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Dec 07

DAVID ESSEX – “Gonna Make You A Star”

FT + Popular64 comments • 8,256 views

#360, 16th November 1974

Checking the usual sources, David Essex’s early career seems to be a complex mesh of meta – being a star, then playing someone who wants to be a star, then singing about turning someone who wants to be a star into a star, then playing someone who’s been turned into a star… at some point, probably the point at which you are listening to this song, you have to stamp your foot and say “OK BEING A STAR IS NOT THAT INTERESTING REALLY”. Except it is interesting, or can be – from the Byrds to Bowie to Britney there are hosts of well-known records about stardom which also manage to be good, draw you in even if it’s just to recoil or envy.

So the problem is with honest toiler David Essex – but he’s made good records too, or at least more entertaining ones than this. Glorious flukes like “Rock On” aside, they seem usually to have been yoked to narratives, big corny ones like Evita or War Of The Worlds. “Gonna Make You A Star” is sung with a dollop of stagey though satisfying grit, but it sounds like it’s hunting for a big story that never coalesces – and it’s an effort, too much effort, to try and unravel the lyrics. Maybe in 1974 the big story was David himself – if that’s the case, it hasn’t travelled.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    Waldo on 6 Dec 2007 #

    I remember managing to get into the Odeon, Elephant and Castle to see “Stardust”, despite being just too young at 13 to view an AA film. I thought it was disappointing. The support picture, “Footsteps”, was a good deal better, I remember. The truth was, “Stardust” was just a tad beyond my appreciation and I guess a lot of the intricacies were lost on me. I wasn’t the clever little Waldo I thought I was. In my petulance I blamed David Essex and he and I got off to a bad start, which was a pity because GMYAS was a quality piece from start to finish. I guess I just didn’t see it then and the artist quickly became a star himself, especially in the eyes of teenage girls, something which was bound to antagonise teenage boys. Cards on the table in that respect. Now, through unthreatened mature ears, this record sounds like the well-produced, well-performed pop song it always was. Ghosts away.

  2. 2
    Marcello Carlin on 6 Dec 2007 #

    Tom you are SUPER BONKBONK and you need 1 x CRASH COURSE in the Essexmeister. Helpfully I prepared one earlier (scroll down a bit innit).

    Pinched intro from Don Everly’s “Warmin’ Up The Band” notwithstanding (but that added whistle makes all the Brit difference!) I’ve always loved this splendid slice of self-aware meta-electropop where Essex concludes he’s not superhip but finds he doesn’t really give a toss. Easily lovable but the singles only tell part of the story. But what a follow-up – “Stardust” with Ray Cooper drowning his gong in the studio bath!

  3. 3
    Erithian on 6 Dec 2007 #

    Tom – not sure if you’re counting this among all the Stars, but don’t forget he’d also played another Superstar – Jesus Christ – albeit in “Godspell”.

    Unlike Waldo, I never had a problem reconciling myself with Essex the teen idol, and always had a soft spot for his records – “Rock On” was as peculiar and as fine a debut as any teen idol can have made. Thinking back to this one, in its way it’s as hook-laden as “Sugar Sugar” – the little whistle in the intro; the blokeish backing vocals (didn’t they get a different act on TOTP to do the “I don’t think so” line each week, and wasn’t it Paul McCartney and Wings one week?); the handclaps after “we gonna make ya…” and the “yiyiyiyiyiyeahh” at the end, and that’s without listening to it again. It sounds like something they’re not taking TOO seriously but a quality piece of work at the same time.

    And down there at number two was a smart little track called “Killer Queen”. The world would hear from its perpetrators again.

  4. 4
    jeff w on 6 Dec 2007 #

    My sister snuck into a Stardust-That’ll Be The Day double feature screening at the Cannon, Crawley (or was it still the ABC then?) at the same age. 10 year old me was quite shocked at the time about that!

    “Footsteps” is an early Alan Parker short, right? Rather unpleasant and not very PC as I recall (but this was me viewing it on TV some years later i.e. in a post Ripley-the-kick-ass-feminist era).

  5. 5
    jeff w on 6 Dec 2007 #

    (that was an x-post to Waldo’s #1 obv)

  6. 6
    Waldo on 6 Dec 2007 #

    I must say that I allow myself a smile, albeit a wry one, when I hear the expression “not very PC” in relation to matters of over thirty years ago and beyond. I think Jeff is making this point himself with regards “Footsteps”. One reviewer on the “Avengers Forever” site, for example, complains bitterly about a scene in a 1966 episode where Steed grabs the utterly gorgeous Angela Browne, bends her over his knee and tickles her until she provides the desired information. “Not very PC!” howls the reviewer. Well of course not, you tosser, it was 1966! I think the PC Stasi are odious and the way they try to backdate, sans any irony at all, only underpins their tragic humourless view of the world around them. God bless Gene Hunt. I have a grizzled old mate in the Sussex Police and he told me that Hunt and Jack Regan are icons for many of the younger Bill, who are themselves alas tragically reduced to filing clerks these days rather than enforcers and guardians of the Law. Government “targets”, of course.

    “Footsteps” was indeed most odd. I remember when I saw it that there was a scene of mild female nudity. Myself and the three mates with me began whistling like the children we were until some much older guy yelled out “Steady, kids, it’s only an AA!”

  7. 7
    crag on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Always had a soft spot for yer man Essex since his appearance on childhood fave Jeff Waynes War of the Worlds essaying the role of the Artillery Man (“not poems and rubbish- SCIENCE!” etc)and although not as good as the amazing Rock On(though IMO, not a lot is)this track is still great-clever, witty lyrics, a hooky as hell melody and a synth line that defines the word “parp”.
    It seems to have gone a bit out of fashion at the moment, after a period in the 90s when it seemed almost compulsory, for pop/rock acts to perform songs about how it can be a bit rubbish being a star sometimes. Mores the pity if it means less tracks as good as this..

  8. 8
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Angela Browne, who a year later performed a mock lobotomy on Patrick McGoohan in the “Change Of Mind” episode of The Prisoner. Also Mrs Francis Matthews if I’m not mistaken.

    Since Diana Rigg regularly threw blokes about judo-style in The Avengers the Steed spank scenes were presumably in there for reasons of balance so that the Kleenex brigade didn’t have it all their own way…

    (N.B.: while on this Prisoner detour an RIP shout out to Anton Rodgers, who sadly passed away over the weekend aged 74. Much fine work on both stage and screen, including acting both Michael Caine and Steve Martin out of the picture in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and of course he was the smarmy proto-yuppie Number 2 in the legendary “Schizoid Man” episode. Met him on a train going to Maidenhead once and had a bit of a chat; he was an utterly charming fellow)

  9. 9
    Ken Shinn on 7 Dec 2007 #

    A bit more consideration needs to be given to this one’s B-side, the frankly terrifying “Window”, which must have scared a fair few happy ten-year-old tenyboppers shitless. I seem to recall that Marcello wrote about it rather brilliantly. Any chance of seeing that again, Marcello? Please!

  10. 10
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Already posted a link to it Ken – see post #2 above!

  11. 11
    Doctor Casino on 7 Dec 2007 #

    I like the song but don’t love it, and the problem’s not Essex but the backing track, which is always a little too easygoing and lopey. It’s the right mood for “I’m comin’ home” but when he hits “I’m gonna make you a STAAAAAAAAAAAAR!” they’re still easing down the road when they need to be taking off into space.

    My favorite part is where it sounds like he’s sneering “I don’t CARE how coked you are” which is a sentiment to which I can relate.

  12. 12
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Dec 2007 #

    “Coked”?

  13. 13
    LondonLee on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Marcello beat me to it regarding your low opinion of Mr. Essex – “honest toiler” indeed!

    Have a listen to his ‘All The Fun of The Fair’ album and get back to me.

    I couldn’t get in to see “Stardust” – the woman at the ABC Hammersmith Broadway (not there anymore) turned us away for being too young. They were strict in them days. I assume the AA-cert was because of the groupie boobs scene. Plus all the drugs and the gay stuff too I suppose.

  14. 14
    Erithian on 7 Dec 2007 #

    The first AA film I ever saw was the work of a band that, famously, won’t be troubling us in Popular – it was “Tommy”. By a strange coincidence the first X film I ever saw was “Quadrophenia”. In both cases I was a couple of months too young. Ooh, the rebel!

    Waldo (#6) – I do think people use the expression “not very PC” ironically about 60s/70s culture, in the full knowledge that you can’t expect them to be PC and they most definitely weren’t. Without wanting to open a great big can of worms on the PC debate, the term was well-intentioned at first but has become devalued – it’s really all about “respect” (and not in the Galloway sense). I’m generally a left-leaning liberal type, but did give a little cheer on hearing the story about Jeremy Clarkson and the hoodies this week.

    We’ll have more chance to discuss the Essexmeister’s later career in *spoiler alert* about a year’s time.

  15. 15
    Mark G on 7 Dec 2007 #

    “But you see, I don’t care how cold you are”

    i.e. however dead in the water her career is at this moment, he’s coming home, going to sack this other manager who doesn’t understand the rock media, and make her a star.

    Seems straightforward enough!

  16. 16
    Mark G on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Kiki Dee?

  17. 17
    Lena on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Jeremy Clarkson and the hoodies? Did the hoodies publicly burn a pile of his books, or something?

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 7 Dec 2007 #

    THEY HATED HIM SO MUCH!!! ;-)

  19. 20
    Lena on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Thanks!

  20. 21
    Doctor Casino on 7 Dec 2007 #

    Yes yes, that all makes sense enough to me, but as opposed to the ups and downs of rock management (about which I couldn’t care less), I can relate very much to being stuck at a party talking to someone who thinks it’s REALLY INTERESTING that they’re doing coke. Hence I think the song would be much better if it were “how coked you are.” Granted, this interpretation disintegrates if any of the preceding or following lyrics are included for consideration. Oh well.

  21. 22
    Caledonianne on 8 Dec 2007 #

    He was alright was David. Always had a twinkle in the eye, like he’d know how to give a girl a good time, and an easy charm that bowled you over whether you were 15 or 45 (that’d be me and my mum when this was topping the charts).

    Catchy tune, self-deprecating lyrics, what’s not to like?

    I see David every morning, on my way to work. At the top of the stairs at Banbury station there’s an enormous poster for the Royal & Derngate Theatre, Northampton, where Mr Essex will be giving us his Captain Hook from next Friday in JM Barrie’s timeless Great Ormond Street Hospital moneyspinner. I may go – two of my friends have children who owe their lives to GOSH.

  22. 23
    End Garrett on 9 Dec 2007 #

    *flounces off, bemusedly* ;-)

  23. 24
    mike on 10 Dec 2007 #

    I find it hard to be objective about this one, as my reactions are so drenched in nostalgia that I cannot imagine how it would sound to anyone approaching it for the first time. However… it’s wonky and warm-hearted, simultaneously hip and unhip, delivered with wide-eyed innocence and a knowing twinkle, and full of cute little moments that hook you in: the, yes, “parping” synth riff, the whistling, the crisp delivery of “rock media”, the matey “I don’t think so” from offstage (which works similarly to The Puppy Songs’s “we’d be so happy together, yodely-odely-odely-OH”). There’s also a climactic, end-of-the-set feel to it, which makes it sit easily as the last song on the chart countdown, or at the end of TOTP. A warm, fuzzy and unashamedly subjective 9 from me, then.

  24. 25
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Dec 2007 #

    I must say that yesterday’s POTP – or at least the half of it which dealt with the chart of 7 Dec ’74 – was a joy to listen to. So many superb records (for once Dale & Phil got it right) from the Faces’ awesome swansong (that fantastic “Keep on lovin’ me baby” turnaround at the end of “You Can Make Me Dance, Sing etc.” – Rod for about the last time sounding as though he’s enjoying making a record) through to – unbelievably – “Ire Feelings (Skanga)” (“Banned from most radio stations at the time for unusual reasons,” quipped a diplomatic Dale) and then “Hey There Lonely Girl” (gorgeous, exquisite), Hello’s proto-punk stampede through “Tell Him,” Pilot’s “Magic” of which I don’t expect ever to tire (that askew underlying string arrangement makes the record) and onwards past David, down at number two, to its glorious successor at number one (“It had number one written all over it, didn’t it?” asked Dale rhetorically) about which Tom will hopefully be writing sooner rather than later…even the Bachman, the Turner and as it were the Overdrive made me smile…oh, and Disco Tex and his Sex-o-Lettes which made me get up from sorting out my library of cassettes and bop around our front room with unabashed abandon (“My chiffon is WET!” Genius)…

  25. 26
    Billy Smart on 10 Dec 2007 #

    Indeed, it was a particularly fab POTP. I could tell that I was enjoying myself because I made myself hoarse singing along… just as well that I was on my own yesterday. Great to finally get to hear Rupie Edwards, too.

    The thing that struck me about ‘Gonna’ is just how rueful it is, albeit in an open-hearted and wise – rather than bitter – sort of way. If you listen to it in this way, all of the moments where it seems to take its foot off the gas when you’d expect it to go anthemic (as noted by Dr. Casino in post 11) start to make a lot more sense.

  26. 27
    Erithian on 10 Dec 2007 #

    The verdict at my school on “Ire Feelings” was unanimous and pretty unprintable. Mainly because, looking back, it was an entirely different idiom to anything any of us had ever heard before and none of us had any idea what the hell was going on. Greater knowledge of the genre in intervening years would, I guess, help me to understand it if not actually like it. I couldn’t tell you what Mick Hucknall thought of it though.

    With you on most of the rest, though, and “Dance, Sing or Anything” is an awesome singalong. I believe if you include the bit in brackets on the label it becomes the longest hit title in chart history – unless you’re pedantic and list all the songs in “Stars on 45”.

  27. 28
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Dec 2007 #

    What YEARS OF GOLD has to say about Mr Edwards:

    “What a ridiculous looking man with a ridiculous song. It peaked at number nine and for me was one of the worst hits of the year.”

    You couldn’t make it up.

  28. 29
    mike on 10 Dec 2007 #

    “Ire Feelings” certainly wasn’t banned from daytime Radio One; I was laid up sick for a few days at the time, with the radio switched on all day, and it’s one of the records I most vividly remember hearing, many times over (along with Disco Tex’s “Get Dancin”, as it happens). A major OMGWTF moment (as was Disco Tex for that matter), but I think there had just been a lengthy feature on dub music in the short-lived, long forgotten and bloody excellent Street Life magazine, which did at least provide some measure of context. (Or did Street Life not appear until 1975? Hmm, perhaps it didn’t….)

  29. 30
    Marcello Carlin on 10 Dec 2007 #

    No, Street Life was around from 1973 onwards and I have the back issues to prove it. Cue David Jacobs to say: “Idris Walters – where is he now?”

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