BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”


A couple of weeks ago, I featured the song “The Night Chicago Died” by the English group Paper Lace. I was reading up about them on Wikipedia, and discovered that, while they’re considered a “one-hit wonder” in the United States, they had another hit in England, “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero.” When I saw that, I thought, “But Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods did that one!”

As it turns out, Paper Lace’s version of the song was released in the UK and rose to the top of the British Singles Chart for three weeks in March, 1974. By the time they got ready to release it in North America, Donaldson’s was already on the charts in the US and Canada. It reached #1 on the Hot 100 on June 15, 1974 for two weeks, and #1 in Canada the first week of July. All told, the song sold 3.5 million copies and was the #21 single in the US according to Billboard magazine. Paper Lace did release their song in North America, but it only reached #96.

Well, those things happen, right?

I listened to both versions, and while they’re very similar, I decided that pitting the two versions against one another would make an interesting battle.

Paper Lace Version

Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods Version

Now, it’s time to vote: who did the better version, Nottingham, England’s Paper Lace, or Cincinnati, Ohio’s Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods? If you have trouble selecting, try it this way: if both versions of the song were on the chart at the same time, which one would you buy (assuming you would)? In either case, leave me a comment and tell me which one you prefer. Voting is open until 12:01 AM on Saturday, November 14, and I’ll announce the winner later that day.

Then, after voting here, check out the other blogs which might or might not be holding Battles of the Bands:

Tossing It Out
Far Away Series
StMcC Presents Battle of the Bands
Your Daily Dose
Mike’s Ramblings
Curious as a Cathy
DC Relief – Battle of the Bands
This Belle Rocks
Book Lover
Alex J. Cavanaugh
Shady Dell Music & Memories
Debbie D. at The Doglady’s Den
Angels Bark
Jingle Jangle Jungle
Women: We Shall Overcome
Cherdo on the Flipside
Holli’s Hoots ‘n’ Hollers
J. A. Scott
Quiet Laughter

Results on Saturday!

19 thoughts on “BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero”

  1. This one was pretty tough for me to decide. I like Paper Lace’s instrumental sound a lot better, but Donaldson did the vocals much better, without the jarring voice change of Paper Lace’s version. Yet, Donaldson’s take is just a little too fast for a tragic love ballad, IMO.

    So it all comes down to a very minor past disappointment. 🙂 When I heard “The Night Chicago Died” on the radio, I bought the Paper Lace cassette from Columbia Record and Tape Club (remember that?). When I saw that it had “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” on it, I thought, “Wow, bonus!” But I was quite disappointed to find that it was noticeably different from the version I was hearing on the radio. I didn’t realize until your Battle post that the radio version was not Paper Lace; I just thought they did two versions, one for radio and one for tape.

    So in the end, my vote goes to Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods, for the vocals and the memory.


  2. John, I remember this song. I had three uncles in the Vietnam, so every time I hear this song I think of them being sent off to fight and how sad it made me. Both versions are good and I had no clue across the pond this song was done till now. Interesting tid-bit to know, so thanks! I’m going with Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. Great battle that didn’t require bloodshed!


  3. JOHN ~
    Very interesting background info that I knew nuttin’ of.

    I listened to both, trying to be as objective as possible (despite the fact that I knew and like the U.S. hit version). And I think I succeeded.

    It’s funny that I’ve always associated ‘THE NIGHT CHICAGO DIED’ and ‘BILLY DON’T BE A HERO’ with each other. Well, both from the same time period, and both novelty story-songs. But I had no idea the connection went deeper than that. (BTW, I much prefer ‘…CHICAGO DIED’.)

    For me, BO & HEY clearly do the better version and deserved to have the hit in the U.S.

    I really disliked the sudden high-pitched female voice intruding a couple times in the Paper Lace version. It was very distracting. Aside from that, the lead vocal in the BO & HEY rendition is better, period. So, this competition wasn’t very close for me. An easy vote on my part. But a cool Battle with some surprising, unknown insider facts.


    ~ D-FensDogG
    ‘Loyal American Underground’


  4. I didn’t realize that this song didn’t go very far on the charts.

    My dad knew a guy who changed out the 45s in all the jukeboxes and I had a steady supply of records. I never really paid attention to chart numbers back then. Even now, I have to look it up to comment on a song’s history with the masses.

    I like the original Paper Lace version – and YOU, for reminding me of this song!


    1. It went to #1 in the US and the UK, just that Bo Donaldson’s version went to #1 in the US and Paper Lace’s did so in the UK. Donaldson’s is practically unheard anywhere but in North America, and Paper Lace’s came out after Donaldson’s in the US. Bad timing all around.


  5. This is tough. I like the percussive nature of the first one a lot. But, I don’t care for the female voice just coming in as the “fiancé.” In contrast, I really like the vocals of the second one… even though I miss that excellent percussion from the first one.

    Sigh. Which to choose?

    I’ve listened to both twice. I think I’m going with Bo Donaldson. I like the vocals enough better for it to be a winner. Plus, I like the flute on the end.


  6. My initial thought is why bother covering this song. It has never been a song that I paid much mind to. I like some bubble gum pop but I prefer stupider nonsense lyrics. In this song they were trying to say something, but maybe they should have said in another way.

    Between the two I’ll go with Paper Lace as it sounded fuller, less tinny, and a tad better. Still somewhat bad though to my ears.

    Interesting Battle nevertheless.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


  7. I know the Paper Lace version and I enjoy it much better than the other. The other sounds to peppy and cheerful like it is from an Andy Hardy movie. paper Lace gives just the right style so they get my vote


  8. I can see why Paper Lace’s slightly later release did not climb as high on the charts. Both these are excellent, closely matched in style, vocals, and instruments.

    I’m voting for Paper Lace because I am a veteran, and military wife, and I loved the colonial/militant sound of the drum and fife (flute? picholo?). That sound is evocative and visual, if you can understand what I’m getting at.

    Thank you John, for this wonderful tribute to soldiers, and the families they leave behind. War is devastating on everyone, and this weekend’s terrorism is likely to require the induction of more soldiers to fight this battle. A terrible thing.


  9. Hi John. This one takes me back… to when songs were overplayed yet underfed. Maybe it was me, but it seemed like every Variety Show played it up too. Never knew it was the original of Paper Lace, though I. loved ‘The Night Chicago Died.’

    My vote is for Paper Lace. Thanks, John.


  10. Our vote (no, that’s not the royal first-person; my honey is playing along today) goes to the original Paper Lace version. The Bo Donaldson one was good, but sounded a tad too disco-ish (reminded me of that “Hands Up” song). Paper Lace, though, sounds a bit more rock-ish. Ish 😀
    Cool battle, John!
    Guilie @ Quiet Laughter


  11. My vote goes to Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods. They’re very similar but I just liked Bo’s version better. Although I think my dog liked the Paper Lace version: he kept cocking his head at the beginning with all the whistling! 🙂

    Michele at Angels Bark


  12. I vote for Bo Donaldson. It’s difficult to make a decision because the two are so similar, but Paper Lace kind of bugged me because of the high-pitched whistling or whatever it is at the beginning and because the woman starts singing when it’s time for what the fiancee says. Although I’m a soprano, music that’s too high pitched hurts my ears, and having the woman’s voice come in seems sappy to me.



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