As I wrote in my introduction to the Melody Maker singles reviews of mine that I posted a few days ago, it wasn’t often that this job fell on my plate but it happened again in late 1975 while I was in London between stints in the US, and for a few weeks too. So, since that post seemed to go down well, here’s another of my singles reviews, from the issue dated September 27 that year, with a few big names. 

        I seem to remember that my merciless dissing of Peters & Lee inspired a few angry letters to MM because one half of the duo, Lennie Peters, was blind. The tone of the letters suggested that because of this he and Dianne Lee were beyond criticism and that I was a heartless bastard destined for eternal damnation. I disagreed. Physical disadvantage is unfortunate but did not confer an obligation for positive reviews in MM, or anywhere else for that matter.

Although there was no compulsion on the part of MM’s singles reviewer to predict whether a record would be a hit or a miss, for interest’s sake in this post I’ve added some hindsight facts and figures culled from The Complete Book of the British Charts that reveal whether I was right or wrong in my predictions. 

BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN: ‘Born To Run’ (CBS). I joined the ranks of converted Springsteen writers in Norfolk, Virginia, two years ago after seeing a stunning concert full of energy and enthusiasm that had been sadly lacking of many acts I’d seen. Like many, it took a live show to become fully aware of his talents as the first two albums, though good, never lived up to the promise of the man himself. This is the title track from his third album and it’s a knockout, an unbelievable riff leading into Bruce’s hoarse vocals that speak with all the urgency of the committed artist. Listen to that break after the solo about two-thirds of the way through: perfect use of dynamics, a key change and a rocket-propelled take-off back into the song. This must be a hit; it’s already one in the US. 

[‘Born To Run’ wasn’t a hit until a live version reached number 20 in the UK charts in 1987, by which time Bruce could sell out Wembley Stadium three nights in a row.]

ELTON JOHN: ‘Island Girl’ (DJM). A thudding bass riff opens this new single from Elton which, like many of his songs, seems fairly innocuous at first but grows on the listener after a few plays. It’s a jumpy soul rocker in the tradition of ‘The Bitch Is Back’ with gutsy lines: “She’s black as coal but burns like a fire, she wraps herself around you like a well-worn tyre.” There’s a rather curious steel drum solo towards the end which seems to have been mixed down rather low, but the overall effect is a vast change of mood from Elton’s last single, ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’. The B-side is on interest to Eltonmaniacs: his version of ‘Sugar On The Floor’, a slow and quiet Kiki Dee song which has Elt as his most expressive. The A-side is from EJ’s forthcoming Rock Of The Westies album. Good or bad, it’ll still be a hit, but this one deserves to be.

[Number 14 in October ’75, disappointing by Elton’s standards.]

SPARKS: ‘Looks, Looks, Looks’ (Island). Sounds more like Manhattan Transfer than Sparks who adopt a big band approach to this dated sounding single that fits snugly into the novelty bracket. One could imagine Fred Astaire tripping along to the horn solo, and Ginger Rogers encouraging the Mael brothers from the gallery. A bit too gimmicky for my taste but probably a hit since their following seems among the most loyal around. 

[Reached number 26, low for them at the time.]

FRED ASTAIRE: ‘The Wailing Of The Willow’ (UA). And talking of Fred Astaire, here he is, with a new single in the Perry Como/Bing Crosby mould. He hasn’t the voice of his contemporaries but I’ve been impressed by his casual acting style in recent movies. Strictly for the over fifties I’m afraid. A miss.

[Failed to chart. As for movies, I was probably thinking of The Towering Inferno.]

MELANIE: ‘You Can’t Hurry Love/Mama Said’ (Neighbourhood). A curious single from Melanie, blending the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit with a song I haven’t heard before that segues very conveniently. Despite the odd choice of material, the Melanie vocal cords ring out unmistakably but I fear that her following in this country has waned of late and there aren’t enough fans desperate to pick up this record. A miss.

[Failed to chart. The original, by The Supremes, reached number 3 in 1966.]

JACKSON FIVE: ‘Forever Came Today’ (Tamla Motown). Internal squabbles, record company problems and the group’s decision to abandon a British tour to avoid any recurrence of the Cassidy-crush situation have all contributed to a certain loss of favour for the Jackson Five whose musical ability always overshadowed their rivals, the Osmonds. In the US their popularity is still high but here new heroes seem to have snatched their crown. Unfortunately, I can’t predict a comeback on the strength of this single which has none of the immediacy of their earlier efforts. A reasonable toe-tapper, orchestrated and adequately produced, but Michael Jackson’s voice is sadly missing due, presumably, to nature, and with it has gone the J5’s essential trademark. With competition at its height, I must be pessimistic. A miss.

[Failed to chart, a disappointment no doubt.]

RAY STEVENS: ‘Indian Love Call’ (Janus). Stevens drops his novelty bag for a lush ballad which, I suppose, is meant to be taken seriously. Alternating between falsetto and tenor and swamped with back-up vocals, he plummets to new depths. A waltz schmaltz of no distinctions whatsoever and a huge miss to boot.

[Reached number 34.]

PETERS & LEE: ‘The Crying Game’ (Philips). This pair, with whom I have little patience, have contributed not one jot to the progression of British music but have nevertheless chalked up a few hits with their Butlins Holiday Camp act and music. This, like their others, is a sentimental weepie taken at snail’s pace and is thoroughly disposable for its typical blandness and general lowest common denominator appeal. Enough… and probably a hit as these things, regrettably, are out of my hands.

[Failed to chart. How disappointing! The original, by Dave Berry, reached number 5 in 1964.]

MFSB: ‘Let’s Go Disco’ (Philadelphia International). It doesn’t take a degree in contemporary music to work out that this is an instrumental aimed directly at the disco market where it will probably score as a dancing number. In the cold light of day, however, it’s rather tame listening, a forgettable tune played at a monotonous pace, with a repeated chant of ‘Let’s go disco’ at irregular intervals. A miss.

[Failed to chart, though a number with the same title, by Real Thing, reached number 39 in 1978. Trivia note: The bass player in the Real Things touring band, John Tilley, was an old schoolfriend of mine.]

BILLY JOEL: ‘If I Only Had Words To Tell You’ (CBS). It is not only consumers who receive poor quality records, but reviewers too, so I’ll take this opportunity to slag off the CBS quality control department for allowing this lump of vinyl to find its way out of the factory. Not only is it seriously warped but the hole in the centre is so big the record spins on an irregular axis. Discordant piano chords abound and the unfortunate Joel sounds like he’s imbibed a potent Indian curry on top of several pints of strong draught beer. Any intelligent comments on his new single are therefore out of the question but I might add that I liked ‘Mr Piano Man’. No excuses CBS, you’re caught red-handed. For Billy’s sake I can only hope this is an isolated pressing and thousands haven’t rattled off the production line in this condition.

[Failed to chart. Billy’s chart career in the UK didn’t get going until 1978.]

ALLEN TOUSSAINT: ‘Soul Sister’ (Reprise). Allen Toussaint’s recent contributions to the music business have been justly lauded in often glowing terms and it’d be nice to see him in the British chart with this medium paced, immaculately produced piece of soul. Very smooth and silky, though a little more urgency would drive the song along better. Unfortunately, I can’t be optimistic. A miss.

[Allen Toussaint never reached the UK charts.]

BARRY MANILOW: ‘Could It Be Magic’ (Arista). Manilow, a pianist, singer, arranger and composer of jingles for American television, was Bette Midler’s musical director until Clive Davis signed him to Arista and notched up the company’s first big hit with his version of the old ‘Brandy’ hit which was retitled ‘Mandy’ for no apparent reason. I can’t see him repeating his success here, especially with this very slow tune which seems to get slower the longer it spins. Straight ballad over piano with built-up production reaching dramatic crescendo in the usual MOR fashion. Miss. 

[A miss on release but reached number 15 when it was reissued in 1978.]

MELISSA MANCHESTER: ‘Midnight Blue’ (Artista). Another Clive Davis prodigy and there’s more hope here, although Ms Manchester ought to be seen live to be fully appreciated. At the piano, her red hair flying, she’s dynamite, but on record much of her charisma is lost. This is a pleasantly attractive song with a repetitive sing-along chorus that could catch with the right airplay. Perhaps a hit. 

[Perhaps not. Never reached the charts.]

THE PLATTERS: ‘Only You’ (Contemporaries). The Platters are another Fifties group whose many personnel changes have resulted in several acts calling themselves The Platters appearing in various parts of the world at different times. Their original hit was the lovely ‘Smoke Gets In Your Eyes’ in the late Fifties but this one appeared with some success almost two years later, and represents a fine vocal performance and flawless production on a standard song. With oldies of doubtful distinction hitting the charts these days, one can only hope that a distinguished recording like this will follow the same path. It is, incidentally, the same song recorded recently by Ringo Starr. 

[No chart action on this reissue but it reached number 5 in 1956 as a double A-side with ‘The Great Pretender’ and then again – as I state – in 1957 when it reached number 18 in its own right. Covered by loads of acts.] 

SAM & DAVE. ‘Under The Boardwalk’ (UA). My favourite Drifters hit that was actually covered by the Stones on their second album and turns up here by the legendary Sam & Dave whose identity has been a matter of debate before now. Not a bad stab at this venerable classic but I’d prefer the Drifters’ original which evokes all the atmosphere of the seaside in two minutes of absolutely masterful technique and atmosphere that inspired Guy Paelheart and Nik Cohn to create their Rock Dreams book last year. Perhaps Atlantic will oblige with the original if chart action is imminent. 

[Failed to chart. I still have my original copy of Rock Dreams, acquired in 1974. Wonderful book.] 

BUDDY MILES: ‘Rockin’ And Rollin’ On the Streets Of Hollywood’ (Casablanca). Not, as might be imagined, a rock and roll song at all but a straightforward lump of funk from the lumbering drummer of dubious reputation. Plain and direct, but too samey to get anywhere in the market for which it was produced, or anywhere else for that matter. A Miss.

[Failed to chart.]

BILLY SWAN: ‘Everything’s The Same’ (Monument). A re-write of ‘I Can Help’ from Billy Swan whose album earlier this year was one of my favourite plays at the time. An apt title, indeed, for the backing track is in the same rockabilly style as his previous hit and the singing style is far too familiar. The girly backing vocals remove the crisp edge of his earlier hit and introduce a disappointing element of MOR commercialism towards the end. A miss. 

[Failed to chart]

JOHNNY NASH: ‘Let’s Be Friends’ (CBS). Not as strong as ‘Tears On My Pillow’ but the same commercially orientated reggae formula, spoilt a little by the whistling chorus line. Easy-going, understated and laid back in the extreme. Nash has hit on a style that the public obviously likes. Another hit methinks. 

[Reached only as far as number 42, a bit of a set-back after his number 1 with ‘Tears…’]


Jeff Hitz said...

re:Melanie - you never heard "Mama Said" by The Shirelles, which reached number four on the US pop charts and number two on the R&B charts in 1961?

Chris Charlesworth said...

It wasn't a hit in the UK but thanks for pointing that out. CC