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Loco in Acapulco - the Four Tops

History is a strange thing. At one point I thought this was a good, obscurist question for a yuletide music quiz:

What event that took place at Ledbury Buckinghamshire in August 1963, indirectly led to the saving of the lives of the Four Tops in December 1988, 25 years later and why?

But now I'm not so sure. As I have discovered, talking to various young and not so young people about this, I often make the error in thinking that they will have heard of certain celebrated or infamous events, and more often than not they haven't. Time fades into the distance. Also, the sheer scale of the tragedy involved makes me hesitant about proffering it as part of the season's entertainment. But the story is interesting, all the same, so I'll spell it out.

On August 8th 1963 the biggest robbery in Britain up to that date took place. It became known as "the Great Train Robbery", and a gang of at least 16 robbers stole over two and a half million pounds in used banknotes, most of which was never recovered. This amount would be worth over £58 million today and very little of it was ever recovered.

While ten of the gang were captured in the few months after the robbery, two of them, Ronnie "Buster" Edwards and Bruce Reynolds, made it to Mexico with their families. After spending all of his share of the loot, a homesick Edwards returned to the UK, knowing he would be arrested and subsequently spent nine years in prison. After his release, in 1975, Edwards ran a flower stall outside London's Waterloo Station.

In 1988 Edwards' life was the subject of the feature film "Buster" directed by British director David Green and starring Genesis drummer and lead singer Phil Collins in the title role. The film covers the events leading up to the robbery, the robbery itself and its aftermath, concluding with Buster's early release from prison and his setting up in the flower business, painting him as a loveable rogue. This light-hearted portrayal of his life attracted criticism from some quarters, in particular from those who saw it as a romanticisation of crime, and from the family of the original train driver, Jack Mills, who never fully recovered from head injuries sustained when he was overpowered by the gang.

By 1988, Phil Collins had a highly successful career as a solo artist, and, in contrast to his work with the "progressive" rock band Genesis, the releases under his own name were much more commercial and often strongly influenced by sixties soul music, in particular, Tamla Motown; so much so that Collins' first UK number one was his 1982 cover of the Supremes' 1966 hit "You Can't Hurry Love" written by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

Lamont Dozier (see recent posts) of the Holland-Dozier-Holland songwriting team had moved to London in the early 1980's and Collins jumped at the chance to work with one of his all-time heroes on the "Buster" soundtrack. He co-wrote two songs with Dozier, "Two Hearts" which was subsequently a hit for Collins, and "Loco in Acapulco" for the Four Tops.

When, after the departure of the Holland Dozier Holland songwriting team, their hits dried up, The Four Tops had also left Motown, and subsequently went through a succession of recording labels, with relatively little success. By 1988 they were with Arista records, and peculiarly were having a very successful, kind-of "reunion" year: earlier they'd had a minor hit with the song "Indestructible" in partnership with old Tamla label mate Smokey Robinson, then in September, Motown had scored a big hit with a rereleased disco mix of their "Reach Out, I'll Be There", and now here they were re-united with Lamont Dozier and storming the charts again in December.

On the back of this success, the Four Tops came over for a UK mini-tour, culminating on Tuesday 20th December, with a dubbed tv recording for the BBC's Top of the Pops to promote "Loco in Acapulco" on the chart show to be shown on Thursday 22nd December. At the same time, they also planned to do "Reach out, I'll Be There" for the New Year's Eve show which featured hits of the whole year. This was the Four Tops last appointment prior to flying back to the States the next day. On the night, the programme producer wouldn't let them perform both songs: he said that they couldn't be on tv on different days wearing the same clothes, that for the same reason they needed a different backdrop which took time to change and they didn't have the scheduling time to do both that night. The Tops were furious and had a blazing row with him, but he wouldn't back down. They had a contract with the BBC, and they had to do what they were told. This was just as well as the flight back to Detroit that the Four Tops were booked onto for the next day, but now had to cancel, was Pan Am Flight 103. This is better known now as the flight that was destroyed by a terrorist bomb hidden in the luggage hold while flying over the Scottish town of Lockerbie. All 259 passengers and crew were killed along with 11 residents from Lockerbie, as would the Four Tops have been were it not for that intractable BBC executive.

So, no train robbery, no "Buster"; no Buster, no Lamont Dozier/ Phil Collins collaboration and no "Loco in Acapulco" for the Four Tops, without which they probably wouldn't even have travelled to the UK in the first place. Even if they had, with only one song to record, they'd have been on that plane. Either way, it turned out that "Loco in Acapulco" was their last hit anywhere.

With the anniversary of the Lockerbie bombing coming up in 8 days time, the tragedy is hitting the headlines once again, with a suspect newly in custody and awaiting trial in the USA for making the bomb. A cursory reading up of articles relating to the hunt for the guilty terrorists reveals the usual suspect evidence, administrative cock-ups and security red herrings that we've come to expect over the years, which will inevitably cast doubt over whatever verdict is arrived at.


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