Friday, February 22, 2008

The Eric Clapton of Cheesy Pop Songs

One of the most fascinating but little-known figures of Seventies pop was a British singer by the name of Tony Burrows. Burrows sang lead on five different Top Twenty hits between 1970 and 1974, which is remarkable enough for a guy nobody knows. But even more impressive was the fact that Burrows' five hits came with five different groups.

Burrows started out as the lead singer of an early-Sixties English harmony group called the Kestrels, then moved onto a group called the Ivy League, which then became the Flower Pot Men. Some of these acts made a slight impact on the British charts, but none of them reached the Top Forty here in the good old U.S. of A.

Eventually, Burrows became a session singer. The writer-producer team of Tony Macaulay (who also co-wrote "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Baby, Now That I've Found You") and Barry Mason (who also wrote Tom Jones' "Delilah") enlisted Burrows to sing for their studio creation Edison Lighthouse. Their single "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)" went to Number One in England and Number Five here, entering the charts at the end of February 1970.

Burrows was just gettin' warm. He lent his pipes to another studio band called White Plains, an outfit run by the writer-producer team of Roger Greenaway and Roger Cook (who had been in the Kestrels with Burrows, and who also wrote "You've Got Your Troubles" and "Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress"); they popped out a single called "My Baby Loves Lovin'," which is justly forgotten today but entered the charts in May 1970 and went to Number Thirteen. Around this same time, Burrows also formed a vocal duo with Greenaway; they called themselves the Pipkins, and cut a song called "Gimme Dat Ding," which was used in a British TV show called "Oliver and the Overlord." It was annoying even for a novelty song, but still, it entered the U.S. charts in June 1970 and rose to Number Nine.

At some point along the way, another British writer-producer named Tony Hiller put together a studio concoction called Brotherhood of Man, and got, you guessed it, Tony Burrows to sing for him. Their first single was called "United We Stand," and it entered the charts the same week that "My Baby Loves Lovin'" did, in May of 1970. "United We Stand" was actually not that bad; it was one of those uplifting, quasi-utopian hits that was in vogue for a while in the early 1970s, like "Put Your Hand in the Hand" or "I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing." It's the kind of song that makes you want to go watch some "Room 222." "United We Stand" climbed as high as Number 13, giving Tony Burrows four Top Fifteen hits in 1970 alone, as part of four different groups.

The American charts were Burrows-free for a couple of years after that, but he returned in 1974, singing "Beach Baby" for the First Class, yet another studio group, this one put together by producer John Carter, who had written "Little Bit o' Soul" for the Music Explosion. "Beach Baby" proved to be Burrows' biggest hit yet, going to Number Four in the late summer of 1974.

One thing that struck me about all these hits was that, with the exception of the obnoxious "Gimme Dat Ding," something about them seemed strongly American. Edison, of course, was American, as is the city of White Plains. Beach babies are much more common in America than they are in England. And although he didn't invent the phrase, American revolutionary Patrick Henry immortalized "United we stand, divided we fall" in a 1799 speech.

For that reason, I never pegged any of these songs as being particularly English. Then again, I never pegged them all as having the same singer, either.


Anonymous said...

I disagree about Tony Burrows. All those songs are great. What part of fun pop songs don't you understand?

T. Nawrocki said...

If you think we have anything against fun pop songs, you haven't been reading this blog very long.

I don't think much of "My Baby Loves Lovin'," and "Gimme Dat Ding" is downright annoying, but "Beach Baby," "Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes" and "United We Stand" are all quite enjoyable.

Mary said...

Love grows... Edison Lighthouse - was wonderful if you happened to be newly in love at the time.
United we stand... Brotherhood of Man was great to show solidarity against perceived wrongs,
When you are a king... White Plains,
is a song which could be re-visited. I think it has potential for underprivileged youngsters. In this context, it's very emotional.