346. Paper Lace – Billy – Don’t Be a Hero (1974)

Death discs! Remember them? No? Don’t worry, it’s been a while. They hadn’t been in fashion since the mid-60s, and the last proper one to top the charts was Johnny Remember Me in 1961. Yet here we are in 1974, with two in a row. First, thanks to their success on Opportunity Knocks, Nottingham-based pop group Paper Lace were at number 1 with Billy – Don’t Be a Hero.

Paper Lace formed in 1967 as Music Box, consisting of Cliff Fish, Dave Manders, Roy White and Phil Wright. They performed contemporary covers by bands including The Beach Boys. In 1969 they became Paper Lace, named after their city’s long history with lace. While working their way through club gigs a year later they auditioned for Opportunity Knocks, the ITV talent show presented by Hughie Green. Nothing came of it at first, but they signed with Philips and released the album First Edition in 1972. The following year they were finally called up to appear on Opportunity Knocks, and they went down a storm, winning five weeks on the trot. By this point, the band consisted of Philip Wright on drums and lead vocals (very unusual, especially in these days), Mick Vaughan on guitar, Fish was still there on bass, and Chris Morris on guitar and vocals.

Meanwhile, hitmaking duo Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, last seen on this blog having written 1968 number 1 The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde for Georgie Fame, had written Billy – Don’t Be a Hero and were looking for someone to record it. Murray, the man behind Gerry and the Pacemakers’ three number 1s in 1963, wanted an established group to record it, but Callander’s wife saw Paper Lace on TV and suggested them to her husband.

Opening to a chirpy military drumbeat and whistling, Paper Lace’s solo number 1 is the weakest chart-topper of 1974 thus far. It sounds more like a single from the golden era of death discs and it’s too cheesy and naff to get much enjoyment out of. As an anti-war song, some suspect it was a brave move for Billy – Don’t Be a Hero to be released during the Vietnam War and that it was a comment on the situation, but clearly it wasn’t. There are references to ‘soldier-blues’ and ‘riding out’, and on publicity photos and one Top of the Pops appearance, the band (now bolstered by new member Carlo Santanna – not Carlos Santana – on guitar and mandolin), they’re wearing Union outfits. It’s a song about the American Civil War.

But yes, whichever war it’s about, the message is a good one. Don’t be a hero Billy, stay and marry your fiancée. But alas, no. Come the final verse, Billy has indeed died a hero, and his girlfriend throws the letter away. There’s no denying Callander and Murray in particular know how to write a tune, but their songs sound so stale in a year where disco is right around the corner. Having said that, it is unfortunately perhaps a sign of things to come, because there are some truly awful pop songs to come throughout the rest of the decade too.

Considering the subject matter, you’d think Paper Lace might have had a chance with a hit in the US. So it must have been pretty annoying when Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods got in there first and went to number 1 with their rushed cover. The Nottingham boys had more luck second time around though, when Murray and Callander gave them Prohibition-set tune The Night Chicago Died as a follow-up. It climbed to number three on these shores, but they scored a number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Third collaboration, The Black-Eyed Boys, just missed out on the top 10, also in 1974. With their second album, Paper Lace and Other Bits of Material released too, it was a busy year. It didn’t take long for Paper Lace to unravel though, and by 1976 the ‘classic’ line-up was no more.

Paper Lace resurfaced with different members in 1978 and scored a top 30 hit when they teamed up with Nottingham Forest FC to record a version of We’ve Got the Whole World in Our Hands. They split up in 1980 but by 1983 another version had formed. In 1990 Wright, Vaughan and Morris re-recorded Billy – Don’t Be a Hero but it was never released due to the Gulf War. The original was on a list of songs banned by the BBC at the time.

These days there are two versions of Paper Lace, each containing different members from their hitmaking days. Why can’t everyone just learn to get along?

Written & produced by: Mitch Murray & Pete Callander

Weeks at number 1: 3 (16 March-5 April)

Births:

Snooker player Mark King – 28 March
Radio DJ Scott Mills – 28 March
Conservative MP John Glen – 1 April

Meanwhile…

18 March: Most OPEC nations end a five-month oil embargo against the US, Europe and Japan.

20 March: After wounding four people, crazed gunman Ian Ball fails in his attempt to kidnap Princess Anne and her husband Captain Mark Phillips in The Mall, outside Buckingham Palace. When he wrestled her to the floor of the Rolls-Royce and commanded her to get out, the princess’s response was ‘Not bloody likely!’. Passing heavyweight boxer Ronnie Russell came to the rescue, punching Ball twice in the head. Princess Anne’s parting words were ‘Just go away and don’t be such a silly man.’ Ball is still ‘away’, in Broadmoor Hospital.

29 March: The new Labour government re-establishes direct rule over Northern Ireland after declaring a state of emergency. 

1 April: The Local Government Act 1972 comes into effect in England and Wales, creating six new metropolitan counties and redrawing the administrative map. Newport and Monmouthshire are legally transferred from England to Wales.

339. David Cassidy – Daydreamer/The Puppy Song (1973)

David Cassidy continued his existential battle to be loved for his music rather than his looks throughout 1972 and 1973. After his first number 1 How Can I Be Sure, the star of The Partridge Family had further hits with the title track to Rock Me Baby and I Am a Clown, which was lifted from his debut LP Cherish.

There were also more albums by The Partridge Family, Cassidy’s fictional TV brethren, on which he had made his name and would have rather been rid of by this point. In October 1973 their final album, Bulletin Board was released, alongside Cassidy’s third solo effort, Dreams are Nuthin’ More than Wishes. To get the point across that he was in charge of his own music, he wrote notes for his reasons for choosing each song. This second number 1 release was a double A-side of tracks from the album.

Daydreamer was written by South African professional songwriter Terry Dempsey, who had written for many big names including Cliff Richard and The New Seekers. In 2910, Dempsey was killed in a bizarre accident when he was struck by the blades of a gyrocscope making an emergency landing during a ceremony in which the family were scattering ashes.

Cassidy stars as a heartbroken loner, walking round in the rain, chasing rainbows in which he may find someone new. Nice, clever wordplay there. It’s reminiscent of 1956 Christmas number 1 Just Walkin’ in the Rain by Johnnie Ray, not just due to the obvious mention of rain, but in the sense there’s a melancholy that’s quite comforting at play, that he’s actually kind of happy being on his own and wallowing in misery.

Unfortunately, as with How Can I Be Sure, I can’t enjoy Cassidy’s voice. For someone so determined to be admired for his ability, his singing is so affected, it doesn’t do a lot for me. Once again though, I’d take this over any of Donny Osmond’s number 1s.

The Puppy Song was penned by Harry Nilsson of Without You fame, and had featured on his album Harry, released in 1969. He had written it on request from Paul McCartney for Mary Hopkin’s debut album Post Card, which also included her number 1 from 1968, Those Were the Days.

More light-hearted than the flip side, the two songs complement each other well, with Cassidy’s daydreams moving on to thoughts of owning a dog, to replace the hole left by his love. The second verse comes from the viewpoint of a puppy daydreaming about having a friend to hang around with it. It’s a very ‘Nilsson’ kind of song, with a music-hall feel like a lot of his late-60s work, and an interesting departure for a teen idol, but again, I couldn’t warm to it too much. However, I do like the opening lines, which were paraphrased and became the title of Cassidy’s album.

Cassidy remained a familiar presence in the UK charts over the next few years, with hits like If I Didn’t Care and a cover of The Beatles’ Please Please Me in 1974. However, that same year, he was performing at London’s White City Stadium when nearly 800 people were injured in a crush at the front of the stage. 30 fans were taken to hospital, and 14-year-old Bernadette Whelan died four days after her injuries. Cassidy was devastated.

In 1975, Cassidy was free of The Partridge Family, and was the first person to have a hit with I Write the Songs, later to be Barry Manilow’s signature tune. But the follow-up, Darlin’ was his final top 20 entry for 10 years. In 1978 he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a role in Police Story, and he starred in David Cassidy: Man Undercover in 1979 but it was cancelled after one season.

The early-80s saw Cassidy performing in musical theatre, including Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat and Blood Brothers. He returned to the charts in 1985 with The Last Kiss. It featured backing vocals from George Michael. Another teen idol with ambitions to be recognised for his ability over his looks, Michael cited Cassidy as an influence, and the duo no doubt had much in common. It was his last UK single of note though, despite occasional chart action in the US.

Cassidy struggled over the years with his public image, and claimed the death of Whelan would haunt him all his life. He was arrested several times in later years for drink-driving incidents. Former Page 3 model Samantha Fox claimed on a 2017 Channel 4 documentary that he sexually assaulted her in 1985.

In 2008 he went public with his alcohol problem. Then in February 2017 he struggled to remember lyrics while performing, and fell off the stage. Despite assumptions he had been drinking, Cassidy announced he had Alzheimer’s and retired soon after. That November Cassidy was hospitalised with liver and kidney failure. He was induced into a coma, and although he came out of it, doctors failed to find him a liver transplant in time, and he died of liver failure on 21 November, aged 67. It was revealed after he died that he hadn’t had Alzheimer’s.

Written by:
Daydreamer: Terry Dempsey/The Puppy Song: Harry Nilsson

Producer: Rick Jarrard

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 October-16 November)

Deaths:

BBC Controller Gerald Cock – 10 November

Meanwhile…

31 Octobe: The sixth series of much-loved BBC One sitcom Dad’s Army opened with the episode ‘The Deadly Attachment’. It’s the one featuring the line ‘Don’t tell them, Pike!’

8 November: The second Cod War between Britain and Iceland came to an end.

12 November: Miners began an overtime ban, while ambulance drivers started selective strikes.
Also this day, long-running BBC One sitcom Last of the Summer Wine began its first series run, following a premiere in the Comedy Playhouse on 4 January. Roy Clarke’s whimsical comedy set in rural Yorkshire would run for 31 series spanning 37 years.

14 November: Eight members of the Provisional IRA were convicted of the March bombings in London.
Also, The Princess Royal married Captain Mark Phillips at Westminster Abbey.

334. Peters and Lee – Welcome Home (1973)

Take Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts’ blind uncle and a Yorkshire actress and what have you got? You’ve got folk, pop and TV stars Peters and Lee, light entertainment mainstays of the 70s, who reached number 1 with this easy listening tune, most famous these days for its use in a long-running crisp advert campaign with ex-footballer Gary Lineker.

Lennie Peters, AKA Leonard George Sargent, was born 22 November 1931 in London. At the age of five he was knocked down by a car and as a result was blinded in his left eye. In a bizarre, surreal, even blackly comic turn of events, when he was 16, he was blinded in his right eye too. While sunbathing, louts began throwing stones. After admonishing them, Peters returned to relaxing, until one threw a brick that hit his face. Two operations later, the sight in his right eye was restored. However, the night before he was due to be discharged, Peters noticed the man in the bed next to him was about to fall and hit the floor. He rushed over to save him, and in doing so, the sudden strain detached the retina from his recovering right eye. He remained blind for the rest of his life. There’s bad luck, and then there’s Lennie Peters.

Peters had considered becoming a prizefighter, but following his incident, he became more immersed in music. He began singing and playing the piano in the pubs of Islington, and signed with Oriole, releasing several singles. Peters began to get noticed, appearing on BBC radio and television, and in 1966 he signed with Pye and released his version of Stranger in Paradise, a number 1 for Dean Martin in 1955. During the time he was often on the gruelling northern club circuit in 1970, he met Diane Lee.

Lee, born Dianne Littlehales in February 1949, was brought up in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. She had wanted to be a ballet dancer and moved to London to achieve fame, but was instead performing as part of a duo with her cousin Liz. Peters and Lee decided to team up, with Lee performing backing vocals. They made their debut during a Rolf Harris live show in April, originally calling themselves Lennie Peters and Melody.

1973 was to be their year. After seven winning performances on ITV’s talent series Opportunity Knocks, they released their debut single, Welcome Home on Philips Records.

Originally written by Jean Alphonse Dupre and Stanislas Beldone in French, with English lyrics courtesy of Bryan Blackburn, Welcome Home is a simple, old-fashioned but pretty likeable slab of MOR pop. A man is missing his love and imagining what it’ll be like when she returns. From the word ‘someday’ in there, I’ll wager she’s not actually ever going to return, and Peters is hoping against hope.

The verses are boring, but the chorus is a classic punch-the-air moment. ‘Come on in and close the door’ seems slightly silly though. You’ve waited who knows how long for your lover to return, and all you can do is complain it’s a bit drafty? No wonder she left…. Joking aside, I’ve been running a mile from these type of songs of late, but I can’t help but enjoy this. It’s interesting to see how Lee barely gets a look-in though, you don’t even hear her at first. It’s all about Peters.

Not only did Peters and Lee get to number 1 with their debut single, but their LP We Can Make It went to the top of the album charts in the same week, making them the first act since The Beatles to do so. They topped the bill that year at the Royal Variety Performance. Further hits followed, most notably Don’t Stay Away Too Long in 1974 (number three).

The mid-70s were a busy time for the duo on TV, with appearances on The Des O’Connor Show and The Golden Shot to name but two and in 1976 came their own show, Meet Peters & Lee. But the writing was on the wall and they released their farewell album, called, er, The Farewell Album, in 1980.

While Lee went into acting, Peters returned to a solo career, but only one LP followed – Unforgettable, in 1981. He also briefly appeared as a criminal in 1984 crime film The Hit. Two years later they reunited and released Familiar Feelings as a single. Two more albums followed, Peters and Lee in 1989 and Through All the Years in 1992, but Peters succumbed to bone cancer on 10 October that year, aged 60.

Lee went on to marry Rick Price from Wizzard and she released solo album Chemistry in 1994. She and her husband are still touring, performing old and new material.

In 1995 Walkers Crisps used Welcome Home in an ad campaign with football hero Lineker, fresh from playing in Japan. It was so successful, he starred in many more, and the company even changed their salt and vinegar flavour to ‘Salt and Lineker’.

It’s also worth noting that this was producer Johnny Franz’s 10th and last number 1. Franz, known as the ‘last of the great pros’, was one of the biggest producers of the 50s and 60s. His first number 1 was Winifred Atwell’s Let’s Have Another Party in 1954. It had been seven years since his ninth, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me by Dusty Springfield in 1966. He also helped his close friend Scott Walker when he first went solo in the late 60s. Franz died of a heart attack in 1977, aged 54.

Written by: Jean Alphonse Dupre and Stanislas Beldone/Bryan Blackburn (English lyrics)

Producer: Johnny Franz

Orchestra directed by: Peter Knight

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 July)

Births:

Travis singer Fran Healy – 23 July
Actress Kate Beckinsale – 26 July

Meanwhile…

26 July: Parliamentary by-elections at the Isle of Ely and Ripon resulted in both seats being gained from the Conservatives by the Liberal Party candidates – media personality Clement Freud and David Austick respectively.

329. Dawn (Featuring Tony Orlando) – Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree (1973)

These number 1s of the early-to-mid-70s seem to fall roughly into three categories. You have the teen pop idols like the Osmonds and David Cassidy, the glam rock movement for older teenage boys and girls and young adults, and then the really odd or bad, often old-fashioned easy listening-styled light entertainers, who must have been bought in their droves by older parents and grandparents. The difference between the three resulted in very disparate chart-toppers, and trawling through does at times make me miss the often wall-to-wall classics of the mid-60s.

So here’s another weird one, and the biggest of 1973, to boot. Two years after Dawn were at number 1 with Knock Three Times, here they were again, with singer Tony Orlando getting a credit this time around. Which is fair enough, considering Dawn were now him and backing singers Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson, settling on that line-up after the overwhelming sales of Knock Three Times required a stable act for live shows.

Their first, eponymous album under their new name was released in 1971, and What Are You Doing Sunday was another big hit in the UK, reaching number three. Somehow 1972 passed with no chart entries, but they certainly made up for it with this track.

So what the hell is a song with a title like Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree all about? US songwriters Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown were writing from the point of view of a convict whose sentence is up. He’s written to his woman and is wondering whether she wants him back or not after three years apart. If she does, he wants her to tie a yellow ribbon round a tree. Interestingly, they offered the song to Ringo Starr but Al Steckler of Apple Records found the idea ridiculous and told the duo they should be ashamed of themselves.

Is this song meant as a sequel to Knock Three Times? Let’s not forget that it concerned a guy seemingly stalking a woman who lived below her, who’d asked her to knock on the ceiling if she liked him. Perhaps he freaked her out and has been to jail over the situation? The punchline is, after asking the bus driver to check for him, as he’s too scared, the whole bus cheers, as there’s a hundred ribbons. So, either all is forgiven, and his old flame really loves him/really likes tying ribbons, or the dirty bugger has sent multiple letters to multiple women!

Weird as the premise is, it does have historical precedent, and has taken on new meaning since. A song, ‘Round Her Neck She Wears a Yeller Ribbon dates back hundreds of years, and in the 19th century, women would wear them in their hair as a sign to their partners serving in the US Cavalry. John Wayne starred in She Wore a Yellow Ribbon in 1949. Arguments over the song’s origin nearly caused Levine and Brown to face a court battle, when newspaper columnist Peter Hamill claimed they stole the idea from an article he wrote for the New York Post in 1971, in which students met an ex-con who was waiting for a yellow ribbon to be tied to a tree for real. It was turned into a TV movie in 1972. The lawsuit was dropped when Levine and Brown could prove how far back the idea went.

It’s a very weird one, this. A happy, jolly ditty in which we’re meant to feel sympathetic towards a former prisoner, who may also be a serial shagger. Had they made him a solider, I might feel a bit more sympathy. Orlando’s performance is soulless. He doesn’t sound concerned in the slightest about this ribbon. Although, if he’s had a hundred women, I guess he thought the odds were in his favour he could look forward to more nookie. I’m hoping to never hear this again.

To say Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree was huge would be an understatement. It wasn’t just the UK that showed questionable taste – it was also number 1 in the US, Australia, Canada, Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Norway… the list goes on.

Following their next top 20 hit, Say, Has Anybody Seen My Sweet Gypsy Rose, the trio became known as Tony Orlando and Dawn. Their final top 40 entry was Who’s In the Strawberry Patch with Sally, also in 1973. But their popularity remained in the US, to the extent they even had their own variety show in 1974 called Tony Orlando and Dawn. He Don’t Love You (Like I Love You) was their second US number 1, in 1975, but their fortunes faded from then on.

In 1977, Dawn split. Orlando had issues with cocaine, obesity and depression, and he had recently lost his sister and close friend Freddie Prinze, who had committed suicide. Following a brief spell in an institution, he went solo and had a few hits before beginning a residency in Las Vegas and occasionally acting. Vincent and Hopkins also continued alone in showbiz, performing in concerts and making film and TV appearances respectively. The trio have reformed as Tony Orlando and Dawn several times.

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree has been covered by a multitude of artists, including Kay Starr, Dean Martin and even S Club 7. Connie Francis made an answer song in 1973 called The Answer (Should I Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree?). The original became popular in the wake of the Iranian hostage crisis of 1981, and again during the People Power Revolution of the Phillipines in the early-80s. Yellow ribbons became popular during the Hong Kong protests of 2014, with pro-democracy protestors tying yellow ribbons to street railings and using them on social media. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that this song subsequently became, surely, one of the most unlikely protest songs there’s ever been.

Written by: Irwin Levine and L. Russell Brown

Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 April-18 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Radio host Geoff Lloyd – 26 April
Footballer Chris Perry – 26 April
Scottish race car driver Dario Franchitti – 10 May

Deaths:

Singer Owen Brannigan – 9 May
Cricketer Russell Everitt – 11 May
Philosopher AC Ewing –
14 May

Meanwhile…

28 April: Liverpool and Celtic were crowned football league champions in England and Scotland respectively.

1 May: 1.6 million workers went on strike over government pay restraints.

5 May: BBC Two aired the first edition of the landmark documentary series The Ascent of Man.

5 May: The FA Cup final stunned football fans when Sunderland AFC defeated Leeds United 1-0 at Wembley Stadium. It was the first time an FA Cup winning team had not contained a player to be capped at full international level, and the first postwar FA Cup to be won by a side outside the First Division.

10 May: Jeremy Thorpe’s Liberal Party took control of Liverpool council in the local council elections. 

15 May: Prime Minister Edward Heath coined the phrase ‘unacceptable face of capitalism’ to describe payments made by conglomerate Lonrho to Duncan Sandys through the tax haven of the Cayman Islands. Little did he know at the time how much further down that road his party would go.

328. Gilbert O’Sullivan – Get Down (1973)

Despite being one of the UK’s biggest stars of the early-70s, Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan is probably most famous these days for this song, in which Top of the Pops dancers Pan’s People took the lyrics literally and paraded around in front of a load of dogs (see the clip below). But to be fair, the alternative interpretation wouldn’t have been great either…

Get Down was the first single from O’Sullivan’s third album I’m a Writer, Not a Fighter. Keen for another image change, this LP saw O’Sullivan dabbling his toes in rock and funk and using keyboards rather than the piano. The track had originally been a warm-up tune before he decided to flesh it out for his new album.

Get Down is a very different beast to O’Sullivan’s previous best-seller and ode to a little girl, Clair, but is problematic for a different reason. Either we take Get Down literally and it’s a bit of froth about his dog, or he’s talking down to a woman in a very derogatory way:

‘Told you once before
And I won’t tell you no more
Get down, get down, get down
You’re a bad dog, baby
But I still want you around’

So what were Pan’s People to do with this, to be fair? Dress up as an sexist-at-best, abusive-at-worst husband who treats his wife like crap? That would have made for an interesting dance.

And then the middle eight, other than a cat reference, seems to come from another song, where O’Sullivan mentions how he once said some wine and felt happy. Well, great, Gilbert.

Get Down is certainly better than Clair, and can get under your skin if you’re not careful, but it’s nothing more than a throwaway really. I do struggle to get the appeal of O’Sullivan’s whimsy, based on what I’ve heard.

He continued to have hits, though not to the same degree, scraping into the top 20 with follow-up Ooh Baby. Most successful was Why, Oh Why, Oh Why, released in November 1973, which went on to reach number six. His shot at the festive number 1 spot, Christmas Song, performed respectably too, reaching 12 in 1974. But I Don’t Love You But I Think I Love You the following May was his last hit of the 70s.

The main reason for this was the fact O’Sullivan became embroiled in a long and painful court case with his producer and manager Gordon Mills over royalties. Which must have made performing Clair a bit awkward (the girl in question was Mills’s daughter) to say the least. He left MAM Records after 1977 album Southpaw and returned to CBS

The 80s began promisingly, with What’s In a Kiss? returning him to the top 20. More importantly, in 1982 the court finally ruled in O’Sullivan’s favour, awarding him £7 million in damages. He mostly kept a low profile for the rest of the decade, releasing little in the way of new material.

He was back in court again in 1991, and was the victor once more, in a case against rapper Biz Markie over sampling rights for the song that shot him to fame in the 70s, Alone Again (Naturally). This case was partly responsible for sampling becoming so expensive afterwards.

O’Sullivan became more prolific as the 90s progressed and into the 21st century, releasing albums and compilations with witty names like Singer Sowing Machine (1997) and The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan (2004). In 2008 he performed at Glastonbury festival, and in 2011 BBC Four showed Out On His Own, a documentary devoted to him. His 19th, eponymous album released in 2018 is his latest to date.

Written by: Gilbert O’Sullivan

Producer: Gordon Mills

Music director: Laurie Holliday

Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 April)

Meanwhile…

17 April: British Leyland launched the Austin Allegro.

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.

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