After the chaos of the Three-Day Week and the indecisive general election result, Britain took a bit of a breather in April 1974. The action was now elsewhere. America was facing defeat in Vietnam, while being shocked by the transcripts of the expletive-deleted tapes of Richard Nixon in the White House. Whereas we had the Eurovision Song Contest, held in Brighton this month, with the Wombles as the interval act. From 45 years ago, this is the top ten for the week ending 13 April 1974.
1. Terry Jacks, ‘Seasons in the Sun’ (Bell)
Well, of course Jacques Brel gave it more intensity and passion, and of course it was better in his hands. But Jacks’s sentimental, cheesy cover is still a fine piece of pop music in its own right; it’s worth having for the twangy, echo-laden guitar riff alone. Anyway, it was better than Nirvana’s version. And it had ‘Put the Bone In’ on the B-side, which was worth a snigger in any playground you cared to mention.
What a week for Bell Records, by the way: three singles in the top five.
2. Paper Lace, ‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’ (Bus Stop)
With years spent in the world of workingmen’s clubs – their management also handled acts with names like Bitter Suite, Fresh Aire, and the Showbandits – the Nottingham band Paper Lace didn’t step into the spotlight so much as sidle awkwardly towards it while no one was looking. But by 1972, it seemed like things were beginning to move for them: they released a debut album (including quite a respectable version of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’), and there was a series of national TV appearances, from Crackerjack in February 1972 through to a winning streak on Opportunity Knocks in early 1973.
Even so, it wasn’t until this single – a year on from Hughie Green’s patronage – that they had a hit. Talent-shows paid slower dividends in those days.
They had a new manager now, an ex-army major named Brian Hart, who was looking for family appeal. ‘I want everyone to like them, including my bank manager and my grandmother,’ he told the press. ‘We are determined to steer them away from rowdy groups such as Sweet and Slade.’ And they had the heavyweight backing of hugely successful songwriting team Mitch Murray and Peter Callender, who owned Bus Stop, the record label on which this was the first release.
It finally did the trick, though the song was a little odd. It sounded like a conventional music-hall ditty, a close relative of ‘Goodbye Dolly Gray’, complete with whistling, except that the sentiment was anti-war – which was maybe appropriate for the time, given public perceptions of Vietnam. It was also irresistibly catchy and spent three weeks at #1. Success having finally arrived, the band enjoyed their annus mirabilis, culminating in an appearance at the Royal Variety Performance in November. Major Hart was proud of his boys. Not everything had changed though: in February 1975, they were back on Crackerjack.
3. Gary Glitter, ‘Remember Me this Way’ (Bell)
It was, according to the Daily Mirror, ‘a slow breathy throb, a smoochy smash.’ It was also, even for those of us who like Gary’s records, a bit rubbish. The thing is that while he was an extraordinary creation, he was never much of a singer, and trying to do an Elvis-style croon was a step too far.
This was as high as it got, which was something of a disappointment after the previous two singles had reached #1, and was also his first hit whose number of weeks in the charts didn’t get to double-figures. It did even worse in key overseas markets, missing the top 30 in Australia and only getting to #50 in Germany.
4. Slade, ‘Every Day’ (Polydor)
Here’s another band best known for their stomping sound who decided to tone it down, and whose sales suffered as a consequence. The song isn’t really worthy of them, the music is tame and plodding (with the guitar solo – apparently by Jim Lea – functional at best), and it’s only saved by the fact that Noddy Holder’s voice is so damn good. Live, it was a different, heavier proposition.
5. The Glitter Band, ‘Angel Face’ (Bell)
The Glitter Band grew out of Boston International, aka the Bostons, who’d worked the Hamburg scene – Star Club and all – in the late 1960s playing r&b and soul. The leader of the gang back then was horn-player John Rossall, with Paul Raven as featured vocalist, and when Raven subsequently returned to England to reinvent himself as Gary Glitter, he called on Rossall to form a live band to back him. Rossall brought in sax-player Harvey Ellison and guitarist Gerry Shephard from the Bostons, and added John Springate on bass and a couple of drummers in Pete Phipps and Tony Leonard.
They were only supposed to be the backing band, but they had decent singers and songwriters in their ranks, and they had aspirations. This completely wonderful pop-stomp was their debut single and they took its success in their strides. ‘When “Angel Face” went into the charts, we were so blasé‚ about it,’ noted Springate. ‘We’d been so used to success with Gary, we didn’t really think much about it.’
Gary, on the other hand, did think about it. He thought about it a lot. He brooded on the fact that ‘Angel Face’ outsold ‘Remember Me this Way’, and he determined that his backing band should never again be allowed to release singles at the same time as him.
You might also want to listen to the demo version, which has a very different Svengali-slant to the lyrics.
6. Hot Chocolate, ‘Emma’ (RAK)
Bell Records were big, but – with David Cassidy on the wane – they were being gradually overtaken in 1974 by Mickie Most’s RAK label. And RAK’s most consistent and durable act were Hot Chocolate. The band had had their first hit with ‘Love Is Life’ (RAK 103) back in 1970, and were still on the label sixteen years later with their last single, ‘Heartache No. 9’ (RAK 386).
‘Emma’ was one of the bigger hits, the first to break in America, and it was typical of the story-songs that Errol Brown and Tony Wilson used to write: a tragic tale of thwarted dreams and suicide. Guitarist Harvey Hinsley, who had come up the hard way, playing in working bands – including the Rebel Rousers after Cliff Bennett went solo – and doing session work, wasn’t entirely sympathetic to the central character:
I didn’t exactly agree with the sentiment of ‘Emma’. I thought: I don’t really see it at all, that story. Anyone who kills themself cos they can’t make it as a star should bloody get on with it.
He still contributed a gorgeous guitar-line, though. And Errol’s screams at the end (from 3’20”) are dead impressive.
Incidentally, the previous week this had been at #3, so that the top three were all death discs. (My thanks to Jonathan Calder for pointing this out.)
7. Diana Ross & Marvin Gaye, ‘You Are Everything’ (Tamla Motown)
The original version by the Stylistics is stunningly beautiful and gave the group their first big American hit in 1971. But that single never made it in Britain, and we instead took seriously this second-rate cover, with Marvin over-emoting and Diana completely failing to match the controlled despair of Russell Thompkins Jr. They didn’t bother releasing this as a single in America, and they were right not to do so.
8. Mud, ‘The Cat Crept In’ (RAK)
A quiet week for Chinn & Chapman, with just one record in the top ten. It’s not as insistent as ‘Tiger Feet’, though the production’s more interesting with the curiously distant backing vocals, while the debt to old rock ’n’ roll is more obvious.
In the absence of anything meaningful to say about the single, here are a couple of people who worked with both Mike Chapman and Mickie Most, comparing their studio styles. First, the aforementioned Harvey Hinsley:
I played steel guitar on one of Mud’s songs called ‘Hula Love’, an old Buddy Knox number [on 1975’s Mud Rock Vol. II]. And I was well impressed with Mike Chapman. Mud were very free to do what they liked, the sound was brilliant, and I just thought: this is a nice way of working, very casual. They were all saying what they liked, it was not that kind of dictatorship that we had with Mickie.
And now Suzi Quatro:
Mike Chapman was a task-master. He’d make you do it forever till you got it right, but he didn’t shout, that’s the difference from Mickie. Mike would say, ‘Do it again, do it again, do it again.’ And finally you’d say, ‘Why is it wrong?’ And he’d say, ‘Come in and listen.’ And you’d listen, and he’d say, ‘That’s not what I want, can you hear it?’ And you’d go, ‘Yes’, and you’d go out and you’d do it. Whereas Mickie would shout, ‘For fuck’s sake, sing it right.’ So I guess everybody has their methods.
9. Charlie Rich, ‘The Most Beautiful Girl’ (Epic)
I once saw Sam Phillips being interviewed onstage at the BFI, and he was asked who was the best singer he ever signed to Sun Records. Given the unbelievable wealth of talent he could have gone for – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Howling Wolf et al – it was something of a surprise that he offered instead the name of Charlie Rich. I wouldn’t go that far, but Rich truly was a great singer. And while the early stuff is probably the best (the likes of ‘There’s Another Place I Can’t Go’), this is a prime slice of countrypolitan pop. It was Rich’s first British hit, fourteen years on from his debut single.
10. Queen, ‘Seven Seas of Rhye’ (EMI)
Do I have to take this pompous nonsense seriously? No, I don’t.
previously in Revive 45: