City Boy

TrackAlbum
Moonlight (Shake My Head And Leave)City Boy
5000 Years/Don't Know Can't TellCity Boy
Goodbye Blue MondayDinner At The Ritz
State Secrets - A ThrillerDinner At The Ritz
Dear Jean (I'm Nervous)Young Men Gone West
5-7-0-5Book Early
Interrupted MelodyThe Day The Earth Caught Fire
AmbitionThe Day The Earth Caught Fire
SpeechlessHeads Are Rolling
The Blind Leading The BlindIt's Personal

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City Boy photo

City Boy (l to r): Roy Ward (drums, vocals), Lol Mason (vocals), Chris Dunn (bass), Steve Broughton (guitar, vocals), Max Thomas (keyboards), Mike Slamer (guitar, bass)

 

Contributor: Ian Ashleigh

5 – 7 – 0 – 5 … and there’s no reply!

Thus opened the one top 10 UK chart hit for American sounding, Birmingham (West Midlands) based City Boy – a single that peaked at No.8. I do remember a lot of airplay at the time (1978). A few years later, I had a colleague with the date of birth, 5th July 1945, and would, near his birthday, change the lyric to 5–7–4–5 in his honour. Until I told him about the song, he was always impressed that I remembered. That was all a long time ago!

Those of you of a certain age will be wondering how these ‘one hit wonders’ warrant a Toppermost and some of you ‘young people’ will be thinking, City Boy, that sounds like a manufactured boy band.

As the late, great Max Bygraves used to say, “I wanna tell you a story …”

City Boy were known for their tight vocal harmonies and heavy electric guitar sound. They started out in the acoustic music scene in Birmingham in the early 1970s. Childhood friends Lol Mason and Steve Broughton were joined by Max Thomas and Chris Dunn to form a quartet playing original acoustic music in the Birmingham area. They worked in clubs in the Midlands and turned professional towards the end of 1975 when they were offered a recording contract by Phonogram Records for their Vertigo label. The condition was that they change their name from Back In The Band and add drums and electric guitar. Ultimately, they added keyboards as well and became a six-piece band.

City Boy’s first five albums – indeed, the band recorded seven albums between 1976 and 1981 – were produced by Robert John “Mutt” Lange, and are among the first albums he produced after relocating to the UK from his home in what is now Zambia. To put this initial body of work into context, Lange went on to produce AC/DC, Shania Twain (whom he married), Foreigner, Bryan Adams and a long list of other bands. Back in 1975, Lange became the de facto seventh member of the band, helping Chris Dunn hone his bass guitar skills and assisting with City Boy’s vocal harmonies. Their only hit single came in 1978 with 5-7-0-5 the opening track on their fourth album Book Early. It was Mutt Lange’s first hit single outside of southern Africa.

The first eponymous City Boy album was released in 1975 or 1976 (sources differ) and in some quarters was classified as prog rock. I can see that but only for the complex vocals; the songs were generally short and punchy with no ‘flowery keyboards’ associated with the prog rock of the time – and I mean that in a polite way. And in another polite way, there are shades of the art rock of 10cc in their song structures and lyrics. However, City Boy do have a brief entry in Prog Archives and in some way that allows them into the prog rock pantheon.

From that first album, I’ve chosen the opening track Moonlight (Shake My Head And Leave) with its guitars and tight vocal a portent of what was to come. 5000 Years/Don’t Know Can’t Tell is probably the most ‘prog friendly’ track on that first album. It’s unclear if these are electrified productions of the songs the band were playing acoustically. It is entirely possible.

Dinner At The Ritz was released in 1976 and it had everything bar a hit single. Goodbye Blue Monday is possibly as close as the album gets to potentially providing one, a Queen-esque production about signing off the dole, quitting the day job and joining a band. The album closes with the magnificent spy story cum love song State Secrets – A Thriller, and what a cliché of a bass line to open a song with!

City Boy released Young Men Gone West in 1977 which contains the Status Quo inspired Dear Jean (I’m Nervous) a story about the beginning of a love affair it seems. By contrast, Honeymooners, which missed the cut, may be straight out of the 10cc songbook. There’s also a track called The Man Who Ate His Car, a song that deserved to be a hit single if only for the title.

1978 was the year I went to Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University) after staying on at school for an extra term to resit an A level. I spent from February to September of that year driving a parts delivery van for a motor dealership in London and the van had a radio! 5–7–0–5 seemed to be ubiquitous on Capital Radio that summer unless my memory is playing tricks. You did think the band were American; the whole song from the telephone sound effects to the lyric and the arrangement said so. The song made the UK top ten but it was years later and a chance conversation that led me to re-explore City Boy more fully and find the catalogue I share with you now. The album was Book Early and it had one of the most uninspiring covers I can think of. Thankfully, the quality of the music inside far exceeded its wrapping; 11 great songs that, like the previous three albums, deserved a larger audience. I’ll leave you to discover the other songs from this album, and those I’ve mentioned that didn’t make the list.

Their next album, The Day The Earth Caught Fire (1979), produced a minor UK hit with the title track and is packaged as a concept album in the prog rock tradition. The album opens and closes with the UK’s speaking clock of the time voiced by Ethel Jane Cain. This album marked an early recording appearance by Huey Lewis, who played harmonica on the second track, It’s Only The End Of The World. There was no room on this list for the title track because I wanted to share the ballad from the album, Interrupted Melody, and the leviathan closing track. At just shy of 13 minutes this was Mutt Lange’s swansong with the band: Ambition is just that, an art rock/prog rock masterpiece in four parts; Ambition, Me And My Tarot, Rev-On, The End. The entire album still hangs together and has travelled through time surprisingly well (listen to both tracks on the YT clips at the foot of this post).

Heads Are Rolling followed in 1980 produced by Tim Friese-Greene but the vocal and guitar sound of City Boy is unmistakable. For a band that was typified by vocal harmonies, Lol Mason’s Speechless (Mason-Thomas) is unusual for being a solo vocal performance.

The final album, It’s Personal, was recorded for Phonogram but never released by the label. City Boy, by then a quartet, released it themselves in 1981. Some different styles showed through on this album, not least the reggae/two-tone inspired, The Blind Leading The Blind. Other tracks have a heavier rockier sound, for example Lovers and It’s Personal.

Steve Broughton in an interview (see below) describes how in the UK City Boy coincided with punk and when they relocated to the USA the stadium rock bands had taken over. Bad timing in both cases. Maybe with irony I should have chosen the last track on the final album, Exit The Heavyweight, to close the set.

The band had members come and go; the changes are detailed on City Boy’s own website (link below).

In August 2006, former guitarist Mike Slamer gave an interview to a German radio station. The presenter tried manfully to get him to talk about City Boy which he is reluctant to do.

In May 2016, Steve Broughton (under his full name of Steve Broughton Lunt) gave an extended interview on Brum Radio’s “Big Wheels” with Robin Valk that can be heard via Mixcloud in which he chooses some music important to him and tells some interesting stories about City Boy and, with some nice surprises, the music business.

So here we are, a band that had one major hit from seven albums which combined the styles of 10cc, Queen and Status Quo, with a backdrop of overblown quasi-prog-rock guitar-led production and tight vocal harmonies. But it’s music that does not take itself totally seriously and, for all and everything, still puts a smile on my face.

 

 

The first 4 City Boy albums were released on 2 CDs by Cherry Red Records (Lemon label) in 2015, more info here.

 

City Boy website

City Boy discography

City Boy “Interrupted Melody” (on YT)

City Boy “Ambition” (on YT)

City Boy “Speechless” (on YT)

City Boy biography (iTunes)

TopperPost #545

3 Comments

  1. Irene Fraser
    Aug 23, 2016

    Never heard of these guys. Having listened to the above tracks ~ 5705 a great track – I will investigate their back catalogue. Great write-up and introduction to this band. His gleaming white outfit matched his gleaming white teeth, perfectly. :-))

  2. Bob Alicz
    Aug 23, 2016

    GREAT BAND! Saw them at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago in the late 70’s with Nektar and a band called Lake. Great show. Love the vocals and harmonies but really loved the guitar work and riffs! Some of my favorites were Sunset Blvd., Hap-ki-do Kid, Surgery Hours (Doctor Doctor), and Oddball Dance, just to name a few.

  3. Chris Dunn
    May 18, 2019

    This is Chris Dunn….bassist for City Boy. If you would like to know more about CB and our experience with Mutt Lange as a producer check out my podcast interview from Christmas Day 2018.

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