Author: Jon Kutner

Under One Roof (The Rubettes)

So many actors who play the same role in a long-running television show get pigeon-holed and some are unable to shake it off. It’s a similar story with the Rubettes, one of the biggest glam rock bands of the day, but when glam passed, the Rubettes were unable to sustain a healthy chart career even though their post-glam songs were far better. This week’s suggestion is called Under One Roof, the title, of which, gives nothing away, tells a sad story, but went almost unnoticed sadly peaking at a lowly number 40.

The Rubettes’ first hit, their biggest, was Sugar Baby Love after the Liverpool musicians, Wayne Bickerton and Tony Waddington who had toured the world in The Pete Best Four, hired session men, in 1973, to play the song. It was a rock ‘n’ roll pastiche which owed something to Phil Spector, The Four Seasons and The Diamonds. “We had Paul Da Vinci singing in that incredibly high falsetto voice,” says Wayne, “and then a vocal group sings ‘bop-shu-waddy’ over and over for about three minutes. Da Vince was the only ‘real’ Rubette on the track and left the band soon after.

On the back of that successful number one, the new line up became, Alan Williams (lead vocals, guitar), Bill Hurd and Peter Arnisson (keyboards), Tony J. Thorpe (guitar), Mick Clarke (bass) and John Richardson (bass).

Under One Roof was the group’s penultimate hit and was written by group members Williams and Richardson and dealt with the subject of homophobia. Now, before you start thinking it wasn’t a big hit because of that subject matter, you’d be wrong because exactly one month earlier there was another song in the chart dealing with the same subject and was a much bigger hit, reaching number two. That song was The Killing of Georgie by Rod Stewart. In a nutshell, the song is about a teenage boy called Billy who runs away from home, gets taken in by a gay man and later killed by his father, for being gay. Hash but true. But you have to remember that prior to 1967, homosexuality was illegal, something teenagers and young people almost definitely would not understand.

We learn a little of Billy’s background in the song as he explains that ‘his mother didn’t give a damn about him and his Papa’s on the run from the Police.’ The dawn of reality come in the last line of the first verse, ‘When Billy hit the city – the city hit Billy.’ Then we learn of one kind man who takes him in and how they share their lives under one roof.

The BBC and their policies certainly didn’t help matters as Radio 1 refused to play the song even though they were playing Rod Stewart then-current hit. Television was no better, John Richardson remembered, “We were booked to play our new single on Top of the Pops, only to have the billing cancelled when producers got wind of the song’s theme.”

If proof were needed that the band still had what it takes, their follow-up, Baby I Know, which was written by the same two songwriters, became their last hit and made the top 10.

After a couple of years with no hits, Tony Thorpe left the group but later cropped up at the voice of Arthur Daley on the The Firm’s 1982 hit Arthur Daley E’s Alright. Soon after the whole group disbanded but reconvened in 1983 and toured Germany but then fell silent again.

In 2002, various ex-members wanted to tour again and then arose the old hurdle of who owned and who could use the band name. A court case ensued and the judge ruled that both members, who were fighting over the name, could called themselves The Rubettes as long as it was made clear who was fronting which, in other words it could be John Richardson’s Rubettes which had both Clarke and Williams present or it was Bill Hurd’s Rubettes with Bill being the only original member. Within a few short years, both bands had broken the rules with Williams piping up first. Eventually a high court judge ruled in favour of Williams as Hurd’s breaches were more severe. Naturally, Hurd appealed but lost the appeal and subsequently went bankrupt.

But for all their success and attempts at trying to change their image, the band will forever be remembered wearing trademark white suits and cloth caps on stage.

Chesney Hawkes

Chesney Hawkes is 50 this week.

He is not a one-hit-wonder as Channel 4 keep insisting in some of their programmes, he actually had six hits but, obviously none reached the heights of his debut, The One and Only in 1991. His only other song to make the top 40 was the follow up I’m a Man not a Boy, let’s remember that song.

Don’t Bring Me Down (Electric Light Orchestra)

This week’s suggestion came from General Blee who wrote, “I heard Don’t Bring Me Down by E.L.O. yesterday after a long time and thought it would be good one to find out what it is all about. Just who is BRUCE?” Well General, there was no Bruce… initially but this song can be added to the many songs with misheard lyrics. There is a version, however, where Bruce does make an appearance. Let’s find out all about it.

This song was lifted from the Discovery album and was one of the last songs to be written for the album. The music came before the lyrics because the group’s lead singer, guitarist and primary songwriter, Jeff Lynne, revisited a song he had recorded much earlier in the session and decided to loop the drums track, slowed it down and looped it again to come up with backbone of Don’t Bring Me Down. Lynne was at Musicland Studios in Munich which is where he recorded the track and actually wrote the lyrics. This is the first E.L.O. song not to feature strings and it was allegedly suggested by the studio’s engineer, Reinhold Mack, although no evidence of this has ever been substantiated.

The last thing added to the song were the lyrics which were improvised, “I made up Don’t Bring Me Down in the studio, and I play all the instruments,” Lynne revealed in an interview with Rolling Stone. “It starts with a drum loop from another song, On the Run, which was also from Discovery – that I sped up. I then compressed the shit out of it.”

The biggest mystery that surrounds the song is the seemingly made up word – Groose or Bruce. “When I was singing it, there was gap in the vocals, so I just shouted out ‘groose,'” Lynne explained further to Rolling Stone. “It was a word that came to my head.” So how come the word stayed in the song? Lynne explained in an interview with VH1’s Storytellers, “The engineer was German and he said, ‘How did you know that word?’ I said: ‘What word?’ And he said, groose. It means greetings in German.’ I said, ‘That’s good. I’ll leave it in.'”  Now groose can, and does, sound a lot like Bruce and after so many people bombarded Lynne with the question, ‘Who is Bruce’ he decided to change the words and used Bruce for many live shows. “We started going on tour and every time we played it everyone used to sing ‘Bruce,'” Lynne told Best Classic Bands, “so I said ‘Ah, f*ck it, I’ll sing Bruce as well!'” Fans probably didn’t know he’d changed it just for the shows and thinking they could hear it clearer it was then believed that it was the real lyric.

The first single released from the Discovery album was Shine a Little Love across Europe and the U.S.A., Don’t Bring Me Down became the follow-up except in the UK where The Diary of Horace Wimp was chosen as the next single. Don’t Bring Me Down fared well in most parts of the world and was then rush-released in the UK. It became the Orchestra’s highest charting hit in the US and UK reaching number four in both countries – apart from the Olivia Newton-John collaboration on Xanadu.

Interestingly, another little joke Lynne added to the single was the pointless count-in intro. This is only used for bringing the band in together, but there was no band as Lynne played all the instruments himself and the drum loop was already made.

The song has featured in an episode of Dr Who in 2006 and in Family Guy six years later. It has also appeared in a couple of film including Donnie Brasco (1997), The In-Laws (2003) and a newly recorded version which was heard in College Road Trip in 2008. It was also used in the trailer for the 2017 film The Emoji Movie.

Now something you may not have noticed is a sound effect at the very end of the song. On the single version, after the echoed ‘down’ fades there is the sound of a door closing. It is intentional and is indeed a door slamming – it’s the fire door at Musicland studios which was probably added as a gag to indicate that the musicians and crew had left the building as it’s the track that closes the album.

E.L.O’s logo is the spaceship and this song had another connection to space. Around the time it was released in 1979, in order to boost a few sales, the band’s record label, Jet, launched a few ad campaigns across various music magazines by dedicating the song to the NASA Skylab space station which was about to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere after six years in orbit. Whether it boosted any sales is debateable, but exactly 17 years later, it featured again, this time for the Columbia mission. There was a delay of the landing because the landing site itself was experiencing some bad weather and it had to remain in space for a few more days. The morning they were due to arrive, Don’t Bring Me Down was the tune the astronauts awoke to that morning.

Covers of Beatles hits

Following a recent round in my quiz of cover versions of Beatles song that were written by any members of the group, I was asked how many songs have been hits that are covers of songs the Beatles also had hits with rather than just album tracks. Well, there were 35 in total including one The Beatles charted with eventually in the digital era.

Artist Title Year Peak
Ella Fitzgerald Can’t Buy Me Love 1964 34
Matt Monro Yesterday 1965 8
Marianne Faithfull Yesterday 1965 36
Peter Sellers A Hard Day’s Night 1965 14
Otis Redding Day Tripper 1967 43
Joe Brown With A Little Help from My Friends 1967 32
Young Idea With A Little Help from My Friends 1967 10
Ray Charles Yesterday 1967 44
Ray Charles Eleanor Rigby 1968 36
Joe Cocker With A Little Help from My Friends 1968 1
Wilson Pickett Hey Jude 1969 16
Shirley Bassey Something 1970 4
Stevie Wonder We Can Work It Out 1971 27
David Cassidy Please Please Me 1974 16
Rod Stewart Get Back 1976 11
Four Seasons We Can Work It Out 1976 34
Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel Here Comes The Sun 1976 10
Dollar I Wanna Hold Your Hand 1979 9
Tina Turner Help 1984 40
Ferry Aid Let It Be 1987 1
Wet Wet Wet With A Little Help from My Friends 1988 1
Bananarama La Na Nee Nee Noo Noo Help 1989 3
Candy Flip Strawberry Fields Forever 1990 3
Wet Wet Wet I Feel Fine 1990 30
Michael Jackson Come Together 1992 3
Tom Jones and Dave Stewart All You Need Is Love 1993 19
Smokin’ Mojo Filters Come Together (War Child) 1995 19
Wet Wet Wet Yesterday 1997 4
Blackstreet (Money Can’t) Buy Me Love 1997 18
Spiritualized Come Together 1998 39
Sam & Mark With A Little Help from My Friends 2004 1
Glee Cast Hello Goodbye 2010 48
Glee (Season Two) I Want to Hold Your Hand 2011 74
Arctic Monkeys Come Together 2012 21
Gary Barlow & The Commonwealth Band Here Comes The Sun 2012 59

The Ballad of John & Yoko (Beatles)

In music the word ballad generally has a definition meaning a slow sentimental or romantic song, but this week’s suggestion is most definitely not that. It only had half the group on the song and getting banned on numerous radio stations probably ensured its place at the top of the chart.

John Lennon liked instant song writing – writing a song one day, recording it the next and releasing it as soon as possible. By 1969, he and Yoko were self-absorbed and he wrote about their life in The Ballad of John and Yoko, wittily calling themselves ”two gurus in drag’ and once again leaning heavily on Chuck Berry’s style.

The song was released in June 1969 just three months after John and Yoko had married – and on the quick. Paul had married Linda on March and on the back of that John decided he wanted to marry Yoko. They had some plans but they didn’t work. The first was to get married at sea, so on a journey to Dorset, Lennon instructed his driver to divert to Southampton to find out what was involved only to be told it was not allowed. Then he had the idea of getting hitched in Paris and asked his management team to arrange it. Peter Brown found out that getting wed in Paris at short notice, especially if you are not French, couldn’t happen either, but did advise Lennon that Gibraltar was a possibility as it was controlled by Britain and John was British. So that’s where they married and then honeymooned in Amsterdam.

The Ballad of john & Yoko is really written about all John’s run-ins with various authorities, the opening line, ‘Standing in the dock at Southampton trying to get to Holland or France’ sums up the plans he had and Brown’s call in summed up in the third verse, ‘Peter Brown called to say you can make it okay, you can get married in Gibraltar near Spain.’

The honeymoon was a little unusual as John had invited various members of the press to their hotel. No doubt some of them believing that it was to witness a special moment between the couple and have an exclusive scoop only to find out that it was a rant and a protest about the war which they did from their bed.

This was the last Beatles number one, and the only one to feature just two members. As George Harrison was on holiday and Ringo Starr was filming The Magic Christian, John asked Paul McCartney to record it with him. Although Paul had his differences with John, he was a working musician and readily agreed. They enjoyed recording the song with John urging the drumming Paul to “Go a bit faster, Ringo” and Paul responding to John playing lead guitar, “OK, George.” Paul also plays bass, piano and maracas on the track.

Some UK radio stations and most in America refused to play the track because of the line, ‘Christ, you know it ain’t easy’ which shows John frustration. The word was deemed invective and almost certainly, the record would have been banned more if he had come from a lesser act than The Beatles. Instead, the Top of The Pops film, which used news footage of John and Yoko, made great play of the word ‘Christ!’ by flashing it on the screen each time that Lennon sang it.

At the song’s conclusion there is an inspired Spanish guitar piece which was ‘borrowed’ from Johnny Burnette and his Rock N’ Roll Trio’s 1956 song Lonesome Tears in My Eyes.

A few weeks after the song dropped from number one, John had the idea for the song Give Peace A Chance, but this time he used the pseudonym, The Plastic Ono Band. He had something of a Messianic complex because only a few weeks after making this single, he called his associates into the board room at Apple and told them that he was Christ reincarnated and was going to announce it on the evening news. They agreed to have a drink first and by night-time, John’s claim had been forgotten. Pity really – it would have made great TV, followed, one would think, by John’s arrest for taking mind-bending drugs.