For every hit song you know, there are 10 you don’t. Either it dated quickly, or it was a minor hit, on and off the charts in a flash, or it only sold on one side of the Atlantic. Therefore, while you’re probably quite familiar with such 1974 smashes as “Bennie and The Jets” or “The Joker,” you likely don’t know a little ditty called “Pinball.”
Brian Protheroe began his career in the UK entertainment industry singing in folk and blues-inspired groups in the 60’s, but simultaneously maintained a presence in the theater world, as well. Upon being cast in Hamlet in 1970, Protheroe decided to devote himself full-time to acting. A few years later, however, while playing the part of a pop singer in a London show, indie label Chrysalis offered him a record deal. How could he resist?
Protheroe’s first single was unusual for a pop song in that it had no chorus. He wrote it about a low point in his life: unemployed, living in a flea-ridden flat, composing uninspiring songs, and apparently drinking a lot of pale ale and playing a lot of pinball. An unhappy chappy was our man Brian. He also still felt broken up about the break up of The Beatles (people took it very hard at the time), which he referenced in the Beatlesque song he proceeded to write about how everything seemed to be going to shite.
Chrysalis didn’t have much promotional muscle in the US so “Pinball” didn’t make any impression there, but the single climbed as high as #22 in the UK in 1974, providing Protheroe with his sole hit. After a few albums, he returned to concentrating solely on his acting career, steadily working over the decades on stage and screen, both big and small.
Those who have stumbled across his brief time as a singer, however, will always know Brian Protheroe as the man who’s been on the pinball.