of the week

A couple of weeks ago, I presented a hip hop round in my quiz and played De La Soul’s The Magic Number and at the end of the night someone asked me what the sample was in that song because they recognised it but couldn’t place it. Knowing it sampled a number of tracks, I hedged my bets and suggested it was based around Tommy Roe’s Dizzy. Satisfied with my answer, he then asked me if I would write the story on my Single of the Week feature and find out more about it, so, here goes.

Dizzy squarely fits into the bubblegum genre. Around 1968-1970 was bubblegum era and it was enhanced by songs like Sugar Sugar, Simon Says, Yummy Yummy Yummy , Green Tambourine, Gimme Gimme Good Lovin’ and Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) among many others.

It was Tommy’s most successful UK hit topping the chart in the summer of 1969, but it wasn’t hit first. Tommy, who was born in Atlanta, Georgia in May 1942, began his career in 1962 with the UK number three and US number one hit Sheila, very much a cousin of Buddy Holly’s Peggy Sue, which was a re-recorded version of the song he’d originally issued in 1960. In the UK he had six hits, but his native States he scored 27 hits which included the top 10s, Everybody, Sweet Pea, Hooray For Hazel, Jam Up Jelly Tight and the transatlantic number one Dizzy.

Dizzy was written by Tommy with Freddy Weller, Tommy recalled how the partnership came about, “Freddy Weller and I had known each other in Atlanta. I was on a TV show with Paul Revere & The Raiders and they had lost their guitarist so I suggested Freddy as a replacement. He moved to California to be with them, and we started writing together. I showed him what I had of Dizzy, I had written the chorus but I couldn’t complete it. Freddy loved it and said, ‘Let’s finish it’, and we did that on a tour bus late at night. Jimmy Haskell wrote the string arrangement and we had Hal Blaine on drums, Joe Osborn on bass, Ben Benay on guitar and Larry Knechtel on keyboards. You can’t get better than that. It sold six million copies, four million of them in the States, and it was my biggest hit of all. The inspiration for it came from my love of fiddle playing and, equally, my love of catchy pop tunes, so I wanted to combine the two to create something explosive.” According to Tommy, the guitar riff was inspired by classic melodies in country swing and rockabilly, which he fused with a peppy pop beat. As for the words, they were inspired by a real-life experience and originally it was a humorous reflection on being tongue-tied and infatuated with a girl. It was Weller who convinced him to give the lyrics a more mature spin, which made a significant difference in shaping the final song’s direction. Its title came from a song that Tommy had heard whilst playing around in the studio. He heard Larry Williams’ 1958 hit Dizzy Miss Lizzy and loved the sound of it and wanted to use it.

The protagonist begins telling us how he wants to meet the girl, the one that’s been driving him crazy, and wants to talk to her, but he can’t because she’s always got loads of guys hanging around. There are a number of key changes in the song and this is to enhance how the story in advancing. In the second verse, we learn that he finally got his chance to talk to her and tells her how he felt and it makes him even more dizzy that he needs to call a doctor. There is no label credit for Roe and Weller on the De La Soul single, in fact it only credits Dave Jolicoeur, Kelvin Mercer, Paul Huston and Vincent Mason who are De La Soul and no court case was brought, so one has to assume they didn’t notice or were not too bothered about it. In addition to Dizzy, it also samples Different Strokes by Syl Johnson, Hit By A Car by Eddie Murphy, Shack Up by Banbarra, The Crunge by Led Zeppelin, Funky Drummer by James Brown, The Overtime Man by Don Covay and Three Is a Magic Number by Bob Dorough, so why are none of those credited. More importantly, did any member of De La Soul bring anything to the table?

The song has been covered by numerous people including Boney M, Vic Reeves and the Wonder Stuff who also took the song to the top of the UK chart in 1991, Tina Charles, Bob the Builder, Jack White and Jamie Cullum.

Vic Reeves, who was born James Moir in Darlington, is a former pig farmer, tomato farmer, an apprentice engineer, an art student, a gallery attendant and a record shop assistant, brought the song to a new audience and explained how he came to do it, “I was just trying to entertain myself, that’s always been the criterion with me. I originally wanted to be in a band like Roxy Music, then T.Rex and Slade and then punk came along and I wanted to be in a punk band. We had the attitude but we didn’t have the skills.” One thing was for sure, Vic could sing. When he did finally get a band together, they didn’t rehearse. “We used to make a terrible row. We used to change our name every gig to avoid people coming to see us more than once.” They Called It Rum, Hot Murder and Fantantiddlyspan were just three of the monikers they performed under. As the Wonder Stuff, they formed in 1986 and comprised singer/guitarist Miles Hunt, whose uncle is Bill Hunt from The Move, guitarist Malcolm Treece, Rob Jones on bass and drummer Martin Gilks. Three years later they added Martin Bell on banjo and James Taylor on organ. Rob died of a heart attack in 1993. Their quite barmy cover of Dizzy, caused a few problems at Top of The Pops, Vic recalled, “We were very drunk because The Wonder Stuff had this theory that 30 seconds before you go in, you have some tequila and you knock it back and then halfway through your song, you suddenly get your peak and your rush and then you feel great. But the problem was we had to go on five times because something kept going wrong technically, so we ended up having five tequilas and we were just pissed.”

Vic recorded the album, I Will Cure You, which in addition to Dizzy contained his hits Born Free, Abide With Me and a cover of Deep Purple’s Black Night. In 1995 he and Bob teamed up with EMF for another manic cover, this time I’m A Believer, which got to number three. Five years later, the pair appeared in a film remake of the seventies TV series Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased) and four years after that, they were seen as Chris and  Carl Palmer in the TV series Catterick.

Tommy still tours the oldies circuit performing many of his hits and delighting audience around the world, but mainly in the States.