Forgotten Hits Reader Mike Gentry sent us this piece on the 1970 hit "Yellow River" ... a long-time Forgotten Hits Favorite. (Do a search of our site and you'll find that it has come up numerous times over the years ... including one "DeeJay Challenge" asking the jocks on the list to play this song on their programs and gauge the reaction of their listeners.)
The Christie single went to #16 in Cash Box Magazine but stopped at #23 in Billboard ... yet EVERY TIME we feature it, our readers react with nothin' but love for this track!!!
Mike gives us the back story, dating back to The Tremeloes' version, which we feature along with the Christie hit ... as well as another one of those Elton John "fake" remakes from 1970 that sounds pretty damn good, too! (Hey ... I've said it a THOUSAND times ... a good song is a good song is a good song ... and this one just proves my point once again.) kk
In 1970 The Tremeloes felt they were at a crossroads. They were well aware of the exciting new sounds emanating from America. Rock music was growing up. The British Invasion had run it's course and only the top tier UK artists still had an ongoing foothold in the US charts. Their longtime CBS Records' producer, Mike Smith, brought them a song that Jeff Christie had written with The Tremeloes in mind.
Christie was lead vocalist of The Outer Limits from Leeds and then the London based The Epics. The latter also included Tremeloes' guitarist Alan Blakely's brother Mike on drums. In 1969, The Epics did a one off single with The Move's Roy Wood that was credited to The Acid Gallery. In early 1970, The Tremeloes recorded Jeff Christie's song, but changed their minds about releasing it. They thought it was just more of the same kind of lightweight pop they were trying to move away from. Smith was flabbergasted because he was sure it had hit potential.
With The Epics already signed to CBS, Alan Blakely suggested giving it back to his brother's band. Smith was allowed to use the Tremeloes' recorded track and substitute the writer's vocals. The Tremeloes effectively became session men on the record. "Yellow River," Christie's timely tale of a war veteran's homecoming, became a UK #1 on June 6 and had the longest US chart run of any single in 1970, when released here in July. Smith re-dubbed The Epics as Christie.
The song resonated with the anti-Vietnam war movement going on in America. It was a moderate hit, reaching #23 on Billboard's Hot 100, and coincidentally spent 23 weeks on that chart! The single sold 3 million copies worldwide, going gold in several countries. It was voted Outstanding Single of 1970 in Japan. It was Smith's sixth and final #1 as a record producer.
Decca boss Dick Rowe had been scapegoated for bungling The Beatles' audition back in 1962. But it was actually his assistant, Mike Smith, who was in charge that day and recommended Rowe sign The Tremeloes instead.
Christie's followup, "San Bernadino," also cracked the UK top ten that autumn. The band, formerly The Epics, had their singles released on Epic Records in America. (It was CBS Records' US label at the time.)
(We decided to omit the version by I.P. Daley ... old joke, I know!) kk