Category: Single of the week

Cat’s In The Cradle (Harry Chapin)

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A good song that will last and stand the test of time is always a song that people can relate to and those songs are usually about relationships and ‘love’ in general. Cat’s In The Cradle is no exception albeit with a twist.

This is one of those songs that can really only mean more once you’ve had your own children. I first heard this song in the early 80s and as much as I loved it, it really hit home when my own son Harry was born in 2001 and having been a workaholic all my life and I was really determined that the essence of this song was not going to happen to me and I think I’ve succeeded.

The song was not strictly written by the song’s performer, Harry Chapin, but actually by his wife Sandy. Sandy explains why, “Cat’s In The Cradle’ was a combination of a couple of things. Whenever I was on a long drive I would listen to Country music, because words would keep me awake more than just music. And I heard a song… I can remember the story, but I don’t remember who sang it or what the title was, but an old couple were sitting at their breakfast table and looking out the window, and they saw the rusted swing and the sandbox, and they were reminiscing about the good old days when all the children were around and then the grandchildren, and how it passed, and now it’s all gone. The other part of the idea – this is always a problem, because Harry introduced the song at all his concerts and said, ‘This is a song my wife wrote to zap me because I wasn’t home when our son Josh was born.’ I was always kind of amused by that because of the fact that we learn life’s lessons too late. We don’t learn lessons before the fact. We don’t have a child born and then have all this wisdom. So I always thought it was interesting the way he told the story. But I learned the story because my (first) husband was going to New York to be a lawyer, and I had a teaching job in New York. While we were apartment hunting, we were living with his parents in Brooklyn. His father was the borough president of Brooklyn at the time, which I think was a much more important job than it is today. But every day when he got home from work, he would start talking to his son about, ‘It’d be great if you’d go down to the club on Tuesday night, I’d like to introduce you to some of the people I know,’ and so forth. And he started trying to engineer a career for him which leads to politics. They did not have any relationship or communication because they had been so busy until his son went off to college and was gone. I don’t remember exactly how, but he started talking to me. My father-in-law would say – and this is when we were all in the same room – and yet he would say to me, ‘Tell Jimmy I would like to see him down at the clubhouse on Tuesday.’ It was really very strange. So this is the way the evenings went. The conversation was going through me. So I realised what had happened. You know, relationships and characters and personalities and all those things are formed by two, so I realised that that hadn’t happened and it was very jerky at that stage. So I observed something that gave me the idea for the song.” The real heart-wrencher is that the son just accepts that his dad is too busy.

Harry never had that problem in his own childhood. His father, Jim, was a jazz drummer who had played with Woody Herman and Tommy Dorsey. This led Harry to learn trumpet and sing in a local boys choir. Harry’s brothers, Stephen and Tom, were also musical and had formed their own folk group. It took the birth of his son for Harry to decide to turn the poem into a song. Sandy continued, “Harry and I would exchange writing of all kinds. We were always working on each other’s writing. Some of my writing at a certain period were 20-page papers for a doctoral program at Columbia. So it wasn’t always that poetic. But we both looked at each other’s stuff. And then one time he came home and he said, ‘What have you been doing?’ I showed him ‘Cat’s In The Cradle,’ and he said, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’ You know, sometimes he’d pick up something and put music to it. And that didn’t really grab him at all. And then after Josh was born, it did. He picked it up and he wrote music to it.”

The song includes many references to childhood things like Cat’s Cradle, a hand game played with string. Silver spoons, which are ornamental spoons, usually given as gifts to babies and Little Boy Blue is an old nursery rhyme. On July 16 1981, Harry was on his way to a business meeting in Manhattan, New York and whilst driving along the Long Island Freeway, he changed lanes to make an exit when a tractor trailer hit him from behind and crushed the back of his car. This, in turn caused sparks which ignited the fuel tank. The tractor driver pulled Harry from his car but upon arrival at the local hospital 38 minutes later, he was pronounced dead.

Sandy Chapin still runs the Harry Chapin Foundation, which does what it can to continue supporting the causes Harry championed when he was alive. She now has six grandchildren and naturally tries to spend as much time with them as she can.

Unbelievably this song never made the UK chart. However, in 1993 rock group Ugly Kid Joe took their cover version into the top ten. They obviously wanted to make their version appealing to felines everywhere as they’d missed out the apostrophe in the Cat’s! In 2001 another cover by Jason Downs featuring Milk stalled at number 65.

In the UK, Harry is still classed as a one-hit wonder when, in 1974, his song W.O.L.D, a tale of a morning DJ, just scraped into the top 40. One fan who championed that single was Noel Edmonds, who at the time was the Radio One breakfast show DJ. At the time of Harry’s death, Noel was doing a weekend mid-morning show on Radio One and began playing Harry’s songs quite regularly on his show in the hope that his record company would re-released his material, but that never happened.

Harry had been a tireless performer who managed to schedule around 200 concerts year the majority of which were for political and social causes. He also founded the World Hunger Fund which has since raised over eight million dollars. He had also performed at many concerts on behalf of the Multiple Sclerosis Foundation. His manager, Ken Kragen  set up the Harry Chapin Memorial Fund, to continue his humanitarian efforts. This was noticed by Harry Belfonte in 1985 who was inspired to instigated the USA For Africa – We Are The World project.

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I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper (Sarah Brightman)

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By the mid-seventies, Sci-Fi had arrived in the UK from America and is still here. Star Wars landed like a meteorite and grabbed the nation by its ears and naturally the music followed suit.

Meco beamed into the top ten in 1977 with the Theme from Star Wars. A year later Mankind had a top 30 hit with a disco version of the Dr Who Theme, the same year we were subjected to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. Steve Rowland, a producer in the 1960s who had worked with Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich and the Pretty Things before becoming a member of Family Dogg, wanted to further his career into the 70s. He explained his passion, “Being a sci-fi fan I wanted that as a record. I Lost My Heart To A Starship Trooper was written by Typically Tropical’s Jeff Calvert and Geraint Hughes (Max West’s real name). It was round the time of Star Wars and I liked it. I said, ‘Let’s make it so you can see it, rather than hear it.’ I worked on a storyboard and tried to match that on record.” Continuing, he explained the inspiration, “I borrowed from Jonathan Richman’s ‘Egyptian Reggae.’ That was my groove and the basis of Starship Trooper – listen to them back-to-back and you’ll see what I mean.” Just for added effect the song included lines like ‘And evil Darth Vader has been banished to Mars’ and ‘Or are you like a droid, devoid of emotion’ just to cash in on the film’s success.

Sarah Brightman began her career as a member of the dance troupe Hot Gossip which was assembled by choreographer Arlene Philips. They were spotted by television producer David Mallet who invited them to become a regular feature on the Kenny Everett Television show which ran until 1981. They were noted for their risque costumes and the dance routines which were all designed and choreographed by Phillips.

Brightman is a classically trained soprano and possesses a three and a-half octave range voice and can sing in English, French, Russian, Spanish, Latin, Chinese, German, Italian, Hindi and Japanese.

I Lost My Heart to A Starship Trooper made number six in the UK chart and was followed-up with The Adventures Of A Love Crusader but that failed to make the Top 50 and so Brightman decided to put her voice to better use than the novelty disco scene. In 1981 she made her West End debut in Cats where she met the show’s  composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and later married him three years later.

Five years later she landed her most famous roll as Christine Daaé in The Phantom of the Opera. That musical is still running (albeit without Brightman) and this year celebrated its 25th anniversary. In 1987 the soundtrack was released and has since sold over 40 million copies making it one of the biggest selling soundtracks in the world.

In March 1985 she was back in the chart with her biggest hit single when Pie Jesu, from the show Requiem and written by her husband, peaked at number three. The title track of The Phantom of the Opera, a duet with 70s veteran, Steve Harley made number seven.

In 1992 she was invited to perform at the Barcelona Olympic Games on which she duetted with the Spanish tenor Jose Carreras on Amigos Para Siempre. In 2008 she performed at the Beijing Games with Chinese singer Liu Huan as by doing so made her the only singer to perform at the Olympics twice.

In 1990, the same year she divorced Lloyd Webber, she began a West End run as Rose Vibert in Aspects Of Love. In 1997 she recorded her most popular album, Time To Say Goodbye which saw her teamed with Argentinean singer Jose Cura and Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli. Their duet Time To Say Goodbye (Con Te Partiro) made number two in the UK chart and went on to become the biggest selling single of all time in Germany.

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My Sweet Lord (George Harrison)

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In 1970, Paul McCartney announced that the Beatles were to split, the four members of the band coped with news better than most of their fans. John was the first to have solo success with Give Peace A Chance under the guise of The Plastic Ono Band, but George was the first to have a UK number one single.

George Harrison felt that his songwriting deserved more attention from John, Paul and George Martin.  Even though he had written the excellent Beatles’ tracks Here Comes the Sun and Something on their last album, Abbey Road, he was only permitted two songs. He also co-wrote If I Needed Someone which was a hit for the Hollies, Badge for Cream and without credit, Hurdy Gurdy Man for Donovan.

When The Beatles disbanded, he teamed up with the producer, Phil Spector, and made rock’s first triple album, All Things Must Pass, which despite being twice as expensive as a single album, it made number one on the UK album chart for eight weeks, although many sources will list it as a number four hit. The reason for this was there was a six-week postal strike during February and March of 1971 and Record Retailer didn’t bother compiling a chart during that time whereas the more important publications, Melody Maker and NME did via telephone calls to shops. Years later, the official Charts Company recognised this and agreed to use the Melody Maker chart for that period.

The key single was the inspirational My Sweet Lord, which George described as “a song to live up to”. He was thrilled to be singing both ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’ in the same song. Harrison began writing this while on tour with Delaney & Bonnie in Copenhagen. Delaney Bramlett assisted with the song but never pursued co-writing credit. He gave the song to Billy Preston who had been signed to Apple records and he recorded it in early 1970, George produced Billy’s version but nothing came of it so George recorded it himself.

Although his inspiration had been the 1969 hit by The Edwin Hawkins Singers’, Oh Happy Day, he was accused of plagiarising a 1963 hit by The Chiffons, He’s So Fine. It seems odd that Spector, who was well acquainted with the New York girl group scene, hadn’t drawn attention to the similarity. Joey Molland of Badfinger who played rhythm guitar and sang backing vocals on the session says, “I was struck by the similarity but I didn’t feel it was my place to say anything. We relied on The Beatles for work.”

Bobby Whitlock, who played keyboards on the track, remembered, “All during the sessions, the door would pop open and in would spring 3 or 4 or 5 Hare Krishna’s in their white robes and shaved heads with a pony tail coming out the top. They were all painted up, throwing rose petals and distributing peanut butter cookies.”

A few years later, Allen Klein’s management contract with George Harrison was terminated and back in New York, he acquired the rights to Ronnie Mack’s song, He’s So Fine – Mack himself had Hodgkins’ disease and died in 1963. Was it revenge that prompted Klein to sue George? In 1976 a judge ruled that George was “not guilty of stealing the tune but there was a copyright infringement”. His unconscious plagiarism cost him £1m. George responded by writing and recording the witty This Song. In 1979, Klein was jailed for income taken from illegal sales of George’s charity album, The Concert For Bangla Desh.

On Boxing Day in 1975, George Harrison parodied My Sweet Lord during Eric Idle’s Rutland Weekend Television Christmas special by turning it into The Pirate Song. George had further hit singles during the 1970s, Bangla Desh (1971), Give Me Love (Give Me Peace On Earth) (1973) and Blow Away (1979). He made a top 20 return in 1981 with All Those Years Ago, his tribute to John Lennon who had been murdered the previous year. Six year after that he scored a UK number two and a US number one with Got My Mind Set On You, a remake of a James Ray 1963 track.

This week marks the 10th anniversary of George’s passing. Like Freddie Mercury last week, their best known work was re-released and My Sweet Lord was back at number one. It knocked off Aaliyah’s More Than A Woman making it the only time in UK chart history there were two back to back posthumous chart toppers.

In the 1980s George believed that his birth was wrong and thought he was born at 18 minutes to midnight on the 24 February rather than at 12.10am on the 25th. It turns out he was wrong because after his death, his birth certificate was located and it shows as the 25th. So now we know!

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Innuendo (Queen)

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This Thursday marks the 20th anniversary of the death of the rock world’s greatest showman. Love or hate him, he knew how to entertain and have an audience eating out of his hand. Anyone who saw a recording of Live Aid will get an idea of how in command he was, if you actually there you would have witnessed a master at work and understand why Queen stole the show in front of the world’s biggest audience.

During 1989 and 1990 Queen recorded what was to be their final official studio album. It was called Innuendo and the title track, which was a similar length and had the same song structure with its varying tempos and style changes as Bohemian Rhapsody, was written by Freddie and drummer Roger Taylor as a tribute to Led Zeppelin.

The music came about after Brian May, Roger, and bassist, John Deacon, were jamming in the studio in Montreux. From then on Freddie Mercury composed the song and added the long interlude. The melody is Mercury’s as well. The lyrics were started off by Mercury but completed by drummer Roger Taylor. The orchestral middle section, unlike the complicated Bo Rhap was all done by Freddie and producer Dick Richards on synthesizers.

The wonderful Spanish guitar licks was not Brian as he admitted that he couldn’t play Flamenco guitar. That solo was played by Yes’ Steve Howe who happened to be passing the studio and was popping in for a chat with Richards at which point Freddie invited him to join them on the track.

Freddie had known for a few years that he had contracted HIV and by now, his condition had deteriorated so much that a bed was set up in the recording studio so he could lie down during takes. Throughout the recording, the band knew Freddie was not well, but he hadn’t actually told them. Even though the tabloids carried gossip headlines, no one knew what was wrong with Freddie – not even the band, until January 1991, when Freddie called a meeting at the Mountain Studios in Montreux, near where he had bought himself a hideaway house. It was then he turned to Brian, Roger and John and said, “You probably realise what my problem is”. Once Freddie realised they knew, he said, “Well, that’s it, I don’t want it to make any difference, I don’t want it to be known and I don’t want to talk about it, I just want to get on and work until I can’t work anymore”. Brian later recalled, “None of us will forget that day. We all went off and were quietly sick somewhere”.

The follow-up single, I’m Going Slightly Mad insinuated that Freddie was going mad. For the video, which was co-directed by Freddie, he made the rest of the band portray different symptoms of madness. Such was Freddie’s condition, his make-up was caked on to hide the cracks in his face, and a wig was used to hide his thinning hair.

Freddie made a press statement on 23 November finally confirming that he had AIDS. It still came as a shock even for those who had suspected and he passed away the next day. I cried that day. I had been a fan for many years, and was lucky enough to have met the great man on two separate occasions. The second time being more daunting than the first I have to admin and not because he was famous either. If you ask me, I might just tell you!

The last song Freddie ever recorded was These Are The Days Of Our Lives which was released as one side of a double A-side with the re-issued Bohemian Rhapsody. It topped the UK chart at Christmas 1991 making the latter track the first of only two songs to return to number one in its original form.

It was a sad lyric only made surreal then you think what Freddie was going through when he wrote it. Freddie didn’t really look like himself in the video, he could hardly stand up. But his sweet ad lib at the end – ‘I still love you’ – was a kind of goodbye to Queen’s fans everywhere.

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No One Quite Like Grandma (St. Winifred’s School Choir)

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Prior to their Christmas number one in 1980, the children from the St Winifred’s School in Stockport, Greater Manchester, had appeared on another chart-topper, backing Brian and Michael on Matchstalk Men And Matchstalk Cats And Dogs in 1978.

Having had a taste of success, the headmistress, Sister Aquinas gave her consent for the children to record another song. The choir mistress, Miss Foley, rounded up the best boys and girls and set to work. The song was recorded at 10cc’s Stockport’s Strawberry Studios and featured Rick Wakeman on keyboards. All the royalties went to the St Winifred’s school fund.

Miss Foley picked eight-year old, Dawn Ralph to be the lead singer, which was an interesting choice because most of Dawn’s front teeth were missing which gave her a lisp. The group travelled to London to appear on Top Of The Pops. There, they met Abba, who invited them to support them on their UK tour.

Gordon Lorenz was born in Childwall, Liverpool in 1943. His parents were in the Salvation Army and after a time in drama school he became an evangelist. He retained his interest throughout his life and wrote for their magazine, War Cry. However, after his father died in the early 1970s, he took a full-time job with Border Television writing music for television programmes. “I penned the song originally for HM the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday and was disappointed, to say the least, when the record company decided to delay its release until Christmas of that year”, he remembered. “I was not to know at the time that the single would become the Christmas number one and sell one million copies, but it certainly helped to ease the disappointment at missing out on the Queen Mother’s birthday.”

The song entered at number 47 and surged up the chart. Tragedy struck the week it reached number two when the world learned of the murder of John Lennon. At the time, the young performers were more concerned about not having a number one than the ex-Beatle’s untimely death. It didn’t look like they were going to get it. A week later, John’s ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, which was already on the way down the chart, rebounded 21-1 leaving the kids in second place. John Lennon’s comeback album, Double Fantasy, was selling well so less people bought the single. The following week was Christmas and it went to number one after children up and down the country bought a copy for their grandma. They stayed there for a fortnight. After that, the kids grew up and never troubled the chart again.

Thinking he had hit a commercial motherlode, Lorenz wrote My Mum Is One In A Million for Mother’s Day, 1981, and it was a Top 30 single for the Children of Tansley School. And, in 2002, Lorenz got his wish to write for royalty. He wrote “Rejoice, Rejoice” for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee. It was sung by a 1,000-strong choir conducted by Sir David Willcocks and performed as the Queen left Buckingham Palace for a service at St Paul’s Cathedral. In 1998 he worked on Voice Of An Angel, for a 12-year-old Charlotte Church, which became a Top 10 album. Lorenz died in July 2011.

When Brian and Michael first heard that the choir were going to release the single, they offered to write the B-side which was called Pinocchio.

In 2008 the song was used in a one-off Channel 4 comedy by Peter Kay called Britain’s Got the Pop Factor…, which had original member Sally Lindsay (who was also in Coronation street), made a cameo appearance.

The following year the song was re-recorded by 14 members of the original choir and was released as a promotional campaign for the food company Innocent Drinks’ ‘Big Knit’ campaign, to raise money for Age Concern.

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Up The Junction (Squeeze)

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Jools Holland has one of the most successful music shows on British television and since Top Of The Pops folded in 2006, it’s now the only real place to see and hear an eclectic mix of music unlike the fodder that most commercial radio station turn out. Jools began as a session musician before becoming one of the founding members of Squeeze in 1974. He was their keyboard player until 1981 and played on classics like Take Me I’m Yours, Goodbye Girl, Cool For Cats and Up The Junction.

Up The Junction, which is reference to Clapham Junction, took its title from a pop show or kitchen-sink drama. Chris Difford explained, “Up The Junction came from a book and film of the same name, but it was inspired by the BBC series The Wednesday Play that I watched as a kid. It was written by people such as Mike Leigh and Tom Stoppard, so it was all kitchen-sink drama, EastEnders in black and white. I think we were among the first to apply that to music and write about women having periods and all that stuff.”

The song is unusual in that it has no chorus. Glenn Tilbrook explains, “I was thinking of something like Bob Dylan’s ‘Positively Fourth Street’ as a template when I wrote the music. It was our old manager, Laurence Impey, who was a big Bob Dylan fan and he introduced me to tracks like Who Killed Davey Moore, which was a stunning lyric about a boxer who died in the ring and it was written from the point of view of a ringside journalist. Up The Junction originally had about 16 verses, but it was Dylan who inspired me to write in a seamless way, like I was narrating a story.”

Glenn’s fellow member and Chris Difford added, “I imagined it would never be a hit and we’d have to take it off the album. And the record company said that they disagreed, and it our second consecutive number two hit, so they said if the manager was wrong he’d have to eat his heart. Not a very tasty thing to be doing.”

It has some wonderful near rhymes – happen with Clapham, common with forgotten and assumption and junction. It’s also one of only a handful of hits where the title is only mentioned once – at the end of the song.

When it came to Top Of The Pops, the band made a spoof performance which sees band members play the wrong instruments. Guitarist Glenn Tilbrook was seen on drums and Jools Holland attempting some fancy finger work on guitar.

In 1980, after returning from an Australian tour, Jools announced he was leaving the band with immediate effect. Glenn was absolutely devastated. He said, “I was convinced that we could have been the biggest band in the world, I felt like we were a unit that were welded at each hip.” Jools had a great way of communicating with an audience and was always the one to introduce the band halfway through the set, hence his success as presenter of the Channel 4 show The Tube and currently is own show Later with Jools Holland.

Other Top 20 hit singles followed, Another Nail In My Heart, Labelled With Love and Hourglass.  Although their subsequent albums contained some lyrically great songs, the chart positions didn’t reflect to well.

Squeeze split in 1982, but reformed three years later with a new bass player, Kevin Wilkinson. Throughout the Nineties, there were various line-up changes including a brief re-appearance by Jools Holland. In July 1999, Kevin took his own life and that marked the end of Squeeze for the final time. If you meet someone who claims to be a squeeze fan, give them this trivia question, In Up The Junction what time was the baby born?  They’ll probably speed through the lyrics and come up with 4.50. Just remind them that that was the time she was taken to an incubator – she was born 30 minutes later!

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