262. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold

The final number one single of 1968! Over the course of the twenty-one records that have topped the charts this year, we’ve met a wide range of characters: Bonnie & Clyde, Quinn the Eskimo, Cinderella Rockefella, Lady Madonna… Now please welcome, last but by no means least, Lily the Pink!

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Lily the Pink, by The Scaffold (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 11th December 1968 – 1st January 1969 / 1 week, from 8th – 15th January 1969 (4 weeks total)

We’ll drink a drink a drink, To Lily the Pink, The saviour of, The human race… The pace is frenetic, the song charges along on an oompah-band beat. For she invented, Medicinal compound, Most efficacious, In every case… And it’s not just Lily the Pink that we meet either, but the cast of poor souls that her medicinal compound has helped.

There’s Mr Frears, with his sticky-out ears… The notably bony Brother Tony… Old Ebeneezer, who thought he was Julius Caesar… Jennifer Eccles, with her terrible freckles… You get the idea. It’s a novelty song. Perfect for a Christmas party, last-orders down the pub sing-along when everybody’s a bit pissed. Pure music-hall.

It reminds me of two, very different songs. First, there’s ‘Oom-pah-pah’, from the musical ‘Oliver!’ Another rowdy bar-room tune, in which the drinkers raise their glasses to the life-giving properties of the mythical ‘oom-pah-pah’. It’s a classic. Secondly, this also reminds me, with its boing-boing rhythm, of another (in)famous Christmas #1… ‘Mr Blobby’. (Which very much isn’t a classic.)

‘Lily the Pink’ falls somewhere in between these two songs. It’s fun, for a verse or two, and then it gets pretty old pretty quick. There’s an unfortunate stuttering verse – Johnny Hammer, Had a terrible s-s-s-s-stammer… – and it’s very hammy by the end, when the medicinal compound proves too strong even for Lily the Pink, and she snuffs it. It’s definitely a song that would improve the more you drink…

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Speaking of which, it is based on a much older, American drinking song – ‘The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham’ – which in turn was inspired by an actual drug – Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, from the 1870s, which relieved menstrual cramps. The fact that it was 40 proof alcohol meant that plenty of people not suffering from period-pains drank it anyway… And apparently the original verses were saucier even than The Scaffold’s end-of-the-pier version.

Just as interesting as the song’s origins are the musicians involved in its recording. The Scaffold were a comedy trio from Liverpool – one of whom was Peter McCartney (brother of Paul.) Musicians they were not, and so to help them on ‘Lily the Pink’ you can hear Graham Nash of The Hollies (the line about ‘Jennifer Eccles’ is a reference to a Hollies’ hit), Tim Rice and an unknown singer by the name of Reginald Dwight, who may or may not have gone on to bigger things under a different name.

What’s that? You thought that 1968 was going to finish off with some bland, run-of-the-mill pop song? Well you haven’t been paying attention, have you? This year has brought us the most eclectic bunch of #1s so far. We’ve veered from silly novelties, to bizarro fantasy epics, from spaghetti western soundtracks to the birth of shock-rock. All with healthy doses of jazz, crooning, rock ‘n’ roll, and Cliff, in between. Next up, we tick on over into the final year of the swinging sixties, and hope that it can be half as interesting as the year just gone…

Enjoy all the number ones from 1968, and earlier, here: