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.

281. Edison Lighthouse – Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) (1970)

It’s time to delve into the 70s. A fascinating decade, if not always an enjoyable one, when it comes to number 1 singles, but rarely dull.

In 1970, The Beatles were (nearly) gone, and pop scratched its head in search of its next move. There was a year to go until glam rock reared its beautiful glittery sparkly head, and the hippy dream was turning somewhat sour.

The bubblegum pop of the last two years was still going strong as the decade dawned, however, and finally the undercover paedophile Rolf Harris relinquished his grip on the top spot to Edison Lighthouse.

Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) had been written by Tony Macauley and Barry Mason, who between them had plenty of experience at writing number 1s. Macauley had co-written Baby Now That I’ve Found You and Let the Heartaches Begin, and Mason co-wrote The Last Waltz and I Pretend. This first new number 1 of the 70s certainly has Macauley’s joyous pop stamp all over it, Mason’s perhaps less so as he was more used to MOR ballad material.

Originally they gave the song to Jefferson, former guitarist with The Rockin’ Berries. That demo remained unreleased however, and instead they offered it to a session singer called Tony Burrows.

Born Anthony Burrows in Exeter, Devon on 14 April 1942, he had been a member of The Kestrels in the early 60s, and subsequently vocal trio The Ivy League, before they became The Flower Pot Men, who became one-hit wonders with Let’s Go to San Francisco in 1967. Despite their short-lived success, at one point they featured future Deep Purple members Jon Lord and Nick Simper.

In effect, Edison Lighthouse was originally Macauley, Mason, Burrows and session musicians. The writers chose the name as a play on the Eddystone Lighthouse off the coast of Devon. Upon its release in November 1969, the single rapidly gained attention, allegedly becoming the fastest-climbing number 1 up to that point. This meant finding Burrows a backing band for Top of the Pops appearances. They picked Greenfield Hammer for the job following an audition a week before their debut on the show, making the initial line-up of Edison Lighthouse Burrows on vocals, Stuart Edwards on lead guitar, Ray Dorey on guitar, David Taylor on bass and George Weyman on drums.

I’ve been watching lots of off-air recordings of Top of the Pops of late from 1970, so I’ve heard plenty of this track, and that’s no bad thing. Okay, it’s pretty much just a chorus and the verses are afterthoughts, but a chorus so uplifting and catchy is not to be sniffed at. The lyrics are your typical 60s flower power fare, about a dreamlike girl who’s captured the singer’s heart. However, some people believe there’s a filthy meaning behind these words:

‘There’s something about her hand holding mine
It’s a feeling that’s fine
And I just gotta say
She’s really got a magical spell
And it’s working so well
That I can’t get away’

Yes, they think it might be about getting a handjob. I don’t agree, personally, and I tend to look out for stuff like that. Of course, there’s a chance the writers deliberately left it up to interpretation as a sly joke, who knows? Whatever the meaning, Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) is reminiscent of Love Affair’s Everlasting Love, and a decent start to the 70s number 1s.

Burrows was an incredibly busy bunny during those first few months of 1970. He found himself on Top of the Pops appearing as the singer in Edison Lighthouse, as part of White Plains (performing My Baby Loves Lovin’) and as lead singer in an early incarnation of Brotherhood of Man, performing United We Stand. At the same time, he also had a hit as one half of The Pipkins with Gimme Dat Ding. No wonder he soon quit Edison Lighthouse – he must have thought success was guaranteed no matter who he recorded with.

Macauley owned the name Edison Lighthouse, and replaced Burrows with actor and singer Paul Vigrass. He was the first in a long list of line-up changes over the next few years. Nothing was able to match their debut single’s success. The closest they came was when It’s Up to You, Petula reached number 49 in 1971. Edison Lighthouse called it a day in 1972 after the single Find Mr Zebedee. As is so often the case with bands of this era, the name Edison Lighthouse now belongs to different groups – Brian Huggins in the UK, and Les Fradkin in the US. Original guitarist Edwards died of cancer in 2016.

As for Burrows, he only had one ‘hit’ under his own name – a cover of Melanie Makes Me Smile in the US in 1970. He did however continue as a session singer, helping out both Elton John and Cliff Richard over the years, to name just two.

Written by: Tony Macauley & Barry Mason

Producer: Tony Macauley

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

Births:

Actress Minnie Driver – 31 January
TV and radio scriptwriter Rob Shearman – 10 February
Actor Simon Pegg – 14 February
Sailboat racer Ian Walker – 25 February
Field hockey player Tina Cullen – 1 March

Deaths:

Philosopher Bertrand Russell – 2 February
Cricketer Herbert Strudwick – 14 February
RAF fighter commander Hugh Dowding – 15 February
Painter Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond – 28 February

Meanwhile…

13 February: A demonstration at the Garden House Hotel by Cambridge University students against the Greek military junta led to police intervention with eight students receiving custodial sentences for their part.
Plus, Brummie rockers Black Sabbath released their self titled landmark debut album in the UK – the first major heavy metal album.

19 February: The Prince of Wales joined the Royal Navy.

23 February: Rolls-Royce asked the government for £50,000,000 towards developing the RB 211-50 Airbus jet engine.

27 February-1 March: The first National Women’s Liberation Conference was held, at Ruskin College in Oxford.

2 March: Four years after independence was declared, Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith declared Rhodesia a republic, breaking all ties with the British Crown. The government refused to recognise the new state for as long as the Rhodesian Government opposed majority rule.

6 March: An outbreak of rabies in Newmarket, Suffolk caused the importation of pets to be banned.

280. Rolf Harris (Conducted by Alan Braden) – Two Little Boys (1969)

Children all across the country opening their Christmas presents in 1969 may have seen delighted to see Australian children’s entertainer Rolf Harris meeting patients at Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, Carshalton, Surrey on BBC One. I’m betting that during the show, he’ll have sang that year’s Christmas number 1, and final chart-topper of the decade, Two Little Boys. Until a few years ago, it was a fondly remembered anti-war song by a national treasure. Now it’s an uncomfortable reminder that a paedophile tricked us all for nearly 50, and the name of the song has only helped it become a sick joke.

Few stars have fallen in the UK as swiftly and completely as Harris. He was our favourite Aussie, loved by most, including me. And then in 2013 he was arrested and interviewed for allegations related to Operation Yewtree, set up by police in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sex scandals.

Harris was born on 30 March 1930 in Bassendean, Perth in Western Australia. He was named after Rolf Boldrewood, the pseudonym of a writer his mother, Agnes, admired. As a child, Harris loved to paint, and aged 16 and studying at Perth Modern School, his self-portrait was one of 80 works out of 200 to be hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales as an entry in the 1947 Archibald Prize. He won his first art prize two years later. In his adolescence he was also an excellent swimmer, winning several competitions in the 40s and 50s. This is perhaps why he starred in a public information film in the 70s encouraging children to learn to swim.

He moved to England in 1952, and aged 22 he was studying at City and Guilds of London Art School in South London. Only a year later he had his big break in TV, performing a regular 10-minute cartoon drawing section on the BBC children’s show Jigsaw. By 1954 he was a regular on a similar show, Whirligig. When Harris wasn’t on TV (he also starred in ITV show Small Time from 1955) or learning from impressionist painter Hayward Veal, he could be found every Thursday at a club called the Down Under, where he would hone his entertainment skills.

By 1959 Harris was married to Welsh actress Alwen Hughes and back in Perth after being headhunted. His popularity exploded there and as well as presenting a children’s show and a variety show, he recorded his first single, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport on one mic with four local musicians and his wobble board. He had his first hit, reaching number 1 in Australia in 1960. It sold well in the UK too and became one of his signature songs.

One of his most notable early hits was Sun Arise in 1962. Produced by George Martin, it was more serious than his usual fare, and I used to love listening to it, finding it pretty psychedelic. Harris couldn’t play the didgeridoo so the sound was replicated by eight double basses. Back in the UK, he got to know The Beatles, possibly through Martin, and despite being angered by them interfering in his act off the side of the stage during one of the Fab Four’s Christmas shows, they struck up a friendship. His 1965 single Jake the Peg became one of his most beloved songs. This tale of a man with an ‘extra leg’ would also sadly take on a whole new dimension once the truth came out.

As well as introducing us to Australian musical instruments, Harris became known in 1968 for his association with the futuristic Stylophone. He would use this miniature analog stylus-operated keyboard on his records and on TV, and he and David Bowie helped popularise the instrument. It did wonders for his street cred in the 90s when musicians like Pulp, Orbital and Stereolab began using it too, remembering Harris’s adverts from their childhood.

By the time of his number 1 single, Rolf Harris was untouchable (sadly, as it turned out), presenting the long-running The Rolf Harris Show on the BBC, churning out novelty hits and becoming one of TV’s top celebrities thanks to his charming eccentricities and lovable image.

Always on the lookout for songs for his TV show, he fell in love with Two Little Boys (ahem… see?) in 1969 and asked musical director Alan Braden to arrange a version for him.

One of the oldest songs to reach number 1 for some time, this music hall song had been written back in 1902 by American composer Theodore Morse and lyricist Edward Madden and was made popular by Scottish comedian Harry Lauder. An unashamedly sentimental tale of two young boys who played together, then fought together in the US civil war, Harris was perhaps very canny to pick such a tune as the 60s drew to a close, with the war in Vietnam proving more and more unpopular. Allegedly, John Lennon congratulated him for getting a protest song to the top of the charts. The TV audience loved it, and so he released it in time for Christmas. It ended the eight-week run of Sugar Sugar over the festive fortnight and stayed there for most of January 1970. So, after light entertainment tunes, the dying embers of rock’n’roll, Beatlemania, psychedelia and rock, the charts came full circle, and a light entertainer ruled the roost again as the 60s drew to a close.

I was genuinely hurt and disappointed when the allegations came out about Rolf Harris. Savile wasn’t a surprise at all, he was clearly weird and had a dark side (although obviously I was shocked and appalled when the scale of his shocking crimes became apparent). I felt, like much of the country, betrayed that such a loveable guy could hurt children. I watched him perform four times at Glastonbury Festival, and Two Little Boys was always one of the highlights. Looking back, I maybe sensed he wasn’t the person we were led to believe. There were times during his performances there that his real personality perhaps slipped out, and I remember finding him a bit vulgar, and wondering if in actual fact he wasn’t the weird but harmless manchild he had hoodwinked us into believing in.

Listening to Two Little Boys is a sad and uncomfortable experience now. Don’t get me wrong, it was never a masterpiece, and wasn’t something I would ever casually listen to, but it was hard not to have a soft spot for a song so full of pathos. It was a song that could make the hardest of hearts melt for a minute or two. Even Margaret Thatcher loved it! It wasn’t cool and it didn’t matter. It was about the love between two friends down the years, forced into fighting a bloody war but still looking out for each other. And that filthy heavy-breathing bastard went has ruined it for everyone.

The 70s were leaner years for Harris’s music career, but he remained very much in the public eye through his TV shows. He performed at the Sydney Opera House in 1973, and became Sir Rolf Harris in 1977, before launching a new series, Rolf on Saturday — OK?, which ran for three years.

In 1982 he performed didgeridoo on Kate Bush’s album The Dreaming, and did so again on her 2005 album Aerial. He presented Rolf’s Cartoon Time on the BBC through most of the 80s, and then moved to ITV to host Rolf’s Cartoon Club from 1989 to 1993, which is where my earliest memories of him stem. Apparently he hosted a child abuse prevention video in 1985, called Kids Can Say No!

It was around this time he began to be loved by students who remembered him from their youth. His version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven returned him to the charts for the first time in years in 1993, and he made his Glastonbury Festival debut. As well as being an ironic figure of fun, his TV career went from strength to strength thanks to Animal Hospital, which did wonders for his public image and ran from 1994 to 2003.

Harris also moved back into serious painting, presenting Rolf on Art and then Star Portraits with Rolf Harris. He even painted the Queen for her 80th birthday in 2005. Three years later he re-recorded Two Little Boys to mark the 90th anniversary of World War One, after discovering that the song was remarkably close to the experiences of his own father and uncle during the conflict. In 2011 he appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories and spoke of his experiences of clinical depression.

2012 saw Rolf perform at the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Concert, breaking out into a rendition of Two Little Boys to fill in time, before comedian Lenny Henry stopped him and was booed off stage. Then that October, Operation Yewtree began. The UK was still coming to terms with Savile’s crimes when Harris was arrested in March 2013 after many rumours he was one of the suspects. In June 2014 he was found guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault and subsequently sentenced over five years in prison. While inside, stories would occasionally appear of him having written abusive song lyrics about his victims. He was released in 2017, and was last in the news earlier this year having entered a school playground to wave at children. In this climate of #cancelled, Rolf Harris, now 88, will be loathed until the day he dies.

So, sorry to end such an innovative, startling musical decade on such a sour note, but I will be touching on the 60s again soon. Like my blog Every 50s Number 1, I will listen to the whole lot again and whittle them down to pick the best and worst of every year, before deciding on the best and worst of the decade. A mammoth task indeed.

Written by: Theodore F Morse & Edward Madden

Producer: Mickey Clarke

Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 December 1969-30 January 1970)

Births:

Labour leader Ed Miliband – 24 December
Jamiroquai singer Jay Kay – 30 December
Labour MP Andy Burnham – 7 January
Olympic rower Tim Foster – 19 January
Comedian Mitch Benn – 20 January
Art curator Maria Balshaw – 24 January

Deaths:

Actor Jimmy Hankey – 13 January
Urdd founder Ifan ab Owen Edwards – 23 January
Poet Albert Evans – 26 January
Military historian Basil Liddell Hart – 29 January

Meanwhile…

Boxing Day 1969: A fire broke out at the 15th-century Rose & Crown hotel in Saffron Walden when a TV in the lounge overheated. 11 people died that night, which led to the passing in 1971 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971.

New Year’s Day 1970: The age of majority for most legal purposes reduced from 21 to 18 under the terms of the Family Law Reform Act 1969. Also that day, rhe half crown coin ceased to be legal tender, and the National Westminster Bank began trading following the merger of National Provincial Bank and Westminster Bank.

18 January: The grave of Karl Mark was vandalised by anti-Germanic racists at Highgate in London.

21 January: Fraserburgh lifeboat Duchess of Kent capsized, and five of the six crew died.

22 January: A Boeing 747 landed in Heathrow Airport, making it the first jumbo jet in the country.

27 January: The Rolling Stones’ singer Mick Jagger was fined £200 for possession of cannabis. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French would say.