'THE BIGGEST BOYS CLUB IN THE WORLD'
- SODS: The Freemasons of pop?
The British singles charts in the 70s were dominated by songwriters and producers. The most famous and most successful were Chinn & Chapman, but beyond them - and often predating them - were a host of others: Martin & Coulter, Cook & Greenaway, Macauly & McLeod as well as many, many more plying their trade on Teen Pan Alley, struggling to sell songs to anyone who'd buy them. The mark of success in this world was to be offered membership of the Society of Distinguished Songwriters, an organization affectionately known as SODS.
Officially SODS was a social grouping - an informal collection of people who worked in the same trade and who liked occasionally to hang out together. On the record, this remains the only story you're likely to hear. Off the record, however, there are dark hints, suggestions and outright accusations, that there was another side to SODS altogether. I don't know whether there's any truth in any of them, but I'd be failing in my duty not to report what I've heard.
So then, the unofficial, unsubstantiated and - of course - entirely alleged version of SODS is that it wielded an enormous if covert influence on pop music in Britain. The success of the top songwriters gave them real power in the industry and, in collaboration with the BBC monopoly, it is suggested that this power was exercised to the detriment of artists and groups who threatened the status quo.
Several people I've spoken to point to the fact that when groups left the songwriting/production teams that gave them their first hits, they found it increasingly difficult to get records played on Radio One or get appearances on Top of the Pops. There was a whole host of artists like Mud, The Sweet, John Rossall, Kenny, The Rubettes, Bay City Rollers, who moved on from their original teams in an attempt to establish themselves as writers as well as performers, and all failed to establish any such thing, at least so far as the British charts were concerned. There might have been the occasional hit single, but certainly no longevity, and no success to match that of the earlier years within the protective embrace of SODS.
The official version is that all these acts had effectively run out of steam, that the public had tired of them and that anyway their own work wasn't as good as the stuff that had been written for them by professionals. Which may be the truth. But maybe too there was a helping hand from what was still a closely knit and self-protective industry. Certainly there are plenty of people who are prepared to voice their doubts in private.
The case most frequently cited by contemporary observers is that of Kenny. They actually took their songwriting team of Bill Martin & Phil Coulter to court in an attempt to get out of their contract with their name intact. They succeeded, but their first 'solo' single, 'Hotlips', was immediately banned on release by Radio One, on the grounds that that it was 'too sexy'. Given that Hot Chocolate had encountered no such problem with 'You Sexy Thing', it seems an unlikely cause for complaint. If 'Hotlips' had a fault, it was that it was too similar to Kenny's earlier hits, but this wasn't the reason they were given for its banning. Curious, no?
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Well perhaps no. Perhaps it was the case that everyone ran out steam when they left the guiding hands that had made them stars. But there is no doubt that there's a hell of a lot of resentment still lurking, a strong suspicion that SODS had good enough contacts at the BBC - both at Radio One and at Top of the Pops - and within the industry to look after its own interests.
But on the record, as I said, the story is entirely different. If SODS really were the Freemasons of 70s pop, you're not going to hear any conclusive evidence here.
David Van Day:
We were all involved with the same writers - Tony Macauly, Barry Mason, Roger Greenaway - they were all the people who were hot. They'd been writers for Tom Jones, Englebert Humperdinck, The Drifters and they formed the Society of Distinguished Songwriters, which was called SODS, of course. SODS came about from the affluence of those writers - every week they were having a hit, or they were part of a hit. And if you were on a bit of a run, you called your mates up and said, 'Come round and get a slice of this and write something with me this afternoon.' And now and again they'd come up with something decent, and sometimes they wouldn't. And when the other pal was doing good, they'd say, 'Well you gotta reciprocate.'
And that went on for a while, when they were able to do it. Then, of course, it dries up, and they were starting to get a bit more selfish with it, and they wouldn't share so much. Although the Society still goes, with Mike Batt and all those people I mentioned before - David Essex is a member, Andy Hill, who wrote all the Bucks Fizz hits, is a member - it's a bit of a slap-on-the-back society. Go out for a drink, have a bit of fun, take the piss out of each other: you know, didn't we do well, they don't write 'em like that anymore.
SODS? It's the biggest boys' club in the world.
Gerry [Shury] and I were asked if we wanted to be in SODS. But we really were behind-the-scenes, and anyway it's expensive to be in a party to fly off to St Moritz and have a holiday there and play golf or whatever. We decided to form BUMS: Britain's Unknown Musical Songwriters. And there was only three of us in it - Gerry, me and Chris Rae - but no one else wanted to join. It was probably the name.
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