A very happy, healthy and peaceful new year to you all. A little late I know but I can assure you the sentiments hold the same feelings as they did on 1 January. So, hold on to your seats as we travel back several decades to check out the start of 1978 when parts of the UK were covered with snow and we all shivered at -5C despite our multi-layers of clothes.
Paul McCartney’s Wings was the top selling act this January with a song that was actually four years old. With the working title of “The Piano Tape” Paul decided to resurrect it for a re-working, possibly as a track for his forthcoming album “London Town”. The song in question ended up as “Mull Of Kintyre” in tribute to the Kintyre Peninsula in Scotland where Paul and his wife Linda lived at High Park Farm. The area in question is at the tip of the peninsula known for its beautiful scenery and tranquil atmosphere, in total contrast to his heady, stressful London lifestyle. It was also the perfect environment for Paul at this stage in his life following, what he called, the difficult breakup with The Beatles. Another reason given at the time was more materialistic – his accountants advised him to purchase the Farm to protect some of his earnings from the taxman! Now knowing the battle that followed over the group’s financial status, this probably was a wise move for the Beatle. “Mull Of Kintyre” was written by Paul and Wings’ member Denny Laine, with Paul’s vocals and acoustic guitar recorded outdoors. But it’s the bagpipes that set this single apart from the others, so all credit to the Campbeltown Pipe Band because they added the icing on the already near perfect cake.
“I certainly loved Scotland enough, so I came up with this song about where we were living” said Paul at the time of the single’s release. “It was a love song really about how I enjoyed being there and imagining I was travelling away and wanting to get back there.” Well, his ‘love song’, promoted as a double A-side with “Girls’ School” on the flip, went on to spend nine weeks at the top of the chart, selling a staggering two million- plus copies. So naturally it was ranked at the best selling single of all time. Well, that is until Band Aid came along in 1984 with “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. I’m sure Paul didn’t mind too much, particularly as he was featured on the single’s flipside. Finally, I thought this was a rather nice touch. When the millionth copy of “Mull Of Kintyre” was sold in the UK the packaging included a special certificate. This was sold to a David Ackroyd who was later presented with a gold disc of the single by Denny Laine. In hindsight, this was probably more of a marketing tool to attract more sales, but that’s the cynical side of this music business aficionado coming out! Let’s move on…
Sitting at number two this month was the unlikely titled The Brighouse And Rastrick Brass Band (you try saying that quickly) who were responsible for “The Floral Dance”. Erm, after a little researching, this record describes the annual Furry Dance in Helston, Cornwall, one of the oldest British customs, which is still practised today, celebrating the passing of winter and the arrival of spring. The Dance held each May, is packed out with people travelling from all over. Dressed in their finest, they wear the lily of the valley, Helston’s symbolic flower, about their person. But listen. Men wear it on the left side with the flowers pointing upwards, while the women favour the right side with flowers upside down.
Before we leave this, just a little more backstory about the actual song. Written in 1911 by Kate Emily Barkley, herself a professional musician and singer, it tells the story of an incident that Kate experienced during a springtime visit to Helston when the Furry Dance celebrations were in full swing. By all accounts, she wrote the song, with some poetic licence, on the train journey home. Loads of versions have been recorded since 1912, the year it was first recorded by Australian Peter Dawson, including, decades later, one by the cast of Dad’s Army when they performed it as a sketch on the television show Christmas Night With The Stars, and further on the 1975 Royal Variety Performance. I bet that was something rather special to watch. To be honest, I think the best remembered version of “The Floral Dance” was the one by Terry Wogan in 1978. With the Hanwell Band from west London lending a musical note, Terry hit the top thirty and appeared on the weekly music television music show Top Of The Pops singing his heart out to a backing track. To be sure this was just another string to the Irishman’s incredibly talented and versatile bow. Anyway, back to The Brighouse And Rastrick Band formed in 1881 when it was financially supported by the village’s residents. Today, it’s still reliant on public donations earning it the title of the best and most consistent “public subscription band” in the world. Good luck to ’em.
Moving on to the Bee Gees and “How Deep Is Your Love” issued across the world in July 1977 but not in the UK until the December. No, I don’t know why either. The song was one of several by the brothers to be used in the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever – the film that many felt squashed the true spirit of disco into a pulp. Anyway, the single peaked at number three – no chart topping title for them this time around – which prompted Barry Gibb to say “You have no idea what a thrill it is to have a top five single in England. With all the new wave and punk rock out there I’d have thought something like ‘How Deep Is Your Love’ wouldn’t have a chance.” I need to mention that I’m not too sure where brother Barry was looking because I couldn’t unearth any serious new wave or punk rock competition in 1977’s charts. In fact, the four top selling male artists of the year were David Soul, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart and Leo Sayer, while Donna Summer, Deniece Williams, Barbra Streisand and Julie Covington flew the flag for the top female artists. Boney M, Showaddywaddy, Abba and Smokie were top groups. Hardly nominees for ‘new wave’, a general term that covered several music genres except ballads.
The Gibb brothers originally wrote “How Deep Is Your Love”, a warm and tender ballad, for Yvonne Elliman but that plan was shelved although she did feature on the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever with “If I Can’t Have You” alongside other disco based tracks. “How Deep In Your Love” was a truly beautiful ballad that, like a fine wine, lived on. On the downside, it was the subject of a lawsuit during 1983 when a Chicago composer by the name of Ronald Selle claimed the Bee Gees had stolen ‘melodic material’ from his “Let It End” composition. The judge ruled in favour of the brothers. On the upside, Take That released their version in 1996, marking their final British number one until they returned glorious with big smiles in 2006 with “Patience” when their success story started all over again…and again…and again.
Here’s a few items that might be of interest from the very chilly January ’78. First on the music front, EMI’s record pressing plant refused to press The Buzzcock’s single “What Do I Get?” because “Oh Shit” was the title of its B-side. I’ve checked this out and ’tis true. The dispute was eventually sorted and the single with offending title was pressed to give the punk band its first hit. Hah, I think you might like this because “What Do I Get?” was the follow-up to, wait for it, “Orgasm Addict”. Needless to say, due to its sexual content the BBC refused to play it, and the single’s sleeve was absolutely gross, demeaning to women, which wasn’t an issue in 1978.
Shock, horror, send in the clowns! Elton John was pictured on the cover of People magazine without his trademark glasses. Yes indeed. This was headline news….
On the television front, nothing really sensational to report for this month except that ITV’s occasional series An Audience With.. was launched. Jasper Carrott, comedian and all-round-good-guy, starred in the leading role. Another first was the debut of The South Bank Show written and presented by Melvyn Bragg, a former BBC arts broadcaster. His aim was to introduce popular culture and high art to a mass audience. Well, he must have been doing something right – the programme lasted until 2010.
Before pulling the plug this month, let’s return to the top ten because it’s quite a varied and, if I dare admit it, exciting selection, with most genres catered for. As an example, the mighty disco queen Donna Summer’s “Love’s Unkind” was sitting nicely next to country gal Crystal Gale with “Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue”. Husky voiced Bonnie Tyler’s powerhouse performance in “It’s A Heartache” at number six was holding off “My Way” from Elvis Presley and “Dance, Dance, Dance (Yowsah, Yowsah, Yowsah)” courtesy of Chic. This was the group’s first single, it stormed the dance charts across the world, and the lovely (late) Luther Vandross provided support vocals as he was working as a session singer at the time.
Very soon the world would know about Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the genius behind the concept that was Chic “that made good on hippie peace, love and freedom” as they once said. Sounds fair to me.
So, leaving you with that thought, thank you for reading, and do join me for some interesting ‘adventures in time’ this year.