1972 was a particularly strange year in the singles chart. Glam rock was yet to totally take over the charts, and some real oddities not only did well, they became huge. The year’s biggest seller was a bagpipe cover of Amazing Grace, and the second was this dirty knees-up from experimental musicians recorded in a living room, featuring the tuneless growling singer’s mum playing honky tonk piano. Mouldy Old Dough would rank highly in any chart of the oddest number 1s of all time. It’s also the only one to feature a mother and her son. It’s also the sound of a nation having a nervous breakdown.
Singer Rob Woodford and drummer Nigel Fletcher had been playing in bands since 1963. Woodward, under the name Shel Naylor, recorded for Decca in 1963 and 64, and one of his singles was One Fine Day by Dave Davies of The Kinks.
By 1969 the duo, obsessed with mad genius producer Joe Meek’s productions, were making recordings in the front room of Rob’s mother Hilda’s house, under the strange name Stavely Makepeace. Their first single was (I Wanna Love You Like a) Mad Dog. Their 1972 single Slippery Rock 70s found its way into the Edgar Wright 2007 comedy Hot Fuzz.
Deciding that things weren’t weird enough, they teamed up with bassist Steve Johnson and Hilda to create an outlet for their tendencies to create novelty tunes. Why Lieutenant Pigeon? Why not?
This debut single sank without trace on its first release at the start of the year, as their manager said it would, but somehow it was picked up for use as the theme to a Belgian TV current affairs show, and it went to number 1 there. Decca decided to give it another go, then Radio 1 DJ Noel Edmonds loved it, and it’s thanks to him in part that it did so well.
Opening with woodwind from Johnson, Lieutenant Pigeon’s debut Mouldy Old Dough initially sounds like a children’s TV or sitcom theme, until Hilda’s relentless piano takes over. One of the most unlikely number 1 band members ever sounds like a stoned version of Winifred Atwell. So far, so bizarre. But then it gets really messed up when Rob starts singing the song’s title. I say ‘singing’… he sounds like a tramp on turps. Apparently ‘mouldy old dough’ was a play on the 1920s jazz phrase ‘vo-de-o-do’, but it fits the feel of the song totally. The whole thing conjures up what many imagine when they think of the 70s in the UK. A rotting, brown, smelly, seedy old mess. You know how Pet Shop Boys’ Opportunities is always used as a soundtrack to 80s montages on TV? This should be used for the 70s.
But this is no bad thing. How incredible that this was a number 1?! That the Top of the Pops crowd of kids can actually be seen getting down to this swamp song in the clip above? We’ll never see its like again, that’s for sure. The group look like they can’t believe their luck, especially Rob as he growls ‘Dirty old man’.
Lieutenant Pigeon even managed another hit when they reached number 17 with Desperate Dan, also in 1972. It’s almost exactly the same, but not as good. They reached number three in Australia in 1974 with a cover of I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen.
The original incarnation decided to stop touring in 1978. Johnson reformed Lieutenant Pigeon with a new line-up in the 80s. These days the original duo still record as Lieutenant Pigeon and Stavely Makepeace, creating jingles and releasing music on their website. Hilda, who looked very old in 1972, was actually only 56 at the time (everyone looked older than they should have in the 70s). She died in 1999, aged 85.
Written by: Nigel Fletcher & Rob Woodward
Producer: Stavely Makepeace
Weeks at number 1: 4 (14 October-10 November)
Actress Samantha Janus – 2 November Actress Thandie Newton – 6 November Rugby player Danny Grewcock – 7 November
Broadcaster Douglas Smith – 15 October
16 October: The first episode of Yorkshire Television’s rural soap Emmerdale Farm was broadcast on ITV. Before they shortened the title, it was a much more gentle drama, like a bleaker version of The Archers.
19 October: Royce Ryton’s play Crown Matrimonial premiered at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, London. Concerning the abdication of Edward VIII, it was the first time a living member of the Royal family (Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother) had been represented on stage.
22 October: England football team goalkeeping legend Gordon Banks suffered a serious eye injury in a car crash in Staffordshire.
23 October: Access credit cards were first introduced as a rival to Barclaycard.
6 November: The Government introduces price and pay freezes to counter inflation.
By the dry, dull summer of 1972, glam rock was on the rise. T. Rex had already peaked with their four number 1s, but other acts were now breaking through. The Sweet had scored several hits with Co-Co and Little Willy and two landmark albums were released in June – Roxy Music’s eponymous debut LP, and most importantly, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the first week of July he made his famous appearance on Top of the Pops for Starman, putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson and making rock history.
That same week, Slade were celebrating their second number 1. Since 1971’s Cos I Luv You, the Wolverhampton glam-rockers had turned down a multi-million-dollar campaign in the US to star in their own TV series and tour. But while the chance to become the next Monkees must have been appealing, singer Noddy Holder reportedly told the NME that they didn’t want to cancel commitments and let down their UK fans.
In January 1972 they released follow-up single Look Wot You Dun, written mostly by bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell, with some help from Holder. The song reached number four, and Record Mirror reported they were annoying teachers by setting a bad example and releasing two misspelt singles in a row. Look Wot You Dun wasn’t as good as their number 1, but it proved Slade were no one-hit wonders. In March came Slade Alive!, recorded in front of 300 fan club members and featuring a storming version of Get Down and Get With It.
Take Me Bak ‘Ome, like their previous number 1, was written by Holder and Lea but according to Lea in the group’s 1984 biography Feel the Noize! it originated from an old tune he had made, with a bit of revamping and a phrase or two from The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.
Of Slade’s six number 1s, this ranks as the least memorable. It’s only really worth hearing to get a better insight into how the band were striving and struggling to find the winning formula that they achieved from their next number 1 onwards. It’s meat-and-potatoes rock without the unique element of danger in Cos I Luv You and no anthemic chorus to latch on to, which they later excelled at. Lyrically, it’s a laddish story of boy-meets-drunken-girl-who-stinks-of-brandy. He tries it on, only to flee in fear of her boyfriend a ‘Superman’ who’s twice his size. And it was ‘alright’, apparently.
Take Me Bak ‘Ome climbed to number 13, and Slade were booked to perform at the Great Western Festival in Lincoln. The field of rock fans booed when Slade were announced to be performing imminently. They were worried they were considered too ‘pop’ and had blown it before even starting, but they won over the crowd with their heavy material, and it helped propel them to their second number 1.
Interestingly, Holder had ad-libbed over the riff in the middle of the song’s recording but Lea suggested he change what he came up with as it had given him an idea for their next single…
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 July)
1 July: The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in London, with approximately 2,000 participants.
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, ElectronicSound, 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 MondayAfter 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)
Footballer Malky Mackay – 19 February
Snooker player Terry Murphy – 6 March
Documentary film-maker John Grierson – 19 February
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.
“Get down and get with it!” Wolverhampton glam rockers Slade are one of the most fondly remembered bands of the 70s. Six number 1s between 1971-73, 17 consecutive top 20 singles, and according to The British Hit Singles & Albums, they were the most successful British group of the decade for singles sales. And I’m only just getting round to mentioning Merry Xmas Everybody, which I picked as the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time here.
All four members of Slade grew up in the Black Country area of the West Midlands. In 1964, drummer Don Powell, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was in a band with Dave Hill (born in Devon) called The Vendors. Meanwhile, Walsall’s Noddy Holder was guitarist and occasional singer with Steve Brett & the Mavericks. who released three records on Columbia in 1965.
The Vendors became The ‘N Betweens and gained momentum, supporting The Hollies and The Yardbirds, among others. Meeting on a ferry on the way to separate gigs in Germany, Powell and Hill tried to persuade Holder to join The ‘N Betweens, but he declined. Once they were all back home though, Holder changed his mind and became their lead singer. They had recently recruited multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea on bass, too.
By 1966 The ‘N Betweens had moved on from blues to a more R’n’B sound. They released their first single, a cover of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run, in 1966, produced by Kim Fowley, arranger of Nut Rocker.
They didn’t return to a studio for a few years, but in 1967, with flower power at its peak, Holder worked on an unnamed song with a chorus that went: ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Six years later it became Merry Xmas Everybody.
A local promoter alerted the band to Jack Baverstock, head of A&R at Philips. After spending a week recording their debut album Beginnings in the label’s studio, he offered them a deal with Fontana Records – if they changed their name. Despite misgivings, they became Ambrose Slade, inspired by Baverstock’s secretary, who had named her handbag ‘Ambrose’ and her shoes ‘Slade’… as you do…
Beginnings and instrumental single Genesis sank, but on the plus side, they found a new manager in Chas Chandler, former bassist with The Animals, who helped Jimi Hendrix rocket to fame. It didn’t mean instant success, but Chandler did set them on the right path, telling them they needed more original material and a new image. They adopted the skinhead look in an attempt to keep up with prevailing trends and as The Slade they released the single Wild Winds Are Blowing, which tanked.
A new decade, a new name: Slade. They featured on Top of the Pops in 1970 with their cover of Shape of Things to Come, but to no avail. They added lyrics to Genesis and reworked it as Know Who You Are, but neither that nor November’s LP, Play It Loud, got anywhere either.
Finally, their fortunes changed. In 1971 Chandler suggested they record one of their most popular live numbers. Their cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down with It (later covered by Little Richard) – retitled Get Down and Get with It, came out that May, and it climbed to number 18 in August. And for good reason, it’s an electrifying performance, particularly Holder’s raw vocal, and really captures an infectious, fun, live sound.
Slade were already growing their hair long once more when Chandler demanded they come up with a follow-up themselves. One evening Lea turned up at Holder’s house with his violin and an idea for a simple song, along the lines of T. Rex’s Hot Love, and half an hour later, they had written their first number 1.
They played Because I Love You acoustically to an enthusiastic Chandler the next day, who confidently predicted it would be their first chart-topper. He booked them into Olympic Studios in Barnes. Slade were less keen on its chances, thinking it too soft and poppy, until they were allowed to add foot-stomping to the rhythm. They also decided to change its title, and Holder came up with the idea to misspell it to fit in with their dialect. Thus, Coz I Luv You, the first of their songs littered with spelling errors, was born.
Coz I Luv You is a nice signpost to the full-on glam sound Slade would develop. It doesn’t have the immediate ‘wow’ factor of Hot Love or Get It On, but it’s a great introduction to what was to come. It’s interesting that they all thought it was too lightweight, and maybe the footstomping really did make the difference, but this track actually has a bit of a sinister edge to it, thanks to Holder’s vocal styling. Inadvertently or not, he makes ‘Don’t you change the things you do’ sound like a threat, and Lea’s violin at times adds to the slightly uneasy feeling.
Soon Slade developed their more raucous, straightforward take on Bolan’s glam rock. They were never bothered with maintaining a cool mystique like he was, and began to also be known for their ridiculous glam outfits, before going on to become national treasures. For now though, they were just a slightly weird rock band who had finally made the big time.
Coz I Luv You would later be covered by fellow Black Country musicians, indie band, The Wonder Stuff.
Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea
Producer: Chas Chandler
Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)
Olympic rower Cath Bishop – 22 November Actress Emily Mortimer – 1 December Triple jumper Ashia Hansen – 5 December
Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November
22 November: Five children and one adult die after becoming stranded for two nights in blizzards on the Cairngorm Plateau. It is still regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.
2 December: The Queen’s yearly allowance was increased from £475,000 to £980,000. I’m sure millions of republicans were very pleased for her.
4 December: The highest death toll from a single incident in The Troubles to date took place when 15 people were killed and 17 injured in the McGurk’s Bar bombing. The Ulster Volunteer Force are believed to have been behind the bombing.
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.
Reason to Believe: Tim Hardin/Maggie May: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton
Producer: Rod Stewart
Weeks at number 1: 5 (9 October-12 November)
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
Independent MP AP Herbert – 11 November
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.
I first became aware of this unexpected number 1 when watching a vintage edition of Top of the Pops a few years ago, and it really stumped me. How did this old-fashioned minor soul track, performed by a bunch of old men in strange outfits, do so well in 1971? Since then, I’ve discovered Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me had first been released in the US in 1964. It topped the charts seven years later thanks to its popularity with the northern soul scene. It is in fact the only number 1 linked with the movement.
The phrase ‘northern soul’ first began to be heard in 1968 in journalist Dave Godin’s Covent Garden record shop Soul City. It went public proper in 1970 thanks to his weekly column in Blues & Soul magazine. He had noticed that football fans from the north who visited his shop while following their team weren’t interested in the developing funk sound and instead still loved the more pop side of soul from the mid-60s.
In the late-60s, soul fans from all over the country flocked to the Twisted Wheel in Manchester to attend all-nighters, but in January 1971, its burgeoning reputation as a drug haven resulted in the venue closing down. Fortunately, the movement had grown across the north by this point. By the time of this number 1, the main two northern soul clubs were the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent (Peter Stringfellow used to DJ there) and Blackpool Mecca.
The Tams originated in Atlanta, Georgia back in 1960, taking their name from their trademark tam o’shanter hats they would wear on stage. Founder members were the Pope brothers, lead singer Joe, and Charles, plus Robert Lee Smith, Horace Key and Floyd Ashton (who left in 1963).
Their first single of note was Untie Me, a Joe South song, which reached the Billboard R&B chart in 1962. Two years later was the high watermark of their original recording career, with modest US hits including What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am) and Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me, neither of which charted in the UK. Both were written by Ray Whitley.
Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me is built around the song’s title, sung repeatedly by the backing singers, while Joe (who does have a sweet, distinctive voice) tries and fails to convince the listener that he wants no part of this girl, as he’s been warned she’s bad news. He doesn’t want to be added to ‘her list’ of tossed-aside lovers, but, well, she does ‘look so fine’… you get the drift. The main hook does stick around in your head for a while, but this sounds quite old-fashioned even for 1964, and must be up there with the most unlikely number 1s of all time.
It’s likely The Tams’ popularity among northern soul lovers was originally down to Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy, a much better track, that charted in the US in 1968 and on these shores in 1970. Unlike their number 1, here’s a song you can actually dance to, which is what I thought northern soul was primarily about?
Nobody looks more surprised at The Tams appearing on Top of the Pops to promote Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me than the group themselves, as you can see in the clip above. It’s quite endearing watching them sticking out like sore thumbs, with Key in the middle actually looking quite scared. In fact, with about a minute of the performance left to go, he disappears, and they carry on without him!
That was it for The Tams and the UK charts, until 1987. They reached number 21 with… wait for it… There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin’! There’s no way of knowing if they were aware of what a ‘shag’ is in the UK (it actually refers to a dance called the Carolina shag) but the lyrics are very funny either way. The BBC understandably banned it, but as is often the case, the notoriety probably helped its sales. It also featured in the 1989 comedy Shag, starring Bridget Fonda. Their last charting single in the UK was 1988’s My Baby Sure Can Shag.
The Tams continue to perform to this day. When Joe died in 1996, Charles took over lead vocals, but he passed away in 2013. Key died in 1995, which leaves Smith as the sole original member.
Northern soul grew in popularity throughout the 70s, with Wigan Casino becoming one of the most notable venues from 1973 onwards. Although the movement waned with its closure in the 80s, it still has a healthy following decades later.
Written by: Ray Whitley
Producer: Bill Lowery
Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 September-8 October)
Set designer Es Devlin – 24 September Actress Jessie Wallace – 25 September Actress Liza Walker – 28 September Actor Mackenzie Crook – 29 September Conservative Lord Chancellor David Gauke – 8 October
21 September: BBC Two music series The Old Grey Whistle Test, which ran well into the 80s, was transmitted for the first time.
24 September: Following revelations made by a KGB defector, Britain expelled 90 Russian diplomats for spying. 15 were not allowed to return.
1 October: The CAT scan, invented by Godfrey Hounsfield, was used for the first time on a patient at a hospital in Wimbledon.
In March 1971, singer-songwriter Marc Bolan appeared on Top of the Pops to promote T. Rex’s second single Hot Love, as shown below. His stylist, Chelita Secunda, had suggested he wear glitter under his eyes, and it was this appearance that spearheaded the glam rock movement and gave Bolan the stardom he had strived for. Forget ‘Mungo-mania’ – ‘T. Rextasy’ was the first true pop phenomenon in the UK since ‘Beatlemania’. Pop was rejuvenated.
Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30 September 1947. He was raised in Stoke Newington, East London until the Felds moved to Wimbledon in southwest London when he was a young boy. Around this time he, like so many of his contemporaries, fell in love with rock’n’roll, particularly stars like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He was only nine when he was given his first guitar and he formed a skiffle band, and soon after he was playing guitar for Susie and the Hula Hoops, whose singer was 12-year-old Helen Shapiro, who would have two number 1s in 1961 with You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness.
Feld was expelled from school at 15 and around this time became known as ‘The Face’ due to his good looks. He joined a modelling agency and appeared in catalogues for Littlewoods and John Temple wearing Mod getup just as The Beatles were first making waves.
In 1964 Feld made his first known recording, All at Once, in which he aped Cliff Richard. Next, he changed his name to Toby Tyler when he became interested in the music of Bob Dylan, and he began to dress like him too. His first acetate was a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind.
The following year, he signed with Decca Records and changed his name to Marc Bowland, before his label suggested Marc Bolan. First single, The Wizard, featured Jimmy Page and backing vocalists The Ladybirds, who later collaborated with Benny Hill. None of his solo singles, in which he adopted a US folk sound, made any impact.
Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds and John’s Children, a struggling psychedelic rock act, first met Bolan in 1966 when he showed up at his house with a guitar, proclaiming that he was going to be a big star and wanted Napier-Bell to work with him. Bolan was nearly placed in The Yardbirds but was placed in John’s Children as guitarist and songwriter in March 1967 instead. The group were outrageous, and Bolan proved to be a good fit, writing the single Desdemona, which was banned by the BBC for the lyric ‘lift up your skirt and fly’. Only a month later, they toured as support for The Who but were soon given their marching orders for upstaging the headliners (Bolan would whip his guitar with a chain). John’s Children also performed at The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace that month. Yet by June Bolan had left the group after falling out with his manager over their unreleased single A Midsummer Night’s Scene.
Bolan formed his own group, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and after one rushed, disastrous gig, he pared the band down to just himself and their drummer, Steve Peregrin Took, who would play percussion and occasional bass alongside Bolan and his acoustic guitar. For the next few years, Tyrannosaurus Rex amassed a cult following, with Radio 1 DJ John Peel among their biggest fans. Bolan’s fey, whimsical warbling could get a bit much at times, and I speak as a lover of 60s psychedelia, but the signs of a very talented singer-songwriter are there right from their debut single Debora and first album, the brilliantly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), produced by Tony Visconti. Peel even read short stories by Bolan on their albums.
This was the last album to feature Took, who had been growing apart from Bolan, who was working on a book of poetry called The Warlock of Love. Bolan’s ego didn’t take kindly to the thought of Took contributing to songwriting, so he replaced him with Mickey Finn for fourth album Beard of Stars, released in March 1970. David Bowie’s follow-up to Space Oddity, The Prettiest Star also came out that month, with Bolan on guitar. The single tanked.
As the new decade dawned, Bolan was outgrowing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was simplifying his songwriting while reintroducing an electric band setup to the mix. Visconti had been abbreviating the band’s name to T. Rex for a while on recording tapes, and while Bolan didn’t appreciate it at first, he decided to adopt the name to represent the next stage of development.
While preparing to release their first material in their new incarnation, Bolan replaced The Kinks as headlining act at the Pilton Festival at Worthy Farm, the day after Jimi Hendrix died on 19 September. 50 years on, it’s known as Glastonbury Festival, the king of the UK festival scene.
T. Rex released their first single, Ride a White Swan in October. This, simple, catchy layered guitar track caught on, and finally Bolan had a hit on his hands, narrowly missing out on the number 1 spot due to Clive Dunn’s Grandad in January 1971. T. Rex’s eponymous debut also went top 10 in the album charts. Bolan was now famous, but he needed to capitalise and go one better to avoid being a one-hit wonder.
Hot Love was recorded on 21 and 22 January at Trident Studios – the week Ride a White Swan peaked at number two. Seizing the moment, Bolan decided to flesh out T. Rex’s sound and adopt a classic four-piece line-up. With new bassist Steve Currie making his recording debut, Bolan and Visconti hired Bill Fifield as drummer, leaving Finn relegated to just handclaps. After helping out on T. Rex, this single saw the return of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals. The duo had been founding members of The Turtles, and as Flo & Eddie had recently been part of Frank Zappa’s group The Mothers of Invention. Kaylan and Volman’s slightly unhinged harmonies became an integral part of the classic T. Rex sound.
Although Ride a White Swan served notice that Bolan was moving on from his old self-limited sonic boundaries, the lyrics were still very much the Tolkien whimsy of your average Tyrannosaurus Rex track. Hot Love featured a more simplistic, direct lyrical approach. Bolan is merely telling you about his lover.
Taken as read, much of T. Rex’s lyrical output can seem childish, sometimes even ridiculous, yet most of the time Bolan pulls it off, and he does so here. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the lines ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha’ and the charming camp of ‘I don’t mean to be bold, a-but a-may I hold your hand?’ but I’d never noticed the ludicrous ‘I’m a labourer of love in my persian gloves – a ha ha’ before. My favourite lyric of recent memory, right there.
There’s no point spending too much time dissecting Bolan’s words though, it’s more about the feel they add to his songs, and Hot Love feels sexy, which isn’t a label you could ever give his Tyrannosaurus Rex material. It’s fascinating to me how a voice that’s so fey, singing such daft words, can at the same time be so sensual.
The tune displays a key ingredient of glam rock – 50s rock’n’roll. Bolan has updated a simple bluesy riff and, thanks to the input of Visconti’s glossy studio sheen and string arrangement, updated it for 70s audiences. Kaylan and Volman’s backing vocals keep a certain strangeness in place and stop things getting too smooth, but this is a high definition Bolan that hadn’t been heard before, and Hot Love is just one reason why Visconti is rightly one of the most famous producers of all time.
The second half of Hot Love shifts into a ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la’ Bolan, Kaylan and Volman singalong, akin to Hey Jude, but faster and weirder. It’s a real earworm, and no doubt helped it to number 1, but I find it goes on a bit too long, and I prefer the first half personally. Having said that, it really does show up the previous number 1, Baby Jump, as lumpen and turgid by comparison. A much-needed breath of fresh air in the charts, to put it mildly.
Released on 12 February on Fly Records, Hot Love rocketed up the charts, in part thanks to those famous Top of the Pops appearances. Bolan displayed star material in spades, and was perhaps the first musician since Elvis Presley to prove that image could be a vital ingredient in pop. Looking every inch the rock star with his glitter and guitar, he made glam rock about appearance as well as the sound, and other acts like Slade and friend/rival Bowie were watching and taking notes.
The 70s were often a drab, moribund decade. Glam rock may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the way Beatlemania did, but in the UK it was sorely needed, and brought about some of the best number 1s of the next four years. Bolan was integral in this.
T. Rex would prove to have a formula that Bolan couldn’t advance much from, and his star burnt out quick, but in the early 70s he gave pop the kick up the arse it needed. There are better T. Rex songs. However, Hot Love is one of the most important number 1s of the decade.
Written by: Marc Bolan
Producer: Tony Visconti
Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 March-30 April)
Scottish actress Kate Dickie – 23 March TV presenter Gail Porter – 23 March Scottish racing driver David Coulthard – 27 March Cricketer Paul Grayson – 31 March Scottish actor Ewan McGregor – 31 March Cricketer Jason Lewry – 2 April Conservative MP Douglas Carswell – 3 April Liberal Democrat MP John Leech – 11 April Actress Belinda Stewart-Wilson – 16 April Scottish actor David Tennant – 18 April
Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April
1 April: All restrictions on gold ownership were lifted in the UK. Since 1966 Britons had been banned from holding more than four gold coins or from buying any new ones, unless they held a licence.
11 April: 10 British Army soldiers were injured in rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.
15 April: The planned Barbican Centre in London was given the go-ahead.
18 April: A serious fire at Kentish Town West railway station meant that the station remained closed until 5 October 1981.
19 April: Unemployment reached a post-World War Two high of nearly 815,000.
27 April: Eight members of the Welsh Language Society went on trial for destroying English language road signs in Wales. Also on this day, British Leyland launched the Morris Marina, which succeeded the Minor.
After months of rather lightweight pop ruling the charts, Procul Harum went to number 1 with their woozy, hazy classic debut single A Whiter Shade of Pale, on 8 June – the same day the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band topped the album charts for the first time. For the counterculture, it must have felt like the future was theirs for the taking.
Procul Harum formed from the ashes of the Paramounts, a beat group from Southend-on-Sea in Essex. They had reached number 35 in 1964 with their cover of Lieber and Stoller’s Poison Ivy, but split in 1966. Their singer, Gary Brooker, formed his new group in April 1967, and the line-up featured Keith Reid, a poet who would write their lyrics, Matthew Fisher on Hammond organ, guitarist Ray Royer and bassist David Knights.
Their manager, Guy Stevens (later to come up with Mott the Hoople’s name and co-produce the Clash’s album London Calling) said they should name themselves after producer Gus Dudgeon’s cat. Dudgeon produced classic work by The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, David Bowie and Elton John. His Burmese pet’s ‘cat fancy’ name was Procul Harun, so they just switched the last letter.
A Whiter Shade of Pale originated at a party Brooker attended. He heard someone say to a woman’ you’ve turned a whiter shade of pale’, and the phrase stuck in his mind. Although the lyrics are full of Bob Dylan-style, mysterious imagery, it’s clear the song is about a man, a woman, and sex. Brooker admitted in the February 2008 issue of Uncut that it was a ‘girl-leaves-boy story’, wrapped up in evocative imagery. He also said that although he may have been smoking at the time, the song was inspired by books, not drugs. Reid must have also had a say in the words though, as he recieved co-credit at the time and didn’t play an instrument.
Matthew Fisher didn’t receive a credit for his integral organ contribution until 2009 in a court ruling. As interesting as the lyrics are, it’s fair to say the song wouldn’t be as famous as it was without his playing, inspired by Bach’s Air on the G string.
Procul Harum convened to record their first single at Olympic Sound Studios in London soon after formation. So soon, they hadn’t yet found a drummer, so session musician Bill Eyden took up the sticks. Produced by Denny Cordell, it was quickly wrapped up in two takes. A few days later they had a drummer, Bobby Harrison, and tried a new version, but opted to release one of their earlier takes in mono only. Cordell was worried about the single’s length and slightly muddy recording, until he sent an acetate to Radio London. John Peel was working for the station at the time, and fell immediately in love with it.
WIth its stately pace, dreamlike feel and surreal lyrics, A Whiter Shade of Pale is a perfect example of a song capturing the zeitgeist. It’s a great song, but it could only have been number 1 for six weeks at that moment in time. The fact it was there at the start of the Summer of Love has elevated its status, possibly making it a touch overrated, but it’s a very impressive debut and a great time capsule of flower power.
Much of British psychedelia harked back to an earlier time, to childhood memories, or even further back to Victorian and Edwardian styles. But the chorus of A Whiter Shade of Pale goes even further back, to Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale from the 14th century. Critics may complain the words are meaningless, but frankly, they need to get out more. It’s about the feeling they create, rather than a story being told. There’s some excellent acid-laced lines, including the introductory ‘We skipped the light fandango’ and ‘One of sixteen vestal virgins’. When performed live, the song sometimes featured a further two verses, which I’d be interested to hear.
Brooker’s vocal is also great, with his soulful, mournful tones adding to the elegiac tone. In fact, if you ignore the lyrics and just listen to the sound, there are some similarities to Percy Sledge’s beautiful When a Man Loves a Woman.
Procul Harum shot several promotional videos for the single, and if you click above you can see the first, which the band minus Harrison shot in the ruins of Witley Court in Worcestershire. Peter Clifton’s film was banned by Top of the Pops due to the splicing in of footage of the Vietnam war.
Following A Whiter Shade of Pale‘s immense success, Procul Harum were one of the bands of 1967. The single was loved by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, with Lennon in particular becoming obsessed that summer. Their first gig saw them supporting the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The line-up soon changed, with Harrison and Royer leaving to form Freedom. They were replaced by former Paramounts BJ Wilson and Robin Trower respectively. Follow-up single Homburg, released that September, reached number six, despite Peel preferring it to their previous 7-inch. They finished the year with their eponymous debut album in December.
It wasn’t until September 1968 that their second album came out. Shine On Brightly is considered one of the earliest examples of a progressive rock album, with the album closer, In Held ‘Twas in I, lasting over 17 minutes. 1969’s A Salty Dog went further down that route, and Fisher, who produced it, departed soon after. and was replaced by another former Paramount, Chris Copping.
In the 1970s, they fell into a pattern of further line-up changes and ever decreasing album sales, embarking on a full-on symphonic progressive rock sound. Their final top 20 hit was Pandora’s Box in 1975. They split up in 1977, but two months later they were performing at the BRIT Awards, when A Whiter Shade of Pale was named Best British Pop Single 1952-1977, along with Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Procul Harum reformed in 1991, and have remained together ever since, with Brooker the only constant throughout. In 2017 they released their 13th album, Novum. While they were unable to continue with their initial popularity, A Whiter Shade of Pale is still considered one of the best songs of that heady summer, when music branched out and for a while it seemed as though anything was possible.
Written by: Gary Brooker, Keith Reid & Matthew Fisher
Producer: Denny Cordell
Weeks at number 1: 6 (8 June-18 July)
Darts player Kevin Painter -2 July Television writer Paul Cornell – 18 July
Actress Vivien Leigh – 7 July Cyclist Tom Simpson – 13 July
27 June: Comedy actor Reg Varney from On the Buses became the first person to use a cash machine in the world, at Barclays Bank in Enfield. Trippy, man.
29 June: Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones was jailed for a year for possession of drugs, and Mick Jagger was sentenced to three months for the same offence.
1 July: BBC Two transmitted the first colour TV broadcasts in Britain, during live coverage of the Wimbledon Championships. It was the final year in which the competition was amateur, and Australian John Newcombe won the men’s tournament on 7 July, with American Billie Jean King winning the women’s the next day.
7 July: Parliament decriminalised private acts of consensual adult male homosexuality in England and Wales with the Sexual Offences Act.
It seems entirely appropriate I find myself writing this blog this week, as it marks the 60th anniversary of the formation of Motown Records. One of the Detroit soul label’s greatest number 1s was Reach Out I’ll Be There by local boys, Four Tops. It was the first time a black male group had been in pole position since The Platters in 1959 with Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
The quartet began life as friends at a Detroit, Michigan high school. Levi Stubbs, Abdul ‘Duke’ Fakir, Renaldo ‘Obie’ Benson and Lawrence Payton were asked to sing at a friend’s birthday party, and went down so well, they remained together until Payton’s death in 1997. Originally named The Four Aims, they signed with Chess Records in 1956, but changed their name to Four Tops to avoid confusion with pop act The Ames Brothers.
Seven years and several record labels followed, with no hits to their name. But they stuck at it and developed a slick stage presence. Fortune finally smiled on the group when Motown’s Berry Gordy Jr asked them to join the label, which had been steadily growing since its formation in 1959. They joined its Workshop offshoot, mainly covering jazz standards, as well as occasionally singing backing vocals on other group’s records, such as Run, Run, Run by The Supremes.
Their fortunes changed when Motown’s main songwriting team, Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Brian Holland gave the quartet Baby I Need Your Loving. Climbing the US charts to number 11, the Four Tops now moved away from jazz to the uptempo soul and pop that Motown excelled in, the most notable being I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch), a Billboard number 1 in June 1965.
Lamont-Dozier-Holland were inspired to write Reach Out I’ll Be There after discussing their experiences with women and what they looked for most in a man. It was agreed they wanted someone to always be there for them. They didn’t think at the time that this would become one of their most famous songs. It was just another track on the label’s production line, such was Motown’s approach. Four Tops had no inkling either, they rushed through the recording in two takes and quickly forgot about it.
Reach Out I’ll Be There is a song everyone knows and admires, but when you consider the speed of its recording, the results are that much more impressive. I’m a big soul fan, but sometimes find 60s Motown a little too sweet. This track is different though, and that’s largely down to the lead vocal of Stubbs. Lamont-Dozier-Holland had realised they got the best results out of him by making him sing at the top of his range, creating a raw urgency that added an extra layer of emotion that made him stand out among the crowd.
This effect is perfect for Reach Out I’ll Be There, as he captures the desperation you would feel if your ‘world comes crumbling down’. Stubbs treats the words like punches, stabbing certain words with extra emphasis.
This was suggested by the writers/producers after they heard Bob Dylan’s Like a Rolling Stone. The darkness of the verses make the chorus that much more effective. Stubbs shouts ‘Ha!”, the clouds break, and the heavenly sound of the Four Tops as one takes over. It’s beautiful, and could move you to tears. As always, Motown backing group The Funk Brothers put in an exemplary performance.
Topping the UK and US charts, Reach Out I’ll Be There became Four Tops’ signature song and one of the biggest Motown tracks ever. The hits continued for some time, including follow-up Standing in the Shadows of Love, then in 1967 Bernadette. and a cover of Tim Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter. After their version of the Left Banke’s Walk Away Renée in 1968, the sales started to drop considerably.
Motown were starting to look old fashioned, and the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland was a big blow. Gordy realised this and began to shine the spotlight on their newer acts like The Jackson 5 and Diana Ross, now a solo artist after leaving The Supremes.
In 1972 it was announced the whole label would move from Detroit to California. Some of the older acts opted to stay in Detroit, including Four Tops, Martha Reeves and The Funk Brothers. The Tops signed with ABC-Dunhill, and didn’t too bad for a while, having hits with Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got) and Are You Man Enough from blaxploitation sequel Shaft in Africa (1973). In 1976 they left the label.
As the 80s began, Four Tops were with Casablanca Records, home to Parliament and KISS. However by the time of Motown’s 25th anniversary they were back with the label and appeared on its TV special in a battle of the bands with The Temptations. Their first album back with Motown was appropriately named Back Where I Belong. The group took part in 1985’s Live Aid, but left the label again in 1986.
The 80s also saw them feature in the movies, with an appearance on the soundtrack to Grease 2 back in 1982, and Stubbs providing the voice of Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors (1986).
In 1988 they returned to the singles chart with Loco in Acapulco from the hit movie Buster, starring Phil Collins, who wrote the track with Lamont Dozier as well as getting behind the drumkit. Fair play to all involved – until I researched this, I assumed the track was from the 60s. That December, Four Tops were scheduled to return to the US for Christmas on Pan Am Flight 103, but a prolonged recording session and appearance on Top of the Pops meant they overslept. To say this was a stroke of luck would be a massive understatement – had they boarded, they would be among the victims of the Lockerbie air disaster when a terrorist bomb detonated the plane.
The 90s started well, with the quarted entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, but form then on they concentrated on live appearances as their albums and singles couldn’t hit the heights of the past. In 1997, after 44 years together, they suffered their first loss when Peyton succumbed to liver cancer, aged 59.
For a while they continued as a trio known as the Tops, before adding Theo Peoples from The Temptations. From then on, age caught up with the group and line-up changes continued. Benson died of lung cancer in 2005, and Stubbs passed away in his sleep in 2008. The group continues to this day, led by the last remaining surviving member, Fakir.
Four Tops will always be known as one of the finest soul groups ever, and Reach Out I’ll Be There still appears in lists of greatest songs of all time.
Written by: Lamont Dozier & Brian and Eddie Holland
Producer: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier
Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 October-16 November)
Conservative MP Jeremy Cunt – 1 November Chef Gordon Ramsay – 8 November
Conservative MP Peter Baker – 14 November
14 November: The trial of John Whitney and John Duddy over the Shepherd’s Bush murders (see With a Girl Like You) began at the Old Bailey, but was adjourned only a day later when the third assailant Harry Roberts was captured.
16 November: Cathy Come Home was broadcast on BBC One. This docu-drama about homelessness was watched by a quarter of the population and is considered now to be one of the most influential pieces of television in the 60s. Although slow-paced by today’s standards, it still has the power to shock and depress.
Since Tired of Waiting for You had ruled the charts, The Kinks had released singles of varying quality. The best of the bunch was the droning, proto-psychedelic See My Friends in the summer of 1965. Released four months before Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), it is considered to be one of the first pop songs to incorporate an Indian raga sound.
Tensions were emerging within the group in a very public way, and it wasn’t just Ray and Dave Davies that were known to scrap. Drummer Mick Avory and Dave fought on stage that May in Cardiff, with Avory fleeing the scene after knocking out Davies with his hi-hat stand, in fear he had murdered the guitarist. The drummer later told the police it was just a new part of their live show where the Kinks would throw instruments at each other.
The foursome’s chances of making an impact in the US were given a severe knockback when the American Federation of Musicians refused to allow the band permits for the next four years. Ray Davies believed this to have stemmed from him throwing a punch at a TV crew member who had launched into a tirade of anti-British comments at him. But it wasn’t just in the US that Davies was treated with condescension. He was treated with disdain by upper-class fellow guests at a luxury resort. Those guests helped bring about a marked shift in the direction of the Kinks, and the one which marked out Davies as one of the country’s greatest songwriters.
Well Respected Man, released that September, was the first instance of the band taking inspiration from music hall for their sound, with Davies satirising the British class system. From here on in, nobody could write barbed lyrics about life in England quite like Ray Davies. In February 1966 they released one of their best singles, Dedicated Follower of Fashion, taking aim at London’s fashion scene. The power-chord rock of You Really Got Me that originally brought them fame must have seemed a long time ago.
Despite their developing sound bringing them success, Ray Davies was not a happy man. The squabbling within the group and pressures of recording and touring had brought about a breakdown while working on their third album in late-1965, The Kink Kontroversy. Before writing Sunny Afternoon, Davies had bought a white, upright piano but in his depressed state he was struggling to come up with any new songs. He would listen to Frank Sinatra and Bob Dylan over and over for inspiration, but was getting nowhere.
Eventually, like The Beatles on Taxman, released later that summer as the opening track to Revolver, Davies began by complaining about the state of the Labour government’s tax system. As good an opening line as ‘The tax man’s taken all my dough, and left me in my stately home, lazing on a sunny afternoon’ was, Davies wisely realised the public might not feel much sympathy for a rich rock star like him, and so the song evolved into the complaining of a loaded aristocrat who had inherited his money but fallen on hard times. He tried to make the character unloveable, adding that his girlfriend claimed he was cruel when drunk to help make record buyers dislike the protagonist.
You could argue that Davies failed in this however, because Sunny Afternoon is so damn charming. A lot of that is down to his brilliant delivery of the lyrics, which conjure up a tipsy, loaded n’er-do-well. It’s one of their most memorable tunes, and one of the best songs of the mid-60s.
Over the years though, I feel that perhaps the message of the song has become somewhat lost in translation in mainstream culture, and is now often used simply to portray the ‘great British summer’. Never mind the fact this guy was probably beating up his partner, lets just have a drink, enjoy the sun and sing along, yeah? That’s not the fault of The Kinks, though. It actually shows the genius of Davies, to be able to hide such biting lyrics within a catchy pop classic.
Although Sunny Afternoon was their last number 1, his genius would continue through the 60s and early 70s, with albums like The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society (1968) and particularly singles like Waterloo Sunset and Days.
Dave Davies would also prove himself to be a great songwriter with solo singles Death of a Clown (co-written with his brother) and Susannah’s Still Alive.
In early 1969 bassist Pete Quaife told the rest of the band he was leaving, despite Ray’s pleas for him to stay. He was replaced with John Dalton, who had filled in for him in the past. Their ban in the US was finally lifted, and they added John Gosling as a permanent keyboardist (Nicky Hopkins had filled this role on their recordings previously) when recording Lola. Their last true great single, this tale of an encounter with a transvestite was a top 10 hit here and in the US.
The mid-70s were a tough time for the band, with Ray’s family problems causing him to collapse from a drug overdose after announcing he was retiring on stage in 1973. He focused on writing rock opera rather than pop instead, which was poorly recieved. Dalton claims that Ray has never been the same since this breakdown, and he left the group in 1976. Their fortunes improved over the next few years, helped along by The Jam citing them as a major influence and releasing their version of David Watts as a single.
In 1983 their single Come Dancing performed better than anything they had released in years, and they were back on Top of the Pops with a number 12 single, but personal problems came to the fore once more. Ray fell out with Dave over solo projects, Ray’s relationship with Pretenders’ singer Chrissie Hynde ended badly, and Dave finally refused to work with Avory any longer. He was replaced by Argent member Bob Henrit, but thanks to Ray he would contribute occasionally. Line-up changes continued, but Avory and Quaife did show up when The Kinks were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Despite their public profile improving considerably in the mid-90s thanks to Britpop, one of the best UK groups in music finally chose to call it a day. They played together to celebrate Dave’s 50th at the Clissold Arms pub, where the Davies brothers musical journey had begun years ago.
A year later I saw Ray Davies for the first time at a sodden Glastonbury Festival, where he performed a mostly acoustic set of the classics. One of the few times I felt summery that weekend. When I next saw him there, during a blazing hot festival with my wife in 2010, Quaife had just died, and the highlight of another great show was a very emotional Davies dedicating Days to his former bassist and friend. He broke down several times while performing it. It was a very different show to 1997, his voice not as effective, but he was bolstered by a choir and both shows were great for different reasons.
Rumours of a Kinks reunion have never gone away, and baby boomers the world over were delighted to hear that the feuding brothers appeared to have finally buried the hatchet and a reformation was announced, with Avory also returning. Unfortunately, nothing seems truly concrete yet, but it is believed they will be working on a new album. No doubt it won’t match the glory days (few groups are able to repeat the magic when they reunite), but I’d love to see Davies one last time at Glastonbury, this time with his brother and Avory alongside him.
Written by: Ray Davies
Producer: Shel Talmy
Weeks at number 1: 2 (7-20 July)
Actress Tamsin Grieg – 12 July Presenter Johnny Vaughan – 16 July
11 July: The FIFA World Cup began in England with the home team drawing against Uruguay 0-0. However by the time the 20 July came, they were top of their group, with wins against Mexico and France, both 2-0 up. And the best was yet to come.
12 July: The Rhodesia saga continued with Zambia threatening to leave the Commonwealth over British peace overtures.
14 July: Gwynfor Evans was elected as Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, becoming the first ever Plaid Cymru MP.
16 July: Prime Minister Harold Wilson flew to Moscow in order to begin peace negotiations over the Vietnam War, but the Soviet Government refused to help.
20 July: Although life in the UK that summer is remembered as being a prosperous, positive time, this day saw the start of a six-month wage and price freeze.