How I wrote ‘Cuddly Toy’ by Roachford

Roachford
Roachford

Roachford: “It was only because I was looking for another uptempo song for the set that I quickly wrote Cuddly Toy as a filler for the live set”

The Clapham soul man reveals how his breakthrough pop hit was inspired by the seductive charms of a Garfield plushy

Andrew Roachford is a British singer-songwriter and the main force behind the band Roachford, who first tasted success in 1988 with the pop song Cuddly Toy. It was only the second single taken from their self-titled debut studio album, but at its peak it was selling 33,000 copies a day and reached No 4 in the UK charts.

Over the three decades since, Andrew has carved out a career as one of the most compelling and consistent, rock and soul artists the UK has produced. He has released 10 studio albums, several greatest hits collections, has been approached to write for various other artists including Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson and Joss Stone, and toured with contemporaries including Terence Trent D’Arby and The Christians.

For the past decade, Andrew has been part of Mike + The Mechanics, recording with Mike Rutherford’s post-Genesis band, playing live with them across the world. Those efforts were duly recognised in 2019 when he was awarded an MBE for Services to Music.

Here we ask the singer and songwriter about his breakthrough single and how it came to be.

First published in Songwriting Magazine Summer 2021

Roachford 'Cuddly Toy' cover

Released: June 1988
Artist: Roachford
Label: CBS
Songwriters: Andrew Roachford
Producers: Michael H. Brauer, Andrew Roachford, Fayney
UK chart position: 4
US chart position: 25

“I was spotted gigging with my uncle by someone from a record company and they asked me if I could write my own songs. I said, ‘Well, I’ve got these ideas on cassette,’ and that’s kind of when it became something a bit more serious. That would’ve been somewhere around 1985-86 and at that time they were more interested in artists that could sell albums, as opposed to just having a singles, novelty act. So they spent time developing artists. I was playing covers with my uncle, and they weren’t really interested in that. They were interested in: am I the real deal, can I write? So that was good for me.

“After that first sighting, it was a couple of years later that I ended up getting a record deal with CBS, which is now Sony. They signed me on a seven-album deal, which was kind of crazy but was based on the fact that they really heard the potential from my demos. The next thing I knew, I had access to a proper studio and was assigned a producer… When we finally finished the [debut] album, the big hit which was Cuddly Toy wasn’t even written yet! We’d gone as far as to master and package the album without it, and it was only because I was looking for another uptempo song for the set that I quickly wrote Cuddly Toy as a filler for the live set. Then the record company heard it at a couple of gigs and said, ‘What’s that song?’ I was just like, ‘It’s just a live track I’ve put together with the band.’ So they asked me to record it and so I did, and they had to take the album back because it was already in the shops! It was already released without Cuddly Toy on it, can you believe that?!

“So they repackaged it and it became this thing – I could see all of a sudden people were getting interested. But to be honest, we released Cuddly Toy twice and the first time it was a kind of muted reception at radio but people were loving it live. So the record company knew it was a hit and they had to stick with it, and they re-released it the next year and it started climbing up the charts and selling loads. It’s mad.

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“I approached the song as I approached the rest of the album, which was written at my mum’s house in my bedroom at the time, on a little Portastudio thing, really crudely. Actually, I did that song all with machines and keyboards – there was no guitar on it – and I was doing it in the spirit of Stax soul but with a rocky edge. I brought it to the rehearsal with the band and, of course, the guitarist plugged in and turned it up a little bit, and the chorus became rockier due to that sound. Then I really it was going to be a different animal than I initially started with, but I loved it and went with it. We basically thrashed it about in a rehearsal room and then went into the studio, and we recorded it in a day. It was mixed in New York by Michael Brauer who also co-produced it and gave it that really punchy 80s [sound].

“There were a few things that happened that were so leftfield, that got into my psyche. One is that my manager also had ownership of the Garfield the cat cuddly toy merchandise! And he insisted that we took a big stuffed animal and plonk it on the stage, so we could kill two birds with one stone – get his artist away and also advertise his cuddly toy range. We thought it was ridiculous but we did it. And the girls used to always try and steal it, so that’s when we realised that women had a thing for stuffed cuddly toys that blokes just didn’t get. My keyboard player used to walk around with it and use it as a sort of dodgy chat-up line, but his success rate was 100 percent! I thought that was really ridiculous, so I literally wrote the lyric to have a laugh at him and it was an in-joke with the band that no one else would really get. So that’s why the lyrics are so leftfield. I still have that cuddly toy!

Roachford

Roachford: “I knew my changes and it’s not technically wrong, it’s just unusual”

“A lot of musos say I’ve got a weird way of writing that sometimes throws people off what key the song is written in. They often think that Cuddly Toy is in one key when it’s actually in a different root key, so the chorus seems like a strange choice of change to go to. Me and my bass player got invited to a Billy Joel gig at Wembley Arena and before he went on he asked us to meet him backstage. He said, ‘Who wrote Cuddly Toy?’ and I said, ‘I did,’ and he said, ‘Why did you go to that change from the chorus?’ It was the most bizarre thing! So I said to him, ‘Erm…well, it felt good,’ which wasn’t very technical terminology, and he looked at me bemused and then let us go. It hadn’t even occurred to me, but I think I just did it because I like blues, so I like putting blues over all chords. I did have a very classical and jazz upbringing, so I knew my changes and it’s not technically wrong, it’s just unusual – it probably is in a minor key as opposed to major, so it’s what the jazz people call ‘modal’. That’s kind of how I write: I like writing with one key against another.

Cuddly Toy was a hit in America, but in other parts of [the world], they didn’t quite get it… The issue I had in the UK was – because Cuddly Toy was so huge – people had a preconceived idea of me and it was kind of wrong, so they weren’t open to me doing something different. Had I started with the other stuff in the UK, people would’ve embraced it a lot easier.”

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The latest album from Roachford, Twice In A Lifetime is out now. To find out more, visit roachford.co.uk

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