Revive 45: May 1975


‘We have to come to terms with the harsh reality of the situation which we inherited,’ said Labour cabinet minister, Tony Crosland, in May 1975. ‘The party’s over.’ Even more than John Lennon’s ‘The dream is over’, this really was the end of the 1960s. Lennon had signalled pop culture’s loss of faith in the transformative power of politics; Crosland sounded like politicians had lost faith as well. It was a good month for East End lads and Essex boys, though: West Ham won the FA Cup, and David Beckham and Jamie Oliver were born.
This is the top 10 singles chart for the week ending 31 May 1975.

  1. Tammy Wynette, ‘Stand By Your Man’ (Epic)

We noted this phenomenon of the re-released single last month, with Bobby Goldsboro’s ‘Honey’. And now here’s a 1968 record from the finest female country singer the US ever produced. In America, it was her fifth country #1 and her first single to break the mainstream top 20; here it had to wait seven years before becoming her debut hit.

This revival of old middle-of-the-road pop was a rapidly growing trend. Already in February and March, greatest hits albums by Engelbert Humperdinck and by Tom Jones had reached #1 (spending seven weeks there between them) and later in the year compilations from Jim Reeves and Perry Como were also to do the same. Como’s 40 Greatest (K-Tel) vied with Queen’s A Night at the Opera for the top spot and won, spending six weeks at #1, compared to Queen’s four weeks.

I’ve nothing against any of these singers (particularly Perry Como, who I rather like), but the plundering of the easy-listening back catalogue surely indicated the industry’s lack of confidence in contemporary music. The death of glam had left a big hole and it wasn’t clear what was going to fill it.

Still, on the upside, we did get to hear ‘Stand By Your Man’, which is, as any fule kno, a masterpiece, one of the greatest pop records of its time. And yet, impressively, it’s not even Tammy’s best single. That’d be ‘Til I Can Make It on My Own’ (1976), which wasn’t a hit here.

  1. Windsor Davies & Don Estelle, ‘Whispering Grass’ (EMI)

The spin-off album of sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum was intended to showcase not just the concert party, but the entire cast of the TV show, including Col Reynolds and Capt Ashwood with their version of Noel Coward’s ‘I Wonder What Happened to Him’, and Rangi Ram delivering some newly written proverbs. Consequently, it was too bitty to make sense, and it didn’t sell. But some of it worked, largely thanks to Gunner Sugden, played by Don Estelle, who contributed six of the thirteen tracks. This one was released as a single and did remarkably well – it was just about to spend three weeks at #1.

It’s a beautiful song, which I didn’t know at the time, neither in its most famous Ink Spots 1940 version nor in the Joe Meek-produced Mike Preston cover (1958) nor even the Sandy Denny single (1973). At the risk of infuriating purists, I think I prefer Don Estelle singing it, mostly because I heard it so often at an impressionable age, but also because his vocal performance is so lovely and so wonderfully dated; if a British singer had recorded it thirty-five years earlier, his voice would have sounded just like this, with its rounded enunciation of every syllable. (Which I guess is maybe another sign of pop having lost its way.)

And then there’s Windsor Davies, with his spoken interjections in character as BSM Williams. By rights, he ought to be really annoying, but he’s not. His good humour is infectious, and his shameless, brazen mugging to camera on the TV appearances was a thing of beauty. The two men seem to delight in each other’s performance. (Whether that’s true or not, I don’t wish to know.) Also, there’s something life-affirming about a big man moving delicately and deliberately; Oliver Hardy was the master of it, but Windsor Davies was pretty damn good as well.

Having established that the rest of the cast weren’t adding anything, Estelle and Davies cut out on their own with the album Sing Lofty (1975), which reached the top 10.

Incidentally, both albums were produced by Walter J Ridley, who’d written Gracie Fields’s ‘Christmas Love’ (1948) and had co-written songs with Dick Hills and Sid Green for Morecambe and Wise, most famously ‘Boom Oo Yatta-Ta-Ta’ (1964). And, even more incidentally, if it’s mid-1970s British covers of the Inkspots you’re after, I’d recommend Murray Head’s fabulous version of ‘Someone’s Rocking My Dreamboat’ (1975).

  1. The Stylistics, ‘Sing Baby Sing’ (Avco)

Well, it’s a nice enough record, but it’s a bit slight. As noted previously, the group was on a downhill slide artistically by this stage. Thom Bell, who’d produced and co-written their greatest work, had left and been succeeded by Hugo & Luigi, who were competent rather than inspired. Consquently, sales were falling off in America, though here the band was reaching its commercial peak: the Best of compilation had just returned to #1 in the album charts for a further five-week stay. It also, if memory serves, broke the record for being the biggest selling pre-recorded cassette ever.

  1. Gladys Knight & the Pips, ‘The Way We Were’ (Buddah)

Pure heaven. I think we’re supposed to believe that Knight’s glory years were at Motown, but nothing else in her career touched this. It’s a great, Oscar-winning song, written by Marvin Hamlisch for the film of the same name, but Gladys wrapped it in a warmth that Barbra Streisand’s original couldn’t match. And in a stroke of genius, she prefaced it with an extract from the Kingston Trio’s beautiful ‘Try to Remember’. (Yes, other people recorded this song, but they weren’t on the soundtrack to The Man Who Fell to Earth, so it’s the Trio’s version that counts.) Streisand gave us a song of personal loss and growth, but Gladys delivered a State of the Nation address at a time when the nation was struggling economically, militarily and politically. Mind you, I’m not sure that the Pips had much to do with the recording.

  1. Showaddywaddy, ‘Three Steps to Heaven’ (Bell)

I was thirteen years old at the time, and this was my introduction to the music of Eddie Cochran, a man who’d died two years before I was born. As a result, I’m very fond of it and will defend it fiercely in the face of purists. (You know who you are.) Anyway, it’s a perfectly serviceable version, not a hugely different arrangement to Cochran’s original, though Dave Bartram of the ‘Waddies wasn’t as good a singer.

Truth be told, it wasn’t that great a song in the first instance. Which is why it was originally tucked away on the B-side of ‘Cut Across, Shorty’, until Cochran’s untimely death prompted Larry Parnes to suggest the record be flipped, for full mawkish sales. But it’s a decent entry-level track that got my attention, after which it didn’t take long to realise that the best of Cochran was much better than this. (‘Nervous Breakdown’ became, and remains, my favourite.)

Showaddywaddy had originally intended this as an album track, but, in Bartram’s words, ‘it was the most instant thing on the album, so it made sense to put that out as a single’. It was a big step in their career. Having started so promisingly with a #2 hit in ‘Hey Rock and Roll’, the last three singles had failed to make the top 10 (including their best, ‘Sweet Music’). Those had all been original compositions, but now they were back on the way to #2 again with a cover. And from here on in, they were known for reviving old songs.

This was partly because their own material tended to under-perform as singles, but also because of growing frustration within the band. From the outset, there had been an agreement that songwriter credits should be shared across all the members – and with eight people involved, that did tend to eat into one’s royalties. This is Bartram a couple of decades on:

Although at the time it appeared to be a good idea – it was a very communistic way of doing it, if you like – it did lead in later years to the songwriters, which were myself and [guitarist] Trevor Oakes, feeling largely stifled. Because it became as if it wasn’t worthwhile, and that is why it became cover after cover.
It was all very well sharing royalties at that time, but I still feel that the writing talent within the band should have been credited so that they could possibly have ventured further afield and used their writing ability for other artists.
There was something fresh about the writing at the time and it certainly did have our own stamp on it, and that’s why it was a shame that it was stifled in the later years. That really, to my mind, and still to this day, would have probably elongated the band’s career for a few more years.

One other thing, in case I don’t get a chance to mention it elsewhere, there weren’t many black musicians in British pop groups at this stage. Romeo Challenger (who I believe is, at the time of writing, the last original member in the current line-up) was one of the few exceptions. Showaddywaddy and Hot Chocolate were – as far as I can think – the only two mixed-race British bands to be regular fixtures in the charts in the mid-1970s. (Darts were later, but do correct me if I’ve forgotten someone.)

  1. Judy Collins, ‘Send in the Clowns’ (Elektra)

It’s the third genuine classic in this chart, and all three of them are by American women. You can’t help thinking that British boys with guitars were rather letting the side down.*

  1. Slade, ‘Thanks for the Memory’ (Polydor)

I like this very much indeed: Jim Lea on the clavichord, some neat guitar lines, and a big rousing chorus with Noddy in full-throated bellow. Also, some properly daft lyrics:

Have a burgular [sic] alarm
Have a milkmaid on your farm

(Incidentally, the original line ‘Have some love-smell on your sheet’ is rewritten in the television version to the less explicit, but slightly more disturbing: ‘Have some honey with your meat’.)

This was the record’s highest chart position, and it spent just one week in the top 10. Slade wouldn’t return to these heights until 1981, when ‘We’ll Bring the House Down’ gave them a new lease of chart-life (and almost eradicated the shameful memory of the ‘Okey Cokey’). People still felt an affection for the band, but they were drifting into irrelevance. As Dave Hill put it: ‘Our people were waning from us, going on to other things, maybe getting engaged, all the things that are more important.’

  1. Disco Tex & the Sex-o-Lettes, ‘I Wanna Dance Wit Choo’ (Chelsea)

The second, and final, hit for Sir Monti Rock III and his cohorts was as camp and silly as ‘Get Dancin’’. And it’s even better, I think: like one of those upbeat vocal-band novelties of the early 1960s with everything stripped out except the gimmicky hooklines. It must’ve taken Bob Crewe literally minutes to write it.

  1. Tammy Jones, ‘Let Me Try Again’ (Epic)

‘Mary Hopkin has a Welsh rival,’ declared the Daily Mirror in 1968, announcing the arrival of Tammy Jones as a major star of the future. She was twenty-one, she had her own show on BBC Wales, Tammy, and she’d just signed a record deal with CBS, who released her debut single, ‘Come Back My Love’. Actually, it wasn’t quite her debut – she’d released some jaunty Welsh-language songs under the name Helen Wyn – but that was a local issue; this was now the big-time.

Or not, as the case may be. Because neither that record, nor any of the four follow-ups on CBS – including a return to Welsh for the Hopkin-esque ‘Lai Lai Lai’ (1969) – made any impression on the charts. She did, though, get a lot of high-profile work: supporting Tom Jones on tour, appearing on The Benny Hill Show and The Dick Emery Show, performing at the Palladium and at the Investiture of Prince Charles. ‘Words are somehow inadequate to describe Tammy’s extraordinary appeal,’ said The Stage. But it didn’t really work out, she never got any further up the bill.

After a few years in cabaret, at home and abroad, she auditioned for Opportunity Knocks, won it six weeks in a row in Spring 1975, and on the back of that got another chance. This was the result, her one and only hit (it got as high as #5), and a belter of a record. She was a good singer – she’d trained at Guildhall School of Music – and she threw it all into this performance. As she said later:

The words were very important to me. I’d just broken up with my boyfriend and each time I sang it I was singing it to him asking him to let me try again. I was also asking the public to let me try again as I’d so very nearly made it once before. You see, my heart was in that song.

The arrangement was by Alan Tew, king of library music, and the production by Robin Blanchflower, who’d earlier given us Johnny Wakelin’s ‘Black Superman’.

  1. Status Quo, ‘Roll Over, Lay Down’ (Vertigo)

Nothing would ever be quite as great as ‘Down, Down’, of course, but this is another juggernaut of a record, the very epitome of the double-denim and dandruff, heads-down no-nonsense mindless boogie that no one could make like the Quo could make. The missing link between Canned Heat and the MC5.

* Alternatively, it wasn’t the British boys with guitars who were letting the side down, it was us – the public – letting them down. Because Ian Hunter’s wonderful solo debut ‘Once Bitten Twice Shy’, a collaboration with Mick Ronson, was a hit this month, but peaked at #14.

previously in Revive 45:

and next…

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