348. ABBA (Bjorn, Benny, Anna & Frida) – Waterloo (1974)

I’m not giving you earth-shattering news when I point out that ABBA are one of the best-selling groups of all time. But here’s a few statistics to set the ball rolling. With nine UK number 1s between 1974 and 1980, they’ve had more than any other mixed-sex group in history. Seven of those number 1s occurred in the 70s, which is the most any single act had in that decade. They were the first group from a non-English-speaking country to have consistent success in English-speaking charts like the UK, US, Canada and Australia. Estimates suggest that their total sales are over 150 million. They’re easily the most successful group to have ever entered the Eurovision Song Contest, and ABBA Gold is one of the best-selling compilations of all time.

ABBA became cool again in the 90s, with their songs turned into the musical Mamma Mia! in 1999, before it was adapted into a hit film in 2008, spawning a sequel a decade later. In 2020 it was reported that they just might be making a comeback, though that could just be wishful thinking for a world turned on its heels that needs the pop bliss conjured up by Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid once more.

And yet despite all this – and I’m in agreement that Dancing Queen is one of the best number 1s of all time – a lot of ABBA’s output does little for me. I think a lot of it is down to the sheer overload during my 20s of ABBA covers and media coverage shoving them down the nation’s throats. Some truly awful acts were recording their songs, and they may have become guilty by association in my mind. Perhaps I will now grow to appreciate them more, as I work my way through their biggest hits?

Before I look at the song that first made them stars, some background knowledge, as the story usually begins with ‘Swedish pop group ABBA entered Eurovision and became famous’.

Songwriter Benny Andersson, from Stockholm, joined his first band, The Hep Stars, aged 18, as their keyboardist. They were known as Sweden’s answer to The Beatles and often performed covers of international hits. Soon, Andersson was composing original material for them, and scored his first Swedish hit with No Response in 1965.

While touring, occasionally The Hep Stars would cross paths with folk-skiffle group The Hootenanny Singers, who featured Björn Ulvaeus as their songwriter and guitarist. In June 1966 the duo wrote their first song together, Isn’t It Easy to Say, which was recorded by The Hep Stars. The manager of The Hootenanny Singers (and later founder of Polar Music), Stig Anderson, encouraged them to write together more often. Andersson and Ulvaeus became friends and would occasionally join each other on stage in their respective bands, both of which were fracturing by 1969. Their first real hit together, written with Anderson, was Ljuva sextital (Sweet Sixties), recorded by Brita Borg that year.

Also in 1969, Andersson submitted Hej, Clown into Melodifestivalen 1969, the competition to decide Sweden’s Eurovision entry that year. He narrowly lost out, but he did meet a singer there called Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and within the month they had become a couple.

Lyngstad had become a jazz singer in 1967, winning national talent competition New Faces and appearing on television with the song En ledig dag (A Day Off). She signed with EMI Sweden and in early 1968 while appearing on TV she briefly met a singer named Agnetha Fältskog, who was performing her self-penned first single, Jag var så kär (I Was So in Love). A few months later Fältskog met Ulvaeus for the first time. In May 1969 they met again on a TV special and fell in love.

In 1970 Andersson and Ulvaeus recorded an album together called Lycka (Happiness). Both Lyngstad and Fältskog featured on the LP, with the latter co-writing a song. The two couples performed together for the first time while on holiday in Cyprus in an impromptu performance for soldiers stationed there. That November they presented a cabaret show, Festfolket (Party People) in Gothenburg, performing material by all four, but it was panned, and further collaborations were shelved, but not for long, as Hej, gamle man from Lycka, credited to Bjorn & Benny but featuring all four, became their first hit in Sweden.

Ulvaeus and Fältskog married in July 1971, and began performing live with Andersson regularly soon after. The collaborations became more frequent, and in 1972 the Swedish hit People Need Love was credited to Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid. Anderson had also encouraged them to make another attempt at entering Eurovision that year. They missed out again, but Säg det med en sång(Say It with a Song), performed by Lena Anderson (another Anderson!), also did well in Sweden, and may have even done well in the US had it been on a bigger label.

In 1973, they tried for Eurovision again with Ring Ring, a direct, catchy pop song with interesting production techniques designed to emulate Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’, and English-translated lyrics by Neil Sedaka and Phil Cody. This was a good little pop song, but Eurovision still wasn’t ready for them. Despite that, it became the title track of their first album, credited to Björn Benny & Agnetha Frida. Anderson recognised this name was a bit unwieldy though, and began referring to them as ABBA, using the first letter of each member’s first name. It was also the name of a fish-canning company based in Gothenburg, and the band asked Abba for their blessing. They said it was fine as long as they didn’t do anything to make them feel shame for the association. I’m sure they were happy with the way things turned out.

In late 1973 the group was invited to take part in Melodifestivalen 1974, and set to work finding a song. They considered Hasta Mañana, sang by Fältskog, but decided to work on something that gave Fältskog and Lyngstad an equal chance to shine. Waterloo, originally titled Honey Pie, was inspired by the nostalgic rock’n’roll sound of Wizzard’s 1973 number 1 See My Baby Jive, and the lyrics came from Anderson.

Waterloo was a brave move for Eurovision, as at the time, the standard template was to use dramatic ballads, sung in the mother tongue of the country being represented. From 1973, the language rule was lifted, and Anderson and ABBA knew if they could garner a Eurovision win with an English language song, they could make it big beyond the competition.

Recording commenced on 17 December 1973, featuring regular ABBA session musicians Janne Schaffer on guitar (he wrote the guitar and bass parts), Rutger Gunnarsson on bass and Ola Brunkert on drums. Swedish and English versions were recorded, with German and French versions recorded in March and April 1974 respectively. The French version was adapted by Claude-Michel Schönberg, who later went on to co-write Les Misérables.

I’ve a new-found appreciation of the fact Waterloo was something new for Eurovision, and I loved See My Baby Jive, so I should love the retro jive of Waterloo. The lyric is a clever conceit too – it’s a bold move to start a pop song in the mid-70s with ‘My my/At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender’ and to compare a historical moment with surrendering your love to someone. And I have always liked the way Andersson attacks the piano here. I just can’t love Waterloo, for some reason. I’d never listen to it by choice. One for the ‘admirable, but doesn’t connect with me’ pile.

But Waterloo connected like no Eurovision song ever had before with the public, or probably since. Credited to ABBA (Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Frida) in Sweden and ABBA (Björn, Benny, Anna & Frida) in the UK, it was released on 4 March, and on 6 April, they made history at The Dome in Brighton, rocking out in their glam rock-influenced outfits and huge platforms. The beautiful Faltskog particularly stood out – you could easily argue she may be the most beautiful woman to ever grace the pop world, without wishing to sound sexist. After winning the competition, ABBA partied all night in – of all places – the Napoleon suite of the Grand Brighton Hotel. Waterloo climbed the charts and a month later, they were number 1 in the UK. They also topped the charts all over Europe, and went top 10 in the US, but surprisingly didn’t hit number 1 in Sweden.

For a while however, it appeared ABBA could end up a one-hit wonder in the UK. Their second album, also named Waterloo, didn’t light up the charts, and a European tour led to cancelled dates due to poor ticket sales. Would ABBA become a footnote in 70s pop?

Of course not. Waterloo was voted the best Eurovision song of all time at Congratulations: 50 Years of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2005.

Written by: Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus & Stig Anderson

Producers: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus

Weeks at number 1: 2 (4-17 May)

Births:

Singer Lynden David Hall – 7 May

Deaths:

Writer LTC Rolt – 9 May

Meanwhile…

4 May: Liverpool win the FA Cup for the second time with a 3-0 victory over Newcastle in the final at Wembley, with two goals from Kevin Keegan and one from Steve Heighway.

6 May: The inauguration of full electric service on British Rail’s West Coast Main Line through to Glasgow.

17 May – The Loyalist paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force carries out the Dublin and Monaghan bombings in the Republic of Ireland. 34 people died in the bombings, which were responsible for the single deadliest death toll in the Troubles

341. Slade – Merry Xmaƨ Everybody (1973)

‘IT’S CHRISTMAAAASSSSSSS!’. It’s not. It’s currently mid-August 2020 and we’re coming to the end of a blistering heatwave, which, if you know the story behind Slade’s final number 1, you’ll know is how the song was recorded. Little did they know it would become not only the most famous of their six number 1s, it would become perhaps pop’s greatest festive staple.

And yet, in summer 1973, the future of the band looked in doubt. While Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me was at number 1, drummer Don Powell was in a car crash that killed his girlfriend Angela Morris and left him in a coma for nearly a week. Luckily he successfully recovered, although he still suffers acute short-term memory loss and sensory problems.

Back in 1967 when Slade were The ‘N Betweens, Noddy Holder had written a song called Buy Me a Rocking Chair, with the very psychedelic chorus ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Despite liking the chorus, the verse needed work, so they scrapped it. Speaking to the Record Mirror in 1984, bassist Jim Lea recalled he was taking a shower in New York in 1973 when he came up with ‘Are you hanging up your stocking on the wall?’. Lea remembered Holder’s chorus and thought the two could fit together well, and producer and manager Chas Chandler had been nagging them to write a Christmas song. Holder thought the idea had legs, and penned the lyrics at his mother’s house in Walsall in one draft. They played the finished song to Chandler on acoustic guitars.

As hinted at earlier, Slade recorded Merry Xmaƨ Everybody in the middle of a September heatwave in New York while on tour there. Powell had returned to the fray at the Power Plant, where John Lennon had just finished recording his album Mind Games. Lea didn’t look back on the recording fondly, claiming the others weren’t as interested in him at rehearsing, though he did acknowledge Powell was still recovering and his memory was shot. Lea put in the most work, laying down the bass, piano and harmonium (the latter on loan from Lennon). They weren’t happy with the first completed mix as they wanted a bigger sound for the chorus, so they re-recorded it down a corridor, getting baffled looks from passers-by (Slade were virtually unknown in the US). After five days, the song was complete.

With several months to go until they could release their hopeful festive number 1, Slade released a compilation, Sladest, and new single MY FRIEИD STAИ (which looks slightly satanic). For the first time since Christmas 1972, they didn’t get to number 1. It was a departure from the usual Slade formula, but they had to change tack at some point, and it’s a nice little song. So, were they going to miss out on the Christmas top spot for the second year in a row?

Of course not. Merry Xmaƨ Everybody became the first Christmas-themed Christmas number 1 since Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957, and couldn’t have come at a better time. As everyone knows, the UK was going through a particularly grim time in late-1973. You’ve only got to look down at the ‘Meanwhile…’ section to see the Three-Day Week was about to begin, and the first post-war recession had started. Plus there was the OPEC oil crisis, and the IRA could strike at any moment. Glam acts like Slade and Wizzard were sorely needed to keep spirits up, and they did the job then and still do close to 50 years later. ‘Look to the future now, it’s only just begun’. How we could do with some of that optimism in winter 2020.

One of the most important factors that explains the magic of Merry Xmaƨ Everybody is its inclusivity. It’s less rocking and more poppy than previous material. It’s aimed at all the family, with mentions of Granny ‘up and rock and rolling with the rest’. ‘ In 1971 Lennon asked ‘So this is Christmas, and what have you done’, in 1973 Slade said ‘everybody’s having fun’. There’s a nod (pardon the pun) to Christmas songs of old with the reference to ‘momma kissing Santa Claus’.

In 2017 I listened to every Christmas number 1 in one sitting and wrote about it here, and came to the conclusion Merry Xmaƨ Everybody is the best festive chart-topper of all time. I pointed out the production is lacking all the trimmings such as sleigh bells etc, and I think that’s another reason it’s stood the test of time so well. It doesn’t need them, as Holder’s ‘IIIIIITTTTT’S CHRIIIISSSTTTMMMMMASSSS!’ at the song’s conclusion gets the childhood joy of Christmas Day across like nobody has before or since.

Slade won the chart battle with Wizzard, who actually only reached number four in Christmas week, but nevertheless the sense of competition between the two glam rock outfits helped to create the battle for christmas number 1 that the media have latched on to ever since. The singles chart for Christmas week was now an event, and that’s thanks to Slade. Which is entirely appropriate, when you consider how glam’s low-budget sense of fun, bordering on the tacky, is Christmassy like no other genre.

Slade’s biggest seller was also a great way for the band to finish their run of number 1s. Six within just over two years is pretty impressive and puts them up there with some of the biggest acts of all time. Their fall was slow and steady, but there were also unexpected twists and turns.

1974 began with the release of the LP Old New Borrowed and Blue, which showcased a more piano-led sound and even a ballad as a single, Everyday, which went to number three. Much of the year was spent filming their film Slade In Flame, a surprisingly gritty drama about the rise and fall of a fictional group called Flame, played by the members of Slade. It was released in November, and although it was critically acclaimed (it has gained somewhat of a cult following in recent years), and the first single from the soundtrack Far Far Away reached number two, the theme song How Does It Feel only made it to number 15. Thanks for the Memory (Wham Bam Thank You Mam), in 1975, was their last top 10 hit of the 70s.

Understandably feeling they had peaked in the UK, in 1975 Slade decided to move to the US and try and hit the big time there. They toured with rock acts like Aerosmith and ZZ Top, and released an eclectic album. Nobody’s Fool, but not only did they fail to make much of an impact, their UK fans accused them of selling out.

By the time they returned to the UK in 1977, punk and the subsequent new wave rendered Slade very unfashionable. Their contract with major label Polydor had ran out and instead they signed with Chandler’s Barn Records. They performed single Gypsy Roadhog on Blue Peter and found themselves banned by the BBC due to its drug references, but the notoriety couldn’t help them up the charts. The next album, Whatever Happened to Slade, was an all too appropriate name.

As the band slid into irrelevance they would release singles based on football chants (1978’s Give Us a Goal) and covers of cheesy party classics (Okey Cokey in 1979) and some material failed to even reach the top 200. Disagreements between Lea and Chandler resulted in the former and Holder producing their back to basics album Return to Base in 1979. It was another failure, and the band briefly went their separate ways. Lea formed a new group, The Dummies, with his brother Frank, poor Hill resorted to driving couples to their weddings in his own Rolls-Royce to make money (it didn’t work), and Holder was briefly considered as AC/DC’s new singer following the death of Bon Scott, but he still thought Slade may have a future and reportedly turned the Australian rockers down.

In 1980, Slade had some luck at last when Ozzy Osbourne cancelled his headlining appearance at Reading Festival late in the day. Organisers rushed around looking for a last-minute replacement, and asked Slade. All but Hill were keen, but the only way he could be persuaded was when Chandler visited him at home and pointed out it could be their big farewell gig. To Hill’s surprise, they went down a storm. The split was forgotten about, and they acted fast to keep the momentum going. Showcasing a sound more in keeping with heavy metal, therefore pleasing the Reading Festival crowd, 1981’s We’ll Bring the House Down (title track to their next album) became their first top 10 hit in six years, and they returned to larger venues after years of touring small clubs and universities.

Slade and Chandler finally parted ways and they signed with RCA Records, who released their heaviest material yet, Till Deaf Us Do Part. That Christmas saw the first of many re-releases of Merry Xmaƨ Everybody, which reached 32. RCA began to demand hits from the band, and set them to work with producer John Punter. The resulting album, The Amazing Kamikaze Syndrome, was released in December 1983, and featured two decent tracks. Power ballad My Oh My very nearly gave them their second festive chart-topper, but was held at bay by The Flying Pickets’ version of Only You. It was followed by Run Runaway, a fair stab at a Celtic-flavoured, Big Country-style sound.

Unfortunately, Holder wasn’t keen on Punter, and troubles in his private life resulted in a cancelled tour. They tried again for another Christmas single, All Join Hands (an inferior retread of My Oh My), but it couldn’t crack the top 10. And the final decline began, with a mainly synth-led album in 1985, Rogues Gallery, followed by a cheap Christmas cash-in LP, Crackers – The Christmas Party Album, along with the umpteenth release of their final number 1. It would take more than returning to deliberately mis-spelling their material to return Slade to form, and You Boyz Make Big Noize, released in 1987, was their final album. They did (sort-of) return to number 1 with Wizzard and lots of other festive hits, courtesy of Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers’ sampling them on Let’s Party in 1989.

In 1991 the Slade fan club organised a 25th anniversary show, and it was the last time they played live. Radio Wall of Sound, recorded for a compilation, was their final chart hit. In March 1992, Holder finally called it a day, and Lea, his much underrated songwriting partner, couldn’t see a future for Slade without their singer. He retired too, leaving Hill and Powell to form Slade II.

Slade II have continued since with various other members, and made the news in 2003 when convicted serial killer Rosemary West announced her engagement to bassist Dave Glover. Glover claimed this was a misunderstanding and he had only written to her about her case, but Hill of course sacked him. In February 2020 Powell claimed he had been sacked by Hill via a rather cold email, which Hill denied. He was all set to start Don Powell’s Slade but suffered a stroke, and with live music practically comatose post-lockdown, it remains to be seen if we end up with two separate Slades on the road.

Lea has largely remained out of the public eye, other than making solo album Therapy in 2007, and revealing he had been treated for prostate cancer.

Holder became a national treasure following Slade’s demise, taking up acting and making a decent job of it in ITV comedy drama The Grimleys. He has presented radio shows, documentaries, and made numerous cameos on TV. He reportedly loved Vic Reeves’ portrayal of him in the Slade at Home sketches on The Smell of Reeves and Mortimer in the early-90s, but Hill wasn’t so fond of Bob Mortimer’s portrayal of him as a disapproving mother figure.

All four members of Slade attended Chandler’s funeral in 1996, and in 2010 had a group meeting to consider a farewell tour, but nothing came of it. It’s unlikely they will ever play together.

Slade deserve more credit. Yes, this final number 1 is the best Christmas chart-topper of all time, but before then they released some excellent singles too. Holder had one of the best rock voices of all time, and together with Lea, they wrote several classics. The flamboyant Hill was mainly responsible for their showmanship, and Powell fought back from a near-death experience and continued to belt out the beat. They may have lacked in innovation, but like all the best glam acts, they sparkled and rocked the nation during stormy years.

1973 was by and large very similar to 1972 for number 1s, but better. There was still some old-fashioned pop doing very well, and Donny Osmond and David Cassidy catering for the teens, but there were also glam classics that have stood the test of time.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 December 1973-18 January 1974)

Births:

Historian Lucy Worsley – 18 December
Comedian Paul Foot – 24 December
Matt Tebbutt – 24 December 1973
Spice Girl Melanie C – 12 January 1974
Radio DJ Edith Bowman – 15 January
Model Kate Moss – 16 January

Deaths:

Princess Patricia of Connaught – 12 January 1974

Meanwhile…

19 December: The 17.18 Paddington to Oxford express train was derailed between Ealing Broadway and West Ealing. 10 died and 94 were injured.

31 December 1973: As a result of coal shortages caused by industrial action by the miners, Prime Minister Edward Heath’s energy-saving measures, the Three-Day Work Order, came into effect at midnight, making for the darkest New Year celebrations for decades. Commercial consumption of electricity would be limited to three consecutive days, TV broadcasts would end at 10.30pm on alternate nights for BBC and ITV, and most pubs were closed.

1 January 1974: But it wasn’t all bad news, as New Year’s Day was celebrated as a public holiday for the first time.
Also that day, the Northern Ireland Power-sharing Executive is set up in Belfast.

337. Wizzard – Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) (1973)

Glam rock’s debt to rock’n’roll continued apace in the autumn of 1973, as Wizzard enjoyed their second number 1 within months with Roy Wood’s lesser-known paen to his 50s youth with Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad).

I mentioned in my blog for See My Baby Jive that Wizzard’s debut album, Wizzard Brew, wasn’t anything like their singles. Released just before that single, it wasn’t very much like anything before or since. A lo-fi kaleidoscopic trawl through psychedelia, blues, rock, brass, metal, it’s a much underrated piece of work and I urge you to find it.

Inbetween Wizzard’s two number 1s, Wood also released solo album Boulders. Recorded between 1969-71, he wrote every song, played every instrument and drew the artwork. This is also considered a lost classic.

Although all Wizzard’s singles harked back to the 50s, Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) is Wood’s most overt tribute. The clue, not that you need one here, is in the bracketed part of the title. The lyrics are full of romantic 50s teen imagery, including Wood driving a motorbike to a cafe, a Dion poster on his girlfriends’s wall, a record playing… It’s as if Bruce Springsteen grew up in Birmingham in the 50s.

Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) may not be as instant as See My Baby Jive or I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, but it’s a lovely track with a real yearning quality, as Wood strives to capture the feeling of young love, rock’n’roll and those magical teenage years. It’s also slightly less cluttered, which gives the poignancy more of a chance to shine through. Spector would be impressed. Or would have threatened to shoot him, depending on how much cocaine he had in his system.

And then came I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday. One of the best festive songs of all time, Wood took See My Baby Jive and added extra tinsel, in yet another tribute to Spector’s Wall of Sound. Unfortunately for Wood, it was up against one of the other greatest yuletide anthems, and Wizzard lost out to Slade. Incredibly, it wasn’t even number two in the top 10 that Christmas, lagging behind Gary Glitter and The New Seekers. This is very, very wrong.

It’s worth noting that nobody hears the 1973 version of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday anymore. It doesn’t exist. In 1981, EMI contacted Wood to say they wanted to give the single another crack at the Christmas charts, but they couldn’t find the master tapes. They were never found, and Wood had to re-record the song in a week with Muff Murfin producing. Murfin recalled Wood painstakingly recreated the original, and played every single instrument. The original choristers, from Stockland Green Bilateral School in Birmingham, were replaced by pupils at Kempsey Primary School. So the only way to hear the original is if you have a copy of the original 1973 vinyl. And if the versions on YouTube that are 1973 versions are real, there is no discernible difference. Which makes Wood’s remake an amazing feat, really.

1973 was intense for Wood, and it took its toll the following year. Several live dates were cancelled and the single Rock’n’Roll Winter (Looney’s Tune) was delayed until the spring. Second album Introducing Eddy and the Falcons was another tribute to the 50s, a concept album about a fictional band, inspired, no doubt by The Beatles. It was supposed to be a double LP, with the second half an experimental jazz-rock collection, but this material didn’t see the light of day until 2000’s Main Street.

The early momentum of Wizzard soon dissipated. Wood struggled to afford such a large line-up and ran up huge studio costs. Bassist Rick Price once recalled a rumour that the group spent more time recording their last number 1 than Paul McCartney & Wings spent on the whole of the Band On the Run album. Cellist Hugh McDowell departed in 1973 to return to the Electric Light Orchestra, and keyboardist Bill Hunt left a year later. In 1975, Wood split Wizzard up. Farewell single Rattlesnake Roll failed to chart.

Saxophonist Mike Burney went on to work with The Syd Lawrence Orchestra and The Old Horns Band, which was a joint venture with other former Wizzard members. He was also a session player for a wide variety of stars including Chaka Khan, The Beach Boys and Cliff Richard. Burney died in 2014. After ELO, McDowell joined new wave group Radio Stars and featured on albums by Saint Etienne and Asia. He died in 2018.

Price joined Wood in his short-lived project Wizzo Band after Wizzard, a jazz-rock project that was ill-received critically and commercially, with only one album, Super Active Wizzo in 1977. They split the following year. He married Diane Lee of Peters and Lee in the 90s, and they tour performing hits and new material. He’s also a member of The Rockin’ Berries.

Wood released a second solo LP, Mustard, in 1975, which featured Phil Everly. It wasn’t as successful as his first however, and his third, On the Road Again, didn’t even get a UK release in 1979. After The Wizzo Band’s demise he largely disappeared from the public eye. He led Roy Wood’s Helicopters between 1980 and 1982, and the following year recorded with Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy and Chas Hodges as The Rockers. 1986 saw him record the ABBA song Waterloo with Doctor and the Medics. In 1987 came another solo album, Starting Up, and then another group, Roy Wood’s Army. Two years later he recorded with his former ELO bandmate Jeff Lynne, but the songs never saw the light of day.

Like Slade, Wood will always be associated with Christmas, and it helps that he looks rather like Santa Claus. There was a remake of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday in 1995, credited to Roy Wood’s Big Band. Weirdly, he and Mike Batt’s The Wombles teamed up in 2000 for an ill-advised mash-up called I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Everyday. It was awful. Seven years later, thanks to his appearance in an Argos Christmas advert, it reached number 16. In 2010, Wood featured in a cameo on the Christmas special of ITV comedy drama Benidorm.

Wood’s most recent troupe of musicians call themselves The Roy Wood Rock & Roll Band. In 2018 they made the news when their touring equipment was stolen in a ram-raid on a warehouse in Leeds, but it was later recovered. Sadly, it transpired that he was a hardcore Brexiter. So much so, he joined The Brexit Party in 2019. Ah well, everyone has their flaws, even a musical genius.

It’s a shame Wood is only remembered for one song, even if it is a bona fide classic. From his days in The Move, to forming ELO, to Wizzard, Wood was an eccentric musical magpie in the 60s and 70s, able to turn his hand to most forms of music, but always with an eye for a winning pop tune. Perhaps his unassuming nature and inherent shyness are further reasons he is underappreciated. He’s not bothered about reminding the world about his number 1s Blackberry Way, See My Baby Jive and Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad) and his other classics like 10538 Overture, he’s content to show up from time to time at Christmas and then he’s gone again. I imagine it will sadly take his death before his resume is reappraised, but until then, the UK remains grateful at least that Wizzard kept the UK smiling during The Troubles and the Three-Day Week.

Written & produced by: Roy Wood

Vocal backing: The Suedettes & The Bleach Boys

Weeks at number 1: 1 (22-28 September)

Deaths:

Peeress Barbara Freyberg, Baroness Freyberg – 24 September
Labour Party MP George Porter – 25 September

330. Wizzard – See My Baby Jive (1973)

Lighting up the charts in 1973, Wizzard became one of the biggest bands in glam rock. Literally, too, as there were eight full-time members, creating an all-mighty cacophony of tributes to Phil Spector’s ‘Wall of Sound’. They were also visually striking, an explosion of colour, filling the stage with outlandish outfits and make-up. This was all down to their unassuming genius leader, Roy Wood.

Wood, born 8 November 1946 in Kitts Green, Birmingham, was no stranger to pop stardom, having already been at number 1 in 1969 with Blackberry Way in The Move. Their story was covered in greater depth in my review of said song, but prior to that hit, Wood had first learned guitar as a teen, and was a member of various bands in and around Birmingham, the first being The Falcons. He later joined Gerry Levene & the Avengers, who recorded a single before splitting in 1964, then joined Mike Sheridan and the Nightriders, later to become The Idle Race. Around this time he as expelled from Moseley Art College.

By 1967 The Move were a constant presence on the singles chart thanks to Wood’s ability to write catchy pop-rock songs with a psychedelic edge. By the end of the decade he was also their lead singer following Carl Wayne’s departure.

Wood was also one of the founders of the Electric Light Orchestra. He came up with the project with the desire to combine classical instruments with a rock sound, picking up where The Beatles had left off. After initially declining, Jeff Lynne of The Idle Race joined The Move on the condition they focused more on ELO. Originally intended to be a B-side for The Move, the epic, excellent 10538 Overture became ELO’s first single.

The Move were supposed to end in 1970, but contractual obligations meant both groups existed until 1972, which proved a pivotal year for all concerned. That March saw the release of Electric Light Orchestra, which would be the only ELO album to feature Wood, who couldn’t see eye-to-eye with their tough manager Don Arden. He departed that July. Wood decided to start a new project, where he could take his ELO experimentation up a notch and see just how many instruments it was possible to add to pop songs.

In addition to being singer in Wizzard, Wood played guitars, saxophone, woodwinds, strings, keyboards and percussion. Also on board were Mike Burney (saxophone, clarinet, flute), Charlie Grima (drums, percussion, vocals), ELO members Bill Hunt (keyboards, French horn) and Hugh McDowell (cello, synthesisers), Rick Price (bass), formerly of The Move, and Keith Smart (drums). Quite a set-up.

Making public Wood’s intention to pay tribute to the rock’n’roll of his youth, Wizzard made their debut at The London Rock and Roll Show at Wembley Stadium only a month after leaving ELO. They set to work on their first recordings, and debut single Ball Park Incident reached number six in January 1973.

In his excellent book Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop, Bob Stanley noted that ‘Roy Wood loved pop. He was a superfan. He wanted to be all of pop, all at the same time.’ This is certainly apparent on See My Baby Jive, a joyous audio romp in which a million things are happening all at once. So much so, this song understandably has its critics, who say it’s just too much for their ears to cope with. Not me, I love it, and am fascinated by Wood’s production technique. I thought the reason Wizzard’s singles were so muddy and harsh was down to primitive technology of the time, but apparently he insisted on adding a ring modulator to mess up the quality deliberately. Despite the fact there’s so much going on, and it’s over five minutes long, the tune is so effervescent it seems to be over in a flash.

Wood was of course made for life when he made I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, and I’ve always found See My Baby Jive to be the Christmas song you can enjoy all year round. Try hearing Wood singing ‘Well every one you meet coming down the street/Just to see my baby jive’ and not hear ‘So let the bells ring out for Christmas’. So on that limited knowledge of Wizzard I wondered if this particular project was a one-trick pony. Then I heard their debut LP, Wizzard Brew.

All glam rock is indebted to rock’n’roll to some degree, and became more so as the years went by, but See My Baby Jive is a full-on tribute to the ecstasy of the dancehalls of the 50s, and was also a big influence on ABBA’s first number 1, Waterloo. But you could argue that Wizzard weren’t glam rock at all. If you listen to Wizzard Brew, you get what Stanley meant, and that Wood should be considered one of our greats, not just as a man who got lucky with a Christmas song. More on that when we get to Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad).

Written & produced by: Roy Wood

Vocal backing: The Suedettes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (19 May-15 June)

Births:

Comedian Noel Fielding – 21 May
Presenter Dermot O’Leary – 24 May
Comedian Leigh Francis – 30 May
Comedian Iain Lee – 9 June

Deaths:

Painter Montague Dawson – 21 May
Comedian Jimmy Clitheroe – 6 June

Meanwhile…

20 May: The Royal Navy sent three frigates to protect British fishing vessels from Icelandic ships during the Cod War dispute.

23 May: The Matrimonial Causes Act changed the law of divorce in England and Wales.

29 May: The Princess Royal announced her engagement to Captain Mark Phillips.

265. The Move – Blackberry Way (1969)

Before writing a bona-fide Christmas classic for his group Wizzard in 1973, Brummie songwriter Roy Wood specialised in quirky psychedelic pop with The Move, and helped to found Electric Light Orchestra along the way.

In 1965, members of several groups in the Birmingham music scene plotted to form a new band, that they hoped would emulate the success of The Who. Making the move (hence the new group’s name) that December were singer Carl Wayne, bassist Chris ‘Ace’ Kefford and drummer Bev Bevan from Carl Wayne and the Vikings. Guitarist and songwriter Wood transferred from The Nightriders, later to become The Idle Race. In January 1966, the same month as their live debut, they were joined by guitarist Trevor Burton from Danny King & the Mayfair Set.

In these early days, The Move played mainly covers by bands including The Byrds, plus Motown and rock’n’roll. Although Wayne was the lead singer, each member got a chance to sing at the gigs.

Soon, Moody Blues manager Tony Secunda signed them up and helped them get a weekly residency at London’s Marquee Club. Secunda was integral in helping The Move stand out. He encouraged them to perform dressed as gangsters, and would get Wayne to take an axe to television sets on stage. When they signed their contract with producer Denny Cordell, he arranged for them to sign it on the back of topless model Liz Wilson. It was also Secunda that encouraged Wood to begin coming up with original material.

Flowers in the Rain reached number two in August, and is now their most famous tune due to it being the first pop song ever played on Radio 1 a month later. It helps that it’s also bloody good, particularly because of its distinctive woodwind and string arrangement courtesy of Cordell’s assistant Tony Visconti. It did however create a headache for Wood. Secunda’s decision to issue a postcard featuring a cartoon of Prime Minister Harold Wilson in bed with his secretary Marcia Williams resulted in The Move losing a libel case and Wood relinquishing all royalties to charities of Wilson’s choice.

Fire Brigade, released in January 1968, was their best yet, and was the first single to feature Wood on lead vocal. What a bizarre, life-affirming, under-rated classic. A patchy debut LP, Move, was released at the same time. Soon after, Kefford was sacked due to drug issues. Their rut continued when next single Wild Tiger Woman failed to chart. Fortunately, Blackberry Way wasn’t far behind.

Released in November that year, and perhaps as a result of the mood in the band, Blackberry Way was darker than their usual fare. Inspired by Penny Lane, I consider this a sequel to Flowers in the Rain, where the ecstatic trip has turned sour. The queasy backing, thanks in part to producer Jimmy Miller, conjures up the confusion and fear of a bad trip. There’s no fun to be had in the rain this time.

The singer is broken-hearted on Blackberry Way, wondering where he goes from here. However, the chorus is more upbeat and defiant, and the singer reckons she is sure to ‘want me back another day’. Whilst it’s not the best single by The Move, Blackberry Way is a great example of late-60s psychedelic pop, and it signified that the hippy dream of the past few years was turning sour.

Playing keyboards on Blackberry Way was Richard Tandy, who was later part of Electric Light Orchestra. He briefly joined The Move when Burton injured himself, but Burton was growing increasingly disenchanted with the pop that Wood was writing, and once Blackberry Way became number one, he knew they would continue in that vein, so he left in February 1969 after an on-stage scrap with Bevan.

Among the replacements considered for Burton was Jeff Lynne, who was still hopeful for further success with the Idle Race, and even Hank Marvin of The Shadows. Eventually Rick Price took up the bass on a non-contractual basis.

October 1969 saw The Move’s only US tour dates, supporting The Stooges. Soon after they began being booked for cabaret-style venues, which signalled they were losing their way.

Wood began working up the concept of Electric Light Orchestra. He was become increasingly keen on bringing classical and exotic instruments into pop songs, and ELO would give him the chance to experiment away from The Move. A month before the release of their second album Shazam in February 1970, an increasingly frustrated Wayne quit the band. He had wanted Kefford and Burton back in the fold while Wood worked on ELO, but he, Bevan and Price refused to go along with the plan. In 2000, Wayne replaced Allan Clarke as lead singer of The Hollies, until his death from cancer in 2004.

Wood approached Lynne once more, only this time he floated the idea for Electric Light Orchestra too, and Lynne was in as second guitarist and pianist. They began work on what was supposed to be the final Move album, Looking On, released in December 1970, which featured hit single Brontosaurus and the stomping Feel Too Good as its closer. One of the songs intended as a B-side, the cello-laden epic 10538 Overture, became the first ELO single instead.

Wood, Lynne and Bevan signed a new deal with Harvest Records, who insisted on one final album by The Move as well as two ELO albums, so the trio found themselves in the unusual position of recording two separate LPs by two different bands simultaneously. The Move’s final album, Message from the Country, was released in June 1971, and The Electric Light Orchestra came six months later. Soon after the Move’s ‘farewell single’ California Man, was released. By the time we hear from Wood in this blog again, his time in ELO was over, and Lynne was in charge.

There was a one-off reunion of The Move in 1981 when Wood, Bevan and Kefford took part in a charity fundraiser. The name has been used by Bevan in several different line-ups to this day, something that Wood resents.

Written by: Roy Wood

Producer: Jimmy Miller

Weeks at number 1: 1 (5-11 February)