The below editorial features the opinions and views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of #escYOUnited as a whole, Eurovision or the EBU.
There exists a world where the song that unifies all races, ethnicities, genders and cultures at exactly the right moment was written by a musician who wrote a Eurovision entry.
Sadly, it is not the world we live in, but the world of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, where protagonists Bill S. Preston, Esquire and Ted “Theodore” Logan save humanity at the San Dimas Battle of the Bands with their – or more accurately, Kiss’s – take on Argent’s “God Gave Rock ‘n Roll to You.”
A rabble rousing power ballad, “God Gave Rock ‘n Roll to You” leads humanity into a peaceful and prosperous era after many dark moments put humanity on the edge of the abyss. As we stare down our own abyss in mid-2020 and on the day of release of the third installment of the Bill & Ted series, the long-awaited Bill & Ted Face the Music, let’s have a brief look at the career of Russ Ballard, who wrote that song and co-wrote the United Kingdom’s entry to Eurovision 2001, “No Dream Impossible,” performed by Lindsay Dracass.
Born on October 31, 1945 in Waltham Cross, Hertfordshire, United Kingdom, Russ Ballard was born into a family of musicians and it was no surprise he got off to a flying start as a guitarist and a songwriter in London bands in the 1960s.
“My Father was a drummer and leader of his own dance band,” Ballard explains on his website. “My Mother was a dancer and my brother played keyboards. My earliest recollection of hearing music was probably Beethoven, or comical music like ‘Spike Jones’ and his ‘Wacky Wackateers’. I remember a feeling of sadness when my mother used to play ‘Moonlight Sonata’. I didn’t know what made me feel so sad, it wasn’t until later years that I realised it was in a minor key.”
After an eye accident landed him in hospital, leaving him blind in his right eye, Ballard’s mother promised him a guitar as after years of piano practice Ballard had wanted to switch to guitar to get into the rock ‘n roll trend that had swept the world in the mid-to-late 1950s.
Ballard’s first break came as guitarist for Buster Meikle & The Day Breakers, a group he formed with a couple local lads and his brother. His guitar style influenced by Elvis’s guitarist Scott More and Ricky Nelson, their efforts were quickly noticed. Helen Shapiro, the 14-year-old jazz sensation who was a chart topper in 1961 with “Walking back to Happiness,” introduced the band to her producer Norrie Paramore.
They recorded material, but the band broke up in 1964, and Ballard was recruited to be guitarist in Adam Faith’s band The Roulettes. The Roulettes had a string of UK hits, and in 1967 Ballard joined Unit 4 + 2 as a full-time member with Roulettes drummer Bob Henrit.
Unit 4 + 2 had a huge hit in the UK (Number 1) and United States (Number 28) with “Concrete and Clay” in 1964, and both Ballard and Henrit had performed as session musicians on this track. “Concrete and Clay” is notable as being one of the first “pirate radio” British hits of the 1960s that had attracted fandom because of Wonderful Radio London station manager Tony Windsor and DJ Kenny Everett. Wonderful Radio London was the infamous radio station that broadcast to the British public from an anchored ship three miles off the Essex coast in the North Sea from 1964 to 1967.
In 1968, Ballard and Henrit formed a band with famed The Zombie’s vocalist, keyboardist and organist Rod Argent and The Zombie’s bassist Jim Rodford. The Zombies had a smash hit in 1964 with “She’s Not There,” which reached Number 2 on the United States Billboard Hot 100.
Given each member’s pedigree, the resultant band named Argent would have been considered a supergroup at the time. And one of their first singles, “Hold Your Head Up,” was a smashing success. Unusually for Argent, Ballard did not participate in the songwriting yet was the lead singer for a song. Reaching Number 5 on the Billboard Hot 100, “Hold Your Head Up” is to this day considered one of the best 1970s classic rock tracks, particularly for Argent’s Hammond organ solos. In an era known for guitar soloists trying to mimic and then top Jimi Hendrix, it was considered quite a feat for the organist to step up and perform the solos. The Hammond organ work alone ensured a hit for Argent as well as a lasting reputation (find a classic rock channel on Sirius XM and see how little you have to wait until this song pops up).
“Hold Your Head Up” is the quintessential Argent track, and they had another smash hit in the UK, which is the subject of this article. “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” hit Number 18 on the UK Singles Charts, but only Number 114 on the Billboard charts. Ballard originally wrote “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” in 1971 for Argent, though they recorded it and released it in 1973.
Ballard said that he wrote the song at a bad time, at a moment when he felt burned out and needed inspiration to keep on going.
“The song I wrote on coming out of the depression was ‘God Gave Rock and Roll To You’,” Ballard states on his website. “It reflected the optimism I felt at the time, with lines like “love your friend, love your neighbour, love your life and love your labour, it’s never too late to change your mind”. It was a hit for us and a hit for Kiss 18 years later when it was included in the film Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.”
Ballard also wrote another Argent hit that became more famous as a cover in “Liar.” Technically, “Liar” was Argent’s first released single in 1970, but it did not chart. However Three Dog Night, famous for “Joy to the World” (known for its “Jeremiah was a bullfrog” opening lyric), had a Number 7 Billboard Hot 100 hit in their cover of “Liar.”
Ballard left Argent in 1974 to pursue a solo career as both a solo act and a songwriter. His 1976 song “Since You’ve Been Gone” was released on his debut album “Winning,” but as with other songs of his, the cover became more famous. Chicago based band Head East had a Billboard Hot 100 Number 43 hit with a cover, but arguably the most famous version is the version by Rainbow.
In 1979, after the legendary Ronnie James Dio left Rainbow, guitarist and co-founder Ritchie Blackmore (the founder of Deep Purple) recruited Graham Bonnet to replace him as vocalist. Bonnet’s recruitment, along with bassist Roger Glover and keyboardist Don Airey (P.S. Keep an eye out for him on a future installment in our long-running Eurovision history series) led Rainbow in a more pop direction. And though almost all the tracks were written by Blackmore and Glover, the first single of this incarnation of Rainbow is the most famous version of Ballard’s “Since You’ve Been Gone.”
It was a Top 10 hit in the United Kingdom and United States, and in 2009 VH-1 named it among its Top 100 Hard Rock Songs of All Time.
After writing a hit single for both Santana (“Winning”) and America (“You Can Do Magic”), resulting in the best Billboard Hot 100 placement for both in a decade, Ballard switched to a more pop direction with two solo artists who are near and dear to Eurovision fans’ hearts: Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Falksog (the two “A’s” in ABBA).
Phil Collins produced Frida’s (Anni-Frid Lyngstad) debut album, and recruited Ballard to write her lead single as Frida wanted her solo debut to be far removed from the sound of ABBA. It worked, as Frida scored Top 10 hits across Europe (curiously only Number 43 in the UK – a holdover from their non-vote for ABBA at Eurovision 1974?) and Number 13 on the Billboard Hot 100 with “I Know There’s Something Going On.”
Despite only hitting Number 13, the song’s longevity on the Billboard Hot 100 (26 weeks in all) resulted in it being the 20th most popular song in the United States in 1983. Collins was also the drummer and provided backing vocals, which helped propel his own career into the stratosphere.
Ballard was commissioned by producer Mike Chapman to write “Can’t Shake Loose” for Agnetha Faltsog’s debut solo album “Wrap Your Arms Around Me.” It worked a treat, as “Can’t Shake Loose” hit Number 29 on the Billboard Hot 100, her highest major territory chart placement.
Russ Ballard continued to release solo material to some success, including 1984’s “Voices,” which hit Number 15 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock Chart (falling short of the Billboard Hot 100 at Number 114 overall). “Voices” is well known among Miami Vice fans as it debuted in the “Calderone’s Return: Part Two” episode.
Meanwhile, in 1989 San Dimas, California (filming locations in the San Fernando Valley and the suburban malls of Phoenix, Arizona), Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon wrote a bonkers screenplay about California brosephs called Bill & Ted, played by up-and-coming actors Alex Winter and Keanu Reeves, having to get an “A” grade on their final history report so that their band Wyld Stallyn’s music helps unite humanity and transition us into a golden age. If they don’t get an “A,” Ted will be forced to go to military school, breaking up the band and the world falling into disarray as their world uniting anthem will never be written.
With the help of Rufus, a “righteous dude” from the future played by legendary American comedian George Carlin, Bill & Ted hop in a time traveling phone booth and “bag” some of the biggest names in history to speak at San Dimas High School about how they as historical figures view modern San Dimas (including a great joke about how Napoleon sets up an invasion plan for Russia in winter and how even someone as dense as Bill can see it’s not going to work).
It was a most unusual comedy triumph as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure earned $40 million in the United States on a budget of $6 million. This is a most excellent triumph, considering neither actor had hit their stride at this point and the plot was bananas.
After international viewing and home video figures came rolling in, there was already a clamoring for a sequel. Instead of rehashing the time travel hijinks of Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, Matheson and Solomon went in a different direction by poking fun at concepts of the afterlife (including a hilarious send up of the Swedish version portrayed by Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal).
In Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, the 1991 sequel, villains in the future are not satisfied by the unifying music of Bill & Ted, and send evil robot versions to kill Bill & Ted. However, despite being tossed off Vasquez Rocks and killed, Bill & Ted survive Purgatory and Hell by beating the Grim Reaper (played by the most excellent Die Hard 2: Die Harder villain William Sadler) at the game of his choice, and are resurrected. Bill & Ted recruit Station, a Martian scientist to build “Good Robot Us’es!” to defeat the evil robot Bill & Ted, and as Rufus prescribed, at the San Dimas Battle of the Bands, “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” ends all wars and unites humanity after being broadcast to the world.
Except, it doesn’t, which is why 29 years after Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, we have a third entry in the franchise called Bill & Ted Face the Music coming out. Obviously, the end credits of Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey does not come to pass, and our two heroes have to figure out what went wrong and put it right so the utopian future of the first movie comes to pass. Bill & Ted are middle-aged and playing Taco Tuesday at a community hall in Barstow, California (an experience I can personally attest to), Bill & Ted’s daughters go back in time to assemble the best world musicians for their band, and the Grim Reaper is still an incompetent cheating bastard at basic games.
After the most triumphant ending to Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey that does not end up being triumphant because a third entry in the series exists, Ballard’s career as a songwriter continues into the 1990s and 2000s.
And though he had prior experience writing hit material for the female half of ABBA, Ballard entered the British Broadcasting Corporation’s A Song for Europe in 2001 with a song called “No Dream Impossible.”
16-year-old Lindsay Dracass from Sheffield, South Yorkshire, beat out an experienced field at A Song for Europe 2001, the United Kingdom’s national selection for Eurovision 2001. Though she had Russ Ballard and Chris Winter (no relation to Bill & Ted’s Alex) writing her song, many of her rivals trying out that year included the pedigree of Nanne’s “Men” (written by Katrina and the Waves’s Kimberley Rew), and Iron Maiden and Cutting Crew’s keyboardist Tony Moore. Dracass prevailed, and was sent to Stockholm, Sweden.
Now after all the classic rock we’ve subjected you to, “No Dream Impossible” was not at all like Russ Ballard’s usual output. Dracasse ended up 15th of 23, which was a relative low point for the United Kingdom at the time. However, Jessica Garlick’s 3rd place finish the next year was a false dawn, as the United Kingdom sent pinched loaf after pinched loaf until 2009 with Jade Ewen’s 5th placed “It’s my Time.”
There’s nothing objectively horrible about her entry, and certainly does not get or earn anywhere near the scorn that Daz Sampson, Jemini and Scooch do for their later entries. Sure, at 16 years old, she may be too “green” for a contest with a rich history such as Eurovision, but being a young nobody has often been the UK’s winning or near winning card since their debut.
“No Dream Impossible” hit Number 32 on the UK Singles Chart, and that is about right being the best of a muddled national selection.
Ballard continues to release music, including for reformed versions of prior bands, and we as fans hope that despite “God Gave Rock and Roll to You” not being the humanity unifying song that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey promised to be, that Bill & Ted Face the Music closes the loop and delivers us a most triumphant future.
And now, a message to all of you, the most resplendent fans in the universe, from your two favorite dudes – Keanu Reeves and Alex @Winter. Enjoy Bill & Ted Face the Music, and never forget to be excellent to each other, dudes! 🤘🎸 #BillAndTed3 #FaceTheMusic pic.twitter.com/u75BkanZWI
— Bill & Ted 3 (@BillandTed3) August 28, 2020
Will #YOU be seeing “Bill & Ted Face the Music” this weekend? Which Russ Ballard song do #YOU enjoy? Let us know in the comments below, on social media, or in our forum.