Just what on earth was being pumped into the British water supply in early 1968? Trad jazz, Bonnie and Clyde, Eskimos and yodelling duos… Something pretty heavy duty was being passed around, by both record makers and record buyers, to induce this carnival of craziness. And it shows no signs yet of letting up. For we’re off to Xanadu!
The Legend of Xanadu, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 20th – 27th March 1968
We open on a dusty Andalucian plain. Spanish guitars tremble, somebody mumbles something something esta es… Then wham. A whip cracks. Or somebody shoots a B-movie ray-gun. Whatever it is, it wakes up both you and this song. We’re in cartoon soundtrack territory. Imagine Scooby Doo on a far-away planet that looks a lot like Mexico. That sentence might sound crazy, but that’s where we are right now, with #1 single 246.
You’ll hear my voice, On the wind, ‘Cross the sand… For all the zaniness of the extra bits – the sound effects, the Mariachi band and what have you – the main melody of the song is pretty traditional. Old-fashioned even – something with a hint of 1961 about it. If you should return, To that black, barren land that bears the name of… Xanadu!
The lyrics, as far as I can follow, are about a spurned lover destined to see out his days in a forgotten land. I’m listening carefully, to see if there might be a metaphor hidden away in there – that the singer is actually just imagining himself in this black, barren land – but I can’t find any. This is literally a song about a far-off place called Xanadu, and a lonely man who lives there.
We arrive, of course we do, at a spoken word section that makes this song feel even more like a theme-tune. What was it to you that a man laid down his life for your love…? So wait… he’s dead? And Xanadu is some kind of afterlife? It ends with a question: Will you find your way back someday, To Xanadu…?
Not if I can help it, mate… I jest. I like this song. It’s grown on me over the past four or five listens. I now find myself swaying and shaking imaginary maracas as it ends. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’ is crazy – the craziest record yet this year (and that’s a high bar!) But I’m going to have to do some research to find out what on earth inspired this hit single and got it all the way to the top of the charts…
It’s not from a movie, nor is it the theme to a cartoon. It’s a stand-alone pop single by an already established band. More on them later. Research into ‘Xanadu’ takes you all the way to Inner Mongolia in the late 13th Century – a capital of China, used as a residence by the Khans and ‘discovered’ by Marco Polo, via the biggest private estate in the world from the movie ‘Citizen Kane’. In both these examples, Xanadu was an example of opulence and splendour; whereas in ‘The Legend of…’ it’s painted as a wasteland, a place of exile. And, famously, this won’t be the last chart-topping single to name-check it…
Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (with a name like that you couldn’t expect them to release normal music) were several years into their careers by this point, their biggest hits having been ‘Bend It!’, the superb, and really heavy for its time ‘Hold Tight!’, and ‘Zabadak!’ (which makes ‘Xanadu’ sound conventional.) They seem fun, loved an exclamation mark in their titles, and are a band I’m keen to listen to more of. Wiki lists them as ‘Freakbeat’, which I think sums up this song perfectly. Like so many bands we have met these past few years, Dave Dee and Co.’s chart success ended as the sixties drew to a close.
So we forge on, past the Eskimos, the Rockefellas and the Cinderellas, across the sands of Xanadu, to find out what 1968 has in store for us next. Whatever it is, it surely won’t be dull…