483. ‘Green Door’, by Shakin’ Stevens

Proving that the British public can only remain serious for so long (three weeks, to be precise) here is Shakin’ Stevens knocking The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ off the top with another slice of old-style rockin’ and rollin’…

Green Door, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 2nd of four #1s)

4 weeks, 26th July – 23rd August 1981

‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ was obviously the motto pinned to the wall of Shaky’s recording studio. He takes the fun rockabilly of ‘This Ole House’, and ups both the fun and the rockabilly. A boogie-woogie piano and some clicking fingers lead us in to a tale of mystery and intrigue… Just what is behind the green door?

There’s an old piano and they’re playin’ hot, Behind the green door… Is it a bar? Don’t know what they’re doin’ but they laugh a lot, Behind the green door… Is it more than a bar…? A speakeasy? A strip-club? A brothel?? And why does it sound like the door leads directly off from Shaky’s bedroom, as he lies awake all night…?

It’s not a record that holds up much under scrutiny. But, you suspect, that was never the point. This wasn’t written with an eye on it being dissected in literature classes. The grannies and the kids ran out and bought Stevens’s first #1 in their droves, and this is aimed at the same crowd. And I personally can’t say no to some good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, especially in an era where traditional ‘guitar’ music was in short supply at the top of the charts. There’s a great, twangy solo too, which ends in a note for note replica of the solo from ‘That’ll Be the Day’.

Shaky tries his best to get in to this here club, but has the door slammed in his face each time. I do like the hospitality’s thin there… line. It’s never specified why he isn’t allowed in – maybe the singer’s just got a baby face? I can sympathise, having spent most of 2002-03 trying, and largely failing, to get into nightclubs with a fake I.D. Wikipedia lists the song’s possible inspirations as including a Chicago speakeasy, London’s first lesbian bar, and a short story by H.G. Wells, among others.

‘Green Door’ is a cover – it had to be, right? – of a 1956 US #1 originally recorded in fairly pre-rock fashion by Jim Lowe. Frankie Vaughan took a fun big-band version to #2 over here. But I like Shakin’ Stevens’ version just as much. It rocks. And I don’t mean in a karaoke-ish, Elvis-impersonating way. It rocks, in a way that I wish more of the mid-seventies rock ‘n’ roll revival hits from the likes of Mud, Showaddywaddy and Alvin Stardust did. It still sounds completely out of place, considering ‘Ghost Town’ before, and the record coming up next, but who cares? Variety is, as they say, the spice of life, and in 1981 Shaky was bringing it to the top of the charts. He was in the middle of a red-hot streak here, and will be back in pole position again soon.

477. ‘This Ole House’, by Shakin’ Stevens

How to explain Shakin’ Stevens, to readers from foreign shores, or to readers not old enough to have experienced him in real time…?

This Ole House, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 1st of four #1s)

3 weeks, 22nd March – 12th April 1981

The twanging rockabilly in this take on ‘This Ole House’ sounds completely out of place in early 1981, after two years of sharp, spiky new-wave, and just before the New Romantics came along. Stevens’ delivery too – all energy and cheesy grins – is an outlier in this too-cool-for-school world. But while this is an unlikely hit record, it’s not unwelcome.

I can never say no to some old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. The production may be glossier, the guitars coming through in a warm stereo, but this is a step back to the 1950s. Is it better than Rosemary Clooney’s original, from way back in 1954…? No, probably not. But it is equally manic. That had an out of control honky-tonk piano, Shaky’s take has a distorted guitar solo: this version’s only concession to modern sounds.

He sounds like he’s having a lot of fun singing this – a song stuffed with nonsense lyrics about fixing shingles and mending window-panes – and because of this it is very hard not to have fun while you listen. The hipsters may have rolled their eyes, and turned their Ultravox records up, but the grannies and the kids clearly lapped it up. Just think… The young ones who bought Clooney’s version would have been hitting fifty by now. We have covered a lot of ground here!

I did wonder if this might have been Shakin’ Stevens debut: a smash hit from nowhere, perhaps after winning a TV talent show. But I couldn’t have been more wrong – he had been plugging away for well over a decade, releasing singles in the UK and Europe throughout the ‘70s. Born in Cardiff, he’d been a milkman, before forming his band The Sunsets. They’d supported The Rolling Stones of all people, in 1969. By the mid-seventies he was impersonating Elvis in the West End before finally scoring a minor chart hit with ‘Hot Dog’ in early 1980.

After that the rise was meteoric, and it’s hard to begrudge someone who’s waited that long and worked so hard for success. But. This still doesn’t explain why this Welsh Elvis finally became one of the biggest stars in the land… Maybe the rock ‘n’ roll revival that was gave us Showaddywaddy and Mud a few years back never truly went away? Maybe he was the chart-friendly face of the post-punk rockabilly scene? Or maybe it’s another ‘Shaddap You Face’: some light-relief after weeks of mourning John Lennon? I don’t know.

One thing’s for sure – if this cover of a near thirty-year-old song was a one-hit wonder then it would make perfect sense. A flash in the pan, a moment of frivolity. Except, it’s the first of four chart-toppers for a thirty-something ex-Elvis impersonator, who was on his way to becoming the biggest-selling British singles artist of the decade. More from Shaky, then, very soon…

471. ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’, by John Lennon

It’s been well over a decade since we heard this voice at the top of the charts, one of rock’s most famous. It’s great to hear it again… just a shame about the circumstances.

(Just Like) Starting Over, by John Lennon (his 1st of three #1s)

1 week, 14th – 21st December 1980

Three clear notes are struck – three notes that always make me think of a yacht coming into harbour – before an old-style acoustic intro. Our life… Together… Is so precious… Together… John Lennon made no secret for his love of rock ‘n’ roll music, and this is his tribute to the stars he grew up with, those who caused him to pick up a guitar: Elvis is the one who comes across most in the vocals, but there’s Roy Orbison, Buddy Holly and Gene Vincent in there too.

It’s a love-letter too, to his second wife, Yoko Ono, who appears on the cover and on the ‘B’-side… But when I see you darling, It’s like we both are falling in love again… It’ll be, Just like starting over… As controversial as her role in The Beatles’ final years is (and I think she gets a very bad rap), Lennon loved her dearly.

When the beat kicks in, the production is very early-eighties gloss. Thick, echoey drums, noodley guitar licks and the like. It’s got a karaoke backing-track feel to it – if that isn’t a huge insult to one of the 20th century’s most revered musicians – and doesn’t scream ‘lead-single from John Lennon’s first album in five years’. He chose it as the lead, though, not because he thought it was the best song on the LP, but because the theme of ‘starting over’ fit in with his comeback.

‘(Just Like) Starting Over’ doesn’t scream ‘huge #1 hit’ either, to be honest. It’s fine, it’s catchy, it’s far from Lennon’s greatest moment. I prefer the rock ‘n’ roll covers he had put out a few years earlier: they’re rawer, cooler. This needed a push to return him to the top, and that push came on the evening of December 8th, when a deluded fan, Mark Chapman, shot him in the entrance to his apartment in New York.

This single had peaked at #8 a few weeks earlier, but had dropped to #21 the day before his death. When the news broke, fans rushed out to buy his records as a mark of respect – in those pre-download days you had to make do with what was on the shelves – and this single was waiting for them. It’s the same reason why ‘Way Down’ became Elvis’s ‘funeral number one’. And ‘… Starting Over’ must have seemed nailed-on to become Christmas #1 too… yet fate had other ideas.

Unlike Elvis’s death, this chart-topper kicks off a run of Lennon-mania at the top of the charts. Between December 1980 and the following March, four out of the six UK number ones will be by John Lennon, or a cover of. The two records that disturb this run…? Um, classics, the pair of them… The first of which is up next.

412. ‘Way Down’, by Elvis Presley

Do you remember the early 1960s? (Not literally – I mean in terms of this blog.) Back when every third #1 was by Elvis? Those three years in which he dominated the top spot like no one before or since, not even The Beatles? Amazingly, given the heights of his heyday, this is only his second chart-topper in twelve years. ‘The Wonder of You’ came just after his leather-clad comeback, and marked the start of the Vegas years. Since then he’s descended into a jump-suited parody of himself, mumbling his way through residencies with sweat-soaked towels round his ever-widening neck. From Sun Records, to Elvis the Pelvis, to the army, the movies and the rhinestones, there was still time for one more reinvention. Enter: Dead Elvis.

Way Down, by Elvis Presley (his 17th of twenty-one #1s)

5 weeks, from 28th August – 2nd October 1977

I don’t include the picture above to shock or to mock; more to mourn what he had become. What his management and enablers had allowed him to do to himself. I’ve loved Elvis’s music since I was young, and can find something to enjoy from every stage of his career. And I’m glad he bowed out with a rocker. ‘Way Down’ is pure cabaret razzamatazz, with the jazzy drums and the piano flourishes; but there’s rock ‘n’ roll in there. There’s a hint of disco too, believe it or not, in the churning, didgeridoo-like rhythm.

Ooh, And I can feel it, Feel it, Feel it, FEEL IT! You wonder if Elvis was capable of feeling very much at this point, and he does sound pretty bored (or pretty well sedated) during the verses. But he goes for it in the chorus. Way down where it feels so good, Way down where I hoped it would, Way down where I never could… On the one hand they sound like standard, throwaway, mildly risqué rock ‘n’ roll lyrics. But for a man in Elvis’s condition maybe he knew what he was talking about: he was having to dig very deep to feel anything. Meanwhile the line: The medicine within me, A doctor couldn’t prescribe… sounds like a very knowing reference.

I’ve always liked this one, long before I knew it was his swansong. It’s kid-friendly rock – almost a pantomime of the real thing. Would it have been a #1 smash if Elvis hadn’t died? No way. It was languishing at #42 in the week of his death, before rocketing up the charts when the news broke. Nowadays, people download or stream deceased artists’ biggest hits on hearing of their deaths. Back in 1977, those who wanted to mark The King’s passing had one choice: to go ‘Way Down’.

Sadly, Elvis isn’t actually the true star of his final antemortem release. Step forward J.D. Sumner, who ends the record with perhaps the lowest note ever sung on a chart-topping single. Way… On… Doowwwn… I did wonder if he was the same baritone as featured way back on ‘A Fool Such As I’, but sadly he wasn’t.

While this record did perhaps only hit #1 thanks to Elvis’s death, that shouldn’t suggest he had been absent from the charts. Since his last #1in 1970, Presley had scored fifteen Top 10 hits with a mix of new songs and re-releases. ‘Moody Blue’, the single before this, had reached #6. Perhaps ‘Way Down’ would have done something similar, then, if it hadn’t been for that fateful trip to the bathroom.

And this isn’t the end of the road for Elvis and the number one spot. Far from it. At the time, it gave him his seventeenth chart-topper, tying him with The Beatles. They will stay neck and neck for a good twenty-five years, until an Elvis resurgence in the ‘00s (he has twice as many #1s in that decade as he does in the ‘70s…) But still. We should still mark this occasion. One of, if not the, biggest pop star ever has left the building. Go on, order yourself a Fools’ Gold Loaf (flown in on your own private jet, naturally) and play the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s final hit, one last time…

Enjoy every #1 so far, including all 17 of Elvis’s:

369. ‘Oh Boy’, by Mud

I gave Mud’s previous #1, the mopey ‘Lonely This Christmas’ a pretty negative write-up, and I’m afraid this ain’t going to be much more positive…

Oh Boy, by Mud (their 3rd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 27th April – 11th May 1975

Rule number one for writing a post on a cover version: don’t just compare it to the original. (‘Oh Boy’, of course, was a huge 1958 hit for The Crickets, the follow-up to ‘That’ll Be the Day’, one of Buddy Holly’s blueprints in building the foundations of rock ‘n’ roll.) It is a fine rule, most of the time.

But when the original is so seminal, so brilliant… Well, it’s impossible. Especially given how Mud suck all the life out of what was a scorching rock song, and reduce it to a funereal plod. You wait for the tempo to raise, for the band to reveal that they’ve been stringing us along and to crack into life, but nope… It just keeps lumbering along, like a buffalo stuck in a swamp.

I do like the hard rock guitars, I suppose, that give this record a bit of a pulse, and there is a new spoken word bit in the middle, by a very seductive sounding lady. All my life, I’ve been waiting, Tonight there’ll be no hesitation… The way she moans her Oh Boys is very Serge and Jane. On the whole, though, I’m left asking ‘why?’ I’m all for trying something different, putting a new spin on an old song. And who knows, maybe if Mud had gone for a straight cover version I’d have called the attempt sacrilege? It’s just… very lifeless.

By the end, the tempo has slowed even further. It is now a certified funeral chant, the instruments having faded and the band going it alone and a capella. I’ve been saying it for a while now, but glam rock is dying a slow death. Time to stub the cigarette out and be done with it. The frustrating thing is… Mud had way better songs than this that didn’t get to number one. ‘The Cat Crept In’, ‘Dyna-mite’… They even did much better covers than what they’ve attempted here: their take on ‘In the Mood’ is silly fun, while their version of Elvis’s ‘One Night’ is what ‘Lonely This Christmas’ should have sounded like.

A frustrating band, then, Mud. Not in the top league of glam, but a solid promotion contender. If you want to know hear more from their back-catalogue, I’d skip ‘Oh Boy’ and crack on with the songs I listed above. And of course their one, true classic: ‘Tiger Feet’. We can forgive everything when we remember ‘Tiger Feet’… Hilariously, on Spotify, Mud’s back-catalogue has been combined with that of Müd (note the umlaut), a hardcore trance act with songs like ‘Fuck It’s Hot’. At least, I assume they’re not the same band… Who knows what directions they went in when the hits dried up…

Follow along with every number one so far…

362. ‘Lonely This Christmas’, by Mud

And so we reach, and pass, the midway point of the 1970s. But not with a song that faces forward, pointing the way into a bright new sonic future. Oh no, this next hit draws heavily, very heavily, a little too heavily, on what went before…

Lonely This Christmas, by Mud (their 2nd of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th December 1974 – 12th January 1975

Bum-bum-bum-bum… Finally, Christmas in the real world and Christmas in my countdown coincide. Bum-bum-bum-bum… Of the four explicitly Christmas-themed #1s so far, this is the first I’ve posted in December. And what an appropriate song for this sad, socially distant festive season: It’ll be lonely this Christmas, Without you to hold, It’ll be lonely this Christmas, Lonely and cold…

This time last year, Slade were giving us pure Xmas escapism. This year, though, Mud are wallowing in misery. There’s no other word: it’s a miserable song. Obviously, you expect a record called ‘Lonely This Christmas’ to be sad, bittersweet, maybe even a little maudlin. But not this bad. I really don’t see the appeal of listening to this over a glass of mulled wine. The only things I see, Are emptiness, And loneliness, And an unlit Christmas tree…

It is possible to write a good-but-sad Christmas song. ‘Last Christmas’ would be the classic example. Then there’s Elvis’s ‘Blue Christmas’, which admittedly is more sexy than sad. And Elvis is a relevant comparison here, as Mud’s lead singer Les Gray is serving his best impersonation of The King in the vocals (and the famous TOTP performance below). He goes full ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ when we come to the spoken word section: Remember last year, When you and I were here…? Just why someone from Carshalton had to put on such a strong American accent is unclear, though I guess it would have taken away from the Elvis vibes.

I’ve heard it said that this song might have proven more popular than usual in 2020, and would maybe head higher up the streaming charts thanks to the pandemic. But it appears people are simply doubling down on Mariah Carey and Brenda Lee, and who can blame them? If your Christmas actually is miserable, and lonely, then you don’t need reminding through song. As for me, I’ve always included this in my festive playlists out of habit, because it was a huge seventies Christmas #1. I’m deleting it, though, right now. (Or at least replacing it with this pop-punk cover version.)

The big question here is: what happened to the band that recorded ‘Tiger Feet’? Where did they go? Can they come back? ‘Lonely This Christmas’ is everything Mud’s first, glorious chart-topper isn’t. If only they could have recorded a Christmas hit with the energy and enthusiasm of ‘Tiger Feet’… If only. By the end, when we get a ‘Jingle Bells’ coda, and a Merry Christmas darlin’, Wherever you are… I’m done. That’s plenty. After an autumn of disco, glam rock is really starting to show its age…

Still, Mud aren’t done. Not quite yet. I’ll hold off on the bio for now. Coming up next, in my final post before Christmas, we’ll visit a festive classic that really should have been a #1…

337. ‘Angel Fingers’, by Wizzard

Back to business. Last time out, thanks to teen idol supreme Donny Osmond, we endured a throwback to the soppy ballads of the 1950s. This time out, we have another trip back to the future. Imagine yourself in an American diner, waitresses in pink polka-dots and beehives, frothy milkshakes and burgers on the menu, a Wurlitzer flashing in the corner just waiting for you to drop a dime in and spin the latest smash-hit platter. And then Roy Wood rolls up, all wild hair and glitter, astride his hog. Yes, this is the fifties, Wizzard-ified.

Angel Fingers, by Wizzard (their 2nd and final #1)

1 week, from 16th – 23rd September 1973

First of all, let’s just appreciate motorcycle effect. It means two of the past three chart-toppers have featured heavy revving. It’s clear that artists were having a lot of fun in the studio, throwing whatever the hell they fancied into the mix. Secondly, isn’t this just the most gorgeous, layered, swaying and swooping, pastiche of late fifties, early sixties pop? With a big, big nod to one man in particular – Phil Spector.

As I was lying in my bedroom fast asleep, Filled with those famous teenage pictures that you keep… The singer, Roy Wood, or the character that Wood happens to be assuming for the next four and a half minutes, is a rock ‘n’ roll singer who loves a girl. But she is distracted by teen idol after teen idol (to give this hit its full title: ‘Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)’. Will Dion still be so important to you on your wedding day…?

He plans to ride over the café, on his bike, to prove his love. Maybe pick up a guitar and join a rockin’ band. Finally make it big, or maybe just get her to notice him. As with Wizzard’s first #1 – ‘See My Baby Jive’ – the lyrics aren’t really what you’re here for. You want the whole package, the melodies, the fevered imaginings of Roy Wood’s brain condensed into pop perfection. How it lingers, Angel fingers, That’s why I fell in love, With you…

Actually, to call this a mere ‘pastiche’ is unfair. This hangs together as a brilliant song in its own right. Just because it tips its hat to what went before doesn’t detract. It also sounds completely original. ‘Angel Fingers’ gets a bit lost and forgotten, I think, coming between ‘See My Baby Jive’ and Wizzard’s huge Christmas smash. And that’s not fair. I think it might hold together even better than SMBJ – the sensory overload is still there, all the saxophones and drum tracks and French horns cascading over one another, fighting for air time – but it always pulls back before it gets too much.

My two favourite bits are the piano flourishes that start and finish the solo, that I call the ‘Red Dwarf’ bit, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has ever watched the show. And then there’s the layered, doo-wop, Beach Boys ending that fades into those French horns, again. Oh baby, it’s perfect. It’s glam, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s doo-wop, it’s Spector, it’s teeny-bopper pop… It’s the entire history of the UK singles chart thus far, in four and a half minutes.

Wizzard only released eight singles before calling it a day in 1975. Two of them reached number one, another was one of the best Christmas songs ever recorded. By that point, Roy Wood had been a member of three hugely influential bands: The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, and the Wizz. Following the split, he went solo, working on projects with bands ranging from Doctor and the Medics, to the Wombles, along with whatever guise he was recording under himself. He produced for many other artists, and tried, unsuccessfully, to have Elvis record one of his songs. He was, is, a genius, and one of those who makes sure this trawl through every #1 single, past every terrible Donny, Dawn or Dana record, remains so much fun.

294. ‘I Hear You Knocking’, by Dave Edmunds

And so we arrive at a song I know very well – a song I’ve loved for a long time. It’s one of my earliest memories of popular music, this song – so early that I have no idea how it got to be there, buried in my consciousness.

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I Hear You Knocking, by Dave Edmunds (his 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 22nd November 1970 – 3rd January 1971

I love the choppy guitar, and the fried vocals. The trippy effects in the background, too, that sound like weird sea-creatures calling to one another across the deep. And I love the fact that at heart it’s just a straight-up, chugging, no frills rock ‘n’ roll number. You went away and left me, Long time ago, And now you’re knockin’, On my door…

It’s a sassy song – the singer telling his ex to get the hell out with their sweet words. I hear you knockin’, But you can’t come in… Go back where you been! She left him, though he begged her not to, and Edmunds still isn’t over it. Though he later reveals that this all happened in ’52, when he told her that I would never go with you… Which is both contradictory to what he sang two verses earlier, and a hell of a long time to hold a grudge…

Who cares. Careless lyrics aside, this is a rocking record. Our second whiff of glam at the top of the charts – after ‘Spirit in the Sky’ – and a bit of a throwback. (Over the chorus, Edmunds starts shouting out the names of some fifties rock ‘n’ roll stars – Chuck Berry! Fats Domino! – to leave us in no doubt about to whom this song owes a debt.) Something that sounds like a steam train gets added to the insistent rhythm, and then we get the piece de resistance of the whole record: the single, clanging note from a honky-tonk piano. Dung! Next verse!

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Despite ‘I Hear You Knocking’ sounding like it just crawled out of a Louisiana swamp, Dave Edmunds is actually Welsh. He had had one UK Top 10 with his blues band Love Sculpture, and this was his first, and by far his biggest, solo hit. It’s a staple of 70s Compilations, which is probably where first I heard it as a kid. ‘I Hear You Knocking’ was first recorded in the mid-fifties, by Smiley Lewis (Edmunds also shouts his name out during the solo) and then Fats Domino. Edmunds himself just recently retired from touring in his mid-seventies.

I do love this song, but am struggling to write much more about it. Really though – it’s not the sort of song that needs much writing about. If this record were a person, it’d be a doer, not a thinker. It gets you tapping your feet, and shaking your shoulders, rather than working your brain. I’d simply suggest that you click on the link below and get doing the same…

Actually, one thing that’s worth noting here is how long this, and so many other records, have spent at the top this year. ‘I Hear You Knocking’ got six, as did Elvis and Freda Payne. Mungo Jerry got seven, Edison Lighthouse five. If you look a little further, to the tail end of 1969, Rolf Harris also got six, while The Archies spent eight weeks up there! Not sure what this signifies, other than the fact that we are in the company of some monster hits at the moment – and that they’re going to keep on coming (and staying).

Listen to every number one so far on my Spotify playlist.

276. ‘Bad Moon Rising’, by Creedence Clearwater Revival

Yee-hah! Break out the moonshine, we’re off down the Bayou for a rowdy rock ‘n’ roll shindig with CCR!

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Bad Moon Rising, by Creedence Clearwater Revival (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 14th September – 5th October 1969

I love me some Creedence. And I love that they are the unlikely owners of a UK #1 single. Perhaps the most American band ever; that didn’t hold them back from hitting it big on the other side of the Atlantic. And while it does feel a bit odd that CCR was able to top the charts here; it does make sense that they’d do so with what’s probably their catchiest single.

Catchy, but also terrifying. Zager and Evans kicked us off down an apocalyptic path with our last #1, ‘In the Year 2525’, and John Fogerty and co. keep it up here. I see a bad moon rising, I see trouble on the way, I see earthquakes and lightning, I see bad time today… Something terrible is on its way… Rivers are overflowing, hurricanes are a-blowing. This song has possibly the biggest contrast between melody and lyrics of any chart-topping single. The tune: rough and ready rockabilly. The lyrics: Don’t go round tonight, It’s bound to take your life… There’s a bad moon on the rise…

It’s a short and sweet record, one that breezes in and out in just over two minutes. Apparently it was inspired by a scene involving a hurricane in an old movie, but Fogerty also claims to have written it on the day that Richard Nixon was elected president. For a decade that has been so swinging, so iconic, we’re heading for a sour and cynical finish. Maybe we have to look beyond the charts for the answer here –this is a product of a world where a whole generation of Americans were dying in Vietnam, men were landing on the moon, and Kennedys were getting shot…

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By the final verse, things are getting very intense. Hope you’ve got your things together, Hope you are quite prepared to die… It’s all a bit much, and then we crash to an end. We open our eyes and breathe a sigh of relief that we’re all still here. The end hasn’t arrived, yet… Over and out from Creedence Clearwater Revival. Sadly this is their only #1 single, though we should just be glad that they managed even one. In their home country, they had far more hit singles – ‘Proud Mary, ‘Green River’, ‘Travellin’ Band’, ‘Lookin’ Out My Back Door’ and this record all hit #2 in 1969 / 70. Yet a Billboard #1 eluded them…

I love this track, in all its swamp rocking, apocalyptic glory. But, if you do find it all a bit much, a bit depressing, you can just do what John Fogerty does occasionally in concert: change the words of the chorus to There’s a bathroom on the right…

If the world were ending, you could do a lot worse than soundtracking it with this playlist:

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: