245. Esther and Abi Ofarim – Cinderella Rockefeller (1968)

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Spring began with the introduction of the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 on 1 March. Reducing the right of entry for immigrants from the British Commonwealth to the UK, I’m sure it will have made Enoch Powell a happy man. The following day, coal mining in the Black Country, which had played a big part in the Industrial Revolution, came to an end after some 300 years with the closure of Baggeridge Colliery near Sedgley.

Ten days later on 12 March, Mauritius gained independence from British rule, and three days later the Foreign Secretary George Brown resigned from his post. One of the most colourful Labour MPs of the decade, Brown had a big drink problem, and following his resignation, Private Eye coined the phrase ‘tired and emotional’ to hint at his alcoholism. 17 March saw a demonstration in Grosvenor Square, London against the Vietnam War. The protest became violent, leading to 91 police injured and 200 demonstrators arrested.

What was the soundtrack to these tense times in? Surely something like Street Fighting Man by the Rolling Stones? No, it was this weird little one-hit wonder – Cinderella Rockefeller, by Israeli husband-and-wife Esther and Abi Ofarim.

Esther Zaied was born in Safed in 1941 to a Syrian Jewish family. She was performing as a child, and loved singing Hebrew and international folk songs. In 1958, she met musician and dancer Abi. Born Abraham Reichstadt in what is now Israel in 1937, he was also a precocious talent, attending ballet school at 12 and owner of his own dance studio at 18. The duo married in either 1958 or 1961 depending on where you look, and were performing as Esther and Abi Ofarim from 1959 onwards. At the same time, Esther would perform solo and won the Song Festival in Tel Aviv in 1961.

Two years later she entered Eurovision, representing Switzerland with the French song T’en vas pas. As the competition drew to a close, Esther looked to be the winner, but due to a last-minute change in the scores from Norway, she lost out to Denmark.

After this disappointment, their career as a duo went from strength to strength in Germany. They had their first hit in 1966 with Noch einen Tanz, and the following year their biggest hit in that country, Morning of My Life, which was written by Barry Gibb as In the Morning, which the Bee Gees had recorded before moving to the UK.

Later that year they recorded Cinderella Rockefella. This bizarre novelty song had been written by US Grammy award-winning classical guitarist Mason Williams and folk singer Nancy Ames, known in America at the time for being a regular on their version of That Was the Week That Was. Together they had written the theme to The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.

What fresh hell is this? Cinderella Rockefella comes across as a demented version of I Got You Babe, set to the theme of sitcom Steptoe and Son. I was aware of the tune beforehand but assumed it was sung by, I don’t know, perhaps a pair of old comics or actors. So it came as a shock to see it was actually a young Israeli married couple who resembled models. It is, as far as I’m aware, the only song by Israelis to reach the top, and it’s the first to feature yodelling since the days of Frank Ifield in 1963.

I do normally love the more unusual, eccentric side of pop, and I don’t actually mind the rickety 20s-30s-tinged Cinderella Rockefella to begin with. But after 30 seconds or so Esther’s shrill yodel in particular becomes a little bit like some kind of torture, and Abi’s almost as awful in his smugness. The lyrics are awful. And yet, you will end up with that mad bastard of a tune in your head for some time afterwards. So there you go, proof that the late 60s may have been a great time for music, but the charts were still prone to irritatingly catchy weird stuff at times.

Apparently Cinderella Rockefeller was the final song played on Radio Caroline. What an awful way to go out. Williams recorded his own version of the duet he co-wrote later in 1968 with Jennifer Warren. Warren was later very well known for duets, too – as Jennifer Warnes, she recorded Up Where We Belong with Joe Cocker, and (I’ve Had) The Time of My Life with Bill Medley, for An Officer and a Gentleman (1982) and Dirty Dancing (1987) respectively.

As for Esther and Abi Ofarim, well, they recorded the promo you can see above, in which they parade the streets of London, one glammed up and one in top hat and tails. Their song topped the charts elsewhere too, and they toured the world in 1969. However, they divorced in Germany in 1970, and inevitably the musical partnership was over too.

After going their separate ways, Esther ended up performing on the late Scott Walker’s 1970 album ‘Til the Band Comes In (their manager, Ady Semel was also Walker’s, and he wrote lyrics for the album). Semel even talked up the idea of the duo becoming more permanent, but nothing came of it. She recorded an eponymous solo album of folk songs with orchestral arrangements in 1972. Since then, she has disappeared into obscurity, but there are videos out there if a beaming Esther performing in Hamburg in 2017.

Abi continued in music too, but developed alcohol and drug problems. He also became a manager through his company PROM, and, somewhat bizarrely, managed one of the greatest groups of all time, Can, before he was sacked in the early 70s. He mounted legal challenges but they ended badly for him. In 1979 he was arrested for posession of drugs and suspected tax evasion and sentenced to a year on probation. Abi documented his issues in his autobiography Der Preis der wilden Jahre (The Price of the Wild Years) in 1982.

In 2009 he released his first album in 27 years, Too Much of Something, with his long flowing locks on the cover, he looked rather like Iggy Pop with a tan. Five years later he began running Jugendzentrum für Senioren (Youth Center for Elderly People) in Munich to help lonely old people. Abi Ofarim died in May 2018, aged 80.

Written by: Mason Williams & Nancy Ames

Producers: Abi Ofarim & Chaim Semel

Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 February-19 March)

Births:

Actor Daniel Craig – 2 March
Actress Patsy Kensit – 4 March
Politician Theresa Villiers – 5 March
Politician Paul Marsden – 18 March 

218. The Kinks – Sunny Afternoon (1966)

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11 July saw the FIFA World Cup begin 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.

The day after the tournament began, the Rhodesia saga continued with Zambia threatening to leave the Commonwealth over British peace overtures. On 14 July, Gwynfor Evans was elected as Member of Parliament for Carmarthen, becoming the first ever Plaid Cymru MP. Two days later, Prime Minister Harold Wilson flew to Moscow in order to begin peace negotiations over the Vietnam War, but the Soviet Government refused to help. And although life in the UK that summer is remembered as being a prosperous, positive time, 20 July saw the start of a six-month wage and price freeze.

That day marked the end of the Kinks’ third and final stint at number 1, with the classic Sunny Afternoon. Since Tired of Waiting for You had ruled the charts, the group 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, however. 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 1960s 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. Such great work didn’t always equate to hits at the time, though, and much of their best material has only grown in popularity long after release.

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 ten 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 can), 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)

Births:

Actress Tamsin Grieg – 12 July
Presenter Johnny Vaughan – 16 July