I sometimes remember the 1970s as a mostly regular time, but with jarring oppositions too. It was in many ways a bluntly realistic era, but there were a lot of very determinedly happy things to balance that out, including the smiley button (I wore a variation on it myself as a child), not to mention a lot of cheery upbeat music, including this song. Now, I could go down the path of picking a side in the perpetual tug-of-war between oh-so-sensitive singer-songwriters and the manufactured production line of producer/songwriters/singers*, but this song would not exactly fit in to the debate. Oh it has songwriters (Chris Arnold, David Martin and Geoff Morrow) and singers (Tony Burrows and Clare Torry) but uh, wait a minute. It came from a commercial? For cookies?
Yes, we have reached the stage where a song from a McVitie's fruit shortcake tv ad can be recorded and released as a hit single. The song itself has nothing to do with cookies and a lot to do with the natural hugeness of the United States (the songwriters were American). It’s a proper song, not a jingle fleshed out. The loving going on is abstract; the love could be for anyone, but it’s heartfelt and the wholesome goodness of the song’s sing-a-long style matches the Hoover Dam mention. It could be straight out of a musical, though usually there’s a bit more plot in a stage song.
I don’t know if this was expected to be a hit – but it was. So, what to do? On very short notice, a group of male and female singers were put together so they could appear as Guys 'n' Dolls for promotional purposes – miming the song and dancing on variety shows (one of them being Julie Forsyth, daughter of Bruce – do you see how showbiz this is?) There was no time to re-record the song with the new group, however. It worked, at least at first. The main problem was that the lead singer of the group, Dominic Grant, didn’t sound anything like Tony Burrows. He sounded more like a wannabe Scott Walker, completely pointless as the actual Scott Walker existed and at this time was plotting the return of The Walker Brothers.**
The group had its problems as you might expect and two of the six were dismissed for (I am guessing) wanting to do things in a different way. Guys 'n' Dolls were essentially there to fill the gap before The New Seekers reconvened, before the Brotherhood of Man made this kind of music uncool for a whole generation. They had one more hit in the UK but were far more popular in Europe, where they had hits right into the 1980s.
This scam, if you like, did have one unintended consequence. A few years after their being relieved from Guys 'n' Dolls, Theresa Bazar – the female of the pair – approached the studio bass player, one Trevor Horn, to see if he would be interested in working with her and David Van Day, the male of the pair. He was and so they did – as the duo Dollar. And so from late 1974, the tiny seeds of something different were being sown.
Next up: keep the red flag flying, kids!
*There are times when I don’t mind singer-songwriters, and then there are times I just want to avoid them as much as possible. I don’t know how common this is amongst those who grew up in the 70s.
**There are certain voices that are inimitable, and Walker’s is one of them. There’s a song by The Herd where the lead singer does a Walker-style vocal and it’s awful. No wonder Peter Frampton left to start Humble Pie.