27 June 2011
One Hit Wonders #19 - Hylda Baker and Arthur Mullard - You're The One That I Want
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).
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