Happy 50th Birthday to the Pushbike Song!

Everybody:

“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”
“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”
(beat)
“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”
“SHHH! OOH! OOH! SHHH! AHH!”

That, apparently, is the sound a woman makes while riding a pushbike when she’s in a hurry and must get across town before the sun goes down, looking pretty as she’s pedalling along, singing that song.

Well, there must be a lot of hills wherever she lives to make those kinds of noises. Or she’s really, really out of shape.

The Pushbike Song is a bit of an oddity in the history of music. It’s bubblegum pop meets skiffle. It’s catchy, but can you really dance to it? The main chorus sounds like somebody’s either pleasuring themselves or an orangutan enjoying a really good fizzy drink (but wouldn’t that be ook! ook!?) Or possibly both (an orangutan drinking a fizzy drink whilst pleasuring somebody? The mind boggles.)

And while it’s already gone past its birthday (December 1970), on the 31st January 1971 it reached the number 2 spot in the UK charts.

And yet (incoming pun alert), many people mix up the original band, The Mixtures, with Mungo Jerry. Mungo Jerry’s In The Summertime came out first, and The Pushbike Song was a kind of answer to that. There’s a tonne of information about it over at Jon Kutner’s blog. Ray Dorset of Mungo Jerry eventually covered The Pushbike Song back in 1990.

For me, I first heard it back when I was about 5 or 6 years old. And it wasn’t The Mixtures version either. There have been a number of covers over the years, and I had a green tape of various singles that either my mum or dad had put onto tape of various pop tunes. After many years, I found out that these were from a series called Top of the Pops and employed session musicians to cover popular songs at the time.

I think the first time I heard the original Mixtures version during a spot on BBC’s That’s Life about a dog that likes riding a bicycle. Of course, the dog can’t actually pedal the bike, but he liked hanging on to his (or her) master’s shoulders. In other news:

The Covers

In terms of covers, there have been a few over the years. Some good, some absolutely bloody terrible. Anita Harris produced a version in 1974 – perhaps the second female singer to cover the song after the Finnish band, Toomapojad who bypass singing the chorus completely, and the whole song has to be performed super fast for some reason:

Meanwhile, in Anita’s version, the chorus (ooh, ooh, ahh part) was manipulated to make her voice much deeper – presumably to become male – but ended up sounding like an 800-pound silverback gorilla with a terrible hernia who just learned that his wife is having an affair with a chimp. As one CD cover note mentioned, it sounds as if the backing singers (aka Anita herself) were pleasuring themselves. The producer of that version really ought to have left the creative decisions to somebody else. Anita has a lovely voice throughout otherwise, and it should have been left well alone from audio engineers fiddling with their knobs (ooer-missus).

Anita Harris’ take on the Pushbike Song. Watch out for the gorilla.

But if you want the worst ever version of the Pushbike Song, and it pains me to say this, you need to look at Olivia Newton-John. Yes, she covered it, but then it was put through a blender and out came electronic slop. She has clearly sung some parts of it, but the majority of it is her repeatedly and randomly spewing “hey!”, “shh!” “ahh!”, saying “pushbike”, and in a vocoder/auto-tuned voice, “riding along on a pushbike honey, when I noticed you” over and over again.

One could argue this version is danceable (if having taken a substantial amount of illegal drugs), and maybe even good for working out. But it is an abomination for anything else. It’d have been nice to have heard what Olivia could have done with the original version had it not been turned into a rave (as in stark raving mad) track. Such a pity.

My ears! She’s not the one that you want..

Another band called The Great American Disaster released a version and feels a great deal more traditional skiffle than the original Mixtures version. The washboard comes out in full force (as an accompaniment and as a sound effect), the banjo replaced with a piano, and some beatbox/cymbal punctuation action. Melodically it’s one of the more interesting covers, though it gets the lyrics wrong at one point.

The Great American Disaster’s cover isn’t that much of a disaster to be honest

These are only a few select cover versions, and there are plenty more out there including TV covers (I remember Cilla Black coming out with a version for her Surprise! Surprise! TV show back in the ’90s as part of a “cillagram” – I just remember it being very odd).

But with electric pushbikes coming out in force, there will be no further need to make silly noises while riding bikes. But that kind of takes the fun out of it.