Recap: #391 – #420

Our fourteenth recap takes us from mid-1976 through to the spring of 1978. Almost two years, which seems to be pretty standard for a run of thirty number ones singles. And while I recapped the previous thirty as pretty madcap and thoroughly zany; this thirty have been a bit more, well, dull…

The easy listening years are back, for the first time since the fifties. Soft rock rules the day. From October 1976, when Pussycat took ‘Mississippi’ to the top, right through until The Jacksons re-started the disco vibe in June ’77, we were planted firmly in the middle of the road. Chicago gave way to Johnny Mathis, to David Soul, Leo Sayer and then even Rod Stewart failed to get our pulses racing.

It’s one thing to be bad – plenty of 1974-5 chart-toppers were terrible – but it’s another thing to be boring. You remember Telly Savalas’s ‘If’, and The Wurzels, perhaps not always for the right reasons, but still. And I don’t want to suggest that just because somethings soft and subtle it can’t make a good record – I gave ‘If You Leave Me Now’ and ‘Free’ pretty good write-ups, I think. But it all did get a bit much.

Thankfully, in amongst the sludge, a great record popped up every now and then. We kicked off this thirty with The Real Thing (a fine pop song), and took a detour back to the glam era with Showaddywaddy and, I guess, with Manhattan Transfer. Kenny Rogers spun a yarn about Lucille, her spurned husband and their crops in the field (OK, maybe not a ‘great’ record, but still nice to have a bit of C&W at the top.) We also had a first appearance at the top of the charts by Elton John (with Kiki Dee), and Michael Jackson.

And, as 1977 drew to a close things started to pick up. Thank Donna Summer: ‘I Feel Love’ came along and kicked the charts up the arse. Pretty much everything since then has been more interesting, with higher beats per minute. Brotherhood of Man told two tales of Spanish lovers in ‘Angelo’ and then ‘Figaro’, the latter in particular being entertainingly ridiculous. Speaking of camp fun, how can we forget Baccara? Yes Sir, they could boogie. While Elvis left the building, and went ‘Way Down’, a fun rockabilly-disco effort to bow out on, tying with The Beatles for most #1s ever in the process. And I almost forgot, we finally had another ex-Beatle at #1. Wings stayed there for nine whole weeks with a song about Bonnie Scotland, and a song about a ‘Girls’ School’ in need of a thorough Ofsted inspection.

One band, though, has dominated in a way few ever do. There’s a reason why those four heads have been my cover image for the past few months. 1976-78 was ABBA’s world; we were just living in it. Four chart-toppers in this period: most recently the straight-forward dance-pop of ‘Take a Chance on Me’, following on from two more experimental singles in ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘The Name of the Game’. And… oh yeah. There was ‘Dancing Queen’. That fairly well-known pop tune. Meanwhile, the nerd in me does enjoy the fact that their chart-topping runs went six weeks, five weeks, four weeks, three weeks… (And their next number one – some way off – will get two weeks!)

Let’s dish out some awards then, shall we. First up, the ‘Meh’ Award, ‘cause let’s be honest, a lot of our recent hits have been pretty darn ‘meh’. But like I said, just because a song is easy on the ears doesn’t automatically make it dull. So I’m giving Chicago, Leo Sayer and the likes a pass. I considered ‘Mississippi’, and I considered Deniece William’s fairly forgettable ‘Free’, but sorry I’m giving it to Rod. His double-‘A’ of ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ and ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ was musically fine, but he’s capable of better. He’s Rod Stewart, for God’s sake! (He’ll redeem himself in future recaps, I’m sure…)

We were spoilt for choice with the WTAF Award last time out. This time it’s slimmer pickings. Let’s see… Julie Covington for taking a showtune from a musical that nobody had even seen yet to the top? The Brotherhood’s sleazy ‘Figaro’? The Floaters’ horoscope based one-hit wonder? Nope. I’m going for the hit song about the classic novel, sung in an unnaturally high pitch, by an eighteen-year-old. Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a classic, and by the standards of previous winners not that weird, but there you go.

To the The Very Worst Chart-Topper. Again, many have been bland, but few have been ear-achingly crap. I have it down to two. In the red corner, David Soul’s drippy, droopy ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’. In the blue corner, Demis Roussos’s four-for-the-price-of-one ‘The Roussos Phenomenon E.P.’ Demis did inflict four whole songs on us… but he did so with such window-shattering conviction that I’m inclined to let him off. David Soul takes it! Though I should mention that he redeemed himself with the much more fun ‘Silver Lady’ a few months later.

OK. Very Best Chart-Topper time. In my last post, on ‘Wuthering Heights’, I noted how the ladies had taken over the top of the charts in recent months. And then I noticed that I have never awarded a Very Best Chart-Topper to a female act or artist. Therefore, I can confirm that the 14th best chart-topper will feature a woman. For I have it down to four: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘I Feel Love’, Hot Chocolate’s ‘So You Win Again’, and Althea and Donna’s ‘Uptown Top Ranking’. And the all-male Hot Choc are out first. It’s a superb song, pop gold, but it falls a smidgen short. As do Althea and Donna, with their cool slice of reggae. Again, great, and unlike anything else in the previous thirty, giving heart attacks in their halter backs, but they’re up against two of the greatest records ever recorded.

‘Dancing Queen’ is wonderful, a record that never ever seems to get overplayed. ‘I Feel Love’ is nowhere near as commonly heard, and is not a particularly ‘friendly’ record. Any other time, ABBA would walk it… plus, I know they have more classics to come… So Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder take it. Nothing that came before has sounded like ‘I Feel Love’; but a lot of what followed will, and that is the mark of a fantastically influential record right there.

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.

Going by the last few #1s, things are looking up for the end of the seventies. For believe it or not, our next thirty chart-toppers will take us – just – into the 1980s!

Recap: #361 – #390

To recap, then, for the thirteenth time (unlucky for some…)!

What a complete and utter hodgepodge the last thirty #1 singles have been. Last time round, glam had given way to disco, which has now given way to… mayhem! 1975, perched right in the middle of this recap, has to be the most eclectic year for chart-topping singles yet. Possibly ever.

We’ve had two sticks of bubble-gum from The Bay City Rollers – one that was quite fruity, one that lost its flavour within a minute – and the band that briefly contended for their teenybopper crown, Slik. Plus some pure Eurovision cheese from Brotherhood of Man.

Not once, not twice, but thrice we’ve had people better known for their TV work hitting the top spot. Telly Savalas growled his way into our hearts on ‘If’, Don Estelle and Windsor Davies came at us in character, as WWII soldiers in Burma, from their hit sitcom. And comedian Billy Connolly turned Tammy Wynette’s ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’ into a shaggy dog tale. You really had to have been there, I guess.

Speaking of Tammy, she had already gotten there under her own steam, out of nowhere, with a re-release of ‘Stand By Your Man’. And that wasn’t the only sixties re-issue to hit the top: we finally met David Bowie, in the guise of Major Tom, as his 1969 debut hit ‘Space Oddity’ re-peaked, and did what none of his seventies classics could do.

And Bowie wasn’t the only chart legend to make their first appearance on this countdown. Queen stormed to the top at the end of ’75 with the unmistakeable ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which took residence in pole position for longer than any other record had in the previous two decades. The fact that these two innovative and most highly-regarded of #1s were prevented from replacing one another by a Glaswegian comedian singing about his dug pretty much sums up this bonkers era.

Then there was the one and only chart-topper from the one and only Status Quo: ‘Down Down’ was the first, and the hardest rocking (except for those 30 seconds of Bo Rap), #1 of the new year. And if that wasn’t enough fun and games, we ended last time out on The Wurzels, singing about their ‘Combine Harvester’, and jigging round an ‘aybale.

Still, through it all ran a sturdy backbone of disco and soul. Barry White kicked us off, then The Tymes, The Stylistics, The Four Seasons and Tina Charles all took us for a shimmy under the disco ball. It is still the sound of the era; it just had to fight to be heard amongst all the wackiness.

And what of glam, the sound that was on its last breath when we paused for the previous recap? Well, there were still flashes. Mud, the band with the best #1 last time, scraped the barrel with their OK-ish Elvis tribute for Christmas, and their pretty dire Buddy Holly cover. Meanwhile Pilot, Steve Harley and the aforementioned Slik took elements of glam, and incorporated them into more middle of the road rock singles.

So, it kind of sounds like it’s been a bit of a free-for-all: command of the charts offered up for grabs to the act that grabs the public’s imagination in any given week. But, slowly and effortlessly, one band has begun to position themselves for world domination. ABBA kicked off 1976 with their signature tune ‘Mamma Mia’, then followed it up with campfire singalong ‘Fernando’. It’ll come as no surprise when I tell you that the next couple of recaps will be very ABBA-heavy. And bring it on, I say!

To the awards, then. Three of which I found very easy to dish out. Starting with the WTAF Award for being memorable if nothing else… Where to start? There have been so many novelties, so many curios, this time out that would have walked away with the trophy at any other point. Typically Tropical took us to Barbados, Don and Windsor to the Far East, The Wurzels to deepest Somerset… But one man still stands out. One shiny-headed, cigar-chewing, gold-shirted Adonis. Telly Savalas takes the prize, without actually singing a note!

The ‘Meh’ Award is similarly easy to dish out, as there have been very few dull moments this time around. Pilot’s ‘January’ was functional pop-rock, The Bay City Rollers cooed and sighed their way through ‘Give a Little Love’… But the record that sparked the least interest in me – good or bad – was Art Garfunkel’s perfectly pleasant, glossy reworking of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper, then, of the past thirty. There were a lot of questionable moments but, to be honest, this is no contest whatsoever. J. J. Barrie’s ‘No Charge’ was not just the worst of the past bunch; it might well be the worst of our 390 #1s so far. I hated it that much. Release a novelty all you want: make it cheesy, make it catchy, make it in your face, make it brazenly offensive… Just don’t make it so earnest and saccharine that I want to rip my ears off and pour molten lava down the holes.

Now for the tough bit. Our thirteenth Very Best Chart-Topper. I have a shortlist of five. Two are chosen by my head; two chosen by my heart. One straddles the divide. The two I feel I should include, because they are spectacular pieces of music well-loved to this day, are 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. But… going with your head is dull. The heart must lead the way. My heart says ‘You’re the First, The Last, My Everything’ and ‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, for being brilliantly catchy and very of the moment. If I want a disco winner, I’m sorted… Then there’s the other one. Bowie.

I feel he should win; objectively speaking it’s the best song. And, let’s be honest, this is his best chance. Bowie’s four remaining #1s are not as good, and probably won’t be in the running when it comes to their respective recaps. But! I don’t want to think like that – I want my recaps to be based solely on the thirty #1s within… Which adds another layer: ‘Space Oddity’ is a song from 1969. It is great; but it’s out of place. The chronology will be messed up! (I passed over Jimi Hendrix for similar reasons…)

Ugh. OK. I either award it to the best song; or I keep things chronological. And at the end of the day it should come down to the music alone. ‘Space Oddity’ takes it. Ground Control to Major Tom… you’re a winner, baby!

To recap the recaps…

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.

Recap: #331 – #360

To recap then…

It’s a recap of a pop music scene in flux. The last recap was ‘The Glam Recap’ – with huge hits from Slade, T Rex, the Sweet, Wizzard et al – while these past thirty discs have seen glam lose its grip on the top of the charts, to be replaced by disco and soul. The change, when it did come in the summer of ’74, was swift and merciless.

But let me take you back, to the spring of ’73. We started this run off with some heavy hitters: Suzie Quatro telling us to ‘Can the Can’, Slade going straight in at the top with the Slade-by-numbers (but still catchy as hell) ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’. Then enter Gary Glitter. Not the disgraced pervert we think of these days, but a sparkly jump-suited behemoth declaring ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang! (I Am!)’ By the time we reached the final #1s of ’73, two glam rock records entered at the top and sold a million, one by Glitter and one which you have probably heard a lot this month, and it all proved too much to maintain.

Glam rock died in the spring of 1974. It descended into the rock ‘n’ roll pastiches of, yes, Gary Glitter – as catchy as he was – Alvin Stardust and The Rubettes. Decent enough pop songs, but nowhere near the level of ‘Get It On’ or ‘Block Buster!’ The corpse still had a few decent farts left in it, though. Nobody can deny the stupid brilliance of ‘Tiger Feet’, or of ABBA’s glorious arrival on the scene with ‘Waterloo’. (Meanwhile, the man I always hold up as the gold-standard of glam, Ziggy Stardust himself, has been noticeably absent from the top of the charts, for now. Maybe by our next recap…)

Then arrived the other-worldly ‘Rock Your Baby’, bringing disco and soul in equal measure, and suddenly American pop was the standard-bearer once again. The Three Degrees followed, Carl Douglas went ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, and John Denver wrote a song for his love Annie.

Of course, this is only telling half the story. Not every number one fits the narrative. Dotted in between these genre-defining hits we’ve had solid, timeless pop from the likes of Peters and Lee, The New Seekers (making up for their horrid Coca-Cola jingle), the classy Charles Aznavour and the glossy Sweet Sensation (who showed that the Brits can get just as soulful as the Yanks.)

We also bid farewell to the decade’s biggest teen-idols: Donny and David. Donny’s final #1 was a limp cover of Tab Hunter’s ‘Young Love’, which confirmed the 1950s as ancient history ripe for rediscovering. His brothers also nabbed their one and only chart-topper, too, while David Cassidy skipped off into the sunset singing ‘Daydreamer’. But with the most recent #1 we met another David, Essex this time, and he might just be the man to take over as idol du jour.

To the awards, then. First up, the ‘Meh’ Award. The song that moved me least this time around. I could say ‘Love Me For a Reason’, but that’s at least solid pop song. I could also say ‘Billy – Don’t Be a Hero’, by talent-show winners Paper Lace, or Ken Boothe’s ‘Everything I Own’. But again… no. I’m going to give it to John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’, for being a perfectly pleasant three minutes of folk-tinged country pop, but also for failing to get my pulse up in any way.

To be honest, the charts have been slightly more eclectic this time around. For the last recap we had some solid-gold classics to whittle down; and some complete stinkers to wade through. There just aren’t the same extremes this time. The records I name best and worst will not be the ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ of all time. They will just have been in the right or wrong place at the wrong or right time.

But before all that, we must award a WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else. There was ‘The Streak’, but I think I’ll save that for later. There was the Simon Park Orchestra’s ‘Eye Level’, from ‘Van Der Valk’, but it feels like a cop-out just giving it to the random TV theme #1. There was even 10cc’s ‘Rubber Bullets’, a zany, ping-pong record that packed a lot into its runtime. But… I think I’ll award it to a record that maybe suffers in its ubiquity. It’s a classic, one everyone knows, but if you sit down and actually listen to it… It is a strange, strange song. Carl Douglas’s ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ takes it.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper, then, of the past thirty. Whoever takes this can count themselves unfortunate to sit alongside utter turds like ‘Wooden Heart’ and ‘All Kinds of Everything’. But thems the breaks. Someone has to get it. Many would argue the case for ‘Seasons in the Sun’, but I can’t help kind of liking that one. Others would make a strong case for Donny O’s insipid cover of ‘Young Love’, but he won the last Worst award, and two in a row would just be plain bullying. So… Step forward Ray Stevens, Ethel and the News Reporter, for their work on the ‘The Streak’. A song, as I wrote in my original post, to make your teeth clench.

What, then, will be the 12th disc to join the ranks of The Very Best Chart-Toppers? I immediately have it down to three. ‘Waterloo’: the song I am this very moment naming The Last Great Glam #1. Except, I have a feeling that ABBA might be capable of even better than this, so I’ll place them 3rd and save them for later. Which means it comes down to a straight shoot-out: Wizzard’s often overlooked, Phil Spector inspired masterpiece, ‘Angel Fingers’, or Mud’s irrepressible ‘Tiger Feet’?

For the longest time, I assumed I’d give it to Wizzard. They just missed out last time, ‘See My Baby Jive’ finishing runner-up. And ‘Angel Fingers’ is wonderful – a million instruments and references crammed into five minutes of perfect pop. It did also, arguably, herald the descent of glam into rock ‘n’ roll tribute act, but I won’t hold that against it. And then there’s ‘Tiger Feet’, a song I’ve loved since I was a kid, and it would feel like a betrayal of the 10-year-old me to overlook it. And so, despite being aware that ‘Angel Fingers’ is the superior song, that must have taken weeks of Roy Wood’s loving effort, while Mud probably knocked ‘Tiger Feet’ out in an afternoon… ‘Tiger Feet’ takes it! Dumb, disposable pop wins. It always wins in the end.

Recapping the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.

Next up, we’re back into those disco vibes…

Recap: #301 – #330

To recap, then…

I like to give my recaps names, if I can: the rock ‘n’ roll recap, the Merseybeat recap… Welcome then, one and all, to the glam recap (Pt I). This one falls slap bang in the middle of the glam rock era. We’ve had T. Rex, and Sweet, and Alice Cooper, four from Slade and half of Wizzard’s chart-topping double. Still to come: Suzi Q, Mud, and a man by the name of Glitter…

We’ve gone exactly two years since our last recap, and I’d say these have been the most consistent sounding #1 records since that glorious thirty from 1963-64. Power chords, platform boots and lots of shiny things have been the order of the day. But. (There’s always a but…) It’s not all been great. While some of the records featured recently rank among my favourite number ones so far… others definitely rank among my least favourite.

We’ve jumped around from elation to nausea, from life-affirmingly good to life-shorteningly bad. Which means, first things first, I can get my ‘Meh’ Award out of the way nice and early. There is genuinely only one record from the past thirty that I haven’t had a strong opinion on. Congratulations to David Cassidy, whose cover of ‘How Can I Be Sure’ completely melted into the background.

If I had to think of a sub-title for this ‘Glam Recap’, it’d have to be ‘Plus more novelty hits than was entirely comfortable…’ There have been novelty hits since the dawn of the charts, your ‘How Much Is That Doggie’ and your ‘I See the Moon’… But they felt somehow genuine, like the artists set out to make a ‘real’ record and just got carried away. In recent months, there have been novelty chart-toppers that have seemed to exist only to get a reaction, only to amuse, only to annoy. For example, Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’, as much as I enjoy it, was a live recording released months later for the sole purposes, I’d guess, of annoying the purists and getting Mary Whitehouse’s knickers in a twist.

We’ve enjoyed (or endured) ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie’, the youngest ever chart-topping artist grinning his way through ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’, Chuck’s aforementioned ‘Ding-a-Ling’ and the irritating ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’. Not that I hated all these records – far from it – but they wanted a reaction, for better or worse. The only recent ‘novelty’ that I’d excuse as a genuine attempt to make a proper song is Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. That felt to me a genuine experiment, Joe Meek-esque, in pop music recording.

So. We are spoilt for choice in choosing our 11th WTAF Award. Except, beyond all the songs I just mentioned, there is one clear winner. One song for which this award was invented. A record that has no place at the top of the UK pop charts, a record that would look out of place in any era: The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, who invaded the top of the charts, bagpipes in hand, for five long weeks.

Away from all the silliness, we have encountered two of the biggest, most popular acts the British singles charts have ever seen. Yes, first T. Rex, and then Slade, have scored seven chart-topping singles between them these past two years, sharing twenty-two weeks at the top. Notably, Slade entered the charts at #1 with their last one, ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, and thus reached Elvis/Cliff/Beatles levels of adoration. Further similarities to the rock ‘n’ roll era, and the Merseybeat era, can be drawn here in the fact that this is music for young people, by young people, about drinking, dancing and all the other things that youngsters get up to.

And I’m not just talking teenagers: the tweens were well-catered for too. Enter Mr. Junior-High Heartthrob himself, Donny Osmond (squeal!). His cover of ‘Puppy Love’ was shamelessy, cynically, unabashedly released with a strict under-14s policy. If you were feeling a bit more rebellious , if you wanted to stick it to the man (well, your teachers at least) then Alice Cooper were bringing punk rock vibes for the summer holidays with ‘School’s Out’.

The grown-ups have been catered for, though, still. We’ve had glossy soul from Diana Ross, the first two of Rod Stewart’s chart-toppers – acoustic singer-songwriting at its very best – while we’ve also enjoyed two of the finest ballads known to man: Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ and Don McLean’s heart-breaking ‘Vincent’.

And the re-release culture that I remarked upon in my last recap – in which several sixties hits found new life in the early seventies – continued with The Tam’s ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ hitting #1 thanks to the northern soul scene. (You could also argue that Donny O, and to a lesser extent David Cassidy, were up to a similar kind of thing, when they resurrected long forgotten minor hits and gave them schmaltzy makeovers.) Plus, it wouldn’t be the early-seventies without some easy-listening cheese. Tony Orlando and Dawn supplied that by the busload in ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ while Gilbert O’Sullivan had a #1 single about babysitting

To the main awards, then. It’ll be a tough call in both sections. First, the latest Very Worst Chart-Topper. I haven’t held back in ripping records by Middle of the Road, The New Seekers, Little Jimmy O, and Gilbert O’Sullivan to shreds. But one man (well, boy) stands out, head and shoulders above the rest. Osmond! Report to the headmaster’s office immediately. For a while I thought nothing could stink worse than ‘Puppy Love’… Until his 2nd chart-topper ‘The Twelfth of Never’ came along. I’ve been trying to work out just why it was worse… And I think it’s because his voice had broken. Bear with me. ‘Puppy Love’, irritating as it is, was sung by a kid. A harmless enough little dweeb. But the follow up was sung by a teenager: the age at which you should be rebelling, experimenting, pushing the boundaries… Yet he released an even more insipid, saccharine pile of sludge. (I realise that Osmond probably had limited creative control over his output but still, he could have tried to sound less annoying.) So there we have it. ‘The Twelfth of Never’ wins.

To the Very Best Chart-Topper, then. Who gets to join Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, the Stones, Marvin Gaye and, um, Mungo Jerry? I’ve narrowed it down to… eight songs. Seriously. It’s an impossible decision. Here goes. First to get the chop are ‘Get It On’ and ‘Block Buster!’ (I love you, I’m sorry, goodbye.) I also love ‘Without You’ and ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, but not quite enough. In fourth place, just missing out on a medal… ‘School’s Out.’ Ah, this is hell… Top 3. In third place, simply because it’s sad, and I am feeling quite cheery today: ‘Vincent.’ Top 2. Excuse me while I just listen to them, one last time…

It’s decided. I think. Taking silver… Wizzard’s romping, stomping, bomping ‘See My Baby Jive’. Which means… drum-roll please… ‘Metal Guru’, T. Rex’s final, and finest, chart-topper, is the very, very best of a very good bunch.

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.

Before you go any further, why not read this article from The Guardian, about why Marc Bolan was the perfect pop star (just ignore the Guardian readers being Guardian readers in the comments below – what do they know?)

Coming up next, the Glam Rock Years (Pt. II)…

Recap: #271 – #300

To recap, then…

Usually one of our recaps is summed up by the ‘sound’ of the previous thirty chart-toppers. This recap, though, really doesn’t have an all-encompassing sound. We’ve been pinging around all over the place for the past couple of years. What sums up this thirty is the world outside the charts – the end of the sixties, the death of the hippy dream, Vietnam and Nixon, the Beatles’ split… All of which has fed into what we’ve been hearing at #1.

Perhaps this is best summed up by the three number ones during the summer of ’69. Two years previous it had been ‘All You Need is Love’, and ‘San Francisco’; now we got the final call towards a hippy utopia (‘Something in the Air’) before being dragged back down to earth by Zager & Evans’ terrifying visions of the year 2525. And in between those two we had The Rolling Stones doing what the The Rolling Stones do best, some low-down sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, consoling us with the knowledge that the world might be going to shit but we still have the Stones. (Hell, that still applies in 2020.)

Actually, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was their final #1 – we had to bid them farewell. As we did The Beatles, who bowed out with ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. It feels strange to think that this recap still includes The Fab Four, such is the distance we’ve travelled since then. In fact, this recap also includes the first solo chart-topper by a Beatle: George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Plus, we had an Elvis record at #1 again! And with the soaringly cheesy ‘The Wonder of You’ he became the first act to score chart-toppers in three different decades.

Like I said, it’s been a couple of years that have veered wildly, from pillar to post. From ‘Dizzy’, to CCR predicting the end of the world in ‘Bad Moon Rising’. From the uber-bubblegum of ‘Sugar Sugar’ to the granite tones of Lee Marvin. There’s been a backbone of great pop, though: ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’, ‘In the Summertime’ and ‘The Tears of a Clown’ all worthy of mention but not quite worthy of an award.

There have been plenty of outliers too, to keep things interesting. Which means awarding the latest WTAF Award will be a decision to ponder. There was alleged live, recorded sex (!) from Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, Rolf Harris riding the war-theme with ‘Two Little Boys’, a letter ‘Back Home’ from the England World Cup Squad, and Clive Dunn sitting all alone in his rocking chair, thinking… Plus the aforementioned Lee Marvin (with Clint Eastwood on the ‘B’-side!), Zager & Evans, and the bizarre-but-brilliant ‘Double Barrel’. But, for the terrifying imagery and the genuine feeling of impending doom… I’m awarding it to ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’.

It’s much harder to name a ‘Meh’ Award winner, for the record that struggled to make much of an impact because, to be honest, most of the past thirty songs have made an impression, for better or worse… I could give it to our most recent #1, Dawn’s ultra-cheesy ‘Knock Three Times’ but, I can’t lie: I was humming that in the kitchen this morning… No. One record stands out for me not being able to really remember it: Matthews’ Southern Comfort, with their cover of ‘Woodstock’. Pleasant, but completely unmemorable.

Although, ‘Woodstock’ does tie into what I was saying at the start about the charts beginning to reflect the wider world. That last Beatles’ #1 literally documented the end of the Beatles (it was quite meta, if you think about it), while I count two #1s about the end of the world, two about war, two related to Woodstock, one to the World Cup, two with fairly overtly religious themes, and one in which an old man contemplated his own mortality (see, even the novelties were thought-provoking this time out…)

However, in the early months of 1971, a new ‘sound’ finally emerged, one of the seventies own making. ‘Spirit in the Sky’ had hints of it, as did ‘I Hear You Knocking’. But with Mungo Jerry’s outrageous ‘Baby Jump’ and then T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ hitting the top – Glam Rock has arrived! It’ll dominate the next thirty number ones, and I can’t wait…

To the big two awards, then. What was the worst chart-topper of the past couple of years? I could do the big build-up, teasing a few sub-standard number-ones before WHAM! announcing a left-field winner. But, to be honest, this time it wasn’t much of a contest. Dana, my dear, step forward and accept your award for ‘All Kinds of Everything’. A toe-curlingly bad song about seagulls and lollipops and lots of other stuff I don’t care to remember. It’s our latest Very Worst Chart-Topper.

And the best? Thankfully, there’s a whole load of competition this time. One song that I have to get out the way first is ‘Band of Gold’… I had no idea how highly-regarded that song is. It’s on all kinds of ‘Best Songs Ever’ lists. I mean, it’s a great Motown-sounding song, but it’s not going to be my Very Best Chart-Topper. There’s also T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’. I love T. Rex, but I can’t do any more than really, really like ‘Hot Love’, and would be awarding it for reasons beyond the song. Plus, they’ve got three more #1s to come so there’s every chance that they’ll be winners in my next recap.

I’ve got it down to three. And I’m smiling as I write this, like King Joffrey at a beheading, because I know deep down what I’m about to do. In the blue corner, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. In the red corner, the Jimi Hendrix Experience with ‘Voodoo Chile’. And in the green corner (this is a triangular wrestling ring)… ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry. Simon and Garfunkel are there because I feel obliged to have them. They are the dweeby kids my mum has forced me to invite to my birthday party. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is an amazing, epic piece of music… But I just can’t love it like I should. It’s out.

‘Voodoo Chile’, in terms of sound, is one of the most forward facing, exciting, swaggering records to have ever topped the UK singles chart. It is a better song than ‘Baby Jump’, I am under no illusion (as is ‘Bridge…’) BUT. ‘Voodoo Chile’ was a song from 1968, re-released because Hendrix had died. I’m eternally grateful that it did get a week at #1, but it did so in the wrong decade, under special circumstances… Which means, in all its belligerent, crunching, leering, drunken beauty, Mungo Jerry’s house party from hell ‘Baby Jump’ is the winner! Hurrah!

(Hey, I spent the entire last decade very sensibly naming all the classics, your ‘Satisfactions’ and your ‘Whiter Shades of Pales’, as my Very Best Chart-Toppers. Allow me a moment of indulgence!)

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.

Read my previous recaps:

1-30, 31-60, 61-90, 91-120, 121-149, 150-180, 181-210, 211-240, 241-270

Recap: #241 – #270

Well, phew, we made it through the craziest run of number one singles yet. Time to pause and get our breath back.

The last 30 took us from the very end of 1967 through to the early summer of ’69. Through 1968, the most eclectic year for number one singles ever, I’m guessing. That’s the thing with these recaps. Sometimes there’s an overriding theme to them – the rock ‘n’ roll recap, the Merseybeat recap – sometimes there’s not. For recap #9, the very lack of an overriding theme is the theme. The eclectic recap.

Somethings about it are fairly predictable, though. This is a recap bookended by The Beatles’ 13th and 16th number one singles: ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and ‘Get Back’. They have just one more to come… Another theme that brings the last thirty together is length: our chart-toppers are getting longer. Several have gone beyond four minutes, and we broke the five minute barrier on three occasions. Hell, we even went beyond seven minutes on one memorable occasion.

We might as well get straight to it, then. Dishing out the latest WTAF Award for the records that were interesting if nothing else was always going to be a challenge this time around. I can count at least eight discs with a legitimate claim to the throne. Much easier, though, will be choosing the record that gets my ‘Meh’ Award for instant forgettability. Very few of the most recent #1s can be forgotten very quickly at all. I half-thought about ‘(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice’, by Amen Corner, as that didn’t really grab me. Or ‘Mighty Quinn’ by Manfred Mann for not being my cup of tea. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, by Marmalade for just being a super basic cover version. But no. One man shone out, duller than the rest. Step forward Des O’Connor, for re-invigorating an easy-listening genre that was so 1967. ‘I Pretend’ is our winner.

In another recap, any of these singles could easily be crowned the most bizarre: Georgie Fame’s ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ for the high body count. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’ for the obscene yodelling. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, by Dave Dee and Co. for taking us on a journey to… somewhere. ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, for being a very specific, and by this point two years old, movie score that people kept buying more than any other record for a whole month. Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)’ for its tale of a Neapolitan street-child done good. Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ because I couldn’t understand a word of it. Even ‘Get Back’, with Paul McCartney’s giggles and sweet Loretta Martin’s struggles…

But even amongst that competition, one record stands out. A record that begins by shouting the line: I am the God of hell-fire…! Congratulations to The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, for living up to their name and for being just that little bit crazier than the rest. ‘Fire’, is our winner.

It’s been hard for a definable ‘sound’ to make it through all the noise in recent months. But every so often the ‘sound’ of the late-sixties has popped through. ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Young Girl’, ‘Mony Mony’ –  all seemed to take the best the decade has had to offer – a bit of soul, a dash of Motown, a foundation in Beat pop – to offer a glossy new vision of what’s to come.

Then there’s the newest sound on the block, reggae. Eddy Grant and The Equals previewed it. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ mimicked it. Then Desmond Dekker and The Aces finally brought it to the table. ‘Israelites’ was the rawest #1 single in many a year – thrillingly uncompromising. But not, in my opinion, one of the very best…

Before we announce the best, though, let’s drag out and shame the worst. I can’t award ‘I Pretend’ twice, that wouldn’t be fair. (It did stink, though.) So I have in my hands two records. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’, by Abi and Esther Obarim, the first Israelis to hit #1 in the UK, fact fans, and ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold. Both annoyingly catchy. Both aiming for something that was lost on me. But… Abi and Esther managed to just about stay the right side of interesting. ‘Lily the Pink’ had gotten old by the second verse. The Scaffold are this recap’s Very Worst Chart-Topper. Plus, as a novelty record, at Christmas, I think it might be the reason why novelty records at Christmas are a thing… Teletubbies, Bob the Builder, LadBaby… It’s all on The Scaffold.

In amongst all the fun, some interesting subplots might have passed you by. Cliff got his first #1 in three years with the irrepressible ‘Congratulations’. Louis Armstrong became by far the oldest chart-topping artist, well into his sixties. The Rolling Stones returned with a bang. We bid The Beach Boys farewell and met Fleetwood Mac for the first and, surprisingly, the last time with a song that sounded nothing like Fleetwood Mac.

To the best of the best, then. As I tend to, I have it down to four discs. Tommy James & The Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’, for simply being a brilliantly fun pop record. ‘Hey Jude’ for being ‘Hey Jude’. Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ for reinventing the cover version. And Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, for showing that pop can be grown up, catchy and, most of all, cool.

I thought it was a forgone conclusion. ‘Hey Jude’ is ‘Hey Jude’, and you can feel its influence in rock music, in society as a whole, to this day. In every rock band that records a lighters-up ballad. In Oasis’s most overblown moments. In bands like Coldplay, Embrace, Snow Patrol. In football stadiums. In pubs. Being murdered at karaoke nights. All these reasons have convinced me… to name ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ as our latest Very Best Chart-Topper. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Hey Jude’ is an epic piece of music, but it has a lot to answer for…

marvin-gaye

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers. 8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes. 9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones. 8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw. 9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard. 8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck. 9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones. 8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum. 9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.

The next thirty #1s will take us well into a bold new decade… ¡Vamos!

P.S. The current Covid-19 situation has meant that I’ve been able to write more posts, and so I’ll aim to publish them a little more regularly! Every cloud… Take care, everyone!

Check out the earlier recaps here:

#1 – 30, #31 – 60, #61 – #90, #91 – #120, #121 – 149, #150 – 180, #181 – 210, #211 – 240

Recap: #211 – #240

Recap number… let me check… eight! We are exactly fifteen years, and two hundred and forty #1 hits, into the UK Singles Chart. It bears repeating every so often, but to listen back to the very first chart-toppers – the likes of ‘Here in My Heart’, ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ and ‘Answer Me’ – is to take a step back in time that feels much deeper than fifteen years.

Especially after this recap, because we have just passed through possibly the most diverse, fertile, wonderful couple of years in popular music history. 1963-65 brought some brilliant songs together at the top of the charts, but they were mostly in the same Beat-pop vein. Recently, we’ve had runs in which experimental psychedelic rock has sat shoulder to shoulder with schmaltzy easy-listening, in which the grittiest soul has been followed by cute country ballads. It’s also been a year or two of blockbuster hits, some big long stretches at number one – five weeks here, six weeks there, seven even, for Tom Jones.

These are thirty chart-toppers that I think we’ll have to split into two. The first half – 1966 – contains some of the finest pop songs ever recorded. Choosing the very best one out of a list that includes ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, ‘Eleanor Rigby’, ‘Good Vibrations’, among others, ain’t gonna be easy…

Which is why it might be easier to start with the worst. 1967 saw a big shift away from experimental sounds and, for the most part, easy-listening ruled. Suddenly we were back in the pre-rock days. Engelbert, Jim Reeves, Petula Clark and Sir Tom all crooned for their supper over a six month period. But the only one of those songs that I truly disliked – and the winner of this recap’s Very Worst Chart-Topper Award, is Mr. Humperdinck, he of the luxurious sideburns and pillowed lips, with the dreary ‘Release Me’, which must have had people crying out to be released from its six week run at the top. He did redeem himself, I think, with his second #1, ‘The Last Waltz’, which stayed on the right side of cheesy.

That was an easy award. And so it is with this recap’s ‘Meh’ Award, for the hit that was simply dull, rather than terrible. I considered giving it to Jim Reeves, for ‘Distant Drums’, but he was just doing what he did best, and he was dead… So I’m going to give it to The Tremeloes, for their cover of ‘Silence is Golden’. Not awful, but far from their best effort. They were capable of much more.

Why was it, do we think, that things went ever so slightly bland in 1967? Was it a backlash to all the experimentation? A return to what felt safe and comfortable, and not at all scary? Or was it that everyone had given their gran and their maiden aunt an HMV voucher for Christmas? It really is strange, and it makes the Summer of Love, in which ‘normal’ service was restored by Procol Harum, The Beatles and Scott McKenzie, stand out like a sore-thumb. Our more recent #1s suggest that the blip might be over, though – The Foundations and Long John Baldry bringing a bit more grit and streetwise savvy to the number one spot.

So strong are some of the recent chart-topping records that, looking back, you might completely miss some hugely significant hits. Frank Sinatra had a comeback! And duetted with his daughter! Dusty Springfield scored her one and only number one single! The Monkees invented the boy band, while strong, eight-out-of-ten pop songs like ‘Pretty Flamingo’ and ‘With a Girl Like You’, pass by almost un-noted. In previous updates ‘All or Nothing’ by The Small Faces might have been the main story, or might even have been getting the awards… Not this time. We also met The Bee Gees for the first time! And then there was ‘Paint It, Black’. Yep, I almost forgot about one of The Stones’ biggest hits. Admittedly it has never been one of my favourite Stones’ songs, but in terms of its sound and lyrical content it is hugely significant. I thought about giving it my ‘WTAF’ Award, the gong for the more ‘interesting’ chart toppers around, but I already gave them that award last time out, and if I gave them it twice in a row I’d be in danger of painting them as some kind of novelty… So, if it’s not ‘Paint It, Black’ then there’s only one other candidate… Not ‘All You Need Is Love’, because that makes sense in context. Step forward, Sandie Shaw with ‘Puppet on a String’ – a loopy record that makes no sense in any context. (Apart from the Eurovision Song Contest context, but shhh…)

On, then, to the very best that the charts of 1966-67 had to offer. This is a hell of a decision. I have to disregard classics like ‘Sunny Afternoon’, ‘Out of Time’ and ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ because they just weren’t quite brilliant enough. As usual, I’ve whittled it down to four. The three I mentioned earlier: The Walker Brothers’ ‘The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore’, The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, The Beach Boy’s ‘Good Vibrations’ plus Procol Harum’s ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’. All worthy winners in any other recap…

In 4th place – The Walker Brothers. A superb pop record, but not a game-changer like the others. In 3rd place… ‘Eleanor Rigby’. (Gasps from the back row!) A pop song that sounds nothing like a pop song. A heart-breaking story of loss and ageing that takes barely two minutes to tell, accompanied by nothing but strings. But… it was a double-‘A’ side, and if I name ‘Eleanor Rigby’ as the very best #1 then I am also naming ‘Yellow Submarine’ as the very best #1, and that’s not something that I’m prepared to do. In 2nd place… ‘Good Vibrations’. An amazing work of art, but one that can’t quite escape the fact that it is a work of art. And so, The Very Best Chart-Topper of the past thirty goes to ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ – a confident beast of a record that strode in the room, sounding unlike any other, and was extremely proud of it.

To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers. 8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones. 8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard. 8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones. 8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.

It’s very telling that the four award winning songs came practically one after the other in the spring/summer of 1967. That’s how varied and eclectic the charts have been recently – weird followed by boring followed by brilliant. And that is really how the charts should be: anything can top them and anything should top them… Long may it continue!

Recap: #181 – #210

We last recapped in late 1964, and the past thirty #1s have brought us right through 1965 and out the other side. The very middle of the mid-sixties. And, to be honest, we’ve been spoiled.

For example. This was a genuine, consecutive run of chart-topping singles, from the summer of ’65: ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’, by The Byrds… followed by The Beatles, with ‘Help!’… then ‘I Got You Babe’… and finally ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones. No filler in between. Those singles, over the course of just nine weeks, were the top selling songs in Britain. Timeless hit after timeless hit. Songs that are still ubiquitous to this day, some fifty-five years later. Amazing.

This is why it’s good to pause, momentarily, and look back. Otherwise I’d start taking for granted the huge musical moments that are becoming almost commonplace. Dotted around elsewhere in the past year or so we’ve had non-consecutive gems too: our first Motown #1 from The Supremes, a karaoke classic from Tom Jones, the distilled essence of The Swinging Sixties TM from Nancy Sinatra and a contender for best pop song ever from The Righteous Brothers. It’s like the best all-you-can-eat buffets – you never have enough room to appreciate every morsel.

The sound of these number ones has also been moving forward at lightning speed. We’ve seen the Beat sound disintegrate into straight-up blues, folk, baroque pop, and garage rock. Glance back two years, to early 1964, and things were much more homogenous. Merseybeat followed by Merseybeat followed by – hey – more Merseybeat. And most of those discs were great. But variety is the spice of life. I’m really loathe to be one of those ‘things were much better back in the day’ types… but… compare pop music from 2019 with that of 2017 – or even 2007 – and would you see that much of a difference? Of course, everything here was new, just waiting to be discovered and experimented with. Dirges and harpsichords on hit singles? Why not!

Even the outliers, the singles that deviated from the irresistible forward thrust, had the good sense to be eclectic. Elvis returned and took us to church, Georgie Fame gave us some Latin soul, Roger Miller represented the country side of things while, in Unit 4 + 2, we had genuine one-hit wonders. We’ve also heard several more female voices than we have in past recaps: Sandie, Jackie, Nancy, Diana Ross and the gang, and a lady called Cher.

All of which means I’m struggling to dish out the more negative awards – the ‘Meh’ Award and my equivalent of a Razzie: The Very Worst Chart-Topper. But let’s not kid ourselves. I’ve not enjoyed every single song going. I struggled to get the appeal of The Seekers after hearing their bland chart-topping double. Meanwhile, Cliff returned as boring as ever… Plus there’s my unresolved childhood history with The Moody Blues, which means I want to award one to ‘Go Now!’, even though I love that one song. ‘Where Are You Now (My Love)’ was OK, though I’m struggling to really remember it, while The Overlanders’ cover of ‘Michelle’ didn’t really need to exist. And then there was Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ – the 3rd biggest selling single of the decade. Yes, you read that correctly. But that would be like kicking a puppy, naming that as the worst record…

I’ve got it. The ‘Meh’ Award goes to ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers. A funeral dirge, plain and simple, with some cheek for having the word ‘Carnival’ in the title. I still can’t believe it sold over a million. And the very worst of the past bunch goes to Country Cliff, for the soporific ‘The Minute You’re Gone’. Compared to some of the past ‘worst #1s’ it’s fairly inoffensive. Russ Conway, David Whitfield and Elvis in Lederhosen were much worse crimes against music. It’s just that, while everybody was twisting, Cliff was sticking, even going backwards.

Before we choose the ‘good’ awards, we should mention that over the past thirty #1s, one of the greatest ‘rivalries’ in pop music has really taken off. After the last recap, everybody was trailing in The Beatles’ wake. But… The Stones have arrived. Both bands have scored four chart-toppers in this segment. In a recent post I claimed that, for the moment, The Stones were ahead of The Fabs, just. Those of you who took the bait disagreed… But I’m sticking with it. Yes, ‘I Feel Fine’, ‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘Help!’ and ‘Day Tripper’ / ‘We Can Work It Out’ are superb records. No debate. Imperious. But look at The Stones’ four: ‘Little Red Rooster’ (authentic, full-on Blues), ‘The Last Time’ (the weakest, for sure, but still a great, swaggering rock song), ‘Satisfaction’ and then ‘Get Off Of My Cloud’ (those riffs, along with a tonne of angst and venom, and general dissatisfaction with the world around them – It’s punk, metal, emo… It’s the future!) On that note, I’m going to give the ‘WTAF’ Award, the award for our more ‘out there’ #1s, to ‘Little Red Rooster’, because that’s a slice of pure Chicago blues that had no business getting to the top of the British singles charts – though I’m so glad it did.

Which just leaves the crème de la crème. As always, I’ve got it down to four. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and our most recent #1: ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’’. And I’m going to instantly eliminate The Beatles and Nancy Sinatra for being great, but just not great enough. So… Perhaps the toughest decision I’ve ever had to make. The Righteous Brothers, or The Rolling Stones. I’m listening to both songs one more time as I mull…. God, why don’t I just call a tie…? No, that sets a dangerous precedent for me (in this completely unnecessary and self-imposed situation)… Ga! I love rock music, at heart. Rock ‘n’ roll always wins. As great as ‘…Lovin’ Feelin’’ is, it ain’t rock. ‘Satisfaction’ takes it.

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To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.

Phew. We’ll pause for a bit, before hitting the next thirty. Thirty discs that’ll take us through the ‘Summer of Love’ and beyond. Next up, I’m going to spend a week looking at some of the people behind the #1s… Coming soon, to a blog feed near you…

Recap: #150 – #180

And so we pause…

These latest thirty #1 records represent perhaps the richest vein of pop music ever to have been hit upon in this country. Much of 1961 and ’62 was spent drilling different holes – occasionally coming up with a beauty (The Tornados); largely hitting a lot of bland MOR (Cliff, Frank Ifield.) But one day, in April 1963, the motherlode was discovered. Merseybeat.

This is the Merseybeat recap. The most homogenous sounding bunch of chart-toppers we are ever likely to meet. Young guys with guitars singing perky songs about falling in love, holding hands and getting into something good. It started with a triple whammy – a call to kids across the land – as Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles arrived at the top of the charts. The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, The Tremeloes and The Dave Clark Five all soon followed. That stretch, from April ’63 through to the summer of ’64 is probably the most consistent sounding year in UK chart history, one beat-pop number followed by another, with few exceptions and very few duds.

It’s definitely the strongest bunch of #1s yet, and it’s been very hard to pick which ones are merely great and which ones are utterly transcendent. Classics like ‘From Me to You’, ‘I Like It’, ‘Glad All Over’, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, ‘Have I the Right?’ and ‘I’m Into Something Good’ – which might have made the ‘Best Of’ at any other time – will have to just get left by the wayside. Whole chart-topping careers, those of Billy J., The Searchers, The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, have come and gone in a blink of an eye. For so long we plodded through mediocrity; now we wish things could slow down a little.

Of course, nothing that good can last forever, but I was surprised by how quickly the Merseybeat wave came, conquered and then receded. By July 1964, a harder sound had arrived at the top courtesy of The Animals and The Rolling Stones (Yes, we met the Stones for the first time! What should have been a headline becomes a footnote thanks to the brilliance of those around them.) Beat pop has slowly started to fragment in recent months, into full on rock (‘You Really Got Me’), rhythm and blues (‘It’s All Over Now’), experimental electro pop (‘Have I the Right?’) and easy-listening with a hint-of-Beat (‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’.)

Out of the last thirty-one #1s, I can count only seven outliers. Seven discs that haven’t fit the Beat-pop/rock bill. Cilla’s two proto-power ballads, the best of which was ‘You’re My World’, The Pacemaker’s weird showtune swansong ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, a couple of leftovers from the previous era in Elvis’s ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ and Frank Ifield’s final, and most pleasing, #1 ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’. And, of course, the return of Roy Orbison. The Roynaissance. ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ was the sound of him meeting the Beat-revolution halfway; but his earlier comeback #1, the dramatic and operatic ‘It’s Over’, sounded completely out of place, and all the better for it.

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Which leads me to the latest ‘WTAF’ Award, and a truly tough decision. Do I award it to The Big O, for ‘It’s Over’, or to Gerry & The Pacemakers for the bizarre, and perhaps fatal, decision to record a version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’? I’m going to edge towards The Pacemakers – ‘It’s Over’ merely sounds out of place thanks to its surroundings; in the career of Roy Orbison it makes complete sense. Whereas I’m not sure anyone saw ‘YNWA’ coming. Still, it probably gets played ten times more these days than ‘I Like It’, and it means Gerry and the lads get a nice windfall any time Liverpool win a big match.

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Choosing a record to crown as both ‘Meh’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper is also a tough decision. There simply haven’t been enough terrible records to go around. It’s basically a straight shootout between The Bachelors ‘Diane’ and The Four Pennies ‘Juliet’. Two landfill Merseybeat records, cashing in on the day’s signature sound to make bland MOR; two records named after girls. I’ll give the ‘Meh’ Award to ‘Juliet’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper to ‘Diane’, as The Four Pennies were merely boring, while I feel there was something sinister in The Bachelors perverting Merseybeat into a record for grannies. Like when Pat Boone released his metal-covers record, or when Tom Jones did Prince…

Before we settle what was the best of the best, one thing that did surprise me as I covered the past thirty-one chart-topping discs was that only three of them were recorded by Americans. Roy Orbison, of course, and one Elvis Presley, who you may remember from previous recaps. Back in my first recap, during the pre-rock days, I commented on how few British acts there seemed to be, and how the big US stars of the day – Kay Starr, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher et al – were bringing the glamour to bombed-out, over-rationed Blighty. Well, ten years on and much has changed. The Brits are the cool ones – it was they who were invading the Billboard Hot 100 across the Atlantic. Except, they were doing so with American-written songs. All The Searchers’ #1s were originally recorded by US vocal groups. Cilla and Sandie Shaw hit big with Bacharach and David numbers. ‘Do You Love Me?’ was a Motown number, while ‘I’m Into Something Good’ was written by Goffin and King. An interesting footnote to the British Invasion.

To the crème de la crème, then… The 6th Very Best Chart-Topper award. I’ve narrowed it down to a top five. ‘How Do You Do It?’, by Gerry and the P’s, for kicking this whole shebang off. Then The Animals, for announcing the end of Merseybeat a year later with the deep-throated, bluesy ‘The House of the Rising Sun’. They’re joint fourth. 3rd place goes to ‘You Really Got Me’ – in which the Kinks invented garage rock, power-pop and, oh yes, heavy metal – and generally grabbed us all by the bollocks and kicked us up the arse. Runner-up goes to the sublime ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers – a moment of sad-pop melancholy in amongst the frenzy. I really wish I could argue a case for this being the very best but… I can’t. Not when The Fab Four are looking on.

Yes, five of the past bunch of chart-toppers were by The Beatles, with a further two written and donated to other acts by Lennon & McCartney. All of which were good-to-great #1s. (Sorry to disappoint, but I won’t have too many bad words to say about any of their seventeen chart-toppers.) One though, stands out above the rest. The one hundred and fifty seventh UK chart-topper, and the moment the world realised that they were in on something spectacular: ‘She Loves You’. Yeah, yeah… Yeah!

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To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.

The next thirty will take us from the tail-end of 1964 through to early ’66, and I doubt there will be anything like as clear and definable a ‘sound’ to the coming months. Popular music will continue to fragment. Starting with a brand new first at the top of the UK charts. It’s Motown, baby!

Recap: #121 – #149

To recap, then…

We’ve fallen into a bit of a slump, really, at the top of the UK singles charts. It happens… This is my fifth recap, and it’s another one without a defining theme to it. We’ve had ‘The Pre-Rock Recap’, and we’ve had ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Recap’ and we’ve had two others that were more a bunch of songs squashed together. It’s like throwing dinner parties: sometimes the guests all hit it off smashingly and other times everybody just sits around looking awkward.

If I was to fumble around for a one-word summary of the past thirty twenty-nine chart-toppers, I’d have to go for… ‘easy’. By and large they’ve been very easy listens – nothing too wild, nothing too experimental, no boundary pushing… I’m thinking ‘Moon River’, ‘I Can’t Stop Loving You’, ‘Wonderful Land’, ‘The Young Ones’ – proper records the lot of them. Background music, though, rather than anything that really grabbed me. But maybe that’s just me…

Then there were the downright bland chart-toppers, of which the last few months haven’t been short: ‘Well I Ask You’, ‘Dance On!’ (such a promising title; so little going on), and Frank Ifield’s double-whammy of dull, ‘I Remember You’ and ‘The Wayward Wind.’ Lots of worthy contenders, then, for the latest ‘Meh’ Award… I’m going to give it to Cliff though, for the thoroughly snooze-inducing ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’ – a double ‘A’ for double the dullness.

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And, sorry, we can’t talk about ‘dullness’ without mentioning Elvis. This recap covers an unbelievable 5 (five!) chart-toppers from The King. ‘Little Sister’ / ‘His Latest Flame’ is an undeniable classic double-‘A’, don’t get me wrong, as is ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. Except, that came with the hideous ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’ in tow, which took a lot of the shine off. No, it is his three most recent #1s that have really had the eye-lids drooping. ‘She’s Not You’ – OK at best. ‘Return to Sender’ – cheesy, though an undeniable guilty pleasure. And ‘Good Luck Charm’, with its pre-set boogie-woogie riff and half-arsed vocals, which had the temerity to spend five weeks at the top! I was seriously tempted to dish out Elvis’s 2nd Very Worst Chart-Topper award for this… But I can’t. Not when the worst charge you can level at it is that it’s Elvis on auto-pilot. And not when ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield, is barrelling its way towards you like a yodelling freight-train. I honestly still have nightmares about that record… It’s by far the worst of the past bunch.

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That is the big mystery of British music in 1962-3… why Frank Ifield? Why? He bursts out of nowhere to become the biggest star in the land for a year, and then… I’m pinning all my hopes on his final number-one, which is coming up shortly, redeeming the career of Frank Ifield for me. But I won’t be holding my breath.

Before we get to the next awards, a little love for the outliers. The discs that aren’t very bad, or incredibly good, or mad-cap, or even dull. Shirley Bassey (Dame Shirley Bassey, thankyouverymuch) with ‘Reach for the Stars’ / ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, ‘Tower of Strength’ by Frankie Vaughan, ‘Michael’ by The Highwaymen, the bubble-gum bounce of ‘Walkin’ Back to Happiness’ and the irrepressible – no matter how much you want to repress it –  ‘Summer Holiday’. All perfectly acceptable, and all records that I enjoyed (re)discovering at the time.

Because so many of the recent chart-topping records have been planted firmly in the middle of the road, I feel that there is a very fine line between those few that stand out for being the best and those few that stand out for being the craziest. So, I think I’ll have to award my ‘WTAF’ Award, and my Very Best Award at the same time. Should ‘Nut Rocker’ go down as one of the best; or one of the craziest? Should ‘Telstar’ go down as one of the craziest; rather than the best? Maybe I should re-consider ‘Lovesick Blues’… It was an utterly crazy record, after all. Then there’s the gothic-romance-as-three-minute-pop-song of ‘Johnny Remember Me’

No, I’m going to stick with my gut, and dish the ‘WTAF’ Award out to Mr. B. Bumble and his Stingers, for turning The Nutcracker into a gloriously daft rock ‘n’ roll boogie. Hurrah!

And for the very best – the crème de la crème – I’ve whittled it down to four. In one corner we have The Everly Brothers final UK #1, ‘Temptation’. One the one hand it’s probably the hardest rocker of the past thirty twenty-nine, but on the other it feels like it shouldn’t really be here. It was so long ago that I had kind of forgotten that it would be in this recap. Next we have some real heartbreak in the form of Helen Shapiro’s ‘You Don’t Know’ – it still amazes me that that was the voice of a fourteen-year-old. Then it’s the towering ‘Telstar’, from The Tornados, sending pop music light years into the future. And finally our most recent chart-topper, and The Shadows last ever: ‘Foot Tapper’. I could give a good argument for any of them, but I know deep down which way I want to go… The very best chart topping single between July 1961 and April 1963 is… drum roll please… ‘Telstar.’

In case you’ve lost track, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.

Actually, looking at those winners, perhaps the word I was searching for to describe this phase of chart history was ‘Instrumental’. Of the past twenty-nine #1 hits, seven have been lyric-less. And really, this is the last hurrah of the instrumental hit because, looking forward, they are about to become a rare species indeed.

I mentioned in my last post that I have broken my own rules slightly here, by doing a recap one song early. But… there was method in my madness. Whatever we’ve been calling the past few years: the rock ‘n’ roll age, the post rock ‘n’ roll age, the 2nd wave of rock ‘n’ roll… One thing’s for sure. It’s over. And another thing that’s for sure is that when I do my next recap, I won’t be complaining about there being no definable ‘sound of’ the time. Because we are about to hit on one of the richest, most distinctive, most glorious eras in British music history…

 We are off to Liverpool.

(P.S. I’ve made Spotify playlist featuring all the #1s so far – I’ll update it every time I post. Follow it below…)