This is NOT my song…
I was born on Wednesday 15 February 1967.
Thank you, but it wasn’t my idea…
Anyhow, there are certain pieces of information I think we all need to know about the day we were born.
Harold Wilson was in his first full term as Prime Minister in the UK. Elizabeth II was in the fifteenth year of her reign. In the US, Johnson too was in his first and only elected term in office. England held the football World Cup having won it the previous summer. The space race was on hold following the death of the crew of Apollo 1.
We still only had three TV stations in the UK but BBC2 was about to switch to colour transmissions. On radio, the offshore pirate stations were enjoying their last heady days on air.
And number one in the UK Top 30 – well it was those American (OK part British) multi-media sensations The Monkees with their upbeat version of Neil Diamond’s “I’m a Believer”. What a record to come into the world to.
Except it wasn’t.
And so I owe an apology to anyone I ever told it was.
According to all reliable sources, for the week ending February 16 1967, Mickey, Mike, Davy and Peter were replaced at the Top of the Pops by Petula Clark with “This is my song”.
So, why do I defer to the previous chart-topper?
Well. ‘Believer’, despite mainly being performed by session players, is a cool record. Well performed, well written, well performed.
‘Song’ is a rotten record. In my honest opinion.
And this is not a slur on Petula Clark who was a fantastic pop singer – Downtown. Don’t sleep in the subway. I know a place. All wonderful singles. Oh, and when she was a film starlet back in the early 1950s my dad won a date with her at his local cinéma. Which we heard often about in later years much to mum’s chagrin!
Anyway back to This is my song. It was written by none other than Charlie Chaplin. He wrote it for his film “A Countess from Hong Kong”, a rom-com with Sophia Loren and Marlon Brando – not a box office success. Now, Chaplin had intended this song to be sung by Al Jolson – quite the gesture as the first star of the talkies nearly put the king of silent comedy out of business. Sadly, Chaplin wasn’t aware that Jolson had passed on over a decade and a half earlier.
And so, Chaplin offered the song to Clark – they were neighbours in Switzerland. Despite the concerns of her usual collaborators such as Tony Hatch, Clark recorded the song.
Now, Charlie Chaplin was capable of writing a good song. Please listen to Nat King Cole’s rendition of “Smile”. Contrary to the words of that song, it will break your heart. But ‘Song’ is no smile. It’s all over the place. It’s drowning in strings. The lyrics are cheesy. Clark didn’t want to record it in English as a consequence. When Harry Secombe recorded a cover version (a no.2 hit by the way), he struggles to sing without breaking into Goonish laughter!
So how did it get to number one? Well perhaps you think that the pop charts in those days were a constant wrestle for the top spot between The Beatles and The Stones. But this was not the case. There wasn’t a pop culture in the media. The BBC’s Top of the Pops was billed as light entertainment so you were as likely to see a cabaret singer on there as a pop band. ITVs legendary show Ready Steady Go ended in 1965, you may be surprised to hear. As for radio? We’ll there may be a little pop on the Light Programme at the weekend but again it was a general entertainment station (even when BBC Radio 1 opened later in 1967 it was a general music station, not just pop & rock). Sure, the pirate stations were still on air, as was Radio Luxembourg, but this was mainly of benefit to those on the coast.
Perhaps that explains This is my Song’s rise to the top, the charts were for all comers both artistes and customers. That’s why tracks like Something Stupid, Cinderella Rockafella and Wandering Star would reach the summit too. Oh, and we have to factor in Petula Clark’s popularity too. Good faithful fans put up with record even if the chanteuse and her people didn’t.
But I’ll beg her forgiveness, and that of the Little Tramp Sir Charles, if I defer from naming this piece as my number one. Disappointment may haunt all my dreams to this day, but I’m a Believer is MY song.