Single of the week

50 Ways To Leave Your Lover (Paul Simon)

On the face of it, this song would imply that the protagonist is getting advice from a new lover about how to get rid of the old one. Maybe he’s been deceiving her, but the only thing that stands out as being deceiving is the title. You read the title and think that’s a lot of ways but in reality, only list’s five. So, what happened to the other 45? Maybe he didn’t need them!

Simon and his vocal partner, Art Garfunkel, who began their career under the name Tom and Jerry, had major success between 1966 and 1970 and really hit the big time right at the end when Bridge Over Troubled Water – the album and single – topped all charts and sold by the bucket load, but it caused tensions and by 1973 the pair had gone their own ways and launched successful solo careers. Who was the most successful? It’s hard to say because although Paul Simon had more hits he never reached number one in the UK, but he did write all his own songs whereas Art didn’t write any of his hits, but did have two ‘eyes’ chart toppers in the shape of I Only Have Eyes for You in 1975 and Bright Eyes in 1979, the latter becoming the best-selling single of that year.

Paul’s solo career began in 1972 with Mother and Child Reunion which reached number five. He followed it with Me and Julio Down by The Schoolyard, Take Me to The Mardi Gras, Love Me Like A Rock and then after a two-and-a-half-year gap he returned in 1976 with 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover. In essence Paul really did write this after leaving his lover. He had been married to Peggy Harper since 1969 and divorced in 1975. On his 1983 album Hearts and Bones Paul reflected on his married life in the song Train in the Distance. He then began a relationship with the actress Carrie Fisher.

So how did that song come about? Well Simon, in an interview with Rock Lives: Profiles and Interviews, explained how it started, “I woke up one morning in my apartment on Central Park and the opening words just popped into my mind: ‘The problem is all inside your head, she said to me…’ That was the first thing I thought of. So, I just started building on that line. It was the last song I wrote for the album, and I wrote it with a Rhythm Ace, one of those electronic drum machines so maybe that’s how it got that sing-song ‘make a new plan Stan, don’t need to be coy Roy’ quality. It’s basically a nonsense song.” He’s been quite reserved regarding the song’s subject, except to say that it wasn’t about his wife.

The only five excuses he came out with are:   1) Slip out the back, Jack, 2) Make a new plan, Stan, 3) You don’t need to be coy, Roy, just set yourself free, 4) Hop on the bus, Gus and 5) Drop off the key, Lee, and get yourself free.

The song features three female backing singers who were Patti Austin, Phoebe Snow and Valerie Simpson of Ashford & Simpson. Another one of the song’s highlights is the drum pattern and much sampled intro and that’s the work of Steve Gadd.

Paul Simon biggest success came in 1986 with the release of the multi-million selling album Graceland. As to whether he’ll ever write a sequel to 50 Ways…. and let us know what the other 45 were is debateable now, but a few years ago Danny Baker flagged this up on the afternoon show on BBC London where he asked his loyal listeners to suggest other excuses that Paul Simon could have used and two of the ones that came out were, ‘Tell her you don’t care at all, Paul’ and ‘Just tell her that your gay, Ray’.

Mickey (Toni Basil)

When this week’s song came out in 1982, there was a lot of speculation as to who it was written about. The artist’s age was also a mystery too, but all has been revealed as time has gone on and so it can be here too.

Toni Basil was born Antonia Christina Basilotta in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and her parents were American but her grandparents were Italian immigrants, with Sicilian roots. Her father was Luigi Basilotta and was an orchestra leader who conducted orchestras at the Chicago Theatre, at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and her mother was Jacqueline Anderson who was a vaudeville acrobatic comedian and part of her family’s act Billy Wells and The Four Fays. She was born in Dunedin, New Zealand, and had Scottish ancestry.

You’ll probably be able to tell that because her mother was around in the vaudeville era, Toni was somewhat a little older that most people would have expected a pop star to be in the early 80s, but she wasn’t new to the business. For the record Toni was born September 1943 and was 39 when she first charted. Her career, however, began almost 20 years before that when her talents as a choreographer were realised where she worked on the television show called Shindig! in 1964.

Her family moved to Las Vegas and whilst attending school there Toni became a cheerleader for the Las Vegas High School Wildcats and later incorporated that dance routine into various acts most notably on her big hit Mickey. She had worked on the films Village of the Giants in 1965, The Cool Ones in 1967 and the following year on Head, which starred The Monkees where, in one scene, she danced with Davy Jones on the track Daddy’s Song. Later films she choreographed were American Graffiti (1973), The Rose (1979), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) and Legally Blonde (2001). Her choreography career took her into the pop work where she worked with David Bowie on his 1974 Diamond Dogs tour and the music video for the Talking Heads’ hit Once in A Lifetime in 1981.

Mickey didn’t start life under that title. The song was written by Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman the two successful songwriters behind over 60 UK hits for the likes of The Sweet, New World, Mud, Suzi Quatro, Smokie, Exile and Racey. In the 80s, they also wrote hits for Tina Turner, Pat Benatar, Kim Wilde and Black Lace.

Mickey was written as Kitty and appeared on Racey’s 1979 album Smash and Grab, the same album that contains their big hits Lay Your Love On Me and Some Girls. Basil heard the song and changed the title and lyric from Kitty to Mickey and the gender to male from female. It was speculated for years that she did that because she had a crush on Mickey Dolenz from the Head days. Some dirty minded people have assumed the lyrics, ‘So come on and give it to me / Any way you can / Any way you want to do it / I’ll take it like a man’ have led to speculation that Basil wanted it served to her like a man’ from a later verse which was deemed to be about anal sex.

In many an interview Basil has said, “There’s nothing dirty about the song – it’s just a chipper tune about a girl who really digs a guy.” She explained in an interview with Adrienne Day, “Some guy decided that it would be funny to put that in my Wikipedia entry. He was adamant that Mickey was about Micky Dolenz. I choreographed the Head movie but I didn’t really know Micky at all. I knew Davy Jones much better. We finally got it off Wikipedia.” Unfortunately, because anyone can edit the online encyclopaedia it reappears from time to time.

In 1979, a new record label called Radial Choice was launched by Simon Lait. He had seen some of Basil’s work and invited her to make a song video collection the label was thinking of releasing. Lait said, “She was clearly a star waiting to be discovered”

The video to Mickey was choreographed, produced and directed by Basil herself and the first person to do this on their own video. The cheerleaders in the video were from the championship squad from Carson High School in Los Angeles.

The song peaked at number two in the UK behind Tight Fit’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight whilst in the States it went to number one until it was dethroned by Lionel Richie’s Truly. It was covered in the UK in 1999 by the highly unmemorable Lolly who somehow got as high as number four. The song’s memorable intro, ‘Oh Mickey, you’re so fine you’re so fine, you blow my mind Hey Mickey, hey Mickey’ was not party of Kitty. It was invented by Basil but because she never thought it would be used on the recording assuming it was going to be edited out never sought any writing credits. When she found out that it stayed she complained to Chinn and Chapman who told her that it was only a minor alteration and couldn’t be credited on the song. So, she ended up with no publishing rights at all. She estimated that she had earned somewhere in the region of $1500 in royalties commenting, “It changed my life, but it hasn’t changed my bank account.”

Oh Pretty Woman (Roy Orbison)

This week’s suggestion is about someone with one of the most distinctive soaring voices in musical history. How his voice is heard coming out of the speaker on your radio or stereo is not how it sounded when he recorded it I remember hearing Jeff Lynne explain once in an interview, but it’s amazing how a throw away one-line comment inspired such a timeless classic.

Roy Orbison, whose unusual middle was Kelton, was born in Vernon, Texas in April 1936, 10 years later he and the family moved 350 miles south-west to Wink. He learned to play guitar after his father bought him a guitar for his sixth birthday. In the mid-fifties he began singing with a local band called the Wink Westerners and one day he saw a live performance by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash and it was the latter who suggested he went to see Sam Phillips at Sun records. After a couple of television appearances, the The Wink Westerner changed their name to the Teen Kings and recorded the song Ooby Dooby for a local label called Je–Wel. When a local record store owner heard it he called Sam Phillips, played the song down the phone and on the strength of that he was signed to Sun.

Roy could also write a good song and one of his first and biggest success for another act is when the Everly Brothers recorded Claudette, a song he’d written about his wife. A couple of years later it was a comment from Claudette that inspired Oh Pretty Woman.

He had begun writing songs with Bill Dees whom he had known from his childhood in Texas and one day Bill was at Roy’s house and they were writing some lyrics when Claudette, came in and said flirtatiously, “Give me some money, honey. I’m going to the store.” Bill Dees offered, “A pretty woman don’t need no money” and Roy started singing, ‘Pretty woman walking down the street.’ “He sang it while I was banging my hand down on the table,” recalls Bill, “and by the time she returned, we had the song.” Fred Foster at Monument Records said it needed an ending so that they added a coda in which Roy gets the girl.

Bill Dees says, “I love the song. From the moment that the rhythm started, I could hear the heels clicking on the pavement, click, click, the pretty woman walking down the street, in a yellow skirt and red shoes. Perhaps it’s a sailor singing the song. She goes by and flashes him a half-smile as if to say, ‘I am above this.’ He looks at his watch and when he looks back, she’s looking at him. We wrote Oh Pretty Woman on a Friday, the next Friday we recorded it, and the next Friday it was out. It was the fastest thing I ever saw. Actually, the ‘yeah, yeah, yeah’ in Oh Pretty Woman probably came from The Beatles.” The musicians on the track included four guitar players; Roy Orbison, Billy Sanford, Jerry Kennedy, and Wayne Moss and the others were Floyd Cramer on piano, Boots Randolph and Charlie McCoy on sax, Bob Moore on an upright bass and two drummers Buddy Harman and Paul Garrison. Interestingly, the song only mentions the full title once right at the end when he includes the extended ‘Ohhhhhh Pretty Woman’.

Roy had a pretty tragic life, he had poor eye sight as a child and had to wear enhanced lenses. Because of his black rimmed glasses many thought he was blind but he wasn’t. In the early sixties Roy discovered that Claudette had been having extracurricular activities and when Roy found out he filed for divorce. In 1966, they remarried but ended in tragedy after she was killed when a truck hit the motorcycle she was riding. Two years later, whilst Roy was on tour, more tragedy struck as his house caught fire and his two eldest sons lost their lives.

One of the song’s most distinctive parts was Roy’s growl and cry of ‘mercy’ “I can’t do that growl like Roy,” Bill Dees told Spencer Leigh, who performs Oh Pretty Woman in his own act, “but the ‘Mercy’ is mine. I used to say that all the time when I saw a pretty woman or had some good food. Still do.” Dees even said ‘Mercy’ when he found that the song was being used in the Julia Roberts film, Pretty Woman in 1990. The film’s original title was 3000 but it was only when the song was added did it lend the film its title.

Roy’s chart career stalled in the late sixties with his last hit being Penny Arcade which dropped at number 40. His name was rekindled in 1980 when Don McLean took Roy’s Crying to number one and the same song memorably being used in an episode of Only Fools and Horses when a cabaret singer suffering with a speech impediment kept singing ‘cwying’.

In 1987, Roy was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and it was his friend Bruce Springsteen who initiated him. His own career was revived in 1988 when he began collaborating with Jeff Lynne on a new album. Jeff had recently been working with George Harrison on his new album and Lynne suggested all three had lunch. It was at that lunch the idea of a supergroup was muted. Bob Dylan and Tom Petty were contacted and The Traveling Wilburys were born. They had three UK hits beginning with Handle with Care. It was during a recording of one of their sessions that Jeff Lynne asked Roy to sing like he did in the sixties and Roy said he was, go into the control room and listen back he told Jeff. It was the interview I heard where Jeff said he couldn’t believe Roy sounded so different when standing next to him.

In December 1988, Orbison finished a gig in Ohio but was exhausted and returned home to rest. Two days later he visited a friend where they flew model aeroplanes and later had dinner. After dinner, Roy left to visit his mother and died of a heart attack at her house. He was just 52.

Flirtin’ With Disaster (Molly Hatchet)

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Jethro Tull, Marilyn Manson and the Marshall Tucker Band are four good examples and this week’s suggestion is another – band names that contain no one in the band with that name. Most being named after famous people and others just made up. This week’s suggested of Molly Hatchet, a band I first heard when listening to Tommy Vance’s legendary Friday Rock Show on Radio 1, is named after someone quite infamous.

The band formed in 1971 in Jacksonville, Florida by guitarist Dave Hlubek and over the next 50-odd years had approximately 30 members of which over just about one third are no longer with us. They are named after a Salem, Massachusetts-born prostitute who apparently beheaded and mutilated her clients with an axe after they had ‘serviced’ her. During their hey-day, which was arguably 1975-1982, their lead singer was Danny Joe Brown who sang lead on their 1979 breakthrough, Flirtin’ With Disaster of which the title track we learn about this week.

Their career could have been much bigger save for an early disaster that hindered them. Dave Hlubek had been at the same school as some members of another local Jacksonville band Lynyrd Skynyrd and their early manager, Pat Armstrong, was offered a chance to manage Hatchet. Skynyrd’s lead singer Ronnie Van Zant had a younger brother called Donnie and it was he who took Hatchet to Skynyrd’s studio which was then located in Jacksonville to record some demos with the view to bringing in Ronnie Van Zant to co-produce their debut album, but the plane crash of October 1977 which wiped out three members of Skynyrd as well as their road manager, pilot and co-pilot, immediately halted that project.

Molly Hatchet released their eponymous debut album in 1978 and it sold well in the States and went gold, chuffed with their success which, sadly, went to their head and this new-found glory, and more-so, money, sent them on a downward spiral. Drink and drugs, especially cocaine seemed to be top of the band’s daily agenda prompting the comment from their manager, “You scratched and clawed your way to the top, and now you’ve snorted your way to the bottom.” Only their drummer, Bruce Crump escaped all of this because he was a health fanatic.

It was the subject of self-destruction, it somehow inspired some of the songs on their next album and Flirtin’ with Disaster was one such song with the opening verse, ‘I’m travelin’ down the road and I’m flirtin’ with disaster, I’ve got the pedal to the floor, my life is running faster, I’m out of money, out of hope, it looks like self-destruction, Well, how much more can we take with all of this corruption’ making it plain to understand.

Hatchet’s album covers were also striking usually with a common theme of a menacing looking Viking gracing the front cover which were all created by an artist called Frank Frazetta. A possible early inspiration for Iron Maiden? Who knows?

According to Billboard, Brown left the band in the early 1980s because of his diabetes. He briefly formed his own group, the Danny Joe Brown Band, before rejoining Molly Hatchet in 1982 for the No Guts … No Glory album. In 1998, Brown suffered a stroke which halted his career. Brown died in 2005 at his home in Fort Lauderdale, his sister Lyndia Brown said. “He had been in the hospital for about four weeks before he died, and wanted to come home. He was home for 30 minutes when he died. He was surrounded by his children and his wife.”

Flirtin’ with Disaster became their most famous song and will ring true with a lot of people. It has also appeared in the films Suspect Zero (2004), The Dukes of Hazzard (2005), Beer League (2006) and Straw Dogs (2011) as well as in the TV series’ My Name Is Earl and Supernatural.

The band are still performing the no original members, but does comprise longest serving member keyboardist John Galvin since 1984, guitarist Bobby Ingram since 1987 (who was also a member of Brown’s own band), drummer Shawn Beamer since 2001, Tim Lindsey on bass since 2003 and lead singer Jimmy Elkins who joined in 2019.

According to the Jitney Books author, Michael Ray Fitzgerald, “The group’s fans have largely split into two camps, those of the ‘original’ Hatchet and those of the current line-up. The social-media war between the two camps has been written about and commented on profusely; there was even a cover story about the feud in Folio, Jacksonville’s alternative weekly.

Smooth Operator (Sade)

Eight months ago, I had a request from Mark Feltham who asked for two songs by the same act so I thought I’d spread them out. The first was No Ordinary Love and then Smooth Operator both by Sade. In the mid-1980s, on the tail end of the new romantic era, came a new, but limited genre called jazz pop. Matt Bianco, Swing Out Sister and the Blow Monkeys are all good examples as well as Sade none more so than on her third UK hit single.

To recap the previous entry, Sade is not a person, it’s a band who take their name from a portion of their lead singer’s real name which is Helen Folasade Adu. They opened their UK chart account in February 1984 with the infectious Your Love Is King and followed it three months later with the underrated When Am I Gonna Make A Living. Four months later came Smooth operator which, given the airplay exposure it had at the time, and ever since for that matter, it’s hard to fathom how that song peaked at number 19.

Helen had previously been a member of a band called Pride and when Sade came together she brought guitar and bassist Ray Saint John with her and he co-wrote Smooth Operator. It’s a story told of man who can charm many women at the same time because he is simply irresistibly attractive. The fourth line in the song tells us that ‘He’s loved in seven languages’ meaning he loves women was various different parts of the world. in other words, his charm speaks volumes to women regardless of their native tongue. He also lives an exciting and flamboyant lifestyle which the women love. That last bit is probably what makes him different from a large percentage of the men in the world. It would seem that the United States would be a good place to illustrate this, ‘Coast to coast, LA to Chicago, western male, across the north and south, to Key Largo, love for sale.’ It also appears that he only using these women with no real love or affection for them as made clear in the last line of the last verse, ‘His eyes are like angels but his heart is cold.’

Prior to forming Sade, Helen had never really been in a recording studio and so, in 1983, she was teamed with producer Robin Millar who is also known for his work with the Pale Saints, Everything But the Girl and Fine Young Cannibals. In an interview with Helienne Lindvall he explained, “I first met them in 1983 they’d never been in a proper studio. The 24-year-old singer had just finished studying fashion design, while working on her creative writing skills. They had some rough, homemade four-track demos of Your Love Is King and Smooth Operator that sounded like a funk band playing free jazz. It was basic, but the songs were good – and then there was that voice. I’ve always thought there are certain voices that make people feel better: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald, ” Millar said, “and when I first heard Sade I really felt she had it. She also had an amazing effect on people in the studio, both men and women – her charisma and how she looked.”

Helen clearly feels that her music is more pop than jazz, “When we create a song, it’s just… the way it goes. Our music is clearly pop, because it’s easy to understand. All the songs I’ve ever loved – even jazz stuff – are things that tell a story,” she said to soulmusic.com. An example is Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain – you feel you’re in Spain.” she continued. “The soul stuff I like is Sly & the Family Stone’s and Family Affair, and Marvin Gaye, who always tells a simple story. It’s all simple and unpretentious, and that’s what music is to me. It should take you somewhere and move you in some way, and that’s what I want our songs to do.”

Once the tracks and the parent album were completed they had trouble getting record companies to take an interest. Millar explained, “The band’s manager took the demos around to record companies – and every label turned them down. They said the tracks were too long and too jazzy.” Millar remembered, “They kept saying, ‘Don’t you know what’s happening? Everything is electronic drums now: Tears for Fears, Depeche Mode.’ This was a bit of a blow, because when we played them to people who came by the studio we’d get a fantastic reaction.”

Eventually Epic records signed them and radio came on board very quickly and Diamond Life sold over 10 million copies worldwide, and was the best-selling debut album by a British female vocalist (even it is technically a band!), until Adele superseded it in 2008 with her album 19.

In that same interview with Helienne Lindvall, Millar made a very good point about the auto-tune facility and was very glad it wasn’t around when he was working on this album, he said, “One of the things that makes a string section sound great is that they’re all playing with a slightly different sound, pitch and timing. If you tune them all up they sound smaller and thinner. Where the Auto-Tune sounds most inappropriate is with someone such as Michael Bublé. Sinatra used to sing slightly flat all the time, and so did Sade – that’s what gave her that melancholic sound.”

Arthur’s Theme (Best That you Can Do) (Christopher Cross)

It had never occurred to me, until I recently read an interview with a song writer, that if they are lucky enough to pen a song used as a film theme the best thing for them is to have it featured at the beginning rather than over the end credits. If that can happen then they’ve got more chance of the song being a lot more successful. Why? read on. This week’s suggestion did just that and proved the theory as it was a top 10 hit in the UK and a three-week chart topper in the States as well as winning a Grammy for Best Song.

The song is Arthur’s Theme (Best That you Can Do) which accompanied the great film of 1981 starring Dudley Moore, Liza Minnelli and Sir John Gielgud. The story tells of the alcoholic millionaire playboy (Dudley Moore) who is an heir to a huge fortune which, as part of his family agreement, he can only receive if he marries Susan, but he doesn’t love her and therefore doesn’t want to marry her. Instead it’s a poor waitress who wins his heart but he has to choose whether he takes the money or the woman. If you’ve never seen it, you’ll need to watch it to find out.

The song’s title is not mentioned within the song although the parenthesis (Best That you Can Do) is but the song’s most memorable line is ‘When you get caught between the moon and New York City’ which is what the original title was. The song credits Peter Allen, Burt Bacharach, Christopher Cross and Carole Bayer Sager as writers but it was the Australian lyricist Peter Allen who came up with that line for a song he was working on with Carole Bayer Sager.

When you think about where that place might be, the moon and New York City, it’s obviously somewhere in the sky and that is where the inspiration struck. Allen was on a flight to New York’s JFK airport and whilst waiting to land the plane was on a circling hold whilst waiting for clearance to land. In an interview with Songfacts, Susan Lina claimed she was an attendant on that flight and said to them, “Peter Allen was on my flight and when he was deplaning he said to me, ‘You have inspired me to write a song, and you will know it when you hear it.’

Bayer Sayer, who  is best remembered for her 1977 hit You’re Moving Out Today, was recording a new album in 1981 called Sometimes Late at Night. She’d met Burt Bacharach who she soon became romantically linked with and he produced and co-wrote some songs for her album. She explained, “We were writing together, and now we were living together. My friend Arnold Stieffel, who was then at ICM (and has managed Rod Stewart since the mid-Eighties), thought that getting Burt a movie to score would be the best way to kick-start his comeback, and he hit a home run in his first at-bat. He came up with Arthur.” Another close connection to the film is that Liza Minnelli was Peter Allen’s ex-wife. Bacharach penned the tune and he asked Bayer Sager to work on some lyrics. It was at this point she remembered the line that Allen had come up with and called him to ask his permission to use it. He obviously said yes and that earned him a writing credit for which he would then get 25% of the writer’s royalties.

Once with song was finished and submitted, Bayer Sager recalled, “The director wanted a song to play over the opening scene, which is a songwriter’s dream, because when it plays over the end credits, half the audience is already walking out. Burt and I watched the scene over and over on a small monitor in our living room. He was trying out lots of melody ideas as I was trying to think of words that felt right for the scene which is when I recalled that I had written years earlier with Peter Allen.

Christopher Cross was a new up and coming star in the early 80s and had won five Grammy awards in 1981 which included Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) for the hit Sailing, Album of The Year for Christopher Cross, and Best New Artist. He was considered as first choice to score the film but the film’s director, Steve Gordon disallowed that decision because, as it was his first film, he didn’t want someone fairly inexperienced to score it, so he chose Burt Bacharach. However, Cross did get to co-compose some of the songs.

In 1982, Arthur’s Theme won the Oscar for Best Original Song beating another film-title theme – Endless Love and, ironically, Arthur’s Theme knocked Endless Love off the top of the Billboard number one slot. All four writers accepted the award from Bette Midler and it was Bayer Sager who gave the speech. Five days after that Bayer Sager and Bacharach married.

The pair continued to write together and had two further US chart-toppers with On My Own by Patti LaBelle & Michael McDonald and That’s What Friends Are For by Dionne Warwick & Friends which was originally recorded by Rod Stewart presumably because of the Arnold Stieffel connection.

Bacharach and Bayer Sager divorced in 1991. Sager, in 1996, married the former chairman of Warner Brothers and CEO of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team, Robert Daly and they live in Los Angeles. Bacharach also lives in L.A and, at 93, he is still writing songs and last year was collaborating on and up-and-coming single with Seattle-based single  Melody Federer. As for Cross, in 2019 he was planning a 2020 US tour which has been postponed due to the pandemic. Sadly, the film director Stephen Gordon never got to direct another film as he died of a heart attack in 1982, at the age of 44.