304. ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’, by The Tams

Our last number one was a glossy, highly polished number from one of the world’s biggest female stars – Ms. Diana Ross. Which contrasts completely with this rough-and-ready next chart topper.

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Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me, by The Tams (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 12th September – 3rd October 1971

It starts with a simple drums and guitar intro. Then a refrain: Hey girl, don’t bother me… Hey girl, don’t bother me… Standard male vocal group stuff – think the Four Tops or the Miracles – but on a budget. Someone’s going for the Motown sound but without the backing of a major record label.

The lead singers voice is raspy and endearing: I heard about you from my friends… (I love the way he drags ‘friends’ out in a very ‘Murican way) The word really gets around… They say you broke the heart, Of every boy in town… He begs this floozy to stay away: Stay outta my arms, Don’t try to use your charms… Don’t bother me…

It’s a sweet song, despite the subject matter, and one that’s likeable from the start. When the handclaps start it seals this disc’s lo-fi charm. In the second verse, the singer admits that the girl is tempting, despite her reputation: But I really gotta say, You look so fine… He stands firm, though, determined not to be added to her list.

‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ stands right out in this countdown. We’re in the autumn of 1971, but this song sounds like a complete throwback. And that makes sense, seeing as it was recorded in 1964. To my ears it could have been even earlier. The Tams were a vocal group from Atlanta, who had had minor chart successes in the sixties but whose records were picked up by northern soul clubs in the UK. I can’t claim to be an expert on the northern soul scene in the seventies, but it was an offshoot of Mod culture, mainly in clubs in the north of England: Manchester, Wigan, Blackpool, down to Birmingham. They pushed lots of old soul discs back into the charts, and this one by The Tams made it all the way to the top.

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You can see why ‘Hey Girl…’ took off like it did. It’s a throwback, but it has enough of a guitar line and a stomp for it to fit in with the early seventies’ sound. You can imagine Mud doing a soft-glam cover version. Though I’m sure The Tams weren’t complaining, or inquiring as to the reasons for their sudden career resurgence in the UK. They will enjoy another mini-comeback fifteen years later, when their hit ‘There Ain’t Nothing Like Shagging’ makes #21 in 1987. (Stop giggling there at the back!) The ‘Shag’ is a dance, you see, (the official state dance of South Carolina!) and according to the song: There ain’t nothing like shagging, When you’re shagging with the one you love… There was a follow-up too – ‘My Baby Sure Can Shag!’ (Stop it!) Unfortunately, both were banned by a humourless BBC because ‘shagging’ means, erm, something else in Britain…

Anyway, back to ‘Hey Girl…’ It’s worth nothing that this is the third re-release to make #1 in the space of a year, following ‘The Tears of a Clown’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’. Not sure what to make of that… Were people already missing the sixties? Was it just a coincidence? It’s certainly adding to the already very eclectic feel of the charts in the early seventies!

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