303. ‘I’m Still Waiting’, by Diana Ross

For the second time this year, a former member of one of the sixties biggest groups scores a solo #1 single. From George Harrison, to Diana Ross. From The Supremes, to Diana Ross & The Supremes, to Diana. Just Diana.

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I’m Still Waiting, by Diana Ross (her 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th August – 12th September 1971

The first word that comes to mind when this record intros is ‘polished’: polished strings, glossy production, not a dollar spared. Ross’s vocals, when they come in, are breathy and crystal clear. I remember when, I was five and you were ten, boy… Diana Ross, as always, has a voice you could swim in.

She’s loved this lad since they were kids, thought they were destined to be together, only to one day be told: Little girl, Please don’t wait for me, Wait patiently for love, Someday it will surely come… But Diana can’t take this advice, can’t give up on her first love. She’s still waiting.

It’s a record that I’m struggling to get into. I can see that it’s good – well-structured and beautifully recorded. It’s pop, but for grown-ups. Sophisticated soul. By the seventies, the people who had grown up buying pop music were getting older, and that starts to show in the number of AOR/MOR (not sure if these terms existed in 1971, but still) tracks that will become huge hits in this decade. Pop was no longer just for teenagers.

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And as I play it again, ‘I’m Still Waiting’ is slowly growing on me. I don’t love it, yet, but it’s gradually imprinting on my brain. It’s not short of hooks – the Little girl chorus is catchy, as is the And I’m still waiting… that hangs at the end of each of chorus. And there’s the I’m just a fool…! from the backing singers. And then, Diana speaks. Love has never shown his face, Since the day you walked out that door… Come back, Can’t you see it’s you I’m waiting for…

Will he ever come back? We’ll never know. The song shimmers to a fade-out. I can’t say I knew much about this record before writing this: it’s not one of Ms. Ross’s many hits that I could have named, that didn’t top the charts. Apparently it was one Tony Blackburn who plugged this album track so much on his radio show that Motown gave permission for it to be released in the UK. And it’s a sign of Ross’s longevity and sheer star quality that this #1 comes seven years after her first chart-topper with The Supremes (‘Baby Love’) and fifteen (!) years before her next chart-topper. She was a huge musical presence for the best part of five decades, and it’s been nice to discover this forgotten gem.

Listen to every number one single so far, here.

302. ‘Get It On’, by T. Rex

Aw yeah! T. Rex score their second number in less than three months. There are riffs, and there are riffs. This, baby, is a riff.

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Get It On, by T. Rex (their 2nd of four #1s)

4 weeks, from 18th July – 15th August 1971

It’s a riff that growls and purrs, like a cat ready to pounce on its prey. Like a sports car purring at the start line, fuzzy and scuzzy. Then someone’s fingers slide down a set of piano keys – a glissando, if you want to be technical about it – and we’re off. Head first into the glam rock era.

Well you’re dirty sweet, Clad in black, Don’t look back, And I love you… Bolan’s in love with a vamp. You’re slim and you’re weak, With the teeth of a hydra upon you… She sounds like quite the woman. Get it on, Bang a gong, Get it on! Just what might he be singing about?

Sex. The answer is sex. Very few chart-toppers so far have been quite so up-front about the that fact they’re concerned with shagging, and nothing else. The only one that springs to mind, from a couple of years earlier, was ‘Je T’Aime’, and that was more funny than sexy. ‘Get It On’, though… Well, it’s all in the title. They might as well have called it ‘Let’s Fuck.’

Most of the time you’re not quite sure what Marc Bolan’s singing, and most of the time it simply does not matter. This is a record that sounds brilliant, that sounds like an idea come to life, and the lyrics are merely there to make up the runtime. And having looked them up, I’m not sure Bolan put more than two seconds thought into them: Well you’re an untamed youth, That’s the truth with your cloak full of eagles… and You’ve got the blues in your shoes and your stockings…. Dumb, and yet perfect. You just know that a girl with the blues in her shoes and stocking is going to be a handful.

There’s one line that’s always stood out to me – and I’ve loved this song a long time – and that’s: You’re built like a car, You got a hubcap diamond star halo… I have never met a woman who would take ‘You’re built like a car’ as a compliment. But, to be fair, if that line was going to work for anyone, it would be Marc Bolan.

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Even when he’s not singing, the brazen, filthy horns keep up the raunchy atmosphere. Then towards the end he simply starts breathing, and hiccupping, and it still sounds X-rated. The moment, before the final chorus, when he breathes in then out, with a little tremor, is the probably the sexiest moment in a #1 single so far, bar none. Bear in mind, T. Rex’s audience were teenagers. T. Rexstasy was here and, for the briefest of moments, they were the biggest band since The Beatles.

Then he shouts Take me! as he gives himself over completely to this woman, and we slide to a finish that includes a snippet of Chuck Berry: Meanwhile, I’m still thinking… A line from ‘Little Queenie’, the song that inspired ‘Get It On’. And while the similarity is not immediate, if you listen to it, buried beneath the vocals and the trademark Berry licks, the riff is there. Bolan brought it out and set it centre stage.

Such is the power of this riff that in the 1990s, Prince and Oasis took it in completely different directions and still made two superb singles. Prince dialled the smut up even further for ‘Cream’, changing ‘dirty sweet’ to ‘filthy cute’, while Noel Gallagher did what he does best on ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’: shamelessly plundering, turning the guitars up to five-hundred, and making his band the biggest in the land. Shove those two song into a playlist, alongside ‘Little Queenie’ and ‘Get It On’, and you’re got yourself a brilliant fifteen minutes.

As for T. Rex, if ‘Hot Love’ was the start, then this was the push that sent them flying. They would dominate the British charts for the next two years, and we’ll be meeting them twice yet. ‘Get It On’ was also the band’s only US hit, reaching the giddy heights of #12. Like, seriously, America…?

Follow the #1s blog playlist here.

301. ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, by Middle of the Road

On with the next three-hundred! And our 301st #1 gets going with a promising glam rock stomp. Seriously, this is a great record… for the first three or four seconds.

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Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, by Middle of the Road (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 13th June – 18th July 1971

Then the handclaps come in, and a voice that sounds like a knock-off Lulu. Where’s your mama gone? (Where’s your mama gone?)… Little baby bird… Far, far away… Mummy bird’s gone, flown the coop. Where’s your papa gone? (Where’s your papa gone?)… Daddy bird too. That’s half the song.

Then: Last night I heard my mama singin’ a song, Woke up this morning and my mama was gone… Oo-wee, Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep! That’s the second half of the song. It gets annoying, quickly. Did anyone say ‘bubblegum’?

No, that’s harsh. ‘Bubblegum’ needn’t be a dirty word. ‘Dizzy’, for example was a fine slice of bubblegum pop. I should have asked: did anyone say ‘cloyingly irritating novelty’? This is a record that shouldn’t appeal to anyone over the age of five. And yet, we all know it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ in its entirety until now, but I sure as hell knew that chorus.

The lyrics – the four lines that make up this entire song – are actually quite sad. The singer is either a bird, abandoned in her nest. Or the singer is a child, abandoned by her parents, who sees an abandoned bird and feels a sense of kinship. To her credit, though, she’s not wallowing in despair. Oh no. She sounds as if she’s determined to make something of her life regardless of the tough start. Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp!

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I don’t mind a novelty, but this song makes very little sense, and midway through the chorus starts repeating over and over, and over. Let’s go now! You frantically check that this record isn’t actually six minutes long. All together now! No, just forty seconds left, thank God. One more time now! Phew.

Middle of the Road were (‘are’ actually, they’re still going) a Scottish band, who had a brief burst of fame in the UK in the early seventies, with this and other hits such as ‘Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum’ – which I listened to and found to be not as bad as their only #1. They were huge across Europe – I guess the simple lyrics and sugary tunes translated well – and I’ve seen some sources label them as a predecessor to ABBA. (Which is like saying the first ever wheel carved from a hunk of rock by a hairy caveman is a predecessor to a Ferrari.)

Anyway, that’s that. Had Middle of the Road arrived at the top of the charts just a few weeks earlier, then Dana would have had some stiff competition for ‘Worst Chart-Topper’ last time out. But they’re safe, for now…

Enjoy all the previous 300 number ones with this playlist (I promise most of them are better than this.)

Top 10s – The 1960s

Time for a Top 10. A month or so ago I ranked my Top 10 #1 singles of the 1950s. Now that I’ve officially drawn the sixties to a close with my most recent recap, here’s the Official 100% Undisputed Top 10 #1 singles of the 1960s!

The sixties. The decade that brought, many would say, the finest pop music known to man. Malt Shop pop, to Merseybeat, to R & B, Folk, Psychedelic, Hippies and Motown. It had it all.

By ‘My Top 10’, I mean the records that came out on top in my recaps. This isn’t me looking back and choosing; this is me recounting how I felt in the moment, as I encountered these great records in their natural environment, like seeing a pack of majestic lions while on safari… Or something. I only have one rule, and it is simple: one record per artist. 

Here then, in chronological order, are my Top 10 #1 singles of the swinging sixties… (with a bonus or two thrown in for good measure…)

1. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers – #1 for 7 weeks in May/June 1960

Winner in my first sixties recap… Don and Phil relaunch with a mature new sound. They had scored their 1st chart-topper two years earlier with the nice but soppy ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. Since then they had changed labels and toughened up, kicking off a run at the top of the UK charts with some of the best harmonising ever heard. The above video doesn’t quite do the recording justice – listen to and read about that here – but apparently the backing group there is none other than The Crickets, and I couldn’t resist…

2. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – #1 for 1 week in August 1960

For the most part, American rock ‘n’ roll was far superior to the British version. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been a 1st round knockout. In response to Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Fats and Eddie Cochran we had Cliff and, um, Tommy Steele. (OK, OK, simplifying things a bit, but still…) But ‘Shakin’ All Over’ was the moment in which UK rockers truly competed with their counterparts from across the Atlantic, with its timeless riff and racy lyrics. A runner-up in my 1st recap, you can read my original post here.

3. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes – #1 for 5 weeks in October/November 1962

Of course, by the middle of the decade, the Brits were the ones showing the Yanks how to do it. The first sign that the tide was changing, and the first UK band to hit #1 in the US, were The Tornadoes. Masterminded by slightly unhinged genius Joe Meek, this instrumental tells the story of an alien spacecraft that comes to earth for a look around, before shooting back off to whatever galaxy it came from. Except, ‘Telstar’ is an instrumental, so I’ve made up that story entirely. More simply put: a brilliant, brilliant record that blows you away when you hear it in context (the #1s on either side of it were Elvis’s ‘She’s Not You’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘Lovesick Blues’). I named it best chart-topper in my 2nd sixties recap – read my original post here.

4. ‘She Loves You’, by The Beatles – #1 for six weeks in September, October, November & December (!!) 1963

Without my ‘one chart-topper per artist’ rule I’d probably have had 4 Beatles discs in this Top 10. But ‘She Loves You’ is the one that makes it. Yes, yes, yes – in the years following this the band would go way beyond She loves you, And you know you should be glad… both sonically and lyrically. But, to me, this is the moment the 60s really begins. Hell, it’s the moment Britain finally put the war, the rationing and all the misery of the past half-century behind them for good. Imagine being thirteen years old in 1963, and hearing this beauty for the first time…. I named it best chart-topper, and you can read my original post here.

5. ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers – #1 for 3 weeks in January/February 1964

A low-key, under-appreciated, melancholy #1 from one of the biggest bands in the country during the first wave of Merseybeat. I called it a runner-up to ‘She Loves You’ in my 3rd recap, and it’s one of my earliest musical memories. Plus, I love the way they bow at the end of the video above. A well brought-up bunch of lads! The original post is here.

6. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers – #1 for 2 weeks in February 1965

The first five in this rundown are all of a similar pop/rock ‘n’ roll feel… The latter five shoot all over the place, starting with this slice of blue-eyed soul. Now pop music was for grown-ups again, and this glossy hit led the way. The call and response section, with one voice growling and one voice hitting the highest notes a man has ever sung, are simply stunning. I really struggled, long and hard, in choosing between this and the next song for a ‘Best Chart-Topper’ award. Ultimately, I named this as runner-up. Do I regret my decision…? Maybe… If I read my original post again I might change my mind…

7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones – #1 for 2 weeks in September 1965

The song that pipped The Righteous Brothers to the post… Suddenly rock ‘n’ roll was just ROCK, and the riffs were sledgehammers through your brain. And the lyrics weren’t about meeting your girl at the juke-joint; they were world-weary swipes at phoney advertising campaigns and girls who wouldn’t sleep with you, even though you were a world-famous rock star… It just had to be in this Top 10, plain and simple. Original post here.

8. ‘Good Vibrations’, by The Beach Boys – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1966

A song that needs no further introduction, and one that I struggle to really, really, really love. One that needs respected as a work of art; but not one I listen to all that often. Still, I did name it as runner-up in my 5th sixties recap, so it gets its place in the Top 10. Read my original musings here.

9. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum – #1 for 6 weeks in June/July 1967

At the start of the Summer of Love, one song redefined what a pop song should sound like, how a pop song should be constructed, what lyrical content huge a #1 hit could cover… Who knows how the hell ‘to skip the light fandango’? Who the hell cares when it sounds as good as this. Winner of my 5th ’60s recap – read my original post here.

10. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1969

Winner of my last sixties recap, when I opted for it at the last minute over ‘Hey Jude’. Motown’s finest moment? Again, a song that I can write nothing new about, so I’ve attached this video of a live version. I love the way that Marvin and one of his band act out the phone call at the start… ‘Somethin’ funky goin’ down’ indeed… Read my original post here.

Bonus 1 – ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – #1 for 1 week in November 1970

I called this one runner-up in the recap I just posted a couple of days ago, it having reached top-spot a year too late following Hendrix’s death. Had it hit number one at the right place and time, I may well have named it a winner. So, as a consolation, here it is…

Bonus 2 – ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra – #1 for 4 weeks in February/March 1966

Looking back at this list, one thing struck me: it’s a sausage fest. And then I had a closer look, and was amazed to count that, out of the 185 records that made #1 in the UK between January 1960 and December 1969, only 23 (!!) featured a female artist. If we don’t count duets with men, or male bands with female lead-singers, then there were only 16 (!!!!) #1s by females. Here then, is the record-by-a-girl that came closest to a prize in my recaps… Officially the best female-recorded #1 of the decade : Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!

Recap: #271 – #300

To recap, then…

Usually one of our recaps is summed up by the ‘sound’ of the previous thirty chart-toppers. This recap, though, really doesn’t have an all-encompassing sound. We’ve been pinging around all over the place for the past couple of years. What sums up this thirty is the world outside the charts – the end of the sixties, the death of the hippy dream, Vietnam and Nixon, the Beatles’ split… All of which has fed into what we’ve been hearing at #1.

Perhaps this is best summed up by the three number ones during the summer of ’69. Two years previous it had been ‘All You Need is Love’, and ‘San Francisco’; now we got the final call towards a hippy utopia (‘Something in the Air’) before being dragged back down to earth by Zager & Evans’ terrifying visions of the year 2525. And in between those two we had The Rolling Stones doing what the The Rolling Stones do best, some low-down sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, consoling us with the knowledge that the world might be going to shit but we still have the Stones. (Hell, that still applies in 2020.)

Actually, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was their final #1 – we had to bid them farewell. As we did The Beatles, who bowed out with ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. It feels strange to think that this recap still includes The Fab Four, such is the distance we’ve travelled since then. In fact, this recap also includes the first solo chart-topper by a Beatle: George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Plus, we had an Elvis record at #1 again! And with the soaringly cheesy ‘The Wonder of You’ he became the first act to score chart-toppers in three different decades.

Like I said, it’s been a couple of years that have veered wildly, from pillar to post. From ‘Dizzy’, to CCR predicting the end of the world in ‘Bad Moon Rising’. From the uber-bubblegum of ‘Sugar Sugar’ to the granite tones of Lee Marvin. There’s been a backbone of great pop, though: ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’, ‘In the Summertime’ and ‘The Tears of a Clown’ all worthy of mention but not quite worthy of an award.

There have been plenty of outliers too, to keep things interesting. Which means awarding the latest WTAF Award will be a decision to ponder. There was alleged live, recorded sex (!) from Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, Rolf Harris riding the war-theme with ‘Two Little Boys’, a letter ‘Back Home’ from the England World Cup Squad, and Clive Dunn sitting all alone in his rocking chair, thinking… Plus the aforementioned Lee Marvin (with Clint Eastwood on the ‘B’-side!), Zager & Evans, and the bizarre-but-brilliant ‘Double Barrel’. But, for the terrifying imagery and the genuine feeling of impending doom… I’m awarding it to ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’.

It’s much harder to name a ‘Meh’ Award winner, for the record that struggled to make much of an impact because, to be honest, most of the past thirty songs have made an impression, for better or worse… I could give it to our most recent #1, Dawn’s ultra-cheesy ‘Knock Three Times’ but, I can’t lie: I was humming that in the kitchen this morning… No. One record stands out for me not being able to really remember it: Matthews’ Southern Comfort, with their cover of ‘Woodstock’. Pleasant, but completely unmemorable.

Although, ‘Woodstock’ does tie into what I was saying at the start about the charts beginning to reflect the wider world. That last Beatles’ #1 literally documented the end of the Beatles (it was quite meta, if you think about it), while I count two #1s about the end of the world, two about war, two related to Woodstock, one to the World Cup, two with fairly overtly religious themes, and one in which an old man contemplated his own mortality (see, even the novelties were thought-provoking this time out…)

However, in the early months of 1971, a new ‘sound’ finally emerged, one of the seventies own making. ‘Spirit in the Sky’ had hints of it, as did ‘I Hear You Knocking’. But with Mungo Jerry’s outrageous ‘Baby Jump’ and then T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ hitting the top – Glam Rock has arrived! It’ll dominate the next thirty number ones, and I can’t wait…

To the big two awards, then. What was the worst chart-topper of the past couple of years? I could do the big build-up, teasing a few sub-standard number-ones before WHAM! announcing a left-field winner. But, to be honest, this time it wasn’t much of a contest. Dana, my dear, step forward and accept your award for ‘All Kinds of Everything’. A toe-curlingly bad song about seagulls and lollipops and lots of other stuff I don’t care to remember. It’s our latest Very Worst Chart-Topper.

And the best? Thankfully, there’s a whole load of competition this time. One song that I have to get out the way first is ‘Band of Gold’… I had no idea how highly-regarded that song is. It’s on all kinds of ‘Best Songs Ever’ lists. I mean, it’s a great Motown-sounding song, but it’s not going to be my Very Best Chart-Topper. There’s also T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’. I love T. Rex, but I can’t do any more than really, really like ‘Hot Love’, and would be awarding it for reasons beyond the song. Plus, they’ve got three more #1s to come so there’s every chance that they’ll be winners in my next recap.

I’ve got it down to three. And I’m smiling as I write this, like King Joffrey at a beheading, because I know deep down what I’m about to do. In the blue corner, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. In the red corner, the Jimi Hendrix Experience with ‘Voodoo Chile’. And in the green corner (this is a triangular wrestling ring)… ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry. Simon and Garfunkel are there because I feel obliged to have them. They are the dweeby kids my mum has forced me to invite to my birthday party. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is an amazing, epic piece of music… But I just can’t love it like I should. It’s out.

‘Voodoo Chile’, in terms of sound, is one of the most forward facing, exciting, swaggering records to have ever topped the UK singles chart. It is a better song than ‘Baby Jump’, I am under no illusion (as is ‘Bridge…’) BUT. ‘Voodoo Chile’ was a song from 1968, re-released because Hendrix had died. I’m eternally grateful that it did get a week at #1, but it did so in the wrong decade, under special circumstances… Which means, in all its belligerent, crunching, leering, drunken beauty, Mungo Jerry’s house party from hell ‘Baby Jump’ is the winner! Hurrah!

(Hey, I spent the entire last decade very sensibly naming all the classics, your ‘Satisfactions’ and your ‘Whiter Shades of Pales’, as my Very Best Chart-Toppers. Allow me a moment of indulgence!)

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.

Read my previous recaps:

1-30, 31-60, 61-90, 91-120, 121-149, 150-180, 181-210, 211-240, 241-270

300. ‘Knock Three Times’, by Dawn

Three hundred number ones not out! Just… lots and lots more to go…! But oh, if only we had a better record to mark this milestone.

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Knock Three Times, by Dawn (their 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 9th May – 13th June 1971

I have been trying to pinpoint the moment when the seventies would come into its own, when it would stop simply being the morning after the sixties. And the last couple of number ones have been such confident statements of intent, sounding very fresh and new, that I thought that moment had come…

But actually, this is the moment. Because has there ever been a more early-seventies sounding song than ‘Knock Three Times’? It sweeps in on horns and a soul-lite sway, and you can’t help picture tinted sunglasses, thick velvet, platform shoes and flared jeans aplenty. And the cheese. Cheese is oozing from the walls.

A man lies in his bed at night, listening to his neighbour dancing in the flat below. Hey girl, watcha doin’ down there? Dancing alone every night while I live right above you… He can’t sleep, but not because of the noise. One floor below me, You don’t even know me, I love you…

So he writes a note, and dangles it on a piece of string in front of her window below, with a proposition. Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me… Wo-oh, twice on the pipe, If the answer is no… Hmmm. It’s a cute concept, on paper, but the more you think about it, and the more you imagine yourself in the woman’s place, the creepier it seems. But hey, maybe this is just what people had to do before the Tinder. And there are sound effects, of course there are sound effects. Twice on the pipe… (Ting, ting)…

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I don’t hate it. It’s catchy. Corny, but catchy. One to enjoy in a cabaret bar with a Cinzano and lemonade. I will, despite myself, be humming it for the rest of the day. But five weeks at number one! Really? Can’t say I can see it as being that popular.

Dawn were basically lead singer Tony Orlando (Isn’t that just the perfect stage name for the singer of this nonsense?) plus a few backing singers. The two singers that he is most associated with, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Wilson, hadn’t joined yet – they were yet to knock. They will have by the time the band scores its second #1, with Orlando’s name front and centre… and for some reason they feature in the video below.

So, a bit of a damp squib on which to celebrate the big three zero zero. Back when I hit the double-century we celebrated with The Beatles’ ‘Help!’. Now it’s ‘Knock Three Times’… Bad luck? Or a symptom of the early-seventies slump? To be fair, we’ve had a great run recently: ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Baby Jump’, ‘Hot Love’, ‘Double Barrel’…. then this. Up next, though, a recap.

 

Catch up on all 300 #1s with my Spotify playlist.

Remembering Vera Lynn

I had decided not to do a post on Dame Vera Lynn, who passed away yesterday, aged 103. She was, after all, representative of an era before the singles chart came into being. Born during WWI (just think about that for a second!), she began singing with dance bands before going on to become the ‘Forces’ Sweetheart’, singing traditional pop songs that kept spirits up among the public and the armed forces during the second world war. Plus, there are plenty of obituaries doing the rounds, by people who know much more about her than me.

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But, she did have a #1 single: ‘My Son, My Son’ in 1954. You can read my original post on that here. (I don’t think I was wildly complimentary about the song, but hey ho.) Plus, she was the first non-American artist to reach #1 on the US Billboard charts, with ‘Auf Wiederseh’n Sweetheart’, in 1952.

On top of that… I was doing some browsing in the wake of her death, and read some really interesting stories about her. For example, that she played an anti-heroin benefit gig with Hawkwind, organised by Pete Townshend, in the eighties. And that she rocked up to Brighton Pride aged 92, to support the Brighton and Hove Gay Men’s Chorus in another charity performance. And that she sued the British National Party for using her signature tune, ‘We’ll Meet Again’, in an ad campaign. (I suppose part of the reason I was going to avoid this post was because her legacy and her back-catalogue have been hi-jacked by nationalists and Brexiteers in recent years – but clearly Ms Lynn had no time for that nonsense herself.) Here is said signature song:

It would have been a massive #1 in 1939, had the singles chart existed. ‘We’ll Meet Again’ has reappeared in the British charts in recent weeks, after striking a resonant chord with those isolated during the Coronavirus crisis – making Dame Vera by far the oldest person ever to have a hit single.

So in the end I did decide to do a post on Dame Vera Lynn. And you’ve just read it. Normal service will resume tomorrow!

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(Lynn, on a morale-boosting tour in 1942)

Dame Vera Lynn, 20th March 1917 – 18th June 2020

299. ‘Double Barrel’, by Dave and Ansil Collins

An interesting sub-genre: #1 singles with the best intros. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’… All blown out the water by this next chart-topper!

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Double Barrel, by Dave & Ansil Collins (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 25th April – 9th May 1971

I am the magnificent! a voice announces, W O O O… I have no idea what he’s talking about, but he does it with such conviction, with such exuberant certainty, that you know this is going to be a good song. It literally echoes off the walls.

This record is really hard to classify. It’s reggae? Or is it ska? Is it an instrumental? Is it rap?? (It can’t be rap, because according to every musical history ever rap didn’t exist in 1971!) Is he a DJ? A dancehall MC? These are things I didn’t think I’d need to be asking until at least 1989…

There’s a catchy piano hook, a bass-line that answers along to each riff, and an organ that swells every so often before fading. All the while a voice, either Dave or Ansil’s, or both maybe, calls on us to Work it! And to Hit me one more time! He sounds like James Brown leading an aerobics class, shouting stuff like Good God! Too much! I like it! Soul poppin’!

This is a cool, cool number one single. It’s uncompromisingly funky, straight from the streets of Kingston. The obvious comparison to make is to Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ from exactly two years ago – the first true reggae single to make #1 in the UK. The organs hint at the piano instrumentals of the ‘50s, especially Dave and Ansil’s fellow West Indian, Winifred Atwell. But the rest of the record looks way, way into the future, to the late eighties, early nineties, when huge hit records could just be snippets of a rhythm with some vocals chanted over the beat.

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Dave, and Ansell Collins were a Jamaican duo (Dave is actually Dave Barker… If ever a band name needed an Oxford comma it is theirs). It is his vocals you hear throughout the song. There’s some confusion over whether his partner was ‘Ansell, ‘Ansel’ or ‘Ansil’. It was the latter which was printed on the British copies of ‘Double Barrel’. The duo had one further hit single when ‘Monkey Spanner’ reached #7 later in the year.

So, just as we were working up a glam rock groove, this comes along like a short, sharp blast from another planet. The early 1970s throws us another curveball. Not that I’m complaining. If only all the curveballs could be as funky, catchy and as goddamn cool as this record!

Listen to all our previous number ones with this playlist.

298. ‘Hot Love’, by T. Rex

T-Rextasy has arrived at the top of the charts. Over the next year and a bit one band, led by one tiny little sparkling pixie, will dominate the top of the UK singles charts, and bring with it the defining sound of the early seventies. Wham bam, yes it’s glam!

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Hot Love, by T. Rex (their 1st of four #1s)

6 weeks, from 14th March – 25th April 1971

But the intro to ‘Hot Love’ is actually quite gentle, quite lilting. A boogie-woogie bassline and some light strings. It’s still an intro that makes you sit up, that sounds unlike anything that’s topped the charts before – one of those leaps forward that come along every so often – it’s just not instantly ‘T. Rex’. Well she’s my woman of gold, And she’s not very old, Uh-huh-huh…

Tyrannosaurus Rex had spent the tail end of the sixties recording psychedelic folk-rock with mystical themes (sample title: ‘By the Light of a Magical Moon’). As the seventies came around they dropped the ‘yrannosaurus’ and plugged their guitars in. But here, Marc Bolan is still singing like a hippy: Well she’s faster than most, And she lives on the coast, Uh-huh-huh… Note the Elvis stutter, though. You can be sure it’s deliberate. Bolan wasn’t afraid of comparing himself to the greats.

One of the complaints most often directed at Marc Bolan is that his lyrics are nonsense. But to say that is to miss the point completely. Firstly, any man who can produce lyrics like ‘I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice’ is a stone-cold genius. But secondly, glam rock, essentially, isn’t about the lyrics. The lyrics are just something to hang all the sequins and hair-sprayed wigs on. At the same time, if you listen again, and squint a little, you can squeeze meaning out of them: Well she ain’t no witch, And I love the ways she twitches, Uh-huh… I’m a labourer of love, In my Persian gloves, Uh-huh-huh…

These lines paint him as a gigolo, a dandy, a Byronic figure marauding the countryside giving the ladies hot love all night long. And then, 1:15 in, glam rock truly arrives. The lead guitar kicks, Bolan screeches, twice, like a vampire going straight for a virgin’s neck, before letting out a lascivious, drawn-out moan…. Uuuuuuh…

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The last three minutes of this five-minute long record is a coda, a prolonged fade-out. La-la-la-lalalala… La-la-la-lalalala… Bored with aping Elvis, Bolan now thinks he’s The Beatles. The man was never short on confidence… The band as a whole were a force of nature – their drummer (this was the first T. Rex song to feature a drum-kit) had the stage name ‘Legend’, given to him by Marc, of course.

La-la-la-lalalala… it goes, on and on, with big drums, stomping and clapping, growing progressively more raucous, until a huge wig-out right at the end. Bolan mutters, then grunts, then moans. If this was it, then it would still be quite the legacy at the top of the charts. But there’s more to come. Much more. They had hit #2 a few months before with ‘Ride a White Swan’, and were embarking on a run of ten singles, none of which would chart lower than #4.

After this glowing write-up, though, I do have to admit that ‘Hot Love’ isn’t my favourite T. Rex song. (It isn’t even my favourite T. Rex number one.) But it is the perfect introduction to the band: catchy, silly, fun, and sexy.

Find my Spotify playlist here.

297. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry

Alright-alright-alright-alright-a! Let’s get this out into the open straight off: I love this song. This is brilliant. This is what every rock ‘n’ roll band should be aspiring to when they set foot in a studio. This is a raucous, dirty, silly, angry, rollercoaster-ride of a #1 single…

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Baby Jump, by Mungo Jerry (their 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 28th February – 14th March 1971

Where to start? The swampy riff that sounds as if it’s being played through a boulder rather than speakers? The demented piano, like Jerry Lee Lewis on strong amphetamines? The lead singer, Ray Dorset’s, growling and screaming? The leery lyrics? If Mungo Jerry’s first chart-topper, ‘In the Summertime’, was the soundtrack to a chilled summer afternoon’s garden party, then ‘Baby Jump’ is the soundtrack to the same party, at 4am the next morning, hours after everyone should have gone home, with bodies are strewn across the lawn while somebody, somewhere, has cracked open yet another bottle of tequila.

She wears those micro-mini dresses, Hair hanging down the back, She wears those see-through sweaters, She likes to wear her stockings black… Dorset’s got his eyes on someone so sexy he don’t care where she been… The wooing continues: If I see her tonight, You can bet your life I’ll attack… (How very 1970s…)

As great as this song sounds, its full of lyrical gems as well. She got beautiful teeth, A toothpaste adman’s dream… And then the piece de resistance in the 3rd verse, when he compares his situation, in chasing this girl, to other famous ‘romances’. She is Lady Chatterley, he is the gamekeeper. He is Da Vinci, she the Mona Lisa. And then… I dreamt that I was Humbert, and she was Lolita… Yep, he went there. It’s a perfect rock ‘n’ roll lyric: provocatively dumb, yet somehow quite clever …

Meanwhile the simple riff thumps on and on and on, and we get some of the scatting from ‘In the Summertime’. On first listen you would never guess this was by the same band, but the hints are there. And then it ends. But it doesn’t, not really. Alright-alright-alright-alright-a! And we’re off again. Right back to the start. She wears those micro-mini dresses… And you begin to wonder if this song will ever end, or if it will just keep playing and playing until you go insane…

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Phew. Eventually it fades. You’re quite tired by the end of it. It’s not a record to casually throw on after a long day. This one requires stamina. Like I said – I love everything about ‘Baby Jump’, even if it is perhaps one of the most forgotten #1 records of all time. There’s no way this would have gotten anywhere near the top if ‘In the Summertime’ hadn’t exploded the year before – it’s the ultimate shadow #1. But I’m so glad it made it. It just happened to pop up on my Spotify some years and it’s been on steady rotation ever since. (While you’re getting your breath back, have a listen to ‘Brand New Cadillac‘ by Vince Taylor & The Playboys, and decide if Mungo Jerry were ‘referencing’ or ‘ripping off’.)

Mungo Jerry won’t score any more number one hits. (After this demented mess they never got invited back.) Their next single, ‘Lady Rose’, was stymied by the inclusion of ‘Have a Whiff On Me’ as the ‘B’-side. It was pulled from circulation, and replaced with a different song, as it was seen to be promoting cocaine use. Ray Dorset still uses the band name, though, and tours to this day.

It’s been quite the hard rocking end to 1970/start of 1971… Jimi Hendrix, Dave Edmunds, and now this. Plus, having this record knock ‘My Sweet Lord’ off the top is just plain funny. George Harrison was looking to the heavens for inspiration; Mungo Jerry weren’t looking any further than between their legs… And lo! We’ve had our strongest whiff of glam so far at the top of the charts. It’s coming! In fact, you can think of ‘Baby Jump’ as the amuse bouche before the King of the genre comes along next…

 

Find my #1s Blog Spotify playlist here.