Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne

FOR THE WEEK OF October 15, 2001

DEAR JERRY: When the group Blondie made “The Tide Is High” a No. 1 hit in 1980, I told many of my friends that this was actually an old song from the mid-'60s. None of them believed me, and I had no way to prove my claim.

I do recall that it got some scattered airplay, and that the name of the group was the Paragons.

Then, three or four years later, it happened again.

Tracey Ullman had a big hit with “They Don't Know,” another song that I am certain was first issued in the mid-'60s.

With “The Tide Is High,” I at least knew it was the Paragons. But I have absolutely no recollection who had “They Don't Know” out in the '60s.

Again, I have not been able to convince my friends that I know what I'm talking about. Can you provide me with some evidence?
—Steve Lange, Milwaukee

DEAR STEVE: It's time your friends realized that you really know your music trivia.

The Paragons — a Jamaican reggae band with no connection to the Brooklyn doo-wop Paragons — did indeed have the original of “The Tide Is High.”

This is but one of many fine tunes issued by these Paragons, and it came out just after John Holt took over as lead singer, in 1965.

Regarded as one of Jamaica's most exceptional harmony groups, its members over the years also included Garth “Tyrone” Evans, Leroy Stamp, Junior Menz, Howard Barrett, and Bob Andy.

The Paragons disbanded in 1970, at which time Holt embarked on a solo career. He later recorded a new version of “The Tide Is High.”

Among their other reggae classics are: “My Best Girl; On the Beach; Tonight; Only a Smile” and “Happy Go Lucky Girl.”

These tracks, as well as “The Tide Is High,” are currently available on compact disc, though it should be noted that none ever charted in the States.

Tracey Ullman's “They Don't Know” was written and originally sung in 1979 by the late Kirsty MacColl, who died just last year. Kirsty was the daughter of Ewan MacColl, writer of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.”

Though not from the '60s, as you thought, you are correct about it being a remake.

Thanks to T.G. Young and Kerry Bloomquist, both of whom provided background details of “They Don't Know.”

DEAR JERRY: On a recent trip to St. Petersburg, Florida, I was delighted to discover your column, and I believe you are the one to help me.

Since our college days, in the early '70s, I have been teased by my husband because he is sure I am not correctly remembering the name of a song.

I say there was a record around that time called “Get Down Dog.” I believe the singer to be Gilbert O'Sullivan.

I have no idea how this first came up in a conversation, but ever since then, when he thinks I am not remembering something properly, he'll taunt me with comments like, “Oh, sure! Just like there was a song called “Get Down Dog.”

Can you help? Or have I failed to properly remember this?
—Nancy Swigert, Nicholasville, Ky

DEAR NANCY: While not perfect, you're memory is good enough to indicate which song it is that you are being teased about unmercifully.

In fact, you are just a “dog” off the mark.

The exact title is simply “Get Down,” and it became a Top 10 hit for Gilbert O'Sullivan during the summer of 1973 (MAM 3629).

It is easy to see how you worked that “dog” into the title. In the lyrics, O'Sullivan metaphorically refers to his lady friend with canine references, such as “you're a bad dog, baby, but I still want you around.”

Woo-hoo! Another marriage is saved.

IZ ZAT SO? Gilbert O'Sullivan's second biggest hit — after “Alone Again (Naturally)” — is “Clair. It reached No. 2 in 1972.

What you may not know is that the real Clair is one of Gilbert's manager's (Gordon Mills) daughters, for whom O'Sullivan often handled babysitting chores.

Gordon plays the harmonica on the “Clair” session, and then-little Clair herself provides the fleeting giggle at the song's end.

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