190. ‘The Last Time’, by The Rolling Stones

We reach the Stones’ third UK number one, and a theme is starting to emerge. Every one of their chart-toppers – ‘It’s All Over Now’, ‘Little Red Rooster’ and now this – has opened menacingly. Something in the clanging chords, the deep, rumbling bass, the clashing cymbals, the ever-so-slight discordance of it all… Every time they come along it’s like they’re crashing a sedate little party. We’ve just had The Seekers’ campfire singalong, and Tom Jones’s cheesy cabaret. Now the Stones have hijacked the hi-fi, cracked out the Jack Daniels and dumped a big bag of weed on the table.

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The Last Time, by The Rolling Stones (their 3rd of eight #1s)

3 weeks, from 18th March – 8th April 1965

One other big difference between the Stones and everything else around at the time is the way that the vocals are blended right in amongst the other instruments. In pretty much every song since the charts began (discounting, of course, instrumental hits) the voice – the lyrics – was the most important thing. But here, Jagger’s voice is mixed right in. There are times when you can’t – shock horror – quite make out what he’s saying. My gran hated The Rolling Stones for this very reason…

Still, you can make out enough of the words to get the message. Mick is seriously considering breaking up with his girl. Well I’ve told you once and I’ve told you twice, But you never listen to my advice, You don’t try very hard to please me, With what you know it should be easy… and Sorry girl but I can’t stay, Feeling like I do today, Too much pain and too much sorrow, Guess I’ll feel the same tomorrow… Textbook treating them mean to keep them keen – a theme of early-Stones (see also ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘Play with Fire’ and the outrageous ‘Under My Thumb’.)

I love the non-committal chorus: This could be the last time, This could be the last time… I don’t know… It’s almost worse than saying ‘this is the last time’. He might break up with you, if he can be bothered. You’re probably not really worth breaking up with, though. Weren’t they awful

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The chorus is poppier than either of their previous two hits, but this is still an out and out rock song. Keith Richards lets loose in the solo, and Jagger goes wild in the fade-out – screeching and hollering as the guitars clang, the cymbals smash and parents across the land tut disapprovingly. It’s easy to forget, in 2019, as the Septuagenarian Stones shuffle out onstage at the latest super-dome, like holograms of their former selves, just how shocking they must have been at the time. Doing this countdown, and listening to them making their mark at the top of the charts in ‘real time’, I can kind of get a glimpse of it. How much fun it must have been to be fourteen in 1965, pissing your parents off by playing the latest Stones single at full-blast.

This record probably isn’t one of the band’s best-remembered hits. They’re all still to come. But it does have quite the legacy – an orchestral version by Stones producer Andrew Loog-Oldham was sampled by The Verve in 1997 as the basis for their mega-hit ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, resulting in a court case that was just resolved earlier this year. It also – and I had no idea about this before now – appeared as a sample at the top of the charts as late as 2009, in the unlikely form of ‘Number 1’, by Tinchy Stryder ft. N-Dubz. Well, there you go… The Who covered it much earlier, in 1967, in support of Mick and Keith following their imprisonment on drug charges.

More importantly than any of that, ‘The Last Time’ can perhaps be seen as the arrival of The Rolling Stones Mk II. The cover versions are out – this was the first Jagger-Richards composition to be released as a single – and beefier production is in. They were rewarded with three weeks at the top, and The Beatles suddenly had competition for the title of biggest band in the country. Their next #1 will raise the stakes even further, but that’s a story for another day…

Follow along with my handy playlist:

189. ‘It’s Not Unusual’, by Tom Jones

Some songs take a while to build to a climax; others wallop straight in from the get-go. ‘It’s Not Unusual’, the debut hit from voice-of-the-valleys and now Knight of the Realm, Sir Tom Jones, falls into the latter camp. There is no climax here. Or rather, the song is the climax.

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It’s Not Unusual, by Tom Jones (his 1st of three #1s)

1 week, from 11th – 18th March 1965

Stabbing jazz-bar brass, and hand-claps. Pah-papa-Pah-papa… Your feet instantly start tapping. Then in blasts Tom… It’s not unusual, To be loved by anyone, It’s not unusual, To have fun with anyone… By God could Tom Jones sing. (And still can – let’s not kill him off before his time.) But when I see you hanging about with anyone, It’s not unusual, To see me cry… I wanna die…

Never has a song about a jealous and possessive ex-lover sounded so cheerful. Tom sees his girl around town – flirting, galivanting, generally having a good time – and it kills him. Why did they split up? Who knows? This isn’t a song for reflecting. Why can’t this crazy love be miiiiiiinnnnneeeeee…. he wails as we head into the break. I don’t know, Tom, maybe if you stopped snooping around on her like a creep…?

But it bears repeating: this cat can sing. Jones’s voice is not one you’d ever describe as subtle; but it’s super-soulful and packs a brilliant, throaty rasp. That miiiiiinnnnnneeee above is powerful, as is the way he lets loose at the end. It stands out for miles around compared to his contemporaries, and it is hard to imagine that he was only twenty-four when he recorded this record. Apparently the song was offered initially to Sandie Shaw, but once she heard Jones’s recording she felt it would be impossible to make a better one…

This disc races to an end in precisely two minutes, and it feels even shorter such is the galloping pace that it maintains. Over the past few months I had noticed that our #1s were getting longer. The Animals scored the longest by some distance – ‘The House of the Rising Sun’ reaching four and a half minutes – but ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ and ‘Yeh Yeh’ also pushed well beyond the magic three-minute mark. Tom Jones doesn’t hang about, though. He takes us back several years – to the days when a couple of minutes per song was the norm.

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Despite this being the very first hit for a fresh-faced young Welsh lad, it’s hard to imagine that Tom Jones was ever cool. Even when ‘It’s Not Unusual’ was sitting at number one in the charts, I’ll bet it was being bought more by mums than by their daughters. (Apparently, though, the BBC refused to play ‘It’s Not Unusual’ at the time, as Tom Jones’s image was too sexy…) Later hits like ‘Delilah’, ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and ‘She’s a Lady’ did nothing to help his image. He’s remained steadfastly uncool throughout the decades, too. He was uncool when covering Prince in the eighties, and he was uncool when he scored a big comeback in the early 2000s with (shudder) ‘Sex Bomb’. There was a good reason he was Carlton’s favourite singer in ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.’

But who cares? Who cares if he’s recorded some absolute cheese over the years? Who cares if he looks like someone you wouldn’t leave your wife alone with for a minute? Who cares if, by this point, he’s gone beyond parody? It’s worked for him, and given him career-longevity that few can even dream of. Maybe that’s the key: start of uncool and you’ll never have to worry about losing it… Plus, whenever Tom Jones sings, he sounds like he’s having the time of his life. Love what you do, folks, love what you do. Tom’s got it sussed…

188. ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’, by The Seekers

For the first time in a good nine months – since The Four Pennies’ bland ode to ‘Juliet’ – do we arrive at a #1 single that I have never heard before. This is how it used to be, of course, in the pre-rock days – before rock ‘n’ roll came along, with all those famous songs in tow. Almost every post was a step into the unknown…

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I’ll Never Find Another You, by The Seekers (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 25th February – 11th March 1965

Speaking of rock ‘n’ roll, and the fifties and all that… The opening chords of this latest chart-topper sound a lot like ‘La Bamba’. A mellower, more folksy version of the Ritchie Valens hit to be sure, but they’re there. It’s a promising opening… that lasts until the singers open their mouths…

There’s a new world somewhere, They call the promised land, And I’ll be there someday, If you could hold my hand… Several earnest, fresh-faced voices chime together. I’m getting strong Christians-round-a-campfire vibes… I still need you there beside me, No matter what I do, For I know I’ll never find another you… Or maybe proto-hippies, the first feelers of a movement that will go full-on mainstream in a couple of years? The lyrics sure do sound like they could be about joining a commune (‘The promised land’?)

Not quite. This record is, though, our first slice of sixties folk-rock. The gentle guitars, the clear vocals, the tambourine that gets a good shaking in the background… It’s a genre that I don’t think was ever quite as popular in the UK as in America, where Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, The Mamas and the Papas, Simon & Garfunkel and, of course, Bob Dylan were big, big stars. But we’d had fair warning of it – remember back in 1961, when the collegiate folk band The Highwaymen scored a surprise #1 with their version of ‘Michael’ (Row Your Boat etc. etc.)? They were from across the pond, too.

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I’m not convinced by this song, to be honest… There’s something a bit cloying about it, a bit happy-clappy. And the lead singer – Judith Durham – sounds kind of like a Sunday school teacher gone rogue. Plus the lyrics don’t really go anywhere – it’s just a long list of what she can do with her man by her side… When I walk through the storm you’ll be my guide… and I could lose it all tomorrow, And never mind at all… etcetera and so on. It’s not terrible; but it’s the worst number one for a while. Probably since ‘Juliet’, the last chart-topper that I’d never heard of… And in its defence, we’ve just enjoyed the highest-quality run of #1 singles in British chart-history, and it would be unfair to completely write a record off just because it doesn’t hit the heights of ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ or ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.

I am, for example, a sucker for those yearning chords that pop up time and time again in folk-rock. See lines like You’ll be my someone, Forever and a day… Or If I should lose your love dear, I don’t know what I’ll do… The first song I ever loved – I’m reliably informed, as I was too young to remember – was ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’, which I would sing anywhere and everywhere as a toddler, driving everyone around me to the edge of insanity. And ‘Puff’’s got plenty of those yearning, minor-key chords in it. Who knows – maybe I’m a folky at heart?

Of course, all that stuff I just spouted about ‘I’ll Never Find Another You’ being an all-American slice of hippyish folk is undone by the fact that The Seekers were Australian, and that the song was composed by British songwriter Tom Springfield (brother of Dusty – who keeps cropping up via other people’s songs – when will she appear on her own merits?) But hey. It sounds American, and was definitely influenced by American folk-rock artists of the day, so we’re claiming it for the Yanks.

To finish, I’ll return to the pre-rock days that I mentioned at the start of the post. Back then, as Vera Lynn, Dickie Valentine, Winifred Atwell et al were jostling for attention at the top of the charts, the word I reached for more often than most was ‘twee’. And that’s what this is: the twee-est number one single we’ve had in a long time. Altogether then, grab the marshmallows and back round the campfire for another singalong!

Catch up with this handily compiled playlist!

187. ‘Tired of Waiting for You’, by The Kinks

The 4th chart-topping single of 1965 is a bit of a Ctrl-Alt-Del moment. The first three #1s have felt like a mini revolution in all their Latin-soul, jazzy, glossy-pop glory. You could have been forgiven for asking: Is the Beat movement dead already?

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Tired of Waiting for You, by The Kinks (their 2nd of three #1s)

1 week, from 18th – 25th February 1965

Of course it isn’t. The Kinks are swooping in to save the day for all the boys with guitars out there. A wonky, woozy intro – it feels kind of like you’re floating on a swing on a hot summer’s day – then in comes Ray Davies… So tired, Tired of waiting, Tired of waiting for you… (On a side note, I’ve always thought that Davies sings with a strange accent – as if English wasn’t his first language. Kind of Indian sounding. It’s really noticeable here…)

Anyway, he’s being kept waiting by a girl. And not ‘waiting’ as in she’s late for a movie. Waiting as in waiting. I was a lonely soul, I had nobody till I met you, But you keep-a me waiting, All of the time, What can I do? He might be waiting for a declaration of love; or waiting for you-know-what, like a horny teenager. Who knows?

I mentioned in my post on ‘You Really Got Me’ that that song, while being one of The Kink’s biggest and best known hits, isn’t really indicative of their sound. ‘Tired of Waiting for You’ is much more Kinks-y to me, especially when the band harmonise on the bridge: It’s your life, And you can do what you want… There are hints of ‘Waterloo Sunset’ there – and I can mention/link to that song now as it – unbelievably – won’t be featuring in this countdown. One of the great chart-travesties, that. I’m also getting a Searchers-vibe in the song’s chiming melancholy, too.

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The edge is still there, though. The crunchy guitars that blasted their way through ‘You Really Got Me’ are barking in the background, especially in the build-up to the final chorus, as Davies pleads Please don’t keep me waiting… It’s a song about frustration, albeit politely voiced frustration. It’s like the polite cousin of ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’… (Now there’s a song which we will be meeting on this countdown – hurrah!)

The Kinks will have one more number one, and several more famous songs that don’t make the chart summit. But I’ve enjoyed re-hearing this one. I had a Kinks’ Greatest Hits on CD as a kid, and while I knew this song I’ve never really listened to it in much detail. It’s a nicely forgotten chart-topper from an ever so slightly under-rated band. And coming as it does, in early 1965, as pop music races to evolve and improve at a staggering pace, it already sounds like a bit of a throwback.

186. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers

Oh baby, baby… For our next chart-topper, we take a step into the realm of the super-cool. An empty stage… A sole spotlight shining its beam through the dusty air… A mic on a stand… Thick curtains part, and on step two men…

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You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’, by The Righteous Brothers (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th February 1965

And then that voice. Sonorous. Rich. Velvety and comforting, but authoritative too. You never close your eyes, Anymore when I kiss, Your li-ips… It’s a voice that is somehow both low and high within the same line – sometimes within the same word. And there’s no tenderness like before, In your fingerti-ips… A voice that goes from velvety soft to a gravelly rasp in seconds (see that Baby! Something beautiful’s dying! line.) Said voice is Bill Medley’s, and it’s unlike anything we’ve heard before in this countdown. Apparently, at the time, it was so deep and treacly that people thought they were listening to the record on the wrong speed. I’d rate it instantly alongside Roy Orbison and Shirley Bassey as the best voice to have topped the charts, up to now. It’s a voice that it’s almost impossible to mimic… Anyone can pretend to be Elvis, or Mick Jagger, and just about get away with it. Not this voice.

The backing music is way off in the background, too – a softly shaken out drum and some ethereal strings. This record, to start with anyway, is all about the voice. Apparently Bobby Hatfield, the other Righteous Brother (they weren’t biological brothers – something I just found out…) was pissed off that they weren’t starting the song by singing together. But you’d have to say the producer got it right on that front. That producer, by the way…? One Phil Spector.

Hatfield soon gets his moment, though. Come the chorus, the two voices ring out: You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin, Now it’s gone, gone, gone, Woah-woah-oh… Then they intertwine for the superb crescendo that leads to the final chorus. You know, the bit that starts with an angelic Baby, baby, I’ll get down on my knees for you… and soars into call-and-response Babys! and Pleases! and I need your loves! It is pop perfection… as trite as that phrase sounds. Time-capsule pop, as I coined it in an earlier post. Two voices that are as good as The Everly Brothers; but that are completely different too.

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In keeping with more recent #1s, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ is a very sophisticated song. It’s pop for adults. A world away from the teeny-bopping Mersey sound that encapsulated 1963-’64. It’s perhaps the first example of the American response to the British invasion – a record, like The Supremes from a few weeks earlier, which has that US gloss. You just know that the Righteous Brothers had perfectly white teeth…

Some of this is to do with the lyrics. With lines like And now your starting to, Criticise little things that I do… it’s looking at love in a way that Herman’s Hermits, or Billy J. Kramer, or even The Beatles, weren’t. But it’s more to do with Spector’s soaring, crashing, grandiose Wall of Sound production. The strings. The drums. The stereo sound that fills the room. I wrote a post recently on how it was a crime that ‘Be My Baby’ didn’t make #1. But, while that is a peerless pop disc; I hadn’t noticed that this record was coming up. I knew that this was a good song – a classic – but I had forgotten (or perhaps had never realised) just how good it was. Listening to it now… Oh boy. Phil Spector may be many things (most of them awful), but nobody – nobody I say! – knew their way around a pop record like him back in his heyday.

Like most eighties kids, my first exposure to ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was in, ahem, ‘Top Gun’. Maverick and Goose, all in white, serenading Kelly McGillis… And this is just one of the ways in which this song has grown its own legend. It’s been covered by everyone: Cilla Black, Dionne Warwick, Hall & Oates… It caused Brian Wilson to tell the writers – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – that he had been “ready to quit the music business, but this has inspired me to write again”… We are in Rolling Stone Top 10, BMI most-played songs of all time territory here. We won’t meet many bigger songs than this one as we move on. Finally, and perhaps most excitingly of all, mixed in amongst the backing singers on the disc, was an up-and-coming young woman by the name of Cher.

We will hear from The Righteous Brothers again. But not for a long time, and in somewhat specific circumstances. It’s a lifetime away – one of the biggest gaps between #1 singles in history. This was, then, to all intents and purposes, their only chart-topping hit in their ‘lifetime’. Relish it, appreciate it… Just be grateful that it exists…

Catch up with the previous #1 singles here:

185. ‘Go Now!’, by The Moody Blues

Hot on the heels of Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames’ snazzy ‘Yeh Yeh’, an equally quirky record pops up for a week at the top of the UK charts.

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Go Now!, by The Moody Blues (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th January – 4th February 1965

We’ve already sa-id… I like records that just get on with it – no drawn out intro, no nothing – and this is one such disc. Goodbye… Voice, then piano. A thumpingly, clumpingly unsubtle piano. I mean this with no disrespect, but the piano here sounds like it’s being played by an elephant. I’d bet they overlaid several tracks one on top of the other to get the rich, heavy sound. I love it. Since you gotta go, Oh you better go now…!

It’s a song about a break up. The singer doesn’t want to break up, but if it has to be done then he’d rather his S.O. just got on with it. Cos darlin, darlin’, Can’t you see I want you stay, yeah-ah-yeah-ah… The singer – Denny Laine – has a voice every bit as soulful as Georgie Fame before him, and he holds nothing back. The way he sings/spits out lines like I don’t want you to tell me just what you intend to do now…, for example, is great, and deceptively hard to recreate.

The production too is thick and soulful, with hints of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the baroque minor keys that were about to become a big thing in sixties pop. (It’s actually a cover of an American R&B hit from earlier in the decade.) It’s also a very rough-and-ready recording – not perfect – with lots of crackly patches, as if the tape were struggling to contain the volume and the power of this band. I love the piano solo, one that rolls and cascades – a cross between a ship being tossed on stormy seas and Dante’s descent into hell. The ending is also a lot of fun, with a huge finish – the whole band appearing to shout out the title of the song before a very quick, slightly wonky fade.

‘Go Now!’ is another grown-up pop record – make that two in a row – and one that perfectly encapsulates the way pop music is now fragmenting and moving away from the Beat sound that has dominated for most of the past two years. New year, new sound etc. etc. It’s also a record that I’ve loved for many years – The Moody Blues being a staple of long family car journeys as a child. But, here’s the ironic bit… I really, really can’t stand any of The Moody Blues’ other songs…

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You see, after this – their one and only chart-topper – they started getting all experimental. Denny Laine left the band and a bloke called Justin Hayward came in, they ditched the pop/R&B and they went… (shudder)… progressive. Now, I love rock music. To me ‘rock’ is the foundation upon which all great music is made. Stick ‘garage’, or ‘hard’, or ‘glam’, or ‘electronic’, or ‘punk’, or ‘surf’, or even ‘yacht’, in front of ‘rock’, and I’m usually in. ‘Prog-rock’, though? I run a mile. Jethro Tull, Marillion, Pink Floyd, Yes!… No, no, no! Lock me in and call it ‘Room 101’. You can be experimental, and forward-thinking, as avant-garde as you like… but ‘Prog’? The minute you call yourself prog then your head’s gone too far up your arse. And The Moody Blues are the worst culprits for me because A) They started it and B) I had to sit through their ‘Best Of’ on many a long car journey, aged eleven.

It would start off well enough. Track 1 was ‘Go Now!’. Three minutes of pop bliss. But then there were nineteen other songs to sit through before it was over – none of which sounded anything like ‘Go Now!’. And prog-rock songs are never, ever as short as they should be… ‘Give me ABBA’, I would cry, ‘The Eagles or The Stones. Even Fleetwood Mac if you must. Anything but this.’ But my dad would stand firm, and we’d listen to the bitter end… I have especially painful memories of ‘Nights in White Satin’… And ‘Tuesday Afternoon‘…

Having studied The Moody Blues history ahead of this post, it seems that the blame can be laid squarely at this Justin Hayward fellow’s feet. Once he was in and Laine was out (Laine later joined Wings), ‘Go Now!’ seems to have been written out of the band’s history. They rarely performed it live, and it didn’t appear on any of their ‘Greatest Hits’ until the mid-1990s. (Which was precisely when my dad bought said CD for the car… Just think – there might easily have been no good songs on that album…)

Yes, let’s end this post on a positive note. Nineteen of the twenty tracks on The Moody Blues ‘Greatest Hits’ album may well be terrible songs. But the one good song on that album also happens to be their only #1 single. We won’t hear from them again on this countdown! We can just pretend that they were one-hit wonders! Pretend that the glorious ‘Go Now!’ was the only piece of music that the band ever offered to the world. Isn’t that a comforting thought…

184. ‘Yeh Yeh’, by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames

No sooner have I mentioned that 1965 might be a more eclectic year in terms of its chart-topping singles, when along comes one Georgie Fame with a swaying slice of Latin soul.

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Yeh Yeh, by Georgie Fame (his 1st of three #1s) & The Blue Flames (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th January 1965

Wham and then Bam. In the space of three #1s we’ve gone BluesBeat rock-Latin. I might even go so far as to describe this as a Bossanova, if I was at all certain what exactly a ‘Bossanova’ was… Whatever it is, it’s not a sound that we’ve heard very often at the top of the UK charts. After months of Merseybeat things are really starting to splinter in different directions.

The song is about a guy who, after finishing work every evening, calls up his baby and asks her what she wants to do… I mention movies, But she don’t seem to dig that, And then she asks me, Why don’t I come to her flat…Yeh Yeh’ is his response. The words are spat out at a rapid pace, half-rapped (this might be the hardest number one yet in terms of making out the lyrics). But it still becomes clear just what his baby’s game is. She suggests supper and listening to some records, and soon the kissing starts: And when she kisses, I feel the fire get hot, She never misses, She gives it all that she’s got…

I love the break in the middle, when one long tongue twister line – We’ll play a melody and turn the lights down low so that none can see… – ascends to a natty drum fill and lots of We gotta do that’s! and Yeh Yehs! Then there’s a full-blown sax solo for all you hip cats out there.

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It’s a cool record, there’s no doubting that. I can imagine it as the soundtrack to a lot of groovy, hipster parties during the winter of ’64 – ’65. And Georgie Fame – before googling him I pictured him in a turtle neck and a pork pie hat, and after googling him I was slightly disappointed to find that he favoured suits and sharp ties. (He did like a cigarette, dangling all loose and louche, from the corner of his mouth, however.) Plus, finding out that he was born Clive Powell, in Lancashire, rather than Georgie Fame, New York City, took the shine off even further.

Still, despite being Clive from Lancashire, Fame has a real soulful voice. He goes fast then slow, loud then quiet, and – while the band are really tight – his voice is the most impressive instrument in the record. The way it blends together with the organ and the sax to draw out the final note is particularly cool. The Blue Flames had been the backing band for British rock ‘n’ roller Billy Fury, and Georgie Fame their piano player, but when they parted ways Clive AKA Georgie Fame became their leader and they went off down the path of R&B-slash-soul.

‘Yeh Yeh’ is nice, and funky; but it’s a hard record to classify. The best way I can describe is that it would sit perfectly next to ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & The MGs on a compilation called ‘Sexy Sixties’, or something. Plus, both Fame and The Flames will pop up sporadically as the sixties progress, so we’ll save any further bios for another day. In the meantime, sit back, grab a glass, and enjoy the sound of the swinging, sexy sixties floating through your earholes. Yeh Yeh!

Never miss a number one single with this playlist…

183. ‘I Feel Fine’, by The Beatles

And so we hit the mid-point of the swinging sixties. Slap bang in the middle, and The Beatles are knocking The Stones off the #1 spot. How very 1960s. Peak sixties!

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I Feel Fine, by The Beatles (their 6th of seventeen #1s)

5 weeks, from 3rd December 1964 – 14th January 1965

But this is a new version of the Beatles. I mentioned when covering their last chart-topper, ‘A Hard Day’s Night’, that that was the sound of the MerseyBeatles being killed off – their last pure pop hit. And, as if to make sure of that, their sixth UK number one enters to the sound of feedback. A deliberately jarring intro, one that’s been done to death by now but at the time must have sounded strange indeed.

Their voices, too, have changed. They’re deeper, huskier… manlier? The mop-top boys have grown up. Baby says she’s mine you know, She tells me all the time you know, She said so… There’s an arrogance to it. The girl doesn’t have a name – she’s just ‘baby’. Tomorrow there’ll be a new one. That’s what happens when you’re in the world’s most popular band. She’s in love with me and I feel fine…

The guitar is rocking – apparently the riff came first when Lennon and McCartney were writing it – and drives the song along. The bridge, though, is still pure bubble-gum. Old habits die hard, I guess. I’m so glad, That’s she’s my little girl, She’s so glad, She’s tellin’ all the world… The relationship doesn’t seem to be built on the strongest of foundations, though – it’s more about buying diamond rings to keep his little girl happy.

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This disc is a world away – both lyrically and sonically – from The Beatles earlier chart-toppers. Think the innocent ‘From Me to You’ and the earnest ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’. It’s a cool record, the first Beatles record that your older brother would have admitted to liking.

There’s been a lot of discussion, for years, over when and where the band first started taking drugs. As far as I know Bob Dylan thought they must have been smoking as early as 1963, as he misheard the ‘I can’t hide’ lyric in ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ as ‘I get high…’ And they definitely were by October 1965, as Paul McCartney admitted to smoking a joint in the toilets of Buckingham Palace when they collected their MBEs.

If I had to guess, I’d narrow it down to the few months between ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and this release. There’s a glazed, detached air to their voices here… They sound pretty stoned. Plus the name of the song just sounds like something you’d say when you’re high… ‘Dude, I feel fine…’ Then there are the mmmmhhs as the song fades out. The Beatles MK II are here.

It’s the perfect way to end 1964 – by far the best year yet in terms of the quality of its #1s. It has felt like walking through Madame Tussaud’s at times – look there’s Diana Ross, and Roy Orbison, and over there, The Kinks and Cilla Black! So to end it with The Stones and then The Fab Four –the decade’s two biggest bands – is perfect. 1965 looks like being a much more eclectic year, though the overall standard of chart-topper might drop off slightly… Onwards!

182. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones

Pack your welly boots, your straw hat and some industrial strength bug spray – we’re off to the country. To a farm somewhere in the Miss’ippi Delta. With The Rolling Stones.

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Little Red Rooster, by The Rolling Stones (their 2nd of eight #1s)

1 week, from 3rd – 10th December 1964

It feels like the Stones’ arrival, earlier this year, passed us by. ‘It’s All Over Now’ sneaked a week at the top in the summer, but surrounded as it was by some colossal pop tunes from some legendary acts I had basically forgotten about it. The first Stones #1 should have been a bigger thing, I feel. So, they’re back. And this time they’re making sure we notice them.

Their tactic? To return with a song so unlike any of the one hundred and eighty-one previous chart-toppers that you instantly sit up and start listening. A slow, woozy blues riff comes along, reeling you in, lulling you into a vision of sipping ice-tea on a farmhouse veranda, before Mick Jagger’s languorous vocals… I am the little red rooster, Too lazy to crow for days… I am the little red rooster, Too lazy to crow for days… It’s an atmospheric song – the dusty, heat-hazed farmyard unfolds before your very eyes. Dogs begin to bark, And hounds begin to howl… All the while the hypnotic, twelve-bar blues riff continues to drag you along. Watch out strange cat people, Little red rooster’s on the prowl…

1964 has been a year, by and large, of peerless pop. But this is no pop song, not by any stretch of the imagination. There are no verses, or chorus, or bubble-gum bridge here. This is low-down and dirty blues. It’s like the band pressed record on a jamming session, a warm-up before recording the actual single, and decided to release it instead. I’m listening to it on repeat as I write this, and it’s very easy to miss when the song starts over. It could be three minutes long; or thirty minutes.

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While the lyrics might sound like the Mick Jagger manifesto – I am the little red rooster… Keep everything in the farmyard upset in every way… – one that he’s been following for the best part of sixty years, the real star here is Brain Jones and his slide guitar. The main rhythm is acoustic, but Jones’s electric guitar flirts, and slinks, and playfully cavorts around every line. One minute it’s making the sound of dogs barking, then horses rearing, then it’s the little red rooster itself. Jones was blues through and through, and felt some discomfort at the band ‘selling out’ and becoming a pop group. As the sixties progressed and the Stones moved further and further away from their bluesy roots, he became a marginalised figure on the edge of the band, until his tragic death. Looking back, it’s easy to forget that he was as much a part of the original Stones as Jagger and Richards. This record is perhaps his finest hour, and a kind of vindication. He had managed to get a full-on blues song to #1 in the British charts – the only time that has ever happened.

‘Little Red Rooster’ had originally been recorded by Howlin’ Wolf, one of the Stones’ biggest early influences, in 1961. But it’s a folk song at heart, handed down through the mists of time, probably from well back in the 1800s. His version is very raw, while another version by Sam Cooke is much more polished, with a snazzy organ doing the work of Brian Jones’s slide guitar. In those earlier versions the singer has a little red rooster, rather than being the little red rooster – which brings to mind some saucy connotations. I’m surprised Mick and the lads changed it…

Understandably, the band’s management was against releasing this as a single. It doesn’t exactly scream ‘#1 smash hit’. But it was. And I feel that this, along with all their earliest singles, have been somewhat erased from The Rolling Stones canon. For years I thought – according to the greatest hits CDs I had – that their career began with ‘Time Is On My Side’. But now I know. And while I would never name ‘Little Red Rooster’ as one of my favourite Stones songs, I am truly glad that they took this slice of Delta blues to the top of the charts for a cold and drizzly December’s week.

181. ‘Baby Love’, by The Supremes

For the intro to this next post, I was going to go all overboard on how this was the first time in ages that two female acts had replaced one another at the top of the UK charts. Sandie Shaw making way for The Supremes’ girl-group stylings. The first time that this had happened since September 1956!!!! Except… For a week in between, ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, by most-definitely-a-man Roy Orbison, sneaked back to the top of the charts. Ah.

So I need a new intro… How about: And so, with this next number one, Motown arrives at the top of the singles chart! And what a record with which to arrive. A piano intro that slides down the scales – in stereo it sounds as if it’s travelling right to left through your brain – and then the voice of one of the most renowned female singers in pop history:

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Baby Love, by The Supremes (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 19th November – 3rd December 1964

Oooh-hooo-oo… Baby love, My baby love, I need ya, Oh how I need ya…. A girl loves a boy, but he doesn’t seem to be returning the sentiment. All he does is treat her bad, breaks her heart and leaves her sad… Baby love, My baby love, Been missin’ ya, Miss kissin’ ya…

It’s a gorgeous song, the production all warm and glossy, the drums keep swinging time, a mournful sax comes in mid-way through… And Diana Ross’s honeyed voice. A voice that sounds effortlessly perfect. It’s a world away from some of the other female voices we’ve heard so far – she doesn’t belt like Shirley Bassey or sparkle like Helen Shapiro – but it has a special quality to it. In the closing lines – Need to hold you, Once again my love, Feel your warm embrace my love… you can really feel her pleading.

The lyrics, as a whole, though, are pretty meh. Standard ‘Oh baby come back to me I’ll do what you want and give you all my love’ kind of stuff. The default setting for sixties girl-groups. And I don’t want to go all ‘woke’ here but, I’d like a little more sass and swagger from my girl groups. Look back a few years, and Rosemary Clooney and Connie Francis were serving up plenty of attitude in ‘Mambo Italiano’, say, or ‘Who’s Sorry Now’. ‘Baby Love’ comes across as soppy next to those discs.

The other two Supremes – Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson – have equal billing here but aren’t much more than backing singers. 70% of the time they’re chanting Don’t throw our love away… Which they do beautifully, but you can see why the group soon became Diana Ross & The Supremes. Ms. Ross was definitely front and centre from the start. In the UK this would be their only #1 (though we will be hearing from Ms. Ross again), while in the US they enjoyed a staggering twelve (12!) chart-toppers between 1964 and 1969. Of course, classics like ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’, ‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ and ‘The Happening’ were big British hits; but another chart-topper always eluded them.

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A few weeks ago, I did a series of posts on songs that should have topped the charts, in which I included Best Pop Song Ever ™ ‘Be My Baby’, by The Ronettes. ‘Baby Love’ isn’t in the same league as that, but in hitting the top spot I feel it kind of represents for all the sixties girl groups (all of them American) that missed out. For The Ronettes, The Crystals, The Shangri-Las, The Marvelettes, The Vandellas… Plus, this is also basically ground-zero for all the girl groups that are yet to come. When I was a teen they were ten-a-penny – The Spice Girls, Eternal, En Vogue, All Saints, B*Witched… They can all be traced back through these three girls and this sweetly sung chart-topper.

A final thought: ‘Baby Love’ really stands out when you hear it in context. On a ‘Motown’s Greatest Hits Compilation’ it might have passed you by; but hearing it now, after months, years even, of boys with guitars and their beat-pop ditties, this record hits you like a crisp, clean breath of Detroit air. Inhale it, and enjoy.