#496: I Am The Preacher by Tony Kingston
In 1967 Tony Kingston had a record deal with Pye and released “Master Hand” in the fall of the year. The British singer Tony Kingston had a brief deal with Decca Records in England in the late 1960’s with a single called “Mama Come On Home” released in April that year. The record is now considered a Northern Soul classic. Tony Kingston sang two songs from the 1970 British film I Start Counting, namely “They Want Love” and “Children”. After relocating to Canada in the early ’70s Kingston was signed to Yorkville Records in Toronto where he recorded “I Am The Preacher”.
“I Am The Preacher” was a song co-written by UK songwriters and singers Roger John Reginald Greenaway (born in 1938) and Roger Frederick Cooke (born in 1940). Both were born in a suburb of Bristol, England. Roger Greenaway was one of the founding members of a close harmony group called The Kestrels, who formed in 1955. The group provided backing vocals for recording artists Billy Fury, Eden Kane, Lonnie Donegan and singer/comedian Benny Hill. Roger Cook joined The Kestrels in 1964. It was when Greenaway and Cook got to know each other as members of The Kestrels they glimpsed a creative fusion they wanted to pursue. In 1965 the pair co-wrote “You’ve Got Your Troubles”, which became a Top Ten intentional hit for The Fortunes. Between 1965 and 1967 the pair billed themselves as David and Jonathan, after two characters in the Hebrew scriptures who had name recognition in the wider culture. As David and Jonathan they recorded a cover version of The Beatles song, “Michelle”, followed by a song they wrote titled “Lovers of the World Unite.” Sometimes in collaboration with other songwriters, Cook and Greenaway co-wrote numbers of other pop hits. These include “Green Grass” by Gary Lewis & The Playboys, “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman” by Whistling Jack Smith and “Long Cool Woman (In A Black Dress)” by The Hollies. The novelty song, “I Was Kaiser Bill’s Batman,” had a guy named Billy Moeller appear in TV shows who whistle-synched the song. But the actual whistling on the record was by a guy named John O’Neill who never appeared to whistle-synch the song.
In 1970, the songwriting duo of Cook–Greenaway collaborated to write a song called “True Love and Apple Pie”, recorded by Susan Shirley. The song was then rewritten by Cook and Greenaway, along with Bill Backer and Billy Davis, two ad men for Coca-Cola. The result was a catchy tune revised as a Coca-Cola commercial which aired through 1970-71. The line, “I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company,” became an ear worm for many TV viewers and radio listeners that year. The popularity of the commercial led to it being reworked and titled “I’d Like To Teach The World To Sing.” It was recorded by The New Seekers and became a #1 hit in the UK and Vancouver (and #7 in the USA) in 1972. The song decades later was played during the end of episodes of the TV show, Mad Men.
In 1970 Greenaway teamed up with Tony Burrows to record under the name of The Pipkins with a novelty tune that reached the Top Ten in Vancouver called Gimmie Dat Ding”. That same year, Greenaway was temporarily a member of the Brotherhood of Man. That group charted a Top 20 hit internationally titled “United We Stand.” And in 1970 Cook and Greenaway co-wrote a song that would go on to be in the Top 100 for the year in both the UK, the USA and in Canada titled “My Baby Loves Lovin’” by The White Plains. That song went to #1 in Vancouver, though it only peaked at #13 on the Billboard Hot 100. Cook and Greenaway later wrote “Jeans On” recorded by David Dundas. It was a #1 hit in Vancouver in February of that year. Though the song only peaked at #17 in the USA, it stayed on the Billboard Hot 100 long enough to become the #73 song of 1977.
“I Am The Preacher” is a pop song with heavy religious overtones. It begins with Hallelujahs. The song is narrated from the vantage point of a preacher who is bringing a message to the people of the world who have yet to find peace. The preacher has a message about a better way of living rooted in love. The lyrics tell about obstacles that get in the way such as war, misguiding others. The preacher also speaks of the pervasiveness of lament (wailing) among the people. He says “I am the pupil who sells his life for freedom,” indicating the preacher is making a sacrifice of himself for the greater good of humanity.
In the late 60s and early 70s there was an emerging Jesus Movement. There were numerous pop songs with religious overtones. These include “Spirit In The Sky” by Norman Greenbaum, “Put Your Hand In the Hand” by Ocean, “One Tin Soldier” by the Original Caste, “Crystal Blue Persuasion” and “Sweet Cherry Wine” by Tommy James & The Shondells, “Oh Happy Day” by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, “The Wedding Song (There Is Love)” by Paul Stookey, and “Amazing Grace” by Judy Collins. “I Am The Preacher” was part of this genre breaking into pop music.
In early 1972 “I Am The Preacher” managed to reach #65 on the RPM Top Singles chart in February. that year but having a significantly better showing on the CHUM chart in Toronto where it peaked at #15. The song fared even better in Vancouver where it climbed to #2. The song also made the Top 30 in Hamilton (ON) and Rochester (NY).
Tony Kingston played the circuit of live clubs in the 70s in the Toronto area including the Stonehouse and Friars Tavern. He released a single in 1974 titled “Too Heavy To Carry” which got little notice. And in 1978 he released “Sweet Music” that also got little airplay in Canada. Tony Kingston had a namesake who moved from Jamaica and died in a car accident in 1970, according to Discogs.com. But it is clear that the Tony Kingston who sang “I Am The Preacher” and performed around the Toronto area through the 70s was very much alive after 1970. But what happened to him after the late 70s has not yet been uncovered.
November 6, 2019
Songwriter Roger Cook Turns 70, KLUV, Dallas, TX, August 19, 2010.
Roger Cook: Britain’s most prolific songwriting team with Roger Greenaway, Songwriters Hall of Fame.org.
Sarah Begley, Buy The World A Coke Songwriter ‘Amazed’ to Hear it Ended Mad Men, Time, May 18, 2015.
The Pipkins- bio, BBC, London, UK.
Various YouTube.com comments below several Tony Kingston recordings.
For more song reviews visit the Countdown.