9 February 2009

Second Hand Record Dip Part 26 - Master Singers - The Highway Code

Master Singers - Highway Code

Who: Master Singers
What: The Highway Code
Label: Parlophone
When: 1966
Where: Music and Video Exchange, Camden High Street
Cost: Two pounds

"What a funny chart you guys have!" - that's what Katrina out of Katrina and the Waves once said in reference to the British Top 40, and who am I to argue with the Eurovision winner? It is indeed a strange list, filled with all manner of urban noises, children's ditties, has-beens hitting it lucky with fortunate re-issues, and even unexpected bursts of Eurodisco. True, the majority of the chart will always be filled with stuff which is also hitting big in mainland Europe and America, but it's the anomalies I love, the outsider stuff gnawing its way through the nation's favourite pop list which makes it unpredictable and exciting even today.

This single is a prime example of a long-forgotten one hit wonder, a George Martin produced novelty track which - logic should dictate - should have struggled to sell a handful of copies. In fact, a single consisting entirely of a quartet of schoolmasters singing extracts from The Highway Code in an Anglican chant style got to number 25 in the charts. As Richard Littlejohn would doubtless splutter, you couldn't make it up - but that's precisely the sort of thing I like.

You can read the full story of the track here - it would seem that what started life as a simple private joke/recording ended up falling into the hands of the BBC, who played it once and kickstarted a very minor phenomenon. Such was its success, in fact, that even a follow up single consisting of a Weather Forecast being delivered as an Anglican chant got to number 45.

Whilst I find the single amusing for a couple of plays, I do have to admit that its success is highly baffling. The boxes and under-counter bins of second hand stores up and down the land are filled with similar cross-genre joke ideas which never flew, so it's a bit of a mystery why this one captured everyone's imagination. George Martin's involvement probably helped, since anything with his name on it was guaranteed some kind of exposure at this point. Perhaps it seemed vaguely anarchic as well, this religious reading of the Department of Transport's key text. Like so many minor novelty hits, however, it's largely been forgotten about in the years since, which is why it's nice to offer it up for download here.

The B-side, incidentally, is Highway Code advice dispensed via the folk genre, which isn't as effective. As I've said before on this blog, plenty of folk music is ridiculous, tongue-in-cheek and frivolous itself, therefore there's very rarely anything funny about sending it up.

Click to Download

And oh look, somebody's made a YouTube video for the follow-up single Weather Forecast:

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