Category: Single of the week

Innuendo (Queen)

Innuendo - thumb

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.

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

No one quite like Grandma - thumb

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.

Up The Junction (Squeeze)

Junction Thumb

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!

Firestarter (Prodigy)

prodigy - Thumb

In 1986 some lads from Essex were out ‘decorating’ the local railway arches in graffiti. One of them signed his tag, Fame, and stood back to admire his work. Fame, who was known to his friends as Liam Howlett, went on to create music of equal admiration.

Liam was into hip-hop and soon took up DJing under the name DJ Fame and became a member of a band Cut To Kill who put out one album in 1988. Soon after, Liam grew tired of the hip-hop scene and left. It was at a rave in 1989 that he met Keith Flint and Leeroy Thornhill. The following year they joined forces, recruited a rapper, Maxim Reality (born Keith Palmer) and called themselves The Prodigy, a name chosen by Liam in honour of his Moog Prodigy keyboard.

Their first single was a four-track 12-inch EP containing the tracks What Evil Lurks, We Gonna Rock, Android and Everybody In The Place, but it attracted few buyers. The next single, Charly, a slang name for cocaine, raced up to number three in the chart. It contained a sample from a Seventies public information film called Say No To Strangers, which was voiced by Kenny Everett. Over the next five years they registered Top 10 hits with Everybody In The Place, Out Of Space, One Love and No Good (Start The Dance). In 1992 their debut album, Experience, reached number 12 and the follow-up, Music For The Jilted Generation, went all the way.

Liam Howlett explained in a 2008 Q magazine interview, I’d already started The Fat Of The Land and I’d done the first track, an instrumental called Firestarter. Keith comes in and goes, ‘If I’m ever going to do any lyrics, I’m going to do it on this tune.’Flint, in the same interview added, “I remember Liam on the phone to (label boss) Richard Russell, He said, ‘Do you think these words describe Keith: Twisted? Self Inflicted? Yes, very much so.’ The lyrics were about being onstage: this is what I am. Some of it is a bit deeper than it seems.”

The original Firestarter video was directed by the same team who worked on the Diesel jeans television ad that Keith and Liam loved, but as Liam said, “It just didn’t represent us as people and it had to go.” For the new version Keith followed in the footsteps of the Sex Pistols and had turned to the punk look. It was shot in a tube tunnel at the disused Aldwych station and showed Keith dressed in an American flag T-shirt with a mohican and looking very menacing. ““It may be in black and white and shot in a cheap location but it ended up being the most expensive video we ever did,” revealed Liam.

The week it aired on Top Of The Pops, the tabloids reared their heads in an attempt to ban the record because it frightened young children and they said it encouraged young people to become arsonists. Firestarter, which was inspired by The Foo Fighters’ Weenie Beenie, a track on their debut album, Foo Fighters, lifted the guitar riff from The Breeders’ album track, S.O.S. and borrowed the hey hey hey refrain from The Art Of Noise’s Close (To The Edit). Both samples cost them dearly as they hadn’t sought permission.

The band were pleased with the finished article which brought together a darting breakbeat, a whining guitar riff, and a keyboard sound resembling a siren. All this added to Keith’s ‘I’m a firestarter, twisted firestarter’ growls gave the song a haunting, yet memorable sound. It’s clearly stood the test of time because earlier this month The NME placed it at number 52 on its list 150 Best Tracks of the Past 15 Years’

Not too many have covered the track, Weird Al Yankovic (of course!), Jimmy Eat World to name a couple but the best one has to be the OAP group, British band The simmers known for being entirely composed of aged pensioners, who covered it for their debut album, Lust For Life. The video parodied Flint’s hairstyle and Captain America costume used in the original clip.

In another Q magazine interview in 2009, Keith Flint was asked what he considered to be their best lyric. He replied, “That’s one of the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. I’d better say one of mine. Having barely written anything at school, and then writing the nine lines of Firestarter in Liam’s room… I was taking the piss. Causing a stir, f**king people off! I believe that naiveté served me well.”

Bridge Over Troubled Water (Simon & Garfunkel)

Bridge Thumb

When a songwriter pens a song which becomes a transatlantic chart-topper, let alone a multi-million seller, you’d think he’d be happy with the result, but Paul Simon always considered Bridge Over Troubled Water to be below the standards of others and wasn’t over the moon about it.

Paul’s then wife Peggy had rented a house on Blue Jay Way in Los Angeles, the house belonged to George Harrison and was the same house where George had penned Blue Jay Way for the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour EP. The song was created in 1969 in three different places. The writing of it happened on Los Angeles, the piano instrumental was laid down in a different area of Los Angeles and the vocals added in New York. The pianist was former Bread member and one-time ivory tinkler for Elvis, Larry Knechtel.

Paul, who wrote the song in the key of G on guitar and gave it the working title of Hymn, had Aretha Franklin in mind to sing it, but she turned it down and so Paul decided to record it with his partner in crime, Art Garfunkel. Incidentally Aretha did eventually record it the following year and took it to number six in the US chart and was rewarded with a Grammy for Best R&B vocal. Paul ‘borrowed’ the title from a line in the chorus of a 1958 song called Mary Don’t You Weep by Swan Silvertones and later said, “Had it not been for him (lead singer Claude Jeter) I would never have written Bridge Over Troubled Water, that guy probably has the best falsetto in the world.” He gave the music, which originally only had two verses and still called Hymn, to string arranger Jimmy Haskell to transpose it for piano. He had to change the key to E flat which is what Art Garfunkel sings in. Jimmy misheard the lyric and erroneously headed his sheet music, ‘Like a Pitcher Of Water’. That original sheet is now framed and resides at Paul Simon’s home.

The slow build of the song was inspired by the Righteous Brothers’ version of Ol’ Man River which was produced by Phil Spector and teases us with the gospel-tinged chorus by holding it back until near the end thus giving it maximum impact.

When it came to recording the vocals, Art was adamant that he should not sing the lead claiming that he wasn’t right for it and suggesting that Paul would be better. Paul insisted on Art doing it and so eventually gave in. Years later, Paul expressed much regret over his decision as it focused more on Art and thus relegating Paul to the background. The song came in for a bit of criticism as the press typically misinterpreted the lyric, ‘Sail on silver girl’ as being a drug reference. Actually is it Peggy who inspired the last verse when she told Paul that she’d noticed her first grey hairs coming through.

The parent album of the same name was the last the duo recorded before they split up, but it did become Columbia Records’ biggest selling album ever. It was also the first time an album and a single with the same title topped both the UK and US charts at the same time.

The song has been recorded by over 250 acts including Glen Campbell, Shirley Bassey, Josh Groban,  Johnny Cash, Charlotte Church and the cast of Glee, but none bigger than Elvis Presley. His version appeared on his 1970 album That’s The Way It Is and this is what Paul Simon said about Elvis’ version, “It was in his Las Vegas period and done with conventional thinking. He sang it well, but it would have been nice to hear him do it Gospel because he did so many Gospel albums and was a good white Gospel singer. It would have been nice to hear him do it that way, to take it back, as opposed to the big ending; he seemed to end everything with a karate chop and an explosion. So he didn’t really add anything to the song. It’s not nearly as significant as the Aretha Franklin recording. It’s just a pleasure for me that Elvis Presley recorded one of my songs before he died.”

In 1973, Capital Radio, the first commercial station in London, was launched and Bridge… was the first song David Symonds played. Fifteen years later when the station split frequencies and Capital Gold started as a weekend service only, the same song opened that station.

On week ending 21 March 1970, Bridge moved from 2-3 and The Beatles’ Let It Be moved 3-2, ironically both songs were originally written for Aretha Franklin and she turned them both down, but ended up recording both of them at a later date. The lesson there is, if you want a big hit single; write it and offer it to Aretha in the hope she turns it down!

Let Your Love Flow (Bellamy Brothers)

Let Your Love Flow - Thumb

It’s an often over used old cliche to say that someone is in the right place at the right time, but according to Howard Bellamy of the Bellamy Brothers, it’s true when it came to their biggest selling single Let Your Love Flow.

The brothers, guitarist Howard and keyboard player David were born in Darby, Florida in 1946 and 1950 respectively. David began writing songs and pitching them to various publishing companies. In late 1973, one of his songs, Spiders and Snakes, became a big hit for another Florida-born singer, Jim Stafford.

Phil Gernhard was Stafford’s producer and manager and liked Spiders and Snakes and was interested in developing David Bellamy as a singer and songwriter. Gernhard was already using Diamond’s travelling band for sessions as Diamond then toured infrequently. One of Neil Diamond’s roadies, Larry E. Williams had written a song, recorded a demo and offered it to Neil but he turned it down. Gernhard,  his partner Toni Scotti and the band had to fly to Florida for the recording of a outdoor TV special in which Stafford was due to appear. Just as rehearsals were due to start, the weather turned bleak and Gernhard asked the roadie to quickly check the equipment so they could make the recording before the really bad weather started. That roadie was Howard Bellamy who was looking for a job, so Gernhard hired him.

After the recording had finished Gernhard and Scotti were talking when all of a sudden they heard singing coming from the stage which was still set up. They turned round and it was Howard singing Let Your Love Flow. They went into a studio in Florida to record the track, but the results were disappointing and the plan was temporarily shelved. Stafford was about to embark on a US tour, but once they returned things changed.

Howard explains how they got the song, “Neil’s drummer came over to our house and brought the demo of Let Your Love Flow and said, ‘Hey, this sounds like something you guys would do.’ Well, it really wasn’t in Neil Diamond’s vein. I would say the guy who wrote this song is the wealthiest roadie now that ever was. Actually, Johnny Rivers had passed on the song. It had been pitched to a few people.  It was recorded once by a guy named Gene Cotton; he recorded a kind of unusual version. But when we heard it we had an idea of how we wanted to record it because it kind of fit our style, acoustic bass with a groove, and I think that has a lot to do with it. You’ve got to really match songs with artists, and I think it was the perfect song for us, a great match. So we went off to record that, and the rest is kind of history. It became not only the largest song of that year, it’s become somewhere in the area of one of the largest songs ever, as far as being played. And it’s become a standard, basically. I wish another one of those would come along.”

The band went into the studio and they spent a few sessions recording Let Your Love Flow. The song was rush-released and went to number one in America and number seven in the UK when eventually released in the early summer of 1976 when it was released to tie-in with a European tour. Fortunately the song was never off the airwaves. The Boys even received letters from various church organisations praising them for their music and its religious connotations.

In Germany the song spent five weeks at number one and was knocked off by Ein Bett im Kornfeld which was a German language version of the same song by Jurgen Drews and that stayed there for a further six weeks. In the UK, the song returned to the chart in 2008 where it peaked at number 21 after its inclusion in a Barclaycard TV commercial. The advertising agents obviously love the song because in 2010 A cover by Petra Haden was used in a Toyota Prius commercial.

David Bellamy stated in an interview with People magazine that the song wasn’t really beneficial to them, “Right after it was a hit, we hit rock bottom because we lost control. We had people working for us that we didn’t know and managers who wouldn’t let us do our own music.” Howard added, “There were so many fingers in the pie that there was no pie left. We ended up in debt after that song.”

In 1978, after the European tour, they returned to their native Florida. Once there they hired some local musicians and recorded some new songs one of which included the song that topped the America country chart and gave them their biggest UK hit, If I Said you Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold It Against Me.

In June 2010 the brothers recorded a song called Jalepenos which was on the subject of political correctness, but US radio refuse to play it because of its blasphemous content. That wouldn’t of helped their career either!