Remember Paper Lace and ‘The Night Chicago Died’?

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Like so many other bands, the U.K.-based Paper Lace was known for just one hit, in their case the 1974 #1 (in the U.S.) “The Night Chicago Died.” But as usual, there was more to the story, including a song that got away.

Originally known as Music Box, Paper Lace was founded in Nottingham in 1967 by founding members Phil Wright (lead vocals and drummer), Cliff Fish (bass, vocals), and two others. Shortly after a 1973 appearance on a U.K. TV talent show, Opportunity Knocks, the band, now also with Nick Vaughan (lead and rhythm guitar) and Chris Morris (guitar and vocals), was offered the track “Billy Don’t Be a Hero” from English songwriters Mitch Murray and Peter Callander. The recording took off in the U.K., where it spent three weeks at #1 in 1974. But that single barely made a dent in the U.S., where it peaked at just #96 on the Hot 100. The American pop group Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods recorded it as well, and the latter version reached #1 on the Hot 100 that June.

Thanks to its U.K. success, Murray and Callander offered Paper Lace a followup track. Their single of “The Night Chicago Died,” based on a shootout between the police and gangsters working for Al Capone, was released in June 1974. The first four lines of the song are spoken—Daddy was a cop, on the east side of Chicago—before the vocals kick in. While it became another U.K. hit, rising to #3 there, it went all the way to #1 in the U.S. on August 17.

Related: The #1 singles of 1974

Wright and Fish continued to perform as the Original Paper Lace. Fish died on April 16, 2023. News of his passing, at age 73 after battling cancer for several years, was announced by his wife, Elaine, and sons, Rob and Jon, in a statement to the U.K. newspaper, The Sun. Wright wrote, “It is with great unbelievable sadness and the heaviest of hearts that I mourn the passing today of this lovely guy.”

Related: Musicians we lost in 2023

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