Songs You May Have Missed #728

Herman’s Hermits: “No Milk Today” (1966)

No milk today, my love has gone away
The bottle stands forlorn, a symbol of the dawn
No milk today, it seems a common sight
But people passing by, don’t know the reason why

How could they know just what this message means?
The end of my hopes, the end of all my dreams
How could they know a palace there had been
Behind the door where my love reigned as queen?

No milk today, it wasn’t always so
The company was gay, we’d turn night into day

But all that’s left is a place dark and lonely
A terraced house in a mean street back of town
Becomes a shrine when I think of you only
Just two up two down

No milk today, it wasn’t always so
The company was gay, we’d turn night into day
As music played the faster did we dance
We felt it both at once, the start of our romance

Graham Gouldman wrote hits for the Hollies (“Bus Stop”, “Look Through Any Window”) the Yardbirds (“For Your Love”, “Heart Full of Soul”) Herman’s Hermits (“Listen People”, “No Milk Today”) and the band of which he was a member, 10cc (“I’m Not in Love”, “The Things We Do For Love”, Dreadlock Holiday”).

He says his father, who regularly proposed song titles and helped him with his songwriting, suggested he write a song with the title “No Milk Today”. Graham says his first reaction was negative until his dad explained the milk bottle on the porch–from the days of the milk man, of course–was a metaphor for a relationship that had ended.

Gouldman proceeded to write a poignant lyric and set in in an alternating minor- and major key setting. Then John Paul Jones (yes, that John Paul Jones) created an inspired baroque pop arrangement with strings and bell chimes, and when Peter Noone added his crisp, sympathetically plaintive lead vocals, a minor pop classic was born.

Except producer Mickie Most didn’t hear it. The record company wanted to release it as a single, but Most, who hadn’t even wanted to record the song, resisted.

Only Jones’ lobbying for the song caused Most to relent. Mickie Most is legendary for the ability to hear a single, but somehow missed completely on “No Milk Today”. Noone swears it was John Paul Jones’ enthusiasm for the song that saved it.

However, despite going to number 7 in England, the song was released only as the flipside to “There’s a Kind of Hush” in America. Yet it received enough airplay even as a B-side to make it to #35.

Hard to say if it would have been top ten if promoted as an A-side. With lyric lines like “just two up, two down” (a reference to a modest home with only two rooms upstairs and two downstairs) it has a peculiarly British feel.

But then, songs like “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am”, which sound as British as can be, were huge hits in America, while they weren’t even released as singles in England.

The analysis video below, by the excellent Phil from Wings of Pegasus, helps one fully appreciate both song and performance.

The second video, featuring Graham Gouldman’s own performance, explains the song’s genesis.

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