For the second part of my journey back to 1975, when I was nine years old, I dug out an old Arcade sampler of that year. A number of songs featured here were included on that album: I’m On Fire, Down By The River, Moviestar and New York Groove. Some other songs might well have featured here as well, such as Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy, Typically Tropical’s Barbados, Chris Spedding’s Motor Bikin’, or Billy Swan’s Don’t Be Cruel.
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Van McCoy – The Hustle.mp3
What a tune! Disco guitars, strings, flute, horns, a killer bassline and friendly ladies and imposing gentlemen commanding us to do The Hustle. Do it! It’s the sound of summer ’75. Before trying to peddle a dance nobody could really do, McCoy had been a songwriter, a producer and a label boss. He co-wrote such songs as Jackie Wilson’s I Get The Sweetest Feeling, Brenda & the Tabulations’ Right on the Tip of My Tongue, The President’s 5-10-15-20 (25 Years of Love), David Ruffin’s Walk Away from Love… And then, in 1979, McCoy died of heart failure. He was only 39.
Bay City Rollers – Give A Little Love.mp3
When the sartorial disaster zone that was the Bay City Rollers had a hit with a ballad — a cover of the Four Season’s Bye Bye Baby — it was inevitable that they’d release another retro ballad. And it gave them a second #1 in Britain. Give A Little Love was not a patch on Bye Bye Baby, and yet I preferred it. I suspect I was showing my preference for the understated. Or I was just being in touch with my feminine side because, let’s face it, this song was for all you girls out there for whom it supposedly was a teenage dream to be thirteen. Lucky girls. By the time I hit 13 four years later, I discovered that it was a nightmare being that age. Anyway, in ’75 I might have liked the girly song, but within the next year and a bit, BCR would release Saturday Night and Yesterday’s Hero, two real bubblegum pop stompers.
I Santo California – Tornerò.mp3
The holidaymakers’ import hit from sunny Italy in 1975. I really like this song. But I do have a soft spot for some Italian pop, supplementing my great love for Italy. I have no idea how desperately uncool it may be to like songs by Umberto Tozzi (“Ti Amo”, “Gloria”), but I do. There was a German version of Tornerò by Michael Holm titled Wart’ auf mich, but the melody is so essentially San Remo pop, it requires the sound of the Italian language. I wonder how many Europeans in their mid-thirties owe their life to Tornerò?
Albert Hammond – Down By The River.mp3
Albert Hammond – To All The Girls I Loved Before.mp3
Originally a minor US hit for Hammond in 1972, the re-recorded version of Down By The River that became a über-hit in Germany in autumn 1975. The merry tune masks the fact that the song states Hammond’s ecological concerns. It’s pretty well done; starting out as a camping romance poisoned by the polluted river, Hammond ends the song in ways that might have given me nightmares had I understood English then: “The banks will soon be black and dead, and where the otter raised his head will be a clean white skull instead, down by the river.” The b-side could feature in The Originals series, but I’ll post it here, simply because I really don’t like Willie Nelson and Julio Iglesias’ awful duet.
Harpo – Moviestar.mp3
A Top 30 hit in Britain only in 1976, Germans got to know the barefooted Swedish singer Harpo in late 1975 with this cheerful and sarcastic number, which apparently features Anni-Frid of ABBA on backing vocals. In Britain Harpo might be remembered as a minor one-hit wonder, but he had a string of hits in Germany between 1975 and ’77. In 1977 Harpo was jailed for four weeks for refusing to do his compulsory military service in Sweden. By 1978 his German career had fizzled out. I was loyal to Harpo beyond the call of duty, buying 1977’s Television and 1978’s With A Girl Like You, a cover of the Troggs hit. Both had pink and black covers, neither charted.
Penny McLean – Lady Bump.mp3
The sound of Munich disco. Penny McLean was one of the three members of the Silver Convention (Fly, Robin Fly), and possibly not the most talented of the lot. The recurring scream on Lady Bump? Not Penny. The spoken bit? Not Penny. Which leaves us with some pretty ropey vocals. The scream was the work of one Gitta Walther and the introductory recital by Lucy Neale (of Love Generation). Penny McLean, you’ll be shocked to learn, was a pseudonym; the singer’s real name was Gertrude Wirschinger, not a moniker to inspire much by way of sexy disco fever. But she didn’t even use it in her career as a folksinger, as part of a duet with husband Holger Münzer called Holger & Tjorven in the 1960s. After her disco career fizzled out, McLean became an author on New Age twaddle, such as numerology. How fitting then that the follow-up hit to Lady Bump (a German #1) was titled 1,2,3,4…Fire.
5000 Volts – I’m On Fire.mp3
Another disco hit, this one from Britain, and much better than Lady Bump, if one can get past the blatant rip-off of Black Is Black. 5000 Volts was basically Martin Jay (whom we would later encounter in Tight Fit and Enigma) and Tina Charles, who would soon score a huge solo hit with I Love To Love. And good for her: when I’m On Fire became a hit, Charles was replaced on the lip-synching Top of the Pops by blonde actress Luan Peters, who also appeared on most single sleeves (she is otherwise best known as the hot Australian over whom Basil Fawlty fawns in Fawlty Towers’ “The Psychiatrist” episode). The subterfuge caused a scandal at the time, with the German label replacing the single sleeves for I’m On Fire to depict Tina Charles with Martin Jay and another dude. I don’t recall whether I watched the Disco ’76 show of 5 December. I hope I did, catching in the process not only 5000 Volts, but also ABBA singing S.O.S. (months after having a hit with it) and Hello performing New York Groove.
Hello – New York Groove.mp3
Americans are more likely to know New York Groove in the version by Kiss man Ace Frehley, but it first was a hit for the English pop group and BCR labelmates Hello, who were clearly aimed at the teenybopper market while holding for themselves higher aspirations. Three of the four Hello members were only 19 at the time, and had been releasing records for three years before having their first hit in 1974 with a cover of the Exciters’ Tell Him. New York Groove a year later became their only other hit. They also supported Gary Glitter on tour (good thing then that the drummer was ten years older than the other members). New York Groove was written by Russ Ballard, who to my knowledge never released it.
Juliane Werding – Wenn Du denkst Du denkst, dann denkst Du nur Du denkst.mp3
Essen-born Juliane Werding was just 15 when she had her first hit, a German cover of Joan Baez’s The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down in 1972. After that she disappeared from the scene, completed her education, and returned in 1975 with this verbosely titled country number, which translates as “If you think you think then you only think you think”…that a girl can’t play cards. This is the storyline: like Udo Jürgens in part 1 of the 1975, Juliane fancies a late night drink. Unlike the Greek tavern dwelling Udo, Juliane finds a nice working-class Kneipe in which beer swilling men challenge her to a game of cards, thinking she’ll be easy prey. Of course, she beats them and proceeds to drink them under the table, giving cause for her good-natured taunting in the manner of tongue-twisting posers. In the middle of all that, a man interjects in a disconcertingly creepy manner that he’ll get her next time. On the ZDF Hitparade show, presenter Dieter-Thomas Heck does the creepy guy honours.
Smokey – Don’t Play That Rock ‘n’ Roll To Me.mp3
I was going to write an essay about why Smokie were uttley naff (and fans of the group will know what I did there). And, of course, they were. But here’s the thing: some of their songs were quite good, in the ways of 1970s pop ballads. I quite like this Chinn/Chapman production, which borrows its riff rather too liberally from His Latest Flame. Anyway, the eagle-eyed reader will have noticed that the heading and the single sleeve spell the band’s name Smokey. As I recall it, the Motown legend Mr Robinson apparently believed that the name Smokey was his trademark alone, suggesting that the public might become confused between his high-pitched voice and Chris Norman’s pebble-garglings. Or that people might not properly process the picture of four white Yorkshiremen on a sleeve, and buy the record in the belief that they were getting a Quiet Storm. Faced with the threat of litigation, our four friends changed their name to Smokie. Incidentally, Sammy Davis Jr didn’t sue Robinson for appropriating the rather indelicate nickname Frank Sinatra called him by.