282. ‘Wand’rin’ Star’, by Lee Marvin

The seventies’ second number one… is not what I was expecting. Not by a long stretch.

5b18b0aba7b32184792db93d93f58a7a

Wand’rin’ Star, by Lee Marvin (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 1st – 22nd March 1970

For a start, it’s got one of the longest intros to a number one single, surely, ever. A gentle, countryish rhythm, some horse hooves clip-clopping, and lots of humming. For a full minute and fifteen seconds. They hum through an entire chorus and verse! Apparently the radio-edit was shorter, but it seems that the single version was the full four and a half minutes, with the added humming. I can’t find a shorter version anywhere.

Finally the vocals come in. And my, what a voice. Chiselled straight from granite, like a statue come to life. A series of deep vibrations, rather than actual words. I… Was born… Under a wand’rin’… Star… The singer is a traveller, one born to roam. Wheels are made for rollin’, Mules are made to pack, I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better lookin’ back… Harmonicas trill in the background, while the slight rhythm carries, and on. The wagon keeps headin’ west…

‘Wand’rin’ Star’ is a showtune, that much is clear from the first listen (it’s the backing singers that give it away) and Lee Marvin an Oscar-winning actor. He sung (whispered, grunted, grumbled… I can think of so many better verbs for his performance than plain old ‘sung’) this in the character of Ben Rumson, a gold prospector, in the movie version of ‘Paint Your Wagon’.

To be fair to Marvin, he perks up a little in the verses. I especially like the third, in which he appeals to anti-social people everywhere: Do I know where hell is? Hell is in ‘Hello’… Heaven is ‘Goodbye’ forever, It’s time for me to go… He’s happiest alone, heading somewhere new. Home is a place best dreamt of. There’s something quite romantic in the song’s cynicism.

In the following chorus, he lets the final ‘star’ flop out of his mouth, as if he’d like to go back to sleep, and you presume that’s that. But no, the song keeps plodding along, Marvin keeps chewing his tabaccy. It’s almost a lullaby – parents of the time could have used this record, and Marvin’s spectacularly sonorous voice, to get their babies to sleep.

Lee+Marvin+Wandrin+Star+-+Solid-585856

‘Wand’rin’ Star’ could have been a hit in the early-fifties, for someone like Frankie Laine. That’s the kind of territory we’ve temporarily slipped back into. The musical version of ‘Paint Your Wagon’ did debut in 1951, in fact, though the movie version had been released just the year before this single hit #1. It is apparently a ‘not very good film’, though one I’ve never seen, which didn’t make a lot of money. The soundtrack, though, made up for it. If you’ve ever wondered what Clint Eastwood would sound like singing a song called ‘I Talk to the Trees’ then check it out (he’s got a surprisingly light voice!)

Lee Marvin stuck to the acting after this, never releasing another single. Which means we’ve had two one-hit wonders in a row! He passed away in 1987, with full military honours thanks to his service in WWII. To be fair: an Oscar, a #1 single, several military medals… a life well-lived. ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ has an equally interesting postscript, including a cover version by Julian Clary (if you don’t know who he is then please, please follow this link) and being played at Joe Strummer’s funeral.

281. ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’, by Edison Lighthouse

The first #1 of a new decade, and it’s a good ‘un. I love the simple, growling riff that starts us off, that grows and grows, has some horns added to it, and then…

p036gpsd

Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes), by Edison Lighthouse (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 25th January – 1st March 1970

She ain’t got no money, Her clothes look kinda funny, Her hair is kinda wild and free… Rosemary is a bit of a manic pixie dream girl – or a bit of a hippy, as they might have said at the time – who turns guys’ worlds upside down. Oh but love grows, Where my Rosemary goes, And nobody knows like me…

It’s a soaring pop song, one that seem to be constantly heading upwards, one that pushes all the right pleasure receptors in your brain and makes you smile. I might even go as far as to describe it as euphoric. Rosemary talks funny, and nobody knows where she came from, but she casts a spell. I imagine a girl in a floaty dress, with flowers in her hair, turning the world from black and white into technicolour as she skips past…

It’s a cheesy song, but one that stays on the right side of cheesy. Any song that includes a line like I’m a lucky feller and I just gotta tell her… is flying close to the wind, but ‘Love Grows…’ gets away with it. By the time we get to the end, which sounds a bit like a refrain of the main melody with extra strings and horns, I’m ready to say it. It’s pop perfection.

I’m not sure if this is simply because I know it’s the first number one of the 1970s, but something about this disc sounds new. Yes it sounds like some of the late-sixties bubblegum records – ‘Dizzy’, ‘Sugar Sugar’ – and the like, but it also sounds like the next step. A glossier, poppier take on sixties rock. But that might only be because I’m expecting it to be the next step… Either way, it’s a great start to the decade.

edison-lighthouse-love-grows-(where-my-rosemary-goes)

Edison Lighthouse were a London-based band – mildly surprising, because they sound very American to my ears – and ‘Love Grows…’ was their biggest hit by far. Their second highest charting single, ‘It’s Up to You, Petula’ made #49, which means they are officially one-hit wonders. Their lead singer, Tony Burrows, had a long career beyond the band, recording with Brotherhood of Man, who we’ll meet before long, and singing backing vocals for Elton John and Cliff Richard among others. Also, Edison Lighthouse are probably the only chart-topping act to be named after an actual lighthouse (Eddystone Lighthouse, in Devon.)

Records like this are, at the end of the day, what the pop charts are for. It’s interesting when strange hits make it to the top, ones that push boundaries – for better or worse – but there will always be a place for well-made, catchy pop. Plus, we can now add ‘Rosemary’ to our growing list of girls names which have made #1, alongside *deep breath* Rose Marie, Josephine, Diana, Mary, Cathy, Laura, Diane, Juliet, Michelle, Eleanor Rigby, Bonnie, Lady Madonna, Jude (though that could be a boy), Lily and Yoko!

Listen back to every number one from the sixties (and the fifties) here:

280. ‘Two Little Boys’, by Rolf Harris

And so the 1960s, the decade that’s given us so much fine, fine pop music, so much invention, so much sonic expansion, comes to an end. With Rolf effing Harris.

Rolf-Harris-21

Two Little Boys, by Rolf Harris (his 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 14th December 1969 – 25th January 1970

Though in some ways, having a convicted sex-offender at #1 is actually a very appropriate introduction to the 1970s… Yes, let’s get this out the way at the start. Rolf Harris is currently serving a lengthy jail sentence for indecently assaulting several underage girls. (Of course, he’s not the last sex-offender that we’ll meet on our journey through the charts.) I won’t make light of it, because it’s not something to make light of.

To the song, then. Is it a novelty? Is it a ballad? Is it traditional pop? Music hall? All of these things? It’s a tale, as the title suggests, of two little boys. We open on a summer’s day, a back garden somewhere in suburban Australia. (Harris sounds extremely Australian here, especially given that he doesn’t really sing the song as much as he talks us through it.) Two little boys had two little toys, Each had a wooden horse… One boy, Jack, breaks his toy, and starts crying, upon which his little buddy, Joe, offers him a go of his own horse. When we grow up we’ll both be soldiers, And our horses will not be toys… If this were a movie we’d be rolling our eyes at some pretty heavy-handed signposting…

Fast-forward many years. The boys are now soldiers, at war. Cannon roared loud, And in the mad crowd, Wounded and dying lay… One of the little boys. But what’s that? From the fray dashes a horse. Yep, little boy number two… Did you think I would leave you dying, When there’s room on my horse for two…? The roles are reversed: Joe is now in peril, and Jack comes to his rescue.

It’s utter sentimental crap, perfect for the grannies at Christmas. But at the same time, goddamit, it tugs at something. It hits you right in the feels, for want of a better expression, when the marching drums and trumpets fall away, and Harris near-whispers: Can you feel Joe, I’m all a tremble… Perhaps it’s the battle’s noise? But I think it’s because I remember, When we were two little boys… Then we end with what sounds like ‘The Last Post’. It’s a celebration of male friendship, of non-romantic love, even if it does play to the very outdated idea that men can only express affection to one another on the battle, or sports, field.

‘Two Little Boys’ was written many years before, way way back in 1902. The lyrics about ranks so blue make me think it’s set in the US Civil War. Which automatically puts it high up the table of the ‘oldest’ chart-toppers. You’ve got ‘It’s All in the Game’, originally from the 1910s, ‘Lily the Pink’ from the 1870s, ‘Cumberland Gap’ from the mid-eighteen hundreds, and ‘I See the Moon’, parts of which date from the 1780s.

rolf-harris-little-boys-single-1969_360_a3e772a5f9b69012000b1851dcbd378a

It’s a song that brings about conflicting feelings. Cheesy; but somehow touching. Familiar, but also not a song you can play in public these days… In fact, it’s odd to look back at Rolf Harris’s career from a 2020 vantage point. Growing up in the nineties he was still a constant figure on TV – he sketched, he sang, he cracked jokes, he did his weird wobble board and played his didgeridoo. He was as Australian as Lamingtons (his biggest hit in the UK prior to his sole chart-topper was the Top Ten ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.’) And then he was disgraced and, to be honest, erased from history…

I was half-expecting to not find ‘Two Little Boys’ on Spotify, remembering the furore that R Kelly’s music caused when they reinstated it, as if he was the first pop star with a seedy past. But it’s there; and that’s only right. Harris is a convicted child molester, but his music was, and in some circles probably still is, popular. If people feel uncomfortable listening to it – completely understandable – they can choose not to. But the decision not to listen should be ours, not Spotify’s or HMV’s. That’s my tuppence-worth, anyway…

But enough of that, we should be focusing on the positives! We’re about to jump into the 1970s, the decade of glam, of disco, of punk and new-wave. I’m excited. You should be excited. Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

Listen to every number one from the 1960s (and the 1950s) here!

279. ‘Sugar, Sugar’, by The Archies

The second last #1 of the 1960s brings up one of its biggest hits. Eight whole weeks at the top, tying with Elvis’s ‘It’s Now or Never’ (1960) and The Shadows’ ‘Wonderful Land’(1962) for the honour of longest-running chart-topper of the decade. And when you hear the chorus, you begin to understand why…

mainARCHIES53-800x445

Sugar, Sugar, by The Archies (their 1st and only #1)

8 weeks, from 19th October – 14th December 1969

Sugar – do-do-do-do-do-do… Awww honey, honey – do-do-do-do-do-do… You are my candy girl… And you got me wanting you… It’s a chorus that everyone can sing, imprinted on our collective consciousness. In fact, to call it a ‘chorus’ isn’t very accurate – it is pretty much the entire song. As a record, it is undeniably catchy…

But then so are crabs. To be honest – ‘Sugar, Sugar’ is annoying, it’s simplistic, it’s basic… It’s bubble gum, and then some. Candy floss, sherbet and a huge dose of saccharine for good measure. I just can’t believe the loveliness of loving you… I just can’t believe the wonder of this feeling too… After a couple of listens you start to get a sugar-headache.

It’s one of pop music’s great clichés – love as candy. We’ve already had ‘Sweets for My Sweet’ at #1, and there will be more to come. ‘Candy Girl’, ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, ‘Sugar Baby Love’… You can make quite the list… ‘Pour Some Sugar On Me’ (a classic, I won’t deny), ‘Brown Sugar’ (a filthy Stones’ take on the theme.) You catch my drift…

There are glimmers of hope here: the low-key verses contrast nicely with the all-out bubble gum of the chorus. And the ‘ad-libs’ towards the end are fun. Pour a little sugar on me honey… Aw yeah… (maybe a young Def Leppard were listening.) All in all though, and I say this as someone who loves pop music, ‘Sugar, Sugar’ is a bit much. I’m glad when it’s over.

61srqjm+c6L._SL1280_

Adding to the sickly effect is the fact that The Archies were a cartoon band, plus a dog, that featured in their own TV variety show, ‘The Archie Show’. To me, they look like the ‘cast’ of ‘Scooby-Doo’ went and formed a band. Their records were recorded by session musicians, several of whom quit when they didn’t get any royalties from their hits. Despite the fact that just two weeks ago we had simulated orgasms at #1, I’d have to say that ‘Sugar, Sugar’ is the more offensive record.

In fact, this is perhaps the icing on the cake for the cynical second half of 1969. We’ve had horrifying visions of an apocalyptic future, and now an equally pessimistic vision of the future of pop music. We’ve had a pre-manufactured band from a TV show at #1 already, but it feels very unfair to compare The Monkees to this… They were real musicians who quickly broke away from their confines. Here you can’t help picturing a cynical record executive laughing and chucking wads of dollar bills in the air… “Who needs real people? Who needs real instruments? It’s mine! All mine!”

Or maybe that’s too much. We’ve had so much amazing music hit number one over the past decade, so perhaps we can cut this record some slack. It what it is, and what it is is fine in small doses. Assembly-line bubblegum is here to stay, and we’ll have to get used to it as we delve into the 1970s…

278. ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, by Bobbie Gentry

After all the in-your-face sex and apocalyptic predictions of the past few #1s, it’s nice to hear the gentle piano and bass intro of ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’. The musical equivalent of closing your eyes and taking a deep breath.

bobbie10

I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, by Bobbie Gentry (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 12th – 19th October 1969

Not that this record is all sweetness and light, though. The title kind of gives that away. What do you get when you fall in love…? A guy with the pin to burst your bubble… Bobbie is convinced that she’s done with love. That’s what you get for all your trouble…

I love her voice – all tired and husky. It lends a perfect edge to possibly the best rhyming couplet ever to feature in a #1 single: What do you get when you kiss a guy…? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia, After you do he’ll never phone ya… Bacharach and David – racking up another UK chart-topper here – added the line after Burt had been hospitalised with the flu. It does make sense when you realise that this is a B&D number, with its gently soaring melody. They had written it for a musical called ‘Promises, Promises’, and Dionne Warwick had had the hit version of this song in the States.

You could add ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ to our run of recent cynical number ones – crushing the closing months of the swinging sixties – but for one line: So for at least, Until tomorrow… Who knows? She might just meet the man of her dreams tomorrow morning… And I’d argue that there’s something very late-sixties-positive about a young female artist singing about her love life in a matter-of-fact way: I’ve been there and glad I’m out… Women’s Lib reaching the top of the charts right here.

BOBBIE_GENTRY_ILL+NEVER+FALL+IN+LOVE+AGAIN+-+4+PRONG-654324

The fact that Bobbie Gentry is a woman is worth noting in itself. She’s the sole female chart-topper of 1969. In fact, in the past three years, only Bobbie, Mary Hopkin, Sandie Shaw and Petula Clark have topped the singles charts as solo females (Esther Obarim, Nancy Sinatra and Jane Birkin did so by duetting with men.) It really is surprising how few women topped the charts throughout the sixties, compared to later decades… I would work out the percentage, if I had any kind of mathematical ability.

Bobbie Gentry is also another artist whom I racially-profiled as a kid… Add her to the list along with Chris Farlowe and Georgie Fame. She isn’t black, she’s another white singer with a bit of soul in her voice, an American Dusty. My first exposure to her was through the superb ‘Ode to Billie Joe’, which was her biggest US hit – a gothic novel in a four-minute pop song – which shockingly only reached #13 in the UK… As nice as ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’ is, it’s no ‘Ode to Billie Joe’.

But it is nice. Better than nice. It’s a great, late-sixties pop song with a hint of country. Bobbie Gentry has become very reclusive in her later years, not recording, performing or giving interviews since 1982. She lives to this day, people believe, in Memphis. And with that, we reach the penultimate number one single of the 1960s…

277. ‘Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus’, by Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg

We end our run of apocalyptic #1s at two, and turn to another of human kind’s most primal concerns. From death and survival, to sex… Though if the end of the world were nigh, you could probably do a lot worse than closing the curtains, dimming the lights, and slipping this disc onto the turntable…

4641

Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus, by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 5th – 12th October 1969

I mentioned Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To…’ as a French #1. (Well, it was set in France, and the melody sounded French.) But this is the French #1. For a song to sound any more French, Edith Piaf would need to be singing ‘Frere Jacques’ on top of the Arc De Triomphe.

‘Je T’Aime…’ is a record that you picture in soft focus. All pinks and whites, scattered glasses of champagne with raspberries in them. The organ drones, the drums woozily keep time, and the strings flutter around the edges. I particularly love the filthy growl in the bass just before the main riff. Meanwhile Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg breath, whine, mutter, whisper, and moan… Do everything but actually sing.

The lyrics are all en Francais: Je t’aime, Je t’aime, Oui je t’aime… sings Jane. I love you, Yes I love you! Moi non plus… mutters Serge. Me neither. Jane: Oh, mon amour… It’s been written off as nonsense – ‘I Love You, Me Neither’ – but I think it shows that the singers only have lust on their minds. From now on I’ll write the lyrics in English, even though they sound much better in French…

Like a vacillating wave, I go, I come and go, Inside of you… Ooh la la! Potent stuff. Even worse if you translate the Inside of you line literally. Entre te reins = Between your kidneys. Kind of gross. By the end, Birkin is faking a pretty convincing orgasm. At least, we think she’s faking… At the time there were rumours, or some well-contrived publicity, that ‘Je T’Aime…’ was a chart-topping single with live sex (!) on it.

R-1687183-1236951812.jpeg

Even today, in our cynical world, a record like this would raise eyebrows. In 1969, there was a fair amount of controversy. The record was banned, obviously, from radio, except in France, where it could be played after 11pm. The Vatican excommunicated the Italian label exec. who released it. Gainsbourg was unrepentant, claiming that it wasn’t about sex, but about the impossibility of true love. Others have argued that it is a feminist song, thanks to the line at the end when Birkin breathes: Non! Maintenant! Viens! (No! Come! Now!) She is in control of the love-making.

At the same time, while ‘Je T’Aime…’ is still a fairly attention-grabbing record, it also comes across as very camp and kitschy. I’m sure most people were buying it for a laugh, rather than as a soundtrack to romantic nights in. It’s also suffered the same fate as, say, ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, in that it’s become a cliché – a piece of music to play over a certain scene: in this case one involving a comical seduction. I’m not sure if or why anyone would want to sit down today and listen to it. Plus, at four and a half minutes it goes on for much longer than it needs to. But… In 1969 people lapped it up. ‘Je T’Aime…’ had already reached #2, been banned, then re-leased to make #1!

Birkin and Gainsbourg were a real-life couple when they recorded their sole chart-topper. She was twenty-three, he was forty-one. Their daughter is the actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. Serge had originally recorded it with Brigitte Bardot, but her husband had stopped them from releasing it. I know very little about their other recordings. Birkin still sings and acts to this day; Gainsbourg meanwhile is a legendary figure in France – provocative and boundary-pushing. It’s sad that most English speakers know him solely for this record, his chain-smoking and for the famous TV interview in which he told a young Whitney Houston that he wanted to ‘fuck her’ (his words.) He died in 1991 after years of alcoholism.

A notable #1 then – the first in a foreign language, the first to feature simulated sex, the first to get somebody excommunicated. And suddenly we’re three chart-toppers away from the 1970s!

276. ‘Bad Moon Rising’, by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Yee-hah! Break out the moonshine, we’re off down the Bayou for a rowdy rock ‘n’ roll shindig with CCR!

CCR_Evening-Standard_Hulton-Archive_Getty1

Bad Moon Rising, by Creedence Clearwater Revival (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 14th September – 5th October 1969

I love me some Creedence. And I love that they are the unlikely owners of a UK #1 single. Perhaps the most American band ever; that didn’t hold them back from hitting it big on the other side of the Atlantic. And while it does feel a bit odd that CCR was able to top the charts here; it does make sense that they’d do so with what’s probably their catchiest single.

Catchy, but also terrifying. Zager and Evans kicked us off down an apocalyptic path with our last #1, ‘In the Year 2525’, and John Fogerty and co. keep it up here. I see a bad moon rising, I see trouble on the way, I see earthquakes and lightning, I see bad time today… Something terrible is on its way… Rivers are overflowing, hurricanes are a-blowing. This song has possibly the biggest contrast between melody and lyrics of any chart-topping single. The tune: rough and ready rockabilly. The lyrics: Don’t go round tonight, It’s bound to take your life… There’s a bad moon on the rise…

It’s a short and sweet record, one that breezes in and out in just over two minutes. Apparently it was inspired by a scene involving a hurricane in an old movie, but Fogerty also claims to have written it on the day that Richard Nixon was elected president. For a decade that has been so swinging, so iconic, we’re heading for a sour and cynical finish. Maybe we have to look beyond the charts for the answer here –this is a product of a world where a whole generation of Americans were dying in Vietnam, men were landing on the moon, and Kennedys were getting shot…

R-14237895-1570471606-1206.jpeg

By the final verse, things are getting very intense. Hope you’ve got your things together, Hope you are quite prepared to die… It’s all a bit much, and then we crash to an end. We open our eyes and breathe a sigh of relief that we’re all still here. The end hasn’t arrived, yet… Over and out from Creedence Clearwater Revival. Sadly this is their only #1 single, though we should just be glad that they managed even one. In their home country, they had far more hit singles – ‘Proud Mary, ‘Green River’, ‘Travellin’ Band’, ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ and this record all hit #2 in 1969 / 70. Yet a Billboard #1 eluded them…

I love this track, in all its swamp rocking, apocalyptic glory. But, if you do find it all a bit much, a bit depressing, you can just do what John Fogerty does occasionally in concert: change the words of the chorus to There’s a bathroom on the right…

If the world were ending, you could do a lot worse than soundtracking it with this playlist:

275. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans

You see the title of this next #1 hit, and you prepare yourself for something special. We’re off to the year 2525… With a duo that sound like a second-rate magic act.

mainZAGER

In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus), by Zager and Evans (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 24th August – 14th September 1969

It gets underway with a Spanish guitar and Mariachi-band backing. It reminds me of Dave Dee and Co’s ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, another Latin-flavoured glimpse into a strange world. In the year 2525, If man is still alive, If woman can survive, They may find…

In comes a relentless galloping beat, over which a terrifying vision of the future is unveiled. By the year 3535, you’ll be taking pills to tell you what to think, by 4545 you won’t need your teeth or your eyes… You won’t find a thing to chew, Nobody’s gonna look at you… In 5555, the machines will have taken all the jobs, rendering our limbs obsolete. And by 6565: Ain’t gonna need no husband, Won’t need no wife… You’ll pick your son, Pick your daughter too, From the bottom of a long glass tube… Woah-woah…

Fair to say it’s a pretty pessimistic view of the future. It has the air of a crazed evangelist, preaching angrily from his pulpit, as all the while the beat goes on, and on. The predictions change to years ending in ten, for rhyming purposes, as we go forward. And by 8510, God will have had enough, and will come down to rip it all up and start again. It’s a crazy record. I’m not sure I like it all that much, but it is entertaining…

The final verse is probably the most prescient. In the year 9595, I’m kinda wonderin’, If man is gonna be alive, He’s taken everything this old earth can give, And he ain’t put back nothin’… Woah-woah… Doesn’t that pretty much sum up the fears of 2020, with our rising temperatures, killer viruses and plastic-swilling oceans? In fact, Zager & Evans’ vision of the future hinges on its opening line: If man is still alive… Who here’s willing to put money on humans being around in 2125, let alone 2525?

ZAGER_&_EVANS_IN+THE+YEAR+2525-640089

We’re used to science fiction that looks into the near-future: ‘Back to the Future’ in 2015, ‘Terminator’ in 2029 and so on, so that we can chuckle when we reach the date in question and point out that none of what was predicted has come to pass. But who can actually get their head around the year 2525? It’s five hundred and five years away! And the year 9595, on which the song ends – it is practically impossible for the human mind to imagine that far forward in time. ‘In the Year 2525’ was nominated for a ‘Hugo Award’, for the best science fiction / fantasy works of the year, though, so who am I to question it?

Denny Zager and Rick Evans were a duo from Lincoln, Nebraska, and they are the purest of one-hit wonders. None of their subsequent follow-ups made the charts. This is their sole chart-topping single, on either side of the Atlantic (fittingly, it was #1 in the US as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.) Zager is still alive, but Evans sadly passed-away in 2018.

We’re drawing to the end of the 1960s, and this record is almost the direct antithesis of a lot of the positivity we’ve seen in pop music throughout the decade. In fact, 1969 has been a year for some pretty cynical chart-toppers: Peter Sarstedt’s cutting ‘Where Do You Go To…’, The Beatles sarcastic ‘Ballad of John and Yoko’, The Move’s melodramatic break-up in ‘Blackberry Way’. Now this anti-flower power anthem. Two years ago it was ‘All You Need Is Love’; now it’s all the ways in which we, as a race, are doomed…

274. ‘Honky Tonk Women’, by The Rolling Stones

A few weeks after bidding The Beatles farewell, we’ve now reached the end of The Rolling Stones’ chart-topping career.

rollingstoneshydeparkextra1969a-5

Honky Tonk Women, by The Rolling Stones (their 8th and final #1)

5 weeks, from 23rd July – 24th August 1969

But, while The Fab Four bowed out with a not-very-Beatles-sounding #1, The Stones wrap things up by doing what they do best – some low-down, dirty rhythm and blues. It starts with a cow-bell, Charlie’s drums, some filthy guitar licks, and Mick’s drawl: I met a gin-soaked bar-room queen in Memphis… (was there ever a more Stonesy opening line than that?) She tried to take me upstairs for a ride…

In my post on their last #1, I wrote that ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was a new leaf for The Stones, in that they gave up on their attempts at flower-power and psychedelica, and returned to straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Honky Tonk Women’, then, is a consolidation of that. It sets the template for the next fifty years of the band, through the twin glories of ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile on Main St’, through to them becoming the biggest stadium fillers the world has ever seen.

It’s also, basically, Mick Jagger listing women that he’s shagged. The bar-room queen is followed by a divorcee in New York City, and the outrageous She blew my nose and then she blew my mind… line. Goodness. It’s the ho-o-o-onky tonk women, Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues… It’s always easy to forget that Mick and Keith were from Dartford, Kent and not Tennessee or Alabama, such is the Americana that fills some of their biggest hits.

There is an elephant in the room, though. This is the first Stones’ single not to feature founding member Brian Jones, whose slow and acrimonious departure from the band had been confirmed earlier in the year. He was found dead in his swimming pool just three weeks before ‘Honky Tonk Women’ hit #1. A blues purist; we can but wonder if this song would have sounded different with him playing on it.

R-387942-1492417780-3326.jpeg

Who knows? As it stands we get a sax solo, and a punch the air Woooo! at the very end. It must have been a fun song to write, to record, and to perform every night for the past half-century. I love it. A pure, unadulterated blast of rock ‘n’ roll. You can hear the seventies hits-to-come buried in it – the likes of ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and the like, right through to ‘Start Me Up’. Unfortunately, none of those records will reach top spot in the UK. The Rolling Stones bow out on eight.

Impressively, their final chart-topper gave them their longest run at number one. Quite unusual, that. Though the particularly eagle-eyed among you will notice that 23rd July to 24th August isn’t quite the five-weeks advertised. This is due to the chart publication dates, and collation methods, changing in the midst of ‘Honky Tonk Women’s’ run.

Farewell to The Rolling Stones, then. Without them and The Beatles around to hit #1 every few weeks it leaves a lot of room for some new guys to come along and dominate. The Stones would slowly fade into obscurity as their chart-topping days receded into the distance… Only joking! They remain a going concern – give or take a few changes in line-up – well into their seventies, while Keith Richards’ continued existence remains one of life’s great mysteries… Their most recent album ‘Blue and Lonesome’, even hit #1 in the UK in 2016.

I’ll maybe do a Stones Top 10 soon, covering all their UK singles, but just for fun here’s my ranking of their eight British chart-toppers – based completely on personal preference – from ‘worst’ to best. *Clears throat*:

‘Little Red Rooster’ > ‘It’s All Over Now’ > ‘The Last Time’ > ‘Paint It, Black’ > ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’‘Honky Tonk Women’ > ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ > ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’

Let me know if you agree, or not.

Listen to every number one, including all eight from The Stones, here:

273. ‘Something In the Air’, by Thunderclap Newman

The first number one of the post-Beatles era. One of those songs where you press play and go ah yes… I know this…

500

Something in the Air, by Thunderclap Newman (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd July 1969

It was in an advert for something, I realise, midway through the first listen, and it is prefect background-music-for-an-advert. Light, floaty, chords forever heading upwards… A positive sounding song. The lyrics are forward-facing too – There’s something in the air – a change is a-coming. We have got to get it together, now… They are very sixties-ish lyrics. The revolution’s here… You know it’s right… They sound more like a bunch of slogans strung together than an actual song. A gentle clarion call for young, liberal types. Hippies, but with sensible shoes.

I called it the start of the post-Beatles era, but the Fab Four’s influence is here in this record. In my last post, I mentioned all the times that a Beatle will top the charts solo. I should also have mentioned all the acts that will top the charts by channelling The Beatles’ sound. And here one is – straight away.

Midway through, and I’m starting to get a bit bored. It’s fine, it’s nice, it’s a bit bland. Thank God, then, for the demented piano solo that comes along out of nowhere, all jazzy and jarring. Like someone doing the Charleston on acid. Why? I don’t know. But it saves this record from slipping into slightly dull and forgettable territory.

thecrazyworldofarthurbrownthunderclapnewman-firesomethingintheair

Normal service is resumed for the final verse, as the revolutionary fervour is upped. Hand out the arms and ammo, We’re gonna blast our way through here… It’s a deceptively angry song. I just wish it had a little more oomph to it. (In keeping with the theme of ‘revolution’, the song apparently has a snippet of ‘La Marseillaise’ towards the end, though I can’t hear it.)

And, after a bit of research, I can confirm that ‘Something in the Air’ has been used to advertise British Airways, Austin Minis, Coca-Cola and mobile phones. It’s clearly a song that lends itself well to advertisements – make up your own mind as to whether or not this is a good thing.

Thunderclap Newman, which is a great name for a band to be fair, were the brain-child of The Who’s Pete Townshend, and he actually plays bass on this single, which is as close as a member of The Who is going to get to a #1 single, sadly. Andy ‘Thunderclap’ Newman was the man who pulled out the brilliant piano solo. Their guitarist, Jimmy McCulloch, was only fifteen when they recorded their sole chart-topper, making him a de facto member of the Youngest Chart-Toppers club. He would go on to join Wings. Which means that, in wrapping up the 1st post-Beatles chart-topper, I’ve managed to end with another Beatles reference. There really is no escaping them…