Gilbert O’Sullivan – Nothing Rhymed

19th December 1970 · 1970, 1970s, Music

Gilbert O’Sullivan had his first hit with Nothing Rhymed, blending a carefully crafted image with perfectly presented pop songs.

Oh how I hated Gilbert O’Sullivan, with his stupid face and cheeky grin, his stupid pudding-bowl haircut and stupid Dickensian street-urchin cloth cap and shorts; and his twee piano tunes that owed as much to music hall as pop.

I can’t say I love this song, even with the benefit of hindsight, but by any objective criteria his first single is a perfectly crafted pop song. Hearing it now, after a gap of 50 years, I find I remember pretty much all the words, which tells you everything you need to know about its lyrical genius.

John Lennon and Paul Weller are among those who have named Nothing Rhymed, with a poignant lyric that O’Sullivan wrote after seeing TV footage of starving children in Africa, as one of their all-time favourite songs. The bass, incidentally, is played by Herbie Flowers, the session man who also played one of the most memorable bass intros of all time on Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild side.

Raymond O’Sullivan was born and raised in Ireland but his family moved to Battersea when he was seven and he went to art school in Swindon, where he drummed in a band called Rick’s Heroes with Rick Davies, who taught him how to play piano and drums before going on to found Supertramp.

Despite a string of increasingly maudlin piano-based hits – Clair, Get Down, Alone Again (Naturally) – including six number ones, he never reaped the rewards he was due until he sued his manager, Gordon Mills, in 1982 and won a court settlement of £7 million for unpaid royalties – £25 million in today’s money.

He now lives in Jersey, aged 73, and I find myself imagining him lounging in an enormous mansion in a big jumper with G on the front – the look he adopted when he got too old to be in Fagin’s gang any more – and donning a cloth cap to go out and walk the dogs on the beach, whistling one of his own tunes.