a TV special, Disneyland After Dark.

Among those sat watching at home was easy-listening legend Andy Williams’ father. He thought they would be a perfect fit for his son’s TV show and urged him to book them, and they became regulars from 1962-69. In 1963 the quartet were joined by five-year-old Donny, the Osmonds’ seventh son, born 9 December 1957.

As the 60s went on, the boys had ambitions to become a proper pop group. George was initially sceptical, but they won him over and record producer Mike Curb was brought on board to help them garner a major label recording contract, which they did, with MGM Records. Their first single with MGM, One Bad Apple, was originally intended for The Jackson Five. It made The Osmonds number 1 in the US in 1971, and the hits went on.

A year later, Donny, who had shared lead vocals with Merrill, was singled out for a solo career to run alongside working with his brothers, thus cornering that all-important ‘impressionable girls’ market. Debut single, the aptly-named Sweet and Innocent, was a number seven smash in the US, and follow-up Go Away Little Girl was a number 1 in America.

Whoever had the idea to make Donny record Puppy Love, I hope they were rewarded. Anka’s 1960 rock’n’roll tearjerker had been written by the wunderkind (who had the biggest-selling UK single in 1957 with the similarly-themed Diana for Annette Funicello, with whom he was having an affair. This maudlin ballad was tailor-made to make young hearts swoon for poor Donny, who keeps being told he’s not old enough to know what love is. How dare they!

It’s very hard as a 41-year-old cynical old sod to relate to this, and it’s really not helped by the fact Donny sounds even younger than his true age of 15 back then. His overacted whining of ‘Someone help me/Help me please’ is nauseating, but to be fair, not as annoying as Anka’s own version. In its defence, it’s a nice tune, well-produced and Donny sings it well, other than the lines I just mentioned.

In short, I’d take Crazy Horses over this every time. But compared to the next Osmond-related number 1, Puppy Love is a classic…

Written by: Paul Anka

Producers: Mike Curb & Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 5 (8 July-11 August)

Births:

Spice Girl Geri Halliwell – 6 August

TV presenter Sarah Cawood – 7 August

Meanwhile…

21 July: Nine people died and over a hundred were injured on Bloody Friday in a series of explosions by the Provisional IRA in Belfast city centre.

28 July: Thousands of dockers went on strike, leading to Edward Heath declaring the second state of emergency of the year on 4 August.

31 July: In Northern Ireland, the British Army started to regain control of the ‘no-go areas’ established by Irish republican paramilitaries in Belfast, Derry and Newry.

Also that day came, sadly, Bloody Monday, in which three car bombs in Claudy, County Londonderry killed nine. In 2010 it was discovered that a local Catholic priest was an IRA officer believed to be involved in the bombings, but his role had been covered up by the authorities.

6 August: Ugandan dictator Idi Amin announced 50,000 passports were to be expelled from his country to the UK within the next three months. 

9 August: Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Jesus Christ Superstar made its West End debut.

231. Nancy Sinatra and Frank Sinatra (Arranged by Billy Strange) – Somethin’ Stupid (1967)

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Following Frank Sinatra’s ‘piece of shit’ hit Strangers in the Night, he collaborated with Brazilian composer Antônio Carlos Jobim on the album Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim, and then recorded solo album The World We Knew. Somethin’ Stupid came out as a single just beforehand. This famous duet became known as the ‘incest song’ due to his daughter Nancy taking on the female vocals. She hadn’t maintained the level of success granted by her 1966 number 1, the iconic These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, by her producer Lee Hazelwood.

Somethin’ Stupid started life as a duet between its writer, folk singer C Carson Parks and his wife Gaile Foote, recorded in 1966 as Carson and Gaile. Parks’s younger brother was Van Dyke Parks, who worked on The Beach Boys’ ill-fated SMiLE. It was Ol’ Blue Eyes’ idea for he and Nancy to record it, and he played Carson and Gaile’s version to Hazelwood. The producer later recalled he told Frank that if he didn’t record it with Nancy, he’d have a go himself. Frank told him to book them in.

Recorded on 1 February, Frank had finished Francis Albert Sinatra & Antônio Carlos Jobim earlier that day when it came to recording his vocal. He was joined in the studio by the Wrecking Crew, with the outfit’s Billy Strange making the arrangement. Jimmy Bowen, who had brought Hazlewood and Nancy together, helped Hazelwood on production duties.

It’s a strange beast isn’t it? Had Frank listened to the lyrics before recording? Did he realise by getting his daughter involved it would give the lyrics a seedy meaning? From what little I know of Hazelwood, I imagine he knew how it would look only too well, which made it all the more appealing to him. As for Nancy, well in an interview for The Guardian in 2013, she said she thought it was ‘very sweet’ that people think it’s about incest…?

When you consider how he dominates proceedings over Nancy, who seems so meek by comparison to the strong and sexy image she portrayed on These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, you have to wonder why he didn’t just make it a solo record, considering the whole point of the song is seemingly that a man is friends with a woman but blows it by revealing his feelings go deeper.

It’s not a bad record, it’s pretty cute, and the lyrics are charming enough, but if you’re not in the mood to hear it, you can find yourself rather irritated by how twee it is. Or perhaps this is because I now can’t help but be reminded of the pointless retread by Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman, who made it a Christmas number 1 in 2001. I have mixed feelings about Robbie Williams, but that whole attempt at being a crooner really irked me. His smug face was everywhere. Anyway, I digress, I do like the fact Frank is singing the high notes and Nancy the low, it’s a nice touch.

Neither Sinatra would have a UK number 1 again, but as we know, Frank’s career didn’t exactly dwindle. In 1968 Paul Anka, the man behind Diana, wrote English lyrics to Comme d’habitude and called it My Way. David Bowie tried and failed, but eventually came up with Life on Mars?, so it was a win-win situation.

In 1971, Frank decided to retire, having become bored by performing the same old songs night after night. He returned as soon as 1973 though, with the comeback album Ol’ Blue Eyes Is Back. Soon he was back touring the world again. Despite run-ins with the media (he caused uproar by describing Australian journalists as ‘bums, parasites, fags, and buck-and-a-half hookers’), he was as popular as ever.

In 1980 Sinatra released his first LP in six years. Trilogy: Past Present Future was a triple album, and it featured New York, New York. I always assumed this came from the 50s or 60s, but there it was, relatively late in his career. He caused controversy the following year by performing in Sun City, breaking the cultural boycott of South Africa during apartheid. Despite this, and some awful racist jokes aimed at fellow Rat Pack mem ber Sammy Davis Jr, Frank was very sympathetic to black Americans. He played a major role in the desegragation of hotels and casinos in Nevada in the 50s and 60s and played a benefit concert for Martin Luther King. It seems he became more conservative the older he got – often the case.

His views on race are a prime example of a complex character – at times he was horribly homophobic and suffered wild mood swings, from elation to crippling depression. He had an awful temper, yet was also extremely generous.

Frank’s voice began to suffer in the early 80s, but his audiences didn’t care. His alternative career in film reached its high point when he starred in Cannonball Run II in 1984. Okay, I’m being sarcastic, but I love those films and won’t have a bad word said about them. 1988 saw him reunite with Davis Jr and Dean Martin to embark on Rat Pack Reunion Tour. But Martin pulled out halfway through, and they never spoke again.

As the 90s arrived he was in his seventies, and the light in Ol’ Blue Eyes was fading, but his best-selling album came in 1993. Duets and its sequel consisted of remakes of his classic songs with artists including Aretha Frankin, Bono, Willie Nelson and his son, Frank Sinatra Jr. In 1995 he turned 80, and the Empire State Building was bathed in blue light in celebration and a star-studded concert took place, with Frank singing New York, New York one final time. Plagued by ill health including dementia and bladder cancer, he died of a heart attack aged 82 on 14 May 1998.

One of the 20th century’s giants of music, film and television, a true larger-than-life character, Frank Sinatra was buried in a blue suit with a bottle of Jack Daniel’s and a pack of cigarettes. Pretty cool. Reading into his life reveals plenty of examples of him not being so cool, but he was of a different era and had a harsh upbringing. Although easy listening is not up there with my favourite genres, I get the love for Ol’ Blue Eyes, and there truly was no singer quite like him.

And what of his duet partner and daughter? After Somethin’ Stupid, Nancy Sinatra recorded the theme to the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice that same year. She also continued to work with Hazelwood, and they duetted on psychedelic classic Some Velvet Morning. In 2002 it was covered by Primal Scream, with supermodel Kate Moss taking on Nancy’s part.

She left her father’s record label Reprise in 1971, and had a big hit in the UK when she duetted with Hazelwood again on Did You Ever? By the middle of that decade she slowed down her music and acting to concentrate on raising a family.

Nancy caused a stir in 1995 by agreeing to pose for Playboy, aged 54. She said her father was proud – which won’t help with the incest rumours I guess. 2002 saw her perform in the UK for the first time for the BBC. Two years later she released an eponymous album of collaborations with acts including U2, Jarvis Cocker and Sonic Youth. She made a decent cover of Morrissey’s Let Me Kiss You, released as a single (the two were old neighbours).

She and Frank Jr also continued the family’s Mob connections by appearing as themselves in separate episodes of one of the greatest TV dramas of all time – HBO’s The Sopranos. Nancy (with the Laughing Face) is 78, and remains one of the coolest members of one of the world’s coolest families.

Written by: C Carson Parks

Producer: Jimmy Bowen & Lee Hazelwood

Weeks at number 1: 2 (13-26 April) 

Births:

The Darkness bassist Frankie Poullain – 5 April
Olympic sprinter Sandra Douglas – 22 April 
Actress Marianne Jean-Baptiste – 26 April

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.