18 February 2013

One Hit Wonders - Driver 67 - Car 67/ Communications Breakdown

Label: Logo
Year of Release: 1978

This is a very special one hit wonder for "Left and to the Back" for a few reasons, but perhaps most prominent of all - this was one of the first records my mother took me into Woolworths to buy. Not the first, you understand - that was Shalamar's "Uptown Festival" medley, probably because I liked the picture of the train on the label.  Nor, unfortunately, was it the first single I bought with my own money (or gift token) which was XTC's "Making Plans For Nigel" (the beginning of a lifelong love affair with that particular group).  But nonetheless, you get where I'm coming from, readers. It's one of those discs I daren't ever get rid of, purely because the memory of seeing the song on "Top of the Pops" and hassling my parents to buy it, and having to deal with Woolies not having a copy on the week we dropped in, is still in my mind. It was one of the gateway records for my long relationship with vinyl.

It's also been dismissed by many online commentators in recent years as being a rather silly novelty record.  I may be biased due to the single dropping into the shops at an impressionable time for me, but I doubt that's the reason why I like it so much - after all, I also bought a single by The Smurfs at around roughly the same time and that doesn't register very highly in my affections anymore.  The truth is that "Car 67" is a peculiarly innovative pop record which is loaded with gimmicks, and as a result sounds quite unlike anything else that was in the charts at that time.  There's no punk spikiness here, no moonlight soul crooning, no early evening variety show-friendly chirpiness. Initially it appears to  essentially be an earthily sung ballad - by songwriter Paul Phillips playing a fictional taxi driver - perched on top of a repetitive riff with spoken interjections from a switchboard operator from Birmingham.  Having set out its bizarre stall quite early on, the song then weaves a narrative around the jilted cabbie, slowly revealing the source of his angst and woe in the manner a country songwriter would be proud of, taking various little musical backstreets and detours along the way.  The mournful outro, in particular, is wonderful.  

This musical soap opera set to vinyl was a surefire hit from the start, but was aided further when Phillips appeared on "Top of the Pops" playing both the taxi driver (via video clips) and the switchboard operator (in the BBC studio).  This was beyond the usual bog-standard mimed performances, and caused the song to fly out of the shops - or at least would have, had Logo Records not failed to press enough copies to keep up with demand.  In the end, "Car 67" had to make do with a bumpy ride up the charts, dropping one week before rising to its peak position of number 7 the next. That's not a bad result, but it's hardly the expected settling place for what many pundits were predicting would be a definite number one.

Fans of chart trivia might be keen to note that the taxi driver's job ends up going to Car 23 at the end of side A, and side B begins with a reference to "song 23".  Whilst Car 67 failed to get to number one, a car with the number 23 painted on it would in 1988, as the KLF (aka The Timelords) got there with the equally perplexing and even more brilliant "Doctorin' The Tardis", fronted by the enigmatic Ford Timelord.  I doubt Drummond was aware of the coincidence here, and he's probably also not aware of the fact that his roadie Gimpo was apparently introduced to Driver 67's follow-up single "Headlights" on the car stereo whilst recently doing his 25 hour M25 Rally.  What do we make of this? I have no clue.

"Headlights" has been well-documented on this blog, being a flop record which was banned by the BBC for its dark and creepy content (and if you haven't heard that one yet, you're missing bleakness of almost Peter Wyngarde proportions).  Following the failure of all follow-up releases, Phillips apparently became disillusioned with the music business after struggles obtaining the royalties owed to him through "Car 67".  The rights to the record have since reverted back to him, and he very kindly got in touch out of the blue a couple of weeks ago and gave me permission to include it on this blog.  Naturally, it is commercially available elsewhere, and I would encourage you to go to iTunes or Amazon to buy it (especially as they'll have audio that's not sourced from old vinyl).  Likewise, if he feels at any time that he wants me to take this down - such as when the January 1979 "Top of the Pops" performance crops up on BBC4 again, which always seems to cause an enormous renewal of interest in songs such as this one - he should definitely drop me another line. In the meantime, thanks are definitely due to him both for this song and for allowing me to share it with you again.

He presently has an album out entitled "Now That's What I Call Divorce" which is apparently based on some recent life experiences of his.  It's nice to know that his career has continued in the same merry vein.

(Update: Driver 67's blog can be found here)


Singlem said...

Did you know that the chap who sang that Driver 67 song also made another song called "Won't Somebody Play My Record"? Don't think it charted, though, and if it did, I doubt it got very high. Loved Driver 67, as along with that other novelty song at the time, "Hello, This Is Jonie (by Paul Evans), it was the highlight of Winter 78/79.

23 Daves said...

Singlem - do you mean this single which I covered four years ago?

I wasn't aware he responsible for it and he didn't mention it when he got in touch, but it could have been that he just hadn't noticed that entry on here. Curious! How did you find out he did vocals on it?

Anonymous said...

It wasn't me! Singlem might be confusing Won't Somebody Play My Record (by The Egton Runners) with the title track of my album, Hey Mr Record Man. By the way, you were right about TOTP repeats creating new interest. I trended on Twitter! In a few days I'm launching the Driver 67 blog, which will have new songs (as well as old) and stories about my life in music. If it's ok with you, I'll drop a link onto your site, and when I write about Car 67 (the third blog in the series) I'll give you a shout out. Cheers.

23 Daves said...

I noticed you trended on Twitter! Statistically speaking, you have officially created more traffic for this blog entry than Joy Sarney did for hers when her appearance was repeated on BBC4, and that's saying something.

Feel free to drop me a line when your blog entry is ready and I'll also try to link back to it on Twitter and Facebook.

And Singlem… I'm now almost 100% certain that the Egton Runners record is solely the work of John Carter.

Steve C said...

Is there anywhere that has both versions of the song (the US style one as well as the single), so I can compare them. The US vocal is hugely criticised on the net in various places. It does seem a very odd thing to release an album and put a completely different version of the single on it.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you're so right. It was a big mistake not to put the hit on the album. But there was what we thought was a very good reason. I'll explain that on the blog in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, the blog has launched - Driver 67: The Return Journey is at I hope you'll all follow it and enjoy it, and occasionally comment.

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Unknown said...

Was there an American version of this recording Ima sure I heard it one bit can't find it anywhere

Anonymous said...

There definitely was an American version of 'Car 67' as I heard it on a Pick Of The Pops when Dale Winton hosted it.

The vocal was the same but the controller's voice was American.