Monday, 25 June 2012

Those who also entertained

The common thread about Top Of The Pops down the years was that you could only get on if you had a hit record - indeed the latter day profilerance of exclusives on the show led many to suggest ducking away from the chart boundaries was what was making it unpopular.

This, as we've continually seen throughout these reruns, is rubbish. Every week it seems there's a record, whether by an established name or someone entirely new, that failed to trouble the scorers and hadn't been heard from that day to this. Whether through major label payola or taking a chance on a likely hit, these as yet unreleased songs seem to take up most of each episode.

The most latterly famous among the instantly forgotten are of course Contempt, our post about whom having become, with the aid of The Word and doyouremember not to mention their complete lack of web presence prior to that reshowing, this blog's most viewed post ever. But what about the others? Here's a handful of those flop makers that have been memorable for largely wrong reasons, only two of whom ever made the UK top 50 singles chart but all of whom had a place on the nation's number one pop TV show:

LAURIE ANDREW & ZERO – I'll Never Love Anyone Anymore (1/4/76)
Plausible Laurie didn't get anywhere due to Tony getting his name wrong. Andrew, whose relation to his band was in the style of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, was in fact Laurie Forsey who would go on to write music for Flashdance and The Breakfast Club, and whose brother Keith was Giorgio Moroder's drummer and produced Generation X, Billy Idol, the Psychedelic Furs, Donna Summer and Simple Minds.

HEAVY METAL KIDS – She's No Angel (27/5/76)
Apart from that bloke ducking down, the main thing you may have noticed is the presence out front of the late Gary Holton, Wayne from Auf Wiedersehen Pet, who had clearly heard a couple of Alice Cooper records in his life. Discovered by Dave Dee, they made their first album in 1974 and by this time were onto their third, a shot at the big time through the auspices of the great glam label RAK, whose Mickie Most was producer. After its failure the band went quiet until 2002, when they made a critically acclaimed album, Hit The Right Button. A shifting lineup, including John Altman as singer for a couple of years, has kept the name going ever since, supporting UFO on tour earlier this year. Who'd like to see Joe Elliot of Def Leppard singing the near-hit with Altman last April?

THE SURPRISE SISTERS – Got To Get You Into My Life (10/6/76)
These did have a hit, but everyone remembers this performance so they're in. Presumably with nothing better to do between The Idiot and Low, Tony Visconti took it upon himself to discover and produce this four sister act, Ellen, Linda, Patricia and Susan Sutcliffe - he says in his autobiography he envisaged them as a British Labelle. Raised in Adelaide, Barry Gibb saw them in Sydney and suggested they move to England. A cover of Andy Fairweather Low's La Booga Rooga made number 36. This notoriously ragged Pops performance didn't help their second cover do likewise. "They were especially popular in Europe" it says here.

SUNFIGHTER – Drag Race Queen (15/7/76)
Or Story Of The Drag Race Queen as many places list it, the song so obscure now everyone taking Noel's word for it. Or just Queen, as that's who they take after and it was produced by Roy Thomas Baker to boot. They made three singles before calling it a day in 1978. Singer Rikki Peebles, who had briefly been in Marmalade, was the UK's Eurovision contestant in 1987, finishing 13th; guitarist John Hardman is the estranged father of Girls Aloud's Sarah Harding.

GLAMOURPUSS – Superman (15/7/76)
Right. Well, your guess is as good as mine here. Supposedly they were five beauty queens; it's said one member was Stephanie Lawrence, who went on to take the West End lead in Evita, win a Variety Club Best Stage Actress award for the lead in Marilyn! The Musical, play Pearl in the original London production of Starlight Express and be nominated for a Tony Award for her role in the original London and Broadway productions of Blood Brothers before dying of liver disease in 1990. And even that's not confirmed. Beyond that, nothing.
UPDATE (9/7/12): thanks to comments regular Arthur Nibble, who went above and beyond the call of duty in contacting the song's label (Bus Stop, who made stars of Paper Lace) and writers, we now know as much as pretty much ever will about Glamourpuss. They were created by the songwriters Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow (who had a 1970 top 20 single as Butterscotch, and Martin wrote Can't Smile Without You), who had created Guys'n'Dolls to some success and decided to give an all-female group a go. According to Morrow "the act got really good PR, partly because of a photo shoot we did with the girls in white t-shirts (and little else!) coming out of the sea". And Martin has confirmed Stephanie Lawrence was indeed a member.
(16/7/12): and another one! Arnold (via Morrow) passes on that another member, the straight haired one in the middle, was one Zena Clifton, who went on to Carry On bit-parts and a Play Your Cards Right Dolly Dealer. More identities if/when they develop.

1776 – Oh Susannah (22/7/76)
That's not the violent prisoner Charles Bronson on lead, it is in fact one Jacques Mercier. His previous psych-funk band Dynastie Crisis are acknowledged as one of the most important French groups of the early 70s, their track Faust 72 appearing on the Ocean's Twelve soundtrack and later becoming backing band for the successful singer-songwriter Michel Polnareff. 1776 was a one-off project to mark the American bicentenary, after which Mercier continued in various guises into the 00s.

RAGS – Promises Promises (28/4/77)
If this A Song For Europe losing favourite's brand of perky pop seems a few years ahead of its time that's because it was in a way. Jill Shirley, the crop haired female, went on to manage Bucks Fizz while Nichola Martin, the other female, co-wrote a number of their songs including My Camera Never Lies and Now Those Days Are Gone (Mike Nolan was brought into ver Fizz as a mate of theirs) Reputedly, had A Song For Europe not been confined to the radio due to industrial action, their routine would have included the female members' long skirts being ripped away to reveal shorter garments beneath. Everything comes around.

TRINIDAD OIL COMPANY – The Calendar Song (12/5/77)
"Ooh, the Trinidad Oil Company!" indeed. The Wolves-outfitted overmanned collective, for some reason signed to prog label Harvest and bizarrely rumoured at the time to have involved Marc Bolan, had previously been known by the giveaway name the Dutch Rhythm Steel & Showband, formed in 1969 from Surinamese descendents and still active, were later to work with James Brown, James Last, Boney M and Charles Aznavour. The accompanying album, confusingly also The Calendar Song, includes covers of the theme from Shaft and Jesus Christ Superstar.

MARTYN FORD ORCHESTRA – Let Your Body Go Downtown (12/5/77)
Perhaps most notorious for Jimmy actually introducing them as being at number 48, giving away the weakness in depth that week. Written by Lynsey de Paul and Mike Moran, this vague attempt at British disco peaked at 38. The impression of his wild 'conducting' does his actual reputation no favours - he founded the New Sinfonia orchestra, as it then was, and took them to the Royal Albert Hall in 1971. A much in demand arranger, conductor and record producer, his credits include Paul McCartney, the Rolling Stones, Bob Marley, David Bowie, Kate Bush, Queen, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Cliff Richard, Phil Collins, Bryan Ferry, Lou Reed, the Grateful Dead and ELO. He conducted and arranged the successful Classic Rock albums with the London Symphony Orchestra, arranged for the films Tommy and Live And Let Die and the original soundtrack album of Jesus Christ Superstar, twice conducted the Eurovision Song Contest orchestra and has plenty of musical director, opera, soundtrack and commercial credits otherwise.


Arthur Nibble said...

Sorry to be picky, Simon, but three of these acts made the top 50, not two - "Calendar Song" spent five weeks in the chart peaking at 34. Apart from that, a sublime 'best of' listing of those who tried and failed in the re-run thus far. I still can't believe the paucity of info on Glamourpuss - they'll never be my specialist subject on "Mastermind" at this rate.

Arthur Nibble (again) said...

Sorry, mis-read the detail on The Surprise Sisters, who reached the 50 with a different song. I'll use the "It's late" excuse if you'll allow it.

wilberforce said...

don't forget the tarney-spencer band!

Simon said...

Arthur's mentioned to me he's trying to chase up Glamourpuss, first through their label, then the PRS. Meanwhile, if anyone's interested in what their other single might have been like...

Arthur Nibble said...

Email submitted to the PRS. Fingers crossed.

Darren said...

The Trinidad Oil Company, or Dutch Rhythm Steel & Showband, went on to perform the interval act at the 1980 Eurovision Song Contest in The Hague, accompanied by dancers with memorable costumes!

Simon said...

Excellent addition. There's another connection between TOTP77 and Eurovision '80:

Noax said...

Simon, I'm disappointed that you didn't include my favourite 'bad but entertaining act with a non-hit', The Chanter Sisters!

Arthur Nibble said...

But Noax, The Chanter Sisters made number 43, which almost makes them hit material for this list, plus they got both a performance and a play-out, which is actually impressive on the face of it.

Olympic Nibble said...

We've made a glaring omission, but only because the edition was wiped so we never saw them on video, and this is at least topical...surely we must include Bill Oddie and the Superspike Squad.

Simon said...

I did think about the Chanter Sisters but as Arthur says that was relatively a big hit, and they did loads of backing vocal work in their careers. Oddie lost out because we didn't see it and for Bill's success in a group.

If you're interested in all this someone on UK Mix forums has made a list of all the songs that ever appeared on TOTP without making the charts.

wilberforce said...

i had a look at that list... but only up until "now" as i don't want to spoil any future surprises!

Old Applejack said...

1776 was the strangest one of all these for me.

I've been looking at that list of non-hits as well, but only up to 'now'.


1974 clearly wasn't the year when John Christie was going to be massive either.

Fanny by Ronnie Corbett. I can only wonder...

Ditto Bruce Forsyth

Mick Robertson? The guy off Magpie?

Gilbert O'Sullivan racked up a fair few of these, didn't he?

Arthur Nibble (again) said...

"Fanny" by Ronnie Corbett can be found on YouTube, as can Brucie's effort. I dare you to check them out. Mick Robertson was indeed presenting "Magpie" around this time and had a record deal with CBS, and Gilbert's certainly up there with Cilla Black and Cliff Richard as space wasters.

wilberforce said...

the mick robertson single is actually on youtube:

if that's really him singing then he can actually carry a tune after a fashion... but it's not a patch on the magpie theme though! apparently an album was also released but i can't find any trace of it on the internet...

Anonymous said...

Applejack - from what I remember of it as an 11 year old the American Bicentennial got quite a lot of airtime/publicity even in the UK so I suppose a TOTP "tribute" like the Silver Jubilee song was always on the cards.

Noax said...

Wow, thanks for that link, there's some really interesting stuff in there, including a Saint Etienne album title I notice!

Is Ronnie Corbett's 'Fanny' (don't titter!) the Bee Gees song I wonder? Speaking of tittering, nice to see that Frankie Howerd was on doing the Up Pompeii theme! (the movie one presumably, no words in the TV one...)

I'd also love to have seen ABBA doing 'So Long' as that's a great tune.

For sheer madness, nothing beats the start of 1968 though. 'William Chalker's Time Machine' by Lemon Tree sounds fascinating but probably isn't, oh look - there's Blackburn in his "pretending to be a pop star" phase, plus Ranee & Raj (which I really hope wasn't two white people blacking up and doing a 'comedy' song but could have been for all I know) and also, ahem, Spanky & Our Gang.

Simon said...

You can see Abba, it's very recently been found.

Ranee & Raj were "Sri Lankan/UK duo consisting of Nimal Mendis and Sandra Edema." William Chalker's Time Machine was written by one of The Move, produced by Andy Fairweather-Low and is, it's fair to say, as of its time as its title.

Arthur Nibble said...

"Fanny" appears to have been written by Roger Cook of Cook and Greenaway fame and celebrated bassist Herbie Flowers, the latter also wrote "Grandad". the single was produced by Daniel Danzack and The Flying Scotsman!

Noax said...

Thanks for the links Simon.

It's difficult to tell given the wobbly sound quality of the clip, but 'So Long' is in a different key to the single version isn't it?
Nice costumes though.

As for Lemon Tree, well, I'm no big fan of 60s psychedelic stuff, but I really enjoyed that.

Such a shame that the Frankie Howerd performance is lost - I'm a huge fan!

Arthur Nibble (again) said...

Although it was a major hit in comparison reaching number 43, I'm annoyed they wiped the edition with Dick Emery singing "You Are Awful" a.k.a. "Do The Conga". To each their own!

THX said...

The Mick Robertson album is somewhat notorious for its title track, Then I Change Hands, which was a song about - and I'm sorry if any ladies are reading - masturbation.

Arthur Nibble said...

Simon, many thanks for the credit. I really wasn’t expecting that.

In fairness, Bus Stop co-owner Peter Callander and songwriters David Martin and Geoff Morrow have been brilliant, all getting back to me rapidly and answering my queries in a friendly and highly co-operative manner, especially Geoff, who’s offered to check his files for any more info. Imagine asking some of the movers and shakers of today for similar info and you wouldn’t have got anything like the same polite and engaging response.

Without Simon knowing, I did say that, if Arnold, Martin and Morrow had any albums out that needed a plug I’d try to help as a thank-you (after all, I did unwittingly unearth Brendon’s latest venture), so Angel Air Records have recently released the following:

Rescue Company Number 1 – “Life’s Too Short -. The Singles Anthology 1971/1975”
Butterscotch – “Don’t You Know It’s Butterscotch”
AMMO – “The Can’t Smile Without You Years 1966/1977” (AMMO was Arnold, Martin and Morrow’s own label)
Bell & Martin – “Together Again”

Simon said...

And still the surprises emerge - Boney M covering The Calendar Song

Simon said...

Somewhat after the event, look what Steve W has turned up - a Glamourpuss press shot with caption, not that I'm entirely sure it's accurate (it misses out Stephanie Lawrence) but the names are there. For the record a Chrissie Kendall has dancer/showgirl credits in Rock Follies, The Goodies and Absolute Beginners.