Wandering this morning – as I did Tuesday – through the Billboard Hot 100 from December 4, 1971, I was diverted by a familiar title credited to an unfamiliar group. Sitting at No. 66 was “Mammy Blue” by the Pop Tops.
I knew the version by Stories, the group from Brooklyn led by Ian Lloyd, but that, I thought, came later (in 1973, as it turns out). I’d never heard of the Pop Tops or heard their version of “Mammy Blue.” So I clicked a few times and found a video that offers a remastered version of the 1971 recording (resynchronized to a 1971 film).
In his book Top Pop Singles, chart guru Joel Whitburn lists the group as Los Pop Tops and notes that the group was formed in Spain with a lead singer – Phil Trim – from Trinidad. In 1968, the Pop Tops’ single “Oh Lord, Why Lord” (based, Whitburn notes, on Pachelbel’s “Canon in D Major”) went to No. 78. And in 1971, “Mammy Blue” went to No. 57.
I had noticed right away that the Pop Tops’ video has the title of the song as “Mamy Blue.” Intrigued, I began to dig a little. The Pop Tops weren’t the first to record the song, though they were close. And “Mamy Blue” was the song’s original title. Wikipedia says: “The song was originally written with French lyrics in 1970 by veteran French songwriter Hubert Giraud; he conceived the song in his car waiting out a Parisian traffic jam and had completed its demo within a few days.”
Four months after the song came to Giraud, singer Ivana Spagna recorded an Italian language version, and shortly after that, the Pop Tops recorded the version seen above. According to Wikipedia: “In May 1971, Alain Milhaud, a French record producer based in Spain, acquired the song for the Pop-Tops, a group he managed: Milhaud produced the Pop-Tops’ recording of ‘Mamy Blue’ in a session in London after the group’s frontman, Phil Trim, wrote English lyrics for the song.” The Pop Tops would also record versions of the song in Spanish and Italian.
The three essentially competing versions – by the Pop Tops, Daydé and Nicoletta – were hits in numerous European nations as well as elsewhere around the world. And at about the same time, a South African studio group called Charisma had a hit with an English cover of the song. I saw a record label for Charisma’s single with the title “Mammy Blue,” but Wikipedia says it was titled “Mamy Blue,” and adds, “[P]roduced by Graeme Beggs, this version spent twelve weeks at #1 making it the second longest running South African #1 hit.”
The only American version of the song I can find from 1971 is a cover by TV actor James Darren, a pretty decent version that bubbled under the Hot 100 at No. 107 during the last week of October (and went to No. 47 in Australia). The website Second Hand Songs doesn’t have Darren’s version listed, but it notes that 1971 saw versions of “Mamy/Mammy Blue” in German, Finnish, and Dutch as well as the versions already noted in French, Italian and English. (Wikipedia says that the song has also been recorded over the years in Croatian, Swedish, Polish, Czech, Hungarian, Icelandic, Portuguese and Romanian.)
Two years after the first “Mamy Blue” wave came the 1973 version most American listeners know:
Stories’ version spent eight weeks in the Hot 100 during the autumn of 1973 and peaked at No. 50. And there we’ll let “Mamy/Mammy Blue” rest.