There’s a sensibility here that’s completely vanished now from British pop. Death ballads aren’t exactly thick on the ground these days, but it’s the combination of death, jauntiness and theatre that’s really become alien – the drumbeats and penny-whistles, the big matey chorus, the sudden slowdown when Billy’s girl gets the (hardly unexpected) bad news. It’s a particular kind of sentimentality, absolutely unafraid of corn. You still find this kind of storytelling and broad emotional brushstrokes in country music sometimes (though from my skimpy knowledge of country, it’s declined even there) – and “Billy” might make an OK country song. There’s one line at least – “I heard she threw the letter away” – which could hit hard if it wasn’t so oversold. As it stands, “Billy” is an emotional non-starter – and it was probably ridiculous to most even in 1974, war or no war.

Score: 4

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