27 June 2011

One Hit Wonders #19 - Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard - You're The One That I Want

Label: Pye
Year of Release: 1978

Let's not beat around the bush too much on this one - this is quite simply one of the worst singles ever to enter the British Top 40.  My Dad doesn't think so. My Dad thinks this is hilarious.  On the rare occasions it pops up on television, usually as an example of either television or radio hell, he laughs quite heartily at the inept nature of the track. I, on the other hand, have never really been in on the joke.

The concept behind this record is really rather simple.  Olivia Newton John and John Travolta were both glamorous, admired and lusted after individuals in 1978, so what could be more comedic than taking two ageing and unglamorous British celebrities and giving them a "Grease" duet to cover?  Quite a bit, as it turned out.  "You're The One That I Want" is really a piece of drunken pub karaoke before such a thing had been invented.  In every bar-room karaoke session in the world, I'd be willing to bet there's a drunk, ageing couple in the corner who decide, against better wisdom, that it would be hilarious to take on a raunchy modern song much beloved of those young people.  I've seen this done in bars around London with all manner of Lady Gaga, Girls Aloud and Katy Perry tracks, and it's been a chore to witness on those occasions, but I suppose credit should be given to Baker and Mullard for being way ahead of the game and getting their particular singalong released on Pye and sending it flying into the charts.

You do have to give them further credit for being so diabolical, which was surely most of the point.  Mullard bellows away and sings "Oh yus indeed", and Baker seems game enough but fails to hit the notes on  several occasions.  Trouble is, there's nothing actually funny about the failure, it's just gratingly awful, pure and simple.  Time has not been kind to this particular attempt at humour, and what we're left with is a screecher of a track which should never have been let out of the recording studio's doors.

Much has also been made of the fact that their ill-rehearsed "Top of the Pops" performance (complete with fluffed lines and confused, bewildered looks) caused the record's sales to drop to unexpectedly low levels the following week, with numbers in the hundreds being occasionally quoted.  I've always suspected that this is an exaggeration, purely because the single's chart movements (50-22-23-22-31-35) don't really suggest crashing sales at any point.  What is more miraculous is the fact that there was any kind of demand capable of lifting this chartbound in the first place.

Mullard and Baker were stars of the British screen for a great deal of their careers, with Mullard taking on roles in "The Ladykillers" and "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang", whilst Baker enjoyed success in a variety of mainstream television comedies.  This record was among the last things either of them did.  Whether further career opportunities would have emerged had it not been for this disc is difficult to say - both were in the twilight of their careers - but it surely can't have helped matters.  Sometimes novelty records come with a very heavy price attached, a lesson many comic talents would do well to learn.

The lesser-heard B-side "Save All Your Kisses For Me", on the other hand, is pure comedy gold, filled with asides and punchlines that really make you wonder why it was never the A-side (I'm just joshing, readers - it's an absolute dog of a flipside as well).


MimsyS said...

Bah, humbug you - I'm with your Dad on this one... :)

ximeremix said...

nah, I'm wiv you, matey. THE worst novelty record EVER!!! worse than Joe Dolce's Shaddup You Face! And that kept Ultravox off the top spot.

23 Daves said...

... but not as bad as "Fish and Chips in Spain" by Grahame Lister, which I really must re-upload sometime soon.

Pretty divisive this one, though - it seems to be a "guilty pleasure" for quite a few people.

The Confused said...

I personally found this amusing. One has to remember the Summer of 78 was downright unbearable because there was no escape from GREASE, Many grew sick of the sight and sound of Travolta and Neutron Bomb so to hear that song nuked by these two, it came as some much needed relief.

Eric Hall's autobiography had a few pages devoted to the saga behind this record, even saying there was an album, but Baker was unfortunately was showing early signs of Alzheimers Disease and was prone to throwing tantrums to the degree that Mullard lost his patience and they constantly bickered.

The illfated TOTP performance appears to have been Baker's penultimate TV work - she stopped working at the end of 1978. Either way it remains one of the classic train wreck TV appearances of all time... whoever decided they should sing live on the show should take credit for that!

23 Daves said...

Hmmm - now you mention it, her worsening condition would explain elements of that TOTP performance. It's perhaps not so amusing now.

I take your point about the song being a "revenge" on Newton-John and Travolta's cultural dominance - and I've read about the strength of feeling regarding that before (most especially Bob Geldof, who capitalised it by ripping up a photo of the pair on TOTP when he pushed them off the number one spot with "Rat Trap"). I wouldn't have got that at the time, though - far too young, and far too much of a fan of the "Grease" soundtrack, believe it or not.

Anonymous said...

I remember this too. Can't really watch it without thinking of those awful revelations about Mullard, who kept on working, showing up on Wossy, VL Smith et al. Don't think he was in the Ladykillers. Hylda Baker was funny, though.

Anonymous said...

That`s really bad.
you can`t beat the germans on that...
Look here:

It was a hit in Germany, and I loved it (that`s why I`m anonymous...).

By the way, Helga & Didi don`t wear masks !

23 Daves said...

Good God. Germany and the UK really have got the market for dubious novelty records almost entirely cornered. Thanks for that link (I think!)

I'm investigating a lot of German novelty/ Schlager material at the moment, but actually tracking down physical copies in London is a bit of a challenge. But still... it's a bottomless pit of bad taste.

Anonymous said...

Horrible sound! There not even on time with the beat of the song LMAO! JUST AWFUL

Anonymous said...

OF COURSE IT WAS AWFUL! What's wrong with you people? Did you think it was recorded and released as a legitimate hit recording. Just like Tiny Tim and Mrs Miller's out of tune renderings, it was meant to sound so bad, that it would be laughable... they were comic performers. If you didn't see the joke it wouldn't have appealed to you.