Saturday, July 4, 2009

Racey Race To #1

‘Lay Your Love On Me’ was unleashed on the British public in late ‘78, and made an immediate impact on the charts. Apparently, Racey had recorded a version of the song before ‘Baby It’s You’, but nerves got the best of them and the sessions weren’t used. A re-recorded version featured the chatter of several ladies right at the start. The ladies in question were secretaries at a radio station, and as a result, Racey’s new single had a bit of an inside run with DJ’s. Not that it really needed any ‘inside trading’ advantage, because the song was yet another infectious pop offering from the prodigious song writing team of Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn. Racey delivered a knock out performance of the song, with their brilliant vocal harmonies and high energy playing a feature. ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ peaked at #3 on the British charts, and sold almost a million copies in Britain alone, delivering Most’s RAK Records label its biggest selling single to date. The song also bolted to the upper chart-o-sphere in several European countries, but it would be Australia that would embrace ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ like nowhere else. The song debuted on the Australian charts in March of ‘79 (there was still a bit of a delay in release dates in those days), and by May had rocketed to #1. ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ spent a mammoth eight weeks at the summit of the Australian singles charts, and it’s tenure on top was so long that the television show ‘Countdown’, who ended each week’s show by playing the #1 song, stopped playing Racey after a few weeks, just to give some other top ten artists a chance to be heard. The song that Racey’s ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ had replaced at the top of the charts just happened to be Blondie’s ‘Heart Of Glass, produced by none other than Mike Chapman. ‘Heart Of Glass’ had already spent five weeks at #1, resulting in the Chapman name being associated the Australian #1 single for a period of thirteen weeks running. And it wasn’t the end of Mike Chapman’s run of Australian chart toppers for ‘79.

Meanwhile, Gower, Miller, Fursdon and Wilson had suddenly found themselves on a rollercoaster ride of promotional appearances and live touring, which must have seemed a world away from their regular nightly pub gigs. Whilst the members of Racey had some say in writing the B-sides, and the odd planned album track, Most kept a controlling hand over the song’s chosen for the group’s single releases. He turned once more to the Chinn-Chapman song factory for Racey’s next single. ‘Some Girls’ had originally been offered by Chapman to Blondie, for inclusion on their ‘Parallel Lines’ album - that’s the one that had yielded ‘Heart Of Glass’. But Blondie turned down the song, and as it turns out rather fortuitously, as it was a perfect fit for Racey (though it would have been interesting to hear what kind of treatment ‘Some Girls’ would have received at the hands of Debbie Harry and Blondie). Racey’s version of ‘Some Girls’ took the British charts by storm during March of ‘79, where it peaked at #3. The jumping jiving pop track also delivered across most of Europe, where it hit the peak of the charts in several countries. Given the delayed release of ‘Lay Your Love On Me’, Australian distributors would have known already they had a guaranteed follow up hit for the Australian market. ‘Some Girls’ exploded on the Australian charts upon its release in June of ‘79, whilst ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ still reigned supreme. Four weeks after its predecessor had vacated top spot (replaced in the interim by Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ and M’s ‘Pop Muzik’ - see earlier post), ‘Some Girls’ reached #1 on the Australian charts, where it sat pretty for another four weeks. As a post-script to the sequence of events at the summit of Australian charts during mid ‘79, ‘Some Girls’ was replaced at the top by the Two Man Band’s sporting anthem ‘Up There Cazaly’, which in turn was supplanted at #1 just a week later by none other than The Knack, with ‘My Sharona’ (see earlier post). And just who do you think had produced ‘My Sharona’? None other than Mike Chapman of course. ‘My Sharona’ ruled supreme on the Australian charts for five weeks, meaning that over the course of 27 weeks, the Mike Chapman name had been linked to the #1 single in Australia (as either writer or producer) for no less than 22 weeks - surely that’s a feat that’s rarely, if ever, been matched.

Mike Chapman related digressions aside, Racey had arrived during 1979 as a major player on the commercial pop scene. ‘Some Girls’ went on to notch up worldwide sales in excess of five million. In amidst the mayhem surrounding their success, Racey finished recording their debut album, ‘Smash And Grab’. For some reason the album failed to grab a chart spot in Britain, but it was a smash hit in Australia, where it peaked at #5 late in 1979. With Mike Chapman tied up on production duties for the likes of Blondie and the Knack, Mickie Most took time out from his Hot Chocolate (recording duties that is) to helm production on Racey’s album. Mike Chapman and Nicky Chinn contributed several more songs, with the balance made up of some hand picked rock ‘n’ pop standards. It’s worth noting that one of the album tracks penned by Chinn and Chapman, ‘Kitty’, was soon after given to Toni Basil (see earlier post). The lyrics were reworked, and the song retitled as ‘Mickey’, and by 1981 Toni Basil had taken yet another ‘Chinnichap’ brand song to #1.

The next single, ‘Boy, Oh Boy’, was another party pop gem, and notched up solid sales in both Britain (#22) and Australia (#12), as well as delivering Racey a hat trick of chart toppers in Denmark. If Racey’s music followed a sure fire formula for pop success, the creative team behind their music videos ran out of inspiration after ‘Lay Your Love On Me’. Both ‘Some Girls’ and ‘Boy, Oh Boy’ were virtual replicas of the first video, with subtle alterations to costume and dance moves, and possibly a different girl who leapt into frame to dance with Richard Gower, during each song’s instrumental break. Early 1980 saw the release of single #4 from the ‘Smash And Grab’ album, but Racey’s cover of the 1964 Elvis Presley hit, ‘Such A Night’, signalled that the party for Racey was quietening down (OZ#94).

Racey maintained a gruelling tour schedule throughout 1980, during which time drummer Clive Wilson parted ways with the band. David Crossley was recruited, and played on Racey’s next single ‘Rest Of My Life’ (OZ#45), though someone forgot to tell the marketing people who used a photo featuring Wilson, on the single’s cover. Around that time, Mickie Most ended his association with the Chinn/Chapman writing team, so gone was one very important hit producing pipeline. Racey had one last run for chart success late in 1980, when they opted for safe territory with an updated version of Dion’s ‘Runaround Sue’. The single was to be Racey’s last foray into the British charts (#13/OZ#91), and by 1981 people were already starting to ask, “whatever happened to Racey?” It’s probably fair to say that Racey’s formulaic approach could only sustain interest for a limited period of time. The music buying public, and associated media, can be notoriously capricious in their tastes, with fleeting attention spans, and a penchant to be seduced by the next big thing. A handful of singles were released by Racey over the ensuing year or so, but the likes of ‘Shame’, ‘Little Darlin’, and ‘There’s A Party Going On’, couldn’t put any life back into the Racey pop party.

Racey continued to tour over the next couple of years, with one or two more alterations and additions to the line-up. They remained signed to RAK Records, but though they recorded some more material, there were no further Racey singles released. The whole Racey vehicle began to rust amidst internal frustrations at being typecast as a bubblegum pop band, and a waning interest from live audiences. The final straw came via a bitter dispute over publishing rights, which saw the band dissolved during 1984. Mickie Most had signed vocalist/keyboardist Richard Gower to RAK’s song writing staff, and over the course of the 80s Gower penned several hits for the label, including the 1984 UK#13 ‘I Gave You My Heart (Didn’t I)’, by Hot Chocolate (see previous post). During the late 80s Gower continued his work as a songwriter/producer in Australia, before returning to Britain, and resurrecting the Racey name in 1990. Which caused a bit of commotion, because the other three original Racey members - Clive Wilson, Pete Miller and Phil Fursdon - had recruited a new vocalist and taken their own version of Racey out on the road. Over the next few years both versions of Racey toured, and even recorded some new material, but were consigned to the pop nostalgia circuits.

Richard Gower’s Racey has continued to this day, occasionally recording songs for party album projects, but mostly enjoying the fun and energy of the touring. Gower appeared on the 2007 ‘Countdown Spectacular 2’ concert tour of Australia, performing Racey’s two Australian #1’s, ‘Lay Your Love On Me’, and ‘Some Girls’.

Check out the following websites for a more comprehensive take on the Racey glory years:

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