If you said the words ‘Northern Ireland’ to, say, earnest young people at this time, they would talk about The Troubles; but the same words would evoke quite something else in those younger and more interested in pop, particularly boys; Clodagh Rodgers would be their main response, which puts a whole different spin on what, at this time, Northern Ireland meant to the British public in general. To some, sectarian strife; to others, home of a dream babe.
Unlike Mary Hopkin, who prospered under the aegis of Apple, Rodgers prospered with one American Kenny Young, who wrote and produced this song and finally got Rodgers (who had been performing since she was a teenager and recording for several years already) her first real hit, an NME number two. It is, in effect, a song about wanting her man back, the aggression of the title lyric implying she is all but dead without him – “My sleeves are all torn, my buttons are loose/My makeup’s starting to fade away*” – she is his “baby doll” and a rather sullied and sad Raggedy Ann. She begs him to come back and fix her up, and bring her back to life. It’s a standard uptempo song as you’d expect – “Hug me, bug me, be my friend!” she commands in the chorus – and her requests are topped with this bare fact: “My life is my love, my love is my life/My world is my man” – feminist anthem this is definitely not, but then it is1969, and this song chimes in well with Rodgers’ appearance as a “dolly bird” who is dressed up much as a Barbie would be, with a hint of invitation that would indeed make her the boys’ favourite at this time. Rodgers went on to other successes in the charts** and controversially represented the UK in Eurovision a year later (there were IRA death threats against her); she became part of 'all around entertainment' and was always there either on tv or the stage, even if she had bad luck with singles. (For instance, she recorded "Stand By Your Man" before Tammy Wynette did, but Tammy had the hit.)
Rodgers was a star, launched with Kenny Young's songs; he would go on to write and produce with Fox and Yellow Dog (Fox's hit "S-s-single Bed" in 1976 was too coy for Rodgers, I imagine; part of her appeal was her directness). The simplicity of Rodgers, that star quality, were part of the whole puzzle of 1969, when show business was going right along as usual, just as the 'classic rock' era was beginning and strangeness was starting to seep into things. If you were a boy, Rodgers was easy enough to understand, even if The Troubles was something hanging in the background, in direct opposition to just about everything she stood for.
Next up: a Manchester band that did much better in the U.S. than at home.
*I cannot help but think of the whole riot grrl 'kinderwhore' deliberately rough baby doll look here, as championed by Courtney Love; in the 60s that would have been unacceptable. Rodgers here wants joy in her life, as well as neatness and tidiness.
**She was the biggest female star of '69 in the UK, and her voice was insured for a million pounds. And yet growing up in North America I was unaware of her - a good example of how divided the two sides of the Atlantic were becoming at this time, a gaping crevasse that would increase in the early 70s.