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!)