Yellow River was written by former Acid Gallery bass player Jeff Christie (UK), and although the actual location of Yellow River is not specified, Christie is on record as saying that it was inspired by the idea of a soldier going home at the end of the American Civil War “Cannon fire lingers in my mind, I’m so glad that I’m still alive/ And I’ve been gone for such a long time from Yellow River.” As the song was released during the Vietnam War, it has also been interpreted as being about a soldier leaving the US military at the end of his period of conscription to that conflict.
Christie initially offered the song to Brian Poole’s former backing group the Tremeloes to record, the band had been very successful after departing from Brian Poole with numerous top ten hits and had just taken Silence is Golden to #1 in the UK and followed up with Call Me Number One, a #2 hit there, but after cutting a demo of the song with their drummer Dave Munden on lead vocals, the band decided that Yellow River was too pop-oriented for them and rejected it.
But the Tremeloes rhythm guitarist Howard Blakely encouraged his brother Mike to form a group and record the song, drummer Mike Blakely promptly recruited songwriter/lead singer and bassist Jeff Christie and lead guitarist Vic Elmes, and they became Christie.
The Tremeloes agreed to let Christie use their fully recorded backing version to release under the name of Christie, once Jeff Christie and Vic Elmes had recorded their vocals over the top of the existing backing.
Both groups were signed to CBS, so this cross-fertilization of recordings was acceptable, the co-operation extended to the use of the Tremeloes producer, Mike Smith, who had produced UK #1 hits for Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, Georgie Fame, Marmalade, the Love Affair, The Tremeloes, and several minor hits for the Applejacks and Dave Berry – and Smith agreed to produce the Christie version of the record, which became a #1 hit in the UK and 25 other countries, and sold over 20 million copies globally. The Tremeloes had plenty of time to lament their decision to reject Yellow River, as instead they had recorded one of their own compositions, By The Way, which barely troubled the charts, Christie then followed up with San Bernadino, another UK top ten hit in 1971.
Jigsaw were Johnny Chester’s backing group and comprised Eddie Chapple (drums), Dennis Tucker (bass), Ray Eames (lead guitar), and Ron Gilbey (rhythm guitar), their biggest independent hit was this cover of Christie’s Yellow River which mimicked the original version which featured piano, drums and guitar and was simultaneously covered by Sydney band Autumn – collectively they created a joint #5 that stayed in the charts for 27 weeks.
The pay-for-play dispute in Australia at the time meant that such original records as Yellow River from the UK could only be released if covered by local artists, which was to their great advantage, at least until the bans were lifted.
When this happened in December of 1970 in time for the Christmas sales, radio stations played the Move’s Flowers in the Rain, a UK song with a rain-drenched opening that heralded the breaking of the musical drought.