The Rubettes’ first and biggest hit was "Sugar Baby Love" (1974) which was a number one in the United Kingdom, going on to sell around 500,000 copies in the UK and three million copies globally. With three more songs, "Sugar Baby Love" was recorded for Polydor in October 1973 at Landsdown Studios in Holland Park, London, by a group of session musicians featuring the distinctive falsetto lead vocal of Paul Da Vinci (real name: Paul Prewer). Da Vinci did not, however, join the others to become a member of the band put together by John Richardson, and instead pursued solo work. "Sugar Baby Love" was their only UK No. 1 and sole U.S. Top 40 entry. In November 1974 NME music magazine reported that The Rubettes, The Glitter Band and Mud were among the UK bands who had roles in a new film titled Never Too Young To Rock.
The Rubettes went on to have a number of other hits across Europe during the mid-1970s, such as "Tonight", "Juke Box Jive" and "I Can Do It" sung by Alan Williams, mostly written by the Bickerton–Waddington songwriting team. The Rubettes' success encouraged Bickerton and Waddington to set up State Records, so that ten months after the release of "Sugar Baby Love", the fourth Rubettes single "I Can Do It" was on State (catalogue reference STAT 1).
The band were to abandon glammy nostalgia to enter more serious territory. "Under One Roof" (1976) was a portrayal of a gay man disowned and later murdered by his father; along with Rod Stewart's "The Killing of Georgie" (1976), it was one of the few songs that tackled the topic of homophobia. Their most successful self-composed hit was the country rock styled ballad "Baby I Know", which reached number 10 in the UK and Germany in 1977. The band became a quintet in early 1975 with the departure of Arnesen, and later became a quartet in mid-1976 when Hurd departed the band; to this day the original band (and Alan Williams' successor) has never expanded its line-up beyond four members. Whilst the band continued as a four-piece; Hurd joined Suzi Quatro's band, touring and playing on a number of worldwide hits, which included the Top 20 success "She's in Love with You" in 1979, before re-joining the Rubettes in 1982).
In another attempt to get away from the 'doo-wop' glam image, Thorpe insisted that the trademark vocal harmonies were left off of his composition, "You're the Reason Why". Gerry Shury and the band out-voted him. The version with no vocal backing has been available as a bootleg recording in certain parts of Europe. After Thorpe's departure in 1979, the group's success began to dwindle.
Bass player Mick Clarke recorded a solo album Games in 1979 for the cult German label Blubber Lips.
In 1979, Thorpe departed the band in uncertain circumstances; whilst the band has always maintained that he left due to ill health, Thorpe himself has stated that he was fired over musical differences. Williams then insisted that all of Thorpe's lead vocals were taken off the upcoming album Still Unwinding. His guitar parts and backing vocals remained. The band replaced Thorpe with Bob Benham; but he departed shortly thereafter and the band dissolved in 1980.
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