Blue

TrackAlbum
Gonna Capture Your HeartAnother Night Time Flight
Look AroundBlue
Little JodyBlue
Red Light SongBlue
I Wish I Could FlyBlue
LonesomeLife In The Navy
Sad SundayLife In The Navy
LoveLife In The Navy
Bring Back The LoveAnother Night Time Flight
The Blue Eyed GirlHeaven Avenue

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BLUE: ANATOMY OF A ONE HIT WONDER #6

Contributor: Robert Webb

When Elton John selected Gonna Capture Your Heart as the lead single from Blue’s third album, Another Night Time Flight, it was a canny move. The song proved the breakthrough hit the band had been waiting for. It was also their last. Reaching the UK Top 20 in April 1977, Gonna Capture Your Heart, issued on Elton’s Rocket Records label, was a cheerful slice of mid-seventies pop that arrested attention for three minutes, but ultimately turned the Scottish band into soon-forgotten one hit wonders. Perhaps it was too little, too late.

By 1977 Blue had been around the block. They were formed in Glasgow early in the decade by Hugh Nicholson (guitar), Ian MacMillan (bass) and Timmy Donald (drums). In 1973, twenty-two-year-old Nicholson had just left Marmalade, after writing their hits Cousin Norman and Radancer. MacMillan and Donald came from White Trash, a brief Apple signing, who’d nibbled at the charts in September 1969 with a quick-off-the-blocks cover of the Beatles’ Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight, just as Abbey Road was released.

Through David English, who handled press for record industry supremo Robert Stigwood, the three-piece Blue signed to Stigwood’s new boutique imprint, RSO Records. They were in good company alongside labelmates Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees. Blue’s own brand of sweet harmony and muscular, guitar-laden pop was on the button in 1973: file alongside Badfinger and Big Star. Their debut, self-titled, self-penned album came with a press-release puff from David English on the back sleeve – “Each of their songs are different but all of them retain a certain distinctive quality that makes you wonder just what to expect next”.

With the PR guy at the controls, Blue was well reviewed and even released in the United States, which was rare for an unknown British signing in 1973. Rolling Stone liked the opener, Nicholson’s Red Light Song: “a message tune but Blue gives it an irresistibly catchy chorus”. MacMillan’s Look Around was hailed as “startlingly familiar and memorable” and was compared favourably with the Beatles. “With its deliberate pace, snarling guitars and aggressive drumming, the track closely resembles the tough sound of Hey Bulldog”. Little Jody – a song Nicholson had first demoed with Marmalade – was the single and enjoyed radio airplay, but flopped. Even exposure on the BBC’s rock-oriented Old Grey Whistle Test, singing Red Light Song and I Wish I Could Fly couldn’t keep Blue from the bargain bins.

As soon as the album was out, the three became four with the addition of fellow Scot, Jimmy McCulloch, on second guitar. McCulloch, who’d previously been with Thunderclap Newman and Stone the Crows, was a fish out of water. His tenure lasted a few months, before he quit, moaning that Blue were just too straight. The showy McCulloch – who later joined Paul McCartney and Wings – liked to play the rock ‘n’ roll peacock; Blue, in his words, came on wearing jeans.

The band replaced McCulloch with Robert ‘Smiggy’ Smith and recorded a second RSO album, Life In The Navy, the following year in San Francisco. Produced by Elliot Mazer, who’d worked on Neil Young’s commercial highpoint Harvest, the album showcased a more American influence resulting from the band’s coast to coast tour prior to its recording. It contained some fine tracks, a few with a more country feel. Lonesome was issued as a single, but declined to chart. A better choice might have been the Neil Young-influenced Sad Sunday.

With various personnel changes around the core of the group (Nicholson and MacMillan), Blue pressed on, touring alongside the likes of Leo Sayer, the reformed Small Faces and Muddy Waters. Elton John caught them performing with Kiki Dee in 1976 and signed them to Rocket Records, and the charts finally beckoned. The third album, Another Night Time Flight, produced by Elton and Clive Franks and featuring Elton on piano, spawned that hitherto elusive hit, Gonna Capture Your Heart. The follow-up single, Bring Back the Love, earned them a BBC Radio 1 session and an appearance on Granada TV’s Marc, in an episode broadcast after Marc Bolan’s funeral in September 1977. But the public had lost interest, as punk elbowed in to grab the controls, and subsequent chart success faded into the blue. They didn’t quite chime with the new wave generation, despite the moderate success of other melodic power-pop acts of the day, such as Any Trouble.

A second Rocket album, Fool’s Party, followed and in 1979 the group relocated to Los Angeles, parting company with Rocket Records. As far as the record-buying public was concerned, that was it. Nicholson went on to write for Gary Numan in the nineties and kept Blue on the back burner. Until 2000, that is, when Virgin decided to launch a new boy band … and call them Blue. In June 2003, MacMillan and Nicholson went to the High Court, attempting to sue the new Blue and their label for £5 million. Virgin/EMI flexed some muscle and eventually the two parties settled, agreeing that both bands could carry on trading under the same name, so long as the original Blue dropped their complaint. It rankled with Nicholson, who wrote the song We Are Blue about the case. “It upsets everyone connected with Blue,” he told journalist Chris White in 2012. “The management of that group decided they were more powerful than us and decided to ignore us.” Did the new Blue apologise? Apparently, in the words of their own collaboration with Sir Elton, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

Given fresh impetus perhaps by the court case, Blue reformed in 2009 for a new album, Heaven Avenue, and single The Blue Eyed Girl – a fabulously catchy, jingly-jangly return to form which, sadly, didn’t alter their status as one hit wonders.

 

 

Goona Capture Your Heart

 

Difficult to find albums by Blue on Amazon (partly because you get a lot of irrelevant stuff by searching just under their name, and of course the other band called Blue), but the first 4 albums are on this page and their last, Heaven Avenue, here.

 

ONE HIT WONDERS ON TOPPERMOST
#1 Jody Reynolds
#2 James Ray
#3 Richie Barrett
#4 Mickey & Sylvia
#5 Scott McKenzie
#6 Blue
#7 Chris Kenner
#8 Dawn Penn
#9 Shep and the Limelites
#10 The Poni-Tails

 

Blue poster

 

Blue Songs: The Home of Blue

Hugh Nicholson official website

Info on Blue and associated acts, with interviews

First part of Chris White’s interview with Hugh Nicholson (2012)

Blue biography (Wikipedia)

Robert Webb is a freelance writer and editor. His writing has appeared in The Independent and BBC Online. He is the author of The 100 Greatest Cover Versions and a new biography of John Lennon.

Some of Robert’s other topper-posts: Laura Nyro; Harry Nilsson; Todd Rundgren; Scott Walker

TopperPost #610

1 Comment

  1. Dave Stephens
    Mar 18, 2017

    Good to see someone else pick up the One Hit Wonders baton. You haven’t converted me to Blue but great try.

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