327. Donny Osmond – The Twelfth of Never (1973)

You just couldn’t keep the Osmonds down for long in the early-70s. After a brief fightback from glam rock acts, they were back at the top once more, this time it was golden boy Donny with his second number 1.

Since his last solo number 1, Puppy Love, Donny’s voice had broken. Despite this, and while the Osmonds experimented with rock on the unlikely classic, Crazy Horses, he ploughed the same furrow of romantic ballads from the 50s and 60s. The title track of his fourth solo album, Too Young, climbed to number five, and double-A-side follow-up Why/Lonely Boy reached number three. With two albums per year, not counting LPs released with his siblings, you certainly can’t accuse the Osmonds of laziness. They were milked for all they were worth, which was a fortune.

The first track off his fifth album, Alone Together, The Twelfth of Never dates back to 1956. Penned by Jerry Livingston (who co-wrote songs on Disney’s Cinderella) and Paul Webster (the lyricist on 1953 best-seller Secret Love), the tune was inspired by the 15th-century English folk tune The Riddle Song.

Crooner Johnny Mathis was the first to record it, a year later, as the B-side to his hit Chances Are, but he didn’t think much to the song. Then Cliff Richard released a version in 1964, which reached number 8.

Coming after Block Buster ! and Cum On Feel the Noize only makes The Twelfth of Never seem that much duller than it already is. Osmond’s voice may have broken but he still seems too young to be singing about how he’ll love his girl forever. It needs a crooner with gravitas, and is far better suited to Mathis. It has a pretty nice tune, but the lyrics have aged – and the ending in which is noted that the twelfth of never is ‘a very long time’… no kidding!

Mike Curb and Don Costa’s production is polished but barely conceals a rather lacklustre affair, when all is said and done. Not as nauseating as Puppy Love though, and certainly better than his little brother Jimmy’s effort.

Written by: Jerry Livingston & Paul Francis Webster

Producers: Mike Curb & Don Costa

Weeks at number 1: 5 (31 March-6 April)

Births:

Actor Jamie Bamber – 3 April

Meanwhile…

1 April: Value-added tax (VAT) first came into effect, and phase 2 of the Price and Pay Code came into effect, restricting rises in pay and prices as a counter-inflation measure.

6 April: Peter Niesewand, a correspondent of The Guardian newspaper and the BBC, was jailed in Rhodesia for an alleged breach of the Official Secrets Act.

326. Slade – Cum On Feel the Noize (1973)

‘BABY BABY BAAAAAABY!’. From one glam classic to another, The Sweet’s Block Buster ! was toppled after five weeks in pole position by another 1973 anthem. Slade finally achieved their goal with their fourth number 1 – Cum On Feel the Noize was the first chart-topper since Get Back to enter the charts as a number 1. There was no stopping the Wolverhampton wonders now.

Slade had recently suffered a slight dip in fortunes however. For the first time since 1971, they released a single that didn’t climb to number 1. Gudbuy T’Jane was kept from the top by Chuck Berry’s My Ding-a-Ling, of all things – although Noddy Holder is in the crowd of that actual performance.

This single was originally called Cum On Hear the Noize, but, recalling a 1972 concert by his band, Holder described being able to feel the sound of the crowd pounding in his chest. A wise move, as it makes the song that much more visceral. As Stuart Braithwaite of Scottish post-rockers Mogwai once said, music should be felt, not heard.

It was another tailor-made anthem by Holder and bassist Jim Lea, building upon their last number 1, Mama Weer All Crazee Now, in which the band describe the atmosphere of performing for their ever-growing army of fans. The initial ‘Baby, baby, baby’ was intended as a mic test, but it worked as a great intro to such an exciting song.

This brilliant call-to-arms stomp is Slade firing on all cylinders. Were it not for Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, it would probably be even better recognised, but this is a Slade single that’s for life, not just for Christmas.

The lyrics, as always with Slade, are pretty simple, but there’s some wit displayed here, as Holder winds up his detractors, most notably with ‘So you think my singing’s out of time, well it makes me money’. As with their previous single, it’s a masterstroke to add audience-style backing vocals chanting the chorus, creating another easy chant for maximum audience interaction. Everyone involved is having the time of their lives here, knowing that this was their time. I particularly like Lea’s busy bass throughout. This song remains a total joy from start to finish, and must have been immense at live shows of the time. A welcome distraction from continuous IRA-related terrible news in the early spring of 1973.

In 1983, US heavy metal act Quiet Riot had a big US hit with their cover, with slightly different lyrics and a very hair-metal sound. Then in 1996 at the height of their fame, Oasis made it an extra track of their single Don’t Look Back In Anger, memorably performing both tracks on one edition of Top of the Pops. While it may have made sense for a band like Oasis to cover this (both acts had large followings, distinctive lead singers, were at the height of their powers), neither of these covers match the original.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 4 (3-30 March)

Births:

Conservative MP Penny Mordaunt – 4 March

Deaths:

Ornithologist David Lack – 12 March
Playwright Noël Coward – 26 March
Conservative MP Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, 14th Duke of Hamilton – 30 March

Meanwhile…

3 March: Two IRA bombs exploded in London, killing one person and injuring 250 others. 10 people were arrested later that day at Heathrow Airport.

8 March: In the Northern Ireland sovereignty referendum, 98.9% of voters in the province wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK. This was the first referendum on regional government in the UK.

Also that day, more IRA bombs exploded in Whitehall and the Old Bailey in London. 

10 March: Richard Sharples, the governor of Bermuda, and his aide-de-camp were assasinated.

17 March: The new London Bridge, replacing a 19th-century stone-arched bridge, was opened by Queen Elizabeth II. 

21 March: Seven men are killed in flooding at the Lofthouse Colliery disaster in West Riding, Yorkshire.

26 March: Women were admitted into the London Stock Exchange for the first time. 

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.

324. Little Jimmy Osmond with The Mike Curb Congregation – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (1972)

What fresh hell is this? By installing nine-year-old Little Jimmy Osmond as Christmas number 1, the UK record-buying public’s collective nervous breakdown of 1972 was complete. The Osmonds were the biggest pop sensation of the year – but this was a step too far.

James Arthur Osmond, born 16 April 1963, is the youngest member of the family, born in Canoga Park, California. His brothers were already TV stars as regulars on The Andy Williams Show at this point, and Jimmy was taught by tutors, his parents preparing him from a young age to follow them into the music industry.

Long Haired Lover from Liverpool was originally a single by Christoper Kingsley (credited on the Osmond version as Christopher Dowden for some reason) from 1969. I’m assuming the title is a reference to The Beatles, then still a going concern. It’s almost identical to the Osmond version, though as it’s sung by a grown man, it’s not as irritating. Examining the vinyl label suggests the backing singers on the original are the same as Osmond’s version, namely The Mike Curb Congregation. Curb, a film score and TV theme writer, had formed the group in the 60s to sing on his work. In 1969 he had merged his company with MGM Records, which soon became home to The Osmonds. He also co-produced this abomination.

The original version bombed, but Jimmy’s mother Olive heard it as it was distributed by MGM, and a horrible, terrible idea formed. It was a cute little tune… her boys had cornered the market in teenage girls… Christmas was around the corner, the boys were about to visit the UK… Jimmy could release it as a single!

A few years back I listened and reviewed every Christmas number 1 in one sitting here. I rated Long Haired Lover from Liverpool as the worst of the 70s, and I stand by that. Comments included ‘Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing I can say about this that’s remotely festive, but it’s not meant as a compliment… It’s memorable I guess, but so is a bout of diarrhoea’. Nothing has changed since then to change my opinion, and although there have been plenty of weird choices in 1972’s number 1s, this still stands out as particularly stinky.

Osmond’s voice is just awful – but he was only nine (still the youngest person to ever have a UK number 1), so his parents are to blame. And the fools who kept this at the top of the charts for five weeks. FIVE WEEKS?! You can almost excuse it happening in the silly season, but for a month afterwards? And it kept David Bowie, T. Rex and even his brothers from number 1 with The Jean Genie, Solid Gold Easy Action and Crazy Horses respectively. The only plus point is it’s over quick.

Amazingly, Osmond scored further hits with Tweedle Dee and I’m Gonna Knock On Your Door (none of these songs fared anywhere near as well in his home country). His recordings became sporadic as the Osmond empire declined in popularity, and in the 80s he moved into management, though he would still occasionally appear on stage with his siblings. He opened the Osmond Family Theater and became president of Osmond Entertainment, running their merchandise and producing TV.

Since the new millennium began, Osmond has been a pantomime mainstay in the UK and appeared on TV time and time again, including I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, Come Dine with Me and Celebrity Masterchef. He seems a thoroughly nice guy, and we all do silly things in our youth, so lets forgive him for this aberration.

1972 must rank as one of the weirdest years for number 1s to date. Lots of the ‘grown-up’ stars were still concentrating on albums, and although glam rock ensured great releases by Slade and T. Rex, it wasn’t as huge as it was to become. At least January 1973 was a blockbuster month…

Written by: Christopher Dowden

Producers: Mike Curb & Perry Botkin Jr

Weeks at number 1: 5 (23 December 1972-26 January 1973)

Births:

Actor Jude Law – 29 December 1972
Kula Shaker singer Crispian Mills – 18 January 1973

Deaths:

Art historian Gisela Richter – 24 December 1972
Scottish novelist Neil M. Gunn – 15 January 1973
Northern Irish actor Max Adrian – 19 January

Meanwhile…

1 January 1973: A big day for the UK, as it officially entered the European Economic Community along with the Republic of Ireland and Denmark. Membership refusals in 1963 and 1967 had both been vetoed by French President Charles de Gaulle. Edward Heath later said entry into the EEC was his greatest accomplishment as Prime Minister.

11 January: The BBC’s Open University awarded its first degrees.

19 January: Super tug Statesman was sent to protect British fishing vessels from Iceland’s ships in the Cod War.

22 January: British share values fell by £4 billion in one day.

25 January: English actor Derren Nesbitt pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife Anne Aubrey after she told him she had been having an affair. They divorced a few months later.

323. Chuck Berry – My Ding-a-Ling (1972)

As mentioned in my blog for Mouldy Old Dough, the UK seemed to be having a nervous breakdown as far as its number 1 singles are concerned in late-1972. Here’s further proof. Rock’n’roll pioneer Chuck Berry, one of the most influential guitarists in musical history, at the top of the charts for his one and only time with his nadir – a live recording of tawdry jokes about his penis.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born 18 October 1926 in St Louis, Missouri. He grew up in the middle-class area known as the Ville. Berry was into music from an early age, and he gave his first public performance at Sumner High School in 1941. He was still a student there when he had his first of several run-ins with the law. In 1944 he was arrested for armed robbery after robbing three shops in Kansas City, Missouri. Berry was sent to a reformatory, where he spent his time learning to box and performing in a singing quartet. He was released on his 21st birthday in 1947.

Berry married a year later and became a father for the first time in 1950. To support his family he worked in car assembly factories and as a janitor, and he also trained to be a beautician. To help make ends meet he also played blues with local bands, and learnt riffs and tips on showmanship from T-Bone Walker. By 1953 he was performing in pianist Johnnie Johnson’s Trio, a relationship that endured, and would win over skeptical black audiences by playing country music, mixed in with ballads, blues and R&B. Soon white audiences were attending too.

Everything changed when Berry met Muddy Waters in 1955. The blues legend suggested Berry get in touch with Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Although he thought they may like his take on the blues, Chess loved his version of traditional tune Ida Red, which Berry called Maybellene. There is a strong argument for rock’n’roll beginning right here.

Classic after classic followed. In 1956 there was Roll Over Beethoven and You Can’t Catch Me (inspiration for The Beatles’ Come Together). In 1957, as rock’n’roll peaked, School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell), became his first chart hit in the UK. He went on tour that year with other greats including Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers.

Berry’s classics kept coming for the rest of the 50s, including Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode and Memphis, Tennessee. For some reason, only Sweet Little Sixteen and Memphis, Tennessee charted over here – was this down to distribution problems? Whatever the reason, by the end of the decade he was a huge star, had starred in films, opened a racially integrated nightclub and invested in real estate. But in December 1959 he was arrested for alleged underage sex with a girl he had transported over state lines.

The 60s got off to a terrible start, with Berry sentenced in March 1960 to five years in prison. He appealed and claimed the judge was racist, but he was convicted again, and a further appeal failed. His last single before jail time was Come On in 1961, which became the first single by The Rolling Stones.

Fortunately for Berry, his release from prison in 1963 coincided with the rise of The Beatles, who covered his material, and The Beach Boys Surfin’ U.S.A. reworked Sweet Little Sixteen. Although he never reached the same commercial heights as the 50s again, there were still some great songs, and UK hits with No Particular Place to Go and You Never Can Tell in 1964. The latter of course is now best known for its use in 1994 Quentin Tarantino smash Pulp Fiction. After that his career went on the slide. He jumped ship to Mercury Records and earned a reputation for erratic live performances.

Berry returned to Chess in 1970 with the appropriately named LP Back Home. His album The London Chuck Berry Sessions was a mix of studio tracks and three live performances recorded on 3 February 1972 at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry. Amazingly, the venue of the festival, the Locarno, was also the site of The Specials’ live EP Too Much Too Young The Special A.K.A. Live!, a number 1 in 1980. Berry was late for his slot, which annoyed headliners Pink Floyd as it meant they were an hour late for their set. In his band were guitarist Onnie McIntyre, drummer Robbie McIntosh, who went on to form Scottish funk outfit Average White Band, and bassist Nic Potter from prog-rockers Van Der Graaf Generator.

I’d thought in the past that My Ding-a-Ling was likely an off-the-cuff skit by Berry, but no, it’s an actual cover of a song by Dave Bartholomew, writer of many rock’n’roll hits including I Hear You Knocking, the Christmas number 1 by Dave Edmunds in 1970. Bartholomew released it first back in 1952. Berry first recorded it as My Tambourine in 1968.

I of course was within my rights to think this was a skit, of course, because it’s bloody awful. Thankfully hacked down from over 11 minutes on the album, it may well be that Berry had no say in the release of this as a single, but whether it was him or Chess, what the hell made them think it was a good idea, and more to the point, why did the UK prove them right? An eager audience including Noddy Holder (Slade were one of the acts on earlier that day) lap up every minute of this Carry On-style ditty disguised as a playground rhyme. Believe me, I’m all for that type of humour at the right time, but this is just terrible. Perhaps there was just a lot of nsotalgic affection for Berry at the time, with a rock’n’roll revival ongoing and bands like T. Rex paying respect?

And once again, it’s unavoidable to think of My Ding-a-Ling without context, without thinking about all the light entertainment and pop stars since outed as paedophiles and Berry’s many misdemeanours with women… it makes jokes that weren’t funny to begin with even worse.

My Ding-a-Ling reached number 1 here and in the US, but thankfully it didn’t stick around long enough to reach the Christmas number 1 spot in 1972. Unfortunately it was beaten by an even worse song…

Another live track from the album, Reelin’ and Rockin’, was Berry’s final hit. He spent much of the 70s touring along with his Gibson guitar, relying on local bands wherever he went, which often did his reputation damage, but along the way, pre-fame Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller were among those helping out. Springsteen later revealed Berry didn’t give the band a setlist and didn’t interact with them afterwards, but it didn’t stop him helping out again when Berry was entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

The ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ ended the decade with a gig at the White House for President Jimmy Carter in June 1979, but that year he was also sentenced to jail again – four months and 1,000 hours of community service for tax evasion.

The 80s saw Berry continue his one-man tours. In 1986, documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll covered two concerts for his 60th birthday featuring Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Etta James, among others. But he just couldn’t keep out of trouble. In 1987 Berry was charged with assaulting a woman at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. He pleaded guilty to harassment and paid a fine. Three years later, he was sued by women who claimed he had installed a video camera in the cubicle of his restaurant. Although his guilt wasn’t proven he opted to settle… with all 59 women. 59 women. During this scandal his home was raided and police found a huge stash of pornography, videos, slides and books, some of which appeared to show underage girls. The child abuse allegations were eventually dropped, and seem to have been largely forgotten in many of his obituaries.

In 2000, Johnson sued Berry, claiming he deserved co-writing credits on over 50 of his songs but the case was dismissed when the judge said too much time had passed. He continued to tour, and played festivals across the globe, but on New Year’s Day 2011 he passed out with exhaustion and had to be helped off stage.

On his 90th birthday in 2017 he announced he would be releasing his first new studio album since Rockit in 1979. Chuck featured his children Charles Berry Jr and Ingrid and was dedicated to his wife Toddy, who had remained all those years. It was to be his swansong, as Berry died of a cardiac arrest on 18 March. Chuck was released to critical acclaim two months later.

Without Chuck Berry, who knows which direction pop would have gone in. He inspired some of the greatest musicians of all time, and his iconic duckwalk is fondly remembered. Sadly, he was also a sex offender and maybe a paedophile, and this lone number 1 really doesn’t help his legacy.

Written by: Dave Batholomew

Producer: Esmond Edwards

Weeks at number 1: 4 (25 November-22 December)

Births:

Labour MP Dan Jarvis – 30 November
Scientist Ewan Birney – 6 December
Footballer Nicky Eaden – 12 December
Comedian Miranda Hart – 14 December
Actor Jonathan Slinger – 14 December
Labour MP Sarah Jones – 20 December
Labour MP Gloria De Piero – 21 December

Deaths:

Composer Havergal Brian – 28 November
Scottish novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie – 30 November
Writer LP Hartley – 13 December

322. Gilbert O’Sullivan – Clair (1972)

I said you’d never get a song like Mouldy Old Dough at number 1 now, and it also applies to this song that toppled it in the winter of 1972. Thanks to 60s and 70s celebrities like Jimmy Savile, Rolf Harris and Gary Glitter (two of which had number 1s), any song referencing love for a child is understandably looked upon with suspicion nowadays. In this song, Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan professes his love for his manager’s young daughter.

O’Sullivan was originally Raymond Edward O’Sullivan, born in Waterford on 1 December 1946. The family moved to Battersea, London when he was seven, and Swindon, Wiltshire a year later. O’Sullivan attended St. Joseph’s and the Swindon College of Art, and he briefly played drums in the band Rick’s Blues. Rick was Rick Davies, who went on to form Supertramp. He taught O’Sullivan drums and piano.

1967 was a big year by O’Sullivan. His then-manager Stephen Shane suggested a name change from Ray to Gilbert as a play on ‘Gilbert and Sullivan’. At the time his songs were avant-garde – so much so, Vivian Stanshall of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band expressed an interest in recording some. He was then signed to CBS Records by Mike Smith, producer of number 1s by The Marmalade, The Love Affair and The Tremeloes.

His first three singles, all credited to just ‘Gilbert’, got nowhere, but things improved after O’Sullivan sent demo tapes to Gordon Mills, manager of Engelbert Humperdinck and Tom Jones. Mills signed him to MAM Records, despite not being a fan of his idiosyncratic image. At a time of long hair and flares, O’Sullivan was going against the grain with a retro look consisting of a pudding-bowl hairstyle, cloth cap and short trousers.

In 1970 O’Sullivan had his first top 10 hit with Nothing Rhymed, considered one of his best tracks. He built on this success the following year with his debut album Himself and singles We Will and No Matter How I Try, which was recognised as Best Ballad or Romantic Song at the 1972 Ivor Novello Awards.

Then came his most famous single. Alone Again (Naturally) was a bleak introspective tale of a man contemplating suicide after being jilted at the altar. This critically-acclaimed 7-inch reached number three here, but topped the Billboard Hot 100 in the US.

Upon the release of his second album Back to Front, O’Sullivan ditched the old image and went to a different extreme, perming his hair and displaying his hairy chest like labelmate Tom Jones. Despite this, the music contained within was still light melancholic pop with a touch of music hall.

Clair begins as a straightforward love song. O’Sullivan and Clair began as friends, but he knew from the start this was special, and his feelings grew even more as the friendship did. But hang on, there’s an age gap, which has clearly thrown a spanner in the works:

‘But why in spite of our age difference do I cry.
Each time I leave you I feel I could die.
Nothing means more to me than hearing you say,
“I’m going to marry you. Will you marry me? Oh hurray!”‘

Wonder what the gap is… sounds tricky, a teen perhaps?

‘I’ve told you before “Don’t you dare!”
“Get back into bed.”
“Can’t you see that it’s late.”
“No you can’t have a drink.”
“Oh allright then, but wait just a minute.”
While I, in an effort to babysit, catch up on my breath,
What there is left of it.’

Oh… he’s her babysitter… and it’s his manager and producer’s daughter… right.

Now, I’m not going to be silly enough to suggest O’Sullivan is a paedophile, or that everyone who kept this at number 1 for a fortnight condones such behaviour. Clearly they saw this as nothing more than a cute song about this lovely little girl and how he can’t help but love her. They perhaps also liked the punchline of it being about a child, in the same way they Brotherhood of Man’s Save Your Kisses for Me at number 1 for six weeks in 1976. Times have changed.

But yes, there’s no escaping how problematic some of the lyrics are, namely the fact he can see himself marrying Clair eventually, and most of all ‘I don’t care what people say, to me you’re more than a child.’ When we’re only a year off the likes of Glitter conquering the charts, it can’t help but make modern listeners feel queasy.

Songs about children are a precarious concept. Even a musical genius like Stevie Wonder overdid it with Isn’t She Lovely, a nice tune that went on far too long and didn’t need baby noises thrown in. John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy) just about stays on the right side of sentimentality. It’s very easy to be too twee and make the listener feel sick, and that’s what Clair does for me, particularly that ‘Oh Clair’ and the giggle at the end. Yuck.

Written by: Gilbert O’Sullivan

Producer: Gordon Mills

Weeks at number 1: 2 (11-24 November)

Meanwhile…

18 November: 100 years to the day since the England men’s team played its first official association football match, the women’s team did the same, against Scotland, in Greenock. They won 3-2.

321. Lieutenant Pigeon – Mouldy Old Dough (1972)

1972 was a particularly strange year in the singles chart. Glam rock was yet to totally take over the charts, and some real oddities not only did well, they became huge. The year’s biggest seller was a bagpipe cover of Amazing Grace, and the second was this dirty knees-up from experimental musicians recorded in a living room, featuring the tuneless growling singer’s mum playing honky tonk piano. Mouldy Old Dough would rank highly in any chart of the oddest number 1s of all time. It’s also the only one to feature a mother and her son. It’s also the sound of a nation having a nervous breakdown.

Singer Rob Woodford and drummer Nigel Fletcher had been playing in bands since 1963. Woodward, under the name Shel Naylor, recorded for Decca in 1963 and 64, and one of his singles was One Fine Day by Dave Davies of The Kinks.

By 1969 the duo, obsessed with mad genius producer Joe Meek’s productions, were making recordings in the front room of Rob’s mother Hilda’s house, under the strange name Stavely Makepeace. Their first single was (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog. Their 1972 single Slippery Rock 70s found its way into the Edgar Wright 2007 comedy Hot Fuzz.

Deciding that things weren’t weird enough, they teamed up with bassist Steve Johnson and Hilda to create an outlet for their tendencies to create novelty tunes. Why Lieutenant Pigeon? Why not?

This debut single sank without trace on its first release at the start of the year, as their manager said it would, but somehow it was picked up for use as the theme to a Belgian TV current affairs show, and it went to number 1 there. Decca decided to give it another go, then Radio 1 DJ Noel Edmonds loved it, and it’s thanks to him in part that it did so well.

Opening with woodwind from Johnson, Lieutenant Pigeon’s debut Mouldy Old Dough initially sounds like a children’s TV or sitcom theme, until Hilda’s relentless piano takes over. One of the most unlikely number 1 band members ever sounds like a stoned version of Winifred Atwell. So far, so bizarre. But then it gets really messed up when Rob starts singing the song’s title. I say ‘singing’… he sounds like a tramp on turps. Apparently ‘mouldy old dough’ was a play on the 1920s jazz phrase ‘vo-de-o-do’, but it fits the feel of the song totally. The whole thing conjures up what many imagine when they think of the 70s in the UK. A rotting, brown, smelly, seedy old mess. You know how Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities is always used as a soundtrack to 80s montages on TV? This should be used for the 70s.

But this is no bad thing. How incredible that this was a number 1?! That the Top of the Pops crowd of kids can actually be seen getting down to this swamp song in the clip above? We’ll never see its like again, that’s for sure. The group look like they can’t believe their luck, especially Rob as he growls ‘Dirty old man’.

Lieutenant Pigeon even managed another hit when they reached number 17 with Desperate Dan, also in 1972. It’s almost exactly the same, but not as good. They reached number three in Australia in 1974 with a cover of I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.

The original incarnation decided to stop touring in 1978. Johnson reformed Lieutenant Pigeon with a new line-up in the 80s. These days the original duo still record as Lieutenant Pigeon and Stavely Makepeace, creating jingles and releasing music on their website. Hilda, who looked very old in 1972, was actually only 56 at the time (everyone looked older than they should have in the 70s). She died in 1999, aged 85.

Written by: Nigel Fletcher & Rob Woodward

Producer: Stavely Makepeace

Weeks at number 1: 4 (14 October-10 November)

Births:

Actress Samantha Janus – 2 November
Actress Thandie Newton – 6 November
Rugby player Danny Grewcock – 7 November

Deaths:

Broadcaster Douglas Smith – 15 October

Meanwhile…

16 October: The first episode of Yorkshire Television’s rural soap Emmerdale Farm was broadcast on ITV. Before they shortened the title, it was a much more gentle drama, like a bleaker version of The Archers.

19 October: Royce Ryton’s play Crown Matrimonial premiered at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. Concerning the abdication of Edward VIII, it was the first time a living member of the Royal family (Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) had been represented on stage.

22 October: England football team goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks suffered a serious eye injury in a car crash in Staffordshire.

23 October: Access credit cards were first introduced as a rival to Barclaycard.

6 November: The Government introduces price and pay freezes to counter inflation.

320. David Cassidy – How Can I Be Sure (1972)

The Osmonds were the biggest teen-pop family in 1972, but The Partridge Family weren’t far behind. Unlike The Osmonds, they weren’t really related. The US sitcom, which began in 1970, turned David Cassidy, who played eldest son Keith, into a superstar. But Cassidy wasn’t happy to be a pop idol, and this first UK number 1 was his way of showing the world he wanted to be taken seriously.

David Bruce Cassidy, born in New York on 12 April 1950, was the son of famous singer and actor Jack Cassidy and actress Evelyn Ward, whose ancestors were among the founders of Newark, New Jersey. As his parents were on the road so much, Cassidy was raised in his early years by his maternal grandparents in West Orange, New Jersey. Jack and Evelyn divorced when he was four, and he didn’t find out until two years later, when his neighbours’ children told him.

Fast forward to 1968, and Cassidy had gained his high-school diploma and was living with his father, second wife and award-winning actress Shirley Jones and his half-brothers in Irvington, New York, working part time at a textile firm while he sought fame as an actor or singer. In 1969 he made his Broadway debut in The Fig Leaves Are Falling but it closed after four shows. However a casting director saw something in him and Cassidy passed a screen test, moving to Los Angeles. He signed with Universal Studios and starred in episodes of Bonanza and Ironside, before his big break landed.

The Partridge Family was loosely based on a real-life musical family, the Cowsills, who were popular in the late-60s. In a blurring of real-life and fiction, Cassidy’s stepmother Jones was already cast as the widowed mother Shirley Partridge when he got the job as her eldest son Keith. Studio bosses were impressed with Cassidy’s voice, and decided he would sing for real on the spin-off music recordings released under The Partridge Family name. Much like The Monkees, session musicians (often The Wrecking Crew) backed Cassidy and occasionally Jones. The rest of the cast were lip-synching.

The series became huge, and although it was mainly a US concern, several of their singles performed well in the UK. First single I Think I Love You reached the top 20. Meanwhile Cassidy became such a big star he began releasing material under his own name in 1971, which was what he had really wanted all along.

In early 1972 his debut album Cherish was released, and the title track reached number two on these shores. The fresh-faced Cassidy was four years older than his 16-year-old TV character, and much less squeaky-clean. The attention from young girls drove him mad – so much so, he decided to pose naked for the cover of Rolling Stone, for an article in which admitted to enjoying drink and drugs. Despite the controversy, he failed to capture a more mature audience, and the girls still loved him. Perhaps a ‘grown-up’ song could help?

How Can I Be Sure was originally a self-penned hit in the US and Canada (a number 1 there) for American rock band The Young Rascals in 1967. Three years later Dusty Springfield tried to make it a UK hit, but to no avail. Cassidy loved the song, and recorded it for next album Rock Me Baby, and it became its first single.

I often admire and sympathise with any pop star who tries to break out of the straitjacket being one often creates, and Cassidy is no exception. The introspective, uncertain lyrics of this song are certainly more palatable to my ears than Donny Osmond’s insipid Puppy Love that’s for sure.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t quite achieve what it sets out to do. Cassidy overdoes his vocal and tries too hard, and his voice doesn’t appeal to me. Fair play for aiming for the adult market, but I don’t think much to the song either – it’s too old-fashioned for 1972 and when it’s surrounded by bands like Slade and Alice Cooper, he still comes across too ‘light entertainment’.

So the girls still lapped it up, but because of that, they did give Cassidy his first UK number 1, so mixed blessings, all in all.

Written by: Felix Cavaliere & Eddie Brigati

Producer: Wes Farrell

Strings and horns arranged by: Mike Melvoin

Weeks at number 1: 2 (30 September-13 October)

Deaths:

Paleontologist Louis Leakey – 1 October
Footballer Syd Puddefoot – 2 October
Broadcaster Douglas Smith – 15 October

Meanwhile…

10 October: John Betjeman was appointed as Poet Laureate.

13 October: Bank rates were abolished and replaced with the Minimum Lending Rate.

319. Slade – Mama Weer All Crazee Now (1972)

In 1972 Slade were becoming wise to the glam rock movement springing up around them. They were already changing from their skinhead look, growing their hair out again, but they also began wearing increasingly outlandish outfits – particularly guitarist Dave Hill.

They also became obsessed with the idea of entering the charts at number 1 in week one, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since The Beatles and Billy Preston with Get Back. Last single Take Me Bak ‘Ome had been number 1 for a week earlier that year, but… well it wasn’t great, really. They needed something stronger. While recording it, as stated in the accompanying blog, Noddy Holder ad-libbed halfway through, and bassist Jim Lea liked what he heard… but asked him to save it as it had given him an idea for a new song.

The tune for Mama Weer All Crazee Now was for the first totally written by Lea. In a 1984 interview with Record Mirror, he recalled he had attended a Chuck Berry gig in 1972 where the legendary guitarist kept stopping his songs to let the crowd sing them for him, and he decided to write a readymade anthem where they could do the same. Combining it with the aforementioned ad-libs and recalling Holder’s comment after surveying the aftermath of one of their own gigs at Wembley Arena (‘Christ, everyone must have been crazy tonight’) he came up with My My We’re All Crazy Now.

And thus, the Slade formula was finally born. And what a formula it was. Holder letting rip over a simple but memorable riff, a simple ear-worm chorus fit for a stadium with crowd-like backing vocals, lyrics about having a good time… that’s all there is to it. But it hits that sweet spot so well. There were even better number 1s to come, but Mama Weer All Crazee Now is great fun. Ok, not a lot going on lyrically – it’s basically about wanting to get pissed on whisky. But what’s that bit about filling up ‘H’ Hill’s left shoe – is that a reference to their guitarist?

It doesn’t matter, it’s about the energy, and the climax, where Don Powell hits the drums repeatedly and Holder shouts ‘MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA’ is brilliant.

Slade didn’t quite go straight in at number 1 this time around, but they did enter at two, and they got there in the end.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 3 (9-29 September)

Births:

Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky – 9 September
Oasis singer Liam Gallagher – 21 September
Breaststroke swimmer Richard Maden – 21 September

Deaths:

Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher – 15 September

Meanwhile…

11 September: BBC One broadcast long-running quiz series Mastermind was broadcast for the first time, with Magnus Magnusson asking the questions until 1997. John Humphrys has been presenter since 2003.

12 September: The second Cod War was triggered when two British trawlers were sunk by an Icelandic gunboat.

13 September: 20 years after their debut in France, hypermarkets came to the UK when Carrefour opened in Caerphilly, South Wales.

18 September: On the orders of dictator Idi Amin, thousands of deported Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK.

19 September: A parcel bomb killed a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in London.

318. Rod Stewart – You Wear It Well (1972)

‘Rod the Mod’, after years of striving, became a solo superstar off the back of Maggie May in 1971. And his group Faces did well out of it too, releasing third album A Nod Is as Good as a Wink… To a Blind Horse later that year and scoring a hit with the raucous Stay With Me. But there was some tension among the band, despite them helping out on Stewart’s next solo album Never a Dull Moment, that he was concentrating a little too much on his own career.

Featuring covers of Jimi Hendrix and Sam Cooke as well as songs co-written with Ronnie Wood and Martin Quittenton, his fourth solo LP was released in July 1972, and You Wear It Well was singled out the following month.

It’s a sequel of sorts to Maggie May, also co-written by Stewart and Quittenton, in which the singer, now in Minnesota, is writing to a lover. Something went wrong along the way and he ‘blew it without even trying’, and he doesn’t know if she’ll ever even get his song/note, but he’s offloading anyway. The tone of the song is so similar, both lyrically and musically (the drumming at the start is surely a deliberate nod?) it seems very likely to be for Maggie to me, especially when you consider the references to age and ‘radical views’ (see my Maggie May blog for more on the origins of that song)

As with Maggie May, Stewart is very good at telling a story and creating compelling characters. I don’t know what went wrong, but Stewart was clearly a great songwriter back then. His style was intelligent and impressive and it’s not easy to tell such vivid stories in pop songs. You can forgive him his innate laddishness when there’s such wit on display.

Unfortunately, it’s so similar to his previous number 1, you can’t help but compare, and despite a nice backing from the other Faces, it’s not as strong a song, and it’s lacking the bright sound of the mandolin. Nothing wrong with a song lacking a chorus, it’s a brave move, but this time around, it’s missing it.

By the time Stewart had his third number 1 in 1975, he had changed record labels, moved to Los Angeles, and Faces had split.

Written by: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton

Producer: Rod Stewart

Weeks at number 1: 1 (2-8 September)

Births:

Actor Idris Elba – 6 September