Well, phew, we made it through the craziest run of number one singles yet. Time to pause and get our breath back.
The last 30 took us from the very end of 1967 through to the early summer of ’69. Through 1968, the most eclectic year for number one singles ever, I’m guessing. That’s the thing with these recaps. Sometimes there’s an overriding theme to them – the rock ‘n’ roll recap, the Merseybeat recap – sometimes there’s not. For recap #9, the very lack of an overriding theme is the theme. The eclectic recap.
Somethings about it are fairly predictable, though. This is a recap bookended by The Beatles’ 13th and 16th number one singles: ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and ‘Get Back’. They have just one more to come… Another theme that brings the last thirty together is length: our chart-toppers are getting longer. Several have gone beyond four minutes, and we broke the five minute barrier on three occasions. Hell, we even went beyond seven minutes on one memorable occasion.
We might as well get straight to it, then. Dishing out the latest WTAF Award for the records that were interesting if nothing else was always going to be a challenge this time around. I can count at least eight discs with a legitimate claim to the throne. Much easier, though, will be choosing the record that gets my ‘Meh’ Award for instant forgettability. Very few of the most recent #1s can be forgotten very quickly at all. I half-thought about ‘(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice’, by Amen Corner, as that didn’t really grab me. Or ‘Mighty Quinn’ by Manfred Mann for not being my cup of tea. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, by Marmalade for just being a super basic cover version. But no. One man shone out, duller than the rest. Step forward Des O’Connor, for re-invigorating an easy-listening genre that was so 1967. ‘I Pretend’ is our winner.
In another recap, any of these singles could easily be crowned the most bizarre: Georgie Fame’s ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ for the high body count. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’ for the obscene yodelling. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, by Dave Dee and Co. for taking us on a journey to… somewhere. ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, for being a very specific, and by this point two years old, movie score that people kept buying more than any other record for a whole month. Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)’ for its tale of a Neapolitan street-child done good. Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ because I couldn’t understand a word of it. Even ‘Get Back’, with Paul McCartney’s giggles and sweet Loretta Martin’s struggles…
But even amongst that competition, one record stands out. A record that begins by shouting the line: I am the God of hell-fire…! Congratulations to The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, for living up to their name and for being just that little bit crazier than the rest. ‘Fire’, is our winner.
It’s been hard for a definable ‘sound’ to make it through all the noise in recent months. But every so often the ‘sound’ of the late-sixties has popped through. ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Young Girl’, ‘Mony Mony’ – all seemed to take the best the decade has had to offer – a bit of soul, a dash of Motown, a foundation in Beat pop – to offer a glossy new vision of what’s to come.
Then there’s the newest sound on the block, reggae. Eddy Grant and The Equals previewed it. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ mimicked it. Then Desmond Dekker and The Aces finally brought it to the table. ‘Israelites’ was the rawest #1 single in many a year – thrillingly uncompromising. But not, in my opinion, one of the very best…
Before we announce the best, though, let’s drag out and shame the worst. I can’t award ‘I Pretend’ twice, that wouldn’t be fair. (It did stink, though.) So I have in my hands two records. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’, by Abi and Esther Obarim, the first Israelis to hit #1 in the UK, fact fans, and ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold. Both annoyingly catchy. Both aiming for something that was lost on me. But… Abi and Esther managed to just about stay the right side of interesting. ‘Lily the Pink’ had gotten old by the second verse. The Scaffold are this recap’s Very Worst Chart-Topper. Plus, as a novelty record, at Christmas, I think it might be the reason why novelty records at Christmas are a thing… Teletubbies, Bob the Builder, LadBaby… It’s all on The Scaffold.
In amongst all the fun, some interesting subplots might have passed you by. Cliff got his first #1 in three years with the irrepressible ‘Congratulations’. Louis Armstrong became by far the oldest chart-topping artist, well into his sixties. The Rolling Stones returned with a bang. We bid The Beach Boys farewell and met Fleetwood Mac for the first and, surprisingly, the last time with a song that sounded nothing like Fleetwood Mac.
To the best of the best, then. As I tend to, I have it down to four discs. Tommy James & The Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’, for simply being a brilliantly fun pop record. ‘Hey Jude’ for being ‘Hey Jude’. Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ for reinventing the cover version. And Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, for showing that pop can be grown up, catchy and, most of all, cool.
I thought it was a forgone conclusion. ‘Hey Jude’ is ‘Hey Jude’, and you can feel its influence in rock music, in society as a whole, to this day. In every rock band that records a lighters-up ballad. In Oasis’s most overblown moments. In bands like Coldplay, Embrace, Snow Patrol. In football stadiums. In pubs. Being murdered at karaoke nights. All these reasons have convinced me… to name ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ as our latest Very Best Chart-Topper. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Hey Jude’ is an epic piece of music, but it has a lot to answer for…
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.
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.
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.
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.
The next thirty #1s will take us well into a bold new decade… ¡Vamos!
P.S. The current Covid-19 situation has meant that I’ve been able to write more posts, and so I’ll aim to publish them a little more regularly! Every cloud… Take care, everyone!
Check out the earlier recaps here: