This afternoon I heard Up in a Puff of Smoke by British singer Polly Brown (in a Rite Aid store, natch) and made a mental note that it might make a good post for the blog. This song was an AM radio staple back in 1974, when I first heard it as a nine-year old and I still have it on a 45RPM record. What an amazing introduction! What a great drum beat (Ami Stewart’s disco-fied cover of Knock on Wood owes it a debt of gratitude, don’t cha think?)! The production is wowsers, mixing proto-disco with a glam rock edge. What a catchy tune and man, what a VOICE.
Other than this song, I knew little—next to nothing—of Polly Brown. From the sound of her voice—which is mid-way between Dionne Warwick and Diana Ross—I just assumed that Polly Brown was a black woman. As you can see from the above album cover, she is in fact quite white. But when I was reading the Wikipedia entry on Brown (who was the lead singer of Pickettywitch, which was also news to me and a duo called Sweet Dreams) I came across this rather odd fact about the woman with the soulful pipes:
“As a member of Sweet Dreams, Brown was billed as Sara Leone - a reference to the African nation of Sierra Leone - and performed in black face.”
It was the 70s, I guess…?