Single of the week

We’re Gonna Change The World (Matt Monro)

The true definition of a ‘turntable hit’ is a song that received substantial radio airplay but failed to make the chart. Two good examples of this would be Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl and The Eagles’ Life in the Fast Lane. This week’s subject was heavily championed by Capital Radio in the seventies – particularly Kenny Everett, and now receives a fair amount of play on Radio Two and one of two classic Matt Monro songs that never had a chart life. Who could believe that Born Free never graced the chart? And likewise for this week’s track, We’re Gonna Change the World.

Matt Monro was born Terence Parsons in Shoreditch, London in December 1930 and had a tough upbringing because his father, Fred, died from tuberculosis when Terence was just three. His mother, Alice, struggled to cope with Terence and his five older brothers and in 1935 suffered a mental breakdown and went to a sanatorium. Terence was taken to a foster home where his behaviour let him down and eventually his mother came back to look after him. When he was 17 he volunteered for early enrolment and a couple of years later was posted to Hong Kong as a mechanic with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers.

He got a taste for singing and entered himself into a radio talent show called Radio Rediffusion’s Talent Time show. He kept on winning and hence became a regular guest. The show’s host invited him to perform in a one-off show of his own on the condition he stepped down from the show to make room for other contestants, he agreed. Soon after, he returned to the UK to get a proper job, but his taste for singing had got the better of him. He met a girl and she became pregnant so Matt needed a job to support her and got a job as a lorry driver before switching to buses. He also began singing in various clubs in the evening.

One guest who saw him perform was the Trinidadian-born chart-topping pianist Winifred Atwell who took Terence under her wing and persuaded her record company, Decca, to give Terence an audition. They were impressed and signed him. Terence changed his name taking the name Matt from Matt Black the first journalist who wrote a review about him and Monro from Winifred Atwell’s father Monro Atwell.

Matt’s life changed when he was asked by George Martin to sing for a Peter Sellers album called Songs for Swinging Sellers. The first track was supposed to be Peter Sellers singing in the style of Frank Sinatra and because George had heard Matt he invited him in to singing the song so Peter Sellers had someone to imitate. The version was so good that George kept it on the album and in-turn gave Matt a contract with Parlophone. Matt signed a similar contract with Capitol records in America and they threw a party for him. As his then-manager, Don Black said, “What a party it was, Matt and I met two of our heroes that day, Gordon McCrae and Bobby Darin – both were in awe of Matt’s voice and that was one of the proudest moments in Matt’s career.”

The hits came thick and fast, Portrait of my Love reached number three in 1960, followed by My Kind of Girl in 1961 and Softly as I Leave You the year after. In 1963 he was asked to record the James Bond theme song From Russia with Love and, one of his finest songs, Walk Away, got to number four in 1964. Frank Sinatra once cited Matt Monro as irreplaceable and listed him as one of his favourite singers. Matt’s last UK hit was a vocal version of the chart-topping instrumental, Eye-Level which was re-titled And You Smiled in 1973.

We’re Gonna Change the World was the follow-up which didn’t chart. It’s popularly believed that it was featured in a Kellogg’s corn flakes commercial but it wasn’t although you can see how the sentiment fits. The story tells of Annie Harris living in a London street in the sixties, but was it fact or fiction? The songwriter credits are Tim Harris and David Matthews and I had the pleasure of an email interview with David who told me, “The verse part of the lyric was written by my friend Tim Harris who had never written lyrics before. He used the names of two ex-fiancés and his wife as the three characters in the song.  The idea was to take a whimsical look at what was happening in the streets in the mid-sixties in the way of protest marches. The storyline was fictitious. So the names are real, but the story isn’t. “I received the lyric in the post from him one morning and went straight to the piano,” David continued, “the music was composed in about 20 minutes but it took the rest of the day for me to write the lyrical ‘hook’ i.e. Come with us, run with us etc.”

One of Matt’s last performances was in 1984 at the Barbican theatre in London, a sell-out night and one that was enjoyed and highly praised by all who attended and concluded with a seven minute standing ovation. It was later revealed by Matt’s daughter, Michele Monro that Matt was overcome with emotion and was one of his proudest moments. Later that year Matt became ill and died shortly after at the age of 54 from liver cancer.

David, who learned piano at the age of five, is a professional pianist. He said in an interview with Economia in 2016, “As I developed I became aware of the great songwriters and thought I’d have a go. I took my songs to Denmark Street (London’s equivalent of Tin Pan Alley) and people liked them.” His songs have been recorded by The Troggs, Alan Price and the New Seekers. In 1976 he set up his own accountancy business. For many years he’s entertained guests at weddings and parties with his piano playing. Last year he said, “I’m 78 now and it’s a nice pension, it’s still on the radio at least once a day somewhere, so it’s worth having.”

He said to me, “The song has been exceptionally good to me and has opened many doors. We were fortunate to be nominated for an Ivor Novello Award in the category Best Song musically and lyrically in 1970 but were beaten to the statuette by George Harrison with Something.

So far as I’m aware I’m the only chartered accountant ever to be nominated for an Ivor!

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Poing (Rotterdam Termination Source)

When I saw this week’s suggestion, I thought, really? Why? Then I looked to see who had such a suggestion and noticed it was Larry Foster, a man with far too much time on his hands, so just to make an old man even sadder, let’s delve into the limited story of a techno track with no lyrics. Ok here goes, it shouldn’t take long!

The track in question reached the dizzy heights of number 27 in November 1992 and is by the Rotterdam Termination Source. The title is called Poing. When it starts, the first couple of seconds sound like it could be going into Saturday Night by Whigfield, then when beat comes in and the relentless ‘poing’ noise sounds like Zebedee had invited his family round for an orgy. Three minutes and 10 seconds later that same continuous noise starts to fade and that’s when you realise that it’s the end of the track and it never really went anywhere.

The Rotterdam Termination Source were the Dutch duo Maurice Steenbergen & Danny Scholte who both hail from Rotterdam and Steenbergen explained in a 2011 interview with Mojo what inspired him, “A friend took me to a rave in 1991, that was it. I saw the first acid house as it evolved into techno. I was intrigued by how people were dancing by bouncing on their feet. Three months later I came across the poing sample, this bouncy sound. I hooked up six months of my Roland 909 drum machine programming underneath. I started as a DJ,” he continued, “and was really into mega-mixes. Back in the eighties it was really hard to find a good mix and I was intrigued by the technique of synching up two turntables. From the age of 15, I spent my night making beats.”

Since the late eighties, there have been so many genres and sub genres of music and this track is known, in the Netherlands, as gabber, a loud and rather aggressive style of techno music that originated in Rotterdam. For the technically minded, one, apparent, important element of gabber is a distorted Roland 909 bass drum, overdriven so hard to the point where it creates a square wave and makes a recognisable melodic tone.

Maurice remembered the first time he heard his track played in a Dutch nightclub, he said, “The dance floor began exploding. It was picked up by the Mid-Tempo record label, an inappropriate name given the sound, and released across Europe where it topped the charts in both The Netherlands and Denmark.

There was actually a follow-up single called Merry X-Mess which with all the festivities of 1993, it got a bit lost and ground to a halt at number 73 which really saw the end of RTS’ chart career. “I wasn’t able to do what I wanted,” Maurice recalled, “I never considered myself a raver. I had a bird’s eye view and it was a track that f***ed with that.”

I learned that there was a 12″ version of Poing that went on for five minutes and 20 seconds. I did wonder if it was just an extended version of the 7″, so I braced myself and sourced a copy. I sat down and put the needle on the record only to learn that, apart from a few poings in different places, it was exactly the same, except, just moments before it finished, there was a break in the music and a sound effect of glass smashing. How innovative I thought, only to learn that even those three seconds of glass noises was a sample of a song called He’s A Burglar which was hoisted from Amii Stewart’s 1979 album Paradise Bird. At last, the middle word in their name applied.

These days Maurice directs videos and works on sound designs for films. In 2011, he reflected by saying, “As you get older, you need an overview of what you’ve done.” I’d say!

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That’s Not My Name (Ting Tings)

For the very determined, if someone says you can’t do something or something will never happen, they will go out of their way to make every effort to make sure it does. That applies very much to this week’s song. That’s Not My Name by the Ting Ting’s is a terrific catchy pop song, but as Katie White, the group’s singer and guitarist said, “Everybody told us That’s Not My Name would not get played on the radio because it wasn’t pop enough or indie enough, but sometimes it takes touring our butts off to get the songs heard.” It worked.

The Tings Tings are a duo from Salford, Greater Manchester with the other member being drummer Jules De Martino. De Martino was born in 1969 and White was born in 1983. The former was originally from London and formed his first band, Mojo Pin in the early nineties. Katie was born in Lowton in Cheshire and made her debut as a member of an all-girl punk called Technical Knock Out often shortened to TKO. The pair met in Manchester and discovered they both had a mutual respect for the Bristol band Portishead and so the two of them, along with De Martino’s friend Simon Templeman formed a band called Dear Eskimo. They signed a deal with Mercury records, but changes within the label curtailed the band’s activity and they disbanded. They were not happy as Katie recalled in an interview with Q magazine, “You feel like your career is over at 22 and you haven’t even got a record out. It was like, you really are that forgettable unless you put your stamp on something.” The pair briefly took other jobs, but decided to try again and reform, this time as a duo and called themselves the Ting Tings which was the name of a colleague of White’s when she worked in a shop.

They signed to a small indie label Switchflicker and played a number of gigs which, thanks to social media, brought them to the attention of various bloggers which, in-turn, reached people in the music industry and so they eventually signed with Columbia. Both members wrote That’s Not My Name and White, in an interview with The Guardian, explained the way the music industry treated her, “The first marketing meeting we had with our last label, I’d gone to all the effort of making a look book of all my favourite art and photographs, just to show them what I’m about. And I took it in and they said, ‘Oh, yeah, great…’ They didn’t even look at it, just pushed it to one side and asked if I was prepared to take my kit off for men’s magazines. And I was like, Aaargh! There’s plenty of girls who can do that, and they’ve got bigger boobs and better faces, and I’ve got no idea why they thought I might do that. I would feel terrible doing that – I could never do it in a million years.”

De Martino explained the sentiment behind the song, “We were really frustrated because we had been in a band before and been dumped by our label. Back at the time, we weren’t specifically trying to write the song about anything. We were just trying to have fun with it. But when we look back at the lyrics we realise they’re all about frustration. In a way, she’s saying she wants to be heard. She wants people to know her name.” In an interview with Pop Justice, White explained what she thought of the song once it was recorded, “I loved it straight away but I felt like my judgment had been screwed because we went through our old band and it all went wrong, so I thought ‘what the hell do I know – I obviously don’t have good ears’. But when we started playing it live it became quite electric and the hairs on my arms were standing up, and it felt like it had a lot of power behind it.”

That’s Not My Name entered the chart at number one on week ending 24th May 2008, White recalled the moment she found out in an interview with The Guardian, “We were sorting our laundry when we first heard the news, we were playing Manchester that night, but we had to do a load of washing first, and the Radio 1 chart show were ringing us – you have to do this fake thing where they ring you during the day and you have to pretend it’s the evening, and I’m a really bad actress. I was like, ‘Yeah, it’s good!’ We played the Academy that night and the whole audience was really hyped up. I didn’t want to mention being number one till we got to play That’s Not My Name, so I could thank them, but the audience kept shouting, ‘You’ve knocked Madonna off number one!'”

The vibe was so strong that the following week, two more tracks, Great DJ and Shut Up and Let Me Go both entered the chart, the latter reaching number 13. In the digital era, anyone can download a handful of album tracks and they all go in the singles chart. They were downloading in their droves because the same week, the parent album, We Started Nothing, went to number one. In an interview with Seventeen magazine, White said, “It’s my favourite track off the album. It was the second song we wrote and the first time I felt like I had something to say. I felt like I was really empowering myself, which is a good feeling. Writing was so easy on this album. I think it’s because we didn’t care what people thought. We weren’t writing a song thinking ‘Oh it’ll get played on pop radio,’ we just kept doing what we were doing.”

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Tokyo Joe (Bryan Ferry)

Bryan Ferry, like Rod Stewart, were just two people from a very elite list of singers who managed to concurrently enjoy a career as a lead singer in a group and a solo artist, and did so for a number of years without one or the other suffering. It also makes it very hard in a music quiz to know which was which. Roxy Music’s chart career began with Virginia Plain in August 1972 and Bryan’s solo career began with a cover of Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall just one year later.

Bryan was born in Washington, County Durham in September 1945 and studied fine art at both Durham and Newcastle Universities and went on to become a pottery teacher at Holland Park School in London. He had a massive interest in music and in 1968 formed his first band called The Banshees. In 1970 he and Banshees bass player Graham Simpson formed a new group called Roxy as a tribute to many of the old cinemas for which Bryan has always had a love for and a play on word rock. He then discovered that there was an American group with the same name so added Music on the end.

Bryan’s biggest solo single was Let’s Stick Together (Let’s Work Together) in the summer of 1976, but this week I delve into the story of his eighth hit from 1977, Tokyo Joe. The song was taken from In Your Mind, his fourth solo album and the first consisting entirely of original songs. The album reached number five in the chart and because Bryan was a massive Beatles fan, the B-side of the single was a cover of She’s Leaving home which was not on his album.

Tokyo Joe is not a real person, but is based on a character in a song. One of Ferry’s favourite films was Footlight Parade, a 1933 film starring James Cagney, Ruby Keeler and Dick Powell and in that film Cagney sings a Harry Warren and Al Dubin song called Shanghai Lil. Ferry liked its femme-fatale theme and paid his own tribute calling his own version Tokyo Joe.

He paints a vivid image with his opening line, ‘My girl Friday she no square, she like lotus blossom in her hair, be-bop records and something new, sometimes borrowed but she’s never blue.’ Its theme is not dissimilar to the image painted by Freddie Mercury in Queen’s Killer Queen three years previous.

The personnel on the album were not members of Roxy Music, keeping them very separate, Ferry brought in Chris Spedding on guitar, John Wetton on bass, David Skinner on piano and Paul Thompson on drums.

Tokyo Joe reached number 15 in the UK chart and would be Ferry’s last top 20 hit for eight years when he returned to the top 10 with Slave to Love in 1985. In 1997 the song was used as the theme tune to a Japanese TV show called Gift which then inspired a re-released of the single in Japan. It was issued as a 3″ CD single that included a TV edited version of the song and a karaoke version, after all the Japanese did invent karaoke and lo and behold it topped the Japanese chart.

It’s not an often-covered song, but Ryuichi Sakamoto named his 1982 album after it and is featured as the opening track as a duet with Kazumi Watanabe. The next time a Joe would make the top 10 would be in 1988 when Joe Le Taxi charted for Vanessa Paradis and then in 1994 when Rednex took Cotton Eye Joe to number one.

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You Better you Bet (The Who)

In any survey of the top drummers in the world, Keith Moon would always be assured a place in the top five. The Who’s lead singer, Roger Daltrey, once said, Keith never played a drum kit he drove it. He was one of the most unpredictable characters in music and yet fascinating at the same time. After he died in 1978, how did The Who manage to carry on as filling Keith’s boots was always going to be a tall order?

In the period 1978-1980 quite a lot changed with the band, former Small Faces drummer Kenney Jones was chosen as Keith’s replacement, Pete Townshend, who had recently split with his wife Karen, began living in various hotels, drinking and clubbing. Drugs definitely came into it, in fact one night whilst out drinking with Paul Weller and Visage’s Steve Strange he collapsed, “They carried me into the hospital and I was dark blue,” Townshend recalled. “The nurse actually had to rip off my shirt outside the hospital and beat me back to life.” On recovery he started an affair with a lady called Jackie Vickers and it was her that most of this week’s song suggestion is written about. Pete said, “I wanted it to be a great song, because the girl I wrote it for is one of the best people on the planet.” That song is You Better You Bet.

His frequent visits and spending evenings just sitting around certainly inspired the line ‘I lay on the bed with you, we could make some book of records, your dog keeps licking my nose and chewing up all those letters’. They were both fans of T-Rex hence the line ‘I’ve drunk myself blind to the sound of old T-Rex’ It was quite a different sound from many previous Who singles. Obviously the new drummer played a key part and it was more personal too. I wonder how Roger Daltrey must have felt being a mouthpiece for Townshend’s extracurricular activity. The piano was much funkier as played by John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick and it included some falsetto backing vocals too. For me, the most interesting things is how Roger never sings the word ‘better’ the same way twice.

You Better You Bet, along with the parent album Face Dances, was Kenney Jones’ debut with the band. Roger recalls what it was like initially, “The first tour Kenney did with us, was absolutely f***ing brilliant, but after that he settled into what he knew, which was his Faces-type drumming, it doesn’t work with The Who. In some ways I’d like to go back and re-record a lot of the songs on Face Dances, but You Better You Bet is still one of my favourite songs of all.” In a 2001 interview with Uncut magazine Daltrey recalled, “It’s a wonderful, wonderful song. The way the vocal bounces, it always reminds me of Elvis. But it was a difficult time, yeah. The Moon carry-on was much harder than carrying on after John, because we’re more mature now. I hate going over this but, in retrospect, we did make the wrong choice of drummers. Kenney Jones – don’t get me wrong, a fantastic drummer – but he completely threw the chemistry of the band. It just didn’t work; the spark plug was missing from the engine.” Years later Kenney concurred, “The chemistry of the band and producer wasn’t right. The sound was too laid-back, like rubber.”

Contributing to the ‘new’ sound is obviously a producer. In the sixties, it was mainly Kit Lambert and Shel Talmy who looked after them and by the seventies the band themselves assumed production duties. In 1976 they brought in Glyn Johns whose magic can first be heard on Squeeze Box and then in 1981 the new man on the block was Bill Szymczyk who, like Johns, had started out as an engineer. Former Rolling Stones producer and manager Andrew Loog-Oldham commented in Mojo, “Bill was perfect even though the group may not have thought so at the time.” One of Bill’s habits was called comping, which is recording many versions of the same track and editing bits of each together to get the right sound, something George Martin had famously done with Strawberry Fields Forever. Bill explained how he got involved: “Face Dances was the first album that I had made outside the US. Everything about The Who was new i.e. a new drummer and a new label (in America) so they wanted a new producer, and Pete and I had hinted to each other over the years that we would like to make a record together. One of his favourite albums is Hotel California, and really, that’s what got me the job with them, that album. Your reputation goes before you, and it’s like, “You hear the way that sounds? Do that to me.” But I felt like I’d crawled into the forest and couldn’t see the trees.”

What also helped the band’s profile was that MTV launched later the same year and the black-and-white video featured the band performing the song onstage and was the fourth video shown on the day of its launch.

Tension was growing within the band, the band’s bass player, John Entwistle recalled in an interview With John Bauldie, “You Better You Bet is a good stage number, but to tell the truth, the last two Who albums were a kind of blank. By the time we were recording them, personalities were clashing. There were different ideas of music, policy and general backbiting and people not agreeing with each other. Roger and Pete always had differing opinions about everything.”

In 1982 Pete Townsend found himself unable to write any material and paid to be released from a contract in which they still owed Warner Brothers an album. At the end of 1983, he released a statement announcing he was leaving the band which, seeing at Townshend solely wrote virtually every Who track, meant the band had split. There was a brief reunion for Live Aid in 1985 with them performing Love Reign O’er Me and the rousing epic Won’t Get Fooled Again.

Four years later they decided to hit the road again and embarked on a 25th anniversary tour called The Kids Are Alright reunion tour. They had replaced Kenney Jones with Simon Phillips on drums and added Steve Bolton as a second guitarist. They remained together but continued touring and in 2002 decided on a UK and US tour. The UK dates went fine, but on the eve of their US leg bassist John Entwistle died of a heart attack in Las Vegas. Entwistle’s son Christopher gave a statement in full agreement of the Who’s decision to continue the tour and brought Pino Palladino in on bass.

To this day, the Who still tour and, in all fairness, with Townshend’s songwriting and Daltrey’s voice sounding as good now as it did in 1965, the Who are still the Who and, having seen them four times how, I can speak from experience.

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