Two of the 1970’s most forgotten number ones back to back, then. From ‘Angelo’, to ‘Float On’, as the world shrugs and thinks ‘Nope, don’t remember them…’
Float On, by The Floaters (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 21st – 28th August 1977
Musically, this is dense, lush, soul-cheese. The bassline is smooth, while the production has a ‘sounds of rainforest’ vibe, all echoey and dripping, with what sounds like tropical birds in the distance. While, lyrically, it’s a lonely hearts ad. There are four members of The Floaters, and they all take turns at introducing themselves, their star-signs, and the kind of women they’re after.
First up is Ralph, an Aquarius. Now I like a woman who loves her freedom, And who can hold her own… Then Charles, a Libra, who likes a woman who carries herself like Miss Universe… He really goes for it with the falsetto, in a kind of vocal peacocking move. (And is there a more seventies line than let me take you Loveland…?) Actually, by the late nineties, every pop group worth their salt had a gimmick for introducing the members in their debut single. In this respect, The Floaters were well ahead of their time.
Anyway. Our Leo, Paul, isn’t picky. See, I like all women of the world, he announces proudly. And last up is Larry, who delivers his sign, Cancer!, slightly too loudly. He likes… Oh to be honest, who cares? The descriptions are deliberately vague in order to not put off any woman who might buy the record. I guess sociology students could look back, forty-plus years later, at this song as a first-hand example of what men of the late-1970s looked for in a woman (if that was their ultra-niche specialist subject).
Float, Float on… I’m not sure where they’ll be floating, or what they’ll be on, but I’m getting an image of each Floater with his girl, in a swan-shaped boat, cruising down one of those old ‘Tunnel of Love’ rides. It all goes a bit weird at the end, with some trippy flutes and heavy breathing, as we wonder just what is going on as those boats float out of sight…
The Floaters were from Detroit, and are stone-cold, one-hit wonders. ‘Float On’ floated to #1 in the UK, and to #2 in the USA, and that was that. To be honest, naming your band after your debut single, or vice-versa, pretty much guarantees that you will remain in one-hit purgatory for all eternity. They do, though, usurp Pussycat as the chart-topping act with the worst name because to me a ‘floater’ is, at best, an unwelcome object in your drink and, at worst, an unwelcome returnee to your toilet bowl…
You’ve got to love how arbitrary the pop charts can be. How utterly unconcerned they are with what came before. From Donna Summer’s thrilling vision of the future; to this. The Brotherhood have returned, whether you wanted them to or not…
Angelo, by Brotherhood of Man (their 2nd of three #1s)
1 week, from 14th August – 21st August 1977
In my post on their 1st number one, ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’, I suggested that Brotherhood of Man had a whiff of ABBA about them. Two boys, two girls, a Eurovision winning song… Well, here they’re not even trying to hide the similarities. It’s ABBA-lite, Bjorn Again with an original song. (And it’s not even that original…)
Can you guess what ABBA song this is heavily influenced by? Long ago, High on a mountain in Mexico… Cue marching drums and folky guitars. We meet a shepherd boy called Angelo, who met a young girl and he loved her so… It’s a Romeo and Juliet story. She’s rich; he’s not. They run away together, forever, avoiding danger, strangers… (the lyrics read like rhyming 101). Until life catches up with them and they kill themselves. Meanwhile the darting pianos from ‘Dancing Queen’ turn up for the chorus.
It is actually quite a brutal topic for a very throwaway song. They saw them lying there, Hand in hand… (They run all the way from the mountains to the sand, just so they have something to rhyme with ‘hand.) I wonder if it was shocking at the time, for a basic little pop group to sing so flippantly about suicide? We had ‘death-discs’ a-plenty in the early sixties, but they all died in car wrecks and plane crashes, not at their own hands…
‘Fernando’ is far from being my favourite ABBA song, so this dodgy knock-off was never likely to grab me. What I will give it is that the female leads – in contrast to the male-led ‘Save Your Kisses…’ – give it their all. A song can be complete crap, but at the same time redeemed by a singer who sounds as if they believe wholeheartedly in said crap.
Amazingly, Brotherhood of Man will be back shortly, for their third and final #1. They really got some mileage out of their Eurovision fame. Equally amazingly, that disc will also be named after another Spanish-sounding hombre, ‘Figaro’. I have never heard it, but will be shivering in anticipation until we arrive.
The Jacksons and Hot Chocolate were merely our disco’s warm-up acts, setting the tone and getting the audience limbered up. The headline act is ready now. Ms. Summer will take the stage…
I Feel Love, by Donna Summer (her 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 17th July – 14th August 1977
This is a shift forwards. They come along every few years, number ones that announce a new phase, a new sound, a real moment in popular music. ‘Rock Around the Clock’, ‘How Do You Do It’, ‘Rock Your Baby’… Rarely, though, do the records in question sound as if they are from another galaxy altogether.
The first thing that hits you, after a short fade in, are the Moog synthesisers. They are harsh, drilling into your brain. We’ve had synths before, plenty of times, but not used like this. This feels like a slap in the face. Meanwhile, Donna Summer’s voice floats high above: ethereal, echoey… so unhuman that it could be as computerised as the music. It’s like her vocals were recorded years before, like this is already the remix.
It’s so good… There’s not much to the lyrics, really. Donna Summer is not the star of the show here – although her vocals are a huge part of the song’s appeal, and its legacy. I feel love, I feel love, I feel lo-o-ove… The stars are Giorgio Moroder’s synths: clanking, chirping, burping away. He layered them, he overdubbed them, he played them slightly out of sync with one another… They’re a world away from ‘Son of My Father’… You start to get a little dizzy if you play this for long enough at a high volume. I can’t imagine what it would have done to you in a sweaty disco in 1977. But you can picture it – the lights, the vibrating speakers, the amyl nitrate in the air…
It’s not a particularly nice song. It’s not one for any old time of day. But it is spectacular. And it’s not disco, at least not the kind of sparkly, flirty disco that’s been the dominant sound of the past few years. It’s dance music. EDM ground zero. (Though I’m not saying this invented dance music in one fell swoop. That’s the problem with only reviewing the chart-topping singles – it’s not an exact overview of popular music as a whole.) But what’s for sure is that it sounds not unlike something a big-name DJ could produce in 2021.
The best bit – sorry Donna – is when everything falls away but the metallic beat. We’re left with a thumping heartbeat, and what sounds like a mouse rattling around in your skirting boards. On ‘I Remember Yesterday’, the album this single is taken from, each track was designed to sound as if it were from a different era. ‘I Feel Love’ was the final track. The future.
For your pleasure, you can choose from the four minute single edit, the six minute album version, or the eight minute extended 12” mix. (We could stretch a case for this being the longest #1 single yet, but we’d be chancing it.) The #1 that this most reminds me of – not in terms of sound, but in terms of impact and weirdness – is another futuristic hit: ‘Telstar’. That, though, was an isolated one-off. Not many subsequent records have sounded like ‘Telstar’. Large swathes of the 1980s will sound like ‘I Feel Love’.
It is a shame that Donna Summer’s only UK #1 is this. Not that it’s not great, but she isn’t the main thing about it. If this was a more recent release, it’d be Giorgio Moroder ft. Donna Summer. The producer would be the star. In the US, this wasn’t a #1, but her other classics were. ‘Bad Girls’, ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’… I may have to do a Donna Top 10 very soon, as I’m not happy with her just having one appearance on this blog. She passed away in 2012, recognised as an influence on every disco act, every dance act, and every black woman who had hit the charts ever since.
Taking up where The Jacksons left off – I’m sure any DJ worth their salt could spin this and ‘Show You the Way to Go’ together seamlessly – here’s Hot Chocolate with another slice of disco-lite.
So You Win Again, by Hot Chocolate (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 26th June – 17th July 1977
I love the guitar sound on this record. It sounds like a whale bellowing from the ocean’s depths: primal and deep. Is it even a guitar? A synthesiser? Electric violin? Whatever it is, it works brilliantly. It helps create a really thick, sticky sound, as if this whole record has been dipped in a vat of honey.
There’s also a hypnotic bass to drag you along. This record has a pretty sleazy-sounding undertone to it, which the lyrics don’t really justify. It’s a song about a man spurned: Your perfumed letters didn’t say, That you’d be leaving any day… She does sound flighty – can you really trust someone who sends perfumed letters?
So you win again, You win again, Here I stand again… Under all the heavy instrumentation, however, a great pop song lurks. There are plenty of hooks: the do-do-dodoops and a catchy middle-eight in the I can’t refuse her… line. Plus the way lead singer Errol Brown draws out the ‘lo-ser’ in the chorus is great. But I think what makes the whole song complete is the little ‘So’ in the title. It adds weight to the singer’s resignation, to the fact that he’s a schmuck who’s been fooled before and will be fooled again…
This is sophisticated, and layered pop music. There’s a marimba in there somewhere, a horn, and strings, while the rest of the band wrap themselves around the lead vocals. In my last post I mentioned bands whose sole #1 single isn’t their most famous. Hot Chocolate are better known for ‘You Sexy Thing’ (a #2) and probably ‘Every 1s a Winner’ (only a #12!) But, out of these three, I’d say ‘So You Win Again’ is the better record.
This was already their seventh Top 10 hit, though, in a run stretching right back to the start of the decade. They’d have a few more, and are still a going concern, still with three of the members that appeared on this record. Lead singer Brown, he of the velvety voice, left the group in the eighties and passed away in 2015.
Before I finish, can I just give a shout out to ‘Hot Chocolate’ as a brilliant band name? I recently called out ‘Pussycat’ for having a ridiculous name, and there is an even worse one coming up shortly. But ‘Hot Chocolate’ stays just the right side of cheesy, and sums up the group’s sound perfectly.
And so, with a minimum of fuss and very little fanfare, one of the most famous voices in pop history shimmies onto the stage.
Show You the Way to Go, by The Jacksons (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 19th – 26th June 1977
We’re back in a disco groove, but a very gentle disco groove. It’s the sort of record a DJ throws on at half nine, just as the night is getting going. I don’t know everything, But there’s something I do know… The lyrics are very generic ‘let’s get together and dance’, on first listen, as we enjoy a little horn solo and some MJ adlibs (no ee-hees or sha-mons, yet, but plenty of come ons and whooping). As it fades, he does something remarkable, looping his voice to make it sound like the needle is skipping. Or maybe it’s studio trickery…
Is there a deeper meaning here? We can come together, And think like one… Live together underneath the sun… It sounds like they’re looking beyond the dancefloor, to a world of harmony between brothers and sisters, united in dance. All the while, the groove keeps your feet tapping. At first, I thought this sounded a bit lightweight; but it’s improving with every listen.
This is far from The Jacksons’ first visit to the charts. It was their 7th Top 10 hit in the UK, but their 1st since 1972, since leaving Motown and dropping the ‘5’. It signalled the start of a run of disco classics: ‘Blame It on the Boogie’, ‘Can You Feel It’ and more. Meanwhile, in terms of their young lead singer’s solo career, ‘Off the Wall’ was just two years away. His voice here is a sort of happy medium: he’s not the high-pitched little boy from ‘Want You Back’ or ‘Rockin’ Robin’ – he was eighteen when this hit – but there aren’t any of the trademark clicks and ticks that mark his huge ‘80s and ‘90s hits.
If you were just getting into the groove with this one, there’s an extended album cut that runs to well over five minutes. I might just keep spinning this disc, it’s definitely catchy, although it’s not instant. It takes a while for the wave to wash over you… And that’s it for The Jacksons as a band. They’re not the first, or the last, act whose only #1 is far from being their most famous hit – think Fleetwood Mac, Dusty, Chuck Berry, and the band coming up next…
So, while The Sex Pistols perhaps should have kicked Rod Stewart off the top, in the end he was replaced by another crazy-haired, middle-finger sticking punk rocker… Only kidding, he was replaced by Kenny Rogers.
Lucille, by Kenny Rogers (his 1st of two #1s)
1 week, from 12th – 19th June 1977
The two main sounds of the mid to early-late seventies, since glam died, have undeniably been disco and slushy soft-rock. But coming up behind, in the bronze medal position, surprisingly, is country and western. We’ve had Tammy Wynette, Billy Connollyas Tammy, J. J. Barrie, Pussycat… and now a proper legend of the genre.
Country music is often sad; and yet often ridiculous. It is a melodramatic genre. And the opening line of this record is up there with some of the very best. In a bar in Toledo, Across from the depot, On a bar stool she took off her ring… Talk about setting a scene! A tawdry tale is told, as the singer approaches this beautiful, sad woman.
She’s been living on dreams, she’s finally had enough, she needs more out of life… Kenny’s about to make his move, when in through the barroom doors strides Lucille’s ex. The big hands were calloused, He looked like a mountain, For a minute I thought I was dead… As silly as all this is, when Kenny Rogers is on form he tells a story like no other.
You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille… The story spins on its head. Four hungry children and a crop in the fields… We assumed she was the victim, finally breaking away from hardship and abuse… But is she? Kenny takes her to a hotel, but when the time comes to do the deed, all he can hear is her estranged husband’s voice… This time your hurtin’ won’t heal…
What this song really needs is a third and final verse. Who’s really to blame? Who’s telling the truth? Does she go back to her family farm? Does Kenny get his leg over? We need closure! Instead we get the chorus and a slow, slow fade. He may have set an excellent scene; but Rogers needs practice in wrapping up a story. Thankfully, come his next #1 single – yes, he has more than one – he will have mastered the art of storytelling, and produced a classic.
If it weren’t for the pretty gritty subject matter, I’d describe this as a lullaby. The guitar sways and soothes, while the bass keeps time like a metronome. Many Kenny Rogers hits I can think of do this, hide a tough subject matter behind a soothing rhythm: ‘Ruby’, ‘The Gambler’, his aforementioned 2nd chart-topper… ‘Lucille’ was his first big smash since breaking with his band The First Edition, and it set him off on an extended run of hits.
I was going to ask why on earth this record made #1, for a near forty-year-old country singer. But perhaps we’re past that. ‘Lucille’ made #1 simply because country and western music was a very popular genre at the time. It’s not an ever-present, but this is far from the last time we’ll be hearing it…
I’ve done a few of these posts before: songs what should have been #1s, for a variety of reasons. Songs that missed top spot because of inconsistencies in chart compilation methods (‘Please Please Me’), songs that were way better than an act’s actual chart toppers (‘Crazy Horses’), songs that are just really, really good (Wizzard). Here, though, we arrive at a record which many allege was kept from reaching number one in the charts because the moral fibre of the British nation depended on it…
‘God Save the Queen’, by The Sex Pistols – #2 in June 1977
June 1977 marked Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Royal tours were planned, street parties were to be held, bunting was being strung from lampposts, Rod Stewart was keeping things sedate and acoustic at the top of the charts… But a gang of snotty, upstart kids calling themselves The Sex Pistols and playing an aggressively simple new style of rock music called ‘punk’ had other ideas.
They had only had one chart hit: ‘Anarchy in the UK’ which reached #38 at the end of 1976. But they had a reputation – which was probably more important than the music – having caused outrage when they called a TV host a ‘dirty sod’ and a ‘fucking rotter’ during a live interview. (Legend has it they were booked last-minute as a replacement for Queen, as Freddie Mercury had a dentist’s appointment. They were then plied with alcohol and goaded into saying something salty.)
In March 1977 they added Sid Vicious to their line-up, after original bassist Glen Matlock left following one argument too many. ‘God Save the Queen’ was one of only two songs Vicious stayed sober long enough to play on. Meanwhile, the conservative press and commentariat were working themselves into quite the tizz at this bunch of louts: “My personal view on Punk Rock is that it’s disgusting, degrading, ghastly, sleazy, prurient, voyeuristic and nauseating. I think most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death,” opined a Tory at the time.
Come the release of their second single, the band were already on their third record label. ‘God Save the Queen’ (she ain’t no human bein’) wasn’t written with the jubilee in mind, according to lead-singer Johnny Rotten (named for his rotten teeth), but the band’s manager Malcolm McLaren couldn’t pass up on the publicity. He organised a flotilla down the Thames, with the Pistols playing the song outside Westminster, and which ended in eleven arrests being made.
By that point, the band were riding high in the charts, with ‘God Save the Queen’ having risen from #11 to #2 just in time for Liz’s big day. The BBC had banned it, some magazines refused to acknowledge the song’s existence – preferring to mark its position on the charts with a dash – and various record stores refused to stock it. Virgin, the Pistol’s new label, were selling twice as many copies of ‘God Save the Queen’ as they were of Rod Stewart’s incumbent chart-topper. However, the BMRB, the company behind chart compilation, ordered that for one week and one week only… shops couldn’t sell their own records. No matter how many copies Virgin Records sold, they wouldn’t count.
Should it have been a #1, if every single had been counted? Possibly. Will anyone ever prove it? Probably not. It’s a bit like the Loch Ness Monster… The last thing the tourist industry of Inverness want is definitive proof that there’s no Nessie. The last thing ageing punks want is proof that they weren’t really denied a chart-topper. It is a hundred times more punk to believe you were silenced. Listening today, forty-five years on, ‘God Save the Queen’ sounds raw and thrilling, but lyrically pretty tame. I love the way Rotten rolls the word ‘Mo-ron’ around, and the refrain of No Future! is fairly iconic. (‘No Future’ was the song’s original title.) Essentially, it’s not so much an attack on the Queen as it is on Britain’s rigid class system: a fascist regime. However, there are far more shocking songs on their debut album, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks (Here’s the Sex Pistols)’ – try ‘Bodies’ and its tale of a teenage abortion for a start.
Then again I wasn’t around in 1977. Maybe punk was genuinely thrilling, or terrifying, depending on your viewpoint. And for an older generation who had gone through the war, rock ‘n’ roll, the swinging sixties, and David Bowie’s drag, perhaps these uncouth, uncivil, ill-mannered upstarts were the final straw. I never thought to ask my grandpa what he made of The Sex Pistols, before he passed away… Though he would get very exercised at the sight of men with stubble, earrings and untucked shirts, so I can probably imagine where he stood on Rotten, Vicious and co.
The Pistols enjoyed several more Top 10 hits after this huge breakthrough, but by January 1978 they had disbanded. By February 1979, Sid Vicious had been accused of murdering his girlfriend Nancy, and had died of a heroin overdose. They burned brightly but briefly, a fleeting menace to the establishment. As I write this, Queen Elizabeth has just celebrated her 95th birthday, and will celebrate 70 years on the throne next year. While the Sex Pistols have long since disintegrated, only briefly reforming for money-spinning tours in the decades since their heyday. Last I heard, Johnny Rotten was wearing MAGA-hats, and endorsing Brexit, still winding everyone up in his role as the grandfather of punk.
The most interesting thing about this next number one is the song which could, maybe should, have replaced it at #1. More on that later. First, Rod’s got some ballads to sing…
I Don’t Want to Talk About It / The First Cut Is the Deepest, by Rod Stewart (his 4th of six #1s)
4 weeks, from 15th May – 12th June 1977
Actually, another interesting thing is that ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ comes from the same album – ‘Atlantic Crossing’ – as Rod’s last chart-topper, ‘Sailing’, which reached the top almost two years ago! That’s a pretty rare feat, mining a LP for singles for that long.
Perhaps you can tell that I’m grasping for interesting things to write about this one, as I’m not finding the music all that gripping. It’s fine: Rod Stewart knows his way around an acoustic ballad like this in his sleep. And perhaps that’s the problem – it’s Rod on autopilot. It’s not got the novelty factor, or the drive, of ‘Maggie May’, or the ridiculous singalong chorus of ‘Sailing’. It’s simply pleasant.
I like the way the strings and guitars lift us to the chorus line: I don’t wanna, Talk about it… Which in itself is also a great line, sung with a lot of feeling. But it’s not enough to hang a whole, five-minute song on. (And that’s another thing – did nobody suggest a ‘single edit’ for this one?)
The guitars, fried and country, are cool, but especially towards the end the song does begin to meander. ‘I Don’t Want…’ was a cover of a 1971 song by Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s sometime band. Rod hasn’t strayed too far from the original, though his version is more polished… and that’s not a good thing. Anyway. What could we possibly need after that? Another heartfelt ballad, of course.
‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’ is another, probably more famous, cover, this time of a Cat Stevens original. It’s another acoustic, bittersweet love song. In fact, I’ll go further than that. It is a thoroughly miserable love song: If you want, I’ll try to love again… As declarations go, it’s certainly honest. He wants her by his side, but only to wipe the tears that he cries… Baby I know, The first cut is the deepest…
Hey, some people are into damaged goods. Again, this ticks all the classy ballad boxes, and Stewart’s voice is as smoky as ever. But, again, it washes over me. Maybe it’s not my thing. Or maybe it’s just dinner party background music. Plus, there’s always the earlier, superior version of ‘The First Cut…’, released by P.P Arnold a decade earlier.
The best double-‘A’ sides have a bit of yin and yang to them. Think of the most famous #2, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ / ‘Penny Lane’. Or Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ / ‘Cabaret’. Even our most recent double-‘A’ #1 from David Cassidy had two very different sounding songs on each side. Interestingly – here I go again – ‘The First Cut…’ was from a more recent album, ‘A Night on the Town’, making this potentially the only double-‘A’ to feature songs from different LPs by the same artist. (I say ‘potentially’, I have neither the time nor the inclination to check.)
So, we are two thirds through Rod Stewart’s chart-topping career, and it’s been wall to wall ballads so far. Luckily, his last two #1s up the tempo quite a bit. Wahey! It’s not that these are bad songs, far from it; they just don’t scream ‘four weeks at #1!’ to me. But, of course, there’s a good chance that, during the last of those four weeks, Rod Stewart didn’t really have the best-selling single in the land. Controversy ahead, then. More to come…
Yet again – and this is happening a lot recently – a record comes along that I realise I know as soon as the vocals begin.
Free, by Deniece Williams (her 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 1st – 15th May 1977
But before we get to the lyrics, we have a sexy, slinky bass-line that enters and wraps itself around us. Mmm yes… Is there a more seventies sound than a funky bass-line? And I just got to be me… Free… Deniece Williams’ voice is very pure, crystal clear. She sounds very young. Was she?
Not particularly, she was twenty-six when she recorded her one and only chart-topper. Still, there’s something very girlish about the way she sings, teasing the words around the beat. Whispering in his ear, My magic potion for love… On first listen, this is standard light-soul fare. Except, she just wants to be free. She wants a man, but not the commitment. How that man pleases me… But I want to be free…
That’s quite the feminist statement, and not one that we’ve heard much so far in our four hundred plus chart-toppers. Women can be steadfast (Cilla, Dusty), they can be playful (Connie Francis, Rosemary Clooney), and they can definitely be disappointed by the men in their lives (Freda Payne, Tammy Wynette). But Williams here is brazen in wanting her cake and eating it too. And good for her!
Perhaps the message is the best bit of this song. On the whole, it’s a bit too slickly soulful, with a bit too much tinkly, shimmering production for my tastes. I’ve noticed that in the first throws of this disco/soul era, around 1974, the production was very thick and layered. Here it’s stripped back and feels a little lightweight. My heart sank when I saw ‘Free’s runtime of close to six minutes, but the single edit chopped things down to three. Actually, though, the six-minute version works as an extended slow jam, with a bit more guitar.
Deniece Williams (from Gary, Indiana, like a certain pop icon we’ll be hearing from very soon) had been releasing singles since the late sixties. ‘Free’ was her big breakthrough hit, though it only hit #1 in the UK. She would have to wait a few months to reach top spot in her homeland, in a duet with our most recent Christmas chart-topper, Johnny Mathis. Then came ‘Footloose’, and the classic ‘Let’s Hear It For the Boy’.
I suppose, in a way, this song brings us back to the easy listening, balladry that was bogging us down a few posts ago. But I can stomach this kind of short, sweet and slightly sassy kind of easy-listening. Next up… a whole double ‘A’-side of hardcore balladry. Party on!
Already we reach the mid-point of ABBA’s chart-topping run! Their fifth #1, coming from the same album (‘Arrival’) as both ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Fernando’. Hit packed!
Knowing Me, Knowing You, by ABBA (their 5th of nine #1s)
5 weeks, from 27th March – 1st May 1977
Speaking of ‘Fernando’, the intro to this record sounds like a leftover from that recording session – acoustic guitars and a hint of pan-pipes. Fear not, though, for straight away that funky bass-line comes to our rescue and actually, the nearest comparison from the band’s earlier hits is to ‘SOS’. Power chords and actual hard rock guitars.
No more, Carefree, Laughter, Silence ever after… I’ve mentioned ABBA’s unique brand of English before, and I do love these rhymes that you can see coming from a mile off. Then we get a bit emo: Walkin’ through an empty house, Tears in my eyes… We are a long way from ‘Mamma Mia’s camp exclamations, or ‘Dancing Queen’s affirmation.
Knowing me, Knowing You, There is nothing we can do! It’s a break-up song, but at least it sounds like it’s mutual. A conscious uncoupling, if you will, and the intricate male backing vocals in the chorus do make it sound like a conversation. Breaking up is never easy I know but I have to go… Meanwhile the image of empty rooms in which children used to play is a powerful one.
In fact, it’s an early example of the sorts of songs ABBA would go on to make in the 80s, after their imperious phase and their disco phase. It doesn’t hit as hard as, say, ‘One of Us’, though; because the band had yet to go through their famed break-ups. Agnetha and Bjorn were still together, while Benny and Frida wouldn’t get married until 1978. Perhaps, then, we can say it’s a fictional story about a break up; while those later hits were documentaries.
I have seen ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ on top of several ‘ABBA – Ranked’ articles over the years, which has always surprised me a bit. It’s a cracker of a chorus (I mean, it’s ABBA, duh), but it’s never been my favourite. I have, for example, never really understood the song’s signature hook: the a-haaaaa. What does it mean? What does it signify? Meanwhile, Brits of a certain age will never now be able to listen to this song without picturing Alan Partridge.
Maybe it’s because those writers didn’t want to choose the obvious singles, or maybe the song’s slightly low-key vibe makes it a hipsters’ choice. (Though ‘SOS’ is the true hipster’s favourite ABBA single.) It is not as instant as their earlier #1s, but still a classic. Few bands have runs like ABBA did in the mid-to-late seventies. ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ gave them their 4th chart-topper, and their seventeenth week at #1, in little over a year. And they will be back soon enough…