Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Mammy Blue" in the US: The Early '70s Charting Versions

A year before before Danyel Gerard's European singalong favorite "Butterfly" cracked the Billboard charts (see previous post), another one called "Mamy Blue" had done the same thing with somewhat better US results. Written by a Frenchman named Hubert Giraud in a Paris traffic jam, the song saw its first release as an Italian language rendering by the singer Ivana Spagna. A Spanish group called Los Pop Tops gave Giraud's song English lyrics after which most of the world pretty much went bonkers for it. A scan of Billboard's "Hits of the World" section in 1971 and 1972 shows additional international high charting versions—using the alternating spellings of "Mamy Blue" and "Mammy Blue"—by Joel Dayde, Nicoletta, Roger Whittaker, Charisma, Ricky Shayne, Johnny Dorrelli, Nanesse et les Nanas, and Kirka, among others.

Although US chart positions for "Mamy Blue" were comparatively modest, the song did make its mark. The original English version, credited to the name-tweaked Pop-Tops and using the original spelling of "Mamy Blue," hit #57, while a follow up by James Darren, spelled "Mammy Blue," bubbled under at #107. The song had a surprise revival in 1973, when Stories chose it as the follow up to their #1 smash "Brother Louie" and gave it its best US showing at #50. After that, I know from personal experience that the song lived on in US-marketed TV ads for the UK's beloved Roger Whittaker.

"Mamy Blue" (1971)

Written by Hubert Giraud and Phil Trim *  Arranged and conducted by Zack Laurence * 45: "Mamy Blue" / "Road to Freedom" * LP: Mamy Blue * Label: ABC/Dunhill * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#57), easy listening (#28) * Entered: 1971-10-09 (both charts)

Under the name Los Pop Tops, this many-membered unit based in Spain had taken a reimagination of Pachelbel's Canon called "Lord, Why Lord" to Billboard's #78 in 1968. Lead vocalist Phil Trim—originally from Trinidad and Tobago—also wrote the English lyrics, expressing the remorseful words of a "forgotten son who wandered off at twenty-one" to a mother who has presumably died. Some cover versions of the song used the title "Mommy Blue." After this, all of the Pop-Tops' pop successes rose up charts closer to home. The Eurovision-friendly song "Road to Freedom" on the B side was also written by Trim and the Spanish songwriter Gefingal (Germán Luis Bueno Brasero).

Side A: "Mamy Blue"

Side B: "The Road to Freedom"

"Mammy Blue" (1971)
James Darren

Written by Hurbert Giraud and Phil Trim * Produced by Ritchie Adams * 45: "Mammy Blue" / "As Long as You Love Me" * LP: Mammy Blue * Label: Kirshner * Billboard charts: Bubbling under (#107) * Entered: 1971-10-30

James Darren, who grew up next door to Bobby Rydell in South Philly, was the heartthrob actor who played leading man Moondoggie in three Gidget films between 1959 and 1963. The sixties were his busiest music biz decade with hits like the borderline-novelty "Goodbye Cruel World" (1961, #3) and "Her Royal Majesty" (1962, #6). His 1971 outing with the international earworm "Mammy Blue," also the title track of an album that presented him on the cover as being ready for adult roles, would be his only early '70s chart hit. Producer Ritchie Adams got his first writing and production credits with songwriter Larry Kusik ("Love Story," "Speak Softly Love") on a 1966 record by "Link Cromwell," aka Lenny Kaye. Although Darren's filmography and discography are both sparsely populated throughout the seventies, he'd become a familiar face on TV again in the '80s as a regular on T.J. Hooker with William Shatner. Side B is a track co-written by the record's producer Ritchie Adams (who had also co-written Bobby Lewis's "Tossin' and Turnin'") and is overstated in every way, a difficult listen. But it's notable for a perfectly-reworked reggae cover version done by Jamaica's Maytones a year later.

Side A: "Mammy Blue"

Side B: "As Long as You Love Me"

"Mammy Blue" (1973)

Written by Hubert Giraud and Phil Trim * Produced by Kenny Kerner and Richie Wise * 45: "Mammy Blue" / "Traveling Underground" * LP: Traveling Underground  * Label: Kama Sutra * Billboard charts: Hot 100 (#50) * Entered: 1973-10-27

In early 1973, Stories—featuring the Rod Stewart-style vocals of Ian Lloyd—touched a nerve with "Brother Louie," a hit for the British-Jamaican Errol Brown and Hot Chocolate in the UK. It told of a white boy bringing home a black girl to meet his parents, then having a "terrible night." After the Stories record went to #1 in the US, the band reached out again for an across-the-pond hit and decided on "Mammy Blue," which had more of the swooping orchestral lines (used as an instrumental bridge) that helped "Brother Louie" sound so distinctive.

A connection exists between the first US charting version by the Pop Tops and this one: After the Pop Tops had scored a hit with a classical song ("Lord, Why Lord," based on Pachelbel's Canon), the group had expressed its admiration for the orchestral pop sounds of the Left Banke. By then, the Left Banke's main songwriter Michael Brown had left that band to form Stories with Ian Lloyd. So there you go. (Brown would move on after "Brother Louie").

After "Mammy Blue" stalled at #50, Stories tried "If It Feels Good, Do It," which peaked at #88. When one more daring single called "Another Love," dealing with bisexuality, could only make it to #100 in Cash Box, the band called it quits, allowing Lloyd to pursue a solo career.

Although the single for "Mammy Blue" was credited to Stories, the album it appeared on said "Ian Lloyd and Stories." The single is worth finding for a vinyl-only instrumental version of the album's title track (written by Ian Lloyd), with its space-glam guitar by Steve Love. The album version of the tune contains a vocal.

Side A: "Mammy Blue"

Side B: "Traveling Underground (Instrumental)"


  1. Kim thx for turning me on to (or possibly reacquainting me with from the dark recesses) this Stories version of Mammy Blue

    Roger Whittaker version, on the other hand, was some deep queso..


  2. I remember that Roger Whittaker commercial being shown over and over in the late 70s but I didn't expect to find it on YouTube. It brought back all kinds of weird memories, like a time my sister and I made a parody of it on our tape recorder.