The Moronic World of 70s Radio One DJs

0
Let’s Rock!

What was it with 70s radio DJs? The size of their egos (and bank balances) were in inverse proportion to their knowledge of music.

For a medium which is about playing popular music to the masses there can be no individuals less qualified to deliver this seemingly uncontroversial melodic diet to our pop kids than 70s DJs. Where did it all go wrong? Well, it went wrong from the day of Radio One’s inception on September 30 1967 when a smooth-voiced male of indeterminate accent welcomed us to ‘the wonderful sound of Radio One,’ and proceeded to play Flowers in the Rain by The Move. It was all downhill from there.

To understand 70s DJs you have to separate them from the music they played because most had little interest and even less knowledge of music. They had no discernible accents, they talked incessantly without really saying anything, they rarely referred to the music other than to introduce it as ‘the sensational sound of…….’ They all had their own platforms but every one sounded the same. A few DJs had their own schtick, but generally the shows were all the same and the vocabulary used was the same but the voices just sounded slightly different.

Radio was just a useful peg to hang their cloak of moronic banter on and the records they played merely allowed them to take a breather, but they still managed to talk over the beginning and end of every record. A real pain when you were poised over the radio speaker with the microphone of a cassette recorder.

Over the years the cult (yes, I said ‘cult’) of the personality DJ just grew. The programmes were about them, people wanted to hear them, some deluded people even wanted to see them. Thousands turned up to see The Radio One Road Show during the summer months, although I would argue that if you were young and on holiday in Cleethorpes, Margate, Blackpool or Morecambe, then of course you’d go and watch it. What else was there to do?

Pin on Britain
The 70s Radio One Youth Policy

To be fair there were a few DJs on Radio One in the 60s and 70s who actually did like music and were able to be knowledgeable about it and discuss it. John Peel, of course, fought a life-long rearguard battle to keep non-mainstream music alive on R1 but he was tucked away at the end of the day throughout the week. In the end he sort of joined them by presenting TOTP and various other R1 frivolities but he could never take that look of distaste off his face in any photograph or the heavy irony from his voice.

30 September 1982 (TOTP) | John Peel Wiki | Fandom

A mucker of JP’s was former Radio Luxembourg DJ David ‘Kid’ Jensen who styled themselves ‘The Rhythm Pals‘, almost to remove themselves from the morass of blandness elsewhere on R1. Although sounding like a slick Canadian presenter (which he was) Jensen also championed new music on his Saturday morning show and certainly was responsible for helping new acts be successful in the UK. He was the first to play regularly Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits in 1979 and achieving a high of No. 8 and the rest is pop history. He also was almost single-handedly responsible for the success of Althea and Donna’s classic Uptown Top Ranking, transforming it from an obscure reggae song on a tiny label into a worldwide smash. Like Peel, Jensen’s show was on a Saturday morning so as not to frighten the weekday audience who, they perceived, wanted a diet of bland, anodyne banter and unchallenging soft pop.

There were other 70s DJs who really did like music and were able to talk about it on-air. The excellent Stuart Henry, Johnnie Walker (who eventually left as he was completely pissed off with the gerontocratic culture), Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman with his Saturday Rock Show and Paul ‘The Great Gambo’ Gambacini, for example. At the time, for young people just becoming interested in music like myself, Wonderful Radio One was the only music radio available during the day, the crackly sound of Radio Luxembourg was available at night given a decent tailwind, but it wasn’t that much different. The DJs that were broadcasting from Luxembourg would, inevitably, be the DJs broadcasting on Wonderful Radio One eventually. So I became a Wonderful Radio One listener through necessity. It was the only place to hear current popular music and, to be fair, if you knew where to go, there was non-chart music to be found in various places around the station.

What has become clear to me about these disembodied radio voices is that, for most, that is all they are. My research has revealed there is precious little of any interest to say about many of these individuals, but I suppose that just goes with the territory. What was I expecting?

So, in no particular order…..

Peter Powell

Peter James Barnard-Powell joined wonderful Radio One in 1977, like so many other DJs , after a stint on Radio Luxembourg. Over the next few years he glided smoothly through the various DJ slots upsetting no applecarts or stirring up any hornet’s nests. However, his innate BBC conservatism occasionally manifested itself through the permasmile and verbal superlatives. One such incident was on his Sunday morning show where he played The Smiths’ excellent new single, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. The title of the album the track came from, The Queen Is Dead‘, was just too much for Pete’s establishment background and he launched into a mini-diatribe about how tasteless and unnecessary this album title was. Well, he had his CBE to consider!

John Peel also talked about PP’s bourgeoise attitude to anything new or different when he gave an interview to the Glasgow Herald in 2004.

Peter Powell was a dick, I’m afraid. It was Peter who came to me and told me that I shouldn’t be playing hip-hop when I first started playing that because it was the music of black criminals.

I’ll give it six PR months….

Unlike so many other wonderful Radio One DJs, he did have some semblance of a personal life. And what a cast-iron showbiz, Radio One personal life it was! In 1990 he married Blue Peter and Wish You Were Here’s Anthea Turner in a mainstream media match from tabloid heaven. The more cynical might even have seen it as a C-list PR set-up. She had even been in a previous relationship with castle-dwelling Radio One elf Bruno Brookes, which, according to some outlets, was less than harmonious to say the least. Mind you, he had had a ‘very public’ relationship with Keith Chegwin’s sister, Janice Long. Anyone might think this was a C-List PR set-up……..

Powell is now a very successful manager of bland, mainstream morning TV celebrities (are there any other type?) including Simon Cowell, Piers Morgan and Richard and Judy. He still continues to manage Anthea Turner and I hoping he’s doing a better job of it than when they were married, though recently, you have to say, he’s taken his eye off that particular ball.

Tony Blackburn

The first voice heard on Wonderful Radio One on September 30 1967 and still very much around the airwaves. Blackburn is probably the DJ most associated with Radio One during the 60s and 70s. Like so many of his Radio One colleagues, his middle-class BBC credentials were as solid as his indeterminate middle-England accent. He set the tone for Wonderful Radio One, describing every record as ‘a smash‘, ‘sensational‘ or ‘poptastic,’ which, incidentally was the title of his gossamer-thin 2007 autobiography. Backed by his faithful but irritating hound Arnold, Tony Blackburn has filled pretty much every presenting slot and is still broadcasting with the BBC, although slightly less effusively.

Poptastic! (Audio Download): Amazon.co.uk: Tony Blackburn, Tony ...

Tony conducted much of his private life over the airwaves during his mid-seventies marriage to lovely actress Tessa Wyatt. I have a vivid memory of Tone using his radio platform to lambast some tabloid journalist who dared to question Tessa Wyatt‘s acting credentials, motivating him to take a few minutes breather from playing records to read out her CV, just to hammer his point home. But Radio One DJs could do that in those days, they were so powerful within the corporation (more examples of DJs abusing the airwaves coming up).

Random radio jottings: Happy 70th Birthday Tony Blackburn
A romance made in TV heaven

Tony was well-known enough to secure parts in pantos each Christmas and it was during the power cuts of 1973, when a power cut happened during his panto performance, that he took to the airwaves to say that the miners should go back to work as it was ruining people’s enjoyment of his art. In later years he admitted that a broadcaster should keep their political allegiances to themselves, while at the same time admitting he had no great love of unions or the TUC.

Sadly, his marriage foundered when the lovely Tessa got a part in Alan Partridge’s favourite TV sitcom Robin’s Nest (‘Needless to say, plates got broken and Robin got annoyed!’). The chemistry between 60s and 70s TV stalwart Richard O’Sullivan and Tessa was not just confined to the restaurant kitchen and poor old Tony almost had a breakdown on air as a result.

Jigsaw Puzzle-Entertainment - Tony Blackburn and Tessa Wyatt ...
A break-up that left poor Tone in pieces (500 to be precise)

To be fair to Tone he has championed soul music for many years on the radio although it’s more The Stylistics and Diana Ross than The Temptations or Isaac Hayes. But credit where it’s due. Few people in the media in those days were playing black music regularly.

Much to his annoyance, he was lampooned savagely in 1978 by Binky Baker and The Pit Orchestra whose single Toe-Knee Black-Burn was played widely. To add insult to injury said Binky Baker just happened to be Annie Nightingale‘s husband. Bet Radio One Christmas Parties were swinging after that.

Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart

Edward Stewart Mainwaring or should I say Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart has the bizarre ability to pop up in the most unexpected of places in this little blog space. Mainly because he turned up in the most unexpected of places within the 60s and 70s media, never quite reaching the pinnacle of the profession.

Sorry Ed ‘Stewpot’, it’s just not convincing me…..

Although, in my humble opinion, he was a terminally dull man, this didn’t stop him become something of a Radio One legend, but it, of course, went with the territory. Despite this, his career was certainly more interesting than many of the other Radio One bozos.

Like most of his Radio One colleagues his middle-class credentials were solid, private school obviously, his dad a Treasury solicitor. He came to Radio One via a Hong Kong radio station and pirate radio. There is no evidence that he was particularly interested in or knew anything about music before he became presenter of Junior Choice on Saturday mornings. Silly jingles (‘ello darlin‘), Terry Scott with My Bruvver, Clive Dunn‘s Grandad, Sparky’s Magic Piano (radical), The Laughing Policeman and loads of birthday requests set the tone for this unchallenging BBC offering which he presented for 12 years.

An awkward Ed Stewpot gets really quite pissed off with the Crackerjack audience

But Ed ‘Stewpot’ was never satisfied. A 6 year stint on Crackerjack between 1973-79, where he looked perennially uncomfortable, the Holiday programme with his lovely young (very young) wife Chiara, figurehead of kids’ version of TV Times, Look-In (la-la-la-la-la Look-In!) with ‘Stewpot’s Newsdesk‘. A failed attempt to become a BBC football commentator through entering a competition where he was up against Ian St. John amongst others in 1970, and various other hosting roles including the intriguing Exit! It’s The Way Out Show with a pre-Blue Peter Leslie Judd as hostess in 1966 and as a panellist on ITV talent show New Faces all helped pad out Ed ‘Stewpot’s‘ CV.

Graeme Wood on Twitter: "TV📺21/12/67 ITV 6.9:Crossroads 6.33:Exit ...

He even provided the posh male voice on Lynsey De Paul’s 1973 number 14 smash, Won’t Somebody Dance With Me. According to LDP she was hit by a bus as a child (what’s funny about that?) and spent three months in bed and grew so fat no one would dance with her at junior functions. Ed ‘Stewpot’ seemed to fit the bill though. Why? Well, read on…..

In 1971 Ed ‘Stewpot‘ was invited to a friend’s house, Jimmy Henney, fellow New Faces judge and manager of the great Glen Campbell, and the door was opened by his 13 year old daughter, Chiara. Thirty year- old children’s radio show presenter Ed ‘Stewpot‘ later wrote in his autobiography:

I arrived at 7pm and was greeted at the door by what I can only describe as a 13 year-old apparition. She was simply stunning!

Even more stunning was the fact they were married four years later and Chiara was given the day off school to attend the ceremony. But it was 1974, it was ok! The marriage eventually ended some years later when she went off with a golf pro.

Ed ‘Stewpot‘ was an Everton fan as he constantly reminded listeners on Junior Choice. What’s more interesting though, he was Everton F.C.’s guest supporter on BBC’s Quizball in 1966. I’m not sure how good he would have been at quizzing but I think he was probably a ‘Route 2’ man, as he was for most of his career.

Quizball! | Television Heaven

Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart continued to broadcast at the BBC as well as many of the radio stations that ended with the word ‘Gold.’ He’ll be remembered as a DJ who didn’t seem to want to be a DJ and a nearly man who didn’t quite reach the heights he wanted to, a children’s radio and TV presenter who seemed rather awkward in the presence of children (or at least most children), a sports fan who was never really given the opportunity to be one on air and a radio and TV ‘personality’ who didn’t really have that much of a personality.

Diddy David Hamilton

How tickled I am…..

Diddy David Hamilton‘s career changed almost as often as his hairline. Sidekick to Ken Dodd (hence the ‘diddy), Tommy Cooper and Benny Hill, on-screen announcer on Thames TV, as well as the official announcer at Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage football ground, for which Mohammed El Fayed paid him a whopping £1000 a match! Like Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, Diddy David Hamilton was a voice which suited Wonderful Radio One. At the age of 35 he got his own afternoon show in 1973 and stayed there until 1986, when, at the age of 48 he left acrimoniously, lambasting the BBC due to their ‘geriatric’ music policy. Was he championing punk or did he feel German abstract electronica was being ignored or maybe he felt too few rock-a-boogie beat groups were being sidelined by the DLT Radio One pop panel. We will never know, unless, of course you read his autobiography, The Music Game, which might be a bridge too far. How bizarre, though.

Diddy David has appeared on pretty much every British TV quiz show (Blankety Blank, Celebrity Squares, The Weakest Link), variety shows (Ken Dodd, Benny Hill, Dickie Henderson, Cilla Black, Morecambe and Wise), comedy concept shows ( The Golden Shot, Quick On The Draw, Give Us A Clue, The Generation Game) and even news shows ( Nationwide, Northern Life, Today) and he walked the gamut of worthy, high quality TV (Clive James On Television) as well as the nadir of TV ‘entertainment’ (An Audience with Jim Davidson). He is even one of a small select band of celebrities who have appeared on Monty Python’s Flying Circus (the others being Lulu, Ringo Starr and BBC newsreader Richard Baker).

DAVID HAMILTON'S BEAUTY TIPS FOR WOMEN (UK 1974 PAPERBACK ...

He also hosted, up and down the country, many of that most 70s of TV spectacle, the beauty contest. Miss Westward, Miss TV Times and Miss Thames TV, amongst others, all benefitted from the Diddy David Hamilton smooth treatment. He was the host in velvet jacket, frilly shirt and huge dicky-bow who gigglingly asked the searching questions as the contestants, in their swimsuits, shivered in an icy seaside wind. ‘And what will you do with the £500 if you win this contest?’ leered Diddy David. ‘I’d like to travel the world, David, and put my mother through parachute school.’ ‘And thank you Yvonne from Basingstoke. Big round of applause!’

In short, Diddy David has been around a bit and maybe that autobiography might not be the stretch it initially seemed.

It’s hard to believe, I know, but Radio One DJs were seen during the 70s as glamorous, ‘happening’ people and having their finger on the pulse of the nation. Unfortunately, the pulse they had their finger on was one of a very old, very conservative, very easily pleased old man. Unless you were Jimmy Savile, DLT or even Ed ‘Stewpot’ Stewart, but that’s another story… Those wonderful people at Talking Pictures TV showed an obscure British film some months back from 1979 called Home Before Midnight. The story of a 30-something pop music composer who met a girl at a club, fell into a wild passionate affair with her, only to find out she was 15. Oops. Although the film had some interesting points to make, the representation of women was pure 70s. In an early scene the main character is entering a very fashionable, up-market London nightclub when who does he meet coming out? Why it’s man-about-town, sexy and charismatic record spinner, Diddy David Hamilton, with a tall, scantily- clad young-ish girl in tow. A conversation ensues between Diddy David and the main character along the lines of ‘What you doing with this one then, you old charmer?’ etc. During the exchange the young girl says nothing, just stands there, pouting and she is only referred to in the third person. This was clearly the director’s idea of depicting the glitterati of late swinging London, and a short, balding 41 year old radio DJ was supposed to epitomise this vibe. Clearly, Jonathan King wasn’t available.

Home Before Midnight (1979) - IMDb

To be fair to Diddy David Hamilton, his CV is pretty impressive and he’s worked with many of the Greats, albeit in a superficial way most of the time.

Just don’t try to make out he was ever glamorous or a babe magnet…..

Dave Lee Travis

Where to start?

Well this arbiter of the young record-buying public’s music taste was Pipe Smoker of the Year 1985. And that’s about as interesting as it got with DLT.

In an interview with Q Magazine not long after he ignominiously resigned ‘on air’ for maximum dramatic effect but with sadly few people really noticing, Dave Lee Travis insisted that he be known as a ‘broadcaster.’ This was his way of trying make out what he did (i.e. talk reactionary inconsequential crap for 3 hours till he was relieved by some other moron), had so much more gravitas than most gave him credit for. In fact, he was really a DJ, a disc jockey, someone who plays music for the enjoyment of listeners. Unfortunately DLT and many of his colleagues had, over the years, changed their job descriptions into cults of personality. The shows were not about the music but about them. Their jingles, their wacky comedy items, their zany quizzes, their name-dropping, their references to tabloid news stories and their private life revelations. Oh, and some records.

Out of all the many purveyors of daily drivel at Radio One, DLT, The Hairy Monster, was probably the most loathsome and summed up the utter puffed up, self-aggrandising nature of those gargantuan egos. The blind rage he felt when the purge came, courtesy of Matthew Bannister in 1993, resulted from, what he believed, was his untouchable status due to 26 years believing he was bigger than the station. Not only had he occupied pretty much every prestigious presenting spot but he also sat on the Radio One playlist panel which decided what the listening public should be allowed to hear. This is the same man, as John Peel observed at a party DL:T was throwing, who possessed no records in his vast Buckinghamshire mansion and was now arbitrating on which artists should be allowed to be heard over the airwaves.

Dave was never slow to let the listening public know his views on many issues of the time. During a newspaper strike in the 80s, for example, a newsagent rang in to compete in a quiz DLT ran on his show, the silly ‘snooker on the radio’ he thought was so hilarious. ‘Is there anything you’d like to say to the strikers who are affecting your livelihood?’ enquired The Hairy Monster. ‘No, not really,‘ replied the newsagent. ‘I quite agree with their grievance.‘ Nice try Dave.

He even had a hit record in 1976 with the ‘comedy’ parody of C.W. McCall’s hit of the same year Convoy. Along with fellow forgotten Radio One DJ Paul Burnett, whose schtick was comedy voices, under the name Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks they got to a nose-bleed inducing No. 4 in the charts with Convoy GB. The song was as funny as the group’s name. DLT looked menacing in his mask, the sort of guy you wouldn’t want to meet up an alley on a dark night. Especially if you were a woman. But that’s another story.

Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks - Convoy G.B. - YouTube

Shortly after he left Radio One (just before he was pushed) he scouted around the media looking for anyone who might listen to him. It seemed that now that he had left the station, few people were really that interested. It turned out that listeners are only interested in who happens to be on the radio at the time. There didn’t appear to be dedicated DLT fans, which must have come as a shock to the Hairy Monster. Eventually Q Magazine gave him an outlet to vent his spleen and in a bizarre, often hysterical, ego- driven interview he let fly.

Dave Lee Travis FULL PAGED magazine CELEBRITY CLIPPINGS photos article
I’m The Hairy Monster and I’m not happy.

Top of the Pops is full of shite. There’s no guiding light anywhere. There’s nobody like me to say ‘Hang on. You’re doing this all wrong.’

And, of course, DLT always had his finger on the nub of youth so he must know what he’s talking about.

Noel Edmonds

John Peel observed accurately in the 70s that Noel Edmonds was never bothered about being a DJ as he, like so many of his colleagues, had no particularinterest in music. It was really just a stepping stone towards what he really wanted to be: a TV presenter. Peel was usually pretty spot on about these things and I could leave things just there as every knows about Deal Or No Deal, The Late, Late Breakfast Show, Crinkly Bottom, Gotchas, Telly Addicts and god knows how many other shit Edmonds’ vehicles have sullied our TV screens. But Edmonds was responsible for an aspect of Wonderful Radio One that’s almost forgotten and it was something that really spelled the beginning of the end for Radio One as we knew it.

Edmonds burst on to the Radio One big league when he replaced Blackburn on The Breakfast Show in July 1973. Like so many other DJs he’d graduated from Radio Luxembourg and had been noticed presenting various weekend shows and filling in for the likes of Kenny Everett. I can remember being quite sad when Blackburn had left The Breakfast Show as I had always listened to him as I was getting ready to go to school. I’d been given my first radio as a birthday present in November 1971 (Coz I Luv U by Slade was at number 1) and I had become a Radio One addict, well, in my defence, there was nothing else to listen to. Quickly, I realised there was more to this Edmonds than I had, at first, thought. He had some ‘zany’ characters such as Flinn The Milkman and Desmond Duck. He was really quite anarchic, or so I thought at the age of 13. He was a resounding success and Blackburn must have been raging as he only had his faithful hound Arnold who could only woof, woof for company. It was probably the first radio show, in this country at least, in which the comedy took centre stage. And to be fair, it was pretty good although now I think ‘What about the music?’ which had taken a back seat. With every other DJ it was their mindless banter, with Edmonds he was curating a show and he had seen the way radio was heading, sadly. With all the items on his show he must have been working flat out, or had a team of people working flat out to prepare it all.

My favourite Edmonds’ item was The Golden Guillotine. I can’t really remember why it was called that other than at the end of the routine you’d hear the guillotine blade fall and a head bump on the ground. In fact, it was just an elaborate pun on a record he was about to play. He’d tell a story and the punchline would be the title of the song or the artist performing it. The only punchline I remember was about a burglar trying to break into a house and attempting to dislodge the glass in the window so he could gain entry. ‘And finally he….freed a pane.’ Cue Band of Gold by Freda Paine. Well, it amused me at the time.

He even did a public information film for The Blood Transfusion Service in he mid-70s.

Punter: How are you feeling Noel?

Edmonds (in the process of giving Radio One blood): Fine. Quite, quite fine.

But with success comes hubris and before long Edmonds was racing cars, living on a huge estate and commuting in a helicopter. He would regularly be photographed in a one-piece monogrammed flying suit, helmet and goggles against the backdrop of a glistening chopper. ‘My busy lifestyle demands this mode of transport,’ he’d tell us. This included ferrying performers to Wembley for Live Aid in 1985. Despite DLT dabbling in stock car racing, Edmonds took radio celebrity to a whole new plutocratic level. In fact, Noel Edmonds is the person DLT wishes he had been.

To be fair, Edmond’s stratospheric rise only began properly after he left Wonderful Radio One. But it was here he really showed some talent although, like the rest, music only got in the way.

When he left Wonderful Radio One in 1983 it was never going to be the same again. It wasn’t enough for DJs just to turn up every day, spin records and talk shit, although this did continue, obviously. But DJs had got too big for their boots, too rich for their own good, too secure in their tenures, too outspoken in their views, too obvious in their lavish lifestyles. Waiting in the wings was a certain Mr Matthew Bannister who was about to throw a molotov cocktail into the sherry party that had been Radio One.

Steve Wright

Although Steve Wright, strictly speaking, is an 80s DJ, I felt it worth mentioning him as he is the ultimate example of a DJ weaned on the moronic diet of Radio One in the 70s. In a Comic Strip story from the 80s two DJs are having a conversation, one with dyed blonde hair and clearly middle-class and the other played by Nigel Planer who is a little more rough and ready. ‘I’m currently working around Esher,’ says the posh jock ‘and I’ve met Steve Wright.’ ‘You’ve met Steve Wright!!!’ says Planer incredulously looking off into the middle distance. ‘Dear god……dear god….’

If ever anyone mastered the black art of talking without saying anything it was Steve Wright. I’m convinced if you ever had a private conversation with Steve Wright he would talk in the same inconsequential manner as he does on radio. In other words, there are no hidden depths to him. What you hear on the radio is the way he is.

The radio love-child of Tony Blackburn, Peter Powell and Kenny Everett, if that were possible, as two-dimensional characters go, some of the ventriloquists’ dummies featured in The Lost Art of TV Ventriloquism (see below) were more human. A man so superficial he is almost translucent. Although, ironically, there is much more to Steve Wright today than when he arrived at Wonderful Radio One in 1978. Sadly for him, this is only corporeal.

Steve Wright has been the great plagiarist. Nothing Steve Wright has ever done on the airwaves has been original, despite his claims. He is still known to travel to the US today to purloin things he hears US DJs doing on their shows and then maintains they are his ideas. That said, these ‘ideas’ are hardly pulling back the boundaries of radio.

Arriving at Wonderful Radio One in 1978 he supposedly introduced the ‘Zoo’ format which really just means he had a couple of bozos doing the show with him. This was something he brought back from the US where it had been happening for years. He was described as being ‘anarchic,’ ‘zany’ and ‘irreverent’ but, in fact, he was, and is still, deeply conservative and is the natural progression from Blackburn, DLT and Peter Powell in terms of blandness. His ‘madcap’ characters such as Mr Angry, Damian the Radio One Social Worker and The Old Lady certainly padded out his programme and, no doubt, some people found them funny but he was really just copying Kenny Everett who’d been doing this years before and much more cleverly.

BBC Radio 2 - Wireless Kenny Everett
Kenny Everett: The man Steve Wright would like to have been (or maybe thinks he is.)

In 1994 Wright won Radio Personality of the Year as voted by Sun, Daily Mirror and Record Mirror readers. Not a great return for so many years of broadcasting despite him constantly reading out letters he receives which invariably end ‘Love the show, Steve.’ To describe Steve Wright having a ‘personality’ is certainly stretching the point and it is no surprise that very little is known about Wright’s private life. He makes out it’s because he prefers to be secretive about it but I suspect it’s because there really is nothing else to know.

He’s the robotic Radio One DJ taken to its inevitable conclusion in some weird Science Fiction story by Philip K. Dick. He is really only a voice but has become a totem for a type of DJ who dominated the airwaves during the 70s and are now remembered, at least a few of them, for reasons unrelated to music but entirely related to their gargantuan and unhinged personalities.

How Steve Wright survived the Bannister cull in the 90s is anybody’s guess, although he did disappear from Radio 1 for a while before returning to Radio 2. Maybe he blended into the studio background and no one noticed he was there but given his years of activity, one can’t but wonder if there really is so little to the Wright backstory as there appears to be. In a tabloid article I read some years ago Steve Wright was described as a ‘pop expert‘. Never has a title been so abused given his show revolves around that malevolently trivial pentagram of Radio One, the tabloids, The One Show, Twitter and celebrity magazines such as Hello and OK.

To try to conclude this article on a positive note, Steve Wright is the end of an era of banality, blandness and boring conformity. Few young people will listen to Wright and think, ‘That’s what I want to be,’ but inevitably something just as horrendous will replace it. And in Radio One‘s case during the 90s it was the appalling Chris Evans, arguably a more unhinged ego than the individuals discussed above. So much for progress but that’s life, I suppose. Crucially we have Radio 6 Music now, the station Radio One should have been all those years ago. And we have properly brilliant presenters like Stuart Maconie, Mark Radcliffe, Annie Mac, Trevor Nelson, Steve Lamacq, Lauren Laverne and Shaun Keaveney and others who not only can discuss music knowledgeably but also -and how radical is this- like it!

Now just don’t get me started on local radio DJs…….

0

The Sad Demise of the Pop Singles Charts

0
Pop Charts Britannia: 60 Years of the Top 10 - Nostalgia Music ...

The singles charts are no more but is this a good thing?

The way we listen to music now has changed in a way no one could have imagined 30 years ago. Spotify, Deezer, Youtube and iPod were just fantasies in a mad science fiction writer’s crazed mind. To sit down at a small computer and, within seconds, start listening to a piece of music you hadn’t previously possessed is mind-blowing to someone like me who grew up in the 60s and 70s and listened to music in a way that is now completely obsolete. And I actually miss this anti-diluvian system of music consumption in many ways but, although, deep down, I know that the revolution has been good for music fans in so many unimaginable ways (maybe not so much for artists), I miss hugely that fulcrum of musical information, the nexus of any week’s pop knowledge, that perennial pivot of pop power, the weekly singles and album charts.

TOTP’s laser digital display board

Now I know charts still exist and are probably still issued weekly by some anonymous data company somewhere and are based partly on record sales (although who buys new music from a shop nowadays?) but, more importantly, ‘downloads.’ Any young person looking at these charts will get an idea of who’s hot and who’s at the time, but nothing like in the same way we did 30 or 40 years ago. To a music and knowledge obsessed teenager like myself (who couldn’t get a girlfriend), the charts were pure gold in so many ways and guaranteed, literally, hours of analysis, interpretation, scrutiny and downright, old-fashioned enjoyment. And why was this? Read on if you’re not already mindnumbingly bored by the subject…….

In the 1950s singles were really just a way of publicising an artist’s new album by releasing a single track from it. Someone somewhere had the genius idea of compiling a chart of the best sellers and the record industry never looked back. It tapped into a youth market that maybe couldn’t afford to buy albums and a whole new musical culture was created. The element of competition between artist, the emerging fan bases, the ease by which many groups and singers could more easily get themselves known and the developing TV and radio mediums all aligned at the same time to give birth to the institution they called The Hit Parade. The singles charts were here to stay! (for a long time at least…)

Al Martino had the first ever No. 1 when the singles chart was created

My first recollection of the singles charts was in 1967. We had a brown and white Bakelite radio that my mum would listen to in the morning to what was the forerunner of Radio 1, The Light Programme. She loved a record by Anita Harris (a 60s and 70s variety stalwart and still very much with us!) that was played quite regularly called Just Loving You and I remember very clearly how excited she got when she heard it had got to number 30 in the charts. To me number 30 seemed nothing special but in later years I realised getting into the top 30 meant selling a shitload of records, thousands in fact, unlike today when you can get to number 1 by getting a dozen downloads. Anita Harris eventually got to a nose-bleed- inducing number 6 and spent a staggering 30 weeks in the top 50. That was the moment I knew there was much more to the charts than met the eye. A few months later I began to take more notice of what was being played on the wireless and have a vivid memory of absolutely loving Hole In My Shoe by Traffic. My passion for weirdness and psychedelia in music was well and truly inspired from this moment.

Music Tony Blackburn and Anita harris 1968 #1724147 Framed Prints
The lovely Anita Harris and a slobbering friend.

There were three things to look forward to every week at the age of about 15. The first was Friday at 4.00pm when school finished and the whole weekend stretched before us, secondly, Saturday night at the youth club when I could rub shoulders with girls of my own age, none of whom were interested in me obviously and Thursday when the music papers were available in newsagents and the new updated singles, albums and US charts were published. Never has so much vital information been condensed into such a small space. The movers, the non-movers, the bubblers, the fallers, the number of weeks on the chart and the new entries. All had to be digested, analysed and assessed, which could take a while and I would read NME, Sounds and Record Mirror from cover to cover. Luckily time was something I had plenty of.

The charts sat in the middle of a triumvirate of media outlets, TV, Radio and the music press, each having an effect, although not necessarily an equal one, on the following week’s chart.

As a young person in the 60s and 70s, you were severely limited as to where you could hear, not just the current hits, but any popular music at all outside of TOTP and Radio 1. You might hear a record being played on a juke box in a cafe, Blue Peter occasionally featured unthreatening bands such as Freddie and the Dreamers (see The Beatles of Uncool below)or flute-driven soft rockers Vanity Fair, you might run up a shockingly high (but mercifully unitemised) phone bill by ringing BT’s Dial-A-Disc service, a friend might show-off by playing you a current single they’d bought or you might catch someone playing a tranny in the street but that was about it. Slim pickings to say the least and so you were at the mercy of TOTP and Radio 1 whether you liked it or not, but, at that time, you did tend to like it because you knew no better.

I do want to hear hit music!

For most people it was Thursday night at around 7.00pm that allowed them to engage with the pop charts. Top of the Pops had replaced the musically and stylistically superior Ready Steady Go in the mid-sixties, purely because TOTP based their show on the pop charts and RSG just featured acts that were ‘hot.’ If you didn’t have a song in the charts, you weren’t on TOTP. And everyone knew that an appearance on TOTP would, almost certainly, have a massively beneficial effect on the artist’s disc. To be invited onto TOTP was most artist’s dream as it was often the making of them, as the majority of the millions of TV viewers every Thursday night probably didn’t listen to the radio and certainly didn’t read the music press. And although many young people who attended live TOTP shows tell a different story, the show came across on TV as vibrant, happening and exciting and everything an up and coming act would look and sound good on (despite miming). Around this time during the early 60s many young people began buying records purely on how a band or performer looked on TOTP. It was also the case that most young people, including myself, for a while believed that the charts couldn’t lie. If an act got to number one, then they must be good and they’d want to be a part of this movement of fandom and would buy the record. Of course, it didn’t take me long to understand that this was really not the case and I quickly realised Middle of the Road, Esther and Abi Ofarim, Peters and Lee, Des O’Connor or Cilla Black were neither good nor fashionable. But millions of people still bought their records!

The influence on the charts of TOTP cannot be underestimated. But another huge and, I would contend, insidious influence on the singles charts was wonderful Radio 1. From its inception in 1967 it was always staffed by a bunch of guys (and it was mainly guys) who could have been our rather sleazy uncles, with one or two exceptions. Throughout the 60s and 70s Radio 1 decided each week which records should be placed on their all-important ‘playlist.’ This playlist pretty much decided which records were going to be successful and which were not.

These DJs were generally selected on their ability to talk utter bollocks incessantly rather than on their musical knowledge and having an interest in or knowledge of music was not really encouraged. It was clear that the important element of most Radio 1 shows was the DJ banter between records rather than the records themselves. The music was really only there to give the DJs a breather. Of course, there were a few exceptions to this rule. The great John Peel obviously, Johnny Walker (who eventually left because he got pissed off with this culture), the virtually forgotten but excellent Stuart Henry, Kid Jensen, Paul Gambacini and Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman with his Saturday Rock Show. Those apart, it was a litany of middle-aged guys who loved the sound of their own voices, their funny characters, amusing quizzes, hilarious jingles (What’s that Arnold?) and wacky tabloid news stories. But their influence on the singles chart was terrifyingly significant!

DLT’s modest abode. You’d think he’d find a corner to keep some records.

In John Peel told a story of being invited to a party at Dave Lee Travis’s huge mansion (they all lived in ‘mansions’ apart from Bruno Brookes who lived in a castle). The first thing Peel did when he went to someone’s house was go and have a look at their record collection. He spent some time searching from room to room before realising that DLT, the ‘Hairy Monster,’ Pipe Smoker of the Year 1982, self-styled arbiter of pop culture, possessed no records whatsoever or even a sound system. I watched one of those excellent Friday night music documentaries on BBC 4 some months ago which showed footage of the Radio 1 panel which selected records for its playlist each week. On this panel sat a number of men and women, all over 50 and some well into their 60s and one Dave Lee Travis. It’s little wonder Peters and Lee, Cliff, Cilla and Des did so well in the charts in these days. I once saw Radio 1’s ghastly Steve Wright described in a UK tabloid as a ‘music expert.’ That single sentence put me in a bad mood for 3 years. (Much more on 70s DJs to come at Genxculture).

That said, the singles charts, the top 50, was an archeological dig of the good, the bad and the hideously ugly. And that’s what made them so fascinating.

The singles charts were a melange of the great, the quite good, the horrendously awful, the bizarre, the inexplicable successes, the shocking, the revelatory, the jaw-dropping weirdness, the utterly amazing and, sometimes creating a frisson of excitement, the banned. Take the following randomly selected edition of the NME singles and albums chart of May 22 1976 for example. Within this mid-70s chart exists, I would argue, all the above categories of hit single but also offers a revealing template for society at that time as every chart did to varying extents.

We can quickly bypass the number 1 and 2 singles as little more needs to be written about Abba, other than, as The Guardian‘s Pete Paphides observed accurately, ‘If you don’t like Abba, you don’t like pop.‘ Little also needs to be said about Abba wannabes Brotherhood of Man with their bland and irritating Euro winner Save Your Kisses For Me. But it’s the nether regions that always held the greatest interest. Have a look a little further down the top 10 and at 9, up a massive 10 places, is Andrea True Connection with the wonderful disco classic, More, More, More. For me, this was the quintessential single of that very trashy period we called the mid-70s. Now Andrea True was actually a porn star and the publicity pics for her record were a little racy, and taking the record’s lyrical content into account, this was a catchy, beautifully produced, trashy record that epitomised that era.

But if you want to know
How I really feel
Get the cameras rolling
Get the action going
Baby you know my love for you is real
Take me where you want to
Then my heart you’ll steal

In short, superb!

Andrea True Connection - More, More, More (1976, Vinyl) | Discogs
Now that’s what I call 70s!

Remember what I said about the ‘inexplicable successes? Well have a look at numbers 20 to 22. On its way down from a high of 4, Convoy GB by Laurie Lingo and The Dipsticks and on its way to Number 1, Combined Harvester by The Wurzels. What have both of these records got in common? Correct.

But would you Adam and Eve it? Laurie Lingo and the Dipsticks were our old pal, the hairy cornflake, DLT and his partner in musical crime, Radio 1’s forgotten DJ (must have kept his nose clean) Paul Burnett. As a comedic parody of CW McCall‘s 1976 blockbuster Convoy, it was about as funny as a burning orphanage. And it raises the perennial question, who bought that shit and did these people actually think it was funny? Laugh? I thought I’d never start.

Laurie Lingo & The Dipsticks - 'Convoy G.B.' (1976) - video ...
DLT looking a little menacing……

The Wurzels were originally Adge Cutler and The Wurzels who appeared on ITV afternoon shows (the ones you watched when you’d skived off school for the afternoon) in the 70s, particularly The Great Western Music Show (I think it was called) until Adge sadly turned his sports car over in 1974 and they became The Wurzels. Combined Harvester was a parody on Melanie’s 1972 No.4 hit Brand New Key and although they may have overstayed their welcome in the charts over the next few years, this was, I suppose, a fairly decent comedy record if you liked that kind of thing.

She’s a fine looking’ woman and I can’t wait to get me ‘ands on her land…..

Interestingly, one of The Wurzels came from Penicuick, Midlothian. Fancy that!

The Wurzels – My Threshing Machine Lyrics | Genius Lyrics

Also falling into the embarrassingly bad and ‘how did that ever get into the charts ?’ category, Reggae Like It Used Be by Paul Nicholas nestles in the middle of this triple decker of trash. I have written in much more detail about PN in Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits section of this little blog, specifically about the even more irritating Grandma’s Party. Needless to say, this was also rubbish.

And notice within the ‘Bubblers’ a certain Judge Dread and his latest waxing The Winkle Man, on its way to a high of No. 35. Judge Dread had 8 top 40 hits in the 70s, none of which were played on Radio 1 or TOTP. His songs were Reggae-inflected rudeness , two of his later minor hits being Up With The Cock and Y Viva Suspenders. You get the idea. Which just goes to show the record buying public loved something a little risqué, whether they had heard the record or not, and it was probably not. There was a certain type of kudos achieved by surreptitiously revealing a Judge Dread record to your pals in the same way you might by conspiratorially displaying a copy of Playboy from its hiding place under the bed. Up until a few months ago I had never heard a Judge Dread song. In December of 2019 I attended a Bad Manners gig in Edinburgh and in support was, believe it or not, a Judge Dread tribute act who reeled off his ‘Big’ hits from soup to nuts. He was really quite good.

Biographical Tidbits - Judge Dread Memorial Site
Judge Dread: The most successful chart artist whose records few people ever heard

Judge Dread was probably only ever outdone in the chart rudeness stakes by Ivor Biggun and The Red Nosed Burglars with their 1978 No. 22 smash, I’m A Winker, and they were very insistent that this was a misprint. Strangely, wonderful Radio 1, DLT and the septuagenarian pop panel failed to add this to the Radio 1 playlist. Turned out Ivor Biggun was Doc Cox from Esther Rantzen’s awful consumerist show, That’s Life. He couldn’t even stop himself being slightly rude on that show either, given his TV name. Mind you, they were obsessed with rude-shaped vegetables. But rudeness aside, records that were not on the Radio 1 playlist rarely made it into the charts.

FreeMusicLib
Ivor Biggun and friend

Anyone casually perusing this chart from 1976 might notice just how many MOR records peppered the top 30, songs that were written in committee as vehicles for various MOR acts. In fact, out of the top 30 well over half could be described as easy listening or middle of the road. There is nothing in this chart that is particularly threatening or might scare the horses. Brotherhood of Man, Cliff, The Stylistics (who really churned out the MOR hits in the 70s), Bellamy Brothers, Sutherland Brothers and Quiver, Frankie Valli, Stylistics clones Sheer Elegance (rubbish name), the overwrought Eric Carmen and just creeping into Top 30, the lovely Tina Charles with yet another song that sounded exactly like I Love To Love. We even have a young Midge Ure and Slik encroaching into chart territory with the bombastic but certainly not fantastic Requiem. With the exception of the legendary Isaac Hayes, some interesting experimental pop from Diana Ross and a bit of ultra-smooth soul from the wonderful Gladys Knight, there is little in this chart to excite any young person with an interest in music.

But hang on a cotton-picking’ moment! Who’s that making such an unholy row around that adjacent temporal corner? Why it’s The Sex Pistols and their punk pals! Come to save us from being smothered by marshmallow light musical blandness. Hurrah! It just takes a cursory glance at this particular chart to see that things had to change. The charts had be wrested back from the terminal Radio 1 mediocrity that controlled them, that had almost turned da kids into The Children of the Damned (and I don’t mean Dave Vanian and Rat Scabies. Yet). But that’s what the singles charts did. They provided a template for our society at any given time. And irrespective of the blandness quotient, they still provided hours of analytical fun. I would go as far as to argue that any chart from the 50s until their ostensible end in the 90s could be analysed meaningfully either sociologically, economically, politically, musically and, of course, aesthetically, which is where the fun would really begin.

1960 ... 'Village of the Damned' | Evil children, Creepy kids ...
The young record-buying public after a childhood devoted to Radio 1 listening

As mentioned previously in ‘Rubbish Songs, Inexplicable Hits‘, anyone in the public eye could have a hit record, irrespective whether they could sing or not. There was an unpleasant alliance between ‘celebrities’, Radio 1, some record companies and TOTP. When a ‘celebrity’ (a word I’ve always hated due to the implication that those people should be ‘celebrated’) was ‘hot’ someone would approach them from a smallish record company and suggest they make a single. The celebrity would, through one eye see pound signs and through the other mainstream pop coolness. How deluded they usually were. But because these bozos were well known, they could guaranteee being placed on the septuagenarian Radio 1 playlist and a spot on TOTP. If they could get that, they were made (for a short time at least)! The combination of Radio 1 playlist repetition, exposure to 20 million viewers on a Thursday night along with the TV show they were famous for was irresistible to many gullible sections of the record buying public. Hence we were subjected to the likes of:

  • Telly Savalas of Kojak fame who got to No. 1 in 1975 with a shocking version of Bread’sIf
  • David Soul of Starsky and Hutch who had five, that is FIVE, top 20 hits between 1976 and 1978
David Soul by David Soul on Amazon Music - Amazon.co.uk
  • Windsor Davies and Don Estelle of It Ain’t Half Hot Mum who got to No. 1 with Whispering Grass (doubt we’ll ever see that show again)
  • Dennis Waterman of Minder who scored twice with I Could Be So Good For You in 1980 and the embarrassing What Are We Gonna Get ‘er Indoors in 1983
  • Dick Emery who crept into the top 50 in 1973 with ‘Ooh You Are Awful’
The Dick Emery Show | Television Heaven
  • Russ Abbott got to a nose-bleed inducing No.7 in 1984 with the irritating Atmosphere. I remember watching TOTP when the video was premiered and I sat there waiting for something funny to happen, after about 2 minutes I realised it was serious. What a let-down.
  • Radio 2 DJ Terry Wogan‘s version of The Floral Dance with the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band. Like Telly and Shatner he couldn’t sing so spoke the lyrics. Either way he shouldn’t have bothered.
  • And the less said about Robson and Jerome, of the Soldier, Soldier military drama serial, the better. Unbelievably, they sit at No. 9 in the chart of most successful singles ever with Unchained Melody selling an eyewatering 1.85 million copies! One of the hard and fast rules of the singles charts always was, ‘The blander the song, the bigger the hit.’ Thus, also in the top ten all-time sellers were Boney M (twice), Queen, Elton John, Wings and John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John
  • During the 80s various actors from Aussie soaps Neighbours and Home and Away, in the days when those programmes were particularly popular here, tried their luck in the UK charts while the going was good for them. The vast majority being dreadful with Stefan (Paul Robinson) Dennis achieving the nadir of Aussie pop with Don’t It Make You Feel Good in 1989. But even that got to no. 16!
Stefan Dennis - Don't It Make You Feel Good | Discogs
The smouldering Stefan…..and the nadir of Aussie soap singles

The charts even provided a home for sports people, particularly footballers to try their hands at something very different to kicking a ball around. For all of them (and I mean all of them), they should have stuck to putting the boot into opponents rather than into the charts. The first footballers to strike chart gold was the oddly tuxedoed 1970 England World Cup Squad who bawled out their, albeit, quite catchy tune on TOTP, Back Home. This got to number 1 probably because of its novelty value as no football team had ever featured in the charts before.

England's World Cup Hit Parade: Lonnie Donegan, Fat Les, Ant and ...
And no one is even looking embarrassed!

It began a trend for international teams as well as club teams to record songs which, presumably, only their own fans ever bought. That was enough for many to creep into the charts. Probably the type of single of any genre which has the least, if any, aesthetic value. Even Boney M and Queen singles have more.

Not content with football teams trying for chart success, some individual footballers were puffed up enough to think they might have a chance of pop career. In the front row above, sandwiched between Big Jack Charlton and Alan Mullery, we see West Bromwich Albion’s striker Jeff Astle. On the strength of the EWCS smash hit he released a solo single called ‘Sweet Water‘ but he, sadly, experienced the bitter taste of failure. The single missed the charts completely, a bit like that sitter he screwed past the post against Brazil a few months later. But not so Mr Kevin Keegan in 1979 when he reached number 31 with Head Over Heels in Love written by Smokie’s Chris Norman. Or Glenn Hoddle and Chris Waddle, or Glenn and Chris as they chummily wanted to be referred to, whose ‘Diamond Lights’ got to No. 12 in 1987. Probably not the worst song ever to appear on TOTP but their performance is one of those ‘watch through your fingers’ moments.

Diamond Lights - Wikipedia

But the charts often throw up (and I chose those words carefully) such moments as these. One of the often unadmitted joys of the charts is watching a single or act you particularly dislike moving inexorably towards the top ten. The Bay City Rollers at their peak had a 14 year old me almost ripping up the music papers in disgust. When something has this effect on you it must have a lot going for it. Or when a particular favourite has a head-to-head race to get to the top spot first, such as The Sweet v Gary Glitter or Slade v David Bowie. And to spot early a single no one else had noticed edging its way up the hit parade towards Numero Uno, to have given your pals the SP on it and told them to watch this one go was hugely enjoyable. Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits in 1977 was a good example of this type of slow-burner, having been played regularly by David ‘Kid’ Jensen on his Saturday morning show on wonderful Radio 1, before anyone had even heard of Dire Straits. Or Althea and Donna’s brilliant Uptown Top Ranking which similarly slowly nosed its way up the charts after an inauspicious start. Chart moments like these proved there was a discerning record buying public out there, a public who weren’t just content to listen to Queen, Boney M or Cliff. And the singles charts highlighted such behaviour in a way that bolstered your faith in other music-loving people of all ages.

The charts also provided the basis of many in-depth discussions which wore long into the night. Did a particular band or single ever get to number 1? What was the best number 2 single ever. How many David Bowie top 30 singles can you name? Which was the most successful Motown act? How many number 1s did The Stones have? What was the weirdest single ever to get into the top 10? What was the worst number 1 ever? And in the days before you could access some of these facts on a phone, some of these debates could go on for days, even weeks. Of course, anyone with even a passing interest in the charts will remember that in 1980 Ultravox’s overblown electronic classic Vienna was kept off the top spot by Joe Dolce and Shaddap Your Face. Although I was big a fan of Ultravox, sometimes the charts didn’t lie and the best song did get to No. 1. And that’s why I loved them.

Joe Dolce’s slightly less successful follow-up…..

I’m told some form of singles and album charts still exists but it really isn’t the same. Music consumption is completely different today. People no longer wait with baited breath on a particular act’s new release or track its progress inexorably up and down the hit parade. Or argue with friends which particular track from a new album is the strongest single. Or feel that warm glow of satisfaction when a favourite act surpasses someone shit like Brotherhood of man, Bay City Rollers or Queen in the charts. But music of all genres and periods is still listened to, downloaded, streamed, pirated and, for some odd people (like myself) even played on record players. Thankfully, music is still very much alive and kicking, I’m happy to say, in its many different incarnations.

But I don’t half miss the charts…

0