405. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart

The most interesting thing about this next number one is the song which could, maybe should, have replaced it at #1. More on that later. First, Rod’s got some ballads to sing…

I Don’t Want to Talk About It / The First Cut Is the Deepest, by Rod Stewart (his 4th of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th May – 12th June 1977

Actually, another interesting thing is that ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ comes from the same album – ‘Atlantic Crossing’ – as Rod’s last chart-topper, ‘Sailing’, which reached the top almost two years ago! That’s a pretty rare feat, mining a LP for singles for that long.

Perhaps you can tell that I’m grasping for interesting things to write about this one, as I’m not finding the music all that gripping. It’s fine: Rod Stewart knows his way around an acoustic ballad like this in his sleep. And perhaps that’s the problem – it’s Rod on autopilot. It’s not got the novelty factor, or the drive, of ‘Maggie May’, or the ridiculous singalong chorus of ‘Sailing’. It’s simply pleasant.

I like the way the strings and guitars lift us to the chorus line: I don’t wanna, Talk about it… Which in itself is also a great line, sung with a lot of feeling. But it’s not enough to hang a whole, five-minute song on. (And that’s another thing – did nobody suggest a ‘single edit’ for this one?)

The guitars, fried and country, are cool, but especially towards the end the song does begin to meander. ‘I Don’t Want…’ was a cover of a 1971 song by Crazy Horse, Neil Young’s sometime band. Rod hasn’t strayed too far from the original, though his version is more polished… and that’s not a good thing. Anyway. What could we possibly need after that? Another heartfelt ballad, of course.

‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’ is another, probably more famous, cover, this time of a Cat Stevens original. It’s another acoustic, bittersweet love song. In fact, I’ll go further than that. It is a thoroughly miserable love song: If you want, I’ll try to love again… As declarations go, it’s certainly honest. He wants her by his side, but only to wipe the tears that he cries… Baby I know, The first cut is the deepest…

Hey, some people are into damaged goods. Again, this ticks all the classy ballad boxes, and Stewart’s voice is as smoky as ever. But, again, it washes over me. Maybe it’s not my thing. Or maybe it’s just dinner party background music. Plus, there’s always the earlier, superior version of ‘The First Cut…’, released by P.P Arnold a decade earlier.

The best double-‘A’ sides have a bit of yin and yang to them. Think of the most famous #2, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ / ‘Penny Lane’. Or Louis Armstrong’s ‘What a Wonderful World’ / ‘Cabaret’. Even our most recent double-‘A’ #1 from David Cassidy had two very different sounding songs on each side. Interestingly – here I go again – ‘The First Cut…’ was from a more recent album, ‘A Night on the Town’, making this potentially the only double-‘A’ to feature songs from different LPs by the same artist. (I say ‘potentially’, I have neither the time nor the inclination to check.)

So, we are two thirds through Rod Stewart’s chart-topping career, and it’s been wall to wall ballads so far. Luckily, his last two #1s up the tempo quite a bit. Wahey! It’s not that these are bad songs, far from it; they just don’t scream ‘four weeks at #1!’ to me. But, of course, there’s a good chance that, during the last of those four weeks, Rod Stewart didn’t really have the best-selling single in the land. Controversy ahead, then. More to come…

401. ‘When I Need You’, by Leo Sayer

Oh boy. More soft-rock…

When I Need You, by Leo Sayer (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th February – 6th March 1977

We’re really hitting a slow and slushy moment in chart history. It must have been great at school discos, I suppose, with no shortage of last-dance tunes in which to snag your latest crush. But it doesn’t make for a very exciting listen forty odd years later.

It’s got all the instruments we’ve come to expect: gentle guitars, tinkly percussion, a glossy echo to everything. (Plus, this record has a secret weapon – more on that in a moment.) When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you… Leo Sayer’s missing his girl while he works away from home… For some reason that I can’t quite place, I’m enjoying this more than the last-but-one chart topper, David Soul’s equally smoochy ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’. I think it’s the slightly funkier rhythm. If this one was sped up – a lot – it could be a disco classic.

I also like the emphatic It’s cold out, Just hold out… line. Plus, Leo Sayer’s voice has got a lot more oomph to it than Soul’s. He lets loose, in a fashion, for the fade-out. But, before that, we come to the secret weapon… the sax solo! Unleashed from out of the blue! They’re something we’ll have to get used to as the ’80s loom, but they’ve never sat well with me. Done well they’re fine; done badly they sound like the soundtrack to a bad date, or a porno.

It is sometimes hard to focus on the lyrics in songs like this, as they’re usually of the don’t leave me baby hold me baby variety. But, on closer inspection, on listen three or four, as Leo talks about closing his eyes and touching love while on the phone to his girl, and beseeching her to ‘do as he does’… I begin to wonder… Is this record actually about phone sex??

Or am I grasping to make it more interesting than it is? ‘When I Need You’ was the follow-up to the dorky but super catchy ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, which I would have much preferred as a #1. As it stands, this makes it four slow and soft #1s in a row, and five out of the last six. It’s not something that you say every day, but thank God for Showaddywaddy! Looking to the next chart-topper on my list, a record I have never heard before, I offer a silent prayer that it might be up-tempo.

Leo Sayer had been scoring hits since 1973, and had peaked at #2 three times before this one took him all the way. He will be back on top, but not for twenty-nine years, when he’ll feature on a remix of one of his seventies hits. That’s one of the longest gaps between number ones, ever. Meanwhile, ‘When I Need You’ has been covered by the great and the good of easy listening: Cliff, Julio Iglesias, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion… Leonard Cohen wasn’t as impressed by it, though – he sued Sayer for plagiarising his song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat”.

399. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul

And it is onwards into 1977. Officially the late seventies! Bring it on!

Don’t Give Up On Us, by David Soul (his 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 9th January – 6th February 1977

Actually… I’m tempted to write the entire year off after thirty seconds of this next number one. It’s been creeping up on us, slowly but surely, with Demis Roussos, Chicago, Johnny Mathis… I fear the soft-rock years may officially be upon us.

In fact, I think this record has the exact same gloopy, doopy backing track from Johnny Mathis’s Christmas #1. They sure sound similar. Though David Soul’s voice has nowhere near the gravitas that Mathis had. Don’t give up on us baby, Don’t make the wrong, Seem right… It’s a decent voice, but a very soppy one.

I want to get a foothold on this song, a way in to appreciating it, but I can’t. It’s a puff of smoke. There’s nothing actually there. It’s a ‘check your watch’ kind of song, in that you start to wonder how long it’s going to go on for… Pulses are raised slightly come the middle-eight: I really lost my head last night… though you struggle to imagine the singer of this song being capable of any strong emotions… and then we get the blandest solo you could ever imagine, featuring a mish mash of guitars, strings and a French horn.

And then there’s a key change! Of course. Is there a more divisive trick in the songwriters’ handbook than the key change? Some make you punch the air and shout ‘YES!’; others make you wish the song would just end right there and then. No prizes for guessing which camp this record falls into…

Before coming to this record, I knew David Soul as being famous for his role in ‘Starsky and Hutch’, though I needed to check which one he was (Hutch). Soul’s record career came slap bang in the middle of the show’s four series run. So, he had the exposure and was perhaps always going to score a huge hit. But ‘Starsky and Hutch’ was a cop show, in which the two main characters used their wits and traded blows to catch the bad guys. They were cool, bad-ass. Yet, it is hard to think of another song that is as far away from being cool, or bad-ass, as ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’ is.

I just wish it had a bit more – a lot more! – life about it, is all. And glancing down the list of up and coming #1s for the year – including one more from Hutch – I worry that this might become a recurring wish. Not that there aren’t plenty of classics to come, though. So come on – think positive! I won’t give up on 1977 yet… (see what I did there?)

396. ‘If You Leave Me Now’, by Chicago

The term ‘soft rock’ is one that makes me squirm. It’s not my favourite genre – I like my rock to, well, rock (*devil horns emoji*) – and soft rock can feel like rock ‘n’ roll with all the fun stripped away. But, as the late seventies loom, it is a genre we may have to get used at the top of the charts.

If You Leave Me Now, by Chicago (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 7th – 28th November 1976

Anyway, I say that soft rock is ‘often’ no fun – dull, earnest and very vanilla – but not ‘always’. For sometimes there are soft rock hits like this one. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is a record that makes you feel as if you are being dipped in a vat of warm, melted chocolate. It is a big hug of a song, possibly the ultimate last-dance-of-the-night disc.

If you leave me now, You’ll take away the biggest part of me… the singer croons, but not in a Bing Crosby way. A creamier, more modern style of crooning. Then, prepare your falsettos: Ooh-ooh-ooh no, Baby please don’t go… There are soft horns, and strings, and a guitar being gently plucked.

The singer is pleading with his lover, not to be rash, or hasty. Not to do what they’ll regret in the morning. A love like ours is love that’s hard to find… How could we let it slip away…? He’s trying to lull his partner into staying, by stupefying her with this impossibly gentle, lush music. It’s a lullaby, really, for want of a better description.

Which means I shouldn’t be enjoying this song, not really. I should find it slow, and dull. But, while it hasn’t made me a fully converted soft-rock, MOR fan; you can’t deny a record this well-made and performed. What makes it even more impressive, is that with this type of music it is so easy to overdo the schmaltz (think Engelbert doing his worst on ‘Release Me’, or even Pussycat laying the cheese on a bit thick in the previous #1). Chicago pitch it just right, and create a classic of the genre.

I’m sure I recall an advert from ten/fifteen years back, in which an animated cherry lip-synced to this song. Or I may have dreamt it, and urgently need said dream analysed by a professional. If the advert does exist, then it’s a sign of how ‘If You Leave Me Now’ has softly slipped ‘tween the sheets of our shared consciousness. I’d bet most people could sing along to the chorus on this one, and I’d also wager it’s still on heavy-rotation on Magic and Smooth FM. It’s been covered by our friends Brotherhood of Man, the Isley Brothers, and Boyz II Men, twice.

Chicago were – are – from Chicago, Illinois. I love the confidence of that: screw it, we’ll just name ourselves after our hometown, which just happens to be the 3rd biggest city in the country. I know very little about them, other than that their albums are almost all titled as numbers (this was off ‘Chicago X’, their tenth album). As of 2018, they are a ten-piece with three original members still hanging on in there, on album XXXVII.

To finish, I’d like to note the fun coincidence of having a song named after a US state knocked off top spot by a band named after a US city. How cool’s that? That’s the sort of analysis you won’t be getting anywhere else. Onwards…

379. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel

Amazingly, and despite this being the first solo chart-topper for either Simon and/or Garfunkel, I have never heard this record before…

I Only Have Eyes for You, by Art Garfunkel (his 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 19th October – 2nd November 1975

Quick question: has anyone listened to this song in the past thirty years? The big S & G hits still get airplay, as does a lot of Paul Simon’s stuff, and some of Art’s… But this? The only place this is still getting a spin is on those late-night local radio request shows, where people request sexy music for their loved ones. (Do they still exist? The one I listened to growing up was called ‘Pillow Talk’.)

And yes, ‘sexy’ is the right word for this disc. Sexy, sultry, slinky, slow, sophisticated, and any other adjective you can think of beginning with ‘s’ … Are the stars out tonight…? I don’t know if it’s cloudy or bright… Art Garfunkel croons in that smooth, high-pitched way of his. I only have eyes… For you… Dear… It sounds nothing like the folky, acoustic classics he recorded in Simon & Garfunkel.

I’m picturing a fancy apartment in the Hollywood Hills, candlelight reflected in a private pool, Art flicking the fire on and slipping a bottle of champagne from the cooler, before answering the door to his date for the night… It’s an image. This is purest of pure seventies soft rock. So glossy and smooth that you can’t find anything to grab onto, and so you slide down into the sickly syrup. It is… I’ll just come out and say it… pretty dull.

Nothing about this jumps out as #1 hit material. It is last-song-on-the-album filler, to me. And it’s not as if its success can solely be explained by Garfunkel’s star name. This was the 2nd single, from his 2nd solo album, and it took a leisurely six weeks to make it to the top. But whatever the reason, there it is. Top of the pops. I’m going to proclaim this as the most-forgotten #1 since ‘Baby Jump’.

Things pick up a bit when we get to the Beach Boys sounding bridge – Art Garfunkel is one of the few singers who can make his voice sound like five people. I don’t know if we are in a garden… Or on a crowded avenue… The doo-wop feel becomes clearer when you remember that ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ has been around since the 1930s, while the version that most people know was by The Flamingos, in 1959. The ethereal do-bub-she-bubs that make that version a classic are notably missing from Garfunkel’s version, drowned in the gloop, and that’s a shame.

It has also been recorded by names as legendary as Billie Holiday, Rod Stewart, Louis Armstrong and, um, Michael Bublé. Meanwhile at the start of this post, when I named this as the first solo #1 for either Simon or Garfunkel, I was being slightly misleading. Paul Simon has never (to date, we should add, because who knows!) topped the UK charts. Art Garfunkel will again, in a few years, with a song I have heard before! Hurray.