The Voice That Launched a Thousand Hits: The Undercover Stardom of Tony Burrows

Trivia Question: Which of the following groups/artists had the most Top 40 singles in 1970?

A. The Jackson 5
B. Simon and Garfunkel
C. Sly and the Family Stone
D. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
E. Tony Burrows

The answer, as you might suspect if you’ve read the title of this article, is Tony Burrows. None of the other artists listed above had more than three Top 40 hits in 1970, but Burrows had four!

And if you’re thinking that I’m talking about four low-charting, obscure hits, think again. For the most part, his chart hits are classics, still known by legions of fans almost half a century later. Try on for size “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)”(Billboard Pop #5), “”United We Stand”(#13), “Gimme Dat Ding”(#9), and “My Baby Loves Lovin'”(#13).  

Of course, the catch here — and the reason why you may not know him — is that none of them were recorded under his name. Instead, he was the voice behind Edison Lighthouse, the Brotherhood of Man, the Pipkins, and White Plains. Don’t forget to throw in earlier hits by the Kestrels, the Flower Pot Men, and the well-known “Beach Baby” by the First Class in 1974. On top of that, he was in the Coca-Cola “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing” commercial, sang backing vocals on Elton John’s “Levon” and “Tiny Dancer,” and worked with Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, and others.

Tony Burrows was one of the most recognizable voices on pop radio in the late ’60s and early ’70s. You definitely know his voice(s); it’s just his name you might not recognize.

Recently, REBEAT had the chance to talk to Tony about some of his storied accomplishments and great hits over the years.

REBEAT: Let’s talk a little a bit about your background and your early days in music.
TONY BURROWS: I started my music career with a vocal group called the Kestrels when I was 16. The group and I [future songwriter/producer Roger Greenaway, Roger Maggs, and Jeff Williams; in 1963 they would also add Roger Cook] stayed together in the army because we all went in at the same time.

When I came out of the army, we were performing occasionally, and I left the group around 1965. I joined the Ivy League, and a couple of years later, I was with the Flower Pot Men. We did “Let’s Go to San Francisco,” written and produced by John Carter and Ken Lewis, which was a success in the UK [#4]. There was a guy in America who had a hit with a San Francisco record, Scott McKenzie [“San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” in 1967]. It wasn’t the same record as ours though — ours wasn’t a hit in the US.

I heard that at some point you played with the Beatles?
When I was with the Kestrels about ’63 or ’64, we did the two tours in Britain with the Beatles. We were paid extra to go on before them. No one could hear anything at all, and we used to just talk amongst ourselves to be quite honest, because no one could hear. It was just one continuous scream!

So by 1969 or ’70, you’d been in the Kestrels, the Ivy League, and the Flower Pot Men. Then you turned around and started doing studio work. Why?
I’d been touring for 10 years and was tired of it: living in hotel rooms, out of a suitcase. I had a family. I decided that was enough of that. That’s when I had the hits with White Plains, Edison Lighthouse, Brotherhood of Man, and the Pipkins.

[Those songs] were recorded during a six-to-nine-month period but all came out at about the same time. I actually did one episode of Top of the Pops where I did three different songs by three different groups on the same program.

[Author’s note: In what has become one of music’s most famous apocryphal stories, legend has it that Burrows performed “Love Grows,” “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” and “United We Stand,” on the same day on Top of the Pops in 1970. The story is that Burrows would sing one song, go offstage and change clothes, then come back and do another, change and do another. After singing all three songs on that show, he was banned from both the program and BBC radio because he embarrassed the network.]

Did it just not occur to the people who put on the program that you were in all three groups?
If you had a Top 20 record, they’d ask you to do the program. I’m assuming they didn’t do their homework and didn’t know I was doing lead vocals for three different groups. It’s insane really, but that’s what happened. Then there was the Pipkins song. No one expected “Gimme Dat Ding” to be a hit, but of course, it was.

Yeah, I can see why that might be the prevailing opinion!
Well, I can tell you how it happened. Freddie and the Dreamers were doing a concept album, and I was doing back up vocals with Roger Greenaway. It was for a kids’ show called Oliver in the Overworld. Albert Hammond wrote the song [the label also credits Mike Hazlewood], and they didn’t know what to do with it.

It was the only song Freddie didn’t do on the album. We kind of made it up on the spot with Roger doing the high voice and me doing the low voice. Two takes, and that was it. People seemed to think it was worthy of a release, and that’s what happened.

Let’s talk about a few of these other hits, starting off with the White Plains song, “My Baby Loves Lovin’.” What can you tell me about that?
What actually happened was [the Flower Pot Men] did that song, but then I quit because I didn’t want to tour anymore. I got a call that the record company wanted to release some of our unreleased tracks, and I said that that was fine. The song was released as being by White Plains — and it was a hit, so the group got back together again.

But not me; I’d had enough of touring. I sang on the first couple of records, but that was it. I just wasn’t going to do it. I was just going to concentrate on studio work. It’s the same thing that happened with “United We Stand.” All of these records came out at the same time.

“Love Grows” was a particular favorite. I was actually doing a session with Tony MacCauley who had just left a recording deal. He had stockpiled four or five songs that he wanted to do, but he didn’t have any artists to do them. Tony always knew exactly what he wanted to do.

I was doing backup vocals, and the musical director was a guy named Lou Warburton. We had worked together, and I had recorded — this is a very complicated story! — a demo of “You’ve Got Your Troubles” [later a hit for the Fortunes], and I asked Tony if I could play a tape of a track for Lou.

Halfway through the song, Tony turned to me and said, “Do you want to do the lead on ‘Love Grows’?” I said, “Yeah, okay,” and that’s really how it happened. It was released, and then in two weeks, it was #1. [In the video below, the voice you hear is Tony Burrows’, but that isn’t him performing].

It’s just unbelievable that all these songs came out at about the same time, but that leads me to a different question. I’ve seen two different videos of “My Baby Loves Lovin’,” and though I hear your voice, you aren’t the person shown as the lead singer. I’ve seen this same thing with “Beach Baby,” “Love Grows,” and others. What was going on?
That was because I still refused to tour while the groups all continued to record and do television. I wasn’t around. Once the song became a hit, they wanted to do an album and book these groups for concerts, but I wasn’t going to do that. So what they’d do is find someone to lip sync the song and film it so the listeners would recognize that person as the lead singer when they were on tour.

In 1974, you did “Beach Baby,” another big hit. Tell me about that one.
That was through John Carter. He had been part of the Ivy League and had written “Let’s Go to San Francisco.” He called me and told me he had a song he wanted me to do and said, “I’ve got a feeling about this demo.” The demo was just John and a guitar, and he was singing the song, but I could tell there was something there.

So we went into the studio and recorded it. There were basically about 18 different tracks, and John and I did all of the backing vocals as well as the lead. I heard that when Brian Wilson first heard “Beach Baby” he said, “I don’t know who it is, but it’s definitely West Coast America.” Which I took as a great, great tribute — I really did.

I grew up with American pop music. We had recorded it as basically a tribute to the Beach Boys. I’ve since met him two or three times, and the other guys as well, and I’ve heard that when people are going into the theater for one of his shows, he often plays “Beach Baby,” which is really nice.

I’ve had the pleasure of performing it in California, overlooking the sea and doing it live, which was lovely. I really enjoyed that one, I must admit. [Again, in the video below, the voice you hear is Tony Burrows’, but that isn’t him performing].

Of the big five songs we’ve talked about today, which was your favorite and why?
It’s between “Beach Baby” and “Love Grows,” I think. Well, really, I’ve got to say “Love Grows.” It was a #1 record in a lot of places, over here, and did well in America, too. I still get to do it. I still go to America a couple of times a year and sing it. People still want to hear it.

Of all the songs you did, I think — and this is just my opinion — “Love Grows,” then “Beach Baby,” then “My Baby Loves Lovin”… I don’t know, those three are really classics. But the Pipkins…
Oh yes, the Pipkins was a one-off. I do like “United We Stand” though. I sang that with a lady called Sunny Leslie. We still do that duet together. But if I go to America, there’s always a girl somewhere around I can get to perform it with me. [This video does show Tony singing lead.]

Earlier, we talked about how one of the reasons you quit doing the group thing was because you didn’t like touring. You don’t do a lot of shows over here, do you?
Yeah, I work in Nashville, New York, California. It’s still fun. I enjoy just keeping my hand in. But travel, especially transatlantic flying, can wear on you. That’s why I gave up touring, to be quite honest. After 10 years of it, I’d had enough, and that’s why I concentrated on studio work.

Of the people who wrote the songs that stuck — Greenway, Carter, MacCauley — who do you feel wrote the songs that worked for you the best?
It’s quite difficult to answer that one. Roger Greenway is my oldest friend. We worked together when I was 16 in Kestrels. We still see each other all the time.

I saw a BBC interview you with you, and you genuinely seemed fine with the one-hit-wonder tag. Of course, now I know why — mainly the travel.
That’s absolutely right. Now when I go to America, I go on my own when I want to. I just travel and pick up the band where I am. No group scheduling to worry about.

Do you have anything coming out or any projects you’re currently working on?
We’ve got an album that just came out called The Ones That Got Away. It’s by the Original Cast, which is David Martin, myself, Sue, and Sunny doing some different tracks. We chose that title because I think they’re really, really good tracks that just weren’t hits. I did about four or five solo tracks and some group things. It was good fun. 

About Rick Simmons 75 Articles
Dr. Rick Simmons was born in South Carolina and currently lives in Louisiana. He has published five books, the two most recent being Carolina Beach Music from the '60s to the '80s: The New Wave (2013) and Carolina Beach Music: The Classic Years (2011). Based on his interviews with R&B, “frat rock,” and pop music artists from the '50s, '60s, and '70s, his books examine the decades-old phenomenon known as Carolina beach music and its influence on Southern culture. His next book, The Reference Guide to Carolina Beach Music Recordings and Artists, 1940-1980, will be published by McFarland in 2018.