31
Jul 07

WIZZARD – “See My Baby Jive”

FT + Popular58 comments • 6,695 views

#330, 19th May 1973

At work today I was doing a bit of research on sweets, and found a site which boasted a “Bush Tucker Prize” jar – an enormous plastic thing designed to cash in on the I’m A Celebrity reality show. The jar was filled with jelly and candy insects, worms, and animals of all kinds. The nominal weight, explained the site, was two kilograms – but they cram it as full as they possibly can so it actually weighs much more. The photo proved their claim – no possibility of telling individual shapes or sweets apart, everything rammed and mashed in until it squashed against the sides and distorted.

Obviously I wouldn’t be mentioning this if it hadn’t sprung to mind when I was hunting for a way to describe what I feel listening to Wizzard. “See My Baby Jive” sounds like Roy Wood has filled an already way-too-big jar with sweeties and then just kept crushing more and more in: it’s sugary, more-ish, overstuffed and faintly nauseating. You don’t get the feeling Wood rejected many ideas.

Of course Wood wasn’t alone in wanting to take the Spector Wall of Sound and add more bricks – ABBA admit a debt to his extension work and Springsteen’s Road of Sound isn’t an ocean away from “Jive”‘s mighty blurt. But those examples are polished, their ideas more focused and effective, their impact less confusing and visceral. Like his previous #1, “Blackberry Way”, “See My Baby Jive” sounds messy, like it’s slopping over: Wood croons, hollers, yaps, pleas, encourages his band to upstage him if they can.

Roy Wood’s look matched his sound: stagey and complex but still somehow savage – he’s the only one of the big glam names whose visual shock value hasn’t resolved itself into something easier to cope with. Comical, futuristic, pitiful, sexy – Wood isn’t quite any of those. If anything, he’s still a bit scary – maybe that’s why I react to his music with a wary ambivalence, afraid to get too involved.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Tom on 31 Jul 2007 #

    I should probably note that he isn’t sexy ONE BIT – “not quite sexy” is a little weak here.

  2. 2
    Billy Smart on 31 Jul 2007 #

    Ah, but for me its the madness that makes Roy Wood’s singles so compelling. There’s a very bipolar aspect to them – as if somebody who experiences terrible lows and fears is desperately trying to keep a manic phase going by testing his virtuosity to the very limit. It’s like watching a conjourer spinning dozens of plates simultaneously, how many different hooks and phrases he keeps going in this performance.

    It’s also a really interesting song if you try and follow it – and the inferences with which its sung. Sometimes when I listen to it ‘Baby’ seems like a real goer, the “She hangs on to me and she really goes. Woaoah! Woaoah!” sounding salacious – but at other times ‘Baby’ seems to be the the happiest dancer imaginable, everybody in the town (possibly cartoon characters) turning up to see her jive and cheer her on, some playing saxaphones and drums to accompany the dance.

    But I never get tired of hearing this one.

  3. 3
    Tom on 31 Jul 2007 #

    Yeah, this is one of those singles where I can really see WHY someone would like it a lot more than I do. (There’s a few of them in 1973, actually).

  4. 4
    jeff w on 31 Jul 2007 #

    Count me in the group that would rank this closer to 10 than 6. This is one of the few songs from the glam era that spoke to me differently (but just as strongly) when re-discovering it in the 90s than it had done in 1973.

    Thinking back now, I prefer my 8 year old reaction (this is great to sing along to in the car on the long drive home from visting relatives) to my 28 year old thoughts (haha this is bonkers but clever too). But there’s space in my heart for smart-but-OTT pop and Wizzard fill it neatly.

    Questions for the comments box massive: is Wizzard Brew worth buying? And what about other Roy Wood recordings from the 70s – any forgotten gems?

  5. 5
    Rosie on 31 Jul 2007 #

    One thing about this is that it’s pretty much what it says on the tin, well all right, the label. It is a fabulous track to jive to. The syncopated rhythms don’t work for disco dancing but jiving is just right. The intense business of the sound makes you feel even more exhausted than usual afterwards too.

    On the other hand, just sitting and listening to it not only makes me feel tired but it also sounds muddy. Like cramming a whole box of jelly beans in your mouth at once.

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Well, Roy Wood was an absolute hero of mine in ’73 – he sang! he played a million instruments! sometimes all at once! he put atonal and improv tropes into his post-’67 (in all senses) pop! (see “10538 Overture” the ELO single which makes you wish he’d stayed there a lot longer, though that was literally a Move single in disguise, i.e. Jeff Lynne, top Tory drummer Bev “Bev” Bevan, Rick Price on bass and Wood on everything else including “heavy metal ‘cello section,” done concomitantly with Message From The Country) – and “SMBJ” is excess in excelsis; all Christmases coming at once (steady on), the Python get-ups they wore on TOTP (rollerskating gorillas, bearded ballet dancers etc.) AND THEY HAD CUSTARD PIE FIGHTS ON TOTP – imagine the blocked-up likes of Hard-Fi doing that now – everything artfully conceived to appeal to the comic-loving nine-year-old self.

    It’s just fabulous in the literal sense of stemming from a fable; the dream of Spector, recorded in a wooden box probably about a twelfth of the size of Goldstar Studios, which ends up exceeding Spector because it captures the happiness which the latter wilfully could never achieve. It’s slapstick anti-studium, pantomime punctum; it’s most things which helped begin to steer me away from Cor! and Whizzer and Chips and towards Pop Music in Capital Letters and today it still sounds miraculous (it lasts for five minutes but seems like two!). RW was the Brit Todd, the autosavant post-ironic pop deconstructionalist, and “SMBJ” is sort of his “Just One Victory” (see also “SMBJ”‘s subsequent, unlikely bastard children “Kitchen Person” by the Associates and “Taboos” by the Passage).

    I wrote about Mr Wood’s other work way back on CoM, here to be exact…

    As you have probably long since guessed, I’m giving this a 10.

  7. 7
    Snif on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Wizzard passed me by until New Year’s Eve 1973. One of the local TV channels was having an all-night rock and roll marathon. No small measure of excitement for this dull 13 year old suburban schlub. All night? TV stations closed around midnight in those days. Plunked myself down with siblings and began to take it all in.

    There was Suzi Quatro doing “48 Crash” and “Can The Can”…wind-machined hair and body hugging leather explained my older brothers’ interest in her. Good lord, there was Sweet doing “Ballroom Blitz – is *that* what they looked like?

    Then came Wizzard doing “See My Baby Jive”, and it was love at first sight. How had I missed this? Could people really perform in get up like that? Sweet in comparison seemed like mere pretenders. And despite it being in black and white (Australian TV went to colour in 1974) the colour just exploded from the screen.

    And the song….! Five glorious minutes of joyous, over-the-top excess, everything including the kitchen sink, the kitchen fittings, the whole house. A handful of playings on TV and then it would be 30 years before I saw that clip again, thanks to Youtube.

    I rushed into town as soon as humanly possible to seek out this seven inch vinyl treasure and played it over and over. Copping derision from America-listening friends who saw stars painted on foreheads and girlie backing vocals as cheap teenybopperdom…it seemed no-one else that I knew liked it, or barely remembered it. Finding the odd album – the Oz issue of Wizzard Brew had SMBJ shoehorned on – and becoming a distant disciple. An art teacher told me Wood had been in this band called The Move, sending me off to seek out more of this hairy muffin’s musical meanderings.

    I have to admit his work after “Mustard” does little for me, but I’ve never, ever tired of “See My Baby Jive” – my favourite song of all time, a mere 10 couldn’t suffice to express my love for this recording.

  8. 8
    Tom on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Thankyou Marcello and Snif – comments like those are what makes Popular such a pleasure to do.

  9. 9
    Erithian on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Superb summary Marcello, Wizzard turned TOTP and pop in general into a party and we loved them for it. I sometimes wonder what those “new” Beatles singles in the 90s would have sounded like if Roy Wood had got his hands on them instead of Jeff Lynne – a lot sprightlier and more fun I expect. I’d disagree with Tom about his visual shock value not becoming easier to cope with – by the time of “that” Xmas single he’s everyone’s beloved uncle, albeit one in weird face paint and pre-Sideshow Bob hair, and the little girl has no hesitation in kissing him on the cheek. (The story went that he only wore the makeup to cope with his shyness – aaahh.)

    Although their two Number 1s came in spring and late summer, Wizzard feel like a Crimble band – their first hit “Ball Park Incident” came out in December ’72, their last big hit “Are You Ready To Rock?” in December ’74, and in between (of course) they were one of the highlights of pop’s ultimate Christmas – about which much more shortly.

    I’m guessing the band means diddly-squat to most North American readers, in which case I’d recommend them to search some of these songs out.

  10. 10
    Erithian on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Similar acclaim for Snif’s posting, which hadn’t appeared on the thread when I posted mine above – didn’t mean to be, ahem, sniffy.

  11. 11

    did i dream the following story?: someone (on ilx?) telling me that they were on holiday somewhere and out walking in the fields, and they came to a fence, and a man on horseback rode up on the other side to say hullo, and it was roy wood in full facepaint

    (in my mind’s eye he is dressed like the horsemen in zardoz, ie in loincloth and bullet belt — what are they called? — with a rifle, but that is definitely my embroiderment)

  12. 12
    Zarathustra Smith on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Certainly Roy Wood thought BIG. It’s as if he’d listened to Phil Spector records and thought “Well, you know, it’s all right, but it sounds a bit tinny and thin… How could I beef it up a bit?”

    And because he thought BIG, naturally he thought BIG BAND. Cue the massed ranks of saxes, the Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B wearing silver eyeshadow. It’s no accident that the song title mentions jive – Roy Wood wanted it to be like Glenn Miller’s plane crashing into a Wall of Sound.

  13. 13
    CarsmileSteve on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Mark, i told you that story, but it wasn’t about me, it was a mate from manchester who’d been sent off on a school outward bounds type holiday in the mid 70s and, apparently, saw RW on a horse, in his full totp getup…

  14. 14

    hurrah!

  15. 15
    Doctor Casino on 1 Aug 2007 #

    I’m normally a sucker for overstuffed productions and clean hooks, but something about this hasn’t gelled for me – I checked it out back when we were talking about the Move and ended up sort of forgetting it. Listening to it again now, it’s the same story now. I’d go so far as to reverse Marcello’s proposition and say that after two minutes, it feels like it’s gone on for five! Just not working for me. But then, as Tom says, “I can really see WHY someone would like it a lot more than I do.” When Marcello talks about making Spector in a wooden box with half the resources and twice the enthusiasm – that sounds awesome! More to the point for me, it sounds like what I’d like to achieve in my own little musical noodling projects. Somehow, Wizzard just doesn’t deliver on the promise for me. Maybe you had to be there – or maybe it’s just professional jealousy. ;)

  16. 16
    intothefireuk on 1 Aug 2007 #

    Firstly, RW must be applauded for ending the evil Orlando’s reign at the top. Secondly – what a way to end it ! The explosive motorbike roar ushering in a joyous cacophony that pushed my poor inadequate radio speakers to the limit (at least in 1973 it did). It still sounds vibrant & messy & totally pop today. I was and still am a sucker for Woods particular brand of melodramatic pop mini-symphonies (see also Blackberry Way, 10538 & any other Wizzard single) and although its too early to really say this – his is easily, for me, the best Xmas single ever made. His appearance & the bands willingness to indulge in Tiswas style lunacy on TOTP only added to the fun for me.

  17. 17
    Waldo on 1 Aug 2007 #

    I can’t understand how anyone would not consider this great. It leaps all over the place, a glorious over-egged panachea for miserable bastards everywhere. The fact that it does indeed go on far too long is all part of the charm, especially the ludicrous “I don’t want to end” finish, which reminds me inexorably of the 1812… but then I’m ill, as I’m sure you guys and gals know by now. I would comfortably give this a 9 (I subscribe to the view that nothing on earth deserves a 10, apart possibly from most of Scott Walker’s Brel tracks, but that’s another story) simply because it makes me smile and indeed “jive”. A little piece of magic, I would say.

    Could someone help me with this. I have a foggy memory of Roy Wood being badly beaten up one time in a public crapper dressed in full Wizzard regalia. In shades of “Clockwork Orange”, his attackers sang SMBJ as they hammered the living shit out of the poor bastard, as he was desperately trying to put himself away. Whilst this was far from kind (if someone can substantiate it), it does remind me of a time when Todd Rundgren was burgled over in the States many years ago when he was actually at home. It was reported that having cleaned Todd out of all his cash, bling, gear etc, one of the visiting gunmen picked up Rundgren’s guitar and wittily treated his host to the middle bit solo from “I Saw The Light”, which is a belting track, let me tell you, before scuttling off. How excellent is that?!

    Marcello – Whizzer and Chips. Yes, me too. Were you a Whiz Kid or a Chip-ite? I was the former. As you are clearly highly politicised (never slow to point out “top Tories” – incidentally, you must surely agree that such folk are as rare as rockinghorse shit in show business per se. I, for example, would never think to mention “leading Lefty, Paul Weller” when we eventually discuss The Jam because firstly there’s no point and secondly I personally don’t give a flying fuck), I would imagine that you remember fondly “The Toffs v The Tuffs” in that comic. The Toffs were of course odious posh kids, top Tories, if you will, whereas The Tuffs were noble savages, from solid Labour-voting stock whose working class ethics always won them the day against the Capitalist might of their home counties adversaries… Er…yes. Nurse!

    Marcello again (and note also to Jeff W) – Your piece on Roy Wood on CoM was excellent. You’re a wordsmith, my friend! But may I disagree with you on “Dear Elaine”, which I feel is a sublime piece, on which Roy plays and sings everything. You say “incredibly this was a top 20 hit”. I actually think the song is beautiful. Schubert would have been proud of it. Check it out, Jeff!

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 2 Aug 2007 #

    I was thinking in terms of its production and delivery which were defiantly anti-gloss and even proto-lo-fi…”Dear Elaine” would fit very comfortably onto an Ariel Pink or Animal Collective record. I agree that it’s an absolutely gorgeous song, if Brian Wilson etc.*

    *(I also thought of that free seven-inch which was given away with the Beach Boys’ Holland – another ’73 artefact, and “California Saga: California” even briefly visited our Top 40 as a single – with Brian’s fairy tale about the transistor radio; very Roy Wood, although the latter would have made it a lot funnier and more entertaining)

    That story of RW getting duffed up in the public crapper does ring a very vague bell with me (the one I remember from that time is Brian Connolly having his throat cut by footpads just before the Sweet were due to support the Who at the Charlton Athletic grounds in early ’74, though subsequent anecdotal evidence suggests that this may have been fabricated by management wanting to toughen up the group’s image) – terrible business if indeed it happened, though bearing in mind that both Wizzard and ELO were under the management jockstrap of the recently departed Don Arden this too may be a rather more complex tale…

    “I See The Light” – what a single, only #36 here, what was Britain thinking? And, for that matter, “Hello It’s Me,” top five in America (at least before Todd did that infamous coast-to-coast TV broadcast where he dressed as a sort of Roy Wood-goes-Kabuki), did zero here. Were Millican and Nesbitt really more alluring to British record buyers? Why do I even ask such rhetorical questions?

    Definitely a Whiz Kid (and in terms of Shiver and Shake I tended towards the Shiver side of things). Is Weller still a Leading Lefty, especially since he backed the Tories in ’77, or at least pretended to just to wind up Strummer? I note Foxton and Buckler continue to be tight-lipped about their political leanings. Ah, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves since SPOILER we’ll have a bit of a wait before the Jam turn up here…

  19. 19
    Billy Smart on 2 Aug 2007 #

    The Who played at the Valley twice; in 1974 they were supported by Maggie Bell, Humble Pie, Lou Reed, Bad Company and Lindisfarne, in 1976 by Alex Harvey, Little Feat, The Outlaws and The Streetwalkers. The Sweet must have appeared with The Who somewhere else.

    The 1976 show was in The Guinness Book of Records for many years as being the loudest concert ever – I feel sorry for the inhabitants of Floyd Road! Both events have a legendary status as being rough, violent and exciting events, suiting the music and performance styles of Reed and Harvey. The old Valley held 80,000 people – 40,000 of them on the vast and crumbling East Terrace that the GLC condemned as unsafe in 1985, resulting in the closure of the ground for 7 years.

  20. 20
    Mark M on 2 Aug 2007 #

    I believe that Weller is still bitt-ah about being ‘exploited’ by Red Wedge and firmly post-political these days…

  21. 21
    Marcello Carlin on 2 Aug 2007 #

    The Sweet were supposed to support the Who at the ’74 gig but pulled out because of the alleged attack. In Rock File 3 there’s a rather sneering article about this in which the Sweet are pejoratively termed the Tremeloes of their day, how dare they trespass upon the holy land of Townshend, if Townshend asked them personally then he’s out of touch, they don’t even write their own hits, and all the other markers of the supposed golden age of rock writing.

  22. 22
    Erithian on 2 Aug 2007 #

    So what’s all this about Roy Wood going around on horseback and into public toilets (unless you mean the venue loos at a Wizzard gig, Waldo) in full make-up? Any other sightings? – at Tesco’s, at a cashpoint, on the tube?

    Re the Sweet incident, here’s how Andy Scott relates it on the Glitter Suits and Platform Boots website: “Pete Townsend actually came to a couple of gigs incognito, because he had ideas of what he wanted on this particular show at Charlton. One of them must have been the Rainbow Christmas show in 1973, and in the New Year it was announced that we would be on this bill. This might have been the making of the band in a different way in England. Maggie Bell replaced us. We were due to play directly after Lou Reed and directly before The Who. And we had a tour of England, about seven or eight dates, leading up to the Charlton Athletic gig. And about a month before the tour, Brian was in a place and somebody in this place didn’t like him. And when he left, they were dancing on the top of his Mercedes, on the roof of his car, so he went to have a go at them, and there were two other people waiting for him, and he got really beaten up in this car-park. And one of the things they did was when they kicked him, they kicked him in the throat. And I remember thinking at the time … none of us were happy at what had happened to him, but all of us were really, really unhappy that he’d put himself in a vulnerable situation at that moment in his career. He was one of the most recognizable people in England at the beginning of 1974.”

    As I mentioned in the “Take Me Bak Ome” thread, “I Saw The Light” was another unlikely Tony Blackburn Record of the Week. Have any of you been to Speedwell Cavern near Castleton? It’s a flooded cave system, and you visit it on a boat propelled by guides lying on their backs and “walking” the roof of the cave. One guide I met rather misled the tourists by telling the story of an 18th-century Derbyshire lead miner named Todd Rundgren, who discovered a seam of his own, which he called the Utopia seam (and so on). I’m sure he inserted other musos’ names in his spiel that I didn’t notice myself.

  23. 23
    Waldo on 2 Aug 2007 #

    Erithian makes a good point about RW and the severe shoeing he may or may not have been treated to down Hampstead Tube down the lav or wherever it may have been; namely, would Wood really have been dressed up in his blues and twos in such a maison du merde outside the confines of a venue? The answer to this is probably no but I’m still not sure. What I’m certain of is that there was nothing Wyngarde-esque about this particular ball park incident.

    Dear God, that’s a terrible joke. I should probably be placed on the sexual offenders register for that one…

  24. 24
    Marcello Carlin on 2 Aug 2007 #

    I sentence you to five years of compulsory listening to a loop of “We Are The Boys (Who Make All The Noise)” by The Rockers.

    The only reference I could find on Google was somebody on Vinyl Vultures who said that his dad had a fight with Roy Wood and beat the shit out of him, but then they’re all fairly strange people over there.

    Ah, Peter Wyngarde. “With some gas thrown in to get rid of the stinky.”

  25. 25
    Erithian on 2 Aug 2007 #

    It’s starting to sound like the kind of thing you see in the tabloids: “Did you have a fight with Roy Wood and beat seven colours of crap out of him? (And was he in full make-up at the time?) Ring our news desk on …”

  26. 26
    Waldo on 2 Aug 2007 #

    Let me tell you, you have already punished me beyond what is acceptable under UN Charter by mentioning Millican and Nesbit.

    Yes, the character of Jason King was once voted by women in Australia as “the man they would most like to lose their virginity to”. Subsequent to Mr Wyngarde’s legendary supper of cottage pie, this now seems more sad than humourous.

  27. 27
    Rosie on 2 Aug 2007 #

    Oh, and this was the first number one to earn me any money. I received a modest cheque from the Guardian Diary in 1991 for drawing attention to a suspicious exchange in the letters column in the then-infant Independent. The signatories of the letters being a Mr C Mibabijive and Mr A N Jelfinguz…

  28. 28
    Brian on 2 Aug 2007 #

    I’d like to point out Todd Rundgren played all instruments on ” I Saw The Light ” . It was on a double LP release in North America and I think that he played everything on 3 sides of the project.

    Also McCartney was doing the same thing around this time on the LP with ” My Love” .

    Which, I guess leads to the ineviatable question , T.S. , ” was there a # 1 in which one person played all instruments ?

    singed,
    Ben Doon & Phil McAvity

  29. 29
    Rosie on 2 Aug 2007 #

    was there a # 1 in which one person played all instruments

    Quite a few, I should think. Off the top of my head: two by Winifred Atwell, two by Russ Conway, Floyd Cramer, Don McLean? And that’s without future spoilers.

  30. 30
    Marcello Carlin on 3 Aug 2007 #

    Well these all had rhythm and/or string sections on them and I doubt whether they played those…

    In terms of the first hit single to be entirely performed by one musician I instantly think of “The Times They Are A-Changin'” but I’m sure there must have been others before that.

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