In November 1974 the IRA planted bombs in two pubs in Birmingham, murdering twenty-one people and injuring a further 182. The killers have never been brought to justice. The big political news was that the Conservatives’ environment spokesperson, Margaret Thatcher, was going to challenge Edward Heath for the party leadership. Meanwhile, over in Miami, a pile of clothes was discovered on the beach, and it was feared that the Labour MP John Stonehouse had been dragged out to sea and drowned.
This is the top ten for the week ending 23 November 1974.
- David Essex, ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ (CBS)
David Essex’s first #1 hit was a different kettle of fish to his earlier singles, much more straightforward and singalong. It wasn’t a very substantial song, though it did have some nice lyrics:
Well I know I’m not super hip
And I’m liable to take a slip
And producer Jeff Wayne could always be counted on to come up with some musical ideas, in this case some fine fat-sounding synth lines.
Anyway, if you wanted to be reminded of Essex’s more arty incarnation, you only had to flip over the single to find ‘Window’, the darkest, most menacing track he ever recorded; the child’s voice towards the end is genuinely chilling. The same song also followed ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ in the track listing of his second album, David Essex (1974). So here’s Jeff Wayne talking about ‘Window’:
It was a song that David wrote, and again it was one of these songs of atmosphere, and it was a strange atmosphere. They were sort of atmospheric lyrics that did paint a picture in a way of fear: what’s going on outside of this window?
David and I both liked the drama of theatre, David liked certain things from circuses and theatre and I liked what I liked from that world – David was quite supportive of what I did as an arranger, because he liked drama and atmosphere, so the running order doesn’t surprise me to go from ‘Gonna Make You A Star’ to this song ‘Window’.
- Queen, ‘Killer Queen’ (EMI)
The following words are extracted from my book Glam Rock: Dandies in the Underworld (V&A, 2013), in a bit where I’m talking about the Sweet struggling to be taken seriously:
The Sweet’s problems were compounded by the fact that the combination of heavy rock guitars and vocal harmonies was no longer theirs alone. For 1974 also saw the commercial breakthrough of Queen, a band initially dismissed by critics as ‘sounding like an ersatz Zeppelin’, but now harnessing their heavy metal inclinations to a more disciplined pop sensibility.
The key record was the single ‘Killer Queen’, which reached #2 in November, just as the Sweet’s ‘Turn It Down’ was failing to make the top forty. ‘You almost expect Noel Coward to sing it,’ was Freddie Mercury’s verdict. ‘It’s one of those bowler hat, black suspender-belt numbers – not that Noel Coward would wear that.’ A tongue-in-cheek piece of vaudeville rock, it was theatrical enough to sound very much like a glam record, though not quite.
‘It’s about a high class call girl,’ explained Mercury. ‘I’m trying to say that classy people can be whores as well.’ And perhaps that was the difference. Glam had always concerned itself with the underdog, finding romance in the socially excluded, implicitly accepting the truth of Oscar Wilde’s line: ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.’ Queen appeared to be looking through the other end of the telescope, heading towards the vainglorious declarations of their 1977 hit ‘We Are the Champions’, with its definitive anti-glam statement: ‘No time for losers.’ Glam had always had time for losers.
- Barry White, ‘You’re the First, the Last, My Everything’ (20th Century)
Barry White had been getting steadily bigger in Britain over the last year or so with a string of hits: ‘I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby’ (#23), ‘Never, Never Gonna Give You Up’ (#14), ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe’ (#8), and then this, which was on its way to the top. He liked long titles, did Barry.
- Eddie Holman, ‘Hey There Lonely Girl’ (ABC)
Dating from 1970, and making a belated appearance in the British charts, this was Holman’s only hit here. It’s okay, but it’s not a patch on the original version by Ruby and the Romantics.
- Ken Boothe, ‘Everything I Own’ (Trojan)
Still with us from the last time we looked at the charts.
- The Peppers, ‘Pepper Box’ (Spark)
I know nothing about mid-1970s French disco, so I can’t tell you whether this is typical of the scene or not. But it’s fantastic, and I’m slightly surprised that it doesn’t turn up on the soundtrack of every period drama set in the era.
- Lynsey de Paul, ‘No, Honestly’ (Jet)
The 1974 LWT sitcom No, Honestly starred Pauline Collins and John Alderton, and this was the theme song. It’s a competent enough bit of writing, but personally I never really got on with de Paul’s voice. My failing, of course. The Daily Mirror was more enthusiastic: ‘Lynsey de Paul is clearly a little lovelier than most composers. And her latest work is reckoned to be a beauty too.’
In May 1975, she won an Ivor Novello award for the song. Other awards went to Carl Douglas for ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ (Best Pop Song) and to Ralph McTell for ‘Streets of London’, which was named Best Song of the Year (he’d first released the song in 1969).
There was a follow-up series, Yes, Honestly, that starred Liza Goddard and Donal Donnelly. The theme song for that was a bit of an oddity in the catalogue of Georgie Fame.
- The Rubettes, ‘Juke Box Jive’ (Polydor)
They were a strange band, the Rubettes. They were a bunch of session men put together by songwriting-production team Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington, and in the normal run of things, they would have had a hit or two and moved on to other gigs. Instead, the musicians decided to stay together and become a real group, scoring a string of hit singles, of which this was one of the best (apart from anything else, just listen to the sheer noise of the production).
They didn’t regard themselves as just a manufactured group. As singer Alan Williams saw it:
A lot of bands were put together in those days. They had a team of writers, they wrote the stuff, produced the stuff, stuck the band on it and probably those guys weren’t even on it except the singer – I was probably on it – and preferably they didn’t write. But you had a situation in the Rubettes where all of us were writers in our own right.
The thing was that the Rubettes’ image of who they were had nothing to do with their Top of the Pops appearances. Left to themselves, they’d have been a nice little post-beat group, probably unsuccessful but fondly remembered by those who cared. And that was what turned up – alongside the hits – on the albums. ‘We negotiated a fairly good deal,’ said Williams. ‘And we said: we want half the album.’
So on We Can Do It (1975), ‘Juke Box Jive’ nestled alongside what sounded like a great lost Moody Blues song ‘The Family Affair’, the Hollies-esque ‘Something’s Coming Over Me’ and the Anglo-hoedown ‘Wo Goddam Blues’. All of which were pretty good
Ideally, there should be a compilation of their own work. Because much as I like the hits, I think there’s a parallel group in there that deserves some respect. But it would have to be a compilation, because the albums were messy affairs. As Wayne Bickerton noted:
My sarcastic remark was you might as well call the album Six of One and Half a Dozen of the Other. I think if you’ve got a band that’s being looked at as a teenybopper band, had hit singles, created a certain style – Frankie Valli/Four Seasons but with more glam rock emphasis – to suddenly toss into the middle of that a country-and-western song and strange songs that could have been written for the 1968/69 era, well I mean it just throws people. With all due respect, it’s not what people want and of course critics especially slaughtered it. It made no sense.
- The Stylistics, ‘Let’s Put It All Together’ (Avco)
This was the first single after the Stylistics and producer Thom Bell went their separate ways, the first to be written and produced by Hugo & Luigi, with Van McCoy as arranger. It’s good, but compared to the previous release – the magnificent ‘You Make Me Feel Brand New’ – it’s a very lightweight piece of work. It wasn’t necessarily apparent at the time, but this was the start of the downward slide.
- The Bay City Rollers, ‘All of Me Loves All of You’ (Bell)
This was the fourth consecutive top 10 hit written and produced by Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. After this, the Rollers would be off to work with Phil Wainman, who let them actually play on the records that carried their name.
Les McKeown explains why things had to change:
The big break-up with Martin and Coulter? I dunno, a lot of the stuff that was going on was … not behind the band’s back, but in the management levels, you know what I mean. So as we were just like travelling the world and doing things, those kind of things were being done in London in our name.
There were occasions at Mayfair Studios when Bill Martin would take me off for a coffee and chat to me about going solo. And this was like Day One. A bit soon – I’d just joined the band. So there was that kind of thing going on, and of course at that time the band was very, very, very tight and close, so I would tell the other guys.
There was an occasion I remember at Granada Studios when Bill Martin comes up to produce this TV mix. We were up in the control room and one thing led to another, and I actually ended up having a punch-up with him, when I was saying, ‘You can produce fuck-all’ type of thing, you know. That was one of the things that started it.
And of course the innate thing where the band wanted to have its own songs out. Eric Faulkner saw himself as a bit of a writer and when you’re writing stuff, you want your stuff out.
But you can’t really pin it down to one particular thing. I think the worst thing for the Bill Martin-Phil Coulter situation was Bill Martin. Cos he was a very aggressive obnoxious cunt of a Scotsman. He really was. Very little likeable things about him.