Billie Davis bucked the trend by scoring a middling hit with her first single - a cover of the Exciters' Tell Him in 1963 - and then convincing labels to keep releasing singles right up to the turn of the seventies. None were hits, but you could see how she wangled the deals. For a start she was button-cute, saucer-eyed and sexy. Secondly, her voice sounded like nobody else on the block; it could cut through medium wave fog with precision, hitting the same unlikely frequency as Diana Ross.
The Mindbenders had been little more than Wayne Fontana's backing group before this. He had simply walked off stage midway through a gig in early '66, frustrated that a string of singles failed to score after Game Of Love had been a huge hit (US no.1, UK no.2) in '65. Guitarist Eric Stewart was sanguine: "All we lost was our tambourine player. Wayne had been threatening to leave the band for some time and (drummer) Ric Rothwell had reached the end of patience with his groaning an moaning. Ric was urging him to take his ego trip and piss off." He did, and Stewart became singer with the now three-piece. They can't have dreamed that without their front man, the only really recognisable band member, they would score an even bigger hit. Unsurprisingly, the Mindbenders kept Carole and Toni on board, and they wrote the A-sides of their next three singles.
Nobody's Home To Go Home To is the sad pile of nothing left when the disrespectful lover disappears. Their two lives have been linked, it seems inextricably, and the crisis of identity that that comes as she sits alone is heard at the end of each chorus in a hanging note, suspended above nothing, until the key changes back and the bass and drums put a consoling around Billie and her cold cup of coffee: "Who will I be? I can't be me without you."
Things weren't always so blue for Billie Davis. If she wanted to use them, she had claws. She needed them after the media trashed her career in 1964. That was the year she was involved in a notorious car crash with Jet Harris, formerly the blonde bass hero of the Shadows. Harris was married, in theory anyway - his wife had been carrying on with Cliff Richard while Jet was still in the band, standing behind his wife's lover on stage every night, trying to keep his cool. Not surprisingly, it messed with his mind. Hell, they were still teenagers. Jet drank progressively, Bruce Welch demanded that he had to go.
Billie's career meandered, though she continued to cut quality singles, several a year right up to 1970. After the car crash and the bad press, Decca dropped her like a hot potato, broken jaw or not. She signed to Columbia where she recorded the mod dancefloor favourite Whatcha Gonna Do, moved to Piccadilly in '65 and released the cat-scratching Hands Off and the lip-licking teaser No Other Baby, as well as the definitive version of Burt Bacharach's Last One To Be Loved. Decca signed her again in '67 and Billie must have thought she had a hit in the bag when she was first out of the blocks with Chip Taylor's Angel Of The Morning.
PP Arnold stole her thunder with a hurried cover in the UK and Merrilee Rush did likewise in the US; neither had the fragility and ambiguity that makes Billie's version so strong. But chart positions aren't everything, not quite. Jet and Billie are close friends again, forty-odd years after their careers and lives were shattered by a Midland Red bus. Toni Wine appeared at the 2005 launch for Rhino's Girl Group box set, One Kiss Leads To Another, and reduced everyone present to jelly with a solo piano performance of Groovy Kind Of Love. Eric Stewart did pretty well with 10CC, and Universal rescued Nobody's Home To Go Home To from obscurity when they re-issued it on their essential compilation, The Girl Scene. I love a happy ending.