The Hi-Revving Tongues ‘Rain & Tears’ (Zodiac, 1969)
The 1968 international hit by Aphrodite’s Child was not a hit in New Zealand and then-Philips' boss John McCready confirms that it was because the label, who distributed The Hi-Revving Tongues’ recordings at the time, decided to hold back on it to allow a local cover. There was only a later token New Zealand issue of the Greek original, penned by Aphrodite’s Child’s leader Vangelis and French lyricist Boris Bergman, which sold very few copies. Many would argue that the Tongues’ version was superior anyway, although the band seemed to have disliked it and rarely performed it live unless requested.
Bunny Walters ‘Brandy’ (Impact, 1971)
Bunny’s massive 1972 hit (recorded in 1971 at Stebbing’s) was written by an American resident in London, Scott English, with Richard Kerr, and released by English in early 1971. He had earlier co-written the global top-tenner ‘Hi-Ho Silver Lining’ for Jeff Beck. Of course, Barry Manilow would have a smash worldwide hit some two years after Bunny Walters when he renamed it ‘Mandy’ (to avoid confusion with ‘Brandy (You're A Fine Girl)’, a 1972 US No.1 hit by Looking Glass), but to New Zealanders this will always belong to the much-loved guy from Katikati with the huge smile and an even bigger voice.
Craig Scott ‘Smiley’ (HMV, 1971)
Craig Scott was the former lead singer of Dunedin’s The Revival (who had a big hit with a cover of The Equals’ ‘Viva Bobby Joe’ in 1969). He launched his solo career with Neil Sedaka and Howie Greenfield’s ‘Star Crossed Lovers’ (a No.1) but it was ‘Smiley’ that gave Craig his career peak: despite the fact it only hit No.3. Peter Dawkins’s gentle production of the topical (lightly) anti-war song took out the 1971 Loxene Golden Disc, ensuring its long residence on New Zealand classic-hit radio playlists, where it can still be heard daily. The song was originally a hit for Australian Ronnie Burns, who took it to the top there in 1970. It was penned by 1960s Australian teen star Johnny Young after Barry Gibb suggested he write songs (he also co-produced Ronnie’s version). Young also wrote the Russell Morris classic ‘The Real Thing’ before becoming quite the TV star in Australia, where he remains a household name. He is credited with discovering Dannii Minogue and Tina Arena among many on his shows.
Mark Williams ‘Yesterday Was Just The Beginning Of My Life’ (EMI, 1975)
The record that rocketed the young Northlander to the top of the charts – with a killer production courtesy of EMI’s house producer Alan Galbraith – was written by two members of the 1960s’ Australian band The Easybeats: Harry Vanda and George Young. They had become quite the songwriting team when this was discovered as a demo by Galbraith and presented to Mark Williams, who was, Alan explained in 2014, “not quite so keen”. Galbraith persevered, and the rest is history. Mark would record many other covers over next couple of years, including the globally sought-after rare groove ‘House For Sale’. He would hit the top again in 1977 with a cover of ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’ – but we all knew that was Buddy Holly’s.
Jon Stevens ‘Jezebel’ (CBS, 1979)
One of two successive No.1 cover versions recorded by Upper Hutt’s Jon Stevens. This, produced by Wellington producer Steve Robinson at Marmalade Studios, was the first and it was knocked off No.1 by the second, a remake of Bobby Bloom’s 1970 global smash ‘Montego Bay’ (written by Bloom and Jeff Barry). ‘Jezebel’ came from a UK-sourced demo written by Eddie Howell (not the Māori singer who recorded for Zodiac). Howell released a string of records in the 1970s and was perhaps most notable for his 1976 single ‘Man From Manhattan’, produced by Freddie Mercury and featuring Freddie on vocals and fellow Queen member Brian May on guitar. Howell’s ‘Come To Me’ was a 1984 single for ABBA’s Frida.
Tex Pistol ‘Game Of Love’ (Pagan, 1987)
The 1965 original of this – by Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, of Manchester – was a big song in New Zealand, hitting the Top 5 in April that year. It was written by Clint Ballard Jr. who over the years wrote countless songs for artists as diverse as Frankie Avalon, Dee Dee Warwick, Frankie Laine, Connie Francis, Betty Everett (the standard ‘You’re No Good’), The Hollies and Dean Martin. Former Dude and ace producer Ian “Tex” Morris made the song his own though after it was suggested to him by Soundtrax studio owner Jim Hall, and its time at No.1 in NZ was only limited by the fact that there were simply no more copies left in the stores! A year later he would have a further No.1, ‘Nobody Else’, with brother Rikki: but that was 100% Rikki penned. (Tex Pistol also recorded a version of ‘Sitting In The Rain’ for his album, covering a cover by The Underdogs, which I discussed in part one.)
Holidaymakers ‘Sweet Lovers’ (Pagan, 1988)
A gorgeous easy soul composition with a slight calypso feel, performed by Wellington's Holidaymakers and produced by Nigel Stone. Its warm empathy improved on the original, and meant that this Bill Withers song not only hit No.1 locally but has found an enduring home on New Zealand’s airwaves ever since. The original, titled ‘We Can Be Sweet Lovers’, can be found on Withers’s 1985 album, Watching You Watching Me.
John Grenell ‘Welcome To Our World’ (Columbia, 1989)
Written – as ‘Welcome To My World’ – in 1961 by John Hathcock and Ray Winkler, this song has been recorded countless times since, most notably by Jim Reeves, Dean Martin and Elvis (the last two even named albums after it). But to most New Zealanders the song belongs to the country legend from Ranfurly who, as John Hore, sold over 100,000 records in the last half of the 1960s and the early 1970s. In 1989, newly signed to CBS, John recorded the song under the eye of producer Murray Grindlay and in early 1990 it romped to No.1 on the back of a Toyota advert and was quickly certified platinum. The advertisement, or variations of it, would play on New Zealand screens for a decade or more – thus ensuring that it is “our” song. Jim who?
Moana & The Moahunters ‘Black Pearl’ (Southside, 1990)
Back in 1968 Phil Spector – one of the greatest American pop producers of his generation – was in a funk. Depressed by the failure of his magnum opus ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ in the US singles charts two years earlier, he announced that he was retiring. This made headlines but nobody actually believed him. Spector’s “retirement” was, of course, short lived: he would soon return to produce some of the greatest British records of the early 1970s before spinning into a crazed world from which he would never return. His "retirement" years provided the world with just a handful of records, one of which was Sonny Charles & Checkmates Ltd.’s great ‘Black Pearl’. Co-written by Irwin Levine (see The Avengers) and Toni Wine (who sang The Archies’ ‘Sugar Sugar’), it was a politically timely hit both in the US and New Zealand (No.5 in 1968). In 1990 Moana Maniapoto and the Moahunters recorded the song for Murray Cammick and Simon Lynch’s Southside label, giving the lyric a locally conscious meaning it perhaps never possessed 22 years earlier. And a No.2 record in early 1991. The 1968 original has long faded in Aotearoa and to most New Zealanders, rightly, this will always be a Moahunters song.
The Parker Project ‘Tears On My Pillow’ (Pagan, 1991)
Like Tex Pistol’s ‘The Game of Love’ this single was a hit for the indie Pagan label, which seemed to have knack for turning quirky left-field covers into chart records. Produced by Rhythm & Business (Daniel Barnes, George Hubbard and Jon Cooper), this New Zealand No.1 was written by Jamaican Ernie Smith in 1967 as 'I Can't Take It' and recorded by a band featuring Ernie Ranglin on guitar and Smith on vocals. Almost a decade on, it was renamed by the Texan soft-reggae and soul singer Johnny Nash, who took it to number one in the UK and New Zealand in 1975. But to a generation of Kiwis, this song will always be about David Parker’s one-man studio project.