Girls on The Avenue (R Clapton) – Richard Clapton 1975
Richard Clapton (real name Terry Gonk) adopted his pseudonym in honor of his guitar heroes, Keith Richard and Eric Clapton, his parents were an Australian nurse and a Chinese surgeon who separated before he was born and were divorced when Clapton was two years old. At the age of ten his mother committed suicide and a young Richard was reunited with his father at her funeral, he became a boarder at Trinity Grammar School (Syd) but the relationship with his father was remote and fraught.
He was musically inspired by black bluesmen Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf; Motown artists Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops; Bob Dylan, the Byrds, Jackson Browne and Randy Newman, his English teacher Richard Wherrett became his mentor, he dropped out of school and in 1967 sailed to London, his Gibson Les Paul guitar in hand.
Clapton was a footloose troubadour who sang in various bands and busked in the UK and Germany, returning to Australia in 1972, he signed his first recording contract with Essex/Infinity a subsidiary of Festival Records and began recording with producer Richard Batchens. The single Last Train to Marseille never left the station, but he began work on his debut album, Prussian Blue, which was well-received by critics but again failed to chart.
Clapton was under pressure from Festival to produce a hit record, they wanted a radio-friendly commercial song that would justify their continued support, so the Festival execs decided the A-side of the record would be a Banjo Paterson poem that Clapton had set to music called Travelling Down the Castlereagh, recorded with members of the Dingoes providing backing.
At the time Clapton was renting a house in Charleyer Street Rose Bay (Syd), just one street way from The Avenue, where about halfway up that street lived three pretty girls who shared a house there, Clapton and his mate Colin Vercoe, were keen to get to know these girls who lived on The Avenue, hence the inspiration for the song that became Girls on The Avenue.
Although it was no stretch to conclude that this song was about ogling pretty girls, Clapton was gobsmacked when he learned that people were interpreting the song as a tribute to sex workers, which was not his intention.
Girls… had in fact been rejected by Festival at least six times, they criticized it for lacking a definable chorus that would anchor the refrain and felt that it lacked hit potential and was only a B-side.
Producer Richard Batchens however believed in the song, the recording sessions were arduous, sixteen to seventeen -hour days, repeatedly “doubling” guitar tracks mercilessly until they were note perfect, never the less the record was issued with Girls… on the B-side. Radio stations Double J and 2SM in Sydney and 3XY in Melbourne quickly started to play Girls… on high rotation and Richard Clapton soon had a debut hit single to his credit.
Girls on the Avenue is quite simply gorgeous guitar pop, it was not originally inspired by sex workers, although it did become something of a red light hooker hit after a group of “working girls’ attended a Clapton concert in Adelaide and loudly affirmed their appreciation of the song, and what they perceived to be, the lyrical recognition of their profession. This encouraged Clapton to include a prostitute in a photograph of himself and three women depicted on the record sleeve, but the success of the record was only tenuously linked to sex workers.
Musically its success was more attributable to a clever song structure with at least seventeen chord changes, a great guitar refrain played by Red McKelvie supported by the driving rhythm section of Dave Ovendon (drums) and Brian Bethell (bass).
The song that took Clapton thirty minutes to write became his most successful hit single, climbing to #4 nationally, and gave rise to the mondegreen (misheard lyric) “don’t you slay up”.
Clapton has claimed that he didn’t really make much money from this classic hit song until it was included on an Explosive Hits compilation album, which sold over 400,000 copies. Clapton did not embrace the rock star image and the associated posturing necessary to inspire fan adulation, he was squat and basically hid behind dark glasses and a thatch of shoulder length hair for a decade, he was focused on songwriting and performing, unsurprisingly he never really connected with the Countdown audience, and after arriving late for a Countdown rehearsal session one day, never really hit it off with Ian Medrum after that.
Richard Clapton was Inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 1999 with 1960’s Aboriginal singer Jimmy Little.