Sugar, Baby

So I was reading the latest post from 70s Music Mayhem (a blog you should be reading, too) about the new songs on the Hot 100 during the week of December 4, 1976, and I clicked on the video for “Living Next Door to Alice” by Smokie, which is a particularly guilty pleasure of mine. And from there, through the wonder that is the “suggestions” column at YouTube, I found myself digging some other examples of 70s Europop—songs that were big in the UK and elsewhere without making a corresponding splash in the States, and in some cases without making a splash at all. That most of them tend toward bubblegum should be a surprise to nobody.

Here’s “Mississippi” by the Dutch group Pussycat, which did a month at Number One in the UK in the fall of 1976 and remains staggeringly popular. The video below has nearly 2.4 million hits at YouTube, even though the song went nowhere in the States. Maybe it wasn’t released over here—it certainly isn’t because it wouldn’t have fit on American radio in 1976 or 1977.

From there, it’s off to “Substitute” by Clout, an all-girl band from South Africa. “Substitute” was first recorded by the Righteous Brothers in 1975 before Clout got hold of it. Somehow it managed to make only Number 69 in Billboard and 52 in Cash Box in the fall of 1978 despite being an absolute hook monster.

Next stop, one of the most ridiculous records of all time, and I mean that in a good way: “Sugar Baby Love” by the Rubettes. Intended as an homage to American rock ‘n’ roll of the 50s with a jigger of glam-rock mixed in, its everything-but-the-kitchen-sink production (dig that short spoken bit toward the end) causes it to teeter on the brink of parody, especially as performed in the video below. It did a month at Number One in the UK during the summer of 1974 and actually scratched into the Top 40 here in the States.

From the over-the-top bop-shoo-waddy of the Rubettes, it’s a short leap to Showaddywaddy, straight-up revivalists who charted in the UK with 50s and early 60s remakes almost exclusively between 1974 and 1982. The biggest was “Under the Moon of Love,” which had been a Phil Spector production for Curtis Lee in 1961. The Showaddywaddy version was the Number-One single in the UK 34 years ago this week. It, too, failed to get a sniff in the States.

Given the likelihood that your taste for this sort of thing is not quite the same as mine, I’ll stop here.

Quick Programming Note: I’ve moved my Twitter feed to the top of the right-hand column under the title “Ye Olde Microblog.” One of the best uses for Twitter is to call attention to interesting links. I’ve been doing a little of that, and I intend to start doing it more often now, instead of saving things up to mention in a full post and then forgetting to do it. My goal is to make the microblog just that—a similar-but-different (and far more succinct) companion to the main entries here. So keep an eye on it, and if you’re on Twitter yourself, you can follow me here.


8 responses

  1. My blog inspired another blogger to do a post…I feel like I’ve arrived! In any case, thanks for plugging the blog.

    For what it’s worth, I absolutely adore “Living Next Door to Alice,” and have ever since it first occupied the space between my ears. It’s one of those songs that just stays with you after it’s done playing, but in a very good way.

  2. “Substitute” had an interesting history in the U.S. In addition to the version by Clout, Gloria Gaynor recorded the song as well. Her record company insisted it be the lead off single from her new album. Her producer, Freddie Perrin, told them it was not a hit. In order to placate him, they let him pick the B-side. After “Substitute” bubbled under for a weeks and died, djs started flipping the single over (or so Casey Kasem said on AT40 – I have to wonder if this is true since most radio stations got promo disks with the same song on both sides) and playing Perrin’s pick. That song was I Will Survive.

  3. I picked up the Clout LP (a Raspberries cover tune, can’t remember which it was, caught my eye) and later found out about Substitute from the great So Many Records, So Little Time blog.

    “Sugar Baby Love” got airplay in Central Illinois, another “aha! I remember that!” tune.

  4. Walter told the story I was going to mention about “Substitute”/”I Will Survive,” so I’ll just add that Clout’s original was a moderate hit on Chicago suburban station WYEN in late ’78/early ’79. I’d always assumed the group to be a male/female group along the lines of Abba and Fleetwood Mac (more Abba than Mac), so I appreciate learning differently through your blog post.

    On “Sugar Baby Love,” my first exposure to it was on a K-Tel album from ’74 or ’75. Thank God for some of those K-Tel collections … though not of great sound quality, they often included minor chart hits or complete misses that I never would’ve heard on the Chicago stations. The one that jumps to mind immediately is Jim Gilstrap’s “Swing Your Daddy,” a quintessential K-Tel album kinda song.

    1. I’m listening to “Swing Your Daddy” for the first time per your indirect recommendation. It sounds like an amalgam of “Rock Your Baby” and “I Can Help”, and that’s not a complaint.

  5. That Showaddywaddy song is pretty dreadful, but I heartily recommend their “Hey Rock n’ Roll,” which adds a nice jolt of glam-rock to the formula.

    Slade remains my gold standard for big-across-the-pond artists, particularly from the ’70s.

  6. Clout’s “Substitute” was a big hit on WJON/St. Cloud. Man, did it feel great to spin that one on the air.

  7. I discovered “Mississippi” back in ’07 via a book my best friend birthday-gifted me chronicling the first 1000 UK Number Ones. I don’t see how the States were denied, either.

    Like you, my intro to “Substitute” was provided by the YouTube suggestion sidebar. I recognized the chorus thanks to the above-mentioned Gloria Gaynor cover. It would have been perfect for Ace of Base in the mid-90s.

    And who tipped me off to “Sugar Baby Love”? Stars on 45/Long Play, that’s who.

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