Alan Fairley: Edinburgh, March 2022
The Strange Tale of Beach Baby
I’m loving the articles on this site documenting the one hit wonders of the 1970s and would suggest that no such list would be complete without the inclusion of the upbeat, feel good recording of Beach Baby by The First Class which reached number 13 in the UK charts in the summer of 1974.
It was a bouncy little song reflecting various aspects of teenage life in California during that time period, encompassing west coast beach culture, school/college activities and, of course love.
The subject matter demanded a mandatory reference to surfing and it duly obliged with the memorable line ‘surfing was fun, we were out in the sun every day’ – a nice little nod to the Beach Boys whose harmonic vocals the short-lived band tried hard to mimic.
The clumsiness of teenage romance was glorified with ‘remember dancing at the high school hop, the dress I ruined with the soda pop’ and the eventual sadness at the inevitability of having to grow up was illustrated by the melancholy ‘long hot days, blue sea haze, juke box plays but now its fading away….’
With lines such as this, the song must have been written by some cool dude who had spent his adolescence living that particular dream in some exotic Californian location like San Jose, Carmel or Santa Monica, right?
The song was, in fact, penned by unheralded English musician John Carter and his memorably named wife Gillian Shakespeare within the house they shared in the extremely un-Californian south London suburb of East Sheen.
Carter engaged a session singer by the name of Tony Burrows to record the song and, after a lively appearance by a hastily put together band of pretty boys on Top of the Pops, the song hit the charts and became one of 1974’s memorable summer anthems.
The First Class disappeared from the radar never to be seen again but the song helped Burrows establish himself as very much the poster boy of 1970s one hit wonders, having also sung lead vocals on the iconic Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes under the name of Edison Lighthouse as well as the comical Gimme Dat Ding by the Pipkins and another Californian epic Let’s go to San Francisco by the Flowerpot Men.
The story, however, doesn’t end there. One of the early recordings of Beach Baby featured an instrumental coda at the end of the song from a classical piece written by legendary Finnish composer Jean Sibelius.
The administrators of the late Sibelius‘ estate filed a lawsuit for copyright infringement and it was eventually agreed that 50% of the song’s profits would be handed over.
Not too many one hit wonders can boast a claim to fame like that.