Nov 06

MIDDLE OF THE ROAD – “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”

FT + Popular68 comments • 19,335 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.




  1. 1

    i always loved that bandname — it is so “HAHA IN YOUR FACE HATAz!”

    i wonder what rainin’ and painin’ is like?

  2. 2
    Tom on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Did it mean then what it does now?

  3. 3

    i don’t know if it was an actual technical term for a niche market in the liesure industry, but it was certainly a phrase meaning “undemandingly mainstream”

  4. 4
    Marcello Carlin on 21 Nov 2006 #

    They were Scottish and therefore had eight sodding number ones in Scotland, including “Rainin’ And Painin'” which was painful.

    “CCCC” allegedly written by Ken Stott’s aunt, btw.

  5. 5

    he is the hub of all human culture

  6. 6
    intothefireuk on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Well yes extremely trite and undemanding if you’re an adult but great fun for kids. My two mini terrorists love this and the last number one – so they do function on at least one level, in fact thanks to this blog they have a compilation of bubblegum hits from this period that they love to bits.

  7. 7
    bramble on 21 Nov 2006 #

    It was written and originally recorded by Harold (Lally) Stott, who died in the late seventies on a Harley Davidson allegedly bought with the royalties of CCCC. There was a slightly more palatable version by Mac and Katie Kissoon.

  8. 8
    Tommy Mack on 21 Nov 2006 #

    Did Kenickie cover this for some sort of Lamacq-sponsored charity affair? Or is that just an indie-boy wet dream?

  9. 9
    bramble on 21 Nov 2006 #

    I dont think Kenickie covered it. There was a version by Lush at some point

  10. 10
    Matthew K on 22 Nov 2006 #

    My four year old LOVES the Lush version. Sings it over and over and over and over and over. Like the original wasn’t repetitive enough.

  11. 11
    Tim on 22 Nov 2006 #

    This is the first #1 since “Back Home” that I can remember hearing adapted into a football chant, which seems strange.

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Thanks for clearing up the Stott mystery.

    Mention must of course also be made of Denim’s song “Middle Of The Road” at the end of which Lawrence paraphrases CCCC, and I think he captures the sadness at the essence of this song very well.

  13. 13
    Tom on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Even though I stand by my 4 I am gladdened by the poll support for this track.

    The quoting in the Denim track I always hear as defiantly celebratory, like the rest of the song really.

    Concealed in the blog entry (well, in the photo caption) is another content parallel, of course.

  14. 14
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #

    There is also a noticeable lyrical overlap (in the chorus) with another number one from a decade later.

    Don’t quite see the Vietnam subtext in “Dick-A-Dum-Dum,” mind.

  15. 15

    it is a euphemism for fragging!

  16. 16
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #

    What the bleep is “fragging”?

  17. 17
    Marcello Carlin on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Oh right, that’s what it means. Obviously punishment for the impetuous request: “Lend me a fiver, I’ll bring you back a spare one.”

  18. 18
    Erithian on 22 Nov 2006 #

    Can someone confirm the Harold Stott/Harley story?

    Must say I always thought this was awful, and the band did have smaller hits with better songs (“Soley Soley”, “Tweedledee Tweedledum” – well, relatively better). Mainly, though, this brings to mind the image of TOTP dancers doing that archetypal early 70s dance best described as “trying to break out of an invisible bubble” – the one that all the dolly birds were doing in that club George Best strode into to fill the stack of champagne glasses in the clip included in every obituary. (a year ago this weekend. R.I.P.)

  19. 19
    Erithian on 24 Nov 2006 #

    Number 2 Watch: a motley collection of songs stalled at 2 while Middle of the Road were at the top. “I Did What I Did For Maria”, Tony Christie’s biggest hit pre-Peter Kay; “Don’t Let It Die” by Hurricane Smith (former Pink Floyd sound engineer, bizarrely enough) and “Co-Co”, the first of the Sweet’s five Number 2s.

  20. 20
    Dadaismus on 24 Nov 2006 #

    Hurricane Smith, now yer talkin’!

  21. 21
    Marcello Carlin on 24 Nov 2006 #

    And future Teardrop Explodes trumpeter to boot!

    “Oh Babe What Would You Say” was bizarrely a US number one in ’72 (number four here).

  22. 22
    Doctor Casino on 24 Nov 2006 #

    Huh. This pretty harmless as these things go. Catchy enough. Keep hearing “The Locomotion” in the verses. I do have to admit that each one of these minor bubblegum hits does make me appreciate Tom’s take on “Sugar, Sugar” more – the Archies still bug me, but I’m starting to yearn for that layering-up of elements and hooks. Here we just get them in steady alternation without any variation in arrangement or timbre. Good, could be better.

  23. 23
    mike on 26 Nov 2006 #

    As this was the single which got me properly into “following the charts”, it will always hold a special place in my heart (“Knock Three Times” occupying the John The Baptist slot). Best bits: Sally Carr’s interjections between each repetition of the chorus during the outro. (“Let’s go now!” “All together now!” “One more time now!” “LemmehearyouallSINGINnow!”… oh OK, maybe you had to be very young.) Lally Stott (yes, male) had a solo album out later in 1971, as I recall from a half-remembered full-page review in Target

  24. 24
    Marcello Carlin on 27 Nov 2006 #

    Best bit is Ken Andrews’ deadpan cymbal on every fourth beat of the chorus!

  25. 25
    david b on 12 Dec 2006 #

    Re Denim’s quoting of CCCC, P J Harvey doing the same even more wrackingly at the end of the Robert Wyatt-esque “Nina in Ecstacy”

  26. 26
    koganbot on 9 Feb 2007 #

    OK, first heard this song not in this version but in a mix-and-match dance remix on a cheap cassette out of Singapore. Vastly better; hearing it, you’d realize what a fundamentally great song it is. Probably wasn’t actually recorded/mixed in Singapore but in Italy or Germany, which is where the East Beat Singapore pirates pulled a lot of their material; in fact, I think the draggy old Middle Of The Road’s version was also recorded in Italy. Anyway, Tom, just want you to know there’s an amazing version out there, unfortunately I don’t know whom by. This is terrible compared to that one – no wonder Mama’s gone. She’s bored. But still, this is such a great tune it’s at least a 7 in any version not sung by barking dogs. Also, the disparity between word and melody is truly bizarre.

  27. 27
    BabyBoomer1960 on 9 Feb 2007 #

    This song was all over the AM airwaves when I was a child, right about the time when the Viet Nam conflict had reach it’s boiling point and divided America into two camps. That bit said, there’s been so many covers recorded and quite a few in foreign languages, Mickie Krause’s German dance mix Riesse Die Hutte Ab to name in particular. As said above, a catchy little tune yet to appear in a TV commercial to sell soft drinks or personal computers.-Post Script: Harold (Lally) Stott did release a quirky B/W video to this song, it’s posted on YouTube and worth a peek. Yes, Middle Of The Road had their own version available on that site as well.

  28. 28
    CarsmileSteve on 9 Feb 2007 #

    But still, this is such a great tune it’s at least a 7 in any version not sung by barking dogs.

    clearly the barking dogs version would be a 10?

  29. 29
    johnnyf on 13 May 2007 #

    What are the thoughts of the Mac and Katie kissoon version>thatwas the hit in the US!

  30. 30
    Alan Pennington on 16 Jan 2008 #

    In reply to “bramble” November 2006.
    I Knew Lally Stott having lived only a few miles away from him in St.Helens Merseyside, he came from Shore Lane Prescot between St.Helens & Liverpool. Lally went living in Italy and became a big pop star there and married the daughter of a high ranking official, possibly the head of the milatary forces,Lally had a massive hit with Chirpy in Italy but his was a much slower version. He then divorced and returned to England and lived with his mother in Prescot. He bought himself a Jaguar but on that fateful day he borrowed his mothers moped to quickly go on an errand to Prescot and was knocked off the moped and killed. The biography of Middle of the Road group going to Italy and recording the song sounds feasable considering the writer Lally was living there at the time. However, to my knowledge he never owned or rode a Harley Davidson, he was not really into motor bikes so I don’t think the story about him being killed on a Harley is correct, thinking about it,in those days you could ride a moped with “L” plates using a car licence, you only needed a motor bike one for anything over 250cc at that time.

  31. 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)

  32. 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.”

  33. 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…

  34. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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.

  37. 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!

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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…

  46. 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!

  47. 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).

  48. 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!

  49. 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”.

  50. 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….

  51. 51
    Mark G on 28 May 2010 #

    Not a little baby called Don, then?

  52. 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.

  53. 53
    Dave H on 17 May 2011 #

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

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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!

  57. 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!

  58. 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.

  59. 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” :-)

  60. 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.

  61. 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.

  62. 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

  63. 64
    chrisew71 on 19 Dec 2018 #

    Heard this for the first time in the movie “Breakfast On Jupiter”, and I have to confess it was stuck in my head for weeks afterward.

  64. 65
    Mark G on 27 Dec 2019 #

    Today I did wonder two things:

    1) Should their “Soley Soley” really be called “Soleil Soleil”, and would it have affected its hit chances if it had been?

    2) Was their ‘first flop’ single “Bottoms Up” be a likely influence for the song used in “Educating Rita” as the ‘there has to be a better song to sing than this!’ song, which in turn influenced “A Design for life” the Manics?

  65. 66
    Nic on 13 Mar 2021 #

    I was about 5 or 6 when this was popular. I’ve always loved it, I only knew the Middle of the Road version being in the UK. I grew up feeling it was a very sad song but never knowing quite what the story was. Sometime over the years I think I assumed it was in a some way related to slavery and that the baby had both his parents taken from him. I’ve been interested to read others ideas and opinions on this. Whatever it’s meaning it remains firmly tucked inside my childhood memories and as such I treasure it.

  66. 67
    Pip on 28 Apr 2021 #

    Who’s Don?

  67. 68
    Gareth Parker on 27 May 2021 #

    The dreaded 1/10 for me I’m afraid. I can’t find any redeeming qualities to this single.

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