Oh, won’t somebody drag us out of the middle-of-the-road slump we’ve been in for months now…? Can that somebody be Sandie Shaw? I have high-hopes…
Puppet on a String, by Sandie Shaw (her 3rd and final #1)
3 weeks, from 27th April – 18th May 1967
…that are not disappointed. Roll up! Roll up! This is a crazy little record. From the get-go. From the oompah band intro that morphs into a fairground soundtrack – a demented, horror-movie kind of fairground, that is.
Love is just like a merry-go-round… sings Sandie, like your aunt after a sherry or two… With all the fun of the fair… It’s a fairly simple metaphor: love as fairground ride. But this song takes it all the way, to the extent that we get Big Top sound-effects and crashing cymbals. You really can picture her as a marionette, or as a Judy doll behind a makeshift stage.
If you say you love me madly, I’ll gladly be there, Like a puppet on a string… It’s a fun record. A bit mad. If it were a person you might cross the street to avoid them. But it’s interesting, if nothing else, unlike some of our recent chart-toppers. It’s chanty, and catchy, and Sandie does at least get to stretch her lungs on lines like: Are you leading me on, Tomorrow will you be gone…? At other points she sounds a bit drunk, to be honest. It’s a ‘proper’ pop song, but it’s comes very close to crossing the line into ‘novelty’ territory’.
It makes complete sense that this was a Eurovision Song Contest entry. In fact, it explains a lot. Subtlety and nuance are not in big supply at Eurovision. And not only was it an entry, it was the winning entry! Britain’s first ever! (Yes, the UK used to win Eurovision.) Sandie had been convinced to perform the British entry to get back into the public’s good books after a divorce scandal, although she hated it. In her own words: ‘I hated it from the first oompah… I was instinctively repelled by its sexist drivel and cuckoo-clock tune.’ Brilliant stuff, up there with Frank Sinatra’s dismissal of ‘Strangers in the Night’.
I think she was a bit harsh, to be honest. It’s fun, camp, silly… Perfect for Eurovision and, most importantly, not a bland, easy listening, country-lite ballad. Had ‘Puppet on a String’ come along elsewhere in our countdown I might have had less patience with it but, as it is, I’m just happy to have it liven proceedings up. And Sandie must have softened towards it, or the royalty cheques it brought her, as she rerecorded it for her sixtieth birthday.
That’s it for Ms. Shaw and the top of the charts. She would only have one more Top 10 – the equally kooky ‘Monsieur Dupont’ in 1969. I’ve enjoyed it every time she’s come along, with the classy ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ and the fluffy ‘Long Live Love’ and now this. She just seems very, I don’t know, sixties. She officially retired from the music business in 2013. And, if nothing else, I appreciate the symmetry of all three of her chart-toppers spending three weeks each at the top!
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