Michael Crawford, actor, singer and comedy legend is 80 this week.
He was born Michael Smith and one day he was following a Crawford’s biscuit van and saw the name on the side and adopted it for his stage name. For many, he will be most remembered for his portrayal in Phantom of the Opera which he starred in the original London stage show and the Broadway version too. For others, it will be the wonderful character of Frank Spencer in Some Mother’s Do ‘Ave ‘Em the role that made his a household name. For me personally, it was the time when I was in awe as I watched him play P.T. Barnum at the London Palladium in 1981.
In Some Mother’s…he did all his own stunts and even when he was tempted back as Frank at the 2016 Sport relief he only agreed to do it if he was permitted, at the age of 74, to do all his own stunts…and he did.
This suggestion came in about two months ago, but I thought I’d leave it until nearer Christmas because, although nothing at all to do with the festive period, it’s forever been associated with it. The man who recorded it once said, “I never intended for this to become a Christmas single. It started life as an anti-war song.” It’s probably all because of one line in the song. Let’s find out.
Jona Lewie, who was born John Lewis in Southampton on 14 March 1947, first charted as a soloist in 1980 although he was no stranger to the chart. His career began proper in 1969 when he joined Brett Marvin and the Thunderbolts as lead singer and in 1971 had a slot supporting Derek & the Dominoes. Although he remained with them until 1973, it was in 1971 that he recorded one of his own compositions called Seaside Shuffle which was released later that year with another group he fronted called Terry Dactyl and the Dinosaurs. It failed to take off, but thankfully after being spotted by Jonathan King and being signed to his UK record label, Seaside Shuffle was re-released and went to number two on the UK chart. The follow-up, On A Saturday Night stalled at number 45. He left the band and continued as a solo artist.
In 1977, he was signed to Stiff records where he toured for a couple of years as part of the Stiff package with various other acts on that label including Kirsty MacColl whom he often sang with. In 1980, he charted with You’ll Always Find Me in the Kitchen at Parties which went to number 16. It featured Kirsty doing backing vocals on Top of the Pops, but not on the single. Then came Stop the Cavalry. Lewie remembered, “I signed to Stiff Records with 50 demos to my name. When I played Stop the Cavalry to Dave Robinson, who founded Stiff, he said it was ‘just another anti-war song’. I’d just bought an electronic keyboard – the Poly Moog, as used by Gary Numan so I went back and beefed up the arrangement, playing the melody on a kazoo. Dave loved it.”
In an interview with M-Magazine, he revealed that it was while he was playing about with his grandmother’s piano that he stumbled across a melody that he liked and that would inspire the song. “I had this line in my head, ‘Can you stop the gallantry?’ and found a melody for it. Then I changed gallantry to cavalry and everything just fell into place,” he told The Guardian. “I started thinking about the Crimean war and the Light Brigade, about how officers would yell ‘Charge!’ and few of the men who did so would come back. Then I started thinking about other scenarios, like the trenches in both World Wars. Back then, in the late 1970s and early 80s, the possibility of nuclear war felt very real, so I also penned the line: ‘Mary Bradley waits at home, in the nuclear fallout zone.’ The opening line – ‘Hey, Mr Churchill comes over here to say we’re doing splendidly’ – wasn’t a dig at Churchill, who was a great leader during the war. I just imagined a tired private who was fed up with Churchill forever trying to gee up the troops, who would be shot if they deserted. I imagined my soldier standing for prime minister and saying: ‘If I get elected, I will stop the cavalry.'”
So how come it’s associated with Christmas? Lewie explained, “The soldier in the song is a bit like the eternal soldier at the Arc de Triomphe, but the song actually had nothing to do with Christmas when I wrote it. There is one line about him being on the front and missing his girlfriend: ‘I wish I was at home for Christmas’ and the record company picked up on that from a marketing perspective, and added a tubular bell.” Additionally, a Salvation Army brass band was recruited to play the main melody just like you’d get in the streets in busy cities at Christmas. The label’s owner, Dave Robinson, said, “I’ve always loved a Christmas single. I think it was me who suggested the brass band, actually, to make it more Christmassy.”
A few years ago, Dave Robinson reflected on Jona saying, “He’s a passionate, lovely, talented geezer. He has tapes full of ideas, and never gives up on any of them. He recently played me some ideas for a new album. I said: ‘Jona, these are the same songs I rejected 35 years ago.'”
Even though you can’t really buy singles and few people download or stream one ‘single’ track, the music industry still on calling it a ‘singles’ chart, but, regardless of the wording, here is a list of the top 20 best-selling ‘single tracks’ of 2021.
I still can’t quite fathom how a great song falls just short of the number one slot and yet a cover, usually never as good, goes all the way to the top. Four good examples of this are American Pie (number two for Don McLean, number one for Madonna), Take On Me (number two for A-ha and number one for A1), How Deep Is Your Love (number three for the Bee Gees, number one for Take That) and A Little Bit More (number two for Dr. Hook, number one for 911) and this week is yet another example – You Needed Me by Anne Murray didn’t even make the top 20 when released at the end of 1978 yet Boyzone landed at number one in 1999. Why? That I can’t accurately answer but could have a good guess, but I can tell you about the song.
This song was a very lucky find as in as much as it was Anne who found it in an old box of tapes and all that was written on the case was Randy Goodrum which was the name of the writer. She listened to the song and instantly fell in love with it and wanted to record it. She turned to her own producer, Jim Ed Norman for help and Jim did just that. A quick search in the phone book and the number was found.
Goodrum was born Charles Goodrum in Arkansas in 1947 and learned piano at the age of eight. At school he formed a band called Three Kings which also included future American President Bill Clinton on saxophone. In an interview with Songfacts he explained, “I wrote the melody as a sort of a classical-ish feeling piece. I used to write snippets of things and leave them in a pile – my lyric writing developed much later. Music always came easy for me, and so I had tons of musical ideas that I’d written since God knows when. I sat down several times to try to write a lyric to that song, and it just never would hit. Then I was in my music room cleaning up, and I think my wife Gail was in the next room. I sat down at the piano to take a break, and got two or three lines right away. It felt real good, real sincere. So, I dashed out most of the lyrics – at least for the verses – right then. When I get a premise, or I really get onto what I’m doing, I can write pretty fast. And I remember showing it to Gail, and she said, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good.’ At one point, I got disgusted with it and threw it away. And then I went and got it back and decided, No, I’ll get around it. So, then I played it for a few people, and my first publisher, Bob Milsap, told me, ‘You know, you could use a bridge or something in this, or a chorus.’ So, I wrote the bridge rather than a chorus, and after I did that I went and started playing it for people and demoing it for them, and people said, ‘Oh, this needs a chorus.’ I said, ‘Why? It’ll be too long.'”
Anne, who was born in 1945 in Nova Scotia, Canada loved the song because she’d been feeling the pressure of juggling a music career as well as trying to be a good wife to her husband Bill Langstroth and a good mother to her young child William and this song expressed her emotions perfectly – ‘I cried a tear, you wiped it dry, I was confused, you cleared my mind.’ The writer described his song as ‘unconditional undeserved love’ and that’s how Anne perceived it.
You Needed Me was featured on her 12th studio album, Let’s Keep It That Way and Anne’s record label, Capitol, which was a subsidiary of EMI, had already decided that the title track was to be the first single released from it. Anne wasn’t happy and wanted You Needed Me to be the debut release. God forbid they should consult the artist! She explained in an interview with the Canadian journalist Juliette Jagger, “I went to see the president of Capitol Records, Don Zimmerman, at the Capitol Records Tower in Los Angeles and I just told him, ‘You’ve got to do this for me. I just have such a strong feeling about this song.’ I had never, ever asked him to do anything for me before. Generally, the label would suggest things and I usually did them, but for whatever reason this particular time he just looked at me and said, ‘Okay.’ He picked up the phone and stopped the presses on the spot, and well, when it went to number one, we both looked like heroes.”
The long player has a dedication which reads, ‘This album is for Bill – Love, Anne.’ To this day, it remains her favourite of her own recordings.
Boyzone might have shared the same thoughts as Anne Murray as the boy band was disintegrating, and perhaps that is why their manager, Louis Walsh, suggested the song. Mind you, he was part of the problem as he and Ronan Keating had put together a new and younger version of Boyzone in Westlife. “I’ve gotten to know Ronan Keating and he said his parents really loved it,” said Goodrum. “That’s okay, you know, it’s very difficult to do that song correctly. It’s one of those songs that if you overdo it, then you blow it. A lot of my songs are that way.” Goodrum went on to write All Over Again which was the title track of Ronan’s 2006 album.
You Needed Me remains Murray’s favourite of her own recordings and she reflected on it, “Randy wrote the song for his wife and, it’s pretty self-explanatory, kind of like, ‘I can’t believe you love me the way you do.’ My understanding is that when he first showed it to her, she sort of said, ‘Yeah yeah, it’s nice,’ which obviously wasn’t the response Randy was hoping for,” she continued, “So, he crumpled it up and threw it out. I’m still not entirely sure how it found its way to me.”