Friday, January 2, 2009

Fox By Name, Fun By Nature

One of the biggest hits on the Australian charts during 1976 was the funk tinged pop song ‘S-S-S-Single Bed’, by the British group Fox. The lead singer, and obvious focal point, of Fox was Noosha, whose sensuous, breathless vocal style, no doubt added a unique quality to the group’s sound. I was just shy of my eighth birthday when ‘S-S-S-Single Bed’ rocketed to #1 in Australia, and I have vague recollections of the video clip on TV (yes on ‘Countdown’), but I don’t recall hearing at the time that Noosha herself, was an Australian. I also wasn’t aware of her background in music with American writer/producer, and Fox founder, Kenny Young.

Kenny Young had been serving up hits by other artists for more than a decade. He penned The Drifters 1964 hit ‘Under The Boardwalk’ (US#4), and throughout the 60s his name regularly cropped up in the writers credits for several other high profile artists, including Herman’s Hermits, Wayne Newton, Ronnie Dove, Paul Revere & The Raiders and Nancy Sinatra. Young had also worked as a producer, and had collaborated on and off with a young Australian singer by the name of Susan Traynor. Traynor was an uncredited member of the R&B vocal group, The Charmettes. They scored a minor hit in 1963 with ‘Please Don’t Kiss Me Again’ (US#100). Both Traynor and Young relocated to Britain in the late 60s, and in 1968 Young penned the UK#13 hit ‘Captain Of Your Ship’ by Reparata and the Delrons. He then played a pivotal role in the career of Northern Irish singer Clodagh Rodgers. Young discovered Rodgers via a TV show, and went on to write and produce several hits for her, including 1969’s UK#3 ‘Come Back And Shake Me’. During their three year partnership, Rodgers recorded demos for several of the songs that would later surface on Fox albums.

While Young was laying the foundations for his future Fox assignment, Susan Traynor had been a member of a folk group called Wooden Horse, who recorded two low key albums before retiring to a large dewy meadow. Kenny Young recalled his previous working relationship with the young Australian singer, and in 1973 he invited S-S-S-Susan Traynor to provide some vocals on his own solo album ‘Last Stage For Silver World’, though she was credited rather anonymously as ‘Amanda’. Having written and produced for other artists, Young had gained confidence through recording two solo albums - he was now ready to assemble a band of musicians to take on the pop charts in earnest.

He recruited a young Irish singer/guitarist called Herbie Armstrong, along with Pete Solley (keyboards, ex-Paladin), Gary Taylor (bass), Jim Frank (drums), and the natural choice for a female lead vocalist was of course Susan Traynor. Traynor adopted the moniker of Noosha specifically for the new band, which was to be called Fox. The newly named Noosha took on the look of screen siren Marlene Dietrich, and her glamorous, elegant image would act as an effective visual juxtaposition to the other lads pub rocker regalia.

Kenny Young, who also provided vocals/guitar to the Fox mix, already had a considerable cache of songs to choose from, and penned some new numbers with guitarist Herbie Armstrong. Among those co-written by Young and Armstrong, was Fox’s first single ‘Only You Can’, released on the GTO label in early ‘75. The song had a sultry, reggae infused glam-pop style, that served as a perfect vehicle for Noosha’s purring vocal style. ‘Only You Can’ debuted on the British charts in February ‘75 and moved like a fox to #3. Soon after the song was released in Australia, though with this first release it was titled ‘Only You’, and only reached #68. It should be noted there had been an Australian band, also called Fox, who had charted just a year before with a minor hit called ‘Who Do’ (OZ#97). ‘Only You Can’ was also issued in the U.S., but only achieved a modest #53 in the second half of 1975.

Fox’s second single ‘Imagine Me Imagine You’ (another glam-pop effort), commenced its run at the U.K. charts in May ‘75, and consolidated the profile of the group, peaking at #15. At the same time Fox unveiled its eponymous debut album (UK#7), recorded at Sarm Studios. The album featured the first two singles, and a sumptuous version of the old Kitty Lester song ‘Love Letters’. Young spared no time and expense in providing a slick production palette. A central lyrical theme matched the sensual, and at times exotic musical style, creating a seamless symmetry with Noosha’s vocals. The third single, ‘He’s Got Magic’, performed well in parts of Europe, but missed the British charts. The Fox profile was boosted further by the group’s cameo appearance in the comedy-musical film ‘Side By Side’, directed by Australian Bruce Beresford - it would be interesting to know how that collaboration came about.

Before the end of ‘75, Fox released their second album ‘Tales Of Illusion’. The album proved to be an error in judgement by Kenny Young, who positioned Noosha as background vocalist for half the tracks, and took on the vocal duties himself. Noosha’s unique vocal style had already become synonymous with Fox, and the album left listeners, and critics alike, straining to make the connection with Fox’s first effort. ‘Tales Of Illusion’ missed the charts completely, and failed to yield any hit singles. There are two things worth noting about ’Tales Of Illusion’ - Queen’s Roger Taylor provided backing vocals on the track ‘Survival’ (Queen happened to be recording the album ‘A Night At The Opera’ in the studio next door); and the album featured an early version of ‘Just One More Night’, which Young would revisit a few years later, though with a different band.

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