Should Have Been a #1…? ‘God Save the Queen’, by The Sex Pistols

I’ve done a few of these posts before: songs what should have been #1s, for a variety of reasons. Songs that missed top spot because of inconsistencies in chart compilation methods (‘Please Please Me’), songs that were way better than an act’s actual chart toppers (‘Crazy Horses’), songs that are just really, really good (Wizzard). Here, though, we arrive at a record which many allege was kept from reaching number one in the charts because the moral fibre of the British nation depended on it…

‘God Save the Queen’, by The Sex Pistols – #2 in June 1977

June 1977 marked Queen Elizabeth II’s Silver Jubilee. Royal tours were planned, street parties were to be held, bunting was being strung from lampposts, Rod Stewart was keeping things sedate and acoustic at the top of the charts… But a gang of snotty, upstart kids calling themselves The Sex Pistols and playing an aggressively simple new style of rock music called ‘punk’ had other ideas.

They had only had one chart hit: ‘Anarchy in the UK’ which reached #38 at the end of 1976. But they had a reputation – which was probably more important than the music – having caused outrage when they called a TV host a ‘dirty sod’ and a ‘fucking rotter’ during a live interview. (Legend has it they were booked last-minute as a replacement for Queen, as Freddie Mercury had a dentist’s appointment. They were then plied with alcohol and goaded into saying something salty.)

In March 1977 they added Sid Vicious to their line-up, after original bassist Glen Matlock left following one argument too many. ‘God Save the Queen’ was one of only two songs Vicious stayed sober long enough to play on. Meanwhile, the conservative press and commentariat were working themselves into quite the tizz at this bunch of louts: “My personal view on Punk Rock is that it’s disgusting, degrading, ghastly, sleazy, prurient, voyeuristic and nauseating. I think most of these groups would be vastly improved by sudden death,” opined a Tory at the time.

Come the release of their second single, the band were already on their third record label. ‘God Save the Queen’ (she ain’t no human bein’) wasn’t written with the jubilee in mind, according to lead-singer Johnny Rotten (named for his rotten teeth), but the band’s manager Malcolm McLaren couldn’t pass up on the publicity. He organised a flotilla down the Thames, with the Pistols playing the song outside Westminster, and which ended in eleven arrests being made.

By that point, the band were riding high in the charts, with ‘God Save the Queen’ having risen from #11 to #2 just in time for Liz’s big day. The BBC had banned it, some magazines refused to acknowledge the song’s existence – preferring to mark its position on the charts with a dash – and various record stores refused to stock it. Virgin, the Pistol’s new label, were selling twice as many copies of ‘God Save the Queen’ as they were of Rod Stewart’s incumbent chart-topper. However, the BMRB, the company behind chart compilation, ordered that for one week and one week only… shops couldn’t sell their own records. No matter how many copies Virgin Records sold, they wouldn’t count.

Should it have been a #1, if every single had been counted? Possibly. Will anyone ever prove it? Probably not. It’s a bit like the Loch Ness Monster… The last thing the tourist industry of Inverness want is definitive proof that there’s no Nessie. The last thing ageing punks want is proof that they weren’t really denied a chart-topper. It is a hundred times more punk to believe you were silenced. Listening today, forty-five years on, ‘God Save the Queen’ sounds raw and thrilling, but lyrically pretty tame. I love the way Rotten rolls the word ‘Mo-ron’ around, and the refrain of No Future! is fairly iconic. (‘No Future’ was the song’s original title.) Essentially, it’s not so much an attack on the Queen as it is on Britain’s rigid class system: a fascist regime. However, there are far more shocking songs on their debut album, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks (Here’s the Sex Pistols)’ – try ‘Bodies’ and its tale of a teenage abortion for a start.

Then again I wasn’t around in 1977. Maybe punk was genuinely thrilling, or terrifying, depending on your viewpoint. And for an older generation who had gone through the war, rock ‘n’ roll, the swinging sixties, and David Bowie’s drag, perhaps these uncouth, uncivil, ill-mannered upstarts were the final straw. I never thought to ask my grandpa what he made of The Sex Pistols, before he passed away… Though he would get very exercised at the sight of men with stubble, earrings and untucked shirts, so I can probably imagine where he stood on Rotten, Vicious and co.

The Pistols enjoyed several more Top 10 hits after this huge breakthrough, but by January 1978 they had disbanded. By February 1979, Sid Vicious had been accused of murdering his girlfriend Nancy, and had died of a heroin overdose. They burned brightly but briefly, a fleeting menace to the establishment. As I write this, Queen Elizabeth has just celebrated her 95th birthday, and will celebrate 70 years on the throne next year. While the Sex Pistols have long since disintegrated, only briefly reforming for money-spinning tours in the decades since their heyday. Last I heard, Johnny Rotten was wearing MAGA-hats, and endorsing Brexit, still winding everyone up in his role as the grandfather of punk.

Should’ve Been a #1… ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’, by Wizzard

Are you ready children…? (*Fart noise*)… Ladies and gentlemen, I give you a Christmas classic.

‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’, by Wizzard – #4 in December 1973

People complain that few good Christmas pop hits are written these days – though I would argue that The Darkness, Kelly Clarkson, Gwen Stefani (and even Miss Britney Spears) have all added their own classics to the canon this century – and then they look wistfully back to 1973, when two of the most enduring Christmas songs of all time raced up the singles chart.

Slade made #1 – and you can read all about that here – while an even better record got stuck at number four. (I always knew that they came out at the same time, but for years I assumed that Wizzard were runners-up.) Roy Wood’s band had already scored two superlative chart-toppers in ’73 – ‘See My Baby Jive’ and ‘Angel Fingers’ – when they turned on the snow machine and went even heavier on the French horns.

While Slade went quite tongue in cheek – with talk of drunken Santas and dancing grandmas – Wizzard lay the traditional Christmas tropes on thick: When the snowman brings the snow, Well he might just like to know, He’s put a great big smile on somebody’s face… And while Slade toned down the glam, for a Beatlesy ode to the season, Wood chucks everything at this one. It’s every bit as OTT, if not more, than their earlier #1s. And why not? When has Christmas ever been a time for subtlety?

By the end, if the two drummers and multiple brass instruments weren’t enough, the sweet, sweet voices of the Stockland Green School choir are added into the mix. Ok, you lot… Take it! (The full credit for the single is: ‘Wizzard ft. vocal backing from the Suedettes plus the Stockland Green Bilateral School First Year Choir with additional noises by Miss Snob and 3C’, which is every bit as extra as the song itself.) And for the last line, Roy earnestly implores us: Why don’t you give, Your love, For Christmas…?

See, it’s not as wild and anarchic as it sounds. Except, when you actually stop to imagine it being Christmas every single day, when the kids start singing and the band begins to play, and it quickly becomes a dystopian nightmare vision of never ending lights, noise, gift giving and turkey…. Still, I can forgive them, for this is a classic. A song that has been played every December since, but that somehow doesn’t ever inspire in me the feelings of irritation that, say, Slade, the Pogues and Mariah Carey do. As I write this, ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ sits at #16 in the UK Singles charts, and will probably climb even higher next week.

All that’s left for me to do is to wish everyone who reads and follows the UK Number 1s Blog, a very merry Christmas. It doesn’t come everyday – and this year might be different than most – but, still, make it a good one!

Should’ve Been a #1… ‘Crazy Horses’, by The Osmonds

I’ve done a few posts like this before, but thought I’d start making it more of a regular feature. Having just featured Donny and co’s sole UK chart-topper – the decidedly so-so ‘Love Me For a Reason’ – we might as well visit their first big British hit.

‘Crazy Horses’, by The Osmonds – #2 in November 1972

I had heard of ‘Crazy Horses’ long before I ever listened to it. Aged twelve or so, I was the proud owner of the ‘A-Z of Behaving Badly’, a spin-off book from the ’90s sitcom ‘Men Behaving Badly’ (Wiki link provided, if you have no idea what I’m on about). Said book named ‘Crazy Horses’ as one of the best songs for singing loudly on your way home from the pub…

In those pre-internet, iTunes, Spotify days… amazing to think of it actually… I went years without ever knowing what the song sounded like. It sounded cool: ‘Crazy Horses’. But it was by The Osmonds, who were lame, so it mustn’t have been that good…

How wrong I was. ‘Crazy Horses’ is brilliant. One of the catchiest, zaniest, most enjoyable hits of the early seventies. Just watch the video below. How much fun is Jay Osmond having on lead vocals, doing the funky chicken! How much fun is Merrill having shrieking his way through the bridge! How much fun is Donny having making horsey noises on his keyboard! A lot of fun, is the correct answer.

I’ve seen ‘Crazy Horses’ described as metal. It’s not, but for The Osmonds it might as well have been. Their one, minor hit as a group before this had been the catchy-but-super-cheesy ‘Down by the Lazy River’. Just a few months before this made #2, lil’ Donny had scored his first chart-topper with the cloying ‘Puppy Love’.

Not only is ‘Crazy Horses’ ridiculous, and ridiculously catchy, it also has a message behind it. What a show, There they go, Smokin’ up the sky… ‘Crazy horses’ being cars, whose fumes are destroying the planet: Crazy horses all got riders and they’re you and I…! How woke is that, for 1972!

Unfortunately, some countries banned the record, as they thought all the talk of ‘horse’ and ‘smokin’ were… gasp… drug references! Which simply makes it even more rock ‘n’ roll, and even more amazing that The Osmonds were behind it.

So there you have it. After sitting through all the middling to awful #1 singles involving the Osmond brothers, we desperately needed to give their best song a moment in the sun. ‘Crazy Horses’ should definitely have been a number one!

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Be My Baby’, by The Ronettes

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Last up…? Why, if it isn’t the best pop song of all time!

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Be My Baby, by The Ronettes

Reached #4 in November 1963

Not sure I have to write much more than that… But I’ll try.

Why is it such a classic? Well… There’s the intro, THE crashing, smashing Wall of Sound, the cascading drums, the melodramatic handclaps, the horns, the over-dubbing, the full-on orchestra in the background, the lyrics that range from girlishly submissive (I’ll make you happy, baby…) to flirty ( …just wait and see) in the space of one line…

Phil Spector may be a terrible person; yet against the backdrop of his crimes, and his truly messed-up relationship with Ronette’s lead singer Veronica ‘Ronnie’ Bennett (the only member of the group to actually sing on this song – every voice in the record is hers) ‘Be My Baby’ shines out even more brightly as a slice of pop perfection. Beauty out of something, or someone, awful.

Put simply, this is an amazing song, and it is a crime that it never topped the charts. I’ll end this mini-countdown imagining a parallel universe, where ‘Be My Baby’ sat astride the UK singles chart for a good month or two…

The usual #1s countdown will resume in a couple of days…

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Please Please Me’, by The Beatles

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Next up… A record that changed the course of popular music?

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Please Please Me, by the Beatles

Reached #2 in February 1963

As with Elvis, I don’t need to go giving The Fab Four any extra number one singles. By the end of their chart careers, they’d had seventeen of them. And as much as I love this single (if it had been one of their #1s it would probably be in my Top 5) , and as much as I wish that this had been their first ever chart-topper, that isn’t why I’m including ‘Please Please Me’ in this mini-countdown.

I touched on it in my last post, on the mega-long running #2 hit ‘Stranger on the Shore’, but the charts of the 1950s and ’60s were a tad confused. There wasn’t just one of them, for a start. You had the ‘Melody Maker’ chart, the ‘NME’ chart, and the ‘Record Retailer’ chart. None of which offered a complete overview of a week’s sales – they all conducted ‘surveys’ of selected record stores over the phone…

‘Please Please Me’ hit #1 in the NME chart (which had the largest circulation) and ‘Melody Maker’ chart, but it only reached #2 in ‘Record Retailer’, which was the one that the UK Singles Chart chose to follow. So, it may well have been the biggest selling single at some point; we’ll just never know for sure… The history books record it as having stalled behind Frank Ifield’s dull-as-dishwater ‘The Wayward Wind’ for two weeks.

It’s far from the only single to have suffered this unfortunate fate – it wasn’t until 1969 that the UK charts were unified into one – but it’s a landmark single from the biggest pop group in history, with one of the very best middle-eights, ever… So enjoy.

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Stranger on the Shore’, by Mr. Acker Bilk

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Next up… a song that I have to admit I don’t know terribly well. In fact, I listened to it for the very first time just before typing these words…

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Stranger on the Shore, by Mr. Acker Bilk

reached #2 in January 1962

It’s a pleasant enough instrumental, by a clarinetist from Somerset… The theme to a TV programme of the same name. It sounds slightly dated, even for a record released in 1961. Not the type of song I’d usually rush to listen to… I’m including this disc in this mini-countdown for exactly the opposite reasons I included ‘Tutti Frutti’ and ‘Heartbreak Hotel’. ‘Stranger on the Shore’ isn’t revolutionary, or life-changing, or any of that…  But it was a bloody persistent record.

It entered the Top 10 in December of 1961, and it remained, with a couple of drops and re-entries, a Top 10 record in the following… July! Over six months! It remained in the charts for a year. It was the first British single to hit #1 in on the Billboard Hot 100, two years before the British Invasion. It was also the biggest selling hit of 1962 in Britain, and is the biggest selling instrumental record in chart history. It was played in Apollo 10, on its way to the moon…

All the figures suggest that this should have been massive chart-topping smash… except the one that matters most. It never got higher than number two, held off in the most part by Cliff & The Shadows, ‘The Young Ones’. It did top the NME chart, but that wasn’t the official chart, and a lot more on that tomorrow, in my next shoulda-been-number-one post…

Songs That Should Have Been #1… ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, by Elvis Presley

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

Next up…

Well since my baby left me…

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Heartbreak Hotel, by Elvis Presley

 reached #2 in June 1956

OK, OK, I know. Elvis doesn’t need any more number one singles. He’s had plenty. Back on my regular countdown, of actual #1s, we’re in 1964 and The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll is on fourteen (14!)

But… His dominance of the charts in the early 1960s is why I wish that this disc could have made the top. He had some brilliant, classic #1s – don’t get me wrong – but he also dragged a lot of crap to the top just through the power of his name. If only we could swap ‘Good Luck Charm’, or ‘Rock-A-Hula Baby’, or ‘Wooden Heart’, for this burst of primal energy.

This was Elvis the hip-swiveller, Elvis as Moral Panic, Elvis the Pelvis edited from the waist down… And it’s a really clever song, too. A broken heart imagined as a real place – a hotel where broken-hearted lovers cry in the gloom, and the desk-clerks are all dressed in black. It was inspired by a real-life suicide, which is some heavy shit for a pop song in 1956 (for comparison, it was kept off the top-spot in Britain by the banal, saccharine stylings of Pat Boone, with ‘I’ll Be Home’.) And when that guitar solo kicks in… Oh boy. The King was most definitely in the building.

Songs That Should Have Been #1… “Tutti Frutti”, by Little Richard

The Stargazers, Don Cornell, The Johnston Brothers, The Dream Weavers, Jerry Keller…? Nope, me neither. But they’ve all had the honour of topping the UK singles chart.

How well a single performs in the charts can be influenced by various things… promotion, star power, tastes and trends, time of year… pure luck. And that most fickle, unpredictable of  factors: the general public. Do enough of them like your song to make it a smash? Or will they ignore it, and let it fall by the wayside?

I’m taking a short break from the regular countdown to feature five discs that really should have topped the charts. Be it for their long-reaching influence, their enduring popularity or for the simple fact that, had they peaked a week earlier or later, they might have made it. (I’ll only be covering songs released before 1964, as that’s where I’m up to on the usual countdown.)

And first up… A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bom-bom!

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Tutti Frutti, by Little Richard

Recorded in September 1955, peaked at #29 in February 1957

‘Tutti Frutti’ came nowhere near the top of the charts. One week at #29, a year and a half after it was originally recorded. That’s all. But this is the sound of the rock ‘n’ roll starters whistle. This is rock ‘n’ roll: the tempo, the frenzied piano, the orgasmic ‘ooooh’s, the wonderful nonsense of the lyrics… Imagine, for a second, a parallel universe in which this was a chart-topping hit.

In real life, rock ‘n’ roll was announced at the top of the UK charts by ‘Rock Around the Clock’ – which is fine. A classic. A seminal record. We all know it. But if this had been the disc to kick it all off in the autumn of ’55… A flamboyant black pianist, pounding out a song (allegedly) originally written with references to gay sex (Tutti Frutti, Good booty, If it don’t fit, Don’t force it…) All that had been eliminated by the time it came to be recorded properly, but the sanitised version was still saucy enough: Got a girl, Named Sue, She knows just what to do… Imagine that knocking Jimmy Young’s plodding ‘The Man From Laramie’ unceremoniously off the top!

Of the big four rock ‘n’ rollers – Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, and Little Richard – the latter is the only one never to have topped the UK charts. He is the only one still alive so… who knows – there might still be time! The closest he came was with his cover of ‘Baby Face’, which reached #2 in early 1959.