(this is my Pause For Thought on BBC Radio 2 on December 8, 2022... the theme was One Hit Wonders...)
Today marks 42 years since the murder of John Lennon. How we miss him but he was definitely not a one hit wonder.
BUT… In the summer of 1967, the week that Sgt Peppers was released, David McWilliams was on the front cover of Melody Maker. London buses carried the advert “America has Dylan, England has Donovan and Ireland has McWilliams”.
David McWilliams had just released a single called The Days Of Pearly Spencer. A song about a homeless man, it had a documentary feel with the low tech gimmick of David singing down a phone line. It was full of social comment about poverty and the environment. You can see where the Dylan and Donovan comparisons come from.
The song was set up to be a huge hit BUT something went wrong. McWilliams manager Phil Solomon was so wound up with the pirate radio station Radio Caroline that the over exposure given to that station caused the BBC to ban the single. Hence it was number 1 in France, number 2 in Belgium, number 8 in Holland but only 51 in the UK.
Now, here’s the thing. As a music fanatic since I was 10 I was in my 40s before I discovered that David Williams was from my hometown of Ballymena and that Pearly Spencer was about a homeless man in the nearby village of Cullybackey. How could that be?
I think it is because in my town the arts are not considered important. It is a side show at best, a distraction at worst. People should be working in some more useful job. Don’t waste your life singing or painting or acting. Mind you, Liam Neeson is from Ballymena… but he came later.
I never underestimate the arts. Songs can change moods. A painting can change a room. A creative bunch of flowers can shift the atmosphere.
God created. The Old Testament prophets were poets. Jesus told stories. It seems to me that Jesus told his parables because he knew that the arts open the soul, lift the soul, shift the soul.
Like The Days Of Pearly Spencer opening my heart to the plight of the marginalised and homeless and hopefully leading me to some compassion, before opening my mind to loss of earth beneath the encroaching concrete and steel and disappearing grass.
Oh I am convinced that even a three minute one hit wonder can change something.
(I want to add that David McWilliams made some great records in the late 60s early 70s and indeed later in his life. He was more than a one single hit wonder but I still thought that this thought fitted. It was great to hear his song on the radio, which it often is, after this Pause For Thought...)