For the third time this decade, and for the fifth time in all, the Christmas number one is an actual Christmas song. The previous two, from Slade and Mud, were very seventies, very glam. This one, though, could have been #1 at any point in chart history.
When a Child Is Born (Soleado), by Johnny Mathis (his 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 19th December 1976 – 9th January 1977
Let’s split this record in two, and start with the good half. It’s got that ‘classic standard’ feel to it, a sweeping melody of the kind that you think you must have always known. When the backing singers come in with the ah-ah-ah-aaahhs it’s quite sweet. Plus, Johnny Mathis sings it like the professional crooner that he is. A ray of hope, Flickers in the sky…
On to the bad bits… And let’s start with those lyrics. It’s all winds of change, silent wishes, brand new morns and rosy hews. It feels churlish to complain about soppy lyrics in a religious, Christmas-themed song. What kind of lyrics is it supposed to have? Except, I’m not religious, and it’s April. So there.
Plus, the production is very floaty, glossy, mid-seventies MOR goop. And there’s a stinker of a spoken section: The world is waiting, Waiting for one child… Black, white… yellow?No-one knows… It is what it is. I’m not going to knock it any more. Mathis means well, and I have fond memories of my late grandmother singing this by the tree after a sherry or three.
I had assumed that ‘When a Child Is Born’ would have been an old, old tune from the mists of time. But the melody, ‘Soleado’, was written for an Italian singer in 1972, while the English lyrics followed a few years later. It’s a skill, I guess, to write a song that sounds so timeless. Johnny Mathis had been around for a lot longer, releasing his first singles in the mid-fifties. He followed this up with ‘Too Much, Too Little, Too Late’, his first US #1 for almost twenty years. Some impressive longevity there. He’s still with us, aged eighty-five, having released his most recent album in 2017.
You will all be thrilled to hear that the 1970s, the decade of the Christmas #1, is not done with the festive tunes just yet. But that is some way off. Up next, we launch head-first into 1977, which marks the singles chart’s quarter century!
Listen to all the #1s from 1976, and from every year before, with this playlist:
Following on from ‘Dancing Queen’ is a daunting task, but someone had to do it. In the autumn of 1976, that task fell to Pussycat, and their sole #1 record, ‘Mississippi’.
Mississippi, by Pussycat (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 10th October – 7th November 1976
It’s a gentle intro, a slice of soft country rock, that puts me in mind of the Eagles at their blandest, or Matthews Southern Comfort’s ‘Woodstock’ from earlier in the decade. In the past year or so, country and western has become something of an established presence at the top of the charts, from Tammy Wynette to J.J. Barrie to this…
But when the vocals come in, we move from country to schmaltzy. Well you can hear a country song from far, When someone plays a honky-tonk guitar… It’s a tribute to country music, an ode to the genre, and a love-letter to the USA’s most famous river. Mississippi, I remember you… Whenever I should go away, I’ll be longing for the day…
It’s the sort of song that you start to forget before it’s even finished. It’s very gentle, a pleasant enough stroll down the middle of the road, but it’s a bit dull. It makes you yearn for ABBA… But that’s not fair. We can’t go comparing songs to what went before! It is too long, though. I’ll state that with conviction. Times were four and a half minutes was record-breaking; now it seems to be the standard.
By the end, the band are bemoaning the fact that rock ‘n’ roll took over from C&W. The country song forever lost its soul, When the guitar player turned to rock and roll… Except, that’s patently not true. Rock ‘n’ roll was born from country (and jazz and the blues) – rock ‘n’ roll is country – plus here we are, with a country song at number one… So it can’t be that dead. We flutter to a finish, and I remain underwhelmed.
Pussycat were a Dutch band – which perhaps explains the schlager-heavy feel that this record has (they also, perhaps inevitably, recorded a version in German.) They were a seven piece, with what looks like three girls and four boys… (To be fair, they all have long hair and frills in the pictures I can find!) The best way I can describe them is like looking at a picture of ABBA after you’ve had a blow to the head. Still, they officially make 1976 the year of the mixed-gender pop group, after Brotherhood of Man and our aforementioned Swedes.
‘Mississippi’ was written by the band with the Bee Gees ‘Massachusetts’ in mind, and you can really hear the influence. Plus, it gives us our second #1 single named after a US State (and I’m happy to hear suggestions of others to come/that I’ve missed). They scored one more minor hit in the UK following this, but remained big in the Netherlands well into the ‘80s.
To finish, I think I have to crown ‘Pussycat’ as the worst band name to feature on this blog. It’s just… a ‘no’ from me. And Spotify seems to agree, as they have erroneously grouped this group’s back-catalogue with a trip-hop group of the same name, who’s last album was titled ‘Sexy Bondage Domination’…
*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…
I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for days. Last time out I wrapped up my post on Steve Harley, and had a quick listen to what was coming next. A song I had never heard before: ‘If’. I started taking notes… And, my word. This is why I started this blog, to discover chat-topping moments such as this. This is amazing.
If, by Telly Savalas (his 1st and only #1)
2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th March 1975
Or wait. Is it actually not amazing? Is it actually awful? This record somehow manages to straddle the gaping chasm between ‘amazing’ and ‘awful’ with perfect poise. It is pure car crash music. We listen, we wonder, our eyebrows keep rising, but we don’t press ‘stop.’
The first note I made was that there is ‘a spoken word intro’. Which keeps going, on and on, deeper and deeper into the song. Telly Savalas talks. Or, rather, he purrs and caresses his way through the record. If a picture, Paints a thousand words, Then why can’t I paint you…? My second note reads: ‘Is he ever going to sing…?’ The answer to which is ‘no’. If a face could launch a thousand ships, Then where am I to go…?
There have been ‘spoken word’ number ones. Think Baz Luhrmann, The Streets… But I thought we’d be waiting a while yet for our first one. Here it is, though. Curling suggestively from the lips of James Bond’s arch-nemesis. When life is running dry.. You come and pour yourself… On me… he growls, and I almost spit out my coffee.
What am I listening to? Seriously? This defies serious analysis. Couple it with the videos I’ve attached below, in one of which Telly lights a cigarette before reciting his hit single, all the while being watched by a ginormous floating Barbie doll head. And… Is he wearing a glittering, gold undershirt?
How and why did this come about? Was it simply a cash-in on Savalas’s fame as TV detective Kojak? Was it for a bet? A joke? Or was it because Telly was one cool sonofabitch who people didn’t dare say ‘no’ to? I’d go with that. I think people bought this record simply because they were worried he’d come round their house and rough them up.
So ridiculous is this song, it takes me several listens before I can focus enough on the lyrics, and notice that the apocalypse has come. If the world should stop revolving, Spinning, Spinning slowly down to die… I’d spend the end with you… ‘If’ was originally recorded by Bread – making this the second Bread cover to top the charts in the space of a few months – and while I’m loathe to describe Savalas’s version as ‘better’, it is certainly more memorable.
This is not on Spotify (Come on Spotify!) But that means you have a chance to enjoy the many spectacular performances Telly Savalas made of his sole chart-topper, on YouTube. I’ve attached a couple below. (I don’t normally do this, but these videos are genuinely too good to miss.) Once one finished, YouTube auto-played Lee Marvin’s ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ – I had clearly triggered some gravel-voiced, middle-aged actor-slash-singer from the 1970s algorithm.
A couple of other things worth mentioning: Telly Savalas was fifty-three when this made #1, meaning he shoves the likes of Marvin, Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour aside to become the second oldest chart-topper, behind Louis Armstrong. And ‘If’ remains to this day the shortest-titled chart-topping single ever. Whatever it lacks in length, though, it more than makes up for in pure, animal magnetism. Telly Savalas, ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy…
It’s time. A little later than you might have expected, but The Osmonds have their number one single.
Love Me For a Reason, by The Osmonds (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 25th August – 15th September 1974
It’s every bit as cheesy and tinkling as you might expect. It soars, it swoops, it blinds you with the whiteness of its teeth. Suddenly the UK charts sound very ‘American’, with three glossy, shining number ones in a row. But while George McCrae and The Three Degrees were pretty cool… this one really ain’t.
Don’t love me for fun girl, Let me be the one, girl… Love me for a reason, Let the reason be love… For the second time this year, we come to a #1 that I first heard as a child thanks to an Irish boyband. I knew ‘Seasons in the Sun’ through Westlife’s cover, I knew this thanks to their predecessors Boyzone, who took their ‘Love Me For a Reason’ to #2 in 1994.
If love ever-lasting, Isn’t what you’re asking… I’ll have to pass, girl, And be proud to take a stand… Maybe I’m showing my prejudices here, but isn’t it usually girls that sing about love that lasts? The Three Degrees, for example, were just asking when they’d see you again. Or there was Freda Payne lamenting broken promises on her wedding night. Guys are usually happy with, well, something more instant. But, The Osmonds were good ol’ Mormon boys that needed more than just physical attraction (their words.) All of which culminates in the spectacular line: My initial reaction is, Honey give me love, Not a facsimile of…
Any song that can crowbar the word ‘facsimile’ into its lyrics cannot be all bad and, to tell the truth, this is a decent pop song with a highly singalongable chorus. It also has one hell of a key change towards the end, that sounds as if a sound engineer accidentally leant on a dial. And, even though I introed this post by suggesting that The Osmonds had waited longer than most for their shot at #1, ‘Love Me for a Reason’ was only their sixth chart hit in the UK. It feels like a longer wait because, unusually, the solo Osmond(s) topped the charts long before the band. Donny’s been there three times, and Little Jimmy (while not technically a member of ‘The Osmonds’ at this point) has summited once.
The band would go on releasing albums until the end of the seventies, before splitting up and moving into different ventures. Donny would be the most successful, with his sister Marie. But this is it for them, in terms of topping the charts as a group. Just the one. And I’m sure most would agree that, if they could choose the one Osmonds disc they would allow to top the charts, it wouldn’t be this one. It would be… Well, I might just do a separate post on that very soon. Watch this space…
Just like that, it’s the mid-seventies! And to celebrate, here’s Track 1 from the best-selling album ‘Now That’s What I Call Mid-Seventies-Easy-On-The-Ear-Pop’.
You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me, by The New Seekers ft. Lyn Paul (their 2nd and final #1)
1 week, from 13th – 20th January 1974
Exactly two years ago, the New Seekers were assaulting us with their Coca-Cola advert-slash-call to arms, ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’. I didn’t like it. It was a catchy jingle stretched out way too long. This, though… This I like.
‘You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me’ (they did like a long song title, didn’t they?) popped up on a playlist a few years ago and I’ve had it on rotation since. It sashays in with a sassy sax, follows it up with some jaunty guitars, and adds some brilliant vocals from Lyn Paul.
You won’t find another fool like me, babe… No ya won’t… Who’ll sit around all night and wait for you… It’s not a subtle performance, not by any standards. She sets her stall out from the start and keeps it up till the very end. Even though you treat me like you do, babe… I’m so hooked on you I can’t get free… The best way I can describe her singing– and I mean this as a compliment, truly I do – is that she sounds like your mum, slightly drunk, doing karaoke at a wedding reception.
Just listen to the rasp as she growls the last Aahy’know darn wellyou’re foolin’… and the way she slurs the adlibs at the end… Are ya listenin’ to me? She’s loving every minute of this performance. It was the first time Paul had been given lead vocals on a New Seekers song, and she was clearly grabbing her chance by the ankles. Such was her performance that it got her a ‘featuring’ credit… Imagine if she’d got her chops around ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’! One of pop’s great ‘if only’s…
I wouldn’t go as far to describe this record as ‘perfect pop’, but it’s definitely an earworm, a tune you’ll be humming long after it’s ended. And that, when all is said and done, is what pop music should be. It doesn’t all have to change the world. ‘You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me’ is also the perfect example of a January chart-topper, one that grabbed its turn after the Christmas hits had fallen away but before the record companies had returned from their Christmas holidays. And I’m very glad it managed to sneak its week.
If anything, it’s redeemed The New Seekers for me, and in turn The Seekers before them (they didn’t share any members, but the former were formed by a member of the latter, if you get what I mean). The New Seekers would only have one further Top 10 hit in the UK, but they’re still going to this day – although with a fair few line-up changes. If this record proves one thing, it’s don’t judge a band by their biggest hit.
Young Love, by Donny Osmond (his 3rd and final #1)
4 weeks, from 19th August – 16th September 1973
Cast your mind all the way back to early 1957, when blue-eyed, all-American heartthrob Tab Hunter was crooning his way into the hearts of many with his own version of ‘Young Love’. I wasn’t keen on it then – and I quote: “I’ve listened to ‘Young Love’ several times now, trying to find something to like about it, but I can’t do it. It’s insipid. And that’s it” – and I ain’t much keener on it now.
It’s a pretty faithful cover – the same lullaby guitar and lyrics, with a few strings thrown in for that trademark Osmond schmaltz. Donny sounds like… Donny. It’s not as teeth-grindingly terrible as ‘The Twelfth of Never’, but it’s no ‘Puppy Love’. Who’d have thought, when I gave ‘Puppy Love’ it’s glowing review, that it would wind up being the best of Donny Osmond’s three chart-toppers!
No, I’m going to play nice. Yes, this is complete tripe, but as I say every time: I am not the target audience for it. Same way that I will not be the target audience for New Kids on the Block, Boyzone, Westlife or 1 Direction, when their times come. Plus, it’s a song by a fifteen year old kid. No way would I want any of the stupid things I did, said, wore, or released on 7” vinyl around the world, aged fifteen, held against me. I’ll let him be…
But then, oh Jesus, he starts talking. Even Tab Hunter didn’t go this far… Just one kiss, From your sweet lips, Will tell me that our love is real… Donny, son, you’re making it really hard for me to not write terrible things about you… You just know that this was the exact moment in the song where girls across the country leant in to give their Donny posters a good hard snogging.
It’s short, at least, two and a half minutes and we’re through. That’s it as far as this young man’s solo chart-toppers are concerned, though he does have one more #1 coming up soon with his brothers in tow. I feel we need write no more.
Except, I guess it’s interesting that back in the fifties, at the same time as Tab Hunter took this to the top first time around, right on the verge of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, that it was common for artists to cover songs from the twenties and thirties. Connie Francis took ‘Carolina Moon’ to the top, Bobby Darin did the same with ‘Mack the Knife’, while Tommy Edwards used an old melody in ‘It’s All in the Game’. This disc marks the first time, of many, that a former #1 will return to the top as a cover version. And, scarily, the 1950s are to the 1970s what the 1930s were to the ‘50s…
I know from the second I press play on our next number one that it is a song I’m going to enjoy. The intro alone is an example of such lavish, seventies, horns ‘n’ strings cheese that, despite knowing much, much better, I like it before the voices have even come in.
Welcome Home, by Peters & Lee (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 15th – 22nd July 1973
I’m so alone, My love, Without you… You’re part of everything I do… There’s a gentle, country and western twang in there too, adding to the sentimentality of it all. And then comes the chorus, and I’ve heard this song before. I know it, of course I do, because it’s the sort of chorus you’d know even if you’d never listened to music before. Welcome home, Wel-come… Come on in, And close the door…
‘Welcome Home’ makes the work of Tony Orlando – ‘Knock Three Times’, ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ and all that – seem subtle and understated. It is that cheesy. Listening to it, I immediately picture Elvis giving it the glitzy, jump-suited Vegas treatment. (Though to be honest, I can’t find any evidence of him ever singing it. Shame…)
Peters and Lee were a duo, obviously, but hearing this single it sounds more like a singer and his backing vocalist. The woman’s voice is much softer, and much further back in the mix. Lennie Peters had been a pianist and singer, travelling round pubs for gigs throughout the sixties. He was blind, having lost sight in one eye in a car crash aged five, and in the other aged sixteen, when a brick was thrown at him! He met Dianne Lee on the same pubs and clubs circuit. She was nearly twenty years younger, and dreamt of being a ballet dancer…
And if you were expecting a seedy story of exploitation and creepy age-gaps… You’ll have to wait (at least until our next #1…) For it seems that Peters and Lee were two people who simply enjoyed singing with one another. They entered a TV talent show called ‘Opportunity Knocks’, and the rest, as they say, is history. Two people for whom life might not have turned out quite as they’d hoped, but who suddenly found themselves at number one on the pop charts. Yes it’s sentimental, yes its ridiculously uncool, but it’s kind of lovely. As your nan would have said: “They don’t make ‘em like that anymore!”
I’m not quite sure what’s just happened. I should have approached this song much more cynically, but the more I listen to it the more I sway along. I better stop before I start claiming this is some kind of all-time classic. Peters & Lee had a few more hits, and kept intermittently recording and touring through to Peter’s death in 1992.
They also spent a good chunk of their time, in the later years, recording crappy karaoke-backing-track versions of their biggest hit. These are the only versions of ‘Welcome Home’ on Spotify; you have to go to YouTube, or your nearest record store, if you want it in all its original, schmaltzy glory. 1973 has truly been the year to ruin my #1s Blog Spotify playlist, and the situation probably won’t be helped by our next chart-topper…
Two years after their first #1 single, Tony and his ‘tache are back on top!
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree, by Dawn ft. Tony Orlando (their 2nd and final #1)
4 weeks, from 15th April – 13th May 1973
Back in ’71, he was asking his girl to ‘Knock Three Times’ if she felt like hooking up, now he’s asking her to ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree’ if she still loves him. He is evidently a man who needs things spelled out for him.
It starts with a tune that can certainly be described as ‘jaunty’. Yep, the dreaded ‘J’ word. It’s a melody that must be from something else, some old German schlager hit, so familiar does it sound. It sounds as if it’s been playing in the back of your mind for years and years and, now that you’ve brought it to the forefront, it’ll be going round and round in there for years to come.
I’m comin’ home, I’ve done my time… Tony’s been in prison for crimes undefined… Now I’ve got to know what is and isn’t mine… He’s written ahead, and given his girl instructions what to do if she’s still into him: Tie a yellow ribbon round the old oak tree, It’s been three long years, Do you still want me…? If he doesn’t see a ribbon, he’ll stay on the bus and make a new life wherever he winds up.
Yes, it is utter cheese. But it’s a cute concept, and the melody – that melody – is undeniable. There’s a simple reason why this was a huge worldwide smash: it’s pretty darn catchy. It gets a bit much in places – the harmonica solo, for example – but, as with ‘Knock Three Times’, Tony and co. just about get away with it.
The bus draws close to his hometown. The tension is too much, he can’t look and begs the driver to check for him. It reminds me of Tom Jones’s ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ in that it’s about a convict returning home to those he loves. Except, in that song it was all just a dream and he’s about to get shot at dawn. This one has a much happier ending…
For in verse three, we slow down, Tony drags it out: Now the whole damn bus is cheerin’, And I can’t believe I see… A hundred yellow ribbons round the old oak tree! A hundred! She must have really missed him (and forgiven whatever crimes he may or may not have committed.) Hurrah!
As before, Tony O’s backing singers don’t have very much to do, but they are two different singers from the band’s earlier #1. The ‘classic’ Dawn line-up of Tony, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent Wilson was in place by the time they released ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ They had a few more hits to come on the Billboard chart, and around the world (seriously, this is a band with huge appeal in non-English speaking countries, with their traditional melodies and simple lyrics) but in the UK this was their last really big one.
And no, surprisingly, this wasn’t based on the melody of some old German hit… It was fresh off the press – written in 1973 – though the idea of a loved one wearing yellow for the return of as soldier (or a convict) had been around in American folklore since the 1800s. Apparently the track was offered to Ringo Starr, but – and I love this – an Apple Records Exec. told the writers that they ‘should be ashamed of their ridiculous song’. What wasn’t good enough for Ringo was good enough for Sinatra, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby… basically any crooner worth their salt has covered it. It has, more seriously, been used as a protest anthem in the Philippines and Hong Kong, in which yellow ribbons have been symbols. So there! Dismiss this as fluff at your peril… Take it away, Tony, one last time…
For the first time in three hundred and twenty-two #1 singles… I find one that is not on Spotify. At least not in my ‘region’. I realise that this may be of no interest to anyone but me, but damn it if it hasn’t ruined the #1s Blog Playlist I attach at the foot of every post!
Clair, by Gilbert O’Sullivan (his 1st of two #1s)
2 weeks, from 5th – 19th November 1972
Actually, the fact that this isn’t on Spotify might be quite telling. Spotify might be on to something… Let me explain. First up, we have whistling. Whistling in pop records rarely leads to good things. (There are notable exceptions, I will admit, but still.) Clair, The moment I met you, I swear, I felt as if something somewhere, Had happened to me… The tune is jaunty but bittersweet, the production very soft-focus. It’s easy-listening – the softest of seventies soft-rock.
Who is Clair? Must be his girlfriend, right? A guy called Gilbert writes a song about a girl called Clair. Words mean so little, When you look up and smile… Yadda-yadda-yadda… I don’t care what people say to me, You’re more than a child… Wait a second. Plot twist. Why in spite of our age difference, Do I cry, Each time I leave you…
Ah… she’s his daughter. Which kind of excuses the cutesy shlock factor. He’s written a love song to his daughter. Aw… But no. The mystery of ‘Clair’ continues to unravel. Nothing means more to me than hearing you say, I’m going to marry you, Will you marry me Uncle Ray…? What now? Who’s Uncle Ray?? I give up, and resort to Wiki.
Where I discover that ‘Clair’ was the child of O’Sullivan’s producer, and Ray is Gilbert. He would sometimes babysit his friend/producer’s daughter. He has written a chart-topping single about a child he sometimes babysat for. Process that over the horrible harmonica solo…
It’s clever, I guess. It’s like a murder-mystery novel that keeps you guessing till the end. And it ends with a flourish – I quite like the lines in the final verse in which he’s trying to put Clair to bed: Get back into bed, Can’t you see that it’s late, No you can’t have a drink… It’s quite modern, like today’s beanie-hat wearing singer-songwriters picking lyrics out of the mundane. If Tom Walker wrote a song about babysitting, it might sound a bit like ‘Clair’.
But the final verse can’t redeem the song as a whole. It’s pretty terrible (and crucially, if you miss the bit about babysitting, it sounds super, super creepy…) And just to rubber-stamp this song’s terribleness, the real-life Clair giggles on the final note, like a doll in a horror movie. Oh Clair…
Gilbert (Raymond) O’Sullivan – I assume that he was going for a pun on ‘Gilbert & Sullivan’ with his stage name? – is an Irish singer-songwriter who had been scoring hits since a couple of years before his first #1. ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ had been his biggest hit earlier in the year: a #3 in the UK and huge #1 on the Billboard 100. He’ll have one more chart-topper in early ’73, with a song I already know and that I can confirm is much better than this.
One final note: ‘Clair’ was at #1 for the twentieth anniversary of the UK Singles Chart. We have covered two decades’ worth of chart-topping singles, plus a diversion or two, in just over two and a half years, since my first post on Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’! Well done to everyone who has been keeping up!