SCOTT ENGLISH wrote the lyrics to the song “Brandy,” while Richard Kerr composed the melody. The title was changed to “Mandy” and it was recorded by Barry Manilow. Interviews with Scott English are very rare, so it was a great pleasure to speak with this great artist. Scott makes his home in England these days. We may be recording a second interview at some point, in person. One thing is for sure, Scott English loves music. We hope to talk with him again when his book comes out.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure, we welcome our very special guest, the great Scott English. Thank you so much for joining us.
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up for you?
Tough, very tough, but music kept me going, I listened to the radio all the time, it came to me, you know, I just kept on keeping on, everybody said I was nuts, you know, Sheldon, he’s crazy, you know, he’s going to be a singer, he’s going to be this, he’s going to be that, you know, they all thought I was nuts. I put my name on records.
You said you put your name on records?
Yeah, every record I would see I would scratch off the name of the Penguins or Al Martino or Tony Bennett and I would put my name on them, cause I wanted to see what it looked like and the first time I saw my name on a record, I just had a…it was like… unbelievable, I couldn’t believe it, once (Scott laughs) some people at Sceptre Records, wanted to tease me, so they made my record a key ring for the toilet.
I was very, very upset.
Tell us, what kind of music did you hear growing up?
Growing up I heard Nat Cole, Jerry Vale, Tony Bennett, and then suddenly, I had a radio station WBLJ in Harlem New York, an R&B station, it changed my life, I heard the do ups, it was just like… it would made me feel good, I would buy a record and I would play it fifty times, a hundred times, you know, I scratched it all up, I wanted it so bad, you know, I wanted to consume everything in music.
What was some of the doo wop songs that you liked the most?
Johnny Ace, ??? Miller, The Penguins, most of all I liked the Moonglows, Marvin Gaye came from the Moonglows, ?? Producer came from the Moon Glows, I genuinely know all those names, you know the Moonglows?
I’m not really familiar to be honest.
Well look it up, they’re a very good group.
I’ll have to give them a play.
Okay, in 1960 there was a single that came out ‘Four Thousand Miles Away.’
Tell us about that song.
It was the ‘B’ side of ‘High On A Hill.’
Who wrote that song?
What was it like to see that album with your name on it, finally.
Like an orgasm. (Paul laughs, Scott continues), I’d made it as far as I was concerned, I didn’t have to do anything else, it was wonderful, I was there. I was Prince Charles
I also want to also ask you about a song called ‘High On A Hill’.
That broke my heart twice, that broke my heart twice, Kennedy killed me once, the Beatles killed me the second time, did you know that?
I didn’t know that, no.
Yeah, well, my record was going up in the charts in November 20th 1960, President Kennedy got shot, they took all the records off the radio. Somewhere at Sceptre records, they re-released the record, they released my record, it was number one in LA, number one in San Francisco, number one in Philadelphia, big in Detroit, then the Beatles happened. Nine out of ten records on the charts, one record was mine in San Francisco, and it killed me, it broke my heart.
I also wanted to ask you about the song ‘Bend Me, Shake Me’.
I wrote it with Larry Weiss, great writer, he also wrote ‘Rhinestone Cowboy’ by himself.
How did you meet Larry Weiss?
I was working for a music publisher whose a great arranger called Klaus Alderman and Larry walked into the office, he was one of the people that Klaus knew who played him songs, and I was wearing a red jacket, with a white scarf and white loafers, and I said ‘ahhhh Hollywood, Hollywood’ and we became lifelong friends and writing partners.
Do you still stay in touch with him?
I just spoke to him last night.
Oh yeah, do you still write songs?
Larry still writes songs, yeah.
What about you?
He lives in Nashville, he started to get a hotel, the Rhinestone Cowboy hotel up and going and a musical with Rhinestone Cowboy. He’s charging hard. I can’t see him with much fruition there you know.
Are you still writing songs?
Like crazy. Like crazy, I wrote two today, I had two on Friday and my partner in Ireland, Owen, that was yesterday and they’re amazing.
Are you writing songs to be recorded by others?
Yeah, I’m 76 years old, you don’t want to see me record (Paul laughs).
There’s another song that you wrote that has endured, and the name of it has been changed when it was recorded by Barry Manilow, but I’m talking about your song “Brandy.”
Yeah, yeah, another break… ahhhh, what happened, I was in the South of France and one of my publishing friends started to say “aaaah Brandy goes down fine after dinner doesn’t she?” He was trying to tell a dirty joke, but I got a great title out of that and I wrote the lyric and when I came back to London, I called Richard Kerr, my partner at the time and we got together that day in my area with an out of tune piano and we wrote the song and it was magic, yeah, out of tune we wrote it, we did a demo and we sent it out and nobody liked the demo, so I figured I’d better do it myself, so I did it for a record company and then, I was playing it for people and the people from Ireland heard it, Ireland Records… they said “what are you doing with that?” I said well I got a deal to release two of the sides he said “how you going to do it”, I said … he said “play em one other and leave Brandy out”, I said “why?” He said “I want to release it on Ireland”, Trojan, sorry, that’s what happened. My wife was pregnant, home to America, and bang, two weeks later they call me and it’s in the charts. I came here on tour, I did a couple of gigs, a lot of TV shows, no a lot of radio shows sorry, I went on Top Of The Pops, and Top Of The Pops it was going up in the charts, the Union stopped me because I hadn’t done enough gigs, the next week it went from twelve to eleven and then from eleven to nine, and then it died.
What inspired Brandy?
What inspired? Well, my life. If you look into the lyric it’s talking about looking for ‘a man, a face through a window’, that’s my Father.
And then this woman, I treated her bad and I didn’t know any better, and that was me, you know, it was a life of ups and downs, I knew better, but at times I couldn’t do better.
What did you think of the interpretation Barry Manilow recorded of it?
In the beginning, I hated it, because he took out one of the verses, half ofone of the verses and made it into a ‘bridge’, and he changed the rhythm, he made it real ‘poppy, you know, but after it got played and played and played, checks started coming in, he asked me what I thought of it, and I told him, I said “Barry I ended up loving you buying me houses.” (Paul laughs, Scott continues) That was Brandy.
Do you still see Richard Kerr quite a bit?
I saw Richard last week, Richard’s suffering from cancer right now, he’s seventy years old, he’s a gentleman if there ever was a gentleman, but with writing, he’s still writing beautifully, people are still looking for our songs, he’s got mellow with age as a writer, like Chopin.
How do you feel about his abilities as a composer?
I’m very happy he’s alive. He made me, we’re tight and I don’t think I would have on my own. He’s a blessing, you know people ought to give thanks and look around, you know, smell the flowers, and accept that no man is an island.
Interesting. Of all the songs you have written, which one would you say means the most to you?
I think ‘Who Turned The World Around,’ recorded by Bobby Darin, it never was a hit, it was just on an album on Montown, but that means the most to me.
Tell me about the inspiration behind that song.
Well, it’s just all these tsunamis now and all these earthquakes, I just pictured that happening, but this was in 1971. I said ‘One day after Armageddon,’ you know, the end of the world and destruction of the world ‘and fire was going out, rumours of life in Cincinnati, gone from words of mouths, walking’s the only way to get there, maybe I’ll find a way, that was the morning I remember, that was before the rain, who turned the world around, who turned the world around, show me the way to yesterday, who turned the world around’.
Are you more moved by the lyrics of a song, or the melody?
I love melody, but I’m a word man, I write the words, I’m a lyricist, but I love melody,
when I hear ‘A Whiter Shade Of Pale’
That organ. It just drives me nuts, the melody, I love classical music, so I have to say I like instrumental, I love Chopin and Beethoven and Tchaikovsky and people like that.
What about the lyricists that have influenced you the most, who do you think are the best lyricists in music?
Sammy Cahn, Jimmy Van Heusen, Elton John, Paul McCartney, John from the Beatles.
Yeah, John Lennon.
Well, some of my friends like Graham Nash, James Taylor, James Brown.
He wrote it in grooves, but if you look into what he wrote, he wrote some stuff that meant something.
‘It’s A Man’s World’, if you listen to those words, he said it in a very crude way, but wowwww, ‘without a woman or a girl’, what are we nuts?
I also wanted to ask you about the song ‘Ciao Baby.’
Yeah, I love that song.
It’s a good one, tell me about that song being written.
It was a very hard one, it was so many rhymes that I had to write, it was quite difficult, Larry came in with the melody and I went home with it over the weekend and nobody one could contact me, you know, I was in my head, in the car or in a restaurant, in the bath, no one could reach me ‘Ciao baby, let’s call it a day, ciao baby, go ahead and through your love away’. People just, they just ate that song up, I thought it would be an enormous, enormous hit, but it was little hits, in Australia it was number one, teens here in England, in America it was recorded by a lot of people, might have gone to number fifteen in the charts or something like that.
There was another song ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining.’
That’s a song I never wanted him to finish.
What do you mean by that?
I never liked it.
What happened was, Larry Weiss came into the office, and he had the chorus, simply said “yeah and it’s obvious’, so he put that on the end of the chorus, then he said ‘oh come on, write the lyrics and a verse’, so I wrote ‘you’re everywhere and nowhere baby, that’s where you’re at, going down a bumpy hillside, in your hippy hat, flying across the country and getting fat, saying everything is groovy when your tires are flat’, and then there’s the chorus ‘high ho silver lining’ and he loved it and he said ‘wowwww’, I said “it’s shit’. (Paul laughs), he called Mickey Most in London, you know the name Mickie Most?
I don’t know that one, I’m sorry.
You don’t know Mickie Most, he’s a producer after, what’s-his-named, who was in jail for killing that woman.
You’re talking about that guy Phil Spector.
Phil Spectre, he’s the English Phil Spector, he produced The Animals, he produced Herman’s Hermits, he produced hundreds of people, then he had Rack Records years later, he heard that song and said “I’m coming to New York, I want it”. Larry played it on the phone, Mickie came into my offices “where’s the song?”, I said “Mickie I’m not finishing it, it stinks”, he said “no, you finish it right now”, (Paul laughs, Scott continues), I called my secretary and said “bring a pencil and paper”, we had no computers in those days, so I said “take a letter”, I said “flies are in your pea soup baby and they’re waving at me, anything you want is yours now, only nothing’s for free, lies are gonna get you some day, just wait and see, just open up your beach umbrella, while you’re watching TV, and it’s hi ho silver lining”, he said “that’s incredible”, I thought he’d say “it’s shit”, and I just recited it off the top of my head, and he called me about two weeks later, he said “I’m giving it to Yardbirds” I said “are you nuts? Yardbirds is a heavy rock group”, it’s a song for Herman’s Hermits” (Paul laughs, Scott continues), so about two weeks later I got a record, a fantastic record by a man named Jeff Beck, I never heard of him, he was in the Yardbirds, you know.
Well, when I heard the record I felt terrible, I thought I’d killed his career, although it went in the charts in England, in America it didn’t do too well, it went in the charts in England I thought I’d killed his career, I heard the ‘B’ side of the record called ‘Beck’s Bolero’.
That’s amazing, that instrumental , him playing this instrumental, it’s incredible, and I figured I’d killed…. and he never had another single out as a singer, then one day I’m here in London and the head of Warner Brothers ?? and Larry ?? said to me ???? at the Rainbow Theatre, I said “I can’t go. He said “why,” I said “I don’t want to see that guy I killed his career,”, he said “come on,” so, he took me, I said I didn’t want to go back stage after or nothing, he got me so loaded, next thing I know, I’m back stage, and there’s Jeff Beck and I looked at him and I said “man, do I have to apologise to you”, he said “no, wait a minute, before you say a word I have to apologise to you” he said “I always wanted to record that song, I begged Mickey for the song, the only thing I didn’t like was the over dub, the guitar over dub, Mickey wouldn’t let me do it again”, then he said “what’s your problem” (Paul laughs, Scott continues) I told him, he laughed, he said “no man, I always wanted to do that song,”, you see what the mind tells you?
You’ve also done some record producing, tell us about producing Thin Lizzie’s debut album.
Thin Lizzie I got fired from. They blamed me for getting the kids high when it was Phil Lynott’s Mother who brought the dope into the studio.
Interesting.. (Paul laughs, Scott continues)..
Yeah, his Mother brought the dope into the studio and they blamed me in the book. I don’t know, there was a guy at Decca who wanted me out because he wanted to produce the group and he made the big hits with them, I didn’t.
What about your song ‘Where Are You’?
Aaaaah, the Eurovision song, I thought that would do well, we came second, we got beaten by a transvestite, an Israeli transvestite. I never thought that a transvestite could beat us, cause all the bookies were saying that we were going to win, that’s another town that was dreadful, a terrible city called Birmingham.
Well, speaking of England what brought you over there?
Music, I was writing with Larry and Klaus Alderman and Klaus decided he wanted to be travelling around the world playing songs for people, and he picked me to go with him, that’s what broke Larry and I up eventually, though we made up years later.
Do you like living in the United Kingdom?
Yeah, I do, I do, I really do, I like the tempo, but I have a good time when I go back to the States, I’ve moved back at times.
You’ve moved back?
In 1977, I did an album in LA, I bought a house, I lived there till 1980 and then I came back to England again.
England remains your home?
Yeah, like I’ve been taken prisoner. (Paul laughs)
Aaaah I see.
I’m married four times.
So, what is the best thing about being Scott English?
That someday there’s going to be a plaque on the wall that says ‘Scott English lived here’ and that I meant something, that I didn’t waste my life as I thought I would when I was sixteen when I was in jail, it was a rocky road as a kid, I was in and out of jails and orphanages and foster homes and it was rocky, it was hard.
So, I found the music business and I started hanging around the Brill Building.
What is on the horizons for you?
Well, I’m writing my book now.
Interesting. Tell us about the book.
It’s about my life, everything I told you about is in the book.
All right, well, we’ll be looking forward to that for sure.
It’s quite humorous, blowing the bubble on a couple of people (Paul laughs, Scott continues),mainly Sharon Osbourne.
My last question, actually I have two. This interview will be heard by people for all over the world. What do you want to say to all those people who are listening to us.
Hey, what do I want to say? Thank you for being patient. Thank you for taking the time to listen to my words, and I hope I can continue to please you.
Who is Scott English?
Who is Scott English? Sheldon David English, born to Jewish people in Brooklyn 1937, who had a dream and he kept his dream, he stepped on a couple of people, but he kept his dream.
Well Mr. English, it has been a great pleasure to do this interview, I really appreciate it.
Hey, Paul thank you. Would like to meet you when I’m in New York.
I hope we get to shake hands one day.
TRANSCRIBED BY ROSALIND WINTON