The Story and Music of The First Class


Introduction to The First Class

The First Class was a studio project for singer-songwriter John Carter, formed in the UK. They were rounded off by Tony Burrows and Chas Mills. A seasoned singer-songwriter as well as a record producer, Carter had found successes during the early 1960s under several acts The Flowerpot Men, Carter-Lewis and the Southerners and the Ivy League, along with another producer Ken Lewis. The First Class’ most notable hit was “Beach Baby” which became a hit in both UK and in the US in 1974 and has become a rare oldies music favorite. He wrote this song with his wife, fellow songwriter Jill Shakespeare. Reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ music, “Beach Baby” was sung by Burrows, who also crooned in other studio-manufactured bands such as The Brotherhood of Man, Edison Lighthouse, the Pipkins, and White Plains. After the success of “Beach Baby,”several other singles such as “Dreams Are Ten a Penny,” “What About Me,” “The Beginning of My End,” “Me and My Gemini,” and “This Is It” flopped. Carter severed the “group” in 1976, which had become a one hit wonder. After the song’s success, they released their first album The First Class.

The First Class’ early years

Famous  for their only smash single “Beach Baby” during the 70s music era, The First Class was a pop music studio-based group originating in England, United Kingdom. The act was gathered by John Carter, a British songwriter and record producer who was also considered as the veteran of the 1960’s beat music. The group was also completed by Chas Mills, Clive Barrett, Del John, Eddie Richards, Robin Shaw, Spencer Shaw, Tony Burrows and Carter who was the leader as well. Along with Carter, The First Class was also founded with Burrows and Mills. The First Class was initially formed as an outlet for Carter’s hit song which he also wrote with his wife, songwriter Gillian (or Jill) Shakespeare.

“Beach Baby” — The First Class’ only substantial hit

In May 1974, The First Class issued their first single called “Beach Baby” which was sung by Carter with American accent. Carter, with creative writer and wife Gillian Shakespeare, who lived in East Sheen, South West London and were far from California penned the song “Beach Baby” in their home. Lead vocalist Tony Burrows and another session singer, Chas Mills, were quickly engaged by Carter to record the song for Jonathan King’s UK Records record label under the moniker The First Class. The deep, intricate production, layered vocals, and melancholy lyrics brought to mind the main Beach Boy Brian Wilson’s west-coast production approach from the 1960s.

Recorded and released on UK Records, the power pop track became a big hit for the band. In the US, it peaked at #4 on the pop chart while in the UK it reached the #13 spot on the singles chart. “Beach Baby” became the group’s only big hit, and although lesser chart hits followed with “Dreams Are Ten a Penny” and “Funny How Can Love Be,” they are still considered as a one-hit wonder.

Collections of the band’s work were frequently released, and the tune “Beach Baby” continued to appear on any compilation.. Beginning in early 2023, Grapefruit released its entire catalog under the title Beach Baby: The Complete Recordings. This included songs they had recorded at the time under various aliases, as well as never-before-heard recordings they had created for the Bobby Dazzler stage play and numerous commercial jingles.

After “Beach Baby’s” success

The Carter/Burrows/Mills combination proceeded to record new First Class work, including a self-titled LP that is arguably the best, most ambitious British harmony pop album of the 1970s, while other singers and musicians used the name to front their music in public.

Following the release of the follow-up single “Bobby Dazzler,” The First Class was already getting some requests to embark on a tour and play live but Carter and Burrows refused to do so. Instead, Barrett and Richards formed an entirely different lineup to play for a number of tour dates under the name The First Class.

The First Class’ career was derailed by the second single’s poor performance, “Bobby Dazzler,” which also prevented the play based on the song’s story of a fatally disappointed artist from progressing past the demo stage. As the First Class’s success waned, Carter focused on releasing songs under new aliases and creating and performing commercial jingles. The recording of a second First Class album did start. The first single, “Life Is Whatever You Want It to Be,” took a more mature and orchestral approach, and the second single, “I Was a Star,” attempted to rekindle the enchantment of the genre’s early years.

Further singles were released during in throughout the 1970’s such as “Dreams Are Ten a Penny (1974),” “Won’t Somebody Help Me” and “Funny How Love Can Be” (1975), but these singles weren’t able to repeat the success of “Beach Baby.”

UK audience seemed to not want another album after the disco-influenced “Ain’t No Love” single was released in 1976, so Carter put together a collection of songs he and Shakespeare had written over the previous 18 months. Thus in 1976, The First Class still managed to release a sophomore album called SST which became a flop. “SST” which was not even published in the US, sank without a trace despite a few of small hit songs that were released in America as a result. 

The First Class was put on hold while Carter released a single with a similar sounding name: Starbreak. More singles released under the name the First Class included “Ocean of Glass” in 1981 and an electro-pop rendition of Brenton Wood’s “Gimme Little Sign” in 1983. Other singles included the lush, “Beach Baby”-like “Too Many Golden Oldies” in 1978, the full-on discofied “Broken Toy” in ’79, and “Ocean of Glass” in 1977.

By the decade’s conclusion, Carter had effectively retired the name.

Post-First Class years

Some of the members were still able to find musical employment after The First Class’ heyday; 

Following his retirement from the music business, Chas Mills opened a restaurant in North London. 

Tony Burrows later gained notoriety as the one and only performer to have five hits with five different groups, earning the moniker “A one-hit wonder five times.” Along with Edison Lighthouse, Burrows was the lead vocalist on the songs “Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)” and “My Baby Loves Lovin'” by White Plains, which he frequently worked on with Roger Greenaway. Together with Greenaway, Burrows provided the main male vocals on the Brotherhood of Man hit, “United We Stand.” In their early years, Burrows and Greenaway collaborated on the smash song “Gimme Dat Ding” as The Pipkins. The two each went on to succeed in a number of endeavors, and they periodically collaborated to revive their previous popular tunes.

John Carter continued to manage his back catalog and write jingles. He subsequently reminisced on The First Class, saying, “It was a very joyous and creative time making the First Class records.

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