28 May 2012

David Essex and Jeff Wayne (aka The Us) - You're OK With Us/ Tomorrow

Label: Sound Department
Year of Release: 1970

In some respects, I suspect that life was easier for the non-hit singer or songwriter in the sixties and seventies.  Not only were there more venues out there to play and a greater demand for live music, there was also the sheer range of work available for anyone plucky enough to step forward and offer their services.  Budget albums and EPs consisting of cover versions of the hits of the day would often find themselves home to quickie Elton John and David Bowie vocals, for example.

The world of Hallmark Records aside, adverts back then seemed to be filled to the brim with original music, meaning better cash was available if you were happy to go into a studio and sing about the benefits of a regular bowl of cornflakes or the delightful smell which can be dispersed via the latest household cleaning product.  The vast majority of artists who contributed to the music industry in this dubious way have since sunk without trace, doomed to only be remembered through strange earworms heard by bored shoppers in modern supermarket aisles (after all, which one of us can't walk past "Shake n Vac" without hearing the sodding tune in our heads?)  As always, though, there are exceptions, and here's a star-studded one.  Back in the sixties and seventies, a deodorant called "Us" was produced, which came in a terrifyingly bulky and ugly white can, making it look like a WD40 dispenser or a paint spray by modern standards.  The accompanying advert for the product consisted of a band (some of whom look like future "Top Gear" presenters, though they're not) playing in a sweaty nightclub with confidence.  Presumably the average viewer could witness these cool kids smiling on stage and would equate the wearing of the bathroom product with super-fun times.

"You're OK With Us" was the tune the band "played", but the special promotional single the manufacturers Johnson Wax released sounds somewhat different - and that's because this version has star-in-waiting David Essex contributing vocals.  Arranging the instruments and on songwriting duties is Jeff Wayne, future "War of the Worlds" man who at this point in his career was dashing off ditties for hundreds of adverts and apparently making a fine living from doing so.  Despite its dubious origins, the track is actually likable enough to pass, and whilst numerous ebay sellers have been trying to pass it off as a "garage rock" or "psychedelic" single ever since, it's really much more of its time than that.  Despite the rather distorted guitars, it's typical of the kind of tune that emerged at the cusp of the seventies as the more commercial end of radio pop gradually slid into the messiness of glam.  I wouldn't bother playing it myself at either a glam or sixties night - unless somebody persistently requested the track, that is, which seems unlikely - but it's definitely a fascinating curio, and an insight into the workings of two people who would later go on to have a huge influence on music in the seventies.

The flip "Tomorrow" stems from a bath salts advert, of all things, and sees Essex and Wayne managing to pre-empt John Lennon's "Imagine" by a few years.  It's another of those mournful songs which expresses nostalgia for a late sixties ideology which by that point had barely passed - "But what about the songs we used to sing/ of Brotherhood and love?" demands Essex forcefully. "Remember when we sang that we shall overcome?" Steady on, sir, there's no room for politics whilst one is enjoying a relaxing bath.  Did you not read your briefing papers on the way into this session?  Whatever the appropriateness of the tune, it joins Elton John and Roger Hodgson's early non-hit "Imagine" and Denis Couldry's "Tea and Toast Mr Watson" as being a nostalgic, hippy-sympathising track somewhat peculiarly recorded either during the summer of love or shortly after it.

You won't need me to tell you that David Essex became a massive star with a string of hits in the UK a mere few years after this work, and would be reunited with Jeff Wayne on "The War of the Worlds" project in both an acting and singing capacity (during which he seemed to suggest that he would be a President in some underground sewer community - which is inappropriate talk for a man who had previously promoted deodorant).  To think that it may have been due to this advert work that the pair met - platinum history created by underarm scent receptacles.

Sorry for the pops and clicks on the B-side.  This promotional single was pressed very quietly (apart from the announcer's thunderous but unenthusiastic declaration at the start) and it was very difficult to wipe out the surface noise without also removing some of the more subtle parts of the record.


Mondo said...

Well I never - what a find. I remember US as being the Guys and Dolls of deoderants. Ad singles - I had Nimble (dad worked for Mothers Pride in Southend) and Jeans On

23 Daves said...

Ah, I had "Jeans On" as well. God knows where my copy of that went to.

What did the Nimble single sound like? I can't remember the advert at all.

Anonymous said...

Nimble, the girl (or Dolly-bird) in the ballon.

Honeybus - I Can't Let Maggie Go