Single of the week

War Baby (Tom Robinson)

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A person’s sexuality can sometimes be confusing. Have you ever wondered why both David Bowie in Space Oddity and Elton John in Rocket Man talked about their wives which neither had. Both are/were gay and both once married a woman. Tom Robinson was another when in 1977 he revealed to the press he was gay and sang it with pride in his EP track (Sing If You’re Glad) to Be Gay. He then said he wasn’t gay and is now married and living happily in south London.

Tom ‘came out’ in 1966 when he was a member of a choir in Cambridge and expressed feelings for another choirboy and it made the national news. Homosexuality back then was considered a crime in Britain and the penalty was prison. Knowing this and worrying him, Tom, at 10 years old, attempted suicide. He was placed in a psychiatric clinic in Kent, but whilst there he became fascinated by Alexis Korner’s blue group and foresaw a change of career on the horizon. In the early 1970’s he joined an acoustic band called the Cafe Society. They impressed Ray Davies from the Kinks so much that he agreed to produce their debut album.

The gay liberation movement was continuing to grow and Tom’s passion for gay rights caused him to campaign for it even in his music. In 1976, inspired by the Sex Pistols, he formed the Tom Robinson Band as well as becoming a lifelong supporter of Amnesty International and until the big hits came he was also a volunteer of London’s Gay Switchboard help-line. That changed in October 1977 when his debut and biggest hit, 2-4-6-8 Motorway reached number five in the UK chart.

During the 1980s he co-wrote songs for other artists working with Dan Hartman and Elton John successfully co-penning Elton’s 1980 hit Sartorial Eloquence. He wrote another song with Elton about a young boy in boarding school who has a crush on an older student, that song was called Elton’s Song and eventually released in 1981 on Elton’s album The Fox. In 1982 he came in for further criticism about the facts that he wasn’t ‘genuinely gay’ because at a benefit party he met Sue Brearley, the woman with whom he would eventually marry and have two children. In the mid 90s, when he first became a dad, the Sunday People ran a story about what they deemed as a sexual orientation change by carrying the headline ‘Britain’s Number One Gay in Love with Girl Biker!’ But then what do you expect from a Sunday tabloid? News!

In 1982 he wrote War Baby about divisions between East and West Germany. In a recent interview he said this of it, “War Baby is the song that I’m most proud of. The genesis of it came at a low ebb in my life when I had run out of money and got massively into debt, particularly with the British tax authorities, and I had to flee the country and go and live on a friend’s floor in Hamburg. And I really didn’t know what was going to happen to me but I was there and I started writing some new songs. I used to roll the most ferocious joints, large conical things that would sort of remove all semblance of reality and I used to somehow drive through the streets of Hamburg in my second-hand

20-year old car, ah, with the steering wheel on the wrong side, and make it to the gay sauna in that state, and kind of salve my soul through experiences there. And one particular evening I made it back to the flat somehow particularly stoned, after a particularly harrowing experience at the sauna, and just came back and wrote straight down ‘only the very young and the very beautiful can be so aloof.’ And the rest of it poured out onto the page, eight, ten pages of this stuff, just hand-written, stream of consciousness stuff. And it took about a year to get those ten pages down to something that you could actually sing in four minutes, but it came from a very, very deep place within me. I think it’s the most truthful song that I’ve written, because I didn’t think about it at all. The great artists are able to connect with a very deep part of themselves spontaneously, and I think that’s the closest I ever came to doing it.”

It was released as a solo Tom Robinson single and reached number six. It was also featured on his debut solo album North by Northwest which was produced by Richard Mazda who had been a member of the Cosmetics and later became an in-house producer for IRS Records.

In 1996, Robinson released an album Having It Both Ways. On it he added a verse to Glad to Be Gay, in which he sings: ‘Well if gay liberation means freedom for all, a label is no liberation at all. I’m here and I’m queer and do what I do, I’m not going to wear a straitjacket for you.’ In 1998 his epic about bisexuality, Blood Brother, won three awards at the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards in New York.

In the mid-80s he turned his hand to broadcasting when he started a regular show on the BBC World service. He has since presented shows on BBC Radios 1, 2, 3, 4, 4Xtra and 5 Live. He won his first gold Sony Radio Academy award on GLR, which is now BBC London for You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, a radio documentary about gay music. He has presented The Locker Room, a long-running series about men and masculinity, for Radio 4 in the early 1990s, and later hosted the Home Truths tribute to John Peel a year after his death in 2004. He currently presents his own show on 6 Music, featuring live music sessions, on Monday and Tuesday nights, and occasionally sits-in on Radio 2’s Mark Radcliffe Show and Radio 4’s Something Understood, and Pick of the Week. In 1994 he wrote and presented Surviving Suicide, about his suicide attempt.

No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) (Donna Summer & Barbra Streisand)

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When huge named pop stars get together to record a duet, it is bound to me a sure fire hit and, in many cases, like, Ebony & Ivory (Stevie Wonder & Paul McCartney) and I Knew You Were Waiting For Me (Aretha Franklin & George Michael) they didn’t even get to meet for the session for one reason or another. Contrary to popular belief Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond did actually meet when they recorded You Don’t Bring Me Flowers in 1978. There was also a rumour at the time that Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand never met when they recorded No More Tears (Enough Is Enough) that was rubbish, they did meet and more about that soon.

Paul Jabara is an American-born actor and singer/songwriter of Lebanese descent. He got his break at the age of 20 in the US stage versions of Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar and later played Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. In the late 70s he concentrated more on songwriting and penned the Oscar winning Last Dance for Donna Summer for the film Thank God It’s Friday. Paul was a huge Barbra Streisand fan and as a kid he spent many evenings in the front row of the Broadway theatre watching her when she was on stage in Funny Girl. In 1977, Barbra announced that she was to star in a new film called The Main Event and was going to sing the theme herself, Paul made sure his name was put forward to write it and he got the job.

He explained in the biography Streisand – The Woman and The Legend, what happened and how he felt about it, “On the way over to Barbra’s house to talk about The Main Event, I was an absolute wreck. I couldn’t believe I was actually going to writing a song for her.”

In 1979 Barbra, who liked the idea of going disco, went into the studio to record her latest album called Wet. She wanted it to be a concept album based around water. Paul Jabara was out one night with his songwriter friend Bruce Roberts. Bruce turned round and said to Paul, “Wouldn’t it be fabulous to write a song for Barbra and Donna?’ We wrote the song in literally 10 minutes,” Paul took the song to Barbra and asked her to listen to the song. At this point it was called Enough Is Enough and although Barbra said she liked it, it lacked the liquid theme she was looking for. The executive producer urged Barbra to host a dinner at her Malibu home for the producers, the songwriters and Donna Summer. She agreed and halfway through dinner Jabara popped a cassette into the player and played them the demo of Enough Is Enough which he’d re-written to be a duet and it also showcased the new lyrics at the beginning which were, ‘It’s raining, it’s pouring, my love life is boring me to tears’ which fitted with the ‘water’ theme. Roberts remembered, “Paul and I just trapped them in a room and played the song for them, and before any of the business people could try and stop it, it was too late. They loved it and started singing it.” Roberts then suggested adding the bracketed title (No More Tears). Both divas were excited at the prospect, but Barbra said, “What part do I sing?” The full track listing on the ‘liquid’ theme is; Wet, Come Rain or Shine, Splish Splash, On Rainy Afternoons,

After the Rain, No More Tears (Enough Is Enough), Niagara, I Ain’t Gonna Cry Tonight and Kiss Me In The Rain, Paul Jabara revealed in an interview with Us magazine that both Barbra and Donna were extremely intimidated by each other and neither could understand why they should be. He added, “There was press speculation that there were explosions between the two duelling divas over who was going to sing which part, but it’s absolute nonsense.” The night before the recording, Donna was in concert that made her two hours late for the session, which prompted Barbra to quip, “I have never waited two hours for anybody!”

During the rehearsal, things got a little tense when both songstresses were warming up and seeing who could hold what notes for the longest. At one point Summer lost her breath and fell off the stool. Recording began and as Paul describes, “The magic just took over. There was Streisand with here hands flaring and Donna throwing her head back and both belting out the song for all they were worth. It was a songwriter’s dream seeing them both on their stools opposite each other was so mind boggling that my head nearly turned around 360 degrees just like Linda Blair’s did  in The Exorcist.

There was a tussle for who would sing the last note before the main beat hit at one minute 45 seconds in. That note was held for 16 seconds and Donna managed it with more ease. Barbra was signed to Columbia records and Donna to Casablanca and it was agreed that it would be released on both labels. The 7″ was on Casablanca and the 12” on Columbia but all sales were combined.

The personnel on the track were as follows, Greg Mathieson (piano), Neil Stubenhaus (bass), Jay Graydon and Jeff Baxter (guitars), James Gadson (drums) and Julia Waters, Maxine Waters, Luther Waters (backing vocals). There was never an official video and the pair have never sung it together since the recording. Donna has performed it in concert with other females including Tina Arena and her sister Mary. Barbra rarely performs it, but at her concert in Philadelphia in 2012 she sang a shortened solo version and dedicated to the memory of Donna Summer saying, “Oh God I wish she was here to sing it with me right now.”

In 1980 Roberts, who had already had a hit as the co-writer of You’re Moving Out Today for Carole Bayer Sager,   recalled going with Summer and Jabara to meet with David Geffen when the music mogul was looking to sign her as his first artist on his new Geffen Records label. We met David at a restaurant on Melrose and had a lovely dinner and we told her that David was the best thing in the music business, which he is and always will be because he respects creative talent,” he says. “We told her he was a good guy, and she signed with him.”

When Donna summer died earlier this year, Roberts paid tribute by saying, “She was always called the Queen of Disco, but it was so much broader than that. She could sing in so many different kinds of voices, so many different ranges, in loud beautiful aggressive tones and soft quiet tones. She could control it in any range she was singing in, which is very rare.” The pair duetted on the 1996 song Whenever There is Love but it just missed the top 100. “I wrote her last Billboard number one which was also her 89th single in the US,” Roberts continued.  “And it was a song called To Paris With Love which we just did it in my house. She literally got in front of my mic, I played a couple of chords, and she sang for an hour.  This music flowed out of her like a waterfall.”

Blue Guitar (Justin Hayward & John Lodge)

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It’s not too often that two members of the same band break away to have hits as a duo, Tony Meehan And Jet Harris from the Shadows were the first and David van Day and Thereza Bazaar aka Dollar from Guys ‘N’ Dolls have been the most successful with a total of 14 hits to their credit. Some have been one-hit-wonders like Billy Davis Jr & Marilyn McCoo and Moody Blues members Justin Hayward and John Lodge who had a one-off top ten hit in 1975 with Blue Guitar.

In 1974 the Moody Blues split up after Mike Pinder claimed exhaustion following a nine month tour of the USA. Each member concentrated on solo projects with minimal success. Graham Edge formed a new band with Adrian Gurvitz, Ray Thomas released a solo album called From Mighty Oaks which got to number 23 in the UK, Mike Pinder released an album called The Promise which missed the chart and Justin Hayward and John Lodge worked as a duo and released the top ten album Blue Jays. They also released two singles, I Dreamed Last Night which did nothing and the follow-up, Blue Guitar which reached number eight in the chart. Curiously the latter did not appear on the Blue Jays album although the B side, When You Wake Up, did.

So how did Blue Guitar come about, Justin Hayward explains, “I used to go up and stay with my friend Eric Stewart in Stockport because we were both partners in a studio up there called Strawberry in the early 70s. I’ve known Eric from when he was in the Mindbenders in the 60s and he’d recently started in a new group with Kevin Godley and Lol Creme called Hotlegs. There was one time when we spent the evening just chatting about stuff and Eric said ‘hey,

There is a day free in the studio tomorrow because someone has cancelled, has anyone got a song’. I said, I’ve got this song, I didn’t call it Blue Guitar originally I think I called it You Are (sings) ‘You are the fortune of my ways’ yeah, it was a bit naff that and of course Lol being Lol he said so and said ‘why don’t you give it a proper noun title and call it something like Blue Guitar. I went away and thought about it for a couple of hours and thought, yeah that works and so I re-wrote the lyrics that night and we went in the studio the next day and laid down the track. Eric played guitar, Kevin played drums and Lol played a slide guitar and that was that and we never thought any more about it and it sat in the tape box for about two years.”

What was always curious was how come John Lodge’s name is on the label if he is not on the song, Justin continued, “After a couple of years, John and I had made the Blue Jays album and we were looking for something to release to promote it and I remembered this track and I brought it out and played it to John and our producer Tony Clark. They liked it but thought it needed something so we took it back to our studio and John added some bass onto it and Tony mixed it in a really nice way and anyone who’s interested will notice it’s got dual production credits of 10cc and Tony Clark.” So, John Lodge is not on the first early version but was on the released single.

In 1978, Justin Hayward, John Lodge, Graham Edge, Mike Pinder and Ray Thomas all reconvened as the Moody Blues and although Pinder left again after a few months, they have released eight albums with varying degrees of success. In 1985 they were presented with the award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music at the 30th Annual Ivor Novello awards.

In 2002 Thomas announced his retirement and thus reduced the group to the trio they are today. John Lodge announced on his website recently that they will be touring the UK late spring 2013. He also made the appeal to the Irish, saying, ‘If you would like us to come to Ireland all it needs is the promoter.’  Subtle hint then!

Land Of 1000 Dances (Wilson Pickett)

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There are some songs which become completely memorable for their catchy nonsense hook. Rob Davis from Mud would probably agree as he wrote the La-la-la la-la-la-la hook from Kylie Minogue’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head and it earned him a fortune, likewise so will Frankie Garcia, the man who added the incessantly catchy na-na-na-na-na na-na-na-na-na na-na-na-na-na from Land of 1000 Dances.

Chris Kenner was a New Orleans-born singer/songwriter whose first success as a writer was in 1958 when Fats Domino scored with his hits Sick and Tired and I Like It Like That. In 1962 he wrote Land of 1000 Dances which was based on an old spiritual tune called Children Go Where I Send You. He told John Broven in an interview that it was also inspired by all the different dance tunes that were going around at the time. Some copies of the song credit Fats Domino as a co-writer, but in truth, he didn’t add anything, he just agreed to record the song in exchange for half of the song’s royalties.

Kenner’s version was an average soul track which mentioned his previous composition, I Like It Like That, in the lyrics, but notably did not include the catchy chorus. It also didn’t mention the title but did mention 16 dances: the Pony, the Chicken, the Mashed Potato, the Alligator, the Watusi, the Twist, the Fly, the Jerk, the Tango, the Yo-Yo, the Sweet Pea, the Hand jive, the Slop, the Bop, the Fish, and the Popeye. It was released in the States the following year and reached a lowly number 77. Two years later a cover version by Cannibal & the Headhunters made number 30. The na na na na na hook happened by accident when Frankie ‘Cannibal’ Garcia, forgot the words. What’s curious is that his version started with the na-na-na-na bit, so if he forgot the words immediately, why didn’t they just do another take? Frankie has never been credited as a co-writer and nor did he make a song and dance about it, unlike nowadays when there will undoubtedly be a court case!

In 1966 Pickett recorded his version under the watchful eye of Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler at FAME studio in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Pickett was one of the first acts to record in that studio, but soon after Atlantic sent more of their artists there like Sam & Dave and Aretha Franklin. Other artists who have since used it are Bob Seger, Paul Simon and Cat Stevens.

Pickett’s interpretation was much grittier and faster than any previous version, but he based it on the Cannibal version by keeping the na-na-na-na hook. He screamed his way through it in that distinctive style that few other soul singers had. It was sampled most prominently in Ini Kamoze’s 1995 top 10 hit Here Comes the Hotstepper. Pickett also added the distinctive count-in intro and a few grunts here and there. The musicians on the session were; Chips Moman and Jimmy Johnson (guitar), Spooner Oldham (keyboard), Roger Hawkins (drums), Junior Lowe (bass), Charlie Chalmers and Andrew Love (tenor sax), Wayne Jackson (trumpet) and Floyd Newman (baritone sax).

Pickett’s first foray into the UK chart came in September 1965 with the classic In the Midnight Hour, it was followed just eight weeks later by Don’t Fight It which stalled at number 29. The next hit was 634-5789 which peaked even lower. A cover of Solomon Burke’s Everybody Needs Somebody to Love came next and missed the chart completely. Land of 1000 Dances bucked the trend of hid seemingly ailing career but still only reached number 22 in the UK despite being an R&B number one in America. The immensely popular Mustang Sally appeared at the end of 1966 but clearly got lost in the Christmas rush as it only reached number 28. In an attempt to halt his sliding career, Pickett began recording with Bobby Womack and the result were songs like I’m A Midnight Mover, I Found a True Love, A Man and a Half and a cover of The Beatles’ Hey Jude with Duane Allman on guitar which all made the US chart. In the US-only Pickett had a further 18 hits with a majority being cover versions including Born To Be Wild, Hey Joe, You Keep Me Hanging On, Sugar Sugar and Mama Told Me Not To Come.

Land Of A 1000 Dances has been much covered by the likes of Bill Haley (1966), Ike & Tina Turner (1971), Patti Smith (1975), Ted Nugent (1981), J.Geils Band (1982) and Roy Orbison, but none with any chart success.

Pickett re-recorded the song with Stax legend Steve Cropper in 1988 to be featured in the movie The Great Outdoors. The song has also been featured in the films Soul To Soul (1971) and more famously Forrest Gump (1994) and The Full Monty (1997).

This soul legend, who in his heyday he’d earned himself the nickname The Wicked Pickett, has been inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame as well as the Alabama Hall Of Fame and died of a heart attack in January of 2006.

Airport (Motors)

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Over the years many music genres have come and gone, some, like prog rock, glam, punk and new romantic made a lasting mark on the international music scene, others, like, acid, happy house and bashment went almost unnoticed. Pub rock was one that went unnoticed by many but did garner a cult following for those who were there in the 70s and included bands like Dr Feelgood, Brinsley Schwartz, Kilburn & The High Roads and Ducks Deluxe.

Brinsley Schwartz spawned Nick Lowe, Kilburn launched Ian Dury and Ducks Deluxe morphed into the Motors, all who had more success post pub rock. Ducks Deluxe was led by Nick Garvey and Andy McMaster. McMaster left when the band split in 1975 and went into music publishing. Garvey left Ducks Deluxe around the same time and formed a band called The Snakes with his friend and drummer Ricky Slaughter and vocalist Robert Gotobed. After one single they split with Gotobed going onto form the punk group Wire.

Just a few weeks later Garvey’s manager Richard Ogden suggested that he form his own band. He brought Slaughter with him and also contacted McMaster who rejoined him. They also brought in Bram Tchaikovsky (born Peter Brammell) as an extra guitarist. They recorded some demos in early 1977 and made their debut just two months later at the Marquee Club in London. The same week they recorded three songs for John Peel for his evening show on Radio 1.

In July 1977 they landed a contract with Virgin records and released their first single, Dancing the Night Away which reached number 42 and spent four weeks on the chart. Christmas that year saw the follow-up, Be What you Gotta Be, fail spectacularly as it got lost in the Christmas rush. April 1978 saw there next single, Sensation miss out in the Easter rush.

Their lyrics were meaningful and often compared to another fledgling band at the time, Squeeze, but with a more grittier sound. This was proved with the release of their next single which proved to be their biggest. Airport was written about a man whose woman has decided to leave him and live in another country and blames the building from where the plane took off for taking her away. McMaster had never revealed if it was based on a personal experience nor did he implicate the airport in question.

Airport spent three months on the chart and was followed-up with the equally catchy Forget About You, another song about lost love. The Motors were scheduled to give an interview to Q magazine in 1995 but primary song-writer, Andy McMaster, declined leading Garvey to explain that McMaster is a ‘very complex character and you need to understand him’.

They hit with two albums, their eponymous debut reached number 46 and the follow-up, Approved by the Motors flunked at number 60. They released a ‘Greatest Hits’ in 1995 which troubled nobody.

In the glamorous world of pop music, the Motors got bad press about their looks. In the 90s, Garvey said, “We made no concessions to glitter, we just looked how we looked. If you don’t make an effort it can be another nail in your coffin, then again, Mark Knopfler is no oil painting s he?”

Their final hit Love and Loneliness in 1980 reached a lowly number 58. They released further singles Metropolis, Whiskey and Wine and the excellent That’s What John Said which featured 12 different ‘John’s’ on the sleeve including Travolta, Cleese, Peel, Conteh, Lennon, F. Kennedy and of course, Olivia Newton. Sadly I wasn’t on there, but then again there is no H in my name!

By 1982 the usual ‘artistic differences’ excuse reared and they split up. Garvey tried his hand at music publishing working with Fingerprintz and Bad Manners, McMaster still writes the occasional song but no-one has heard them yet. Tchaikovsky originally built a recording studio but sold it in 1986 and, in his own words, “has done bugger all since. I make enough money for beer and fags which id the most important thing.” Slaughter was very put out when the band split and sent Garvey his smashed up silver disc in the post. He went on to work with the Buggles’ Bruce Woodley and XTC’s Barry Andrews.

Cuddly Toy (Roachford)

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We all know that bad press can really have an effect on someone’s career and this was certainly true in Roachford’s case. He originally hit the UK music scene in June 1988 and the majority of the music press at the time gave him a hard time. Gary Newby and Brian Bateman of the pop group The Railway Children in their singles review in Record Mirror said of his latest single, Cuddly Toy, ‘He sounds like Phil Lynott. He’s got his way of singing…or not singing but it’s a bit of a rock-out.’ They added that the lyric ‘You gotta feel for me baby was criminal’. Where are they now I wonder?!

Roachford is a band headed by Andrew Roachford. His mother was not best pleased in one aspect when he was born, Andrew explained, “I was born at 6pm on Friday 22nd January 1965 and it was just when my mum’s favourite programme, Ready Steady Go, came on the telly. She went straight into labour just after it started.”

He was born into a musical family with his dad being a drummer in a showband and his uncle Bill, a saxophone player, who was famous for playing on the Kronenberg TV advert. Andrew began writing songs at a young age and then went out on the road with his uncle. One day Bill suggested he sings a number on stage, although initially reluctant, Andrew eventually agreed and sang a cover of Ray Charles’ Georgia On My Mind. He began studying at a music college in London’s Kings Cross and was soon spotted by the Clash’s manager Bernie Rhodes who took him under his wing and used him as a talent scout. Andrew soon lost interest in college and decided to form his own band with some musician friends and named the group after himself.

He sent demo tapes to a number of record companies and it was by sheer luck he got a record deal. “I’ve got Terence ‘Trent’ D’Arby to thank for getting me signed up,” explained Andrew, “He heard one of my tapes one day at the offices of CBS and said ‘Hey man, this is brilliant. Who is this guy Roachford? Sign him up immediately.’ He then invited me on tour with him.”

He got noticed because then it was unusual to see a black kid, as Andrew puts it, with a guitar and having jazz and rock influences.  Cuddly Toy is just a straightforward pop song, “It’s effectively your safe and reliable ‘friend’ unlike members of the opposite sex who can mess you around. Its title was influence by Garfield the cat. He said, “My manager also manages Garfield the Cat and that’s why I’ve got one in my bedroom.” In 1990 Andrew said, “We may be successful but we’ll never be bigger than Garfield as far as my manager is concerned.”

Cuddly Toy reached number four in the chart and it was the only time he would trouble the top ten. His next hit was actually his debut single which had flopped and that was Family Man, this time it reached number 25. He continued throughout the mid to late nineties turning out hits like Get Ready, Only to Be With You and his last top 40 hit in 1998 with How Could I (Insecurity).

He released a solo album in 2003 called Heart of the Matter and the follow up, Word Of Mouth, three years later, was back with the band. In 2010 he and the Canadian actor/singer Tim Howar were both asked to join Mike & The Mechanics as joint lead vocalists. Their only album to date was called The Road and it spent a solitary week at number 42.