Despite having cooler musical affiliations – the sort that will get you admitted into a group of like-minded similarly self-conscious individuals – I’ve always had a bit of a thing for manufactured pop. I’m quite happy to admit that one of my favourite tunes of all-time is ‘Tarzan Boy’ by Baltimora… largely because – like all music – it evokes a particular moment in time in relation to my own experience. ‘Tarzan Boy’ is obviously an ‘80s classic but for me, the halcyon time for manufactured pop relates directly to the business of growing up in the 1970s: a period that is pretty much inseparable from an annual visit or two to Hull Fair.
Manufactured pop is by its very nature made to entertain the crowd: I’ve yet to come across an example that was designed to appeal to sensitive young men hunched over their guitars in the comfort of their own bedsit; no pretentiousness, no allusions to art, just great tunes tailor-made for immediate impact. And if you’re from Hull, and too young to get into the club, the best place to experience the exhilarating nature of a great piece of manufactured pop in a crowd is at Hull Fair… complete with the lights, the noise, the smells and the sheer exhilaration of the surrounding atmosphere.
Here’s a few that did it for me back then… and still do.
Sugar, Sugar – The Archies (1969)
OK it’s 1969, but ’Sugar, Sugar’ was doing the rounds for a long time after at the fair, such is its brilliance. It may even be the most supreme example of a manufactured song in pop history, insofar as the whole thing was fronted by a cartoon outfit. No surly temperamental diva-like fakers demanding they have a bigger say in the process or they’ll go public. Just session guys paid to do a job, and then clocking off when finished. And yet, it’s still a work of art.
It’s also pretty spot on when it comes to business of the confectionary on offer at the fair too. Brandy Snap, Toffees Apples and Nougat (which anyone from Hull will tell you is pronounced ‘Nugget’… Noogah, get out of here); Willy Wonka’s got nothing on this lot. And then there’s Cinder Toffee. Cinder Toffee always used to seem so unique, interesting and particular to the fair… until you realised it was just a Crunchie bar without the benefit of a coating of chocolate. Another illusion shattered.
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) – Edison Lighthouse (1970)
This is a classic case of a couple of seasoned writers putting something together with a session singer, and then needing to create a full band fairly promptly, once the record starting rapidly ascending the charts. Singer Tony Burrows – for it is he – lays claim to being the only person ever to front three different manufactured bands on the same edition of Top of the Pops, the others being The Brotherhood of Man (well before the Eurovision revival) and White Plains… just to add to the prestige.
If like me, you grew up in Kings Bench Street, you’d approach the fair from the Anlaby Road end, taking in the fantastic variety of stalls, and allowing the tension to develop as you get nearer to the rides. This – it transpires – is the correct way to do things. To this day, even when parking the car on Spring Bank West, I’d rather walk down Albemarle or De La Pole Ave just to achieve the same objective. To do otherwise would constitute an act of philistine-like proportions, in my humble estimation.
Crazy Horses – The Osmonds (1972)
This is the sound of a band wishing to escape the manufacturing process by writing their own material and demonstrating they were more than up to the job: it’s an absolute belter. Further to which, the horses in question refer to cars, and it’s actually an early attempt at an environmentally-conscious protest song, bless ‘em. In all earnestness though, given that the Osmonds were a massive family who in turn have all gone on to have their own massive families, you’d have to ask just how environmentally committed they really are, wouldn’t you? A pop classic nonetheless.
Of course, if you’re going to speak of environmental change, it’s an absolute plus that we don’t get to play aquatic-roulette with the ‘Goldfish in the Bag’ anymore. Growth-restricted by their surrounds, and looking as miserable as one assumes a goldfish can look, the objective of the exercise was always to get the thing home before it did a 180 degree spin and floated belly side up. Then one would have to experience the existential pain of watching a parent flushing the poor thing down the toilet accompanied by dark whispers of one’s own mortality, as well as morbid ideas about meeting your end, in a similar way.
Block Buster! – The Sweet (1973)
Was there a more disconcerting presence in the whole of 1970s pop than Sweet bass player, Steve Priest? Despite the androgynous times in which he inhabited, Steve somehow managed to take things a step further and morph into an entity that was part-clown and part-weird-stuttery-vocal-style, underscored by an implication that you wouldn’t want to find yourself in a darkened room alone with him. The Sweet were a fantastically capable rock band, as their earlier self-penned B-sides and later self-penned A-sides will attest. Being fame-hungry however, they elected to go down a more manufactured route with Glam Rock kingmakers Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, and this song is where things really began to kick in. It’s got a siren on it as well, and sirens in pop and rock are a very good and frequently occurring thing, as everyone knows; as is stuttering, but that’s another playlist altogether.
Of course, the last thing you want to hear at the fair is a genuine siren. There are occasions however, when the odd punter falls prey to a little misfortune, and then the only option is for the ambulance driver to slowly make their way down a street consisting of similarly flashing lights and loud siren-like noises. You invariably don’t see them until they’re upon you, which back in the 70s could well mean you’d drop the booty you acquired in the form of a bow-and-arrow, a plastic sword, and the ‘cuddly toy de jour’ … probably a terrible replica of Orinoco from the Wombles.
Dancin’ (on a Saturday Night) – Barry Blue (1973)
It would be something of an oversight if we weren’t to have some sort Glitter Stomp on this ‘ere play list. At the same time, we wouldn’t want to create a different kind of Elephant in the room, in so doing. Happily, this particular tom-tom driven gem more than fulfils the need, and is a top notch thing of beauty in its own right. Co-written by Mr Blue (real name Mr Green… Reservoir Dogs, anybody?) and pocket-songstress and onetime James Coburn beau Lynsey de Paul, they somehow arrived at the idea that Greek-sounding instrumentation would be the perfect finish to the glitter mix. No, me neither. It’s a big ride tune obviously, but should there have been a stall that involved smashing plates, this would clearly be the obvious choice. Bear this tune in mind next time, you organise a village fete.
I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody – or for that matter – seen anybody who’s ever won anything on a stall; aside from the ones that guarantee a prize. Balls that bounce out of strategically placed buckets, footballs kicked towards holes just large enough to accommodate them, firing ranges that would test the prowess of a police marksmen, and low scores on a dartboard that are harder to achieve than high scoring trebles… there are an endless succession of ways in which to lose your money, and yet a similarly endless succession of show-off dads queue up to demonstrate superstar status to disbelieving mothers and children: resulting in a palpable whiff of disappointment that is as much a part of the fair as all of the other wonderful smells on offer.
Sugar Baby Love – The Rubettes (1974)
This is another instance in which the song was created first, and then a band assembled to front the situation once the song started tearing up the charts: the only problem being that the lead vocal consisted of such a distinctive falsetto, it was quite obvious from subsequent Rubettes’ releases that, you were talking about a different sound completely. But what an act of manufacturing it was: the writers deciding that the three most frequently used words in pop music were ‘Sugar, ‘Baby’ and ‘Love’, and then tripling their chances of having a hit, by putting them all together in one song. Did the trick, didn’t it? Pop perfection.
I think I might have braved the Waltzers to this tune, which ended in tears obviously… or more appropriately, nausea. I think the ‘Whips’ (for that is their name) spot your obvious ill-disposition and spin ‘em even faster, thus accelerating the vomiting process. As David Essex so eloquently put it in the film ‘That’ll Be the Day’, ‘I’m the bloke that everybody wishes would fall into the machinery and get his kidney’. A sentiment that is hardly helped even at the present time by the image of an emaciated bare-chested macho strutting would-be tough-guy/peacock covered in homemade tattoos, and a narcissistic lack of self-awareness that would give Donald Trump a run for his money. Are these guys attractive to women? Apparently so.
Beach Baby – The First Class (1974)
It’s Tony Burrows again – albeit this time with a different couple of songwriters – once more demonstrating his ubiquity with a one-hit wonder (if that doesn’t stand as some sort of contradiction?). It’s also another case of the original singer not wanting to promote the song and so, a bunch of anonymous studio musicians set about the business of fronting the enterprise. They looking nothing like the bronzed Californian idea implicit in the song; but then, the Beach Boys didn’t exactly look the part either. Released on the classic manufactured pop/one-hit wonder record label UK (presided over by another individual who has subsequently left a less than pleasant legacy… if we suggest that UK stands for United King, you’ll get the picture). There’s also a seemingly well-known French version ‘Vite, Cherie, Vite’ out there as well, sung by Sacha Distel. Who knew?
I think by this stage, I would have been going to the fair with my mates, as opposed to the parents; if only during the day on the Saturday. One was nonetheless obliged to observe Mother’s sagely parting words of advice (adopts Alan Bennett voice), ‘Always give them the exact money; if you give them a note, you won’t see it again’. All well and good, until you find yourself upside down on the American Wheel, and everything in your pockets is immediately given – by way of charitable donation – to the punters watching below; flares flapping in the wind, and Wrangler jacket hugging close to one’s frozen chest, in the process.
Daddy Cool – Boney M. (1976)
Remember the solitary male dancer in the Boney M. line-up weaving in and out of the three slightly less animated ladies, whilst adding the occasional vocal twist? That wasn’t him singing. That was a German producer and writer called Frank Farian. To provide further context, he was also the man who presided over the Milli Vanilli scandal; pretty much an extension of the ideas developed with Boney M. Admittedly, two of the three ladies in Boney M. did actually contribute to the vocals but whichever you look at it, it works to fantastic effect, and is a testament to the whole argument that sometimes the people who put the tracks together in the studio aren’t necessarily the right ones to go out and sell the idea thereafter. And that’s the whole point of manufactured pop music: never let authenticity stand in the way of a great idea.
I think it’s fair to say that there was always someone in your school, who be mouthing off about the fact they had a job at the fair, and claiming ‘cool points’ at everyone else’s expense. Which sounded great, until you went along and saw that the much bragged-about job consisted of hosting the ‘Hook-a-Duck’ stall, immediately eradicating any such notions of the aforementioned cool; if anything, it created a notion of reverse-cool. ‘Hook-a-Duck’ you’d exclaim – or something that sounded similar – and spend the rest of the school year, taunting them with cries of ‘You can have anything from the bottom shelf’. Good times.
Of course, I dare say, there’s probably loads I’ve missed off… that’s where you come in!