September 1974 saw two signs of the Britain yet to come. In technology news, the BBC unveiled Ceefax, ‘whereby viewers with adapted 625-lines sets will be able to “see facts”, sports results, stock market prices, weather, news headlines etc’. And in politics, there was talk that Ted Heath might face a leadership challenge from Margaret Thatcher, though Enoch Powell didn’t believe Tory MPs would accept her as leader: ‘They wouldn’t put up with those hats and that accent…’
This is the top 10 for the week ending 7 September 1974.
- The Osmonds, ‘Love for a Reason’ (MGM)
This was the Osmonds’ biggest hit in Britain, though not their best record by any means. The song was okay, written by Johnny Bristol, whose own single, ‘Hang On In There Baby’ was at #11 this week, but the tempo’s too fast, and the arrangement is terribly dull and pedestrian, compared to Bristol’s version. Twenty years later, it was the first British hit for Boyzone, who did nothing to remedy these flaws.
- Donny and Marie Osmond, ‘I’m Leaving It All Up to You’ (MGM)
This was more like it, the first collaboration between Donny and Marie. He was far and away the best singer in the family, and her voice went rather well with his. Also, the material they recorded together was at the showbizzy end of country-pop’s back pages, and I like that kind of thing: those piano triplets were well dated by 1974, but the Osmonds didn’t care. The original hit version, incidentally, was by Dale and Grace, and was #1 in America on the day that John F Kennedy was murdered.
- The Three Degrees, ‘When Will I See You Again’ (Philadelphia)
A former #1, and still with us from the last time we looked at the charts.
- Carl Douglas, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ (Pye)
Jamaican-born Carl Douglas came to Britain in the 1960s and made his recording debut with his band, the Big Stampede. Eight years later, he finally had this hit, though it was only by accident. Here’s a word from Richard Dodd, who was the recording engineer on the session that resulted in ‘Kung Fu Fighting’:
We had ten minutes left, and I know it was only ten minutes because musicians won’t start a song if there’s not enough time to complete it without negotiating overtime. No way would Biddu pay overtime, no way. So we only had enough time for one run-through and one take, so it must have been ten minutes.
Biddu, of course, was the producer, and this was his first hit as well. Pip Williams – who had played guitar on early Mud records and went on to produce Status Quo – did some arranging for Biddu, and describes the recording set-up:
We used to record at Nova Studios in Marble Arch, and we used to do four songs in a three-hour session. And in the early days, Biddu used to cram everybody in: a rhythm section, a couple of horns, small string section. I remember in those days he would never use cellos, because he said it used to muddy up the sound – I expect it was a lot to do with budget as well – so we only used to use four violins and a couple of violas. A tiny string section, not unlike some of the Motown things.
The arranger for the Carl Douglas session in 1974 was Gerry Shury (see below), and according to Biddu himself, he played on it too:
The drummer was the guy from the Rubettes, John Richardson. The bass-player could have been Frank McDonald, the guitarist Chris Rae – I used him all the time – Gerry Shury on keyboards. That’s about it.
The idea of the song was Carl’s. I’d gone in to do an a-side called ‘I Want To Give You My Everything’, an American song, and I needed a B-side, and he said he had this song ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, and because I’d signed him up, I thought it’s no big deal, it’ll keep him happy. And because it was the B-side, we did it at ten minutes to one – the session was from ten o’clock to one o’clock – and I had concentrated on my original A-side. And then I started putting on the ‘huh’ and ‘hah’, because it didn’t worry me, it was all off the cuff. And I mixed it with the bass drum really loud – I don’t know why, maybe to cover up some other deficiency that was there.
And I took it to the record company and played them the A-side, and they said, ‘Yeah, yeah, fine – what’s the B-side?’ And I said, ‘Oh forget it, it’s just this song.’ And the guy said, ‘Let me just quickly listen to it.’ And I guess this is how karma works, because he put it on and after thirty seconds he stopped it and said, ‘This should be the A-side.’
I said, ‘Can you sell five thousand copies?’ That was my criteria. He said, ‘Yeah, I think we can do at least ten.’ So I said, ‘If you think you can sell ten thousand copies, bring it out.’ He brought it out and the rest is history. We sold about nine to ten million copies worldwide.*
Industry gossip had it then when the record became a hit, Douglas renegotiated his contract – but only after pulling a gun on Biddu. I have no idea whether that’s true, but it’s certainly not how Biddu remembered things:
Carl left the day ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ went to #1. The day it went to #1 some guy came in and signed him up, and sent him to Germany the following week, and kept him there for the rest of his life. That’s why I never worked with Carl again. I’d found him, given him what was to be his biggest ever success, and yet someone else walks out of the woodwork the next day, signs him up and sends him to Germany. I was totally devastated.
* Current calculations say the sales reached eleven million.
- Sylvia, ‘Y Viva Espana’ (Sonet)
And now some words from the Daily Mirror:
In Sweden, she is hailed as a jazz and cabaret singer. But pop? Never. Well, hardly ever. Twice she turned up her pretty nose at ‘Y Viva Espana’ and refused to record it. Then Sylvia’s husband, jazz pianist Rune Ofwerman, took a hand. ‘Perhaps you should do it just for fun,’ he said. She did – and now she’s laughing.
Says Sylvia: ‘I thought “What a typical run-of-the-mill commercial song!” Then it went to #1 in Sweden. Now it’s a hit in England and everyone at home is so proud.’
- The Stylistics, ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ (Avco)
Another record left over from our last outing together.
- John Denver, ‘Annie’s Song’ (RCA)
A future #1, it’s a nice enough song, and I had a bit of a soft spot for his image as the Milky Bar Kid’s older brother. But it’s American, and we only really do British on this site. And maybe that’s worth noting: the first chart of the year had nine British records in the top ten; this time there’s only three.
- Jimmy Ruffin, ‘What Becomes of the Broken Hearted’ (Tamla Motown)
This made the top in 1966, and now here it was again. It’s the first Tamla Motown single I ever bought, and it’s still my favourite.
- Cockney Rebel, ‘Mr Soft’ (EMI)
Back to the Daily Mirror: ‘Steve Harley and his band, Cockney Rebel, have a rough brush with a violin and a touch of the cossacks as they wend their way through a creepy camper.’
This was the last-ever record released by Cockney Rebel, taken from their masterpiece of an album, The Psychomodo. By the time it came out, the band had already disintegrated, with Milton Reame-James (keyboards), Jean-Paul Crocker (violin) and Paul Jeffreys (bass) walking out, unhappy at not getting the credit – or wages – that they deserved. The band had, they believed, become entirely overshadowed by the ego of singer Steve Harley. ‘I don’t care if you think of me as a big-headed little bastard,’ said Harley; ‘I believe I could go out and have four cardboard cut-outs and a tape machine and I’d still get the same reception, the same reaction.’ Which rather proved the band’s point.
The split was yet a sign that glam rock was coming to its creative conclusion. Mott the Hoople and the great version of the Alice Cooper band also split around this time, David Bowie and Roxy Music were looking towards soul for new directions, Marc Bolan was announcing his retirement. As Paul Gambaccini wrote in the NME: ‘The tra la days of glitter rock are over.’
Harley put together a new line-up, renamed Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel to spell out that this was no democracy, and was never as good again. The Top of the Pops performance of ‘Mr Soft’ showed what had gone wrong, with a conventional guitar-solo replacing the scuzzy violin of the original. The real Cockney Rebel didn’t do guitar solos.
- Sweet Dreams, ‘Honey Honey’ (Bradley’s)
Bear with me…
Before Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway revived the Drifters as a British pop band, the writing/production duo had had a trial run down the same road with the Fantastics (formerly a New York doo-wop group called the Velours). Together with Tony Macaulay, they wrote and produced ‘Something Old, Something New’, which reached the top 10 in 1971. That was the first hit for the arranger Gerry Shury, who went on to work with a diverse range of artists, including Carl Douglas (see above), Tina Charles and the Rubettes.
Meanwhile, in another corner of the music industry, songwriter Ron Roker also had his first hit in 1971, in his case with ‘Rupert’, Jackie Lee’s theme song to the TV version of Rupert Bear. He went on to become part – albeit the least known part – of a trio of Jewish writers at ATV Music, alongside Lynsey de Paul and Barry Blue (‘who was Barry Green, my brother-in-law, at the time’).
In 1973, Shurey and Roker were introduced, becoming close friends. ‘Ron and I hit it off right away,’ said Shury, and Roker agreed: ‘Gerry and I saw ourselves as Sid and Solly, we were a partnership.’
They formed a publishing company called Geronimo (combining their first names) and they made some great pop-soul hits, including the Pearls’ ‘Guilty’, Polly Brown’s ‘Up in a Puff of Smoke’, and this one, Sweet Dreams’ storming cover of a nothing-much song by Abba. Actually, the last two records are closely related, as Roker explained:
A song had come in from Abba, who’d won the Eurovision but were struggling with the follow-up, called ‘Honey Honey’. So with Gerry, I rushed into the studio, recorded ‘Honey Honey’, wrote a B-side and on the same session did ‘Up In a Puff of Smoke’ for Polly as a solo artist. I sang the male part on ‘Honey Honey’, did the harmonies with her – she was dynamite in the studio. We got that out and they said, ‘You’re going to need a group’, and I heard this guy singing on the radio and got him in for the album.
Also co-producing was Phil Swern, who’d earlier given us Horace Faith’s ‘Black Pearl’. It was a small world, British pop music in the early 1970s. And Polly Brown was a much respected figure in it. Shury spoke for himself and Roker: ‘We were both in love with her vocal sound which was soulfully sweet sounding and between Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick.’
The clip above is audio only, and it’s the proper version. There is footage of Sweet Dreams performing on Top of the Pops, but there you have to endure the appalling studio orchestra, who ruin it entirely. And you don’t even get to see the act as Polly intended – here’s Ron Roker’s account:
The first thing they had to do was Top of the Pops. Polly turned up in a wig, called herself Sierra Leone, and she’d put dark make-up. She blacked up, and I said, ‘What’s the idea of blacking up?’ And she said, ‘Well everyone knows me from Pickettywitch, and I want to be totally different from when I’m Polly Brown.’ She’d done soft Italian-type hair, but this brown make-up to make her look almost Creole, and I thought: this is totally wrong, this is ‘Honey Honey’, a pop song; wait till we’ve got something more soulful maybe. And the producer of the show stopped the show and came down and said: ‘What is that? Go to Make Up.’
Bubbling under… Just outside the top 10 was a single that will have been and gone by the time we return. Cozy Powell’s ‘Na Na Na’ (RAK) isn’t as well remembered as it should be, given that it contains the irresistible lyric: ‘You’re the JS Bach of Belsize Park.’
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