One of the things we’ve lost in the download era is the credit list. You can often download a digital booklet with an album—it even comes in PDF format sometimes—but how often do you read it? Back in the day, however, music geeks would become as familiar with the notes and credits on their favorite albums as they were with the music inside. Certain names would appear frequently, and if they were on enough albums you liked, their presence would become a kind of recommendation. “If this guy is on this record,” you’d think to yourself, “it must be pretty good, because he doesn’t usually play on records I don’t like.”
(The flaw in that logic is that we didn’t often buy records we didn’t like, so we wouldn’t know beyond a doubt whether so-and-so played on records we didn’t like. Flawed or not, however, the logic was persuasive as far as it went.)
Credit-readers of the 1970s, then, would certainly have come across the name of Pete Wingfield. He came up as a blues musician in a band called Jellybread, but when it failed to find success, he got into session and concert work as well as songwriting and production. His list of credits is extremely long: B. B. King, Lightnin’ Slim, Memphis Slim, Nazareth, Keef Hartley, Colin Blunstone, Van Morrison, the Hollies (with whom he was associated for a very long time), Freddie King, Al Stewart, Maggie Bell, Edwin Starr, Lindisfarne, Richard and Linda Thompson, Bonnie Tyler, Olivia Newton-John, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the Everly Brothers (whose band he joined for its 1980s reunion), the Alan Parsons Project, and Paul McCartney—and that is undoubtedly an incomplete list. He played so many sessions—over a thousand sessions in all—that he can no longer remember them all. He once told a journalist, “Well, I must have been there because my name’s on the sleeve.”
There is surprisingly little information online about Wingfield. He doesn’t appear to have his own website, and there’s an English actor named Peter Wingfield, almost a generation younger, who’s probably confused with him frequently. But apart from the long list of credits, what you most need to know about Pete Wingfield is one indelible record: “Eighteen With a Bullet.” It’s a brilliantly enigmatic title and a song that’s entirely unique.
The lyrics to “Eighteen With a Bullet” could only have been written by a man with long experience in the music business, somebody who spoke the language of records, record marketing, and radio, and who had the talent to turn that jargon into a love song. The music could only have been written by somebody who knew his way around the blues, New Orleans R&B, and doo-wop. In a world where every piece of music is described by comparing it to something else, there’s nothing quite like “Eighteen With a Bullet.”
“Eighteen With a Bullet” landed in America during one of Top 40 radio’s greatest seasons, the fall of 1975. It had reached #7 in the UK that summer, and its American chart run featured one golden bit of synchronicity that is too perfect not to have been orchestrated. In Billboard chart jargon, records that show potential for greater growth and a higher chart position are marked with what’s known as a bullet. So “eighteen with a bullet” refers the #18 position on the chart with the potential to go higher. And on the Hot 100 dated November 22, 1975, “Eighteen With a Bullet” reached #18. With a bullet. (The song would eventually peak at #15 before starting back down the chart.)
I suspect that radio stations and record-industry people loved “Eighteen With a Bullet” more than the public did. In the end, it was probably a minor miracle that something so quirky and original made it to #15. Wingfield tried to repeat its success with songs called “Bubbling Under” and “Scratchy 45s,” but “Eighteen With a Bullet” remains his monument, and his lone chart hit—at least under his own name.
A post from 2006 about “Eighteen With a Bullet” is one of the most popular posts in the history of this blog. Welcome back, Googlers.