Single of the week

W.O.L.D. (Harry Chapin)

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Anyone of a certain age will surely agree with the oft over-used expression ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ and when referring to radio will be right.

The B.B.C. is 90 years old this year and back in those days the broadcasters would turn up looking like they’re on the way to a wedding with suit, tie and highly polished shoes. Their patter had to be scripted and then approved as ad-libs were not even considered. Making a comment that wasn’t on the script was near enough a sackable offence. In addition you had to be able to speak the Queen’s English eloquently and have a ‘London’ accent. How things have changed! And, perhaps they needed to.

By the mid-60s things began to change. DJ’s, as they became known, were able to operate their own equipment and begin scripting their own dialogue and for music radio they could even pick their own music, something the pirate radio stations began doing. At the B.B.C. that job still fell to the producer but on the odd occasion the DJ could suggest a song they felt would sound good. By the mid 70s once Radio’s 1 & 2 got into their stride the programmes were jointly compiled by the producer and the DJ. The scripts died away and the DJ had the free range to say what they wanted as long as it wasn’t rude or controversial, but music was still fairly strict. That changed in 1973 when Britain’s first commercial music radio opened in the shape of Capital Radio in London. The DJs could champion their own tracks and had the power to make or break song by the amount of airplay they gave each song. Unlike today, the variety was astonishing especially as the diversity of the music was vast and nothing was really restricted. Back then playing Led Zeppelin and then J.J Barrie was the norm.

All singers needed their songs to be promoted and that job was done by record company people called pluggers. If the plugger managed to interest a particular producer and/or DJ of a song they would quite often invite the artist to come in and talk about the song. This practise is told in song by American singer/songwriter Harry Chapin in a song called W.O.L.D.

Harry died in 1981 in a tragic car accident, but his wife Sandy, who had written propably one of Harry’s best loved song Cat’s In The Cradle, told the story of W.O.L.D. in a 2009 interview. “It’s a very real story in that when Harry was first starting he tended to be his own best promoter. He was very assertive about getting out and meeting people, and getting people to know his music. He had a manager early on, his name was Fred Kewley, and this is just before he started with Elektra Records, he would call music companies and offices, and usually try to get to know the secretaries and the people that he would need to get him to the boss. So he would call up and he would say, ‘This is Fred Kewley, and I want to talk to you about this guy Harry Chapin,’ and he’d go on and on. And one time he called someone and that person said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I know who this is.’ Someone recognised his voice. He was very energetic, very enthusiastic. He made a point of dropping in and meeting disc jockeys and programme directors as he travelled around the country. As a matter of fact, when we moved to our home in Huntington, which was really helped by the advance from when he signed with Elektra Records, we had this big old house, and absolutely no furniture. To launch his second album he had a big party and invited a whole lot of programme directors and disc jockeys and so forth. So he really got to know them and visited them. W.O.L.D was a composite.”

In reality it was a composite of the disc jockeys he got to know, including Jim Connors who worked at a radio station in Erie, Pennsylvania, and in 1973, became the morning man on WYSL in Buffalo – he had something of a freeform style which endeared him to many listeners. Chapin was very astute and from a marketing perspective he figured out that if you were trying to get disc jockeys to play our song, it would be a good idea to write a song about a disc jockey.

W.O.L.D is a real radio station in southwest Virginia, which went on the air in 1968. It was not the inspiration for the song, but Chapin was probably looking for a universal feel, and chose the letters as a play on the word world.

Many DJs had their own theories about the title. The older DJs thought he was having a dig by indicating it as W-OLD with W being the starting code for east-coast radio station (west coast stations used the letter K) and others thought it was about an oldies station. Either way, it had appeal but, astonishingly, given the airplay it received, it only reached number 36 in the Billboard chart. In the UK it was championed by Noel Edmonds and became Chapin’s only British hit, but did fair slightly better by reaching number 34.

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Puppy Love (Paul Anka)

Copy of Anka     Copy of Osmond

Long before Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera made their respective marks in the world of music as former members of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, Annette Funicello, who incidentally was the only ‘Mouseketeer’ picked personally by Walt Disney, was also in the hearts of the American public, but she held a special place in the heart of one singer/songwriter namely Paul Anka, a teen idol, who wrote a song especially for  her.

Paul’s inspiration for his early songs came from his real love-life experiences beginning with his sister’s babysitter, Diana in 1957. Annette was the inspiration for a previous Anka hit called Put Your Head On My Shoulder which, like Puppy Love, reached number two in the States. Paul returned the favour of her being the subject of the hits by writing a couple of songs for Annette. Train of Love made the US top 40 whilst the follow up, Talk To Me Baby, only just made the top 100.

Paul went on tour but his manager advised him to keep his affair with Annette under wraps as it wouldn’t look good for a teen idol to have a girlfriend and therefore keep it out of the press. After the tour the couple split but she did record an album called Annette Sings Anka and a few years later married Anka’s manager Jack Gilardi.

George and Olive Osmond were devoted Mormons based in Ogden, Utah. Their first two children, Viri and Tommy, had hearing difficulties, but from then, it was music all the way: Four of their other children, Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay formed a harmony quartet in 1960 and, following a trip to Disneyland, they appeared on one of their TV specials. As a result, they became a regular part of The Andy Williams Show from 1962 to 1967 with Donny joining them when he was six. The Osmonds then spent two years on The Jerry Lewis Show. “Our father was an army sergeant and so we got our discipline from him,” says Jimmy, the youngest member today, “We were always having to learn something new like ice-skating, playing banjos, pianos or dancing.”

The teen appeal of the song carried on when Donny, opened his concurrent solo career with a heartfelt cover version. Anka’s version only made number 33 in the UK, so it was relatively unknown here. What sold the record was Donny’s supercharged emotion on ‘Someone help me, help me, help me please.’ “Mike Curb told me to give it my all on Puppy Love,” says Donny, “so I suppose it worked. Paul Anka said he would write me some new songs and I’m still waiting.”

In 1972 a radio station KOB (now KKOB), Albuquerque, played a version that featured a background bed recorded at the dog pound.

Anka made a comeback in 2005 with an album called Rock Swings (his first chart album in the UK) which contained swings versions of rock classics like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Van Halen’s Jump, the Cure’s Lovecats and REM’s Everybody Hurts. In 1992, Annette announced that she had Multiple Sclerosis and in March 2011, her home in California caught fire. She suffered smoke inhalation, but was otherwise unharmed. Donny is still touring the world with his sister Marie to sell-out venues.

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Morning Dew (Bonnie Dobson)

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There are probably not too many songs that have been covered hundreds of times yet not one version ever made the UK chart. But a lot of the artists who’ve covered it probably won’t actually know who wrote it. How come? Read on.

Morning Dew is an anti-war song, that was inspired by Stanley Kramer’s 1959 film On The Beach which starred Anthony Perkins, Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Fred Astaire, and told the chilling story about survivors of a nuclear holocaust and then tried to make their way to Australia. The songs writer Bonnie Dobson was so deeply moved after seeing it that she decided to write this song as a response. She recalled, “I wrote Morning Dew during my second or third engagement at the Ash Grove (the famous LA folk club) in 1961. When I’d go to Los Angeles, I’d usually stay with a friend, and it was in her apartment that I wrote the song. I can’t give you the specific dates, but I do remember the circumstances. There had been a gathering of friends and towards the end of the evening a discussion had ensued about the possibilities and the outcome of a nuclear war. It was all very depressing and upsetting. The following day I sat down and started putting together the song. I had never written or even attempted to write a song before. It took the form of a conversation between the last man and woman – post-apocalypse – one trying to comfort the other while knowing there’s absolutely nothing left.”

Bonnie, who has a haunting voice that is a cross between Joni Mitchell and Julianna Regan from All About Eve, first released her version on a live album recorded in Gerde’s Folk City, New York, and called Hootenanny With Bonnie Dobson. The song was originally published as Take Me For A Walk and before long cover versions started to appear. The song had the same sentiments as another song from the mid 60s called Come Away Melinda and originally recorded by Harry Belafonte although Barry St. John’s minor charting version from 1965 is quite chilling to listen to.

Dobson was born in Toronto, Canada in 1940 and moved to England in 1969 where she still lives. The first cover version of the song came in 1964. Bonnie, in a 1993 interview explained how it happened, “In 1964 I was contacted by Jac Holzman of Elektra Records, who told me that Fred Neil wanted to record Morning Dew and that as I’d not published it, would I like to do so with his company, Nina music. I signed a contract and Neil recorded the song. His is the original cover, on Tear Down the Walls by Vince Martin and Fred Neil. His singing of it differed from mine in that he altered the lyric slightly, changing ‘take me for a walk in the morning dew’ to ‘Walk me out in the morning dew.’ He was also the first person to rock it.”

More covers followed in 1967 by Human Beans (with Dave Edmunds), Episode Six, Grateful Dead and Tim Rose. From Tim’s version onwards you will notice he has credited himself as co-writer. Bonnie continued, “In 1967 while I was living in Toronto, I had a call from Manny Greenhill, my agent, saying that Tim Rose wanted to record Morning Dew, but he wanted to change the lyric. I duly signed a new contract and Rose was written in as co-lyricist on the basis of his new lyric. Unfortunately, it wasn’t till after the signing that I heard his ‘changed’ version. You can imagine that I was somewhat dismayed to discover that his new lyric was precisely the one that Fred Neil had recorded in 1964. So if anyone is entitled to be co-lyricist, it is Neil and not Rose. You may be wondering why I signed the contract in the first place – some mistakes are only made once, and I guess I was pretty naïve.”

In 1968 another version was released that made the US singles chart, but Bonnie again remembered the disappointment and eventual bitterness that accompanied it, “When Lulu released her version a full-page ad was placed in Billboard referring to it as ‘Tim Rose’s Great Hit’ – no mention of me at all. From that time till now -particularly here in England – people still don’t believe that I had anything to do with the writing of Morning Dew.” Because of a loophole in US copyright law, Rose was able to claim royalties. “Even Nazareth’s single from 1981 had only him listed as the composer. It has caused me a lot of aggravation and unhappiness. The worst part was when I came to England in 1969 and I gave my debut concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall everybody had thought that Tim Rose had written that song because he had never ever given me any credit at any time for anything to do with that song. I’ve written songs with other people and I have never claimed them for my own. I just think it was really a dreadfully dishonest thing to do. Even though I have and still do receive substantial royalties (75 percent as opposed to his 25 percent), it doesn’t make up for the man’s behaviour.”

In the 1980 Bonnie stopped performing live for a while but in 1989 gave a concert for the Canadian Club of Chicago in the ballroom of the Drake Hotel. She recalled, “It was really a very nice evening, just me and my guitar. At that point I just thought ‘No, I think this is it’. There were a lot of things that happened, my marriage broke up and I just didn’t feel much like singing for a couple of years after that and then I sort of got back into it yet again.”

Rose died in 2002 from bowel cancer and after that Dobson was advised to contact ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers) to have the royalty situation corrected but she decided it was too much hassle as she would now have to fight his estate.

Many versions continue to be recorded which will obviously keep the money coming in. In the 80s Long John Baldry  and Blackfoot did it, in the 90s Devo and the Screaming Trees tackled it and in the 21st century Mungo Jerry and Theaudience gave it a good shot. Robert Plant did a moving rendition at the 2002 Isle Of Wight Festival and in 2011, ex-Smokie singer Chris Norman placed a version on his cover version album Time Traveller which also included Chasing Cars, Back For Good and Wake Me Up When September Ends.

Ten years after Rose’s death Dobson is not bitter. She is happily married to an architect and has two children. She still performs occasionally for the BBC and undertakes the occasional concert in Europe. When asked if she has any regrets in her life, she thought of just one, “I always liked the Grateful Dead’s version of Morning Dew and my one regret is that when they first appeared in Toronto at the O’Keefe Centre in 1968 they didn’t sing Morning Dew in the concert that I attended. I also regret that I was too shy to go backstage and meet them. I make that two regrets then!

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Lawnchairs (Our Daughter’s Wedding)

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Our Daughter’s Wedding began as a guitar band, split up, reformed as an electro band, the press classed them as New Wave but they considered themselves as a rock band, so perhaps it’s not surprising they weren’t around long!

Member Layne Rico explained their beginnings, “We also started off as friends in the San Francisco Bay area. In 1977 we had a band that was similar to the Cars, a rock-style guitar band, we had no synthesizers at the time, but finally we incorporated a couple of keyboard players – Scott Simon and someone else. Then we got tired of that guitar-drum line up, so we all moved to New York, I traded my drum kit for the new percussion synthesizers, and Keith Silva, the lead vocalist, dropped his guitars and learned to play keyboards. We thought that would be more interesting, because most of the music we were listening to at the time was more or less electronic, European things that American bands weren’t playing.”

Most of the New Wave / electro acts of the day, like Depeche Mode, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Gary Numan and Ultravox were English, so for an American band to fit in was always going to be fairly tough although the whole thing was inspired by a Germany group – Kraftwerk.

On their own Design record label, Our Daughter’s Wedding, who took their name from the section divider in a greeting card display stand, made their debut in the summer of 1980 with a track called Nightlife which was a three-song single. In November they released they’re second single, Lawnchairs, which quickly gained attention on college radio and in the dance clubs in major US cities. Silva recalled, “We started playing at the Hurrah club as supporting act to James Chance and Mi-Sex. At that time people did not like us and shouted ‘where the fuck are the drums, why don’t you use any guitars’ and that kind of crap. But after a few years it became a fad, so it came as a surprise to us that it all of a sudden was okay to use synths.”

This led to a recording contract with EMI records with their songs being released on the EMI-America subsidiary including a re-recorded version of Lawnchairs. It was promotion manager Malcolm Hill at EMI who gave them a slot supporting Classix Nouveaux on tour which brought them to the UK and in-turn led them to record their debut album, Moving Windows in London.

Lawnchairs only just made it into the Top 50 in the UK singles despite much play on Radio 1 and London’s local station Capital Radio. The label wasn’t entirely clear as to whether the group or the song was called Our Daughter’s Wedding and indeed on one occasion Radio 1’s lunchtime presenter Paul Burnett back-announced the song as Our Daughter’s Wedding by Lawnchairs. Mind you, given Paul’s record I’m surprised more B sides didn’t chart in their own right.

Lawnchairs missed the Billboard chart completely although it did reach number 31 on their disco chart. They relocated to California where they still remain today and continued to release singles, Digital Cowboy and Target For Life later in 1981 and Auto Music and Elevate Her in 1982 but they all failed to make any impact and that debut album also didn’t trouble the record buying public. When the album stiffed Silva commented, “Sometimes it feels pointless recording albums. It feels like you’re only doing it for your own pleasure.”

In a Melody Maker interview in 1981, Layne explained drolly, “We were watching a TV show, and it showed this cassette thing you can get now on your tombstone, so before you die you can record something like, ‘Hi! I’m glad you dropped by’,” “It’s cold down here,” adds Keith with impeccable bad taste. Layne continued: “So if people come along and think ‘well let’s hear what Layne had to say’, you can pop in the cassette and it just has Lawnchairs on it.” “Yeah,” Keith adds. “We were thinking that one our tombstones we’d just put Lawnchairs.”

In 1983, Silva remembered, “Here at home we are greeted as something completely new and different while this thing has already been exposed and established in Europe. There, they have a hard time understanding that we are actually from the United States. It does not cling to their associations about American rock. In the USA we are greeted more like a rock band, like any rock band actually. In Europe we are immediately directed to the same genre as the Human League, Depeche Mode and OMD. But we don’t think we have too much in common with these bands. These are good bands, I can’t take that away from them, but we are not doing the same kind of thing. We are more like a rock band using synthesizers and rhythm machines. Our main influences come from The Rolling Stones, and even from Van Halen.”

They started 1984 touring the US with the Psychedelic Furs and releasing one further single, Take Me, but decided that enough was enough and finally split up for good.

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Doot Doot (Freur)

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A group shrouded in mystery, even a glance at the back of the 7″ single sleeve looks like the shot was taken underwater to obscure the band. So who were they? Well all will become clear…..

In 1983 a review in Record Mirror described the sound as The Buggles meets Landscape at an OMD gig where Thomas Dolby turned up too. They began in 1979 as The Screen Gemz in their home town of Splott in south Cardiff. The following year, following no success, they changed direction and their name.

Moving into the electronica era they decided that a new name was needed. So they came up with a daft looking zig-zag, snail-like symbol  which looked like this   long before it crossed Prince’s mind. The line up now consisted of Karl Hyde (vocals & guitar), Rick Smith (keyboards), Alfie Thomas (keyboards), John Warwicker (also keyboards) and the recently recruited ex-Fabulous Poodles drummer Bryn Burrows.

So why the symbol? The group’s founder Karl Hyde explained, “Because we were fed up with the names that were going around – a lot of them had very political leanings or sounded heavy and pretentious and we just wanted a foot in the door with the record companies. We wanted them to look at our tape amongst the mould of others. The name was the ‘in’. It actually came first but then we thought, oh you can’t really spell that, you’ve got to have a pictograph. It was just a toy, something to brighten up our little existences. “They stuck with Freur which was pronounced Frrrreurrgh.

By their own admission, they didn’t have a lot to say so left the music to say it for them. Doot Doot was their only UK hit which petered out at number 59 in the April 1983. The song’s opens with:, ‘What’s in a name? Face on a stage, where are you now? Memory fades, you take a bow. Here in the dark watching the screen, look at them fall, the final scene and we go doot doot doot. Hmmm- you see what they mean! Maybe it was their sound rather than their lyrics. So how would one describe their sound? Karl again tried to explain, “That’s a tough one! We sounded totally different from our demos. We had so many influences because one minute we’re thinking reggae and then we’ll hear something in a film and have an idea for an atmosphere then we’ll have a heavy metal thought and out a bit of that in too. We had worked with reggae giants Dennis Bovell and Conny Plank, but our ultimate hero band is Motorhead.

The band decided not to release any information about themselves at the time which seemed to backfire because the music press wrote pointless things like ‘they have these instruments called Pole and The Suit’ which as Alfie said, “became the main feature and it seemed like we were trying to make a statement. There were umpteen others too like The Tortoise and The Handbag, but they were just toys there to make playing live a bit more exciting.”

They had the very New Romantic look complete with multi-coloured trousers, tops and socks with masses of frizzy or crimped hair. “We liked the plastic look as it appealed to our sick sense of humour”, Karl added, “It was all made for us by Tracy of Lizard Life in Cardiff.”  The parent album of the same name failed to make any impact although one track, Theme from the Film of the Same Name features Pino Palladino on fretless bass who was a member of Paul Young’s band and also Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s first choice to replace John Entwistle in The Who.

Five further singles, Matters of the Heart, Runaway, Riders in the Night, The Devil and Darkness and Look in the Back for Answers all failed to chart and it was a further three years until the next album arrived, but was only released in Germany and the Netherlands, but following its relative failure, they called it a day.

Warwicker is now a video artist in the graphic design collective Tomato based in east London whilst the other four members signed to Sire records under the new name Underworld. They had minimal success although one of their tracks, Underneath the Radar in 1988 made the top 5 in Australia. In 1990 they split up only to reform the following year under the same name with Thomas and Burrows being replaced by Darren Emerson and this time with much more success. In 1995 they recorded Born Slippy, the name of a greyhound, ‘for a joke’ but that only made number 52 in the chart. The following year it was remixed and given and a pounding rhythm as well as the repeating chorus of lager, lager, lager. It was picked up for the movie Trainspotting and eventually gave them the success was wanted when it reached number two in the UK chart.

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