The most famous band you’ve never heard of (if you live in the United States)…
It was the summer of 1979 and I remember I was on the air filling in on a lazy Saturday afternoon at the radio station. After the station ID tape finished playing and I flipped the switch on the board to turn on my microphone. The red light over my head shined brightly, indicating that my voice would be going out to our listeners.
“You are listening to [call sign] FM and this is [Sue Mowadeng]. I’m opening up the request line at 555-7273. If there is something you want to hear, give me a call.”
I had already flipped the switch starting the turntable and Robin Zander of Cheap Trick kicked in as I stopped talking with, “I want you to want me!”
It didn’t take long for the light on the phone to flash. The ringer had been disabled on the extension in the control booth for obvious reasons. I answered it and on the other end was a woman with what I thought might be a Spanish accent. She told me that she loved our station and the music that we played but she hadn’t heard one of her favorite songs since she had moved there. She wanted me to play Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by the Middle of the Road. I had never heard of this song or this artist but I was confident that if it was a fan’s favorite that we had in back in the music room. I promised to play the cut.
While Cheap Trick played, I quickly checked the music room and found no sign of anything by the Middle of the Road. DJ’s normally live for these opportunities to brighten someone’s day. We feel the pain when we can’t fill a request and must disappoint someone. Furthermore, I didn’t know who she was so I couldn’t call her back, and there were guidelines on how we were to conduct ourselves on the air and we were never to apologize for glitches, not having a song, etc. I felt badly for the poor woman out there somewhere listening and waiting for me to play her song. I broke in a few songs later and said something similar to this…
“Here at [call sign] FM, we play all facets of rock and roll, from oldies to classics, to the latest releases and your favorites, so there is no middle of the road here, you get it all.”
I hoped that the listener caught on to my cryptic phrasing. So, who were these guys?
I asked my relief and he had never heard of them. None of my fellow DJ’s knew who the Middle of the Road was. I told the story to our Music Director and he was intrigued. He went through all of his sources and found one album on the RCA label, the Best of the Middle of the Road, but it was not currently distributed in the United States. At least I knew they existed and I wasn’t the brunt of some practical joke but I was now very intrigued.
Remember, back at this time there was no internet and one couldn’t just Google “Middle of the Road” and find their songs on YouTube. Months later, talking to friend from Latin America, I got more of the story. Apparently they were really big all over the world except in the United States. My friend described them as “international sensations.” They were like ABBA before there was ABBA. The fact that I had never heard of them, made them forbidden fruit and I wanted them even more.
|Click to enlarge|
It was maybe a year later that I located a copy of the Best of the Middle of the Road and ordered it from West Germany. I remember unwrapping it when it came and putting the record on my turntable. I put the needle down on the first song on the first side and finally heard the request of that listener from that day a year before, Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. I finally understood what my friend meant by, “ABBA before there was ABBA.”
Fact: Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep by the Middle of the Road remains one the top 30 all-time selling singles in the world, selling over 10 million physical copies.
This is proof that four very talented young Scottish musicians could be famous all over the world, yet remain unknown in the United States of America.
This puts them on a list with the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Bing Crosby, Ke$ha, Celine Dione, the Macarena and Whitney Houston, just to name a few. “Chirpy” comes in just after Hound Dog by Elvis Presley and comes in just ahead of I’m a Believer by the Monkees. Who are they?
Let me tell you the story…
The band we know as the “Middle of the Road” or MOTR came together under the name of “Part Four” in 1967 in Glasgow, Scotland. There were brothers, Ian McCredie (guitar) and Eric McCredie (bass), along with Ken Andrew (drums). Rounding out this quartet was female vocalist, Sally Carr, whose amazingly unique voice gave the classic lineup of MOTR their unique sound. (Actually, they played for a short while as “Part Three” before Sally joined.)
In early 1970, they took up an offer to play in South America under the name, “Los Caracas.” After South America, they found their way to Italy and changed their name to “Middle of the Road.” Italy was only meant to be a stop over and they were working there in clubs, trying to save enough money to get back to the UK and establish themselves on home soil.
|Los Caracas 1970|
While playing clubs in Italy, freshly back from South America, this Scottish group was discovered by an RCA Italia executive who happened upon their show. He invited them to Rome to record some demos. They made quite a smash among the people at RCA Italia and soon found themselves backing such names as Sophia Loren. Their producer, Giacomo Tosti, was looking for material the group could record and he came across a Brit, Lally Stott. Lally had a song that Tosti thought had potential and he had a new Scottish group that he thought would be just right for the task.
|Anyone by Sophia Loren with MOTR backing her|
When MOTR heard the song, they thought it sounded like a kiddie song and they had no interest in it, fearing it would hurt their career… all except Sally Carr who thought the song was cute and that they should do it. Finally, the guys relented, provided there was plenty of Bourbon in the recording studio when they did it. There was and soon they had a finished recording of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. After hearing their record, they were sure that they would never be able to show their faces in public again as serious musicians, especially in their native UK.
They need not have worried and were never relegated to doing children’s parties. If you have been reading so far, you know how successful Chirpy became. They rocketed up the pop charts worldwide and followed up with other hits like Soley Soley, Sacramento (A Wonderful Town) and Tweedle Dee Tweedle Dum, which was not a kid’s song but one about a feud between two clans, MacGregor and MacDougal, in their native Scotland.
|MOTR showing some of their Gold Records|
Despite becoming international superstars, they remained unknown in the States. I have not figured out exactly why this is but they did have a chance in 1972 until it was taken from them. They were one of the featured musical performers at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, Germany. Anyone alive back then recalls how those Olympic Games were marred when Palestinian terrorists took eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team hostage. The two day standoff in the Olympic Village ended with all eleven hostages being killed and several of the terrorists. The coverage of those events diminished other highlights in the media, like Soviet gymnast, Olga Korbut’s amazing performance or American swimmer, Mark Spitz’s unprecedented seven Olympic gold medals, in which he also broke seven world records. The terrorist tragedy completely eclipsed the musical acts, like MOTR.
Sally left the band in 1977. Her mother had died and she could no longer stand performing live, especially having to sing their signature song, Chirpy. She had trouble with the lines, “where's your momma gone,” or “Woke up this morning and my momma was gone.” MOTR continued to record and do concerts with a new female vocalist and fellow Scot, Lorraine Felberg.
Sally went on to marry sports announcer, Chuck Young, in 1978 and they had one child, Keith, in 1980. They were getting pregnant at about the time I was taking the request at the station for the group I had never heard of. She and her husband separated in 1984 (they never divorced) and Sally became a single mom to her son, Keith. It wasn’t until he was eleven years old in 1991 that she would return to singing.
In January 2001, Keith was killed in a motorcycle accident and Sally found herself alone. Eventually, she would find herself singing and performing again. Though she was not part of MOTR, she was in demand as a solo act, performing her old songs. She now found strength and comfort in songs like Chirpy where they once caused her anguish.
In 2012, Sally Carr collapsed from a cerebral hemorrhage and almost died. Her recovery has been plagued with setbacks but she has returned to singing and performing. Ian McCredie & his son Stuart, along with drummer Stephan Ebn and female vocalist Lorna Osborne, continue on as the Middle of the Road today. Their touring schedule for 2018 can be found on their website.
Last June, three of the original four members of MOTR (Eric McCredie was replaced by Ian’s son, Stuart McCredie) took to the stage for a reunion in Germany. It was recorded in this amateur video shown below. Sally’s vocals start out a bit rusty but definitely improve towards the end and she starts to sound like the Sally we all remember. The cerebral hemorrhage could not keep her down.
Fun Fact #1: Sally Carr once turned down an offer from Playboy Magazine to appear nude in their publication.
Fun Fact #2: Sally Carr once dated Brian Connolly, lead singer for Sweet.
Fun Fact #3: In 1974, Neil Henderson left the Bay City Rollers to join MOTR as a fifth member for some time. He supposedly did not like the direction BCR was going, wearing matching plaid jumpers on stage, etc. and was looking for a change.
Normally, for a post like this, since it is not a sojourn or memorial, I would play maybe five songs by the group. In the discussion at the Club that led to this, there seemed to be an overwhelming desire to have a full two hours of MOTR. Please join me on Monday, February 12, from 7-9 PM SL time at a Woman’s Touch as we remember this amazing group that most of us have never heard of.