315. ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, by Slade

As great as our last chart-topper ‘Vincent’ was, you wouldn’t want to listen to it every day. Thank God, then, for Slade, getting us back into a hard-rocking, glam-boogying groove.

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Take Me Back ‘Ome, by Slade (their 2nd of six #1s)

1 week, from 25th June – 2nd July 1972

Their first number one, ‘Coz I Luv You’, was great but, as I noted at the time, it didn’t sound like the Slade that would go on to grab the charts by the balls. Their second chart-topper, though, sounds 100% like Slade. We’ve got Noddy hollering, a nasty riff, and some

Imagine the scene: closing time at a pub in Wolverhampton. Last orders, in more ways than one. Noddy needs a girl for the night, so he gets a wooing. Came up to you one night, Noticed the look in your eyes, Saw you was on your own, And it was alright… He has a way with words to rival Mungo Jerry and their attempts on ‘Baby Jump’: You and your bottle of brandy, Both of you smell the same… Is she really as rough as she sounds, or is he just a brute? Either way, I love the complete and utter lack of glamour.

So take me back home, Take me back home, And we can find plenty to do, And that will be alright… It’s an unsophisticated song. The hook is simply Holder drawing out his ‘all-rights’ in a sneery way. But, it’s great. I kept thinking that the riff sounded familiar, and then I realised that it simply sounds like 50% of Oasis’s mid-nineties output. (They always get the Beatles comparisons, but to me they ripped Slade off just as much. Anyway, more on Oasis in twenty years or so.)

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By the second verse, the handclaps have turned into terrifying horse-whips, increasing the glam-stop even further. And by the third verse, the girl’s boyfriend, who’s twice the size of Noddy, has turned up. I didn’t stay around to say goodnight… But it was alright… We fade out with Holder trying to punch through brick walls with his voice, then doing his best Marc Bolan stutter.

So Slade are a-go. Although I’d rank ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’ more alongside the Stones’ bluesy numbers from the sixties, ‘Honky Tonk Women’, ‘Little Red Rooster’ and the like, than  the pure glam that was to come. Few #1s have been as low-down and dirty as this. But, I like that this came just two weeks after T. Rex’s final chart-topper, ‘Metal Guru’, and that it feels like a passing of the glam-rock flame. Slade were now poised to become the biggest band in the country, and we’ll hear a lot more from them in the next year and a half.

304. ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’, by The Tams

Our last number one was a glossy, highly polished number from one of the world’s biggest female stars – Ms. Diana Ross. Which contrasts completely with this rough-and-ready next chart topper.

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Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me, by The Tams (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 12th September – 3rd October 1971

It starts with a simple drums and guitar intro. Then a refrain: Hey girl, don’t bother me… Hey girl, don’t bother me… Standard male vocal group stuff – think the Four Tops or the Miracles – but on a budget. Someone’s going for the Motown sound but without the backing of a major record label.

The lead singers voice is raspy and endearing: I heard about you from my friends… (I love the way he drags ‘friends’ out in a very ‘Murican way) The word really gets around… They say you broke the heart, Of every boy in town… He begs this floozy to stay away: Stay outta my arms, Don’t try to use your charms… Don’t bother me…

It’s a sweet song, despite the subject matter, and one that’s likeable from the start. When the handclaps start it seals this disc’s lo-fi charm. In the second verse, the singer admits that the girl is tempting, despite her reputation: But I really gotta say, You look so fine… He stands firm, though, determined not to be added to her list.

‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ stands right out in this countdown. We’re in the autumn of 1971, but this song sounds like a complete throwback. And that makes sense, seeing as it was recorded in 1964. To my ears it could have been even earlier. The Tams were a vocal group from Atlanta, who had had minor chart successes in the sixties but whose records were picked up by northern soul clubs in the UK. I can’t claim to be an expert on the northern soul scene in the seventies, but it was an offshoot of Mod culture, mainly in clubs in the north of England: Manchester, Wigan, Blackpool, down to Birmingham. They pushed lots of old soul discs back into the charts, and this one by The Tams made it all the way to the top.

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You can see why ‘Hey Girl…’ took off like it did. It’s a throwback, but it has enough of a guitar line and a stomp for it to fit in with the early seventies’ sound. You can imagine Mud doing a soft-glam cover version. Though I’m sure The Tams weren’t complaining, or inquiring as to the reasons for their sudden career resurgence in the UK. They will enjoy another mini-comeback fifteen years later, when their hit ‘There Ain’t Nothing Like Shagging’ makes #21 in 1987. (Stop giggling there at the back!) The ‘Shag’ is a dance, you see, (the official state dance of South Carolina!) and according to the song: There ain’t nothing like shagging, When you’re shagging with the one you love… There was a follow-up too – ‘My Baby Sure Can Shag!’ (Stop it!) Unfortunately, both were banned by a humourless BBC because ‘shagging’ means, erm, something else in Britain…

Anyway, back to ‘Hey Girl…’ It’s worth nothing that this is the third re-release to make #1 in the space of a year, following ‘The Tears of a Clown’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’. Not sure what to make of that… Were people already missing the sixties? Was it just a coincidence? It’s certainly adding to the already very eclectic feel of the charts in the early seventies!

Follow the #1s Blog playlist here.

288. ‘In the Summertime’, by Mungo Jerry

So we reach one of the most distinctive intros ever. Is it beatboxing? A comb and paper? A kazoo? Uh, ch-ch-ch… Who cares, it’s groovy, silly, fun, and it sets the tone for a brilliant #1 hit.

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In the Summertime, by Mungo Jerry (their 1st of two #1s)

7 weeks, from 7th June – 26th July 1970

Maybe it helps that I’m writing this in the garden on a fine spring afternoon, as the world prepares to tick over into what is hopefully a long, hot summer. But I’m sure that even if I were listening to this on a frigid mid-January’s morn, I’d get that holiday feeling. It’s irresistible – a record that sounds exactly as its title suggests. You can see why it settled in for a long old stretch at the top of the charts over June and July.

In the summertime, When the weather is high, You can stretch right up and touch the sky… It’s a little reggae-ish. There’s a music-hall piano in the mix, and a gentle guitar. Plus all the zzzhhs and the ooops that create the distinctive rhythm. It sounds like lots of things, and yet it’s distinctly original… Wiki lists it as ‘Skiffle’ and, yep, I can see that too… When the weather’s fine, You got women on your mind…

A group of lads, out looking for fun. The lyrics hit a little harder than the carefree beat suggests. Have a drink, Have a drive… (not a line you’d get away with these days, and indeed Shaggy had changed it by the time he took the song back into the Top 5 in the mid-nineties…) Go out and see what you can find…

And then a classic piece of advice: If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal, If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel… They get away with it, though, by sounding like clumsy kids just looking for a good time. You can imagine them giving a cheeky wink as they sing it, the rascals. Life’s for livin’ that’s our philosophy…

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We get a little break, and some motorbike-revving sound effects thrown into the eclectic mix. Imagine driving along country roads to this, windows down, roof off. I have to admit I thought, right up until now, that the line in the second verse went ‘You can make it really good in the lay-by…’, you know, what with the driving theme. But no, that was just my mind in the gutter as usual. It’s: You can make it, make it good and really fine…

Mungo Jerry were a band led by Ray Dorset and an ever-changing cast of other musicians – even before they’d recorded this, their first hit, the line-up had changed, and it will do so again before their second chart-topper next year. The only thing I really knew about them, prior to writing this, was that Dorset had some spectacular lamb chop side-burns. But, they grew so big so quickly in the summer of 1970 that the phrase ‘Mungomania’ was coined. ‘In the Summertime’ hit #1 in a staggering twenty-six countries! We’ll meet them one more time, like I said, before long.

This is our third ‘summer’ themed number one, after Jerry Keller’s ‘Here Comes Summer’ and Cliff’s ‘Summer Holiday’, but I’d suggest that this is the definitive summer hit, one that still hits the spot fifty years on. Plus, it’s the only one of the three to actually hit #1 in the summer! Uh, ch-ch-ch… Uh, ch-ch-ch…

(EDIT! Having watched this video I’m now convinced that I’m correct on the ‘lay-by’ line! Watch his lips… And, to answer my question from the start – it’s a bottle!)

274. ‘Honky Tonk Women’, by The Rolling Stones

A few weeks after bidding The Beatles farewell, we’ve now reached the end of The Rolling Stones’ chart-topping career.

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Honky Tonk Women, by The Rolling Stones (their 8th and final #1)

5 weeks, from 23rd July – 24th August 1969

But, while The Fab Four bowed out with a not-very-Beatles-sounding #1, The Stones wrap things up by doing what they do best – some low-down, dirty rhythm and blues. It starts with a cow-bell, Charlie’s drums, some filthy guitar licks, and Mick’s drawl: I met a gin-soaked bar-room queen in Memphis… (was there ever a more Stonesy opening line than that?) She tried to take me upstairs for a ride…

In my post on their last #1, I wrote that ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ was a new leaf for The Stones, in that they gave up on their attempts at flower-power and psychedelica, and returned to straight-up rock ‘n’ roll. ‘Honky Tonk Women’, then, is a consolidation of that. It sets the template for the next fifty years of the band, through the twin glories of ‘Sticky Fingers’ and ‘Exile on Main St’, through to them becoming the biggest stadium fillers the world has ever seen.

It’s also, basically, Mick Jagger listing women that he’s shagged. The bar-room queen is followed by a divorcee in New York City, and the outrageous She blew my nose and then she blew my mind… line. Goodness. It’s the ho-o-o-onky tonk women, Gimme, gimme, gimme the honky tonk blues… It’s always easy to forget that Mick and Keith were from Dartford, Kent and not Tennessee or Alabama, such is the Americana that fills some of their biggest hits.

There is an elephant in the room, though. This is the first Stones’ single not to feature founding member Brian Jones, whose slow and acrimonious departure from the band had been confirmed earlier in the year. He was found dead in his swimming pool just three weeks before ‘Honky Tonk Women’ hit #1. A blues purist; we can but wonder if this song would have sounded different with him playing on it.

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Who knows? As it stands we get a sax solo, and a punch the air Woooo! at the very end. It must have been a fun song to write, to record, and to perform every night for the past half-century. I love it. A pure, unadulterated blast of rock ‘n’ roll. You can hear the seventies hits-to-come buried in it – the likes of ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Tumbling Dice’, ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and the like, right through to ‘Start Me Up’. Unfortunately, none of those records will reach top spot in the UK. The Rolling Stones bow out on eight.

Impressively, their final chart-topper gave them their longest run at number one. Quite unusual, that. Though the particularly eagle-eyed among you will notice that 23rd July to 24th August isn’t quite the five-weeks advertised. This is due to the chart publication dates, and collation methods, changing in the midst of ‘Honky Tonk Women’s’ run.

Farewell to The Rolling Stones, then. Without them and The Beatles around to hit #1 every few weeks it leaves a lot of room for some new guys to come along and dominate. The Stones would slowly fade into obscurity as their chart-topping days receded into the distance… Only joking! They remain a going concern – give or take a few changes in line-up – well into their seventies, while Keith Richards’ continued existence remains one of life’s great mysteries… Their most recent album ‘Blue and Lonesome’, even hit #1 in the UK in 2016.

I’ll maybe do a Stones Top 10 soon, covering all their UK singles, but just for fun here’s my ranking of their eight British chart-toppers – based completely on personal preference – from ‘worst’ to best. *Clears throat*:

‘Little Red Rooster’ > ‘It’s All Over Now’ > ‘The Last Time’ > ‘Paint It, Black’ > ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’‘Honky Tonk Women’ > ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ > ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’

Let me know if you agree, or not.

Listen to every number one, including all eight from The Stones, here:

264. ‘Albatross’, by Fleetwood Mac

One question springs immediately to mind upon listening to our next #1: This is Fleetwood Mac? The Fleetwood Mac? The ‘Don’t Stop’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Little Lies’… Fleetwood Mac? Well yes, yes, and yes.

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Albatross, by Fleetwood Mac (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 29th January – 5th February 1969

And that’s not the only strange thing about this record. In fact, pretty much everything about this record is strange. It is one of the least ‘number one’ sounding number one records ever. It’s a musical interlude, the background soundtrack to an advert for roast lamb, the music played in a wellness spa… It’s ‘Chillout – Vol I’, three decades early.

That’s not to say it’s bad. I like it. It’s not the sort of thing I usually like; but I do. It’s a song called ‘Albatross’, which sounds exactly like an albatross soaring over the ocean. The insistent, see-saw bass is the bird’s wings, the guitar its call, and the cymbals the waves crashing below… As an instrumental it works. It doesn’t need lyrics. Lyrics might, and I’m going to contradict everything I’ve ever written about instrumental records here… Lyrics might have ruined it.

Placing this in context, in the late sixties, it is definitely the sort of record that you’d slip on before lighting up your bong and settling down to stare at a magic-eye picture. So, in some ways it’s a random January chart-topper; in other ways it makes complete sense for it to have hit #1 when it did.

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What makes less sense is that this record will be Fleetwood Mac’s sole UK #1 single. One of the biggest bands of the seventies and eighties scored their one week at the top in 1969. In truth, they enjoyed far more singles chart success in the States than in their homeland. 1969 was actually their best year in the UK – one number one and a couple of number twos. Their huge hits from ‘Rumours’: ‘Dreams’, ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Go Your Own Way’ were huge hits only in America. Over the Atlantic none of them broke the Top 20.

Having said that, this Fleetwood Mac are a very different Fleetwood Mac to the one that everyone thinks of. Christine McVie would join in the early seventies, Stevie Nicks and Lindsay Buckingham in the middle of that decade. Only Mick Fleetwood and John McVie were around for ‘Albatross’, when they were a much blues-ier band.

In my mind, Fleetwood Mac will be forever linked with The Moody Blues, for the simple reason that my parents would play them – a lot – during long car journeys, and my heart would always sink when the tape came out. The Beatles, The Stones, The Eagles or ABBA? No problem. Simon and Garfunkel? Tolerable. The Moody Blues or Fleetwood Mac? Time to get my Walkman out. I’ve grown to like the Mac in old age more than I have The Moody Blues. But still, when I hear the synth intro to ‘Little Lies’ I instinctively shudder. Perhaps if the ‘Greatest Hits’ my parents owned had included their sixties hits, and their one and only chart-topper, I might have been won over much earlier…

260. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’, by Joe Cocker

I recently did a series of posts on cover versions of #1 songs – previous chart-toppers that had been reimagined in different ways by different artists. ‘Different’ being the important word – a good cover version should bring something new to the table. What’s the point in releasing a karaoke version of the original? And while we have had plenty of cover versions hit number one already, this one takes the concept to another level.

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With a Little Help From My Friends, by Joe Cocker (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 6th – 13th November 1968

The Beatles’ version of ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ had been released the year before, on the ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club’ LP. Joe Cocker, a British blues-rocker who had been around for a few years without enjoying much chart success, took it and made it his own. It’s slower, heavier, longer, downer and dirtier… Re-acquaint yourself with the original here, then settle in for the Cocker treatment.

It begins with a distant organ, as if you were standing outside a church before evensong. It’s an ominous build-up… You’re ready for something to happen. Then wham. Guitar! Proper hard-rock guitar. Hendrix and Clapton kind of guitar. The type of guitar that’s been nowhere near the top of the charts before. It’s bombastic, and outrageous. It makes you want to make devil-horns and punch the air.

The lyrics are the ones you know. What would you do, If I sang out of tune, Would you stand up and walk out on me…? But it sure isn’t Ringo singing it. Cocker’s voice is husky, and soulful. He delivers the lines late, squeezes the words in before the next one comes along. The backing singers, so important in any version of this song, sound like a gospel choir: How do I feel at the end of the day…? Are you sad because you’re on your own?

The best bit is the bridge – the Do you need anybody… bit. The guitars go super heavy and crunchy, like a motorbike revving up. The second time around, especially, when Cocker howls and the backing singers soar and we launch into the final minute of a mini rock-opera. I know we’ve had a lot of soul number ones in recent years – The Small Faces, Chris Farlowe, Long John Baldry and more – but this takes it to the next level.

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It kind of sounds a bit like a jamming session, or at least a live version, and that really adds something to the song. They captured lightning here. They would never have been able to re-record this exactly the same – it’s too raw, too intense. It lacks the polish of a regular #1 single, but you’re oh so glad that it somehow managed to have its week in the top spot

As I mentioned, it’s another long number one. You wait years for a #1 single that lasts longer than five minutes, then three come along at once. And that’s not all that links this to the previous two #1s. We’ve now had a number one recorded by The Beatles (‘Hey Jude’) replaced by one that was produced by a Beatle (‘Those Were the Days’) replaced in turn by a number one written by The Beatles. In case you’ve lost count, this is the fourth Beatles cover to reach the top in the past five years. They may have been reaching the end of their career as a band, but their grip on the charts wasn’t weakening.

We end in a frenzy of organs and guitars, as Cocker ad-libs over the fade-out. Phew. It’s not a subtle re-interpretation, I will admit, but for me it works. I knew this record by reputation, but it’s been great to give it an in-depth listen. ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ is a song that will pop up another two times in this countdown, and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that neither of the upcoming covers are fit to lick this one’s boots…

Joe Cocker will only have one more Top 10 hit, until the early-eighties when he will record ‘Up Where We Belong’ with Jennifer Warnes for the soundtrack to ‘An Officer and a Gentleman.’ From Sheffield, but sadly no relation to Jarvis Cocker, he was still scoring Top 20 albums in the ‘00s and the 2010s. He died in 2014.

223. ‘All or Nothing’, by The Small Faces

1966 has been a pretty cool year in terms of its chart-toppers. Nancy’s boots, The Walker Brothers, the cynical Stones and Dusty finally making it… Plus a lot of soul: The Spencer Davis Group, Georgie Fame and, most enjoyably of all, Chris Farlowe. To that list you can now add The Small Faces.

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All or Nothing, by The Small Faces (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd September 1966

This is another cool record, and it’s cool from the very start – from the fade-in drum roll. We’ve not had one of those before at the top of the charts. Then a trippy riff, and a wistful voice: I thought you’d listen, To my reasoning, But now I see, You don’t hear a thing… Intelligent lyrics, and I do love the bravado required to rhyme ‘reasoning’ with ‘hear a thing’. The singer is trying to make his lover see that he doesn’t share. Things could work out, Just like I want them to, If I could have, The other half of you… And then an ultimatum: All or nothing, For me…

The guitars in the chorus are thick and chunky. Very forward-thinking. Very power-pop. It’s The Undertones come a decade early. I’d rank it along with ‘You Really Got Me’ and ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ as one of the heaviest #1 singles so far. Although ‘All or Nothing’s heaviness is more subtle, not as in your face.

And it doesn’t last the whole song through. There’s a mellow ba-ba-ba-baba refrain mid-way through, and then a funky breakdown towards the end. And lots of great soul shout-outs from the lead-singer Steve Marriott. It’s amazing to think that he was just nineteen when this was recorded. Aw Yeahs, and Hear my children sing!, and Gotta keep on tryin’! And when he belts out the crucial I ain’t tellin you no lie, So don’t just sit there and cry! line, it’s a real finger-kiss moment. It’s a record that packs a lot in to its three minutes. Funky, heavy, soulful… A song I knew vaguely; but hadn’t realised just how forward facing it sounded. If you were a pop-loving kid in 1966, this is what your cool older brother would have been listening to.

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That’s the best word for this record. Cool. No point searching for a better one. Another cool chart-topper for the year. In pictures from the time, The Small Faces look the part too. Mods, with long hair and sharp suit jackets. And they crammed a lot into their four years together. (It is amazing, isn’t it, how many of these mid-sixties groups fell apart after just a few years – with a couple of obvious exceptions…) Like The Troggs from two posts back, certain other of their hits far outshine their one and only chart-topper. ‘Itchycoo Park’ made #3 the following year, and ‘Lazy Sunday’ – for many a year the only Small Faces song I knew – made the runners-up position in 1968. Neither of those songs sound anything like the heavy, soulful R&B on ‘All or Nothing’, which speaks to the band’s quality and creativity.

I have to admit that I thought I had imagined some link between The Small Faces and The Faces – assuming that it was just a coincidence in naming. But no, I was right: Marriot left, the remaining Faces dropped the ‘Small’ and recruited Rod Stewart. Rod the Mod, as he was back then. The rest is history. Marriot died tragically young, in a house-fire aged just forty-four. He’s kind of forgotten today, in the pantheon of sixties stars, which is a shame, as his legacy helped shape both punk and Britpop. The Jam and Blur certainly owe him a debt, anyway.

The Small Faces, then, with their one and only week atop the British Singles chart. Sit back, and Hear the children sing!

Keep up with this Spotify playlist:

220. ‘Out of Time’, by Chris Farlowe

Amidst all the great pop being produced in the mid-sixties, two acts inevitably stand out above the rest. The Beatles and The Stones. Lennon & and McCartney, Jagger & Richards. Trading blows at the top of the charts. But John and Paul could always boast one original claim: that, on top of the ten #1 singles they have appeared on, they had written three more for other artists. ‘Bad to Me’, ‘A World Without Love’, and ‘Michelle’… Until now.

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Out of Time, by Chris Farlowe (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th July – 4th August 1966

For it is with much fanfare that we announce Mick and Keef as official ‘Chart-Topping Songwriters For Other Artists’, as Chris Farlowe takes ‘Out of Time’, from The Stones’ ‘Aftermath’ album, to the very summit of the hit parade! For a long time, I must admit, I did not know this was a Stones original. Which is strange, as the lyrics are straight from page one of the Rolling Stones’ songbook.

You don’t know what’s going’ on, You’ve been away for far too long, You can’t come back, Think you are still mine… A patronising, slightly threatening approach to women? Ladies and Gentlemen – The Rolling Stones! (See also ‘Under My Thumb’, ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘Stupid Girl’.) You’re out of touch my baby, My poor, old-fashioned baby… Baby, baby, baby, You’re out of time… It’s a song about a miscommunication: the girl was under the impression her BF would wait for her while she was away; BF was under no such illusion. And yes, he’s a dick, no disputing, but calling somebody ‘obsolete’ while you dump them is pretty bad-ass.

Chris Farlowe has one hell of a voice. It’s soulful and husky. He sounds like he smoked at least twenty a day. Maybe the reason that I went for so long without realising that ‘Out of Time’ wasn’t his song is down to the fact that he completely owns this record. He sounds like he’s having a ball. He sings it with a cocky confidence, a knowledge that there will be twenty more girls where this last one came from… I love the drawn-out sneer in the ‘tiiiiiimeee’, the ‘Ha!’ and the ‘Yeah!’ before the final chorus, and the way they call ‘Is everybody ready?’ before launching into an encore. (Some sources suggest that that is Mick and Keith themselves on the backing vocals…)

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Compared to The Stones’ version (which you can listen to here), and even though Mick Jagger produced this cover, Farlowe’s is a very different beast. Soaring strings, crashing Wall of Sound drums, and swooping, doo-wop backing singers accompany him. The original is much more stripped back: all organs and finger clicks. It’s also much harsher: switch ‘old-fashioned’ for ‘discarded’, and add a verse about how the girl has ‘had her day.’ Farlowe’s version is more likeable, way more over the top, making it easier not to notice how unpleasant the song is. The Rolling Stones leave you in no doubt…

Chris Farlowe featured on the first sixties compilation I ever heard, as young boy, on a cassette in my parents’ car. It was his version of ‘Handbags and Gladrags’, which came before Rod Stewart, and then The Stereophonics, did it to death. And I remember thinking distinctly, even as an eight year old, that he had a voice and a half. Why he wasn’t bigger than he was is a strange one. He had had one, minor hit before this, and his biggest hit after ‘Out of Time’ was ‘Handbags…’ which only made #33. And I have to admit, while listening to him sing in the car as a kid, and for years afterwards, I imagined him to be black. Racial profiling by voice? Maybe. As you can see from the picture up there, he is most definitely white.

His sound is – I’m starting to notice – very 1966, coming hot on the heels of The Spencer Davis Group’s couple of #1s, and Georgie Fame. All white boys doing soul. And that, like most hot sounds of the sixties, didn’t last long. Flower power is coming. Maybe Farlowe just couldn’t adjust. He still tours, with jazz bands and Van Morrison, and was included in the 50th Anniversary celebrations of England’s Football World Cup win (‘Out of Time’ was at #1 the week of the final against West Germany.)

Follow along with this handy playlist:

212. ‘Somebody Help Me’, by The Spencer Davis Group

The Spencer-Davis’s return with a quick-fire #1, barely three months after the first. It’s not a record that rings a bell but, as soon as I press play, I know I’ve heard this before, somewhere, sometime…

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Somebody Help Me, by The Spencer Davis Group (their 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th April 1966

Like ‘Keep on Running’, it all kicks off with a bass riff. But one a bit mellower, a bit more understated, and not quite as filthy sounding as in their first chart-topper. Somebody help me, yeah… Somebody help me, now… Won’t somebody tell me what I’ve done wrong…

It’s a song that tells a bit of a story. The singer had a girl, his Queen, back when he was seventeen, but lost her. Since then he’s been unable to find a new one. Now I’m so lonesome, On my own… (If the stalker-ish lyrics to ‘Keep on Running’ were anything to go by, it’s easy to guess why she dumped him.) And that’s about it. A simple enough rock ‘n’ roll record.

Like its predecessor, ‘Somebody Help Me’ has got a nice soulful vibe to it – especially in the bridge – in the I need a girl, To hold me tight… – plus I like the funky guitar licks at the end of the lines. The Spencer-Davis’s liked a crunchy guitar, which gives their songs quite a Kinks-y feel. And it’s the shortest chart-topper we’ve had in a long time, coming in at bang-on two minutes. Which is fine – there’s absolutely no need for this disc to be any longer.

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It’s a forgotten record, I’d say. A forgotten gem…? I’m not sure. Is it quite a ‘gem’? It’s definitely a groovy little record (we’re allowed to say ‘groovy’, by the way – it was the style of the time…) One that adds texture to the way Beat pop was splitting into different sub-genres. I’m not sure whether to go as far as calling it a ‘Shadow Number One’ – a song that only hits the top because of its more famous predecessor. Because A) it’s a good enough record to have reached the top on its own merits, and B) it managed a fortnight at the top while ‘Keep on Running’ only got a single week.

Interestingly, this song was, like ‘Keep on Running’, written by reggae singer Jackie Edwards. But he doesn’t seem to have ever recorded it. And, like so many bands of this era, The Spencer Davis Group didn’t last very long. They had a couple more Top 10s – including the classic ‘Gimme Some Lovin’, which is probably better known than either of their chart-toppers – before lead singer Steve Winwood left.

And that was all she wrote for the Spencer-Davis’s at the top of the UK Singles Chart.  They’ve reformed over the years in a variety of guises. Except… Winwood would go on to have a half-decent solo career, with a handful of eighties hits. One of which – ‘Valerie’, from 1982 – went on to be noticed by Swedish DJ Eric Prydz. He loved the vocals, persuaded Winwood to re-record them, and they formed the basis for his 2004 #1 ‘Call on Me’. So… we will hear the soulful tones of Winwood one more time in this countdown, in precisely thirty-eight years’ time. Aren’t the charts fascinating?

185. ‘Go Now!’, by The Moody Blues

Hot on the heels of Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames’ snazzy ‘Yeh Yeh’, an equally quirky record pops up for a week at the top of the UK charts.

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Go Now!, by The Moody Blues (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th January – 4th February 1965

We’ve already sa-id… I like records that just get on with it – no drawn out intro, no nothing – and this is one such disc. Goodbye… Voice, then piano. A thumpingly, clumpingly unsubtle piano. I mean this with no disrespect, but the piano here sounds like it’s being played by an elephant. I’d bet they overlaid several tracks one on top of the other to get the rich, heavy sound. I love it. Since you gotta go, Oh you better go now…!

It’s a song about a break up. The singer doesn’t want to break up, but if it has to be done then he’d rather his S.O. just got on with it. Cos darlin, darlin’, Can’t you see I want you stay, yeah-ah-yeah-ah… The singer – Denny Laine – has a voice every bit as soulful as Georgie Fame before him, and he holds nothing back. The way he sings/spits out lines like I don’t want you to tell me just what you intend to do now…, for example, is great, and deceptively hard to recreate.

The production too is thick and soulful, with hints of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the baroque minor keys that were about to become a big thing in sixties pop. (It’s actually a cover of an American R&B hit from earlier in the decade.) It’s also a very rough-and-ready recording – not perfect – with lots of crackly patches, as if the tape were struggling to contain the volume and the power of this band. I love the piano solo, one that rolls and cascades – a cross between a ship being tossed on stormy seas and Dante’s descent into hell. The ending is also a lot of fun, with a huge finish – the whole band appearing to shout out the title of the song before a very quick, slightly wonky fade.

‘Go Now!’ is another grown-up pop record – make that two in a row – and one that perfectly encapsulates the way pop music is now fragmenting and moving away from the Beat sound that has dominated for most of the past two years. New year, new sound etc. etc. It’s also a record that I’ve loved for many years – The Moody Blues being a staple of long family car journeys as a child. But, here’s the ironic bit… I really, really can’t stand any of The Moody Blues’ other songs…

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You see, after this – their one and only chart-topper – they started getting all experimental. Denny Laine left the band and a bloke called Justin Hayward came in, they ditched the pop/R&B and they went… (shudder)… progressive. Now, I love rock music. To me ‘rock’ is the foundation upon which all great music is made. Stick ‘garage’, or ‘hard’, or ‘glam’, or ‘electronic’, or ‘punk’, or ‘surf’, or even ‘yacht’, in front of ‘rock’, and I’m usually in. ‘Prog-rock’, though? I run a mile. Jethro Tull, Marillion, Pink Floyd, Yes!… No, no, no! Lock me in and call it ‘Room 101’. You can be experimental, and forward-thinking, as avant-garde as you like… but ‘Prog’? The minute you call yourself prog then your head’s gone too far up your arse. And The Moody Blues are the worst culprits for me because A) They started it and B) I had to sit through their ‘Best Of’ on many a long car journey, aged eleven.

It would start off well enough. Track 1 was ‘Go Now!’. Three minutes of pop bliss. But then there were nineteen other songs to sit through before it was over – none of which sounded anything like ‘Go Now!’. And prog-rock songs are never, ever as short as they should be… ‘Give me ABBA’, I would cry, ‘The Eagles or The Stones. Even Fleetwood Mac if you must. Anything but this.’ But my dad would stand firm, and we’d listen to the bitter end… I have especially painful memories of ‘Nights in White Satin’… And ‘Tuesday Afternoon‘…

Having studied The Moody Blues history ahead of this post, it seems that the blame can be laid squarely at this Justin Hayward fellow’s feet. Once he was in and Laine was out (Laine later joined Wings), ‘Go Now!’ seems to have been written out of the band’s history. They rarely performed it live, and it didn’t appear on any of their ‘Greatest Hits’ until the mid-1990s. (Which was precisely when my dad bought said CD for the car… Just think – there might easily have been no good songs on that album…)

Yes, let’s end this post on a positive note. Nineteen of the twenty tracks on The Moody Blues ‘Greatest Hits’ album may well be terrible songs. But the one good song on that album also happens to be their only #1 single. We won’t hear from them again on this countdown! We can just pretend that they were one-hit wonders! Pretend that the glorious ‘Go Now!’ was the only piece of music that the band ever offered to the world. Isn’t that a comforting thought…