Category: Single of the week

For What It’s Worth (Buffalo Springfield)

When it comes to protest songs, some of the biggest ambassadors would be people like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Billy Bragg, but many non-protest acts would make a one-off protest song about something they feel strongly about, e.g., Tom Robinson recorded Glad to Be Gay, Creedence Clearwater Revival sang Fortunate Son, Yes campaigned with Don’t Kill The Whale and The Special AKA were urging the authorities to free Nelson Mandela. For What It’s Worth is this week’s suggestion but what it is about?

Buffalo Springfield were a Canadian/American folk/country band whose name is derived from a make of American road roller, or steam roller as we call it. The five-piece who formed in 1966 comprised Stephen Stills on guitar, vocals and keyboards, Bruce Palmer on bass, drummer Dewey Martin, Ritchie Furay on guitar and Neil Young on vocals and harmonica. Their debut single, Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing, was written by Neil Young after returning from Toronto whilst attempting to launch a solo career, but the single failed to take off, but it was the follow-up, For What It’s Worth, that put them firmly on the map.

It’s not about Vietnam, or any other war for that matter, which is what many protest songs of the time were about. It was to do with the closing of a popular night club. One evening Stephen Stills was on his way to Sunset Strip in Hollywood to hear some live music, but on his journey he encountered a rally with thousands of kids who were protesting about the imminent closure of Pandora’s Box night club. Stills explained the story in Neil Young’s book Long May You Run: The Illustrated History, “I had had something kicking around in my head. I wanted to write something about the kids that were on the line over in Southeast Asia that didn’t have anything to do with the device of this mission, which was unravelling before our eyes. Then we came down to Sunset from my place on Topanga with a guy – I can’t remember his name – and there’s a funeral for a bar, one of the favourite spots for high school and UCLA kids to go and dance and listen to music. Someone decided to call out the official riot police because there’s three thousand kids sort of standing out in the street; there’s no looting, there’s no nothing. It’s everybody having a hang to close this bar. A whole company of black and white LAPD in full Macedonian battle array in shields and helmets and all that, and they’re lined up across the street, and I just went ‘Whoa! Why are they doing this?’ There was no reason for it. I went back to Topanga, and that other song turned into For What It’s Worth, and it took as long to write as it took me to settle on the changes and write the lyrics down. It all came as a piece, and it took about 15 minutes.”

According to Rolling Stone magazine, they wrote, “the situation in Los Angeles was tense. An increasing number of club-goers was descending on the Strip, irritating area residents and upscale boutiques, and the LAPD instigated a 10pm curfew for anyone under 18. On the night of November 12th, a local radio station announced there would be a protest at Pandora’s Box. According to reports, a fight broke out for reasons having nothing to do with the curfew; a car carrying a group of Marines was bumped by another vehicle. Egged on by that fight, the protesters (some of whom carried placards that read ‘We’re Your Children! Don’t Destroy Us’) trashed a city bus and threw bottles and rocks at store fronts. Basically a bunch of kids got together on a street corner and said we aren’t moving. About three busloads of Los Angeles police showed up, who looked very much like storm troopers and I looked at it and said, ‘Jesus, America is in great danger.'”

You really can hear the song’s message in the eerie way Stills sings the opening line, ‘There’s something happening here but what it is ain’t exactly clear, there’s a man with a gun over there telling me I got to beware’, coupled with the combination of Martin’s scarce snare drum sound alongside Young’s limited guitar notes during the verse, gives the whole thing a spooky or moody sound. Every verse is separated by the urgent cry of, ‘Hey, what’s that sound? Everybody look – what’s going down?’ Neil Young, in an interview with Jimmy McDonough’s Shakey, credited engineer Stan Ross with the song’s sparce, almost sinister arrangement, “Stan came in and said, ‘You gotta do this one thing to the drum, the snare,’ took a broom, a guitar pick and mixed that in so it’s got that sound – of a guitar pick going through a broom, on the straw. That was it.” Stills added, “Neil came up with the wonderful harmonics part with the vibrato. The combination of the two guitar parts, with my scared little voice, made the record.”

The song is one of those breeds where the title is not mentioned in the song, so how did the title come about? Richie Furay recalled that he, Stills and Young played new material for Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun saying, “Ahmet had come to Los Angeles and we were at Stephen’s house and at the end of the day, Stephen said, ‘I have another one, for what it’s worth.'”

The song has been covered by a number of people in varying styles, Ozzy Osbourne was brash with it, Kid Rock made it a rock tribute and Public Enemy sampled it on their 1998 song He Got Game which featured in the movie of the same name and featured Stills as guest vocalist. It also appears briefly in Forrest Gump.

The Springfield released six further singles none of which cracked the US top 40 and in 1968, after just two years, they called it a day with Stills saying, “We didn’t want to do another song like For What It’s Worth. We didn’t want to be a protest group. That’s really a cop-out and I hate that. To sit there and say, ‘I don’t like this and I don’t like that’ is just stupid.”

Stills and Young have both had solo careers as well as being half of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Furay became a member of Poco and then launched a solo career, Martin formed for a new version of the band called New Buffalo Springfield and released some solo material, Dewey died in 2009 and Palmer released one solo album in 1971 and then formed a band in Toronto with some old friends and called themselves Village and performed some local gigs. He died in 2004 from a heart attack.

According to BMI, the song’s publishing house, For What It’s Worth been played over 9 million times on TV and radio worldwide.

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I’m Henry the Eighth I Am (Herman’s Hemits)

One of the oldest songs to get to number one in the UK was Two Little Boys which became the last chart-topper of the sixties for Rolf Harris. It was originally written in 1903 by Theodore Morse and Edward Madden and first recorded by the Irish-American singer Billy Murray. This week’s suggestion began life just eight years later.

Herman’s Hermits were one of the most successful British bands of the 1960s where, in the UK, they accumulated 17 hits in just five years, a total matched by Manfred Mann and beaten by the Dave Clark Five (19), The Hollies (20), The Beatles (24) and the Shadows (25). Peter Noone, the Hermits’ lead singer, explained in an interview with Songfacts how he got the job, “There was a band called the Heartbeats and one day their singer didn’t show up, I showed up, because I had an incredible amount of musical knowledge, like owning records and stuff like that. We lived in a record store, almost, so I had knowledge of all these songs. When their singer didn’t show up someone said ‘There’s Peter Noone He knows every song in the world’ and they asked me to step in that night, and I enjoyed it and they offered me the job. So I became Pete Novak and the Heartbeats. I think within a month I took control of the band, which is a kind of Nooneism: You’ve let me into something, now I want to take control and take over. Me and this guy Alan Wrigley became the inspiration for what kind of music would be played, and we went looking for guys to replace the ones we had with people who were just better, really.”

They were formed in Manchester in 1964 and comprised guitarist Derek Leckenby, bassist Karl Green, rhythm guitarist Keith Hopwood and drummer Barry Whitwam. The name change came from a suggestion by a pub landlord who noted that Noone looked a little similar to Sherman, a character in the American cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle and so the group were briefly called Herman and the Hermits, but once the line-up was completed it was shortened to Herman’s Hermits. “The band got busy, and we spent all day looking for work,” continued Noone, “I bought a van paid for by my TV thing. So we just slowly moved into this next level. Everybody lived by now at my grandmother’s and everybody eats at my grandmother’s. We became close and went around the world. People think it took a minute, but it actually took a long time. There was no overnight success for us. We struggled, and sometimes we’d make enough money to eat after the show. We’d go to a fish and chips shop but we wouldn’t get the fish, we’d only get the chips.

They opened their chart account with a cover of a song first recorded by Earl Jean called I’m Into Something Good which gave them their only UK chart-topper, which is one less than they had in America. Over there they charted 22 hits in the same period and their two chart toppers were strangely un-issued in the UK. The first was Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter which was written by the British actor Trevor Peacock who is best remembered for his roles as Jim Trott in The Vicar Of Dibley and as Captain Zero in Last of the Summer Wine. It was originally sung by another actor, Tom Courtenay, in a 1963 British TV show called The Lads. Noone had seen the series and recorded it onto tape to learn. Incidentally, Peacock had written TV scripts for the music shows Oh Boy! and Six-Five Special and the hits Made You (Adam Faith), Mystery Girl (Jess Conrad), Gossip Calypso (Bernard Cribbins) and That’s What Love Will Do (Joe Brown). He is now 87 and retired. Their other number one, later the same year, was I’m Henry the Eighth I Am.

I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am, as it was originally titled, was written by R.P. Weston and Fred Murray and first published in 1910 and became the signature tune of the music hall cockney comedian and singer Harry Champion (b: William Henry Crump 1865-1942) who recorded the original version of it. Harry’s version had a number of long rambling verses followed by the short chorus of, ‘I’m Henry the eighth I am, Henry the eighth I am, I am, I got married to the widow next door, she’s been married seven times before’. Noone explained what happened when they came to record it, “We went into the studio and I tried it and there were so many verses but I could only remember one so I just kept doing it and that’s not even the verse, it’s the chorus.” He did add ‘And every one was a Henry, she wouldn’t have a Willy or a Sam’ but other than that they ended up singing it three times. Champion also recorded the original versions of Boiled Beef and Carrots and Any Old Iron which were both recorded later by Peter Sellers.

They lyrics don’t really make any sense, obviously named-checking the 16th century King who reigned from 1509-1547, but marrying the widow next door Henry never did and, she may have been married seven times before, but the real King only had six wives.

Cockney singer Joe Brown recorded the song in 1963 as I’m ‘Enry VIII I Am which influenced the way Noone sang it, the cartoon characters The Chipmunks recorded a version in 1965 and in 1990 you may remember Patrick Swayze singing it in Ghost.

Peter Noone left the Hermits in 1971 and had a brief solo career in which he signed to Mickie Most’s RAK label. Most had signed the Hermits in 1965 after he went to see them in Bolton. In 1980, Noone briefly formed a new wave band called The Tremblers who released one album called Twice Nightly and featured Dave Clark, members of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and backing vocals from Elton John. He always kept his hand in with acting having originally been a teen actor in Coronation Street. In 1983 received critical acclaim when he appeared in the London stage version of The Pirates of Penzance.

Noone is 71 and still touring around the USA. He still sings all the Hermits catalogue but Mrs Brown You’ve got A Lovely Daughter still goes down the best because Noone adapts the name to the party present.

He recently said, “Nowadays, in the music business, we would take Clive Davis and he would say, why don’t you write another verse? We’re not putting it out unless you write another verse. Or put some strings on Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter and make it more understandable. Get rid of the accent. People started to change things and do overdubs and stuff. We didn’t like any of that. We wanted to be real and be able to play the songs on stage that we had recorded. We never got a trombone in the band and we never got a girl singer. We never had girl background vocals.”

In the 1990s Noone presented a programme called My Generation on VH-1 and in the early 2010s was a DJ on the internet-based radio station SiriusXM presenting a programme called Something Good.

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The Politics of Dancing (Re-Flex)

There are probably more radio stations concentrating on 1980s music shows than on any other decade. Twitter and Facebook are full of stations and their fans suggesting and raving about the songs they’ve heard recently. #My80s is one, forgotten 80s is another. There is also a number of bloggers; talking 80s music, Like Totally 80s and Stuck in the 80s are just three. Even Radio two have brought Gary Davies back for an eighties show, which is no bad thing. At least he is a DJ and was there in that decade as opposed to his predecessor and to the never ending list of ‘celebrities’ who are not really DJs. One particular song that I’ve not seen talked about, fair enough I’m not glued to these stations 24/7, is a number 28 hit from early 1984 by a British band called Re-Flex.

Re-Flex, who got their name from Re-Fuse which was inspired by a graffiti artist who tagged his work with RE-FUSE, were from London and formed in late-1979 with an original line-up comprising founder member singer/lead guitarist John Baxter and keyboardist Paul Fishman. They recruited John Hodge (guitar), Francois Craig (bass) and two drummers, Philip Gould and Mark King. Within a few months the line-up altered, Gould and King left and was replaced by Roland Kerridge and Craig departed and was replaced by Nigel Ross-Scott who was recommended by Thomas Dolby.

If you recognised the names Gould and King and were thinking Level 42, well they were the same two people and in an interview with Archive.Today, Fishman explained how they came to be in the original line-up, “Actually Roland was the original drummer but it wasn’t right. Then we worked with Phil Gould and he was best mates with Mark. Phil was having difficulty making our regular rehearsals as he was living on the Isle of Wight, so suggested his best mate Mark. Mark then officially became Re-Flex’s drummer and we worked together for about two years before things took off with the Levels. Mark had got him involved as the bass player as Phil was the drummer. Phil had two brothers that were also involved, Boon (guitarist) and another who worked for MCA and they ended up getting a release for possibly Love Games or whatever was their first record through Polydor. This was happening while we were still working with Mark. We never considered Mark as the bass player because he wasn’t really a bass player. We were originally working with a guy called Francois Craig and he was very good and original. Mark was a seriously good drummer. I say Mark still is a better drummer than bass player. Personally I was really happy for him and Phil as they had been struggling to survive as professional musicians, but Mark’s departure meant we could start to explore other things and directions as well as musicians.”

Fishman wrote or co-wrote most of the band’s songs, his upbringing certainly helped as his father was Jack Fishman who had co-written, Arrivederci Darling – a hit for both Anne Shelton and Edna Savage in the fifties and the top 10 hits My Friend The Sea (Petula Clark), If I Only Had Time (John Rowles), Help Yourself (Tom Jones), Something’s Happening and Years May Come, Years May Go (Herman’s Hermits) and the 1969 chart-topper (If Paradise Is) Half As Nice for Amen Corner.

“During the early 70s, apart from studying the flute and composition at my first music college,” Fishman continued, “I began to get involved in electronics. This led to working with other composers and particularly for musician and film composer Roy Budd (Get Carter). But also through my work in electronics, I had become involved with the Cockpit Theatre in performing some fairly heavy duty works by composers such as Stockhausen, Cage and minimalist works by Reich and Riley. At some point, I was approached to provide some ideas for a book-related record about the works of Erich von Daniken called In Search of Ancient Gods. Before I knew it I was in charge of producing the entire project and this, much to my amazement, was presented to Derek Taylor, then MD of Warner Bros in the UK, and he signed it and they released it. But also around this time I managed to build a reputation as a session musician and played on loads of other people’s records. I then started to produce some of my own and they were released under different titles.”

So, their only hit was The Politics of Dancing, how did that song come about? Fishman explained, “I write a lot of things when I am walking about or travelling and used to carry a little tape recorder in my bag everywhere I went, just in case. I then took the ideas and sequenced them when I got home to my flat in Hampstead as I had recently acquired an Oberheim DSX sequencer and later went on to assist in its design as well as the design of other music equipment around this time. Its inspiration was probably a train or something that I read. I probably took a fairly worked out demo with an almost final set of lyrics before I presented it. I used to present three or four tracks in one go and then we would work on them in rehearsals. This was during the period after Roland finally joined and Francois had just left. The three of us would jam a lot and explore arrangement ideas. We were starting to audition other bass players. Re-Flex like any other group was the sum of its parts. Soon after, we met producer John Punter and he really liked The Politics of Dancing and so it got put on the list. We then demoed it with him at EMI, then later in the year following signing to EMI, we started recording what would be The Politics of Dancing album.”

It did OK in America where it reached number 24 on the Hot 100, but the follow up’s didn’t really connect, Hurt peaked at number 82 in the Hot 100 and Couldn’t Stand a Day fared worse at number 97. In 1985 they released the album Humanication which featured the single How Much Longer and despite having Sting on backing vocals that too failed to excite the public.

They called it a day in 1985 and the main reason was, as is so often the case, the record company started issuing demands the band were not happy with, “When it came to that album, EMI said ‘You need to sound like an American band'” Fishman said, “They also said, ‘Let’s get this hip hop remix guy in – he’s trendy, he’s got his trousers on backwards’. Bloody ridiculous so we preferred to split than stay together.

Fishman moved into production and signed with Trevor Horn’s SARM studio, Baxter married the head of the video department at Capitol records (a subsidiary of EMI) and moved to Los Angeles, Kerridge became more of a session drummer and worked with A-Ha, Del Amitri and Morrissey, but sadly died in February 2012 following three rounds of surgery in an attempt to remove a brain tumour. He was 57. Ross-Scott went on to play with Kevin Rowland and Pete Wylie and then briefly became a video jock on MTV- Europe. In the mid-nineties he was the voice of the AA traffic reports on various Home Counties radio stations.

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Born To Be Wild (Steppenwolf)

This week’s suggestion began as folk ballad and only became as famous as it did thanks to it being accidently used in a film. In its original form it was unlikely to have been a hit said its unlikely named songwriter Mars Bonfire. Let’s find out how.

Steppenwolf were formed in 1967 and took their name from Hermann Hesse’s 10th novel Der Steppenwolf which was originally written in German in 1927 and translated into English two years later when it became known as Steppenwolf. The band comprised drummer Jerry Edmonton, singer/rhythm guitarist John Kay, lead guitarist Michael Monarch, keyboard player Goldy McJohn and bassist Rushton Moreve. They’d originally came up with the name Sparrow and Kay explained how they decided on the new name, “When it came to putting the name of the demo box our producer, Gabriel Mekler, said, ‘Well, what is the band called?’ and aside from the obvious joke names and other obscene suggestions which were not marketable, he finally said, ‘Well, look, how about Steppenwolf? I think it’s a word that looks good in print and it denotes a degree of mystery and power and you guys are kind of rough and ready types.'”

The song celebrated its 50th anniversary last month and Mars Bonfire – alias band member Jerry’s brother, Dennis Edmonton, explained how the track came about, “I finally scraped enough money together to buy my first vehicle – a Ford Falcon and then I started to explore the great Los Angeles area I was really stunned at the beauty and variety of what was there. I was totally unaware of this and that inspired the opening line ‘Get your motor runnin’, lookin’ for adventure and whatever comes our way’ because that was basically what I was doing every morning. It was intended as a folk ballad about life on the open road. Once Steppenwolf began working with the song, the tempo was increased. One day I was walking down Hollywood Boulevard and saw a poster in a window saying ‘Born to Ride’ with a picture of a motorcycle erupting out of the earth like a volcano with all this fire around it. With my new car it all this came together lyrically: the idea of the motorcycle coming out along with the freedom and joy I felt in having my first car and being able to drive myself around whenever I wanted. The song didn’t stand out initially, even the publishers at Leeds Music didn’t take it as the first or second song I gave them. They got it only because I signed as a staff writer. Luckily, it stood out for Steppenwolf. It’s like a fluke rather than an achievement, though.”

It’s often been described as the first heavy metal song because it contains the words ‘heavy metal thunder’ but that’s not the case as the term was first coined by William Burroughs in his 1961 novel The Soft Machine in which he used it to describe the character Uranian Willy as ‘the Heavy Metal Kid.’ Also Musicologists will argue that the first heavy metal track is more likely The Gun’s 1968 hit Race with The Devil which preceded it by seven months.

In 1969 production of the movie Easy Rider began, it was directed by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hooper who also star in it as two bikers who ride from Los Angeles to New Orleans and en route meet a man who bridges a counter-culture gap they are unaware of. There was no plan for Born to Be Wild to be included as Peter Fonda was a fan of Crosby, Stills & Nash and wanted them to provide the soundtrack, it became apparent, however, that the song was right for the movie and it got included. Incidentally, another Steppenwolf track, The Pusher, was also included. Other acts whose music was included was The Byrds, Roger McGuinn, Little Eva, The Electric Prunes and the Jimi Hendrix Experience.

The song went to number two in the US, but stalled at number 30 in the UK. In 1999, when the film celebrated its 30th anniversary the song was re-issued in the UK and went to number 18. The band broke up in 1972 with Kay saying, “I pulled the plug on Steppenwolf because I felt that the fun had, quite frankly, gone out of it.”

It was a favourite of Slade who not only regularly included in their shows, but chose it as the closing track on their Slade Alive album. Other acts who have covered it include The Cult, U2, Status Quo, Slayer, Blue Oster Cult, Inxs, Etta James, Wilson Pickett, Bruce Springsteen and even Kim Wilde. In 1994, Miss Piggy duetted with Ozzy Osbourne on a version which was included on the album Kermit Unpigged.

In 2004, Paris Hilton courteously asked Bonfire if she could include the track as part of her Simple Life 2 show but he vehemently denied.

In America, the song cropped up again, this time in a 2017 TV commercial for the Mercedes-AMG GT Roadster. It was used during the Super Bowl between the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons and directed by the Coen brothers which features a re-created scene where Fonda has swapped his bike for the Merc.

In 2018, for the first time, songs are being inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame in a brand new singles category called ‘Devoted songs that changed the course of rock music’. The first five inductees were, Rocket 88 (Jackie Brenston and his Delta Cats), Rumble (Link Wray and his Ray Men), Louie Louie (The Kingsmen), A White Shade of Pale (Procol Harum) and Born to Be Wild (Steppenwolf).

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You Know My Name (Look Up The Number) – Beatles

A favourite topic of conversation, not only amongst music fans, but people in general is, ‘what is your favourite song of a particular decade or genre and by such and such an artist, the Beatles often being one of the most asked. Peter Asher of Peter and Gordon said I Want to Hold Your Hand, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys favours She’s Leaving Home, Rick Wakeman prefers I Am the Walrus, mine? A Day in the Life. This week’s suggestion is Paul McCartney favourite.

By the late summer of 1967, the Beatles were reaping the rewards of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band which had been released at the beginning of June but were soon back in the studio recording some adhoc stuff and a bit half-heartedly. They had been taking some substances therefore not concentrating fully and EMI were paying for the studio time, so what the heck. I Am the Walrus can be a good indication of their states of mind and so was, You Know My Name (Look up the Number) which was recorded around this time.

Although nearly all Beatles song are jointly credited as Lennon/McCartney, it was more obvious which one wrote the majority, if not all, of the song. You Know My Name was conceived by John.

What inspired the song? John explained in All We Are Saying by David Sheff, “I was waiting for Paul in his house, and I saw the phone book was on the piano with ‘You know the name, look up the number.’ That was like a logo, and I just changed it. It was going to be a Four Tops kind of song – the chord changes are like that, but it never developed and we made a joke of it. It was a piece of unfinished music that I turned into a comedy record with Paul.”

It has a normal intro but when the vocals start 18 seconds in you think, ooh this is weird. In Many Years from Now by Barry Miles Paul recalled his first hearing of it, “John had arrived one night with this song which was basically a mantra and I never knew who he was aiming that at, it might have been an early signal to Yoko. It was John’s original idea and that was the complete lyric. He brought it in originally as a 15-minute chant when he was in space-cadet mode and we said, ‘Well, what are we going to do with this then?’ and he said, ‘It’s just like a mantra.’ So we said, ‘Okay, let’s just do it’.

They started recording it in 1967 and it featured all kinds of strange noises including the sound of a shovel digging up gravel and it was Mal Evans, the Beatles’ roadie, on spade duty. The song also features the Rolling Stones’ Brian Jones on alto saxophone who was there on Paul’s invitation.

There’s a part of the original recording which was edited out to John’s chagrin. It was a where John repeated the mantra to a ska backing, but it was restored in 1996 with a new stereo mix which then appeared on Anthology 2.

The first part of the track was done over 14 different takes. Take 10 was originally favoured but then they used bits of take nine and they eventually recorded a further five takes which featured electric guitar, drums, flute, organ and tambourine and it still sounded like a Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band outtake!

The second part of the song you hear John saying, “Good evening and welcome to Slaggers, featuring Dennis O’Bell”. Slaggers should be pronounced Schlagers which is a German term for a kind of sentimental music and Dennis O’Bell is a sly tribute to the film producer Dennis O’Dell who had previously worked with the Beatles on A Hard Day’s Night. He later produced the Magical Mystery Tour and then went on to head up Apple Films.

Another section of the song, which was supposed to be the last section, but the verses were altered during the editing process, was a nod to the wonderful world of  Monty Python and it featured many strange sounds including bongos, harmonica, some cuckoo noises and some very typical silly Python-esque voices. What became the last section was a jazz-piano type piece with an array of incomprehensible vocals.

The almost finished article ran to just over six minutes and John had the idea of releasing it as a Plastic Ono Band A-side, but the other Beatles disagreed and that idea was shelved. John then edited it down to just over four minutes and it was eventually released as the flip side of the Beatles final single whilst they were still together, Let It Be in 1970.

Soon after its release Dennis kept receiving phone calls, he said, “There were so many of them my wife started going out of her mind. Neither of us knew why this was suddenly happening. Then I happened to be in one Sunday and picked up the phone myself. It was someone on LSD calling from a candle-making factory in Philadelphia and they just kept saying, ‘We know your name and now we’ve got your number’. It was Ringo who played me the track and I realised why I’d been getting all these mysterious phone calls.”

“We had these endless, crazy fun sessions and eventually we pulled it all together,” Paul said. We just did a skit, Mal and his gravel, I can still see Mal digging the gravel. It was just so hilarious to put that record together. It’s not a great melody or anything, it’s just unique.”

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On and On (Stephen Bishop)

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a man who had a huge American following but was very overlooked in the UK, this week it’s a similar story. You’ll know songs by this man especially if you’ve seen the films Tootsie, National Lampoon’s Animal House and White Nights. Not only has he contributed songs for films but he’s acted in a few too. His name is Stephen Bishop and the song in question this week is On and On.

Bishop was born Earl Stephen Bishop in San Diego, California in 1951 and at school learned the clarinet. It was after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show that he decided he wanted to be a musician and persuaded his brother to buy him a guitar. Once he got that guitar and learned how to play it he formed a band called The Weeds. He also began writing songs and after he’d moved to Los Angeles he landed himself a job at a song publishers earning $50 a week.

He got his big break in the mid-seventies, Stephen explains how it happened, “My friend, a singer called Leah Kunkel, knew my songs and she had some on cassette. I think her husband at the time (drummer) Russ Kunkel, was doing a session with Art Garfunkel and she got him to give one of my tapes to Art. He really liked it, and he wound up recording two of my songs, Looking for the Right One and The Same Old Tears on a New Background. I had a situation at home where my stepfather wasn’t very keen on rock & roll. He was an opera teacher – he hated rock & roll. That was a drag but I guess that was one of the things that compelled me to be the singer/songwriter guy that I am.”

In 1974 he got a deal with ABC records, he explained how that happened, “I was friends with a guy named Richard Holland, who was going out with Chaka Khan. Chaka’s manager, Bob Ellis, was interested in me, and he’s the one who got me my deal with ABC. Roy Halee, the producer of Simon & Garfunkel, signed me to ABC.

He released his first album, Careless, in 1976 which made the US top 40 and was certified Gold. The first track released from it was On and On. It featured Andrew Gold on guitar and reached number 11 on the Billboard Singles chart. Bishop has said that he wrote from titles usually and explained in an interview with Songfacts how On and On came about, “My landlady back then used to put lots of flowers in her garden from all over the world. She was a big flower lady so she would tell me where all these flowers were from. Back then I hadn’t travelled anywhere so I was really fascinated by that. And then I was walking down the street to the corner grocery store in Silverlake where I was living at the time and I just got the idea for the title. I just wrote it down on my little message book. When I went back to my apartment, I came up with this chord that I just loved. Then I just kept playing it over and over and I finally did something with it, and made On and On.” It never charted in the UK for Bishop, however a cover version by Aswad reached number 25 in 1989.

Bishop recorded, but didn’t write, It Might Be You which is the memorable track from the Dustin Hoffman & Jessica Lange 1983 film Tootsie. It was actually written by Dave Grusin and Alan & Marilyn Bergman. In early 1985 he recorded an album called Sleeping with Girls which was only released in Hong Kong, but on it was a track called Separate Lives that Bishop wrote about his own past romantic liaisons which appealed to Taylor Hackford, the director of an up and coming film called White Nights. Bishop did not intend it to be a duet, but Hackford suggested it and it was covered by Phil Collins and Marilyn Martin. Not only has Bishop written and recorded songs for films, he has made some appearances too; his first was in 1977 in The Kentucky Fried Movie where he was billed as Charming Guy then as Charming Guy with Guitar the following year in Animal House. In 1980 eagle-eyed viewers would have spotted him as Charming Trooper in The Blues Brothers and his final ‘charming’ appearance came in 1983 when he was billed as Charming G.I. in Twilight Zone: The Movie.

As a songwriter, numerous singers including Eric Clapton, Barbra Streisand, Yvonne Elliman, Kenny Loggins, Johnny Mathis, Helen Reddy, Stephanie Mills, Frida (from Abba) and the Four Tops, have covered his songs.

Stephen is still recording and released his last album, Blueprint in 2016. This year he has contributed two tracks to two different films, you’ll hear Animal House in the film A Futile and Stupid Gesture and Almost Home which is performed by Dewain Whitmore, Jr. in the film about an orphaned puppy called Benji.

He continues to tour saying, a couple of years ago, “I do a lot of stuff overseas; they usually pay really good. I went to Belfast to do some concerts. Over the years I’ve been to the Philippines 10 times, Japan eight times. I’ve been to Dublin six times, England three or four times, plus Argentina three times. So I’ve been all over the place.

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