When I was a child in the late 1970s – slowly becoming pop-aware but not yet at the stage of watching Top Of The Pops or listening in a focused way to the radio – I had a mono HMV box record player, three albums (The Seekers’ greatest hits, Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture and the Barry Gray Orchestra playing themes from Gerry Anderson shows) and a clutch of singles either inherited from my much older half-brother when he left home or bought for me from junk shops. The first single bought for me – my sister and I were never given pocket money; we always had to ask for things and the answer was usually ‘no’ – when it was actually in the charts was The Who’s You Better You Bet, of which much more later. But before that, my collection consisted of:
Something’s Happening by Herman’s Hermits
Soppy, marimba-heavy chugalong with single entendre lyrics (it’s about getting an erection) from pop’s most unlikely hotel-wreckers, arranged by Led Zep’s John Paul Jones and produced by Mickie Most. A reworking of an Italian song called Luglio by Riccardo Del Turco, it reached number 6 in December 1968.
Mary Had A Little Lamb by Wings
For ages this 1972 single was thought to be a sarcastic response to the BBC’s banning of the ‘political’ Give Ireland Back To The Irish earlier in the year. But in 1980 McCartney insisted that wasn’t so – he’d just wanted to write a rock song for children. Actually, with its charmingly clumpy piano, mandolin and Heather and Mary baa-ing away on backing vocals, it’s by no means the worst thing he’s done. It is, for example, better than every song on Press To Play – I state this with confidence, having listened to Press To Play all the way through this afternoon just so I could make the point.
Little White Bull by Tommy Steele
From the soundtrack of Tommy The Toreador, a 1959 film about a British sailor who tries to become a bullfighter after his ship docks in Spain. Steele starred alongside Sid James, Bernard Cribbins, Kenneth Williams and Eric Sykes. The seeds of my all-consuming Bowie Love were sown here.
Side Saddle by Russ Conway
The massively popular ’50s honky-tonk pianist – a big influence on the playing style of Elton John, who sent a wreath to his funeral – was almost entirely self-taught. At 16 he joined the Merchant Navy where he lost the tip of the third finger of his right hand in a bread slicer. Side Saddle, originally written as a stately gavotte for a TV adaptation of Beauty And The Beast. was Number One for four weeks in March 1959 after Conway had honky’d it up a bit.
Ticket To Ride by The Beatles
My favourite Beatles song, probably. Later, later, later, LATER! Pay attention to Ringo’s drumsticks in this clip because he isn’t.
Give A Little Love by Bay City Rollers
The Rollers’ second and last UK Number One. It’s a pleasant enough doo-wop-inflected ballad, but destined to be remembered less for its musical virtues than for the fact that Derek Longmuir and his drum kit levitated above the rest of the band as they performed it on Top Of The Pops. Actually, they did it several times, the effect having (presumably) been so onerous to create that it seemed a waste only to do it once. Give A Little Love was co-written by John Goodison and Phil Wainman. Wainman was a big 1970s writer-producer whose best known work as a producer is probably The Boomtown Rats’ I Don’t Like Mondays, though he also worked with Sweet, Mud, Dollar and XTC. The version on most Rollers’ greatest hits albums has Tony Visconti-esque strings which overegg an already eggy pudding. These were added to the version on the UK release of the song’s host album Wouldn’t You Like It. I don’t remember any strings on the single I had and as you can hear the TOTP backing tape doesn’t have them either.
Shanghai’d In Shanghai by Nazareth
But the record which, now I stop to think about it, made the biggest impression on me, apart from Ticket To Ride, was Scottish rockers Nazareth’s 1974 single Shanghai’d In Shanghai. I don’t know where it came from. It was a promo, so must have belonged to my brother who had done a bit of music writing for his school magazine and obviously managed to get himself on to a few mailing lists. Before I’d even put the record on the turntable I’d fallen in love with its label. Sometimes I used to put it on just to watch the Mooncrest logo spinning round and round. Simple pleasures.
Shanghai’d In Shanghai is pounding blues rock based around a ZZ Top-style barrelhouse riff, with sub-Faces been-around-the-world lyrics about shady LA ladies and Siberian saltmines. (I wonder if it was inspired by the line in Every Picture Tells A Story about Shanghai Lil who never used the pill?) Lead singer Dan McCafferty’s screechy hollering anticipates AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses, who were big fans and covered Nazareth’s Hair Of The Dog on 1993’s The Spaghetti Incident? as a no-hard-feelings gesture after Nazareth declined an invitation to play at Axl Rose’s wedding. But there are unexpected touches of glam in the production by Deep Purple’s Roger Glover. And listen out for the cheeky interpolation of Satisfaction after the line about being ‘second billing to the Rolling Stones’.
Weirdly, given that it followed on the heels of the band’s hit cover of Joni Mitchell’s This Flight Tonight, Shanghai’d In Shanghai was a flop, stalling outside the Top 40 and ending the fruitful relationship with Glover which had given them a big album in 1973’s Razamanaz.
Shanghai’d In Shanghai’s B-side, the dreamy, Moog-drenched ballad Love, Now You’re Gone, was produced by Roy Thomas Baker of Queen fame.