The legend that is Anthony Newley passed away 20 years ago this week.
Anthony was born in Hackney in London in 1931, but when his parents, who were never actually married, split up he was unofficially adopted by an aunt and uncle who brought him up.
He became a child actor with his first role being Dusty Bates in The Adventures of Dusty Bates in 1947 and then as the Artful Dodger in Oliver the following year.
He could sing, write music, act, arrange and had his own TV series. His more famous film roles included Idle on Parade which was about a singer who was called up for National Service and Doctor Doolittle in 1967. As a songwriter he penned Feeling Good, Candy Man, Goldfinger and Gonna Build A Mountain alongside Leslie Bricusse.
Between 1963 and 1970, he was married to the actress Joan Collins. He died of kidney cancer.
In 1960, he starred in and co-directed the six-episode television series called The Strange World of Gurney Slade. The name is taken from a real place in Somerset which Newley had visited a few weeks before. Each episode followed the life of Gurney (Newley) who seemed to live a mundane life. Most of the dialogue was Newley narrating his thoughts. The cast was limited but one episode featured Una Stubbs and another with Only Fools and Horses actor Roger Lloyd-Pack’s father Charles Lloyd Pack as Tinker. It was always deemed to be a bit strange, but I finally got a DVD copy about a year ago and loved it. It certainly lent something to The Prisoner which came seven years later.
This was a request from Mike Sowden who wanted to know the top 10 (or more) oldest living solo singers to have had a UK number one single. Well, with Johnny Tillotson celebrating his 80th birthday this coming Saturday he creeps into the bottom end of this list of the 20 singers who are 80 or over and I’ve listed their age this week.
It must be a nice feeling for a songwriter when they write something a little risqué and get away with it. The first song I remember hearing and thinking, ‘how the hell did they get away with that’ was on Bill Haley’s Shake Rattle and Roll. The third verse opens with ‘I’m like a one-eyed cat peeping in a sea food store’, but they did and, 65 years later, it still gets an airing…so to speak. Well, it’s a similar story for The Who’s Pete Townshend when he wrote Squeeze Box.
A squeeze box, very simply, has two slang terms. For the innocent and naive it is an accordion which is an air-based bellow-driven keyboard and button-operated instrument strapped round the body and, with both hands, pumped in and out to get the sound, for the not-so innocent, it’s another term for a vagina. It wasn’t written by coincidence, Pete said, “I had bought myself an accordion and learned to play it one afternoon,” adding, “The accordion gave the song a polka-esque rhythm and the lyrics, which I wrote for fun, were intended as a poorly aimed dirty joke. I had no thought of it ever becoming a hit but amazingly recorded by The Who to my disbelief. Further incredulity was caused when it became a hit for us in the USA.”
The band just wanted to see if they could get away with singing about explicit sex and clearly, they did – ‘Mamma’s got a squeeze box daddy never sleeps at night!’ indeed!
In 1974, there were plans for a Who television special and Squeeze Box was originally intended for that programme. To give the song even more kudos there was also a plan to have the band surrounded by 100 topless women all playing accordions. Shame that never happened. It made me wonder if that’s where Queen got the idea for 65 (although only 25 are seen in the video) naked women riding bicycles around Wimbledon greyhound Stadium for the video to Bicycle Race?
The song was featured on the 1975 album The Who by Numbers and released as a single in 1976 where it reached number 10 in the UK and number 16 in America. It was also their first UK hit for just over two years.
Interestingly, the song doesn’t feature much of the newly purchased accordion, the only time you can hear it is about 90 seconds in when Roger Daltrey sings ‘squeeze me, come on and squeeze me’ and it lasts for approximately 20 seconds. The predominant instrument in this song is the banjo which is play by Townshend. He explained in an interview with Steve Rosen, “I’ve got a really nice G banjo made by Fender which has their version of Scruggs’ heads. I learned how to do a flat-picking very early on; I used to listen to a lot of Chet Atkins and stuff like that. So I can do all that stuff.”
The song is a favourite of lead singer Roger Daltrey’s, he said in an interview with Uncut magazine, “What’s great about Squeeze Box is that it’s so refreshingly simple, an incredible catchy song. A good jolly. I’ve never had a problem with that song because it doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is and I love it for that. Live audiences love it. Nothing wrong with a bit of ‘in-and-out’, mate!” When the Who did perform that song on stage, Roger and Pete often used to thrust their hips when Roger sang the in and out bit, thus leaving no doubt what they really felt the song was all about.
There have been a few cover versions, some good and some not so… Poison did it justice in a heavy version that featured on their 2002 album Hollyweird, Laura Branigan gave it a nice country feel on her Branigan 2 album in 1983 and the American band Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band gave it a grassroots flavour. But UB40’s lead singer, Ali Campbell, did a solo version which just sounded like yet another bad UB40 cover version.
This week Janis Ian celebrates her 68th birthday and I’ve been a fan of hers since I first heard Fly too High, a number 44 hit in 1979.
She was born Janis Eddy Fink in born in New York but raised on a farm in neighbouring New Jersey. In 1965, she wrote her first song, Society’s Child which was controversial at the time because it was about an interracial romance which the girl’s mother had forbidden and that sort of thing was frowned upon at that time. It was released in 1967 and reached number 14 on the Billboard singles chart. Because of its subject matter some radio stations banned it. The title of that song lent its name to Ian’s autobiography in 2008 in which she tells how she received hate mail and occasional death threats at the time.
She signed with CBS records in the 1973 and released the album Stars the following year. That album contains the song Jesse which was covered by Roberta Flack. The following year she released Between The Lines (which is my all-time favourite album) and contains probably her most famous song, At 17 which made number three in America and won her a Grammy Award for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, it has since become her signature tune.
She married Tino Sargo, a Portuguese filmmaker in 1978 but divorced five years later. After that, she moved to Nashville and met a lady called Patricia Snyder with whom she began a relationship. Her album, Breaking Silence in 1992 revealed her coming out as a lesbian and would marry Patricia the following year.
She still records and performs live, mainly in the US and, in 2001, became an author when she started writing science fiction books.
Let’s enjoy this performance of Tea and Sympathy (from the Between the Lines album) on the Old Grey Whistle Test.
How many times have you turned on the radio, usually commercial radio, and within a couple of hours you’ve heard the same song, or advert for that matter, two or three times? Well it’s not just the listeners who get sick of the repetition it’s the presenters too. In 2001, a friend of mine, once on Virgin radio, turned up for his show and saw that the computer had programmed Drops of Jupiter by Train yet again. Fed up, he went to the boss and asked why he has to keep playing that song every single show long after the song had left the chart only to be told where to go if he didn’t like it. Radio is probably at its blandest and the stations that are trying to be different are on limited platforms. We’ll never know why that song was scheduled so many times even though it is a great song, but what’s the story behind it?
Train formed as early as 1993 in San Francisco originally as a duo comprising vocalist/drummer Patrick Monahan and lead guitarist/vocalist Rob Hotchkiss, the following year they added Jimmy Stafford as lead guitarist with Hotchkiss moving to rhythm guitar, Charlie Colin on bass and Scott Underwood on drums. Pat, who was originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, had been in a Led Zeppelin covers band called Rogues Gallery but in 1993 he’d moved to California and met Rob. They sent demos to various record companies but had difficulty getting signed. Therefore, after securing support slots for the like of Barenaked Ladies and Counting Crows, they released their own music independently. In 1998, they did manage to secure a deal with Aware records and released Free. The following year they released I Am and One And A Half, but they went nowhere. In October 1999, their debut hit, Meet Virginia, peaked at number 20 on the Billboard singles chart and spent 27 weeks on the listing. They were beginning to be classed as one hit wonders because there was no further chart action until March 2001 when Drops of Jupiter was released. In the UK, that song was their fourth release of 2001 having followed Ramble On, She’s On Fire and Something More which all failed to attract the record buying public.
The band began touring in 1998 and whilst on tour Monahan found out that his mother, who was a heavy smoker, was dying of cancer. Throughout the tour he kept visiting pay phones to call his mother to see how she was. In the December she passed away and Monahan returned to Pennsylvania to be with the family and grieve. “Loss of the most important person in my life was heavy on my mind, and the thought of what if no one ever really leaves? What if she’s here but different,” he explained in an interview with VH1. “One morning I woke up with the words ‘back in the atmosphere’ in my head” probably a part of the grieving process and was beginning a time of healing. He started to compose the song and, as he said, “The idea was, she’s back here in the atmosphere.”
Until Monahan revealed the truth of the song, many believed it was a relationship between a young couple. Lyrics like ‘She acts like summer and walks like rain, reminds me that there’s a-time to change’ led people to think it was about a woman who leaves the relationship to wonder if they really belong together or not. Monahan was purposely vague when questioned in the early days, but eventually did say, “It was an obvious connection between me and my mother. Drops of Jupiter was as much about me being on a voyage and trying to find out who I am. The best thing we can do about loss of love is find ourselves through it.”
They recorded a demo of Drops of Jupiter and took it to Columbia’s president, Donnie Ienner, who instantly loved it and suggested it could be his ‘Grammy’ song. They brought in Paul Buckmaster to do the string arrangements as he’d worked with the Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Elton John before. Ienner insisted that should also be the title of the forthcoming album. Ienner was correct in his prediction; the song went on to win a Grammy for Best Rock Song and Best Instrumental Arrangement with Accompanying Vocalist. When they won the award for Best Rock Song, Monahan thanked his mother.
It was the first single released from the album and was produced by Brendan O’Brien who had previously worked with the rock band Stone Temple Pilots and Pearl Jam. It was after he heard Train’s cover of Led Zeppelin’s Rample On on the radio did he showed an interest of working with them.
The song spent just over a year on the Billboard singles chart having peaked at number five whereas in the UK it peaked at number 10 and spent 16 weeks on the countdown. It also made the top 10 in Australia, Denmark, Belgium, Italy and New Zealand but its best charting performance was in the Netherlands and Portugal where it reached number three.
The band took a hiatus between 2006 and 2008, mainly to have a rest and Monahan released a solo album called Last of Seven. They reconvened in 2009 with an amended line up; Hector Maldonado was the new bass player and Jerry Becker joined on keyboards. In 2012, they added two female backing singers, Sakai Smith and Nikita Houston then in 2014 Drew Shoals replaced Underwood.
Their UK chart career began again in 2010 when Hey, Soul Sister peaked at number 18 and the follow-up, two years later, Drive By, gave them their biggest hit reaching number six.
Drops of Jupiter got another lease of life in 2012 and was back in the top 40 after Phil Poole gave a rendition of it on The Voice.
This Thursday is World Parkinson’s Day and it is marked to raise awareness of the disease and how it impacts people. My dad has had it for about four years now, so it’s the charity I support. Here is a list of 20 famous people (not all music-related) who have been affected by it.