316. ‘Puppy Love’, by Donny Osmond

Oh man. It seems that for every great song we get at the moment, there’s a bloody awful one coming right up behind. ‘Metal Guru’ – transcendent, ‘Vincent’ – beautiful, ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’ – gritty… ‘Puppy Love’… Oh…

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Puppy Love, by Donny Osmond (his 1st of three #1s)

5 weeks, from 2nd July – 6th August 1972

Well, we all know how this one goes, don’t we? I’m not sure how, because it’s not a song you will ever hear on the radio these days, but ‘Puppy Love’ has still somehow seeped into our collective conscience. And it’s a record that sets its stall out from the start – from the opening seconds you are left with no doubt that this song will be as saccharine and cloying as the title suggested.

The intro soars and pirouettes, like they used to in the fifties, before wee Donny goes for it: And they called it, Puppy love, Oh I guess they’ll never know, How a young heart really feels, And why I love her so… His voice doesn’t sound real. I don’t mean that it’s touched up with autotune, or any other kind of modern-day trickery. I mean that it’s impossible to imagine an actual human being sounding this soppy.

And they called it, Puppy love, Just because we’re in our teens… The song’s premise being that ‘puppy love’ is what you call the sort of chaste, pecks-on-the-cheeks-and-notes-passed-in-class crush you get in Year 6. While Donny is quite adamant that his love is for real, that he and his girl should be taken seriously: How can I, Oh how can I tell them, This is not a puppy love…? Which means, you realise with a shudder, that lil’ Donny – just look at those eyes up there! – is actually a randy little horn-dog.

I am clearly not the target of this song. I am not a thirteen year old girl from the early 1970s, for a start. But it is terrible. If you wanted to write a cheesy pastiche of a fifties pop hit, you’d write a song that sounds a lot like ‘Puppy Love’. The bit where the music drops off and Donny pleads: Someone, Help me, Help me please… is simultaneously one of the most annoying moments in a #1 single, and yet quite funny. If you don’t think too much, it is just about possible to get swept away by the stupid melodrama of this record.

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This is actually quite a significant moment at the top of the charts, I’d say. Of course, Donny Osmond is not the first teen-idol to trouble the hit parade, or the #1 spot. And ‘Puppy Love’ is not the first piece of schmaltz to catch the public’s imagination. But having the two thrown together so shamelessly? It feels very post-sixties. Very glam, in a way. A complete triumph of looks over substance. Though ‘Puppy Love’ was a much older song (almost older than Osmond himself) having been recorded by Paul Anka in 1960, making #33. Having listened to Anka’s version, it’s actually a relief to return to this cover…

Donny Osmond was fourteen when this hit top spot, making him the joint-youngest chart-topper, tied with Helen Shapiro. But for God’s sake, listen to Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’ and compare it with this drivel. They do say girls mature quicker than boys… Would tweenage girls still fall for someone like Osmond in 2020? Probably, if their version of ‘Puppy Love’ was Tik-Tok friendly. I remember being at high school (so not that long ago) when the legendary S Club Juniors took a version of it back into the Top 10. And actually, my first thought when I saw the picture of Osmond above was that he looked just like a 2010 Justin Bieber. Which goes to show: a cute white boy with a bowl-cut always has, and always will, sell…