Wednesday, 23 January 2008

GUYS N' DOLLS: There's A Whole Lot Of Loving

The parallel development of co-ed vocal harmony groups in Britain and America deserves close analysis (a less than subtle hint to publishing house editors there); whereas America reared the challenging, questing likes of the Fifth Dimension, the Free Design, the Mamas and the Papas and Rotary Connection, we have had Seekers both original and New, both editions of the Brotherhood of Man, Bucks Fizz, S Club, Steps, Hear'say and Liberty X - all making a point of being wholesome and unthreatening; so much so that Bucks Fizz didn't even comprehend the radicalism their writers and producers were imposing on them. Perhaps it's the difference between a tradition based in folk clubs and gospel choirs (and/or jazz singing/scatting) and our own tradition of never-closing, all-round family-pleasing showbusiness. Then there are the place-them-whence-you-will oddities like the multinational Family Dogg.

Guys N' Dolls were, historically, the exact midpoint between the New Seekers and the Dooleys - six-strong, three boys and three girls, dressed as you would expect any 1975 British MoR act featuring Bruce Forsyth's eldest daughter to dress - and "There's A Whole Lot Of Loving" was their moment, reaching number two that spring behind the Rollers' "Bye Bye Baby." The opening looming crescendi of harps and crepuscules of creeping/creepy low strings suggests several eighties adventures to come, while the voices slowly emerge from the fog, offering love and maybe hope. There is the very strong hint of 1967 togetherness about this "whole lot of loving" and the song dips as heavily into faux-Americana as any pop hit since "Let's Go To San Francisco" - corners of Kentucky, Californian Redwoods, Hoover Dam dynamos and 49er miners (see that internal rhyme schemata there?) which were doubtless in Pete Sinfield's mind when he undermined it all in "The Land Of Make Believe" ("all the corn in Carolina - never!/Never EVER!") - before settling into a typical talent show-winning anthem of its time with luxuriously cosy harmonies, a Roger Cook-esque lead vocal (a deracinated Blue Mink also spring to mind here) and two key changes handled with far less ostentation than Oasis' "All Around The World."

(The spectre of the Mike Sammes Singers also comes to mind, and anyone treating that as a negative are summarily summoned to listen to their recent Music For Biscuits compilation on Trunk Records, composed of TV and trade advertising jingles with the occasional mysterious film soundtrack snatch - their "Dulux Super 3," commissioned to promote a new line of house paint, is constructed with such musical and lyrical ingenuity and genuine love [how many permutations of famous trios can they squeeze in? Amazingly, most of them] should put today's mealy-mouthed archive raiding to shame; and this is just one of a host of tapes about to be consigned to the bin and history after Sammes' death until Jonny Trunk nobly stepped in and saved the lot. Craig Douglas' 1968 Fairy Snow washing powder commercial is almost enough to make one forgive him for beating Sam Cooke to number one in our charts with "Only Sixteen")

The record was so persuasive that many overlooked or forgave the fact that Guys N' Dolls themselves do not sing on the record (though certainly sang the song live, and perfectly, on TV at the time); the song was composed by the British team of Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow - themselves briefly pop stars a few years previously as the bubblegum group Butterscotch - whose most profitable composition has turned out to be "Can't Smile Without You," recorded shortly thereafter by Barry Manilow, and it is Martin himself who sings the male lead, though familiar voices such as Tony Burrowes and Clare Torry back him up in the choruses; the band was later recruited and assembled via advertisements). But there is such stupidly glad hope in the record that it is forgivable. And buried deep within the ranks of Guys N' Dolls were two less than glossy faces - those of David Van Day and Thereza Bazar, who a few years later would act as glad midwives to the birth of New Pop. Thus the premonition of that lexicon of an intro; if you had put a bet on the likelihood of British pop being changed by two members of Guys N' Dolls and Tina Charles' bass player, you'd probably be able to live off the interest on your winnings by now.