First 7″ single (bought with own money):
Tom Tom Turnaround – New World (1971)
In 1971, somewhere towards the beginning of the long summer holiday, I started listening to daytime Radio One, following the singles charts, and watching Top Of The Pops with genuine (as opposed to passing) interest. At that time, there happened to be a whole clutch of records at the top of the charts which appealed to my nine year old’s aesthetics: happy, tuneful, catchy bubblegum which was easy to learn and fun to sing along with. It was an ideal moment to become hooked.
Leading the pack was the irresistible Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by Middle Of The Road – which, like Knock Knock Who’s There before it, was bought for me by my grandmother. Indeed, I have always thought of it as my official First Single – the one which (ahem) turned me on to rock and roll. Well, you’ve got to make a start somewhere.
Following closely behind were The Sweet’s Co-Co (steel drums, nonsense lyrics, increasingly shrill key changes), Lobo’s Me And You And A Dog Named Boo (kiddie-friendly acoustic folk-rock), Never Ending Song Of Love by The New Seekers (featuring some lovely choral interplay, all chiming doo-doo-doo‘s and shimmering ba-ba-ba‘s)… and, from another former winner of ITV’s Opportunity Knocks, New World’s Tom Tom Turnaround.
There was also Dawn’s jolly Knock Three Times (but that was going down the charts, so I wasn’t so interested); Greyhound’s pop/reggae plea for racial unity, Black And White (which I found facile and tiresome, even at that age); Diana Ross’s haunting I’m Still Waiting (which made me feel sad, but in a nice way); and two tunes which were still a little bit too wild and advanced for me: Get It On by T.Rex (one for the scary hairies, and I didn’t want to think too much about what they got up to), and Devil’s Answer by Atomic Rooster (whose use of the word “devil” shocked and embarrassed me; but then I wasn’t even allowed to say “Good Heavens” in front of my mother).
For several years, I had wondered how the people at Top Of The Pops compiled their Top Twenty. Did they get all the hippies to vote for their favourite song? Was it something to with being a member of the Radio One Club? As yet untainted by notions of vulgar commerce, it had simply never occurred to me that the chart was based on sales of singles. Now that I knew this, I was gripped with excitement at the thought of being able to walk into a shop and buy any song which I liked off the radio. Such freedom! Such choice! This was something which I had to experience for myself. I had some pocket money saved up. The next time that we went shopping in Doncaster, I would take the plunge.
What I didn’t know was how much singles cost. It couldn’t be very much, just for two songs in a paper bag. Guessing they would sell for around 20p each, I spent the next few days making calculations in my head. I had about 60p, so that would mean three singles, so that would mean I couldn’t have The Sweet and Lobo and the New Seekers and New World. Which one wouldn’t I buy? Probably the New Seekers. Well, they did have rather soppy smiles on the telly; the others were less showbiz, more groovy, more teenager. But then if singles were 15p, then I could buy all of them. Or if they were 25p, then I could only buy two. And so on, and so on.
I was taken to the record department on the first floor of Boots The Chemist, in Doncaster’s Arndale shopping centre. I was quite nervous about this, as all the trendy people and the hippies and the hairies probably went there, and they might laugh at me. To say nothing of that particular breed of impossibly cool girls who always appeared in the audience of Top Of The Pops, dancing with faraway looks in their eyes, never smiling because the songs were so deep and they were probably thinking about Love. (My sister and I did quite good impressions of them in front of the telly.)
In those days, you didn’t flick through the display racks to find the singles you wanted. The only ones in the racks were stupid babyish ones for children, or boring ones by people your parents liked. Instead, all the good stuff – the stuff from the charts – was kept behind the counter, and so you had to ask for them by name. But first, I had to find out how much they cost.
45p! (Nine shillings in old money.) I couldn’t believe how expensive they were! This meant that I could only afford to buy one single. I hadn’t reckoned on this at all. Which one should I buy? The Sweet, or Lobo, or New World?
“Please may I have Tom Tom Turnaround by New World?”
I don’t really know what made me choose New World. It just seemed like the best idea at the time. In any case, it didn’t really matter which song I picked; the concept of purchase was almost more important than the concept of ownership. It was from the charts, and it was played on Radio One, and I had seen it on Top Of The Pops, and that was good enough for me.
Thus, what should – under the established terms of rock mythology – have been a defining moment (young kid, caught in the grip of an unstoppable passion, impelled to buy Seminal Classic) turned out instead to be a rather arbitrary moment (nervous little prep school boy, intimidated by imperious cool of Boots shop assistant, picks random song from the charts in a state of mild panic). For not even the most wilfully perverse of present day pop contrarians could ever claim restrospective greatness for Tom Tom Turnaround.
An early composition by the mega-successful songwriting/production team of Chinn & Chapman (also responsible for The Sweet’s Co Co and all of their subsequent hits, as well as lengthy flushes for Mud, Suzi Quatro and Smokie), Tom Tom tells the story of an errant husband and an abandoned wife, before offering redemption (for the husband at least) in its final verse and coda. There’s also a faint subtext of criticism for the abandoned wife, as highlighted by her replacement’s subtly different choice of language. (In other words: ladies, if you want to keep your man, then don’t cling and don’t nag. ‘Cos a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.) As with Co-Co, there are endless upward key changes, which serve to heighten the drama. Other touches – the folk-rock inflections, the timbre of the strings, the subtle dabs of pedal steel – are pure 1971, already showing Chinn & Chapman’s characteristic grasp of the prevalent musical idioms of the day.
My love for Tom Tom – if we can call it that – didn’t last. Middle Of The Road remained my favourite act for the rest of the year, to be supplanted first by The Sweet, and then by Slade. As for my old 7-inch single: it got lost years ago. Until the advent of Napster in 1999, I hadn’t listened to the song in years. In a rush of nostalgia, I downloaded it, played it, burnt it to CD… and forgot about it all over again.
Until now, that is. Do you know what? Maybe it’s just the lateness of the hour, but listening to it again after a gap of nearly six years, it sounds kind of nifty. Here, see what you think.
What was your first single? Stone cold classic, guilty pleasure or childhood folly? Tell me. I like to know these things.
My Girl – Madness (Girl)
Dance With The Devil – Cozy Powell (dave)
Borderline – Madonna (Buni)
Telegram Sam – T.Rex (betty)
What Can I Say – Boz Scaggs (looby)
Rubber Bullets – 10cc (NiC)
Can The Can – Suzi Quatro (Alan)
Kodachrome – Paul Simon (joe.my.god.)
Long Tall Sally EP – The Beatles (Dymbel)
Magic Fly – Space (d)
Banner Man – Blue Mink (Junio)
The Man With The Child In His Eyes – Kate Bush (Chav Gav)
Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa – Gene Pitney (Tina)
Kings Of The Wild Frontier – Adam & The Ants (bytheseashore)
Step Inside, Love – Cilla Black / Me The Peaceful Heart – Lulu / Cinderella Rockefella – Esther & Abi Ofarim (Nigel)
Alone Again, Naturally – Gilbert O’Sullivan (“bob”)
Those Were The Days – Mary Hopkin (Debster)