Sixteen Tons Of Terry Wogan

A bizarre version of the nihilistic country anthem by the BBC’s most wholesome star.

BBC Radio 2 DJ Terry Wogan had an unlikely chart hit in 1978 with The Floral Dance, a record inspired by the equally unlikely hit instrumental version by the Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band, which had reached Number 2 in the UK charts in 1977 – an achievement not entirely undue to Wogan’s championing of the track on his Breakfast Show. So closely associated was Wogan with the song – originally written in 1911 – that a version of his own seemed inevitable, and so it was; his vocal rendition, a rather awkward and embarrassing version, reached Number 21 and saw Wogan appearing on Top of the Pops.

The success of the single demanded an album in the hope of striking while the iron was hot; Wogan’s self-titled LP was not, however, a hit. I imagine for most people, one Wogan song was more than enough, and the LP was a somewhat desperate affair mixing MOR pop and country tunes including Kenny Rogers’ Lucille (another radio show playlist regular).

Of all the tracks on the album, perhaps his version of Sixteen Tons, originally a hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford, was the oddest. Not only did Wogan not immediately bring to mind the hard-bitten cynicism that the song demands, but the song was transformed into some sort of funk-lite number. Wogan struggles with both the words and the tune, and is probably not helped by this new arrangement. But my God, it’s one of the oddest records of the 1970s, and a work of magnificent folly all round.

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