420. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush

It takes a moment to get used to our next #1 single. The tinkling piano, the etherealness of it, and then that high-pitched voice…

Wuthering Heights, by Kate Bush (her 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 5th March – 2nd April 1978

Even though it’s a very well-known song, it still discombobulates. It still sounds nothing like what pop music should, at least not at first. Out on the winding, windy moors, we’d roll and fall in green… You wonder if it was a risk to write a pop song about a hundred and fifty year old novel, and then to sing it like a Victorian soprano. Pop is usually about the new and the instant, not the ancient and established. There has not been, to my knowledge, a #1 hit about ‘Moby Dick’, or ‘Anna Karenina’. It also means that, after Brotherhood of Man’s references to ‘Figaro’, it has been a pretty high-brow start to 1978.

You only really relax into this record as it slips into the chorus, and a soft-rock vibe takes over: Heathcliff, It’s me, I’m Cathy, I’ve come home now… To be honest, I’ve always thought of this song as some kind of revolutionary moment. But listening to it now, properly, it’s clear that Kate Bush is the star attraction. It’s her wide-eyed vocal performance – and this might be the first time that we really need to recognise the video, in which she performs an extremely intense, interpretive dance to the song, in soft focus against a black background – that makes this a classic.

For musically, there’s not that much to raise an eyebrow. It’s got a catchy chorus, and a hard-rock guitar fade-out that hints at eighties power-ballads to come, but it’s all about Kate, really. She was eighteen when she wrote her debut smash, and only nineteen when it hit #1, making her the youngest artist to reach such heights with a self-penned song.

And if you were going to pick a famous novel to sing about as a teenage girl, then ‘Wuthering Heights’ is the obvious choice. Heathcliff and Cathy’s romance is thrillingly torrid to a seventeen-year-old, then you reach your mid-twenties and the pair turn into obnoxious brats. Still, nowadays, people perhaps know the story more through this record than they do through Emily Brontë’s masterpiece. It’s the ultimate ‘York Notes’ version: a massive novel condensed into a four and a half minute pop song, for lazy students to listen to on repeat the night before a test…

Before arriving at ‘Wuthering Heights’, I did wonder if it would challenge for top spot in my latest recap, coming up next. But I don’t think it will. It’s a great song, memorably performed, but there have been better in recent months. There are probably better songs in Kate Bush’s back-catalogue too, though none perhaps have had the cultural impact of her debut smash.

I must admit that my knowledge of Kate Bush is patchy, beyond this one, ‘Hounds of Love’, ‘Running up That Hill’ and the like. She is a reclusive star, not one for interviews or photoshoots, or for releasing much music (her last album came out in 2011, and she’s only released two this century). In my mind she is the fairy godmother of British pop… an idea, or a presence, more than a real person. And that’s a pretty cool role to fill.

Finally, ‘Wuthering Heights’ is the 4th chart-topper of 1978, and the fourth to feature female vocalists. If you go back further, and ignore Wings, then six of the last seven #1s have been at least woman-led. Considering that for parts of the 1960s we went entire years without a woman’s voice at #1, that feels worth noting. The next couple of chart-toppers are going to spoil this run but, before that, a recap!

Get up to speed with all 420 #1s so far, before my next recap

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.

380. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie

Ground control to Major Tom… Ground control to Major Tom… Take your protein pills and put your helmet on…

Space Oddity, by David Bowie (his 1st of five #1s)

2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th November 1975

Have there been stranger opening lyrics to a #1 single…? A fade-in, which hasn’t featured very often either, then a very familiar voice. We countdown, to lift-off. Check ignition, And may God’s love be with you… Enter a legend.

I don’t think I’ve mentioned any artist in this blog, without actually featuring one of their songs, more often than David Bowie. He loomed over all the glam hits, the Lord above, while never deigning to do anything as vulgar as top the pop charts. And then, when he finally does, we’ve missed out on Ziggy and Aladdin Sane, and it’s a re-release of his breakthrough hit that does it.

This is an awesome song, and I mean that in the most literal sense of the word: awesome. A sweeping epic about a man heading into space, alone, inspired by Kubrick’s ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’, with at least three very separate styles contained in its five minute runtime. One moment it sounds like late-sixties Beatles, the next it sounds like classic Burt Bacharach, while the Mellotron sounds like a visitation from the ghost of Joe Meek.

‘Space Oddity’ was originally released in 1969, to coincide with the moon landing. It made #5, and meant that for a few years David Bowie – David Bowie – was remembered as a one-hit wonder, a novelty… Until he released ‘Starman’, and heavy-petted Mick Ronson on Top of the Pops. Then the rest was history.

Bowie being Bowie, I’m tempted to wonder if this record is simply about a bloke in space. Is it a commentary on fame: And the papers want to know whose shirts you wear…? Or drugs: I’m floating in a most peculiar way…? (I love the way he pronounces a-pe-cu-li-ar, in his best Anthony Newley.) Or is it simply an epic tragedy: Ground control to Major Tom, Your circuit’s dead, There’s something wrong… as Tom orbits away to his doom?

It’s been great to really sit down and listen to this song. I knew it, of course, in that way everyone knows incredibly famous songs, but it’s not part of my regular rotation. In fact, I have to admit, not much Bowie is in my regular rotation. It is permanently item one on my musical to-do list: appreciate David Bowie more, you philistine! I like him, I love what he stood for and represented, but some of his music, like Major Tom himself, floats way above my head…

In the real world, while a re-release of his first hit made #1 – the second 1960s disc to hit the top in this weirdest of years – Bowie was leaving glam behind, and becoming a huge star in the US with soul numbers like ‘Fame’ and ‘Golden Years’. Then came the cocaine, before the mega-successful early ‘80s. We won’t meet him atop the charts again until then. Which means his only #1 from the entirety of the 1970s is this. David Bowie, along with Prince, is perhaps the biggest artist with the worst representation from his chart-topping hits. Anyway, all that is still to come. For now, let’s float off into the milky way, in our tin cans. Altogether now: Can you hear me Major Tom…? Can you hear me Major Tom…?

332. ‘Rubber Bullets’, by 10cc

On the face of it, this next #1 isn’t a glam rock record. But there are enough glam touches here to keep it sounding very ’72-’73. It chugs, it boogies, it makes you wanna shake something…

Rubber Bullets, by 10cc (their 1st of three #1s)

1 week, from 17th – 24th June 1973

If it isn’t a glam rock record, then… What is it? Well, it’s got huge nods towards fifties rock ‘n’ roll – Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ in particular – some Beach Boys’ harmonies, some CCR-style Americana, a middle-eight that goes all Simon & Garfunkel, as well as lots of squiggly, experimental-sounding effects. Recently, we heard Roy Wood and Wizzard chuck every idea they’d ever had into the mix on ‘See My Baby Jive’ to produce a wondrous piece of music, and this is 10cc’s attempt at something similarly epic.

Except, ‘See My Baby Jive’ wasn’t testing any lyrical limits. It was about the singers baby, jiving. ‘Rubber Bullets’, on top of all the sonic fun and games, is also trying to make a statement. I went to a party at the local county jail, All the cons were dancing and the band began to wail… In ‘Jailhouse Rock’, Elvis and the lads have a great time at their party. Here, the governor is quickly forced to call in the police

Load up, load up, load up, Your rubber bullets… Sargent Baker and his men shoot over to the jail, to keep order. From here on, the story is told in different voices. The cons: Is it really such a crime, For a guy to spend his time, At the local hop at the local county jail… And the police: I love to hear those convicts squeal, It’s a shame these slugs ain’t real… There are a few gems, too. The line about having a tear-gas of a time, and the all-time classic: We all got balls and brains, Some have balls and chains… (which was cut when this disc got a spin on the radio…)

By the end things have escalated to such a point that they’ve called in the National Guard. (And suddenly a forty-seven year old song sounds very 2020…) In 1973, despite the band putting on very deliberate American accents, and the lyrics being all very small-town US, the controversy came from the fact that the British army had just started using rubber bullets to deal with the troubles in Northern Ireland.

So. While ‘See My Baby Jive’ flourished under the ‘kitchen sink’ method, I feel that ‘Rubber Bullets’ suffers a little from all its many influences. It’s an exhausting listen at times. But it’s still great fun – don’t get me wrong – and not for a second does the record drag. Apparently, as it was one of the first singles recorded by 10cc, the band were simply enjoying having an entire recording studio to mess around in. And for my money, the very best bit of the song is the super-scuzzy, sped-up, distorted guitar solo.

That guitar returns to end the well over five minute album version of ‘Rubber Bullets’, while the radio-edit comes in well under four minutes. I think I’ve attached the right, somewhere in between those two lengths, single version below. 10cc, the sort of band that you know more songs from than you realise, had had one #2 hit before this – ‘Donna’ – and will go on to have two more #1 singles in the 1970s. Neither of which sound anything like ‘Rubber Bullets’. They were fun, experimental, and I need to listen to more of them. And I dare you to look up the inspiration behind their name…

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321. ‘Mouldy Old Dough’, by Lieutenant Pigeon

I’ve heard of this song before – for better or for worse – but don’t think I’d ever heard it, in full, until now. And boy, is it strange…

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Mouldy Old Dough, by Lieutenant Pigeon (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 8th October – 5th November 1972

It starts with a military drum beat, and for a second I’m worried that we’re getting 1972’s second pipes ‘n’ drums #1 single. Then we get a flute, and I’m picturing an orange march. Then we get a boozy, woozy, synthesised rock ‘n’ roll piano, and we’re in a crowded German beerhall.

Two immediate points of reference jump out at me. There’s Chicory Tip’s similarly stomping ‘Son of My Father’ from a few months back. And then there’s the work of Joe Meek a decade ago: The Tornados, and ‘Have I the Right?’ and so on. There’s a lot of similarities there, but they don’t fully explain what the hell is going on here.

‘Mouldy Old Dough’ is an instrumental, save for the title being growled by what sounds like a very old man with no teeth. Apparently the line Dirty old man… is also buried in there, deep within the soupy mix, but I can’t make it out. It is so rough and ready, this record. It sounds like an old demo that was burnt, buried in a shallow grave, then dug up years later, released and sent to the top of the charts…

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Have you ever eaten durian? It’s a huge spiky fruit, really popular in south-east Asia, with a smell somewhere between sweaty socks and rotten onions. Apparently, though, if you can get past the stench the actual flesh of the fruit is quite nice. I’ve never been able to get past the stink but feel that ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ might be the durian fruit of #1 singles. Get past your initial doubts and reservations, your initial what the hell?, and by the third or fourth listen you start to find something charming buried deep within its relentless, plodding, churning beat.

The backstory of Lieutenant Pigeon only adds to the record’s charm. They were an experimental band from Coventry, fronted by Rob Woodward, and featuring his mum, Hilda, on piano. She’s basically the star of this record, as it’s her melancholy piano line that holds it all together. ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ was recorded in their living room (what I mistook for synths is just poor sound insulation!) When asked what it was all about, Rob admitted that he had no idea… Despite being the composer. Honest. I like it. The follow-up to this, ‘Desperate Dan’, made #17 and after that the charts were a Pigeon-free zone… The Woodwards are still the only mother and son combo to ever top the UK singles chart.

And isn’t that nice? Lieutenant Pigeon still record and release music to this day, mainly online, while Hilda died twenty years back. She was fifty-eight when this record hit the top of the charts, and she’s still in the Top 10 oldest people to feature on a number one single. By the end the marching beat has transformed into a glam-rock stomp as we fade out. As weird as this record sounds – and it does sounds pretty darn weird – it still somehow fits in with the styles of the time…

293. ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Our last number one had the title ‘Woodstock’, but didn’t really get going in terms of capturing the feel of the planet’s biggest ever music festival… But now… Now we have a song that people actually heard. At Woodstock. Performed by one of the weekend’s most famous acts…

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Voodoo Chile, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd November 1970

It starts with a riff – a riff that everyone has heard – and a tickle from the drum kit. And then, the moment when the twangy, chicka-chucka intro to ‘Voodoo Chile’ cuts out and we slam into the brutally simple main riff is genuinely one of the most thrilling seconds in any chart-topping single. Hard rock from the ultimate rock star. A brilliantly heavy, undiluted record at the top of the pop charts.

Well I stand up next to a mountain, And I chop it down with the edge of my hand… If you’re ever feeling down, ahead of a tough day, I’d recommend putting this on in your headphones and stepping out of the door just as Jimi sings that line… Cause I’m a voodoo child, Lord knows I’m a voodoo child… It’s a badass song, with a badass message. I didn’t mean to take up too much of your sweet time, I’ll give it right back to ya one of these days… Haha… What exactly is a ‘voodoo child’? Dunno, but it doesn’t sound like something you’d want in the house.

Not that the lyrics make up much of this song. There’s an electrifying solo between the first and second verses. And then the whole second half is given over to some serious head-banging and wah-wah pedalling. It might sound like Hendrix showing off, if it didn’t sound so damn good. It’s controlled chaos, a record that sounds like a live-recording, bottled lightning. And it really makes use of your stereo speakers, with the riffs chasing one another left to right, back and forth…

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(coolest single artwork so far, by far!)

God this is good. I knew ‘Voodoo Child’, of course, but it’s not in ‘overplayed’ territory for me. I really should listen to more Hendrix. By November 1970, when he grabbed his one and only week at #1, he was already dead, having joined the 27 Club two months earlier. The line: If I don’t meet you no more in this world, I’ll meet ya on the next one, And don’t be late…! makes it a very appropriate posthumous hit. It’s a shame that it took his death to get him to the top, though he had scored big, Top 10 hits consistently following his debut in 1966 with ‘Hey Joe’.

But who cares why this got to number one. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that it did. It ends abruptly, ricocheting to silence all of a sudden, and you get the feeling it could have been much longer. This ‘Voodoo Chile’ was based on a fifteen minute long, much more laid-back and bluesy, song of the same name that featured on his ‘Electric Ladyland’ album. This version was a reprise – the very last track on the LP – hence the ‘Slight Return’ on the track listing. It should actually be ‘Voodoo Child’, but the record company misnamed it when they released it.

While we wonder just what else 1970 has in store for us in this most schizophrenic of years, we should probably make a confession. At the start I billed this as the pinnacle of Woodstock, by its biggest star. Only problem is… Thanks to bad weather and technical issues, Hendrix actually went on stage at 08:30 on the Monday morning, after most people had begun to pack up and head home. The 500,000 strong crowd had dwindled to around 40,000. But what the hell, who cares. Let’s rewrite history, and imagine him playing this as the sun set, half a million extremely high people swaying along…

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275. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans

You see the title of this next #1 hit, and you prepare yourself for something special. We’re off to the year 2525… With a duo that sound like a second-rate magic act.

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In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus), by Zager and Evans (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 24th August – 14th September 1969

It gets underway with a Spanish guitar and Mariachi-band backing. It reminds me of Dave Dee and Co’s ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, another Latin-flavoured glimpse into a strange world. In the year 2525, If man is still alive, If woman can survive, They may find…

In comes a relentless galloping beat, over which a terrifying vision of the future is unveiled. By the year 3535, you’ll be taking pills to tell you what to think, by 4545 you won’t need your teeth or your eyes… You won’t find a thing to chew, Nobody’s gonna look at you… In 5555, the machines will have taken all the jobs, rendering our limbs obsolete. And by 6565: Ain’t gonna need no husband, Won’t need no wife… You’ll pick your son, Pick your daughter too, From the bottom of a long glass tube… Woah-woah…

Fair to say it’s a pretty pessimistic view of the future. It has the air of a crazed evangelist, preaching angrily from his pulpit, as all the while the beat goes on, and on. The predictions change to years ending in ten, for rhyming purposes, as we go forward. And by 8510, God will have had enough, and will come down to rip it all up and start again. It’s a crazy record. I’m not sure I like it all that much, but it is entertaining…

The final verse is probably the most prescient. In the year 9595, I’m kinda wonderin’, If man is gonna be alive, He’s taken everything this old earth can give, And he ain’t put back nothin’… Woah-woah… Doesn’t that pretty much sum up the fears of 2020, with our rising temperatures, killer viruses and plastic-swilling oceans? In fact, Zager & Evans’ vision of the future hinges on its opening line: If man is still alive… Who here’s willing to put money on humans being around in 2125, let alone 2525?

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We’re used to science fiction that looks into the near-future: ‘Back to the Future’ in 2015, ‘Terminator’ in 2029 and so on, so that we can chuckle when we reach the date in question and point out that none of what was predicted has come to pass. But who can actually get their head around the year 2525? It’s five hundred and five years away! And the year 9595, on which the song ends – it is practically impossible for the human mind to imagine that far forward in time. ‘In the Year 2525’ was nominated for a ‘Hugo Award’, for the best science fiction / fantasy works of the year, though, so who am I to question it?

Denny Zager and Rick Evans were a duo from Lincoln, Nebraska, and they are the purest of one-hit wonders. None of their subsequent follow-ups made the charts. This is their sole chart-topping single, on either side of the Atlantic (fittingly, it was #1 in the US as Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.) Zager is still alive, but Evans sadly passed-away in 2018.

We’re drawing to the end of the 1960s, and this record is almost the direct antithesis of a lot of the positivity we’ve seen in pop music throughout the decade. In fact, 1969 has been a year for some pretty cynical chart-toppers: Peter Sarstedt’s cutting ‘Where Do You Go To…’, The Beatles sarcastic ‘Ballad of John and Yoko’, The Move’s melodramatic break-up in ‘Blackberry Way’. Now this anti-flower power anthem. Two years ago it was ‘All You Need Is Love’; now it’s all the ways in which we, as a race, are doomed…

265. ‘Blackberry Way’, by The Move

This next #1 single is one that opens with a bang, right in the middle of the story. ‘In media res’, if you want to be fancy about it. Blackberry way, Absolutely pouring down with rain, It’s a terrible day…

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Blackberry Way, by The Move (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 5th – 12th February 1969

I like the absolutely pouring down with rain line – it sounds very British. As the picture is filled in, you really can picture a dull suburban street – probably lined with bungalows – in the rain, as girl ends it with boy. So now I’m standing on the corner, Lost in the things that I said…

It’s a dramatic record. Make that melodramatic. The strings moan like the soundtrack to a haunted house. The drums are thick and portentous. As the singer makes his way from Blackberry Way, through the park and past the boating lake, where the boats float: just like myself they are neglected… Before each chorus, he asks himself: What am I supposed to do now? He gets on the train, with one final look over his shoulder, to see if she’s followed him… We can assume that she hasn’t.

This is kind of fun; if a little OTT. Even though it’s about heartbreak ,the scale of the song, and the lyrics about the mundane things he sees on his walk in the rain, keep it slightly tongue-in-cheek. Only occasionally does it get ahead of itself – what exactly does the line: See the battlefields of careless sins, Cast the to the wind… mean? I like the fact that it’s quite a psychedelic sounding song, but one describing a fairly everyday scene. No flower-power here. And I like the contradiction in the chorus: Goodbye Blackberry Way, I can’t see you, I don’t need you… Sure to want me back another day… Ain’t that just how a break-up goes…?

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The Move were a Birmingham band, that had already enjoyed four Top 5 hits before they scored their sole chart-topper. I always liked ‘Fire Brigade’ as a kid – it must have been on a sixties-hits tape we had lying around – and ‘Flowers in the Rain’ was famously the first ever song played on Radio 1. They were quite a sonically experimental band, mixing Spector-ish production with innovative sounds and effects. You can hear the instruments on ‘Blackberry Way’, straining to make themselves the most important part of the song over the vocals. It’s a record that bursts from the speakers…

Central to The Move was songwriter and singer Roy Wood, who we will meet again in the coming decade – a man who played a big role in shaping the sound of the seventies when The Move morphed into Electric Light Orchestra. Wood didn’t hang around long with ELO, though, leaving to form glam-rockers Wizzard. Luckily for all of us, we’ll meet both of his bands-to-be later in this countdown. Not many artists can claim to have been involved in three hugely successful, chart-topping acts… Kudos to Wood!

255. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown

1968 strikes again! Our next #1 kicks off with a yell straight from the sulphurous pits. I am the God of hell-fire, And I bring you…! Well, they do say that rock ‘n’ roll is the devil’s music…

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Fire, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st August 1968

Fire, I’ll take you to burn…! As an opening statement, it’s pretty aggressive…. Fire, I’ll take you to learn…! Demonic horns and a Satanic organ, playing as if it were possessed, join in with the fun as the ground splits in two below our feet and we tumble into the roasting furnace. I’ll see you burn…

This is, and I mean this in the best possible way, a crazy record. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown certainly live up to their name. That it hit the top of the singles chart for a week in the summer of ’68 is something to be marvelled at, and enjoyed. It’s harsh, it’s angry… It’s an anthem dedicated to nihilism and arson: You fought hard, And you saved and earned, But all of it’s going to burn… Arthur Brown then launches into an Ohhh Noooo and a series of yelps and squawks that Axl Rose in his prime would have been proud of. Wiki lists ‘Fire’ as ‘psychedelic’, which it is… But that’s only telling a tiny part of the story. This is hair metal and shock-rock, Alice Cooper, Ozzy Osbourne and Iron Maiden, before any of that was a thing. Fire… To destroy all you’ve done…

The second verse slows down, like the soundtrack to an eerie, cheapo haunted mansion ride, before the grinding organ and horns snap back in and we head relentlessly towards the finish. We get crazed laughter, shrieks, the horns blasting ever stronger, before the winds of hell blow us on our way. You’re gonna burn…burn burn burn burnburnburn…! Apparently Brown used to perform this track while wearing a helmet that had been doused in fuel and set alight (see the pic above). Because of course he did…

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They also say that the devil has the best tunes, but I’m not so sure about that being the case here. This is an amazing record, an experience; but not one that I’m desperate to repeat many more times. Perhaps it’s a truly awesome record… ‘Awesome’ in the literal sense of inspiring fear, as in the ‘awesome’ power of an atomic bomb.

I am convinced that there must have been some controversy around this disc hitting the top of the charts – that at least Mary Whitehouse and the Archbishop of Canterbury got their knickers in a twist over it – but can’t find much evidence online. It shows how far society had come in the decade or so since Elvis was getting cropped at the waist, I guess.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, largely Brown and organist Vincent Crane, are one-hit wonders in the truest sense. None of their other singles – either before or after – managed to chart in the UK. But their legacy lives on –  all the metal stars I listed above count them as an influence, while ‘Fire’ has been sampled by The Prodigy and Marilyn Manson. Arthur Brown still performs, aged seventy-seven, and still sets his helmet on fire…

I feel like I’ve been writing this at the end of nearly every recent post, but it bears repeating… What else has 1968 got in store for us? Surely it can’t get any weirder than this…?

246. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

Just what on earth was being pumped into the British water supply in early 1968? Trad jazz, Bonnie and Clyde, Eskimos and yodelling duos… Something pretty heavy duty was being passed around, by both record makers and record buyers, to induce this carnival of craziness. And it shows no signs yet of letting up. For we’re off to Xanadu!

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The Legend of Xanadu, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 20th – 27th March 1968

We open on a dusty Andalucian plain. Spanish guitars tremble, somebody mumbles something something esta es… Then wham. A whip cracks. Or somebody shoots a B-movie ray-gun. Whatever it is, it wakes up both you and this song. We’re in cartoon soundtrack territory. Imagine Scooby Doo on a far-away planet that looks a lot like Mexico. That sentence might sound crazy, but that’s where we are right now, with #1 single 246.

You’ll hear my voice, On the wind, ‘Cross the sand… For all the zaniness of the extra bits – the sound effects, the Mariachi band and what have you – the main melody of the song is pretty traditional. Old-fashioned even – something with a hint of 1961 about it. If you should return, To that black, barren land that bears the name of… Xanadu!

The lyrics, as far as I can follow, are about a spurned lover destined to see out his days in a forgotten land. I’m listening carefully, to see if there might be a metaphor hidden away in there – that the singer is actually just imagining himself in this black, barren land – but I can’t find any. This is literally a song about a far-off place called Xanadu, and a lonely man who lives there.

We arrive, of course we do, at a spoken word section that makes this song feel even more like a theme-tune. What was it to you that a man laid down his life for your love…? So wait… he’s dead? And Xanadu is some kind of afterlife? It ends with a question: Will you find your way back someday, To Xanadu…?

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Not if I can help it, mate… I jest. I like this song. It’s grown on me over the past four or five listens. I now find myself swaying and shaking imaginary maracas as it ends. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’ is crazy – the craziest record yet this year (and that’s a high bar!) But I’m going to have to do some research to find out what on earth inspired this hit single and got it all the way to the top of the charts…

It’s not from a movie, nor is it the theme to a cartoon. It’s a stand-alone pop single by an already established band. More on them later. Research into ‘Xanadu’ takes you all the way to Inner Mongolia in the late 13th Century – a capital of China, used as a residence by the Khans and ‘discovered’ by Marco Polo, via the biggest private estate in the world from the movie ‘Citizen Kane’. In both these examples, Xanadu was an example of opulence and splendour; whereas in ‘The Legend of…’ it’s painted as a wasteland, a place of exile. And, famously, this won’t be the last chart-topping single to name-check it…

Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich (with a name like that you couldn’t expect them to release normal music) were several years into their careers by this point, their biggest hits having been ‘Bend It!’, the superb, and really heavy for its time ‘Hold Tight!’, and ‘Zabadak!’ (which makes ‘Xanadu’ sound conventional.) They seem fun, loved an exclamation mark in their titles, and are a band I’m keen to listen to more of. Wiki lists them as ‘Freakbeat’, which I think sums up this song perfectly. Like so many bands we have met these past few years, Dave Dee and Co.’s chart success ended as the sixties drew to a close.

So we forge on, past the Eskimos, the Rockefellas and the Cinderellas, across the sands of Xanadu, to find out what 1968 has in store for us next. Whatever it is, it surely won’t be dull…