Category: Single of the week

Jet (Wings)

Cat Stevens, Red Foley and Pink Floyd did it, as did Henry Gross and Paul McCartney, what you ask? Write a song about their dog. Paul is famous for writing Martha, My Dear about his Old English sheepdog he owned at the time and that track appeared on the Beatles’ eponymous album or the White Album as it is known. What about Jet? Is that also about a dog as is popularly believed? Let’s find out.

Paul and Linda are animal lovers and have a farm with a variety of pets on. They are particularly big on dogs as they had a Dalmatian called Lucky as well as a Golden Labrador called Poppy. As for Jet, well there were two animals in the McCartney household with that name; there was a black Labrador and also a pony.

First things first, regardless of whether the song was named after the dog or the pony, it does not really matter, but the song is not about about the moggy. In 1976, two years after its release, Linda explained, “Paul wanted that one to be totally mad.” Paul put a little more context to it as he explained to GQ in 2018, “I was in a song writing mood and I was up in Scotland. I just thought, OK, I just gotta go somewhere and try and write a song. We happened to have a little pony that was called Jet on the farm. I took my guitar and hiked up this great big hill. I found myself a place which was in the middle of nature, and just sat there and started making up a song. I was wondering where to record and I fancied getting out of England, so I asked my record label which is EMI to supply me with a list of all the studios they had around the world – I knew they had a lot. One was in China, one was in Rio de Janeiro and one was in Lagos, Nigeria. So, I went, yeah Lagos, come on, because I like African music a lot. I love the rhythms of African music so I chose that not realising that it would be a really basic little studio.” The studio was quite primitive and Paul had to do some structural work to it before they could record the song remembering, “I liked the primitive aspect of it and being in Africa was a pretty interesting experience.” The song was mixed at AIR studios in London. However, according to engineer Geoff Emerick in his book Here, There and Everywhere, he said, “Whereas most of the Band on the Run album was recorded in Lagos, Nigeria, Jet was recorded entirely at EMI Studios in London after the group returned.” Make of that what you will.

So if the song is not about the dog, what is it about? I’m not even sure Paul knows! “I make up so much stuff. It means something to me when I do it, and it means something to the record buyer, but if I’m asked to analyse it I can’t really explain what it is,” Paul said in Paul McCartney: In His Own Words. He continued, “I don’t know where all the words came from. Well I know where Jet came from – I liked the name. The words are probably about me and my father-in-law. The early days of getting married and when your father-in-law is kind of a nuisance. He’s probably the ‘Major’ in it but it’s only a song so you kind of work your things out. As for the word Suffragette, “It sounded silly or crazy and I like it.” It seems the words were mostly chosen to fit the melody rather than for their meaning therefore, it generally has little significance.

I often wondered if ‘Suffragette’ was going round Paul’s mind having heard the B side of David Bowie’s Starman which was Suffragette City and released around 18 months prior to the recording. I only make that connection because David Bowie’s producer, Tony Visconti, did all the orchestration on the album Band on the Run.

The saxophone session player on the track is an old contemporary of the Beatles. Howie Casey was formally in a Liverpool band called Derry and the Seniors who Paul had met in the Cavern Club in the sixties.

In 2000, Melbourne-born brothers Nic and Chris Cester, having been highly influenced by McCartney, formed a rock band in Australia and named themselves after the Wings track. They had seven UK hit singles, their best-known being Are You Gonna Be My Girl which reached number 16 in 2004.

(Feels Like) Heaven (Fiction Factory)

The true definition of the one-hit-wonder is an act that have had one number one hit and no other chart action. Many will class an act that have had one hit a one-hit-wonder or, in a Channel 4 researcher’s case, one hit that they can remember without doing any research – most famously Chesney Hawkes. This week’s suggestion came in whilst I was in the middle of compiling one of quiz rounds and I was looking for happy, upbeat, sad songs and this one I have now added to the list. They’re not quite a one-hit-wonder but you’d be hard pushed to remember their second and final hit, as for their first, well, what a song.

(Feel Like) Heaven is instantly recognisable on the opening four notes and remains a radio favourite. Fiction Factory was formed in Perth, Scotland in 1983 and comprised singer/songwriter Kevin Patterson, keyboard player Eddie Jordan, guitarist Chic Medley (real name Charles Medley), bassist Graham McGregor and former Simple Minds drummer Mike Ogletree.

Prior to forming the band, Patterson, Medley and Jordan had all been members of a Ska band called The Rude Boys. McGregor had been a roadie for the funk band Rokotto who had two minor hits with Boogie On up and Funk Theory.

They found is hard to get a deal and really understand the business up in Perth, “Without coming down to London you don’t really know how the business works,” Mike Ogletree recalled in an interview with Simon Hills. “We didn’t want to come down with nothing to offer and I would have been worried about joining the band if it wasn’t for the quality of the songs. We purposely kept the songs simple so we could play them live easily.”

(Feels Like) Heaven is the story of a failed, relationship which may well have included some abuse and talks about the sense of relief of having escaped in one piece. The lyrics are stark, ‘Twisting the bones until they snap, I scream but no one knows’, and the inevitable, ‘We can recall the harmony, that lingered but turned sour’ break up signs, but it’s Eddie Jordan’s jaunty keyboard work that slightly disguises the heartbreak of the story.

The parent album, the bizarrely titled Throw the Warped Wheel Out, contained 10 self-penned songs of quality, but (Feels Like) Heaven was the standout track which spent nine weeks on the UK singles chart and peaked at number six. In Ireland, it went to number four, but its best showing was in Switzerland where it reached number two. The follow up, The Ghost of Love, which was actually their first release, did only slightly better than first time round when it stalled at number 64. The group disbanded in 1987 after the release of their second album Another Story after it failed to excite the public.

They had a resurgence in 2016 when the Manic Street Preachers released a faithful cover. “It’s not like a radical reworking, but the Manics have certainly been able to make it their own,” Patterson recalled, “Having heard it I can sit back and relax because it could have turned out horribly. When I wrote the song with Eddie I think I felt there was something different about the song – and so it has proved as the years have gone on. There’s been a few covers but this is certainly one of the more prestigious ones that we’ve had. There was one Japanese grunge band that did a version I liked, with quite a dark video but I can’t remember what they were called.”

Mike Ogletree, now lives and works in the USA and Patterson, who is a father-of-two, went into IT and now works at Dundee University.

Friends (Arrival)

In musical terms, when you think of Liverpool you naturally think of the Beatles first. Then you might think of Gerry & The Pacemakers, Echo & The Bunnymen, Frankie Goes to Hollywood or even Atomic Kitten, but there were so many more that were much less known. Just when the Beatles were breaking up, there was the arrival of Arrival who had a couple of hits, but didn’t stick around long through no fault of their own.

They were a male/female tight harmony group comprising lead singers Dyan Birch, Carroll Carter, Frank Collins and Paddy McHugh who had both been members of the Excelles, bass player Don Hume and drummer Lloyd Courtney who had briefly been a member of The Casuals. In early 1969, they came to London to seek a recording contract. The Gunnell Agency suggested they add a keyboard player and so Tony O’Malley who came from Bushey in Hertfordshire was recruited. Whilst in London they attended an Aretha Franklin concert in London where afterwards they ran into A&R director at Decca records, Tony Hall. After sending a demo to the label, Tony signed them up and became their manager. Prior to this the band had made a name for themselves on the live circuit mainly specialising in Motown covers. By the time of their hits, they were booked to appear at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival.

Terry Reid, a brilliant musician and held in high esteem across the music industry, but his name has become synonymous with turning down the chance to join Led Zeppelin and he is sick of talking about even having a go at one journalist who opened an interview with the same tired question. Anyway, Reid, hails from Huntingdon and in 1964, aged just 15, he left school and joined Peter Jay & The Jaywalkers. Two years after that, his profile grew when the band supported the Rolling Stones on their 1966 tour. In 1968, he embarked on a solo career and released his debut album, Bang, Bang You’re Terry Reid which opens with a cover of Sonny and Cher’s Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down) and includes a cover of Gene Pitney’s Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart as well as a song written by Donovan otherwise it’s all his own songs.

On his 1969 album Move Over for Terry Reid, one track was a medley of Highway 61 Revisited/Friends – a combination of the Bob Dylan song with one of his own. Arrival covered Friends and were awarded with a number eight hit. Dyan’s lead vocals did the song justice and, at the time, she was graciously compared to Dusty Springfield.

Arrival split in 1973 with various members joining other charting acts like the Olympic Runners who had four hits in the late seventies and Gonzalez who had one hit with the Gloria Jones-penned Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet. The majority of the band formed Kokomo who were, at one point, a 10-piece group and described as a white soul group similar to the Average White Band, an act they did tour with at one time. They stayed together for three years and impressed Bob Dylan who invited them to back him on his Desire album. Their only UK chart success came in 1982 with the wonderful, but minor hit single, A Little Bit Further Away which featured Frank Collins on lead vocal and Dyan Birch on backing.

Hello In There (John Prine)

Many famous musicians have had films made of their lives, Ray Charles, Johnny Cash are good examples but to make a movie of someone who is not a household name is a challenge. John Prine was a wonderful story-telling singer-songwriter but not a name on that’s on the top of the majority of people’s minds, yet there had been a resurgence of interest as news got out that there was an upcoming documentary about his life entitled John Prine: Hello in There, which is also the title of the song suggested this week.

Prine, who was born in Maywood, Illinois in October 1946, never had any UK hit singles nor albums, but had a massive following on the live circuit because of his wonderful, often humorous, songs. As a songwriter, he has had two UK hits, firstly in 1992 when Daniel O’Donnell took his song I Just Want to Dance with You to number 20 in the UK and five years later, the Alabama 3 took Speed of the Sound of Loneliness into the lower end of the chart. Both tracks appeared on Prine’s 1986 album German Afternoons.

I don’t think Prine believed he was going to make a success out of singing judging by the reaction he got in the very early days. He began by attending what would now be known as an open mic night in a folk club in Old Town which is a suburb of Chicago. He performed three or four songs the audience were so mesmerised that there was no reaction at the end; “They just sat there,” he revealed in an interview with Paul Zollo. “They didn’t even applaud, they just looked at me. I thought, ‘Uh oh. This is pretty bad.’ I started shuffling my feet and looking around. And then they started applauding and it was a really great feeling. It was like I found out all of a sudden that I could communicate, that I could communicate really deep feelings and emotions. And to find that out all at once was amazing.”

Hello in There first appeared on his eponymous debut album in 1971 and he explained in a Performing Songwriter interview how he came up with the idea for a song about growing old, “I heard the John Lennon song Across the Universe, and he had a lot of reverb on his voice. I was thinking about hollering into a hollow log, trying to get through to somebody – Hello in there. That was the beginning thought, then it went to old people. I’ve always had an affinity for old people. I used to help a buddy with his newspaper route, and I delivered to a Baptist old people’s home where we’d have to go room-to-room. Some of the patients would kind of pretend that you were a grandchild or nephew that had come to visit, instead of the guy delivering papers. That always stuck in my head. It was all that stuff together, along with that pretty melody. I don’t think I’ve done a show without singing Hello in There. Nothing in it wears on me.”

When you listen to the song, you immediately think it’s biographical as he talks about his wife Loretta and his children who have all grown up and moved on, with his son John and his wife Linda living in Omaha, the unknown whereabouts of his son Joe who is somewhere on the road and Davy who was killed in the Korean War. Well, John was married three times to Ann, then Rachel and finally Fiona. His real children were called Tommy, Jack, and Jody. So why did he choose those names for the song? “The names mean a lot. You know, like Loretta,” he said in an interview with Bruce Pollock. “I wanted to pick a name that could be an old person’s name, but I didn’t want it to stick out so much. People go through phases one year where a lot of them will name their kids the same… and I was just thinking that it was very possible that the kind of person I had in mind could be called Loretta. And it’s not so strange that it puts her in a complete time period.”

Later in the song he says how he and his wife don’t talk much and how she just spends time staring out the window. He has passing thoughts of tracking down Rudy, and old work colleague and when he does the conversation doesn’t resort to much and how nothing much has changed. Was Rudy a real old colleague? “We used to live in this three-room flat and across the street there was this dog who would never come in and the dog’s name was Rudy,” he continued, “and the lady used to come out at five o’clock every night and go ‘Ru-dee! Ru-dee!’ And I was sitting there writing and suddenly I go ‘Rudy! Yeah! I got that.'”

The last verse has some comforting and valuable advice that will always apply, “So if you’re walking down the street sometime and spot some hollow ancient eyes, please don’t just pass ’em by and stare, as if you didn’t care, say, “Hello in there, hello”‘

Prine won his first Grammy in 1991 for the album, The Missing Years and was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2016, at the age of 70, he was named Artist of the Year by the Americana Music Association. He also received a lifetime achievement award in 2020.

John had his share of health problems; in 1998, a squamous cell cancer was discovered on the right side of his neck and during the operation to remove it some nerves in his tongue were affected and it altered his voice giving it a more gravelly tone. In 2013, he had surgery to removed cancer tissues from his left lung which he recovered from. In March 2020, Fiona announced that she had contracted COVID-19 which got passed to John. She made a full recovery but John sadly did not and passed away on 7th April this year.

It was announced that John Prine: Hello in There would still go ahead and was in post-production with a theatrical release planned.

John’s regular band members used to say. “There are two types of people: those who love John Prine and those who haven’t heard of him yet. John’s songs were a daily reminder that there’s always a way to laugh at your own misfortune.”

Rabbit Chas & Dave

Chas Hodges and Dave Peacock – two of the nicest, down-to-earth people you could ever meet in the music industry. I worked with them on a number of occasions and each time they remembered me by name which was very flattering. Both lived in Hertfordshire, not far from me, so we often chatted about roadworks and other rubbish in the local area, but we talked music too. One night when we worked together Chas said to me, bring something in tomorrow and we’ll sign it for you, I couldn’t decide what to take so I took all my 7″ singles and albums and they signed the lot. Bless them! Anyway, enough of this rabbit, let’s find out about the song.

The duo first hit the UK chart and thus became famous in 1978 and their first top 20 hit was Gertcha. I remember Dave saying they weren’t allowed to use the word Cowson on Top of the Pops and so the pair just looked at each other and nodded leaving a gap where that word was supposed to be. They did slip it in a couple of times. They recorded a special version with different lyrics for a Courage Best UK television commercial. Talking of a brew, their follow-up was The Sideboard Song (Got My Beer in the Sideboard Here) which ridiculously only got to number 55. Then, in 1980, came their first big hit, Rabbit.

Like most of their songs, Rabbit was humorous and packed with clever word play and Chas recalled to Songwriting how it came about, “Me and Dave used to go away to write. We’d hire out a remote cottage somewhere and put ourselves away for a week or so. This time we were in a cottage in Sussex and Dave has an idea based on an old word for a person who spoke too much – a jaw-me-dead. I liked the idea but said ‘can we modernise it a bit as it sound old-fashioned.’ I suggested a modern version of You Talk Too Much (an American top three hit by Joe Jones) we could do an English version of that, so we batted it about and came up with rabbit as in the cockney rhyming slang rabbit and pork – talk.”

Once the song was written, they went into the studio and during the recording Dave started singing ‘Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit’ and Chas said “That’s a good idea but I thought it was too fast for us to use so I suggested how about I do the first and third rabbit and Dave did the second and fourth.” After a few duff takes they got it word perfect, but Dave thought that bit should be used on the fade out, Chas disagreed and said it had to end on the word Rabbit.

The oddest line in the song is, ‘You’ve got more rabbit than Sainsbury’s’ which is not a big seller by any supermarket back then but Chas explained, “I was never mad on that line even though I came up with it and wanted to ditch it just as quick, but Dave thought it was a great line and because he was so enthusiastic about it, it stayed in.”

Dave told The Guardian, “A lot of rock’n’roll stuff has humour in it. Like the Coasters, ‘Take out the papers and the trash.’ Rabbit is an English version of that.” Meanwhile Claire Packman, a correspondent at the Daily Mirror wrote, “The song promotes the stereotype idea that women are objects for men to admire and use.” Or perhaps it implies that men don’t like women who talk too much, however physically prepossessing they may be?” Chas Hodges explained in an interview with the Metro in 2018, “It was just a bit of fun. It was about a girl who had everything going for her but would talk at all the wrong times. We got a few feminists on our backs.” There are always one or two!

Chas was quick to add that the song was not inspired by his wife, “although she can rabbit a bit,” he said. It was aimed at blokes as much as anybody. It has a universal appeal although we didn’t realise that at the time.” The song had extra advertising because, like Gertcha, it was also used in a TV advert for Courage Bitter.

The man seen on the sleeve of the 7″ single supping a pint is a part-time actor called Mr Jackson who, eight years after the song was a hit, had a daughter called Elly. She grew up to be the lead singer with La Roux who, in 2009, had a number one hit with Bulletproof.

Soul Train (Swans Way)

Last week’s Single of the Week was one of the two hits by Fischer-Z, a forgotten 80s hit that sounds as fresh in 2020 as it did in 1980. This week, it’s another forgotten singles by an act that had two hits. This one got higher in the chart than last week’s but do you remember it? It’s by Swans Way and it’s called Soul Train. They released one album and six singles before moving on to form another act. Let’s find out about it.

Swans Way were a trio who formed in 1982 and comprised singers Robert Shaw and Maggie De Monde who also played percussion and Rick P. Jones on double bass. They met when they were all living on the same street in Birmingham and discovered they all had a mutual interest in music and had all individually been in local bands without any major success. Maggie had been in a band called The Playthings who John Peel championed. “Duran Duran really liked us a lot and asked them to go on tour with them,” Maggie recalled. After that they decided the pool their resources and form Swans Way.

In their early days, they found a run-down casino to rehearse in and one day they had a problem as Maggie explained, “We got locked in, everything was dark, it was terrible and I was crying. We had to get out via the fire escape whilst trying to avoid the rats in the pitch black.” Rick recalled to Andy Strike, “It was freezing cold and was terrifying going to the loo because you had to go up three flights of stairs in total darkness. We had three paraffin heaters to try and keep warm.”

Jones, who is a stand-up bass player recalled to Smash Hits how they got started, “We literally locked ourselves away every day and forced ourselves to do something. At first we just tried out different instruments, then we slowly eliminated the ones that didn’t feel or sound right and we evolved into what we sound like now.”

Their first single in 1982 was called Theme from the Balcony. Two years later they released The Anchor followed by When The Wild Calls but all failed to chart. Both were taken from their only album The Fugitive Kind, but then came the third release, Soul Train that went to number 20.

“We wrote Soul Train a long time ago,” recalled Rick, “but the record companies didn’t want to know and we didn’t even get a deal until we released it ourselves.” Soul Train has a jazz influence although the band claim they never listened to old jazz.

The last line of the lyrics has become a favourite in the misheard lyrics department. The last line is, ‘I’m on soul train, soul train I’m not strong enough’ which is often misheard as, ‘Salty beef stroganoff, I’m on salty beef stroganoff’.

The band split in 1984 which was allegedly due to musical differences. Shaw went on to release solo albums under the guise Mighty Math whilst Maggie and Rock went on to form Scarlet Fantastic and signed a deal with Arista records. Like Swans Way, they managed two UK hits; No Memory which reached a respectable number 24 and the much forgotten follow-up Plug Me In (To The Central Love Line) which stalled at number 67.