1974 was Paper Lace’s year with two UK hit singles; Billy Don’t be a Hero and The Night Chicago Died. Unfortunately, that was it; while the band continues to tour today, they never again made a significant dent in the charts.
paper lace fax
- Paper Lace formed in Nottingham, England in 1967 and were originally named Music Box.
- It took seven years before Paper Lace gained the break every band looks for. In 1974, they won Opportunity Knocks, a talent quest similar to today’s X Factor.
- According to drummer and lead singer Phil Wright:
Opportunity Knocks was pretty much the 1970s version of The X-Factor. There was a huge audition week in 1970 at the Bridgford Hotel, which is now the Rushcliffe Borough Council building near the City Ground. And there were thousands of people queuing up. We turned up in our best suits, did a few numbers, and were told that they liked us but not to expect to go on straight away. When they finally got back to us in 1973, we thought; do we really need this now? But they were getting viewing figures of 7 million, so we went for it. And we won five weeks on the trot! There were two songwriters (Mitch Murray and Peter Callender) who got in touch with our management and offered us “Billy Don’t Be a Hero”, with the possibility of more songs if it took off. We went down, recorded it, and they said “Hey, this is a great song, it’s going to be a hit”. And the song proved to be stronger than the band, because everyone knows it, they just can’t remember who recorded it. Except in Nottingham, of course…
- For a number of years Paper Lace had a guitarist with the familiar name, Carlo Santanna.
billy don’t be a hero fax
- Billy Don’t Be a Hero was first released in the UK in 1974 from the album And Other Bits of Material.
- Billy Don’t Be a Hero was written by Peter Callender and Mitch Murray. They also wrote The Night Chicago Died and Vanity Fare’s hit Hitchin’ a Ride, and Georgie Fame’s UK chart-topper The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde. They wanted to offer the song to a major act but, when Peter’s wife saw Paper Lace win Opportunity Knocks, she convinced the pair to offer it to them.
- Billy Don’t Be a Hero is an anti-war song that refers to the American Civil War. The band would often wear Union uniforms when performing the song.
- The song hit #1 on the UK singles chart on 16 March 1974. It hit #1 on the US singles chart a few months later but, alas, it wasn’t Paper Lace’s version. A band named Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods beat them to it. Paper Lace’s version stalled at #96. They did, however, achieve a US #1 with The Night Chicago Died.
- The line, “Billy, don’t be a hero,” is often used in movies or television. For instance, in the very first episode of Friends, Ross is sad because it has been so long since he last picked up a woman. He asks his pals, “Do the words ‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’ mean anything to you?”
- Massive Attack’s 1991 track Blue Lines features the lyrics “take a walk, Billy, don’t be a hero”.
- The song features in the films, Reservoir Dogs, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.
- Billy Don’t Be a Hero lyrics.
billy don’t be a hero – paper lace – 1974 video
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