487. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin

More evidence that 1981 was a leap-forward for the charts. The year in which the decade truly began. Because this, this next record, it is… truly…

It’s My Party, by Dave Stewart with Barbara Gaskin (their 1st and only #1s)

4 weeks, 11th October – 8th November 1981

something? It’s a leap-forward, for certain, because we’ve heard nothing like this before at the top of the charts. Whether we ever needed to hear anything like this at the top of the charts is another question. At its most basic level, this is a cover of the Lesley Gore hit, a #9 (and US #1) in 1963. Except the original has been deconstructed, mashed, blended, twisted and fricasseed until what is being served up is almost unrecognisable.

I’m enjoying it, at first. The intro is the best bit: woozy drums, weird far-eastern sound effects, and the Cry if I want to… line chanted like a mantra. But as it goes on, the song veers in one direction then another, then another. I count three complete changes of tone and style. No, make that four. I’m starting to feel dizzy. Can I just hand over my next WTAF award now?

Is this good? Or is it terrible? I can’t think of many records that straddle the line so completely as this. There are flashes – mainly when the charm of the original manages to shine through – where it’s really fun. But there are other times when it feels like this production is being controlled by a five-year-old banging away at the settings on their toy keyboard. Perhaps you could look at this as haute-couture music: just like nobody actually wears the clothes that come down the runway in Milan; probably nobody would listen to this by choice anymore. But the sounds and techniques used here would filter on down through the decade…

Or maybe that’s generous. Acts like The Buggles, and Soft Cell (who literally just took their version of a sixties gem to the top) have shown that you can sound ridiculously modern – emphasis on the ridiculous – and still make a great pop song. This one gets very lost along the way: there’s a moment, after the wedding bell sound effects and a theatrical gasp, when the final chorus clicks, and you can see that Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin had it in them to make this a great pop record. But, hey ho, it doesn’t last. Give me the sassy, swinging original over this any day. (Actually, I’ve just realised the difference between this and Soft Cell. Soft Cell lovingly re-crafted a classic; this sounds, at times, like art school students taking the piss – see the annoying way Gaskin squeals at the end of every ‘you’, for example.)

The Dave Stewart involved in this is not, as I immediately thought, the Dave Stewart of Eurythmics fame. This DS was a keyboard player and composer for various prog-rock bands throughout the seventies, before he hooked up with his former backing singer, Barbara Gaskin. Soon afterwards, they scored this huge hit, by far their biggest. They still work with one another, and have released seven albums together. And I do wonder if they chose ‘It’s My Party’ because it is such a typically old-fashioned, bubblegum hit, and the re-imagining is therefore so shocking. A few years later they tried to repeat the trick with a version of ‘The Locomotion’ that only made #70.

I still don’t really know what to make of this one, even after repeat listening. It is certainly something… Is it avant-garde, or just dumb? Impressive, or unlistenable? I can’t help thinking of that quote from ‘Jurassic Park’: they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they never stopped to think if they should…

For the first time in a while… A #1 that is missing from Spotify…

464. ‘Ashes to Ashes’, by David Bowie

Hot on ABBA’s heels, here’s another triumphant return to the top of the charts for a seventies icon.

Ashes to Ashes, by David Bowie (his 2nd of five #1s)

2 weeks, 17th – 31st August 1980

Unlike ABBA, however, this is only David Bowie’s second visit to the #1 spot, and his first with a new song (his earlier chart-topper being a re-release of his debut hit ‘Space Oddity’). It seems that Bowie could score his very biggest hits only if he was singing about Major Tom.

Do you remember a guy that’s been, In such an early song…? The fourth wall is broken in the first lines, while a woozy, harsh riff plays out on an instrument I am completely unable to name. It’s very new, quite avant-garde, the most eighties moment yet in this countdown. There’s also a reggae-ish feel to it, in the beat, and in the singer’s delivery.

It’s a bit of a hotch-potch, really. As with a lot of Bowie’s work, I wish I liked it more than I do. The verses are where my attention wanders the most. The lyrics and the beat trip over one another, and you’re left a bit lost. For the most part, though, I come down on the side of not caring if music is a bit beyond me, as long as it’s catchy. Luckily, this record has a killer chorus.

Ashes to ashes, Fun to funky, We know Major Tom’s a junkie… Is David Bowie Major Tom, and this record a look back at his struggles with drugs in the late seventies? Is he the Starman turned addict? Is Major Tom actually heroin…? The repeated closing lines… My mama said, To get things done, You better not mess with Major Tom… would perhaps bear this out.

The sinister music video – the most expensive ever made at this point in time – does little to clarify: it features Bowie in a clown suit, being followed by a bulldozer, releasing doves and rocking in a padded cell. (But I did find a great story from the making this video… On location, an elderly dog-walker refused to get out of one shot, and when the director asked if he knew who this man – pointing at the David Bowie – was, the old bloke replied: ‘Yeah, it’s some cunt in a clown suit.’ Bowie wore the insult with pride, apparently, for years after.)

I had a friend growing up who was obsessed with David Bowie, and with this song in particular. He was a bit of a pretentious arse, and perhaps I’ve always unfairly associated ‘Ashes to Ashes’ with him. Except… listening to it properly now, over and over, I’m not sure I wasn’t right all along. It is arty, and clever, and perhaps pretentious. Though both feature Major Tom, the shift from ‘Space Oddity’ to this is huge: perhaps the biggest change in sound between chart-toppers by any act so far. Which is fine. Good, even. Some people have to push the envelope, and Bowie did it better than anybody else, but sometimes it’s beyond me.

That doesn’t mean I don’t love a lot of his music. It’s just frustrating that the Bowie I enjoy most never made the top of the charts. Of his five #1s, four are from the eighties, while the seventies’ #1 was actually from the sixties. Hey ho. It’s becoming apparent that very few acts are best represented by their chart-toppers. At least he won’t have as long to wait for his next one…

448. ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II’, by Pink Floyd

Here we are then. The final #1 of the seventies, or the first of the eighties. Or both! And, well, at least we’re not ending with a whimper…

Another Brick in the Wall Pt II, by Pink Floyd (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 9th December 1979 – 13th January 1980

‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt II’ was of course, the Xmas #1 for 1979, and a couple of Christmas ‘must haves’ are present: a novelty element, and a children’s choir (of sorts)… It also acts as a bit of a ‘Best Of the Late-Seventies’, as musically it’s a blend of MOR rock, and disco. (The riff really puts me in mind of The Eagles’ ‘One of These Nights’… there are purists out there who’ll hate that comparison!)

And then there’s the band that put all this together, Pink Floyd: one of decade’s biggest, most successful, influential acts… scoring their first British hit since 1967. Like Led Zep, singles were beneath Pink Floyd, and they had to undergo some real persuasion to make this record. The disco beat, the children, releasing it as a single: all brainwaves from the song’s producer, Bob Ezrin.

We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control… Roger Waters wrote this record as a satire of his experiences at boarding school. The video features a giant cartoon teacher feeding hundreds of children into a meat grinder. The point is then literally ‘hammered’ home when the teacher turns into an, um, hammer… No dark sarcasm in the classroom…!

The best bit is when the kids take over for the second verse. Their Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone! is genuinely spine-tingling. We then exit with a long solo – again, I’m getting Eagles… – and you’re left kind of scratching your head. OK. That was… something. My uncertainty maybe comes from the fact that this is Pt II of III. The album version starts abruptly with a train screeching, and ends weirdly, with a telephone ringing, after some voice actors have yelled trippy lines like: How can have any pudding, If you don’t eat your meat…???

For those to potentially be the last words spoken on the final #1 of the 1970s is bizarre. I say ‘potentially’, for I don’t know if they were actually on the single edit. If you listen to all three ‘parts’ of ‘Another Brick In the Wall’ it does start to make a little more sense – Parts I and III are variations on the same riff – but, just to make things even more complicated, the tracks don’t even run concurrently on the album…

Another thing that the 168th #1 of the seventies brings back to the top, just in time, is prog rock. Or, at least, a prog band. It was one of the biggest genres of the decade, albums wise, but we haven’t seen much if it in the singles, for obvious reasons (like prog bands not bothering to release them!) You could make the case for 10cc’s ‘I’m Not in Love’, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ being prog #1s, but I’m struggling to think of others. Way, way back in my post on The Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now!’ I argued my ‘Problems with Prog’, and the same applies to Pink Floyd. As is pretty much the law, I bought a copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ aged seventeen, and listened to it… twice, maybe. I just didn’t get it; and didn’t have much inclination to try to get it.

Not that this isn’t an interesting song, though, and a fitting end to a rich and diverse year of chart-toppers. I’ve said it before: 1979 is the ‘best’ year of the ‘70s in terms of chart-topper quality (though 1973 would probably be my favourite year of the decade, just for all the glam stompers…) And it was a controversial Xmas #1, too. The London Education Authority labelled it a ‘scandalous’ slander on the teaching profession. Apparently the new Prime Minister, one Margaret Thatcher, wasn’t too keen on it either… Which is fitting, as quite a few of the biggest acts from this new and upcoming decade had plenty to say about her…

Listen to (almost) every #1 single from the 1970s here:

444. ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, by The Buggles

First up today, I’m going to christen 1979 as not only the best year of the decade for chart-topping singles, but also ‘The Year of the Piano Intro’. We’ve had Gloria Gaynor’s iconic flourish, The Boomtown Rats’ mini rock opera, and now this. A synth piano announcing that: this, this is going to be interesting…

Video Killed the Radio Star, by The Buggles (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 14th – 21st October 1979

I heard you on the wireless back in ’52… The singer reminisces about a simpler time, when music had a human touch. ‘Music was better in my day…’ Except, the twist is, this is a pretty avant-garde, electro-pop song. Exactly the type of music the lyrics complain about. Or are they complaining at all? Are they instead mocking people with nostalgic views on music…? Pictures came and broke my heart, Put the blame on VCR…

The lyrics, though, are not the first thing that slaps you around the chops when you hear this record. Like Tubeway Army, it is almost aggressive in its desire to sound like the future, though with a very different, perkier sound. I saw it described it as an ‘extended jingle’, which is pretty perfect. Even the two voices, a bubblegum girl and a morose lead, are filtered through various effects.

I like this, it’s fun, it’s a classic… But I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a little showy. That some bits – the noodley synth flourishes and the aww-ah-oh fills – are a bit much. It took, apparently, three months to record and, again in another link to Tubeway Army, was inspired by a sci-fi story, this time by JG Ballard. Still, they reign it in for the iconic, driving chorus: Video killed the radio star… In my mind and in my car, We can’t rewind, We’ve gone too far… It’s a bit Queen, a bit Sparks, and more than a bit unique.

The Buggles were a duo, Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes. Horn in particular had been around the music biz for a while, producing jingles among other things. ‘Video Killed the Video Star’ was their first and by far their biggest hit, though they’re not quite one-hit wonders. Horn certainly isn’t, he was lead-singer of Yes for a year or so before becoming a full-time producer. His fingerprints will be on several future number ones, well into to the 2000s.

What many won’t know is that this wasn’t the first recording of ‘Video…’ Horn and Downes had originally written it with Bruce Wolley, who released a still-interesting but slightly more one-dimensional version in 1978. What many will know is that this was the very first record to be played on MTV, on 1st August 1981. Which is cute, I guess, but led me to believe for many years that this was the first ever music video (which is nonsense, they’ve been around since the ‘60s). It also led me to believe that this song had been released in the ‘80s. It seems a bit strange to me that a brand-new, impossibly modern channel like MTV would launch by playing a near two-year old song, regardless of the apt lyrics. But then again, the 6th video played on MTV was ‘We Don’t Talk Anymore’, by Cliff Richard. Perhaps they weren’t going for ‘cutting edge’.

Finally, it’s worth noting that after decades of having to publish every one of my posts with those boring, stock-standard record-label sleeves… The age of the picture sleeve is upon us! Most of 1979’s chart-toppers seem to have had glossy (!), colourful (!) sleeves with pictures of the actual recording artists (!) Just like LPs! What on earth took them so long? While punk has to take the credit for the wild variety of sounds in this new-wave era; I’m giving disco, and the genre’s love for the 12” remix, the credit for sending pop music into technicolour. Just in time for a new decade…

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…

Follow along with my playlist:

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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