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Mar 06

SANDIE SHAW – “Puppet On A String”

Popular19 comments • 4,982 views

#232, 29th April 1967

In a sense the UK’s relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest mirrors its attitude to ‘Europe’ as political entity: a conflicted, pendulum-swing mess of amused contempt, cynical superiority, desperate attempts to play catch-up and a fundamental feeling that no matter how hard Britain tries to play the game it will never quite understand or accept the rules.

On the one hand, ‘nobody’ takes the Eurovision seriously. On the other, there’s a shallow-buried feeling that Britain is Better At Pop than the continent, which every so often surges into a public sense that we really ought to win it. Those surges tend to result in us recruiting a top songwriter, or producer, or performer or entrepreneur to win Eurovision – and Sandie Shaw, reluctantly, was the first example.

As its writer admitted, “Puppet On A String” was designed for Eurovision, not for Sandie, so of course Shaw hated it and feared its impact on her career*. It’s very efficiently tooled for Europe, a lively song on a jaunty bed of light orchestration – it sounds a few years out of date, and quite cut off from ‘pop’ as it had developed during the British mid-60s. But that doesn’t mean it’s a horrible record – the quick, brassy rhythms suggest jerky marionette movement very effectively, the hooks are good, and Shaw doesn’t let her distaste for the thing show. In truth it’s the kind of immediately catchy, mildly annoying song that would have had a good shot at Eurovision whoever was singing it.

*Shaw’s record sales were on the wane in 1967, so her career as a pop star was on shaky ground anyway, “Puppet” or no. In 1968 she launched a fashion line and got a TV gig – what is probably true is that “Puppet” became a millstone in terms of the kind of fans she attracted, and her reputation.

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Comments

  1. 1
    p^nk s on 7 Mar 2006 #

    haha tokyo rosemary emailed me details of an academic conference last year devoted to eurovision, and i toyed with the idea of a hyper-carmodian study of the links between the song contest and the evolution of the europe as political entity! sadly u&k as the project is, makin it a reality wd have involved WORK (which i shun)

  2. 2
    Tom on 7 Mar 2006 #

    There was a GRAPH on NYLPM some time ago where I plotted the UK chart positions of UK entries and of eventual winners and extrapolated carmodically therefrom.

    The logistics of an ever-expanding European community being represented at E’vision also map onto political issues of course!

  3. 3
    Anonymous on 7 Mar 2006 #

    Doctor Mod says:

    There’s more to the story than Sandie’s career being on the wane. In February 1967, she was named as a respondent in a divorce suit (some rock musician, but I’ve never been able to find out the name). Sexual adventurism was fine for MALE pop stars, but the double standard was still strongly in effect, and it was NOT alright for a woman. Sandie was told by her manager, Eve Taylor, that the BBC was about to ban her from any further appearances unless she cleaned up her act (so to speak). Since then, she’s said she doesn’t know if it was actually true, but her manager convinced her as much.

    At any rate, Eve Taylor was more than eager to push Sandie, now a “mature” twenty, into “family entertainment,” whereas Sandie wanted to make a transition into an edgier, more progressive sort of rock/pop. (Remember the earlier discussion re: “Always Something There to Remind Me” about the re-release of Sandie’s long-lost album Reviewing the Situation?) But “Puppet on a String” was forced on her as a sort of penance for being a “fallen woman.”

    She says she went along with it because the song was so awful that she couldn’t imagine it would ever win any sort of prize–but it did. (One cannot underestimate public taste.) And it became her biggest hit. She came to hate the song (both for the insipid passive female lyrics and for what it did to her subsequent career) so much that she was later known to walk out of interviews if anyone asked her about it. I may be wrong, but I think she refused to sing it during any of her 1980s comeback gigs.

    Sad ironies abound here. Of the 1960s Brit girls, Sandie was second only to Dusty (and had three number ones next to Dusty’s one). For female pop stars, family entertainment was almost a requisite fate once they reached a certain age–or when the sixties ended. (Think Cilla Black for worst case scenario.) The same would befall Lulu two years later, when she won Eurovision with “Boom-Bang-a-Bang,” her worst record ever with much of the same kitschy clockwork ambience as “Puppet on a String.”

  4. 4
    Anonymous on 8 Mar 2006 #

    Good post from Doctor Mod.

    I should do that EU-Eurovision analysis that mark s posits! Sounds perfect for me. Maybe when my current project finishes…?

    jeff w

  5. 5
    Tom on 8 Mar 2006 #

    Yes, thanks for the great post Dr Mod.

    (Though I still don’t think it’s that bad a record, but my eurovision tolerance is very high…)

  6. 6
    Anonymous on 8 Mar 2006 #

    It’s one of the few records so far that I find actively unpleasant rather than just lacking or unsatisfying.

    That she was co-erced into singing it because of sexist bigotry just makes it worse. Still at least Moz and Marr would eventually rescue her from ignominy and she’d repay them by rolling round the TOTP stage like a drunken auntie at a wedding…

    Tommy Mack

  7. 7
    p^nk s on 8 Mar 2006 #

    jeff if you want to use my working title it was this, more or less: “Ee-ew: a History of the Eurovision Song Contest Considered as an Evolving map of Europe as a Political Entity”

  8. 8
    M on 9 Mar 2006 #

    This doesn’t really pertain to the Shaw writeup, but could you change the link for Boogie Fever to http://beatresearch2.blogspot.com/2006/01/boogie-fever.html? I’ve taken down the old site and it is now being housed at Back and Forth. Thanks a lot!

  9. 9
    Tom on 3 Apr 2006 #

    Sorry about the spam, I’m going to try and sort it out.

  10. 10
    Kevin on 20 Feb 2007 #

    Puppet – the 2007 version – YES, Sandie has recorded a new version of ‘Puppet On A String’ to celebrate her sixtieth birthday on 26th February. It will be available as a download only on her own web-site which she runs personally. To find out more go to http://www.sandieshaw.com

    Can’t wait for it!

    In her February newsletter Sandie wrote:

    To celebrate with all those people who have enjoyed my music I have a very special gift. It will be available exclusively here for free download for 60 days starting February 26th. It is a song which has been the source of much grief, hilarity, circumspection and I have to admit, financial reward for many years. Yes you know the one, ‘Puppet on a String.’ But this is like you have never heard it before. Courtesy of my very good friend, Howard Jones, who spends much time locked up in a recording studio with his vast array of technology nowadays, I have completely turned everything around; so much so that I am really proud of my efforts. It actually sounds super cool. Yes I know that might seem a contradiction in terms but it really does – you’ll see, or rather, hear.

    I went to visit Howard one day and he was sitting at his keyboards playing around with some really beautiful chords and he started humming a bit of a soulful melody over it. ‘That’s nice.’ I remarked. ‘You try it,’he suggested. I did and it felt really good. I suddenly realised that this was the dreaded ‘Puppet.’ ‘Don’t loose your nerve,’ he coaxed, ‘let’s see if you can change your karma.’ So we finished it off, recorded it and sent it to a young, hip producer/mixer, Andy Gray who re-arranged and mixed the track and voila! I am cured! I really love it – I hope you do too. It is my very special birthday present to you on my 60th. Please tell your friends to come to the site to pick up their gift.

  11. 11
    SteveIson on 26 Jul 2008 #

    Well i like Puppet On A String,’cos its charming,eccentric,inventive and has a sense of joy in the music-which is actually well written pop musically-something totally lacking in the lumbering mediocrity ,yawning musically-cliched predictability and bludgeoning,cynical charmlessness of pretty well all modern eurovision songs…

    Of course the deconstruction of the lyrics is totally correct-but thats not taking into account the SPIRIT of the song/arrangement/performance which is obviously playful,coitish(htf do you spell that?),’throwaway’ (in a good way) and camp…
    She’s just acting a part-For me its like a little cameo in a comedy musical or something..

    its not meant to be taken deadly serious lol

  12. 12
    Waldo on 18 Nov 2009 #

    Sandie won the contest in the magnificent setting of Vienna, this the result of Udo Jurgens winning in ’66. Udo is an icon in the German-speaking world and still fills venues all over Germany, Switzerland and of course Austria today. Herr Jurgens is now in his mid seventies.

    “Puppet On A String” may or may not have been a punishment for Sandie having a punt with a married man but I doubt it, even had it been on the orders of an ambitious manager. 1967 was the year of free love, FFS! It was certainly true that Shaw despised the song ever after and did indeed go into one when interviewers bought it up but the plain fact remains it was by far her biggest hit, something which quite recently she acknowledged. And let’s be honest, there would have been scores of chaps who would have got rather excited at having a willing Miss Goodrich at the end of a string. I don’t think Germaine Greer was too overjoyed, mind!

  13. 13
    crag on 14 Apr 2011 #

    DESERT ISLAND DISCS WATCH:

    Nigel Nicholson, writer(1995).

  14. 14
    Billy Smart on 5 Dec 2011 #

    TOTPWatch: Sandie Shaw performed Puppet On A String on Top Of The Pops on four occasions;

    23 March 1967. Also in the studio that week were; Manfred Mann, The Small Faces and Whistling Jack Smith. Simon Dee was the host.

    20 April 1967. Also in the studio that week were; David & Jonathan, Manfred Mann, PP Arnold, The Move and The Tremeloes. Pete Murray was the host.

    18 May 1967. Also in the studio that week were; Englebert Humperdink, Jeff Beck, The Troggs, The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Tremeloes. Jimmy Savile was the host.

    25 December 1967. Also in the studio that Christmas were; Petula Clark, The Foundations, Jimi Hendrix, The Tremeloes, The Who and Tom Jones. Jimmy Savile, Alan Freeman and Pete Murray were the hosts.

    None of these editions survive.

  15. 15
    mintness on 28 Jun 2013 #

    Interesting little programme on BBC NI this week, a talking heads-type thing based on clips from the local BBC archives. Dana was featured, as was Phil Coulter, the co-writer of “Puppet On A String” – noting that the long note that starts POAS (“I………. wonder” etc.) was directly inspired by the long note that starts the chorus of “Voooooooooooooo-lare”, the Italian entry for Eurovision 1958 which, of course, went on to have a rather higher-profile career of its own.

    It’s currently available to watch at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b032yj1z/Those_Were_the_Days_Series_3_All_Kinds_of_Everything/ (though obviously won’t be for long).

  16. 16
    JLucas on 21 Dec 2013 #

    Regardless of the problematic lyrics, this is a bit of a Eurovision classic and a very significant winner in that it was the UK’s first after no fewer than five runners up in ten years.

    However, Sandie wound up beating a far better and ultimately more famous record. For also in the mix that night was Vicky Leandros, a Greek representing Luxembourg with ‘L’amour est bleu’. She only finished fourth, but like Volare before it, L’amour… was a huge hit after the contest (though not in the UK) and an instrumental version by Paul Mariat went to #1 in America in 1968.

    Vicky went on to win the contest (and score a UK #2 hit) in 1972 with Aprés toi (also for Luxembourg), so nobody really lost out in this scenario (except possibly Sandie given how she came to resent her victory), but I do sometimes think it’s a shame that the better song didn’t win. L’amour sort of reminds me of a Bond theme with the dramatic string breaks.

    http://youtu.be/nD4ib9-laGY

  17. 17
    JLucas on 8 Dec 2014 #

    Just a bit of shameless self-promotion, my ridiculous attempt to review every Eurovision Song Contest has finally arrived at 1967 and Sandie’s victory.

    As I mentioned a year ago, Luxembourg’s L’amour est bleu was arguably the real winner that year, and the Serge Gainsbourg-penned Monegasque entry was quite a thing too.

    http://www.escgold.com/eurovision-then/eurovision-1967-vienna/

  18. 18
    Lazarus on 20 Apr 2015 #

    I hadn’t realised you were such a Eurovision buff JL, I’ve enjoyed reading your scribblings this evening. I’m sure you know of it, but if not I recommend ‘Nul Points’ by Tim Moore, in which he travels Europe – and elsewhere – interviewing the artists who failed to trouble the scorers.

  19. 19
    lonepilgrim on 18 Apr 2016 #

    I can remember liking this when I was a kid at the time – probably because it mentioned puppets and the tune has that jaunty circus like rhythm (that also pops up in ‘Tears of a Clown’). It’s pretty banal stuff otherwise but I still have a residual affection for the song.

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