“Sugar Baby Love,
Sugar Baby Love,
I didn’t mean to make you blue”
Certain groups evoke specific memories that sometimes have little to do with their music. For me Suzi Quatro brings forth a leather jumpsuit, Sweet – an effeminate Nazi on TOTP, Slade – massive sideburns and an awful haircut, Wizzard – lots of multicoloured hair. And the Rubettes? Well my memory of them is mostly comprised of white caps and chiffon. The white caps I understand as they can be seen in the publicity photos of the time. But chiffon? Maybe I was just going through a phase!
Anyway, like a number of groups throughout the history of pop, the group was at the outset formed to support the release of a song that had been recorded by session musicians in late 1973. The initially unnamed group was formed in 1974 from three of the original session musicians (John Richardson – Drums, Alan Williams – Lead Singer/Guitar, Pete Arnesen – Keyboards) supported by Mick Clarke – Bass, Bill Hurd – Keyboards & Tony Thorpe – Guitar. The music style of the group was directly influenced by, and indeed harked back to, the 50’s and it was this era that proved the inspiration for their name – The Rubettes.
Their first release “Sugar Baby Love” was also their biggest hit reaching Number 1 in the UK in May 1974 and staying there for five weeks. This success was repeated around the world and the single sold in excess of 8,000,000 copies. They did manage to survive some adverse publicity when it was revealed that Paul Da Vinci was the guy responsible for the excruciating opening falsetto voice and not Alan Williams. Further releases from the 1973 session gave the Rubettes further hits in the form of “Tonight” and “Juke Box Jive” with the latter showing their musical influences directly through their lyrics –
While the group was quickly whittled down to four, with Pete Arnesen and Bill Hurd leaving, the Rubettes consolidated their popularity through touring, numerous TV appearances and the recording of new songs. While some of this material repeated the success of their earlier hits, most notably “I Can Do It” again with lyrics harking back to the 50’s, it would be fair to say that it terms of chart positioning their glory days were over.
Despite slipping from the charts the Rubettes kept recording albums for Polydor that showed them using a number of different styles and by the end of the 70’s they had notched up 8 Albums. The Rubettes still continue to tour in two forms (following legal issues); you can catch them as either “the Rubettes featuring Bill Hurd” or “the Rubettes featuring Alan Williams”.
The image that remains with me however is of the Rubettes – in coordinated outfits and with guitarists showing coordinated footwork – playing on TOTP while my dad complained about their outfits and the way they looked. They were never going to set the world alight but their songs were well structured and you could dance to them. And probably even more important the songs weren’t pretentious they were there for enjoyment – any group that can sing “I can do the jive, I can do the stroll, It’s just another name for rock ‘n’ roll” with conviction gets my vote!