Greatest misses: Duke Baxter, “Everybody Knows Matilda” (1969)

baxter

(Above: The song’s not quite as trippy as the picture sleeve.)

In August of 1969 a record made a brief appearance on the Billboard Hot 100, stalling at #52.  It was a fun little number about an almost-but-not-quite-one-night-stand (if we can invent that terminology) with a seemingly popular girl named Matilda.

Just who sang the song is a small matter of debate.  Sure, the label says Duke Baxter. Joel Whitburn lists Baxter as “Born in Australia, White pop singer.” There’s disagreement on that. Lyn Nuttall, an Australian blogger, wrote a terrific piece on this record, suggesting that Baxter is really a Canadian named James Blake, who sometimes went by the name Dudley F. Baxter. And if that’s not confusing enough, a piece at West Coast Fog on the producer of the record, Tony Harris, also suggests that Blake/Baxter also recorded under the name Shaman. (Having read that piece, I am now on the hunt for the trippy version of “Yellow Submarine” by Milton Berle that is mentioned.)

What we do know: this is a great record, and it’s a lot of fun. It also, despite failing to crack the national Top 40, got some considerable regional airplay. CKLW, the Big 8 in Detroit, had it as a Top 25 record.  It became an international phenomenon that summer as well, since the Australian heritage of the alleged Baxter no doubt earned it plenty of airplay there.   (A German band, the Petards, also did a cover of it that is not at all far off the original.) There’s also a cover version with a radio connection: Big Ron O’Brien, who worked at WCFL/Chicago among many other stations, released a version on Ovation records in 1976 that did not chart nationally (and has escaped a place in my collection, for that matter). After 1976 the record faded into oblivion, ignored by all but the deepest oldies playlists and specialty shows – which is too bad.

I’m surprised that this one hasn’t been remade recently.  Given the modern naming trend with girls getting three-syllable names starting with Mc (McKenzie/McKayla/McKenna etc.), you’d think this would be ripe for a sort of reboot, since it fits the meter perfectly. For that matter, the name Matilda isn’t completely off the charts, either, getting a boost from the 1996 film of the same name.  Perhaps the subject matter isn’t relatable anymore? I mean, it’s not like people aren’t still hooking up (or trying to), albeit with far more protections in place (it is hoped, anyway) than were taken in 1969. Of course, the object is to meet someone with more than a bus token and an unseen angry boyfriend, so it’s not the typical happy-ending type of love song.

See if everyone still, in fact, loves Matilda.  You can hear Duke (or whoever it is) by clicking here.

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