378. ‘Hold Me Close’, by David Essex

Back for another pop at the top, the teen idol of the mid-seventies, and as far as I’m aware the only chart-topping star named after an English county… David Essex!

Hold Me Close, by David Essex (his 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 28th September – 19th October 1975

When I wrote about his first #1, ‘Gonna Make You a Star’, I mentioned that he wasn’t very comfortable with the teeny-bopper tag. In fact, it’s what that whole song was about. A year on, however, I’m tempted to think he’s rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, given in and hopped on the pure pop bandwagon.

Hold me close, Don’t let me go, Oh no… I, Yes I love you and I fink that you know… He’s kept the cockney accent; in fact he might be playing it up here more than ever. Wiv your love loight, shi-nin’… It kind of reminds me of Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’, even though David Essex was genuinely from east London, and I can imagine him gurning in the corny, deliberate pauses between words. It also reminds me, somehow, of Sid Vicious’s poppy covers, ‘My Way’ and the like, though a much more PG rated version.

It’s a fun pop song, and catchy as hell. If it were an animal it would be a huge, slobbering St. Bernard, just looking for a cuddle. The perky riff flirts with becoming irritating, but just about gets away with it, while the song could have a good minute shaved off its runtime and nobody would notice. It was a deliberate choice to make a single as commercial as this to be the follow up to #5 hit ‘Rolling Stone’, which was a bit more out there.

I don’t really have much more to say about this one. It’s catchy, and simple. A solid pop single. In time, David Essex would move more into acting, although he was scoring the odd Top 10 hit well into the eighties. He has starred in various West End productions, including ‘Evita’ and ‘Tommy’, and featured heavily on Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ concept album (Wayne also produced both of Essex’s chart-toppers.) He still performs, and acts, and has confirmed his place in cockney legend by appearing in ‘EastEnders’, and by having a model of himself in the West Ham United museum.

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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…