367. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for days. Last time out I wrapped up my post on Steve Harley, and had a quick listen to what was coming next. A song I had never heard before: ‘If’. I started taking notes… And, my word. This is why I started this blog, to discover chat-topping moments such as this. This is amazing.

If, by Telly Savalas (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th March 1975

Or wait. Is it actually not amazing? Is it actually awful? This record somehow manages to straddle the gaping chasm between ‘amazing’ and ‘awful’ with perfect poise. It is pure car crash music. We listen, we wonder, our eyebrows keep rising, but we don’t press ‘stop.’

The first note I made was that there is ‘a spoken word intro’. Which keeps going, on and on, deeper and deeper into the song. Telly Savalas talks. Or, rather, he purrs and caresses his way through the record. If a picture, Paints a thousand words, Then why can’t I paint you…? My second note reads: ‘Is he ever going to sing…?’ The answer to which is ‘no’. If a face could launch a thousand ships, Then where am I to go…?

There have been ‘spoken word’ number ones. Think Baz Luhrmann, The Streets… But I thought we’d be waiting a while yet for our first one. Here it is, though. Curling suggestively from the lips of James Bond’s arch-nemesis. When life is running dry.. You come and pour yourself… On me… he growls, and I almost spit out my coffee.

What am I listening to? Seriously? This defies serious analysis. Couple it with the videos I’ve attached below, in one of which Telly lights a cigarette before reciting his hit single, all the while being watched by a ginormous floating Barbie doll head. And… Is he wearing a glittering, gold undershirt?

How and why did this come about? Was it simply a cash-in on Savalas’s fame as TV detective Kojak? Was it for a bet? A joke? Or was it because Telly was one cool sonofabitch who people didn’t dare say ‘no’ to? I’d go with that. I think people bought this record simply because they were worried he’d come round their house and rough them up.

So ridiculous is this song, it takes me several listens before I can focus enough on the lyrics, and notice that the apocalypse has come. If the world should stop revolving, Spinning, Spinning slowly down to die… I’d spend the end with you… ‘If’ was originally recorded by Bread – making this the second Bread cover to top the charts in the space of a few months – and while I’m loathe to describe Savalas’s version as ‘better’, it is certainly more memorable.

This is not on Spotify (Come on Spotify!) But that means you have a chance to enjoy the many spectacular performances Telly Savalas made of his sole chart-topper, on YouTube. I’ve attached a couple below. (I don’t normally do this, but these videos are genuinely too good to miss.) Once one finished, YouTube auto-played Lee Marvin’s ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ – I had clearly triggered some gravel-voiced, middle-aged actor-slash-singer from the 1970s algorithm.

A couple of other things worth mentioning: Telly Savalas was fifty-three when this made #1, meaning he shoves the likes of Marvin, Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour aside to become the second oldest chart-topper, behind Louis Armstrong. And ‘If’ remains to this day the shortest-titled chart-topping single ever. Whatever it lacks in length, though, it more than makes up for in pure, animal magnetism. Telly Savalas, ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy…


24 thoughts on “367. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas

  1. Telly was huge in the UK in 1974/75 and for years afterwards. He was great in Kojak. This was errr, as you say walking a tightrope between being hypnotic and car-crash. I love Bread ballads, no ifs no buts, and cover versions can often be as good or better than the originals (Ken Boothe’s is better). This one….in small doses it’s fine. After 2 weeks at number one it starts to sound more like an annoying laughable novelty!

    M’lud, I bring to your attention in the court of judgement 2 pieces of evidence:

    His follow-up, a cold-blooded murder of You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ where he SINGS!!!! Arghhhhhhhh!!!!!! GUILTY!!!

    The comedy novelty piss-take by Yin & Yan which was a Top 30 hit a couple of months later. It was WAY better then Telly’s version, and much much funnier:

    Please play Telly’s version, then think of his days in Kojak, and enjoy this: 🙂

  2. Woooo… I have never heard of this ever. I’m pretty much speechless. Spoken word rarely works…and I cannot figure out if it works here or not. He is so macho that he makes it work for him… He was huge then with Kojak…that gave those stars freedom so they could do it…but they never thought if they should do it.

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  4. I have to admit to a total blind spot here. Kojak was not my thing, and had it not been for the programme, this would probably never have been released. I rather like Bread’s original version, but this one always had me reaching for the off-switch PDQ. So sue me, but sorry – ‘Wandering Star’ still has the same effect on these ears!

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