As an American writing this blog, I hope to highlight the similarities as well as the differences between the US and the UK; and this first song from ’72 shows how, at least for now, the two nations have one thing in common: a lot of tv variety shows.
I suppose the idea came from vaudeville and then evolved into something that was, by definition, wholesome, all-around entertainment, the sort of thing a family could watch together. Variety shows existed long before the 70s, of course, but it seemed that (in US terms anyway) practically everyone who was anyone hosted one, if even for a few months. These shows were part sketch comedy, part stand-up, and part music, and the general feel of the show depended on who hosted it: I remember watching Carol Burnett and Flip Wilson, for instance, two very funny people, and those shows were mostly comedy; whereas Sonny and Cher of course had music as well as some rather awkward, to say the least, jibing between the two stars*. US variety show hosts – if only for a few weeks as summer replacement shows – included Ray Stevens, Bobby Goldsboro, Dean Martin, Glen Campbell, Johnny Cash, Julie Andrews, Jim Nabors, Tom Jones and so on. Some of these, I’m guessing, were on UK screens as well; and the opposite applies to UK shows not seen in the US, including Cilla Black’s show, which ran from 1968 until 1976**.
This song is the second theme song of that series (the first being “Step Inside Love”) and it has that same sense of optimism and longing, a sort of muted oomph that promises a great deal – it is a warm song, a bright smile that has the TOTP audience clapping along, as if, for a few moments anyway, that sunny 60s cheer has re-appeared, contagious and somehow also meant to be. Taken as a song apart from a tv show, it’s a song full of anticipation, confidence – but as a tv show theme the main message is indeed that everything, for the next hour or so is indeed “going to be all right.” That reassurance is what the US variety shows were about as well – things on the outside may be bad, but here, inside this show, things are cheerful and funny and maybe even a bit corny but that isn’t such a bad thing, is it? Both nations needed a lot of this as the 70s continued, though for very different reasons (which I’ll get to in a future post).
The anticipation of this song, the sureness and eagerness of it, also mirror the hopes for the new decade – something is indeed about to happen, though just what it is exactly is just starting to be evident in the charts. The emotional and spiritual wringing-outs of the late 60s have been replaced with something going back to the beginning – indeed, 1972 is all about, in many ways, getting back to what rock ‘n’ roll is about in the first place. It’s about gut feelings, irrational longings (urge overkills, if you like) and that magical snap in the air that Cilla sings about so winningly here***.
As for Cilla Black herself, her show’s success led her into doing more television and less music (indeed this is her last top 10 hit, an NME #2) – there seems to be a divide between those who host shows who can sing, and guests who have hits in the world of variety shows (I believe this also applies to one guest on Cilla’s show, who sings with her here – he also had his own show, later in the 70s). I am not sure when the variety show disappeared from US/UK networks, but I have a feeling that they helped to bridge any generation/taste gaps in their audiences, by reassuring the staid and timorous viewers that this new crowd were not weirdos but just regular folk like themselves, and that in a crisis laughter is almost always the best solution. Plenty of laughter and good music was needed around now, and the variety shows were more than ready to try to do what they could to provide them.
Next up: the bubblegum tide slowly ebbs out…
*I was too young at the time to realize that they weren’t play-acting disliking each other; they really didn’t, and Sonny having a trapdoor open under him always seemed a little mean to me, though funny, of course.
**I think; Cilla also did a sketch comedy show in the 70s as well, but I’m pretty sure this is the theme to her variety show.
***One of the reasons she has an audible smile on her face, by the way, is that Dudley Moore is playing piano here, and no doubt kept everyone amused at the session.