Raymond Edward O’Sullivan (born 1 December 1946, Waterford, County Waterford), is an Irish singer-songwriter, best known for his early 1970s hits “Alone Again (Naturally)”, “Clair” and “Get Down”. The music magazine, Record Mirror, voted him the No. 1 UK male singer of 1972.
Worldwide he has charted no fewer than sixteen top forty discs; including six number one songs, the first of which was 1970’s “Nothing Rhymed”.
O’Sullivan was born Raymond Edward O’Sullivan in Waterford. In 1960, his family moved to Swindon, Wiltshire, England. He attended St Joseph’s and the Swindon College of Art, where he briefly played drums in a band founded by Rick Davies (later creating the band Supertramp) and where he developed his lifelong interests in music and art. Later O’Sul-livan then played with such semi-professional bands as The Doodles and The Prefects, and, later, Rick’s Blues, while at college.
In 1967, O’Sullivan was signed to a five-year contract with CBS Records by Stephen Shane, then Professional Manager at CBS’s April/Blackwood publishing division. Shane renamed him ‘Gilbert O’Sullivan’, a play of words on Gilbert and Sullivan.
After two unsuccessful singles with CBS, “What Can I Do?” and “Mr. Moody’s Garden”, and one with the Irish record label, Major Minor, O’Sullivan sent some demo tapes to Gordon Mills, the manager of Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, whereupon O’Sullivan was signed to Mills’ label, MAM Records. O’Sullivan’s self-created eye-catching visual image comprised a pudding basin haircut, cloth cap and short trousers. Mills reportedly hated the image, but O’Sullivan insisted on using it initially, until he assumed a more modern ‘college-like’ look in which he often wore a sweater bearing a large letter ‘G’.
At the end of 1970, O’Sullivan achieved his first UK Top 10 hit with “Nothing Rhymed”, which also reached No. 1 in the Netherlands. Subsequent hits including “Underneath The Blanket Go” which also reached No. 1 in the Netherlands, “We Will” and “No Matter How I Try” followed, and in 1971 O’Sullivan issued his debut album, Himself.
In 1972, O’Sullivan reached international stardom with the self-penned ballad, “Alone Again (Naturally)”, which reached No. 3 in UK; No. 1 in the U.S., spending six weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and selling nearly two million copies; No. 2 in New Zealand (11 weeks on the charts in total); No. 1 in Canada for 2 weeks (13 weeks in the Top 40); and No. 1 in Japan (21 weeks on the chart). The song earned O’Sullivan his first gold disc.
O’Sullivan followed this success with the songs “Clair” (1972, from the album Back To Front), which reached No. 2 in the United States on the Hot 100 and No. 1 in Canada (14 weeks in the Canadian Top 40); “Out of the Question” (also from Back To Front), which reached No. 14 in Canada; and “Get Down” (1973, from the album I’m A Writer Not A Figh-ter), which reached No. 1 in the UK and No. 7 in both the U.S. and Canada. Following “Alone Again (Naturally)” and “Clair”, “Get Down” was his third million-seller, with the R.I.A.A gold disc award presented on 18 September 1973. His disc sales exceeded ten million in 1972, and made him the top star of the year. The success led to him taking part in the BBC’s anniversary programme Fifty Years Of Music in November 1972.
In 1973, O’Sullivan was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Alone Again (Naturally)” in the Song of the Year and Record of the Year categories.
O’Sullivan enjoyed nearly five years of success with MAM, a run that included seven UK Top 10 singles and four UK Top 10 albums; three U.S. Top 10 singles and one top 10 album; five Dutch Top 10 singles and three Top 10 albums; five New Zealand Top 10 singles; three Canadian Top 10 singles; and seven Japan Top 10 singles.
O’Sullivan’s singles like “Ooh Baby” and “Happiness Is Me and You” continued to reach the charts, but sold increasingly fewer copies. After 1973, his overseas popularity essentially ceased altogether. At home, he notched his final Top 20 hit for over five years, with June 1975’s “I Don’t Love You But I Think I Like You”.
Things turned more sour when he discovered his recording contract with MAM Records greatly favoured the label’s owner, Gordon Mills. A lawsuit followed, with prolonged argument over how much money his songs had earned and how much of that money he had actually received. Eventually, in May 1982, the court found in O’Sullivan’s favour, describing him as a “patently honest and decent man”, who had not received a just proportion of the vast income his songs had generated. They awarded him £7 million in damages. He had won, but the court battle had put his recording career on hold.
In 1980, O’Sullivan married his Norwegian girlfriend, Aase. Later that year the first of their two daughters was born. That same year, after a five-year hiatus, he returned to his old record label, CBS.
The first single, “What’s In A Kiss?”, reached No. 19 in the UK and No. 21 in Japan. Following this release, and due in part to the then-ongoing MAM court case, O’Sullivan re-leased no new material between 1982 and 1987. Apart from a minor hit single in 1990 and a compilation album in 1991 Nothing But The Best, O’Sullivan was absent from the charts until another compilation album, The Berry Vest of Gilbert O’Sullivan, returned him to the UK Top 20 in 2004.
O’Sullivan is also noted for bringing about the practice of clearing samples in hip hop music as a result of the 1991 court case, Grand Upright Music, Ltd. v. Warner Bros. Records, Inc., in which he sued rapper Biz Markie over the rights to use a sample of O’Sullivan’s song “Alone Again (Naturally)”.
O’Sullivan has continued to record and perform into the 21st century. He enjoys particular acclaim in Japan. His album A Scruff At Heart was released in 2007, featuring “Just So You Know”. On 14 July 2008, O’Sullivan released his most recent single, “Never Say Di”. He appeared at the 2008 Glastonbury Festival, and played London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26 October 2009. On 26 August 2010 Gilbert announced that he had joined Hypertension, a record company that also holds Leo Sayer, Chris DeBurgh, Fleetwood Mac and Gerry Raf-ferty. There his forthcoming new album Gilbertsville will be released on 31 January 2011.
Contemporary usage of his songs:
“Alone Again (Naturally)” was used in the second series of Life on Mars, while “Get Down” was also used in the American version of the show. “Alone Again (Naturally)” was used in “The Wettest Stories Ever Told” episode of The Simpsons. “Alone Again (Naturally)” was used in the films Summer Time Machine Blues, Stuck on You, I Could Never Be Your Wom-an, Stuart Little 2, Ice Age 3 and The Virgin Suicides while “Nothing Rhymed” was featured on the soundtrack of and Anita and Me.
“Nothing Rhymed” was used at the start of the second series finale of Consolevania, played over an archive new reel montage of an alternate history of the 20th century. The same song was a hit in Italy in 1971, performed by the local group, I Profeti, with the title translated into “Era bella” (“She was Beautiful”).
The Japanese television version of the anime series Maison Ikkoku used “Alone Again (Naturally)” and “Get Down” for the opening and ending sequences respectively in episode 24.
“Gilbert O’Sullivan” is the title of a song by The Uncle Devil Show on their album, A Terrible Beauty.
The Dublin based band, Aslan, covered “Nothing Rhymed” on their 2009 album, Uncased.
“When I’m dressed normally, the girls hang around and talk and maybe ask for autographs. When I get dressed up, the girls run away.”