#920: The Friends Of Mr. Cairo by Jon and Vangelis

Peak Month: December 1981
10 weeks on CKLG’s Vancouver Chart
Peak Position ~ #11
Peak Position on Billboard Hot 100 ~ did not chart
YouTube: “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo
Lyrics: “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo

Jon and Vangelis was the name for a musical collaboration between the lead singer of Yes, Jon Anderson, and Greek multi-instrumentalist Evángelos Odysséas Papathanassíou – known professionally as Vangelis. John Roy Anderson was born in Lancashire, England, in 1944. At age 15 he left school and got work as a lorry driver and then a milkman to help make money for the family. His brother Tony, was part of a band called The Warriors, and John was asked to join on vocals. He was with the Warriors from 1962 to 1968. Anderson released two solo singles with little commercial success in 1968. That year he also met bass guitarist Chris Squires, guitar player Peter Banks, drummer Bill Bruford and reconnected with keyboard player Tony Kaye. The five musicians formed a band they called Yes. The band released a self-titled debut album in 1969. In 1970 John Anderson dropped the “h” from his first name, becoming Jon Anderson. From 1969 to 1978 Yes released nine studio albums. Their 1973 Top 20 hit, “Roundabout” was the zenith of their early fame.

Born in Agria, Greece, in 1943, Vangelis was raised in Athens. He started to play piano at the age of four. At the age of eighteen he began to play the Hammond organ. In 1963, Vangelis and three school friends started a five-piece rock band The Forminx. Vangelis also He scored music for three Greek films; My Brother, the Traffic Policeman (1963), 5,000 Lies (1966), and To Prosopo tis Medousas (1967). In addition, he worked on scores for Frenzy (1966), Antique Rally (1966), and Apollo Goes on Holiday (1968). When the Greek junta overthrew the Greek government in 1967, Vangelis sought refuge in Britain. But he was refused and ended up living in Paris until 1973.

In 1967 Vangelis formed the progressive rock band Aphrodite’s Child. It continued until 1972. Meanwhile, Vangelis released a solo album: Fais que ton rêve soit plus long que la nuit (Make Your Dream Last Longer Than the Night). The album was based on the French student riots of May 1968. Vangelis also scored several Greek films in the early 70s. In 1974 the leader of the British progressive rock band Yes, Jon Anderson, invited Vangelis to audition to join Yes. However, after problems with obtaining a work visa and the Musician’s Union, and his reluctance to travel and tour, Vangelis declined.

In 1975 Vangelis scored the Mexican film Do You Hear the Dogs Barking? Other soundtrack contracts came his way, including for the 1979 Greek film Opéra Sauvage. Some of the tracks from this work were featured in the 1982 Australian film starring Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver: The Year of Living Dangerously. 

In 1980, while Yes was beginning to work on their tenth studio album, Jon Anderson left the band to collaborate with Vangelis. Anderson recalls, “I loved working with Vangelis because he was so creative. I’d walk in the studio, start singing and three hours later we’d done three songs. It took Yes three hours to get ready to do one song.” In 1980 the pair released their first studio album, Short Stories, which climbed into the Top Five on the UK album chart. A single from the album, “I Hear You Now”, climbed to #3 in Belgium, #7 in the Netherlands and #8 in the UK, and #20 in Fredericton (NB).

The duo’s second album was in 1981 titled The Friends Of Mr Cairo. The album included the track “State Of Independence”, which became a Top 20 hit when Donna Summer did a cover. Anderson remarks, “Someone sent it to her producer, Quincy Jones. I always thought The Friends Of Mr Cairo was a great album for radio.” The debut single release from the album was the title track.

The Friends Of Mr. Cairo by Jon and Vangelis

In “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” there is a female speaking whose voice belonged to Sally Grace. She was an actress and voice on TV and radio. She was a member of the troupe on the BBC Radio 4 program Week Ending, a topical satirical sketch show. In Week Ending Sally Grace she was the voice of Margaret Thatcher from 1983 to 1998. Sally Grace also appeared on several episodes of Coronation Street. Among the backing vocalists on “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” was Carol Kenyon. She was born in the UK in 1959 and has appeared as a backing vocalist on singles for Malcolm McLaren on “Madame Butterfly”, Heaven 17 on “Temptation”, Paul Hardcastle on “Don’t Waste My Time”. Additionally, Kenyon has sung vocals on albums by Go West, Tears For Fears, Pet Shop Boys, Mike Oldfield, Ultravox, Dexys Midnight Runners, Pink Floyd, Duran Duran, Van Morrison, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Elton John, Simple Minds, Liza Minelli and others. And a second backing vocalist, Claire Hamill – born in County Durham, England, in 1954 – has toured as a backing vocalist with Procul Harem, Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Gilbert O’Sullivan and Wishbone Ash. In “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” Sally Grace and an obscure male voice actor offer snatches of dialogue from The Maltese Falcon.

The title track and its accompanying music video serve as an ode to classic Hollywood films from the 1930s up to the early 1950s. “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” incorporates sound effects and voice impressions of the stars of the era. It includes references to the classic film noir The Maltese Falcon, and the search for “the black bird” in the film. The Maltese Falcon was a 1941 film based on the 1930 novel by Dashiell Hammett. The film starred Humphrey Bogart as private detective Sam Spade. Early in the plot, at his office Sam Spade meets Joel Cairo [played by Peter Lorre]. Mr. Cairo offers Spade $5,000 to find a “black figure of a bird”, then pulls a gun on Spade in order to search the room for it. Spade knocks Cairo out and goes through his belongings. When Cairo regains consciousness, he hires Spade.

There is reference in “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” to “the Fat Man.” In The Maltese Falcon, Mr. Cairo has a boss named Kaspar Gutman nicknamed The Fat Man [played by Sydney Greenstreet]. In a subsequent scene in the plot, the Fat Man relates the history of the Maltese Falcon. Then the Fat Man offers Spade $25,000 for the bird and a quarter of the proceeds from its sale.

“The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” refers to a “Mickey Finn.” At one point in the film Sam Spade his served a double gin by Mr. Cairo. It is actually a Mickey Finn, which is a drink spiked with a sedative to make Spade pass out. Later in the film, Sam Spade obtains the Maltese Falcon and gets it to The Fat Man and Mr. Cairo. However, when The Fat Man inspects the statuette, he finds it is a fake. Recovering his composure, The Fat Man invites Mr. Cairo to return with him to Istanbul to continue their search for the jewel-encrusted falcon statuette. The Maltese Falcon was nominated at the 14th Academy Awards for Best Picture in 1941. While Sydney Greenstreet was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, and the film received a third nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay. (The iconic bird statue in the film was sold at auction at Bonhams’ Madison Avenue showroom on November 25, 2013, for $4.1 million dollars).

Five years later, based on the success of The Maltese Falcon, a new syndicated crime drama radio show appeared on ABC titled The Fat Man. It ran from 1946 to 1951. Each radio show episode, created by Dashiell Hammett, began with an announcer saying “Here comes the Fat Man…” Next, as the radio show had various sponsors, an announcer would say (for example in an episode aired on January 17, 1951) “presented by your local Buick dealer who invites you to be on hand this Saturday, January 20th, when he introduces for the first time anywhere the smartest car of the year. The new 1951 Buick.” [The first sponsor for The Fat Man was Pepto-Bismol, a medication for stomach distress]. After the ad, the radio show would begin with a female narrator saying “There he goes. He’s stepping on the scales. Weight: 237 pounds. Fortune: danger! Who is it?” Then J. Scott Smart says “The Fat-Man!”

That episode from January 17, 1951, titled “The Nightmare Murders”, began with The Fat Man saying “It takes a good man to make a first class Old Fashioned [a cocktail dating back to 1806]. You have to muddle the sugar, bitters and water properly, toss in the ice and whiskey. And then, carefully twist the lemon peel on top. Like anything else, it’s simply a matter of following the recipe. But, here’s another illustration. You take a liberal jigger of motive, and a slice of opportunity and a dash of means; And then pile a dozen or more Old Fashioned’s on top of this – you’re quite likely to end up with a real gruesome hangover: murder!” In 1951 the radio show was made into a film noir crime film also titled The Fat-Man, starring J. Scott Smart, Rock Hudson and actress-jazz torch singer Julie London. J. Scott Smart was an ideal actor to play The Fat Man in the film, as Scott tipped the scales at 270 pounds, while being just 5 feet, 9 inches tall.

Another mention in “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” is to Mickey Spillane. A crime novelist, Spillane began to publish his Mike Hammer private eye detective novels in 1947. His first, I, the Jury, sold 6.5 million copies in 1947. The Saturday Review of Literature summarized I, the Jury as “lurid action, lurid characters, lurid plot, lurid finish.” His crime thrillers My Gun Is Quick and Vengeance Is Mine were subsequently made into movies. Between 1947 and 1952 Mickey Spillane had published seven crime novels, six of these featuring Mike Hammer. In the first five novels 48 people get murdered, a ground-breaking display of carnage for novels at the time. Spillane would publish over 30 novels, and many short stories, resulting in over 225 million sales. He was known for hardboiled detective novels, with the hero being unafraid to shoot first and ask questions later, and to have sexual escapades.

“The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” refers to actors Jimmy Stewart, James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson, Clark Gable, Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and Maureen O’ Sullivan. As well, there is reference to the 1941 Best Picture nominated film Citizen Kane. Film critic Roger Ebert notes “The movie opens with newsreel obituary footage that briefs us on the life and times of Charles Foster Kane; this footage, with its portentous narration, is Welles’ bemused nod in the direction of the “March of Time” newsreels then being produced by another media mogul, Henry Luce.” The newsreels “provide a map of Kane’s trajectory,” and it keeps viewers oriented “as the screenplay skips around in time, piecing together the memories of those who knew him. Curious about Kane’s dying word, “rosebud,” the newsreel editor assigns Thompson, a reporter, to find out what it meant.” The choice to reference Citizen Kane in the song “The Friends Of Mir. Cairo” is a nod to the iconic film and references the golden age of Hollywood cinema.

The album track for “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” is 12 minutes and 4 seconds (12:04) in length, while the single released for AM-Top 40 radio was 4 minutes and 20 seconds (4:20) in length.

“The Friends Of Mr. Cairo” peaked at #1 in Toronto, Ottawa (ON), Halifax (NS), Winnipeg (MB), Lindsay (ON) and Hamilton (ON), #3 in Montreal, #6 in Regina (SK) and #11 in Vancouver (BC).

After “The Friends Of Mr. Cairo”, another single was released from the album titled “I’ll Find My Way Home”. It peaked at number-one in Switzerland, #2 in Ireland and the Netherlands, #3 in Belgium, #5 in Israel, #6 in the UK and West Germany, #9 in Sweden, #12 in Ottawa (ON) and #19 in Austria.

Meanwhile, Vangelis completed the soundtrack for the film Chariots Of Fire. The theme instrumental was given the title “Chariots of Fire – Titles”. After debuting on the Billboard Hot 100 in December 1981, it peaked at #1 on May 8, 1982. The single ended up the #12 song for the year 1982 on Billboard. Vangelis subsequently won an Academy Award for “Chariots Of Fire” in the Best Original Music Score category. Meanwhile, Jon Anderson rejoined Yes and the band had a number-one hit titled “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”.

In 1982 Vangelis scored the soundtrack for Blade Runner, a science-fiction noir. Other notable films he has scored include the 2004 epic drama Alexander.

In 1983 Jon & Vangelis released their third studio album titled Private Collection. It made the Top 20 on the album charts in Austria and the Netherlands, and the Top 30 album charts in Sweden and the UK. However, the few singles released from the album met with little commercial success. In 1986 the duo went back to a studio in Greece and recorded a fourth album titled Page of Life. It was finally released in 1991. Like the single from the album, “Wisdom Chain”, there was little promotion of the new recording. The Kitchener-Waterloo Record judged Page of Life “a thoroughly pleasant album.” They judged the title track as one containing “overblown lyrics but a gorgeous vocal and instrumental performance.”

Between 1972 and 2020 Vangelis has recorded 23 studio albums.

December 5, 2020
Ray McGinnis

Chris Roberts, “The Real Reason Why Jon Anderson won’t be Making Another album with Vangelis,” louder sound.com, July 15, 2016.
Vangelis: Why Chariots of Fire’s Message is Still Important Today,” Guardian, July 1, 2012.
The Maltese Falcon,” Variety, September 30, 1941.
Bryan Burrough, “The Mystery of the Maltese Falcon, One of the Most Valuable Movie Props in History,” Variety, February 19, 2016.
Richard Severo, “Mickey Spillane, 88, Critic-Proof Writer of Pulpy Mike Hammer Novels, Dies,” New York Times, July 18, 2006.
“Roger Ebert, “Citizen Kane: Great Movie,” Rogerebert.com, May 24, 1998.
The Fat Man“, enteringthemindseye.com.
CFUN Top 30,” CFUN 1410 AM, Vancouver, BC, December 12, 1981.

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