Top of the World – Steve Allen/Carpenters
Number one in New Zealand – 11 May, 1973
Frankly, I have always hated The Carpenters. I don’t think that the word hate is too strong. When I hear songs by The Carpenters I want to do unpleasant things to the radio. The best thing I can say about this song is that at least it was only number one for one week. The Carpenters themselves didn’t rate it. Originally an album track they initially let other artists release cover versions. When these cover versions shot to the top of various charts, they realised it was a hit and released their own version. I assume this is why Steve Allen has his name on this version.
Steve Allen (to the left of the Vol 2 box on this album cover – next to the turkeys in the top hats) seems to have been a regular on the talent shows of early 1970s New Zealand television, and had previously recorded a version of Life on Mars? which had been a finalist in the Loxene Golden Disc Awards. Despite this fact and Ray Columbus assuring Listener readers that it was a very good rendition deserving of its selection in the Loxene finals I still have absolutely no desire to hear it.
Steve Allen’s real name was Allan Stephenson. I sort of can’t believe this. I mean, honestly, what was the point of this name change? Did they think Steve Allen had an aura of sexual danger that the name Allan Stephenson lacked? Anyway, in the late 1960s Steve was in a Wellington band called Lost Souls and recorded a single intriguingly titled Take a Load and Lay Me Down. By the 70s Steve was solo and by 1973 he had climbed to the top of the New Zealand charts with his cover of Top of the World. 1973 was Allen’s bonanza year because he also won the competition to compose an original song for the 1974 Commonwealth Games being held in Christchurch. The song was Join Together.
From these two photos of Allen I think we can say that his “look” was a polo neck with a suit. Maybe it kept the golden tonsils warm, or maybe he liked having a sweaty neck. Seems like he didn’t expend a lot of sweat coming up with the song:
Allen remembers bashing out the tune of ‘Join together’ on a piano in about half an hour: ‘As with all good songs, it fell into place. The words were predetermined; it was just a case of finding a simple tune to string them together.’
Ah yes, the words…
Once in every four years
The commonwealth becomes
A unit to which everyone
From everywhere belongs
They gather in the place that’s named
This time it’s in Christchurch
I don’t think I’m being too harsh if I say that lines like “They gather in the place that’s named”, and “A unit to which everyone from everywhere belongs” are, well, …crap. Still, I have to grudgingly admit that the song is pretty catchy and, let’s face it, the genre of songs-written-for-special-events tends to attract the worst kind of drivel. Actually, in terms of marketing gimmicks I think New Zealand did pretty well promoting itself for the games. Beyond the catchy theme song, the NZBC debuted colour television broadcasts for the opening ceremony, and someone came up with this logo:
As a rather odd footnote to this post which is clearly NOT about the song Top of the World, it turns out that Steve Allen’s song Join Together was viewed as political dynamite in South Africa and was banned. The offending lyrics in this masterpiece of agit-prop were:
It’s time for every race and creed to throw away their every care
Let sport unite us all as one in the spirit of the Lord above
I say good on the South Africans for refusing to put up with pop lyrics that scan this badly. If only more countries had taken a stand like this we wouldn’t have had such shockers as,
My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender
Oh yeah, and I have met my destiny in quite a similar way
Which has always made me want to send this letter:
in what way was the relationship you describe in your song Waterloo, similar to the principal causes of Napoleon’s defeat at the aforementioned battle, which are listed as, first:
the arrival, skilfully combined, of Blücher, and the false movement that favored this arrival; the second, was the admirable firmness of the British infantry, joined to the sang-froid and aplomb of its chiefs; the third, was the horrible weather, that had softened the ground, and rendered the offensive movements so toilsome, and retarded till one o’clock the attack that should have been made in the morning; the fourth, was the inconceivable formation of the first corps, in masses very much too deep for the first grand attack.
A concerned fan.
Apparently, there were also some side issues for the South Africans with Join Together around the idea of people of different races being treated equally. It might also be possible that they were a bit miffed about Norman Kirk refusing to issue visas for the proposed Springbok tour to New Zealand in 1973.
Although Kirk promised not to mess with this tour in the run up to the 1972 election, he did a back flip in 1973 (not easy for a man of his girth) citing the violence such a tour would unleash in New Zealand. I’m sure that this fear of violence was a factor in his decision, but what about the bad PR for New Zealand in the run up to the Commonwealth Games of either violent clashes in the host country, or a mass African boycott of the games? Neither of these issues have much to do with the moral issue of where we stood on apartheid.
Indeed, Kirk’s back flip is a good example of being prepared to let politicians get away with things if you happen to agree with them. Kirk specifically said he wouldn’t do something and then went back on his word in fewer than six months, and his motives for the change do not seem to have had much to do with moral repugnance at apartheid, and yet I don’t give a toss because it looks like the right decision to me from the safe distance of 36 years.
Which perhaps leads us into why the “Kiwi battlers” launching into beneficiaries on talkback seem to support Paula Bennett trampelling on the right of the individual to their privacy – something I imagine these battlers would usually be up in arms about. As reporters feebly tried to draw John Key on the issue he effortlessly rebuffed them with the his “this is such a non-issue I am both slightly bored and slightly surprised you’re even bothering to raise it, and don’t we have better things to talk about?” – tone. A tone that I seem to remember our former PM being the master of. When she used it I tended to agree with the tone and not think about the issue; when Key uses it I tend to feel insulted and complain that the journalist isn’t being tough enough.
Which all leads me back to a familiar personal conclusion: when it comes to politics, I am a shout-at-the-TV intellectual lightweight.