360. ‘Gonna Make You a Star’, by David Essex

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this next #1, the pre-penultimate chart-topper of 1974… But it definitely wasn’t an outrageously catchy synth hook.

Gonna Make You a Star, by David Essex (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th November – 1st December 1974

Seriously, this sounds really futuristic. Not since Chicory Tip have we had such an electronic song at the summit. It starts with a simple enough, acoustic riff, then wham. Add to this the fact that David Essex sings with such a thick, yes, Essex accent, which sounds to my ears quite, sort of… punky. It is 1974… but it’s not.

Oh is he more, Too much more, Than a pretty face…? It’s so strange the way he talks, It’s a disgrace… David Essex seems to be singing in the character of a critic, of himself as a singer, before answering them directly: Well I know I’m not super hip, And I’m liable to take a slip…

It’s a cynical take on the music industry, as cynical a song as we’ve had at #1. Essex is keen to let us know that he’s not just a pretty-boy teen idol, another Donny or David Cassidy. Except, going by the picture above, he really could have been. Which probably made him even more determined to go against type. We’re gonna make you, A sta-a-ah-ar, We’re gonna make you, A sta-a-ah-ar… The title line becomes a sort of mantra, you imagine a crowd of greedy execs crowding around, pawing at young, innocent David…

I really like this record. It is, as I said, not what I was expecting. It is a very hard song to place, and to sum up. Put it in this way: it sounds like they rounded up a group of blokes on their way home from Upton Park, asked them to have a pub-rock singalong, then at the last minute replaced the guitars with synths. Seriously, replace these synths with crunchy guitars and you’d have a glam rock anthem to rival anything T Rex or Slade came up with. And I particularly love the cheeky I don’t fink so… response to the ‘Is he more than a pretty face?’ question.

Maybe part of the problem that Essex had with the music industry was that he had been in bands for years, since the mid-sixties. He released the first of several unnoticed singles in 1965, and it wasn’t until he moved into musical theatre in the early seventies that he started to gain recognition. So to some he might have seemed a stage-school upstart, putting on the mockney accent for authenticity. While in reality he was a kid from Plaistow, the son of Irish travellers who had had played for West Ham, which in my book gives you every right to sing your cockney heart out.

None of which explains the synths, though… They really do come out of nowhere. Jeff Wayne produced this single – he of ‘War of the Worlds’ fame – so perhaps that has something to do with it. Essex will go on to star on ‘War of the Worlds’ but, as he has a second #1 coming up next year I’ll save the bio for then. Up next, a recap…

8 thoughts on “360. ‘Gonna Make You a Star’, by David Essex

  1. David was indeed much more than a pretty face, though he was very much a teen pin-up, but the more mature, sophisticated teenage girl as opposed to the screaming Osmond & Cassidy crowd, and his records were not aimed at that market musically. This is a great single, interesting to hear you mention the synth – synths were quite widely used by this time and I’d got so used to hearing them it no longer registers so much as a synth, whereas Manfred Mann’s Earthband’s Joybringer and other tracks a year earlier stood out for using them, and we’d already had Hot Butter’s Popcorn as an entirely synth hit..

    Rock On was the global smash debut, all multi-tracked, and like most of his Jeff Wayne productions clever, dark and/or moody. His more orthodox tracks of the 70’s were the 2 chart-toppers (though still good). He genuinely had a unique song style like no-one else’s, straddling traditional, epic, showtune and Glam Rock. I’ll save my faves for after the bio, there’s quite a few… 🙂

    1. Sure, synths were becoming more widespread in pop music, but in terms of chart-topping singles they still stand out at this point. Plus, because I had an image of Essex as a teenybopper, I was expecting something more David Cassidy-ish. I can see what you mean about his unique song style – ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ is noticeably more commercial than his earlier singles!

  2. badfinger20 (Max)

    I liked his acting in That’ll Be The Day and Stardust… this song wasn’t bad at all. Rock On was the only thing that America really heard…or all that hit.

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