Lulu’s debut single, Shout, is one of the most instantly recognisable songs of the 1960s. It launched a career that would see the Scottish singer top the US charts and win the Eurovision song contest. She would go on to score hits in every subsequent decade and enjoy success as songwriter, fashion model, actress and TV personality.
She was born Marie Lawrie on 3 November 1948 in Glasgow, Scotland’s second city. She began performing professionally at the age of just eight, fronting the Caledonian Accordion Band. She later switched to singing with The Bellrocks and then, more famously, The Gleneagles.
At 14, she was offered a contract with Decca. Label bosses weren’t interested in The Gleneagles, but Marie, as she was still known, insisted that without them, she wasn’t interested in the deal. Decca relented.
Now with a manager, Marion Massey – who gave her the stage name Lulu, claiming she was “a lulu of a girl”, whatever that might mean – behind her, Lulu went into the studios to record her debut single. To match her new moniker, The Gleneagles became The Luvvers.
The record, a cover of The Isley Brothers’ Shout, was released in April 1964. Despite being a small 15 year old, Lulu belted out the song with a surprising maturity. On stage, she had a certain gaucheness, which she was soon to lose, but which only added to her charm.
The song reached number seven in the UK charts. While many singers have a signature song, the first word of Shout – “Weee-ee-ee-eell” – has become synonymous with Lulu.
American producer Bert Berns was drafted in to oversee her subsequent releases. However, her follow up, a great reworking of Betty Everett’s Can’t hear you no more, missed the charts.
Berns’s classy ballad Here comes the night was issued as a 45 in November that year, but stalled at number 50 in the UK charts. (It would go on to become a big hit for the group Them.)
When her fourth single, the Shout-alike Satisfied, which had been penned by no less than Carole King, also failed to chart, it began to look like Lulu might become a one-hit wonder. Even the inclusion of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s Surprise, surprise, written specifically for the singer, on the
B-side didn’t help sales.
Lulu returned to the top ten in the summer of 1965 with the fine Leave a little love, which she had performed at the Brighton song festival. (The B-side was the enjoyably energetic He don’t want your love anymore.)
On the strength of this success and with a higher profile thanks to an appearance in the film Gonks go beat, she issued her first LP, Something to shout about. Apart from the earlier singles and
B-sides that appeared on the album, highlights include You’ll never leave her, I’ll come running over and a version of The Crystals’ He’s sure the boy I love.
The excellent Try to understand was also included on the album, which possibly explains why it stalled at number 25 when it was issued as a single that summer.
Subsequent singles Tell me like it is and a version of Petula Clark’s Call me disappeared without trace. Both records had better B-sides. The former hid Stop fooling around on the reverse. And the latter song, now considered a classic thanks to versions by Chris Montez and Peggy Lee, might have been better as a B-side to After you, a sumptuous ballad originally recorded as Après toi qui sait by France’s Marie Laforêt.
In 1966, Lulu toured Poland with The Hollies, becoming the first British female singer to go behind the Iron Curtain. She also recorded her first single in German, Wenn du da bist. (See Lulu’s German recordings.) At this point it was announced that Lulu was parting company with The Luvvers.
In an effort to revive her career at home, she switched labels, to Columbia, but not before Decca rush-released a single, What a wonderful feeling, and an album.
Mickie Most – the man behind groups such as The Animals and Herman’s Hermits – took over production duties for Lulu at Columbia. Taking her away from her R ‘n’ B roots, he led her to a more middle-of-the-road sound. Undeniably, the move proved commercially successful.
Lulu’s first single with him in charge was The boat that I row, written by Neil Diamond. The song swept into the British top ten in April 1967, peaking at number six, and also made the charts in France.
Lulu was then offered a role in the film To sir with love alongside Sidney Poitier. Her contract stated that she should also perform the theme tune. In an act of perverseness, however, Most refused to release the song as an A-side in the UK, relegating it instead to the B-side of Let’s pretend. The latter was a fine song, but throwing away the opportunity to cash in on the film’s box office success, arguably, denied Lulu a British chart topper. Whilst Let’s pretend made number 11 in the UK in June 1967, To sir with love reached number one in the US three months later and sold nearly four million copies worldwide.
Lulu’s acting skills led to an offer of a part in Up the junction, though the role – of a young woman who has a backstreet abortion – was somewhat at odds with her image. She turned it down, leaving Adrienne Posta to take her place.
Back on the music front, her UK follow up 45 offered a change of mood. Complete with rock guitar riffs, Love loves to love love is considered one of Lulu’s best releases of the period, though it made only number 32 in the charts. An album, Love loves to love Lulu, also sold poorly.
She fared better with her subsequent singles. Me, the peaceful heart made number nine in March 1968 and Boy (styled after The boat that I row) made number 15. In the US, the beautiful Best of both worlds – the highlight of her Love loves to love Lulu LP – also proved a chart hit.
The decidedly poor I’m a tiger (penned by singer Marty Wilde, who had written – better – songs for Sandie Shaw and The Breakaways) reached number nine in the UK and number four in the German charts. Lulu disliked the song, and fans and critics agree that the flip, Harry Nilsson’s Without him, was by far the better side.
1969 proved quite a year for the singer. In February, she married Maurice Gibb of the Bee Gees. By this time, she had starred in two series of her own television show for the BBC and she was asked to represent the UK at the Eurovision song contest in Madrid. Despite reservations, she agreed. Boom bang-a-bang was chosen by the British public to be her entry. She was disappointed, as she preferred the Elton John and Bernie Taupin composition I can’t go on living without you. However, it came last in the national final and it is debateable whether it would have scored well on the pan-European stage.
Nevertheless, Lulu won the contest, tying for first place with three other girl singers, France’s Frida Boccara, the Netherlands’ Lenny Kuhr and Spain’s Salomé.
Her winning song gave her a number two hit in Britain, her biggest UK hit to date. It was also a huge success across the rest of Europe, including in France, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway Sweden and Switzerland, to name but a few countries, and she recorded versions of it in French, German, Italian and Spanish.
After the release of a new LP, Lulu’s album, the singer’s contract with Columbia came up for renewal. Tired of the direction her career had taken, she opted to join American label Atco, a subsidiary of Atlantic records.
Her first single, the more soulful Oh me oh my (I’m a fool for you baby), reached number 22 in the US but missed the UK top 40 on its release in November 1969. She also recorded a version of the song in Italian, as Povera me (oh me oh my). (See our Brit girls sing in Italian special.)
Lulu’s first album with Atco, 1970’s appropriately titled New routes, was a critical success – drawing comparisons with Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis – but a commercial failure.
The new decade proved one of highs and lows for Lulu. Her marriage broke up, though she would go on to marry again, this time to hairdresser John Frieda. Her chart career was in a slump, which only 1973’s The man who sold the world – written and produced by David Bowie – managed to alleviate, reaching number three in the charts. Even her great James Bond theme, The man with the golden gun, failed to shift.
Lulu grinned and bore it as she moved into panto and promoting the Freemans catalogue for the remainder of the decade.
The 1980s would see her return to the US top 20 with I could never miss you (more than I do) and to acting, both in London’s West End and on television. A re-recording of Shout – why? – made number six in the UK charts in 1986.
She also turned her hand to song writing, and the break-up of her second marriage prompted the lyrics for I don’t want to fight, which she wrote with her brother. The song became a hit for Tina Turner.
Independence marked Lulu’s own chart comeback in 1993 and she went on to enjoy a UK number one with Take That later that year with Relight my fire.
Together, an album of duets, would give her the best-selling album of her career in 2002.
She remains a popular guest on television light entertainment shows, and sometimes appears on TV promoting her own range of beauty products.
She has announced a UK tour, which willl take place in spring 2015.