Aug 06

DES O’CONNOR – “I Pretend”

FT + Popular26 comments • 4,102 views

#253, 27th July 1968

The ever-smiling Des takes the Engelbert path, singing a sad song with an easy sweetness, drawing any sting it might have had, and reaching a bumper audience in the process. Thankfully O’Connor is much less bravura than Humperdinck, and his arrangers give him space to breathe too, so “I Pretend” is more gentle than unctious, though still pretty soporofic.



  1. 1
    Pete Baran on 21 Aug 2006 #

    When did Des’s singing career become “the joke” about Des? When he became a chat show host I remember asking my parents what qualified him to do the job. My mum said singing, whilst my Dad suggested an ability to laugh at even the unfunniest people ever. He was right, the most unfunny joke being that his singing was bad.

  2. 2
    Tom on 21 Aug 2006 #

    I didn’t know that it was a joke! I got the impression that pretty much everyone in light entertainment did a bit of singing back then – it was just part of the job, another string to the bow. Then at some point the aura of sanctity (or credibility) descended on pop and TV people only did novelties, if that, and then the pendulum swung back in the late 80s when young TV actors/actresses who looked as if they might be pop stars were given the chance to be. (& now here we are).

  3. 3
    Pete Baran on 21 Aug 2006 #

    I think the joke initially was from Eric Morcambe, and only when they had him actually on the show wa sit discovered that he had an ability to laugh at absolutely EVERYTHING. Gumming OAP’s loved it I’m assured. He was like a one man studio audience (which makes it strange they got a studio audience in).

    He did seem to find Freddie Starr the funniest. But his singing voice is a lot lighter than his Tony Bennett tan would suggest.

  4. 4
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 21 Aug 2006 #

    have you been watching bbc2’s history of light entertainment tom? the impression i get is that up until the late 70s “light entertainment” meant “can really REALLY sing — prepared to do other stuff competently also”

    even MIKE YARWOOD closed off his show with a song

    the weird thing is that the successor ideology is more like “singing is only artistically worthwhile if you CAN’T DO IT PROPERLY” — where “properly” in that sentence obviously means something to yarwood but not (say) courtney love

  5. 5
    Tom on 21 Aug 2006 #

    No! I always miss interesting TV. This sounds very convincing tho.

    Anyway I don’t think Des sounds a bad singer on this, is what I was trying to say in reply to Pete.

  6. 6
    Pete on 21 Aug 2006 #

    Exactly what I was trying to say too in a different way. Des is a good at singing, lousy at pretty much everything else except cracking up at people’s jokes. On Today With Des and Mel, Mel did all the serious questions!

  7. 7
    Erithian on 21 Aug 2006 #

    Ten years before this, Des worked as compere for Buddy Holly and the Crickets’ tour of the UK. They played the Woolwich Coronet, and songs like “Not Fade Away” made a big impression on a 15-year-old in the audience named Michael Jagger. I’ve often wondered what would have happened if young Michael had decided to follow in Des’s footsteps rather than Buddy’s.

  8. 8
    Doctor Mod on 23 Aug 2006 #

    Strange how all these mediocre songs for Mum and Pop get so many comments!

    When I look back at all the curiosities that got to the top of the charts in 1968, the year of assassinations and riots, I’ve got to think that a whole lot of people were seeking music that required little or no thinking.

  9. 9
    Tom on 23 Aug 2006 #

    I think that’s too big a generalisation. Not everybody was rioting or getting assassinated! I think it takes pretty huge overwhelming events to directly change the kind of music someone wants to listen to, and those events are generally personal not public. The current situation in the Middle East is not making me listen to Bruce Springsteen over Girls Aloud, for instance.

  10. 10
    pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør on 23 Aug 2006 #

    presumably des was already very big on telly in 68

    given his amiable persona, i imagine a lot of people might simply have been reaching for “comfortable likeability” (and i have to say, my own responses towards “dark” or “confrontational” music over the last two or three years incline me to be a bit less brusquely scornful about this choice: kids want to step out of cosiness, but sometimes grown-ups want — need — to step back into it for a little while)

  11. 11
    Doctor Mod on 24 Aug 2006 #

    No, it wasn’t my point to say that everyone was partaking in assassinations or riots–but, thanks to mass media, those events were certainly propelled into the cultural consciousness and were certainly reflected in a considerable portion of the music.

    My point is that in deeply troubled times “a whole lot of people [seek] music that require[s] little or no thinking.” This is the rationale that has traditionally been used to explain the sort of Hollywood spectacles that gave cheap escapist fare to the public during the Great Depression.

    Surely I didn’t claim this as a blanket statement–and I do have relatives (and I suspect a few friends) who are currently in retreat from the news and any form of stimulation that will force them to come to grips with what sort of badly managed nation (or world) we’re living in–but then my perspective is undoubtedly colored by the side of the Atlantic on which I dwell.

    The current conflict in Lebanon hasn’t compelled me listen to Paris Hilton’s venture into the music arena. But it did inspire me to dig out a certain old Human League CD. I never thought that record could make me shed a tear or two. Santyana was right….

  12. 12
    Doctor Mod on 24 Aug 2006 #

    I meant, of course, Santayana. (“Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”)

  13. 13
    Marcello Carlin on 30 Aug 2006 #

    In the Britain of 1968 Enoch on blood in the Tiber was of more pressing concern than MLK or JFK or ‘Nam, all of which were, shall we say, distant.

    The thing about Yarwood and his “and this is me” meme is that his actual singing voice sounded exactly like Perry Como, whereas his Perry Como impression sounded nothing like anyone.

    But yes, All Round Entertainer was then still the ultimate goal for any ambitious Britpopster; Lulu or Cilla getting their own Saturday night TV series > getting to number one.

    As for who bought it (ditto Solomon King, John Rowles and all the other would-be Engelberts flooding the charts of ’68); my mum, mainly. Italian, you see – we have a penchant for the big, bold but slightly vulnerable tenor.

    And let us not forget that, in 1968, Scott Walker walked the selfsame corridors, albeit in deliberate half-light.

  14. 14
    Mark M on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Actually, in that BBC2 Light Entertainment series, Cilla claimed she had had serious doubts about doing her TV show, precisely because she thought of herself as a rock’n’roll person.

  15. 15
    Marcello Carlin on 30 Aug 2006 #

    Back in ’63 she wanted to do “Love Of The Loved” in the way she’d done it in the Cavern, i.e. lots of thrashy, punky guitars, but George Martin demurred and said she’d have a longer career if she didn’t.

    Also with the TV series she felt she owed it to Brian Epstein, who had been negotiating with the BBC about it; it was about the last thing he did before he died.

    (additionally, it’s worth bearing in mind that Cilla had more or less disappeared off the charts by ’67 so it was probably the way to go in any case)

  16. 16
    Doctor Mod on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Actually, Cilla was still able to pull off three top 20 UK chart hits in 1969, including “Surround Yourself with Sorrow,” which peaked at #3.

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    Oh No It's Dadaismus on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Des started as a comedian and then became a singer, amirite?

  18. 18
    Marcello Carlin on 1 Sep 2006 #

    Yes. One night at the Glasgow Empire he pretended to faint on stage to avoid the lynch-mob audience.

  19. 19
    Marcello Carlin on 17 Jan 2007 #

    I should clarify here; Cilla had stopped having hits by ’67 but THEN after the TV series her popularity soared again and she got back on the charts with “Step Inside Love” et al.

  20. 20
    mike t-d on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Having studiously been working my way back from 1984, a-marking as I go, I’ve at last reached the most recent Number One that I’ve never knowingly heard.

    Playing it now.

    Oh dear! But bless him anyway!

  21. 21
    punctum on 4 Sep 2009 #

    Some belated but (hopefully) more structured thoughts from myself:

    Should you have been wondering what happened to the divorce-initiating/Valium-popping MoR which so dominated the charts of 1967, it was still in (un)healthily plentiful supply throughout 1968. Engelbert sank steadily deeper into his formica chaise longue of despair with “Am I That Easy To Forget?” and “A Man Without Love”; whereas his Great Personal Friend Tom Jones truly ran the gamut, from the luxuriously-orchestrated tawdry murder waltz “Delilah” to the Shirley Valentine fortnight’s holiday tropicalia (ha!) of “Help Yourself” – Jones’ “yeah” in the first instrumental break must be the least sincere expression of joy ever recorded. “Love is like candy on the shelf” – thank you Tom Proust.

    Their manager Gordon Mills attempted to introduce a third member into his would-be Rat Pack; a six foot-plus bearded bear of a Kentuckian named Solomon King (that name! such ambition!) who belted out “She Wears My Ring” with such little delicacy that one scours the background for evidence of a shotgun. From New Zealand there was John Rowles with his tremulous “If I Only Had Time,” which sounded like a neutered P J Proby crooning a de-weirded “Strawberry Fields Forever.” And, strangest of all, towards the end of the year, the sixtysomething former matinee idol Donald Peers unexpectedly had a smash hit with the Offenbach-derived “Please Don’t Go.”

    MoR was so prevalent that it even sired its own avant garde; the epics “Macarthur Park” and “Eloise” crossed tortured post-Gordon Jenkins Sinatra crooning with post-Summer of Love disillusionment to brilliant effect. Scott Walker’s Scott 2, with its very radio-unfriendly “The Amorous Humphrey Plugg” and “Plastic Palace People,” topped the album chart. Even Sinatra “went weird” with the Gaudio/Crewe-written/produced Watertown album. Greatest of all was Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s In Love With You,” but then that is one of the greatest and most vulnerable of all pop records.

    All of these singles went top five in Britain and enjoyed lengthy chart runs. How bizarre, then, that the only one of them to go all the way (and also stay on the chart longest – 36 baffling weeks) was “I Pretend.” Des O’Connor was, then as now, a British institution; stand-up comic, talk show host and sometime crooner, much loved and much mocked, a relic of ‘5os mock-benign light entertainment which the Beatles had somehow neglected to sweep up and discard. But his crooning was a weedy bottle of milk indeed; he himself has gone on record, though in good humour, to say that his performance on “I Pretend” was “appalling – how did it stay on the chart for nine months? Was it pregnant?”*

    (*he said this on Gloria Hunniford’s old Radio 2 show, sometime in the mid-nineties)

    And “I Pretend” really belongs to a chart of, say, 1953; despite the curious reversal of “Whiter Shade Of Pale” (and “Silence Is Golden”) in the line “And though my eyes are closed I still can see,” despite the subsequent Saint Etienne lyrical overlap (“Listening for a footstep on the stairs”), even despite the curious paradox – or maybe it was just sloppy lyric-writing – of the line “The world is new and like it used to be,” the song is pallid and arcane, and O’Connor’s voice cannot give it the inadvertent strength that, say, an Orbison might have afforded it; indeed, though one suspects that he’s trying to do a Dean Martin, those ghastly Home Counties primary school vibrati bring him far closer to the likes of Jimmy Young. Perhaps, then, the success of “I Pretend” presages all of those reality show successes; a frightened public content with the sub-art of someone who is “just like us,” as opposed to “God.”

  22. 22
    Waldo on 20 Jan 2010 #

    One day at Anfield, Gary Sprake threw the ball into his own net, prompting the half time DJ to play Des singing “Careless Hands”. It was far from an icolated incident for the Leeds ‘keeper, the runt in the litter of Revey’s great but universally detested outfit.

  23. 23
    lonepilgrim on 29 Jun 2016 #

    I can hear a little bit of Buddy Holly in Des’s phrasing and there’s a hint of Irish balladry in the chorus but the song is undermined by his weedy vocals. Dreary stuff.

  24. 24
    enitharmon on 15 Nov 2020 #

    So it’s goodbye Des O’Connor. He was always a bit of an anachronism and for me he’s one of those cases of an obituary for somebody I thought had died years ago. Like Ken Dodd he was what he was, a variety all-rounder whose fans, of my parents’ generation mostly, bought his records as mementoes of what, I am sure, were great nights out. In 1968 my parents were in their mid-40s and a lot younger than I am now.

    I fear the old Populista tradition of marking the demise of chart-toppers is dying out and I seem to be the only one keeping it up. There’s not many of us wrinklies left, I fear.

  25. 25
    Kinitawowi on 16 Nov 2020 #

    I came here wondering if somebody had posted a goodbye already, found none and assumed (because I’m not old enough to remember) that nobody had done it because he never hit the top spot. Shame on me for not digging.

  26. 26
    Gareth Parker on 27 May 2021 #

    Reasonable enough stuff from Des in my opinion. 4/10.

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