Remembering Winifred Atwell

In my ‘Remembering’ bits, I like to draw people’s attention back to artists from the dawn of the charts, from posts published long before anyone was actually reading this blog. Back we go, then, to 1954…

Winifred Atwell is a significant figure in the British charts as, when she scored her first #1 in late ’54 (a Christmas #1 before that was something worth noticing), she became the first black artist to do so. ‘Let’s Have Another Party’ – a medley of old music hall tunes – stayed at the top for five weeks. It is very of its time, but still a fun listen. You can read my original post here.

Some of the melodies in that record date from the the 1920s, so we are really looking a century back in time from our modern-day vantage point. Anyway, Winifred Atwell had arrived in the UK in 1946, from Trinidad via the USA, and had been accepted into the Royal Academy for Music, where she achieved the highest grades possible. She supported herself by playing boogie-woogie tunes in clubs around London, where she was spotted and signed.

Between 1952 and ’59, she scored fourteen Top 20 hits in the UK, many with wonderful titles such as ‘Flirtation Waltz’ and ‘Let’s Have a Ding-Dong!’ (You could say she was a suggestive performer, in that she released no less than five singles beginning with the word ‘Let’s…’) She did the Royal Variety, where she was invited to play privately for the Queen, who requested ‘Roll Out the Barrel’. (Ma’am does love a good knees-up!) On stage she would often start off by playing classical pieces on a grand piano, before switching to a battered old piano bought in a market for fifty shillings – her ‘other’ piano, which was credited on her records and which travelled the world with her – to bash out some ragtime tunes.

Her 2nd number one, ‘The Poor People of Paris’ is interesting – not because it sounds much different from her first – but because it featured as sound engineer a young Joe Meek, who would go on to produce three seminal sixties #1s (and who I did a post on a year or so back.) In the background, hovering above Winny’s piano, is a high-pitched whine which I thought, and pondered in my original post, might have been a Theramin, but which I have since read was probably a musical saw. Either way, you can hear the embryonic beginnings of ‘Telstar’ here, in the video below:

And this live performance, from a couple of years later, has Atwell banging away on her famous ‘other’ piano (I love her winks at the camera…)

By 1958, when this was filmed, her hit-scoring days were almost over – killed stone-dead, as so many artists’ careers were, by rock ‘n’ roll and then the swinging sixties. Still, Atwell remained a popular figure on TV variety shows and in concert. She moved to Australia, where she was a huge star, and where she lived until her death on this day in 1983. Her final performances, quite sweetly, were on the organ in her parish church.

Despite her music now sounding incredibly quaint, and her dressing like your aunt at a wedding, Winifred Atwell’s legacy lives on. Keith Emerson spoke of her influence on his music, while David Bowie also reminisced about hearing her rags on the radio as a boy. But the biggest example has to be Sir Elton John, who cites Atwell as one of the main reasons behind him wanting to learn piano.

Winifred Atwell, 27th February 1914 – 28th February 1983

384. ‘Forever and Ever’, by Slik

Our recent run of number one singles has taken us past some illustrious names, some of the pillars of pop history: Art Garfunkel, David Bowie, Queen, ABBA… now Slik…

Forever and Ever, by Slik (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 8th – 15th February 1976

Hmm. Initially I had to do a double take, as I thought it should have been ‘Silk’. Some smooth and silky, mid-seventies soul perhaps. But no, ‘Slik’ it is, and they kick off their one and only #1 single with some church organs, and some ominous chanting. I have genuinely never heard this song before…

When the vocals come in, they come in a Scottish accent. Make that two Scottish chart-toppers out of the past four. As it was in the beginning, Then so should it end… Are we at a funeral…? Don’t let a lover, Become just a friend… It’s quite new-wave, the synthy heartbeats and the half-spoken delivery.

Come chorus time, though, I am pleased to announce: glam is back. The bridge hints at it – the guitars start to growl as the singer builds it up in his best Glaswegian: didnae ya know, didnae ya feel… Then boom. It’s a chorus straight out of 1973, worthy of Wizzard or Eurovision-era ABBA: I dedicate to you, All my love, My whole life through, I’ll love you. Forever and ever…

As a declaration of love, it’s a bit much, a bit stalkery. As a pop song, it’s great. I’m really enjoying this. Why isn’t this on all the seventies ‘Best Ofs’, alongside ‘See Me Baby Jive’ and ‘Come Up and See Me’? The way it spins on a sixpence, from verse to chorus and back again, reminds me somehow of the old Johnny Preston hit from 1960, ‘Running Bear’, which also swung from goofy verses to rocking chorus.

By the end, the rock ‘n’ roll vibe has been boosted by doo-wop backing vocals, sealing this record’s place as a hidden gem I’m very glad to have discovered. Any song that descends into doo-wop backing vocals is fine by me. Slik were a band from Glasgow, and were fronted by James ‘Midge’ Ure (all the other band members took nicknames too: Oil Slik, Lord Slik and Jim Slik… a full twenty years before the Spices!) Ure, of course, is much better known as the frontman of Ultravox, who will famously never have a #1 single, and you can definitely hear the roots of his later work in this pop hit.

Slik were marketed as a new Bay City Rollers, and their hits were written by Bill Martin and Phil Coultier, who wrote many of the Rollers’ songs. This hit was turned down by the Rollers, after being recorded by 2nd rate glam rock outfit Kenny, eventually finding its way into Slik’s hands. I’d place ‘Forever and Ever’ as head and shoulders above either of the Bay City Rollers’ chart-toppers, or indeed any of their non-chart topping singles too. It’s a cracker. Slik faded away quickly, registering just once more on the Top 40, but their lead singer will be back in this countdown, in a decade or so.

383. ‘Mamma Mia’, by ABBA

Into 1976! And we hop from one well-worn classic, to another.

Mamma Mia, by ABBA (their 2nd of nine #1s)

2 weeks, from 25th January – 8th February 1976

It’s a dramatic intro – do dee do dee do dee do dee – that sounds a bit like the soundtrack to a murder mystery. But that also, somehow, lets you know straight off the bat that this is going to be fun. It’s a different sound from their first #1 – less glam, slightly more rock – but it still has that trademark ABBA flamboyance. It’s a cliché, I know, but every one of their hits has a hint (often more than a hint) of camp.

‘Waterloo’ was almost two years ago, and since then ABBA have retreated into the background, scoring a few minor hits but looking like they might be best remembered in Britain as ‘those Swedish Eurovision winners’. Until now. ‘Mamma Mia’ kicks off an era of chart dominance: eight number one singles in under five years. The Age of ABBA begins here.

I’ve been cheated by you since I don’t know when, So I made up my mind it must come to an end… One of my favourite things about ABBA is their English: it’s perfect; yet idiosyncratic. No native English speaker speaks like an ABBA song; yet we know exactly what they mean. (Forgive me, I’m an English teacher…) Yes, I’ve been broken-hearted, Blue since the day we parted…

Like its predecessor ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Mamma Mia’ suffers slightly from its ubiquity. Sitting down and listening to it now, I realise just how close it comes to perfect pop. Those power chords leading up to the chorus: Just! One! Look! And I forget everything… In fact, the whole song is a power chord, every note and instrument programmed to hit you right in the sweet spot. The title really should have an exclamation mark.

Mamma Mia! Here I go again! How can I resist ya…! Is there a more ridiculous chorus? First off, why are we using Italian? Do Italians even say ‘Mamma Mia’?? Then there’s the fact that the entire song is an admission of weakness: I want to walk out the door and leave you but, mamma mia, you know I ain’t gonna… It’s the musical equivalent of a knowing wink, a roll of the eyes and a theatrical shrug.

There are better ABBA songs to come in this countdown (as a band they definitely saved the best for last) but this one is undeniable. And in recent years I think it’s probably usurped ‘Dancing Queen’ as their signature tune. That’s all down to the musical (which does have the appropriate exclamation mark!) and its success on both stage and screen. Yes it’s silly, yes it’s been overplayed, but boy if it isn’t a fantastic pop song…

Catch up with all the number ones, from 1952-1975, here:

382. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by Queen

I have to admit, I’ve been putting off writing this entry. I mean, A) How do you say anything about ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that hasn’t been said before? And B) When are you ever in the mood to sit and listen to it on repeat? (Though actually, I could probably play this one from beginning to end, in my head, from memory…)

Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen (their 1st of six #1s)

9 weeks, from 23rd November 1975 – 25th January 1976

I can remember hearing this record for the first time. That must mean something, right? That must be proof of this song’s place in our lives? I was at the kitchen table, aged seven or so, playing with some Lego, and my dad was playing this, loud. And singing. My dad does not normally play music loud, or sing. So seven-year-old me sat up and took notice. What was this record that had turned my father into a headbanger?

Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy…? If I had to rate the three parts (or is it four?) of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the first would be my favourite. Freddie’s voice… Mama, Just killed a man… and his luxuriant piano. The singer is haunted by his past, his crimes, and is setting out alone. Mama, Ooh-ooooh-ooh… If that was it, if this were a three-minute ballad, it’d still be great. But, of course, that is not it. ‘Tis but the amuse-bouche.

In comes Brian May, with the most outrageous piece of guitaristry in a #1 single since ‘Voodoo Chile’, and then… You know what comes next. This is the bit I remember hearing as a kid. You do have to step back and applaud the fact that the band managed to sandwich this bit into a pop single. In terms of the story, it represents, I think, the singer’s inner torment at what he’s done. Beelzebub, Has a devil put aside, For ME!

Then comes the head-banging section, the Wayne’s World bit, my second favourite part. It’s proper hard rock, almost heavy metal – a sound that we have very rarely heard in any of the previous 381 chart-toppers. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ really is a deeply strange strong, and a bizarre #1. But it is also so much a part of the furniture that people no longer stop to wonder what the hell it’s about. Is it a tale of a Faustian pact? Is it Mercury coming to terms with his sexuality? Or is it, as the band maintain, all nonsense?

And, for then the coda, it’s back to Freddie and his piano. The clincher. Any way the wind blows… Done, and exhale. The stories around the song’s recording and release are well-known: the record execs’ reluctance, Kenny Everett playing it on repeat… I enjoyed the scene in the recent movie – a movie that wasn’t as bad as everyone made out – where the band wonder if Freddie’s lost his mind while recording the Galileo! Galileo! part.

People always name ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as one of the longest songs ever, and certainly one of the longest #1s. But it’s barely six minutes long, and feels even shorter, ranking it pretty far down the ‘long number ones’ list. Even ‘I’m Not In Love’, from earlier in 1975, went on for ten seconds more. What was long was its stay at the top of the charts. No record has spent nine weeks at #1 since ‘Rose Marie’ managed eleven, twenty years back. Add to that the fact that it will be back on top shortly after Freddie Mercury’s death, and we’re looking at one of the longest-running #1s, ever.

In my post on ‘Space Oddity’ – isn’t it amazing to think that these two classic records so nearly met one another atop the charts! – I named David Bowie as an artist woefully represented by his chart-toppers. Well, to that short list add Queen, who will only have two more before they lose their frontman, and then descend into some highly questionable duets by the turn of the century. All that to come…

Anyway, after I wrap this up I will go back to never choosing to listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, just hearing it by osmosis (and when forced to join in with it at karaoke nights…) I don’t hate it – it is an amazing piece of music – and yet I think it works best as a memory, of me aged seven, staring open-mouthed at my dad moshing around the living-room.

381. ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’, by Billy Connolly

OK… We shouldn’t be surprised by any more of the curveballs that 1975 throws us, but still… OK. What have we here…?

D.I.V.O.R.C.E., by Billy Connolly (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 16th – 23rd November 1975

A spelling lesson from Scotland’s national comedian? A piss-take of a Tammy Wynette  classic? A genuinely funny novelty song atop the charts…?! All of the above! In the Wynette version, of course, she’s trying to hide the D.I.V.O.R.C.E from her little son by spelling it out, rather than saying it aloud.

Here, though, Billy Connolly tells the story of taking his dog to the vet. Our little dog, Is six years old, And he’s smart as any damn kid… Words like S.H.O.T., Or W.O.R.M., These are words that make him S.Q.U.I.R.M… His Q.U.A.R.A.N.T.I.N.E. starts today… (an all too prescient line for 2021.) All very amusing, but how do we get to the D-word? Well, the dog bites the vet, Billy argues with the wife, and that’s that… Now I’m going down the town tonight, To get a new B.I.R.D.…

I am smiling, I admit, because I’m enjoying a single so unashamedly Scottish at #1. It’s been quite the year for Scots topping the charts: Pilot, a couple from the Rollers, Rod Stewart (not actually Scottish, but we’ll take him) and now this. And, compared to some recent novelty hits – I’m looking at you Ray Stevens! – it’s genuinely quite funny. Plus, being Scottish, it’s possibly the rudest #1 single so far.

There are a few ‘damns’, and he spells out B.U.M. Oh yeah, and there’s the bit where his wife calls him an ‘effing C’ (though I can’t find a version in which that line’s not bleeped out.) By the end, Billy’s just waiting for his wife and his dug tae get hauled away. Oh I must admit, That dog is acting, Q.U.E.R. Queer… (not a typo, he genuinely misses an E, in order for it to scan.)

There’s a great clip of Connolly performing this on Top Of The Pops, in which he can’t stop giggling, presumably because he can’t believe that he has scored a best-seller with this nonsense. Ask most people today, though – they’d know who Billy Connolly is but I imagine they’d be surprised to learn he had a number one single under his belt. But, you know, he was a hot young comedian, Tammy Wynette was in vogue after her own chart-topper earlier in the year, and there was clearly an insatiable appetite for novelty singles in the mid-seventies.

Again, this is absent from Spotify, as so many recent hits are because, presumably, everyone’s forgotten that it exists. Hey ho. This is the penultimate #1 of 1975, our most eclectic year yet, and for the finale we’ll meet one of the weirdest chart-topping singles ever recorded. Except this is one I am sure you have heard a million, nay a billion, times…

380. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie

Ground control to Major Tom… Ground control to Major Tom… Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…

Space Oddity, by David Bowie (his 1st of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th November 1975

Have there been stranger opening lyrics to a #1 single…? A fade-in, which hasn’t featured very often either, then a very familiar voice. We countdown, to lift-off. Check ignition, And may God’s love be with you… Enter a legend.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned any artist in this blog, without actually featuring one of their songs, more often than David Bowie. He loomed over all the glam hits, the Lord above, while never deigning to do anything as vulgar as top the pop charts. And then, when he finally does, we’ve missed out on Ziggy and Aladdin Sane, and it’s a re-release of his breakthrough hit that does it.

This is an awesome song, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: awesome. A sweeping epic about a man heading into space, alone, inspired by Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, with at least three very separate styles contained in its five minute runtime. One moment it sounds like late-sixties Beatles, the next it sounds like classic Burt Bacharach, while the Mellotron sounds like a visitation from the ghost of Joe Meek.

‘Space Oddity’ was originally released in 1969, to coincide with the moon landing. It made #5, and meant that for a few years David Bowie – David Bowie – was remembered as a one-hit wonder, a novelty… Until he released ‘Starman’, and heavy-petted Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops. Then the rest was history.

Bowie being Bowie, I’m tempted to wonder if this record is simply about a bloke in space. Is it a commentary on fame: And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear…? Or drugs: I’m floating in a most peculiar way…? (I love the way he pronounces a-pe-cu-li-ar, in his best Anthony Newley.) Or is it simply an epic tragedy: Ground control to Major Tom, Your circuit’s dead, There’s something wrong… as Tom orbits away to his doom?

It’s been great to really sit down and listen to this song. I knew it, of course, in that way everyone knows incredibly famous songs, but it’s not part of my regular rotation. In fact, I have to admit, not much Bowie is in my regular rotation. It is permanently item one on my musical to-do list: appreciate David Bowie more, you philistine! I like him, I love what he stood for and represented, but some of his music, like Major Tom himself, floats way above my head…

In the real world, while a re-release of his first hit made #1 – the second 1960s disc to hit the top in this weirdest of years – Bowie was leaving glam behind, and becoming a huge star in the US with soul numbers like ‘Fame’ and ‘Golden Years’. Then came the cocaine, before the mega-successful early ‘80s. We won’t meet him atop the charts again until then. Which means his only #1 from the entirety of the 1970s is this. David Bowie, along with Prince, is perhaps the biggest artist with the worst representation from his chart-topping hits. Anyway, all that is still to come. For now, let’s float off into the milky way, in our tin cans. Altogether now: Can you hear me Major Tom…? Can you hear me Major Tom…?

379. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel

Amazingly, and despite this being the first solo chart-topper for either Simon and/or Garfunkel, I have never heard this record before…

I Only Have Eyes for You, by Art Garfunkel (his 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 19th October – 2nd November 1975

Quick question: has anyone listened to this song in the past thirty years? The big S & G hits still get airplay, as does a lot of Paul Simon’s stuff, and some of Art’s… But this? The only place this is still getting a spin is on those late-night local radio request shows, where people request sexy music for their loved ones. (Do they still exist? The one I listened to growing up was called ‘Pillow Talk’.)

And yes, ‘sexy’ is the right word for this disc. Sexy, sultry, slinky, slow, sophisticated, and any other adjective you can think of beginning with ‘s’ … Are the stars out tonight…? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright… Art Garfunkel croons in that smooth, high-pitched way of his. I only have eyes… For you… Dear… It sounds nothing like the folky, acoustic classics he recorded in Simon & Garfunkel.

I’m picturing a fancy apartment in the Hollywood Hills, candlelight reflected in a private pool, Art flicking the fire on and slipping a bottle of champagne from the cooler, before answering the door to his date for the night… It’s an image. This is purest of pure seventies soft rock. So glossy and smooth that you can’t find anything to grab onto, and so you slide down into the sickly syrup. It is… I’ll just come out and say it… pretty dull.

Nothing about this jumps out as #1 hit material. It is last-song-on-the-album filler, to me. And it’s not as if its success can solely be explained by Garfunkel’s star name. This was the 2nd single, from his 2nd solo album, and it took a leisurely six weeks to make it to the top. But whatever the reason, there it is. Top of the pops. I’m going to proclaim this as the most-forgotten #1 since ‘Baby Jump’.

Things pick up a bit when we get to the Beach Boys sounding bridge – Art Garfunkel is one of the few singers who can make his voice sound like five people. I don’t know if we are in a garden… Or on a crowded avenue… The doo-wop feel becomes clearer when you remember that ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ has been around since the 1930s, while the version that most people know was by The Flamingos, in 1959. The ethereal do-bub-she-bubs that make that version a classic are notably missing from Garfunkel’s version, drowned in the gloop, and that’s a shame.

It has also been recorded by names as legendary as Billie Holiday, Rod Stewart, Louis Armstrong and, um, Michael Bublé. Meanwhile at the start of this post, when I named this as the first solo #1 for either Simon or Garfunkel, I was being slightly misleading. Paul Simon has never (to date, we should add, because who knows!) topped the UK charts. Art Garfunkel will again, in a few years, with a song I have heard before! Hurray.

378. ‘Hold Me Close’, by David Essex

Back for another pop at the top, the teen idol of the mid-seventies, and as far as I’m aware the only chart-topping star named after an English county… David Essex!

Hold Me Close, by David Essex (his 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 28th September – 19th October 1975

When I wrote about his first #1, ‘Gonna Make You a Star’, I mentioned that he wasn’t very comfortable with the teeny-bopper tag. In fact, it’s what that whole song was about. A year on, however, I’m tempted to think he’s rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, given in and hopped on the pure pop bandwagon.

Hold me close, Don’t let me go, Oh no… I, Yes I love you and I fink that you know… He’s kept the cockney accent; in fact he might be playing it up here more than ever. Wiv your love loight, shi-nin’… It kind of reminds me of Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’, even though David Essex was genuinely from east London, and I can imagine him gurning in the corny, deliberate pauses between words. It also reminds me, somehow, of Sid Vicious’s poppy covers, ‘My Way’ and the like, though a much more PG rated version.

It’s a fun pop song, and catchy as hell. If it were an animal it would be a huge, slobbering St. Bernard, just looking for a cuddle. The perky riff flirts with becoming irritating, but just about gets away with it, while the song could have a good minute shaved off its runtime and nobody would notice. It was a deliberate choice to make a single as commercial as this to be the follow up to #5 hit ‘Rolling Stone’, which was a bit more out there.

I don’t really have much more to say about this one. It’s catchy, and simple. A solid pop single. In time, David Essex would move more into acting, although he was scoring the odd Top 10 hit well into the eighties. He has starred in various West End productions, including ‘Evita’ and ‘Tommy’, and featured heavily on Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ concept album (Wayne also produced both of Essex’s chart-toppers.) He still performs, and acts, and has confirmed his place in cockney legend by appearing in ‘EastEnders’, and by having a model of himself in the West Ham United museum.

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377. ‘Sailing’, by Rod Stewart

It’s been three years since we had Rod Stewart at the top of the singles chart. Back then, he was a folky troubadour, spinning yarns about older women and long-lost lovers. The songs were acoustic, and lyrically driven, lots of mandolins and fiddles…

Sailing, by Rod Stewart (his 3rd of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 31st August – 28th September 1975

‘Sailing’, while still unmistakably a Rod Stewart song (the voice is there, for a start), is a different proposition. The lyrics now are very simple, borderline nursery rhyme: I am sailing, I am sailing, Home again, ‘Cross the sea… He’s sailing, he’s flying, he’s on his way… To be with you, To be free… It builds, it grows, until organs and a full-blown choir have been added. It’s still got those little Celtic touches that litter classic Rod Stewart songs; but it’s overblown, and more than a little ridiculous.

It’s tempting to argue that in the past three years, as Rod has become possibly the biggest pop star on the planet, he may have disappeared, somewhat, up his own behind… I’d bet that drugs were present in the recording studio when they cut this disc. ‘Sailing’ had originally been written and recorded by The Sutherland Brothers, a Scottish folk duo, and their version is much more earthy.

What saves ‘Sailing’ is the moment when, after the guitar solo, it changes to We are sailing… Suddenly it isn’t a song for a self-indulgent rock star; it’s a football crowd singalong, a last song at karaoke night, a song to bellow out as you stumble home from the pub. It definitely moves something in you, deep down, and I am right this moment crowning it the ultimate drunk singalong tune, above even ‘Delilah’ and ‘My Way’. Change my mind!

The ending came as a bit of a surprise, I have to say. I thought it just continued with the We are sailings… ad infinitum. But no, for the last thirty seconds the vocals drop away, and the strings take it home. Which means that there’s a good chance I have never actually heard this record the whole way through. It’s a sign of a song’s ubiquity, of its classic status, when you think you know it simply through cultural osmosis.

‘Sailing’ is Rod Stewart’s best-selling single in the UK, and was a huge hit around the world. Everyone knows it. I have met people from many different countries: when they find out you are Scottish, and after mentioning whisky, of course, they will wrack their brains to think of another Scottish thing. This will invariably be Rod Stewart – even though he was born in London, and never lived in Scotland – and the song they sing will invariably be ‘Sailing’. (Still, at least it’s not The Bay City Rollers.)

Just a couple of weeks ago, ‘Sailing’ featured in a French movie that I stumbled across, ‘Ete 85’, in which the climax of the film involves a boy dancing on his dead lover’s grave while listening to the song on a Walkman, having promised to do so when said lover was alive. Which is a completely melodramatic and ridiculous storyline; but then this is a ridiculous, melodramatic song, and so, in the end, pretty appropriate.

Cover Versions of #1s – Nick Cave & The Villagers

The final two covers for the week, and we’re slowing the pace, ending on a chilled note…

‘The Carnival Is Over’, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1986 album track

(Originally a #1 in November 1965, by The Seekers)

I didn’t have much positive to say about The Seekers’ two 1965 #1 singles, the second of which was the dirgey ‘The Carnival Is Over’. But if you want someone to take a dirge, and make it even gloomier, yet make it completely their own, then look no further than Nick Cave. Based on an old Russian folk song, and given some sixties-folk lyrics by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom, it sold a million for Australia’s biggest band of the decade. Fellow Aussie Cave and his Bad Seeds recorded it for a covers album twenty years later – ‘the song sort of haunted my childhood’, Cave has been quoted as saying. (Until five minutes ago, I had no idea that Boney M had also recorded a version… And I had no idea that Boney M had ever sounded so miserable. Nobody can make this tune sound fun!)

‘The Wonder of You’, by The Villagers – 2017

(Originally a #1 in July 1970, by Elvis Presley)

Despite being described as an ‘indie-folk project’ on their Wikipedia page, and despite it sounding ready made for a Starbucks playlist, I have liked this version of ‘The Wonder of You’ by The Villagers ever since hearing it on the soundtrack to HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’. It is the polar opposite of Elvis’s bombastic version – lo-fi and intimate, with just a hint of old-style rock ‘n’ roll around the edges. In the show, it soundtracks an abusive husband getting flung to his death down a flight of stairs during an Elvis-themed PTA night at a primary school… (I mean, if that description doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I don’t know what will!)

I hope you enjoyed my second annual cover versions week. Normal service will be resumed in a few days, with our 377th chart-topping single.