241. ‘Hello, Goodbye’, by The Beatles

We round off 2019 with the final number one from 1967. Top of the charts fifty-two years ago today was…

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Hello, Goodbye, by The Beatles (their 13th of seventeen #1s)

7 weeks, from 6th December 1967 – 24th January 1968

… of course it was. Who else? (As a kid, listening to ‘Pick Of The Pops’ on Radio 2, we’d always have a contest in the car to guess who would be number one. And if it was a chart from the sixties I’d always guess The Beatles because, well, the odds were with you.) And, speaking of being a kid, ‘Hello, Goodbye’ was one of my first favourite Beatles hits. But, to be honest, it’s appeal has faded as the years have gone on, and as I’ve gotten older and more cynical.

You say yes, I say no, You say stop, And I say go, go, go… Oh no… It’s a song that explodes into life – no waiting around. You say goodbye, And I say hello… A song about an argument, about two people that are deliberately disagreeing with one another. One says ‘high’, the other says ‘low’. So on and so forth. It’s tempting to read into it – is it a seemingly nonsensical, childish pop song documenting the start of the slow break-up of the world’s biggest band…? Or a glimpse into the marriage of Paul McCartney and Linda… Actually no, that theory is dead in the water – they didn’t marry until 1969.

McCartney did write this one, which I think is probably quite obvious. It’s got that slightly irritating chipper-ness to it that shows up more often in his solo work, once John wasn’t around to check his worst impulses. Lennon reportedly didn’t care much for ‘Hello, Goodbye’, and pushed for ‘I Am the Walrus’ to be released instead. If only… (‘Walrus’ was the B-side.)

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But, but, but… I’m making it sound as if I hate this record, when I don’t. Beatles’ ‘average’ is still pretty good. I like the backing vocals, which remind me of ‘Help!’ in the way that they sing different lines to the lead, and the reverb on the Why-why-why-why do you say goodbye-bye-bye-bye… And Ringo’s drumming is great on this. The outro, though… The Hare Krishna-ish Hey-la-hey-bah-hello-ah… Nah. Not for me.

Perhaps this is the Beatles playing it safe, worrying that they had spooked people too much with their much more avant-garde stuff: ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Penny Lane’, ‘Strawberry Fields’ and ‘All You Need is Love’. Playing it safe with a huge Christmas hit – their 4th Xmas #1 in five years. It’s just that, for the first time in ages, a Beatles song doesn’t feel like a step forward.

But, what do I know? ‘Hello, Goodbye’ gave The Fab Four their joint-longest run at the top of the charts, tied with their debut #1 ‘From Me to You’. (It has to be mentioned, though, that charts were often repeated for a week over the Christmas and New Year holidays in those days.) It’s also fitting that 1967 ends with a blockbuster number one. It’s been a quick year to get through, with lots of long runs at the top from Tom Jones, Engelbert, Procol Harum and now The Beatles. It’s one of the very few years in chart history where every single #1 stays there for longer than one week.

It’s also fitting that I end 2019 by thanking everyone who has read, liked and commented on this blog over the past twelve months, and wish you all a very happy new year. See you all on the other side… 1968 awaits!

My #1s playlist:

Recap: #211 – #240

Recap number… let me check… eight! We are exactly fifteen years, and two hundred and forty #1 hits, into the UK Singles Chart. It bears repeating every so often, but to listen back to the very first chart-toppers – the likes of ‘Here in My Heart’, ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ and ‘Answer Me’ – is to take a step back in time that feels much deeper than fifteen years.

Especially after this recap, because we have just passed through possibly the most diverse, fertile, wonderful couple of years in popular music history. 1963-65 brought some brilliant songs together at the top of the charts, but they were mostly in the same Beat-pop vein. Recently, we’ve had runs in which experimental psychedelic rock has sat shoulder to shoulder with schmaltzy easy-listening, in which the grittiest soul has been followed by cute country ballads. It’s also been a year or two of blockbuster hits, some big long stretches at number one – five weeks here, six weeks there, seven even, for Tom Jones.

These are thirty chart-toppers that I think we’ll have to split into two. The first half – 1966 – contains some of the finest pop songs ever recorded. Choosing the very best one out of a list that includes ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Good Vibrations’, among others, ain’t gonna be easy…

Which is why it might be easier to start with the worst. 1967 saw a big shift away from experimental sounds and, for the most part, easy-listening ruled. Suddenly we were back in the pre-rock days. Engelbert, Jim Reeves, Petula Clark and Sir Tom all crooned for their supper over a six month period. But the only one of those songs that I truly disliked – and the winner of this recap’s Very Worst Chart-Topper Award, is Mr. Humperdinck, he of the luxurious sideburns and pillowed lips, with the dreary ‘Release Me’, which must have had people crying out to be released from its six week run at the top. He did redeem himself, I think, with his second #1, ‘The Last Waltz’, which stayed on the right side of cheesy.

That was an easy award. And so it is with this recap’s ‘Meh’ Award, for the hit that was simply dull, rather than terrible. I considered giving it to Jim Reeves, for ‘Distant Drums’, but he was just doing what he did best, and he was dead… So I’m going to give it to The Tremeloes, for their cover of ‘Silence is Golden’. Not awful, but far from their best effort. They were capable of much more.

Why was it, do we think, that things went ever so slightly bland in 1967? Was it a backlash to all the experimentation? A return to what felt safe and comfortable, and not at all scary? Or was it that everyone had given their gran and their maiden aunt an HMV voucher for Christmas? It really is strange, and it makes the Summer of Love, in which ‘normal’ service was restored by Procol Harum, The Beatles and Scott McKenzie, stand out like a sore-thumb. Our more recent #1s suggest that the blip might be over, though – The Foundations and Long John Baldry bringing a bit more grit and streetwise savvy to the number one spot.

So strong are some of the recent chart-topping records that, looking back, you might completely miss some hugely significant hits. Frank Sinatra had a comeback! And duetted with his daughter! Dusty Springfield scored her one and only number one single! The Monkees invented the boy band, while strong, eight-out-of-ten pop songs like ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘With a Girl Like You’, pass by almost un-noted. In previous updates ‘All or Nothing’ by The Small Faces might have been the main story, or might even have been getting the awards… Not this time. We also met The Bee Gees for the first time! And then there was ‘Paint It, Black’. Yep, I almost forgot about one of The Stones’ biggest hits. Admittedly it has never been one of my favourite Stones’ songs, but in terms of its sound and lyrical content it is hugely significant. I thought about giving it my ‘WTAF’ Award, the gong for the more ‘interesting’ chart toppers around, but I already gave them that award last time out, and if I gave them it twice in a row I’d be in danger of painting them as some kind of novelty… So, if it’s not ‘Paint It, Black’ then there’s only one other candidate… Not ‘All You Need Is Love’, because that makes sense in context. Step forward, Sandie Shaw with ‘Puppet on a String’ – a loopy record that makes no sense in any context. (Apart from the Eurovision Song Contest context, but shhh…)

On, then, to the very best that the charts of 1966-67 had to offer. This is a hell of a decision. I have to disregard classics like ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ because they just weren’t quite brilliant enough. As usual, I’ve whittled it down to four. The three I mentioned earlier: The Walker Brothers’ ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, The Beach Boy’s ‘Good Vibrations’ plus Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. All worthy winners in any other recap…

In 4th place – The Walker Brothers. A superb pop record, but not a game-changer like the others. In 3rd place… ‘Eleanor Rigby’. (Gasps from the back row!) A pop song that sounds nothing like a pop song. A heart-breaking story of loss and ageing that takes barely two minutes to tell, accompanied by nothing but strings. But… it was a double-‘A’ side, and if I name ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as the very best #1 then I am also naming ‘Yellow Submarine’ as the very best #1, and that’s not something that I’m prepared to do. In 2nd place… ‘Good Vibrations’. An amazing work of art, but one that can’t quite escape the fact that it is a work of art. And so, The Very Best Chart-Topper of the past thirty goes to ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ – a confident beast of a record that strode in the room, sounding unlike any other, and was extremely proud of it.

To recap the recaps, then:

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.

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.

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.

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.

It’s very telling that the four award winning songs came practically one after the other in the spring/summer of 1967. That’s how varied and eclectic the charts have been recently – weird followed by boring followed by brilliant. And that is really how the charts should be: anything can top them and anything should top them… Long may it continue!

240. ‘Let the Heartaches Begin’, by Long John Baldry

I start to fear the worst when I press play on this latest #1, and find that it begins with a soft and swaying intro… The type of intro that we’ve heard at least five times too often in recent posts. The type of intro that Engelbert Humperdinck would have licked his lips at…

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Let the Heartaches Begin, by Long John Baldry (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 22nd November – 6th December 1967

But no, this record is a cut above the run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road, so-so-ness that has made up so much of the past year’s chart-topping material. That becomes clear the second that Long John Baldry’s voice comes in, all smoky and croaky. It reminds me of Chris Farlowe – another British singer that you would think was American.

I can hear the guitars start to play… The first verse is innocuous enough. Boy’s lost girl etc. etc. It does nothing to prepare you for the soaring beauty of the chorus… So let the heartbreaks begin, I can’t help it, I can’t win… It’s a sad song – the title makes that pretty obvious – but it’s also kind of uplifting.

It’s the sort of chorus that makes you wish it wouldn’t finish, and that makes you count the seconds through the next verse until it returns. And Baldry’s voice… When he pauses for the Anymore… at the end of the final chorus you can actually picture him crying. (Apparently he was quite drunk when he recorded the song…)

As with Chris Farlowe, it’s really hard to imagine that voice coming out of the man in the picture above. But it did. And ‘Long John’ Baldry is a brilliant stage name, isn’t it? Anything combining rock stars and pirates is bound to be pretty badass. It was an appropriate name, too, as he measured six foot seven in height!

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I’m getting lots of different notes from this record. It’s got a strong 1967, easy-listening vibe, but it’s also yet another British soul hit in the tradition of Farlowe and Fame, and following hot on the heels of the The Foundations. It’s also forward-facing – this could easily be an early-seventies Rod Stewart record, especially when the acoustic guitar comes in on the second verse. Which makes sense, as both Stewart and Elton John played with Baldry before they hit the big time. Long John would never reach similar heights, but his #1 does feel like a bit of a marking post…

It’s also a perfect winter hit, and it makes perfect sense that it hit the top spot as the nights drew in and folks huddled around their fireplaces. And it’s perfect that I’m publishing this just before Christmas. Grab your loved one – even though it’s a song about heartbreak, literally, but hey – a mug of something mulled, and enjoy. Long John enjoyed quite the life beyond ‘Let the Heartbreaks Begin’, including time in a mental health institution and saving Elton John from suicide (he’s who ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ is about.) And, apparently, he had a brief romantic relationship with Dave Davies from The Kinks. A biography worth reading! He passed away in 2005.

Before we go, I’d like to wish a very merry Christmas to every one of you UK #1s Blog readers. I hope that it is both merry and bright! Next up, before the New Year… a recap!

239. ‘Baby, Now That I’ve Found You’, by The Foundations

When I first scanned down my big long list of number ones and saw that ‘Baby, Now That I’ve Found You’ by The Foundations was coming up, I started imagining what it would sound like. I do that with bands and songs that I’ve not heard much before. And I pictured a Detroit four-piece – like The Four Tops, or The Temptations – and lots of vocal harmonies.

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Baby, Now That I’ve Found You, by The Foundations (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 8th – 22nd November 1967

But no. The Foundations were British. And, while I could have sang at least half the chorus of ‘Baby, Now That I’ve Found You’, the rest of the song sounds quite different to how I’d imagined. It is uplifting, and catchy. It soars upwards on line after ascending line. There are strong hints of Motown in there. But it’s a record that owes just as much, if not more, to British soul – the Georgie Fames, Chris Farlowes and The Spencer Davis Groups that have been popping up over the past couple of years.

Baby, Now that I’ve found you I can’t let you go, I’ll build my world around you, I need you so… It could be a Motown recording, if the production were a little slicker, and the vocals a little more polished. But it’s down to Earth-ness, it’s rough around the edges-ness – dare we say its Britishness? – is a big part of this record’s charm. Especially in the bridge, when the drums go all rocky, and the voices all come together like its last orders down the pub: Now you told me that you wanna leave me, Darling I just can’t let you… Clem Curtis, the lead singer, gives it his all.

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It’s a fun song, a catchy interlude that makes 1967 an even more eclectic year in terms of its chart-topping singles. It was the debut single of The Foundations, who are a band that deserve a bit of attention drawn their way. They were the first inter-racial band to have a #1 in the sixties, their members coming from the West Indies, the UK and Sri Lanka. Plus there were – I think – nine people in the band when ‘Baby, Now That I’ve Found You’ was released (I know there are only eight in the picture above, but I’m going on what I’ve read…) That’s a big pop group in anyone’s books, but not a record… The Temperance Seven also numbered nine members back when they hit top spot back in 1961. The Foundations’ oldest member was thirty-eight; the youngest just eighteen.

From the sounds of it, they found it very difficult to keep a band of that size and with that wide an age-range together. They only released ten singles before splitting up in 1970 – the second biggest of which was the even catchier ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’, which would reach #2 in 1968.

To be honest, if a year or so ago somebody had asked me about ‘British soul in the 1960s’ I would have had to politely shrug. But having now written posts on all these hits that have kept on cropping up at the top of the charts for almost three years now, I feel I should hang my head in shame. British soul was a big part of the sixties-sound, that seems to have been overshadowed by the likes of Merseybeat, folk and flower-power… Maybe it’s because, like me, people just assume the songs and the bands were American. Hopefully if you were as oblivious as I was then you too have enjoyed discovering this fascinating sub-genre. And hopefully the British soul hits keep on coming!

Remembering Bobby Darin

Named after a faulty sign outside a Chinese restaurant (the letters M-A-N were blacked out, leaving only D-A-R-I-N), today we remember perhaps the most underrated of the big fifties stars…

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Underrated, perhaps, because nobody knew where to fit him in. He didn’t look much like a teen-idol. He could sing rock ‘n’ roll, as well as more old-fashioned swing and jazz. His hit singles include both self-penned songs, like his debut ‘Splish Splash’, and modern interpretations of standards, such as his 1961 Top 10, ‘You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby’.

Born in Harlem, New York, in 1936, into a family of low-level mobsters and vaudeville singers, his mother was actually his grandma and his sister his biological mother  – a fact he didn’t find out until he was in his thirties. He was a sickly child, with recurring bouts of rheumatic fever, and always knew that he was not expected to live to an old age.

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(The sheet music for Darin’s first big hit.)

Which perhaps explains why he crammed so much into his short life. Songwriter, singer, actor, presenter, political campaigner, chess player… His two UK chart toppers perhaps best sum up his approach to life and music. In the space of four months in 1959 he hit #1 with the swaying rock ‘n’ roll ballad ‘Dream Lover’

And then with a cover of ‘Mack the Knife’, a German musical number from the 1920s, about a murdering, thieving, raping ‘shark’ called MacHeath…

Two number ones of the highest quality. ‘Mack the Knife’ stands out in particular – it doesn’t sound much like any of the other hits of the time, and the lyrics are pretty niche. It’s simply a record that got to #1 because it’s really, really good. Darin continued to have hits through the early sixties, including karaoke standard ‘Beyond the Sea’ and one of my personal faves, ‘Things’.

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(Bobby Darin with Connie Francis – whom he wrote songs for and had a relationship with – and Ed Sullivan in 1960.)

As the sixties progressed he moved into films, then TV and political campaigning. Darin was heavily involved in Robert F. Kennedy’s career, and he went into a deep depression when Kennedy was assassinated, having been present when it happened.

He continued to perform right up until his death, and by the end was on oxygen before and after each performance. Bobby Darin passed away during an operation on his heart, aged just thirty seven.

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Bobby Darin, May 14th 1936 – December 20th 1973

 

238. ‘Massachusetts (The Lights Went Out In)’, by The Bee Gees

A couple of posts ago, as I wrote about Scott McKenzie’s ‘San Francisco’, I made a big deal about #1 hits that reference places, and how uncommon they were. Of course, just to prove me wrong, the charts now throw up a song about Massachusetts.

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Massachusetts (The Lights Went Out In), by The Bee Gees (their 1st of five #1s)

4 weeks, from 11th October – 8th November 1967

And that’s not all that this next chart-topper has in common with McKenzie’s hit. It also, you know, sounds a lot like it. The same light guitar and the same chimes. The same chilled-out vibes. It even references San Fran in the second verse. It’s the (Indian) Summer of Love! Is it harsh to suggest that The Bee Gees were simply jumping on the hippy bandwagon?

Actually, yeah, it would be harsh. This is a retort to songs like ‘San Francisco’. It’s being sung from the point of view of someone who has left his home, in Massachusetts, to join in the summer’s festivities, and who now feels a bit homesick. Feel I’m going back to Massachusetts, Something’s telling me, I must go home… He left his girl standing alone, as the lights all went down in Massachusetts… But he’s now seen the error of his ways: They brought me back, To see my way with you…

It’s an interesting concept, and a quick piece of song writing to get the record out and in the charts mere weeks after the hits that it references. It turns what I initially felt was a so-so, slightly bland song into one worthy of note. The lights are going down in Massachusetts because everybody’s buggering off to the West Coast! I will remember Massachusetts… I wonder if the Massachusetts Tourist Board have ever used it in an ad campaign?

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Moving on – largely because ‘Massachusetts’ is a really difficult word to keep typing – let’s take a look at the band. The debutants atop the UK Singles Chart. The Bee Gees. You know, the band that in a decade’s time will take disco to the masses. I think that’s the ‘Bee Gees’ that most people think of: jumpsuits and sparkles and you should be dancing… It’s there in this record, mainly in the vocal harmonies that tremble a little higher than your regular pop record. (Though Robin Gibb sang lead on this one, while Barry sang falsetto on most of their seventies hits.)

They’re a fascinating band, actually. They will spread their five chart-toppers over exactly twenty years, covering three completely different versions of themselves, in terms of sound and image. But they’re not a band I’ve ever really been able to love, and I wish I could like their debut #1 more than I do… (Personally I think their final #1 is by far the best of the five.)

Anyway, they will be back soon enough. In between this and their next #1, they will release ‘Words’, which I can look on fondly as one of the first songs I ever learned to play on keyboard. Other interesting, and less self-revolving, bits of trivia about sixties-era Bee Gees include the fact that none of them had ever actually been to Massachusetts – they just liked the sound of it, and the fact that it was about as far away from San Francisco as you can get on the continental USA. (The Bee Gees, of course, weren’t American – they’re British/Australian.) And… I really like this one… ‘Massachusetts’ was the first ever non-Japanese #1 single on the Japanese charts! How about that…

237. ‘The Last Waltz’, by Engelbert Humperdinck

The Summer of Love is over. The VWs are rolling back home. People are sobering up and cutting their hair. Squeezing back into starchy old suits rather than baggy tie-dye. And the top of the UK singles charts reflects this. Engelbert is back; and he has no time for hippies.

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The Last Waltz, by Engelbert Humperdinck (his 2nd and final #1)

5 weeks, from 6th September – 11th October 1967

‘The Last Waltz’ is indeed a waltz. Any hope that it might just be a misleading title is crushed in the opening bars. I wonder should I go, Or should I stay, The band had only one more song to play… We’re in a dancehall, and it’s time for the final song of the night. Engelbert’s out on the pull, but hasn’t had any luck. Until… I saw you out of the corner of my eye, A little girl alone and so shy…

Immediately I like this more than his earlier #1, the dreary ‘Release Me’. It’s just got a little more of a swagger, more of a wink in its eye, a certain je ne sais quoi… It also sounds a lot more contemporary, with a touch of the swinging sixties buried in amongst all the schmaltz. It’s the la-lalalalala-lalas, I think, that shimmer in an oh so sixties way. They remind me of Jackie Trent’s ‘Where Are You Now (My Love)’ from a couple of years back.

And then comes the chorus, and it is undeniable. I had the last waltz with you, Two lonely people together… Engelbert croons like the fate of the world depends on it. And the way he powers through the I fell in love with you… line is spectacular. The last waltz should last forever… Classy.

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In the end, however, it hasn’t lasted. They’ve split up (though the tense keeps switching between past and present in a way that doesn’t make it immediately obvious.) And so they have truly had their last waltz. I know it’s pure and utter cheese but – keep this secret, will you? – I kind of like it. And I really like the way he doesn’t go for the all-out big finish. He just allows it to slide away with some more lalalas.

So. Just what should 1967 be remembered for? For the Summer of Love? Or for blockbuster easy-listening hits like this? Or an uncomfortable mix of both? Engelbert Humperdinck’s two chart-toppers – one in the spring, one in the autumn – straddle the year like pillow-lipped bookends. After this the hits kept coming for a while, before he settled into a life of Vegas-residencies and TV specials. In 1996 he recorded the song ‘Lesbian Seagull’ for the soundtrack of ‘Beavis and Butthead Do America’. In 2012 he represented the UK at the Eurovision Song Contest. Clearly, despite his multi-decade success, he isn’t a man that takes himself too seriously. Let’s leave him here. Engelbert Humperdinck. The ultimate housewives’ choice. The man, the myth, the name…

236. ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair)’, by Scott McKenzie

And so we reach the final part of our Summer of Love trilogy. Three songs. Thirteen weeks. One summer that (kind of) changed the world. The psychedelic weirdness of Procol Harum, The Beatles going for a full-on hippy love-in, and now this. An ode to the city where it all started.

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San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair), by Scott McKenzie (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 9th August – 6th September 1967

If you’re going, To San Francisco, Be sure to wear, Some flowers in your hair… The music is acoustic: folky and wistful… Very 1965 – already sounding a little old-fashioned in mid-’67. Something’s going ‘ting’. Somebody’s clapping their hands. In the streets, Of San Francisco, Gentle people, With flowers in their hair… (Apparently all the references to ‘flowers’ and ‘gentle people’ were added to make hippies sound less frightening!)

The singer, Scott McKenzie, also sounds as if he’s from another time, a little old-fashioned. Kind of clipped and proper. A bit square, if we’re being honest, like he’s chronicling the scenes in the parks of San Francisco, an observer rather than a partaker. I dunno, I’m left slightly underwhelmed. For the ‘unofficial anthem of the flower-power movement’ I’d have expected something a little more revolutionary…

But, you know, it’s a cute song. I like it. I knew it, as most people do, as a chorus in the back of my mind. And the most interesting bit comes in the middle-eight, when McKenzie breaks the fourth wall and explicitly references the counter-culture movement: All across the nation, Such a strange vibration, People in motion… There’s a whole generation, With a new explanation… The beat here is spikier, more urgent. It sounds almost like a rallying call.

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I’ve been to San Francisco twice. Once as a kid, and once just last summer. When one night, in the heart of downtown, a guy walked past us bellowing this very song out at the top of his lungs. San Fran being San Fran, he wasn’t oddest oddball we’d seen that day, or even that evening. But I liked the fact that the song was still there, still an anthem of the city fifty years on. And there is something about San Francisco, still, even if downtown is full of meth addicts and Haight-Ashbury is now a bit of a tourist trap. Something in the air that suggests that it could start a revolution again, if it wanted to…

I’m still not sure if Scott McKenzie himself was much of a hippy. He had quite long hair, but then everybody did in the sixties… What I do know is that he is a near perfect example of a one-hit wonder: his only other charting single in the UK reached #50. He was something of a journeyman singer-songwriter, even in 1967, having been in doo-wop and folk bands since the start of the decade. Post ‘San Francisco’, he performed with The Mamas and the Papas, and co-wrote The Beach Boys’ eighties hit ‘Kokomo’. He passed away in 2012.

So that’s that for the Summer of Love. Three game-changing #1 singles: one timeless, one crazy, and one pretty nice. Up next, we slip right back into the easy-listening mulch that has made up so much of 1967. But let’s not think about that just yet. Let’s focus instead on the fact that this is only the 3rd chart-topper to reference a city, after Jimmy Young’s ‘The Man From Laramie’ in 1955, and Winifred Atwell’s ‘The Poor People of Paris’ back in 1956. If we extend that to ‘places’, we could include The Song from ‘Moulin Rouge’, and, at a bit of a push, ‘The Garden of Eden’… Worth noting, though, as it’s not a common topic for #1 hits…

My Spotify playlist, for your pleasure:

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3sSYyPEUCTyMjMlN55z8SX?si=4uQ5-kViRemyOk3mGheGzA

235. ‘All You Need Is Love’, by The Beatles

The top of the British Singles Chart has just endured its longest Beatles-less spell (at least, you know, until they split up and stop making music) but they are back! Though you could be forgiven for thinking that this is a completely different band.

The Fab Four were killed off a year or so ago. Since then they’ve hit #1 with the string drenched ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and the kids’ singalong ‘Yellow Submarine’. Before that came the bass-heavy garage of ‘Paperback Writer’. Both big steps away from the Beat sound that had made them huge. This single is another massive leap away, even compared to their innovation of ’66. This single opens with the French national anthem…

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All You Need Is Love, by The Beatles (their 12th of seventeen #1s)

3 weeks, from 19th July – 9th August 1967

Because, why not? They’re The Beatles and they can do whatever the hell they want. ‘La Marseillaise’ doesn’t last for long, and soon we swing into a simple ditty. Love, love, love… and a mantra. Nothing you can do that can’t be done, Nothing you can sing that can’t be sung… On first listen it sounds like a hippy-dippy, peace (man!) anthem for the Summer of Love. But, actually… Nothing you can know that isn’t known, Nothing you can see that isn’t shown… It’s kind of negative. ‘Why bother?’ seems to be the message…

John Lennon allegedly kept the lyrics simple, as the song was to be debuted on TV screens around the globe for ‘Our World’, the first ever global tele-link. But, Lennon being Lennon, I sense a bit of needle in there. A bit of sarcasm, maybe? It’s definitely not as straightforward as it sounds. He later described the lyrics as ‘revolutionary propaganda.’ The chorus, though, is simplicity in action: All you need is love… Love is all you need.

Like ‘Good Vibrations’ – a record that spurred The Beatles on to greater experimentation – ‘All You Need Is Love’ jumps around all over the place, from national anthems, to drunken jazz in the chorus, to an electric guitar solo, to stabbing strings, with some music-hall ‘All together nows’ for good measure.

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And then there’s the finale. Where it all just goes a little bit mental. We get horns from Bach (meaning the 18th Century composer has influenced two #1s in a row!), a snippet of Glen Miller’s ‘In the Mood’ and, naturally, ‘Greensleeves’. From revolutionary France, to WWII mess-halls, to Tudor England in one four minute pop song… And there are snatches of two other Beatles’ classics as well: ‘Yesterday’ and ‘She Loves You’. (Opening up an interesting sub-category: #1 singles that feature in other #1 singles…) All the while the band and guests whoop and holler until the whole messy shebang fades from sight. It sounds like the best party you’ve never been to.

Where to start analysing this? Why even bother? I certainly don’t feel qualified to go into any more detail. With other bands, and other singles, you can see where they were coming from, what they were trying to do, even how you might have done it better. Not with this song, not with The Beatles. It’s unthinkable, really. Throwing out singles that most bands would have built whole careers around, willy-nilly. Here’s ‘She Loves You’, there’s ‘Help!’, watch you don’t trip over ‘Eleanor Rigby’, or ‘Ticket to Ride’ over there in the corner… You’d like a song for a lame TV show? Here’s ‘All You Need Is Love’. And ‘Yesterday’, the song that they reference here – the song that has been covered over 2000 times, the song that has been voted ‘Best Song Ever’ on several occasions? They stuck that away on Side 2 of an album. Oh, The Beatles… Beatles, Beatles, Beatles…

But, just so that they don’t go getting too big-headed, too full of themselves – Paul and Ringo definitely read this blog, right? – I feel compelled to add that when they next appear in this countdown, it’ll be with what I personally think is the worst of their seventeen chart-toppers…

234. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum

And so we reach the summer of 1967, which you might also have heard of as The Summer of Love. Flower power. Tie-dye. Making love not war. (I dunno, really – I’m just hitting all the clichés.) If you can remember it, man, you weren’t really there…

Despite Britain being thousands of miles away from the pot-haze of Haight-Ashbury, somehow the singles chart managed to reflect, in real time, this cultural movement, with three heavyweight #1s between early June and early September. The first being this next one…

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A Whiter Shade of Pale, by Procol Harum (their 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 8th June – 19th July 1967

It’s a record that strides confidently into the room, with an unmistakeable organ riff and Spector-esque drums. (Apparently it owes a debt to J. S. Bach, this intro… I wouldn’t know much about that. I would simply describe it as ‘soaring.’) It’s rock, it’s progressive, it’s classical, it’s psychedelic… It’s everything and nothing. It just is.

It reminds me a little of The Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now!’, from a couple of years back, in its proggy, jazzy take on pop music. But not really. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ is unique. It doesn’t really sound like the logical next step in the evolution of pop; more like a record that has arrived, nobody knows how or from where, to dominate until normal service resumes.

As much as it stands out musically, what has made this such a famous record are the lyrics. Just what on earth are they about? We skipped the light fandango, Turned cartwheels cross the floor… The first verse, at a push, can be seen as someone drunk at a party. The room was humming harder, As the waiter brought a tray… But surely a song this renowned can’t just be about getting pissed at a party, turning white, and chucking up?

Well, no. We’ve not got to the Chaucer-referencing chorus yet. Or the second verse… I wandered through my playing cards, And would not let her be, One of sixteen vestal virgins… Uh-huh… ‘Vestal virgins’ being a select group of young women locked away inside a temple in ancient Rome to tend an eternal flame (my undergrad degree in History not going to waste there…) I mean, I don’t want this post to go on forever and so I’ll spare you my interpretation of the lyrics. They are, what they are: pretty far out, man.

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Plus, boring lyrical analyses will just take away from the fact that this is a superb song – up there with earlier bizarro classics like ‘Telstar’ and ‘Good Vibrations’. A song that’s clever without being alienating, and weird without being off-putting. It’s a long song, at over four minutes, and oddly structured to boot – the two verses and two choruses sandwiched between long stretches of organ instrumental. I love the sweep of the organ every time the chorus begins, and the fact that it fades just seconds after the final, triumphant chorus begins. I love that there is a third and fourth verse that the band only play live. I love that they are called Procol Harum, after the ‘cat fancy’ name for their producer’s Burmese cat (I don’t even understand the reason behind the band’s name; let alone the name itself!)

Above all, I love that we’ve finally broken the cheesy, easy-listening slump that 1967 has brought to the charts. For the next three chart-toppers, at least, we’re back innovating, pushing the envelope of pop. Procol Harum, for all the brilliance of their debut hit, wouldn’t bother the singles charts too much afterwards. Their follow-up, ‘Homburg’, did hit #6 though, and is actually the first Harum song I ever heard, as it featured on the sixties compilation tape in my parents’ car that I must have mentioned twenty times by now. I guess the compilers couldn’t afford ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’.

Anyway, I’m sure you are in no doubt about the brilliance of this record, but just to make sure… It was announced in 2004 that it was the record with the most radio/TV plays of the previous seventy years. It has sold more than ten million copies worldwide. Over one thousand cover-versions have been recorded… No doubt about it – ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ is pop royalty.

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