Never Had a #1… The Eagles

Our 3rd and final #1-less act of the week. The Eagles are a band I was weaned on, a band that soundtracks huge swathes of my childhood, a band that can genuinely make me tear-up… To mis-quote a famous Dude: I love the fuckin’ Eagles…

I understand that not everyone shares my feelings on The Eagles. Certain long-time followers of this blog have already made their feelings clear. To them, and many others, they represent the very doldrums of 1970s rock: cliched, arrogant, overblown, coke-addled… Except, I happen to like my rock music arrogant, overblown, coke-addled and cliched, so… let’s crack on!

There is a massive disparity between The Eagles chart success in the UK and in the US. In the US they enjoyed five chart-topping singles. In the UK they struggled to get five Top 40 hits. Here are their five biggest (in inverted commas…)

‘One of These Nights’ – reached #23 in 1975

Long before Rod Stewart and the Stones pissed off the rock snobs by going disco, The Eagles got in there first. But the slinky, purring bass in the intro is great, and the falsetto in the chorus can teach The Bee Gees a thing or two. The Eagles aren’t always remembered for their lyrics – barring that over-quoted line about checking out anytime – but I think: I’ve been searching for the daughter of the devil himself… is a cracking one. I can imagine that if you hate The Eagles then you really hate this one… But it’s fine. Far from my favourite, though.

‘Lyin’ Eyes’ – reached #23 in 1975

I grew up in small-town Scotland, so all the cultural references in the Eagles’ songs passed my by, as did a lot of the snobbery towards them. I just listened, as my Dad sang along (my Dad does not sing along often), and enjoyed them. I struggle to see how you can justify not enjoying ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ easy goin’ melody and storyline. Lines like: City girls just seem to find out early, How to open doors with just a smile… And… She wonders how it ever got so crazy, She thinks about a boy she knew in school… While the harmonising is at Everly Brothers level. But, you know, whatever floats your boat.

‘New Kid in Town’ – reached #20 in 1977

There are a few individual moments that make ‘New Kid in Town’ a masterpiece, and probably my favourite Eagles song (after ‘Desperado’, obviously). They all come towards the end, making it a slow-burn of a tune. There’s the build up through to the Tears on your shoulder… line, the moment that the guitars go ominously heavy on Where you been lately? as the new new kid in town shows up, and the ‘ad-libs’ as the song meanders to a close: I don’t wanna hear it… Everybody’s talking, People started walkin’… Pure bliss.

‘Take It to the Limit’ – reached #12 in 1975

I think The Eagle’s biggest British hit is going to be quite obvious… But for ‘Take It to the Limit’ to come in as their 2nd highest chart placing seems odd. It’s another nice one, a bit more soft-soul than much of their stuff, with another classic line in: You can spend all your time makin’ money, You can spend all your love makin’ time… (which makes no sense and complete sense simultaneously). But this, over ‘Take It Easy’ (did not chart), ‘Best of My Love’ (ditto), or ‘Desperado’ (never even released as a single!)?

‘Hotel California’ – reached #8 in 1977

The Eagles only Top 10 had to be this one, right? Apparently an allegory for the debauchery and excess of the Los Angeles elite. As I wrote in my post on Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, this track has become a pillar of rock ‘n’ roll, played to the point where we have become insensitive to it. But try, if you can, to feel. That intro, instantly recognisable yet always ominous. The mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice and the pretty, pretty boys, as if one of Jay Gatsby’s parties has taken a sinister turn. The warm smell of colitas… (What the hell are ‘colitas’ anyway?) The guitar solo, that I can sing along to as if it were actual lyrics, and often voted as one of the best ever. And, of course, you can’t talk about ‘Hotel California’ without mentioning the fact that you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave… An entire Gothic novel in six and a half minutes of reggae-tinged rock. Overplayed? Definitely. Perfection? Quite probably.

Never Had a #1… The Carpenters

Part II of our mini-series on artists who have never had a UK #1 single, despite hits-a-plenty… And it’s a slight change in musical tack.

As much as I can find plenty to admire in Bob Dylan, I’ve often found his giant back-catalogue slightly daunting. Where to begin? With Karen and Richard Carpenter, however, you know where you stand. A huge chart presence throughout the early to mid seventies, here are their five biggest hits that never quite made it to the top…

‘Only Yesterday’ – reached #7 in 1975

The Carpenters were on cruise control here, with one of their later hits. I can’t help notice that it recycles the best bits from earlier releases (‘Goodbye to Love’s guitar, ‘Yesterday Once More’s nod to sixties girl-groups). Still, Karen Carpenter could, as they say, sing the phonebook and it would still be worth listening to.

‘(They Long to Be) Close to You’ – reached #6 in 1970

The duo’s breakthrough came with this cover of a Bacharach and David number, which went all the way to the top on the Billboard 100 and firmly planted itself in the UK Top 10. To me it’s a quintessentially sixties song, having been around since ’63 and having passed through hands as illustrious as Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield. However, the video above screams ‘1970!!!’ louder than anything else I can imagine. Just look at Karen perched in that ‘U’, like a lovesick puppy… It gave The Carpenters a sound and an aesthetic that they kept for the rest of their career.

‘Top of the World’ – reached #5 in 1973

The Carpenters were a popular band in the UK and the US. Never ‘cool’ but, y’know, well-liked by many. Spend some time in Asia, however, and you start to view them in a new light. I soon came to realise how huge The Carpenters were/still are here… In Thailand, in Japan, in Hong Kong and the Philippines… You hear them in restaurants, in shops, on TV and, more than anything, at karaoke bars… Why? Well, as cliched as it sounds: their lyrics are simple, and easy to make out, and there ain’t nothing controversial about them. And ‘Top of the World’ is the epitome of this easy-listening accessibility.

‘Please Mr. Postman’, reached #2 in 1974

What’s worse than this middle of the road cover of The Marvelettes’ 1961 hit being The Carpenters’ joint biggest chart hit? The fact that it was voted ‘The Nation’s Favourite Carpenters Song’ in an ITV poll! The British public proving once again that they cannot be trusted in large-scale voting situations…

‘Yesterday Once Again’, reached #2 in 1973

Another fave in the karaoke bars of Asia… Apparently The Carpenters are the 3rd highest selling foreign act in Japanese history, behind The Beatles and Mariah Carey (blame that bloody Xmas song!) Now an oldie but a goody itself, and a song that sums up everything that people either love or hate about The Carpenters, ‘Yesterday Once More’ lives on in every sha-la-la-la and shinga-linga-ling… As does Karen’s voice, one of the most effortlessly beautiful to have ever graced the charts.

One more ‘Never Had a #1…’ tomorrow. Another American band, huge in the ’70s, that can perhaps lay claim to being the biggest-selling act never to hit the top spot…

Never Had a #1… Bob Dylan

For my next three posts, I’ll be returning to a feature I tried out last year… The biggest bands and artists – who’ve sold millions and are beloved by billions – but who’ve never made it all the way to the top of the UK singles chart.

First up. A Nobel prize winning songwriter who put the concerns of an entire generation into his early records, who has featured twice in my countdown as a songwriter (‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘The Mighty Quinn’), who celebrated his 80th birthday just yesterday, and whose singing style I once heard described as sounding ‘as if he were sitting on top of a washing machine going at full spin’…

Bob Dylan has never been much of a singles artists but, at least early in his career, he was a consistent presence in the charts. Here are his handful of Top 10 singles:

‘The Times They Are A-Changin”, and ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, both #9 in 1965

1965 was Dylan’s most prolific year on the singles chart with four Top 10 singles – including this pair. One is a rousing clarion call to the young, telling the old fogeys to get out of their way… The order is rapidly fading… It sounds a bit preachy now, and the acoustic guitar and harmonica combo grate on me after a while. File under: Of Cultural Significance.

The latter single is much more fun, and has a very famous attempt at a music video. As the name hints, it’s a short, sharp bluesy number and where ‘The Times…’ is looking forward, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is looking up from the gutter. It drips with sarcasm and cynicism. The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handles… They certainly did. ‘What??’ the last card reads as Bob swaggers off, too cool for school.

‘Positively 4th Street’, #8 in 1965

Probably my favourite of this bunch. Any song that opens with a line like: You got a lot of nerve, To say you are my friend… is going to be fun. Bob has a bone to pick! With whom exactly has been the subject of much discussion, but the consensus is that he’s taking aim at the critics of his move away from the acoustic folk of ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” and ‘Blowing in the Wind’ (4th Street runs through Greenwich Village, and the clubs where Dylan made his name).

‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35’, #7 in 1966

Some people don’t like this song. Possibly because it sounds like Dylan and his band were having a lot of fun making it, and Bob Dylan’s music should at all times be taken SERIOUSLY! He’s a Nobel prize winner for God’s sake! Whatever. Apparently he insisted that everybody taking part in the recording of ‘Rainy Day Women’ be highly intoxicated, and it certainly has a boozy, woozy, last day of spring break feel to it. A ‘rainy day woman’, I have literally just learned, was 1950s slang for a doobie. Dylan claims that this isn’t a ‘drug song’. Except… Everybody must get stoned!… he shouts, as the band whoop and holler behind him. Radio stations at the time certainly had their suspicions, and many refused to play what turned out to be one of his biggest hits.

‘Lay Lady Lay’, #5 in 1969

His most recent Top 10 hit. Oftentimes Dylan’s lyrics are pretty oblique, but this one seems pretty clear. He wants his girl to stay, to lay across his big brass bed. That line, in the wrong hands, could sound ridiculous… But here it’s a sweet sentiment in a sweet song.

‘Like a Rolling Stone’, #4 in 1965

One of the foundation pillars of rock music. This tale of a spoiled rich girl whose life has fallen apart gave Dylan his biggest chart hit in the UK. It sounds a lot like ‘Positively 4th Street’, both in terms of the organ and the barely concealed sarcasm. And again, there has been a lot of debate over just who the song is about, but it has definitely not got anything to do with The Rolling Stones. At six minutes long, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was, at the time, one of the longest singles ever released.

Another #1-less artist coming up tomorrow – one that can’t compete with Bob Dylan’s legacy and influence, but that certainly has a better voice…

Never Had a #1 Hit… Ricky Nelson

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

I wanted to include an early rock ‘n’ roller in this feature, and the obvious one would have been Little Richard. But, as legendary a figure as Richard was, a lot has been written about him since his death a fortnight ago. And, in terms of chart hits without reaching top-spot, one star of the late fifties and early sixties stands out even more…

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Look at those eyes! Nelson was quite ridiculously good-looking. The son of two well-known celebrities of the 1930s and 40s, he made his way in typical teen-idol fashion, first through radio sitcoms as a child, then TV shows and films as a teenager, and then, in 1957, he released his first single, aged seventeen. He scored tons of Billboard Top 10 hits, as well as two #1s, and while he wasn’t as successful in the UK, here are his five biggest:

‘Travellin’ Man’ / ‘Hello Mary Lou’, #2 in 1961

A pretty standard, Neil Sedaka-ish early sixties pop song for the first half of this double-‘A’, in which Nelson sings about the girls he has around the world. He’s got a little Eskimo girl in Alaska, and a China-doll in ol’ Hong Kong. Simpler times, simpler times…

A much better song on the flip side: a rolling country beat and a simple tale of falling in love with a pretty young gal called Mary-Lou.

‘It’s Late’, #3 in 1959

Great, light rock ‘n’ roll song, and a common theme for the time: a young couple stay out past their curfew, and dad’s gonna be mad. Ricky hopes this won’t be their last date…

‘Poor Little Fool’, #4 in 1958

Another fifties standard. His first US #1, and the new chart-topper on the first-ever Billboard Hot 100. Not his greatest song, though. A little dull. Nice enough. Next.

‘Someday’, #9 in 1958

Suspiciously similar in theme and sound to Connie Francis’s ‘Who’s Sorry Now’… The follow-up to ‘Poor Little Fool’ was an older country song given a light rock ‘n’ roll makeover, which is how around fifty percent of the chart-toppers in 1958 came about.

To be honest, Ricky Nelson’s biggest hits aren’t his best. I love his version of ‘Fools Rush In’, and his sarcastic seventies comeback ‘Garden Party’. And then there is the majestic ‘Lonesome Town’ – one of the 1950’s sparsest, most haunting hit records. As the sixties progressed, he dropped the ‘y’ from his name as the hit singles and big movie roles dried up. He struggled through a very messy divorce, and drug problems, before dying in a plane crash in 1985.

Hope you enjoyed this short interlude. I’ll do another three artistes-sans-#1s in the autumn…

 

Never Had a #1 Hit… The Doors

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

Up today… One of the sixties’ most iconic bands…

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I dunno about The Doors, really. Do I like them? Were they as good, or as bad, as people say? They’re a band that seem to inspire extreme reactions, based around whether you think Jim Morrison was a lizard-leather-sex-God, or a bit of an arse.

Plus, most of the Doors’ songs that I enjoy never made it to the British charts – ‘Touch Me’, ‘Love Her Madly, ‘Love Me Two Times’, ‘People Are Strange’… In fact, for such an iconic, influential band, they only ever had four charting singles in the UK Top 75! Which shocked me, I have to admit. Here they are:

‘Light My Fire’, #7 in 1967

A US #1, and their only Top 10 hit in Britain. A sixties classic, and a pretty simple song really. It’s either about sex, or drugs, or both, with a snazzy Louis XIV riff to start and end. I like that the backdrop to this performance in the video is lots and lots of doors hanging on the wall. (Meanwhile, ‘Light My Fire’ will top the charts, much later, and in a very different version.)

‘Hello, I Love You’, #15 in 1967

Another US #1 – part of the reason why I chose The Doors for this feature is the difference between their success in the two countries – with a cool riff and some trippy sound-effects. There was only three years between ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ and this and, while they cover the same topic, the difference in sound is quite something.

‘Riders on the Storm’, #22 in 1971

A seven-minute-long bit of self-indulgence, if you ask me… But the band’s 3rd highest charting single in the UK!

‘Break On Through (To the Other Side)’, #64 when re-released in 1991

This is more like it. Quiet, then loud – loud, then quiet. Morrison sounds raw and ferocious, before the drugs took their toll. And that was it. Four hits (if you can call reaching #64 in the charts, twenty years later, a ‘hit’.) They’re a band that managed to go a long way – and become pretty legendary – without much of a back catalogue. Style and looks over substance?

One more chart-topper-less artist, coming up tomorrow…. And we’re going back a little further to find him. A rock ‘n’ roll idol, dead now, (and he didn’t die recently, if that’s who you’re thinking of…)

Never Had a #1 Hit… The Who

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

First up, probably just the biggest and most famous act never to have had a number one single… The Who!

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Yup, they’ve come close on plenty of occasions. 14 Top 10 hits between 1965 and 1981. Here are the five that came closest:

‘My Generation’, #2 in 1965

Part of the sixties canon, but a world away from both the optimistic pop of the Merseybeat days and the Summer of Love; The Who were angry young men. Banned by the Beeb because they thought Roger Daltrey’s delivery might offend stutterers, not, as I always thought, because it sounds like he’s about to drop an F-bomb. I’ve attached this live version for some brilliantly pointless guitar and drum smashing at the end. ‘My Generation’ was scandalously kept off the top spot by The Seekers snooze-inducing ‘The Carnival Is Over‘!

‘I’m a Boy’, #2 in 1966

My name is Bill and I’m a head-case… Just as anarchic as ‘My Generation’, though gentler sounding. Bill has four sisters and his ma is hell-bent on having five. He wants to ride his bike, climb trees, come home covered in blood – you know, regular 1960s boy stuff… But mum’s not having any of it. I’m a boy, I’m a boy, But if I say I am I get it! Power pop brilliance.

‘Happy Jack’, #3 in 1966

Happy Jack is a man who lives in the sand on the Isle of Man. Apparently, a real person from Pete Townshend’s childhood, kids bully him, laugh at him, chuck things at him… But nothing stops Jack from being happy. Not my favourite Who song in any way, but a worthy inclusion just for Keith Moon’s drumming.

‘Pictures of Lily’, #4 in 1967

I think people’s impression of The Who leans more nowadays to the hard rocking, stadium band that they became in the 1970s. But as this run-through is showing, their biggest hits came earlier, and were much quirkier. ‘Pictures of Lily’ tells the tale of a young lad who can’t sleep, until one day his dad gives him an old picture of a lady named Lily. Suddenly the boy can sleep the whole night through… Pictures of Lily, Solved my childhood problem… ‘Tis “merely a ditty about masturbation, and its importance to a young man” (Pete Townshend’s words, not mine). When the boy asks his dad if he can meet Lily, he is crushed to find out that she died in 1929…

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(Actress Lily Langtry, who died in 1929… This could well be the actual ‘Picture of Lily’.)

‘Pinball Wizard’, #4 in 1969

Last but not least… a song about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. From the rock-opera ‘Tommy’ this, along with ‘My Generation’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, has to be The Who’s signature song, and still a feature of their live shows to this day.

My personal favourite Who single, ‘Substitute’, only made #5, while their big seventies hits like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Who Are You’, made #9 and #18 respectively. But, no number one! And that’s why I wrote this post.

Up tomorrow, another hard-rocking, hard-living band, with a member who died too young, this time from the other side of the pond.