Saturday, 25 June 2011

“I need a volunteer to ride up" and bring us back some extra men" Billy's hand was up in a moment forgettin' all the words she said

Quick Double Shot

“Billy Don’t Be a Hero”, Paper Lace (1974)
“Billy Don’t Be a Hero”, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods (1974)

The Paper Lace version of this song went to number 1 in the U.K. in March of 1974. They had planned to release it in the U.S., but in the meantime, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods had rushed it out and it had already gone to number one in the U.S. by June of 1974. The Bo Donaldson version sold over three and half million copies and was awarded gold record in June of 1974.

This is pop music for sure. It does not get much popier!

The song is not about the Vietnam War, but in fact the U.S. war of independence. This is evidenced by the lyric “soldier blues” referring to the Union Army. Paper Lace often wore Union uniforms when performing the song. 

Paper Lace was originally formed in 1967 and named ‘Music Box’, but quickly changed their name to reflect the lace products manufactured in their home town of Nottingham out of paper. Having made their own successes with club gigs, they were reluctant to compete on the British show “Opportunity Knocks”. Once they realized that some 7 million people watched the show they went on and won. After that these two song-writers contacted their management and offered them “Billy Don’t Be a Hero”, and more it that took off. Well take off it did.

Formed in Cincinnati in 1965, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods first break came when they were touring with the Osmond’s in the early ‘70’s. They were signed with Family Productions and released their first single in 1972: “Special Someone”, which did not go far. Their luck changed when they moved to ABC records and Steve Berri produced their version of “Billy Don’t Be a Hero”. After that they jumped from record company to record company but were never able to replicate the success of “Billy” packed it in by the end of the decade.

‘Seasons in the Sun’ by Terry Jacks would knock the B.D. version off the top of the U.S. charts and they would fade into oblivion.  Paper Lace would follow up with “The Night Chicago Died” a song loosely based on gangster Al Capone and a supposed gun-fight with the police, written again by Peter Calendar and Mitch Murray, who wrote “Billy Don’t be a Hero”. Although popular in the U.K. and Canada, it did not do well in the U.S.

“Billy” has been referenced many times in popular culture since. My favourite is from an episode of the early eighties TV show ‘ALF’.  Alf uses the line "Willie don't be a hero, don't be a fool with your life" referring to the head of the household, Willie Tanner, after Willie comes up with yet another bone-headed idea.

O.K. so which version is your favorite?

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