There are some, albeit deluded, souls who think Tony Christie appeared out of nowhere in 2005 to grace our TV screens and ask for directions to Amarillo. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those of us who know better, who appreciate his great voice and his ability to get into a song, can tell you that he has recorded a string of great records over the past 50 years.
Tony’s career began in the accounting office of a steel company in Yorkshire, while simultaneously singing semi-professionally in working men’s clubs in the north of England. A turning point came when his boss suggested he had to make a choice: “Either work hard and your and become an accountant, or keep trying to become the next Adam Faith.”
Tony Christie’s musical heroes were not Faith and the other rock ‘n’ rollers, but Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, whom he had heard on his father’s 78 record collection, and like them he was an interpreter of other people’s songs, and not a recognized songwriter .
After establishing himself on the club circuit of working men – a school of hard knocks – he was offered a job as a singer with a band, which also played in the clubs. The band Tony led on the club circuit was Tony Christie and the Trackers, and in 1966 they recorded Barbara Ruskin’s “Life’s Too Good To Waste” for CBS, which Tony co-wrote, but failed to chart, despite the help of Jimmy Page, who later co-founded Led Zeppelin, on guitar. This is available in the collection for the first time in 50 years.
A year later Tony recorded his first single for MGM, the A-side, ‘Turn Around’ was written by Les Reed and Barry Mason, the songwriters for Engelbert Humperdinck’s ‘The Last Waltz’ which came out that same year, while the B -side, ‘When Will I Love Again’ was one written by Tony; ‘Turn Around”s chances on the chart were hurt by the fact that Kathy Kirby also released a version, and while Tony got the radio plays, Miss Kirby got the TV, which in effect ‘split the sales’. This single, like the two that followed it a year later, failed to chart, but a listen to “Turn Around” shows that Tony was already developing his trademark “sound.
Tony’s breakthrough in the charts came in 1971, when “Las Vegas,” a song by Mitch Murray and Peter Callander, made the British Top 30; it had originally been offered to Tom Jones’ manager, who turned it down. His follow-up, in April, was another song by Murray and Callander, “I Did What I Did for Maria,” which steadily reached the charts until it reached No. 2, although it was No. 1 on the New Musical Express chart.
Later in 1971, his next single was ‘(Is This The Way To) Amarillo,’ written by American Neil Sedaka and surprisingly, it only made it to the lower reaches of the Top 20 in the UK, but cracked around the world. The lack of success in the UK baffled his record company until they discovered that so many people bought it in Spain, where it was No. 1, and took it home. However, every song has its time and in 2005 it rose to the top of the British charts, where it stayed for 7 weeks, after Peter Kay imitated Tony’s record for the Comic Relief TV show.
Tony’s next chart-topper came in 1972 when “Avenues and Alleyways,” the theme to The Protectors, a TV show, made the Top 40; following the success of “Amarillo” in 2005, it was reissued and this time made the Top 30. It was 1976 when Tony hit the charts the next time, and this time it was with “Drive Safely Darling. In the same year, Tony sang the role of Magaldi on the original 1976 album recording of the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita.
The British musical landscape changed with the rise of punk, which meant Tony’s popularity in Britain waned as the 1980s began, but his career in continental Europe grew stronger. Very popular in Germany, he recorded four albums with German producer Jack White, including Welcome to My Music, which reached No. 7 on the German charts in 1991 and went triple platinum; between 1991 and 2002, Tony recorded nine albums in Germany, including quite a few of Tony’s own compositions.
Tony, who lived in Spain, returned to the British Top 10 in 1999 with “Walk Like A Panther,” a song Jarvis Cocker wrote for him to perform with, The All Seeing I. Tony spent much of his adult life in Sheffield. and Cocker was also from the city; it was Sheffield that gave Tony the opportunity to record what may be one of his very best records. Tony heard a Richard Hawley song on the radio – Hawley had been in Pulp with his friend Jarvis Cocker for a while – and it led to Tony recording Made In Sheffield. The album, produced by Hawley, includes “All I Ever Care About Is You,” “Every Word She Said” and “Louise,” a song originally recorded by Sheffield band The Human League. It is one of the finest albums of Tony’s career.
This collection of 50 songs highlights Tony’s ability to reinterpret a song, not just cover it. There is an array of classic covers, including Jimmy Webb’s classic “Didn’t We,” George Harris
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