Category: Single of the week

Billy, Don’t Be A Hero (Paper Lace)

Here’s a good pop trivia question; on week-ending 6th April 1974 what was unique about the top three songs in the UK singles chart? OK, a bit tough, I’ll give you a clue and tell you that number three was Emma by Hot Chocolate, number two was Billy, Don’t Be A Hero by Paper Lace and at number one was Seasons in The Sun by Terry Jacks. Still no idea? Ok, they were all on the subject of death. The previous three weeks Paper Lace had been number one and that is our subject this week.

What was also unusual was that the song was written by the British song writers Mitch Murray and Peter Callander and Paper Lace never scored in American, however, a cover by Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods topped the Billboard singles chart a feat which usually happened the other way around.

Paper Lace had been formed by the lead singer and drummer, Phil Wright, and the bassist, Cliff Fish in 1969. The other members were the guitarists, Michael Vaughan, Chris Morris and, sounding like a tribute act, Carlo Santanna. They became the house band at Tiffany’s in Rochdale, Lancashire.

Three years later the songwriters, Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, formed their own label, Bus Stop, but they didn’t pick up passengers with their first releases. In line with their story-songs The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde and I Did What I Did for Maria, they wrote one about a cabin boy, Billy, Don’t Be A Hero, but then changed the setting to the American Civil War. Mitch Murray wanted to give the song to a major artist, but Peter Callander’s wife, Connie, saw Paper Lace win Opportunity Knocks and told Peter about them.

The song carried a powerful, anti-war message and about a guy who heads off to war against his fiancé’s advice. When she realises he’s determined, she tells him to stay safe. His dangerous mission got him killed and the fiancé receives a letter telling her that her beloved Billy had died a hero, which is exactly what she asked him not to do.

The song sold over three million copies and has brought both Murray and Callander extra income as it has featured in the American TV shows ALF and Get A Life as well as the movies Priscilla, Queen of The Desert and Reservoir Dogs. It even appeared in the first ever episode of Friends.

Once it had topped the UK chart, the record label was considering releasing it in America but decided against it when they found out that a cover by Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods had already put it out and within a few weeks topped their chart. Unlike Donaldson, Paper Lace had more than one hit. The follow-up was another Mitch Murray and Peter Callander composition, The Night Chicago Died which peaked at number three here, but did go on to top the chart over there. There was one further hit, The Black-Eyed Boys reached number 11 later the same year. Four years later they changed record labels to Warner Brothers and had one final hit when they were teamed with Nottingham Forest FC and coming up with the gem, We’ve Got the Whole World in His Hands.

The comedian and campaigner Spike Milligan made media appearances saying how significant this record was and how he admired the poignancy of its pay-off, “I heard she threw the letter away.”

Walk a Mile in My Shoes (Joe South)

Joe South is one of the unsung heroes of popular country music. A man who, by and large, had a fairly tragic life, but wrote some wonderful lasting songs. He had the right mind-set which was to tell a story in around three minutes, but a story that would be remembered long after the tune may have been forgotten. As an artist, he only managed one UK hit which was Games People Play in 1968, as a writer, arguably his best-known song is Rose Garden, a transatlantic hit for Lynn Anderson, but there was more to him than that.

South was born Joseph Alfred Souter in Atlanta, Georgia on the 28th February 1940. His career began after he was spotted by the music publisher and entrepreneur Bill Lowery. He served his apprenticeship as a session guitar player at the National Recording Corporation alongside Ray Stevens and Jerry Reed. Ray recorded a number of novelty songs as well as some serious ones and this influence must have rubbed off on South as his first recording was Purple People Eater Meets the Witchdoctor that was co-written and originally recorded by the Big Bopper and had appeared in the flip side of his best-known song Chantilly Lace. He then realised he preferred song writing and concentrated more on that by writing I Might Have Known and Gone Gone Gone which were both recorded by Gene Vincent.

As a session guitarist, he played, usually uncredited, on Marty Robbins’ El Paso, Tommy Roe’s Sheila, Aretha Franklin’s Chain of Fools and Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence. He also recorded the original versions of a number of songs that went on to be hits for other artists, namely Down In The Boondocks (Billy Joe Royal) (Royal recorded some demos for Gene Pitney because he sounded like him), Hush (Deep Purple and Kula Shaker), Rose Garden (Lynn Anderson and New World) and Walk a Mile in My Shoes which nobody had a UK hit with but it was covered by Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee (1970), Jerry Lee Lewis (1972), Bryan Ferry (1974) and Coldcut (2006).

South’s version was credited to Joe South and the Believers – the backing group which featured his brother Tommy and his sister-in-law Barbara. It was a hit in the States reaching number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles and well as charting on the Country music chart and number three on the Adult Contemporary chart.

The song saw South taking on the role of a singing preacher who grabbed people attention by delivering a musical reading suggesting the listener take a look at their own lives and make sure they’re doing the right thing and keeping their noses out of other people affairs. It also dealt with the need for perspective and compassion in a world where racial tolerance was limited.

The opening verse is surely something any caring person has thought about, ‘If I could be you, if you could be me, for just one hour, if we could find a way to get inside each other’s mind’ then he makes you realise how hard things have been for him by singing, ‘Yeah, before you abuse, criticise, and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes.’ It just gets you thinking.

He never seemed interested in fame nor the financial rewards the songs brought, he just wanted to get his points across and seemingly points that many agreed with given the diversity of the artists who covered his songs.

In 1968, he released his debut album, Introspect, but soon after he suffered again by having to deal with the death of his brother to suicide and unable to cope, Joe became a recluse and tucked himself away on the island of Maui, the second largest island on Hawaii and confronted his grief and ended up seeking sanctuary with drugs. He returned to Georgia and to recording in 2008 and his last recording was a song called Oprah Cried which was released as a bonus track on the re-release of two of his early seventies albums So the Seeds are Growing and A Look Inside.

South was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979, became a member of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame two years later and then inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2019. He died of heart failure at his home in Flowery Branch, Georgia on 5th September 2012 at the age of 72.

Dream Lover (Bobby Darin)

It quite weird how artists have a complete change of direction during their career and find unexpected success. Chuck Berry is a good example, a rock ‘n’ roll pioneer whose only UK number one was the nauseating My Ding-A-Ling. This week’s subject began his career with novelty songs and then had major success when he became a crooner.

The man in question is Bobby Darin. Many people who worked with him said he was a difficult man and when I saw him on the American version of This Is Your Life, he didn’t seem very forthcoming and seemingly wasn’t happy to be there. When you learn about his troubled life, you can begin to understand why.

“If I’m great now,” he once boasted, “What will I be like when I’m Frank Sinatra’s age?” His lack of tact lost him admirers, but he had confidence in his own talent: “I’m glad I’m not a poor introverted slob,” he once remarked. He also had a heart damaged from rheumatic fever and he knew it would be unlikely that he would reach 50.

He was born Walden Robert Cassotto in New York in 1936. He hung around the famous Brill Building, recording demos for songwriters and writing the occasional song most notably Gene Vincent’s Wear My Ring. It gave him the incentive to launch a solo career of his own, but his real name wasn’t catchy enough, so one day he passed the Mandarin Chinese restaurant with its unlit letters MAN, so he decided to rename himself Bobby Darin and wrote his first hit, Splish Splash within 15 minutes. It reached number 28 in the UK chart and the follow-up, Queen of the Hop went four places better.

Then came his first of two UK number ones, the self-penned Dream Lover. He invited his old friend from the Brill Building Neil Sedaka to play piano and he duly obliged on the B-side too which was the frantic rocker, Bullmoose. The song tells of a guy who keeps wishing and praying for a girl to come into his real life so he no longer has to dream any more. Initially Darin wasn’t keen on the song but nonetheless submitted it to the bosses, Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler at Atlantic Records loved it and submitted it to Tom Dowd who engineered the song. He was just 22 years old when it was released and appealed to the teen market as well as parents alike.

Not long after it was a hit, Darin found his own dream lover in the shape of actress Sandra Dee whom he married and the pair stay together until 1967.

Darin was restless because while Dream Lover was in the charts, he recorded an album of standards, That’s All, which included his second number one, Mack The Knife. After that, he went country and scored in America with You’re the Reason I’m Living, the folk-rock If I Were A Carpenter and Eighteen Yellow Roses with its twist in the tale. He became brash and aggressive and the reason, which according to some, was related to fears about his health. “My feeling is that he knew he wasn’t going to live long,” explained long-time friend and secretary Harriet Wasser, “It was more important to him to make his statement as an artist than a diplomat.” He wanted to enter politics but to avoid a scandal coming to light, his ‘sister’, Nina, told him that she was his mother. He later discovered his ‘mother’ was actually his grandmother, a revelation that troubled him for the remainder of his life. He did, however, became involved in the 1968 presidential candidacy of Robert Kennedy and believed in the promise of Robert F. Kennedy’s presidential bid. He even took part in the 1965 civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. Kennedy’s assassination later the same year deeply affected Darin.

Darin was effectively a man in love with himself and his talent, but due to persistent health problems and died of heart failure on the operating table in 1973 aged just 37. He left his body to medical research.

In 1994, Dream Lovers, the book on the lives of Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee was written and released by their son Dodd Darin. then, 10 years later, in 2004, Beyond the Sea, a biopic was made with Kevin Spacey portraying Darin to great effect and earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Performance by an actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical.

Mr Raffles (Man It Was Mean) (Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel

Whenever I hear the name Steve Harley, it always brings a smile to my face because it reminds me of a situation that could not have been timed any better. It was back in 2004 when I was mid-way through writing the 1000 UK Number One Hits book and I was with a friend having lunch and were talking about number one hits and he mentioned Make Me Smile by Steve Harley and at the same moment my phone rang and it was Steve Harley. Unbelievable! My friend almost fell off his seat. I had left a message for him to arrange an interview to talk about the aforementioned song and he’d rung me back. We arranged the interview and he told me a good story. Anyway, today’s choice is for a different Harley song. GeneralBlee emailed to ask, “I hadn’t heard Mr Raffles (Man It Was Mean) for years and listening to it the lyrics are quite disturbing and I am interested in finding out what it all relates to.” Well General, let’s find out.

 

Steve Nice, as he was born on 27th February 1951, grew up in south-east London, sharing a bedroom with two of his four brothers and sisters. His father was a milkman and semi-professional footballer while his mother gave up a career as a Jazz singer to look after all her children. When Steve was three, he contracted polio and spent a total of four years, on and off, in hospital. “I was always reading and writing. I wrote poetry from the age of 12,” Harley remembered, “I don’t recall the pain of polio but I do remember being with my grandmother and breaking down in floods of tears when I was 15 after my second round of major surgery. I let it all out.”

 

From the age of nine, her learned violin and the following year took up guitar. When he left school, he was determined to fulfil his ambition of becoming a journalist, so realising he had to start somewhere, his first job was as a trainee accountant with the Daily Express. He worked at various newspapers, mostly local ones, but by the time he was 20 he’d lost interest and took up music.

 

He formed the original Cockney Rebel as his backing group and they comprised violinist Jean-Paul Crocker, bassist Paul Jeffreys, guitarist Nick Jones and drummer Stuart Elliott. Jones was soon replaced by Pete Newnham and they added keyboard player Milton Reame-James. In 1972, they signed a three-album deal with EMI records.

 

Judy Teen became their first hit in 1974 followed by Mr. Soft later the same year and then the following year they hit the top spot with the aforementioned Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me). This week’s suggestion was their next hit, Mr. Raffles (Man It Was Mean) and was the second release from the parent album The Best Years of Our Lives.

 

“Raffles was a master thief. He was a con artist too,” Harley explained to Fred Dellar. “The titular character refers to a fictional thief created by author E.W. Hornung. I use his name to invoke a religious allegory, yes. We see religion and its leaders in our own ways: Sham: ‘Man, it was mean to be seen in the robes you wore for Lent, you must’ve known that it was Easter.’ Then in the third verse: The Devil within: ‘Then in Amsterdam you were perfect fun. You never let on you had a gun and then you shot that Spanish Dancer.’ I always think these references and allusions are obvious to listeners, and it feels a little pretentious to explain. It’s not T.S. Eliot, I know, but I was a serious young man!”

 

Harley’s diction in places is interesting and very pronounced for example, in the first verse the white says, ‘There for a while in your smile I could see Mexico blood say’. If you only know the radio edit where verses three and four had been blasphemously edited out, then you won’t have heard the line, ‘And then you shot that Spanish dancer’ which he sings with conviction.

 

One year went by until they had their final big hit with a cover of the Beatles’ Here Comes the Sun which reached number 10. They had two further hits that both failed to reach the top 40.

 

In 1977, Harley jettisoned the band, moved to Los Angeles and began work on his debut solo album. Soon afterward he decided to leave Britain and set up home in Los Angeles. The album was called Hobo with a Grin (note the US terminology for a tramp) and the second track, Amerika the Brave featured Marc Bolan making his last ever studio performance just weeks before he died.

 

Steve still tours the UK and Europe under the banner ‘Acoustic Trio’ with fellow musicians James Lascelles and Barry Wickens. Earlier this year he released his sixth solo album which was called Uncovered and BBC 6Music, at least, gave a good airing to the first single I’ve Just Seen a Face.

 

Steve has kept his youthful looks, in facts just a few weeks ago he appeared as a guess on the TV show Celebrity Pointless and at 69 years of age, he could easily pass as a man in his late fifties.

I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (Bobbie Gentry)

Finding grammatical errors in songs is, for me, always fun, but finding factual ones is even better. Hearing David Bowie say ‘It’s about to be writ again’ in Life on Mars? used to drive me nuts, but I’ve mellowed now. In this week’s choice, Hal David, the lyricist to Burt Bacharach’s music, used the line, ‘What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia’ which is interesting as you can’t catch pneumonia from kissing someone, even if they had it. Maybe he did it for effect or maybe he just never knew. That I don’t think we’ll ever find out.

The partnership of Burt Bacharach and Hal David cannot be understated. Together they wrote over 60 UK hit singles including six chart-toppers of which, this week’s choice was their final one. Dionne Warwick was the pair’s guinea pig in many respects and she recorded many of their songs first. Some of them were demos for other artists. Warwick did indeed record a version of this song but, in this instance, she was not the first.

The famous New York Brill Building writers stuck to what they did best, but in 1969 the announcement that the 1960 Oscar-winning Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine comedy, The Apartment, was going to be on stage with a script from Neil Simon was greeted with surprise especially when it was discovered that the songs were going to be penned by Burt Bacharach & Hal David. The musical was renamed Promises, Promises was very successful on both Broadway and in London’s West End.

The score was not full of vintage Bacharach & David songs, though it does contain the plaintive ballad Wanting Things and the punchy title song. The key song was I’ll Never Fall in Love Again. This song had been added at the last minute in Boston and at a time when Burt had flu: hence, Hal David’s little joke of rhyming ‘pneumonia’ with ‘phone ya’. Because there was no time to work up a full arrangement so the song, very unusually for Burt, was performed to a solitary guitar accompaniment and performed originally by Jill O’Hara & Jerry Orbach.

As expected, the song became so popular that myriad of people recorded it including Jack Jones, Bobbie Gentry, Dionne Warwick, Emmylou Harris, Johnny Mathis and Ella Fitzgerald who all did it in 1969. It was Bobbie Gentry’s version that took off and went to number one becoming the antepenultimate chart-topper of the 1960s just before Rolf’s Two Little Boys saw the decade out! Last week I covered the story of Galveston and mentioned that Glen Campbell had his own The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour show and in 1971, the Bobbie first performed her version on that very show.

In a later interview, Burt Bacharach has said that he wrote this song faster than any other, since he was working to a deadline. “Given the opportunity, I’ll play with a song or an orchestration for as long as I can.” In another interview with Record Collector, Burt Bacharach said: “I had just gotten out of the hospital. I’d been on the road and gotten pneumonia. We were on the road with Promises, Promises and we’d try to get this song written and into the show the next night or two nights later. That’s where Hal’s line came from, ‘what do you do when you kiss a girl, you get enough germs to catch pneumonia, after you do she’ll never phone ya.’ So, having been in the hospital for five days with pneumonia, I got out and struggled to write that song feeling not too great. You should take a rest after that and not go back into the Broadway show environment out on the road!”

Bobbie, who was born Roberta Lee Streeter, followed up her chart topper with the aforementioned Glen Campbell on a cover of All I Have to Do Is Dream. Her final UK hit was another Burt Bacharach and Hal David cover, this time with Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head from the film, Butch Cassidy And the Sundance Kid, but lost out to Sacha Distel and B.J. Thomas. Once the hits stopped, Bobbie Gentry became a high-earning act in Las Vegas for a couple of years before deciding to go into semi-retirement but did make the odd appearance on various TV shows and award ceremonies. Her final public appearance, however, was in 1982 when she attended the Academy of Country Music Awards. She was married three times, but none of those marriages lasted more than two years. He current whereabouts is unknown.

The font used on the cover of Bobbie’s 1967 album Ode to Billy Joe was designed by the American graphic designer Milton Glaser, the same man who designed the I NY logo some years later. He passed away on 26th June this year – the day of his 91st birthday. Hal David passed away on 1st September 2012 also aged 91 and Burt Bacharach is still going and has just turned 92.

I’ll Never Fall in Love Again won the 1970 Grammy award for Best Contemporary Vocal Performance and was performed by both Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello on the soundtrack of Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me in 1999.

Galveston (Glen Campbell)

Glen Campbell is something of a legend. He began as a session guitarist, proved his worth and then everyone wanted him. Jimmy Webb was a prolific songwriter and when he got Campbell on his books – so to speak – they complimented each other nicely and made each other very rich. This week, I’ll look at the story of Galveston – a protest song which Campbell had not recorded first.

Glen Campbell was born in Billstown, Arkansas in April 1936. He showed an interest in music so young that his father bought him a guitar when he was just four and an uncle taught him the basics of how to play it. When he was 17 he moved to New Mexico to join his uncle’s band and four years later set up his own band called the Western Wranglers. As an adult he moved to Los Angeles and became a session musician playing as a member of the Wrecking Crew who played on a multitude of hit records. The artists he played for include Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, the Monkees, Bobby Darin, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Doris Day, Bing Crosby, Rick Nelson and the Beach Boys literally to name just a few. In 1960, he was briefly a member of the Champs before launching a solo career in 1962 after he’d signed a deal with Capitol records. In late 1964, he spent three months touring as a member of the Beach Boys standing in for Brian Wilson and singing the falsetto parts. He is playing guitar on their 1966 classic album Pet Sounds.

Was Galveston written about the Vietnam War? Well when the writer Jimmy Webb was asked that questions his reply was, “It was about a young American soldier and the only war we were fighting at the time was in Vietnam, so the answer is pretty obvious. The reason I chose Galveston was because I wanted a place that was on the sea. I wanted this character to be from the heartland. I wanted him to be a character I could identify with.”

The Vietnam War has had more songs written about it than any other war or battle. The reason being I guess is that during the First and Second World Wars there weren’t as many songwriters let alone outspoken ones back then, people didn’t write about that sort of a subject, it was mostly songs about relationships. Just for reference, Billy Joel’s Goodnight Saigon, Edwin Starr’s War, Jimmy Cliff’s Vietnam, Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A., the album track Still in Saigon by The Charlie Daniels Band and Paul Hardcastle’s 19 are good examples of songs written about Vietnam but by no means a comprehensive list.  The War raged for almost 20 years beginning in November 1955 and many other protest songs like Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction was not specifically written about that war but came out during it. That song was written by P.F Sloan who was only 19 at the time and said on his website, “The song was written in the early morning hours between midnight and dawn in mid-1964. The most outstanding experience I had in writing this song was hearing an inner voice inside of myself for only the second time. It seemed to have information no one else could’ve had.”

The inspiration for the song comes from the coastal city of Galveston in Texas which tends to suffer a great number of hurricanes. Webb was there one day on a beach and began writing the song. He originally wrote it as a ballad about a homesick GI in Vietnam who had been separated from his first love, Webb said, “It’s about a guy who’s caught up in something he doesn’t understand and would rather be somewhere else.”

It was first recorded by a Hawaiian-born singer called Don Ho with the Oak Ridge Strings. It transpired that Ho appeared on Glen’s show The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour in 1969 and Glen gave Ho a tape of the song saying, “I didn’t have any luck with this, maybe you will.” Ho’s version was released in 1968 on the flip side of the single Has Anybody Lost A Love? but because few people bought the single, few heard the B side.

Campbell recorded it few months later and it took off. Webb said in an interview with Songfacts, “Glen was very, very good at commercialising my songs. He could come up with great intros and great solos, great breaks, and he wrote perfect strings, because he wrote very little. It was a minimalist approach and it just left Glen out there with the song and the guitar. I tended to write a little bit more as an arranger, and probably too much, so I could have done better to have stayed out of Glen’s way, I think.”

Webb’s father was a Baptist preacher and subsequently travelled between churches in Oklahoma and Texas taking a young Jimmy with him. They often visited the coastal towns and cities and Jimmy would spend time watching the crashing waves and the seagulls swooping which fascinated him. These images came back to him whilst writing the song.

Galveston became Campbell’s second UK hit single just three months after its predecessor Wichita Lineman which was also written by Webb. In the 1970s he struck gold with Honey Come Back, It’s Only Make Believe, Rhinestone Cowboy and the Allen Toussaint song Southern Nights. His last UK hit was in 2002 when he teamed up with pop duo Rikki and Daz for an updated version of Rhinestone Cowboy (Giddy Up Giddy Up) which reached number 12.

Campbell, who had married four times and has fathered nine children, learned in January 2011 that he was suffering from Alzheimer’s. Three years later he became a patient at an Alzheimer’s long-term care and treatment facility and made a documentary called Glen Campbell: I’ll Be Me which examined his condition and how it affected him. He died in Nashville, Tennessee on 8th August 2017 aged 81.

Campbell made the message of Galveston accessible to everyone by singing it exactly how Webb meant it. His creation of it was so special that in recent years it has become the unofficial theme song for the city.

In June 2020, Kim Campbell, Glen’s wife of 34 years, published a memoir of their life together called Gentle on My Mind: In Sickness and in Health with Glen Campbell.