The Infinite Jukebox is not just for great songs, classic performances or emotional favourites. In its banks of tracks are oddities, obscurities and the completely improbable. Such as ‘Don’t Let him Touch You’.
The Angelettes were, and forty plus years later still are, an all-girl band, a quartet of Manchester lasses or rather, assuming my memory is not being too partialised, four teenagers from Stockport in 1972, when this debut single was released.
In my memory, I always link this song to Jonathan King, and a glance at the disc on YouTube that it was written, produced and directed by him: it was the girls’ only release on Decca, after which they signed for King’s own label, UK (which already boasted another Stockport fourpiece that King named 10cc for reasons we shall not, in good taste go into). ‘Don’t Let him Touch You’ can’t be described as anything but a novelty record, in an era when King was already building up a head of steam as performer and producer of a mystifying array of tracks, such as the heavy metal version of ‘Sugar Sugar, attributed to Sakkharin.
The Angelettes were plainly decent singers, though this single goes a long way in not showcasing their abilities. It’s slow from the beginning, based on a cello as the leading instrument, and the song was constructed on a solo lead voice singing awkwardly structured verses to a background of only the cello, interspersed with the band in harmony singing the chorus in a slightly more uptempo manner, to a walking pace beat.
Improbably, the song started to pick up airplay on Radio 1, enough to start a slow increase in sales that saw the single break into the Top 50. But this was still the era of Top 30 radio, and the song was still short of that line when it climbed to no 35. This was enough to secure a Top of the Pops invitation, and an advantageous appearance in the second half of the programme, two slots from the Number One. A leap into the Thirty the following Tuesday was on the cards.
I was interested to see the group. I liked the song, and the knowledge that it was so local a product, and the girls being of my age, had me glued to the screen. There were two disappointments. 1971 had been the Summer of Hotpants and the prevailing fashion the following year was for maxi-dresses, as most frequently seen around the legs of Lyn Paul and Eve Graham of the New Seekers. And this quartet of schoolgirls were not just decked out in maxi-dresses, but in frilly, cabaret dresses horrible years out of fashion and completely wrong on girls that young, turning them all into frumps, proto-Beverleys in Abigail’s Party.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. About sixty seconds in, before the Angelettes had even finished their first chorus, the sound went out, a technical problem, and it stayed out for the rest of the song. It was a disaster. There was no sales bump, no Top 30 entry, just a slide back into going to school. No other Angelettes single was played on Radio 1, not in my hearing.
It’s very strange. A new band, an up and coming group of young women, and an accident happens and wipes out the sound for most of their track, and no other part of the show, nor any other Top of the Pops that I ever saw thereafter, and we are talking another twenty years plus. A promising career (maybe) wiped out. We live in an age where it’s too common to impute malice to what could simply be stupidity, see conspiracies in every shadow.
But ‘Don’t Let Him Touch You’ was a strange record. We had lived through the Sixties, through tremendous changes in everyday life and thinking. even now we were still in a place where Sixties memories were still fresh and green, and what were this girl group singing about? Yes, they were singing about sex, as rock and pop has done since time immemorial, but ‘Don’t Let Him Touch You’, as you may begin to guess from the title, came from a very different place.
In 1961, the Shirelles had sung ‘Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow’, one of pop’s greatest songs about Sex and the woman’s age old question of whether to or not. It’s about wanting, about wanting to believe the promises that this is about more than bodies and orgasms, but about love and what happens when bodies draw back into two people and what then. A decade ago, the girls of the Shirelles had looked into their would-be lovers eyes, wanting to share everything with them, fearful of trust. It’s always been so with the great girl group pop of that time.
A decade later, here were the Angelettes, sixteen year olds prematurely cynical. In voices that rang with their mothers’ stifling advice, here were girls singing about the nervousness of youth, and first boyfriends, who seem nice, who walk you home, kiss you on the doorstep, and only after that are they emboldened to hold your hand, and then in tones of flat, deadweight cynicism, these teenagers tell you for themselves that he’s only out for sex, nothing more, one-time sex that will ruin your life and if you let him ‘have’ you, you’ll never see him again because he’s got what he wanted.
My mother expressed similar opinions to me about my sister’s boyfriend after she learned that they hadn’t ‘waited’. I thought that awfully cynical then, a dismissal of men having feelings that I instinctively hated, and given that my sister and her husband celebrated their twenty-eighth Anniversary this year, I think I was right.
But that attitude runs through ‘Don’t Let It Touch You’ like the Seine through Paris. There is no relief from it. He talks to you, listens to you, supports you emotionally, shows he cares for you. And back comes that chorus, with its implacable insistence that if you let him touch you, then touching will lead straight to his having you and then he’ll be off, before you’ve even finished quivering, because everything he does, every little gesture of faith, honesty and love he makes comes from nothing but the most cynical lust.
He is trying to see how much you will let him have, and if he has you, he will leave you.
It’s an unbelievably twisted song, especially in the mouths of sixteen year old girls, who should be singing about rather more cheering things or at least should be expressing such sentiments, if they feel them, in their own words instead of those of a grown-up who sounds to have had a particularly bitter experience, to say the least.
I do remember reading, with a certain degree of cynical amusement that was alien to me at that young stage of my life, an affronted letter in the Manchester Evening News from a sixteen year old boy begging radio stations not to play this record as it was making it even more difficult for him to get anything from girls!
And this most unromantic of ditties was the one whose sound, and lyrics, had been cut out of the Angelettes’ Top of the Pops debut. In these days when we all know about Jimmy Saville, it is hard not to wonder about a connection.
Still, the record plays every now and then in the Infinite Jukebox, repository of songs with significance. If you don’t remember it, if you were too young to ever hear it, if the whole thing sounds unbelievable to you, there is a link below. The picture above is of the group in their stage clothing: there is a 1972 photo of the band looking like real teenagers on their website.
The Seventies was a strange time and place. More of its forgotten songs are finding their way onto the Jukebox.