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  • Writer's pictureMichael W Rickard II

Tony Christie Proves Cream Always Rises to the Top

When it comes to observing just how fleeting fame can be, the music industry is a great place to start, with yesterday’s number one artists becoming today’s trivia question. Yeah, whatever happened to that guy or gal? Neil Young said it’s better to burn out, because rust never sleeps. One artist who’s never given Father Time the chance to wreak havoc is Tony Christie, a British balladeer who proves the saying, “Cream always rises to the top.” With a music career spanning fifty years, Tony Christie has maintained his fan base and brought in a new generation of fans as well.

Born in Yorkshire, England in 1943, Anthony Fitzgerald joined a local band “The Counterbeats” at 18 before forming his own group, “Tony Christie and the Trackers”. By 1966, he made his first solo record, “Life’s Too Good to Waste” and searched for a breakthrough hit. In 1969, MCA signed him and he was paired with the hit-making songwriting team of Mitch Murray and Peter Callender. Murray and Callender were responsible for hits such as “The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde” and “Hitching a Ride.”

Christie kept busy and things paid off in 1971 with his album Las Vegas, producing his first big hit, “(Is This the Way to) Amarillo?” While Murray and Callender would provide him with some of his biggest hits, “Amarillo” was penned by singer-songwriter Neal Sedaka and songwriter Howard Greenfield. First released in Europe, the song reached number 18 in the U.K. but became a number one hit in Germany and Spain. More hits from the album followed including, “I Did What I Did for Maria” and “Don’t Go Down to Reno” (both written by Murray and Callender).

As the 70’s rolled on, Christie was asked to provide vocals for “Avenues and Alleyways”, the theme for the ATV series The Protectors. He also appeared on the 1976 recording of the musical Evita. With the “Me Decade” winding down, record sales slowed down in the U.K. but Christie kept busy on the Continent, finding continued touring and album success there, particularly in Germany. His spectacular hit “Sweet September” led to steady work in Germany where he recorded nine different albums.

While Christie continued working on the Continent, his U.K. presence was limited during the 80’s and 90’s. His 1990 hit “Kiss in the Night” brought him back into the U.K. spotlight briefly but recognition in the U.K. would not return until the advent of the new millennium. 1999’s “Walk Like a Panther” proved successful and Christie had won over a new generation of fans in England. Things really took off in 2002 when “(Is This the Way to) Amarillo” was used as the theme song for Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights TV series. The song was re-released in the U.K. in March 2005 with proceeds going to the charity Comic Relief. The song smashed its way to number one, staying there for seven weeks, a feat not achieved since Cher’s song “Believe.”

As Alexandre Dumas said, “Nothing succeeds like success.” Christie’s album The Definitive Collection hit number one in the U.K. and debuted at number one on the U.K.’s download charts. Since the fabulous success of “Amarillo,” Christie debuted in the West End musical Dreamboats and Petticoats, performed in the Royal Albert Hall, and appeared on television. He continues to perform for charity for agencies such as “Help for Heroes” and Barnsley Hospice.

Tony Christie has cemented his status as an icon, continuing to explore other musical genres as shown by recordings like The Great Irish Songbook or Made in Sheffield, an exploration of his birthplace. Christie’s influence and popularity with other musicians can be seen by the contributions of indie artists on his album Now’s the Time.

Since then, Tony Christie has kept entertaining his long-time fans, appearing on TV, touring, and of course, making albums. His upcoming album Fifty Golden Greats is a three-disc collection sure to long-time fans and prove to new ones why he’s recognized as an icon.

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