Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep! Why singing 70s pop was edgier than you think | Music
FFrom Clive Dunn’s Grandad in 1970 to St Winifred’s School Choir’s There’s No One Quite Like Grandma in 1980, British 70s pop is generally dismissed as naff, sentimental, unstyled and just plain bad. Can these songs so firmly embedded in the fabric of British life really be so awful? Don’t they have something to say about the era from which they come? It was the inspiration for my book In Perfect Harmony: A serious look at family favorites that were derided by critical minds of the day as, to use a bittersweet songwriter’s colorful description , To vomit.
Britain in the 1970s was plagued by rampant inflation, nationwide strikes, heated debates over European integration and fears of an environmental apocalypse – much like Britain in the 2020s, actually. Amidst it all, Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody was the anthem of the three-day week of 1974, the Wombles responded to the punishing drought of 1976 with the eco-disco hit Rainmaker and the Brotherhood’s ballad United We Stand. of Man in 1970 was the rallying cry of a gay rights movement. They were socially significant, in other words. Here are 10 other unique socio-political hits.
1. Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1970)
As package holidays first opened up the continent to working-class families and Ted Heath pushed for Britain’s entry into the Common Market, a former group of Scottish hotel lounges turned is found in Italy, abandoned and penniless. In desperation, they recorded this joyous story of parental neglect. It sold 10 million copies. Why? “It reminded people of their holidays,” suggested drummer Ken Andrew, in a transcendental slice of nonsense that represented Britain’s dream of European integration.
2. Millie Small – Enoch Power (1970)
As serious blues rocker Eric Clapton drunkenly backed anti-immigration firebrand Enoch Powell at a 1976 gig, Jamaican teen-pop sensation Millie Small delivered a comedic response to the Tory MP’s abysmal racist speech six years prior. To a happy ska beat, Millie sings about leaving Jamaica to work in Powell’s Wolverhampton constituency while dreaming of a time when “all men will be brothers”, turning the fearsome conservative into an object of ridicule in the process.
3. Edison’s Lighthouse – Love Grows (Where Does My Rosemary Go) (1970)
After songwriter Tony Macaulay realized rock’s biggest problems were the rockers who played it, he came up with Edison Lighthouse; a compound band led by session singer Tony Burrows – who also fronted other compound bands, the Brotherhood of Man, Pipkins and White Plains. Macaulay and company were the pop equivalent of the aliens in the legendary Smash Instant Pot Mash commercial who burst into laughter as one describes the old-fashioned potato preparations of dumb earthlings. Pop, like food, was getting transformed.
4. Lieutenant Pigeon – Moldy Dough (1972)
Smashed by home-recording enthusiasts Rob Woodward and Nigel Fletcher in Woodward’s parents’ living room in Coventry – and featuring his 59-year-old mother Hilda on the piano – this resounding pub turned Lt. Pigeon into a first mother -and-son of Britain’s No 1 chart phenomenon. It also represented closing the generation gap forced by the 60s counterculture by being loved by kids, moms and dads and grandparents. Incidentally, Lieutenant Pigeon is an anagram of true potential – something Moldy Old Dough had in spades.
5. Lynsey de Paul – Sugar Me (1973)
De Paul, from north London, was a glamorous figure who was so outraged by her former boyfriend Sean Connery saying it was okay to slap women that she gave him a kiss and gave the money to Erin Pizzey’s domestic violence charity, Refuge. She and fellow mainstream songwriter Barry Green penned this sultry, evasive slice of pop influenced by 1940s gypsy jazz for one simple reason. “The ’70s were bloody and depressing,” Green said. “So we were making major key songs that looked at the past through rose-colored glasses: those were the times, my friend.”
6. Hector – Hip (1973)
By the 1970s pop singles were aimed primarily at children for the first time and Hector of Portsmouth was duly marketed as the world’s first naughty schoolboy rock sensation. It went horribly wrong when, during a performance of the flea market glam classic Wired Up on ITV’s children’s show Lift Off With Ayshea, singer Phil Brown’s overalls split in the middle. “I was praying that the kids at home couldn’t see my underwear,” he said. “They were purple with green flecks.”
7. The Sweet – Teenage Rampage (1974)
Inveterate moral activist and publicist Mary Whitehouse was looking for a new crusade when this one fell on her. Claiming that a raucous rocker on children all over the country getting the upper hand would foment revolution at a volatile time in the nation’s history, Whitehouse wrote to the BBC’s Lord Trethowan demanding that he be banned immediately. He replied that Teenage Rampage was completely harmless because it was “completely void of any real content – like too much pop music”.
8. Jonathan King / The George Baker Selection – Una Paloma Blanca (1975)
A package holiday perennial and a hit for both the king of the solo pop factory and Dutch band MOR The George Baker Selection, Una Paloma Blanca is a reflection on the price of freedom disguised as a harmless favorite of the world. ‘summer. He was playing on the radio when Gary Gilmore, an American double murderer who became a cause celebre after seeking his own death sentence, was killed by firing squad in 1977. ode to West Country life, I Am a cider drinker.
9. Tina Charles – I Like To Love (1976)
The second half of the 1970s saw the rise of suburban disco – dance music for stressed adults in need of respite in a climate of national strikes and economic hardship. An early example was that massive success for East Londoner Charles, who two years later went on a promotional tour of sex romp The Stud, the ultimate suburban disco flick, with its star Joan Collins. “It was two worlds,” she said. “An IRA bomb exploded outside Harrods where I had parked my car, just as Joan Collins said to me, ‘Always wear a hat in the sun, my dear. It keeps the skin from aging .’”
10. Dollar – Shooting Star (1978)
The dollar is proof that credibility is based on image, not content. After being kicked out of cabaret group Guys’n’Dolls, Thereza Bazar and David Van Day reinvented themselves as a sexy blonde duo that looked like they stepped out of a salon. They were derided by critics, but over this dreamlike concoction, Bazar layered their backing vocals up to 50 times, creating a celestial sonic haze that set the blueprint for 80s electro-pop. Bazar was brilliant on the creatively, but she would never receive her share in the same way, say, Kate Bush was. Such is the lot of the star singer.
In Perfect Harmony: Singalong Pop in 70s Britain by Will Hodgkinson is available now from Nine Eight Books (£20). To support the Guardian and Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply