477. ‘This Ole House’, by Shakin’ Stevens

How to explain Shakin’ Stevens, to readers from foreign shores, or to readers not old enough to have experienced him in real time…?

This Ole House, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 1st of four #1s)

3 weeks, 22nd March – 12th April 1981

The twanging rockabilly in this take on ‘This Ole House’ sounds completely out of place in early 1981, after two years of sharp, spiky new-wave, and just before the New Romantics came along. Stevens’ delivery too – all energy and cheesy grins – is an outlier in this too-cool-for-school world. But while this is an unlikely hit record, it’s not unwelcome.

I can never say no to some old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. The production may be glossier, the guitars coming through in a warm stereo, but this is a step back to the 1950s. Is it better than Rosemary Clooney’s original, from way back in 1954…? No, probably not. But it is equally manic. That had an out of control honky-tonk piano, Shaky’s take has a distorted guitar solo: this version’s only concession to modern sounds.

He sounds like he’s having a lot of fun singing this – a song stuffed with nonsense lyrics about fixing shingles and mending window-panes – and because of this it is very hard not to have fun while you listen. The hipsters may have rolled their eyes, and turned their Ultravox records up, but the grannies and the kids clearly lapped it up. Just think… The young ones who bought Clooney’s version would have been hitting fifty by now. We have covered a lot of ground here!

I did wonder if this might have been Shakin’ Stevens debut: a smash hit from nowhere, perhaps after winning a TV talent show. But I couldn’t have been more wrong – he had been plugging away for well over a decade, releasing singles in the UK and Europe throughout the ‘70s. Born in Cardiff, he’d been a milkman, before forming his band The Sunsets. They’d supported The Rolling Stones of all people, in 1969. By the mid-seventies he was impersonating Elvis in the West End before finally scoring a minor chart hit with ‘Hot Dog’ in early 1980.

After that the rise was meteoric, and it’s hard to begrudge someone who’s waited that long and worked so hard for success. But. This still doesn’t explain why this Welsh Elvis finally became one of the biggest stars in the land… Maybe the rock ‘n’ roll revival that was gave us Showaddywaddy and Mud a few years back never truly went away? Maybe he was the chart-friendly face of the post-punk rockabilly scene? Or maybe it’s another ‘Shaddap You Face’: some light-relief after weeks of mourning John Lennon? I don’t know.

One thing’s for sure – if this cover of a near thirty-year-old song was a one-hit wonder then it would make perfect sense. A flash in the pan, a moment of frivolity. Except, it’s the first of four chart-toppers for a thirty-something ex-Elvis impersonator, who was on his way to becoming the biggest-selling British singles artist of the decade. More from Shaky, then, very soon…


18 thoughts on “477. ‘This Ole House’, by Shakin’ Stevens

  1. Yes Shaky was the commercial end of the 70s Rockabilly scene but he was known for jobbing continuance too after a long career already. I think he and producers carried on where the likes of Matchbox had suceeded in 1979 1980 and The Stray Cats, the cool new wave version. Production and polish was a thing, and fun, and tracks like Runaway Boys, Do The Hucklebuck, and Shakys own You Drive Me Crazy appealed across the generations. Kids loved Shaky – i was helping in a youth club in 81 as one if the 3 million unemployed, and he was one of the big trio of kiddie faves along with Bucks Fizz and Adam Ant. And The Birdie Song, but luckily you wont have to review that one, falling one place short….

    This track was decent, the follow up even better, and then he went full retro with his next chart topper. Not one i rate…. 🙂

    • What I like about this, and his other hits from this time, is that although the production is polished and slick, it’s still real-instruments, real rock ‘n’ roll. Unless they’re just very convincing synthesised versions, but I don’t think so…

  2. At the time Shakin’ Stevens had a string of hits, I was still adoring Elvis Presley, so I liked him. In addition to “This Ole House,” I recall “Green Door” and “Marie Marie”.

    From today’s perspective, Stevens’ ascendance does look surprising, although there were also the Stray Cats who were popular. So I guess there was some appetite for retro ’50s style music.

    • Yes there were a few rockabilly acts in the early 80s. Stevens was the most chart-friendly, I suppose.

      I didn’t realise he made it to US radio (sorry, I’m assuming that’s where you’re from…)

      • Thanks, and no need to apologize. I actually was born and grew up in Germany, and was still living there when Stevens became popular. So I actually heard his songs on the radio in Germany. I also recall seeing him on TV, though we didn’t have MTV at my house.

      • Frankly, I have no idea what kind of visibility Stevens has had in the U.S. Based on Wikipedia, it looks like to date he only had one single (Cry Just a Little Bit – 1983) that made the mainstream charts Billboard Hot 100, reaching no. 67.

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  4. We had the Stray Cats who I think were better…this one is likable but a little too slick but…hey it worked! Better him than those damn synths!

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