Never Had a #1… Bob Dylan

For my next three posts, I’ll be returning to a feature I tried out last year… The biggest bands and artists – who’ve sold millions and are beloved by billions – but who’ve never made it all the way to the top of the UK singles chart.

First up. A Nobel prize winning songwriter who put the concerns of an entire generation into his early records, who has featured twice in my countdown as a songwriter (‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ and ‘The Mighty Quinn’), who celebrated his 80th birthday just yesterday, and whose singing style I once heard described as sounding ‘as if he were sitting on top of a washing machine going at full spin’…

Bob Dylan has never been much of a singles artists but, at least early in his career, he was a consistent presence in the charts. Here are his handful of Top 10 singles:

‘The Times They Are A-Changin”, and ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’, both #9 in 1965

1965 was Dylan’s most prolific year on the singles chart with four Top 10 singles – including this pair. One is a rousing clarion call to the young, telling the old fogeys to get out of their way… The order is rapidly fading… It sounds a bit preachy now, and the acoustic guitar and harmonica combo grate on me after a while. File under: Of Cultural Significance.

The latter single is much more fun, and has a very famous attempt at a music video. As the name hints, it’s a short, sharp bluesy number and where ‘The Times…’ is looking forward, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is looking up from the gutter. It drips with sarcasm and cynicism. The pump don’t work ’cause the vandals took the handles… They certainly did. ‘What??’ the last card reads as Bob swaggers off, too cool for school.

‘Positively 4th Street’, #8 in 1965

Probably my favourite of this bunch. Any song that opens with a line like: You got a lot of nerve, To say you are my friend… is going to be fun. Bob has a bone to pick! With whom exactly has been the subject of much discussion, but the consensus is that he’s taking aim at the critics of his move away from the acoustic folk of ‘The Times They Are A-Changin” and ‘Blowing in the Wind’ (4th Street runs through Greenwich Village, and the clubs where Dylan made his name).

‘Rainy Day Women #12 and 35’, #7 in 1966

Some people don’t like this song. Possibly because it sounds like Dylan and his band were having a lot of fun making it, and Bob Dylan’s music should at all times be taken SERIOUSLY! He’s a Nobel prize winner for God’s sake! Whatever. Apparently he insisted that everybody taking part in the recording of ‘Rainy Day Women’ be highly intoxicated, and it certainly has a boozy, woozy, last day of spring break feel to it. A ‘rainy day woman’, I have literally just learned, was 1950s slang for a doobie. Dylan claims that this isn’t a ‘drug song’. Except… Everybody must get stoned!… he shouts, as the band whoop and holler behind him. Radio stations at the time certainly had their suspicions, and many refused to play what turned out to be one of his biggest hits.

‘Lay Lady Lay’, #5 in 1969

His most recent Top 10 hit. Oftentimes Dylan’s lyrics are pretty oblique, but this one seems pretty clear. He wants his girl to stay, to lay across his big brass bed. That line, in the wrong hands, could sound ridiculous… But here it’s a sweet sentiment in a sweet song.

‘Like a Rolling Stone’, #4 in 1965

One of the foundation pillars of rock music. This tale of a spoiled rich girl whose life has fallen apart gave Dylan his biggest chart hit in the UK. It sounds a lot like ‘Positively 4th Street’, both in terms of the organ and the barely concealed sarcasm. And again, there has been a lot of debate over just who the song is about, but it has definitely not got anything to do with The Rolling Stones. At six minutes long, ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ was, at the time, one of the longest singles ever released.

Another #1-less artist coming up tomorrow – one that can’t compete with Bob Dylan’s legacy and influence, but that certainly has a better voice…

414. ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’, by Baccara

Our next #1 intros with some very heavy breathing. Things haven’t sounded this steamy since Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin supposedly did the actual dirty in the recording studio. Add in the chucka-chucka guitars and a thudding bass, and we’ve got a bit of a blue movie vibe…

Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, by Baccara (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 23rd – 30th October 1977

Mister, Your eyes are full of hesitation… You’re left in no doubt as to the nationality of this duo, the second the vocals start. Which makes me wonder, If you know what you’re looking for… You wonder if they were playing up their Spanish-ness, for the novelty value… Is it I can boogie-boogie? Or boogie-woogie? Or should we stick with what it sounds like: boogie-voogie?

The obvious comparison to make is with ABBA: two female singers, from Europe, with slightly idiosyncratic pronunciation. Except, Agnetha and Frida never came out with a line like: You try me once, You’ll beg for more…! Pure smut! Outrageous. I love it. They can boogie, but only with a certain song… All night long…

It’s already a great disco tune, but the second verse elevates it to genius level. Baccara break the fourth wall: Yes sir, Already told you in the first verse, And in the chorus, But I will give you one more chance… This is pure tongue-in-cheek, camp brilliance, and it goes on from here, all strings, scuzzy disco riff, and heavy breathing, to its conclusion. You do wonder if this marks a line in the sand for disco, though. It’ll be disco with a capital D.I.S.C.O for the rest of the seventies… Boney M, Bee Gees, Village People, ‘I Will Survive’… Did Baccara perhaps free the genre from any lingering attempts to be cool?

Then again, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ was three years ago, right at the dawn of disco. Whatever. I am here for disco’s descent. I’m no snob! And what better way to begin the descent than with this tune, that may or may not be sung from the point of view of a prostitute. (Not to suggest that María Mendiola and Mayte Mateos – the two members of Baccara – were anything of the sort!) ‘Yes Sir…’ was their debut hit, a smash across Europe and, apparently, the best-selling single ever by a female group, with worldwide sales of over 18 million! When I discovered that their #8 follow up was called ‘Sorry, I’m a Lady’ I rushed to check it out. (If you thought ‘Yes Sir…’ was camp froth then brace yourself! Sample lyric: Sorry I’m a lady, I would rather be, Just a little shady…)

And then that was it as far as the UK charts were concerned. They went their separate ways in the ‘80s, but both ladies continue to perform under the ‘Baccara’ name. Although it is appropriate that I’m posting this on Eurovision weekend, as the duo represented Luxembourg in 1978 with ‘Parlez-vous Francais?’, finishing 7th.

As a postscript, ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ returned to the charts at the end of last year following the Scotland national team’s qualification for a first major tournament in twenty-three years!! (Sorry, excited Scot here) The team danced to it in their dressing room in celebration, and Mendiola offered to re-record it in their honour ahead of the tournament. We’re just waiting to see if they take her up on it…

413. ‘Silver Lady’, by David Soul

Barely five seconds into David Soul’s second chart-topper of the year, I decide that I like it more than his first, ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’.

Silver Lady, by David Soul (his 2nd and final #1)

3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd October 1977

To be honest, that’s more of a comment on the overbearing dullness of the earlier single than the brilliance of this, but still. It intros with a nice, Eagles-esque bassline and riff. It’s funky, and slightly sleazy. It sounds, believe it or not, like the theme-tune to a cop drama… Tired of drifting, Searching, Shifting, From town to town… The lyrics are much more interesting than their predecessor, too.

Then, midway through the first verse, something clicks and the song is suddenly tremendous fun. Suddenly we’re gearing up for an outrageous earworm of a chorus. It’s the horns. It’s always the horns. Come on silver lady, Take my word, I won’t run out on you again, Believe me… It’s schmaltzy, it’s cheesy… It’s stayed with me since I listened to this song for the first time a few days ago…

I love the barroom piano that joins us for verse two, as Soul paints a picture of the sorts of dives he’s been reduced to since getting himself chucked out. Seedy motels, And no-star hotels, Still I had to learn… Most importantly, compared to ‘Don’t Give Up…’, this song doesn’t take itself too seriously. The tongue remains firmly in cheek. It sounds exactly like the sort of song an off duty cop would attempt at a karaoke bar, after a beer or two… (I had to check that the lyrics weren’t: I’ve seen the light, It’s just one more pint without you…)

That was one of my main complaints about his previous #1. For the heartthrob star of an all-action police drama to debut with such an insipid puddle of crap was disappointing. ‘Silver Lady’ is more like it. I’m glad David Soul got this shot at redemption. And he got it just in time, for there were only two further chart hits left in his locker. Since then he’s tended to focus on his acting, though he is semi-retired these days. In 2004, he became a British citizen, perhaps as a way of thanking the nation for making him more than just a one-hit wonder, as he remains in his homeland.

This is one of those songs that, if you listen to it at the right time of day, with the right amount of alcohol in you, you may start to overestimate. I mean, I’m enjoying it; but I’d better move on before I start claiming it as an overlooked classic. Still, the charts need songs like this. Pure, unapologetic pop. More of which is coming 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:

411. ‘Float On’, by The Floaters

Two of the 1970’s most forgotten number ones back to back, then. From ‘Angelo’, to ‘Float On’, as the world shrugs and thinks ‘Nope, don’t remember them…’

Float On, by The Floaters (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 21st – 28th August 1977

Musically, this is dense, lush, soul-cheese. The bassline is smooth, while the production has a ‘sounds of rainforest’ vibe, all echoey and dripping, with what sounds like tropical birds in the distance. While, lyrically, it’s a lonely hearts ad. There are four members of The Floaters, and they all take turns at introducing themselves, their star-signs, and the kind of women they’re after.

First up is Ralph, an Aquarius. Now I like a woman who loves her freedom, And who can hold her own… Then Charles, a Libra, who likes a woman who carries herself like Miss Universe… He really goes for it with the falsetto, in a kind of vocal peacocking move. (And is there a more seventies line than let me take you Loveland…?) Actually, by the late nineties, every pop group worth their salt had a gimmick for introducing the members in their debut single. In this respect, The Floaters were well ahead of their time.

Anyway. Our Leo, Paul, isn’t picky. See, I like all women of the world, he announces proudly. And last up is Larry, who delivers his sign, Cancer!, slightly too loudly. He likes… Oh to be honest, who cares? The descriptions are deliberately vague in order to not put off any woman who might buy the record. I guess sociology students could look back, forty-plus years later, at this song as a first-hand example of what men of the late-1970s looked for in a woman (if that was their ultra-niche specialist subject).

Float, Float on… I’m not sure where they’ll be floating, or what they’ll be on, but I’m getting an image of each Floater with his girl, in a swan-shaped boat, cruising down one of those old ‘Tunnel of Love’ rides. It all goes a bit weird at the end, with some trippy flutes and heavy breathing, as we wonder just what is going on as those boats float out of sight…

The Floaters were from Detroit, and are stone-cold, one-hit wonders. ‘Float On’ floated to #1 in the UK, and to #2 in the USA, and that was that. To be honest, naming your band after your debut single, or vice-versa, pretty much guarantees that you will remain in one-hit purgatory for all eternity. They do, though, usurp Pussycat as the chart-topping act with the worst name because to me a ‘floater’ is, at best, an unwelcome object in your drink and, at worst, an unwelcome returnee to your toilet bowl…

410. ‘Angelo’, by Brotherhood of Man

You’ve got to love how arbitrary the pop charts can be. How utterly unconcerned they are with what came before. From Donna Summer’s thrilling vision of the future; to this. The Brotherhood have returned, whether you wanted them to or not…

Angelo, by Brotherhood of Man (their 2nd of three #1s)

1 week, from 14th August – 21st August 1977

In my post on their 1st number one, ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’, I suggested that Brotherhood of Man had a whiff of ABBA about them. Two boys, two girls, a Eurovision winning song… Well, here they’re not even trying to hide the similarities. It’s ABBA-lite, Bjorn Again with an original song. (And it’s not even that original…)

Can you guess what ABBA song this is heavily influenced by? Long ago, High on a mountain in Mexico… Cue marching drums and folky guitars. We meet a shepherd boy called Angelo, who met a young girl and he loved her so… It’s a Romeo and Juliet story. She’s rich; he’s not. They run away together, forever, avoiding danger, strangers… (the lyrics read like rhyming 101). Until life catches up with them and they kill themselves. Meanwhile the darting pianos from ‘Dancing Queen’ turn up for the chorus.

It is actually quite a brutal topic for a very throwaway song. They saw them lying there, Hand in hand… (They run all the way from the mountains to the sand, just so they have something to rhyme with ‘hand.) I wonder if it was shocking at the time, for a basic little pop group to sing so flippantly about suicide? We had ‘death-discs’ a-plenty in the early sixties, but they all died in car wrecks and plane crashes, not at their own hands…

‘Fernando’ is far from being my favourite ABBA song, so this dodgy knock-off was never likely to grab me. What I will give it is that the female leads – in contrast to the male-led ‘Save Your Kisses…’ – give it their all. A song can be complete crap, but at the same time redeemed by a singer who sounds as if they believe wholeheartedly in said crap.

Amazingly, Brotherhood of Man will be back shortly, for their third and final #1. They really got some mileage out of their Eurovision fame. Equally amazingly, that disc will also be named after another Spanish-sounding hombre, ‘Figaro’. I have never heard it, but will be shivering in anticipation until we arrive.

409. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer

The Jacksons and Hot Chocolate were merely our disco’s warm-up acts, setting the tone and getting the audience limbered up. The headline act is ready now. Ms. Summer will take the stage…

I Feel Love, by Donna Summer (her 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 17th July – 14th August 1977

This is a shift forwards. They come along every few years, number ones that announce a new phase, a new sound, a real moment in popular music. ‘Rock Around the Clock’, ‘How Do You Do It’, Rock Your Baby’… Rarely, though, do the records in question sound as if they are from another galaxy altogether.

The first thing that hits you, after a short fade in, are the Moog synthesisers. They are harsh, drilling into your brain. We’ve had synths before, plenty of times, but not used like this. This feels like a slap in the face. Meanwhile, Donna Summer’s voice floats high above: ethereal, echoey… so unhuman that it could be as computerised as the music. It’s like her vocals were recorded years before, like this is already the remix.

It’s so good… There’s not much to the lyrics, really. Donna Summer is not the star of the show here – although her vocals are a huge part of the song’s appeal, and its legacy. I feel love, I feel love, I feel lo-o-ove… The stars are Giorgio Moroder’s synths: clanking, chirping, burping away. He layered them, he overdubbed them, he played them slightly out of sync with one another… They’re a world away from ‘Son of My Father’… You start to get a little dizzy if you play this for long enough at a high volume. I can’t imagine what it would have done to you in a sweaty disco in 1977. But you can picture it – the lights, the vibrating speakers, the amyl nitrate in the air…

It’s not a particularly nice song. It’s not one for any old time of day. But it is spectacular. And it’s not disco, at least not the kind of sparkly, flirty disco that’s been the dominant sound of the past few years. It’s dance music. EDM ground zero. (Though I’m not saying this invented dance music in one fell swoop. That’s the problem with only reviewing the chart-topping singles – it’s not an exact overview of popular music as a whole.) But what’s for sure is that it sounds not unlike something a big-name DJ could produce in 2021.

The best bit – sorry Donna – is when everything falls away but the metallic beat. We’re left with a thumping heartbeat, and what sounds like a mouse rattling around in your skirting boards. On ‘I Remember Yesterday’, the album this single is taken from, each track was designed to sound as if it were from a different era. ‘I Feel Love’ was the final track. The future.

For your pleasure, you can choose from the four minute single edit, the six minute album version, or the eight minute extended 12” mix. (We could stretch a case for this being the longest #1 single yet, but we’d be chancing it.) The #1 that this most reminds me of – not in terms of sound, but in terms of impact and weirdness – is another futuristic hit: ‘Telstar’. That, though, was an isolated one-off. Not many subsequent records have sounded like ‘Telstar’. Large swathes of the 1980s will sound like ‘I Feel Love’.

It is a shame that Donna Summer’s only UK #1 is this. Not that it’s not great, but she isn’t the main thing about it. If this was a more recent release, it’d be Giorgio Moroder ft. Donna Summer. The producer would be the star. In the US, this wasn’t a #1, but her other classics were. ‘Bad Girls’, ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’… I may have to do a Donna Top 10 very soon, as I’m not happy with her just having one appearance on this blog. She passed away in 2012, recognised as an influence on every disco act, every dance act, and every black woman who had hit the charts ever since.

408. ‘So You Win Again’, by Hot Chocolate

Taking up where The Jacksons left off – I’m sure any DJ worth their salt could spin this and ‘Show You the Way to Go’ together seamlessly – here’s Hot Chocolate with another slice of disco-lite.

So You Win Again, by Hot Chocolate (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 26th June – 17th July 1977

I love the guitar sound on this record. It sounds like a whale bellowing from the ocean’s depths: primal and deep. Is it even a guitar? A synthesiser? Electric violin? Whatever it is, it works brilliantly. It helps create a really thick, sticky sound, as if this whole record has been dipped in a vat of honey.

There’s also a hypnotic bass to drag you along. This record has a pretty sleazy-sounding undertone to it, which the lyrics don’t really justify. It’s a song about a man spurned: Your perfumed letters didn’t say, That you’d be leaving any day… She does sound flighty – can you really trust someone who sends perfumed letters?

So you win again, You win again, Here I stand again… Under all the heavy instrumentation, however, a great pop song lurks. There are plenty of hooks: the do-do-dodoops and a catchy middle-eight in the I can’t refuse her… line. Plus the way lead singer Errol Brown draws out the ‘lo-ser’ in the chorus is great. But I think what makes the whole song complete is the little ‘So’ in the title. It adds weight to the singer’s resignation, to the fact that he’s a schmuck who’s been fooled before and will be fooled again…

This is sophisticated, and layered pop music. There’s a marimba in there somewhere, a horn, and strings, while the rest of the band wrap themselves around the lead vocals. In my last post I mentioned bands whose sole #1 single isn’t their most famous. Hot Chocolate are better known for ‘You Sexy Thing’ (a #2) and probably ‘Every 1s a Winner’ (only a #12!) But, out of these three, I’d say ‘So You Win Again’ is the better record.

This was already their seventh Top 10 hit, though, in a run stretching right back to the start of the decade. They’d have a few more, and are still a going concern, still with three of the members that appeared on this record. Lead singer Brown, he of the velvety voice, left the group in the eighties and passed away in 2015.

Before I finish, can I just give a shout out to ‘Hot Chocolate’ as a brilliant band name? I recently called out ‘Pussycat’ for having a ridiculous name, and there is an even worse one coming up shortly. But ‘Hot Chocolate’ stays just the right side of cheesy, and sums up the group’s sound perfectly.

407. ‘Show You the Way to Go’, by The Jacksons

And so, with a minimum of fuss and very little fanfare, one of the most famous voices in pop history shimmies onto the stage.

Show You the Way to Go, by The Jacksons (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 19th – 26th June 1977

We’re back in a disco groove, but a very gentle disco groove. It’s the sort of record a DJ throws on at half nine, just as the night is getting going. I don’t know everything, But there’s something I do know… The lyrics are very generic ‘let’s get together and dance’, on first listen, as we enjoy a little horn solo and some MJ adlibs (no ee-hees or sha-mons, yet, but plenty of come ons and whooping). As it fades, he does something remarkable, looping his voice to make it sound like the needle is skipping. Or maybe it’s studio trickery…

Is there a deeper meaning here? We can come together, And think like one… Live together underneath the sun… It sounds like they’re looking beyond the dancefloor, to a world of harmony between brothers and sisters, united in dance. All the while, the groove keeps your feet tapping. At first, I thought this sounded a bit lightweight; but it’s improving with every listen.

This is far from The Jacksons’ first visit to the charts. It was their 7th Top 10 hit in the UK, but their 1st since 1972, since leaving Motown and dropping the ‘5’. It signalled the start of a run of disco classics: ‘Blame It on the Boogie’, ‘Can You Feel It’ and more. Meanwhile, in terms of their young lead singer’s solo career, ‘Off the Wall’ was just two years away. His voice here is a sort of happy medium: he’s not the high-pitched little boy from ‘Want You Back’ or ‘Rockin’ Robin’ – he was eighteen when this hit – but there aren’t any of the trademark clicks and ticks that mark his huge ‘80s and ‘90s hits.

If you were just getting into the groove with this one, there’s an extended album cut that runs to well over five minutes. I might just keep spinning this disc, it’s definitely catchy, although it’s not instant. It takes a while for the wave to wash over you… And that’s it for The Jacksons as a band. They’re not the first, or the last, act whose only #1 is far from being their most famous hit – think Fleetwood Mac, Dusty, Chuck Berry, and the band coming up next…

406. ‘Lucille’, by Kenny Rogers

So, while The Sex Pistols perhaps should have kicked Rod Stewart off the top, in the end he was replaced by another crazy-haired, middle-finger sticking punk rocker… Only kidding, he was replaced by Kenny Rogers.

Lucille, by Kenny Rogers (his 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 12th – 19th June 1977

The two main sounds of the mid to early-late seventies, since glam died, have undeniably been disco and slushy soft-rock. But coming up behind, in the bronze medal position, surprisingly, is country and western. We’ve had Tammy Wynette, Billy Connolly as Tammy, J. J. Barrie, Pussycat… and now a proper legend of the genre.

Country music is often sad; and yet often ridiculous. It is a melodramatic genre. And the opening line of this record is up there with some of the very best. In a bar in Toledo, Across from the depot, On a bar stool she took off her ring… Talk about setting a scene! A tawdry tale is told, as the singer approaches this beautiful, sad woman.

She’s been living on dreams, she’s finally had enough, she needs more out of life… Kenny’s about to make his move, when in through the barroom doors strides Lucille’s ex. The big hands were calloused, He looked like a mountain, For a minute I thought I was dead… As silly as all this is, when Kenny Rogers is on form he tells a story like no other.

You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille… The story spins on its head. Four hungry children and a crop in the fields… We assumed she was the victim, finally breaking away from hardship and abuse… But is she? Kenny takes her to a hotel, but when the time comes to do the deed, all he can hear is her estranged husband’s voice… This time your hurtin’ won’t heal…

What this song really needs is a third and final verse. Who’s really to blame? Who’s telling the truth? Does she go back to her family farm? Does Kenny get his leg over? We need closure! Instead we get the chorus and a slow, slow fade. He may have set an excellent scene; but Rogers needs practice in wrapping up a story. Thankfully, come his next #1 single – yes, he has more than one – he will have mastered the art of storytelling, and produced a classic.

If it weren’t for the pretty gritty subject matter, I’d describe this as a lullaby. The guitar sways and soothes, while the bass keeps time like a metronome. Many Kenny Rogers hits I can think of do this, hide a tough subject matter behind a soothing rhythm: ‘Ruby’, ‘The Gambler’, his aforementioned 2nd chart-topper… ‘Lucille’ was his first big smash since breaking with his band The First Edition, and it set him off on an extended run of hits.

I was going to ask why on earth this record made #1, for a near forty-year-old country singer. But perhaps we’re past that. ‘Lucille’ made #1 simply because country and western music was a very popular genre at the time. It’s not an ever-present, but this is far from the last time we’ll be hearing it…