I ended my last post by claiming that there was no way that this next #1 would be on Spotify, and that I would have to search the deepest recesses of the dark web to find it. Except. It’s there. On Spotify. So…
Ok. You have to type it in in full – the algorithm won’t suggest it to you – but it’s all there. Turns out that ‘hateful’ artists such as this one are ‘buried’ rather than ‘banned’. Which, I think, is the sensible approach to take. Gary Glitter won’t pop up unexpectedly in your party playlist – can you imagine! – but people with blogs in which they write posts on every UK number single can crack on happily.
I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!), by Gary Glitter (his 1st of three #1s)
4 weeks, from 22nd July – 19th August 1973
I haven’t heard this song in years… I was in my early teens when the truth about Glitter came out. (For anyone who doesn’t know, he was found to have a lot of child pornography on his laptop, has since gone on to be convicted three times for rape and abuse, and has proven himself to be a pretty unrepentant paedophile.) But I can just about remember him being a celebrity… I have a particular memory of seeing him on Saturday morning kids TV, of all places, and of a schoolfriend’s parents being huge fans. (True story: his name was Gary, and he did not like it when you suggested which disgraced pop star he may or may not have been named after…)
Come on come on, Come on come on, Come on come on come on… Clap clap clap, stomp stomp stomp! It’s all coming back to me… This song was huge. And dammit… I am enjoying this song. I feel grubby saying it, but hey. When it comes to Gary Glitter and his three UK chart-toppers, I’m going to (try to) practise a clean separation of man and music. He is a terrible human being; this is a stupidly catchy pop hit. It starts with a motorbike revving, for goodness sake, meaning that in half a year we’ve had songs intro with air-raid sirens, anti-aircraft guns, and Harleys… What a time to be alive!
It is cheesy, though – towards the Mud and Showaddywaddy end of glam rather than the David Bowie and T. Rex. It’s dumb, it’s repetitive, trashy and disposable. It’s a series of chants rather than a thoughtfully put together song. He’s the leader, and he’ll make you sell your soul to rock ‘n’ roll… It’s glam reduced to its basics; but God if it isn’t an ear-worm. Is there any other genre with such different levels of taste and respectability?
D’you wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang… Oh yeah? I said I wanted to listen to this objectively, judging the music alone, but it is kinda hard when Glitter gives us lyrics like: I’m the man who put the bang in gang…! Jeez. You do start to wonder if he was hiding in plain sight all along. If glam rock, that most glorious of genres, was besmirched by a pervert who used the image – the mascara and, well, the glitter – to have his wicked way. Just ignore those thoughts and focus on the stomping beat – the so called ‘glitter-stomp’ – and the churning synthey riff that keeps the whole thing chugging along.
Like many glam stars, Glitter predated the movement by quite a distance, releasing several singles in the sixties – his earliest way back in 1960. He went through various name changes: Paul Raven, Paul Monday – his real name’s Paul Gadd – before settling on Gary Glitter. He even worked with George Martin! All of which meant he was almost thirty by the time he hit it big with ‘Rock n Roll Part II’ (the song that caused controversy last year when it was used in a scene in ‘Joker’.)
‘I’m the Leader of the Gang (I Am!)’ was the culmination of this long-awaited ascent to pop stardom for Glitter, though he had already had #2 hits with ‘Hello, Hello, I’m Back Again!’ and ‘Do You Wanna Touch Me’ (a song it is impossible to listen to and not squirm, knowing what we know now…) He’ll go on to have two more chart-toppers in the next year. As uncomfortable as it is to discuss him nowadays; he was a big, big star, and a huge figure in seventies pop music.
I know from the second I press play on our next number one that it is a song I’m going to enjoy. The intro alone is an example of such lavish, seventies, horns ‘n’ strings cheese that, despite knowing much, much better, I like it before the voices have even come in.
Welcome Home, by Peters & Lee (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 15th – 22nd July 1973
I’m so alone, My love, Without you… You’re part of everything I do… There’s a gentle, country and western twang in there too, adding to the sentimentality of it all. And then comes the chorus, and I’ve heard this song before. I know it, of course I do, because it’s the sort of chorus you’d know even if you’d never listened to music before. Welcome home, Wel-come… Come on in, And close the door…
‘Welcome Home’ makes the work of Tony Orlando – ‘Knock Three Times’, ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ and all that – seem subtle and understated. It is that cheesy. Listening to it, I immediately picture Elvis giving it the glitzy, jump-suited Vegas treatment. (Though to be honest, I can’t find any evidence of him ever singing it. Shame…)
Peters and Lee were a duo, obviously, but hearing this single it sounds more like a singer and his backing vocalist. The woman’s voice is much softer, and much further back in the mix. Lennie Peters had been a pianist and singer, travelling round pubs for gigs throughout the sixties. He was blind, having lost sight in one eye in a car crash aged five, and in the other aged sixteen, when a brick was thrown at him! He met Dianne Lee on the same pubs and clubs circuit. She was nearly twenty years younger, and dreamt of being a ballet dancer…
And if you were expecting a seedy story of exploitation and creepy age-gaps… You’ll have to wait (at least until our next #1…) For it seems that Peters and Lee were two people who simply enjoyed singing with one another. They entered a TV talent show called ‘Opportunity Knocks’, and the rest, as they say, is history. Two people for whom life might not have turned out quite as they’d hoped, but who suddenly found themselves at number one on the pop charts. Yes it’s sentimental, yes its ridiculously uncool, but it’s kind of lovely. As your nan would have said: “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!”
I’m not quite sure what’s just happened. I should have approached this song much more cynically, but the more I listen to it the more I sway along. I better stop before I start claiming this is some kind of all-time classic. Peters & Lee had a few more hits, and kept intermittently recording and touring through to Peter’s death in 1992.
They also spent a good chunk of their time, in the later years, recording crappy karaoke-backing-track versions of their biggest hit. These are the only versions of ‘Welcome Home’ on Spotify; you have to go to YouTube, or your nearest record store, if you want it in all its original, schmaltzy glory. 1973 has truly been the year to ruin my #1s Blog Spotify playlist, and the situation probably won’t be helped by our next chart-topper…
Slade are back, for their fifth number one single in a year and a half, with an intro that goes: Slade, slade, slade, slade, sladesladesladesladeslade…
Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me, by Slade (their 5th of six #1s)
3 weeks, from 24th June – 15th July 1973
If you were being kind you’d say it was Slade at their Sladest; if you weren’t you’d say it was Slade by numbers. The intro sounds like a blend of ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ and ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’’s, while the lyrics reference ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’. In fact, the girl in this one might just be the same as featured in that earlier hit…
You got rude talk, You got one walk, All your jokes are blue… She’s a wild one. And Noddy’s quite confident that he can show her the way: You know how to please me, Woah-oah, You’re learnin’ it easy, Woah-oah… If you tune in and listen to the lyrics, they range from the raunchy – a lot of squeezing and pleasing – to the fairly dubious: When a girl’s meaning yes, She says no…
I mean, I like Slade and I like this. If you like Slade then it’s impossible to truly dislike ‘Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me’ because it is the band at the height of their chart-humping, biggest-in-the-land phase. This, like ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’ entered the charts at #1, on name alone, really, in a manner not seen before and not seen again for a decade. And it is Slade treading water, but I have an image in my mind of Noddy Holder and Jim Lea bashing out the lyrics in five minutes, saying ‘Fuck it, that’ll do’, and ordering another pint. And I like it…
There is no way on earth that this single needs to be four and a half minutes long, though. Ten years ago, ‘House of the Rising Sun’ ran that long and it was revolutionary. Now it’s run of the mill. Maybe Slade were so popular that the record label were too scared to edit them down? They knew this would be a massive hit in any form. Maybe Slade themselves were so popular that they had become afraid to experiment…?
And maybe that’s true, because they were about to go slightly experimental, with ‘Slade in Flame’, and the music would be better, but the #1s would dry up. Suddenly glam rock as a whole would be up… But not yet. They have one final #1 single to come. Their best known one. Their retirement plan…
On the face of it, this next #1 isn’t a glam rock record. But there are enough glam touches here to keep it sounding very ’72-’73. It chugs, it boogies, it makes you wanna shake something…
Rubber Bullets, by 10cc (their 1st of three #1s)
1 week, from 17th – 24th June 1973
If it isn’t a glam rock record, then… What is it? Well, it’s got huge nods towards fifties rock ‘n’ roll – Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in particular – some Beach Boys’ harmonies, some CCR-style Americana, a middle-eight that goes all Simon & Garfunkel, as well as lots of squiggly, experimental-sounding effects. Recently, we heard Roy Wood and Wizzard chuck every idea they’d ever had into the mix on ‘See My Baby Jive’ to produce a wondrous piece of music, and this is 10cc’s attempt at something similarly epic.
Except, ‘See My Baby Jive’ wasn’t testing any lyrical limits. It was about the singers baby, jiving. ‘Rubber Bullets’, on top of all the sonic fun and games, is also trying to make a statement. I went to a party at the local county jail, All the cons were dancing and the band began to wail… In ‘Jailhouse Rock’, Elvis and the lads have a great time at their party. Here, the governor is quickly forced to call in the police
Load up, load up, load up, Your rubber bullets… Sargent Baker and his men shoot over to the jail, to keep order. From here on, the story is told in different voices. The cons: Is it really such a crime, For a guy to spend his time, At the local hop at the local county jail… And the police: I love to hear those convicts squeal, It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real… There are a few gems, too. The line about having a tear-gas of a time, and the all-time classic: We all got balls and brains, Some have balls and chains… (which was cut when this disc got a spin on the radio…)
By the end things have escalated to such a point that they’ve called in the National Guard. (And suddenly a forty-seven year old song sounds very 2020…) In 1973, despite the band putting on very deliberate American accents, and the lyrics being all very small-town US, the controversy came from the fact that the British army had just started using rubber bullets to deal with the troubles in Northern Ireland.
So. While ‘See My Baby Jive’ flourished under the ‘kitchen sink’ method, I feel that ‘Rubber Bullets’ suffers a little from all its many influences. It’s an exhausting listen at times. But it’s still great fun – don’t get me wrong – and not for a second does the record drag. Apparently, as it was one of the first singles recorded by 10cc, the band were simply enjoying having an entire recording studio to mess around in. And for my money, the very best bit of the song is the super-scuzzy, sped-up, distorted guitar solo.
That guitar returns to end the well over five minute album version of ‘Rubber Bullets’, while the radio-edit comes in well under four minutes. I think I’ve attached the right, somewhere in between those two lengths, single version below. 10cc, the sort of band that you know more songs from than you realise, had had one #2 hit before this – ‘Donna’ – and will go on to have two more #1 singles in the 1970s. Neither of which sound anything like ‘Rubber Bullets’. They were fun, experimental, and I need to listen to more of them. And I dare you to look up the inspiration behind their name…
I promised you more glam, and is there anything more glam than the ascending drums ‘n’ guitar intro on this next number one?
Can the Can, by Suzi Quatro (her 1st of two #1s)
1 week, from 10th – 17th June 1973
But when the vocals come in, we take a leap forward. For this is rock music… sung by a woman! The girls are getting in on the act! (I hope they finished the washing-up first, etc etc…)
Like all the best glam rock singles, ‘Can the Can’ is about the sound and the attitude first and foremost, with trifling matters such as ‘lyrics that make sense’ coming a distant second. How else to explain a chorus that goes: So make a stand for your man, honey, Try to can the can… Put your man in the can, honey, Get him while you can… Can the can!
According to songwriters, Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who also wrote for chart-topping artists like the Sweet and Mud, it is about attempting the impossible. About trying to snag your guy and hold on to him against all the competition. Quatro sums it up best when she screeches, just before the chorus: Scratch out her eyes!!!! You can picture her, in her jumpsuit, outside the pub at closing time, launching herself at some slapper who’s just looked at her bloke the wrong way…
Meanwhile, the guitar work is pretty great. The lead cries out like the tigers and the eagles in the lyrics, while Suzie’s bass keeps us chugging along. By the end, when the barroom piano is keeping pace alongside, this has become the heaviest, most raucous #1 single since ‘School’s Out’. Forget glam, this is some pretty darn hard rock.
Imagine being a teenage girl in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair. It must have been thrilling, seeing her rock out like one of the guys. This was her first single to make the charts, so she really would have come out of nowhere. Similarly, imagine being a teenage boy in 1973, and seeing twenty-three year old Suzi rock up to Top of the Pops in her leather jumpsuit and tomboyish hair… There must have been many a, shall we say, ‘awakening’. (You know, man, they say she’s naked under there…)
After repeated listening, and after having it explained to me by the songwriters, I’m still not sure what the hell ‘Can the Can’ means. But I am confident that it does not matter one bit. Any song with the a yelled Scratch out her eyes! as a refrain is alright by me. Plus, Suzi Quatro is the first solo female to top the charts in nearly two years (!), since ‘I’m Still Waiting’ by Diana Ross. From that, to this. You can see why Quatro was an influence on everyone from Joan Jett and Girlschool, through to Goldfrapp and KT Tunstall. And she still has one more chart-topper to come! Yay!
I like to give my recaps names, if I can: the rock ‘n’ roll recap, the Merseybeat recap… Welcome then, one and all, to the glam recap (Pt I). This one falls slap bang in the middle of the glam rock era. We’ve had T. Rex, and Sweet, and Alice Cooper, four from Slade and half of Wizzard’s chart-topping double. Still to come: Suzi Q, Mud, and a man by the name of Glitter…
We’ve gone exactly two years since our last recap, and I’d say these have been the most consistent sounding #1 records since that glorious thirty from 1963-64. Power chords, platform boots and lots of shiny things have been the order of the day. But. (There’s always a but…) It’s not all been great. While some of the records featured recently rank among my favourite number ones so far… others definitely rank among my least favourite.
We’ve jumped around from elation to nausea, from life-affirmingly good to life-shorteningly bad. Which means, first things first, I can get my ‘Meh’ Award out of the way nice and early. There is genuinely only one record from the past thirty that I haven’t had a strong opinion on. Congratulations to David Cassidy, whose cover of ‘How Can I Be Sure’ completely melted into the background.
If I had to think of a sub-title for this ‘Glam Recap’, it’d have to be ‘Plus more novelty hits than was entirely comfortable…’ There have been novelty hits since the dawn of the charts, your ‘How Much Is That Doggie’ and your ‘I See the Moon’… But they felt somehow genuine, like the artists set out to make a ‘real’ record and just got carried away. In recent months, there have been novelty chart-toppers that have seemed to exist only to get a reaction, only to amuse, only to annoy. For example, Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’, as much as I enjoy it, was a live recording released months later for the sole purposes, I’d guess, of annoying the purists and getting Mary Whitehouse’s knickers in a twist.
So. We are spoilt for choice in choosing our 11thWTAF Award. Except, beyond all the songs I just mentioned, there is one clear winner. One song for which this award was invented. A record that has no place at the top of the UK pop charts, a record that would look out of place in any era: The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, who invaded the top of the charts, bagpipes in hand, for five long weeks.
Away from all the silliness, we have encountered two of the biggest, most popular acts the British singles charts have ever seen. Yes, first T. Rex, and then Slade, have scored seven chart-topping singles between them these past two years, sharing twenty-two weeks at the top. Notably, Slade entered the charts at #1 with their last one, ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, and thus reached Elvis/Cliff/Beatles levels of adoration. Further similarities to the rock ‘n’ roll era, and the Merseybeat era, can be drawn here in the fact that this is music for young people, by young people, about drinking, dancing and all the other things that youngsters get up to.
And I’m not just talking teenagers: the tweens were well-catered for too. Enter Mr. Junior-High Heartthrob himself, Donny Osmond (squeal!). His cover of ‘Puppy Love’ was shamelessy, cynically, unabashedly released with a strict under-14s policy. If you were feeling a bit more rebellious , if you wanted to stick it to the man (well, your teachers at least) then Alice Cooper were bringing punk rock vibes for the summer holidays with ‘School’s Out’.
The grown-ups have been catered for, though, still. We’ve had glossy soul from Diana Ross, the first two of Rod Stewart’s chart-toppers – acoustic singer-songwriting at its very best – while we’ve also enjoyed two of the finest ballads known to man: Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ and Don McLean’s heart-breaking ‘Vincent’.
And the re-release culture that I remarked upon in my last recap – in which several sixties hits found new life in the early seventies – continued with The Tam’s ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ hitting #1 thanks to the northern soul scene. (You could also argue that Donny O, and to a lesser extent David Cassidy, were up to a similar kind of thing, when they resurrected long forgotten minor hits and gave them schmaltzy makeovers.) Plus, it wouldn’t be the early-seventies without some easy-listening cheese. Tony Orlando and Dawn supplied that by the busload in ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ while Gilbert O’Sullivan had a #1 single about babysitting…
To the main awards, then. It’ll be a tough call in both sections. First, the latest Very Worst Chart-Topper. I haven’t held back in ripping records by Middle of the Road, The New Seekers, Little Jimmy O, and Gilbert O’Sullivan to shreds. But one man (well, boy) stands out, head and shoulders above the rest. Osmond! Report to the headmaster’s office immediately. For a while I thought nothing could stink worse than ‘Puppy Love’… Until his 2nd chart-topper ‘The Twelfth of Never’ came along. I’ve been trying to work out just why it was worse… And I think it’s because his voice had broken. Bear with me. ‘Puppy Love’, irritating as it is, was sung by a kid. A harmless enough little dweeb. But the follow up was sung by a teenager: the age at which you should be rebelling, experimenting, pushing the boundaries… Yet he released an even more insipid, saccharine pile of sludge. (I realise that Osmond probably had limited creative control over his output but still, he could have tried to sound less annoying.) So there we have it. ‘The Twelfth of Never’ wins.
To the Very Best Chart-Topper, then. Who gets to join Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, the Stones, Marvin Gaye and, um, Mungo Jerry? I’ve narrowed it down to… eight songs. Seriously. It’s an impossible decision. Here goes. First to get the chop are ‘Get It On’ and ‘Block Buster!’ (I love you, I’m sorry, goodbye.) I also love ‘Without You’ and ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, but not quite enough. In fourth place, just missing out on a medal… ‘School’s Out.’ Ah, this is hell… Top 3. In third place, simply because it’s sad, and I am feeling quite cheery today: ‘Vincent.’ Top 2. Excuse me while I just listen to them, one last time…
It’s decided. I think. Taking silver… Wizzard’s romping, stomping, bomping ‘See My Baby Jive’. Which means… drum-roll please… ‘Metal Guru’, T. Rex’s final, and finest, chart-topper, is the very, very best of a very good bunch.
To recap the recaps:
The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:
‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:
‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:
‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers:
‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
Before you go any further, why not read this article from The Guardian, about why Marc Bolan was the perfect pop star (just ignore the Guardian readers being Guardian readers in the comments below – what do they know?)
The last song before our next recap, and a late contender for one of the very best of the past bunch…?
See My Baby Jive, by Wizzard (their 1st of two #1s)
4 weeks, from 13th May – 10th June 1973
This record sets its stall out early. Remember when we thought The Sweet introing with an air-raid siren was ballsy? Well how about a Spitfire doing a fly-past, followed by some anti-aircraft fire? But this song is so good, you’ve somehow forgotten about the outrageous intro within ten seconds of the first verse. The guns turn into cascading drums, and a wall of sound comes in and kicks you up the backside.
Look out, Look out, Your momma would shout, You might as well go home… She said, My bed, Gets into your hair, So give me back my comb… Yeah… Me neither. These are definitely lyrics that need Googling. But as with most of the great glam singles from this era, the words don’t really matter. They’re about dancing, about making sweet music while strutting around in mascara and a feather boa. About how well your baby can move. See my baby jive, See my baby jive, She hangs on to me and she really goes, Woah, woah, woah…
That woah, woah, woah is perhaps the most gloriously uplifting, catchy moment that we’ve heard so far in any of the previous three hundred and twenty-nine number one records. It’s wonderful. It’s Prozac for the ears. In fact, the entire five minutes of ‘See My Baby Jive’ is pop perfection: a huge slice of glam, mixed with splashes of fifties malt shop and doo-wop, with a big knob of Phil Spector-esque production. Wizzard were an eight-man band, complete with cellists, saxophonists, clarinettists, French hornists, synthesisers, and more, all crammed into this one song, with a crazy genius at the helm.
Roy Wood has had one previous number one – The Move’s ‘Blackberry Way’ – and since then he’s founded Electric Light Orchestra. But it was with Wizzard that he really let loose, and showed just what he was capable of. And not many would be capable of taking all the different elements chucked into the mix on ‘See My Baby Jive’, and turning it into a hit.
The solo starts off classical, and finishes as jazz. The outro sounds like The Beach Boys are getting in on the act somewhere off in the background. (This record has too many references, too many Easter eggs, to keep track of. Five minutes long it may be, but it never drags.) All the while you can picture all the boys in town rushing down the street, just to see his baby jive. She’s an addictive woman, summed up in the brilliant line – one of the few that stand out against the chaos – You, You make things that get along, Turn out, So wrong…
Wizzard had had one previous hit, the almost as good – and just as loopy – ‘Ball Park Incident’ which made #6, and they will go on to have one further, brilliant chart-topper (and release a Christmas song that some of you may have heard, once or twice) before 1973 is out. But I’m not sure they ever topped ‘See My Baby Jive’. And I don’t think I’ve ever not loved this song. It was a regular feature of our ‘long family car journey’ tapes and CDs. (On many a trip did I sit in the back seat, waiting for the anti-aircraft fire to ring out…)
I don’t normally mention the ‘B’-sides to the #1 singles I cover, but how could I resist when I discovered that the flip-side to this single was called ‘Bend Over Beethoven’! Unfortunately, it’s nowhere near as outrageous as its title implies… Anyway, like I said at the top, a recap is up next, in which the other recent chart-toppers will have to go some to stop me naming ‘See My Baby Jive’ as the very best.
Two years after their first #1 single, Tony and his ‘tache are back on top!
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, by Dawn ft. Tony Orlando (their 2nd and final #1)
4 weeks, from 15th April – 13th May 1973
Back in ’71, he was asking his girl to ‘Knock Three Times’ if she felt like hooking up, now he’s asking her to ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’ if she still loves him. He is evidently a man who needs things spelled out for him.
It starts with a tune that can certainly be described as ‘jaunty’. Yep, the dreaded ‘J’ word. It’s a melody that must be from something else, some old German schlager hit, so familiar does it sound. It sounds as if it’s been playing in the back of your mind for years and years and, now that you’ve brought it to the forefront, it’ll be going round and round in there for years to come.
I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time… Tony’s been in prison for crimes undefined… Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine… He’s written ahead, and given his girl instructions what to do if she’s still into him: Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree, It’s been three long years, Do you still want me…? If he doesn’t see a ribbon, he’ll stay on the bus and make a new life wherever he winds up.
Yes, it is utter cheese. But it’s a cute concept, and the melody – that melody – is undeniable. There’s a simple reason why this was a huge worldwide smash: it’s pretty darn catchy. It gets a bit much in places – the harmonica solo, for example – but, as with ‘Knock Three Times’, Tony and co. just about get away with it.
The bus draws close to his hometown. The tension is too much, he can’t look and begs the driver to check for him. It reminds me of Tom Jones’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ in that it’s about a convict returning home to those he loves. Except, in that song it was all just a dream and he’s about to get shot at dawn. This one has a much happier ending…
For in verse three, we slow down, Tony drags it out: Now the whole damn bus is cheerin’, And I can’t believe I see… A hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree! A hundred! She must have really missed him (and forgiven whatever crimes he may or may not have committed.) Hurrah!
As before, Tony O’s backing singers don’t have very much to do, but they are two different singers from the band’s earlier #1. The ‘classic’ Dawn line-up of Tony, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson was in place by the time they released ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ They had a few more hits to come on the Billboard chart, and around the world (seriously, this is a band with huge appeal in non-English speaking countries, with their traditional melodies and simple lyrics) but in the UK this was their last really big one.
And no, surprisingly, this wasn’t based on the melody of some old German hit… It was fresh off the press – written in 1973 – though the idea of a loved one wearing yellow for the return of as soldier (or a convict) had been around in American folklore since the 1800s. Apparently the track was offered to Ringo Starr, but – and I love this – an Apple Records Exec. told the writers that they ‘should be ashamed of their ridiculous song’. What wasn’t good enough for Ringo was good enough for Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby… basically any crooner worth their salt has covered it. It has, more seriously, been used as a protest anthem in the Philippines and Hong Kong, in which yellow ribbons have been symbols. So there! Dismiss this as fluff at your peril… Take it away, Tony, one last time…
We last heard from Gilbert O’Sullivan on ‘Clair’, crooning about a little girl he babysat for. I didn’t think much of it. Not the worst chart-topper ever, but far from a classic. But this – his second and final #1 – this is more like it, Gilbert!
Get Down, by Gilbert O’ Sullivan (his 2nd and final #1)
2 weeks, from 1st – 15th April 1973
Straight from the off we are into a stomping, glam rock groove – imagine a T. rex ‘B’-side covered by early-ABBA – and my feet are tapping. I know this song, from somewhere I cannot quite place, and I’m enjoying it. Told you once before and I won’t tell you no more… Get down, get down, get down…
Like ‘Clair’, this is another song that isn’t about what you immediately think. Any song, released in the seventies, called ‘Get Down’, should be about dancing. About ‘getting on down’, as I believe they called it back then. But no, as the lyrics progress: You’re a bad dog baby, But I still want you around…
It can’t be, surely, you wonder… He can’t have followed up his hit single about childminding with a song about how much he dislikes his dog climbing on the furniture…? Except no, the plot thickens. There are layers upon layers. Keep your hands to yourself, I’m strictly out of bounds…
Now, dogs don’t have hands. Which leads me to deduce that his isn’t singing about a frisky dog, but an amorous lady! Gilbert is sorely tempted, and this has led him to feel like a cat on a hot tin roof. (Cats, now. Is this what’s called a mixed-metaphor…?) Whatever, this is a groovy little record that shimmys in and shimmys out, that makes the listener shake their hips and drop their shoulders. A perfect pop number one.
I’m not sure I love his schtick, though, this writing songs about things but making it sound like he’s singing about other things. I have a feeling that Gilbert O’ Sullivan thought he was being clever. (One of his greatest hits collections is titled ‘The Berry Vest of…’) Plus, we do have to ignore that he is comparing a woman – a woman that he likes, no less – to a dog. Which isn’t very gentlemanly.
Gilbert O’Sullivan enjoyed thirteen Top 20 hits in the UK during the seventies and very early eighties, which is not to be sniffed at. He still writes and records: in 2018 his 19th studio album reached #20 (I love the symmetry there). In 1972, believe it or not, he was the biggest selling male solo act of the year. Worldwide…! But I can’t help feeling he’s been pretty much forgotten, though, in the grand scheme of things. Can your average man in the street name either of Gilbert O’Sullivan’s chart-topping records? The fact that he’s still not consistently on platforms such as Spotify – again, ruining my #1s Blog playlist! – is either a cause, or a symptom, of this. ‘Get Down’, at least, is worth remembering and so, if you have never heard it before, you’ll have to enjoy it on YouTube for now. And look down there – a link! How’s about that. Enjoy.
I press play on this, the second part of Donny Osmond’s chart-topping trilogy, and the first word that comes to mind is ‘syrupy’. Listening to this record’s intro is like being dropped head first into a vat of treacle, and trying to swim to safety…
The Twelfth of Never, by Donny Osmond (his 2nd of three #1s)
1 week, from 25th March – 1st April 1973
Second thing I notice is that lil’ Donny’s voice has broken. He’s become a man, or at least a proper teenager, and so, we wonder, will his music have grown up along with him? We last heard him chirping about his ‘Puppy Love’; is there any sign that Donny is pushing boundaries, experimenting on the lead single from his fifth (his fifth!) album?
No. If anything – and I have considered this statement very carefully – ‘The Twelfth of Never’ is worse than ‘Puppy Love’. (Meanwhile it makes his little brother Jimmy’s chart-topper sound genuinely enjoyable by comparison.) You ask how much I need you… Must I explain… I need you oh my darlin’, Like roses need rain… You really don’t need to hear any more of the lyrics to get the picture.
But, just in case you were enjoying it, he will love his girl until the roses don’t bloom, until the clover has lost its perfume, and until the poets have run out of rhyme… Until the twelfth of never, And that’s a long, long time… I’ll give this song one thing: it’s powerful. Certain songs make you sad, certain songs make you happy, certain songs make you nauseous. You can guess what category this one falls under…
I dunno. I feel a bit bad. He was only fifteen, and picking on this record feels a bit like taking candy from, well, a kid. I’m sure he was a nice young man, and your nan would certainly have approved (though she might have suggested a haircut), but Donny Osmond did release some utter shite. But then again, as I wrote in my post on ‘Puppy Love’, I am not and never have been a thirteen-year-old girl, and so am far, far away from being this song’s target audience.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, like ‘Puppy Love’, was a cover of an older hit. Johnny Mathis had released his version way back in 1956, and it is much less syrupy, almost gospel-ish. (Mathis, though, disliked the song and kept it as a ‘B’-side.) In the UK, Cliff Richard had had a #8 hit in 1964 with his own version…
Donny will have one last UK #1, coming up pretty soon, so brace yourselves. That one is interesting as it is not just a cover of an oldie, but a cover of an oldie that has already topped the charts! Until then, I need a glass of water and a ‘Rennies’…