‘Alice’ sacred & profane

Chris Norman, founder of British pop group Smokie, brings his greatest hits to the stage this week.

February 12, 2010 19:12
2 minute read.
Chris Norman.

Chris Norman. (photo credit: .)


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Many veteran warriors of the pop world drag their personal albatross with them over the span of their careers. The Who still have to play “My Generation,” even though some of them didn’t die before they got old. And when Elton John and Rod Stewart perform here this spring, there’s no doubt that there are some musical missteps they’d rather bury and plant daisies on but instead still dredge up every show due to audience demand (“Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” anyone?).

For Chris Norman, founder of British pop rock 1970s mainstays Smokie, the benevolent millstone around his neck has been the band’s 1975 hit “Living Next Door to Alice,” a gentle pop confection that would have remained a pleasant golden oldie if not for an infamous cover version that resurrected the song worldwide in 1995.

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That year, both Dutch band Gompie and British comedian Roy “Chubby” Brown recorded versions of the song featuring a jarring call back in the chorus that shouts out the line “Who the **** is Alice?”

“The first time I heard it, I thought, that’s kind of funny,” Norman said on the phone from his home in the Isle of Man, referring to the song that became a favorite on the radio and among drunken football fans throughout Europe.

By the early 1980s, Norman was already focusing on a solo career, which has subsequently gained him hits galore throughout Europe, so he wasn’t in on the decision by the remaining members of Smokie to also re-record the song with its ribald addition.

“I guess they wanted to get the benefit, but I thought it was a mistake. It was silly, even though it was a light, fun record in the first place. But it was never one of my favorite Smokie tracks, even though it’s the most popular one,” says Norman.

Luckily for Norman, his loyal following prefers the original G-rated version of the song and usually comply in concert when they sing along.

“The audience doesn’t usually scream out that line when I perform “Alice.” Maybe sometimes when I do a festival because it’s not my crowd they’ll shout it out; but at my shows, they’re generally respectful.”

However, all bets are off when Norman does his greatest hits show this Thursday at Tel Aviv’s Mann Auditorium and Friday at Haifa’s Congress Center. Boisterous Israeli audiences, for whom the F-bomb is just another word in the English vocabulary, will likely have no qualms about throwing their profane two cents in.

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