Welcome to the new year of 2021 which holds such promise and hope for us all. However, we’re not stopping because the time machine is warming up for this month’s adventure. Oh look, we’re staying in the glorious seventies because that’s where the page fell open in my research book. And it’s quite a fun start to 1972, so here goes.
Loaded with innuendo, comedian Benny Hill took his novelty song, “Ernie (The Fastest Milkman In The West)” to the top over the Christmas period and into the New Year. It was inevitable I guess as everyone enjoys a good chuckle as they pulled their crackers round the dinner table. Benny was a household name by now thanks to his hugely popular television shows, which, of course, were later considered to be sexist and a whole lot of other undesirable things as society’s opinions changed: some for the better, others not so. Anyway, that aside, most people of a certain age laughed and sang along to this slice of musical nonsense about a milkman who drove a horse-drawn milk float and gets into an altercation with the bread man named Two-Ton Ted from Teddington. (Come on, stay with me!) Both men were fighting to win the heart of a widow lady named Sue who lived at number 22 Linley Lane. During an ensuing fight between Ernie the milkman and said Two-Ton Ted, Ernie is struck dead by a rock cake hurled by Ted. Sue and Ted get married but are haunted by the ghost of Ernie and, I suspect, his horse named Trigger. For younger readers, erm, I can assure you I’ve not lost it because this was very real in 1972….
Sitting below Benny Hill was T Rex with “Jeepster”, a single swiped from the glam rockers’ sixth studio album “Electric Warrior”. Fronted by Marc Bolan, who was the very heart and soul of the small group, this was a time when his star was beginning to shine brighter, and to prove this EMI Records finalised a deal giving Marc his own label – T Rex Records. So far, so good, you’d have thought – but hang on. “Jeepster” was snuck out by Fly Records, the label he had left, without Marc’s prior knowledge which was a controversial move at the time because, for one thing, I doubted he received his due royalties from the release and those that cashed in on its success. However, he bounced back, and under his new deal, released “Telegram Sam” (which had just entered the top thirty this month) to later hit the top of the chart: this time boasting the T Rex Records label.
Produced by George Martin and written by the hit duo Greenaway/Cook, “Something Tells Me (I’m Into Something Good)” was Cilla Black’s biggest hit during the seventies. Unlike her previous two releases “Anyone Who Had A Heart” and “You’re My World”, this single failed to reach the pole position, staying at number three before dropping from the chart. Cilla’s professional life has been well documented over the years, but suffice to say, championed by The Beatles, her career began in 1963, and by 1971 she had enjoyed eleven top ten UK singles before stepping into television to host her own variety shows. She expanded her personable talent during the next two decades with primetime programmes like Blind Date, Surprise Surprise and The Moment Of Truth. During 2013 she cemented fifty years in show business with ITV’s The One And Only Cilla Black hosted by her buddy Paul O’Grady. But for now, in 1972, the young Liverpudlian was living the life as a hugely successful recording artist.
Also in this top ten is a single I personally think is the very best of the bunch this month – “Theme From Shaft” by the charismatic Isaac Hayes. The single was an edited version of that included on the double-album soundtrack of the blaxploitation film Shaft starring Richard Roundtree in the lead role. Written by Isaac, one of the creative pioneers behind the Southern Soul label, Stax Records, the single was instantly recognisable from the wah-wah guitar introduction into a “sixteen-note hi-hat ride pattern” throughout: a sound often mimicked but never replaced. It appears that “Theme From Shaft” was never intended to be a single but following the runaway success of the film and the popularity of the album track in nightclubs, a decision was taken to release a clipped version to attract further record sales. Remarkably, it stalled at number four in the UK yet scored number one status across the world, selling millions on the way, earning it the accolade of being the song that had the most influence on disco and soul music during the seventies. If you recall, the lyrics described John Shaft as having a cool attitude, bags of courage and sex appeal (often with risqué lyrics but who cared except the BBC! – “the black private dick was a sex machine to all the chicks”) with Isaac Hayes’ smooth seductive delivery punctuated by a trio of female singers. Anyway, although the single was considered a little racy for its time, it won most industry awards and honours, which in turn elevated Mr Hayes higher than high as his future music crossed over into the lucrative mainstream market. As an aside here, it was impossible to ignore his stage presence where he sometimes wore a chain mail vest, with a thick gold chain around his neck, and plenty of soulful attitude. I saw him in concert once when I lived in London, and was blown away by his act, while watching the sweat trickle down his naked chest…..
Think we’d better move on to safer ground. Of the films released this month – most of which I haven’t heard of – this one stuck out, 10 Rillington Place starring the ultra-talented Richard Attenborough as the serial killer John Christie. This evil piece of work committed his heinous crimes in and around a small Notting Hill terraced house, and through his reign of killing, bodies were buried in a communal garden and behind walls and under floorboards in his house. Through a dreadful miscarriage of justice, his neighbour Timothy Evans was charged with murdering his own wife and daughter and subsequently hanged. This was a powerful, thought provoking film; tragically disturbing and obviously horrific but thankfully John Christie was eventually caught and found guilty of all deaths. He was also hanged. Timothy Evans was posthumously pardoned with his remains reinterred in consecrated ground. As an add-on here: Albert Pierrepoint hanged both men, and served as an uncredited advisor on the film, ensuring the authenticity of the hanging scenes. There’s a little bit more, in 1974 Pierrepoint wrote his autobiography where, among other startling revelations, he wrote, rather surprisingly, “All the men and women whom I have faced at that final moment convince me that in what I had done I have not prevented a single murder.” He died in July 1992, thirty-seven years after ending the life of Ruth Ellis, the last woman in the UK to be hanged, having been found guilty of murdering her lover David Blakely. Then, celebrated actor Timothy Spall played the famous British hangman in the 2005 film Pierrepoint. Perhaps I should have stuck with Isaac Hayes after all!
Let’s lighten the mood by ending as we began, remembering the music of January 1972, and again this is a little self-indulgent mention on my part as I’ve always loved this song. It’s upbeat, joyously uplifting, and a great singalong experience – “We’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” by The New Seekers. Formed two years earlier by Keith Potger after his group The Seekers disbanded, this pop unit intended to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. However, as The New Seekers’ music evolved more around pop than folk, the idea was scrapped which allowed them to find their own way. After a few non-selling records, the group hit the jackpot with “Never Ending Song Of Love” which spent five weeks at number two in 1971. They then recorded “We’d Like To Teach The World To Sing”, an adaptation of the Coca Cola jingle “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke”. The television advert inspired optimism for the world as multi-cultured teenagers stood atop a hill singing their message of hope and love. Well, they lip synced as The Hillside Singers recorded the soundtrack to the jingle. It was the perfect move by The New Seekers as their version took the world by storm, selling one million copies in the UK alone on its way to the pole position. This unexpected success led to them representing the UK in the 1972 Eurovision Song Contest with the chirpy “Beg, Steal Or Borrow”. Staged in Edinburgh, with the home crowd behind them, the group came second. Bah! Luxembourg’s entry “Apres toi” by Vicky Leandros won, the country’s third win by all accounts. Nowadays, we can’t muster up sufficient votes to reach the top ten which makes me think the Contest is more about politics than the musical note. I’m always amazed why the powers-that-be behind this travesty of a Contest (which don’t come cheap either) are happy to allow us to suffer humiliation year after year. Let’s face it, we don’t need Europe to kick us in the teeth; we’re quite capable of doing that ourselves!
And finally. Here’s a quote from Gilbert O’Sullivan circa January 1972 – “When I’m dressed normally, the girls hang around and talk. When I get dressed up, girls run away.” I assume he was referring to his stage get-up of a pudding basin haircut, cloth cap and short trousers held up by a pair of braces. He said his love of silent movies starring Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton inspired this quirky image. Well, it certainly attracted attention and record sales as he was currently riding high with his current single “No Matter How I Try”, released in the wake of his recent chart-topper “Nothing Rhymed”. Mr O’Sullivan enjoyed an incredible career and, yes, he’s still recording with the occasional tour thrown in.
Next month I’ll throw my research book a little higher in the air to ensure we get to visit another decade. Why not join me for the ride?