262. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold

The final number one single of 1968! Over the course of the twenty-one records that have topped the charts this year, we’ve met a wide range of characters: Bonnie & Clyde, Quinn the Eskimo, Cinderella Rockefella, Lady Madonna… Now please welcome, last but by no means least, Lily the Pink!

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Lily the Pink, by The Scaffold (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 11th December 1968 – 1st January 1969 / 1 week, from 8th – 15th January 1969 (4 weeks total)

We’ll drink a drink a drink, To Lily the Pink, The saviour of, The human race… The pace is frenetic, the song charges along on an oompah-band beat. For she invented, Medicinal compound, Most efficacious, In every case… And it’s not just Lily the Pink that we meet either, but the cast of poor souls that her medicinal compound has helped.

There’s Mr Frears, with his sticky-out ears… The notably bony Brother Tony… Old Ebeneezer, who thought he was Julius Caesar… Jennifer Eccles, with her terrible freckles… You get the idea. It’s a novelty song. Perfect for a Christmas party, last-orders down the pub sing-along when everybody’s a bit pissed. Pure music-hall.

It reminds me of two, very different songs. First, there’s ‘Oom-pah-pah’, from the musical ‘Oliver!’ Another rowdy bar-room tune, in which the drinkers raise their glasses to the life-giving properties of the mythical ‘oom-pah-pah’. It’s a classic. Secondly, this also reminds me, with its boing-boing rhythm, of another (in)famous Christmas #1… ‘Mr Blobby’. (Which very much isn’t a classic.)

‘Lily the Pink’ falls somewhere in between these two songs. It’s fun, for a verse or two, and then it gets pretty old pretty quick. There’s an unfortunate stuttering verse – Johnny Hammer, Had a terrible s-s-s-s-stammer… – and it’s very hammy by the end, when the medicinal compound proves too strong even for Lily the Pink, and she snuffs it. It’s definitely a song that would improve the more you drink…

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Speaking of which, it is based on a much older, American drinking song – ‘The Ballad of Lydia Pinkham’ – which in turn was inspired by an actual drug – Lydia E. Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, from the 1870s, which relieved menstrual cramps. The fact that it was 40 proof alcohol meant that plenty of people not suffering from period-pains drank it anyway… And apparently the original verses were saucier even than The Scaffold’s end-of-the-pier version.

Just as interesting as the song’s origins are the musicians involved in its recording. The Scaffold were a comedy trio from Liverpool – one of whom was Peter McCartney (brother of Paul.) Musicians they were not, and so to help them on ‘Lily the Pink’ you can hear Graham Nash of The Hollies (the line about ‘Jennifer Eccles’ is a reference to a Hollies’ hit), Tim Rice and an unknown singer by the name of Reginald Dwight, who may or may not have gone on to bigger things under a different name.

What’s that? You thought that 1968 was going to finish off with some bland, run-of-the-mill pop song? Well you haven’t been paying attention, have you? This year has brought us the most eclectic bunch of #1s so far. We’ve veered from silly novelties, to bizarro fantasy epics, from spaghetti western soundtracks to the birth of shock-rock. All with healthy doses of jazz, crooning, rock ‘n’ roll, and Cliff, in between. Next up, we tick on over into the final year of the swinging sixties, and hope that it can be half as interesting as the year just gone…

Enjoy all the number ones from 1968, and earlier, here:

261. ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra & Chorus

And so we reach one of the 20th century’s best-known pieces of music. People might not be aware that they know the theme from ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, but if you can mimic the woo-wee-oo-wee-oo well enough, then they should be able to come back with a passable waa-waa-waa…

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The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, by Hugo Montenegro, His Orchestra & Chorus (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 13th November – 11th December 1968

It’s so famous that it sounds kind of clichéd now. It’s been used in so many spaghetti-western spoofs – a gun slinger in a poncho with an orange setting sun in the background, close-up on his narrowed eyes as he spits his tobacco on the ground (the famous refrain is supposed to sound like a coyote howling.) You’re almost surprised to remember that it was an actual real piece of music, soundtrack to real movie all of its very own.

Back in the fifties and early-sixties, when it seemed as if every second chart-topper was an instrumental, I regularly complained that lyric-less songs can sometimes meander and get lost. Not always, but for every ‘Apache’ or ‘Nut Rocker’ there was a ‘Side Saddle’. Instrumentals need a bit of atmosphere about them to cover up for the fact that you can’t sing along. The instruments need to become the voice. Which is what happens with this record. This instrumental passes the test. You definitely can sing along to it.

Speaking of ‘Apache’, this theme owes a bit of a debt to The Shadows when the twangy, Hank Marvin-ish guitars come in. It also reminds me of ‘Running Bear’ (1960 was a big year for the cowboys and injuns themed #1s) with its rep rop ooh wah too chants, which came from band leader Hugo Montenegro himself, and which sound a lot like someone counting in a strange, forgotten tongue.

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It’s a fun mish-mash of sixties styles – a bit latin, a bit rock ‘n’ roll and a bit psychedelic. It sounds old-fashioned at the same time as sounding like nothing that’s reached the top of the charts before. It was, of course, from the movie of the same name, starring Clint Eastwood but this isn’t the version used in the film. The original was written and recorded by Ennio Morricone – listen to it here – and it sounds a bit bleaker, a bit more like a movie soundtrack should. This version is softer, warmer – more of a pop song. Why it hit #1 a full two years after the movie’s release…? I’m not sure.

I’m glad it did make a belated chart-topper, though. It’s given us yet another strange side-road to wander down on our journey through 1968. We’re almost there, though – almost made it through this most eclectic of years… Hugo Montenegro wouldn’t enjoy chart success on the scale of ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’ again, though he tried his hand at covers of several of the songs we’ve heard elsewhere on this countdown: ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, ‘Stranger in Paradise’, ‘Good Vibrations’… He died very young, in his mid-fifties, in 1981.

We may have left the golden age of the instrumental behind us – the days of Winifred Atwell, Eddie Calvert and, of course, The Shadows – long ago. But there are a few more still to come. Looking at the modern day, I can’t remember the last big instrumental hit. Maybe a nineties dance track…? Though they usual had at least one vocal refrain. I can’t help feel that it’s something we’ve lost – our love for the instrumental single – because when a good one comes along it’s usually quite the experience…

260. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, by Joe Cocker

I recently did a series of posts on cover versions of #1 songs – previous chart-toppers that had been reimagined in different ways by different artists. ‘Different’ being the important word – a good cover version should bring something new to the table. What’s the point in releasing a karaoke version of the original? And while we have had plenty of cover versions hit number one already, this one takes the concept to another level.

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With a Little Help From My Friends, by Joe Cocker (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 6th – 13th November 1968

The Beatles’ version of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ had been released the year before, on the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’ LP. Joe Cocker, a British blues-rocker who had been around for a few years without enjoying much chart success, took it and made it his own. It’s slower, heavier, longer, downer and dirtier… Re-acquaint yourself with the original here, then settle in for the Cocker treatment.

It begins with a distant organ, as if you were standing outside a church before evensong. It’s an ominous build-up… You’re ready for something to happen. Then wham. Guitar! Proper hard-rock guitar. Hendrix and Clapton kind of guitar. The type of guitar that’s been nowhere near the top of the charts before. It’s bombastic, and outrageous. It makes you want to make devil-horns and punch the air.

The lyrics are the ones you know. What would you do, If I sang out of tune, Would you stand up and walk out on me…? But it sure isn’t Ringo singing it. Cocker’s voice is husky, and soulful. He delivers the lines late, squeezes the words in before the next one comes along. The backing singers, so important in any version of this song, sound like a gospel choir: How do I feel at the end of the day…? Are you sad because you’re on your own?

The best bit is the bridge – the Do you need anybody… bit. The guitars go super heavy and crunchy, like a motorbike revving up. The second time around, especially, when Cocker howls and the backing singers soar and we launch into the final minute of a mini rock-opera. I know we’ve had a lot of soul number ones in recent years – The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, Long John Baldry and more – but this takes it to the next level.

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It kind of sounds a bit like a jamming session, or at least a live version, and that really adds something to the song. They captured lightning here. They would never have been able to re-record this exactly the same – it’s too raw, too intense. It lacks the polish of a regular #1 single, but you’re oh so glad that it somehow managed to have its week in the top spot

As I mentioned, it’s another long number one. You wait years for a #1 single that lasts longer than five minutes, then three come along at once. And that’s not all that links this to the previous two #1s. We’ve now had a number one recorded by The Beatles (‘Hey Jude’) replaced by one that was produced by a Beatle (‘Those Were the Days’) replaced in turn by a number one written by The Beatles. In case you’ve lost count, this is the fourth Beatles cover to reach the top in the past five years. They may have been reaching the end of their career as a band, but their grip on the charts wasn’t weakening.

We end in a frenzy of organs and guitars, as Cocker ad-libs over the fade-out. Phew. It’s not a subtle re-interpretation, I will admit, but for me it works. I knew this record by reputation, but it’s been great to give it an in-depth listen. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ is a song that will pop up another two times in this countdown, and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that neither of the upcoming covers are fit to lick this one’s boots…

Joe Cocker will only have one more Top 10 hit, until the early-eighties when he will record ‘Up Where We Belong’ with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack to ‘An Officer and a Gentleman.’ From Sheffield, but sadly no relation to Jarvis Cocker, he was still scoring Top 20 albums in the ‘00s and the 2010s. He died in 2014.

259. ‘Those Were the Days’, by Mary Hopkin

From the longest number one yet… To the second longest. Five minutes plus! Picture yourself in a tavern in Leningrad, back when it still was Leningrad. Big furry hats, sturdy men, even sturdier women…

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Those Were the Days, by Mary Hopkin (her 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 25th September – 6th November 1968

It reminds me of Petula Clark’s ‘This Is My Song’, an old-fashioned ballad with a sweeping intro. Instruments that I couldn’t begin to name jingle-jangle before the violins come in… Once upon a time there was a tavern, Where we used to raise a glass or two… It’s a song of longing and regret. The singer is reminiscing about happier times, dancing and singing down the pub. Those were the days, my friend, We thought they’d never end… If ‘bittersweet’ was a sound, then that sound would sound a lot like ‘Those Were the Days.’

I wasn’t just making up all that stuff about Leningrad – this really is based on an old Russian folk-tune. A Georgian folk-tune, actually, which had been around since the turn of the century. And you really can picture some Cossacks high-kicking in time to the steady beat, especially when we get to the dadadadas. That’s another thing that this record has in common with its predecessor ‘Hey Jude’: a chanted refrain. Except this one doesn’t drag on for four and a half minutes…

By the third verse, time has moved on. The singer stands outside the same tavern: In the glass I saw strange reflections, Was that lonely woman really me…? In the fourth verse she timidly enters the bar… Oh my friend we’re older but no wiser, For in our hearts the dreams are still the same… Do they get back together? Have one last fling for old time’s sake? Or do they just leave it at a smile? I guess we’ll never know…

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As a melody, it’s pretty irresistible, coming as it does from a time before ‘pop music’ existed. It sounds nostalgic, like you’ve heard it before, somewhere, sometime… It feels as if it should be from a musical. It was also produced by one Paul McCartney, who may have popped up once or twice already on this countdown. He’d known the tune for years, and finally chanced upon Mary Hopkin as a singer. She was barely eighteen, and looks every bit the sixties flower-power girl. Long hair, bare feet, that kind of thing. ‘Those Were the Days’ was her first, and by far her biggest hit. She would go on to have four more Top 10 singles in the next couple of years, and still records to this day.

In one way, this song stands out as odd. It’s sentimental, old-fashioned, a bit cheesy… But in another way it is very late sixties: there are folk-rock touches (the ‘B’-side was even a cover of The Byrds’ ‘Turn! Turn! Turn!’) and some very Beatlesy flourishes (the horns that come in midway through, for example). Plus, this is 1968, and anything goes at the top of the charts this year. There have been some weird chart-toppers, and some weird ones are still to come…

258. ‘Hey Jude’, by The Beatles

Buckle up and make yourselves comfortable, cause we’ve hit our longest number one single yet. One of the longest ever. Seven minutes and ten seconds of Beatlesy goodness.

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Hey Jude, by The Beatles (their 15th of seventeen #1s)

2 weeks, from 11th – 25th September 1968

It starts off in beautiful simplicity. Just Paul and a piano. Hey Jude, Don’t make it bad… Take a sad song, And make it better… You’re there, in the studio. You can picture his face as he sings. Remember, To let her into your heart, Then you can start, To make it better…

I love the way the instruments are slowly added into the mix. Before you know it there’s a tambourine, a guitar, then backing vocals and Ringo’s drums. Hey Jude, Don’t be afraid, You were made to, Go out and get her… It sounds like an encouragement to a friend, to go and get the girl he loves, but it was inspired by John’s separation from his first wife Cynthia. Paul wrote it to comfort their son Julian (Julian – Jules – Jude). John, however, claimed that it was about him, and that the song’s lyrics were Paul’s blessing to him and Yoko Ono. Others still – mainly McCartney’s exes – have claimed that it was written about them. Who knows? A great song means something different to everyone.

And this is a great song. I’ve always liked the bridge best: And anytime you feel the pain, Hey Jude, Refrain…  It’s almost, without wanting to sound hopelessly pretentious, spiritual. Pop music as hymn. If I were religious, I’d go to churches where they sang ‘Hey Jude.’ I gave Paul McCartney a hard time in my post on ‘Hello, Goodbye’, and I stand by that, but here… His voice grows ever more soulful. It’s something else – it’s undeniable.

Just over three minutes in we reach the bit that means this record will live on for ever more. When the waves finally lap over the last bit of unsubmerged land left on earth, the final sound man hears will probably be the coda of ‘Hey Jude’. Na-na-na… Nananana! Nananana… Hey Jude! It lives on at karaoke nights, in pubs, outside pubs, in football stadiums… And you can see why. It isn’t hard to remember some ‘nananana’s. Whatever language you speak. Nananana.

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(‘Hey Jude’ was the 1st single released on The Beatles’ own Apple Label)

I had forgotten – having not actually listened to ‘Hey Jude’ properly for years, how crazy Paul goes over the coda. He riffs, he scats, he howls and yells. By the end he sounds as if he’s properly lost it. This was recorded at a particularly difficult time in The Beatles’ history: John spending all his time with Yoko, Ringo temporarily leaving the band… Maybe he was just letting some frustrations out.

The song starts to fade a full minute and a half before it actually ends. Does it really need to be over seven minutes long? Probably not. But at the same time: why the hell not? By this point in their careers, The Beatles could do whatever they wanted. ‘Hey Jude’ is a full two minutes forty seconds longer than the previous ‘Longest #1 Single’ title-holder, The Animal’s ‘The House of the Rising Sun’. You could play the shortest #1 – Adam Faith’s ‘What Do You Want’ – almost five times before ‘Hey Jude’ plays once. As far as I’m aware, it is still the 4th longest #1 single ever, and won’t be displaced as the longest until 1998, when Oasis will release their cover version… sorry, their completely different song… ‘All Around the World.’

And so we reach the end, finally, as the nananas fade and we are left to return to everyday life. ‘Hey Jude’ is a song that has entered the fabric of British life, of our national identity even… Paul McCartney plays it at most of his concerts, as a tribute to his long-dead song writing partner. It’s only right that it hit number one, but it seems wrong that it stayed at the top for just a fortnight. In the US it tied for the longest-ever run, at nine-weeks. That seems more appropriate. A long old run in pole position, for a long old song… Na-na-na-na!

Listen to all the previous, much shorter, #1 singles here:

257. ‘I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You’, by The Bee Gees

The Brothers Gibb’s 2nd number one picks up where their first – ‘Massachusetts’ – left off. Melancholy and minor key-ish. This time, though, with a hint of gospel about it, a touch of something more funky. I like it more than ‘Massachusetts’ (and always have done…)

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I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You, by The Bee Gees (their 2nd of five #1s)

1 week, from 4th – 11th September 1968

The lyrics immediately remind me of Tom Jones’ monster hit from a couple of years back, ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’, as they concern a man condemned to die. Is it worth making a new sub-genre of chert-topper? The death row #1? Probably not. In GGGOH, the singer was dreaming in an attempt to escape his inevitable fate. But in this one, the singer is under no illusions. The last rites are being read… The preacher talked with me and he smiled, Said come and walk with me, Come and walk one more mile…

The end is nigh, but he wants to get one last message out to his beloved… I’ve just got to get a message to you, Hold on… Hold on… One more hour and my life will be through… Whether or not he manages to get the message out is never revealed. In the background some very late-sixties percussion and an organ make things sound much cheerier than they should.

Another key difference to GGGOH (something very satisfying about banging that out in caps…) is that we are left in no doubt that the singer dunnit. He killed a man – I did it to him, Now it’s my turn to die… And it might even have been a crime of passion: It’s only her love that keeps me wearing this dirt… Is she grateful, or sad, or has she already shacked up with someone else…?

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For the final verse we get a key change. Which means this record about a murderer preparing to face the electric chair ends on a strangely uplifting vibe. He’s still alive at the end, and the listener is left to wonder if maybe, just maybe… I do like a song that tells a story!

As much I like this record, however, there is something irritating about how The Bee Gees sing. While not quite the falsettos from their disco phase, it’s still a bit nasal, a bit whiny, especially after the key-change. Minor quibbles, though, minor quibbles. They would score further hits with classics like ‘Words’, ‘I Started a Joke’ and ‘World’, the latter of which forever has a place in my heart as one of the very few songs that I ever managed to master on a keyboard. This can be seen as the end of The Bee Gees MK I. They will fade from view, chart-wise, for most of the early-seventies, until disco comes along and we meet them again in a decade or so.

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3sSYyPEUCTyMjMlN55z8SX?si=falfgY2gRhC5I-abEezNQA

256. ‘Do It Again’, by The Beach Boys

This is a song I’ve known for a long time, from childhood car journeys with The Beach Boys’ Greatest Hits on repeat, and ever since I first heard it I’ve been fascinated by the intro. The pulsing, grinding rhythm that draws us in, sounding like something that Prince would have rejected for being too saucy…

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Do It Again, by The Beach Boys (their 2nd and final #1)

1 week, from 28th August – 4th September 1968

Apparently it is several drum sounds merged together and compressed to slightly trippy effect. It doesn’t last long, unfortunately, this electro-beat intro, as The Beach Boy’s familiar chugging surf guitars soon come in. It’s automatic, When I talk with old friends, The conversation turns to girls we knew… It’s an interesting concept, a ‘traditional’ Beach Boys song about girls, surfing, and so on, but written as a reminiscence. It’s barely four years since every song they released was about girls, surfing, and so on, but so much has changed…

California girls and a beautiful coastline, Warmed-up leather let’s, Get together and do it again… In some ways, it’s a run-through of the Boys’ greatest hits: vocal harmonies, oo-bee-dooos and a nifty little guitar solo. But in other ways it’s a completely different band, one that’s been through ‘Pet Sounds’ and a whole load of LSD. It’s a lot slower than, say, ‘I Get Around’, with a very droney vibe. Even the surf-rock solo is crunchy and distorted. And then it fades out with what sounds like a carpenter’s workshop, all sawing and hammering. Repairing a Woodie, perhaps…?

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It’s short and sweet, a snip over two minutes long, just like its one-week run at the top of the charts. Blink and you’ll have missed The Beach Boys’ second and final number one single, in the UK at least. It’s interesting to me, and a little bittersweet, that none of the early hits that ‘Do It Again’ echoes made #1. ‘California Girls’, ‘Fun, Fun, Fun’, ‘Surfin’ Safari’ and the like all fell short. This is all that remains, an echo of more innocent times. Well, this and ‘Good Vibrations’ – one of the most famous pop songs ever recorded – but still…

Mike Love gets a hard time when people look back at The Beach Boys – the Devil to Brian Wilson’s Messiah. And a lot of its deserved: freezing other members out, resisting change (his ‘don’t fuck with the formula’ quote even has its own Wiki page), writing ‘Kokomo’… But ‘Do It Again’ is his and Brian’s baby, a call-back to when they were the biggest band in the States, selling a glossy, sun-swept vision of American life to gloomy, smoggy, faraway places like Britain.

I’ve always liked this song, even in amongst all the other biggies on their Greatest Hits, and listening to it again now I like it even more. It’s the perfect late-summer hit, as the sun goes down and you lie back in your hammock, cracking open your third beer. And it would be the perfect way to bid farewell to The Beach Boys on this countdown, by pressing play on the link below and doing it again…

255. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

1968 strikes again! Our next #1 kicks off with a yell straight from the sulphurous pits. I am the God of hell-fire, And I bring you…! Well, they do say that rock ‘n’ roll is the devil’s music…

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Fire, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st August 1968

Fire, I’ll take you to burn…! As an opening statement, it’s pretty aggressive…. Fire, I’ll take you to learn…! Demonic horns and a Satanic organ, playing as if it were possessed, join in with the fun as the ground splits in two below our feet and we tumble into the roasting furnace. I’ll see you burn…

This is, and I mean this in the best possible way, a crazy record. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown certainly live up to their name. That it hit the top of the singles chart for a week in the summer of ’68 is something to be marvelled at, and enjoyed. It’s harsh, it’s angry… It’s an anthem dedicated to nihilism and arson: You fought hard, And you saved and earned, But all of it’s going to burn… Arthur Brown then launches into an Ohhh Noooo and a series of yelps and squawks that Axl Rose in his prime would have been proud of. Wiki lists ‘Fire’ as ‘psychedelic’, which it is… But that’s only telling a tiny part of the story. This is hair metal and shock-rock, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden, before any of that was a thing. Fire… To destroy all you’ve done…

The second verse slows down, like the soundtrack to an eerie, cheapo haunted mansion ride, before the grinding organ and horns snap back in and we head relentlessly towards the finish. We get crazed laughter, shrieks, the horns blasting ever stronger, before the winds of hell blow us on our way. You’re gonna burn…burn burn burn burnburnburn…! Apparently Brown used to perform this track while wearing a helmet that had been doused in fuel and set alight (see the pic above). Because of course he did…

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They also say that the devil has the best tunes, but I’m not so sure about that being the case here. This is an amazing record, an experience; but not one that I’m desperate to repeat many more times. Perhaps it’s a truly awesome record… ‘Awesome’ in the literal sense of inspiring fear, as in the ‘awesome’ power of an atomic bomb.

I am convinced that there must have been some controversy around this disc hitting the top of the charts – that at least Mary Whitehouse and the Archbishop of Canterbury got their knickers in a twist over it – but can’t find much evidence online. It shows how far society had come in the decade or so since Elvis was getting cropped at the waist, I guess.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, largely Brown and organist Vincent Crane, are one-hit wonders in the truest sense. None of their other singles – either before or after – managed to chart in the UK. But their legacy lives on –  all the metal stars I listed above count them as an influence, while ‘Fire’ has been sampled by The Prodigy and Marilyn Manson. Arthur Brown still performs, aged seventy-seven, and still sets his helmet on fire…

I feel like I’ve been writing this at the end of nearly every recent post, but it bears repeating… What else has 1968 got in store for us? Surely it can’t get any weirder than this…?

254. ‘Mony Mony’, by Tommy James & The Shondells

When I first listened to this song – the preliminary listen after writing my last post – I jotted down three words that immediately came to mind. Exuberant. Throbbing. Soulful. Welcome then, to an exuberantly throbbing, soulful record.

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Mony Mony, by Tommy James & The Shondells (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 31st July – 14th August / 1 week, from 21st – 28th August 1968 (3 weeks total)

It’s another number one with that 1968 sound – that fusion of Beat pop, Motown and soul that’s cropped up a few times now, in records by Love Affair, The Union Gap, The Foundations and now The Shondells. An American sound, to my ears, even though two out of the four bands just listed were British.

This one starts off with a chugging riff, like a car struggling to start or a tribe banging drums in the jungle. There are handclaps, and some nonsense lyrics: Here she comes now sayin’ Mony Mony, Well shoot ‘em down turn around come on Mony… It’s a record that can’t wait to get to the chorus: You, Make, Me, Feel, So, Good…! and the accompanying call-and-response Yeah! Yeah! Yeahs!

Just who, or what, is ‘Mony Mony’? I imagine the song as a slightly more raucous update on ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’, in which Roy Orbison saw a hottie walking down the street. Apparently, though, Tommy James was inspired to write it by a billboard in Manhattan that read M.O.N.Y, and was advertising a bank (the Mutual of New York.) So, not quite as sexy an origin story…

But they took the acronym and ran with it, and with lines like You gotta toss and turn and feel alright, yeah… it’s safe to assume that they weren’t thinking about the bank’s mortgage services. I love the funky little piano breakdown, before it rises into the final chorus and fade out, with what sounds like a Gospel choir joining in with the yeahs. It sounds like an amazing party right there in the recording studio.

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I really enjoyed this song – a chorus that I knew from ‘Best of the 60s’ compilations, but which it’s been great to get to know in detail. It’s nearly three minutes long – a perfectly average runtime for a pop song – but it feels far too short. It’s a record that you can’t help tapping your feet to, a disc that is simply in love with being alive. Amazingly, it was Tommy James & The Shondells only Top 30 hit in the UK. They had two #1s in their native US (they were formed in Michigan) neither of which were ‘Mony Mony’, but for some reason never seemed to catch on over the pond.

Tommy James and co. will, though, enjoy one more #1 by proxy, when Tiffany’s cover of their 1967 hit ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’, reaches the top in 1988. In the US, her version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ replaced at #1 Billy Idol’s live-version of… you guessed it… ‘Mony Mony’. How’s that for symmetry…

Listen to every #1 so far here:

253. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor

Oh dear. I thought we were past this… I thought we had waded through the easy-listening swamp and made it out alive… I was wrong. Des O’Connor sticks out an arm and drags us back in…

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I Pretend, by Des O’Connor (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 24th – 31st July 1968

If I’ve learned one thing from the two hundred fifty three songs I’ve covered so far it’s that no matter the leading sounds of the day – be they rock ‘n’ roll, Beat, baroque, or folk – you are never more than seven feet away from an easy-listening #1. It is the genre that never dies, mainly because it isn’t a genre at all. It can adapt, morph, mimic and ultimately survive, like the cockroaches that will rule following the apocalypse.

And I have nothing against easy-listening. Nothing at all. I am here for every single one of these chart-topping hits. I approach each one with an open-mind. I loved Petula Clark’s ‘This Is My Song’, and enjoyed Engelbert’s ‘The Last Waltz’, but this… This does nothing for me. This is bland. Where’s the hook? I’m trying to find something to grab hold of, something to appreciate, but find myself clutching at thin air.

It’s a velvety, cutesy, saccharine fart of a record. Something about how the the lady he loves is cheating on him, so till then I’ll just pretend… Blah, blah, blah who cares? One day our love must end, Till then I’ll just pretend… He’s literally sitting alone, pretending that his wife is still in love with him, simpering over an empty chair, while she’s out gallivanting. God’s sake man, have some self-respect…

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I have never heard this record before. I truly wonder if anyone has listened to this song in the past twenty years. Is this the most forgotten #1 ever? Maybe that’s because it’s surrounded by monster hits by The Beatles, Stones, Cliff and more. Maybe. But, tellingly, ‘I Pretend’ sneaked a week at the top after an eleven-week climb – a disc that slipped in to pole position when nobody was looking. (It did also spend a full year on the chart, though, so there clearly was an audience for it…)

To be fair, Des O’Connor was – even years later when I was a kid – a household name in the UK. He had a fanbase. He hosted chat shows and game shows throughout the sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. He was warm, family-friendly, slightly too tanned… A kind of male Cilla Black, though her music was much more credible. I was amazed to just find out that he’s still alive… I could have sworn he’d died years ago.

Apparently he’s in pretty poor health, though, so let’s wish him the very best. His one and only number one single may be terrible, and completely out of place in mid-1968, but it’s one more number single than most of us will manage. Next up, I believe, normal service will be resumed.