Album: Back To Front (1972)
Charted: 1 2
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Songfacts®:

  • For most of this song, Gilbert O'Sullivan sounds like he's singing to his (much) younger girlfriend. It gets more and more awkward as he gets firm with her and orders her back in bed, but then he reveals he is not Clair's boyfriend, but her babysitter.

    Clair is a real girl, the 3-year-old daughter of O'Sullivan's manager, Gordon Mills. Gilbert did indeed babysit her and experienced the joy and pain that comes from spending time with a delightful little girl who won't go to bed. That's the real Clair laughing at the end of the song.

    In a Songfacts interview with O'Sullivan, he said the song is really for Clair's parents, Gordon and Jo. "They would ring me up and say they had to go to some big do, and I would babysit," he said. "I'm one of six, so I'm used to kids. The song was written as a 'thank you' to the parents, and she laughs at the end. Gordon plays the harmonica solo, so it's pretty much a family record."
  • In America, this was the follow-up to Sullivan's smash hit "Alone Again (Naturally)," which topped the chart for six weeks. "Clair" was also a huge hit there, but it was far bigger in the UK, where it went to #1. O'Sullivan had another chart-topper there with "Get Down."
  • "Uncle Ray" in the lyric was not inserted to rhyme with "hearing you say," but alludes to Ray O'Sullivan, Gilbert's real name.
  • Alas, this is a love song that had a most unhappy ending in real life. Gordon Mills, the father of Clair, was the man who can be said to have created Gilbert O'Sullivan. The Irishman was born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan, and moved to the North of England as a boy when his father was offered a job. After finishing art college, Raymond moved to the capital to chase the dream, a path taken by countless songwriters and other artistes before and since, successful and not so. He got lucky when a workmate who had a contract with CBS gave him an intro to the company, and he was signed up for a five-year deal, which must have been music to his ears at the time, but led precisely nowhere.

    Eventually, he came to the attention of Gordon Mills, who knew the music industry inside out, having been both a performer and a songwriter before moving over to the business side. (He co-wrote "It's Not Unusual," the song that launched the career of Tom Jones). Mills signed O'Sullivan to MAM, changed his name, and the world was his oyster.

    Alas, as often happens when a star arrives, he decides he is being underpaid, while the person who guided him to fame and fortune believes Mr. Ten Percent should receive a larger slice of the pie. Their relationship, which had been as much friendship as business, ended in the courts. After years of litigation, O'Sullivan came out on top; the London Times of May 6, 1982 reported that "agreements made between Mr. O'Sullivan and Mr. Mills and his company, Management Agency and Music Ltd [were] 'an unreasonable restraint of trade.'"

    Among other things, O'Sullivan won control of his songs and master tapes. According to a July 1995 article by Grace Bradberry, the court case left Mills humiliated, his company collapsed, his wife divorced him, and he died in 1986 a broken man. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 2
  • Jo Mills and Clair reunited with O'Sullivan in 2009 when they watched him perform at Royal Albert Hall in London. In 2017, Clair came to O'Sullivan's concert in Hyde Park, where he performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra. "My daughters were with her," he told Songfacts. "She said when I sang 'Clair' in front of 25, 30 thousand people, she had tears in her eyes. The song means a lot to her. She's very grown up now, with two children of her own, but I still have that relationship with her."

Comments: 26

  • AnonymousThis is b a beautiful song by a great musician. Back in those days the "I'm going to marry you uncle Ray" is innocent and we little girls would often say "I am going to marry uncle so and so when I grow up. It would be someone who we had a close bond with or admired. Just innocent.
  • Joseph James from Pittsburgh It’s a wonderful song about an adorable, precocious little girl. If you have never had any experience with little girls, you couldn’t know how they are able to captivate you with their innocence, honesty and playfulness.
  • Themightyjobu from Eau Claire, WiFor a long time, I thought the Oh, Clair at the end was added by the DJ, since the city is pronounced the same way.
  • Homer Stein from Ottawa CanadaI have been a fan of Gilbert from the beginning. In the days when this song was first recorded and released, it truly was a sweet and innocent song. The passage of time has altered the view of male babysitting to such a degree that most things are viewed as tainted and looked upon with suspicion. Let us remember to ask, would Clair and her mum still be friends with "Uncle Ray" had the situation and song not have been as advertised? HS
  • Bruh from This Is WeirdThe song talked about him and Clair getting married. that's weird.
  • Alex from FloridaI think that those who doth protest too loudly about "X" (homosexuality, pedophilia, racism, etc) are simply trying to conceal their own fantasies about "X".
  • Mike from AmsterdamPeople love their dogs and cats too. Does it mean there's something going on between them? Children are very sweet, and therefore very easy to have lovely feelings for. One could adore a child so much that he misses her company, her smile, her laughter, etc. It doesn't have to mean anything else. The first rule of a pedophile is secrecy; no one must find out. But Gilbert wrote a song on it; he had nothing to hide. It's a sweet song sung to a sweet girl by a sweet singer, that all. But all these accusations only show how sick the PC society has become.
  • Dwayne from New JerseyI can put this to rest right now. Gilbert would have Never written the song , recorded it, and placed it in the public eye, if there was something going on. I mean, why would he be open with it, and his feelings towards her at the time if there was anything goin on? He wouldn't, and that's just it. He'd be trying to the hide the fact, if his feelings for her were anything other than just a tender, fatherly regard.
  • Music Analyst from Usa It’s a fantastic song from a fantastic era. Clear your filthy minds, those of you who are thinking the worst. Gutter-brains.
  • Spark from UsThere is nothing at all wrong with this song. I have daughter and I fully get what’s being said in the song. People need to get a grip.
  • Stu from UkThe “Singers Unlimited “ accapella version is well worth a listen
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 24th 1972, "Clair" by Gilbert O'Sullivan peaked at #2 (for 2 weeks) on Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; it had entered the chart on October 22nd and spent 16 weeks on the Top 100...
    The first week it was at #2 the #1 record was "Me and Mrs. Jones" by Billy Paul and its 2nd week at #2 it was "You're So Vain" by Carly Simon that kept it out of the top spot...
    In his native Ireland on Nov. 9th it reached #1 (for 3 weeks) on the Irish Recorded Music Association chart...
    An across from Ireland in the U.K. on Nov. 11th it also peaked at #1 (for 2 weeks) on the U.K. Single chart...
    Back here in the U.S. on December 9th once more it reached #1 (for 3 weeks) on Billboard's Adult Contemporary Tracks chart...
    Mr. O'Sullivan, born Raymond Edward O'Sullivan, celebrated his 67th birthday earlier this month on December 1st.
  • Barry from Gagetown Nb Canada, -Have any of the negative critics of this 70's pop hit really examined any of today's lyrics ???
  • Frank from Belfast, IrelandIts so sad to hear all the negative vibes about a classic masterpiece. Why did so many folks buy it? I wish I could have put my emotions about my own little girl into such poetry. I'm a musician, as was Gilbert. Musos are emotional folk unlike the potential pedos who think it was wrong. These are folk who like to validate their own doubts about themselves perhaps.
  • Steve from Whittier, CaI agree with everyone, especially Dave Fowler.It's just a nice song.
  • Eileen from Peoria, Az'Clair' is a beautiful song that Gilbert O'Sullivan helped write with the help of Clair's mum. Anyone who thinks this song is inappropriate in any way, needs to GET A LIFE plus you need to get your mind out of the gutter at once! Geesh...enough already with the nonsense!
  • Jeff from Cambridge, United KingdomThis is a lovely and touching song in some ways but it is very clear he had more than feelings of closeness for a little girl - 'you get to me in a way I can't describe' and 'why in spite of our age difference do I cry, each time I leave you I feel I could die'. Those are the words of a man tormented by the fact that he was aware his feelings for a child were inappropriate.
  • Tom from Souderton, PaI agree with David Fowler too.
  • Audra Claire from Fayetteville, ArMy dad used to play me this song when I was little. I absolutely love it, and listening to it now that I live away from my parents brings me right back to my childhood and my dad singing it to me. I didn't ever realize that the song was about a little girl until now, and that just makes it even more special to me.
  • Jas from Clifton, TxIt's just a nice song about girl he was babysitting. That's it. I'm not really sure what there is to be "a big damn freaked out" about. The song makes a lot of sense if you have a daughter. Little girls are really special and kind of mind-blowing. Their world is so much different than ours. They do "get to you in a way you can't describe." A little girl telling him she wants to marry him someday isn't even remotely unusual. He didn't say he wanted to marry her, it's just a little girl doing what little girls do. I've found that a lot of people who take this song entirely the wrong way aren't parents and most likely haven't even babysat for someone's daughter on a regular basis. You get attached to a little girl, be it your daughter or a girl you babysit regularly. In the 4 years since my daughter was born I've come to completely understand what he's talking about. Their world is just this innocent place where the realities of our world just don't apply anymore. When you hear a song like this and it immediately makes you think "Ah, he's a pedophile!," it says a lot more about you than it ever will about Gilbert O'Sullivan. Is your life really so tragic that you just can't believe that anything can ever be innocent anymore?
  • John from Dublin, IrelandThe harmonica solo was played by O'Sullivan's then manager Gordon Mills, and the little girl's laughs on the track were courtesy of Mills' daughter Clair about whom the song was written.
  • Ted from Phoenix, AzActually, there were questions raised about the song at the time it was out--I remember hearing people asking what Gilbert O'sullivan was doing to make the little girl laugh at the song's end.
  • Steven from Chicago, IlA beautiful, heart-warming song. Anyone who gets "a bit damned freaked out" listening to it has unexamined issues of his own.
  • Allox from Pom, --I loved it when I first heard it but then I started listening to the lyrics and got a bit damn freaked out.
  • Rob from Chicago, IlI agree Dave we've come a long way in the wrong direction. But that doesn't take away the heart behind such a warm and caring song.
  • David Fowler from Rochester, NhIt IS about him having to babysit, but these days, I don't think it could ever be a hit. There would be all sorts of talk about him being a pedophile and the like. We've come a long way in the wrong direction.
    I like it.
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