397. ‘Under the Moon of Love’, by Showaddywaddy

In my last post, I wrote about how Chicago had forced me to take soft-rock seriously, to appreciate the subtlety, and the craft. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ was such a lovely, well-made song that it was beginning to work…

Under the Moon of Love, by Showaddywaddy (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 28th November – 19th December 1976

But here come Showaddywaddy to undo all their good efforts. There goes subtlety, flying out the window. In comes thumping, rollicking, primary-coloured rock ‘n’ roll. The 1950s, reimagined by a toddler on a sugar high. Without seeing a picture of the band, you can instantly imagine the comedy quiffs, and the colourful teddy-boy suits.

Let’s go for a little walk…! Under the moon of love! I offer you these lyrics as lead singer Dave Bartram delivers them, with an emphatic exclamation mark after each line, after each word even: Let’s! Sit! Down and talk! Under the moon of love…! He’s having a great time with this song, which means the listener – as long as they’re willing to leave their musical snobbishness at the door – enjoys themselves by the same measure.

I hate the concept of ‘guilty pleasures’. But, yes. ‘Under the Moon of Love’ is prime guilty pleasures material. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is an objectively better piece of music, but I am enjoying this record ten times more. It’s fun, dammit! What I wouldn’t give for Showaddywaddy to invade the po-faced charts of 2021!

You were lookin’ so lovely… (Uh-huh-huh)… Because nothing says late-fifties doo-wop-slash-rock-n-roll like a well-placed ‘uh-huh-huh’… Under the moon of love! If you were being unkind, you could claim this as the final nail in glam rock’s coffin, the final fart of the corpse. The sound that can be dated right to the very start of this decade, in ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and ‘I Hear You Knocking’s fried guitar, through the huge-hitters like T Rex, Slade, Wizzard and The Sweet, down through Mud’s dancing, Gary Glitter’s prancing and The Rubettes’ falsettos. To this silly slice of rock ‘n’ roll revival.

Though to be fair, Showaddywaddy had been around since glam’s heyday, when their debut ‘Hey Rock and Roll’ peaked at #2. Since then they had revived Buddy Holly’s ‘Heartbeat’, and Eddie Cochran’s ‘Three Steps to Heaven’, while this, their only #1, kicked off a run of seven straight Top 5 hits lasting well into 1978, long after most of the big glam acts had fallen from the charts. They are still a-rocking to the this day, after a few line-up changes, on the oldies circuit.

As well as Eddie Cochran, they brought back the Kalin Twins’ ‘When’, and ‘Blue Moon’. But perhaps ‘Under the Moon of Love’ was the one that went all the way to the top simply because it wasn’t a big hit first time around. It was originally recorded by Curtis Lee in 1961, making #46 on the Billboard 100. It’s slightly better, in the way that originals usually are, while it was produced by an up and coming chap called Phil Spector.

Finally, Showaddywaddy’s turn at the top means we’ve now had a seven-piece (Pussycat), and two eight-pieces (Chicago and Showaddywaddy) atop the charts. Late ’76 seeing a reinvention of the term ‘big band’. But that run is about to come to an end, for the year’s final chart-topper is by a solo act. And I know it’s April, but we’re about to get a little festive…

384. ‘Forever and Ever’, by Slik

Our recent run of number one singles has taken us past some illustrious names, some of the pillars of pop history: Art Garfunkel, David Bowie, Queen, ABBA… now Slik…

Forever and Ever, by Slik (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 8th – 15th February 1976

Hmm. Initially I had to do a double take, as I thought it should have been ‘Silk’. Some smooth and silky, mid-seventies soul perhaps. But no, ‘Slik’ it is, and they kick off their one and only #1 single with some church organs, and some ominous chanting. I have genuinely never heard this song before…

When the vocals come in, they come in a Scottish accent. Make that two Scottish chart-toppers out of the past four. As it was in the beginning, Then so should it end… Are we at a funeral…? Don’t let a lover, Become just a friend… It’s quite new-wave, the synthy heartbeats and the half-spoken delivery.

Come chorus time, though, I am pleased to announce: glam is back. The bridge hints at it – the guitars start to growl as the singer builds it up in his best Glaswegian: didnae ya know, didnae ya feel… Then boom. It’s a chorus straight out of 1973, worthy of Wizzard or Eurovision-era ABBA: I dedicate to you, All my love, My whole life through, I’ll love you. Forever and ever…

As a declaration of love, it’s a bit much, a bit stalkery. As a pop song, it’s great. I’m really enjoying this. Why isn’t this on all the seventies ‘Best Ofs’, alongside ‘See Me Baby Jive’ and ‘Come Up and See Me’? The way it spins on a sixpence, from verse to chorus and back again, reminds me somehow of the old Johnny Preston hit from 1960, ‘Running Bear’, which also swung from goofy verses to rocking chorus.

By the end, the rock ‘n’ roll vibe has been boosted by doo-wop backing vocals, sealing this record’s place as a hidden gem I’m very glad to have discovered. Any song that descends into doo-wop backing vocals is fine by me. Slik were a band from Glasgow, and were fronted by James ‘Midge’ Ure (all the other band members took nicknames too: Oil Slik, Lord Slik and Jim Slik… a full twenty years before the Spices!) Ure, of course, is much better known as the frontman of Ultravox, who will famously never have a #1 single, and you can definitely hear the roots of his later work in this pop hit.

Slik were marketed as a new Bay City Rollers, and their hits were written by Bill Martin and Phil Coultier, who wrote many of the Rollers’ songs. This hit was turned down by the Rollers, after being recorded by 2nd rate glam rock outfit Kenny, eventually finding its way into Slik’s hands. I’d place ‘Forever and Ever’ as head and shoulders above either of the Bay City Rollers’ chart-toppers, or indeed any of their non-chart topping singles too. It’s a cracker. Slik faded away quickly, registering just once more on the Top 40, but their lead singer will be back in this countdown, in a decade or so.

382. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, by Queen

I have to admit, I’ve been putting off writing this entry. I mean, A) How do you say anything about ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ that hasn’t been said before? And B) When are you ever in the mood to sit and listen to it on repeat? (Though actually, I could probably play this one from beginning to end, in my head, from memory…)

Bohemian Rhapsody, by Queen (their 1st of six #1s)

9 weeks, from 23rd November 1975 – 25th January 1976

I can remember hearing this record for the first time. That must mean something, right? That must be proof of this song’s place in our lives? I was at the kitchen table, aged seven or so, playing with some Lego, and my dad was playing this, loud. And singing. My dad does not normally play music loud, or sing. So seven-year-old me sat up and took notice. What was this record that had turned my father into a headbanger?

Is this the real life, Is this just fantasy…? If I had to rate the three parts (or is it four?) of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, the first would be my favourite. Freddie’s voice… Mama, Just killed a man… and his luxuriant piano. The singer is haunted by his past, his crimes, and is setting out alone. Mama, Ooh-ooooh-ooh… If that was it, if this were a three-minute ballad, it’d still be great. But, of course, that is not it. ‘Tis but the amuse-bouche.

In comes Brian May, with the most outrageous piece of guitaristry in a #1 single since ‘Voodoo Chile’, and then… You know what comes next. This is the bit I remember hearing as a kid. You do have to step back and applaud the fact that the band managed to sandwich this bit into a pop single. In terms of the story, it represents, I think, the singer’s inner torment at what he’s done. Beelzebub, Has a devil put aside, For ME!

Then comes the head-banging section, the Wayne’s World bit, my second favourite part. It’s proper hard rock, almost heavy metal – a sound that we have very rarely heard in any of the previous 381 chart-toppers. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ really is a deeply strange strong, and a bizarre #1. But it is also so much a part of the furniture that people no longer stop to wonder what the hell it’s about. Is it a tale of a Faustian pact? Is it Mercury coming to terms with his sexuality? Or is it, as the band maintain, all nonsense?

And, for then the coda, it’s back to Freddie and his piano. The clincher. Any way the wind blows… Done, and exhale. The stories around the song’s recording and release are well-known: the record execs’ reluctance, Kenny Everett playing it on repeat… I enjoyed the scene in the recent movie – a movie that wasn’t as bad as everyone made out – where the band wonder if Freddie’s lost his mind while recording the Galileo! Galileo! part.

People always name ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ as one of the longest songs ever, and certainly one of the longest #1s. But it’s barely six minutes long, and feels even shorter, ranking it pretty far down the ‘long number ones’ list. Even ‘I’m Not In Love’, from earlier in 1975, went on for ten seconds more. What was long was its stay at the top of the charts. No record has spent nine weeks at #1 since ‘Rose Marie’ managed eleven, twenty years back. Add to that the fact that it will be back on top shortly after Freddie Mercury’s death, and we’re looking at one of the longest-running #1s, ever.

In my post on ‘Space Oddity’ – isn’t it amazing to think that these two classic records so nearly met one another atop the charts! – I named David Bowie as an artist woefully represented by his chart-toppers. Well, to that short list add Queen, who will only have two more before they lose their frontman, and then descend into some highly questionable duets by the turn of the century. All that to come…

Anyway, after I wrap this up I will go back to never choosing to listening to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, just hearing it by osmosis (and when forced to join in with it at karaoke nights…) I don’t hate it – it is an amazing piece of music – and yet I think it works best as a memory, of me aged seven, staring open-mouthed at my dad moshing around the living-room.

369. ‘Oh Boy’, by Mud

I gave Mud’s previous #1, the mopey ‘Lonely This Christmas’ a pretty negative write-up, and I’m afraid this ain’t going to be much more positive…

Oh Boy, by Mud (their 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 27th April – 11th May 1975

Rule number one for writing a post on a cover version: don’t just compare it to the original. (‘Oh Boy’, of course, was a huge 1958 hit for The Crickets, the follow-up to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, one of Buddy Holly’s blueprints in building the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.) It is a fine rule, most of the time.

But when the original is so seminal, so brilliant… Well, it’s impossible. Especially given how Mud suck all the life out of what was a scorching rock song, and reduce it to a funereal plod. You wait for the tempo to raise, for the band to reveal that they’ve been stringing us along and to crack into life, but nope… It just keeps lumbering along, like a buffalo stuck in a swamp.

I do like the hard rock guitars, I suppose, that give this record a bit of a pulse, and there is a new spoken word bit in the middle, by a very seductive sounding lady. All my life, I’ve been waiting, Tonight there’ll be no hesitation… The way she moans her Oh Boys is very Serge and Jane. On the whole, though, I’m left asking ‘why?’ I’m all for trying something different, putting a new spin on an old song. And who knows, maybe if Mud had gone for a straight cover version I’d have called the attempt sacrilege? It’s just… very lifeless.

By the end, the tempo has slowed even further. It is now a certified funeral chant, the instruments having faded and the band going it alone and a capella. I’ve been saying it for a while now, but glam rock is dying a slow death. Time to stub the cigarette out and be done with it. The frustrating thing is… Mud had way better songs than this that didn’t get to number one. ‘The Cat Crept In’, ‘Dyna-mite’… They even did much better covers than what they’ve attempted here: their take on ‘In the Mood’ is silly fun, while their version of Elvis’s ‘One Night’ is what ‘Lonely This Christmas’ should have sounded like.

A frustrating band, then, Mud. Not in the top league of glam, but a solid promotion contender. If you want to know hear more from their back-catalogue, I’d skip ‘Oh Boy’ and crack on with the songs I listed above. And of course their one, true classic: ‘Tiger Feet’. We can forgive everything when we remember ‘Tiger Feet’… Hilariously, on Spotify, Mud’s back-catalogue has been combined with that of Müd (note the umlaut), a hardcore trance act with songs like ‘Fuck It’s Hot’. At least, I assume they’re not the same band… Who knows what directions they went in when the hits dried up…

Follow along with every number one so far…

365. ‘January’, by Pilot

(Isn’t this the perfect song for my first post of January 2021?) Back in 1975, making it to the top just in time, with five days to spare: ‘January’, by Pilot. (And don’t think I didn’t notice the perfect coincidence of our first month-themed #1 also being chart-topper #365.)

January, by Pilot (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 26th January – 16th February 1975

For the first time in what feels like an age, we have some glam rock in the top spot. I make this the first glam #1 since Gary Glitter’s ‘Always Yours’ in June last year. (Was David Essex’s ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ glam…? A question for the ages, but I’m going to err on the ‘no’ side.) Not that ‘January’ is all that glam. We’re not suddenly back in mid-1972, alas. But there are handclaps, for a start. And some flamboyant guitar flourishes.

It also qualifies as glam, for me, because of its nonsensical lyrics. January, Sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me… (Respect to Pilot here, for having the audacity to rhyme ‘January’ with ‘hanging on me’) You make me sad with your eyes, You’re telling me lies… Anyone who’s lived through a British January – and Pilot were Scottish, which means they’d have known some truly miserable Januarys – can sympathise.

 I think the singer just wants the summer to hurry up and arrive: Sun, Like a fire, Carry on, Don’t be gone… But then there are ways he humanises this calendar month – January, Don’t be cold, Don’t be angry with me… – that make me think ‘January’ might be a lover. Then there are lines like: You’ll be facin’ the world…! You’ll be chasin’ the world… that don’t fit either narrative.

What we have here, probably, is nothing more than a catchy pop song with some lyrics arranged semi-coherently. The Noel Gallagher method of songwriting, you might call it… Pop at its disposable best. There’s a hook, a beat to tap your feet to, and a chorus that’ll stay in your head for a while. And sometimes that’s enough.

Pilot were from Edinburgh, and ‘January’ was the follow-up to the (much better, and definitely 100% glam) ‘Magic’. That, amazingly, had only made #11 late in ’74, but I’d suggest that this chart-topper was riding the wave created by that earlier hit. They had a few other, smaller hits, and lasted three albums, before splitting. The members of Pilot, though, have quite the legacy, having been involved with The Alan Parsons Project, produced for Kate Bush, and written for Westlife.

I’m pretty sure that this is the first and only time that a record has reached the top of the charts during the month it’s named after. ‘November Rain’ was not a #1 (and was released in March…), ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ should have been a #1, as it is a stone-cold classic, but no… In fact, I’ve just checked and bonus points shall be awarded if you can name the only other #1 record with a month in the title… (Hint: it’s coming up pretty soon…)

362. ‘Lonely This Christmas’, by Mud

And so we reach, and pass, the midway point of the 1970s. But not with a song that faces forward, pointing the way into a bright new sonic future. Oh no, this next hit draws heavily, very heavily, a little too heavily, on what went before…

Lonely This Christmas, by Mud (their 2nd of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th December 1974 – 12th January 1975

Bum-bum-bum-bum… Finally, Christmas in the real world and Christmas in my countdown coincide. Bum-bum-bum-bum… Of the four explicitly Christmas-themed #1s so far, this is the first I’ve posted in December. And what an appropriate song for this sad, socially distant festive season: It’ll be lonely this Christmas, Without you to hold, It’ll be lonely this Christmas, Lonely and cold…

This time last year, Slade were giving us pure Xmas escapism. This year, though, Mud are wallowing in misery. There’s no other word: it’s a miserable song. Obviously, you expect a record called ‘Lonely This Christmas’ to be sad, bittersweet, maybe even a little maudlin. But not this bad. I really don’t see the appeal of listening to this over a glass of mulled wine. The only things I see, Are emptiness, And loneliness, And an unlit Christmas tree…

It is possible to write a good-but-sad Christmas song. ‘Last Christmas’ would be the classic example. Then there’s Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’, which admittedly is more sexy than sad. And Elvis is a relevant comparison here, as Mud’s lead singer Les Gray is serving his best impersonation of The King in the vocals (and the famous TOTP performance below). He goes full ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ when we come to the spoken word section: Remember last year, When you and I were here…? Just why someone from Carshalton had to put on such a strong American accent is unclear, though I guess it would have taken away from the Elvis vibes.

I’ve heard it said that this song might have proven more popular than usual in 2020, and would maybe head higher up the streaming charts thanks to the pandemic. But it appears people are simply doubling down on Mariah Carey and Brenda Lee, and who can blame them? If your Christmas actually is miserable, and lonely, then you don’t need reminding through song. As for me, I’ve always included this in my festive playlists out of habit, because it was a huge seventies Christmas #1. I’m deleting it, though, right now. (Or at least replacing it with this pop-punk cover version.)

The big question here is: what happened to the band that recorded ‘Tiger Feet’? Where did they go? Can they come back? ‘Lonely This Christmas’ is everything Mud’s first, glorious chart-topper isn’t. If only they could have recorded a Christmas hit with the energy and enthusiasm of ‘Tiger Feet’… If only. By the end, when we get a ‘Jingle Bells’ coda, and a Merry Christmas darlin’, Wherever you are… I’m done. That’s plenty. After an autumn of disco, glam rock is really starting to show its age…

Still, Mud aren’t done. Not quite yet. I’ll hold off on the bio for now. Coming up next, in my final post before Christmas, we’ll visit a festive classic that really should have been a #1…

351. ‘Always Yours’, by Gary Glitter

When I first saw Gary Glitter’s third and final #1 looming on my list, I assumed it would be a ballad. ‘Always Yours’. A Glitterballad. A cod-Elvis croonathon. I was bracing myself…

Always Yours, by Gary Glitter (his 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 16th – 23rd June 1974

Except, it’s another foot tapper. Glitter clearly didn’t do ballads. (OK, he did, they just didn’t get to number one.) I’m getting Mud (the that’s me, that’s me lines are straight outta ‘Tiger Feet’) through Shakin’ Stevens vibes. Also, hints of Adam Ant. Considering that the latter two acts are a decade away from arriving on the scene, we can conclude that Gary Glitter was a bit of an influence. He wasn’t always, I have to keep reminding myself, just a creepy paedo.

You know, I know, I’ll never never let you go… It’s a frantic record that races through its three minute allocation. The glitter stomp drumbeat has been sped up to raucous rockabilly levels. There are handclaps, pianos, and Glitter’s frenzied vocals. He certainly was an energetic performer. Al-ways Yo-ours…

As with all his #1s, you don’t have to look very hard before finding lines that sound dodgy in hindsight. I’m a scream, A teenage dream… he yelps. Which is rich, coming from a man in his mid-thirties. We’ve come full circle, from the days of thirty-something Bill Haley rocking around the clock to Glitter and Alvin Stardust dancing about in sparkly jumpsuits. When the kids have moved on you know a style is on its way out…

But ‘Always Yours’ is a perfectly reasonable slice of late-era glam. It is undeniably catchy; though I would rate it worst out of his three chart-toppers. I had never ever heard it before, and I probably never will again without choosing to. I won’t be doing a Gary Glitter Top 10, or a Remembering Gary Glitter when he passes. He has been jailed for possessing child pornography, for child sexual abuse and attempted rape. We’ll leave him here. (Actually, not really. We’ll have cause to mention him when we arrive at a couple of 80s #1s.)

It is interesting, however. Why has Gary Glitter been so completely erased from British pop music history, when others with similar allegations to their name haven’t? Plenty of huge stars from the sixties and seventies have their accusers… Jagger, Bowie… while Pete Townshend got caught ‘researching’ a book on child abuse. They all still get played on the radio. Is it as simple as Glitter got convicted? Then there’s Michael Jackson. Again, no conviction, but enough evidence and testimony for us to conclude that something unsavoury was going on at Neverland. His music’s still played, for the most part. Phil Spector, currently in prison for murder, will have his Christmas hits played this year; Glitter’s ‘Rock n Roll Christmas’ will not be getting a spin.

Does it then, ultimately, come down to snobbery? Are we willing to overlook artists’ indiscretions, as long as they make ‘good’ music? Gary Glitter was always a bit of a prat, a clownish character, who released disposable pop music. Same goes, to an extent, for R. Kelly, who in recent years has undergone a similar cancelling. I’m not advocating a rehabilitation of Gary Glitter. He’s clearly a nasty piece of work. I’m just amazed at how sudden and complete his fall from grace was. Even in the mid-1990s he was being sampled by Oasis on the opening track of the decade’s biggest album. He was due a cameo in The Spice Girls movie, which had to be re-shot last-minute following his ill-fated trip to PC World. Then, cut. Finished. One of Britain’s biggest pop stars was Britain’s public enemy number one. That, as they say, was that.

349. ‘Sugar Baby Love’, by The Rubettes

I described the previous chart-topper – ABBA’s glorious ‘Waterloo’ – as a ‘sugar rush’ of a song. It is replaced now at the top of the charts by what I’ll call a ‘sugar overdose’ of a song.

Sugar Baby Love, by The Rubettes (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 12th May – 9th June 1974

Why does ‘Waterloo’ work, while this doesn’t? Both songs are constructed from the same ingredients: power chords, sturdy drums, backing vocals and a big glance back to the pop of the early sixties. But ‘Waterloo’ leaves you soaring, and ‘Sugar Baby Love’ leaves you feeling icky. I am not a songwriter; but if I was I bet I’d be forever chasing and missing that fine, fine line between ‘catchy’ and ‘cheesy’.

This record starts promisingly enough, with ‘Twist and Shout’ Aaaahs that overlap and ascend. But then, fifteen seconds in, a falsetto so high and piercing that it knocks you sideways arrives. Sugar baby love, Sugar baby lo-ove, I didn’t mean to make you blue… The singer is trying to suck up to his sweetheart, trying to apologise for an unspecified misdemeanour. If was them, I’d have stuck to a letter or a phone-call. You can imagine someone performing this outside a girl’s bedroom window at night – and hopefully getting the police called on them.

Yes, All lovers make, The same mistakes, As me and you… It is another sad milepost on glam rock’s descent into the hands of rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts. In 1974, Slade went harder, Bolan went experimental (and started missing the Top 10), while Bowie was starting to look towards soul sounds on ‘Young Americans’. The Rubettes know what side they’re on, though: the backing singers keep up a persistent shoo-waddywaddy, shoo-waddywaddy throughout (though Showaddywaddy themselves turned this track down when it was offered to them!)

And yet, I do have a very high-tolerance for cheesy pop. I can’t hate this song, no matter what it represents. My feet are tapping along quite happily. However, I have an extremely low tolerance for spoken word sections in pop songs and, of course, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ has to go there. People, Take my advice, If you love someone, Don’t think twice… **shudder**

The Rubettes were a group basically put together to promote this record, which had been recorded by session musicians (shades of Alvin Stardust). It had been written for the soundtrack of a rock ‘n’ roll, jukebox musical that never saw the light of day. Which means that singer Paul Da Vinci (not his actual name), whose falsetto makes such a statement in the intro, was never actually a member of the band. They had a few other hits, with titles like ‘Juke Box Jive’, which sound like filler from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, and still tour to this day in various iterations, thanks to a big court case twenty or so years ago where all the members tried to get The Rubettes name for themselves… If I were them I’d have been fighting to become disassociated from it…

348. ‘Waterloo’, by ABBA

And entering, stage right: some genuine pop music legends.

Waterloo, by ABBA (their 1st of nine #1s)

2 weeks, from 28th April – 12th May 1974

Are ABBA the best pop group ever? Like, pure pop? Well, they get my vote. I will not hear a bad word spoken against them. And these days, you don’t often hear much bad spoken about ABBA – they’ve shaken off the image that they were fit only for gay bars and hen nights, and have assumed their rightful place in the pantheon. Everyone loves ABBA. But… I’m writing as if wrapping up their final chart-topper; not introducing their first. To business!

It is perfect, the manner in which Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid shoot out the blocks on their first #1. ‘Waterloo’ is not a record that takes its time to reveal its charms. It’s a wham, bam, thankyou ma’am sort of pop song. It won the Eurovision Song Contest, for God’s sake: a feat not often achieved through subtle means. The churning bass, the thumping piano… My, my! At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender…

For a band that specialised in camp melodrama, this opening line – comparing their love for someone to an 19th Century military leader’s last stand – is as camp and melodramatic as it comes. Oh yeah! And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way… Cue one of the catchiest choruses ever recorded: Waterloo! I was defeated you won the war, Waterloo, Promise to love you for ever more… (A big part of this song’s success, I think, is the way they pronounce the title in their Swedish accents: Wardahloo! With added emphasis on the ‘ooh’.)

It’s pointless looking for the hook here. The entire song is a two minute forty eight second long hook. The ridiculous saxophone licks, the woah-woah-woahs, the pounding piano ‘n’ drum intros to each chorus, something the band admits were ripped straight from Wizzard’s ‘See My Baby Jive’. ‘Waterloo’ is a huge, unashamed sugar rush of a song. Perfect, perfect pop.

In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated once and for all, and exiled to the south Atlantic. In 1974, Agnetha and Anna-Frid give in and admit their love. As they put it in the song’s best line: So how can I ever refuse? I feel like I win when I lose! (The writers of ‘Mamma Mia – The Musical’ clearly gave up on trying to shoe-horn a song about a two-hundred year old battle into the story, and stuck in at the very, very end, as an encore.)

As a kid, this was my favourite track on ‘ABBA Gold’. It is no longer my favourite ABBA song, but it is the perfect first chart-topper for the band. They would go on to reach much greater heights of subtlety and sophistication; though it’s debatable whether they wrote a catchier hit. Meanwhile, it was also voted as the greatest Eurovision song for the contest’s 50th anniversary.

This hit proved to be a bit of a false start for ABBA, though. They struggled to follow ‘Waterloo’ up, in the UK at least, and we’ll have to wait almost two more years for their next #1. Once that arrives, however, there will be no looking back. It feels like we’ve entered a new phase in our journey through the chart-toppers… It’s the mid-seventies, and we’ve finally met the decade’s greatest band!

346. ‘Billy – Don’t Be a Hero’, by Paper Lace

There are two things that never bode well at the start of a new #1 single: a marching band drumbeat, and whistling. And what do we have here… A new #1 single that begins with a marching band drumbeat and whistling.

Billy – Don’t Be a Hero, by Paper Lace (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st March 1974

Before starting this blog, I never for a moment suspected that songs about soldiers going to/coming back from war would be such a prominent sub-genre of #1s. I count four: ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, ‘Distant Drums’, ‘Two Little Boys’, ‘Yellow River’, and that’s just off the top of my head. Now make that five…

The marching band came down along Main Street, The soldier blues fell in behind… The song is sung not from the soldier’s POV, nor from his fiancé’s, but from that of a nameless observer. He sees the lovely fiancé begging her boy not to go: Billy, don’t be a hero, Don’t be a fool with your life… Come back and make me your wife…

To cut a long story short, or at least to paraphrase the second verse, Billy is just too darn heroic. He volunteers to ride out on a special, incredibly dangerous mission. The song doesn’t have to specify what happens next… There’s one obvious connection to make here, as there is with nearly all the ‘#1s about war’ – Vietnam. This hit the top as US involvement in the war was drawing to an end, and after most popular support for the conflict had died away.

And tellingly, when his fiancé gets the letter telling her of Billy’s death, and that she should be proud of him, she doesn’t get it framed, or keep it under her pillow… I heard she threw that letter away… Cue marching band, whistling, and a fade-out. It’s actually quite powerful, and it’s a shame the rest of the song sounds like something a window-cleaner would whistle while he works.

Away from songs about soldiers, other similar chart-topping subgenres include ‘men in prison/on death row’ and ‘men who die in car/plane crashes’. I say similar, because all three involve blokes doing brave, strong, manly things while their sweethearts pine all doe-eyed after them, and all three lend themselves to mawkish, sentimental ballads. ‘Billy – Don’t Be a Hero’ isn’t the worst of them, but it’s not the best either.

Paper Lace were a covers band from Nottingham, who had been around since the late sixties. They entered ‘Opportunity Knocks’ – the same talent show that gave us Peters & Lee – and were given this song to record as a result. (See, 2nd rate MOR, made for TV chart-toppers weren’t invented by ‘Pop Idol’ and ‘X Factor’!) They would have a handful more hits, one of which – ‘The Night Chicago Died’ – hit #1 in the US. (‘Billy…’ was also a US #1, but for a completely different band: Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods.) ‘Billy’ was Paper Lace’s biggest UK hit, and while it does have some nice glam-guitar flourishes to keep it sounding quite current, it commits the crime of fading without a final, rousing go at the chorus. Meh.

(The version in the video below and the version in my Spotify playlist differ, and I have no idea which is the original.