Dec 08

SHAKIN’ STEVENS – “This Ole House”

FT + Popular47 comments • 6,455 views

#477, 28th March 1981

The last time “This Ole House” came up, a commenter on ILM quite rightly pointed out what I somehow hadn’t twigged – that it’s a song about dying. Of all songs on that theme, it’s surely one of the most stoical in its way – a joyful “whatever” in the teeth of advancing decrepitude. Liveliness was about all Shakin’ Stevens had going for him, but goodness he worked it.

Shaky sidesteps new wave and new pop and reaches back to the rock’n’roll revival that played such a part in the mid-70s’ charts. That had a cabaret tinge and so does he, but there’s an energy in his pastiche that – at this stage anyway – keeps it bearable. His other great advantage over fellow revivalists was knowing how to present that energy on video – on the clip for “This Ole House” he’s in perpetual motion and as the song cuts from room to room to roof it’s like Shaky’s dancing with the house itself.



  1. 1
    peter goodlaws on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Yes, it is indeed about dying, getting ready to see the Saint and he don’t mean Simon Templar. I thought this was alright although I can’t really get too excited about Shakey unlike Mike Read who kept on about what good mates they were.

  2. 2
    Conrad on 17 Dec 2008 #

    he was a great mover, Shaky. Not a fan of his although my feelings towards him have mellowed. I positively detested this at the time. Now, it doesn’t sound too bad.

    A good professional production by Stuart Coleman, and a vibrant performance. 4’s about right.

    While it doesn’t fit with the prevailing new romantic/new pop, there were a handful of rockabilly revival hits in early 81 – Stray Cats in particular, which is edgier than Shaky of course, and Polecats (who were in the chart with a cover of Bowie’s “John I’m Only Dancing” at this point).

    And the drum beat is pretty close to “Do The Hucklebuck” and a certain bubbly cocktail heading this way soon….

  3. 3
    Matthew H on 17 Dec 2008 #

    It’s ok, isn’t it? We all loved it as kids, my five-year-old sister in particular. She sang an interesting set of misheard lyrics, something about a “donkey’s store”. Anyway.

    I saw Shaky at Glastonbury, hobbling through a muted set and refusing to kow-tow to the fans who, erm, wanted the hits. He played this, fortunately, but refused to gratify the punters waving hastily constructed Green Doors. I’d popped along in a professional capacity and interviewed some of the more rabid Shakistas – most of them were just taking the piss, although I ended up having a long conversation with a couple of serious gentlemen who ran “the most popular Shaky fansite”. They were terribly worried I’d stitch them and Shaky up, but they were so nice I couldn’t dream of it. I was carried along by their enthusiasm; shame the great man wasn’t.

    I hadn’t clocked this was about death. Perhaps I was mishearing the lyrics too. Its insouciance is going to change my LIFE.

  4. 4
    rosie on 17 Dec 2008 #

    This feels like the eighties getting under steam again after the lengthy throwback. Not an eighties of innovative synth-pop but an eighties of off-the-peg, mass-produced bubblegum that will never go away as it passes through Stock Aching Waterlogged even unto to our own present day of smug oaf Cowell and his marketing chums. Not that I care much about them anyway except in an eye-rolling way.

    This was the age of conformity of course. Even the TV game shows, tosh like “Family Fortunes” and “Hollywood Squares”, were aimed at production-line conformity, rewarding sheep-like behaviour and penalising original thinking. Shaking Stevens seems to me the very epitomy of the idea.

    The same score as Rosemary Clooney got for the song? Come off it – Rosie did it with so much more panache. 2 from me.

  5. 5
    Tom on 17 Dec 2008 #

    I think I was a bit harsh on Clooney, as on a lot of the 50s hits really.

    And while her take is better, I think you’re being a bit harsh on Shaky – “mass-produced bubblegum” isn’t really what’s going on here: Shaky was much like Gary Glitter, a hard-working lifelong entertainer who got a lucky break or two and tapped into an audience. He might have ended up outstaying his welcome but there’s nothing cynical about him.

  6. 6
    LondonLee on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Fun but I preferred his one after next which I just looked up and found out the bunny prevents me from mentioning.

    Just because I want to talk about Bryan Ferry some more don’t you think if he put on a few pounds and wore a denim jacket (“Never!” cries our Bryan) he would look a bit like Shaky on that sleeve.

    There was quite a big Rockabilly scene in England which I think Shaky once had some respect in. Until the hits anyway.

  7. 7
    lonepilgrim on 17 Dec 2008 #

    re 5 – well, Gary tapped into his audience a little too enthusiastically

    I respect the fact that Shaky was a genuine rock’n’roll fan and not a cynical hoofer but even so this is just the definition of cheese for me – and Dairylea at that.

  8. 8
    The Lurker on 17 Dec 2008 #

    In the Kelly Marie thread Tom discussed his pre-Top of the Pops days when his main exposure to pop was through the likes of Swap Shop. I’m a couple of years younger than Tom but my initiation into pop was similar – this is one of the first Popular entries that I can definitely remember from first time round as Shaky was a regular on Swap Shop/Saturday Superstore.

    It seems odd that the rebellious music for teenagers of the 50s turned into safe music for six-year-olds, but that was what Shaky was. I thought he was great as a kid, and can’t really bring myself to dislike him now – the six year old Lurker had no knowledge of the original rock’n’rollers and I find it difficult to bracket Shaky with them now.

  9. 9
    Mark G on 17 Dec 2008 #

    Well, when you get kiddies parties soundtracked by The Ramones and Stooges, yup it’s odd.

  10. 10
    SteveM on 17 Dec 2008 #

    This is the first #1 where I seem to feel as if I have a memory of seeing it on TV at the time. But I wasn’t even quite 3 years old so I’m still not sure about this. Nevertheless I’m fairly confident that Shakey was ‘my’ first pop star in terms of awareness of who a person was and what they were for and I definitely loved this song for a brief time (as he was very soon to be usurped as my infantile perception of a pop idol by a dandy highwayman).

    Now where’s that clip of him beating up Richard Madeley?

  11. 11
    Mark G on 18 Dec 2008 #

    I think the first time I saw this, it was on Jim’ll fix it!

  12. 12
    AndyPandy on 18 Dec 2008 #

    This seems like the start of the “modern era” to me ironic considering it’s a cover of a pre-rock record by an old rock n roller starting to peddle a kind of pop that defintely wasn’t new. It may be because the ‘Lennon period’ (which I myself enjoyed greatly)appears like an interregnum which conveniently divides up what went before and the period when the era of the newpop/New Romantic/new pop got into its stride (even though Shakey himself was hardly part of that himself). Personally for me I was also a couple of months from leaving school so I associate this with things starting to happen for me too.

  13. 13
    Conrad on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Andy, Number 2 watch chimes in with the start of a “modern era” feel – Kim Wilde “Kids In America”, and like Shaky there’s a connection back to an earlier time in pop.

  14. 14
    Kat but logged out innit on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Shakey looks an awful lot like my Uncle Ron did in the 80s. I was briefly rather confused as a nipper to whether he was actually related to me or not.

  15. 15
    Tom on 18 Dec 2008 #

    The Shakin’ Stevens logo on the sleeve reminds me of the hours I spent doing similar forced-3d-perspective things with words on my exercise books at school.

  16. 16
    Billy Smart on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Hurray! After that last maudlin Roxy effort, this is how to do a cover!

    Obviously, ‘Kids In America’ would have been a better way to pick things up after the Lennon wake, but you can’t have everything. What we do get here is a jolly (even if it is about inherant decay, no-one is going to listen to this alongside ‘Magic & Loss) song (even if the Rosemary Clooney version is evidently superior, this is a sprightly run-through, of a song that was already relatively obscure by 1981) performed by somebody with a certain welcome showbiz professionalism.

    It’s not a single which outstays its welcome, although it must be said that the singer went on to do in his career.

    Eight year old Billy reaction was one of enthusiasm, universally shared around school. Indeed, this is, I think, the first singer on the list who I can remember imitating in the playground…

  17. 17
    Billy Smart on 18 Dec 2008 #

    TOTPWatch; Shakin’ Stevens performed ‘This Ole House’ live in the studio on two occasions.

    5 March 1981. Also in the studio that week were; Duran Duran, Phil Collins and The Who, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Jones Vs Jones’. The host was Mike Read.

    2 April 1981. Also in the studio in a packed programme that week were; Stiff Little Fingers, Light Of The World, Liquid Gold, The Children of Tansley School, Sugar Minott, Lena Zavaroni and Spandau Ballet, plus Legs & Co’s interpretation of ‘Can You Feel It?’. Simon Bates was the host.

    Incidentally, Shakin’ Stevens has repressed repeat showings of most of his Top of the Pops appearances. I think that the reason for this embargo must be over money – the only one that I’ve seen on Top of the Pops 2 is his Christmas hit, for which perhaps the BBC is prepared to pay over the odds for.

  18. 18
    Billy Smart on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Light entertainment watch: As you might expect, a long and distinguished career for Shakin’ Stevens. Sample appearances include;

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Mike Yarwood, Paul Nicholas, Michael Barrymore, Shakin’ Stevens, Don Deluise (1985)

    DES O’CONNOR TONIGHT: with Ray Alan, Joe Longthorne, Rose Marie, Shakin’ Stevens (1987)

    LET’S ROCK: with Lulu, Joe Brown, Alvin Stardust, Shakin’ Stevens (1981)

    LET’S ROCK: with Lulu, Joe Brown, Alvin Stardust, Shakin’ Stevens (1981)

    LIVE FROM HER MAJESTY’S: with Petula Clark, Shakin’ Stevens, Dana, Bobby Davro (1985)

    THE MAIN ATTRACTION: with Larry Grayson, Roy Jay, Modern Romance, Elaine Paige, Shakin’ Stevens, Shields and Yarnell, Charlie Drake, John Junkin, Anna Dawson (1983)

    OH BOY!: with Alvin Stardust, Shakin’ Stevens (1979)

    OH BOY!: with Alvin Stardust, Shakin’ Stevens (1979)

    OH BOY!: with GBH, Don Lang, Fumble, Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee, Alvin Stardust, Shakin’ Stevens, Johnny Storm, Rockin’ Shades (1979)

    WOGAN: with Norman Tebbit, Anthony Andrews, Julie Walters, Shakin’ Stevens, Bonnie Tyler (1984)

  19. 19
    pink champale on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Lurker #8, don’t worry, shakey is still entertaining the pre-schoolers. last night’s ‘space pirates’ (a bizarre c-beebies show which features a band of puppet rats performing songs such as ‘she’s like a rainbow’ with the aim – as far as i can tell – of turning toddlers into mini paola hewitts) closed with the video for this ole house (and confirmed it as hard to dislike).

    even more excitingly, shakey’s jim’ll fix it appearance (#11) was with a girl from my class at primary school! she must have been a big mallory towers fan or something as she asked to go to a boarding school for the day. the producers obviously then decided this was a bit dull and had shakey turn up for no good reason. thinking back, I’m not sure she actually got much playground cachet from having touched the denim hem of shakey’s garment. not like the the simon le bon suit of armour horseback girl.

  20. 20
    Tom on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Surely going to boarding school FOR A DAY is kind of missing the whole ‘boarding’ point a bit!

  21. 21
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Dec 2008 #

    “5pm: midnight dormie feast”

  22. 22
    pink champale on 18 Dec 2008 #

    er yeah. possibly she did get to stay overnight too.

  23. 23
    CarsmileSteve on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Ah. Yes. This. This is where i really start, almost-seven carsmile was a huge shakey fan, only to be matched by 1981’s Actual King Of Pop. I also, had never twigged it being about dying, but dudes! it had some people! in a house! singing! what is a shingle anyway? etcetcetc.

  24. 24
    Martin Skidmore on 18 Dec 2008 #

    re #18: I wish Shakey had been performing with Norman Tebbit.

    I never had any time for Shakey: young adult me was pretty serious about music, and light-ent versions of old rock ‘n’ roll numbers just bugged me. His natural home seemed more alongside Des and Yarwood and Davro, as in the list above, rather than on TOTP. To be fair, he was a decent singer and a lively performer doing perfectly serviceable versions of songs I imagine he loved, so no call for my old sneeriness at all – but I still can’t get anything much from these records.

  25. 25
    Brian on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Tom , I am sorry to do this but…..

    ……I NEED HELP – from A UK resident !

    My daughter & I collect Christmas CD’s and we want but cannot buy , in Canada , the Glasvegas mini Xmas CD, which comes packaged with their debut CD . Nowhere on line or in stores.

    Anybody over there willing to buy it for us and send it to me and I will re-imburse you cost + 1 pint of beer ?

    I don’t need this by Christmas – so no rush to send.

  26. 26
    mike on 18 Dec 2008 #

    I remember that Jim’ll Fix It! The girl lived her Dream of being a POSH BOARDER! for a day and a night… there was a DISCO! where she and her new best chums jumped up and down a lot to the strains of an Oriental-flavoured future 1981 Number One… and Shaky made a second appearance after lights-out in the dorm, to make sure they were all tucked up snug and tight.

    A strange journey, considering Shaky’s credentials as a respected R&R performer during the 1970s, Communist Party benefits and all. During the Punk/Ted wars of Summer 77, there was even talk of a Shaky/Pistols co-headlining “unity” gig, as noted with anticipatory approval by Sniffin’ Glue.

    “This Ole House” wasn’t for me, but at least it’s executed with spirit and a sense of fun.

  27. 27
    vinylscot on 18 Dec 2008 #

    Shakin’ Stevens had been around for years by this time, and despite a relative lack of commercial success, he had always enjoyed a good deal of critical success and respect for his authentic brand of rock and roll, supporting the Stones, and getting Dave Edmunds to produce his first album.

    I think it’s generally accepted that Shaky “sold out” for commercial success, eschewing authenticity and quality for populism and a fast buck. (Oddly enough, the follow-up to this, his own “You Drive Me Crazy”, was easily his best 80s hit, despite or because of being almost a carbon copy of Rocky Burnette’s “Tired Of Toeing The Line”)

    If you want to give him the benefit of the doubt, he had paid his dues, and perhaps the success of this rather turned his head. The covers which followed over the next few years (including a G. Glitter hit!) can’t have overly taxed him, and at the time he seemed to be an ideal non-threatening idol for the under-eights.

    I’s still rather he hadn’t done it. 3.

  28. 28
    wichita lineman on 18 Dec 2008 #

    A Johnny Rotten radio interview from the Sex Pistols peak (after he’d picked a Peter Hammill song as his all time favourite song) ended with him saying he was off to see Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets that night.

    This is kind of irresistible, isn’t it? I’m not at all sure if Rosemary C’s version is clearly superior, in spite of my recent pre-rock immersion. Bounciest death disc evs. Do you think he might have covered it because it includes the line – sung with Presleyan relish – “this ole house is gettin’ shaky”? It’s certainly not an obvious cover, nor was Hot Dog, his first hit, the original of which I only heard last week. Marie Marie, TOH’s predecessor, was very good indeed.

    Lovely, elastic guitar parts – would that have been Dave Edmunds? TOH fits in with the Rockpile/Queen Of Hearts/Rocky Burnette late 70s school of r’n’r more than the emerging Stray Cats/Polecats strain which, in retrospect, seems more proto-psychobilly. A 7 from me.

  29. 29
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Dec 2008 #

    while on virgin the pistols were also for a while slated to go on tour with henry cow (so a member of the latter once told me, in some amusement)

    a shaky/pistols/cow tor wd have been, erm, i’m not sure what it would have been, but audience response to itself would doubtless have been interesting

  30. 30
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 18 Dec 2008 #

    i mean “tour” — my yes addiction is obviously getting out of hand again

  31. 31
    mike on 18 Dec 2008 #

    God, I’d forgotten about “Marie Marie”. That actually was rather good.

  32. 32
    rosie on 18 Dec 2008 #

    That’s a shame, I thought the image of such a gig on a rocky outcrop on Dartmoor would have been quite something.

  33. 33
    Glue Factory on 19 Dec 2008 #

    Re: the Shaky/punk crossover, I remember seeing a TV clip from the late 70s with Danny Baker where he spoke of trying to organise some kind of meeting-of-the-tribes gig between the punks and the rockabilly/rock-n-roll revivalists and Shakin’ Stevens name was mooted. Having only been familiar with Shaky as an exponent of fluffy, friendly, music for six-year olds, the idea of him once having a kind of credibility seemed extraordinary

    Mind you, the thought of Danny Baker having some kind of credibility also seems quite wierd :-) I say that as a fan of him, but he does seem a long way removed from that era now.

  34. 34
    Erithian on 19 Dec 2008 #

    “Sprightly” and “bouncy” are two words used upthread, and they sum this up nicely. A great one for jumping around to at student discos when you’re none too self-conscious (see also “Antmusic”) and a lot of fun. So is the vid of Shaky dancing around the ole house in question, even if the backing singers get a bit cheesy.

    As I mentioned yonks ago (and got spoiler-bunnied for it) in I can’t remember which thread, Shaky and the Sunsets actually predated the rock’n’roll revival of the 70s and went back as far as the time Sha Na Na were playing Woodstock. I’d forgotten before looking it up just now that he was also in the West End production of “Elvis” in the late 70s. With that kind of dues-paying, he deserved his time among the biggest pop stars in the country, and if he did become showbiz, he was entitled to. Bit of an ornery old bugger though, by all accounts.

    (Still a fan of Danny Baker, but Six-O-Six rather than NME.)

  35. 35
    mike on 19 Dec 2008 #

    So, a respected cult figure consciously switches tack in order to become a kiddie-friendly mainstream pop star… I wonder whether we’ll be finding another such example in 1981?

  36. 36
    DV on 20 Dec 2008 #

    I can’t believe you only gave this 4 – ‘This Ole House’ is one of the greatest number ones ever.

  37. 37
    Conrad on 20 Dec 2008 #

    Actually for a 4 (or similar from most commentators) this record has generated a lot of positive comment – I guess partly that stems from the fact that Shaky had paid his dues and was a credible artist with a genuine belief in what he was doing.

    Meanwhile, Roxy Music’s one and only appearance on Popular has generated a considerably less positive response on the whole. Who’d have thunk it?

  38. 38
    Malice Cooper on 22 Dec 2008 #

    Wretched dross with a tired old rock ‘n’ roller, polluting the airwaves with his sound and the TV with his faded denim.
    This makes Captain Sensible’s “Happy talk” seem classy in comparison but the saddest thing of all is there was much worse to come from Shaky.

  39. 39
    Alyson Tamara Guard on 3 Jan 2009 #

    Someone (I forget who) on Australian TV recently told a poignant anecdote about SS, about SSs manager trying to sneak out a gig attended by 20 people at the fag end of his career by crawling along the floor only for SS to bust him and ask what he was doing…

    I just felt sad what becomes of our heroes…poor SS, although he was no Adam Ant, deserved better!

  40. 40
    MikeMCSG on 16 Jul 2009 #

    As a closet New Romantic at the time I could not believe this was No 1. It was by far the worst record in the charts so how could it top the pile over classics like Reward, Einstein A Go Go and Planet Earth ?
    I saw Shaky as a big threat (quite rightly as it turned out) to my hopes for the future charts being dominated by moody melodramatic synth-pop He was the bubble-burster on a par with General Galtieri a year later who destroyed my political hopes for the SDP.

    I never forgave Shaky for this. He was the bad fairy of the 80s marring many an otherwise classic line up on TOTP with his stupid dancing like a middle-aged embarassing uncle turning up at his neice’s birthday party.

    Of course at this distance I can appreciate that he was a very professional and hard-working entertainer who appealed to an entirely different pre-teen demographic from the rest of the charts. His records achieved high positions because he had no real competition for so long; they came through the middle when sales to teens were split between so many other artists.

    When SAW came along and targeted the younger kids with Kylie and Jason he was finished and really he was the lesser of two evils.

  41. 41
    Mike Jones on 31 Jul 2011 #

    That comment about twenty people attending a gig – bollocks. Shaky’s live shows have never faultered despite chart placing declining during the end of the 1080s. He still had a very strong fan base – and still does to this day, he still packs out Theatres, and continues to tour across Europe. Oh and from 1979 untill 1992, his manager was a woman, not a man. Well, if he’s still got it in him after all these years (He is sixty three now) then who is to argue? Especially if people are sitll willing to see him, Shaky is very good live. (For the record Marie Marie is a belter and in my opinion better than This Ole House, TOH still being a very good rnr record, it was a bit too “novelty” compared to the crisp production of Marie Marie) All in all, Shaky is and was a good entertainer, a good performer and was the biggest selling singles artist of the 1980s. :)

  42. 42
    Lazarus on 16 May 2013 #

    #28 and 31 – ‘Hot Dog’ and ‘Marie Marie’ were both Top 30 hits in 1980 but there was another single between those two and ‘This Ole House’ – the airplay-only hit ‘Shooting Gallery.’ I remember that one but not ‘Hey Mae’ which came out in the spring of 1980, after ‘Hot Dog.’ Wiki states that ‘Hey Mae’ got to 83 and ‘Shooting Gallery’ 79, although I thought the published Top 100 only appeared for the first time in 1983?

  43. 43
    punctum on 10 Jun 2013 #

    As good a place as any to link the latest TPL update, on the last K-tel compilation (but not the last album on K-tel) to go to number one: http://nobilliards.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/various-artists-chart-hits-81-volumes-1.html (as “This Ole House” is the last track).

  44. 44
    Erithian on 15 Feb 2016 #

    Re-reading this thread on the back of TOTP ’81 on BBC4, I note Mike’s reminiscence at #26. Shaky visits a girls’ boarding school dorm after lights-out to make sure they’re all tucked up … on Jim’ll Fix It?! Might have seemed OK when Mike posted that comment in 2008 but you shudder now.

  45. 45
    Pink champale on 15 Feb 2016 #

    The boarding school Shakey girl was in my class in primary school at the time!

    As far as I know she was unscathed and enjoyed the whole thing (the rest of us thought it was pretty exciting, if not exactly cool).

    But obviously it has given me some pause for thought in recent years.

  46. 46
    Pink champale on 15 Feb 2016 #

    Hmm. Closer inspection of the thread reveals that it was me who introduced the Jim’ll Fix it story in the first place. As you were.

  47. 47
    Gareth Parker on 17 May 2021 #

    I think I would go with a 5/10 here. Shaky does a reasonable job with this one, in my opinion.

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