Lulu

TrackAlbum/Single 
The Boat That I RowColumbia single DB 8169
Everybody’'s Got To ClapThe ATCO Sessions CD
First Of MayThe Greatest Hits (2003)
The Man Who Sold The WorldPolydor single 2001 490
Marley Purt DriveNew Routes
Morning DewTo Sir With Love
Mr. BojanglesNew Routes
Oh Me Oh My (I’'m A Fool For You Baby)New Routes
ShoutDecca single F11884
To Sir With LoveTo Sir With Love

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Contributor: Peter Viney

Singer, TV show host, actor, personality, cosmetic and fashion promoter. Lulu is so deeply embedded in the British consciousness as an entertainer that it’s hard for her to get a fair hearing as a singer. What do you remember? Boom-Bang-A-Bang, joint winner at Eurovision 1969? Or the star of the film To Sir With Love in 1967? The stage Peter Pan of the 80s? Adrian Mole’s mum on TV? A client in Absolutely Fabulous? Host of the National Lottery? Contestant on Strictly Come Dancing? The woman who looked even sexier at sixty than twenty?

Or do you remember Happening For Lulu? At the age of seventeen, she was already hosting her own TV show, with sketches as well as music. Anyone in a frock had to do that as soon as they had their third hit as Cilla, Dusty and Sandie also discovered. By now she was twenty. The Jimi Hendrix Experience. They appeared on the Lulu show in January 1969, and played Voodoo Child then started Hey Joe, only for Jimi to stop and announce: “We’d like to stop playing this rubbish and dedicate a song to the Cream …”, before launching into Sunshine Of Your Love. Lulu having announced Hey Joe was made to look really daft. According to bassist Noel Redding, Jimi was due to duet with Lulu and deliberately sabotaged it. According to Lulu, there was never any intention of doing so, and the producers back her up. Whatever, it’s TV history.

Lulu looked so straight and cuddly. I don’t dig what’s in, so I guess I’m out, is Neil Diamond’s lyric to The Boat That I Row, but Lulu was acutely aware that it was also the public perception. Dusty Springfield, with a similar mid-Atlantic singing accent, and Rod Stewart with a similar edge of rawness, both get more acclaim than Lulu (well, Rod less so in recent years!) The object of this Toppermost is to put her in her rightful place as a credible rock singer.

Lulu burst onto the scene with Shout as Lulu & The Luvvers in 1964, and was in the Brenda Lee/Helen Shapiro style: little girls with mighty big voices. She was fifteen. She really did shout on Shout and followed The Beatles in even out-rocking an Isley Brothers original. The follow up was an early Jagger-Richards song Satisfied, not one of their best, then a raucous version of I Can’t Hear You No More, the Goffin-King song first done by Betty Everett. Single number four was Bert Berns Here Comes The Night, and she had the first release, only to see Them (with Van Morrison) trounce her version and get the hit. But those are four good rock singles in short order. Not many hits though. The answer? Do the stuff that girl singers are supposed to do: Leave A Little Love hit the UK top ten, Try To Understand got to #25.

Cue leaving Decca for Mickie Most in 1966, working through EMI’s Columbia label. He pushed her further into the girl with a big smile and a short skirt. Promote the (budget) cosmetic range. Do the TV show. Lulu: “When it came to the records, he’d want to make all the decisions, and that’s where we’d have the arguments … I always wanted to do stuff that had more edge to it.”

Mickie Most lavished full orchestral arrangements on Lulu, much as George Martin did with Cilla Black. No expense spared. A session guy told me once that a smiling, personable girl singer always got more attention than five smelly, hairy, argumentative, snarling blokes straight out of a Ford Transit, and the girls could always stay in tune. Listen to the arrangements on Rattler or Morning Dew.

What was the best selling record of 1967, the summer of love, in the USA? Guesses? The answer is To Sir With Love by Lulu, which was the biggest selling record of the entire year. In Britain it was a B-side, to the forgettable, Let’s Pretend. In the USA, it was originally the B-side of The Boat That I Row. Part of the deal for Lulu appearing in the film To Sir With Love as an actress was that she got to sing the title track. Lulu was expecting a Carole King or Burt Bacharach song. Instead she was sent a pile of dire songs, and so persuaded Mark London to write something in her style. The melody took him twenty minutes and he got Don Black to supply lyrics. The film company didn’t seem interested and just said, OK, fine. Lulu says: “I begged Mickie Most to let me do To Sir With Love, but he didn’t want to. Never mind putting it out as a single, he wasn’t even keen to record it. It was the DJs in America who turned it into a hit. They turned it over and wouldn’t play the other side.”

She also says that instead of the impressive orchestra Most used with her elsewhere, she got just four string players for the session. The movie became a smash hit and so did the song, but in spite of the success, EMI’s Columbia refused all Lulu’s requests to reissue it as an A-side in Britain or repromote it. In the US version it was a real double-header. The Boat That I Row is right out of the ‘pop princess’ Mickie Most era, but it was stripped down to a band with swirling organ. I heard it on the radio right after The Box Tops recently, and it rocks: it fitted perfectly, stylistically.

Then in 1968 she recorded a powerful version of Bonnie Dobson’s Morning Dew which was an American single, but not even released in the UK. It was a song loads of bands did live, and neither the Tim Rose nor Episode Six versions were hits, but Lulu did the best version, with assistance from the full arrangement.

She had to do I’m A Tiger, which she describes: “I felt tortured. You take a small five foot one girl – I was always called cute with a pleasing personality, and you think, ooh, poppy, inky-dinky-winky. Puppet like!”

So then she did the six Eurovision song entries in 1969. She and the Johnny Harris orchestra had their money on the Elton John-Bernie Taupin song being voted in, but no, the one they all thought a joke, Boom Bang-A-Bang first got the UK vote, then won the whole thing, condemning her to years of performing it. Elton and Bernie came last. It is awful, but also defines Eurovision. There is good stuff in the Mickie Most years (see To Sir With Love: The Complete Mickie Most Recordings) on which you can find The Mighty Quinn, Cry Like A Baby and To Love Somebody. As well as Boom Bang-A-Bang in three languages.

She was married to Maurice Gibb, and this accounts for Bee Gees songs. A poignant video is her duetting with Maurice Gibb on First Of May from An Audience With Lulu in 2002. He died unexpectedly a few months later. She closed her Greatest Hits album with the recording of the TV duet in 2003.

In 1969, she was recruited directly by Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler, and escaped to Muscle Shoals studios, and the ATCO label and recorded New Routes opening with a Bee Gees song, another from Odessa, Marley Purt Drive with Duane Allman on guitar. The single was Oh Me Oh My (I’m A Fool For You Baby) which was American Top 30. Songs by Dave Mason, Frankie Miller, Eddie Hinton, Jerry Jeff Walker, Mac Davis took it a long way from Eurovision. Mr. Bojangles has spine-tingling guitar playing and ethereal Hammond behind a brilliant interpretation of the lyric from Lulu.

The second ATCO CD was Melody Fair, recorded in Atlantic’s Florida studio with The Dixie Flyers and The Memphis Horns. Melody Fair, the title track, is another Gibbs brothers song from Odessa. The Rascals were recording next door and joined her on Good Day Sunshine (with horns to die for) and Randy Newman’s Vine Street. Both albums are on The ATCO Sessions CD set. This has a disc of outtakes and singles and Everybody’s Got To Clap (co-written by Maurice Gibb) was a US single, and is in the Toppermost. Come Down In Time is the Elton John song in a lovely languid version. She was with ATCO from 1969 to 1972, but notes that by the end of ‘72 she was starring in the pantomime, Peter Pan.

By 1974 she was working with David Bowie and Mick Ronson, who produced her cover of The Man Who Sold The World, a UK #3 hit. That was Polydor in the UK, but the iconic Chelsea soul label in the USA. The James Bond theme Man With The Golden Gun then Take Your Mama For A Ride were Chelsea in both. Lulu recorded part of an album with Bowie which has never been released.

It was a decade before she hit the chart again, with a remake of Shout in 1986, causing the original to be reissued.

Independence in 1993 and I’m Back For More (with Bobby Womack) were both Top Ten hits. The 1993 #1 hit Relight My Fire was a collaboration with Take That … Lulu, Dusty and Sandie were much in demand for collaborative efforts with boys. Her cameo makes the record, but there’s not enough of Lulu on it for a Toppermost. In 2000 she had another hit with Where The Poor Boys Dance which sounds contemporary for the millennium year. It was set for a dance album that got cancelled, but appeared on Back On Track in 2004 with other recent singles.

Relight My Fire is on the Together album of duets released in 2002, organized by Elton John. The album was two years in the making, and grew out of her radical remake of McCartney’s Let ‘Em In retitled Inside Thing. Together has I’m Back For More as well as duets with Elton John, Sting, Cliff Richard, Joe Cocker, Westlife, Ronan Keating. She reprises To Sir With Love with Samantha Mumba. The one that stood out was Reunited with Cliff (three pop knights are on the record) because the dance bass track was incongruous, but in a good way. We’ve Got Tonight with Ronan Keating was the single, and a #4 hit in 2003.

A Little Soul In Your Heart in 2005 also had Sir Elton as executive producer and runs through soul standards, impeccably with a suitably retro backing band. I’d have loved to hear her do You’re No Good, It’s In His Kiss and I Can’t Turn You Loose, in the late 60s, and indeed she wanted to do them, and Just One Look was done both in 1964 and forty years later. She still has full power in the voice but that desperate teen spirit can’t be there.

I didn’t want to dismiss a fruitful quarter of a century of excellent songs, and wanted to put something recent in there, apart from First Of May. But it was Mr. Bojangles which was lined up to make way for a tenth Toppermost from recent times. In the end, much as I like the later material, I couldn’t reject Mr. Bojangles. It’s in.

The Lulu website

Lulu biography (iTunes)

Anyone wanna do Cilla, Dusty, Sandie? Who’s got the knowledge? And talking of Jimi … why no Jimi yet? (later … see topperpost #129)

TopperPost #113

3 Comments

  1. Keith Shackleton
    Nov 1, 2013

    Good to see Lulu on Toppermost. Those Atco Sessions are quite something. What players! The Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, Duane Allman, Eddie Hinton, the Dixie Flyers, the Memphis Horns, my god..

    Oh Me Oh My is a terrific song: Aretha opened her Young, Gifted and Black album with it, of course.

    I think my Lulu ‘guilty pleasure’ has to be a version of this great tune, remixed by Kerphunk. It’s a bit ‘dance round your handbags’ but despite all the studio trickery, the song stands up. Check it out. OK, that’s all my street cred down the pan!

  2. Peter Viney
    Nov 2, 2013

    Thanks for those great links, Keith. Those Muscle Shoals Studios were at 3614 Jackson Highway, and that’s the title of the album Cher recorded for ATCO just before Lulu’s ATCO Sessions, with much the same people. Cher and Lulu have another link (apart from having a single name)… the problem of being taken seriously in their own countries, both due to TV shows. Americans never saw Lulu TV shows, so judge her on the music. The British never saw the Sonny & Cher show, so also judge Cher on her music rather than on late 60s TV shows. The BBC has been unearthing some of those TV shows that were obligatory for female singers, even if (like Dusty) they were camera shy and not natural comperes. It was really a case of old showbiz’s heavy hand. Give them two female singers on the same show, and they’d inevitably make them sing “Sisters”. Plus they had to look good and still have to. Even folk singers like Judy Collins and Joan Baez in their 70s take great trouble on how they look. Roy Harper or Ian Anderson really do have it easy!

  3. Rob Millis
    Nov 2, 2013

    It’s amazing what happens if you read something quickly and a double-take to realise your mistake. “Everybody’s Got The Clap” was what I thought I saw…

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