Ambitious title. Way too ambitious actually because some of you will have heard a few of them, and others may rightfully chide me for not including their own favorites. However, the comment thread is long ... so have at it. I have seen one comment thread in this place that ran 8000 comments, so you will not run out of room.
When the British Invasion happened in the sixties, the result was a bit like the invasion of American TV shows in the UK, that started around the same time. America got to enjoy the very best, and some of the not-so-good British pop music, and the UK got I Love Lucy, among others.
Somewhere under that pinnacle of production, both on vinyl and celluloid, existed everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. What I am going to try and do here is show you ten songs that the Brits kept to themselves. They all come from the time I was growing up, and they all have something to commend them, even if you have to look quite hard to find it sometimes.
It is also quite hard to find good material that was popular in the UK, but is much less well know here, yet music that you might actually enjoy. One problem is that we do have quite similar tastes.
You gave us the Disco Duck, and we returned the compliment with The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who ....
I'll try though.
First up is a song that sold eight million copies, and went #1 just about everywhere on this planet, Mars and Jupiter, but topped out in 1982 at #62 in the US Billboard Top 100. What is wrong with you people??
Words - FR David
So, I hear ya. Soppy romance is just not your thang. Let's move along.
Many of you will be familiar with Benny Hill. His TV Show sold around the world, popular for both his whacky humour and scantily clad girls. It might possibly be the single most politically incorrect TV series of all time, yet still plays regularly on cable. Benny Hill was much beloved by British audiences, but you might not know that in 1971 he had a #1 hit single:
Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) - Benny Hill
Roger McGough is an English poet with a wonderful line of poetry that appeals to both adults and children alike. He co-wrote Yellow Submarine for the Beatles, and in the sixties was a member of the pop group The Scaffold. I met Roger McGough in 1981. He gave a poetry recital at the small Student Union when I was in college. We spent the rest of the night in the bar!
The Scaffold had a #1 with this song in December 1968. It was a childhood favourite of mine:
Lily The Pink - The Scaffold
Another favourite of British kids is an Australian artist and TV presenter called Rolf Harris. His children's television work is known to everyone who has watched British TV in the last fifty years or so, and he has also cut quite a few records. Usually they have a comic twist like his unmissable rendition of Stairway to Heaven. By far the most successful song was, however, this darkly emotional piece hiding under the guise of a catchy tune:
Two Little Boys - Rolf Harris
Leapy Lee was a little known pop singer in England until, in 1968, he had one massive hit with the following song. I was nine years old and my Mum bought this for me. I played it until it wore out. US kids were not quite so lucky. The song did have some minor success in the Billboard and Country Charts, but if you blinked you were quite likely to have missed it.
Little Arrows - Leapy Lee
Bob Geldof and The Boomtown Rats are justly famous for Don't Like Mondays, a song Geldof wrote following the school shooting at Grover Cleveland Elementary School in San Diego, California on 29 January 1979. That song was a global hit, and Geldof later became famous for his work with Live Aid. But there was more to the Boomtown Rats than that one well-known song. This is one of my favourites from that period.
Rat Trap - The Boomtown Rats
"Banned by the BBC". Something all self-respecting songsters aim for at least once in their career. To be banned by the BBC is to achieve songwriting immortality. This song, written by Serge Gainsborough for his then girlfriend, Brigitte Bardot, reached #1 in 1969. By 1986 it had sold four million copies. It was the first song banned in the UK to ever reach the #1 spot, and it was also the first song in a foreign language to do the same. Despite the overt sexual content, it was not banned for prudish reasons, but for immorality. The BBC objected to the fact that the song depicted not the sex, but sex without love. As kids we could not hear it on the BBC, but we had plenty of pirate radio floating around in the North Sea, so were were not deprived.
Je t'aime... moi non plus - Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsborough
And now for something completely different, said in my very best Monty Python accent. The artist, L. S. Lowry lived and worked nearly all of his life in the grim North West of England. To be truthful, and despite the War of the Roses with my ancestors on the side of the House of York, the north west can be a very beautiful place. Lowry is, however, most famous for his grim landscapes of industrial scenes. His work is often characterised by the painting of people as matchstalk men. Thin, skeletal figures that lend a brooding air to his work, and beautifully capture the times. Lowry died in 1976 and two years later a pop duo, Brian and Michael, reached #1 with this tribute:
Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs - Brian and Michael
During the seventies, rock ceded the high ground to punk, at least for a couple of years. Eventually the punk rockers grew older, became wealthier, lost their teen rebellion and plunged us headlong into Glam Rock. While all this was happening, Northern Ireland was under British Army occupation. In the heavily fortified Catholic area of Derry, four boys were busy making music. The formed a band called The Undertones. Given that these boys grew up at least watching their school friends throwing rocks and petrol bombs at British armoured vehicles, they could have been forgiven for railing against authority and producing music of rebellion, of anti-establishment fighting with an authenticity those London punk bands couldn't even begin to reach.
Not The Undertones. They were young lads, and they were rather more interested in the things all young lads from Beijing to Boston set their minds to. Amid the violence and death that was their staple diet, they wrote about love and normalcy. They wrote without irony and they are one of the best, and least appreciated, bands ever to come out of the UK. Given all of the circumstances, and the sheer brilliance that is this song, I would place it high on any list of "Best Pop Songs of All Time".
Teenage Kicks - The Undertones
Northern Ireland wasn't all teen issues. There was real violence occurring, violence that played out nightly on TVs in the rest of the UK, and around the world. Songwriters did not ignore this situation in the way of The Undertones. They were teens trying to be normal, others were protesting with drums and guitars. A band called The Bluebells recorded this song, but I wanted to share a more robust arrangement. This is a Rebel Song, and it should sound like one.
The Patriot Game - Trad.
That about wraps it up. Are they the best? Probably not, but I like them and I hope there was something that you could like too. It's never an easy task to select from so much, for an audience so varied, but I did my best.
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