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.

Top 10s – T. Rex

You can’t say you didn’t see it coming…

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I do love T. Rex, and having their 4 number one’s crop up in my countdown has cemented how brilliant they were, how fun it must have been to be around for Marc Bolan’s short-lived explosion into the biggest pop supernova on the planet.

But two of those #1s don’t even make my Top 10… Yes, this is my Top 10 and mine alone, picked for personal preference just as much as musical brilliance.

First up the rules. Well, the ‘rule’, singular… To qualify for my Top 10, the song has to have been released and to have charted on the UK singles chart. No album tracks, or ‘B’-sides, no ‘Mambo Sun’, or ‘Thunderwing’.  Enjoy…

10. ‘One Inch Rock’, reached #28 in 1968 (and #7 on re-release in 1972)

I am well aware that this is not Marc Bolan’s and T. Rex’s tenth-best song, but on a personal level this takes me back to being a kid and singing along in the backseat. Somehow it had ended up on a cheapo ‘Best of the 60s’ cassette. My brother and I found the line ‘I’m kinda hard cos I’m one inch tall’ hilarious… Except it’s ‘I got the horrors cos I’m one inch tall’, and it’s not the only lyric you might struggle to make out.

Released when they were still ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’ and more of a folk-duo, with Bolan joined by the brilliantly named Steve Peregrin Took, it sets the tone for much of T. Rex’s lyrical output while sounding unlike anything they would release in their heyday. On the one hand it is a song about being one-inch tall; on the other it is about being under the influence of some very strong hallucinogenics.

9. ‘New York City’, reached #15 in 1975

Did you ever see a woman, Coming out of New York City, With a frog in her hand…? Why no, Marc, can’t say I ever did. (Though apparently this one was genuinely inspired by Bolan seeing a woman, in New York, walking down the street while holding a frog…) While I wish I could have included more of T. Rex’s mid seventies singles, the truth is they just can’t compete with the ones further down this list. However, this one just about manages holds its own. That intro, sounding like a cartoon super-villain warming up his death-ray, twinned with a honky-tonk piano, is brilliant. Add the performance above, complete with a man in a giant-frog suit, and you have my 9th favourite T. Rex single.

8. ‘Children of the Revolution’, reached #2 in 1972

A grinding, almost menacing, riff that lumbers its way through a song that I want to love more than I do… I don’t know, I just think it lacks a little of their other hits’ joie de vivre. This one makes number 8, though, because it includes Bolan’s Bolanest lyric: I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice… That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll, right there.

7. ‘Get It On’, reached #1 in 1971

A sexy riff for a sexy song about sex. Not much more needs written about one of their most-recognisable hits, but if you want to know more my original post is here. As much as I love it, I always think this song could have been chunkier… Know what I mean? Anyway, it gave them their biggest hit in the US, and you may recognise the keyboard player in the video above…

6. ‘Teenage Dream’, reached #13 in 1974

The epic, operatic, pinnacle of Marc Bolan’s genius… Or the sound of him disappearing up his own arse? Opinions are split, but I’d sway towards to the former. In amongst all the bizarre imagery, I think it’s Bolan’s lament towards the fame and adulation that was slipping away from him. He claimed ‘Teenage Dream’ as his finest lyric, and who am I to argue? The single version is already five minutes long, and the video above has an added minute of guitar trickery tagged on. Because, why not?

5. ‘Ride a White Swan’, reached #2 in 1971

The breakthrough hit for ‘T. Rex’ the glam rock icons. The lyrics still referenced the people of the Beltane and looking like a druid in the olde days… But the guitar was electric and funky and T. Rex was a-go. Years later, Bolan would perform this hit while literally riding a giant white swan. Which is brilliant…

4. ‘The Groover’, reached #4 in 1973

Dripping with attitude, and a punky, metal-ish riff, this was T. Rex’s last UK Top 10 hit. It starts off with the band’s name as a chant – T. R. E. Exxxxxx – with Marc going on to tell us just how brilliant he is. Some name me stud (yes they do…) We know he ain’t tame, and we call him the groover etc etc. Sing it to me children… It’s a middle finger to everyone who might claim that T. rex’s music was repetitive and reductive; in the form of yet another gloriously simple, repetitive T. Rex hit.

3. ‘Jeepster’, reached #2 in 1971

Fun fact: this was released against Bolan’s permission, as their final single on the Fly label. But let’s just be glad they did. Not for the first time, or the last, Marc is comparing his woman to a car. But also, he’s a car. A Jeepster for her love… Everyone’s a car! What is a simple enough, rockabilly number transforms towards the end when he announces that he is also a vampire for her love, and that he’s gonna suck ya! Oh my…

2. ‘Metal Guru’, reached #1 in 1972

T. Rex’s best #1 single – read my original post here – and a record that soars. ‘It is a festival of life song’, Marc said. ‘I believe in God, but have no religion.’ By the time this reached the top of the charts T. Rex were approaching God-like status themselves in the UK, and this was probably their pinnacle. The performance above is a bit ropey, but the brilliance of the song shines through. Why Noel Edmonds is dressed like Robin Hood, however, remains a mystery…

1. ’20th Century Boy’, reached #3 in 1973

‘One Inch Rock’, back at the start of this list, is my earliest memory of T. Rex, before I knew what they were. Hearing ’20th Century Boy’ as a nine or ten year-old was the moment I sat up and said ‘Hello, what is this?’ I don’t think its overstating things to say that the two crunching chords right at the start here is one of the most thrilling moments in rock music, ever… It’s heavier than a lot of T. Rex’s stuff – the guitar sounds more like a chainsaw – and the performance above is even heavier than the recorded version. It’s a brutal, stripping down of glam rock to its essence: power chords and slightly ambiguous lyrics… He wants to be a toy, to a boy, a boy-toy…?

Phew. That was fun. Up next, we launch head first into 1973!

Top 10s – The 1960s

Time for a Top 10. A month or so ago I ranked my Top 10 #1 singles of the 1950s. Now that I’ve officially drawn the sixties to a close with my most recent recap, here’s the Official 100% Undisputed Top 10 #1 singles of the 1960s!

The sixties. The decade that brought, many would say, the finest pop music known to man. Malt Shop pop, to Merseybeat, to R & B, Folk, Psychedelic, Hippies and Motown. It had it all.

By ‘My Top 10’, I mean the records that came out on top in my recaps. This isn’t me looking back and choosing; this is me recounting how I felt in the moment, as I encountered these great records in their natural environment, like seeing a pack of majestic lions while on safari… Or something. I only have one rule, and it is simple: one record per artist. 

Here then, in chronological order, are my Top 10 #1 singles of the swinging sixties… (with a bonus or two thrown in for good measure…)

1. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers – #1 for 7 weeks in May/June 1960

Winner in my first sixties recap… Don and Phil relaunch with a mature new sound. They had scored their 1st chart-topper two years earlier with the nice but soppy ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. Since then they had changed labels and toughened up, kicking off a run at the top of the UK charts with some of the best harmonising ever heard. The above video doesn’t quite do the recording justice – listen to and read about that here – but apparently the backing group there is none other than The Crickets, and I couldn’t resist…

2. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – #1 for 1 week in August 1960

For the most part, American rock ‘n’ roll was far superior to the British version. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been a 1st round knockout. In response to Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Fats and Eddie Cochran we had Cliff and, um, Tommy Steele. (OK, OK, simplifying things a bit, but still…) But ‘Shakin’ All Over’ was the moment in which UK rockers truly competed with their counterparts from across the Atlantic, with its timeless riff and racy lyrics. A runner-up in my 1st recap, you can read my original post here.

3. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes – #1 for 5 weeks in October/November 1962

Of course, by the middle of the decade, the Brits were the ones showing the Yanks how to do it. The first sign that the tide was changing, and the first UK band to hit #1 in the US, were The Tornadoes. Masterminded by slightly unhinged genius Joe Meek, this instrumental tells the story of an alien spacecraft that comes to earth for a look around, before shooting back off to whatever galaxy it came from. Except, ‘Telstar’ is an instrumental, so I’ve made up that story entirely. More simply put: a brilliant, brilliant record that blows you away when you hear it in context (the #1s on either side of it were Elvis’s ‘She’s Not You’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘Lovesick Blues’). I named it best chart-topper in my 2nd sixties recap – read my original post here.

4. ‘She Loves You’, by The Beatles – #1 for six weeks in September, October, November & December (!!) 1963

Without my ‘one chart-topper per artist’ rule I’d probably have had 4 Beatles discs in this Top 10. But ‘She Loves You’ is the one that makes it. Yes, yes, yes – in the years following this the band would go way beyond She loves you, And you know you should be glad… both sonically and lyrically. But, to me, this is the moment the 60s really begins. Hell, it’s the moment Britain finally put the war, the rationing and all the misery of the past half-century behind them for good. Imagine being thirteen years old in 1963, and hearing this beauty for the first time…. I named it best chart-topper, and you can read my original post here.

5. ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers – #1 for 3 weeks in January/February 1964

A low-key, under-appreciated, melancholy #1 from one of the biggest bands in the country during the first wave of Merseybeat. I called it a runner-up to ‘She Loves You’ in my 3rd recap, and it’s one of my earliest musical memories. Plus, I love the way they bow at the end of the video above. A well brought-up bunch of lads! The original post is here.

6. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers – #1 for 2 weeks in February 1965

The first five in this rundown are all of a similar pop/rock ‘n’ roll feel… The latter five shoot all over the place, starting with this slice of blue-eyed soul. Now pop music was for grown-ups again, and this glossy hit led the way. The call and response section, with one voice growling and one voice hitting the highest notes a man has ever sung, are simply stunning. I really struggled, long and hard, in choosing between this and the next song for a ‘Best Chart-Topper’ award. Ultimately, I named this as runner-up. Do I regret my decision…? Maybe… If I read my original post again I might change my mind…

7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones – #1 for 2 weeks in September 1965

The song that pipped The Righteous Brothers to the post… Suddenly rock ‘n’ roll was just ROCK, and the riffs were sledgehammers through your brain. And the lyrics weren’t about meeting your girl at the juke-joint; they were world-weary swipes at phoney advertising campaigns and girls who wouldn’t sleep with you, even though you were a world-famous rock star… It just had to be in this Top 10, plain and simple. Original post here.

8. ‘Good Vibrations’, by The Beach Boys – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1966

A song that needs no further introduction, and one that I struggle to really, really, really love. One that needs respected as a work of art; but not one I listen to all that often. Still, I did name it as runner-up in my 5th sixties recap, so it gets its place in the Top 10. Read my original musings here.

9. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum – #1 for 6 weeks in June/July 1967

At the start of the Summer of Love, one song redefined what a pop song should sound like, how a pop song should be constructed, what lyrical content huge a #1 hit could cover… Who knows how the hell ‘to skip the light fandango’? Who the hell cares when it sounds as good as this. Winner of my 5th ’60s recap – read my original post here.

10. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1969

Winner of my last sixties recap, when I opted for it at the last minute over ‘Hey Jude’. Motown’s finest moment? Again, a song that I can write nothing new about, so I’ve attached this video of a live version. I love the way that Marvin and one of his band act out the phone call at the start… ‘Somethin’ funky goin’ down’ indeed… Read my original post here.

Bonus 1 – ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – #1 for 1 week in November 1970

I called this one runner-up in the recap I just posted a couple of days ago, it having reached top-spot a year too late following Hendrix’s death. Had it hit number one at the right place and time, I may well have named it a winner. So, as a consolation, here it is…

Bonus 2 – ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra – #1 for 4 weeks in February/March 1966

Looking back at this list, one thing struck me: it’s a sausage fest. And then I had a closer look, and was amazed to count that, out of the 185 records that made #1 in the UK between January 1960 and December 1969, only 23 (!!) featured a female artist. If we don’t count duets with men, or male bands with female lead-singers, then there were only 16 (!!!!) #1s by females. Here then, is the record-by-a-girl that came closest to a prize in my recaps… Officially the best female-recorded #1 of the decade : Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!

Top 10s – The 1950s

Time for a Top 10… Usually I rank the ten best singles from a particular artist (last time it was The Kinks) but I thought I’d fiddle with my criteria a little, and rank my favourite #1 singles from an entire decade.

Starting with the singles chart’s very first decade. Back where it all began, when rock ‘n’ roll was but a twinkle in Elvis’s eye. The list is in chronological order – not ranked in order of preference – and to choose the songs I went back and read through my recaps to see which ones I dug at the time, live, as it were…

So, without further ado, the ten best #1 singles of the 1950s, according to me:

1. ‘Look at That Girl’, by Guy Mitchell – #1 for 6 weeks in Sept/Oct 1953

Only the 12th-ever number one single, from one of the decade’s biggest chart stars, and a runner-up in my first recap. This was the very first whiff of rock ‘n’ roll at the top of the UK charts (a very faint whiff, but still) and I think it appealed more than it probably should have because I’d waded through so much Eddie Fisher and Mantovani to get to it. Still, a catchy, upbeat tune. As I wrote in my original post:

“It sounds to me as if a battle is taking place here, between traditional easy-listening and the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll movement. On the one hand you’ve got the usual twee backing singers and floaty trumpets, parping away at the end of each line; on the other you have the hand claps and the guitar solo.”

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2. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray – #1 for 1 week in April/May 1954

Johnnie Ray was known for his emoting, which lent him two spectacular nicknames: ‘The Prince of Wails’ and ‘The Nabob of Sob’. But for his 1st of three #1s he was overcome with a slightly more enjoyable emotion… lust! By far the sauciest number one of the pre-rock era, I awarded it ‘Best Chart-Topper’ in my 1st recap. I’d go as far as saying it was the best #1 single ever… Until 1957 came along. My original post is here:

“…what makes it, and elevates it to a classic, are Ray’s vocals. Like Doris Day before him there’s an effortlessness to his voice that draws you in and yanks you along. But his voice is nothing like the clean-cut, honeyed tones of Miss Day. ‘Such a Night’ isn’t being sung here – it’s being ridden, it’s being humped… it’s being performed!”

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3. ‘Mambo Italiano’, by Rosemary Clooney & The Mellomen – #1 for 3 weeks in Jan/Feb 1955

I remember noting, back in the early days of the charts, that it felt like the girls were having all the fun. Guys were being boringly earnest – Al Martino, Eddie Fisher, David Whitfield all proclaiming overwrought, undying love over heavy orchestration. Meanwhile Rosemary Clooney, in her 2nd #1, was singing in cod-Italian about fish bacalao (which is Portuguese, but whatever.) It’s a song that resonates to this day, with a 00s remix and a 2011 pastiche by Lady Gaga. I named it a runner-up in my first recap:

“…while this is a mambo record, sung by an easy-listening singer-slash-actress, this is rock ‘n’ roll. It may be fun and funky, but it just about manages to retain an air of cool around all the silliness. While we were waiting for Bill Haley to come along and kick-off things off, the ideals and attitudes, if not the actual sounds, of rock ‘n’ roll were being sneaked in right under our noses.”

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4. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra – #1 for 2 weeks in April/May 1955

Another saucy slice of Latin pop, which I named the very best song in my 2nd recap! Again, my opinion of it was probably exaggerated because of all the pre-rock easy-listening mulch surrounding it. It is catchy, though. Just you try not swaying along. Can’t be done! I tried summing up the record’s appeal in my original post

“…it allows Janet and John from Southend to draw close and to feel one another’s bodies, taught and trembling from two and a half minutes of intense mambo.”

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5. ‘Dreamboat’, by Alma Cogan – #1 for 2 weeks in July 1955

The 3rd #1 from 1955, making it officially the best year of the decade… (Hmm…) ‘Dreamboat’ is just a spectacularly fun pop song, sung with a giggle and a wink by perhaps the biggest British female star of the pre-rock age. As I wrote at the time:

“…there isn’t much else to ‘Dreamboat’ -it’s a fun little ditty. Cogan sings it well, with the perfect pronunciation we’ve come to expect but also with a light, playful touch that’s been missing from many of the number ones so far.”

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6. ‘Why Do Fools Fall in Love’, by The Teenagers ft. Frankie Lymon – #1 for 3 weeks in July/Aug 1956

Regrets, I have a few… One of them being that I named this classic as a runner-up to Perez Prado in my 2nd recap. What was I thinking? ‘Cherry Pink…’ is great and all, but this is timeless. The first number one by kids, for kids – the Teenagers were all, you guessed it, teenagers – is one of the catchiest, golden pop moments of all time, let alone the decade. As I wrote

“… it’s just a great song. A summer smash. It oozes New York city: steam, water spraying from a sidewalk valve, the sun blasting down, the Jets and the Sharks… (I dunno. I grew up in small town Scotland.)”

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7. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, by The Crickets – #1 for 3 weeks in November 1957

Perhaps the most obvious choice of the ten… What else needs to be said. Press play, gasp at the spectacular intro, and enjoy two and a half minutes of rock ‘n’ roll perfection…

“…Buddy Holly’s voice dances and flirts – toys, almost – with the listener. He coos, he pauses, he growls… The Crickets play tightly, but also very loosely. There’s a great, rough-around-the-edges feel to this record that contrasts with the polished cheese of Paul Anka’s ‘Diana’, whose bumper run at the top this track ended.”

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8. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis – #1 for 2 weeks in January 1958

But… I didn’t name ‘That’ll Be the Day’ as one of the very best chart-toppers. Oh no. In my 3rd recap, that honour was reserved for The Killer. On any given day, I could wake up and prefer ‘Great Balls…’ to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, or vice-versa. What’s the point in debating?  These two records were nailed-on to make my 50’s Top 10. Pure rock ‘n’ roll greatness…

“…It’s just an absolute blitz, an assault on the senses, a two-minute blast which takes rock ‘n’ roll up another notch.”

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9. ‘Who’s Sorry Now’, by Connie Francis – #1 for 6 weeks in May/June 1958

A spot of schadenfreude in the decade’s sassiest #1 single. Connie got dumped, and is now taking great pleasure that the tables have turned on her ex in his new relationship. You had your way, Now you must pay, I’m glad that you’re sorry now… Who says girls in the 50’s were all sweetness and apple pie? The twang in her voice when she launches into the final verse is something to behold. As I wrote at the time…

“A lot of the female artists we’ve met previously on this countdown have been cute, and flirty, and fun to listen to – Kitty Kallen, Kay Starr, Winifred Atwell… But no girl has brought this level of spunk to the table.”

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10. ‘Dream Lover’, by Bobby Darin – #1 for 4 weeks in July 1959

Last up –  a record that encapsulates everything great about the 1950s, mixing rock ‘n’ roll with swing, doo-wop and a touch of pre-rock crooning, to create pop perfection. Another runner-up to Jerry Lee in my 3rd recap, but there’s no shame in that. In my original post, I wrote:

“…I don’t want to really write any more about this record. I want to leave it there. Minimalist. This is where easy-listening and pop collide to create a seriously classy song.”

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And there we have it! The ten best #1 singles of the 1950s!

Top 10s – The Kinks

Time for a Top 10! When you think of British beat bands from the 1960s – AKA ‘British Invasion’ bands in the US – you think The Beatles, yup, then The Stones, okay, then…

Who were the 3rd biggest band of the decade? So many beat combos rose and fell during that time – The Searchers, Manfred Mann, The Tremeloes, The Hollies, the list goes on – but I’d stick my neck out and say that in the bronze medal position stand The Kinks. (There is also, of course, The Who, but they never made #1 in the UK, and so I have to pretend they never existed.)

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And because of publishing rights preventing huge sixties acts like Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones from appearing on the ’60s compilations that my parents owned, The Kinks were probably the first band I truly remember being aware of, and thinking this sounds good… (Well, them and The Spice Girls…)

Led by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, The Kinks gave us some of the best pop singles, not just of the decade but, let’s be honest, of all time. And they changed and experimented like the two bigger bands of the time, in their own, unique, Kinks-y way. Here’s my Top 10. (As before, to qualify for my list a song has to have been a chart hit in the UK – no album tracks or B-sides allowed…)

10. ‘See My Friends’, 1965, reached # 10

One of their smaller, early hits, in which their trademark crunchy guitar is twinned with a droney, sitar-sounding vibe. Released a few months after ‘Ticket to Ride’, and before ‘Norwegian Wood’, it puts The Kinks right at the forefront of pop’s sonic expansion. Not a sound they would keep up for long, but proof that they were a very versatile band.

9. ‘Come Dancing’, 1982, reached #12

The Kinks released music throughout the seventies and eighties and I really tried to include more of their later singles in this list… but, to be honest, most of them just aren’t as good as their big sixties hits. With some exceptions… This slice of nostalgia, for example, – a tale of the Davies’s sister going out dancing to the ‘Pally on a Saturday night. Years later I realised that, even though he sings about his sister in the present tense – If I asked her, I wonder if she would… Come dancing… – she had in fact died when they were young boys. Which gives this swansong hit an even more bittersweet edge.

8. ‘You Really Got Me’, 1964, reached #1

A sledgehammer riff, that many have claimed invented heavy metal, punk rock and more. The band’s 3rd single and first hit, it still sounds raw and wild in 2020, and must have sounded even more wonderful at the time. Read my original post here.

7. ‘Autumn Almanac’, 1967, reached #3

One that I used to dislike, but have really grown to love in recent years… I like my football, On a Saturday, Roast beef on Sundays, All right… While many bands went psychedelic in 1967, the Kinks were singing about toasted currant buns and going to Blackpool for their holidays… And the fuzzy guitar before the chorus? Great stuff.

6. ‘Dead End Street’, 1966, reached #5

But The Kinks could also be very cynical in their takes on British society, discs like ‘Dead End Street’ the yin to ‘Autumn Almanac’s yang. There’s a crack up in the ceiling, And the kitchen sink is leaking… while the music hall pianos play. Apparently it was banned by the BBC for being too biting! You can hear the debt bands like Blur would owe to The Kinks thirty years later, too…

5. ‘Lola’, 1970, reached #2

One of their last big hits. A man falls for a ‘lady’ who walks like a woman but talks like man… It attracted some controversy at the time, and still does today. But any song with a line like Girls will be boys, And boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, Except for Lola… is all right by me. Live your life, love who you love… Fun fact: I once performed this song live to a school-hall full of bemused looking Thai children.

4. ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, 1966, reached #4

The first Kinks’ song I loved, and it’s probably higher in the list than it should be if I weren’t being so subjective. A simply skiffle riff and Ray’s arched-eyebrow, high-camp delivery. More social commentary, aimed light-heartedly at the dapper men about town in the swinging sixties. Their clothes were loud, but never square…

3. ‘All Day and All Of the Night’, 1964, reached #2

The Kinks’ second big hit single, and very much an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach to songwriting. It sounds like ‘You Really Got Me’ Pt II, and turns the crunchy, proto-punk power chords up a notch, which is why I’m placing it higher. As a kid I loved the Oh, come on! and what sounds like someone being strangled before the frenetic solo. Imagine how thrilling / terrifying this must have sounded if you were first hearing it in October ’64.

2. ‘Sunny Afternoon’, 1966, reached #1

A song that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in the Sixties Hall of Fame, maybe because it’s got a pantomime-y edge. Another social commentary, this time in the character of an aristocrat being squeezed by the taxman and a ‘big fat mama’, which is no way to talk about your ex-wife, really. Perfect pop. (And singing it in the snow above seems a very Kinksy thing to do.) Read my original post on this chart-topper here.

1. ‘Waterloo Sunset’, 1967, reached #2

Could it be any other? ‘Waterloo Sunset’ has a Liverpool-like lead at the top of this table. It’s atmospheric, it’s beautiful, it’s haunting. A hymn to those that observe. And somehow it manages to sound like a sunset. When I first visited London, aged eight or so, I remember looking out of my window, hoping to see a Waterloo Sunset, hoping to see Terry and Judy. Sounds ridiculous, but it shows how long this song has been part of my life. At the time, it was kept off the top-spot by the bland ‘Silence Is Golden’. An absolute crime!

I’ll do another Top 10 soon enough. Up next, the 271st UK #1 single…

Top 10s – Buddy Holly

February made me shiver, With every paper I delivered, Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step…

Sixty-one years ago today, a light aircraft slammed into a field in Iowa during a snow-storm, killing everyone on board. The four passengers were Ritchie Valens (a seventeen-year-old up and coming rock ‘n’ roller), J.P. Richardson (AKA The Big Bopper, of ‘Chantilly Lace’ fame), pilot Roger Peterson, and Charles Hardin Holley. Buddy Holly.

The Day the Music Died has passed into folklore. I’m not going to write about that today. Rather, for my 2nd artist’s Top 10 post – check out the first one I did here – I’m going to list my favourite UK hit singles from a man whose legacy stretches far. The Beatles, The Stones, punk rock and power pop – they all owe a big debt to Buddy.

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As before, I’m restricting myself to ‘A’-sides of singles that charted in the UK. So no ‘Everyday’, no ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’, no ‘Not Fade Away’, and no ‘You’re So Square… Baby I Don’t Care’. Don’t blame me… Blame the people that didn’t buy those singles, or the record labels that never released them…

10. ‘Think It Over’, with The Crickets, 1958 – peaked at #11

People sometimes forget that Buddy Holly recorded some down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe it’s the thick-rimmed glasses that make him seem a little more, how to say, cerebral, than Elvis or Little Richard… But while he was able to add more subtlety than most of his contemporaries, ‘Think It Over’ has swagger and attitude to spare. Is she sure she doesn’t want him? Really sure? Maybe she should think it over… Great piano solo, too.

9. ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, 1959 – reached #1

Holly’s only solo #1, three months after he died. More strings than you’d expect from a rock ‘n’ roll single, and a very memorable vocal performance. Lots of trademark hiccups and southern drawl. The video above starts with a snippet of ‘Heartbeat’… not sure why. Read my original post on ‘It Doesn’t Matter…’ here.

8. ‘Reminiscing’, 1962 – reached #17

Some sexy sax, and a quality chugging riff. And Buddy’s voice. I’ve always loved the way he has fun with the line You’re a mean mistrea-ea-ea-ter… This peaked in the early sixties, along with several other gems from his back catalogue.

7. ‘What To Do’, 1965 – reached #34

Since this was never a big hit in Holly’s lifetime, you can hear it in all manner of overdubbed and re-imagined versions. I’ve gone for this stripped-back one, though. Just Buddy Holly and a guitar, so close to the mic that you can hear his breathing. It was a minor hit a full six years after his death. I love the lines about ‘soda pops’ and ‘walks to school’, that by the mid-sixties must have sounded very old-hat.

6. ‘Early in the Morning’, 1958 – reached #17

Some more swagger from Mr. Holly. We-e-e-e-el, he crows at the start, You gonna miss me… To be honest he doesn’t sound very heartbroken. In fact he might just be enjoying the break-up. I love his vocals here, one second yelping, the next growling…

The Top 5 were all Top 10 hits in the UK, all priceless slices of rock ‘n’ roll goodness:

5. ‘Maybe Baby’, with The Crickets, 1958 – reached #4

Every Buddy Holly song has a little detail – beyond the lyrics and melody – that makes it stand out. In ‘Maybe Baby’ it’s the reverb on the guitar. A near perfect pop song.

4. ‘Peggy Sue’, 1957 – reached #6

 

Buddy’s first ‘solo’ single – even thought The Crickets are clearly accompanying him in videos around online… It was written for the drummer, Jerry Allison’s, girlfriend after they had temporarily split up. Probably more groundbreaking than the 3 songs I’ve chosen above it… That drumbeat for a start is like nothing heard in a rock ‘n’ roll single before. Just my personal preference. The moment when the electric guitar comes in. My, my, my…

3. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, with The Crickets, 1957 – reached #1

If the plane crash was The Day the Music Died, then this is the moment it all began. The jingle-jangle intro, the hiccuping voice, the John Wayne inspired hook… My favourite bit has always been the start of the second verse – the country twang on the: well-a, when Cupid shot his dart… Read my original post on this number one record here.

2. ‘Oh Boy!’, with The Crickets, 1957 – reached #3

Teenage angst – you can here my heart a-callin’ –  and lust – a little bit of lovin’ makes the everythin’ alright – in The Crickets 2nd big hit. Holly’s vocals rasp, yelp and strain against the conservatism of 1950s America, and it just pips ‘That’ll Be the Day’ into the runners-up slot…

1. ‘Rave On’, 1958 – reached #5

We-a-he-a-he-al… The opening second of this record already seals its place as an all-time great. The way he stretches out the opening syllable is sublime, and then it morphs into a proto-punk number with its relentless riff surfing along in the background. One minute fifty seconds of rock ‘n’ roll brilliance, the well from which so much modern pop music springs…

Charles Hardin ‘Buddy’ Holley

September 7th 1936 – February 3rd 1959.

Top 10s – Dusty Springfield

A new feature I’m trying out this year. I take one chart-topping artist that we’ve met so far on this countdown and rank my personal Top 10 from their discography.

The only requirements are: for a song to feature it has to have been released, and to have charted, in the UK singles charts.

So, without further ado, my first ever Top 10… Dusty! The Queen of British soul. The Queen of the Beehive and the eye-shadow. Hands down the best UK born female singer, ever… I’m still annoyed that I will only ever get to write one post about her in this countdown, and that’s why she’s featuring first here.

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First up, the notable absences… Classics such as ‘The Look of Love’, ‘You Don’t Own Me’, ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’ and ‘Breakfast in Bed’ were never released in the UK and so cannot feature. The record that came closest to being in my top 10 was her debut hit, ‘I Only Want to Be With You’. A classic, but not the real Dusty… Here we go, then.

10. ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, 1968 – peaked at #9.

Surprisingly low? It’s great and all, and is probably her signature tune, but one I’ve always appreciated rather than loved…

9. ‘Give Me Time’, 1967 – peaked at #24

A trademark Dusty ballad, with some very sixties production and percussion. Only reached #24? Criminal.

8. ‘In the Middle of Nowhere’, 1965 – peaked at #8

Pure pop Dusty. Not her usual sound, but I love the ‘Hey, Hey, Heys!’ Gone for a live version here. The sound’s not great, but she looks amazing.

7. ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’ with the Pet Shop Boys, 1987 – peaked at #2

Every great Diva needs at least one triumphant comeback… By the mid eighties, Dusty wasn’t in great shape and neither was her career. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe brought her in for this duet and brought her voice to a whole new generation. It’s much huskier here, but perfectly suits the more minimal late-eighties sound. The Pet Shop Boys would go on to produce her next album. More on that in a bit…

6. ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’, 1968 – peaked at #4

Not really a ballad, not just a pop song, sounds like a Bond theme… Brilliant. Love the video here, not so sure about the dress…

5. ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’, 1964 – peaked at #3

Dusty started off her solo career with a handful of bouncy pop singles… Then she released this bad boy. I’d say that this is when Dusty became Dusty. The White Stripes cover isn’t bad either…

4. ‘In Private’, 1989 – peaked at #14

One of Dusty’s gay anthems. The lyrics are written from the POV of a woman having an affair with a man, but we can all read between the lines… Following her Pet Shop Boys duet, Dusty came back with a full PSB produced album, including this banger. A song I’ve only recently come to, but one that instantly ranks alongside her greatest.

She may have excelled at soul, dance and pure pop, but I love her ballads the most, and it’s been very hard to choose between this top 3…

3. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, 1966 – peaked at #1

Her one and only UK #1 – read my original post on it here.

2. ‘Losing You’, 1964, peaked at #9

Near impossible to choose between my top two…

1. ‘All I See Is You’, 1966, peaked at #9

In fact, I’m still not sure. I think ‘All I See Is You’ has just a touch more of Dusty’s trademark defiant heartbreak. She’s devastated by the loss of her love, but you know that she’ll carry on. The ending soars, almost operatic.

There you have it. Let me know if you agree or not… Ten classics, only one of which made #1!  I had fun doing that, and will do it with another artist very soon.