Weird times in America: Lynette ‘Squeaky’ Fromme, a disciple of Charles Manson, tried to shoot US President Gerald Ford, while kidnap-victim-turned-terrorist Patty ‘Tania’ Hearst was finally caught. In Britain, the IRA murdered two people in a bomb attack on the Hilton hotel in London. And this was the top ten for the week ending 13 September 1975.
1. Rod Stewart, ‘Sailing’ (Warner Bros)
I was never much of a Rod Stewart fan anyway, but this one I really didn’t like. The song’s one of those dull faux-folk melodies that circles round and round for ever, and the dreary promotional video ruined Top of the Pops for ages – the single was #1 for four weeks.
What one likes to do in a case like this is to insist that the hit cover was an insult to a really fine song. But actually the Sutherland Brothers original is just as plodding.
2. Roger Whitaker, ‘The Last Farewell’ (EMI)
Now this is more like it. If it’s a pop song about a sailing ship that you’re after, then this is the one to go for. Rog – you do call him Rog? – had only ever had one top 10 hit, and that was back in 1970, but he’d been around for donkey’s years. His first single was in 1962, he’d become a familiar guest artist on TV variety shows, and he was a reliable cabaret booking; in August he’d been headlining at places such as the Plas Madoc Leisure Centre, Wrexham, and the Night Out (‘Birmingham’s most exciting night spot’).
He started out with more of a country approach – like a colonial Jim Reeves – and he did a lot of whistling: records like ‘Mexican Whistler’, ‘Russian Whistler’ and ‘Finnish Whistler’. But this single turned out to be his biggest hit, a 1971 track that had been released in various countries without any success, and then got re-promoted after an American radio station belatedly picked it up.
It did well in the States. According to The Stage, ‘his goatee beard and carefully guarded naturalness help him stand out from his other musical contemporaries: Elton John at one end of the scale and Andy Williams at the other’. Which was presumably why ‘He’s been hailed there as the “musical oddity of the decade”, “a fresh breeze from Blighty”.’
3. Stylistics, ‘Can’t Give You Anything But My Love’ (Avco)
4. Leo Sayer, ‘Moonlighting’ (Chrysalis)
The first two Leo Sayer albums had been co-written and produced by David Courtney. When they split, Leo teamed up with Frank Farrell of Supertramp for the writing, and got in Russ Ballard of Argent for the production. This was the first new product, followed swiftly by the album Another Year.
And the changes barely showed. The odd contradiction between downbeat – if quirky – subject matter and jaunty melody continued, and the single was a big hit. Though not in America, where he had previously been making some inroads. Too parochial in its references, maybe? If so, that was to be remedied on the next album: Endless Flight was recorded in Los Angeles, produced by Richard Perry, and included a couple of American #1 singles in ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’ and ‘When I Need You’. There was no quirkiness left by then.
5. KC and the Sunshine Band, ‘That’s the Way (I Like It)’ (Jayboy)
This was their fourth British hit, the biggest to date and still the best known. Not the best, of course – that’d be ‘Queen of Clubs’, a #7 single from 1974 – but still magnificent.
6. Mike Batt, ‘Summertime City’ (Epic)
He was his own worst enemy, really. He was a gifted writer and producer, but he wasn’t taken seriously because the Wombles seemed like a gimmick. Then he went and recorded the theme song to the BBC variety show, Seaside Special, which was meant to be by the dance team New Edition:
‘Summertime City’ I fell into by accident. I was doing a theme for the BBC and there was no one in the studio from the dancers who could sing. And I just said: I’ll sing it myself. And then the [TV] producer said: ‘Why don’t you come on and sing it?’ And we went on and had a hit with it – it went to #4 or something.
As a pure piece of bubblegum pop, I love it, but it wasn’t what I should have been doing as an artist who wanted to stop being a Womble and start being an orchestral rock ‘n’ roll songwriter. I was stomping about in my bell-bottoms with my Afro hair, being a pop star, which was great fun as well. And in the scheme of things, I’m not unhappy that I did it, but it gave me another thing to live down.
It was released at the same time as the latest Womble single – the proto-punk ‘SuperWomble’ – which got no higher than #20, despite some fine Chuck Berry licks from Chris Spedding, and backing vocals that resembled Sweet’s ‘Fox on the Run’.
7. Hot Chocolate, ‘A Child’s Prayer’ (RAK)
I liked this record a great deal, and still do. The song’s a bit thin, and the lyrics are a tad Sabbatarian for my tastes, but it’s a good arrangement that builds nicely, the drum sound is oddly thudding, and Errol Brown sounds properly sincere about it all:
Nobody goes to church on Sundays anymore.
Is that why the world is fighting, filled with wars?
Nobody goes to church or thanks the lord for what they eat.
Is that why half the world is starving, running out of necessities?
I wonder, wonder if we’re doing right
While I’m here, maybe I could mention a neglected track from their debut album, Cicero Park (1974), which deserves to be more highly rated than it is; ‘Could Have Been Born in a Ghetto’ wears its Curtis Mayfield influences a bit ostentatiously on its sleeve, but it’s worth hearing.
8. Jasper Carrott, ‘Funky Moped’/’Magic Roundabout’ (DJM)
At the time, ‘Magic Roundabout’ was the fashionable side, a live recording of a stand-up routine about the TV show: ‘I wonder if Florence is a virgin’ – that kind of thing. It hasn’t dated well. ‘Funky Moped’, on the other hand… well, that hasn’t dated very well either, but it is more fun. A Jeff Lynne production, you know.
9. Gladys Knight and the Pips, ‘Best Thing that Ever Happened’ (Buddah)
If it’s not quite ‘The Way We Were’, nor is anything else. And it is still gorgeous.
10. Kenny, ‘Julie Anne’ (RAK)
They’re back! And so are their high-waisted, tight-crotched, white trousers! But make the most of them, because this is Kenny’s last ever week in the top 10 with their fourth and final hit. (The previous release – ‘Baby I Love You OK’ – got no further than #12.)
As I’ve probably made a bit too clear, I really like Kenny’s records; I think they’re near-perfect disposable pop, and some of the best work of writer/producers Bill Martin and Phil Coulter. But this was pretty much the end of the road. The next record – ‘Nice to Have You Home’ – didn’t chart at all.
And the reason for that was that there was a split. The Bay City Rollers had made their break from Martin & Coulter at the end of 1974, and had gone on to enjoy their biggest successes. Kenny wanted to follow the same path, but this time Martin & Coulter weren’t prepared to let their property go. After all, this wasn’t like the Rollers, who’d been a band for years already. Kenny’s ‘The Bump’ had already been recorded and broken into the charts before the members were recruited to go on TV.
So in March 1976 it ended up in court. The band had signed a new deal with Polydor and wanted to record under the name Kenny, while Martin and Coulter wanted to stop them.
On the fifth day of the case, a settlement was reached, the details of which were not revealed but which entitled Kenny to carry on with their Polydor deal. ‘We are over the moon,’ said guitarist Yan Style. ‘The strings of the puppets have been cut.’
The same day came their first Polydor release, ‘Hot Lips’. It got nowhere. Admittedly, the charts of 1976 weren’t as amenable to boy bands, but there was also the suspicion that the industry made sure that it got nowhere. Kenny had turned on their makers, and a lesson needed to be sent out, pour encourager any autres who might be getting ideas above their station.
They’d also hung out the music biz’s dirty laundry in open court. There had been stories before that bands didn’t necessarily feature on their records, but it didn’t help to have it confirmed on oath. Nor that a band with three top 10 hits were living on £40 a week, less than the average manual worker. Consequently, the single wasn’t pushed on Radio 1 or the big independents and they didn’t get invited onto TV shows. They were just quietly ignored.
Of course, the fact that the record wasn’t very good – a weaker continuation of the earlier work – didn’t help either. A couple of follow-ups also flopped, despite being written by Tony Macaulay and Roger Greenaway. And though an album for Polydor, Ricochet, suggested that they had the potential to go further – it closed with a fun version of ‘(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher’ – it wasn’t to be. In 1978 Yan Style had an accident that paralysed his arm, and the band came to an end.
There was a brief reunion in 1979, and the very last single was a terrific stab at disco with a cover of ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, released on Decca in Germany alone. ‘The music was much better then, but it was all over really,’ reflected bassist Chris Redburn. ‘We had great fun, but we couldn’t make a living out of it.’*
Meanwhile Martin and Coulter had fared somewhat better. ‘The Bump’ had originally been recorded by the Rollers and then been re-tooled for Kenny. That seemed to work, so they did the same thing again. One of the tracks on Kenny’s debut album, The Sound of Super K, was a song titled ‘Forever and Ever’. So when the band flew the nest, Martin and Coulter reworked it with Midge Ure’s band Slik, and it went to #1 in February 1976.
* If the name Redburn is familiar, it’s probably because you’ve seen it on the side of trucks. This is Chris’s account in 1996 of his post-Kenny years:
I started driving trucks. It was only a couple of years later I was doing the same circuit, driving a truck, sleeping outside these venues where we’d been getting screamed at by 10,000 kids. It was a Joan Armatrading tour, we got talking and she said, ‘Blimey, our truck driver’s had more hit records than I have.’ She asked me to do the support band slot, and I sort of declined – it was too hard work at the time doing what I was doing.
I was always interested in trucks ‘cos my father and my grandfather were hauliers, so it followed on. The guy who managed Smokie, Bill Hurley, had a company called Highlife and he wanted to start a trucking side, so I drove one of his trucks. Then he asked me to manage it, and I ran it for a year or two, and then I wanted to start on my own, so I started up my own business. It was 1982 when I started Redburn Transfer. 90 per cent of what we do is rock tours – it’s what I know and I enjoy it.
Deben Transport bought a 60 per cent share in the company in 2009, but in 2018 Redburn Transfer went into liquidation.
previously in Revive 45: