Sugar, Baby

So I was reading the latest post from 70s Music Mayhem (a blog you should be reading, too) about the new songs on the Hot 100 during the week of December 4, 1976, and I clicked on the video for “Living Next Door to Alice” by Smokie, which is a particularly guilty pleasure of mine. And from there, through the wonder that is the “suggestions” column at YouTube, I found myself digging some other examples of 70s Europop—songs that were big in the UK and elsewhere without making a corresponding splash in the States, and in some cases without making a splash at all. That most of them tend toward bubblegum should be a surprise to nobody.

Here’s “Mississippi” by the Dutch group Pussycat, which did a month at Number One in the UK in the fall of 1976 and remains staggeringly popular. The video below has nearly 2.4 million hits at YouTube, even though the song went nowhere in the States. Maybe it wasn’t released over here—it certainly isn’t because it wouldn’t have fit on American radio in 1976 or 1977.

From there, it’s off to “Substitute” by Clout, an all-girl band from South Africa. “Substitute” was first recorded by the Righteous Brothers in 1975 before Clout got hold of it. Somehow it managed to make only Number 69 in Billboard and 52 in Cash Box in the fall of 1978 despite being an absolute hook monster.

Next stop, one of the most ridiculous records of all time, and I mean that in a good way: “Sugar Baby Love” by the Rubettes. Intended as an homage to American rock ‘n’ roll of the 50s with a jigger of glam-rock mixed in, its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production (dig that short spoken bit toward the end) causes it to teeter on the brink of parody, especially as performed in the video below. It did a month at Number One in the UK during the summer of 1974 and actually scratched into the Top 40 here in the States.

From the over-the-top bop-shoo-waddy of the Rubettes, it’s a short leap to Showaddywaddy, straight-up revivalists who charted in the UK with 50s and early 60s remakes almost exclusively between 1974 and 1982. The biggest was “Under the Moon of Love,” which had been a Phil Spector production for Curtis Lee in 1961. The Showaddywaddy version was the Number-One single in the UK 34 years ago this week. It, too, failed to get a sniff in the States.

Given the likelihood that your taste for this sort of thing is not quite the same as mine, I’ll stop here.

Quick Programming Note: I’ve moved my Twitter feed to the top of the right-hand column under the title “Ye Olde Microblog.” One of the best uses for Twitter is to call attention to interesting links. I’ve been doing a little of that, and I intend to start doing it more often now, instead of saving things up to mention in a full post and then forgetting to do it. My goal is to make the microblog just that—a similar-but-different (and far more succinct) companion to the main entries here. So keep an eye on it, and if you’re on Twitter yourself, you can follow me here.

Under the Moon of Love

On Friday, we commenced to look at the songs that hit Number One on the British singles charts in 1976 without making much of a dent—or any at all—in the American charts. As we continue, a word of warning: If you think the American charts of the 1970s sometimes slopped over from diversity into schizophrenia, wait until you check this stuff out.

“Combine Harvester (Brand New Key)”/The Wurzels (weeks of June 12 and 19). I was fascinated by this title when I saw it in Star File (the 1976 British chart book that inspired this series), but it’s only within the last year or two that I’ve actually heard it. It’s a parody version of the Melanie song done by a group working in the style Brits know as “scrumpy and western.” “Combine Harvester” features what Tom Ewing, writing at Popular, calls “surely the best (or maybe worst) innuendo to grace a chart-topping record” and a wheezing, rural style that must have annoyed as many people as it enchanted during its chart run.

The Roussos Phenomenon (EP)/Demis Roussos (week of July 17). Four housewifey songs by the Greek singer formerly of Aphrodite’s Child, sometime-collaborator with Vangelis, and possessor of a high, operatic voice. One song, “Forever and Ever” (not the same song by Slik mentioned last week) had gotten a bit of airplay in the States in 1973 without charting. Roussos scored a number of other hits in Europe and elsewhere, and in 1985, he was a passenger on TWA Flight 847. He was known to the hijackers as a celebrity, and his Wikipedia entry claims that was the basis for a mid-80s comeback. Believe it, or not.

“Mississippi”/Pussycat (weeks of October 16, 23, 30, and November 6). Three Dutch sisters and some other musicians, some of whom had been in a group with the Pythonesque name Scum, came together in the early 70s. How “Mississippi” failed to become a hit in the States, I dunno. It’s easy rockin’ with a singalong refrain, and it would have fit right in on the radio here that fall.

“Under the Moon of Love”/Showaddywaddy (weeks of December 4, 11, and 18). The British analogue to Sha Na Na, Showaddywaddy had a pile of hits in the UK between 1974 and 1982, including covers of songs by Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Chubby Checker, and others. “Under the Moon of Love,” the group’s biggest hit, is itself a cover of Curtis Lee’s original, which was co-written and produced by Phil Spector in 1961.

“When a Child Is Born”/Johnny Mathis (weeks of December 25, January 1, and January 8). “When a Child Is Born” made the American charts in 1974 in a version by German singer Michael Holm. Today, it’s considered a Christmas song, even though it makes no mention of the holiday. (I wrote about it briefly last year, in the context of the Moody Blues’ 2003 holiday album December.)

When you consider that the stuff we’ve covered in the last two posts represents mainstream taste in Britain as it was in 1976, the coming of punk rock seems a lot easier to understand.

If you’d like to read about these records (and everything else that topped the UK charts from 1952 forward), prepare to kill hours and hours reading Popular. The complete list of records Tom has covered so far is here.

“Mississippi”/Pussycat (out of print)