Single of the week

Never Can Say Goodbye (Gloria Gaynor)

        

Disco queen Gloria Gaynor had a knack of recording sad songs but making them upbeat and happy so you wouldn’t really know the sadness behind it. Her transatlantic number one I will Survive, was not about a broken down relationship between a man and a woman, it’s actually about the song’s lyricist, Dino Fekaris getting fired from his job as a staff writer at Motown. Gloria’s debut UK hit was Never Can Say Goodbye which reached number two in early 1975 and is a happy disco anthem but the story behind it is not so uplifting.

The song was written by Clifton Davis who turned up at the Motown offices one day and began playing the tune he’d written on a piano. In the next office was the producer Hal Davis (no relation) who has having a conversation with another producer called Jerry Marcellino, “I heard this melody and it kept interrupting my ear,” said Davis in the Complete Motown Singles book, “I told Jerry ‘that’s a hit, whatever it is.'”

Clifton was 25 years old and had brought the song to Motown looking for a publisher and Hal promised he would cut the song with the Jackson 5. “This was an emotional song that meant a lot to me when I wrote it,” he stated in J. Randy Taraborelli’s book Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness. “I wanted to sing it myself really but how could I resist letting Michael have it, but I was worried that he might not understand the lyrics of pain and heartbreak. I recall him asking about one of the lines, ‘there’s that same unhappy feeling, there’s that anguish, there’s that doubt’ and he asked me what anguish meant, I explained and he shrugged his shoulders and sang the line.” Suzee Ikeda was Hal’s assistant and recalled, “When he sang that line he surprised us all with the feeling he put into it.”

Once the track was recorded in June 1970, there was concern among the powers that be in Motown about releasing it believing it to be too adult for the teen group. This annoyed Hal so the next day he played the song in his office at a much louder volume than he ordinarily would have and the label’s founder, Berry Gordy, whose office was next door, came running in saying to Hal, “Hey, that song’s a smash.” Hal replied, “I know but they won’t release it,” to which Gordy replied, “They will now.” It reached number two on the Billboard single chart but number one on the R&B chart and thus earned the group a Grammy nomination for Best R&B song but lost out to Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine, a song which Michael covered the following year and reached the UK top 10.

It was that song that prompted the Jackson 5 to take their show on the road as Michael recalled in his autobiography, Moonwalk, “The crazy days of the big Jackson 5 tours began right after the success we had with our records. After Never Can Say Goodbye was a hit in 1971 we played 45 cities that summer followed by 50 more cities later that summer.”

Never Can Say Goodbye has been covered numerous time, notably by Isaac Hayes in 1971 on his album Black Moses who did it in a deep-voiced mature adult way, the same year Motown acts The Supremes and Junior Walker gave it a go. There have been respectable versions cut by Andy Williams, Sheena Easton, Sonny & Cher, Vanessa Williams and Westlife, but it was back in the UK top 10 in 1987 when The Communards took the song to number four. The track also featured in the 2006 animated film Happy Feet where Nicole Kidman renders a few lines and, naturally, Glee got in on the act when it was performed by Dianna Agron during the third season in 2012.

Clifton Davis, who went on to star in the American television shows That’s My Mama and Amen in which he played a Pastor, also wrote the Jackson 5’s follow up hit Lookin’ Through The Windows which reached number nine in the UK. In the late eighties Davis became a real-life Pastor and since 1993 has been active part of children’s services organization called Youthville in North Carolina.

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Proper Moist (Dapper Laughs)

This week’s choice is an odd one with no real story. When I was asked for this I didn’t actually remember it being a hit. Well, I say hit, on 22nd February 2014 it entered the chart at number 15 and the following week it was gone. Do you remember Proper Moist by Dapper Laughs? I thought not!

If you Google Dapper Laughs you’ll notice immediately words like ‘offensive’ ‘vulgar’ and ‘controversial’ and that’s exactly what David Daniel O’Reilly is. He was born in Kingston in Surrey but grew up in Clapham, south London. He made his name as a participant on social media sites Facebook and Vine. Once he’d got around two million followers on the former he then continued on Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube. One of his first gimmicks was filming himself putting ‘wet floor’ signs in the sea which earned him the nickname ‘Moisturiser’.

Once upon a time, singers and comedians etc had to work the clubs to earn respect and a following. Singers had to impress record companies to get deals which, in turn, led to radio airplay in the hope chart success would follow, but with the advent of social media people don’t need all that now which was lucky for Dapper Laughs. With the astronomical number of followers he amassed he managed to undertake a series of one-man shows which completely by-passed the club circuit. Most of his act was centred around talking about the size of his anatomy and how sexually advanced he was. His patter was often ill-mannered, he once told a female member of the audience that she was lucky she had big tits because she was as thick as pig shit.

His one and only single was in a similar vein which only has one offensive word in it where the F-word crops up a couple of times, but it’s more the directness of how he ‘raps’ to the listener of how the girl is loving the sexual act and of how good he is at adding in that she’ll be walking like Robocop the next day. Then he proceeds to explain that when he’s finished with the girl he’ll check out her mother and how he’ll f*** her mom so much so that at the end of the night she’ll need a wheelchair. Fully aware of the controversy, he even adds into the lyrics, ‘They’ll be hatin’ on me for just havin’ a bit of fun’. It’s not exactly Matt Monro is it?!

The internet has done all the work for the track because virtually all radio stations completely ignored it. If it’s cleverly marketed, it can get onto ITunes’ own chart which this song did and the week leading up to its chart entry it hovered around the top 10 thus sparking interest and people downloading it out of curiosity. Much of the press he received at the time were likening him to eighties comic Roy Chubby Brown but more annoying than offensive. One of his own promotional tricks was a Tweet which said, “It’s gonna piss a lot of people off. Download and bang a bird to it. Hard!”

His television career was halted fairly quickly. He had his own ITV2 show called On The Pull but he was axed siting that his comedy routines were degrading to women. On one of his tours there was a report that he made a terrible rape joke which he later claimed was taken out of context but nonetheless he cancelled the rest of the tour. He was invited onto the BBC’s Newsnight programme and interviewed by Emily Maitlis where he revealed he was killing off the Dapper Moist character. But, just a couple of weeks later he’d resurrected it and released a DVD of one of his south London shows. In an interview with the Radio Times, he patronisingly said to the interviewer, “people like yourself need to have a lot more respect for the intelligence of my audience, they understand that Dapper Laughs is an exaggerated character.” Do they?

In 2016, he and his long-term model girlfriend, Shelley Rae had a baby who they called Neve, originally he had planned to Snapchat the birth to his followers, but in the statement he said that the event became “too emotional and private” for him to share. He also said in an interview with The Sun, that he had no intention of sharing pictures of his new arrival online – for fear of repercussions after he became notorious for his ‘lad culture’ character on Snapchat.

In January 2018 he was invited to appear on Celebrity Big Brother but he was soon in hot water after making a number of shocking sexual remarks about his housemate Jess Impiazzi. He was voted off much earlier than he expected and was called a hypocrite by fans after he reacted furiously to the decision, but he did leave in style by proposing to his girlfriend as he went down on one knee during his exit.

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Happiness (Ken Dodd)

Bill Anderson version

 

Ken Dodd Version

 

Eight weeks before we heard of the sad death of the comedy legend, Ken Dodd, I had a request from Des Roberts who said, “I’d like to nominate a Single of the Week – Happiness by Ken Dodd. My young lady Marika heard it on the radio today and asked me about it. I have not been able to find out much like who composed the song or if, as Marika thinks, there are other covers. Can you delve into the vaults and find out these facts, plus no doubt, a lot more, and rest this curious mind.” Well here I am at the rescue.

The best place to get the information is to go to the source and so I addressed an email to the song’s writer who promptly replied to advise me he was about to start a two-week working cruise and would be happy to be interviewed upon his return and true to his word, he contacted me when he got back and we had a chat about Happiness.

His name is Bill Anderson, a country singer/songwriter known as Whisperin’ Bill who was born in South Carolina in 1937. He studied music and journalism at the University of Georgia and earned a degree in the latter. After graduating he worked as a part-time newspaper correspondent by day and as a DJ and sang country music at night. Whilst in Georgia, the lights of the city inspired him to write the song City Lights which he recorded and was released in the small TNT label. His big break came in 1958 when Ray Price covered the song and turned it into one of the biggest hits of the year when it spent 13 weeks atop the Country single chart. He signed a deal with Decca records and had his first top 10 country hit with The Tip of My Fingers, a song that would be covered and make the UK top 20 by Des O’Connor in 1970. His first of seven country number ones came in 1962 when Mama Sang A Song spent seven weeks at the top and his next hit, Still, did likewise with another seven week stint at the summit. He followed that with 8 x 10 which peaked at number two. Ken Dodd was a fan of Bill’s songs and covered the latter two and made the UK chart with both. Variety hall comics liked to end their act with a song and some of them (Charlie Drake, Benny Hill, Tommy Cooper) have had hit records. Ken Dodd was better placed than most as he had a trained voice and had sung in his church choir. “Well, I did ’til they found where the noise was coming from,” he joked, “My father had a musical ear – it was shaped like a French horn.” Ken’s favourite was Happiness which became his signature tune and ended almost every show he did with it.

I asked Bill what inspired it and where he was when he wrote it, “It’s been a lot of years ago, but if I remember correctly I wrote the last verse first. I had recently had a conversation with my grandfather who was a minister. He had said something to me about the way people should measure their success in this life and, I think, was cautioning me against placing my values on the wrong things.”

Dodd often said that he measured his success by the number of laughs he got a minute and there’s a line in the song that refers to counting success by happiness not money, I asked Bill if he felt the same way (audience reaction rather than money)? “My perspective changed in that regard after my grandfather and I had that talk,” he revealed, “I realised that all the money in the world can’t buy happiness, and that’s the point I was trying to get across.”

In the UK Karl Denver, Jim Reeves and Frankie McBride all charted covers of Bill Anderson-penned songs and I asked Bill how he felt when someone else covers his song, “Anytime an artist stakes part of his or her career by recording one of my songs I consider it to be a great compliment.”

I told Bill that I had seen Ken Dodd live as well as numerous times on television and pointed out that when he sang, the whole audience smiled and were lifted and asked him if he got the same reaction? “On my last trip to the UK I was part of a songwriters’ showcase, and got to sing the song in intimate settings rather than in a large auditorium or arena. It was SO much fun asking the fans to sing along with me (which they did) and to watch them clapping their hands in time with the music and smiling all the way. Since the song was never a big hit in the US, most of my reaction has been from the UK, and, thanks to Ken Dodd, it has been amazing.

I found out recently that Bill had been inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame but I also knew that he gained membership in the 1970s, so was this something different? “My recent election has been to the National Songwriters Hall of Fame which honours writers from all genres of music. I’ll be in there alongside Irving Berlin, Rogers & Hammerstein, Bob Dylan, and writers of all types. I was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, which primarily salutes country and gospel music, in 1975.” That is some elite company for the man who had 80 country hits between 1958 and 1991 as well being the host of Fandango – Nashville network’s TV game show.

Ken is legendary for his lengthy shows because he always wanted to “give value for money”. In the 1960s he gained a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the world’s longest session of non-stop joke-telling. He told 1,500 jokes in three and a half hours. His 1965 chart-topping single, Tears, was the biggest selling single of the 60s by a solo artist and the third highest seller of the decade behind The Beatles’ I Want to Hold Your Hand and She Loves You at two and one respectively. Ken said, “The disc-jockeys hated it, they couldn’t find the words that were bad enough to say about it, but it didn’t matter. The public was ready for a tuneful, singalong song and you can’t keep a good song down. You can be the squarest of squares, but if you make a good record, you can still get there.”

Ken, who loved his home city of Liverpool and spent his entire life in the same house, was awarded an OBE in 1982 and in 2017 the comic was made a Knight by Prince William in honour of his decades-long showbiz career and charity work. His final live performance was at the Echo Arena Auditorium in Liverpool on 28 December 2017. In January 2018 Ken was hospitalised for six weeks with a chest infection and was discharged at the beginning of March. He asked his partner of 40 years, Anne Jones, to marry him and she agreed, they got the registrar and were married in their house on Friday 9th March, but Ken died two days later on Mother’s Day at the age of 90. Lady Anne Dodd said, “I’ve lost the most wonderful husband and it’s been a privilege to work and live with him for the past 40 years. The world has lost a life-enhancing and brilliant comedian with an operatically trained voice who just wanted to make people happy.”

Bill, who is 80 and still active told me, “I perform on tour about 30-days a year and try to appear at the Grand Ole Opry five or six times a month. I’m currently in the studio recording a new album, and I set aside a couple of days each month for co-writing songs. After well over a half-century in the business, I still get excited about it all. I feel so blessed to be able to do this for a living.”

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Gurney Slade (Max Harris)

The name Max Harris many will not have heard of, but his music you will. He was a composer, pianist and arranger and was most famous for composing and recording his television theme tunes, the most popular being the outro theme to Porridge which was one of the first sitcoms not to have an intro theme.

Max was born into a Jewish family in Bournemouth in 1918 and would have celebrated his 100th birthday this September, but sadly died in March 2004. His father, who was a tailor realised his son’s musical potential and so arranged for him to have private tuition up to the advanced grade at the Royal Academy of Music. After a while and in order to meet the fees, Max would give piano lessons himself.

His first professional jobs were in dance bands, the first being Lew Foster and the second Stan Atkins. He was a captain in the RASC during the Second World War and served in the Middle East. After the war, he played for Ronnie Monro’s band and then worked several cruises on the Mauretania. He made his first radio appearance on the BBC’s Jazz Club in 1950 and played keyboards as well as writing arrangements for Cyril Stapleton’s Show Band, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Dick Haymes when they were visiting the UK. A fellow arranger and conductor, Tony Osborne, recalls, “We worked on a lot of commercials together in the 1950s, and he was 100 per cent reliable. In 1961 he was asked by the bandleader Ted Heath to cover a record I had made for Parlophone, Man from Madrid, his version came out of Decca and, when I heard it by chance on the radio, I didn’t know whether I was listening to him or me. He had been asked to copy the record and that’s exactly what he did. He was a very accomplished composer and arranger, and a very good pianist. Of course he worked on the popular side for the money, but we all do that. I had the feeling that he would like to have remained a jazzer. When he was recording with Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli, he felt at the top of his profession. He knew then that he was playing with the champions.”

In 1960 he got to work with an up and coming Anthony Newley on his experimental ITV comedy series The Strange World of Gurney Slade, which was scheduled for peak time on Saturday evenings. But nobody laughed; the reaction to the first episode was so extreme that it was rescheduled for 11pm in subsequent weeks. The public loved Max Harris’ theme music, however, which was a modern jazz recording in the style of Dave Brubeck. It was odd series but strangely addictive which involved Newley speaking his mind out loud, but with very little actual dialogue. One particular episode showed him spending the whole time walking a vacuum clear around the streets. I said it was strange and so does the title!

The theme, which reached number 11 in the UK chart, was not only used as the theme at the start and finish of the show, but on numerous occasions as incidental music during usually to compensate for the lack of dialogue. It won him Max an Ivor Novello award, but his subsequent singles Pancho and Wheels were not hits, but he did secure another Ivor Novello for Bombay Duck, his theme for the television series Kipling, in 1964.

Max worked on numerous radio comedy shows including Round the Horne (with Kenneth Horne) and Stop Messing About (with Kenneth Williams). In 1969 he scored the controversial film Baby Love, starring Keith Barron as a doctor in love with a schoolgirl from the slums played by Linda Hayden. As the 1970s dawned, it became fashionable to manipulate the success of some television comedy series’ by making feature-length films and one of Max’s early ones was to arrange and conduct the score for the very successful film On the Buses in 1971.

As well as composing the aforementioned Porridge theme – note the Slade connection as it was the name of the Prison – he worked with Ronnie Barker again when he played the old-fashioned shopkeeper, Arkwright, in Open All Hours. He also wrote the music for the dramas Doomwatch, Horseman Riding By and Poldark.

In 1972 Max had the chance to work with the violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Stéphane Grappelli on what was to become a series of very successful albums and the following year he recorded Mister Jelly with the New Red Hot Peppers which was a tribute album to his favourite pianist, Jelly Roll Morton. In the same year, he composed and conducted the score for Carry on England.

In the mid-eighties he wrote and conducted the music for Dreamchild, a highly rated film written by Dennis Potter and one of his last works was the theme tune The Attractive Young Rabbi which was a comedy trilogy which aired on BBC Radio Four between 1999 and 2002.

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Come Outside (Mike Sarne feat Wendy Richard)

The charts have always reflected what’s popular and obviously that in itself has changed a number of times a number of times over the decades. During the last 15 years or so, the majority of the music that makes up the chart is dance based, but years ago there was disco, rock, glam, punk, prog-rock and, especially in the seventies, novelty. Many novelty songs have made the chart, but few have topped it. Obvious ones in the seventies would be Ernie, The Streak, D.I.V.O.R.C.E and, in the eighties you had Shaddup you Face, The Chicken Song and Star Trekkin’, then in the nineties there was Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini, The Stonk and Mr Blobby and in the sixties you had My Old Man’s A Dustman, Lily The Pink and, this week’s choice, Come Outside.

The song was written by Charles Blackwell, an English record producer and songwriter who taught himself to play the piano and write his own arrangements. He started working as an arranger with record producer Joe Meek at the age of 18 and is credited with having worked on the songs Johnny Remember Me, What’s New Pussycat, Release Me, Hold Me and Kathy Kirby’s Secret Love among many others. He was much in-demand and got to build a list of musicians he regularly recorded with including Billy Fury, Paul Anka, Lulu, Shirley Bassey, Dionne Warwick and Gene Pitney.

The song was recorded by Mike Sarne, was a bit part actor who appeared in The Guns Of Navarone could sing as well and it was he who suggested to Blackwell about writing a wry song about teenage romance. Blackwell liked the idea and came up with Come Outside. Sarne’s part was sung but it also contained some backchat dialogue from a youthful Wendy Richard. “She was a model in those days,” said Mike Sarne, “absolutely beautiful with a great figure, and a really typical cockney.” But how come she was chosen to partner Sarne on the track? At the time, Richard was a secretary for the music producer and record label owner Robert Stigwood and, “From her desk, Wendy started lobbing sardonic comments in her native Cockney,” Stigwood said, “and I had the notion of including them on the record, making it a duet.” Blackwell was against this but Stigwood overruled him.

Richard’s part suited the song as Sarne spends the whole song trying to chat her up in a nightclub and Wendy continually turning down his advances with regular cockney offerings of ‘get lost’ and ‘shove it, but who eventually gives in after Sarne convinces her that there’s a lovely moon out there and she relents and says, ‘Oh alright, but not for too long’, Sarne following it charmingly with ‘While we got time for a bit of slap and tickle’ to which Wendy replies, ‘I’ll slap and tickle you in a minute’. They eventually get close enough as Wendy says, ‘You don’t ‘arf need a shave’. Richard later revealed that she was paid a mere £15 for that one appearance.

Sarne followed it with the carbon copy, Will I What? this time with Billie Davis, who had a top 10 hit with Tell Him in 1963. That same year Sarne recorded the original version of Just like Eddie which was, soon after, a hit for Heinz. Sarne’s third single, Just for Kicks, was banned by the BBC for encouraging reckless driving. “I don’t think people understood that these records were satire, but there you go. I rather resented being a gimmicky singer with a cockney accent and I tried to change it, but with no success,” Sarne revealed.

The advent of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones made life difficult for the existing stars. Mike Sarne: “We used to dress in shiny suits and we wore stage makeup like actors. I was on tour with The Rolling Stones and Brian Jones thought you should wear what you wore in the street. He thought we were ponces and what we were doing was against his rhythm and blues ethic. I felt like a real phony – and The Rolling Stones had 4,000 screaming girls in the audience to make their point.”

As journalist, author and radio presenter Spencer Leigh pointed out, don’t feel sorry for Mike Sarne; he had a short, torrid affair with Brigitte Bardot when they made the film, Two Weeks in September in 1966. He has had an erratic career as a film director, making one of the cinema’s greatest turkeys, Myra Breckinridge (1970) with Mae West and Raquel Welch. “Actually,” says Mike, “there was a really good review in The Times. I suppose the critic lost his job.”

In 1986 Mike Berry and Wendy Richard, both from the cast of Are You Being Served?, updated Come Outside with references to medallion men.

Sarne returned to acting and was seen in Minder, The Bill, Moonlighting, Howard’s Way and Jonathan Creek among others. In 2012 he appeared as Father Mabeuf in the film version of Les Misérables. He is nearly 78 and still makes the occasional TV appearances.

In the 1990s Charles Blackwell co-wrote songs for David Hasselhoff which were hits in Europe and in more recent years he was commissioned by the European Parliament to orchestrate and conduct the Anthem of Europe (Ode to Joy by Beethoven) with a 70-man orchestra, for a new recording that is played at every parliamentary sitting.

Wendy Richard found even more fame as Pauline Fowler in Eastenders right from episode one in 1985 until the character’s death in 2006. Three years later Wendy died of breast cancer aged just 65.

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