The career of David Essex has paralleled that of Paul Nicholas, both were products of the 60’s beat boom who have diversified into acting and musicals, both have had hit singles and both are sex symbols into their 60’s.
Essex claims to come from a long line of Romany Gypsies although he was brought up in London, as a teenager he moved out to Essex and so he changed his name from the less desirable Crook.. He certainly adopted a gypsy dress style with waistcoats, handkerchiefs and earrings which along with his twinkly eyes and curly black hair was bound to set hearts a flutter.
His first musical explorations were as a drummer although his looks and fairly average vocal skills meant that he was soon tempted out from behind the kit and like many similar young men was recording singles that made no impact on the charts. This was to work to his advantage as although he was old enough to be a 60’s pop star he became synonymous with the shiny new 70’s where he was able to start with a clean slate.
And so at the start of the new decade Essex was singing in the musical Godspell which raised his public profile enough to land him a part in a movie. ‘That’ll be the Day’ was the first movie I can remember being reviewed by Barry Norman on his phenomenally popular ‘Film night’ I also remember that Norman wasn’t that impressed by the movie. The problem being that Essex was overshadowed by his co-star who was no less than Ringo. Given the right script Ringo Starr could, by force of his personality, shine. In a movie where Essex was more apparently acting Ringo was being himself. The film itself has worn well concentrating on the under looked period before the Beatles, a time of holiday camps, dancehalls, funfairs and greasy rock and roll. As well as Starr the other notable rockers in the film were Keith Moon who was not exactly stretching himself as a mentally unbalanced drummer and Billy Fury who was the band’s singer.
As well as a potential film career Essex also embarked on a parallel career as a pop star. His first hit ‘Rock On’ was one of the strangest things to ever hit the charts. Apparently written by Essex without any accompaniment there are no chordal instruments on the record, just weird dubby bass and percussion and rather frightening strings that sound a bit like the soundtrack to ‘Psycho’. Lyrically concentrating on mood rather than meaning the record owed a lot to the producer Jeff Wayne. His own ‘War of the Worlds’ (featuring Essex amongst a star cast) was to prove a huge hit with of sales reps listening on their in car stereos. Given the bland ubiquities of his monster hit its impressive how experimental this recording was for Wayne. Essex didn’t disappoint either, he’s not the best singer ever but you always know it’s him and that’s so much more important than any X Factor show off/mean nothing.
For a couple of years Essex was at the top of his game musically, ‘Lamplight’ was quite an edgy single and then ‘Gonna make you a Star’ and ‘Hold Me close’ were enjoyable sing along pop. He also made the inferior follow up to ‘That’ll Be the Day’. ‘Stardust’ sidestepped any possible problems of Ringo being the star of the show by replacing him with Adam Faith who was fine but had never played drums for The Beatles. Also in the film and indeed fronting the fictional band The Stray Cats (with Moon still on drums) was Paul Nicholas.
Essex kept going as a jack of all trades which means that a later generation might know him from an acting role in EastEnders rather than as a pop star. It has to be said that his top 10 hits dried up in the 80’s with a noticeable loss of quality control. In the States he means nothing apart from his first hit which amazingly was a big hit there.
Although he’s a one hit wonder in the USA back in blighty David Essex still counts for something, he’s never been naff or even out of fashion
Here’s his second hit which has kind of been forgotten in the mists of time. Love those Top of the Pops audiences