In October 1975 Margaret Thatcher made her first conference speech as party leader . The early months of her leadership had been tied up with the referendum, but now that the issue of Europe was settled once and for all, this was her chance to pitch to the nation. She issued, said The Times, ‘a calculated call to political arms addressed to all those, in every socio-economic class, who identify themselves and their best interests with middle-class moral values’.
Here’s the top ten for the week ending 18 October 1975.
1. David Essex, ‘Hold Me Close’ (CBS)
David Essex’s third album, All the Fun of the Fair, wasn’t as good as the first two, but it still had its moments, including the first single, the slinky, soulful ‘Rolling Stone’ with backing vocals by the Real Thing, which slipped between these monthly blogs and snuck up to #5. There was also the rock-musical rocker ‘Here It Comes Again’, and the enigmatic ‘Watch Out (Carolina)’, which the Real Thing covered superbly on a single produced by Essex.
And then there was this, his second #1, a cheerful cockney singalong. I miss the atmospheric weirdness that producer Jeff Wayne went in for on the best Essex tracks, but even so it’s irresistibly good-natured – Edwardian Music Hall for the Chopper Generation. As it happens, Wayne had his own reservations:
I can remember David demoing ‘Hold Me Close’ for me, and it was the first time where it was like a complete song, and I can recall saying this is quite poppy by comparison with most of the things we’ve done, so I could see this going to #1, but it could also be a turning-point and it may not be the turning-point that we want. And it was so commercial by the time it was finished – it was the type of record that was easy to get played on the radio, it was off of an album that we were about to put out and go on tour with, but it was a major departure.
‘Rock On’ had credibility, whereas ‘Hold Me Close’ had a different sort of acceptance. Both were very big hits: ‘Hold Me Close’ in Great Britain got to #1 for three weeks, whereas ‘Rock On’ stopped at #3 – got to #5 in America, did well in other countries, and won awards for me as producer, but ‘Hold Me Close’ didn’t, because the bigger hit in this country had flopped everywhere else.
This is a great performance, by the way: live vocals but the original backing track.
2. Art Garfunkel, ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ (CBS)
No, I don’t prefer it to the 1959 version by the Flamingos, but it is a lovely, fragile recording, one of Richard Perry’s best productions. It was on its way to #1.
3. Drifters, ‘There Goes My First Love’ (Bell)
‘Melodious, romantic but not over-burdened with slushy sentiment,’ said the Cheshire Observer; ‘turning into a disco classic.’ Well, that my be overstating the case, but this is one of the better products of the Drifters’ English period. Written by Roger Greenaway and Barry Mason, it was arranged by Lew Warburton, who’d done the same job on the Kinks’ best album Arthur. In particular, I always loved the fade-out, with the drums coming up for the couple of bars at 02:56.
4. Morris Albert, ‘Feelings’ (Decca)
I believe that this is the first record on Decca to have featured in one of these monthly round-ups. Which is a shocking indictment of a company that had once meant something. The label did release a handful of good records in this period – there was Beano’s lovely ‘Candy Baby’ (though that was Deram) and Peter Skellern’s pop masterpiece ‘Hold On to Love’, which made the top 20 earlier in 1975 – but they were few and far between. So too were the hits.
The biggest Decca single thus far in 1975 had been veteran French singer Gilbert Bécaud reaching the top ten for the one and only time with ‘A Little Love and Understanding’. Which may be why they put their faith in this, another international piece of easy-listening pop. It became a bit of a joke, a symbol of soullessness, but actually it’s alright: the massed backing vocals are a bold choice.
5. Chi-Lites, ‘It’s Time for Love’ (Brunswick)
Following on from the re-issued success of ‘Have You Seen Her’, this was the only single taken from the Chi-Lites’ new album Half a Love (1975). In America, with disco’s inexorable rise, their doo-wop derived smoothness was looking a bit old hat; this barely made the top 30 in the R&B charts and was their last single to make the Hot 100 (peaking at #94). But we still loved them.
6. Four Seasons, ‘Who Loves You?’ (Warner Bros)
And here was a band making a better fist of transitioning into the disco era. What a massive, epic, wonderful record this is. If 10cc had been funky…
7. Abba, ‘S.O.S.’ (Epic)
From the days when Abba were still a frothy, fun little band, this is their best single. Though obviously what you actually need is Nottingham power-pop band the Favourites with their 1979 cover version.
8. The Band of the Black Watch, ‘Scotch on the Rocks’ (Spark)
If you drew a Venn diagram of people with an unreasonable fondness for mid-1970s chart pop, and those who’ve written a three-volume history about British military bands, there wouldn’t be many of us in the middle section. So indulge me here – you won’t regret it, I promise.
If 1972 was the year that glam broke big, with Ziggy Stardust, Alice Cooper, Roxy Music and Mott the Hoople, we should also remember that the best-selling single of the year was ‘Amazing Grace’ by the Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which spent five weeks at #1 in the late spring. It was a complete fluke. The track had been recorded for the album Farewell to the Greys (1971), and no one had any expectations; it was only released as a single at all after some heavy play on Radio 2.
The success of the record was duly noted by Norman Rogerson, who was appointed bandmaster of the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) in 1973. Now that bagpipes had shown their chart potential, he deliberately set out to make hit records, and struck lucky on his first attempt. It still relied, of course, on the same radio support: ‘All the way through, I felt that we had a hit with “Scotch On The Rocks”,’ remembered Rogerson. ‘I just needed to convince people, and fortunately people like Terry Wogan were convinced – he helped it immensely on Radio 2.’
The success of the single pushed the album of the same name into the top twenty, and was replicated elsewhere in Europe. Thereafter, there was no stopping Rogerson: during his decade with the Black Watch, he released twenty-four albums, a record for a British military band under a single bandmaster, and fifteen singles.
Only one of those singles – ‘Dance Of The Cuckoos’, better known as the Laurel & Hardy theme – made the British charts, but there were successes in other territories, and there were some genuinely intriguing records, not all of which, unfortunately, are on YouTube. I can’t therefore direct you to the band’s disco version of ‘White Christmas’.
And what is available isn’t always good: ‘S.S.T.T. (Super Sonic Tartan Tonic)’ – a Rogerson original – and a cover of ‘Y Viva Espana’, aren’t strictly necessary. Then there was ‘Viva Scotland’ (1982, the national football team had qualified for the World Cup), and ‘Marching on Tartan’ – like ‘Stars on 45’, but all Scottish tunes played on bagpipes.
However, I really would recommend you check out Rogerson’s excellent ‘Highland Hustle’ (1978), a disco workout with bagpipes, which I think is their finest moment and should have been the theme tune to a 1970s sitcom (I’m picturing aa title sequence of Adam Faith slouching round various Edinburgh landmarks, looking incongruously metropolitan).
And then there’s ‘Papa’s Got A Brand New Bagpipe’ (1983), possibly the greatest title in the history of British pop. The song was written by married couple John Carter and Gill Shakespeare, who’d been behind the First Class’s 1974 single ‘Beach Baby’ (a record so good that Brian Wilson once mistook for one of his own, which singer Tony Burrows rightly claimed as the highest compliment he ever received). ‘Bagpipe’, though, was a much stranger kettle of fish. If B.A. Robertson had decided to write a parody of a punk band trying to play hip-hop… In the annals of musical crossovers, this has its own place; as Rogerson noted, it’s ‘the first rap record that was produced with band and pipes’.
Looking back, Rogerson was pleased with ‘Scotch on the Rocks’ and its successors. ‘It was that era, I think, when almost anything seemed to go,’ he said. ‘There was a certain amount of luck in it, of course.’
9. Jonathan King, ‘Una Paloma Blanca’ (UK)
Jimmy Savile introducing Jonathan King – this was what Top of the Pops was like in the Golden Age. Or, looked at another way, this kind of plodding package-holiday singalong is what we got for joining the European Community. The original version by Dutch outfit the George Baker Selection made the top ten as well, but King’s note-for-note remake sold better.
10. Mud, ‘L-L-Lucy’ (Private Stock)
As documented elsewhere, Mud had left RAK Records and Chinn & Chapman some months ago, but the new phase of their career was delayed by the release of old material, starting with the #1 hit ‘Oh Boy’. That process finally ground to a halt when a cover of Elvis’s ‘One Night’ (‘a bad album track’, as guitarist Rob Davis correctly pointed out) failed to make the top 30. The time had now come for the band to show what they could do on their own.
The obvious choice as a single from the sessions for the Use Your Imagination album was a storming version of Curtis Lee’s ‘Under the Moon of Love’. But that didn’t fit the agenda. ‘When we went to Private Stock, we wanted to prove we could write,’ explained Davis. ‘Bands like us were getting slagged off, saying we were puppets and all that sort of thing.’
So ‘Under the Moon of Love’ was left as the album-closer (and the following year went to #1 for Showaddywaddy), while ‘L-L-Lucy’, written by Davis and bassist Ray Stiles, was released as the lead single.
It’s not, I think, very well remembered. Certainly not by comparison with the big Chinnichap hits. And rightly so. Because while it’s a decent rock ’n’ roll record that sounds right (it was produced by Phil Wainman – of course it sounded right), it’s serviceable rather than sparkling. It lacks the trash inspiration, the leftfield hooks that Mike Chapman could bring to his best work.
In their pomp, Mud had inhabited a world in which women shone with a tiger light and burnt with hypnotistic fire, the kind of women who changed their name to Abigail Rocketblast (and we all knew Dinah was dynamite). It was a place of leopard-skin print and bubble-gum glamour. Now, the boys were minded to break up with ‘a woman who lives just for kicks’. Well, I mean to say! Like the denim and leather outfits, this was a workmanlike version of what had been fantasy.
This was, I think, the debut of keyboardist Andy Ball, who became the fifth member of the band.
previously in Revive 45: