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Nov 06

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD – “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”

FT + Popular63 comments • 14,330 views

#301, 19th June 1971

Dead birds scream as they fight for life

One of the great, endlessly rediscovered truths of pop is that there are rhythms so addictive they make content irrelevant. “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”, a song about an abandoned bird performed terrace-chant style by a choir of buzz-voiced irritants, does not quite achieve this, but its handclaps and glitter beat is propulsive enough for them to almost get away with it. Certainly the reputation of “Chirpy Chirpy” as an all time pop crime seems unfair – “it’s moronic”, “it’s repetitive”, cry the detractors*, and it’s not that they’re wrong exactly, but their objections miss the point: the problem with the song is that with a bit less twang on the voice, and a bit more thunder in the drums, it could have broken through annoying into awesome.

*I researched said detraction online and found one marvellous comment box claim that “CCCC” is a song about the Vietnam War! Another great truth of pop I think is that EVERY song recorded between 1967 and 1972 is on some level (usually that of Interweb maniacs) about the Vietnam War.

{democracy:23}

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Comments

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  1. 31
    Mark G on 16 Jan 2008 #

    and Mac and Katie kissoon had a hit in the UK with an Abba song, before Abba had even had any! (Hits in the UK, that is)

  2. 32
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Jan 2008 #

    Incorrect. Their first hit single after their cover of “CCCC” was “Sugar Candy Kisses” in January 1975, which was not only not written by Abba (it was another Bickerton/Waddington production) but charted nine months after “Waterloo.”

  3. 33
    Mark G on 17 Jan 2008 #

    ah, soz, it was the now forgotten “Sweet Dreams”…

    They were another duo, sort of. As in, the guy sang no backing vocals and took the lead vocal for the middle eight, twice.

    “Honey Honey” was the song. T’was a hit before Abba etc…

  4. 34
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Jan 2008 #

    Again, not quite the case; the Sweet Dreams version charted in July ’74, three months after “Waterloo.”

    Sweet Dreams were in fact a very controversial duo; one of them was ex-Pickettywitch singer Polly Brown who blacked up for photos and TV appearances since we weren’t supposed to know it was her. The record still went top ten but there was a huge outcry about the blacking up and it pretty much killed Polly’s career stone dead; witness the brilliant “Up In A Puff Of Smoke” which came out under her own name three months later and petered out after peaking at #43.

  5. 35
    Mark G on 17 Jan 2008 #

    I remember that one. 43? Blimey, I’d have thought it was higher. Then again, all those “First Choice” type singers went the way round about then.

  6. 36
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Jan 2008 #

    On the Radio Clyde Tartan Thirty show they used the “going up, going up, going up up UP” bit as a jingle to indicate that a record was, erm, going up the chart.

  7. 37
    Mark G on 17 Jan 2008 #

    Heh, that’d probably be worth 3p to the writer. And in these d/l times, songs do actually move up the charts once again!

  8. 38
    wichita lineman on 17 May 2008 #

    I remember J Saville always comparing this lot to Abba – cos they had a run of number Euro number ones and a blonde haired singer, I guess. Came and went sharpish in England but Marcello I’m intrigued by these Scottish charts. Were they published anywhere?

    Quick look at the Norwegian chart book reveals CCCC was no.1 for 12 weeks, Soley Soley for 7 and Sacramento for 9! Bigger than Abba (well, for a bit) who only ever managed two no.1s in Frida’s homeland.

    No.2 watch: Hurricane Smith’s Don’t Let It Die – first eco hit?

    No.4 watch: John Kongos’s He’s Gonna Step On You Again was the first drum loop on a hit record, and still sounds dark and thrilling.

  9. 39
    Glenn on 18 Jun 2008 #

    In response to Alan Pennington on January 16th, 2008:
    there exists a photo of Lally Stott in the studio with Middle of the Road when they were recording “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”. It’s on Middle of the Road’s web site. So he clearly had input into their version of his song.

    Thanks for your personal account of Stott’s life.

    I much prefer the Mac and Katy Kissoon version, but then I am American and they had the hit here. But just objectively it’s a marvelous, driving, percussion-filled production that is a little masterpiece all unto itself – a very well-made and well-performed record that creates a lot of excitement in the listener, tinged with the haunting sadness – and scariness – of the lyric.

  10. 40

    I heared “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep” for the first time in as long as I can remember. I thought it was awful. So repetative. The same lines over and over again. It sounds like it was written and recorded in 10 minutes. Even the title to the song is dodgy. I don’t like bad mouthing songs, by the way.

  11. 41
    Sharon Ann Oldridge of Kingston upon Hull on 21 Jun 2009 #

    Sweet little birds Chirping away! For 35 years I thought it was about abandoning a child or something!! Now I can sleep at night.

  12. 42
    al smalling on 21 Jul 2009 #

    I remember CCCC when it went at or near what you Brits would call “top of the pops” in the early Seventies. It was inescapable on WFHG-Bristol, Virginia.

    I despised the song then; but like so many things, the ludicrous, with time, comes back as camp.

    A few months ago I was listening to Chicago’s FM station “Jack 104.3,” slogan “We Play What We Want” (as long as it’s from post-1970 and/or alternative). They played “Manamana,” a total nonce song consisting only of the world “Manamana” with rhythm and first and funilly peformed, as far as I know, on the Muppets’ syndicated TV show which aired here in 1971. That became “alternative” music! I loved the song and the concept! BTW you should find the vid on a Dutch website; we did.

    “CCCC” by a power-rock girl group? What do y’all think? – al, chicago illinois USA

  13. 43
    Waldo on 6 Oct 2009 #

    I was certainly rather cross that this kept Hurricane Smith off the top but was quite taken with Sally Carr so I tend not to produce a cloth of garlic whenever I hear it. I too did not associate CCCC with tweety birds but indeed assumed it was about a mother abandoning her kid. The fact that this did not appear to me to be strange was explained, probably, by the fact that many silly songs (and nursary rhymes) have very odd and indeed disagreeable subject matter. I thought “Soley Soley” was a good deal better.

  14. 44
    AndyPandy on 6 Oct 2009 #

    very interesting bloke Hurricane Smith: World War II bomber crew member, named himself after a film title,Beatles engineer (nicknamed ‘Normal’ by John Lennon), early Pink Floyd producer, making it as a pop star at 50, made his last record in the mid-noughties when he was in his early 80s when he was still appearing at Beatles conventions

    quite liked his 3 UK hits as evocative of the early 70s for me as Dickie Davies on “World Of Sport” at Saturday dinnertimes, the Flaxton Boys, Esso Blue adverts and the disabled bloke coming round in his invalid carriage selling eggs and football coupons.

  15. 45
    Snif on 6 Oct 2009 #

    “very interesting bloke Hurricane Smith….named himself after a film title…”

    I always thought it was some kind of play on the recent Thunderclap Newman hit…

  16. 46
    Andy Pandy on 7 Oct 2009 #

    He named himself after a 1942 film remade at least twice subsequently – in my 7 year old mind I used to get him confused with Hurricane Higgins who also broke through in 1972!

  17. 47
    Gordon (is a moron) M. on 18 Oct 2009 #

    I looked CCCC up to remind myself of the name of their blond lead singer, which I gather was Sally Carr. Where I grew up, in the Muirhead and Moodiesburn area, in the seventies, we used to be told by our elders of a local girl who was a ‘pop’ star. This exotic ‘creature’ could occasionally be glimpsed driving a convertable sports car, a Mercedes I think (yes I am a man), of course we gazed slack-jawed as she drove past on her way to the shops for a packet of Fags or loaf of bread, we children imagining her to be on her way to perform on TOTPs or other ‘star studded’ event. Anyway, I was wondering what became of her, I hope she is well and living in jewel- encrusted luxuary on a sun kissed private island, obviously paid for with the vast amount of money gained in royalties and fees she must have earned(sorry, Sally).

  18. 48
    Gordon (is a moron) M. on 18 Oct 2009 #

    Yes I know the band were called Middle of the Road and the song was called CCCC, but I missed the edit deadline. Told you I was a moron!

  19. 49
    thefatgit on 29 Mar 2010 #

    Haha! I’m 5 years old again! The flavour of butterscotch Angel Delight is fresh in my mouth and I’m wiggling my hips like a mad thing. It was a constant feature of kids parties for quite some time, this one and “Locomotion”.

  20. 50
    Cammo on 27 May 2010 #

    As a child I thought this song was sung by a black soul band and it was about an african american family in the south of America, when they woke up in the morning their mother had been lynched. I listened to it over and over.. I found out today that it is about a baby bird in a nest…..I feel like a part of my personality was shaped through the sadness I felt in hearing this song. I still find it to be a VERY sad song….

  21. 51
    Mark G on 28 May 2010 #

    Not a little baby called Don, then?

  22. 52
    Dispela Pusi on 17 Dec 2010 #

    You didn’t mean 0.4 (instead of 4) by any chance?

    My nomination for the worst No 1 of the 1970s.

  23. 53
    Dave H on 17 May 2011 #

    Saw Middle of the Road when they toured in the 70s. They were really good .

  24. 54
    malmo58 on 30 Jan 2012 #

    #51 Mark – you are exactly right, it is ‘little baby Don’.

    Online transcriptions of the lyrics that say ‘little baby bird’ are simply wrong. Every version I’ve ever heard says ‘little baby Don’. The original version by Lally Stott, who wrote the song, can be heard on Youtube and he clearly sings ‘little baby Don’. Case closed.

    It’s clearly about a baby boy being orphaned or abandoned. Oh what jolly pop tunes we used to have.

  25. 55
    ottersteve on 15 Jun 2012 #

    just did some googling of “hit singles – worldwide”. I’ve viewed various sources (not just wikipedia!). and I was staggered to find that CCCC regularly appears in the TOP 50 biggest sellers of all time, having sold in excess of 5 million. Make of this what you will.

    Quite an achievement considering a vast number of “superior” singles never even made the top 500.

    This is in the days before downloads counting as sales of course.

  26. 57
    Lena on 28 Jun 2012 #

    Chirpy but not cheap: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/where-wild-things-are-hurricane-smith.html Thanks for reading, everyone!

  27. 58
    Lena on 3 Jul 2012 #

    Bubblegum vs. The Man: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/sugar-rush-sweet-co-co.html Merci for reading, everyone!

  28. 59
    klinzyk on 6 Jul 2015 #

    My interpretation is this, since the song refers to the mother, and the father (mama, papa)- the mother was killed by the father, late that fateful night, because he could not stand hearing the mama sing one more verse of chirpy chirpy cheep cheep. He took her outside where he buried her, and then he left, never to be found again.

  29. 60
    Snif on 7 Jul 2015 #

    Very good Klinzyk, we’re about two molecules away from Peter Cook’s analysis of Bo Dudley’s “Mama’s Got A Brand New Bag” :-)

  30. 61
    cryptopian on 4 Aug 2016 #

    Not quite as dreadful as I remember it being. I can deal with the repetitive, odd lyrics, but it’s the execution that sinks this one. There’s something slightly unearthly about the lead’s singing voice and I hate the way the backing singers sound like they’re straining for the final “chirp.”

    Possibly the prejudice comes from singing this as part of a junior concert, along with a load of other awful 60s (ish) music like Cinderella Rockerfella and Delaware. There were pom-poms, it was awful.

  31. 62
    Matthew Marcus on 9 Aug 2017 #

    Rediscovering this due to having asked on my Facebook for songs whose titles are other bands (and which are actually about those bands, not just coincidences) and being given Denim’s Middle of the Road.

    I actually think this is a brilliant song – 4/10? Come on Tom! Sure it’s lyrically repetitive, but it’s so sad amidst all the catchiness, it’s all about losing your parents. If pop gets more amazingly, punch-to-the-gut-and-pleasure-centres-at-the-same-time bittersweet than this I don’t know about it. I’m with Lawrence from Denim on this one.

  32. 63
    lonepilgrim on 9 Aug 2018 #

    I liked this as a kid at the time as it was tailor made for playground chants and reminiscent of other bittersweet nursery rhymes like ‘Ladybird, Ladybird’ and ‘Ring-a-Ring-a-Roses’. Nowadays I appreciate the production that strips away most of the instruments to focus on the stomping rhythm and piercing vocals. It’s a heady mix of folk and glam and deserves more than a 4 IMO

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