In 1966 Decca which, the Rolling Stones aside, was something of a stuffy label created a new hip offshoot called Deram. They released intelligent artists like the teenager Cat Stevens, what would come to be known as 'progressive' bands like Procol Harum and The Move, and also some baroque English pop like Honeybus.
In that latter vein they also released the early David Bowie material that everyone cringingly remembers for Laughing Gnome but actually has a lot of worthwhile songs (check out Let Me Sleep Beside You and In The Heat of The Morning for starters). I have to suspect it was those more whimsical A&R folks who agreed to release the Whistling Jack Smith single.
Jack Smith didn't exist. The track was the creation of songwriters and session musicians. There was a huge youth fashion for stuff from the very early 20th century, indeed Sgt Pepper and those Beatle outfits were part of it. The tune is clearly an attempt to sound like First World War soldiers' marching songs, which helped provide the title (Kaiser Bill being Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany at the time of the First World War, batman being not the borderline psychopathic comicbook superhero but the term used for a soldier who is the PA, groom and valet to a high ranking officer). The made-up whistler's name is a play on Whispering Jack Smith, a popular singer from the 1920s.
The real artists were Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway, a prolific English songwriting team. They'd written stuff like Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart and You've Got Your Troubles, records with a dark melodramatic edge to their catchy popness. In the 70s they would go on to write I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing for that Coke advert, but try not to hold that against them.
Back in 67 they were clearly arsing around and came up with this infectious daft tune that nonetheless has something strident and hefty to it. It became a huge hit. So how do you promote it?
Up steps the 21 year old Billy Moeller, younger brother of Tommy Moeller, guitarist with Unit 4+2 (and co-writer of their glorious hit Concrete and Clay - check out the comically literalist promo film shot on a building site). A good looking mod about town, he was great on telly and in the mags.
But really, how do you go on TV and do whistling? How do you do it without making it a comedy act?
Really, you're not just miming whistling a novelty tune that goes round and round, but you didn't even have anything to do with making it. Of course you'd cover your deep-set embarrassment with a bit of eye rolling and mugging for the cameras, right?
Watch and admire as Billy gives it gusto and swagger, and pretty much pulls it off.
The monster success of the single spawned an inevitable rush-released album including a cover of 1950s proto ska classic Tom Hark.
download I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman (3.5MB MP3)
And if that's not enough instrumental oddity, try the Ram Jam Band's corking reggae version of I Was Kaiser Bill's Batman, or this momentarily amusing moog version.