Alan Fairley: Edinburgh, April 2022
Living on a Prayer
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.