Jan 07

THE TAMS – “Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me”

FT + Popular27 comments • 7,154 views

#304, 18th September 1971

Methinks the Tam doth protest too much: stay away, don’t bother me, stay away, don’t bother me, oh alright then. After all, getting your heart broken by a girl isn’t as bad as being the only guy in town whose heart she doesn’t want to break. Lead Tam’s voice has “doormat” all over it anyway, a rueful, rasping, hangdog kind of a voice that stretches shyly out to love at the end of every line, then curls back up in disappointment. You can hear him going back into his shell at the end of each verse, and the rolling clip-clop rhythm is its own grey world of resignation. In fact, this is one of the lowest-key number ones ever, which makes its revival – it was originally a minor US hit in 1964 – all the more unlikely. It’s not without charm but its listlessness is irritating too. Wikipedia ascribes its success to the Northern Soul scene, and “obscure soul side is in demand” fits Northern’s M.O. alright, but did anyone under, say, sixty ever dance to this?  .




  1. 1
    Tom on 3 Jan 2007 #

    Incidentally is “Tams” any kind of filthy pervertalist slang for anything? If you Google Image Search it the #1 hit is a picture of a woman with a spanner up her bum. This will, I think, teach me to update Popular at work.

  2. 2
    Doctor Mod on 3 Jan 2007 #

    Obscure indeed! I clearly recall the Tams’ “What Kind of Fool Do You Think I Am” from my not-quite-adolescent days (c.1963), and while I believe this was recorded not much later, I really couldn’t recall this one clearly. So I turned to iTunes and allmusic.com. I found three (or perhaps four) versions recorded by the Tams. (No doubt the group in some configuration has re-recorded the song for one of those horrid “bargain” discs.) One version is a rather bare-bones arrangement (predominantly bluesy guitar), another that sounds like the previous overdubbed with Stax/Volt brass, and at least one (but perhaps two) “discofied” versions.

    I have to imagine that it was one of the first two of the above that topped the UK charts in 1971, as it was a little too early for disco. No matter what version, though, it’s the sort of tune that’s pleasant enough but not particularly memorable. It sounds familiar–but perhaps that’s because it sounds like a lot of other generic soul recordings from the 60s or 70s.

    I suppose it had a strong dance appeal–or perhaps a bit of nostalgia for an earlier period of soul music–that put it at number one in the UK. For me, sixty is still a considerable time in the future, but I might have danced to it, even if I can’t quite remember it in any sort of context.

  3. 3
    Doctor Mod on 3 Jan 2007 #

    Don’t know about those spanners. I always thought a tam was something that Scots and certain doctors of philosophy put on their heads.

  4. 4
    Tom on 3 Jan 2007 #

    It did strike me that possibly this was the wrong mix – maybe I will upload it and Tams afficionadoes can check! Or maybe I’ll go onto “Maggie May” and forget about it…

  5. 5
    Doctor Casino on 4 Jan 2007 #

    The one I have is pretty much all vocals with some muffled hihat taps and guitar plunking away in the background, plus something that could be a bassoon poking its head in at one point. Not sure if it’s any of the ones you guys are talking about, but it is also generic and listless. And as Tom suggests in the top post, the listlessness is somehow fitting to the wussy narrative. Is it even possible to make a cracking song out of this premise? I’d rather hear from the guy who GOT his heart broken, the guy who thinks he WON’T get his heart broken, the guy who knows he WILL but is taking his turn anyway….SOMETHING where there’s some possibility of drama?

    It’s also sort of egoistic – it’s not entirely clear that she is bothering him, more that he’s warding her off before she does, and you kind of want her to go “Uh, what was your name again?”

  6. 6
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Jan 2007 #

    That is indeed the version which made number one here (sounds more like a clarinet on the middle eight). The Tams were not spring chickens even in 1964, let alone 1971, and there is something of a pre-rock aura about the record; you can easily imagine the Mills Brothers or the Ink Spots performing it. Indeed their TOTP performance was rather legendary in that at least one of the Tams ran off stage mid-performance due to stage fright.

    Its Northern Soul provenance is unclear; it was in reasonable demand as a slow dancer in the “Long After Tonight Is All Over” vein but not a runaway favourite in the way that, say, Tami Lynn’s “I’m Gonna Run Away From You” (a #4 UK hit in ’71) clearly was. Again, as memory recalls, this was yet another one picked up by the omnipresent Mr Blackburn.

    Bizarrely they resurfaced in the UK charts in 1987 with “There Ain’t Nothing Like Shagging” which was summarily banned by radio and TV since in Britain “shagging” means something other than a dance craze…

  7. 7
    intothefireuk on 4 Jan 2007 #

    ….and their ‘Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy’ was a Northern Soul favourite – so there may have been some overspill from the popularity of that track to the popularity of this. Mr Blackburn did have considerable influence through his Radio 1 breakfast show at this point and he made no apology for promoting soul records at every opportunity. Personally I love the rasping lead vocal and the fact that it is a stark arrangement makes it stand out for me. Fortunately the old adage ‘never let a bad lyric get in the way of a good vocal’, hold on, that might be ‘ never let a bad vocal get in the way of a good lyric’, anyway, despite some overly defensive lyrics it still gets at least a 6 from me.

  8. 8
    Erithian on 4 Jan 2007 #

    This was one of the songs my big sister (Northern Soul fan but with a “Hendrix for President” sticker on her bedroom mirror) tried to turn me on to. She met with a fair bit of resistance at the time, but nowadays I get a warm nostalgic glow from the likes of this, plus the Elgins’ “Heaven Must Have Sent You” and Doris Troy’s “I’ll Do Anything”. Nice one, sis!

    Aficionados (aficionadi??) might be able to help with various theories as to which celebrities were Northern Soul fans back in the day – I’ve seen Dale Winton and Steve Davis mentioned, and depending on what you read Anna Ford was either a regular at Wigan Casino or just did a TV report from there and had a dance or two.

    Number 2 Watch: Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood’s “Did You Ever” was held off by the Tams, and no spanners were involved.

  9. 9
    jeff w on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Really? I never knew Lee H came so close to a UK No.1. Curse you, Tony Blackburn.

  10. 10
    Marcello Carlin on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Well Lee H did write and produce a UK No 1 (“Boots”).

    Other celebrity Northern Soul fans (according to Kevin Roberts’ book The Top 500 Northern Soul Records) include Chris Tarrant and Eric Knowles Out Of Antiques Roadshow.

  11. 11

    if you mean steve “interesting’ davies of snooker fame he is also a MAGMA fan — he set up their (only ever?) uk show, which i reviewed (for the wire i imagine) in the late 80s (i assume) (sorry i am rather tired today and my memory is all fog)

  12. 12
    Kat on 4 Jan 2007 #

    Tom, for Maggie May you must mention something about Lily Allen’s adventurous dog!

  13. 13
    CarsmileSteve on 5 Jan 2007 #

    was the 1987 release to do with a film which featured “the shag” (“it’s a dance” they proclaimed), a strictly ballroom follow-up/retread perhaps?

    there’s no way i’m googling “shag” at work to check…

  14. 14
    Pete Baran on 5 Jan 2007 #

    Shag: The Movie was more of a post Dirty Dancing cash in, Strictly Ballroom not being until 1992. However as the Bridgit Fonda starrer was not released until 1989, it unlikely the two are related to the Tams song.

  15. 15
    Doctor Casino on 5 Jan 2007 #

    Re: Lily Allen: you can’t get more Popular-ific than a headline blaring “RETURN OF THE MAG”!

  16. 16
    Martin Skidmore on 5 Jan 2007 #

    I have always liked this record – it’s not particularly great or powerful or affecting, but I like the lead singer, and it’s pretty. I’d probably have given it a 7 or so.

  17. 17
    Chris Brown on 7 Jan 2007 #

    I actually saw a 12″ of ‘There’s Nothing Quite Like Shagging’ in a charity shop a few months back. The record company evidently got the joke, becuase the front cover says “SHA” in huge letters, with “GGIN” on the back, and the rest of the title just slipped in (er, if you’ll prdon the phrase). I’m actually just back from Christmas with family over there, and people are still advertising “Shagging With Class” in the Morgantown Dominion Post, although you’d think they’d know better post Austin Powers.

    I’m not sure if my Dad fully qualifies as having been a Northern Soul fan, but he does love his soul music and a few years ago he was telling me how he bumped into somebody vaguely familiar-looking in a pub in Islington. Pleasantaries were exchanged and a discussion of vintage soul 45s ensued, during the course of which it gradually dawned that the familiar-looking guy wasn’t actually somebody he knew but rather Steve “interesting” Davis.

    As for the song? Bit ho-hum.

  18. 18
    Doctor Mod on 8 Jan 2007 #

    Having accidentally pushed the wrong button on my car stereo in the dark, I found myself listening to the Long Island oldies station earlier this evening, something I wouldn’t usually do a Sunday night. For the first time in decades (and hopefully the only time for several decades more), I heard Freddie (“Boom-Boom”) Cannon’s “Talahasee Lassie.” I clearly heard the line to the effect that the eponymous heroine is “Stomping to the shag, whoo!” This comes in a series of lines about the dances she does.

    So, then, evidence that “the shag” was a dance in the US (c.1960). It was also a haircut in the 1970s, and a type of high-maintenence carpet popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Americans would seem to have very different connotations for the word “shag” than do Brits. But the more I think about that carpet–and even the dance–maybe not.

  19. 19
    Doctor Casino on 13 Jan 2007 #

    Haha, no, it’s very very definitely different here in the States, to the point where a lot of gags are built around people being in England and having misunderstandings over the word, and so on. In a related vein, I remember an ad for some travel company where the idea was that they would inform you about where you were going so that you wouldn’t be offended when an English hotel clerk offered to “knock you up” in the morning. Supposedly, it means to wake you up over there?

  20. 20
    Paytes on 13 Sep 2007 #

    It’s a real shame that the Tams are best remembered for this sub-standard example of the Northern genre as the aforementioned “Be Young Be Foolish” is everything an NS stomper should be and therefore should have been the number 1.

    PS. was this the ONLY Northern Soul number 1??!!

  21. 21
    Marcello Carlin on 13 Sep 2007 #


  22. 22
    Waldo on 14 Oct 2009 #

    I was rather proud of my ten year-old self over this. Whenever I heard it, I couldn’t help thinking how out of place it sounded in the chart of ’71. Eventually, someone mentioned that it had been recorded “ten years ago”, which wasn’t quite right but the point had been made. Consequently, I was astonished and still am that HGDBM topped the chart. It isn’t even a particularly good record and the description above of a “sub-standard example of Northern Soul” is pretty much on the money, it seems to me. A particularly odd number one, this.

  23. 23
    AndyPandy on 14 Oct 2009 #

    And except for the fact that it was a rare record played at rare soul clubs this has very little in common with what became “the Northern sound”.

    I very much doubt anyone was describing the record as Northern soul at the time.
    As although Dave Godin first named the rack in his record shop (which contained all the records popular with northern football fans who visted his shop whilst in London following their teams – as opposed to the more funky sounds already taking over the clubs in London*)in 1968 it only finally got into print in his Blue and Soul column in 1970.

    And I believe Northern Soul only finally became a widely accepted term for the scene from about 1972 (the peak of The Torch in Tunstall, Stoke on Trent) or 1973 (the start of the Wigan Casino allnighters).

    This would have just been ‘rare’ soul at the time.

    *I should maybe say SOME of the London/south-eastern clubs because although some of the Mods/soul fans here went straight into the funkier stuff a lot obviously became hard mods then skins and got into reggae

  24. 24
    Lena on 12 Jul 2012 #

    You can bother me all you want, girl: http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/time-and-again-nancy-sinatra-and-lee.html Ta for reading, everyone!

  25. 25
    lonepilgrim on 15 Aug 2018 #

    Whereas the previous number one by Diana Ross sounded like the future for R&B this was literally a blast from the past. It still sounds relatively sophisticated and less raw than some Northern Soul tunes that I’ve heard by virtue of the close harmonies and uncluttered production. Watching the clip from the 1971 TOTP Christmas Special I’m struck by how old some of the group seem. They seem happy to be there.
    I used to be bemused by male American Soul Vocal groups when they appeared on TOTP. Their wide lapelled suits in migraine inducing plaid or plush velvet combined with cheesy dance routines to suggest a culture at odds with much of UK pop as I experienced it at the time. I was so fixated on the image that it took me a while to appreciate the music. This is a pleasant song, a little too reserved for my taste. There is a hint of girl-group dynamics to the tune and lyrics which suggest it might work better sung by female voice(s).

  26. 26
    Mark G on 16 Aug 2018 #

    I also was struck by that TOTP performance, particularly the bloke in the middle of the trio, who seemed to be struggling with the dance moves, and halfway through.. just disappears. At least with the Pans People “Get Down” dance performance, you see the dog leave.

  27. 27
    Gareth Parker on 27 May 2021 #

    I don’t mind the awkwardness of the single. 6/10 would be my score.

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