(A look at bands / artists, who this day in The ‘70s were ALMOST Top of the Pops.)
18th April 1976
Right – we’re talking ‘classic’ here. None of your twee pop stuff performed by session musicians and presented by pretty boys with toothy smiles. I‘ll bet everyone reading this post has heard this song before. Which is perhaps a little strange, given that it spent marginally over two months in the UK charts, peaking at #3, where it remained this week in 1976.
I’m not saying it was a particular favourite of mine. Yet, though I wasn’t convinced by the overblown production and pomp, I enjoyed it as ‘something completely different’ when I first heard it on the radio.
However, being quite fickle as far as music is concerned, (Ok – I have the attention span of a fruit fly) I soon grew bored of it. One of my pals was already a confirmed John Miles fan and played this track to absolute death! In his house or in the changing room at athletics training or on the pub juke-box…. “Music of the future, Music of the past.” Aaaargh! Those words kept me awake at night!
Credit where it’s due though – John Miles was (he sadly passed away in December 2021, aged 72) a ‘proper’ musician, well respected in all circles of the music industry.
He came from Jarrow, not far from Newcastle Upon Tyne, and was initially in a band called Influence, though at that time still performing under his original name of John Herrrington. Paul Thomson who would later join Roxy Music, and Vic Malcolm who would become an original member of Geordie, were fellow members; as was Chris Warren, who would go on to joinPickettywitch. (See? These articles aren’t just thrown together you know!)
When the band broke up, John Miles formed his own outfit, not so imaginatively called John Miles Band. They built a decent following in their native North East, and cut a few singles on the Orange label.
However, still chasing the dream, John moved to London in 1975 with bass player Bob Marshall, added Barry Black and Gary Moberly to the band, secured a deal with Decca, released ‘High Fly’ – and spent six weeks in the charts, rising to #17. Simple – just like that.
However, John’s big moment came around five months later with the release of ‘Music.’ This track, like ‘High Fly’ before it, was lifted from the band’s debut album ‘Rebel.’
The follow-up single ‘Remember Yesterday’ a pleasant ballad came from the band’s second album to be released in 1976, but only scraped into the Top Forty at #32. This album, ‘Stranger In The City’ also spawned the last chart entry of The Seventies for John Miles – ‘Slow Down.’ Nothing could be much further from what was already being viewed as the classic ‘Music.’ (‘High Fly‘and ‘Music’ did scrape the USA charts, but it was this, ‘Slow Down’ that was his best effort Stateside, reaching #34 in as well as #2 in the Disco charts.)
In fact the whole album is pretty diverse in the style of tracks it offers, incorporating elements of disco, metal and soul at various points.
And this was perhaps the school-boy error. As we’ve seen with other bands before and after, if an early reputation is built on such an iconic song, it’s difficult to further cultivate that almost tribal fanbase with different styles.
A few albums followed in the Eighties, but nothing could match the early success, though he did work on projects with Alan Parsons and Jimmy Page and toured with Tina Turner and Joe Cocker. Indeed, he played on several of Tina’s albums and was music director on some of her tours.
I do have to confess to being one of those who, perhaps unfairly, considered ‘Music’ to be on the pretentious side. It was a tag that John Miles struggled to shake off, but maybe if people like me had bothered to listen to the rest of his output, as I’ve only just done, some forty-six years later, then he may have found even greater success.
Still, there’s not many can say that for a short while in 1976, they were ALMOST Top of the Pops…. and in all honesty, deserved even better.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – April 2022)
I can’t claim to be religious but the odd times I do attend the Lord’s house for weddings, funerals or christenings, I generally struggle with the words to hymns, except for one.
Probably, like most people from my era, I’m not sure I even realised that ‘Morning Has Broken’ was a hymn before it became a pop song by Cat Stevens 40 years later.
The hymns lyrics written by English author and poet Eleanor Farjeon in 1931 were set to a traditional Scottish folk song called Bunessan, after a village of the same name on the isle of Mull. The songs positive message was ‘to give thanks for each day’ and it was added to the updated hymnbook or ‘Songs of Praise’ of 1931.
Cat Stevens idea to include a version of the hymn on his 1971 ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ album was initially met with much resistance by his record label ‘Island’, who were busy trying to promote Stevens as the English James Taylor. The albums producer Paul Samwell-Smith was also against the songs inclusion for more practical reasons as the hymn has no chorus and consists of only 4 verses which made it’s initial recording time a paltry 44 seconds long.
Undaunted, Stevens reached out to session musician Rick Wakeman to ask if he could help with a piano arrangement for the song.
On the day of recording, Wakeman, as part of his preparation, started playing some melodies he’d written for his ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ project. Cat Stevens, impressed with what he’d just heard, said… “perfect Rick, let’s use that for ‘Morning Has Broken”! Wakeman reluctantly agreed and basically came up with arrangements for the start, middle and end of the song, which extended the track to 3 minutes 20 seconds.
Delighted with his contribution, Wakeman was devastated to receive no credits on the album and for the meagre £10 he was offered for all his hard work. Rick would have the last laugh though when Cat Stevens realised they had no idea how to play the song live on stage without Wakeman’s input.
Wakeman would perform his keyboard skills on some other classic tracks that year, including Life on Mars for Bowie and Get It On for T-Rex before joining the band Yes. He did eventually forge a solo career and released ‘The Six Wives of Henry VIII’ to critical acclaim in 73.
The ‘Teaser and the Firecat’ album would produce 3 hit singles – ‘Moonshadow’ and ‘Peace Train’ were both released with moderate success before ‘Morning Has Broken’, which became a massive global hit reaching number one in the US.
Stevens surfed a wave of success in the 70s with hit singles, hit albums, sell-out tours & great reviews…. and best of all, he even got to date Carly Simon & Joni Mitchell. Maybe you can get too much of a good thing, and Stevens famously turned his back on his successful career after a near-death experience off the coast of Malibu when he feared he was drowning. He allegedly cried out “God if you save me I will work for you” at which point a wave appeared and swept him to shore.
Auctioning off all his guitars and devoting his time to the Islamic faith, Stevens changed his name to Yusuf Islam but after two decades gradually returned to the public eye with new music and tours.
‘Morning Has Broken’, like ‘Amazing Grace’, is one of the few hymns that has crossed over from the church to the charts and Stevens deserves enormous credit but I can’t help but feel that the contribution of Wakeman with his beautiful piano arrangement, also deserves some songs of praise.
Below is a short but funny audio clip of Wakeman telling his side of the ‘Morning Has Broken’ story….
(A look back at some of the things we used to wear in the 70’s)
Paul Fitzpatrick: London, April 2022
I’ve no idea what possessed us to wear a lot of the stuff we used to wear, however, I’m very clear about the origins of one 70s fashion trend….. step forward Bryan Ferry who against all conceivable odds managed to make the GI-Joe-look, cool.
At the time, Roxy and Ferry were at the peak of their powers with a catalogue of critically acclaimed albums and a raft of memorable singles, all produced in the space of three productive years.
Like Bowie, Ferry was a bit of an image-chameleon, constantly updating his look and persona, for each album & tour. A glam Space Cowboy one minute, a Hollywood Matinee Idol, the next.
Since his breakthrough in 72 with Virginia Plain, Ferry’s style had always been pretty distinctive, but not that accessible, and when he appeared on our screens in September 1975 to deliver ‘Love Is The Drug’ wearing a pair of khaki trousers (that we later found out were called chinos) a pristine khaki military shirt and an eye-patch (as he’d genuinely injured his eye), he finally introduced a look we could invest in…. kind of.
The TV clip showed the ladies in the audience swooning as Ferry swayed, hands in pocket, to the opening bass-line hook of ‘Love Is The Drug’. A vision in khaki, before you knew it, a few of us were dashing off to our local Army & Navy stores in an attempt to emulate the suave Geordie.
Army & Navy stores were no strangers to teenagers in the 70s, shopping for parkas & gas mask bags and even the odd bit of camouflage but the staff couldn’t believe their luck when the army shirts that had been stuck in a corner gathering dust for years were suddenly selling like hot-cakes.
In a classic case of supply and demand, the prices for said items rose dramatically in the space of a few days.
We’d been influenced by Ferry, but we’d no idea what had influenced him to go for the US Military look, maybe it was at the behest of his latest muse, the Texan Jerry Hall who Ferry was dating and who had just featured as the latest ‘Roxy Girl’ on the cover of their new album – ‘Siren’.
According to Hall, her father had fought in the US military alongside General Patton so perhaps Bryan was dressing to impress.
Being a Roxy fan I went to see them on their Siren tour and was struck at how many wannabe Ferry’s there were in the crowd.
Sure, we had picked up on the army shirt look but others had gone the whole hog…. white dinner jackets, bow-ties, Ferry haircuts, the complete look even down to his trademark pencil-thin moustache (and that was just the girls!)…. there were even a few diehards brandishing eye-patches, not realising the poor guy had glaucoma.
As a trend the military look came and went pretty quickly, indeed, if you popped into your local Army & Navy store a few months later it’s likely you would have seen a rack full of discounted khaki army shirts gathering dust in the corner again.
That would be the last we’d see of Ferry’s changing personas for a while as he broke up the band, broke up with Hall and pursued the life of a dashing country squire…. leaving us poor buggers behind, looking like the cast of M*A*S*H
(A look at bands / artists, who this day in The ‘70s were ALMOST Top of the Pops.)
12th April 1975
‘Fancy Pants’ was the second of four chart hits for Kenny, the band who four months earlier had peaked at #3 in the UK charts with their version of ‘The Bump.’ We’ll come back to that, shall we?
As with their other three singles successes, ‘Fancy Pants’ was written by the successful Bill Martin and Phil Coulter partnership. It was they who had penned Sandie Shaw’s 1967 Eurovision Song Contest winner, ‘Puppet on a String,’ and Cliff Richard’s runner-up the following year,‘Congratulations.’ So, a decent pedigree, then.
The band though were not all they seemed.
Let’s take a step back.
In October 1974, the Bay City Rollers released what would become their fifth hit, ‘All Of Me Loves All Of You.’ The B-side, which was also written and produced by Martin and Coulter, was ‘The Bump.’ However, it did not feature the band playing their instruments. Instead, seasoned session musicians were used.
Around that time, an Irish vocalist from the Martin / Coulter stable decided to retire. His performing name was Kenny. The writers then opted to give some of their songs to a ‘band’ and used their former artist’s moniker as a vehicle for their own compositions. One of the first they released was ‘The Bump.’
With the song already known and having had airplay as the Bay City Rollers’ B-side, it sold well and entered the charts in December of that year. Success though brought the necessity of promotion and public appearances. But of course, there was no such band as Kenny. And the track that had proved so popular was actually just the backing track from the Bay City Rollers’ version, with new vocals added! (You see, The Rollers hadn’t played on their version either!)
So began a frantic search for a band to ‘front’ the song on Top of the Pops and other shows / teen magazines.
What led Martin and Coulter to a banana warehouse in North London, I have no idea – but that’s where they found a bunch of likely looking lads rehearsing under the name Chuff.
Signing them there and then, changing their name to Kenny and bringing in a new lead vocalist in Richard Driscoll, the writers / producers managed to secure them a contract with Mickie Most’s RAK label, and they were off. Their other three singles of the time hit the higher echelons of the chart: ‘The Bump’ reached #3 in December of ’74; ‘Baby I Love You OK’ (which I’d completely forgotten about) peaked at #12, and ‘Julie Anne’ at #10.
In all, they spent thirty-nine weeks in the Top 40 between December 1974 and August ’75 – there was some overlap between ‘The Bump’ and ‘Fancy Pants,’ just in case anyone was counting!
Their success was short lived, but for most of 1975, they were everywhere. I remember their pictures on my sister’s bedroom wall and their catchy, bouncy, fun songs were hugely popular at the school disco.
They released one album towards the end of 1975 which was basically made up of their singles and some ‘filler’ material. Interestingly, one track is the original version of what would later become a #1 for Slik – ‘Forever and Ever.’ Indeed, Slik frontman, Midge Ure, would later confess his surprise that all he had to do was sing over the top of the same backing track the Martin / Coulter session musicians had produced for the version on the Kenny album!
What was it Johnny Rotten once said: “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?”
However, as they didn’t write their own hits and didn’t play their instruments on their hits, there was very little money to be made. They tried to break free from the Martin / Coulter arrangement, and a court case ensued when the writers stood firm on their assertion that they ‘owned’ the band name ‘Kenny.’
The court ruled in favour of the band though, and freed of their shackles, they signed with Polydor, released another single ‘Hot Lips’ and an album ‘Ricochet’ – before vanishing completely. (Although they did rather ironically, provide the backing to the theme tune of ‘Minder’ over which Denis Waterman sang the lyrics.)
Kenny had surfed the tail end of the Glam Rock wave. I have to say, I’ve always enjoyed a bit of cheesy glam. They were fun while they lasted, although with all the controversy over not playing their instruments on their hits, I can sympathise with the words of Vernon Joynson who states in his excellent ‘Tapestry of Delights’ book … ‘they are eminently forgettable.’
A tad harsh, methinks, for this day in 1975, Kenny and their ‘Fancy Pants’ were ALMOST Top of the Pops.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie’ Jackson from Glasgow – April 2022)
(*a little bit fact; a bit more fiction; much exaggerated.*
Friday 15th March 1974 – (aged 15 – towards end of 4th Year)
I think I’m in love!
I don’t mean some forlorn schoolboy crush like for Miss Hunter – no, this is proper breathing onto the palm of my hand for traces of halitosis type of ‘in love.’ And liberal applications of Valderma ointment.
Her name is Pilar. That’s Spanish, by the way. For ‘pillar.’ Though I don’t suppose you’d have to be a language teacher to work that one out. In Catholic tradition it refers to a ‘marble pillar connected with an appearance of the Virgin Mary.’ I know. I looked it up.
Pilar and her family came to Scotland from Chile. They left their homeland when General Pinochet took over the country in a military coup. Things are looking bad over there. People are being murdered in the streets by the army.
It’ll be about six weeks since we first chatted – her first day in school. She’s quiet spoken and pretty shy. In fact, just pretty, full stop. Demure. I got that word from the Jane Austen books we have to read in English. Yeah, ‘demure.’ That’s Pilar. And pretty. Did I say ‘pretty?’
I have no idea why she seems to like me. Maybe because I was one of the first to welcome her? Her English isn’t great so maybe because I’ve borrowed my parent’s BBC ‘Zarabanda’ LP and try to speak her lingo? Maybe it’s because I make her laugh?
I seem able to do these last two at the same time: today I thought I was complimenting her wavy, light brown hair (pelo) but told her I loved her money (pela.) She laughed, in a kindly, sympathetic kind of way.
We’re not ‘going out’ or anything – just hang out at break / lunch. She comes to watch me play football – even just ‘playground football.’ (Being from South America, she’ll know a good football player when she sees one!)
I got pulled up by Miss Fisher for not concentrating in Maths class and looking out the window to the classroom below where Pilar was sat by the window smiling and waving to me. I got such a beamer’ when the teacher realised why my attention was not on my books and then told the class! It was one of those ‘reading-glasses-steam-up’ and ‘shirt-sticks-to-your-back,’ types of brassneck!
Wednesday 10th April 1974 – (still aged 15 – closer to end of 4th Year.)
I’m an idiot! A complete and utter choob!
I’ve been so wrapped up in my athletics and football, I simply didn’t see this coming. Practicing keepie-uppie this evening, I noticed a couple walking slowly and in silence through the woods at the back of my garden. It was Gordon. In his stupid, long, blue, ex-RAF Great Coat type thing! He probably had a poxy Gentle Giant album tucked under his free arm, I didn’t notice. My gaze didn’t stray past his other arm – he was holding hands with …. with ….. Pilar!
How could she be so cruel and heartless? To pack me for Gordon? (OK, technically, as I said, we weren’t ‘going out.’ But even so! I mean – I know I’m not exactly cool and trendy, but he’s a moron!
At least they weren’t laughing at me. Far from it. Gordon just stared straight ahead. Couldn’t look me in the eye. The git!
Pilar though … dearest Pilar. She noticed me alright and keeping her free hand by her side, gave a wee discreet wave. As she passed she turned her head, her luxuriant brown locks swirling over her opposite shoulder like a model in a Harmony Hairspray advert. She smiled sweetly.
Without their usual sparkle, though, her brown eyes belied the happiness of her lips.
She looked sad. I’m sad.
I’m devastated actually – not least because I was within reach of my keepie-uppie personal best of 957 when I dropped the ball.
This is all my own stupid fault, though. You know the expression: ‘You snooze, you lose.’ Well I slept – and I wept.
(Nah, not really. I didn’t actually cry – that would‘ve been a bit pathetic and melodramatic, wouldn’t it? Anyway there’s no chip shop close by.)
Thursday 25th April 1974 – (still aged 15, but it’s been a long two weeks. O’Levels looming.)
Pilar and I have remained friends Why not? She continues to melt my heart. She still seeks me out in the playground. Yet, despite all the positive, almost pleading signs, I’ve still not worked up the courage to ask her ‘out’ out. What the hell is wrong with me?! – That must truly be 8th Dan Black Belt in Stupidity, right there! What an absolute pillock!
You’d think I’d have learned from my first Lesson in Love.
FOOTNOTE #1: Pilar and her family only remained in Scotland for a few months and by summer, she’d moved on again.
FOOTNOTE #2: About thirty years later, while writing for a music magazine, I became friendly with a couple of bands from Chile. I asked them about Pilar. They’d never heard of her. Seems Chile is a pretty big place.
FOOTNOTE #3: Because of Pilar; because of the bands Spiral Vortex and Follkzoid, and because I was playing with the Chile Subbuteo team when I first heard a Rory Gallagher record : for those very three reasons, I feel an affinity and love for the country and fly their flag above the turret on the east wing of the house.*
It’s probably fair to suggest that a significant number of people who subscribe to this blog are familiar in some way with Maryhill, often referred to as the sparkling jewel in Glasgow’s crown, a tight knit working class community to the north west of the city.
You may have lived there, worked there (like me), visited your Granny there, fought there or, again like me, had the misfortune to support the under achieving football team which plays there.
Whatever your connection, you’re almost certain to be aware that the area is renowned for its contribution to Scottish culture, particularly within the realms of sport, music and acting via the not insignificant number of its alumni who have achieved recognition in these spheres.
Maryhill has, for example, produced high profile international footballers like Bertie Auld, Charlie Nicholas and current Scotland captain Andy Robertson.
Famous actors from the area include Robert Carlyle (Trainspotting, The Full Monty), David McCallum (The Man from UNCLE, Colditz) and Sean Biggerstaff (whatever Harry Potter movie he was in).
Turning to music, Maryhill has spawned the world renowned Donovan who had a number of chart successes in the 60s and 70s with hits like Mellow Yellow and Sunshine Superman and the acclaimed blues singer Maggie Bell (claim to fame – many years ago I worked in the bank in Maryhill while the young Maggie worked in the wool shop across the road and she would often waltz into the bank with her war cry of ‘gies some change for the till, pal’.)
The musical dynamic took a significant twist in 1979 however when a 37 year old local singer, Lena Martell, released a single, One Day at a Time, which rose rapidly to Number 1 in the UK charts.
Martell had been singing professionally since the early 1960s and had shared stages with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis jr but of the 26 singles (not to mention nine albums) she had previously released, not one had come close to entering the British top 40.
Her achievement with One Day… was all the more significant as she became part of an elite group of one hit wonders whose solitary hit had also topped the charts.
Why then, after all these years, all these singles/albums, all these tours, did this lassie from Maryhill finally enjoy some recording success?
The answer probably lies in the nature of the song.
Written by Kris Kristofferson, the song took the form of a prayer, asking for help and spiritual guidance from ‘sweet Jesus’ in the daily life of the singer and it no doubt resonated with the Christian record buying community.
Gospel music had been largely absent from the higher echelons of the hit parade in modern times although Judy Collins did reach the top ten in 1970 with her passionate rendering of Amazing Grace while the band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards mirrored her achievement two years later with an instrumental version of the hymn.
In summary, it’s realistic to assume that Martell’s hit was largely down to members of the Christian community rushing en masse to their local record shops to purchase the record and to give their faith the unique level of profile and exposure which only a chart topping single can generate.
Kristofferson may have penned the song but, in reaching the number one position, this Maryhill songstress achieved something that the country music legend had failed to achieve during his own stellar recording career.
Some songs are ubiquitous… you’re not even sure where or when you first heard them. They seem to drop out of the ether and once heard you just can’t get them out of your head.
So it is with Maria Muldaur’s sublime ‘Midnight at the Oasis’
I didn’t know much about Muldaur in 1974 apart from the fact that she was a latin beauty, with a distinctive voice and had recorded one of the best singles of the year.
Born in New York as Maria D’Amato, Muldaur was part of the Greenwich Village scene alongside Dylan before her self-titled, debut album was released in 1973 featuring ‘Midnight at the Oasis’
Set in a desert trapping, the song centres on a romantic but playful encounter, where the female protagonist takes the lead….
“I’ll be your belly dancer, prancer. And you can be my sheik“
Sensual and evocative, Muldaur’s song, alongside those by Barry White, Donna Summer and Marvin Gaye, is (anecdotally) credited as being one of those songs that a lot of 70’s babies were ‘conceived to’.
Beautifully crafted, the musicianship on the track is superb as would be expected from some of the best session musicians of the day, with drummer Jim Gordon, who is credited by Muldaur with coming up with the songs groove, probably being the most heralded.
Gordon’s impressive canon of work includes, Layla with Derek & The Dominoes, My Sweet Lord with George Harrison and Steely Dan’s – Rikki Don’t LoseThat Number.
Tragically, the drummer is currently in prison, sentenced in 1984 for killing his mother with a hammer and a butchers knife. Unbeknown at the time, Gordon suffered with acute schizophrenia which wasn’t diagnosed until after his arrest.
Midnight At The Oasis was a top 10 hit in the US for Muldaur in 1974. It also did well in Canada and Australia but only scraped into the top 30 in the UK and would be her only UK hit. It was one of those classic radio songs that was popular across all formats and crossed over all musical tastes.
Muldaur who went on to release nearly 40 albums also collaborated with The Doobie Brothers, Linda Ronstadt and Elvin Bishop whilst touring extensively with the Grateful Dead, as both a support act and a backing vocalist. Her last album, released in 2021, was a jazz/ragtime album.
There have been several covers of Midnight At The Oasis over the years, the most prominent being the 1994 remake by acid-jazz aficionados Brand New Heavies, which became a bigger hit in the UK than the original.
Reflecting on her breakthrough hit, Muldaur reminisced that Midnight At The Oasis was a last minute addition to her debut album as the producer required ‘one more track’ to complete the session. So in an ironic twist of fate a track that was basically an afterthought and an ‘album filler’ went on to become Muldaur’s signature tune.
Muldaur now 78, still performs the song live at every show and takes great pride in the fact that no two performances of the song are ever the same.
(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – April 2022.)
Lennon and McCartney of the Beatles were one of the most celebrated and prolific song writing duo of the last century. Theirs is the best known and most successful musical collaboration ever by records sold.
Unlike many songwriting partnerships that comprise a separate lyricist and composer, such as George and Ira Gershwin, Rodgers and Hammerstein or Elton John and Bernie Taupin, both Lennon and McCartney wrote lyrics and music.
To single out just one exemplar from their vast catalogue of popular hits would be extremely onerous………………………………. but they did write some absolute crap !
Yellow Submarine, Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and Maxwell’s Silver Hammer are some prime examples of the shit that they could produce.
But right up there must be When I’m Sixty Four.
Like my fellow ‘born in 58’ followers of this fine blog, I turn that age at the end of this month.
When I’m Sixty Four was released on the 26th of May, 1967 on the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. To give John Lennon credit, his only contribution to the song was the addition of the lines ‘grand children on your knee’ and ‘Vera, Chuck and Dave’.
McCartney claims he wrote the song when he was 14 in 1956. Rock and Roll was just on the periphery of his life and this was a ‘cabaret minded’ ditty.
To put thing in perspective, here are a few fellow alumni of le club soixante-quatre.
Musicians Michael Jackson, Madonna, Prince, Andrea Bocelli and Kate Bush. Actors Jamie Lee Curtis, Michelle Pfeiffer, Gary Oldman, Sharon Stone and Peter Capaldi.
Those turning 64 when the song was released where actors Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Claudette Colbert. Writers George Orwell and Evelyn Waugh. Musicians Earl Hines and Bic Beiderbecke and Prime Minister Alec Douglas-Home.
And 64 when the song was apparently written – Basil Rathbone, Oliver Hardy, Margaret Rutherford, Mary Pickford, Eddie Cantor, Jack L. Warner, Gummo Marx and a couple of world leaders/dictators Francisco Franco and Josip Broz Tito !
And for the record :
I’m not losing my hair.
I don’t and never have received Valentines.
I do celebrate birthdays with bottles of wine as well as anniversaries, Christmas, Easter, special occasions and any other day with the letter ‘D’ in it !
I’m barely still up at midnight.
We don’t lock the door anyway.
Mrs A still needs me (for retrieving things off high shelves and opening jam jars mainly)
She still feeds me – a bit too well if I’m honest.
I think I could probably still mend a fuse.
Mrs A doesn’t knit
I don’t wear sweaters anyway.
Any Sunday morning rides are on my motor scooter.
I can still manage a bit of gardening if my back isn’t playing up.
This is a work of fiction. Unless otherwise indicated, all the names, characters, places, events and incidents in this work are either the product of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
A typical 1930s semi at the end of a cul-de-sac in Birmingham West Midlands, where a gauche American family from the Deep South have recently moved in their pursuit of Merry England.
Meet the Family
Dougie Puckett – early 40s: all-American Dad, husband and teacher. Hapless DIY enthusiast with a propensity for profanity,which he tries in vain to disguise from the kids.
Martha Puckett – 38: genteel Southern Belle, wife and mother with expectations beyond her means.
Melvin – 17: ‘A’ Level Maths student; into classical music.
Randy – 15:typical teenager; into The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, basketball and teasing his sister.
Phoebe – 12: teenybopper and annoying kid sister.
Piddle – Randy’s German Shepherd dog
Frisky – Phoebe’s cat.
One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
5pm one weekday afternoon. Dougie is painting the old, dark upright piano in the dining room with magnolia gloss. There is paint splattered everywhere – especially on Dougie. Randy has just come home from school. He throws back the dining room door and chucks his satchel on the floor. Incredulous, he gapes at Dougie.
“Dad – you’ve painted the piano white.” “That’s not white boy – that’s cream. Now it won’t stick out in the room so far.” “ Yeah right – you’ll never notice it.”
Martha glides into the room. She looks thoughtfully at Dougie holding the paintbrush.
“Shame you can’t paint the vomit coloured tiles on that old fireplace. I feel nauseous just looking at them.”
“Good one, Mom! Vomit coloured tiles!” “I’m going to put my mother’s sliver candelabra on top of that piano.” “The silver candelabra! Well, bust my buttons! Soon we’ll be livin’ high-on-the-hawg! I’ll just dust down my dinner tux.”
Dougie dances a little jig in the doorway.Phoebe interrupts as she stomps into the room, teetering on platform shoes.
“Dad – what have you done to my piano? You can’t just paint it! Mom – tell him! If the wood can’t breathe, it will drop its tone and then I can’t practise and then I’ll fail my Grade 3 piano exam!” “Mom, tell him! It’ll drop its tone.” Randy mimics his kid sister with great delight. “Shut up Randy!” “Make me!” Randy creases up laughing. “Mom!”
Martha intervenes with one of her ‘looks’ at Randy, who in turn smirks at Phoebe and makes a swipe at her.
“Alright you two, cut it out. Scoot and do your homework before dinner.” “I don’t have any; Mr. Chopra said.” Phoebe shoots a smug look at her brother. “Sure – like the time Mr. Chopra told you that the Hagley Road has a tidal wave that ripples under the tarmac twice a day from Five Ways to the Holly Bush. And you believed him.” Randy laughs and taunts Phoebe. “I did not so believe him!” “Did.” “Did not too.” “Did so. You LOVE Mr. Chopra!”“Do not! Dad – tell Randy to stop it! He’s being gross.”
Dougie is admiring his paintwork. He hasn’t been listening.
“I’m going to start in the hallway. Son, go into the garage and get me the can of magnolia emulsion. It’s in there somewhere.”
“What are you gonna paint now Dad?”
“I’m gonna paint over that ugly son-of-a-gun wallpaper. Who in their right mind would put purple wallpaper with brown and orange triangles on it on the dog-gone walls?”
Randy goes in search of the paint. Martha is now gawping at the hallway wallpaper as she smooths her apron.
“That sure is THE ugliest wallpaper I ever saw in my life. I declare, it’s just tacky. My mother would have a conniption fit if she could see it.” “Your mother? What in tarnation has she got to do with the wallpaper?”
Martha pulls a frown.
“Well – you would never see anything so tasteless in a real Southern home.” “Honey, I can’t turn this crock-of-bull, 1930s semi into a Southern home with a dad-gum front porch and chandelier; but I’m doin’ my level best to put a hell-ova tonne of gloss on it.”
Randy returns with the can of paint and gives it to Dougie, who opens it and gets straight down to work; splashing paint straight over the wallpaper – no preparation. Martha looks on.
“Don’t you need to take the old wallpaper off first honey?” “Nah – just painting straight over the top; a couple of coats ought-a do it.”
Piddle trots past; getting dog hair stuck in the fresh paint.
“Son-of-a-gun! I swear – that hound…” “Now Dougie – not in front of the children.” “Well, dad-blasted! One day that dawg will listen to me!”
Phoebe stomps upstairs and slams her bedroom door. Soon strains ofDavid Cassidy can be heard seeping from her room on her transistor radio. Randy puts Led Zeppelin 11: Whole Lotta Love on the record player in the dining room. He takes school books out of his satchel and sits at the table. Dougie whistles in the hallway while he continues smotheringthe wall with paint as Melvin descends half-way downstairs with a pained expression.
“Dad – can you get Randy to turn that crappy music down? I’m trying to describe Newton’s method for obtaining successive approximations to the root of an equation!”
Melvin troops back upstairs and pounds his fist on Phoebe’s bedroom door.
“Hey Phoebe – turn that crap off! I’m trying to study!” “Son – we’ll have less of that goddam language.”
Melvin rolls his eyes as he slams his bedroom door. The can of paint is nearly knocked over by Piddle, who tears through the hallway as she chases Frisky upstairs.
“Cheesus Randy! Come get your son-of-a-gun dawg and put her outside! And turn that dad-gum wah-wah music off! Melvin’s right – a man can’t have any peace around here.” “It helps me concentrate, Dad.”
Dougie sticks his head into the dining room, jabbing the air with his dripping paintbrush.
“In my day, we had REAL music – the greats: Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington.”
Randy sings under his breath.
“Doo-be-doo-be-doo.” “I’ll give you doo-be-doo-be-doo if you don’t get that S.O.B dawg outta here.”
Martha calls from the kitchen.
Piddle thunders downstairs, skids past the freshly painted wall and lands at Martha’s feet. She pats the dog’s head,
She puts a bowl of food down for the dog, washes her hands and calmly wipes them on her apron as Dougie shakes his dripping paintbrush at the dog. Martha wags her finger at Dougie,
“Don’t say it! I declare – what a mess. Go and get cleaned up. And DON’T come down in your under-shirt for supper!” “Yes Ma’am!”
Dougie kisses Martha playfully on her cheek and winks at Randy. He whistles as he trots upstairs to get changed for dinner.
Martha is in the kitchen, serving plates of spaghetti bolognaise to each family member in turn.
“Here Phoebe – use both hands honey. Don’t spill it.” “Oh Mom, I can do it.”
Phoebe snatches her dinner plate, turns swiftly into the hallway and watches with horror as the spaghetti slides off. As if in slow motion, the spaghetti is suspended in mid-air for a moment before splatting on the white carpet. Dougie, who has come downstairs in a clean shirt, dances an exaggerated jig in the hallway as he chants,
“It’s one step forward and two steps back for this family. One step forward and two steps back!”
Martha looks on in horror at the splattered spaghetti.
“Not my white carpet!” “Sorry Mom.” “Dadgummit Phoebe, hand me the Ajax.”
Dougie rolls back his sleeves and begins scrubbing on his hands andknees. Piddle barges between him and the stairs and begins ravenously eating the spaghetti on the carpet.
“Randy! How many times have I gotta tell ya to come get your filthy dawg outta here before I send her dad-gum butt to kingdom come!”
Randy sneaks a string of spaghetti to Piddle before dragging her by the collar into the dining room.
“Not near the goddam piano son! Cheesus H!”
Melvin takes his plate of dinner with a look of disdain and turns to his sister.
“Phoebe, you’re such a child.” “Am not! I’m nearly thirteen!” “Yea, Pheeb; such a dweeb.” Randy grins.
Phoebe sulks as Martha gives her another plate of food.
“I know, I know. Don’t spill it! As if…” “Don’t speak to me like that young lady, or I’ll…”
“Or I’ll wash your mouth out with soap. That’s what your grandfather used to do to me and by God it worked.”
Phoebe stomps off into the dining room, sits at the table and sulks; her chin cupped in her hands.
“Why does everyone in this family hate me?”
Melvin leans across his plate.
“Because you’re a brat.”
The family sit down to dinner when the cat saunters backwards down the hallway, retching as it goes. It passes the dining room door, slowly vomiting up an entire large bird. Dougie recoils in disgust.
“Cheesus H! Son-of-a-bitch cat! I’ve just washed my hands!”
Martha is distraught.
“Not on my white carpet!” “Phoebe – come get your goddam cat and put it outside! Son-of-a-gun, lousy, good-for-nothing… someone get me the rubber gloves and some newspaper, would ya? Dadgummit! – is it too much to ask to eat dinner without one of these sons-of-bitches ruining it?”
Dougie’s face is starting to turn red.
“Now honey, I know you’re upset but please watch your language in front of the children. I declare!”
Dougie ignores the remark and rolls his sleeves back again, ready for action. He stands up from the table, throws down his napkin and walks purposefully into the hallway where he kneels to begin cleaning up the regurgitated bird. The kids leave the dinner table too and stand around gawping as Dougie mutters.
(A look at bands / artists, who this day in The ‘70s were ALMOST Top of the Pops.)
3rd April 1974
It started with a miss …
In 1969, friends Errol Brown and Tony Wilson decided to form a band. Based in Brixton, London, the singer and bass player initially brought in Franklin de Allie (guitar) Larry Ferguson (keyboards) Ian King (drums) and Patrice Olive (congas.)
Their first official release was quite fortuitous: the band prepared a demo to hawk around the record companies – a reggae tinged version of John Lennon’s ‘Give Peace A Chance.‘
Errol had changed some of the lyrics, only to be subsequently told he could not do so without Lennon’s express permission. And so it was more in hope than expectation that the, as yet unnamed, band submitted the demo to The Beatles‘ label, Apple
As it happened, Lennon loved the version and the track was released, under the band’s label-given name of The Hot Chocolate Band.
Towards the end of the year, Mickie Most of the RAK label, signed Errol and Tony as songwriters and they went from strength to strength, penning songs for likes of Mary Hopkins, Julie Felix and even Herman’s Hermits.
Come 1970, and it was Mickie who pushed Errol and Tony into writing material for their own band, whose name had by now been shortened to the more familiar, Hot Chocolate.
‘Love Is Life’ was a pretty good opening effort, reaching #6 in the UK charts that summer. Who could possibly have thought then that this song would herald a fifteen year period in which the band would score a hit in each consecutive year – the only group in the UK to have done so.
Their brand of pop /soul / disco with heavier beats and percussion was very unique and became hugely popular over the years.
Including re-issues, Hot Chocolate amassed a staggering 35 hits prior to the turn of the century. In doing so, they became part of the nation’s musical fabric, permeating the subconscious and being admired by many who would normally listen to other styles of music.
They are not a band I myself would have considered a ‘favourite’ but looking through the list of hits, I realise just how much I did / do enjoy them – this one being the stand-out for me. From August 1971, I recollect it (well, a session musicians version) being on a Top of the Pops compilation that I played to death;
Amazingly, the band only recorded one #1 hit – ‘So You Win Again‘ in 1977, but as with so many others over the years, this week in 1974 saw Hot Chocolate ALMOST Top of the Pops.
(Post by Colin ‘Jackie” Jackson from Glasgow – April 2022)