On the first Billboard chart of 1972, 40 years ago this month, there appeared an instrumental called “Joy” by the group Apollo 100. (Oh-so-trendy name, Apollo 100, with two more Apollo missions set to go to the moon in that year.) The pop-rock version of Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” zoomed up the chart, going from 100 to 90 to 49 to 35 to 15 by the week of January 29—and that’s about the time I first heard it, and bought the 45. It made the WLS Hit Parade dated January 31, 1972, where it rose to #4 at the end of February, outperforming its Billboard peak position of #6, reached the same week.
Apollo 100 featured arranger and instrumentalist Tom Parker, and it included four other musicians including Clem Cattini, whose claim to fame is having played drums on 45 British Number Ones including “Telstar” by the Tornadoes (a band of which he was officially a member), “You Really Got Me” by the Kinks, “Love Grows Where My Rosemary Goes” by Edison Lighthouse, and “When Will I See You Again” by the Three Degrees. Both Apollo 100 albums, Joy and Master Pieces, feature classical adaptations and original compositions; Master Pieces features an eye-opening cover and contains some odd versions of songs by others, including “Telstar” and “Popcorn,” the synthesizer piece made famous by the studio group Hot Butter. But after those two albums, Apollo 100 was history, and what became of Tom Parker after that, the Internet is not forthcoming.
Although Apollo 100 was English, “Joy” was released in the States by the Mega label of Memphis, known mainly for country music, including Sammi Smith’s single “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and several of her albums, although the label’s discography features quite the smorgasbord. There was an album by country singer Mack Vickery called Live at the Alabama Women’s Prison, and, coincidentally, an album by Glen Sherley, the inmate at Folsom Prison in California who had written “Greystone Chapel,” performed by Johnny Cash during his famous 1968 concert there. Mega also released a series of jazz and R&B albums, including an early solo release by Larry Coryell, and several records by Bill Black’s Combo. But I digress.
Every early-1970s kid whose piano teacher handed him the sheet music for “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” wanted to play it at Apollo 100 speed, which is not what Bach intended. While we can blame Tom Parker for it, what with his record becoming a Top-10 hit and all, it was not his idea originally.
In late 1975, the group Jigsaw would become famous for the slick “Sky High.” Band members Clive Scott and Des Dyer had written “Who Do You Think You Are?,” which had been an American hit for Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods the year before. In their early years, however, they were not a pop band at all. They had spent part of 1970 as a show band backing soul singer Arthur Conley, spicing their act with explosions and fire-eating. By the end of 1970, however, they had released their first album, Letherslade Farm, a prog-rock album that is the diametric opposite of fiery R&B. Letherslade Farm features a handful of songs, but most of its running time is taken up with fake interviews and obtuse comedy bits, none of which have much value. One of the songs is a rock version of “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”—and it turns out that Apollo 100’s version is pretty much a straight lift from what Jigsaw did. Parker shortened it, thereby improving it a lot—but the fact remains that rocking up that particular classical piece was Jigsaw’s idea first.