294. Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking (1970)

As 1970 drew to a close, November’s number 1s seemed to symbolically bid farewell to the 60s. So, what next? Glam was around the corner, but in the meantime, the Christmas number 1 looked back to pop’s past, as Welsh singer-songwriter spent six weeks at the top with a cover of a 50s R’n’B tune.

David William Edwards was born in Cardiff on 15 April 1944. Musically gifted as a child on the piano, at the age of 10 he formed The Edmund Bros Duo with his elder brother Geoff. They both formed The Stompers around 1957, with Dave on lead guitar and Geoff on rhythm. From there the younger Edmunds had brief stints in several groups before becoming lead singer of rockabilly trio The Raiders, who formed in 1961.

In 1966 Edmunds, following a brief spell in The Image, shifted to a blues-rock sound and formed a short-lived outfit called Human Beans, who mutated into the trio Love Sculpture. Their second single, a novelty high-speed reworking of Sabre Dance, which climbed to number five after getting the attention of DJ John Peel. After two albums Love Sculpture split in 1970.

Edmunds returned to Wales and learned how to recreate the sounds of the R’n’B and blues songs of the 50s by himself, and made plans to record a cover of blues classic Let’s Work Together by Wilbert Harrison, until he heard Canned Heat’s version. Around this time he worked with Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets, helping the 80s hitmaker score his first recording contract.

Fortunately, Edmunds heard Smiley Lewis’s I Hear You Knocking while driving, and noted he could use the backing track he’d already recorded for Let’s Work Together and make a cover of Lewis’s song. It was also a track he knew from Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets’ repertoire.

The original, written by New Orleans bandleader Dave Bartholomew (who had co-written the 1959 Elvis Presley number 1 One Night) and released by Lewis in 1955, is a straightforward slice of piano-driven 50s R’n’B, but Edmunds went full on blues-rock. He played every part on his version, using heavy compression to create an unusual, direct sound.

Edmunds’ I Hear You Knocking is a quirky choice for Christmas number 1, but of course, being at the top of the charts on 25 December wasn’t an ‘event’ back then. The weird production is attention-grabbing to begin with. Most unusual of all is the vocal track, which sounds like it’s being sung down a bad phone line, or is coming out of a damaged transistor radio. I’m not sure if Edmunds was aiming for a dated 50s sound, but if so, it doesn’t quite come out like that. It gets a bit annoying after a while, whatever the intention.

The chorus is memorable, and the slide guitar is effective, and I enjoy Edmunds’ shouting out ‘Smiley Lewis!’ and other rock’n’roll star names from the 50s in the instrumental break. I can see why listeners would have enjoyed a bit of basic blues-rock for a while. Not sure how it stayed at number 1 for six weeks, though.

Despite the success of I Hear You Knocking, it took Edmunds two years to release his debut album, Rockpile, which was mostly a collection of more oldies. He had left it too late to capitalise. Or maybe he wasn’t bothered about doing so anyway. He spent the next few years producing rock and blues acts like Brinsley Schwarz, Foghat and The Flamin’ Groovies. However, his two singles Baby I Love You and Born to Be With You reached the top 10 in 1973.

In 1974 Edmunds had a brief role in the David Essex film Stardust, and helped with the soundtrack. A year later came his second solo LP, Subtle as a Flying Mallet. Then his friendship with Nick Lowe from Brinsley Schwarz resulted in their new group Rockpile. Due to being on different labels they were unable to record until 1980 but would guest on each other’s solo material for the next few years.

In 1979 Edmunds scored his last top 10 hit with Girls Talk, written by Elvis Costello. Rockpile only recorded one album, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, before splitting up due to arguments between Edmunds and Lowe. Edmunds went back to mainly producing, and worked with big names including Paul McCartney, Status Quo, Stray Cats, The Everly Brothers and kd Lang. He had a US hit with Slipping Away in 1983 though, written and produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne.

Edmunds went into semi-retirement in the mid-80s, but he did tour with Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band in 1992 and 2000. After a couple of albums released online, he began touring in his own right again in 2007. Edmunds performed I Hear You Knocking on Jools’ Annual Hootenanny in 2008 and then Sabre Dance in 2009. His last album was On Guitar… Dave Edmunds: Rags & Classics in 2015, featuring instrumental covers. After a final show in July 2017, Edmunds retired from music.

1970 was an interesting, eclectic year for number 1s, with several well-remembered chart-toppers. Lots were in thrall to the past, though, with the departure of The Beatles leaving the music world wondering what to do. Fortunately, T. Rex were now on the scene, having scored a number two hit with Ride a White Swan. Marc Bolan would soon have his first number 1.

Written by: Dave Bartholomew

Producer: Dave Edmunds

Weeks at number 1: 6 (28 November 1970-8 January 1971)

Births:

Singer Aled Jones – 29 December 
Welsh rugby union player Louise Rickard – 31 December
Football referee Andre Marriner – 1 January
BBC newsreader Suzanne Virdee – 1 January
TV presenter Jayne Middlemiss – 5 January
TV presenter Joanne Malin – 7 January

Deaths:

Olympic athlete Lillian Board – 26 December (see below)
Composer Cyril Scott – 31 December

Meanwhile…

Boxing Day: Olympian athlete Lillian Board, died in Munich, West Germany, after a three-month battle against cancer. She was 22.

New Year’s Eve 1970: Although Paul McCartney had announced his departure from The Beatles earlier in 1970, it was made official when he filed a lawsuit against the other three on this day to dissolve their partnership.

New Year’s Day 1971: The Divorce Reform Act 1969 came into effect, which allowed couples to divorce after a separation of two years (five if only one agrees). This ruling resulted in a sharp rise in divorces over the next two years.

2 January: The new year got off to a shocking start for football fans when a stairway crush at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow during a match between Rangers and Celtic killed 66 and left many more injured.

3 January: BBC Open University broadcasts began.

8 January: Uruguayan left-wing urban guerrilla group Tupamaros kidnapped Geoffrey Jackson, the British ambassador to Uruguay, in Montevideo. He was held captive until September.

25. Rosemary Clooney with Buddy Cole & His Orchestra – This Ole House (1954)

It never occurred to me that This Ole House could be about anything other than, well, doing up an old house. To me, and probably most children of the late-70s or early-80s, it conjures up happy memories of Shakin’ Stevens hanging around an old building in the video of his 1981 cover version. What with this, his cover of Green Door, and his love of denim, I think I assumed Shaky was some sort of singing builder as a child. Upon researching the original number one version, by Rosemary Clooney, I found out the dark origins of this chirpy tune, and suddenly the song is probably the deepest UK number 1 up to this point.

Stuart Hamblen was an alcoholic, gambling-addicted singer-songwriter and radio personality. He was constantly getting into scrapes and being bailed out due to his charm. In 1949, he decided to take a different path, converting to Christianity after attending one of Billy Graham’s rallies. He was fired from his radio show for refusing to do beer commercials, and stopped his addictions. While out hunting with a friend, he came across an abandoned shack on a mountain. Upon inspection, they found a dog guarding a dead body. Allegedly, he came up with the lyrics while riding back down the mountain. So, the ‘ole house’ in question is in fact the body you leave behind when you die. Seems obvious when you then read the lyrics, but to be fair, I didn’t do that back in 1981, I was barely reading.

Of course, the fact the tune is so catchy and, (especially by comparison to most number 1s of the day), kind-of rollicking, also obscures the subject matter. It wouldn’t make a bad funeral song. Sod the fact you’re dying, your body has had it anyway, and better times await. It’s the perfect vehicle for Rosemary Clooney, who belts it out with gusto.

Clooney, born 23 May, 1928 in Maysville, Kentucky, was one of three children born to alcoholic parents, which meant a lonely existence, often being left with relatives. But at the age of 16 she formed a singing duo with her sister Betty. Brother Nick would later become a newsreader, and of course Rosemary’s nephew is Hollywood star George Clooney.

Clooney made her first recordings with Tony Pastor’s big band, before turning solo in 1949. Two years later, she rocketed to success with Come On-a My House in 1951, which she hated (yet another ‘house-related’ song). 1954 was one of her most successful years, as that winter also saw the release of the film White Christmas, in which she starred alongside Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye.

Unlike most number 1s of the era, people could actually dance to this! Pop was back at the top. In particular, the piano break is a lot of fun, and best of all, the man with the deep voice singing ‘Ain’t a-gonna need this house no longer…’ is Thurl Ravenscroft, the original voice behind Tony the Tiger! What more could you ask for?

Written by: Stuart Hamblen

Producer: Mitch Miller

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 November-2 December)