Tuesday, April 8, 2014

40 Year Itch : The Battle of Billy The Hero

Although it was a song about the American Civil War, "Billy, Don't Be Hero" was written by two Brits, Mitch Murray and Peter Callander. When the Nottingham band Paper Lace won an ITV talent show called "Opportunity Knocks", Murray and Callander had the band record the tune which went to Number One in the UK on March 16, 1974. 

    As the song climbed the UK charts Murray and Callander desperately tried to get the Paper Lace tune distributed in the US. But they were met with rejection everywhere until Mercury Records finally bought the master. By then it was too late.

   That's because producer Steve Barrie heard the Paper Lace single at ABC Records and quickly dispatched the TV friendly band, Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, to cover the tune. Their version hit the Billboard Hot 100 on April 20, 1974 beating Paper Lace by a week. DJ's played the songs back to back and asked listeners to choose the better version and The Heywoods won by a landslide.  

   Paper Lace had to settle for a peak position of 96 on the Hot 100 while Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods took the song all the way to Number One for two weeks in June of 1974. ( The Heywoods would hit the singles charts again later in the year with "Who Do You Think You Are")
   Don't feel too bad  for Paper Lace. They scored a #1 hit in the US two months later with "The Night Chicago Died".


  1. Paper Lace -gosh that takes me back!
    An interesting story

  2. Having just given Bo a listen I have to say that the Paper Lace version is far superior!

  3. Paper Lace, now they were truly terrible. There was something that particularly annoyed me about that song even back then when I was 11 years old.