Single of the week

Never Never Never (Shirley Bassey)

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Many big pops hits of particularly the 60s began in Europe and sung in their native language, but there were a band of elite lyricists who converted the songs to English with great aplomb and were thus rewarded with big hit singles. Petula Clark’s Sailor, Tom Jones’ Love Me Tonight, Dusty Springfield’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and Ken Dodd’s Promises are all good examples of this.

Tony Renis was a successful Italian composer, producer and occasional actor. He was born in Milan and got his break when he appeared alongside Adriano Celentano impersonating Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. His cabaret act included covers of American and Italian songs and in 1961 entered the prestigious San Remo Festival with the song Pozzanghere.

The following year he collaborated with Alberto Testa on a song called Quando Quando Quando which translates as When When When. Tony recorded the original version but it was covered with more success later the same year by Pat Boone who gave himself a writing credit claiming he wrote the English lyric, but a source at the songwriters Hall Of Fame claim it was translated by Ervin Drake. The song was given extra kudos when it featured in the 1962 Italian film The Easy Life.

In the late 60s, Tony met with a successful Italian pop singer called Anna Maria Quaini who performed under the professional name Mina. She dominated the Italian charts for fifteen years racking up 77 albums and 71 singles. Mina was a Catholic girl and in 1963 fell pregnant after an affair with a married actor and Italian radio stations tried to ban her music. Her image of shaved eyebrows and song content about sex appeal and smoking went against her, but her three-octave range voice reigned supreme and her fans continued to buy her music. In 1972 Tony wrote a song for her called Grande Grande Grande. The song zoomed up the Italian chart and eventually dethroned John Lennon’s Imagine to give her another chart topper.

Norman Newell was head of EMI’s Columbia subsidiary as well as a producer and songwriter. He produced songs for Edmund Hockridge, Petula Clark, Anne Shelton, Alma Cogan and Danny Williams. He began writing songs in the mid-50s including Wait For Me and By The Fountains Of Rome. Under the pseudonym David West he wrote Portrait Of My Love for Matt Monro, Reach For The Stars for Shirley Bassey and the 1962 UK entry to the Eurovision Song Contest, Say Wonderful Things by Ronnie Carroll.

In 1973, he heard Mina’s Grande Grande Grande and fell in love with it and decided to write the English lyric and rename it Never Never Never but kept the original title in brackets. He had worked for many years alongside Shirley Bassey and thought the song would be perfect for her. He called her to his office where he played it to her and she fell in love with it too. The song zoomed up the UK chart coming to rest at number eight. It performed well in many countries including number one in Australia and South Africa.

In America, Shirley is classed as a one-hit wonder! Her only brush with the US Top 20 was with Goldfinger in 1965 for which she won a Grammy. “I suppose I should feel hurt that I’ve never been really big in America on record since Goldfinger”, she once remembered, “But, concert-wise, I always sell out.”

Shirley still performs Never Never Never to this day alongside her catchy hits from the fifties and the three James Bond Themes she has recorded.

Tony Renis, who is a personal friend of Ronald and Nancy Reagan, continued to write songs for Diana Ross, Julio Iglesias and Lionel Richie and in the mid 90s launched the career of Nikki Costa – the daughter of the 50s bandleader Don Costa. He now organises the annual San Remo festival in Italy and organises concerts for Andrea Bocelli

Earlier this month, it was confirmed that Shirley will perform at Buckingham Palace alongside Elton John, Paul McCartney, Tom Jones and Cliff Richard as part of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

Telephone Man (Meri Wilson)

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The 1970s was certainly the decade for double entendre songs. It arguably began in the reggae scene with a number of Trojan artists and then commercially withMax Romeo’s 1969 hit Wet Dream which he still claims was about a leaky roof (yeah right!), but Judge Dream certainly led the way throughout the decade which resulted in none of his songs getting any airplay. The Starland Vocal band’s Afternoon Delight and John Inman’s Are You Being Served Sir both managed to avoid the airplay ban as did the breathy, giggly Telephone Man by one-hit-wonder singer Meri Wilson because one the face of it, they were harmless enough.

There was more to Meri than met the eye! She was born in Nagoya in Japan at a U.S military base where her father served, but was raised in Marietta, Georgia. She attended the Indiana University of Music where she gained a Masters Degree in Musical Education. In 1975 she suffered major injuries in a car accident and was forced to wear a body cast for many months. On the upside she discovered her natural talent for song writing. After making a full recovery she began singing in clubs and restaurants. One night whilst singing she was spotted by the owner of the Texas restaurant chain Daddy’s Money. He asked her to relocate to Dallas which she did and continued singing in clubs. Money was minimal so to make ends meet she began modelling and singing jingles for radio commercials.

After moving into her own apartment in Dallas, an A T & T engineer came to install her new phone. “I swore for years that I’d never admit in public that I dated that telephone man”, Meri revealed years later, “But the truth is, yes, I did and wrote a silly song about it. I don’t want to say anymore because I’m now happily married, but not to the telephone man.”

When she was growing up in Georgia she learned to play classical music on the piano, flute and cello. “I was hung up on writing music that was music but I did write some novelty songs just for the fun of it and kept them in a notebook.” she said.

So he was the inspiration, but how did the song take shape? Meri explains, “As I was getting the telephone installed, I remembered the line from a Laura Nyro song that goes, ‘I met him on a Sunday and kissed him on a Monday’, the rest of it just came naturally and the double meanings were just for fun.”

One night she was performing in a club and showed the lyrics to her backing musicians who liked it and encouraged her to perform it live. Eventually she was persuaded and as she says, “In clubs people aren’t very attentive, but I started noticing every time I did Telephone Man people sat up and took notice.” Another producer Allen Reynolds heard it and liked it and she recorded some demo’s for him including Telephone Man originally as an acapella with just fingersnaps. “Allen loved it but he couldn’t figure out what to do it with so the idea of recording it was dropped” Meri remembered. Six months had passed and Meri was singing it in another club when a musician called Owen Castleman dropped by. He introduced himself to her and told her he liked the song and wanted to take her into the studio the next day and record it and that’s exactly what they did. She also cut some straight songs in the style of Crystal Gayle and Anne Murray who she cited as her influences. Castleman introduced her to a singer called Jim Rutledge from the hard rock group Bloodrock (who had one U.S Top 40 hit in 1971 called D.O.A) and after hearing her the pair agreed to produce the song.

Once it was finished Castleman took the song to 17 different record companies who just laughed him out the door. She said, “I didn’t see the likelihood of it becoming a hit and I certainly didn’t realise how unique it was.” So Castleman created his own label and pressed up hundreds of copies loaded them into his car and went off around Texas distributing them to radio stations and record stores. Meri remembered, “I was in a store in Dallas with Owen and we heard Telephone Man over the speaker which was from a local radio station, so we kept phoning up the station and pretended we were listeners and asked for the song to be played again and again thinking we would have an impact on the radio play.”

The song cost just $228 to record and as Meri said, “What you hear on the record was the first take.  We did a few but the tempo was getting faster and faster so we decided to stick with the first one.”  She did record a couple of follow up novelty songs like Dick The DJ and Peter the Meter Reader, but none managed to follow up the UK number 6 and U.S number 18 peak of Telephone Man. In the 90s she said, “I wish my claim to fame had been a serious one rather than with a novelty song. It was fun to have a hit record but in my heart I was disappointed that I couldn’t have had a real piece of music out there.”

In 1993 she became the choral director of a high school in Atlanta and sang in a professional jazz band called the Hotlanta Jazz Singers alongside a singer who was once a member of the Four Freshmen.

In 1999 she attempted a comeback with an updated version called Internet Man which got a little airplay but did lead to a deal with Time-Warner records. On December 28th 2002 Meri died when her car lost control during an ice storm along a Georgia interstate road.

Waiting For A Train (Flash And The Pan)

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In the 50s in America there was Sinatra Fever, in the UK in the 60s we had Beatlemania, in Australia there was Easyfever based around The Easybeats.

The group were formed in 1964 in Sydney and comprised five European migrants namely; English-born lead singer Stevie Wright, Dutch-born guitarist Harry Vanda (b: Johannes Vandanberg), Dutch-born Dick Diamonde (b: Dingeman Ariaan Henry van der Sluijs), English-born drummer Gordon ‘Snowy’ Fleet and Glasgow-born guitarist George Young.

George was from a big musical family and his older brother George Alexander was a member of British beat combo’s The Big Six and Grapefruit. George’s two younger brothers Malcolm and Angus formed and still lead the multi-million selling rock outfit AC/DC. Both George and Harry Vanda produced many of AC/DC’s early tracks.

The Easybeats released the Australian-only hits For My Woman, She’s So Fine, Woman (Make You Feel Alright), Come And See Her and Sorry. By the time they’d arrived on the scene in the UK in 1966 they had released three albums under their belt and the exciting single Friday On My Mind which reached number six. The follow-up, Hello, How Are You was their only other UK hit which peaked at number 20.

By 1969 the band had split, Wright remained in Australia whilst Vanda & Young returned to the UK. They worked as freelance songwriters and producers until 1973 when they returned to Oz and began working with John Paul Young by writing and producing his biggest hit Love Is In The Air. In 1977 the pair chose to use the alter ego Flash & The Pan, a project they intended as an engaging diversion from the real job of production, but found themselves with a hit on their hands after their debut, Hey! St. Peter reached number three in the Australian chart. It didn’t chart in the UK but was the first single issued on the newly formed Ensign records. Their next single And The Band Played On (Down Among The Dead Men) reached number 54, but then five years later they brought in Stevie Wright, their former Easybeat band member to sing lead on their latest single Waiting For A Train which reached number seven in the UK.

With their new-found success they brought in studio musicians Leszek on bass, Warren Morgan on piano and Ray Arnott on drums. They even added Lyndsay Hammond on backing vocals. Waiting for a Train sounded like it was sung through a megaphone and lyrically didn’t make much sense. The accompanying album, Pan-Orama was only released in the UK but stalled at a lowly number 69. The next two singles, Midnight Man and Early Morning Wake Up Call failed to make any impact and by 1987 they had reverted to a duo. Everything went quiet for a few years and by 1992 they were back with two new singles Burning Up The Night and Living On Dreams both of which failed to light.

In 1988, the pair were inducted into the Australian Hall Of Fame. In 1998 they both retired from the music industry with Harry remaining in Australia and George moving to Portugal with his family. However, in 2005, Harry started Flashpoint Music with his producer/engineer son, Daniel Vandenberg and they set up one of Australia’s premier private recording studios.

Waiting For A Train was used in the 2008 in the Guy Ritchie film RocknRolla. In 1989 a new version of the song, which was remixed by Harry Schulz and Kaplan Kaye and retitled Waiting for a Train ’89 (The Harrymeetskaplan Mix).

They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha! Haa! (Napoleon XIV)

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Many songs have been written about the loss of a loved one especially in the early 60s when there was a spate of ‘death discs’. Other less subtle ones include Emma (Hot Chocolate), Honey (Bobby Goldsboro), Tears In Heaven (Eric Clapton) and Seasons In The Sun (Terry Jacks). Less have been written about the loss of a pet, Old Shep being an obvious one and the lesser known Shannon by Henry Gross in 1976, but even country artists, who regularly sang about loss, didn’t turn mad after losing a pet, but once Napoleon XIV’s dog had gone, so did his mind. Or did it?

Although the writing credit on the single says Napoleon Bonepart, it’s not the political leader from the days of the French Revolution, but one Jerry Samuels who was a recording engineer from New York who worked at the elite Associated Recording Studios. He had a one-off novelty hit in 1966 with the unforgettable They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaa! Jerry explained how it all begun, “I wrote one verse and the chorus, and immediately I realised I was writing a sick joke. So I said, ‘This is no good, I’ll put it away.’ Three months later it was still running through my head; I pulled it out again and wrote the second verse and it was an even sicker joke. Finally about 6 months after that I decided I was going to finish it, and I was going to do something in that last verse that would throw things off a little bit, so I referred to the object – ‘They’re coming to take me away because of what YOU did – I referred to YOU as a dog. The dog ran away. By doing that I felt I was lightening the sickness of the joke, and I probably was and it probably did some good for me, but that was the reason I went for that afterthought, but it took a total of nine months to finish”

So, with the song finally written the recording process has to begin. Something you’d think was quite straight forward seeing that only a drum and tambourine were used, but not so. Jerry continued, “I was working at one of the hottest demo studios in town and I’d worked for them for quite a few years and we had started to do creative things together before that. We opened our own publishing company which I owned in conjunction with the owners of the studio and I’d written a hit song for Sammy Davis Jnr called The Shelter of Your Arms and we published it. We were doing some work for some advertising agencies and we began using a device called a VFO (Variable Frequency Oscillator). It connected directly to the hysteresis motor of the machine. That is the motor that controls the speed of the capstan. We’re talking about a 15 IPS (inches per second) analog tape. They had the VFO rigged only to the mono machines, but I saw something. I realised that if you hooked it up to the multi-track machine – (we only had 4 tracks at the time) you could do things that weren’t done before. I would be able to raise or lower the pitch of a voice without changing the tempo by hooking it up to that machine. Based on that, I came up with the idea of They’re Coming To Take Me Away. I was sitting in a nice easy-chair one night and what popped into my head was the old Scottish tune, The Campbell’s Are Coming. I hummed it and I thought, ‘da da dat dat da dat da da da da da… they’re coming to take me away, ha ha (sic).’ There it was, and by understanding what I could do with that piece of equipment, I wrote this thing. I asked the owner of the studio, who was my partner in my publishing company, to adapt the VFO to connect to the Scully 4-track. He said, ‘Why?’ and I said, ‘I can’t explain it, all I can tell you is we’re going to make a record called They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha Haa, and that’s the only way to do it.’ He had enough trust in me to say, ‘OK, I’ll do it,’ so he built the necessary adapters and connected it, and he was in the control room when I dubbed the voice in.”

So he laid down the drum and tambourine track, what happened next? Jerry: “I brought a friend of mine in and we had to record a seven second loop, so we recorded it and then we copied it. That’s why this thing is so perfect in rhythm, because what you’re hearing is a drum loop. We didn’t have the machines that we have these days that sound so real. We had to use a drummer. I also needed hand clappers, and I wanted a whole bunch of hand clappers, so I invited a load of my friends down to the studio at 2 o’clock in the morning, but only 3 showed up. I said, ‘Look there’s only 3 of us, that’s not enough hand clappers. What I want us to do, instead of clapping our hands, I want us to sit in a semi-circle and I’ll drop my Neumann microphone down in front of us, and we’ll slap our thighs. If we slap our thighs, we’ll have the sound of 2 claps rather than 1. However, you cannot slap your clothes because the clothes muffle it – you have to slap your skin. So we sat in a semi-circle and drop our pants and do it.’ They wouldn’t do it, so what we had to do was overdub. We bounced from track to track 3 times, so we wound up with 9 hand clappers, but we also wound up with some noise because we were copying the noise level. There is an inherent noise level when you record analog, and the signal to noise ratio decreases as you overdub, but that’s what we lived with. The next thing was the siren, and that had to be overdubbed also because we rented a hand-crank siren for $5. When you first hear it, you only hear 1 siren, then you hear 3, then you hear 6 – it’s all overdubbed. Finally, what we wound up with was a total drum track, a total hand clap track and a total siren track. Next we have the fourth and final track. The other tracks are in perfect rhythm at 15 IPS. I go into the studio, my partner is in the control room, and I record the vocal. The only track recording is the vocal track; the other tracks are just playing back in my earphones. As we get to the chorus, he begins to take that VFO one notch at a time, and turn it down, so I’m hearing ‘Chunka, Chunka, Chuunka, Chuuunka, Chuuuuuunka, Chuuuuuuuuuunka…’ and I’m going, ‘They’re coming to take me away, ha ha. They’re coming to take me away, ho ho, hee hee, ha ha to the funny farm, where life is beautiful all the time.’ And right there I run out of breath. We rewind the tape and punch in just before ‘time,’ and I continue and finish the line. When you play that back at 15 ips, the only thing that happens is the voice raises in pitch. It’s in perfect rhythm because I’m listening to the track. That’s how we did it.”

The song hit the US chart on 23 July 1966 and rapidly climbed up to number three, but just five weeks later the song was gone. How come? It got banned. There were complaints suggesting it was insulting to mentally ill people, but funnily enough not from anyone who was actually mentally ill. There was even a 20-track album called The Second Coming featuring many novelty ditties including Photogenic Schizophrenic, Let’s Cuddle Up Under My Security Blanket, Dr Psyche The Cut-Rate Head Shrinker and The Place Where the Nuts Hunt The Squirrels which has the same drum loop as the hit. In the good old days of vinyl, many music fans would often play the B side of the singles they bought and often good value for money, in Napoleon’s case I’m not so sure – the track was Aah, Aah Yawa Em Ekat Ot Gnimoc Re’yeht which is the A side backwards – the first of its kind.

Last week on my front page I wrote about answer songs and believe it or not, this one has not one, but two answer versions. A group called Josephine XV retaliated with I’m Happy They Took You Away, Ha-Haaa whilst Teddy and Daniel exclaimed They took you away, I’m glad, I’m glad, Neither of them attracted buyers.  Jerry is still in the entertainment industry, he now runs a successful talent agency, where he has worked for over 20 years. You can check it out at

W.O.L.D. (Harry Chapin)

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Anyone of a certain age will surely agree with the oft over-used expression ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ and when referring to radio will be right.

The B.B.C. is 90 years old this year and back in those days the broadcasters would turn up looking like they’re on the way to a wedding with suit, tie and highly polished shoes. Their patter had to be scripted and then approved as ad-libs were not even considered. Making a comment that wasn’t on the script was near enough a sackable offence. In addition you had to be able to speak the Queen’s English eloquently and have a ‘London’ accent. How things have changed! And, perhaps they needed to.

By the mid-60s things began to change. DJ’s, as they became known, were able to operate their own equipment and begin scripting their own dialogue and for music radio they could even pick their own music, something the pirate radio stations began doing. At the B.B.C. that job still fell to the producer but on the odd occasion the DJ could suggest a song they felt would sound good. By the mid 70s once Radio’s 1 & 2 got into their stride the programmes were jointly compiled by the producer and the DJ. The scripts died away and the DJ had the free range to say what they wanted as long as it wasn’t rude or controversial, but music was still fairly strict. That changed in 1973 when Britain’s first commercial music radio opened in the shape of Capital Radio in London. The DJs could champion their own tracks and had the power to make or break song by the amount of airplay they gave each song. Unlike today, the variety was astonishing especially as the diversity of the music was vast and nothing was really restricted. Back then playing Led Zeppelin and then J.J Barrie was the norm.

All singers needed their songs to be promoted and that job was done by record company people called pluggers. If the plugger managed to interest a particular producer and/or DJ of a song they would quite often invite the artist to come in and talk about the song. This practise is told in song by American singer/songwriter Harry Chapin in a song called W.O.L.D.

Harry died in 1981 in a tragic car accident, but his wife Sandy, who had written propably one of Harry’s best loved song Cat’s In The Cradle, told the story of W.O.L.D. in a 2009 interview. “It’s a very real story in that when Harry was first starting he tended to be his own best promoter. He was very assertive about getting out and meeting people, and getting people to know his music. He had a manager early on, his name was Fred Kewley, and this is just before he started with Elektra Records, he would call music companies and offices, and usually try to get to know the secretaries and the people that he would need to get him to the boss. So he would call up and he would say, ‘This is Fred Kewley, and I want to talk to you about this guy Harry Chapin,’ and he’d go on and on. And one time he called someone and that person said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, I know who this is.’ Someone recognised his voice. He was very energetic, very enthusiastic. He made a point of dropping in and meeting disc jockeys and programme directors as he travelled around the country. As a matter of fact, when we moved to our home in Huntington, which was really helped by the advance from when he signed with Elektra Records, we had this big old house, and absolutely no furniture. To launch his second album he had a big party and invited a whole lot of programme directors and disc jockeys and so forth. So he really got to know them and visited them. W.O.L.D was a composite.”

In reality it was a composite of the disc jockeys he got to know, including Jim Connors who worked at a radio station in Erie, Pennsylvania, and in 1973, became the morning man on WYSL in Buffalo – he had something of a freeform style which endeared him to many listeners. Chapin was very astute and from a marketing perspective he figured out that if you were trying to get disc jockeys to play our song, it would be a good idea to write a song about a disc jockey.

W.O.L.D is a real radio station in southwest Virginia, which went on the air in 1968. It was not the inspiration for the song, but Chapin was probably looking for a universal feel, and chose the letters as a play on the word world.

Many DJs had their own theories about the title. The older DJs thought he was having a dig by indicating it as W-OLD with W being the starting code for east-coast radio station (west coast stations used the letter K) and others thought it was about an oldies station. Either way, it had appeal but, astonishingly, given the airplay it received, it only reached number 36 in the Billboard chart. In the UK it was championed by Noel Edmonds and became Chapin’s only British hit, but did fair slightly better by reaching number 34.

Puppy Love (Paul Anka)

Copy of Anka     Copy of Osmond

Long before Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera made their respective marks in the world of music as former members of Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club, Annette Funicello, who incidentally was the only ‘Mouseketeer’ picked personally by Walt Disney, was also in the hearts of the American public, but she held a special place in the heart of one singer/songwriter namely Paul Anka, a teen idol, who wrote a song especially for  her.

Paul’s inspiration for his early songs came from his real love-life experiences beginning with his sister’s babysitter, Diana in 1957. Annette was the inspiration for a previous Anka hit called Put Your Head On My Shoulder which, like Puppy Love, reached number two in the States. Paul returned the favour of her being the subject of the hits by writing a couple of songs for Annette. Train of Love made the US top 40 whilst the follow up, Talk To Me Baby, only just made the top 100.

Paul went on tour but his manager advised him to keep his affair with Annette under wraps as it wouldn’t look good for a teen idol to have a girlfriend and therefore keep it out of the press. After the tour the couple split but she did record an album called Annette Sings Anka and a few years later married Anka’s manager Jack Gilardi.

George and Olive Osmond were devoted Mormons based in Ogden, Utah. Their first two children, Viri and Tommy, had hearing difficulties, but from then, it was music all the way: Four of their other children, Alan, Wayne, Merrill and Jay formed a harmony quartet in 1960 and, following a trip to Disneyland, they appeared on one of their TV specials. As a result, they became a regular part of The Andy Williams Show from 1962 to 1967 with Donny joining them when he was six. The Osmonds then spent two years on The Jerry Lewis Show. “Our father was an army sergeant and so we got our discipline from him,” says Jimmy, the youngest member today, “We were always having to learn something new like ice-skating, playing banjos, pianos or dancing.”

The teen appeal of the song carried on when Donny, opened his concurrent solo career with a heartfelt cover version. Anka’s version only made number 33 in the UK, so it was relatively unknown here. What sold the record was Donny’s supercharged emotion on ‘Someone help me, help me, help me please.’ “Mike Curb told me to give it my all on Puppy Love,” says Donny, “so I suppose it worked. Paul Anka said he would write me some new songs and I’m still waiting.”

In 1972 a radio station KOB (now KKOB), Albuquerque, played a version that featured a background bed recorded at the dog pound.

Anka made a comeback in 2005 with an album called Rock Swings (his first chart album in the UK) which contained swings versions of rock classics like Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, Van Halen’s Jump, the Cure’s Lovecats and REM’s Everybody Hurts. In 1992, Annette announced that she had Multiple Sclerosis and in March 2011, her home in California caught fire. She suffered smoke inhalation, but was otherwise unharmed. Donny is still touring the world with his sister Marie to sell-out venues.