To recap, then…
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.
We’ve enjoyed (or endured) ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie’, the youngest ever chart-topping artist grinning his way through ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’, Chuck’s aforementioned ‘Ding-a-Ling’ and the irritating ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’. Not that I hated all these records – far from it – but they wanted a reaction, for better or worse. The only recent ‘novelty’ that I’d excuse as a genuine attempt to make a proper song is Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. That felt to me a genuine experiment, Joe Meek-esque, in pop music recording.
So. We are spoilt for choice in choosing our 11th WTAF 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?)
Coming up next, the Glam Rock Years (Pt. II)…