454. ‘Going Underground’ / ‘The Dreams of Children’, by The Jam

Well, isn’t this quite the shot of adrenaline! The line between new-wave and punk becomes very blurred as The Jam score their first number one single…

Going Underground / The Dreams of Children, by The Jam (their 1st of four #1s) 

3 weeks, 16th March – 6th April 1980

The guitars are tight, and fast. Lead-singer Paul Weller spits the opening lines out with venom: Some people might say my life is in a rut! But I’m quite happy with what I’ve got! It’s a record that grabs you by the lapels of your smart, modish suit and doesn’t let you go. These angry young men are not happy with modern life, with their leaders’ lies and atomic crimes, and are off underground.

The lyrics are not always easy to make out – delivered as if Weller just has to get them off his chest before their three minutes are up – but one line stands out: The public wants what the public gets, But I don’t get what this society wants… I’m going underground…! And then there’s the ‘braying sheep’ on his TV screen. They’re words that ring just as true today – you could probably apply them to any point since WWII, to be fair – but after an economically difficult seventies, and less than a year into Thatcher’s government, dissent is growing…

‘Going Underground’ really does sound very raw, and very punk. It could be a hit from 1977, and is much more primitive when compared to new-wave’s two other big guitar bands, Blondie and The Police. This is perhaps The Jam’s last moment as an ‘underground’, if you will, band. This hits number one, and their sound expands and progresses. Only in the break, before the final chorus, does it sound a little more of its time, drippy and echoey, but only for a second before the guitars chop right back in.

‘Going Underground’ was actually only listed as the double-‘A’ due to a printing error. ‘The Dreams of Children’ was intended to be the lead, and it does sound much more of the moment. It starts with a cool false-beginning, guitars and vocals played in reverse, and has a great, chiming riff. But, I’d say it lacks the urgency of the flip-side. I hope that whoever buggered things up at the printing plant wasn’t punished too harshly…

If you were hoping for a more positive take on modern life here… well, nope. Paul Weller is having sweet dreams – the innocent dreams of a child – but wakes sweating and paranoid to this modern nightmare… I was alone and no-one was there… Before long, the song has turned into a sort of horror movie theme, voiced by a sinister dream-catcher.

Something’s gonna crack on your dreams tonight, You will crack on your dreams tonight… he sings, as the twiddly backwards effects return and things get genuinely creepy. Sorry kids, your dreams are just that: dreams. Real-life will grind you down. I mean, it’s not your run-of-the-mill #1 single material, but everything can’t be all sweetness and light. Neither of these songs sounds like a chart-topper, but it’s great that they got there.

And they got there in some style. This was the first record to enter at #1 since Slade did it with ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ over six years ago. Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles and, er, Gary Glitter were the only other acts to have achieved this feat before 1980. It pretty much announces The Jam as one of, if not the, biggest band in the country (or at least the band with the most devoted fanbase, who ran out to buy the song as soon as it was released…)

However, can I just add before I go that it is a shame that The Jam’s previous single – their first Top 10 hit – wasn’t the big #1 debut. As great as this record I’ve reviewed today is, ‘The Eton Rifles’ stands as a brilliant commentary on the British class system: angry, and funny, and another one that still rings true today. We just don’t learn, do we?

452. ‘Atomic’, by Blondie

Getting us back on track after (yet another) country detour… Though you could argue that there’s a country twang to the main riff on this one… sort of… Anyway, where were we? Oh yes! Blondie go atomic!

Atomic, by Blondie (their 3rd of six #1s)

2 weeks, 24th February – 9th March 1980

Add this one to the list of great intros: a sort of beautiful cacophony, a remix of the way church bells go wild after a wedding, or on Christmas morning… Ding! Dang! Dong! Apparently its based upon the nursery rhyme ‘Three Blind Mice’ of all things! And then it clicks into that riff. (This intro was, for some reason, cut from the single edit… but let’s just pretend that version doesn’t exist.)

Oh-ho, Make it magnificent, Tonight… Is there a better song to listen before a night out than ‘Atomic’? Back when I was young and going to nightclubs, this was often playing as I picked out a shirt, did my hair, and prayed that the bouncer would ignore the fact that I still looked about thirteen… Oh, your hair is beautiful… Debbie Harry would sing, as if she could see me in the mirror. Oh tonight… Atomic! It’s a fine, fine song. But is it better than ‘Heart of Glass’…?

In some ways they’re very similar. Both rock with a disco beat (or disco with guitars…) and both with a synth breakdown in the middle – of the album versions, anyway. Here, actually, it’s time to quickly resurrect the single-edit that I killed off earlier, as that shortens the breakdown, cuts the bass guitar solo, and repeats the iconic, deep-voiced Atomic! line. It works better as a pop song, which I suppose was the point. ‘Heart of Glass’ was chopped up into various different mixes, too…

The biggest difference between last year’s Blondie and this year’s Blondie is Harry’s voice. On ‘Heart of Glass’ she was restrained, and sarcastic. On ‘Sunday Girl’ she was quite cute. She belts this one out, though, full-throated. A huge echo effect is put on her closing Oh-oh Atomics… adding to this record’s epic feel.

I’d go as far as describing ‘Atomic’ as life-affirming. A song that will psyche you up, pick you up, cheer you up… A song that does everything pop music should. Which is funny, because there’s a school of thought (in so far as pop songs have ‘schools of thought’…) that interprets this song as apocalyptic i.e. it’s the song you’d play just before the bomb goes off. That’s not something I subscribe to, though.

Anyway, I still have a question to answer though: is it better than ‘Heart of Glass’…? Actually, who cares? They’re both brilliant songs. Blondie were brilliant, on top of their game at this point, and will be along again soon with another classic hit. And another one that’s totally atomic!

449. ‘Brass in Pocket’, by The Pretenders

Here we are then. The nineteen eighties. Synths, post-punk, Thatcher, Reagan, the 2nd British Invasion, MTV, SAW, Yuppies, Hip-Hop, ‘Thriller’, Madonna… The decade in which I entered this world… A decade that, I have to admit, I used to rank way below the sixties and seventies in terms of its music. But not any longer. I’m ready for it!

Brass in Pocket, by The Pretenders (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 13th – 27th January 1980

And what a cool way to start the decade. I got brass, In pocket, I got bottle, I am gonna use it… This one’s all about the hustle. Picture Chrissie Hynde, stepping off the bus in London town, and picturing just how she’s going to make it BIG. Gonna make you, Make you, Make you notice!

She’ll use her arms, her legs, her style and her sidestep, and in the space of three minutes the capital will have fallen. I’m special, So special, Gotta have some of your attention… This could come across as wildly obnoxious, but it doesn’t, somehow. Give it to me! Probably helps that it’s a woman singing these lines. Since punk, women can be bad-ass singers of rock ‘n’ roll bands. These days people’d call her a Boss Bitch.

The obvious comparison to make – a female lead singer in an otherwise male new-wave band – is with Blondie. Hynde sounds nothing like Debbie Harry, but her voice still drips with the same kind of attitude. And the music is more British post-punk – Police-like chiming guitars and a bouncing, reggae-ish beat – than Blondie’s spiky, New York sound.

In the second verse, she’s a little more explicit about how she may be getting her ‘brass’. Got new skank, So reet… I thought it was a drug reference, but apparently it’s about moving your body. You know, like dancing, or… There has been some discussion over whether the song is actually about The Pretenders’ first ever concert, or about the singer’s first sexual experience with a new partner. Either way, Hynde sums it up: “The tradition of ‘Brass in Pocket’ is that you’re cocky, and sure of yourself.”

This was The Pretenders breakthrough hit from their debut album – they had only been a band for just over a year. They would never return to the top of the charts (though a cover of one of their songs will…) but they managed impressive longevity: a handful of Top 10 hits spread out over fifteen years. Chrissie Hynde, meanwhile, will have another #1 under her own steam (sort of).

And so, with this short, sharp little record – that manages to be both clever and catchy – the eighties have kicked off. In previous decades, the first number one singles have been perfectly pleasant pieces of pop (Michael Holliday’s ‘Starry Eyed’ in 1960, and Edison Lighthouse’s ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’ in 1970) with little indication of where popular music is heading at that moment, but ‘Brass in Pocket’ actually sounds like a statement of intent…

443. ‘Message in a Bottle’, by The Police

The New Wave revolution takes another swerve. The Police score their first number one with some reggae-rock. (Not Ska, though. It is, apparently, very important not to call this Ska.)

Message in a Bottle, by The Police (their 1st of five #1s)

3 weeks, from 23rd September – 14th October 1979

Vocally, we also have another interesting fusion: Geordie-Jamaican. It’s Sting, of course, really laying it on thick in the verses. Just a castaway, On an island lost at sea, Oh… (The rhyming of ‘sea, oh’ with ‘me, oh’ and I can’t help but hear the ‘Banana Boat Song’) Can I just admit right here that The Police are a band I… struggle with? They leave me a bit cold. Admittedly I wasn’t brought up on them, have never gone beyond the big hits – even this is a song I hadn’t heard too often before – and I wonder if my problem is with Sting more than his band… (See also: U2)

I shall use this blog, and their five chart-toppers, to try and improve my opinion of them. And it doesn’t take me long to find something to love here: the driving, punky guitars in the bridge – I’ll send an SOS to the world… – are great, as is Sting’s bass. But it stands right out for me, because the rest of the song is quite plodding in places. The band are marooned on a desert island, and send out messages in bottles, hoping for a connection…

Come verse three and lo! Walked out this morning, Don’t believe what I saw, Hundred billion bottles washed up on the shore… It seems they weren’t alone in being alone. We’re all waiting for a message in a bottle. It’s kinda deep… (Though for a hundred billion bottles to have washed up means every human on the planet – going by 1979 population levels – had to have sent around twenty-three bottles each…)

Anyway, this is yet another patch of fallout from the punk explosion. Mix it in with other acts who have appeared in recent months: The Boomtown Rats, Ian Dury, Gary Numan, and of course Blondie. Actually, Blondie and The Police draw a good few comparisons: both post-punk, both red-hot for a few years at the turn of the decade, both with five #1s (at least initially, in Blondie’s case) For me, though, it’s Blondie all the way.

But, these views are mine and mine alone. ‘Message in a Bottle’ is objectively a good song, well-written rock with an effective hook. I am looking forward to getting to grips with more Police in the coming months, and hopefully enjoying it, as we’ll be hearing a lot more from the former Gordon Sumner and his bandmates. Bring it on.

442. ‘Cars’, by Gary Numan

Gary Numan returns to the top of the singles chart, after doing so alongside his Tubeway Army a few weeks back, with another outsider anthem.

Cars, by Gary Numan (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 16th – 23rd September 1979

Here in my car, I feel safest of all… He’s locking the modern world away behind four doors and a boot. It’s the only way to live, In cars… It’s another memorable electronic riff: still clanking and industrial, but a little perkier than ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’, poppier even. Numan’s vocals are have lost the conversational tones of his earlier #1, and are full-on Kraftwerk-robot chic.

Here in my car, I can only receive… Is this, maybe, a little bit of a novelty? Is Numan hamming up the extra-terrestrial image he had seen grow around his live performances of ‘Friends’? I don’t know – perhaps that feels harsh. He was inspired to write this song after some unsavoury types had tried to drag him from his car… Had ‘Cars’ come first then maybe it’d sound just as ground-breaking. But… if you were to write a piss-take of a song by Gary Numan, it might sound a lot like this record.

As in ‘Friends’, there are variations on the main riff throughout the song. One is the grinding, clanking trip through a car factory without noise-cancelling headphones. One is a high-pitched counterpoint to this; that one sounds as if you’re speeding down a motorway at night. And then there’s the disco bit, the riff that reminds me of ‘Funkytown’, by Lipps Inc (which wasn’t released until November ’79 – maybe they’d heard ‘Cars’ while recording…)

This record is actually two-thirds instrumental. Once Numan has intoned his way through three verses (no choruses here), the synths take over and you just got to let them wash over you, man. I want to like this more; but with each listen I find my attention wandering by the end. Who am I to judge, though? ‘Cars’ has charted three times in the UK, and remains a staple of adverts, Best Ofs, and Numan’s live shows to this day. And it’s certainly a fine addition to the rich tapestry that is 1979’s chart-toppers.

This is credited to Numan, solo, but still features half of the Tubeway Army on the record. You could argue that both of his quick-fire #1s could be credited to either Numan or his Army, but hey. He remains active to this day, a synth pop legend, and many of the acts who will make this the sound of the early eighties owe him a debt. And if that’s not cool enough for you, how about the fact that, after helping invent synth-pop, he got his pilots’ license and set up own airline, Numanair, in 1981…

440. ‘I Don’t Like Mondays’, by The Boomtown Rats

From a song about robot prostitutes, to a song about a school shooter… Ladies and gentleman, the summer of ’79!

I Don’t Like Mondays, by The Boomtown Rats (their 2nd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 22nd July – 19th August 1979

It’s a dramatic intro: all piano cascades and flourishes, but twisted and taunting compared to, say, ‘I Will Survive’s famous flutter. They then gather speed, twined with ominous strings, and it all sounds like the start of a Jim Steinman rock opera, while sounding nothing like Boomtown Rats’ first chart-topper, ‘Rat Trap’.

Not only is there a memorable intro; the opening lyrics are also very ear-catching. The silicon chip inside her head, Gets switched to overload… A young girl – perhaps it’s Judy from ‘Rat Trap’? – has had enough. Nobody’s going to go to school today, She’s gonna make them stay at home… Bob Geldof doesn’t just look like a young Mick Jagger, he also sounds like an Irish version of the Stones’ frontman here…

Tell me why… I don’t like Monday’s! It’s a chorus that’s entered popular culture, one that you mighty mutter to yourself at the start of the week as you close the front door. And yet, I wasn’t exaggerating in my introduction. The song is based on true events from January 1979, when a sixteen-year-old girl opened fire on an elementary school playground in San Diego, killing two people and injuring eight children. When asked why she did it she replied: ‘I just don’t like Mondays…’ Think of that next time you whistle this in your driveway…

This is a great song, a brilliantly confident number one by a band flitting between genres, drunk on musical possibilities. Again it’s a ‘new wave’ band putting the old guard to shame with their inventiveness. It is a bit over the top at times, though – the strings and piano make it feel like a showtune – and Geldof does ham it up, especially when we get to the actual shooting: The lesson today is HOW TO DIE!! (OK, Bob. We get it…) But if the worst thing you can say about a song is that it’s a bit much, then you’re onto a good thing.

The more I listen to this, the more I wonder if there’s a knowing nod to last year’s big High School #1 hits (y’know, the ‘Grease’ ones) in the cutesy handclaps, the doo-wop backing vocals, and ironic lines like: Sweet sixteen, Ain’t that peachy keen… Maybe ‘Summer Nights’ would be even better if it had a line about blowing your classmates’ brains out? Anyway, Geldof later expressed regret at writing his band’s signature hit, as it gave the real-life shooter, Brenda Ann Spencer, further exposure. Allegedly Spencer even wrote to Geldof to thank him for making her even more famous…

A tawdry underbelly, then, to a very enjoyable song. Not your usual ‘summer anthem’ material, but another glittering jewel in what has been a largely superb run of number ones during the first half of 1979. The Boomtown Rats would go on to have another couple of Top 10 hits in the early eighties before slipping swiftly from view, though they recently reformed and released their first studio album since 1984. Bob Geldof, meanwhile, will still have a large part to play in one of the biggest ever number one hits…

From robotic hookers to murderous teenagers… And if you thought that normal service was going to resume then you’re in for a shock. The summer of ’79 is about to take an even more terrifying twist… Cliff is back! Next time, on the UK Number Ones Blog.

439. ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric?’, by Tubeway Army

Symbolically whacking Anita Ward’s trashy disco ditty off top-spot… Time for something a bit different. The eighties have arrived.

Are ‘Friends’ Electric?, by Tubeway Army (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 24th June – 22nd July 1979

There have been synths right through the seventies, from Chicory Tip through to ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ and, most memorably, Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. But even Giorgio Moroder didn’t use them as aggressively as this. These churning and grinding synths leave you feeling kind of woozy. A riff hammers away, going low like a grinding gearstick, then high like a wonky police siren.

There’s no chorus, no verses or bridge. Just different themes on the same dreamy, trippy riff. But – and I don’t mean this to sound negative – this is a bad dream; one bad trip. Over the top of it, Gary Numan… Sings? Chants? Announces? It’s cold outside, And the paint’s splitting off of my walls…!

What this song is about I have no idea, really. Numan tells a story of a ‘friend’ – note the inverted commas – who may or not be human. The friend is broken down, and he’s lonely. So I head to Google to find out a little bit more… Numan is autistic, apparently, and struggles with interpersonal relationships. So he wrote a song set thirty years ahead, in a dystopian future, in which robots have replaced lovers (hence the ‘friends’). The title references the Philip K. Dick novel ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ Numan puts it best: “I had a number one single about a robot prostitute and nobody knew it.”

For large parts of the song he also talks, making it a fairly spoken-word heavy #1. So now I’m alone, Now I can think for myself… He sounds – and maybe this is just me – a lot like Marc Bolan. ‘Plummy cockney’ is the way I’d describe it. You see this meant everything to me…

Is it my imagination, or does this song slow down and speed up at random? Each time I listen to it, I notice this effect but in different places. I think I’m just getting lost in its rhythm. I think I might have a nightmare involving this song tonight, and I’m ready for it. Of course, I’m no stranger to the main riff, sampled for Sugababes’ first chart-topper ‘Freak Like Me’, one of the early-2000’s finest pop songs. (Apparently Numan himself classes it as better as this original.)

Tubeway Army were originally a punk act, but Numan found himself increasingly drawn to electronic music. ‘Are ‘Friends’ Electric’ was their first single to make the charts; and their last. However, almost the same band will be back in the number one position in just eight weeks… with a single credited solely to Gary Numan.

Finally, I make this the 5th number one by a New Wave act in the last six months… And if they all haven’t sounded completely different to one another! A fertile time for popular music. I know we have six months left to go, but I’m sticking my neck out now and naming 1979 as the best year of the whole decade, in chart-topper terms…

437. ‘Sunday Girl’, by Blondie

Blondie’s second number one sees them sounding much more Blondie. Gone are the synths and disco drums from ‘Heart of Glass’; back come tight, bouncy guitars and a zipalong power pop riff.

Sunday Girl, by Blondie (their 2nd of six #1s)

3 weeks, from 20th May – 10th June 1979

I know a girl from a lonely street, Cold as ice cream but still as sweet… I’d say that this is their forgotten number one, sandwiched as it is between ‘Heart of Glass’ and their three 1980 chart-toppers. It wasn’t even a single in their homeland. Most big bands with a solid run of #1s have one (ABBA recently had ‘The Name of the Game’, there’s Slade ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, Rod has ‘You Wear It Well’…) But that’s not to say it’s their worst – ‘forgotten #1s’ rarely are.

Debbie Harry’s got some bad news for a girl called Sunday. She’s seen her guy with a different girl. Drama! Maybe he has a girl named after every day of the week… I’m not convinced of her sympathy as she sings Dry your eyes Sunday girl… Beyond that, the story doesn’t really hold together. Lyrically it feels a little throwaway, perhaps down to the fact that Chris Stein chucked it together while on tour, to cheer up Harry after her cat – Sunday Man – had run away.

Her voice isn’t as arresting as it was on ‘Heart of Glass’, but it’s still a wonderful thing. Light and breezy, fun and flirty – I love the Baby I would like to go out tonight… line – and just wait until you hear her sing it in French. ‘Sunday Girl’ works perfectly en Francais; you can just picture Harry flouncing around Montmartre in the video. Plus, this song taught me years ago that ‘depeche-toi’ means ‘hurry up’, so it’s actually quite educational.

Under the bubblegum fluff, it’s worth noting that this is our first guitar led, rock ‘n’ roll chart-topper for quite a while. It’s definitely New Wave – punk distilled into pop – and you could argue that tunes like this are what set a pop-punk template that lasts to this day (see current teenybopper du jour Olivia Rodrigo).

Towards the end things dissolve into handclaps and surf guitars, and it all sounds very early-sixties. Hurry up, hurry up and wait! growls Debbie, sounding like a feistier older sister of the Shangri-Las. This really is a great pop record, and it’s been nice to listen to it for the first time in a while today. Even better is to come for Blondie, though. They’ll be kicking off the 1980s in some style. Till then, then…

433. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie

Picking up where Ian Dury and the Blockheads left off, Blondie enter the scene with another tight groove. Disco and rock are colliding here, in the early weeks of 1979, and the results are magnificent.

Heart of Glass, by Blondie (their 1st of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 28th January – 25th February 1979

When we come to monster hits like ‘Heart of Glass’, part of me is happy (it’s a great song) and part of me is frustrated (everything that needs to be said about it has been said before.) See also ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Get It On’… Sometimes this job’d be easier if every #1 was rank-rotten! But we will persevere. Nobody will be sad about giving this classic yet another spin…

The melody is great, for a start. The disco beat paired up with churning, writhing synths. Our 3rd ‘New Wave’ chart-topper finally sounds like what I think New Wave should sound like. When the organs come into the mix, and then the wall-of-sound drums, you’re in finger kissing perfection territory. The breathy, husky backing vocals – dum da dum, dadadada dum da – are wonderful too.

But the real star of the show – the star of this uber cool NYC gang – is the lead singer. Many are the tales of the sexual awakenings wrought upon Britain’s teenage boys by Debbie Harry in the late-seventies (and the sexual re-awakenings of their fathers, pretending not to watch the TV). Her vocals are stunning here. High-pitched, and ice cold: Once had a love, And it was a gas… Soon found out, Had a heart of glass…

She doesn’t bother singing in full sentences, and sprinkles fun Americanisms – mucho mistrust… and we coulda made it cruisin’… around the place. Best of all, she sings about heartbreak, about her glass-hearted lover, as if the loss is all his. She knows she’s hot, and that she won’t be single for long. Half of the time you can’t understand what she’s saying – in researching the lyrics for this post I realise that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics for years. Riding high, I’m lost to the good life… is actually Riding high, On love’s true bluish light… for example.

I know I’ve moaned a lot about recent chart-toppers going on for too long, but when it comes to this record then the longer the better. Mainly because the 12” version has the drum-machine intro missing from the 7”, and the song’s sassiest line: Soon turned out, To be a pain in the ass… In actual fact, there are so many edits of this song that there’s a version for everyone: intro, no intro, third verse, no third verse, extended disco breakdown…

Originally, when Blondie first recorded the demos for this song, several years before it was a hit, they called it ‘The Disco Song’. And you can see why. They were already a chart force, with guitar driven post-punk hits like ‘Denis’ and ‘Hangin’ on the Telephone’ before this took them stratospheric (and caused an inevitable, ‘Disco Sucks’ backlash.) They’ll be the biggest band in the land for the next couple of years, with one of the strongest ever runs of #1 singles, starting right here. Don’t go anywhere!

432. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads

Officially into 1979, then. The end of the decade is in sight. Meanwhile, a funky groove slinks in…

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 21st – 28th January 1979

We start mid-riff, and it feels like the doors to a club have just opened wide, filling the night with possibilities. And yes, this is definitely a song you can dance to. But it is so much more than that. For starters, we’re off on a trip around the world…

In the deserts of Sudan, And the gardens of Japan… we see Milan, then Yucatan. Every woman, Every man… Taking up where the Village People left off, there’s more innuendo ahoy: Hit me with your rhythm stick, Hit me slowly, Hit me quick! Is it about dancing? Is it about sex? Or is it about both? After about thirty seconds, does anybody care?

There’s a lot to love here. The whiplash sound effects after each Hit me! The frenzied piano that comes in midway through. The angry saxophone solo, which includes a note so jarring that it would ruin many a lesser song. But the main highlight is Ian Dury’s vocal performance. He sings, he croons in cockney, he squeals, he rolls certain sounds around in his mouth as if they were a fine brandy.

Contrast the way he caresses Borneo with the way he barks, in German: Das ist gut, Ich liebe dich! And the way every Me! is different. Mu-eeeh! Meeeeaaah! May! And my personal favourite, the one where he dog-whistles as if his bollocks are in a clamp. We’re four hundred and thirty two #1s in, and there can’t have been any with a lead singer so energetic, so enthusiastic, so borderline unhinged. Ian Dury had been a singer for many a year before forming The Blockheads in 1977. A bout of polio as a child had left him with a withered left arm and leg, but he was an enigmatic performer. In his very own words, from this very same single: It’s nice to be a lunatic!

It must be hard to write a song so strikingly inventive, and yet so dumbly catchy. It works on all levels. It is New Wave, I’d say, but sounds so different from our first New Wave chart-topper, ‘Rat Trap’, proving just how hard a genre this is to pin down. By the end, as the choppy guitars come in, and we clunk to an abrupt ending, as Dury howls his HIT ME!!s over the maelstrom, things have suddenly gotten very punk. We may never have had a real ‘punk’ #1, but the movement did at least pull aside the drain covers, allowing wonderful weirdos like Ian and his Blockheads to emerge.

They weren’t around for long, but The Blockheads did manage one further Top 10 single, ‘Reasons to Be Cheerful, Pt. 3’, on which Dury performs what must be one of the British chart’s first raps. He passed away in 2000, from cancer, but his legacy lives on. There’s ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, for example: a provocative riposte to what Dury saw as the patronising ‘International Year of Disabled Persons’, there’s ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’, and his acting. But above all, there’s this crazy little one-week wonder, perhaps the ultimate ‘January #1’. Go on then … Hit me, one more time! (No wait, wrong song…)