Top 10s – Status Quo

Status Quo. The Quo. Just ‘Quo’. Hated, adored, never ignored… Or is that Manchester Utd? (The single that they released with Status Quo will not be coming anywhere near this Top 10, rest assured…)

Usually with my Top 10s I include any single released, and charted, by an act in the UK. Except, Quo have been around since 1962, charting since 1968. They’ve released a hundred singles over the past fifty-five years! For them, then, I’m only counting singles that made the Top 20.

Where to begin? Maybe some facts and figures. Status Quo have 400 weeks on the singles chart (but only one week at #1!), 500 on the albums, and have played Wembley Arena and on Top of the Pops more than any other act. Speaking of Top of the Pops…

10. ‘Jam Side Down’, reached #17 in 2002

Disclaimer: I’m not really including this as Status Quo’s 10th best single. I include it as I have very clear memories of watching TOTP in a friend’s bedroom – Wiki tells me it was the 16th August 2002 – and sixteen year old me being amazed that Status Quo were still on it. In the Top 20. Look at them! They were old men! The tune is pretty catchy, with that trademark Quo chug, and the lyrics silly enough: My bread keeps landin’ jam side down, Say you’ll be there to spread love around… Also on TOTP that evening were Darius Danesh, the legendary Bowling for Soup and an up and coming act called Coldplay. Wonder what happened to them?

9. ‘Down the Dustpipe’, reached #12 in 1970

Here they are looking a bit fresher-faced. This is perhaps the purest slice of Quo in this countdown. A two-minute blast of raw boogie-woogie, and the first hit to feature their trademark sound… which was still coming through loud and clear on Top of the Pops thirty-two years later!

8. ‘The Anniversary Waltz Part 1’, reached #2 in 1990

Status Quo do Jive Bunny. There are days when I think this might be the best piece of music ever recorded… And then there are days when I see sense. Quo lost their way a bit in the late-eighties, but still kept having those hits. And there is something about them doing a medley of old rock ‘n’ roll covers – ‘Lucille’, ‘No Particular Place to Go’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and more – that ticks a box for me. I love all their covers, ‘Mess of Blues’, ‘Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like’ et al, but couldn’t in good conscience feature any more of them. Just think… This hot mess of a record came dangerously close to being their 2nd ever #1 single!

7. ‘Marguerita Time’, reached #3 in 1984

A complete cheese-fest that only Francis Rossi liked. Apparently it contributed to bassist Alan Lancaster quitting the band the following year! Yes, it is a million miles from the hard-rocking Quo of the seventies. Yes, there is a ropey synth-riff. Yes, it features actual yodelling. But there is not a week goes by when the lyric: Let’s have a drink, It’s Marguerita time… doesn’t pop into my head, usually around 5pm on a Friday.

6. ‘Again and Again’, reached #13 in 1978

Not one of their biggest or better-known hits, but I love the bluesy riff in this one. Plus, the chorus is peak Quo. Chugging guitars… Again Again Again Again Again Again Again Again, Why don’t do you do it, Why don’t you do it again…? Who said they were a limited and repetitive band…?

5. ‘Ice in the Sun’, reached #8 in 1968

Released as The Status Quo, when they were still a very sixties psychedelic rock act, this is the first Quo song I became aware of as a very little lad. It was on a ’60s Best Of’ cassette that had heavy rotation in my parents’ mustard yellow Ford Escort. It’s a very busy song, with lots of effects and, looking back, some fairly trippy lyrics. ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ is probably the better-known of their two sixties hits, but I’ve always liked this one more. Two interesting facts: ‘Ice in the Sun’ was co-written by rock ‘n’ roller Marty Wilde, and it was the Quo’s final hit in the USA!

To the Top 4, and it’s the big seventies hits… but in what order?

4. ‘Down Down’, reached #1 in 1975

Their only #1 single, but one of their hardest-rocking records. Is it just me, or is there something almost punk-like in the tight, fizzy, riff? The video above has a funky little outro that the single version don’t. Read my original post on it here.

3. ‘Paper Plane’, reached #8 in 1972

Another tight, thrashy rocker. ‘Paper Plane’ gave the band their first Top 10 since the psychedelic sixties, and it set the template for Quo from now until the end of time. Though they wouldn’t always be as frantic as this… I have no idea what the song is about, but I do like how it evolves from riding a butterfly to riding a paper plane to riding a Deutsche car… Possibly the least hippy-sounding hippy anthem ever.

2. ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’, reached #3 in 1977

There are some who might argue that this marks the beginning of the end of Status Quo – less of the hard-rock and more of the boogie-woogie cover versions that they flogged to death in the ’80s. And they may have a point. (Though to be honest, I’ve loved this song since I was wee, and didn’t discover that it was a John Fogerty cover for several decades.) But when a tune is as jubilant as this, who cares? When a tune is able to open Live Aid – see above – and get everyone jumping from the off, then it must be alright.

1. ‘Caroline’, reached #5 in 1973

You might struggle to think of a Status Quo riff (or you might struggle to distinguish one from the other…) Except this one. I love the way the entire first minute of the record is devoted to the riff building, adding guitars, drums and bass. No nonsense, heads down, rock the flip out. ‘Caroline’ is another favourite from my childhood, and is possibly the main reason that, to this day, I can’t shrug off the grip of three-chord, three minute rock ‘n’ roll. There are times in life when nothing but Status Quo will do, and this is their finest moment.

394. ‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA

As a kid my first exposure to ABBA was through ‘ABBA Gold’, the band’s early-nineties greatest hits, track 1 on which is ‘Dancing Queen’. The CD would slide in, there would be that second of scanning, the little whirr… and then bam!

Dancing Queen, by ABBA (their 4th of nine #1s)

6 weeks, from 29th August – 10th October 1976

It’s not the first song you’d think of if asked to name ‘Great Intros’, but it should be. It is a record that strides into the room – the glissando is the door slamming open – with complete confidence. ‘ABBA’s here!’, it announces, ‘With their biggest hit!’ Then the vocals come in, and it’s not just the chorus, but the middle of the chorus, the main hook, thrown out within the first twenty seconds: You can dance, You can ji-ive, Having the time of your life…

I know nothing about musical terms – I can barely tell a pre-chorus from a bridge – but whatever it is that ABBA do in the verses, at the end of every second line, when the key slips lower: Lookin’ out for a place to go… and You’ve come to look for a King… It’s gold. Then they do the opposite, swooping up on the Night is young and the music’s hi-igh… And it’s even better. It’s pure ABBA, in that most other songwriters might think it a bit obvious, going higher on the word ‘high’, while Benny and Bjorn simply shrug and say ‘nope, that’ll be catchy!’

‘Dancing Queen’ doesn’t need me to sell it. It also probably doesn’t need to be written about any more, but hey, I gotta cover them all. Throughout this blog, I’ve referred to ‘Perfect Pop’ when writing about #1s like ‘Stupid Cupid’, ‘Cathy’s Clown’, and ‘See My Baby Jive’. Up until this point, I would have had ‘She Loves You’ as the most perfect pop moment so far. But ‘Dancing Queen’ usurps The Beatles to take, if you’ll pardon the pun, the crown. A crown I’m not sure it’ll ever relinquish.

Why is that? What makes this the ultimate pop song? I think it’s the nugget of sadness beating away at the heart of the record. The main character is a seventeen-year-old girl who seems to be running away from something. She doesn’t know where she’s going, or who she’s going to be dancing with… It doesn’t sound as if she’s got any friends with her. She flirts with one guy, she leaves them burning and then she’s gone… Or maybe not. Maybe I’m misreading it completely! Maybe she’s really just having the time of her life. Maybe she doesn’t need a boy, or a friend. Maybe she just needs to dance. To dance for the sheer joy of it!

Either way, the song has layers, ones that you’re still noticing even after hearing it for the three hundredth time. I could complain about ‘Dancing Queen’ being overplayed, and it is, but when a DJ sticks this on at a party nobody sits down, even though they’re hearing it for the three hundredth and first time. Last time I was a tourist in London, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the band played the chorus of ‘Dancing Queen’ as the soldiers marched past.

Of course this record got to number one. ‘Dancing Queen’ is the dictionary definition of a number one hit. If you’re ever on ‘Pointless’ and the category is ‘#1 Singles of the 1970s’, don’t give ‘Dancing Queen’ as an answer. In the US it was ABBA’s one and only chart-topper (shame on you, America!) My only surprise stems from the fact that, in the UK, it took two weeks to climb to the top. If ever a song was going to enter in pole position, I’d have thought it would have been this. Click. Glissando. Bam.

393. ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’, by Elton John & Kiki Dee

And so, Sir Elton John belatedly takes the stage. Much like Bowie, who finally made #1 a few months before, we’ve already missed a lot of his best stuff. But hey – better late than never. Plus, this is still a pop classic.

Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, by Elton John (his 1st of seven #1s) & Kiki Dee (her 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 18th July – 29th August 1976

Don’t go breaking my heart… I couldn’t if I tried… It’s a proper duet, with the singers taking different lines. Finishing one another’s lines, in fact, like an irritatingly cute couple. Oh honey if I get restless… Baby you’re not that kind… It’s the first duet to top the charts since, um, Windsor Davies and Don Estelle. Or, if you’re looking for a non-novelty duet, you’ll have to go back to Serge and Jane, or Esther and Abi OfarimAhem. The point being – genuine duets like this don’t come along too often.

I’m surprised, to be honest, just how disco this record is. It’s usually background noise, a seventies ‘Best Of’ staple, and I’d have put it down as pure pop with a nod towards classic Motown. But listening properly, you can hear that the guitars, the drums and the strings are all set to ‘Disco’. Plus, it’s got the perfect rhythm for hand-jiving.

Woohooo… Nobody knows it…. That hook cements ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’s place as a gem. Is it as good as, say, ‘Rocket Man’? No, obviously not. Unlike David Bowie, Elton isn’t breaking his chart-topping duck with an all-time classic. (In fact, like Bowie, and Queen, who we’ve also met recently, Elton John is very poorly served by his #1 singles.) Still, it’s a fun record, and a karaoke classic, despite being much longer than it has any need to be, at four and a half minutes.

As for Elton’s partner in this… Who was Kiki Dee? Turns out she was the first British female to sign for Tamla Motown, which is pretty impressive. She had scored a few minor chart placings before this mega-hit, then she scored a few more minor ones in the years that followed, until she re-teamed with Elton in 1993, for #2 hit ‘True Love’. She’s still around, releasing albums and working in musical theatre. (Apparently her part in ‘Don’t Go Breaking…’ was written with Dusty Springfield in mind, but she was too sick to record it. No offence to Kiki, who sings it very well, but just imagine how darned iconic this would have been as Elton & Dusty…)

Then there’s the artist formerly known as Reg… Wonder what became of him? Well, amazingly, we won’t meet him again atop this countdown until 1990, when he will finally get a solo chart-topper! It’s not that he lacked hits – this record was his 10th Top 10 hit since breaking through with ‘Your Song’, and he would continue to have hits throughout the eighties – just that for whatever reason they rarely made it all the way to the top.

Till then, then, Elton. Before we go, though, it’s worth pausing to remembering that, as the follow-up to ‘True Love’, ‘Don’t Go Breaking My Heart’ returned to the charts, at #7, in a very ‘90s house version. Elton’s duetting partner on that occasion: RuPaul Charles.

392. ‘The Roussos Phenomenon EP’, by Demis Roussos

*Cue David Attenborough voice* And so we spy one of the rarest of chart-topping species. The EP. The Extended Play. More than a single; not quite an album… One of only four to ever top the UK charts…

The Roussos Phenomenon (EP), by Demis Roussos (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 11th – 18th July 1976

I’m not sure how to approach this record. With a normal single I always ignore the ‘B’-side. With double ‘A’-sides I do both songs. Should I do all four tracks from ‘The Roussos Phenomenon’?? Best get cracking! The lead single from this EP, the one that went to radio, was ‘Forever and Ever’. A cover, I wonder, of the Slik hit from the start of the year…? No, but Lord how I wish it was…

Demis Roussos has a distinctive voice. High-pitched yet husky, and very strained. It is a spectacular voice; but it doesn’t make for a relaxing listen. Ever and ever, Forever and ever, You’ll be the one… he wails as a Muzak backing-track waltzes along. That shines in me, Like the morning sun… It’s lush, it fills the speakers… It’s a bit much; but at the same time it’s bland mulch. It’s a very strange juxtaposition: a song that’s so in your face and yet so forgettable.

You can really tell that English isn’t Roussos’s first language as he reaches for the line: Take me from beyond imagination… and his voice trembles under its own mighty power. ABBA’s slight mispronunciations are endearing; here they jar. Then in comes a bouzouki (?) and suddenly it sounds like the soundtrack to a first date in a Greek restaurant. Knowing that I have four songs to get through, I’m tempted to press skip before the first listen is over…

Next up, ‘Sing an Ode to Love’, which as a title doesn’t promise anything different to what went before. But it is different. ‘Forever and Ever’ was bland… This is God-awful. Organs, and a marching beat. His voice grates even more, trembling and straining as if he has a terrible case of indigestion. See the children playing, Hear the sounds of virgin minds… He’s going for an epic statement here, when the choir comes in, but it’s so bad I think most countries would reject this even for Eurovision. Sing a song so clearly, Make the words rise up above…

The song it reminds me of – and I really am embarrassed to drag Roy Orbison into this, forgive me – is ‘Running Scared’. But whereas that classic builds to a perfect, dramatic conclusion; this builds to a horrible of crescendo of Demis’s grasping and some tacky synths. And so ends Side A.

For the sake of completion, here are my thoughts on Side B of our debut chart-topping EP. I have to search for ‘So Dreamy’ on YouTube, and am glad that I did, because it meant I could discover the video attached below, in which our Greek God belts it out by a harbour front. The cheap synths are still there, as are the over-bearing backing singers, but I’m enjoying this a lot more, with its bossanova rhythm… How was I to know, That from our very first ‘hello’, I’d feel so dreamy… I can begin to see why he’s been described as an ‘unlikely kaftan-wearing sex symbol’…

And then we end this, um, experience with ‘My Friend the Wind’, and any goodwill I was beginning to feel for Demis Roussos is dashed. It feels like a hymn. My friend the wind, Will come from the hills… All the by now classic Roussos elements are present: strained vocals, ropey synths, an over-reliance on backing singers… But at least the middle-eight is interesting, as the bouzouki returns and we are back in the Greek taverna. You can almost hear the plates smashing with each beat. It ends in a Greek knees-up. La-la-la-leyleyleyley…

Goodness, that was a slog. And the scary thing is, these four songs were handpicked as excerpts from ‘The Roussos Phenomenon’ LP. I shudder to think what they decided wasn’t good enough. Still, for whatever reason, this disc delivered him his only UK chart-topper. He had been a big solo star in Europe since the early seventies, with #1s in France, Holland, Switzerland and Germany, among others. The final push he had needed to breakthrough in the UK came from a documentary, also called ‘The Roussos Phenomenon’, that inspired this E.P., and the fact that more and more Brits were holidaying in places like Greece, and getting a taste for the music there.

But it didn’t last. His last charting single in Britain came just one year later. Roussos had been, however, part of influential prog-rock band Aphrodite’s Child, who had had a Top 30 hit back in 1968 and whose fellow member Vangelis would go on to win an Oscar for the ‘Chariots of Fire’ soundtrack. So, actually, there’s a lot more going on in this one-week wonder than the turgid music. Our first (our only?) Greek chart-topper, our first EP, the first time two songs with the same name have made #1 in the same year… But to be honest I’m well over this entry, and ready to move on to the next two, humongously famous, number one singles…

391. ‘You to Me Are Everything’, by The Real Thing

Kicking off the next thirty, and we’re back down the discotheque. Normal service has resumed.

You to Me Are Everything, by The Real Thing (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 20th June – 11th July 1976

This is a tune, and I mean that in the most literal sense. It is an ear-worm, that burrows its way into your head. But not in an irritating, ‘Birdie Song’ kind of way. It’s soulful, cool, funky… take your pick of mid-seventies adjectives. There are strings, and disco guitars. The glitter-ball is a-swirling. I would take the stars out of the sky for you… Stop the rain from falling if you asked me to…

If I were to write a book on the perfect pop song (despite being unable to read sheet music or play a single instrument…) I’d cite this record as an example in Chapter One. It’s as if it’s been custom designed in a lab. Stupid lovey-dovey lyrics- check. I can move a mountain when your hand is in my hand… One hell of a hook – check. Now you’ve got the best of me, Come on and take the rest of me… Key change – check. Backing vocals that come in at just the right moment – check.

I love the bridge: You give me just a taste of love, To build my hopes upon… (Except, it comes after what I think is the chorus, so… Can it still be called a bridge? I’m really proving here exactly why I shouldn’t author a book on the perfect pop song.) Whatever it is, it is a perfect pop moment.

And yet… Is it a little too perfect? Too polished? Probably, yes. Does it play it safe? Definitely. Are the lyrics trite? Oh yeah. Does the grammar in the title-line sound like something Yoda would say? You to me are everything… Yep. (Sorry, it’s the teacher in me.) But, as with all perfect pop, from The Monkees to ABBA, from Kylie to Gaga, we suspend our disbelief. We recognise its inherent silliness; but we dance regardless.

I can see why this was a huge hit. It was also on heavy rotation during Long Family Car Journeys as a kid. But, I can’t love it. Again speaking as a teacher: the perfect kids are never your favourites. So it is with songs…. Still, ‘You to Me Are Everything’ has lived on in cover versions by acts as diverse as Sonia, X-Factor contestant Andy Abraham (the bin-man), and Frankie Valli.

This was The Real Thing’s breakthrough hit, after several years of trying. They were a Liverpool band, and been around since 1970, but had never even charted before this one shot straight to the top. Formed in 1970, they had toured with David Essex, while one of their members – Eddie Amoo – had been on the scene since the Merseybeat days and had shared a stage with The Beatles. The follow-up to this made #2, but the hits dried up fairly quickly. Still, they weren’t averse to a remix, and ‘You to Me…’ made the Top 5 again in the mid-eighties. Their most recent Top 10 hit was in 2005, as a sample on single by House act Freeloaders.

Recap: #361 – #390

To recap, then, for the thirteenth time (unlucky for some…)!

What a complete and utter hodgepodge the last thirty #1 singles have been. Last time round, glam had given way to disco, which has now given way to… mayhem! 1975, perched right in the middle of this recap, has to be the most eclectic year for chart-topping singles yet. Possibly ever.

We’ve had two sticks of bubble-gum from The Bay City Rollers – one that was quite fruity, one that lost its flavour within a minute – and the band that briefly contended for their teenybopper crown, Slik. Plus some pure Eurovision cheese from Brotherhood of Man.

Not once, not twice, but thrice we’ve had people better known for their TV work hitting the top spot. Telly Savalas growled his way into our hearts on ‘If’, Don Estelle and Windsor Davies came at us in character, as WWII soldiers in Burma, from their hit sitcom. And comedian Billy Connolly turned Tammy Wynette’s ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’ into a shaggy dog tale. You really had to have been there, I guess.

Speaking of Tammy, she had already gotten there under her own steam, out of nowhere, with a re-release of ‘Stand By Your Man’. And that wasn’t the only sixties re-issue to hit the top: we finally met David Bowie, in the guise of Major Tom, as his 1969 debut hit ‘Space Oddity’ re-peaked, and did what none of his seventies classics could do.

And Bowie wasn’t the only chart legend to make their first appearance on this countdown. Queen stormed to the top at the end of ’75 with the unmistakeable ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which took residence in pole position for longer than any other record had in the previous two decades. The fact that these two innovative and most highly-regarded of #1s were prevented from replacing one another by a Glaswegian comedian singing about his dug pretty much sums up this bonkers era.

Then there was the one and only chart-topper from the one and only Status Quo: ‘Down Down’ was the first, and the hardest rocking (except for those 30 seconds of Bo Rap), #1 of the new year. And if that wasn’t enough fun and games, we ended last time out on The Wurzels, singing about their ‘Combine Harvester’, and jigging round an ‘aybale.

Still, through it all ran a sturdy backbone of disco and soul. Barry White kicked us off, then The Tymes, The Stylistics, The Four Seasons and Tina Charles all took us for a shimmy under the disco ball. It is still the sound of the era; it just had to fight to be heard amongst all the wackiness.

And what of glam, the sound that was on its last breath when we paused for the previous recap? Well, there were still flashes. Mud, the band with the best #1 last time, scraped the barrel with their OK-ish Elvis tribute for Christmas, and their pretty dire Buddy Holly cover. Meanwhile Pilot, Steve Harley and the aforementioned Slik took elements of glam, and incorporated them into more middle of the road rock singles.

So, it kind of sounds like it’s been a bit of a free-for-all: command of the charts offered up for grabs to the act that grabs the public’s imagination in any given week. But, slowly and effortlessly, one band has begun to position themselves for world domination. ABBA kicked off 1976 with their signature tune ‘Mamma Mia’, then followed it up with campfire singalong ‘Fernando’. It’ll come as no surprise when I tell you that the next couple of recaps will be very ABBA-heavy. And bring it on, I say!

To the awards, then. Three of which I found very easy to dish out. Starting with the WTAF Award for being memorable if nothing else… Where to start? There have been so many novelties, so many curios, this time out that would have walked away with the trophy at any other point. Typically Tropical took us to Barbados, Don and Windsor to the Far East, The Wurzels to deepest Somerset… But one man still stands out. One shiny-headed, cigar-chewing, gold-shirted Adonis. Telly Savalas takes the prize, without actually singing a note!

The ‘Meh’ Award is similarly easy to dish out, as there have been very few dull moments this time around. Pilot’s ‘January’ was functional pop-rock, The Bay City Rollers cooed and sighed their way through ‘Give a Little Love’… But the record that sparked the least interest in me – good or bad – was Art Garfunkel’s perfectly pleasant, glossy reworking of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper, then, of the past thirty. There were a lot of questionable moments but, to be honest, this is no contest whatsoever. J. J. Barrie’s ‘No Charge’ was not just the worst of the past bunch; it might well be the worst of our 390 #1s so far. I hated it that much. Release a novelty all you want: make it cheesy, make it catchy, make it in your face, make it brazenly offensive… Just don’t make it so earnest and saccharine that I want to rip my ears off and pour molten lava down the holes.

Now for the tough bit. Our thirteenth Very Best Chart-Topper. I have a shortlist of five. Two are chosen by my head; two chosen by my heart. One straddles the divide. The two I feel I should include, because they are spectacular pieces of music well-loved to this day, are 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. But… going with your head is dull. The heart must lead the way. My heart says ‘You’re the First, The Last, My Everything’ and ‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, for being brilliantly catchy and very of the moment. If I want a disco winner, I’m sorted… Then there’s the other one. Bowie.

I feel he should win; objectively speaking it’s the best song. And, let’s be honest, this is his best chance. Bowie’s four remaining #1s are not as good, and probably won’t be in the running when it comes to their respective recaps. But! I don’t want to think like that – I want my recaps to be based solely on the thirty #1s within… Which adds another layer: ‘Space Oddity’ is a song from 1969. It is great; but it’s out of place. The chronology will be messed up! (I passed over Jimi Hendrix for similar reasons…)

Ugh. OK. I either award it to the best song; or I keep things chronological. And at the end of the day it should come down to the music alone. ‘Space Oddity’ takes it. Ground Control to Major Tom… you’re a winner, baby!

To recap the recaps…

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.

390. ‘The Combine Harvester (Brand New Key)’, by The Wurzels

After wading through waist-deep treacle on J. J. Barrie’s ‘No Charge’, and barely making it through with our sanity intact, are we really ready for another novelty single to top the charts? Actually, yes. We are.

The Combine Harvester (Brand New Key), by The Wurzels (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 6th – 20th June 1976

This. This is how you do a novelty song. It is an absolute palate-cleanser after what went before. We’ve got banjos and country-bumpkin accents, a raucous music hall chorus and a relentless oompah beat. Ladies and Gentlemen: our first ever ‘Scrumpy & Western’ chart-topper!

I drove my tractor through your haystack last night, I threw me pitchfork at your dog to keep quiet… A rustic, pastoral picture is painted. The rolling hills and golden fields of Somerset hove into view. Meanwhile, a man is proposing marriage, but not for the most romantic of reasons. I’ve got twenty acres, And you’ve got forty-three… Now I’ve got a brand new combine harvester, And I’ll give you the key…

Personally, and I think I speak for a large part of the British population when I say this, I can’t hear the words ‘combine harvester’ without this playing in my head. As a song it might not be on heavy rotation these days, but its chorus lives on. And, in the finest music hall tradition, there’s a strong undercurrent of smut here… Aar, Yer a fine lookin’ woman, An I can’t wait to get me hands on yer land! (Fnarr, fnarr)

Actually, if you think that this is actually about a grain-harvesting device, then you’re more innocent than you look. The Wurzels, though, sell it with a nudge and a wink, and glug of your cider. ‘The Combine Harvester’ is everything ‘No Charge’ wasn’t (although I have to admit that I might not have been so kind on this record had J. J. Barrie not done his worst directly before).

There’s a bit of history behind this one. It’s a parody of a hit from 1971 – ‘Brand New Key’, by Melanie Safka, a US #1 no less – and had been a hit in Ireland for Irish comedian Brendan Grace (who would, twenty years later, steal the show in an episode of ‘Father Ted’ – he had his fun, and that’s all that mattered…) The Wurzels scrumpy-fied it and scored an unlikely smash hit.

In a bittersweet moment, this biggest of hits came shortly after The Wurzels (‘Wurzel’ means ‘yokel’ in the Somerset dialect) had lost their founder Adge Cutler in a car crash. They followed this up with the equally catchy/daft ‘I’m a Cider Drinker’, and have been around ever since. Most recently they’ve been releasing covers albums. If you’ve enjoyed this slice of silliness, and are wondering what a Wurzeled version of Oasis’s ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’, the Kaiser Chief’s ‘Ruby’, or even Pulp’s ‘Common People’, might sound like, well you’re in luck…

Next up, a recap!

Catch up with all the #1s so far, with my playlist:

389. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie

I do like approaching a song I’ve never heard before. The anticipation. The tension. The wondering… What will this next #1 bring?

No Charge, by J. J. Barrie (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 30th May – 6th June 1976

My anticipation starts to sour the second I press play. This is, I can confirm, a country and western number. A honky-tonk piano leads us in. And then, oh dear, there’s talkin’. Now our little boy came up to his momma in the kitchen this evening, While she was fixing supper… The boy has itemised his chores for the week: $1 for taking out the trash, $2 for raking the yard, an eye-watering $5 dollars for mowing the lawn… Total load: $14.75…

Where is this song going next, I wonder. Is this presumptuous little brat going to get a clip around the ear? No. He is not. (That would have been a song I could have got behind.) Instead, mum turns the list over, and begins to write: For the nine months I carried you, Growing inside me… No charge… For the nights I’ve sat up with you, Doctored and prayed for you… No charge…

In the background, a gospel-lite singer is hammering home the message: When you add it all up, The full cost of my love is ‘no charge’… while the queasy feeling in my stomach grows, and grows. This is painful. Truly painful. Lines like: For the toys, food and clothes… And even for wiping your nose… thump down your ears. Is it meant to be funny? Is it meant to be touching? Is it meant to prescribed by pharmacists to induce vomiting?

Mum finishes writing, and looks at her son. Please, I think, throw a tantrum or something, you little shit. Save this song from its saccharine conclusion. But, no. He has tears in his eyes as he tells his ma that he sure does love her. He writes ‘paid in full’ in great big letters. You see, as J. J. Barrie informs us: When you add it all up, The cost of real love’s ‘no charge’…

This is, in case that write-up was a little too ambiguous, a truly awful piece of music. At a stroke one of the Top 3 worst songs we’ve met on this countdown, if not the winner. I have a high tolerance for cheese, for silliness, for camp throwaway pop… ‘No Charge’ is neither cheesy, nor silly nor camp. It is teeth-clenchingly earnest. There are no tongues in cheeks here. Barrie sounds like a preacher. The backing singer sounds like she’s singing the holiest of hymns. The strings are deadly serious, too. They all seem to believe, unconditionally, in the crap they are serving up. Maybe if it were sung by a woman, by the mum in the song, then, maybe, maybe, it would work better. As it is, it’s a smug story of motherhood as seen and interpreted by a smug-sounding man.

All songs, thankfully, must end. Phew. That was horrendous. J. J. Barrie is a certified one-hit wonder in the UK. I know nothing of his career beyond this single, and have no desire to investigate.* This wasn’t the original version of ‘No Charge’, which had been taken to #39 (and #1 on the Country charts) in the US by Melba Montgomery (great name, at least!) in 1974. Barrie is still alive, still living in Canada, but hasn’t recorded any new music since the ‘80s.

Looking forward, trying to block out the horrors we have just witnessed, I’m one more chart-topper away from a recap! And at least choosing a ‘Worst Chart-topper’ won’t be too difficult this time around.

*That was until I found out he discovered that he recorded a single with Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, ‘You Can’t Win ‘Em All’, in 1980. (Go on, click the link. It is every bit as bad as you imagine!)

388. ‘Fernando’, by ABBA

From one Eurovision winner to another. I mentioned in my last post the similarities between ABBA and Brotherhood of Man (they both won the contest, they both have two boys and two girls… though I’m unsure if any of the Brotherhood were ever married to one another…) It’s as if ABBA had had enough of ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’s long stay at #1 sullying Eurovision’s good name, and decided to do something about it.

Fernando, by ABBA (their 3rd of nine #1s)

4 weeks, from 2nd – 30th May 1976

This is, I must admit off the bat, my least-favourite of ABBA’s chart-toppers. It crosses the fine line between good-cheese and cheesy-cheese. It is one of the songs that people who don’t like ABBA can use to justify their idiocy. It has pan-pipes, and a marching drumbeat…

Can you hear the drums, Fernando… I remember long ago another starry night like this… I’ve always wondered where and when this song is set. From a young age, I’ve pictured Mexican rebels, in sombreros and ponchos, sheltering around a campfire on a mountainside. They’re fighting for freedom. They’re crossing the Rio Grande, into Texas apparently, to fight the Yankees at the Alamo… (my knowledge of this conflict is patchy – can you tell?) I could hear the distant drums and sounds of bugle calls were coming from afar…

To be fair, not many #1 singles trod these lyrical grounds. Kudos to Benny and Bjorn for writing outside the box. And then, because this is ABBA, the chorus is still a killer. There was something in the air that night, The stars were bright, Fernando… It’s almost enough to make up for the rest, for the pan-pipes, but not quite… And that’s not even the best bit. Every ABBA song has that golden moment, that perfect hook, and ‘Fernando’s is the: Though we never thought that we could lose, There’s no regrets… which Agnetha and Anna-Frid’s gorgeous Swedish accents sell beautifully.

I had no idea that this had originally been written for, and released by Anna-Frid, the year before. That version had nothing to do with Mexican freedom fighters; in it Fernando has lost his lover and is being consoled (I’m trusting Wiki on that, as I don’t speak a word of Swedish.) I also had no idea that the English-language version was the longest-running Australian #1 single until very recently.

In many ways, ‘Fernando’ is a strange #1. And yet in many other ways it feels like it’s existed since the dawn of time, it’s so simple and so earnest. If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando… they sing as it fades. Maybe that’s the key. It’s not a song about love; it’s about friendship. It’s completely universal. And it is this chart-topper, the band’s 3rd in Britain, that announces them as the real deal. Not many bands could pull this song off. And their next #1, coming up soon, will cement their place as the biggest band in the world…

387. ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’, by Brotherhood of Man

Oh Lordy, it’s Eurovision time again. Our 5th Eurovision chart-topper. (We need some kind of advance warning system – a Eurovision siren that I can sound to prepare you, dear listeners, for what you are about to hear…)

Save Your Kisses For Me, by Brotherhood of Man (their 1st of three #1s)

6 weeks, from 21st March – 2nd May 1976

Not that every Eurovision entry is terrible, of course. For every ‘All Kinds of Everything’ (shudder) there is a ‘Waterloo’ (hurray). ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ is, though, more towards the Dana end of the Eurovision-ometer. It is the easiest and the cheesiest slice of seventies pop-pap. I think this might actually be the very pinnacle of the genre, and that’s not a compliment.

Though it hurts to go away, It’s impossible to stay… We’ve got all the sentimental schlager themes going on here: separation, a man doing a man’s work, a cute woman pining at home… I’m getting whiffs of ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’ and ‘Billy, Don’t Be a Hero’, minus all the war and executions. I’m also getting more than a whiff (an almighty reeking stench, to be honest) of Dawn’s ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ The melody is uncannily similar, and lead singer Martin Lee’s ‘tache and chest-hair combination is veryTony Orlando.

Save… Your… Kisses for me, Save all your kisses for me, Bye-bye baby, Goodbye… You don’t have to dig too deep for other chart-topping comparisons, either. The ‘bye-bye baby’ line sounds mighty familiar, while Brotherhood of Man’s two boys-two girls line-up was clearly following ABBA’s successful formula from two years earlier. And it worked. Not only did ‘Save Your Kisses For Me’ win the contest, it was the biggest single of 1976, and is still one of the biggest selling singles of all time in the UK…

There are a few things to like about this record. There’s a barroom piano, which always sounds good in singalongs like this, and some ridiculous trumpet flourishes. And at least it doesn’t take itself too seriously, which would be a disaster. I’m about to admit that I’m warming to this silly little record… Until, wait a moment. There’s a plot-twist in the very last line.

Won’t you save them for me… Lee croons… Even though you’re only three… The song ends as you’re still wondering what the hell just happened. Ah, of course. He was singing to his daughter all along. Awww… Actually, no. If I were scoring each #1, then that would have just knocked five points off this one’s total. And not because it’s unintentionally creepy – making you think he’s singing about his girlfriend only to find out it’s a toddler – but because it’s dumb. And it’s been done before. Gilbert O’ Sullivan did it in ‘Clair’ four years ago, and it annoyed me then, while Chuck Berry did it in ‘Memphis, Tennessee’ way before that… It is the pop song equivalent of a TV show playing the ‘It was all just a dream…’ card.

Whatever the reason, people clearly dug this kind of cute trick in the seventies. They launched this record to the top of the charts for six long weeks. And they launched the chart-topping career of Brotherhood of Man, who managed something that not many Eurovision acts (ABBA excluded) manage… follow-up hits. Follow-up chart-toppers, even. Save your kisses until then, then, as the Brotherhood will be back. I’ll have my siren up and running by then, to give you plenty of advance warning…