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.

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.

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

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.

311. Nilsson – Without You (1972)

One of the earliest, finest power ballads, reaching number 1 in the 70s and 90s, Without You is a tune surrounded by tragedy. This version, by maverick singer-songwriter Nilsson, is the best.

Harry Edward Nilsson III, born in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on 15 June 1941, came from a family of circus performers on his father’s side, who were known for their aerial ballet. His father walked out on the family when he was only three – which had a profound effect on Nilsson, becoming the subject matter of his songs 1941 and Daddy’s Song.

He grew up with his mother and younger half-sister. They were so poor, he took on a number of jobs from a young age, including a job at the Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles. Nilsson grew more and more interested in music, and it was his mechanic uncle that helped him on the way to becoming such a great singer. He formed an Everly Brothers-style duo with a friend. When the Paramount closed in 1960, he lied his way into a job working for a bank on their new computer system.

In 1962, Nilsson also got a job singing the demos of budding songwriter Scott Turner. He’d also started writing tunes himself, and in 1963 he co-wrote for Little Richard. Reportedly, upon hearing Nilsson sing, he exclaimed ‘My! You sing good for a white boy!’ the following year, he wrote three songs with Phil Spector.

Thanks to publisher Perry Botkin Jr, who invested his life savings into getting Nilsson the means to record four songs for Tower Records (a subsidiary of Capitol). This material was compiled into his debut album, Spotlight on Nilsson, released in 1966. That same year, he signed with RCA Victor and recorded Pandemonium Shadow Show (1967). This LP really showcased the potential of his voice and ability to cover other artists as well as his own material. His cover of The Beatles’ You Can’t Do That, in which he quoted 17 other songs by the Fab Four, caught the attention of their press officer Derek Taylor. Thanks to a major label behind him, and his songwriting duties for hot acts like The Monkees, Nilsson finally quit the bank.

Nilsson’s career went from strength to strength over the next few years critically and then commercially. His cover of Fred Neil’s Everybody’s Talkin’ first featured on 1968 album Aerial Ballet, before becoming a deserved hit a year later thanks to its inclusion in the film Midnight Cowboy. At the press conference in which The Beatles announced the formation of Apple Corp, John Lennon was asked the name of his favourite American singer, and Paul McCartney was asked his favourite American group. Both replied ‘Harry Nilsson’. Aerial Ballet also contained his original version of the melancholy One, later covered by Three Dog Night.

In 1970, Nilsson had become aware of a then-little-known songwriter called Randy Newman. He was so impressed, he made a whole album of his material, Nilsson Sings Newman, which helped get Newman recognised despite selling poorly. The following year Nilsson travelled to the UK to record Nilsson Schmilsson, his most famous work, which featured Without You by Badfinger.

The sad story of Badfinger is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of the mercenary music business. One of the first signings to Apple Records, with the help of The Beatles they scored several hits. Without You, written by band members Pete Ham and Tom Evans. Their version had featured on 1970 album No Dice. It’s a decent stab, but a little unsure of itself, like a demo when compared to the covers that were to come, but then, Ham and Evans hadn’t realised the potential it had.

It had originally been two separate songs. Ham had written one called If It’s Love. He thought one of the verses had potential.

‘Well I can’t forget tomorrow
When I think of all my sorrow
I had you there but then I let you go
And now it’s only fair that I should let you know… if it’s love’

Meanwhile, Evans had a chorus for a song called I Can’t Live, which fitted well with Ham’s song. Combined, they finished Without You.

Recorded in London’s Trident Studios, Nilsson was backed by Apple alumni and Beatles collaborators. The man behind the haunting, plaintive piano was Gary Wright, who had appeared on George Harrison’s My Sweet Lord, Klaus Voorman of Plastic Ono Band took up bass, leading session drummer Jim Keltner was on drums and John Uribe played acoustic guitar. Strings and horns were arranged by Paul Buckmaster.

Although this sounds timeless now, nobody was producing power ballads quite like this in 1972, and although as a genre I’m more likely to laugh at them than truly appreciate them, Without You is a classic. You could argue these days that Nilsson is in effect using emotional blackmail to get his love to stay, but to argue that, you’d be ignoring such an impressively bleak, tortured performance. He sounds so tender at the start, his voice almost feminine as he remembers how she left him. It’s still an awe-inspiring performance, the way his voice shifts halfway through that first chorus. He’s a broken man, and by the final chorus… you just know that Nilsson knows how it feels to be so bereft. This is the difference between his version and Mariah Carey’s number 1 in 1994. Yes, she hits all the notes and it’s technically great, but hard to believe in. It’s also a great production by Perry, classy, and not too overblown. Unlike many power ballads, it’s succinct. It doesn’t outstay its welcome.

Nilsson quickly followed up his hit album with Son of Schmilsson, but he had begun to ignore Perry’s advice and lost fans with the use of swearing in his songs. He did however write another UK number 1 – David Cassidy topped the charts with his cover of The Puppy Song in 1973.

Nilsson was going through a divorce at the time, which made him the perfect drinking companion for Lennon, separated from Yoko Ono and in the midst of his ‘lost weekend’ with May Pang. They became close friends, raising hell and gaining the wrong kind of press for incidents like being thrown out of a Smothers Brothers show. They managed to get it together enough to make an uneven album together, Pussy Cats in 1974, featuring a killer cover of Many Rivers to Cross.

Three years later, Nilsson readied what he considered his best work Knnillssonn. RCA agreed and promised a big promo campaign, but the death of Elvis Presley threw a spanner in the works. However they did release a greatest hits without his permission, so he left the label.

In 1978, Nilsson, along with the world, was shocked to discover The Who’s Keith Moon was found dead in the London flat he rented out. This in itself was terrible news, but the fact that Cass Elliott of The Mamas & the Papas had died in the very same room in 1974, was too much to take. He sold the flat to Pete Townshend and spent all his time in LA from then on.

Nilsson’s output grew more sporadic as the 80s began. His soundtrack for Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) did as well as the disappointing film, and he was left reeling from the murder of his friend Lennon in December. Nilsson never toured or performed at big concerts, but the death caused him to make more public appearances to give his opinions on gun control in the US. In the mid-80s he returned to the studio, becoming mainly involved in writing music for film and TV through his new production company Hawkeye. Sadly, the project floundered and it was discovered his financial adviser had embezzled Nilsson of all his earnings. He was left close to bankruptcy, while she served less than two years in prison.

Nilsson was born with congenital heart problems, and when he suffered a heart attack in 1993, he knew the writing was on the wall. Years of heavy boozing and smoking will also have taken its toll. He pressed RCA to release a box set of his work, and tried to make one last album, but had only recorded vocal tracks when he died of heart failure on 15 January 1994, aged only 52. The album was finally released in November 2019 as Losst and Founnd. A gifted singer and songwriter, who did things the way he wanted (and one could argue he created the first remix album with 1971’s Aerial Pandemonium Ballet) Nilsson is remembered fondly.

One of the most famous stories attached to Without You is of course the horrible fate of both its songwriters. Following Nilsson’s cover, the future looked bright for Ham and Evans, who were awarded the 1972 Ivor Novello Award for Best Song Musically and Lyrically. However, it was to be their last hit. When Apple folded in 1973, the group became mired in legal disputes thanks to manager Stan Polley. They were left in limbo and without money coming in, and Ham was showing signs of mental illness. On 23 April 1975, Ham’s body was found hanging in his garage studio, with a suicide note that ended ‘P.S. Stan Polley is a soulless bastard’.

After this tragedy, Evans and guitarist Joey Molland spent years trying in vain to recapture Badfinger’s magic, often amid blazing rows. The money issues only got worse, and Evans then became caught up in royalty rows with Molland, drummer Mike Gibbins and their first manager Bill Collins. Following a particularly nasty argument between Molland and Evans, the songwriter’s body was found at his home on 19 November 1983. He too had hung himself.

If you like your cover versions twisted and harrowing, and if any song deserves that, it’s this one, I’d suggest cult singer-songwriter Bobby Conn’s from 2000, which you can enjoy here.

Written by: Pete Ham & Tom Evans

Producer: Richard Perry

Weeks at number 1: 5 (11 March-14 April)

Births:

Franz Ferdinand singer Alexander Kapranos – 20 March
Actor Nick Frost – 28 March

Deaths:

Photographer Tony Ray-Jones – 13 March
Violinist David McCallum Sr – 21 March
Film producer J Arthur Rank – 29 March

Meanwhile…

21 March: Chancellor Anthony Barber announced a £1,200,000,000 tax reduction in the Budget.

26 March: The UK’s last trolleybus system, in Bradford, was closed.

30 March: The Parliament of Northern Ireland was suspended.

31 March: A large CND demonstration was held protesting against the nuclear base at Aldermaston.

1 April : William Whitelaw was appointed as the first Northern Ireland Secretary.

6 April: Motoring giant Ford launched new flagship saloon model, the Granada, which replaced the Zephyr, to be produced in Dagenham.

11 April: BBC Radio 4 launched long-running parodic panel show I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. The ‘antidote to panel games’ still entertains to this day.

310. Chicory Tip – Son of My Father (1972)

They may look like your average early-70s band, but it’s Kent rock group Chicory Tip who hold the honour of being the first chart-toppers whose single featured a synthesiser. Kraftwerk? It was another decade before they got to number 1. However, Son of My Father had been created by a true electronic music pioneer – the godlike genius, Giorgio Moroder.

Giovanni Giorgio Moroder, born 26 April 1940 in Urtijëi in South Tyrol, Italy, began releasing songs as ‘Giorgio’ after moving to Berlin, Germany in 1963. He moved to Munich in 1968 and two years later he scored his first big hit, the bubblegum pop track Looky Looky. Giorgio founded the renowned Musicland Studios, and took one Pete Bellotte under his wing.

Bellotte, from Barnet, Hertfordshire, had played guitar in beat group The Sinners, who teamed up with Linda Laine. While touring Germany, Bellotte befriended Reg Dwight, later Elton John, who was playing with Bluesology. Bellotte learnt German and had ambitions to become a songwriter. He and Giorgio were the perfect match, and in 1971, Bellotte wrote English lyrics for the Giorgio track Nachts scheint die Sonne, which translated as In the Night Shines the Sun (Michael Holm had penned the German lyrics). This catchy tale of a young man determined to break free of the conformity of his parents stood out due primarily to Giorgio’s use of a Moog synthesiser.

This legendary instrument, created by Dr Robert Moog in 1964, had first come to the attention of the mainstream courtesy of Wendy (then Walter) Carlos’s album Switched-On Bach in 1968, the same year it began to be used by The Monkees. In 1969 it appeared on The Beatles’ swansong Abbey Road, and George Harrison performed a whole album, Electronic Sound, on the instrument, also released that year.

Giorgio knew he had a potential hit on his hands and he decided to make it the title track of his forthcoming album. But somehow, an advance copy of his next single found its way into the hands of Roger Easterby, manager of Chicory Tip.

The five-piece had formed in Maidstone in 1967, and consisted of singer Peter Hewson, guitarist Rick Foster, bassist Barry Mayger, drummer Brian Shearer and guitarist and keyboardist Rod Cloutt. Originally knows as The Sonics, Mayger had come up with the new name after seeing ‘chicory’ on the label of a coffee bottle.

After singing with CBS Records, Chicory Tip began releasing records in 1970 with Monday After Sunday, but failed to make an impression. Second single, I Love Onions, sounds like an interesting listen, though. They made it on to Top of the Pops with third single Excuse Me Baby in 1971, but again, fame eluded them.

Luckily, Easterby secured the band the option to rush record their own version of Giorgio’s next single. Chicory Tip recorded Son of My Father at George Martin’s Air Studios, and in another Beatles connection, the Moog in the song was played by engineer Chris Thomas, who had helped out on The Beatles and went on to become one of the UK’s greatest producers, working with David Bowie, Pink Floyd, Leonard Cohen, Sex Pistols and Pulp.

For such a historically important number 1, Son of My Father is a rather unassuming little song, but a decent one, and yes, that’s mainly down to that infectious Moog running through the track. And yet, this isn’t some brave new world we’re hearing – it’s no I Feel Love or Autobahn. It doesn’t make your jaw drop when you compare it to what had come before. Even the Musitron clavioline (a forerunner to the synthesiser) in Del Shannon’s Runaway stands out more. It seems to be there just to add colour to an otherwise standard pop-rock song, in much the same way The Beatles had used the instrument.

It’s a great fit though, that gleeful, impish sound conjuring up images of childhood, which of course ties in with the theme of the song. And more credit should be due to Bellotte., I’d always assumed Moroder came up with the lyrics to his music, but Bellotte is the unsung hero of the partnership, making Moroder’s material more palatable to English-speaking audiences.

Of course, it would help if you could actually decipher the lyrics in Chicory Tip’s version. They rushed the recording so much, Hewson didn’t have time to learn the words and appears to be making them up as he goes along. ‘Moulded, I was folded, I was preform-packed’, a nice comment on how society dictates the adult we grow up to be, became what sounds like ‘Moogling, I was googling, I was free from drugs’, as seen in an edition of BBC Two music quiz Never Mind the Buzzcocks, here. So ironically, it’s easier to understand Giorgio’s version, which also features an understandably more polished production. Nonetheless, it’s an endearing number 1, and a glimpse into the world of electronic music that Moroder was so important in over the next decade.

The future looked bright for Chicory Tip at first, with What’s Your Name reaching the top 20 later that year, and Good Grief Christina in 1973. Interestingly, it was Moroder and Bellotte who penned these singles and more, but their fortune faded, and when IOU failed to hit the charts in 1973, they stopped working with the duo and tried hitmakers Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley on Take Your Time Caroline, but again, no joy. I’m sure the band wouldn’t have been amused at the fact they bowed out in 1975 with a song called Survivor. They left behind only one album, named after their number 1.

Other versions of Chicory Tip came and went until 1996 when Foster, Mayger and Shearer reformed the group without Hewson, who had to decline due to throat problems. He had released a solo single in 1983, Take My Hand, produced by another electro pioneer – Vince Clarke of Depeche Mode, Yazoo and Erasure. Foster and Shearer still perform in a version of Chicory Tip, but Cloutt died in Australia in 2017.

Written by: Giorgio Moroder, Pete Bellotte & Michael Holm

Producers: Roger Easterby & Des Champ

Weeks at number 1: 1 (19 February-10 March)

Births:

Footballer Malky Mackay – 19 February

Snooker player Terry Murphy – 6 March

Deaths:

Documentary film-maker John Grierson – 19 February

Meanwhile…

22 February: In retaliation for Bloody Sunday, The Official Irish Republican Army were responsible for the Aldershot Barracks bombing. which killed seven civilians and injured 19. It was the Official IRA’s largest attack during The Troubles, and due to the widespread criticism of the attack, they declared a permanent ceasefire in May. The Provisional IRA, however, were another matter entirely.

25 February: After seven weeks, the miners’ strike ended. Heath was to take them on again in 1974, but the move backfired.

308. The New Seekers – I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony) (1972)

The first new number 1 of 1972 was the first time a song was a mammoth hit because of its association with a TV advert. Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames topped the charts in 1966 with Get Away, which was used in a commercial for petrol, but I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing (In Perfect Harmony), used by Coca-Cola, is probably the most famous example of all, and the one that opened ad men’s eyes to the idea of how much money could be made this way.

It all began in Ireland a year previous. Bill Backer was the creative director for the McCann Erickson advertising agency in the US. Backer was supposed to be meeting songwriter Billy Davis in London to discuss new radio jingles for the soft drink giant. Davis had written several brilliant hits for soul star Jackie Wilson, including Reet Petite (1986 Christmas number 1) and (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher and he had then moved into the lucrative advertising world. Davis was to be joined by British hitmakers Roger Cook and Peter Greenaway.

London fog had caused Backer’s plane to land in Shannon, Ireland instead. Understandably, Backer noticed how angry some of the passengers were at being forced to stay there overnight until the fog lifted. But the following day, he noted many of those people were sat laughing and joking, many drinking from bottles of Coke. An idea began to form.

When he met with the others in London, Backer told them of his idea of ‘buying the world a Coke’. Davis wasn’t bowled over, saying if he had his way he’d buy everyone a house and give peace and love to all first. Backer told him to start writing and he’d show him how his concept could fit in with it. Together with Cook and Greenaway, who let them use the tune of a single they wrote for Susan Shirley called Mom, True Love and Apple Pie, they came up with ‘I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke’. A month later the jingles were released to US radio, and did so well, Davis’s DJ friends told him he should consider a single version.

Meanwhile, Backer was busy coming up with one of the most famous adverts of all time. So famous, it inspired the ending of one of the best US drama series of the past decade (I won’t say which, just in case you’re still watching it). Filming began on the white cliffs of Dover, but constant rain moved the shoot to Rome instead, where eventually 500 young people were assembled to lip sync to the catchy jingle. The epic advert, which you can see here, hit TV screens that July. It was huge.

Davis wanted The New Seekers to record a rewritten single version, but their manager said they were too busy, and so instead he arranged for session singers to record it, and christened them The Hillside Singers. The new version dropped all references to Coke, including their ‘It’s the real thing’ slogan. With the single climbing the charts, suddenly The New Seekers found themselves available.

Ironically, much like ‘New Coke’ in the 80s, London-based pop act The New Seekers had little connection to the Australian folk group The Seekers, who had achieved two UK number 1s in the 60s. They had split in 1968, and one of the quartet, Keith Potger, decided to use the name to give his new group, who he managed, a leg-up. Formed in 1969, they originally consisted of Laurie Heath, Chris Barrington, Marty Kristian, Eve Graham and Young Generation member Sally Graham (no relation).

The first album made no impact, so Potger shuffled the line-up around, adding himself, Lyn Paul, Peter Doyle and Paul Layton and removing Heath, Barrington and Sally Graham. Despite some US success, they continued to struggle in the UK until June 1971 when their cover of Delaney & Bonnie’s Never Ending Song of Love spent five weeks at number two. The reworking of the Coke jingle could be a great way to keep the ball rolling.

There’s no denying the infectious quality of Cook and Greenaway’s tune – so much so that expert pilferer Noel Gallagher adopted it for one of my favourite Oasis singles, Shakermaker. And obviously, the message of the Coke advert really struck a chord with America in particular, a country desperately in need of peace, love and unity as the war in Vietnam raged on (one has to wonder if ad companies are working on a similar thing during the coronavirus pandemic). But as a standalone single, it’s too twee and lightweight to deserve the mammoth sales it enjoyed. It sounds more like a Eurovision single circa 1968, playing catch-up with the hippy idealism of the time.

Nonetheless it established The New Seekers, who had a second number 1 in 1973. And Coca-Cola had another associated number 1 in the UK – the earnest power ballad First Time, by Robin Beck, in 1988.

Written by: Bill Backer, Bill Davis, Roger Cook & Roger Greenaway

Producer: Al Ham

Weeks at number 1: 4 (8 January-5 February)

Births:
Conservative MP Gavin Barwell – 23 January
Take That singer Mark Owen – 27 January

Meanwhile…

9 January: The National Union of Mineworkers held a strike ballot in which 58.8% voted in favour of industrial action. Coal miners began a strike which lasted for seven weeks. It was the first time they had been on strike officially since 1926, but more action would take place in the 70s.

20 January: Unemployment exceeded the 1,000,000 mark for the first time since the 30s – almost double the 582,000 who were unemployed when Edward Heath rose to to power less than two years previous – but that’s the Tories for you.

30 January: Bloody Sunday. After several years of growing tension in Northern Ireland, the most infamous incident of the Troubles took place when 14 Roman Catholic civil rights protestors were gunned down by British paratroopers in Londonderry. A further 14 were injured.

2 February: In retaliation for Bloody Sunday, protesters burned down the British Embassy in Dublin. 

3–13 February: And yet Great Britain and Northern Ireland competed as one team at the Winter Olympics in Sapporo, Japan. But they didn’t win any medals. 

Every UK Number 1: The 50s – Out Now on Kindle!

Today sees the release of my first book! Every UK Number 1: The 50s is available on Amazon’s Kindle Store at £3.99 here. Members of Kindle Unlimited are able to read for free via their monthly subscriptions. If you’re into vintage music, pop culture and social history, it would make for great lockdown reading. Hope you enjoy!

The UK singles chart is the soundtrack to our lives and a barometer of the nation’s mood and tastes. And ever since 1952, the battle for the number one spot has had us all talking as well as dancing. 

In this fascinating spin-off from everyuknumber1.com, as seen in the Daily Mirror, music journalist Rob Barker comprehensively reviews all the best-sellers of the Fifties, delving into the wild lives of the artists and the real stories and secrets behind the hits. He also counts down the influential events that shaped them, as we moved from rations to never having it so good.

Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard were among those who transformed the lives of young people throughout Britain, and taught a country battered by war how to have fun again. 

Find out which chart topper was written by an illiterate rapist who formed his own prison band. Learn about the strange early days of the charts, which led to the number one spot being held by two acts at the same time, with different versions of the same banned song. Who was the first woman to top the charts? And which hitmaker lives on as Cockney rhyming slang? 

Every UK Number 1: The 50s has all the answers on the decade in which pop took its first steps, before rock’n’roll shouldered in and left the baby boomers all shook up. 

305. Rod Stewart – Reason to Believe/Maggie May (1971)

Sir Roderick David Stewart, aka ‘Rod the Mod’, was one of the biggest-selling artists of the 70s and 80s, with over 120 million records sold worldwide, and six number 1 singles. And yet his first chart-topper, Maggie May, was tucked away as a B-side. Were it not for its appeal shining through, Stewart may not have become as big a superstar as he did.

Stewart was born at home in Highgate, London on 10 January 1945. He was the youngest of five children, the other four having been born in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, where his father Robert, a builder, came from. After he retired, Robert bought a newsagent’s shop, which the Stewart family lived above. His youngest’s main hobby, which he still loves, was railway modelling.

Stewart’s other big obsession was football, and he became captain of his school’s team. His first musical hero was Al Jolson, but he soon got into rock’n’roll, and he saw Bill Haley & His Comets in concert. In 1960 he joined a skiffle group called The Kool Kats, and would play Lonnie Donegan covers.

Stewart left school at 15 and had various jobs working in the family shop, as a silk screen printer and at a cemetery, but he longed to be a professional footballer. In 1961 he decided to try his hand at singing, and along with The Raiders he auditioned for eccentric producer Joe Meek, but he wasn’t impressed.

Soon after, Stewart turned into a left-wing beatnik, listening to the folk music of Bob Dylan, Ewan MacColl and Woody Guthrie and attending protest marches, getting arrested three times between 1961 and 1963. He later confessed he often used the marches as a way of bedding girls. In 1962 he took to playing the harmonica and would busk at Leicester Square with folk singer Wizz Jones. They took their act to Europe, and Stewart found himself deported from Spain for vagrancy in 1963. Around this time, he was considered as a singer for The Kinks, then known as The Ray Davies Quartet.

Later that year he became a full-on Mod, adopting his trademark spiky hairstyle and becoming enthralled with soul and R’n’B music. He found his first professional job as a musician in The Dimensions. This was his introduction to London’s R’n’B scene, where he would take harmonica tips from Mick Jagger.

In January 1964 the 19-year-old had been to a Long John Baldry gig and was playing harmonica at Twickenham Station when Baldry himself heard him and invited him to join his group. Over time, Stewart overcame shyness and would dress up more, and would sometimes be billed as Rod ‘the Mod’ Stewart. He made his recording debut with Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men that June, uncredited. Two months later, after a performance at the Marquee Club, he was signed as a solo act to Decca Records. His debut single was the blues standard, with a terribly dodgy title, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which featured John Paul Jones among the session musicians.

Baldry’s group broke up, but he and Stewart patched up their differences and in 1965 became part of the line-up of new group Steampacket alongside Brian Auger. Steampacket were conceived as a white soul revue, and while supporting The Rolling Stones he had his first taste of crowd hysteria. Due to all being signed to different labels, Stewart’s group were unable to record any material. His solo career continued, but without making much impact. In 1966 he jumped ship from Steampacket to Shotgun Express, whose line-up included future Fleetwood Mac members Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood.

It was The Jeff Beck Group that finally gave Stewart his break when he joined their ranks in February 1967. He formed a long-lasting friendship with guitarist Ronnie Wood, began writing material, and his vocal technique developed into the rough rasp that made him stand out. However, he and Beck didn’t get on, and when Wood was announced as Steve Marriott’s replacement in Small Faces in June 1969, Stewart joined him a few months after as their new singer, and they became Faces.

At the same time, Stewart was making inroads with his solo career. Now with Mercury Records, he released his first album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, a mix of well-received original material and rock, folk and blues covers.

1970 saw the release of both Faces’ debut LP First Step and his solo follow-up Gasoline Alley, which introduced the mandolin to his sound. Faces quickly amassed a dedicated following at their gigs, and Stewart was one single release away from becoming a household name. The plan was for (Find a) Reason to Believe to be the first single from his forthcoming album, Every Picture Tells a Story, with Maggie May as the B-side.

Reason to Believe (the bracketed bit dropped upon its single release) was the final track on the accompanying album. It’s a cover of a Tim Hardin track, which the folk singer had released on his debut album in 1965, and The Carpenters covered it in 1970.

Stewart plays the wounded lover, whose girl has lied to him. His gravelly voice suits the song well, and there’s some nice Hammond organ and piano work courtesy of Faces’ Ian McLagan. It’s a good album track, but it was never going to light up the charts the way its flip side did. So much so, the single became a double A-side as word spread.

Stewart has rather pissed away his potential over the years, and growing up in the 80s, I saw him as a ridiculous figure. However, Maggie May is a classic, and it’s the best number 1 he’s had. There’s no chorus, but it’s a compelling story, with a memorable mandolin intro courtesy of Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson.

Stewart had been inspired to write the song while working out some chords with guitarist Martin Quittenton of Steamhammer. He recalled his experience of losing his virginity in 1961 to an older woman at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. The song isn’t named after her though. Stewart took it from the old Liverpool folk song about a prostitute (as briefly heard on The Beatles album Let It Be). Amazingly, you can see him taking part in the event here. The festival, not the self-confessed very brief sex… Also on the recording, which was only added to the album at the last minute, are Wood on bass and 12-string, McLagan and drummer Micky Waller, who played a drumkit with no cymbals, which were added later.

The original version of Stewart’s song opened side two of Every Picture Tells a Story with a 30-second guitar intro from Quittenton, named Delilah. In full, it’s over five minutes long, but the single edit cuts off some of the detail.

However, Stewart’s tale of love for an older woman remains fascinating. He gets you interested right from the start with those famous opening lines, revealing he was in fact a schoolboy when he was sleeping with Maggie. More mature than your average love song, Stewart finds time to insult Maggie only to remind her how deep he feels about her before she has chance to slap him:

‘The morning sun, when it’s in your face really shows your age
But that don’t worry me none in my eyes, you’re everything’

Stewart resolves to get over May by, among other things, joining a ‘rock’n’roll band’ (mission accomplished), and although he claims he wishes he’d never seen her face, you don’t believe him, and as that beautiful mandolin rings out over the fade, you’re left wondering what happened to the singer that wrote such a great song.

A song that’s taken on new meaning to me of late, as my in-laws fell in love when this was in the charts (Maggie was my father-in-law’s name for his future wife) and it was played at his funeral, 48 years later. It’s difficult to listen to anymore without welling up.

Maggie May established Stewart both here and in the US, reaching number 1 in both while he also held the number 1 album spots – a rare feat. Above you can see the famous Top of the Pops appearance of the song, in which he’s backed by his Faces bandmates and Radio 1 DJ John Peel miming the mandolin.

Written by:

Reason to Believe: Tim Hardin/Maggie May: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton

Producer: Rod Stewart

Weeks at number 1: 5 (9 October-12 November)

Births:

Fashion photographer Simon Atlee – 9 October
Comedian Sasha Baron Cohen – 13 October
Big Brother winner Craig Phillips – 16 October
Actor John Alford – 30 October
Archer Alison Williamson – 3 November
Footballer Michael Jeffrey – 8 November

Deaths:

Independent MP AP Herbert – 11 November

Meanwhile…

13 October: The British Army began destroying roads between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a security measure.

21 October: 20 people were killed in a gas explosion in the town centre of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire in Scotland.

23 October: When a car failed to stop at a Belfast checkpoint, Mary Ellen Meehan, 30, and her sister Dorothy Maguire, 19 were shot dead by soldiers.

28 October: Prime Minister Edward Heath scored a big victory when the House of Commons voted in favour of joining the EEC by a vote of 356-244.
Also on this day, the Immigration Act 1971 restricted immigration, particularly primary immigration into the U.K. and introduced the status of right of abode into law.
Plus, the UK became the sixth nation to launch a satellite into orbit using its own launch vehicle, the Prospero (X-3) experimental communications satellite.

30 October: The Democratic Unionist Party was founded by the formidable Reverend Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.

31 October: A bomb, likely planted by the Angry Brigade, exploded at the top of London’s Post Office Tower.

10 November: The 10-route Spaghetti Junction motorway interchange was opened north of Birmingham’s city centre. The interchange would have a total of 12 routes when the final stretch of the M6 was opened in 1972.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Lally Stott

Producer: Giacomo Tosti

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

Births:

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

Deaths:

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

Meanwhile…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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