332. ‘Rubber Bullets’, by 10cc

On the face of it, this next #1 isn’t a glam rock record. But there are enough glam touches here to keep it sounding very ’72-’73. It chugs, it boogies, it makes you wanna shake something…

Rubber Bullets, by 10cc (their 1st of three #1s)

1 week, from 17th – 24th June 1973

If it isn’t a glam rock record, then… What is it? Well, it’s got huge nods towards fifties rock ‘n’ roll – Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in particular – some Beach Boys’ harmonies, some CCR-style Americana, a middle-eight that goes all Simon & Garfunkel, as well as lots of squiggly, experimental-sounding effects. Recently, we heard Roy Wood and Wizzard chuck every idea they’d ever had into the mix on ‘See My Baby Jive’ to produce a wondrous piece of music, and this is 10cc’s attempt at something similarly epic.

Except, ‘See My Baby Jive’ wasn’t testing any lyrical limits. It was about the singers baby, jiving. ‘Rubber Bullets’, on top of all the sonic fun and games, is also trying to make a statement. I went to a party at the local county jail, All the cons were dancing and the band began to wail… In ‘Jailhouse Rock’, Elvis and the lads have a great time at their party. Here, the governor is quickly forced to call in the police

Load up, load up, load up, Your rubber bullets… Sargent Baker and his men shoot over to the jail, to keep order. From here on, the story is told in different voices. The cons: Is it really such a crime, For a guy to spend his time, At the local hop at the local county jail… And the police: I love to hear those convicts squeal, It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real… There are a few gems, too. The line about having a tear-gas of a time, and the all-time classic: We all got balls and brains, Some have balls and chains… (which was cut when this disc got a spin on the radio…)

By the end things have escalated to such a point that they’ve called in the National Guard. (And suddenly a forty-seven year old song sounds very 2020…) In 1973, despite the band putting on very deliberate American accents, and the lyrics being all very small-town US, the controversy came from the fact that the British army had just started using rubber bullets to deal with the troubles in Northern Ireland.

So. While ‘See My Baby Jive’ flourished under the ‘kitchen sink’ method, I feel that ‘Rubber Bullets’ suffers a little from all its many influences. It’s an exhausting listen at times. But it’s still great fun – don’t get me wrong – and not for a second does the record drag. Apparently, as it was one of the first singles recorded by 10cc, the band were simply enjoying having an entire recording studio to mess around in. And for my money, the very best bit of the song is the super-scuzzy, sped-up, distorted guitar solo.

That guitar returns to end the well over five minute album version of ‘Rubber Bullets’, while the radio-edit comes in well under four minutes. I think I’ve attached the right, somewhere in between those two lengths, single version below. 10cc, the sort of band that you know more songs from than you realise, had had one #2 hit before this – ‘Donna’ – and will go on to have two more #1 singles in the 1970s. Neither of which sound anything like ‘Rubber Bullets’. They were fun, experimental, and I need to listen to more of them. And I dare you to look up the inspiration behind their name…

Follow along with my playlist:

331. ‘Can the Can’, by Suzi Quatro

I promised you more glam, and is there anything more glam than the ascending drums ‘n’ guitar intro on this next number one?

Can the Can, by Suzi Quatro (her 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 10th – 17th June 1973

But when the vocals come in, we take a leap forward. For this is rock music… sung by a woman! The girls are getting in on the act! (I hope they finished the washing-up first, etc etc…)

Like all the best glam rock singles, ‘Can the Can’ is about the sound and the attitude first and foremost, with trifling matters such as ‘lyrics that make sense’ coming a distant second. How else to explain a chorus that goes: So make a stand for your man, honey, Try to can the can… Put your man in the can, honey, Get him while you can… Can the can!

According to songwriters, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also wrote for chart-topping artists like the Sweet and Mud, it is about attempting the impossible. About trying to snag your guy and hold on to him against all the competition. Quatro sums it up best when she screeches, just before the chorus: Scratch out her eyes!!!! You can picture her, in her jumpsuit, outside the pub at closing time, launching herself at some slapper who’s just looked at her bloke the wrong way…

Meanwhile, the guitar work is pretty great. The lead cries out like the tigers and the eagles in the lyrics, while Suzie’s bass keeps us chugging along. By the end, when the barroom piano is keeping pace alongside, this has become the heaviest, most raucous #1 single since ‘School’s Out’. Forget glam, this is some pretty darn hard rock.

Imagine being a teenage girl in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair. It must have been thrilling, seeing her rock out like one of the guys. This was her first single to make the charts, so she really would have come out of nowhere. Similarly, imagine being a teenage boy in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair… There must have been many a, shall we say, ‘awakening’. (You know, man, they say she’s naked under there…)

After repeated listening, and after having it explained to me by the songwriters, I’m still not sure what the hell ‘Can the Can’ means. But I am confident that it does not matter one bit. Any song with the a yelled Scratch out her eyes! as a refrain is alright by me. Plus, Suzi Quatro is the first solo female to top the charts in nearly two years (!), since ‘I’m Still Waiting’ by Diana Ross. From that, to this. You can see why Quatro was an influence on everyone from Joan Jett and Girlschool, through to Goldfrapp and KT Tunstall. And she still has one more chart-topper to come! Yay!

330. ‘See My Baby Jive’, by Wizzard

The last song before our next recap, and a late contender for one of the very best of the past bunch…?

See My Baby Jive, by Wizzard (their 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 13th May – 10th June 1973

This record sets its stall out early. Remember when we thought The Sweet introing with an air-raid siren was ballsy? Well how about a Spitfire doing a fly-past, followed by some anti-aircraft fire? But this song is so good, you’ve somehow forgotten about the outrageous intro within ten seconds of the first verse. The guns turn into cascading drums, and a wall of sound comes in and kicks you up the backside.

Look out, Look out, Your momma would shout, You might as well go home… She said, My bed, Gets into your hair, So give me back my comb… Yeah… Me neither. These are definitely lyrics that need Googling. But as with most of the great glam singles from this era, the words don’t really matter. They’re about dancing, about making sweet music while strutting around in mascara and a feather boa. About how well your baby can move. See my baby jive, See my baby jive, She hangs on to me and she really goes, Woah, woah, woah…

That woah, woah, woah is perhaps the most gloriously uplifting, catchy moment that we’ve heard so far in any of the previous three hundred and twenty-nine number one records. It’s wonderful. It’s Prozac for the ears. In fact, the entire five minutes of ‘See My Baby Jive’ is pop perfection: a huge slice of glam, mixed with splashes of fifties malt shop and doo-wop, with a big knob of Phil Spector-esque production. Wizzard were an eight-man band, complete with cellists, saxophonists, clarinettists, French hornists, synthesisers, and more, all crammed into this one song, with a crazy genius at the helm.

Roy Wood has had one previous number one – The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ – and since then he’s founded Electric Light Orchestra. But it was with Wizzard that he really let loose, and showed just what he was capable of. And not many would be capable of taking all the different elements chucked into the mix on ‘See My Baby Jive’, and turning it into a hit.

The solo starts off classical, and finishes as jazz. The outro sounds like The Beach Boys are getting in on the act somewhere off in the background. (This record has too many references, too many Easter eggs, to keep track of. Five minutes long it may be, but it never drags.) All the while you can picture all the boys in town rushing down the street, just to see his baby jive. She’s an addictive woman, summed up in the brilliant line – one of the few that stand out against the chaos – You, You make things that get along, Turn out, So wrong…

Wizzard had had one previous hit, the almost as good – and just as loopy – ‘Ball Park Incident’ which made #6, and they will go on to have one further, brilliant chart-topper (and release a Christmas song that some of you may have heard, once or twice) before 1973 is out. But I’m not sure they ever topped ‘See My Baby Jive’. And I don’t think I’ve ever not loved this song. It was a regular feature of our ‘long family car journey’ tapes and CDs. (On many a trip did I sit in the back seat, waiting for the anti-aircraft fire to ring out…)

I don’t normally mention the ‘B’-sides to the #1 singles I cover, but how could I resist when I discovered that the flip-side to this single was called ‘Bend Over Beethoven’! Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as outrageous as its title implies… Anyway, like I said at the top, a recap is up next, in which the other recent chart-toppers will have to go some to stop me naming ‘See My Baby Jive’ as the very best.

329. ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’, by Dawn ft. Tony Orlando

Two years after their first #1 single, Tony and his ‘tache are back on top!

Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, by Dawn ft. Tony Orlando (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 15th April – 13th May 1973

Back in ’71, he was asking his girl to ‘Knock Three Times’ if she felt like hooking up, now he’s asking her to ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’ if she still loves him. He is evidently a man who needs things spelled out for him.

It starts with a tune that can certainly be described as ‘jaunty’. Yep, the dreaded ‘J’ word. It’s a melody that must be from something else, some old German schlager hit, so familiar does it sound. It sounds as if it’s been playing in the back of your mind for years and years and, now that you’ve brought it to the forefront, it’ll be going round and round in there for years to come.

I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time… Tony’s been in prison for crimes undefined… Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine… He’s written ahead, and given his girl instructions what to do if she’s still into him: Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree, It’s been three long years, Do you still want me…? If he doesn’t see a ribbon, he’ll stay on the bus and make a new life wherever he winds up.

Yes, it is utter cheese. But it’s a cute concept, and the melody – that melody – is undeniable. There’s a simple reason why this was a huge worldwide smash: it’s pretty darn catchy. It gets a bit much in places – the harmonica solo, for example – but, as with ‘Knock Three Times’, Tony and co. just about get away with it.

The bus draws close to his hometown. The tension is too much, he can’t look and begs the driver to check for him. It reminds me of Tom Jones’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ in that it’s about a convict returning home to those he loves. Except, in that song it was all just a dream and he’s about to get shot at dawn. This one has a much happier ending…

For in verse three, we slow down, Tony drags it out: Now the whole damn bus is cheerin’, And I can’t believe I see… A hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree! A hundred! She must have really missed him (and forgiven whatever crimes he may or may not have committed.) Hurrah!

As before, Tony O’s backing singers don’t have very much to do, but they are two different singers from the band’s earlier #1. The ‘classic’ Dawn line-up of Tony, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson was in place by the time they released ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ They had a few more hits to come on the Billboard chart, and around the world (seriously, this is a band with huge appeal in non-English speaking countries, with their traditional melodies and simple lyrics) but in the UK this was their last really big one.

And no, surprisingly, this wasn’t based on the melody of some old German hit… It was fresh off the press – written in 1973 – though the idea of a loved one wearing yellow for the return of as soldier (or a convict) had been around in American folklore since the 1800s. Apparently the track was offered to Ringo Starr, but – and I love this – an Apple Records Exec. told the writers that they ‘should be ashamed of their ridiculous song’. What wasn’t good enough for Ringo was good enough for Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby… basically any crooner worth their salt has covered it. It has, more seriously, been used as a protest anthem in the Philippines and Hong Kong, in which yellow ribbons have been symbols. So there! Dismiss this as fluff at your peril… Take it away, Tony, one last time…

328. ‘Get Down’, by Gilbert O’Sullivan

We last heard from Gilbert O’Sullivan on ‘Clair’, crooning about a little girl he babysat for. I didn’t think much of it. Not the worst chart-topper ever, but far from a classic. But this – his second and final #1 – this is more like it, Gilbert!

Get Down, by Gilbert O’ Sullivan (his 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 1st – 15th April 1973

Straight from the off we are into a stomping, glam rock groove – imagine a T. rex ‘B’-side covered by early-ABBA – and my feet are tapping. I know this song, from somewhere I cannot quite place, and I’m enjoying it. Told you once before and I won’t tell you no more… Get down, get down, get down…

Like ‘Clair’, this is another song that isn’t about what you immediately think. Any song, released in the seventies, called ‘Get Down’, should be about dancing. About ‘getting on down’, as I believe they called it back then. But no, as the lyrics progress: You’re a bad dog baby, But I still want you around…

It can’t be, surely, you wonder… He can’t have followed up his hit single about childminding with a song about how much he dislikes his dog climbing on the furniture…? Except no, the plot thickens. There are layers upon layers. Keep your hands to yourself, I’m strictly out of bounds…

Now, dogs don’t have hands. Which leads me to deduce that his isn’t singing about a frisky dog, but an amorous lady! Gilbert is sorely tempted, and this has led him to feel like a cat on a hot tin roof. (Cats, now. Is this what’s called a mixed-metaphor…?) Whatever, this is a groovy little record that shimmys in and shimmys out, that makes the listener shake their hips and drop their shoulders. A perfect pop number one.

I’m not sure I love his schtick, though, this writing songs about things but making it sound like he’s singing about other things. I have a feeling that Gilbert O’ Sullivan thought he was being clever. (One of his greatest hits collections is titled ‘The Berry Vest of…’) Plus, we do have to ignore that he is comparing a woman – a woman that he likes, no less – to a dog. Which isn’t very gentlemanly.

Gilbert O’Sullivan enjoyed thirteen Top 20 hits in the UK during the seventies and very early eighties, which is not to be sniffed at. He still writes and records: in 2018 his 19th studio album reached #20 (I love the symmetry there). In 1972, believe it or not, he was the biggest selling male solo act of the year. Worldwide…! But I can’t help feeling he’s been pretty much forgotten, though, in the grand scheme of things. Can your average man in the street name either of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s chart-topping records? The fact that he’s still not consistently on platforms such as Spotify – again, ruining my #1s Blog playlist! – is either a cause, or a symptom, of this. ‘Get Down’, at least, is worth remembering and so, if you have never heard it before, you’ll have to enjoy it on YouTube for now. And look down there – a link! How’s about that. Enjoy.

327. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond

I press play on this, the second part of Donny Osmond’s chart-topping trilogy, and the first word that comes to mind is ‘syrupy’. Listening to this record’s intro is like being dropped head first into a vat of treacle, and trying to swim to safety…

R-13845213-1562429675-6559.jpeg

The Twelfth of Never, by Donny Osmond (his 2nd of three #1s)

1 week, from 25th March – 1st April 1973

Second thing I notice is that lil’ Donny’s voice has broken. He’s become a man, or at least a proper teenager, and so, we wonder, will his music have grown up along with him? We last heard him chirping about his ‘Puppy Love’; is there any sign that Donny is pushing boundaries, experimenting on the lead single from his fifth (his fifth!) album?

No. If anything – and I have considered this statement very carefully – ‘The Twelfth of Never’ is worse than ‘Puppy Love’. (Meanwhile it makes his little brother Jimmy’s chart-topper sound genuinely enjoyable by comparison.) You ask how much I need you… Must I explain… I need you oh my darlin’, Like roses need rain… You really don’t need to hear any more of the lyrics to get the picture.

But, just in case you were enjoying it, he will love his girl until the roses don’t bloom, until the clover has lost its perfume, and until the poets have run out of rhyme… Until the twelfth of never, And that’s a long, long time… I’ll give this song one thing: it’s powerful. Certain songs make you sad, certain songs make you happy, certain songs make you nauseous. You can guess what category this one falls under…

I dunno. I feel a bit bad. He was only fifteen, and picking on this record feels a bit like taking candy from, well, a kid. I’m sure he was a nice young man, and your nan would certainly have approved (though she might have suggested a haircut), but Donny Osmond did release some utter shite. But then again, as I wrote in my post on ‘Puppy Love’, I am not and never have been a thirteen-year-old girl, and so am far, far away from being this song’s target audience.

‘The Twelfth of Never’, like ‘Puppy Love’, was a cover of an older hit. Johnny Mathis had released his version way back in 1956, and it is much less syrupy, almost gospel-ish. (Mathis, though, disliked the song and kept it as a ‘B’-side.) In the UK, Cliff Richard had had a #8 hit in 1964 with his own version

Donny will have one last UK #1, coming up pretty soon, so brace yourselves. That one is interesting as it is not just a cover of an oldie, but a cover of an oldie that has already topped the charts! Until then, I need a glass of water and a ‘Rennies’…

Follow along with my #1s playlist…

326. ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, by Slade

Baby baby BABY! From one glam rock classic, to another. From the second Noddy Holder hollers that intro, we’re witnessing Slade at the peak of their powers, at the height of their popularity.

1974-25-Slade-POP-Superposter

Cum on Feel the Noize, by Slade (their 4th of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 25th February – 25th March 1973

With it, they’re bringing the same attitude as in their previous #1, ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’. Noddy lists all the things about which he simply does not give two hoots: So you think I’ve got an evil mind, Well I’ll tell you honey… So you think my singing’s out of time, Well it makes me money… He’s got a funny face, he’s got a dirty mind… Say I’m a scumbag but it’s no disgrace, I ain’t in no hurry…

The message is, in a nutshell, who cares what people think or say about you when you’ve got a chorus like this one coming up: So come on feel the noise, Girls grab the boys, We get wild, wild, wild… At your door! It’s another hit designed for the audience to scream back to them, for football crowds to chant, for kids up and down the land who just want to have a good time. Is it a bit simplistic, a bit repetitive? Maybe. Does it need to be a full four and a half minutes long? Maybe not. But to criticise ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ for these things is to miss the point, and then some.

If you insisted on analysing the lyrics, you might see this as a riposte, a middle finger in the air to the critics that dismiss Slade, or perhaps even as a celebration of their fame. The I just don’t know why…! refrain could be an answer to the question: ‘How are these four bruisers from Wolverhampton suddenly the biggest band in the land?’

R-5246797-1388657546-6882.jpeg

As with any Slade record, Noddy Holder’s vocals sell it. Nobody yells, grunts or hollers like him. Apparently the now famous ‘baby, baby, baby’ intro was stitched on from an earlier soundcheck. As with other Slade records, whip-cracking handclaps come in to take us home. And as with the previous #1, Sweet’s ‘Block Buster!’, I can’t help but feel that an even heavier production, more bass, more oomph, would improve it even further.

When I said that ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ announced Slade as the biggest band in the country, I meant it. The single entered the charts straight in at #1, something that had only happened four times previously: once each for The Beatles and Cliff/The Shadows, and twice for a certain Elvis Presley. That’s the company that Slade were now keeping, and they’ll enter at the top of the charts twice more before the year is out.

You’d have to say that this Slade’s most famous (non-Christmas) hit. A chorus that most people could have a go at, even forty-seven years later. It was covered in the eighties, by Quiet Riot (and taken to the Billboard Top 5), and in the nineties as a ‘B’-side by Oasis, who often included it in their live shows. It lives on. It is a classic. Come on, press play below, and feel the noize…

325. ‘Block Buster!’, by The Sweet

Into 1973 with a hop, skip and a jump, and a question. Can a song that begins with an air-raid siren ever be anything less than brilliant?

sweet.jpeg

Block Buster!, by The Sweet (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 21st January – 25th February 1973

1973 is going to be the year in which glam rock peaks. Scanning down the list of #1s for the coming year, ten of the seventeen chart-toppers are glam. And we kick it all off with a classic of the genre. Air-raid siren, riff, drums, Ah-Aaaaaaah-Ah-Aaaaaaaaah!

You better beware, You better take care, You better watch out if you’ve got long black hair… Night falls, and Buster is about. Who, or what, Buster is is never established, but he’s dangerous. And he’s coming for you… Nobody knows, Where Buster goes, He’ll steal your woman out from under your nose…

The lyrics are dumb, but at the same time, were they delivered less theatrically, they’d be terrifying. There’s every chance that Buster is a serial killer. Does anyone know the way, Did we hear someone say…? And then the best bit of a great record – the squealed: We just haven’t got a clue what to do! Does anyone know the way to block Buster? Probably not. Even the police can’t do anything.

As a title, ‘Block Buster!’ is great. It grabs the attention as much as the air-raid siren. ‘Here’s the blockbuster new record from Sweet, called ‘Block Buster!’ That sounds fun. But then there’s the play on the term in ‘blocking’ the eponymous villain of the piece, the one with the disc-eyes and the taste in dark-haired women. It’s a clever record, underneath all the silliness.

THE_SWEET_BLOCKBUSTER+-+SOLID-391040

It’s also a great rocking record. The bluesy riff raised some eyebrows at the time as it sounded a lot like David Bowie’s very recent hit ‘The Jean Genie’. Sweet knew this, considered it, and put their record out anyway. ‘The Jean Genie’ had sat at #2, behind Little Jimmy Osmond of all people, meaning Bowie will have to wait a while longer for his first chart-topper. My only complaint about ‘Block Buster!’ is that the guitar, the drums, the whole production, could have a little more oomph to it. Imagine this tune, played on Marc Bolan’s crunchy Les Paul…

But I’m knit-picking. This is not a quiet record; it has everything thrown into the mix, including the kitchen sink. Screaming, reverbing chords, huge drums, and a frenzied, chanted finish: Buster, Buster, Block Buster! It’s dumb, it’s zany, it’s brilliant. It’s somehow the Sweet’s only #1 single. Their two other 1973 singles peaked at #2, and are even better than ‘Block Buster!’ – the near garage rock of ‘Hell Raiser’ and the brilliant glitter-stomp of ‘The Ballroom Blitz’.

Sweet, like most glam rock acts, saw their chart fortunes plummet around 1976. They reacted to this by going heavier and more experimental. In the eighties, different band members toured with their own versions of the band. Lead singer Brian Connolly struggled with alcohol addiction, and died in 1997. Drummer Mick Tucker died a few years later and bassist Steve Priest passed away just a few weeks ago. We’ll leave them here, on our journey through the years, but, if you’re only going to score one number one single, then you better make it a good one. Like this. 1973 is off to a cracking start!