Category: Single of the week

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.

Doctor’s Orders (Sunny)

In the 1960s and 70s, there were an elite bunch of session musicians on both sides of the Atlantic, the Wrecking Crew, as they were known, are probably the most famous in the US but in the UK, there were more groups of individual session people, Clem Cattini and Bobby Graham were the most sought after drummers, Big Jim Sullivan, Vic Flick and a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page were much in demand guitarists and Madeline Bell,  Merry Clayton, Lesley Duncan, Darlene Love, Joe Brown’s wife Vicky, a pre-famous Luther Vandross and the sisters Sue and Sunny all had their services requested for backing singers. This week’s suggestion concentrates on one half of the latter duo’s only solo UK hit, Sunny.

Sue and Sonny were real sisters who were born Yvonne and Heather Wheatman respectively in Madras in India and began singing professionally in 1963 under the name The Myrtelles. “I cut my first record when I was 12,” Sunny recalled in an interview with Michael Benton. “It was called Just Let Me Cry and was released by Oriole Records. Then when I was 15, I teamed up with my sister, and turned professional. Our work in those days consisted of cabaret dates, but after three years of doing them, we both realised they were too old for us – the audiences.” They briefly changed their names to Sue and Sunshine before setting with Sue and Sunny. They came to London in the early 60s and began working with Kenny Lynch who suggested they change their name to The Stockingtops, but they didn’t like that and moved on.

Before they settled permanently in the UK, they played in Europe as Sunny explained, “We went to Germany to play the air force bases, only this time we put on a more girlish act. But once again we felt the work wasn’t right. We had to sing all the old standards and they didn’t really suit a couple of teenagers. We felt trapped. We decided to come back to London.”

Once back in London, three or four years went by with nothing much happening the girls were beginning to lose interest when their lucky break happened, “One day we got a call from Lesley Duncan who asked us if we’d help her do a session. She was absolutely desperate so we agreed. Anyway, the session went really well and things materialised from there.” That, in turn, led to a session with Love Affair and can be prominently heard singing the line ‘So lead me where the rainbow ends’ in the 1968 hit Rainbow Valley which peaked at number five. Next stop – a number one hit. “We were asked if we’d like to back Joe Cocker. It really flipped me because I had always admired him, not only for his singing but for the tremendous amount of effort he puts into everything he does,” and just six months later they sang on his cover of the Beatles’ With A Little Help from My Friends. That song also launched Joe Cocker’s career in the States and he undertook the Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour which was manic but Sue and Sunny reluctantly turned down the invitation, “I really wanted to do that tour, but it was such a long one that Sue and myself knew we’d have a hard time keeping up the pace.” confessed Sunny.

They joined the first incarnation of Brotherhood of Man in 1970 and sang alongside their male counterpart Tony Burrows and can be heard on United We Stand and then again with Burrows on Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) by Edison Lighthouse. Over the next few years they became backing singers for Elton, John, Dusty Springfield, Giorgio Moroder, Donna Summer, Frank Zappa, T-Rex, Mott The Hoople, David Bowie and Tom Jones and probably made more appearances on Top of the Pops than Tony Burrows.

Then came Sunny’s only UK hit single under her own name and on her own. She explained why Sue was not involved, “After Brotherhood of Man folded, Sue decided she wanted to spend some time having babies, so I was just left to get on with things by myself. The song writer Roger Cook knew that I was going solo and rang me up to say that he had a song for me. Anyway, I went round to see him, heard the song and thought it might do something. I wasn’t sure because I’d chosen songs in the past and they’d flopped. I recorded it in November 1973 with Roger Greenaway producing and Chris Gunning provided the arrangement. I also wrote the flip side It’s Only When You’re Lonely. You know, I’m crazy about lyrics and lady singers, especially people like Billie Holliday, Nancy Wilson, Barbra Streisand and Diana Ross.”

She also recorded an album also called Doctor’s Orders which included some songs from the Cook & Greenaway stable as well as a cover version of the Drifters’ 1973 hit Like Sister and Brother. A follow up single, A Warm and Tender Romance was released but failed to chart thus leaving Sunny as a one-hit-wonder, but, then again, how can she be given the number of hits she’s been on?

The song has been covered by numerous people including Carol Douglas who took the song to number 11 in the States as well as charting in Belgium, France, Italy, New Zealand, Germany and its best placing of number two in Spain. There have also been versions recorded in different languages and genres, in French by a lady called Sheila,  a reggae version by Pluto, one by the soul musician Van McCoy, another by Giti Pashae with Persian lyrics and one in Finnish by Lea Laven retitled as Viittiks Tulla Takas. It’s certainly been around the world that song.

Young Turks (Rod Stewart)

The same week I planned to do a teenage rebellion round in my weekly quiz, this suggestion came in from the Lodgeman and it fits the bill perfectly. One of the reasons Rod Stewart has stuck around as long as he has is because he moves with the times and tries new things. In the late 70s he embraced the disco boom with Da Ya Think I’m Sexy and was rewarded with a chart-topping single. Now he looked towards the New Wave scene and this song was inspired by one of Rod’s favourite New Waves bands at the time.

Young Turks falls into a limited category of songs that don’t quite mention the whole title in the lyrics. There are hundreds of songs that don’t mention the title at all, but like Ken Boothe’s version of Everything I Own, he actually sings Anything I Own, Rod sings Young Hearts but not Young Turks. Why? Well the reason is not totally definitive. A young Turk is a slang term originating in an early 20th-century political party in Turkey. It’s used to describe a rebellious youth who acts in the opposite way of what is expected by society. I wonder if Matt Hancock or Dominic Cummings are reading this?! If Rod, or even the record company, were worried about offending young Turks, why call it that in the first place?

The song was co-written by Rod with Carmine Appice who he has had associations with since the 60s and joined Rod’s backing group in 1977 along with Kevin Savigar and Duane Hitchings. Savigar is a session keyboard player who has worked with Rod for many years as well as people like Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Pat Benatar and Peter Frampton to name a few.

The song began with a pacey, pulsing synthesiser sound which was created by co-writer and synch keyboard player Duane Hitchings who said, “I started the idea because Devo was really big and one of my favourite groups and of course Rod did a great job! I got a bit of help with a nice instrumental line from Kevin Savigar also.” As for the lyrics, they were penned by Rod and tells the story of two young lovers, Billy and Patti who didn’t have much money but wanted to run away together to be free and do what they wanted to do. Appice told Songfacts, “Rod was always trying to be on the cutting edge at that time, so we did the drum machine stuff. Duane had just gotten a sequencer, so we started screwing around and came up with the chords and melodies and we presented it to Rod. This one was easy because he used the whole concept that we came up with. We just transferred it from the 8-track that Duane had going right onto the 24-track. We used the drum machine and everything. Once we gave Rod the music, he wrote the lyrics.”

The story starts with Billy leaving home with only a dollar in his pocket but a head full of dreams. Maybe they were more mature than the song gives them credit for as ‘Billy’ says, ‘We got but one shot at life, let’s take it while we’re still not afraid,’ quite a mature thing to say for a young heart. But, then there is a youthful immaturity to it as the next verse states, ‘Billy pierced his ears, drove a pickup like a lunatic.’

They spent many nights in bedsits and had time to think about what they were doing. Billy has an element of guilt for his girlfriend’s folks because we hear, ‘Billy wrote a letter back home to Patti’s parents tryin’ to explain, he said we’re both real sorry that it had to turn out this way, but there ain’t no point in talking when there’s nobody listening, so we just ran away.’

As expected, she falls pregnant and then, voila! ‘Patti gave birth to a 10-pound baby boy,’ but that is where the story ends really and the rest of the song refrains the chorus of, ‘Young hearts gotta run free, be free, live free, time is on, time is on your side.’

Young Turks was the second single from Rod’s 1981 album Tonight I’m Yours – the title track being the first. It peaked at number 11 in the UK, but it was the first video played on newly-launched MTV that contained breakdancing. It also featured 70s singer Linda Lewis on backing vocals.

Videos were a fairly new phenomenon in the early 80s and Rod has just turned 40. “The videos were cutting edge,” revealed Appice. Rod had top-of-the line people. When I first joined him, the first video we did was for Hot Legs, and that was a great video. It was played all over the world. For every album we did with Rod, we did two or three videos. There were a lot of stations that would play videos. There were video outlets in Australia and England. Top of The Pops would play the videos all the time.” In the Russell Mulcahy-directed video for Young Turks we see lots of kids dancing in the street and on car roof’s and bonnets in Los Angeles. Rod and his band are on stage and the part of Patti was played by the actress E.G. Daily whose real name is Elizabeth Ann Guttman who later went on to voice characters in Rugrats, The Powerpuff Girls and, in 1994, provided the voice of Bamm-Bamm in the film version of The Flintstones. Billy was played by Dale Pauley whose only other known work was as the fat bloke in Olivia Newton-John’s video to Physical.

There’s a good chance that The Weeknd was inspired by this song as it has a great similarity to his seven-week 2020 chart-topper Blinding Lights.

Smoke From a Distant Fire (Sanford/Townsend Band)

Back in the days when really only radio play of a song would get you into the chart, it’s baffling why this song didn’t chart. There will be a large number of people who will know this song from the days when Chris Evans used to open his all-request Friday show on Radio 2 with this and even then, the record companies missed a trick by not re-issuing it. Andrew Austin who requested said, “It’s a great song but I don’t know much about the band or track.” Well Andrew, let me tell you all about it.

The Sanford/Townsend Band were a duo made up of Ed Sanford and Johnny Townsend who issued this as a single in America back in 1976 and a year later in the UK, but the story began roughly 10 years before that. “I seemed to have some musical abilities at an early age, so my Mom had me start piano lessons in the fourth grade,” Johnny Townsend told Rick Simmons. “When I was 17, I saw this band called Big Ben Atkins and the Nomads, and they blew me away. On the way home that night, I started singing along with the car radio, and my friend Jimmy said, ‘Hey, you sing pretty good! want to start a band?’ So, we did. Our first gig was a junior high prom and we were paid a grand total of $20, but it told me we could actually make money at this thing. By the time I reached college, we were making money hand-over-fist and were one of the most popular bands in a three-state area in the Southeast. We called ourselves the Magnificent Seven and we were seriously influenced by the rhythm and blues coming out of places like New Orleans, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals. We started to get a little more exposure and eventually became part of the Florida Gulf Coast club scene. In Panama City, there was a popular band called the Swinging Medallions that had a big hit with their song Double Shot, and as a result, vacated their club gig at the Old Hickory, leaving a spot for us to slide in and grab an audience of high school and college kids vacationing in Florida for the summer.”

After originally declining and then serving a short spell with the band Hour Glass which briefly had Gregg and Duane Allman before they went off to form the Allman Brothers (I wonder how long it took them to think of that?), Townsend spent six months in Los Angeles when he met his future band member Ed Sanford.

“We wrote maybe a dozen songs together,” Townsend said. Ed and our friend Steve Stewart were living in a duplex down in Hollywood, and I’d go hang out with them every day. Ed had a little piano, and Steven was an excellent classical guitarist, and he was one of these driven people who would sit up all night with a music stand in front of him with his guitar thinking if he couldn’t be Bach, then life wouldn’t be worth living. I went over one morning, and Ed had been up all night because he’d been kept awake by Steve playing in the next room. Ed said, ‘When are you going to knock that crap off and write something that’s gonna make you some money?’ Steven turned around and said, ‘Anybody can write that stuff!’ and he starts playing this great riff he’d made up on the spot. Ed and I looked at each other and said, ‘Hey, that’s pretty cool!’ We sat down at the piano and started the song using Steven’s riff, and Ed said, ‘I think this will fit a poem I wrote in college; check out these lyrics and see if they work for you.’ The poem he’d written was actually called Smoke from a Distant Fire. He’d had this girlfriend who was fooling around on him, and I thought it was a great image, we all did at the time. I don’t remember anything else about the poem, we just took the title from it. In the spring of 1974, Ed Sanford and I had just signed a publishing deal with Chappell Music. They gave us a nice advance and a weekly stipend and for a couple of unknown writers, this was a rare deal.”

Townsend revealed in an interview with Songfacts, “We demoed with a lot of the great players of the day which caught the attention of another big time New York producer, Jerry Wexler.” Wexler was impressed and took the band to Muscle Shoals studios to record. “We used our band with Barry Beckett as co-producer and musical supervisor. The experience was incredible. We had some of our friends from the Loggins and Messina band come in and play on the record. I got my younger brother Billy up from Tuscaloosa to help with background singing and we came up with quite a nice record. The most memorable song from that outing was Smoke from A Distant Fire. Still a big favourite with a surprising amount of folks to this day. Jerry was not a musician, he couldn’t read or play a note. I don’t think he could even carry a tune. But he had those ears and he trusted them implicitly. More than anything else, that was his biggest strength. He just knew when it was right, and he knew the difference between something that was good and something that was great, and he could point the way to greatness.”

The Sanford/Townsend band were the first group Jerry had produced as he usually preferred to work with solo artists, he made Barry Beckett co-producer and part of our deal with Barry was that in addition to part of his percentage on the record, he got $5,000 and with that money he hired a promotion man who got the song on to around 30 stations in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

Once those few stations picked it up, it spread like wild fire and before long radio stations in Los Angeles, New York and Boston, Massachusetts were all playing it and it hit the Billboard charts where it peaked at number nine in the Autumn of 1977.

They released five further singles, but none were hits, thus they joined the long list of one-hit-wonders, but on the back of that hit, “We toured for about eight years and went all over the world and shared the stage with a lot of premier acts of that time like Fleetwood Mac, the Marshall Tucker Band, Jimmy Buffett, Foreigner, and others,” Townsend said. “Ed later co-wrote I Keep Forgettin’ with Michael McDonald, but eventually we too went our separate ways. I still get a thrill out of playing Smoke from a Distant Fire. Everybody still likes it, and it always gets a great reaction. I remember when we played in Myrtle Beach, and there was a great crowd. After we played the song, people came up and said, ‘You sound just like that guy who sang that song,’ and I’d say, ‘Well, that’s because I am that guy!’ Other people would say, ‘I never knew you guys were white!’ For someone with my musical roots, that’s one of the greatest compliments I could ever have.”

A few years ago, the pair reunited to remaster some of their early recordings. Townsend said, “I’m also working with an 11-piece horn band in Virginia Beach called the TGZ Band. I also did some writing and recording with my friends Rick Vittallo and Larry Antonino. Rick was music director for Englebert Humperdinck’s 54-piece orchestra, and Larry is the current bass player and singer with the group Player. We also added former ELP and Doobie Brothers drummer Tony Pia.

Jerry Masters was the engineer on the original session and in 2015 he recalled, “I had the distinctly pleasure to record Smoke from A Distant Fire at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. I cut all the tracks and did all the overdubs. I had to leave for a week for personal reasons, so Gregg Hamm did a wonderful job of mixing the final product. I always thought it was the best LP I did in my career, sound wise, and talent wise. Johnny’s and Ed’s vocals blew me away, and still do, even to this day.

Angie Baby

Helen Reddy was such a good-looking lady, had a great voice and made so many great songs, so it’s a puzzling thought as to why she is only remembered for one hit in the UK. She is often classed as a one-hit wonder and not really surprising because after Angel Baby was a hit in 1975 six and a half years went by until she had her only other hit which was I Can’t Say Goodbye to You, but it missed the top 40. Who was Angie and did Helen even know considering she didn’t write it? Let’s find out.

Helen was far more successful in the States and she’s not even American. She was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1941 into a showbiz family so it’s not surprising she followed in their footsteps and even more impressively, did so from the age of four.

In the early sixties, she entered a television talent show called Bandstand which she won and the prize was a ticket to New York for an audition. She passed the audition and so her recording career began in her new home. Her first single was called One Way Ticket (not the Neil Sedaka song) was recorded in 1968 and was first recorded by Gloria Loring. Gloria may not be a familiar name to you, but her son will be as he had an international number one hit in 2013 called Blurred Lines. Yes, Robin Thicke was Gloria Loring’s son.

Her second release was called I Believe in Music which was backed with a cover of the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber song I Don’t Know How to Love Him. That was the song that got her a record deal with Capitol records and was a hit in its own right in Canada and on the back of that was flipped by DJs and became her debut American Billboard hit where it peaked at number 13 in 1971.

The following year she had her first US chart-topper with I Am Woman and exactly one year later had her second with Delta Dawn. Her third and final one came in December 1974 when Angie Baby spent a week at the top going into 1975.

Angie Baby was written and originally recorded by a real one-hit-wonder, a man by the name of Alan O’Day. His only UK hit was called Undercover Angel which got the same position as Helen Reddy’s forgotten follow up, but he did it in 1977. Alan explained its inspiration in an interview with Forgotten Hits, “Back in 1974, I was trying to write a song loosely based on the character in the Beatles’ Lady Madonna. My ‘heroine’ was initially a typical modern woman, dealing with the complexities of juggling family & work. Now when a writer is at the beginning stages of a project, gut-level feelings are sometimes all you have to go on. And my ‘gut’ told me that the character I was creating had a major problem: she was boring!” In a different interview with Billboard, he added, “I started adding layers of weirdness to her character. The weirder she got, the more interesting the song became.”

The Angie in question is fictitious although possibly inspired by the Rolling Stones’ song from the year previous. “This frustrating observation led me to explore some ‘what if?’ scenarios. What if the woman in my song was abnormal in some way? My thoughts went back several years to a young next-door neighbour girl who seemed ‘socially retarded’. Very quiet, kept herself to herself. Although I hardly knew her, I liked to imagine what she thought about. I also remembered my own childhood; I was sick often as a kid, and being an only child, many of my days were spent in bed with a radio to keep me company. These thoughts germinated into an imaginary retarded teenage girl named Angie Baby and I began a lyric story describing her situation.” All this is summed up very succinctly in the opening line, ‘You live your life in the songs you hear, on the rock ‘n’ roll radio, and when a young girl doesn’t have any friends, that’s a really nice place to go.’

Alan took a vacation in Palm Springs and took the half-written song with him. He wanted to make the song more intriguing, “I had the idea of Angie becoming impregnated by this guy in the song and having a baby,” he explained to Fred Bronson. He wanted to ‘test’ out the song on someone complete unconnected and he read the first part to the lady that ran the motel he was staying in. She figured her opinion would be more honest than some record executive, he explained her reaction, “She listened and really liked Angel as a person. When I told her, I was thinking about through further trial and tribulations, she got kind of upset and said, ‘no, she’s been through enough.'”

Once the song was finished, Alan took it to his publishing company who wanted to offer it to Cher as she had already covered the O’Day track, Train of Thought which is the opening track on her 1974 album Dark Lady, but Cher turned it down. Helen got the gig and, according to O’Day, sold approximately two million copies.

Reddy had further US hits and also tried her hand as an actress and appeared in three films, Airport ’73, The Disney film Pete’s Dragon and the 1978 shocking Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. In 2002, she decided to retire from the industry and moved back to her native Australia living in Sydney. In 2015, it was announced in the press that she had been diagnosed with dementia. She moved back to Los Angeles and in 2017 made an appearance at a Women’s March which was in aid of Women’s Rights and Unity following the inauguration of Donald Trump. Reddy died on 29 September 2020 in L.A. The year previous, a biographical film named after one of her biggest songs, I Am Woman with the Reddy being portrayed by the Australian actress Tilda Cobham-Hervey.

Alan O’Day recalled once of his happiest stories about the song, “It came in the form of a grateful letter from a mental hospital counsellor in Hawaii. It seems she had a traumatised patient named Angie, who had been unable to talk for some period of time. She decided to play the 45rpm single of Angie Baby, daily, for this unfortunate girl, to see if it might somehow help. The counsellor wrote that this girl began making dramatic progress, and if memory serves me, was ultimately released.”

There was some confusion with some people about the song’s content with people speculating as to what it was about. This quite often confused O’Day, one of his favourite stories is, “When Angie Baby was a hit in Australia, I got an unexpected 3am phone call from a radio DJ there, saying he had figured out the riddle of what Angie Baby did with the boy. Sleepy, but wanting to be polite, I asked, ‘OK, what?’ Triumphantly he answered, ‘She turned him into a disc jockey!’ Actually, I wish I’d thought of that!”

Lady Marmalade (Labelle)

When an act writes a song and then denies that something about it isn’t really what it seems, drugs references, are a good example, I questioned it. When someone covers someone else’s song and claims they didn’t really know what it was about or didn’t fully understand the meaning, then it’s a little more believable, but, being the suspicious type, I sometimes question that too. This week’s suggestion, Lady Marmalade, is a cover and first a hit for Labelle and when the lead singer Patti Labelle claimed she didn’t know the real meaning of the song until much later certainly raised my eyebrow. Patti said in an interview the NME, “I thought people would boo us because we’d gone too far.”

The song was written in 1974 and first recorded by a group of disco studio musicians called The Eleventh Hour who were fronted by the song’s co-writer Kenny Nolan. As Kenny remembered, “The song was written in bits, I had a section here and a section there, but still needed something to link it. Bob [Crewe] and I came up with the idea of ‘Voulez-vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir?’ and that seemed to be the missing bit of the puzzle.” Patti Labelle noted in her 1997 biography, Don’t Block the Blessings, that the song was written about Creole prostitutes and so in a 1986 interview she explained, “That song was taboo. I mean, why sing about a hooker? Why not? I had a good friend who was a hooker, and she died. She never took the mike out of my mouth and I never took the mattress from under her. She was a friend, doing her thing. It’d be like discriminating because you’re white and I’m black, or you’re gay and someone’s straight. I don’t believe in separating people. If your job is as a hooker, more power to you.”

The line Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir is French for Do you want to sleep with me tonight?, now whether Nolan and Crewe thought saying it in French would be more acceptable on radio in the UK as it wouldn’t so obviously is unclear, but some television stations, more than radio, refused to play it so the line had to be amended to ‘Voulez-vous danser avec moi ce soir’ meaning do you want to dance with me. Much more acceptable.

In the same NME interview, Patti said, “I swear I had no idea for a while what it meant, until I asked Bob Crewe, who recorded it, ‘what’s voulez-vous coucher avec moi ce soir?’ He told me, ‘Oh gosh’, I said, ‘what will my mother think?’ I was afraid of change. But when we went out and did it, I said good! Three outrageous black women who wore and said anything onstage.”

In 1998, All Saints recorded a version and it was released as one half of a double A-side with a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Under the Bridge. The line Voulez-Vous Coucher Avec Moi Ce Soir was included on the label of the Labelle version but not on the All Saints version, besides which, by 1998 there was no such trouble for All Saints and it was a little more apt as Mel is part-French on her mother’s side.

In June 2001, Baz Luhrmann’s written and directed movie Moulin Rouge was unleashed on the world and in the first 10 days, it netted $28 million. Why? Well, the hype, the stars and the humour played a big part, but it was the terrific music that paid homage to the 20th century’s songbook, and frenzied energy keeps the film moving. It features some unusual covers of classic songs including; Diamond Dogs (Beck), Nature Boy (John Leguizamo), Children of The Revolution (Marius Devries), The Sound of Music (Ewan McGregor), One Day I’ll Fly Away (Nicole Kidman) and Your Song (Ewan McGregor with Placido Domingo). The highlight is the teaming of up R&B/hip-hop stars Christina Aguilera with Lil Kim, Mya and Pink who together recorded Lady Marmalade which was produced by Missy Elliott and the song went to number one again exactly three years after All Saints.

In the States, although the film was just as popular, the track wasn’t released as a single because Billboard were now compiling the chart by a combination of sales and airplay. But because Lady Marmalade received sufficient radio exposure that it topped the chart for five weeks as an airplay hit, and in the process, became the first airplay-only single to spend more than one week on top.

Labelle obviously wasn’t the only one who didn’t understand the French bit, Mya once said in an interview, “I used to sing the original version around the house when I was a kid, I never knew what the French part meant, and my mom, who spoke French, never told me.” The video for the Missy Elliott version featured the singers dressed as prostitutes, which is how they performed it on the show and went on to win Video of the Year at the 2001 MTV Video Music Awards. Clearly it didn’t offend anyone anymore.