232. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw

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…

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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’.

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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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196. ‘Long Live Love’, by Sandie Shaw

**Cue fanfare** For the first time since September 1956 (!) one female artist replaces another at the top of the UK charts. Isn’t it amazing to think that, of the 150 or so chart-topping singles since then, so few have been recorded by women.

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Long Live Love, by Sandie Shaw (her 2nd of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 27th May – 17th June 1965

Jackie Trent didn’t last long at the top – a solitary week is all she got – but our Sandie is back to stake a claim as the biggest female star of the decade. Her first #1 – ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ – was a slinky, sophisticated number. Her second is, well, more of the same.

Except ‘Long Live Love’ is perhaps a little more instant, a little catchier, a little jauntier… A swaying rhythm, a brass section, that ribbed instrument that you run a stick along, (you know the one you always got lumped with at Primary School when you couldn’t be trusted with a recorder, or a triangle…) It’s got a slight Copacabana Beach Bar vibe.

After the false start, that is. A guitar gently strums, Sandie’s voice comes through, as fun and flirty as ever: Venus must have heard my plea, She has sent someone, Along for me… And we’re off. Da-da-da-dada-dada-da-da… It’s an ode to the joys of simply being in love. Meeting each night at eight, not getting home till late… I say to myself each day, Baby oh long live love…

As with Jackie Trent before her, this is an uber sixties record. The sort of song you play over the opening credits of a TV show in order for the audience to instantly realise the time and place. And, also as with Jackie T, the lyrics – the overall meaning of the song – are pretty throwaway. She’s in love. She’s outrageously happy. The end.

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And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a catchy little pop song that shimmies along, over and out in two and a half minutes. In fact, it ends pretty abruptly, as if someone’s just pulled the plug and called it a day. Like I said, ‘Long Live Love’ is a simpler song than ‘(There’s) Always Something…’, it doesn’t have that Bacharach and David gloss, but I think I might prefer it. Sandie Shaw certainly liked it – she turned down ‘It’s Not Unusual’ in favour of it and also recorded a successful version in French. She was riding high, and we’ll meet her again before the decade is out.

I like almost everything about this record, except the title. I get what they were going for – it’s got that carefree sixties wordplay to it. But it’s kind of annoying. Like the sort of cutesy slogan a certain type of person would nowadays have stencilled on their living room wall…

Title aside… There may not have been many female led #1s in the sixties, but when they do come along they feel like a bit of an event. Think Shirley Bassey, Helen Shapiro, Cilla and now Sandie. They’re always classy, and well-polished – records that it feels like a lot of time and effort went into. Maybe they just stand out because it’s a woman singing, but I think there’s more to it than that. And the good news is we won’t have to wait too long until the next feminine vocals pop up on a #1 single, and they will be some legendary vocals indeed…

(Shock, horror! There is no YouTube link for the full, original version of ‘Long Live Love’ – so this is the best I can do. Listen on Spotify for the real version.)

180. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’, by Sandie Shaw

This next chart-topper is a record that you can date pretty much instantly. Pretend, for a second, that you haven’t been following this countdown, and that you don’t know we are currently in October 1964. Just drop the needle, and listen. You know, straight away – it’s just got that mid-sixties vibe…

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(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me, by Sandie Shaw (her 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 22nd October – 12th November 1964

There are soft, warm horns, and a little cha-cha-cha, bossanova beat. The ting of a typewriter reaching the end of a line. And a warm, playful voice… I walk along the city streets you used to walk along with me… Cute and glamorous – it kind of sounds like a French person singing in English (not that Sandie Shaw is French in any way – she’s Dagenham born and bred.)

It’s a song about a lost love, about how small things – streets and cafes – can remind you of the ones that got away. Oh how can I, Forget you, When there is always something there to remind me…? But, at the same time, it’s not a sad song. I’m not really sure what ‘kind’ of song it is…

It straddles lots of borders: it’s a bit of a ballad, a bit of a torch song, a bit of a standard pop song with a rock song looking to burst through. Listen to all the instruments involved: the horns, the orchestral strings, the twangy, Shadows-esque guitars. Plus the way Shaw sings – soft and lovelorn in the verses; shouty for the chorus. And then there’s the woah-waoh-waaaaa! and the cascading piano that bookmark either end of the violin solo.

There’s a lot going on here, but I like it. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ is another song I knew – I could have sung the chorus – but had never listened to in any detail. It’s another Bacharach & David number (they’re starting to rack up) and I love the completely pointless brackets in the title. I like it because it doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, what kind of song it is. Everything’s been chucked in and given a good mix, and the end result is a classy little #1 hit.

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The only bit that jars is the I was born to love you, And I will never be free… line, because this might have been the swinging sixties, but girls were still expected to pine after their want-away men. Still, Shaw just about sells it with vocals that are both spunky and a little vulnerable.

Sandie Shaw herself is, to me anyway, super-sixties. Just the name, without knowing anything about her, and its playful alliteration dates it to within a couple of years (her real name was Sandra.) And pictures of her taken in late ’64, when this was sitting atop the charts, show a foxy, mascaraed, chunky-fringed girl (she was but seventeen) in knee-high floral dresses. You can easily picture her racing around swinging London town on the back of a scooter, bouncing from glamorous party to glamorous party, from Carnaby Street to King’s Cross.

But… perhaps this tune is actually a victim its era. It’s a good record – a sad song with an upbeat vibe – and yet it pales a little in comparison to some of the era-defining records that have topped the charts recently. A nice song lost among the greats? Our next post is a recap, and so we’ll be able to wade back through all the recent #1s, and really sort the downright brilliant hits from the simply very good. Until then…

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