Top Toytown Tunes
Selected by Mark Frumento (with a little help from his friends)
Mr. Churchill might have said if he hadn’t passed away in 1965 (and
many maintain that he’s not dead but is writing poetry in Paris)
“Never in the field of popular music has one sub-genre been so slagged
off by so many and heard by so few.”
Toytown Pop. It’s not cool and never has been, but so what? If you
haven’t heard it then you don’t know what you’re missing. If
you’re a fan then it’s very likely that you are absolutely addicted
to it. Exactly what “It” is can be argued at length and to start the
argument we’ve decided to offer something of a definition:
Pop is English and is derived from aspects of British lifestyle and
culture. Influences include: Edward
Lear, Alice in Wonderland, Listen With Mother (and later, of course,
Watch With Mother), George Formby, Flanders & Swann, The Goons, The Wind
in the Willows, Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, English fairytales, Lord
Kitchener and his pals, Oscar Wilde and Victoriana in general.
thing that we’d like to add is that Toytown Pop is NOT the English
equivalent of American “Bubblegum” music. Whereas the “Yummy
Yummy” and “Sugar Sugar” brigade aim for the lowest common
denominator and then go downwards from there, the Toytown creators
crafted some of the most beautiful, ambitious and, more often than not,
melancholy music of the 60s and early 70s (OK, OK… with some of the
lowest common denominator stuff mixed in when necessary). But it’s
true that some American bubblegum acts like the Lemon Pipers and others
created some fantastic Toytown Pop. We’ve just decided to exclude it
as an imitation of an English style of music.
while Toytown is quintessentially English there are no rules that
disqualify American musicians or indeed, any musicians at all from
creating good Toytown Pop. Think of what Brian Wilson might have
achieved in 66/67 if he’d have kicked out pretentious old Van Dyke
Parks and used a “Laughing Gnome” era David Bowie, or Keith West or
Jeff Lynne as his lyricist instead. With all of that hokey Americana out
of the way he might well have achieved his “Teenage Symphony For
God”, and what’s more Mike Love would have understood the words.
end this rant by saying that if five hour long Jerry Garcia guitar
noodles, or Tommy Hall banging on that damn jug while Roky whines to
infinity is your idea of musical nirvana then you’re in the wrong
place and there’s no point in you reading on.
you’re a fan of adventure, magic, and fairy cakes with lemonade for
tea, then follow the instructions of funny old Uncle Viv. “Let’s go
back to your childhood!”…
out of the way, here’s how we selected the 119 titles in this list:
In keeping with the theme of
Marmalade Skies only songs recorded in 1966 or later were included. In
an effort to keep ‘The Diary of Horace Wimp’ off the list we’ve
not allowed any song after 1974.
general Toytown songs should be at least one of the following: light,
bouncy, jangly, slightly off-key or slightly out of whack.
There must be a prevailing sense of
humour. No message songs or anything overly earnest.
stories, children’s voices or songs about children (especially scared
children) were bound to get in.
about toys, toy lands, toy towns and trains are right in.
with the word “little” in the title got very serious consideration.
other confections mentioned in songs pleased us very much
are good Toytown subjects especially if they are doing something funny
(like hanging around in baskets or eating people).
about people qualify especially if the people in question are somewhat
out of touch with reality, have quaint jobs or are someone’s Auntie.
albums and their creators (such as the Small Faces) seem to fit other
genres better so we left them off this list.
the Beatles and Pink Floyd were disqualified. We recognize that both
Paul McCartney and Syd Barrett are two of the founding fathers of
Toytown but including them in our list seemed too obvious.
to David Wells and Paul Martin for their advice and additions. Thanks
also to the following folks who knowingly or unknowingly participated in
the creation of this list by sharing their collections: Lewis Anderson,
Erik Meinen, Luis Suarez, Fading Yellow JJ and of course let’s not
forget the late fanzine Sweet Floral
hope that you enjoy the trip, but before we embark, though he didn’t
make the cut, we offer this Paul McCartney lyric to send us on our
"Would you care to sit with me
The Godlike Mark Kirk has now put all 119 tracks onto a 5 CDR set, complete with wonderful artwork. You can download the discs and inserts using the following links:
Rider – The Hush
Fontana single, 1968
Hammond and Hazelwood, two names you’ll see again, were behind the controls of this snappy song about…um… an elephant rider… whatever that is.
This is a recent re-issue 7"
Laurels - Threepence a Tune
RCA single B-side, 1968
Only two songs in and the banjo makes its appearance on this little strut of a song. Is there any instrument happier than a banjo?
A Brac Man - Bill Nile & His Good Time Band
Decca single, 1967
The identity of Bill Nile(s) remained a mystery until we received the following information from Roger Limb:
Nile was a local star bandleader in Cheltenham
from the late 1950s. All us musos wanted to play in his band; I was
still at school when I began playing bass for him, Brian
Jones (later Rolling Stones) was turned down. During the 60s
we moved to London and tried to break into the scene but because we
were a jazz group we were always at a disadvantage. But Bill was
always a good singer , he was good looking and full of charisma so
we managed to open a few doors. We even recorded for Joe Meek
(well, everybody did!) I wasn't on the track mentioned on your
website, I left the band for a while 1965-7. I remember hearing about 'Bric
A Brac Man' but we never played it live. Maybe Tony
Hazzard was involved in the recording. He was a friend of the band
at the time.
What we do know about this flute dominated
track is that it was produced by Barry Kingston and more than likely it
was recorded at Southern Studios where Kingston’s father managed the
publishing branch at the time.
Piccolo Man – The Flower Pot Men
Penelope – Smiley
Miss Pinkerton – Cuppa T
Constable Jones - The Decision
old Jones, he’s got blisters on his feet to prove his hard work and he
still can’t get that promotion. A jaunty little track as you’d
suspect from a song about a friendly sad sack of a policeman.
Smoke, Smoke – Sgt Smiley Raggs
Annies Place – Gene Latter
Young Blood single
Boy – Neil Holland MGM
single B-side, 1968
Here’s a strange little number about an illiterate (and apparently dumb) shepherd boy who is looking for love. The song is oddly appealing despite the sparse instrumentation and Mr. Holland’s lack of vocal skill. One of many collectible Eddie Tre-Vette productions from the late 60s.
Old Sam – Vaughan Thomas
single B-side, 1973
So endearing is the Sam in this song that it makes one wonder if it’s the same person about whom Keith West sang. Thomas also released a wonderful album and several other singles, all produced by the multi-talented Mike Batt.
Jimmy – Barnaby Rudge
Is there anything sadder than a lonely railway man? Barnaby Rudge was Wilson Malone and Danny Beckerman with some regular Morgan Studios players. Malone will crop up several times on this list as will some of his Morgan companions.
a Little Light into My Room - Jason Paul
This song is cover of an LP track by Boston’s Teddy and the Pandas. The Panda’s version has the slight toytown edge but rules are rules and no American recordings are allowed. Sorry Pandas. Jason Paul was in the band Svensk.
I Want to
Go to the Overworld - Freddie & The Dreamers
track from Oliver In The Overworld 1970
After the hits dried-up, Freddie earned a crust in children's TV, principally the show "Little Big Time". This long-running programme featured a psychedelic pantomime-type serial called Oliver In The Overworld (and all, apparently, wiped later). The soundtrack to this was written by hit-makers Hammond/Hazlewood. Rest in peace Freddie. We hope you got your wish.
Barefoot And Tiptoe –
Mark Wirtz and then wife Ross Hannaman created this wonderful little march that is so cute you just want to pinch the couple’s cheeks. We don’t like to gossip but Ross was Tim Rice’s girl friend when Mark Wirtz swept her off her feet… or was it her tiptoes?
for My Friends – Joyce’s Angels
A pleasant pop number about someone distributing flowers. Information about the band is scant but rumor has it that Chris White (see entry 101) was one of its members.
Boy from Nowhere - Simon Dupree and the Big Sound
unreleased, from the retrospective anthology CD ‘Part of My Past’
A very cute track that apparently puts the talents of studio keyboardist Reg Dwight on display. The laughing boy you hear is the son of saxophonist Phil Shulman.
on a Orange Bicycle – Orange Bicycle
single B-side, 1968
Here is Wil Malone again with his Morgan Studios-based harmony pop band. This eerie little fairytale of a tune is replete with a laughing child.
Sheer – Chris White
Unreleased (?), ca 1968
Despite the misspelling of the name, this tune appears to be about of the sinking of a German battleship that was bombed by the RAF. Chris White is best known for his excellent harmony pop album ‘Mouth Music’ but this song comes from his privately compiled, cassette only compilation Circuits & Bumps.
Chocolate Buster Dan – Pandamonium
man bands, street performers and has-been vaudeville acts make great
subjects for toytown pop. However, it’s so much funnier when they’re
introduced with the lines: “we hope you won’t be bored” or
“he’s so much out of touch with the scene.”
Pegasus – The Hollies LP track from Butterfly, 1967
Shorn of the classic Hollies-style block chords and tight harmonies Pegasus is quite charming. The change in sound is aided by the fact that this is Tony Hicks’ first vocal performance with the band.
Morning Morgantown – Jude
track from Morgan Blue Town, Bam Caruso, 1988
With one chord change and the addition of a cow bell this Joni Mitchell folk pop beauty is transformed into a toytown classic. Those responsible are singer Judy Wiley and her backup band Fickle Pickle. Pickle were Morgan Studio associates Geoff Gill, Cliff Wade, Wil Malone and Steve Howden. The track remained unreleased until it was compiled by Bam Caruso. It has subsequently been issued on the David Wells compiled House of Many Windows.
Rocking Chair - Majority One
LP track from
Majority One, 1971
Starting off as the Majority, the band transformed themselves into a classy pop psych outfit by simply adding the word “One” to the end of their name (clever!). This is the most toytownish of the tracks from their impossibly rare album. Save your money and get the CD reissue on RPM.
Hearts Brigade - Hammond Hazlewood
Take a moment and reflect on the fact that the co-creator of this toytown anthem also had a huge hit with ‘It Never Rains in Southern California’ only a few years later. Anyway, before that he made this clever little march that celebrates the transformation of boys to men (no, not Boyz II Men, silly).
Farthing single, 1970
Brill building writer Kenny Young (Under the Boardwalk etc) is behind
this charming song. Young ended up in the UK after his song ‘Captain
of Your Ship’ became a hit for Reparata and the Delrons. In a recent
interview Young says, “I later decided to stay in London, having met
some of the mini-skirted lovelies who tempted me with their charms and
parts of their bodies that were barely covered.” Lydia, indeed!
Kenny Young in 1963 and 2003
Mr. Organ Grinder – Vehicle
No toytown is complete without an organ grinder. This one is delivered to us by a mysterious writer/producer named Les Lubin
Will Be Around Again – Two and a Half
We know that we’re surprisingly short on Christmas songs but we’ve grouped two great holiday rarities together to make up for it. First up is this holiday themed B-side by the Simon & Garfunkel-ish act that was also responsible for Suburban Early Morning Station.
Little Smile on Christmas Morning – The Annie Rocket Band
Boy single, 1969
Here's the tale of a girl who’s father goes away to earn money for the family. The little girl is sad because she doesn’t have her father for Christmas. We’re happy to report that daddy makes it home and everyone is happy. A reward goes to the person who can tell us more about The Annie Rocket Band. (Apparently The Annie Rocket Band were Jon Plum in disguise. More about Jon Plum later on...)
Lesley - Alan Bown Set
LP track from
Outward Bown, Music Factory, 1968
This soul band went straight to toy land in 1968 and Outward Bown produced a number of great examples of toytown pop. This song is about 4 year old Lesley who has quite a laundry list of things to do... including mothering her toads.
(1871-1892) - Marty Wilde
track from Diversions,
A fantastic song about Zobo the lion from Wilde’s sought-after pop psych LP. The Mighty Quinn-like flutes plant this track firmly in toytown.
For Marionettes – The Marianne
cheated a little on this one. The writer/singer behind the Marianne is
David Allen who was half Mexican and half Native American. Allen was a
classically trained flamenco guitarist whose long and involved story
landed him in the UK. This amazing track was produced and arranged by
Jack - Barry Wigley
single B-side, 1972
Let’s get something straight: with a name like Barry Wigley one of this guy’s songs was going to make this list no matter what. As it is the song is perfect for the list and Brother Jack turns out to be either the nicest man in the world or some sort of major weirdo. Barry Wigley was co-writer on several Majority One songs.
Zak - Cardboard Orchestra
know it’s a bit of a downer but Toytown does have homeless people. At
least this song delivers that sad fact with a bouncy beat and a catchy
Nice Guy – Dragonmilk
Blood single, 1972
One of many strange Young Blood projects. This one is a vehicle for songwriters/producers Geoff Wilkins and Colin Frechter who deliver the line “its survival of the fittest Mr. Nice Guy” like it’s a father and son chat.