Single of the week

When You Say Nothing At All (Keith Whitley)

There is an old saying which is actions speak louder than words and invariably someone’s body language will give more away than any words could ever do. Very often silence allows you to convey all that you need and want to say and that’s exactly what makes this week’s suggestion resonant with so many people.

When you Say Nothing At All was written in 1988 by two experienced country songwriters Paul Overstreet and Don Schlitz, Paul’s big song was Love Can Build a Bridge as originally recorded by the family group The Judds and covered for a UK number one by Cher, Chrissie Hynde, Neneh Cherry and Eric Clapton, Don has written dozens of songs which were huge on the American country music scene, but his best known in the UK was Kenny Rogers’ The Gambler. The pair had success in the UK with Forever and Ever, Amen which became a hit for Randy Travis.

Paul and Don had met up for a writing session and this song was the product of what had been a lousy and uncreative day. They had been working for hours and came up with nothing, essentially they’d hit a brick wall. “We were just joking around humming and saying nothing,” Paul told Ace Collins, “As we tried to find another way to say nothing it just led to the song.”

They wrote the song there and then and although the sentiment was right, they were not overly impressed and thought it was just OK. In all the anguish and heartbreak he could feel there was some magic in the song and so stuck with it. All they needed was someone to record it.

Enter Keith Whitley, a Kentucky-born singer who got his break at the age of eight when he appeared with Buddy Starcher in a radio show in Charleston, West Virginia. He later formed his own band, The East Kentucky Mountain Boys which featured another future country star, Ricky Skaggs, then in 1974 he became the leader singer with Ralph Stanley’s band and earning himself a reputation as a quality bluegrass singer. In 1983 he moved to Nashville but it took him three years before he registered his first hit, Miami, My Amy. He followed it with the Country top 10s Ten Feet Away, Homecoming ’63 and Hard Livin’. In 1988 he registered his first of five consecutive country chart-toppers with Don’t Close Your Eyes, When You Say Nothing At All became his second and most successful. The other three were I’m No Stranger to the Rain, I Wonder Do You Think of Me and posthumously, It Ain’t Nothin’. When Overstreet and Schlitz, who still weren’t overly-impressed with the song, played it to Whitley he told them that they had written a classic and proved it to them. “Keith did a great job singin’ that song,” Schlitz said in an interview with Tom Roland. “He truly sang it from the heart.”

He had the potential to be a really major country star but unfortunately, Keith Whitley did not have as much confidence in himself and had turned to drink but no one quite knew why. His closest friends knew he was a binge-drinker but outside of that group, few other’s knew and he preferred to drink in private. Following his stint of number ones his drink habit seemed to diminish, but on 8th May 1989 Keith spent the night on his own as his wife, Lorrie, was on the road with her own band, and he began drinking heavily but this time went too far. He died just after midnight of alcohol poisoning, it was later discovered that he was five times over the state limit and just about twice the lethal limit for a human body. He was just 33. Keith’s third country number one, I’m No Stranger to the Rain, won the CMA award for Single of the Year and Lorrie was there to accept the award in his memory.

The song was successfully revived in 1995 by Alison Krauss & Union Station when it make number three on the US Country chart and went on to win the CMA Single of the Year. Screenwriter Richard Curtis was always keen to find the right songs to include in his films. Wet Wet Wet’s revival of Love Is All Around was integral to Four Weddings and a Funeral, and for the new Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts film, Notting Hill, he wanted the key song to be When You Say Nothing At All. He suggested it to Ronan Keating from Boyzone, who said, “As soon as he mentioned the title, I was hooked.” Ronan’s version lacked the soul and warmth of the original but at least he did bring a brilliant, and, then, a fairly obscure song in the UK, to the British public’s attention.

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The Shape of Things to come (Headboys)

Back in the 1970s, the daytime DJs on Radio One used to pick a record of the week, this was purely the DJ choice, not the producer, of a song they particularly liked and hoped would get into the chart. The chosen song would get a guaranteed play on that particular presenter’s show every day from Monday to Friday. Some DJs used to pick quite obvious material that was likely to get into the chart anyway, but the more musical aware DJs like Mike Read, David ‘Kid’ Jensen and DLT would find the time to listen to a batch of new releases and often chose something a little more obscure. This week’s choice was a former Mike Read record of the week, just before he began presenting the breakfast show. This was the first time I heard this song and loved it straight away.

The song is The Shape of Things to Come by Scotland’s Headboys. The original line-up comprised, singer and guitarist Lou Lewis, bass player George Boyter, Calum Malcolm on keyboards and Davy Ross on drums, Lou and George had been working with some other musicians playing songs that Lou and George had written. They didn’t have a record label deal but Lou believed in their songs and so went searching, “George and I had gone to London and had a meeting with EMI publishing,” Lou explained to Lorraine Wilson, “They said they liked the band but couldn’t really see anything they could use. We asked if we could come back in a couple days and he agreed. I bought a £10 guitar, we locked ourselves away for a couple of days and emerged with some new songs to take back to the next meeting. Malcolm had just created Castlesound Studios in Edinburgh and so they recorded some demos which were sent out for publishing of which MCA records agreed to sign them, but the one thing they didn’t have was a name, so they called themselves Badger. Unfortunately the music the label wanted from the band was not what they were prepared to do, so they returned the advance they were given and walked away and dropped the name.

Lou said, “It was time to write as a band and not for publishing people. I had been going to the 100 club when I was in London and watching some punk and new wave bands and loved what I heard.” In 1978, they added saxophone player Bobby Heatlie to the line-up and recorded some more demos. “EMI showed interest again and because they had new younger employee they began to distribute our tapes to various A&R men,” Lou continued. There was a bidding war between EMI and Robert Stigwood’s RSO label and, as Lou recapped, “to be honest, we looked at both labels and thought RSO might be more fun and so we were signed by them for £100,000,” but, once again, they had no name.

Next came a change of image, “I got a severe haircut,” said Lou, “then went to a school wear shop to buy a school shirt, tie and blazer. I then went to the Army and Navy store in Union Street because they sold enamel badgers. I bought one for Calum which said ‘Head Girl’ and that’s how were became the Headboys. They went out on tour supporting Wishbone Ash and even did a gig with a newly-formed Irish band called U2.

The Shape of Things to Come, despite radio support, reached number 45 in the UK and 67 in the US. Three further singles, Kickin’ the Kans, Schoolgirls ‎and Something’s Happening followed ‎but all failed to make any impact. By 1981, they had had enough. “We were in our thirties so the fame thing wasn’t what we were after. My only regret is not going to America with the band but I am proud of the fact that we handed back the advance so we could start from scratch.”

They recorded one self-titled album which went un-noticed but in 2013 it transpired that they had actually recorded a second album which remained unreleased but was eventually that year under the title The Lost Album which had 10 tracks and came with a 34 page booklet telling the whole Headboys story and was dedicated to the memory of Ross, their drummer who passed away in November 2010.

Malcolm continued with his studio and worked with the Blue Nile and Prefab Sprout, he sold it in 1998 but is still in the music business. George turned to art and has enjoyed an award-winning career as a creative director in advertising in London and now lives in Oxfordshire. As for Heatlie, he went on write Aneka’s 1981 chart topper Japanese Boy and four hits for Shakin’ Stevens including the seasonal Merry Christmas Everyone which annually brings him a handsome income.

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Il Silenzio (Nini Rosso)

Instrumental track don’t tend to sell as well as classic vocal songs. There are a few exceptions of course, Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore is one and The Shadows’ Apache is another, in fact, the biggest selling instrumental hit in the UK is Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra from 1973 which was the theme to the massively successful Thames television series Van Der Valk with Barry Foster in the lead role. On its initial release in November 1972 it just missed the top 40 but it re-entered the chart 10 months later when the series was in full flow and the track went to number one. This week’s suggestion was a top 10 hit in 1965 and sold an estimated five million copies in Europe within two years.

The track is Il Silenzio which was co-written by its performer trumpet player Nini Rosso in collaboration with Guglielmo Brezza. Nini was born Raffaele Celeste Rosso in 19 September 1926 in San Michele Mondovì which is about 50 miles south of Turin. He learned trumpet at school and on completion of his education he chose to play music professionally despite his parents wanting him to attend university. He ran away from home and made his way to Nice in France and began playing in a nightclub. Eventually the police found him and returned him to his parents who now realised he was serious about music so let him continue where he eventually formed a small orchestra and began touring around Europe. He even had a few gigs in India.

In 1961, he’d signed a deal with Italy’s Sprint records and the following year released his first single, I Verdi Anni. The flip side of that track was called Concerto Disperato which Rosso had co-written ‎with Silvana Simoni and Angelo Lavagnino and it was covered by Ken Thorne and his Orchestra and became a number four hit in the UK under the title Theme from the Film the Legion’s Last Patrol (Concerto Disperato).

Although Rosso is credited with writing the track, its roots go right back to 1880 when Tchaikovsky had used the piece known as the Italian Cavalry bugle call to open his Capriccio Italien, Opus 45. If you’re wondering why a Russian composer came to be singing an Italian bugle call, well I shall tell you, Tchaikovsky was married to Antonina Miliukova but it had gone badly wrong and so he decided to take a holiday, with his brother, in Rome and whilst there he began composing what would be become Capriccio Italien.

So Rosso’s piece became an extension of the bugle call, which is often mistaken for the U.S. military bugle call known as ‘Taps’, and although it is predominantly an instrumental it does have the spoken lines ‘Buona notte, amore, Ti vedronei miei sogni, Buona notte a te che sei lontano’ which translates as ‘Goodnight love I’ll see you in my dreams, Goodnight to you who are far away.’

When released in the summer of 1965 it sold well across Europe making number eight in the UK and top three in Austria, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands but was most successful in Italy where it spent six weeks at number one and in West Germany (as it was then) with five weeks atop the chart selling two million in Germany alone. It also reached number two in Australia.

It has had many uses over the years beginning in May 1965 when it was commissioned to be played on the 20th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany and has been used every year since to conclude the annual memorial concert. Part of the track was used in all the Italian barracks to mark the end of the day as well as becoming the official anthem of the Slovak football club FC Spartak Trnava being played before every home match.

Britain’s most well-known trumpeter, Eddie Calvert covered the track as did the New Orleans jazz trumpeter Al Hirt but neither of them charted. In 2015 a version was recorded by the London Swing Orchestra too. Most recently the Dutch trumpeter, Rik Mol, has recorded a version this year which appears on is album C’est La Vie.

Rosso died on a brain tumour in 1994 aged 68.

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The L.A. Run (The Carvells)

There have been a number of songs written about various dance crazes with the twist being the most notable, this week’s single suggestion was written about a sporting type craze that had just begun in America and was about to take off in the UK. The craze in question was the skateboard which initially began in California in the late 1950s, but only really took off in the late 70s.

The song is The L.A. Run, recorded by The Carvells and was co-written by Alan Carvell and Brian O’Shea. O’Shea, under the stage name Brian Keith was the lead singer with two one-hit wonders; in 1968 Plastic Penny had one hit called Everything I Am which reached number six and then three years later he fronted The Congregation and reached number four with Softly Whispering I Love You. Prior to that, Keith told me, “I sang on the Original Jesus Christ Superstar album, I sang the part of Annus and the part of Jesus.”

Alan had out together a band which comprised Alan on lead vocals, rhythm guitar and bass, Lee Stapleford on lead guitar, Paul Dunstan on rhythm guitar, Costa Couloris on keyboards and Simon Griffiths on drums and named them after his surname. “I co-wrote L.A. Run with Alan in less than an hour in North London while sitting in a garden,” Brian told me, “We were listening to a track and I heard run run run down the L.A. Run in my head, and that was it.”

The track was first released on the Mercury label in Germany and the Netherlands under the title Run Run Run (Down the L.A. Run), a couple of months later it was picked up in the UK by the fledgling Creole label who released it without the parenthesis. The label had a limited budget and an odd direction in terms of genre initially beginning with some disco tracks and then re-issuing classic reggae and rock ‘n’ roll songs including Desmond Dekker and Little Richard. Creole charted 27 hits with only two top 10s – Ruby Winters’ I Will in 1977 and The Pinkees’ Danger Games in 1982. If the label had more of a budget it might have helped the song get higher than number 31 even though it did have one appearance on Top of the Pops.

Elton John’s Rocket record label released an album by The Carvells to cash-in on the skateboard craze and it was very much in the vain of the Beach Boys but a whole album of the same theme was wearing a bit thin unfortunately.

Alan went on to do a lot of session work as well as some one man shows covering Four Seasons, Beach Boys, Johnny Cash and Motown classics. Stapleford became an IT technician at West London College and then an engineer at UK’s first art music radio station, Resonance FM. Griffiths moved to Tennessee and became a professional photographer.

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Little Green Bag ( George Baker Selection)

Purple Ange, who has requested this week’s song, told me, “I was trying to put together a Dutch playlist for a forthcoming drive through Holland and struggling to come up with any decent tunes until I found this little gem!” Well Ange, everyone’s definition of decent tunes will be different, but some suggestions, from a similar era, might be tracks by Focus, Shocking Blue, Golden Earring, Teach-In, Pussycat and, let’s not forget Father Abraham and his lovely Smurfs! OK, maybe not the latter, but George Baker’s Little Green Bag is not a bad place to start.

George Baker was born Johannes Bouwens in Hoorn in the Netherlands, his mother was Dutch and his father, who was a soldier, was Italian and served in the Netherlands during World War II but ended us as a prisoner of war and during an attempt to escape, he was caught and killed just a few months before his son was born. Johannes grew up listening to Elvis Presley who he adored and inspired him to become a musician. In 1967, at the age of 23, he joined a soul band called Soul Invention but before long he became the leader and decided to change the name to the George Baker Selection. He explained in an interview with Peter van Brummelen how he got the name, “I got it from a detective book. In the band bus there used to be nudie magazines on one side and on the other side detectives. When we were bringing out our first single I needed a stage name. Bingo, I thought when I saw a book about detective George Baker in the bus.”

George’s ‘selection’ were Jan Hop, Jacobus Greuter, George Thé, and Jan Visser and they recorded their debut single, Little Green Bag in 1969 funded by George with money he was earning from his day job in a lemonade factory. George explained, “I wrote the track with my bass player and we did it on a rehearsal night. Jan started with this bassline and I just started to sing over it with a melody I made up. A few weeks after that we made a demo and the guy from the studio like it so much and he went to a little record company he knew called Negram and they liked the song as well a signed us.” The track was written about the American dollar bill and was supposed to be title Little Green Back, but someone at their label, misinterpreted it and thus it was printed incorrectly on the label. To make matters worse, the parent album had the same title and also had to be changed to reflect that of the single. Some radio stations thought a little green bag was a reference to marijuana but thankfully, the majority didn’t think that way and the single escaped any sort of radio ban. “It was a very unique sound at the time, “George continued, “the studio was a cellar and we recorded it on four tracks because that’s all we had in those days. About 15 years later I recorded it again and it just didn’t sound the same.”

Initially released in their home land, the single reached number nine on the Dutch top 40 and number three in neighbouring Belgium. In the States it reached number 21 but in the UK it missed the chart completely.

Their follow-up was called Dear Ann peaked at number two in the Netherlands and number 12 in New Zealand, but failed almost everywhere else. In 1973 they released Marie-Jeanne which made little impact but the follow-up to that, Baby Blue, made number two in their homeland and topped the New Zealand singles chart. It was only in 1975 when they brought in a female vocalist by the name of Lida Bond and they recorded the track Paloma Blanca, which is Spanish for White Dove, that they made their name in other countries.

By 1978, Baker had had enough and broke up the band stating, “the pressure had become too much,” having sold over 15 million records around the world. He did briefly form a ‘New’ George Baker selection in 1985, but that had fizzled out by 1989.

In 1992, the song got a new lease of life, firstly appearing in the Quentin Tarantino film, Reservoir Dogs and following its appearance in that a Japanese advertising company decided to use it in a whiskey commercial and it went to the top of the Japanese singles chart.

In 2017, the German supermarket Lidl launched a bakery section in a number of their stores around Europe and George was asked to re-record Little Green Bag for the TV adverts. There were two versions, one retitled Lidl Brown Bag which was used to push their bread and sandwiches and the other was Lidl Green Bag used for the fruit and veg.

In 1999, on his album Reload, Tom Jones recorded the song as a duet with the Canadian band Barenaked Ladies and, according to Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Executioner’s Song, Little Green Bag was playing on the car radio as they drove the American criminal Gary Gilmore from his cell to the execution house in 1977.

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