3 December 2014

Sue Wilkinson - Posers/ Hollywood Sheik

Label: Cheapskate
Year of Release: 1980

The early eighties spewed up some strange one hit wonders, but few were more unexpected than model and actress Sue Wilkinson's "You've Got Be A Hustler If You Want To Get On" (originally titled "You've Got To Be A Scrubber If You Want To Get On" before someone at the record label got cold feet). The softly sung - barely sung, actually - yet acidic, bitter lyrics combined with a minimal pop backing created a peculiar novelty record, one which could also have conceivably been recorded as a "naughty" music hall 78 in the twenties and still sounds as if it could be a YouTube viral today. Like most successful novelty pop, it feels as if it belongs to no particular era stylistically and exists in its own wobbly world. 

I've never been too sure quite what "Hustler" was supposed to be proving, though. Was it a despairing record written about women failing to get ahead unless they sold themselves sexually, or a record which shruggingly accepted the fact and only just stopped short of celebrating it? And is the fact that she says these are the "only women making it" not slightly clumsy? (True, there weren't that many women in positions of power in 1980, but the ones who were didn't necessarily achieve their aims by bed-hopping. Thatcher was the Prime Minister in Britain at this point, after all… and no, don't even go there). The characters in "Hustler" are recognisable, but the acerbic, sweeping nature of it does leave me feeling slightly awkward. That's possibly the idea, though. 

So when you've managed that strange, minimal novelty top thirty hit - with Don Powell out of Slade on "boing" noises, fact fans - where to next? Well, clearly you try the same trick again. "Posers" is lyrically less snappy than "Hustler", instead taking digs at vain people, both men and women ("Got an up-lifted backside/ Then siliconed her flat-side/ you can bite her apple/ but you'll never, never reach the core"). Otherwise, it's business as usual in a slightly weirder, melodically more meandering way. This is almost New Wave, in fact, but without the lyrical obliqueness. 

Is it any good? Not especially. There are no sharp, memorable one-liners here, and the targets would have been tired even for 1980. It has all the hallmarks of a desperate attempt to re-ignite a spent firework, a common phenomenon in one hit wonderland, and I'd be surprised if Sue Wilkinson herself didn't realise that she wasn't going to achieve a long career delivering bitter ditties about the superficial nature of humankind to under-arranged backings. She managed two more singles on Cheapskate before drifting out of view. 

Regrettably, it would seem that she died of cancer in 2005, so we may never find out what her expectations or motivations were. Just for providing everyone with a truly baffling, out-there moment on "Top of the Pops", however, I can only respectfully bow my head. 


  1. Slade were on the same label as Sue Wilkinson at this stage, which probably explains the unexpected celebrity drummer behind an almost unused kit. Now, if only Sue had managed to change the rhyming couplet and swap "cunning firt" for "cunning stunt" how high could this record have reached?

  2. I think Cheapskate were actually owned by a relative of a Slade band member, which explains the connections.

  3. Hey guys - I'm the lady who produced "You've gotta Be a Hustler (Scrubber)

    For starters: Cheapskate Records was owned by Chas Chandler - Manager of Jimi Hendricks and Slade - Slade were not signed to the same label as Sue - they were with Polydor - also Don Powell DID NOT appear on the record banging boxes - it was me banging a bass drum and twanging a ruler on a table top to get the 'bed-spring' sound. Don Powell only appeared with Sue
    on Top of The Pops - as a 'celebrity' face and at the request of Chas.

    Doreen Davis - Head of Radio One at the time suggested the lyric change
    from "Scrubber" to "Hustler" feeling the original title could be detrimental in terms of radio plays - a great suggestion from Doreen!

    Chas Chandler called it a 'neo-classical' production and pressed a 1000 copies for us to kick-start the radio plays and it was Kenny Everett on Capital Radio who gave it the very first airing - which lead to orders flooding into RCA Records who distributed Cheapskate.

    Sue was a unique writer - the trouble was that Record Companies viewed her
    as 'another Lyndsey de Paul' But the moment I heard "Scrubber" it reminded me of Paddy Roberts who released many ditty-style recordings in the 50s/60s. I immediately jumped on the song because it was SO different and
    spent my own money (£350) to record it with Sue and Andy Millar-Reid (keyboards) at Village Way Studio in Rayners Lane, Harrow. The engineer was Dave Holmes who had recorded many hits from that studio, which was owned at the time by Ossie Byrne who produced the early Bee Gees hit "New York Mining Disaster" and their follow-up single which ultimately lead them to move to the UK from Australia where they were managed by Robert Stigwood. Ossie died around 1983 and I then bought the studio from his inheritor Paul Leyton (New Seekers bass player) who wasn't interested in running a commercial studio, changed the name to Touchsound Recordings
    and continued to work with Sue, who as a songwriter recorded and released
    several follow-up singles (check out "Women Only') and wrote many songs for other artists including Julie Walters. Sue eventually moved to Nashville to work with several major songwriters and had huge success as a jingle writer
    out there. She was sadly diagnosed with breast cancer and returned to the UK, where she died in 2005

    Trisha O'Keefe

  4. Thanks so much for dropping by and telling us all that, Trisha - it clears up a lot of blanks and mysteries.

    Slade definitely were signed to Cheapskate for a brief period (during their post-Reading Festival success) but apart from that, it's good to get the correct view on what happened in the making of this record and Sue Wilkinson's others. I will try to check out some of her later recordings.

  5. Hi to all the Sue Wilkinson fans,
    For a start this LP is almost impossible to find on the 2nd-hand market.!!!
    There is one copy of the LP at the National Sound Archive but you have to wait about a week for it to be sent from Boston(Lincs) to London. SO effective but extremely tiresome.

    Could someone PLEASE get this interesting but fabulous LP reissued and remastered onto a CD with all the non-album A side and B side (FIVE) singles as bonus tracks.
    Perhaps Trisha O'Keefe could write some sleeve notes for a CD reissue.

    Meanwhile would someone like to lend me their copy of the LP and I will get us both a CD-R made of the LP + artwork reduced down to 12 x 12 cms.

    Would Ms O'Keefe or Chas Chandler or SLADE perhaps like to do a private pressed CD for everyone.?

    Yours in music
    Allister Hardwick [aged 57] [Ali-H cousin of Ali-G].
    044-0207-385-0544 (phone me if you can help me out: Mon-Fri+Sat/Sun 9am - 9pm.
    PS I am missing the Posers 7".!!! Anyone got a spare copy.?
    PPS Does anyone remember Meri Wilson's song "Telephone man" + LP/CD.?

  6. Afterthought no1

    hi all Sue Wilkinson fans,
    What about someone setting up a detailed Sue Wilkinson page on Wikipedia.com.?
    yours in music

  7. I thought it a shame that "Hustler," at least, didn't get a US release (especially given Ms. Wilkinson's subsequent move to Nashville for a few years as a songwriter). Some have speculated that had a US label bit, it would have come down to either Epic (home, at that point, of Cheap Trick, Meat Loaf, and Michael Jackson) or RCA (which had among its acts then, Sylvain Sylvain, Hall & Oates, and a load of country artists including Waylon). I would've imagined RCA only because of the UK RCA's distributing Cheapskate (and I could tell by the label fonts that their Washington, Herts. plant pressed it).