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.
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)