The standard photograph of the 1979 Winter of Discontent is of Leicester Square, London piled high with rubbish-bags, during a refuse-workers’ strike. March 1975 saw the same phenomenon in Glasgow, but on an even larger scale. ‘In some places the piles of rotting garbage rise as high as 20ft,’ reported the press. ‘More than 50,000 tons of uncollected refuse are now polluting Glasgow.’ Eventually the army was called in, but it still took over a month to clear the streets, working in terrible conditions: ‘The biggest hazard the soldiers face is the swarms of rats at every temporary rubbish dump.’
This is the top ten for the week ending 22 March 1975.
- Bay City Rollers, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ (Bell)
This was the big one. Six weeks at #1, confirming that the dominant pop story of the year was Rollermania. And also confirming that the band had been right to split with production/songwriting team Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. The new producer was Phil Wainman, who insisted it was all their own work this time:
‘Bye Bye Baby’ wasn’t my idea, ‘Bye Bye Baby’ was their idea, from the group and from Tam [Paton, manager]. I said, ‘Do you realize how difficult a record this is going to be to make?’ I mean it’s a very, very intricate record. And they weren’t strong vocally, so we kind of had to teach them how to sing and play.
My brief was: ‘Phil, if you’re going to produce the band, we’re getting terrible flak from the industry, from the press, about them not playing on their own records; they are going to have to play on their own records.’ That was a very, very tough job. The deal was that they played on it. And the records took three or four times as long as they should have done, to actually make that for real.
I would actually still be making those records today if we hadn’t cheated along the line somewhere. So if I got a really good chorus vocally, I would spin it in, so it’s the same chorus going in every time. It all goes into a chip now, but in those days there was no way.
I had the vocals mixed on a quarter-inch tape in stereo and I would take them out on a great big loop. The loop would go all the way around the control room, we’d all be holding pencils with this great big tape loop of the chorus going round the room, and when the time was right, I’d press a button and I’d fly it in. Nine times out of ten it wouldn’t be in the right place so we’d have to get it all set up again, either bring it forward or set it back, and press the button again. It was intricate stuff.
Wainman also called in Pip Williams, an arranger and producer in his own right, who’d played guitar on early records by the Sweet and Mud:
When Phil produced the Rollers, he gave them the chance to play on their records. But the fact of the matter was the Rollers were not very good. I remember I had a call from Phil Wainman saying, ‘For Christ’s sake, Pip, can you come down here and help me get these guitars in tune’.
I went down there and they thought that the bridge saddles on a Fender Stratocaster, which are for adjusting the intonation of the octaves, were fine-tuning springs. So they’d get the guitar roughly in tune and then they’d get a screwdriver and the fine tuning was with them. And then they’d wonder why it was a quarter of a fucking tone sharp at the twelfth fret. And they were quite sweet about it: ‘Oh well, we know fuck all about guitars.’
Singer Les McKeown wasn’t entirely happy with the process:
I never ever got along with Phil Wainman, because I thought he was a creative bully and he had very little patience. Alright, I was a bit of a cheeky little upstart, but when it got time to do work…
If you were going to produce someone, you wouldn’t say to the singer, ‘No, that’s not right,’ after he’d sung one word or something; you’d be in the mood to encourage, try to get the best out of people. He would fucking annoy me like that. He’d run the track, first couple of words would come up, he’d stop the track; and he would just keep doing it, he would never let you have a run at it, which is normal. Because I wouldn’t take any of his sort of lip outside of the studio, so he brought it into the studio, which I thought was pretty unprofessional.
And it never helped that we were working in a studio in Chipping Norton – brilliant studio, but the control room is about nineteen feet up, so you’ve got this big thing up there nineteen feet high up and that’s where the producer is, and that’s about the only cunt you can see. And you’re down here, feeling very small, and he’s fucking annoying you.
It was fucking so annoying, I nearly blew my top – I did blow my top loads of times.
It’s a good record, by the way. Better than the Four Seasons original.
- Telly Savalas, ‘If’ (MCA)
This video is the height of mid-1970s sophistication.
- Fox, ‘Only You Can’ (GTO)
The best British band to break through in 1975, Fox had two great strengths: the writing talent and production genius of American veteran Kenny Young, and the wispy, enigmatic vocals of Australian folkie Noosha Fox (formerly Susan Traynor). So not entirely British, then.
They were magnificent, like a Junior Choice version of Slapp Happy, but never had anywhere near the success they should have enjoyed. If you don’t know their work in intimate detail, you should really remedy that. The whole of the self-titled debut album is available here, and really is worth hearing. And here’s a TV performance of ‘Strange Ships’ from the second album, Tails of Illusion, also released in 1975.
- Guys ‘n’ Dolls, ‘There’s a Whole Lot of Loving’ (Magnet)
Another band who looked like they might have done better than they actually did, Guys ‘n’ Dolls were like a Eurovision version of the New Seekers. This is their debut single and it’s very wonderful indeed, a massive, lush, middle-of-the-road epic, with lyrics seemingly drawn from a child’s picture-book about America. I love it.
On second thoughts, though, ‘band’ is possibly over-dignifying the project; ‘accident’ might be more appropriate. The song came from the production/writing team of Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow, and the afore-mentioned Pip Williams was responsible for the very fine arrangement. Pip was at the recording session, run as these things were on a factory kind of basis:
In actual fact ‘There’s A Whole Lot Of Loving’ was an afterthought. It was one that was going to be a B-side track. And it was just one of those songs. We all knew that it was Kay Garner and Tony Burrows who had done the lead vocals on it. Which is a shame because the Guys ‘n’ Dolls troupe were lovely people, they were really nice.
The ‘troupe’ included David Van Day:
They already had ‘There’s a Whole Lot of Loving’. It was all fully recorded, they just wanted some faces to front it, which we did, we signed a contract.
I remember Julie Forsyth, who was at [stage-school] Italia Conti as well, said, ‘They’re putting this group together. They’ve got the record, but they just want some faces for it.’ They chose six people, which was Julie Forsyth, myself, Thereze Bazar, Martine Howard, Paul Griggs and Dominic Grant, who was the male lead singer.
The first time I heard ‘There’s a Whole Lot of Loving’, I was in my digs, doing my Womble thing in pantomime, and I was sitting there eating my cornflakes and it came on: it was Tony Blackburn saying, ‘That’s a smash that, let’s play it again.’ And he played it again. Now, how often does that happen?
And then it went to #2, of course, and then everybody wanted to sing in the band and do it their own way, and it was the kiss of death really. We’d all been picked on our looks really, more than what we could sound like, I think.
The second single was ‘Here I Go Again’, another Arnold, Martin & Morrow composition, another Pip Williams arrangement. It was promoted with the same frontman, Dominic Grant, but this time singing with his own voice, as David Van Day remembers with a little regret:
He worked in Cecil Gee and was really one of the original medallion men. He sang like Scott Walker, which ruined his solo career in a way, because there was a Scott Walker.
He’d done Top of the Pops but he’d mimed, and all of a sudden he came on and this wasn’t the voice that people expected. I think people at Radio One, they knew David [Martin] well enough, they’d known the scam anyway. I don’t what happened, but the record wasn’t a hit. It was all wrong, it was silly trying to get Dominic to sing that song, it didn’t suit him.
We may not get to hear from David Van Day again in this series, so let’s leave him on a wistful note: ‘I wanted really to be a serious Shakespearean actor, which I still love today, but I never did it and I don’t suppose I’ll ever do it.’
- Barry White, ‘What Am I Going to Do With You’ (20th Century)
It’s one of my favourite of Barry’s hits, just because it’s so monolithic.
- Average White Band, ‘Pick Up the Pieces’ (Atlantic)
Bringing together musicians who had previously been in Brian Auger’s Oblivion Express, the Dream Police, Forever More and the Dundee Horns, the Average White Band had been around for some time – actor Stanley Baker was namedropping them back in 1972 – and had a good live reputation. Record sales, though, were more difficult.
This track from their second album, AWB, was released in 1974 and did nothing at all. Then it took off in America – both single and album went to #1 over there – and it was re-released and re-promoted. At which point it belatedly dawned on us that we had Britain’s best-ever funk band on our hands.
It’s a great record, of course, but personally I always had a greater fondness for the next hit, ‘Cut the Cake’, but that didn’t make the top ten, so won’t feature here.
- Mud, ‘The Secrets that You Keep’ (RAK)
Well, it was basically the same record as ‘Lonely This Christmas’, as though Chinn and Chapman thought: that’ll be good enough. I think it’s slightly better as a record, but lacking the festive gimmick, it’s not very well remembered. Meanwhile, some in the band were getting a little restless, recognising that the times were changing and progress was necessary. Rob Davis was the guitarist:
I was into the Isley Brothers, Steely Dan, that sort of funkier vibe. I wanted the whole band to go to that. Ray [Stiles, bassist] did as well. But Les [Gray, singer] and Dave [Mount, drummer] said, ‘No, we’ve got to hold onto our rock ‘n’ roll.’ I just hated rock ‘n’ roll by then. I’d had a gutful of it. People like Bowie changed a lot, and it paid off.
Maybe he was right, but one of the other Chinnichap acts followed this route and it didn’t really work out. Suzi Quatro’s ‘Your Mama Won’t Like Me’, released in February 1975, was the best single she ever made: sleazy and funky, with the Gonzalez horn section and guest vocals by Suzi’s sister, Patti. ‘We didn’t just stick with “48 Crash”,’ said Quatro. ‘We moved on. Definitely.’ But it failed to reach the top 30.
- Kenny, ‘Fancy Pants’ (RAK)
Having lost the Rollers, Martin & Coulter had to raise their game, and this is, I think, their finest moment, a production to rival Chinn & Chapman. The dancing, on the other hand… well, here’s bassist Chris Redburn to apologize:
After we had ‘The Bump’, ‘Fancy Pants’ came out and they decided it’d be good if we had some sort of presentation so when we did Top of the Pops we’d have a routine. So we had Arlene Phillips come along and she choreographed us – a whole day she choreographed us for. We did it in front of these mirrors: ‘Do this, do that’, these Mud-type steps. And we turned around from the mirrors and we couldn’t do it.
She said: ‘You’re the worst dancers I’ve ever tried to teach; I never want to do it again.’ And walked out.
- Moments and Whatnauts, ‘Girls’ (All Platinum)
Sylvia Robinson had the most extraordinary career, navigating three decades of changes in r&b with records as different from each other as ‘Little Boy’ (1951), ‘Love Is Strange’ (1956), ‘Don’t Let Your Eyes Get Bigger than Your Heart’ (1964) and ‘Pillow Talk’ (1973). She was also a record label boss, and signed the Moments in 1968. This was their twentieth American hit, but their first in Britain.
- Rubettes, ‘I Can Do It’ (State)
The Rollers, Kenny, Mud and now the Rubettes – this is pretty much the peak of the teen pop that came after glam. The pre-Beatles rock ‘n’ roll is still there, but it was nicer, cleaner, safer that glam had been. None of that sleazy, nervy stuff like ‘Rock On’, ‘Judy Teen’ or ‘John, I’m Only Dancing’. Now we had simple up-tempo songs of love and dancing, presented in matching outfits, big smiles and choreographed dance-steps.
It was also aimed more exclusively at girls and so was easily dismissed by critics. Glam had never been fully accepted – it was a bit too concerned with entertaining people – but it had at least been acknowledged. Even bands such as the Sweet would occasionally turn up in Melody Maker. The likes of the Rubettes, though, were purely Record Mirror.
Despite all of which, these are damn good records. The musicianship is impeccable, the hooks are instantly catchy, the arrangements and productions are really creative. There’s a lot of thought gone into these, and if the canvas isn’t as big as glam had been, they’re lovely little miniatures. And there’s some fine detailing, as in the slide solo here.
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