Did Gilbert O’Sullivan Launch Disco Era?

by Kevin Burton

   There have been many theories to explain the rise and fall of disco music. Here’s a new one for its rise:

   Disco music exploded in the mid-70s as a direct result of “Alone Again Naturally” by Irish singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan.

   OK, so I can’t prove I’m right, but you can’t prove I’m wrong.

   Alone Again Naturally was “one of the most depressing songs ever written,” according to SongFacts, and it’s a lot more depressing than I knew.

   If you’ve read Page 7 for any length of time you have seen me parsing lyrics quite a bit. This song I obviously never looked into until now.

   What I heard as “visit a nearby town” I am just now finding out was “visit a nearby tower,” for the purpose of jumping off of it!

   “I promise myself to treat myself and visit a nearby town” makes sense. Can I be the only one who heard it that way, especially since O’Sullivan uttered “tower” as one syllable?

     I mean the song was depressing enough with the story of not one but both parents dying.

    But it was number one for six weeks in the late summer of 1972!  

   I can see a lot of musicians, after about four weeks of Alone Again Naturally at number one and in heavy AM rotation, going into the studio to try something new, anything new, to get that song out of their heads. 

   No you didn’t hear disco tunes popping up right away after Alone Again Naturally fell of the charts.  It took some time.

   The Watergate break-in took place in June of 1972. It took some time for all hell to break loose, but break loose it did. 

   Don’t get from this that I’m dissing the song. Dozens of artists covered it. I’m just marveling that America embraced it to the tune of six weeks at number one.  More than 100 artists have covered it, according to SongFacts.

   “Neil Diamond covered Alone Again Naturally and said he couldn’t believe a 21-year-old wrote it.” O’Sullivan said.  Neil Sedaka stated when he covered the song in 2020 that he wished that he himself had written the song, because its complexity was more typical of someone much older than 21, according to Wikipedia.

   “The song connected with listeners on various levels: the downtrodden could commiserate with the singer, and the lucky ones who were not in this position were reminded of their good fortune,” wrote SongFacts.

   Maybe so, but I still say it could drive some to disco.

   “Alone again was written with two other songs in a writing period when I was 22 years of age,” he told SongFacts. “I had been a postal clerk in London, so I was only able to write after work in the evening.

   “When Gordon Mills managed me – he managed Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck – when he took me on, he allowed me to quit my job and move into a bungalow that he owned where I could write every day. So, therefore, I was in a writing mode, and Alone Again was just one of the songs I’d written. I was really pleased with it, happy with it, but I didn’t see it as being any more special than other songs. Suffice it to say, I was happy.”

   His interest in music started as it did for many of us.

   “Radio was the key in those early days, listening to Luxenberg.  Little transistor radio in the bedroom, singing songs. That was the thing that always got to me,” O’Sullivan told interviewer Neil McCormick 

  “Popular music is the key to everything I do,” O’Sullivan said. “I have no sort of intellectual level about what I write. I’m a pop song writer I really like that. I don’t want to be anything other. I like that three-minute scenario.

   Alone Again Naturally was released at the same time as, but not included on O’Sullivan’s 1972 album “Back To Front” according to Wikipedia. That could have been a quite unpleasant surprise if you weren’t careful about what you were buying.

   “Between late July and early September 1972 in America the single spent six non-consecutive weeks at number one on Billboard‘s Hot 100 – interrupted by Three Dog Night‘s “Black and White” – and ranked no. 2 in the year-end chart behind Roberta Flack‘s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” according to Wikipedia.

   The song sold two million copies and earned O’Sullivan three Grammy nominations according to SongFacts.

   O’Sullivan denied that the song is autobiographical, saying “Everyone wants to know if it’s an autobiographical song based on my father’s early death. Well the fact of the matter is I didn’t know my father very well and he wasn’t a good father anyway. He didn’t treat my mother very well.”

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