Pete Wingfield, With a Bullet

One of the things we’ve lost in the download era is the credit list. You can often download a digital booklet with an album—it even comes in PDF format sometimes—but how often do you read it? Back in the day, however, music geeks would become as familiar with the notes and credits on their favorite albums as they were with the music inside. Certain names would appear frequently, and if they were on enough albums you liked, their presence would become a kind of recommendation. “If this guy is on this record,” you’d think to yourself, “it must be pretty good, because he doesn’t usually play on records I don’t like.”

(The flaw in that logic is that we didn’t often buy records we didn’t like, so we wouldn’t know beyond a doubt whether so-and-so played on records we didn’t like. Flawed or not, however, the logic was persuasive as far as it went.)

Credit-readers of the 1970s, then, would certainly have come across the name of Pete Wingfield. He came up as a blues musician in a band called Jellybread, but when it failed to find success, he got into session and concert work as well as songwriting and production. His list of credits is extremely long: B. B. King, Lightnin’ Slim, Memphis Slim, Nazareth, Keef Hartley, Colin Blunstone, Van Morrison, the Hollies (with whom he was associated for a very long time), Freddie King, Al Stewart, Maggie Bell, Edwin Starr, Lindisfarne, Richard and Linda Thompson, Bonnie Tyler, Olivia Newton-John, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the Everly Brothers (whose band he joined for its 1980s reunion), the Alan Parsons Project, and Paul McCartney—and that is undoubtedly an incomplete list. He played so many sessions—over a thousand sessions in all—that he can no longer remember them all. He once told a journalist, “Well, I must have been there because my name’s on the sleeve.”

There is surprisingly little information online about Wingfield. He doesn’t appear to have his own website, and there’s an English actor named Peter Wingfield, almost a generation younger, who’s probably confused with him frequently. But apart from the long list of credits, what you most need to know about Pete Wingfield is one indelible record: “Eighteen With a Bullet.” It’s a brilliantly enigmatic title and a song that’s entirely unique.

The lyrics to “Eighteen With a Bullet” could only have been written by a man with long experience in the music business, somebody who spoke the language of records, record marketing, and radio, and who had the talent to turn that jargon into a love song. The music could only have been written by somebody who knew his way around the blues, New Orleans R&B, and doo-wop. In a world where every piece of music is described by comparing it to something else, there’s nothing quite like “Eighteen With a Bullet.”

“Eighteen With a Bullet” landed in America during one of Top 40 radio’s greatest seasons, the fall of 1975. It had reached #7 in the UK that summer, and its American chart run featured one golden bit of synchronicity that is too perfect not to have been orchestrated. In Billboard chart jargon, records that show potential for greater growth and a higher chart position are marked with what’s known as a bullet. So “eighteen with a bullet” refers the #18 position on the chart with the potential to go higher. And on the Hot 100 dated November 22, 1975, “Eighteen With a Bullet” reached #18. With a bullet. (The song would eventually peak at #15 before starting back down the chart.)

I suspect that radio stations and record-industry people loved “Eighteen With a Bullet” more than the public did. In the end, it was probably a minor miracle that something so quirky and original made it to #15. Wingfield tried to repeat its success with songs called “Bubbling Under” and “Scratchy 45s,” but “Eighteen With a Bullet” remains his monument, and his lone chart hit—at least under his own name.

A post from 2006 about “Eighteen With a Bullet” is one of the most popular posts in the history of this blog. Welcome back, Googlers.

12 thoughts on “Pete Wingfield, With a Bullet

  1. porky

    When I hear about Wingfield’s tune I always think of the Raspberries’ “Overnight Sensation (Hit Record).” Both are larded with industry lingo, endearing them to biz geeks like us but failing with the general public. BTW when the “transistor radio” chorus fades up on “Hit Record” I get goosebumps every time.

    1. I had been restraining myself from suggesting that “Eighteen With a Bullet” is only the second-best hit record of the Seventies about having a hit record.
      But now that Porky has emboldened me, I will second his emotion.

  2. J.A. Bartlett

    Yes. An early version of this post mentioned “Overnight Sensation,” but in the interest of keeping it from being a thousand words, I took it out. I don’t agree that they’re both about having a hit record: “Overnight Sensation” is, but “Eighteen With a Bullet” uses hit-defining lingo as various metaphors for love. “Overnight Sensation” might be even more jargony: “If the program director don’t pull it / It’s bound to get back the bullet.”

    The Raspberries wanted to call it “Hit Record” but their label supposedly objected, so it ended up as the parenthetical title: “Overnight Senasation (Hit Record).” “Overnight Sensation” is a better title anyhow.

  3. I heard the AT40 broadcast a few months back that featured “Eighteen With a Bullet” at its peak position. It’d be neat to unearth the show for the week where life imitated art. I love this record and hope to do it at karaoke someday if I can find: a) a karaoke video and b) someone to do the falsetto parts.

  4. A few asides: There’s a great version of this song by Lewis Taylor & Carleen Anderson on the Lock, Stock & 2 Smoking Barrels soundtrack

    Also, Pete played in a great jazz funk band called the Olympic Runners, who put 8 albums in the 70s, none of which have been released on CD…not even a compilation

    And Pete produced one of my favorite albums of 1989, The Pasadenas, To Whom It May Concern, which was a throwback to soul, funk and of course doo wop

  5. Jeffrey: Was that AT40 episode the one where the song moved to No. 15? I remember Casey having a good time with “Last week, this song was 18 with a bullet … this week, it’s 15 with a bullet. Here’s Pete Wingfield with ‘Eighteen With a Bullet…” And then some sort of goofy ad-lib like “Is anyone else as confused as I am?” (I can’t remember exactly what he said as I’m recalling something from more than 35 years ago … but I remember enjoying Casey having some fun with the countdown.)

  6. Oh, and regarding other Pete Wingfield connections: He was involved with one of the classiest efforts in the early 1980s trend of medleys, Band of Gold’s “Love Songs Are Back Again.” That one should have been a much bigger hit than it was, particularly given some of the medleys that were hits (not just Stars on 45, but “Hooked on Classics,” “The Beatles Movie Medley,” etc.).

  7. porky

    just heard Tom Petty’s “Into the Great Wide Upon” and had forgotten its industry lingo: “the A&R man said I don’t hear a single.”

    Nick Lowe and Rockpile’s “They Called It Rock” also deals with the music biz (“Arista says they loved it but the kids couldn’t dance to it”) as does the great “Starry Eyes” by the Records.

  8. Pingback: Forgotten 45: “Eighteen With a Bullet” « The Hits Just Keep On Comin'

  9. Gary

    I was eighteen when this record was in the charts. Discovering freedom, riding around the pubs in rural West Yorkshire on my Yamaha YCS5E. It was always on the juke box. Haven’t heard it for 30 odd years, but for some reason I seem to have stronger memories of this one song than most any other from my youth.

  10. Mike Stenz

    By 1986, I was so fascinated by the chart “coincidence” that I started a column in my college newspaper and named it after the song.

  11. Andy

    This song has endured in the Mexican-American community of the southwest U.S. and is considered a classic of the “lowrider oldies” sub-genre. (The UK has “Northern Soul”, the Carolinas have “beach music”, and the Mexican-Americans have “lowrider oldies”…mostly slow R&B love songs from the doo-wop era through the mid-70’s, it’s a universe where Brenton Wood and Billy Stewart are bigger stars than Jackie Wilson, and Mary Wells is the Queen of Motown, not Diana Ross.)

    Pete Wingfield also co-wrote Mel Brooks’ “It’s Good to Be the King” (from “The History of the World, Part 1”, which charted low but got lots of R&B airplay in my home town of San Diego) and “To Be or Not To Be (Hitler Rap)” (from “To Be or Not To Be”, and a #12 single in the UK)

    Love the blog! Just found it a couple weeks ago and am enjoying going back and reading the old posts.

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