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Jul 06

GEORGIE FAME – “The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde”

FT + Popular48 comments • 6,313 views

#242, 27th January 1968

And so to 1968. Recently I read a book called 1968 – Mark Kurlansky’s breathless tour of that year, which touched dutifully on all the accepted counter-cultural highpoints without really bringing them to life. It didn’t talk much about the pop charts. For people who weren’t there – and some who were – I’m guessing the soundtrack of 1968 is Pink Floyd or the Doors, not Esther and Abi or Dozy and Beaky. To put it crudely – albums, not singles.

The late 60s saw a shift in critical and promotional emphasis away from singles and towards albums. Whether promotional money came before critical regard or not, I don’t know: better margins no doubt came before both. There are particular events and trends that push the shift along: the crackdown on the pirates and the launch of state pop radio; the release of Sergeant Pepper’s; the rise of an underground press in Britain with new ideas about what mattered in rock; consumer uptake of marijuana and 33rpm record players. For the purposes of this blog it doesn’t actually matter, except to note that pop abhors a vacuum, and even if labels and writers and A&R men were all about albums, something still had to top the singles charts.

As I think I’ve said before, the lists of British number ones are hard to pick trends or generalisations from. They’re a blend of hot acts with mobilised fans, labels pushing fads and niche markets hard, one-offs spawned by film or TV or news, and a large proportion of records that – thanks to some gimmick or other – simply seemed like a good idea at the time. All of these categories, I reckon, are about equally likely to produce fantastic pop: it’s just that 1968 seems to feature a lot of the last.

This particular example is sort of a film tie-in, in that the writers went and saw Warren Beatty’s Bonnie And Clyde, loved it, and decided that what it really needed was a vampy supper-club theme tune by Georgie Fame, complete with “jazzy bit” as a sop to what Georgie did best. Fame’s throaty, amused delivery may aim for nihilist romance but as the story and song plods to its end he just sounds jaded. A strange hit to kick off a strange year.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    Erithian on 20 Jul 2006 #

    This is the first Number 1 that I can remember from the time and seeing it on TOTP at the age of 5. Of course it started a lifelong affinity with TOTP and so many memories of great appearances – none more so than the one coming up in about 13 entries’ time! Last year, at exactly the same age, my twin boys for the first time went to bed singing the Number 1 they’d just heard on TOTP, “Amarillo”. It’s a pity they haven’t got thirty-odd years of the show to look forward to…

  2. 27
    Tim Hopkins on 21 Jul 2006 #

    I’m a stinker for assuming things got to #1 which didn’t, really, but I thought dear old Kenny Rogers had a short string of #1s which were proper actual country (albeit of a pop variety)?

  3. 28
    Tim Hopkins on 21 Jul 2006 #

    Pls ignore the above covered by TE’s first reply whch I misunderstood completely. Oh dear.

  4. 29
    Mark M on 21 Jul 2006 #

    According to Everyhit, Kenny got to number 1 with Lucille and (of course) Coward Of The County, and number 2 with Ruby. As Tom sort of implied, this country’s fear of country is a bit of a myth.

  5. 30
    Tom on 21 Jul 2006 #

    I forgot “Lucille”! Yes indeed.

    That said I think the UK’s country-lovin’ heyday does seem to have passed, a bit.

  6. 31
    Chris Brown on 21 Jul 2006 #

    Howdy! I keep meaning to come around and comment on something here in the “new” location. Glad to see so many new posts on here.

    However, I don’t think I’ve ever heard this song, which limits my opportunities to discuss it somewhat. Having glanced at the rest of 1968 I agree with the overall tenor.

    Now I’m off to annoy everyone by commenting on ancient posts…

  7. 32
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Jul 2006 #

    Though it should be noted that “Stand By Your Man,” recorded and released in 1968, took seven years to get to number one in Britain.

  8. 33
    Alan Connor on 26 Jul 2006 #

    The same Peter Sellars who played William Shaksper Junior the Fifth in Godard’s King Lear – along with Woody Allen, Julie Delpy, Norman Mailer, Burgess Meredith and Molly Ringwald?

  9. 34
    Doctor Mod on 3 Aug 2006 #

    Country? Since when is this sorry bit of retro-30s pseudo-jazz COUNTRY??

    There was some genuine c&w in the film soundtrack, Flatt and Scruggs, as I recall. Now that guitar/banjo pickin’ work fit right in with the ambience of the film. B&C were country-kinda people, after all.

    Somehow, Georgie Fame mugging and smirking through the sound of multiple gunshots makes me wonder if Mitch Murray and Peter Callender actually saw the film.

    The denouement was not cute.

  10. 35
    koganbot on 8 Aug 2006 #

    Ha, I was reading down this and was wondering “When is someone going to mention Flatt & Scruggs” – though as for their being “genuine country,” I might classify ’em more as neo-bluegrass proto-NPR/alt-country. Also, not having read any of the bios, I’d nonetheless expect that the real Bonnie & Clyde – and also the ones portrayed in the movie – would have been pop fans, probably listening to Crosby and Astaire and having dreams of glamour. And my ex-wife Leslie once remarked that the real Bonnie would probably have been ecstatic to have someone who looked like Dunaway playing her in the movie.

    Beatty is an amazing actor, but always makes me uneasy, since his specialty is characters with a lot of difficult things going on inside but without much self-awareness of all that’s running beneath their own surface.

  11. 36
    koganbot on 8 Aug 2006 #

    Mark, of course the Cahierist new wavers weren’t anti-moralist at all (note the Rohmer cycle “Six Moral Tales”) (and Penn and Benton and Newman aren’t antimoralist either); what they objected to was films reducing themselves to a moral point, as if they were Aesop’s Fables. The Cahieriets wanted ideas to be imbedded in the whole staging and flow of a movie and the relations of its characters (“staging and flow/relations of its characters” = my attempt to translate the phrase “mise en scène”; lots of “Death Rock 2000” [among other pieces] is my applying the concept [“concept”] “mise en scène – or Ferguson’s and Farber’s American equivalents – to music).

  12. 37
    koganbot on 8 Aug 2006 #

    Odd that you should pick the Doors to represent albums, Tom. You’re right that 1968 is the big shift to albums, but the Doors were the one freak band to never stop placing singles high on the charts. And Morrison never lost his appeal to teenyboppers, albeit to the glammetal-before-there-was-even-glammetal rock-chick teens, not the Davey-Jones-is-so-cute teens.

  13. 38
    Tom on 8 Aug 2006 #

    I didn’t know that! In the UK I guess the singles weren’t released, or weren’t promoted, because they didn’t really have hits beyond “Hello I Love You”. “Light My Fire” is a #1 later though, for someone else, and Pink Floyd get a number 1 too in 1979, so the picks were a tiny bit tongue in cheek.

  14. 39
    bramble on 6 Sep 2006 #

    Didnt Mitch Mitchell play on this before jumping ship with Jimi Hendrix?

  15. 40
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Sep 2006 #

    No, Fame fired Mitchell for “insubordination” back in ’66; his next job was with the Experience.

  16. 41
    Mitch Murray on 12 Mar 2007 #

    I read the various opinions of my song, ‘The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde’ with interest and amusement. Of course, many of the comments were fair and well-made, but at the time I was in the business of writing hit songs and I can’t apologise for that – especially as millions of people all over the world bought the record and made it No.1 in so many countries. Several other singers besides Georgie Fame covered it and had great success, including Johnny Halliday’s No.1 in France – ‘L’Histoire de Bonnie et Clyde’.
    Yes, of course it was a period-piece, and was meant to relate to the Thirties however, the song told the story of Bonnie and Clyde in what I believe was a highly melodic yet dramatic style.
    Your correspondents were right when they observed that the piece was an example of musical opportunism – much of pop music is always opportunistic, hit songwriters like to have hits, but I am very proud of the song and believe it had value. Millions of record buyers agreed, and Warner Brothers recognised that ‘The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde’ helped with the promotion of the movie in many territories.
    By the way, we did see the film – that’s why we were inspired to write the song.
    Thank you all for your interest. Best regards, Mitch Murray.

  17. 42
    Marcello Carlin on 12 Mar 2007 #

    What did you think of the Serge Gainsbourg one?

  18. 43
    Doctor Casino on 1 May 2008 #

    I finally heard this one for the first time and I must say, Tom, you’re uncharacteristically harsh here! You may be right that the performance hits some weird notes, but if you’re not paying attention this is a really catchy thing. It could use some more surprises along its length but I can’t complain about that first hook, “BONnie and Clyde” – nice.

    I associate these kind of rinky-dink retro pieces with mild children’s edutainment cartoons, mainly the “I’m Just A Bill” spot on “Schoolhouse Rock” but I think it ran through all manner of cheap children’s fare for decades. Ooh – even better example – Follow The Arrows.

    ….so imagine my surprise when I got ready to post this comment and found that this thread was once revived by the song’s author! (Or an imposter, although I can’t imagine what would possess somebody to bother.)

  19. 44
    DJ Punctum on 1 May 2008 #

    Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a little discreet self-Googling… ;-)

    (although I note that Mr Murray didn’t return to comment on the “Billy Don’t Be A Hero” entry)

  20. 45
    rosie on 30 Jul 2008 #

    Tom @38: Light My Fire was a contemporary hit, though not a number one, for Jose Feliciano. Not a straight copy but an interesting and original interpretation.

  21. 46
    Lena on 29 Nov 2011 #

    Motown meets Baroque Pop: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2011/11/lovers-discourse-four-tops-walk-away.html Thanks for reading, tout le monde!

  22. 47
    DanH on 9 Jan 2013 #

    This always reminded me of Randy Newman. At least, popular caricatures of Randy Newman. Singing what he sees

  23. 48
    lonepilgrim on 11 May 2016 #

    I can remember this from when I was a kid and finding it quite catchy at the time. I liked songs with stories and, even though this had a violent ending, the light hearted tone made it palatable. Heard now, it seems a bit too pleased with itself and inconsequential.

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