Recap: #361 – #390

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To recap the recaps…

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

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

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

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

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

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

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

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

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!

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…

361. ‘You’re the First, the Last, My Everything’, by Barry White

We got it together didn’t we…? Lord, that voice. Nobody but you, and me… Thick as gravy and deep as a canyon: Mr Barry White. Add some dramatic strings and you’ve got one hell of an intro. Was this on the original single version…? I hope so.

You’re the First, the Last, My Everything, by Barry White (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 1st – 15th December 1974

After a bit of a break we’re back on a disco vibe – the sound of late-1974 – with one of the genre’s defining hits. My first, my last, my everything… And the answer to, All my dreams… A record can be as cheesy as you like, and this is a disc dripping in the stuff, but when a singer sells the vocals like Barry White sells them here… well, you can’t argue with it.

The way he belts out the Girl you’re my reality, But I’m lost in a-a-a-a dream… line, and the way he drops several octaves for the my everything… in the chorus is superb. But it’s not just the vocals that make this a classic. There are the pause-clicks between lines – perfect for drunk dancing – and the simple but effective chord progression. ‘You’re the First…’ was originally written as a slightly less sincere, country and western song: ‘You’re my First, My Last, My In-Between’. And you realise, during the interlude, with its soaring strings and backing singers, that that’s why this song is so damn catchy: it’s a simple country song, a vaudeville ditty even, dressed up as disco.

Any wedding DJ worth their salt will launch this record onto the turntable at some point in the evening. It matters not when: this is a song to dance to with wild, drunken abandon, making all the trademark ‘disco’ hand gestures. You know, the flicks and the pointing. The earnestness in White’s voice almost commands you: My first! My last! MY EVERYTHING!

I’d say that for people of my age, Barry White’s image precedes his music. Maybe it’s because most of us met him through his cameo on The Simpsons. His size, his voice, his curls… ‘The Walrus of Love’ is one hell of a nickname – though I’m not sure it’s the most complimentary – and well-earned as, according to his Wikipedia entry, White fathered ‘at least’ nine children.

He was more than just this hit and a Simpsons cameo, though. There’s ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe’, a US #1 to which ‘You’re My First…’ was the follow-up, and ‘You See the Trouble With Me’ (which will be remixed and taken to #1 many years from now) among others.

In the end, the thing we all know Barry White for was the thing that sadly killed him. The Walrus suffered from exhaustion, kidney failure, diabetes and high blood pressure. He passed away at the very young age of fifty-eight, in 2003. His biggest hit, however, will live on for as long as people keep getting married (and drunk, and dancing…)

Recap: #331 – #360

To recap then…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recapping the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

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

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

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

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

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

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

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

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

360. ‘Gonna Make You a Star’, by David Essex

I’m not sure what I was expecting from this next #1, the pre-penultimate chart-topper of 1974… But it definitely wasn’t an outrageously catchy synth hook.

Gonna Make You a Star, by David Essex (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 10th November – 1st December 1974

Seriously, this sounds really futuristic. Not since Chicory Tip have we had such an electronic song at the summit. It starts with a simple enough, acoustic riff, then wham. Add to this the fact that David Essex sings with such a thick, yes, Essex accent, which sounds to my ears quite, sort of… punky. It is 1974… but it’s not.

Oh is he more, Too much more, Than a pretty face…? It’s so strange the way he talks, It’s a disgrace… David Essex seems to be singing in the character of a critic, of himself as a singer, before answering them directly: Well I know I’m not super hip, And I’m liable to take a slip…

It’s a cynical take on the music industry, as cynical a song as we’ve had at #1. Essex is keen to let us know that he’s not just a pretty-boy teen idol, another Donny or David Cassidy. Except, going by the picture above, he really could have been. Which probably made him even more determined to go against type. We’re gonna make you, A sta-a-ah-ar, We’re gonna make you, A sta-a-ah-ar… The title line becomes a sort of mantra, you imagine a crowd of greedy execs crowding around, pawing at young, innocent David…

I really like this record. It is, as I said, not what I was expecting. It is a very hard song to place, and to sum up. Put it in this way: it sounds like they rounded up a group of blokes on their way home from Upton Park, asked them to have a pub-rock singalong, then at the last minute replaced the guitars with synths. Seriously, replace these synths with crunchy guitars and you’d have a glam rock anthem to rival anything T Rex or Slade came up with. And I particularly love the cheeky I don’t fink so… response to the ‘Is he more than a pretty face?’ question.

Maybe part of the problem that Essex had with the music industry was that he had been in bands for years, since the mid-sixties. He released the first of several unnoticed singles in 1965, and it wasn’t until he moved into musical theatre in the early seventies that he started to gain recognition. So to some he might have seemed a stage-school upstart, putting on the mockney accent for authenticity. While in reality he was a kid from Plaistow, the son of Irish travellers who had had played for West Ham, which in my book gives you every right to sing your cockney heart out.

None of which explains the synths, though… They really do come out of nowhere. Jeff Wayne produced this single – he of ‘War of the Worlds’ fame – so perhaps that has something to do with it. Essex will go on to star on ‘War of the Worlds’ but, as he has a second #1 coming up next year I’ll save the bio for then. Up next, a recap…

359. ‘Everything I Own’, by Ken Boothe

In my last post, I dubbed the autumn of 1974 as the ‘Disco-Fall’, so glistening and shimmering has it been, dripping with the season’s hot new sound. But there have been detours, brief intermissions in the programme – think John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’, for example. And now this.

Everything I Own, by Ken Boothe (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 20th October – 10th November 1974

Though ‘Everything I Own’ isn’t so much a detour from the disco-soul sounds of recent #1s; it is more like being dumped in the middle of the Amazon with no compass. It is a slice of incredibly laid-back reggae, with incredibly earnest vocals and a tempo that never gets above crawling pace. Reggae is a strange genre, in chart terms, as it never seems to come or go. We’ve had reggae chart-toppers since the late sixties, and they’ll crop up every now and then until the present day. See also: country and western.

You sheltered me from harm, Kept me warm… You gave my life to me, Set me free… It’s a love song, a thank you letter to a loved one. It’s so sincere and sweet that it might even be a hymn. God himself might be the loved one… He’s not, it becomes clear, but the comparison is valid. This is record is just very… nice.

I would give anything I own, Give up my life, My heart, My home… (It’s odd, but the phrase ‘everything I own’ never features, it’s always ‘anything…) It’s nice, it’s very calming, almost like an audible massage, but I’m waiting for the hook… Still waiting… And then it fades. Oh well. It would work very well playing in the background, in a beach bar, in Thailand.

‘Everything I Own’ was originally a soft-rock hit for Bread, in 1972, before being adapted here into soft-reggae. It has been covered by everyone with a penchant for AOR, from Rod Stewart to Boyzone. It will also appear again at the top of the charts, in 1987, but I won’t give the game away on that just yet.

I have to say that, despite not loving this record, it is the version that I’m enjoying the most. Ken Boothe has a fine voice, and he enunciates every syllable in a manner your nan would approve of. His chart career mirrors perfectly that of our previous chart-toppers, Sweet Sensation. A #1, followed by a #11, and then done. I like that symmetry. Boothe made a sum total of $0 from this hit, as his record label went bust before they paid him. He is still alive, has been awarded the Jamaican Order of Distinction, and released his most recent album in 2012.

Listen to (almost) every #1 with this playlist:

358. ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’, by Sweet Sensation

One thing that becomes clear the longer this trawl through the charts goes on… If a hot new sound makes its way across the Atlantic – be it rock ‘n’ roll, Motown, or disco – it won’t be long before the Brits are trying it out for themselves.

Sad Sweet Dreamer, by Sweet Sensation (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 13th – 20th October 1974

I was genuinely surprised to find out that Sweet Sensation were a UK based band, from Manchester, so drenched is this record in the Philly-soul sound. Ooh-wah-wah-ooh-wah-wah-ooh… We’ve got strings, saxophones (a proper ‘Baker Street’ sax-riff), and that wonderful, trademark chukka-chukka disco guitar. Sad sweet dreamer, It’s just one of those things you put down to experience… That chorus is sung by the band, in response to the lead singer’s tale of heartbreak.

Been another long night and I’ve missed you girl… I was also genuinely surprised to discover that the lead vocals are not being sung by a woman, so soft and gentle is the falsetto. (That and the fact they’re singing about a girl… Which would have been very progressive for 1974.) Marcel King was just seventeen years old when this hit #1, which makes sense both in terms of how young he sounds and in the way he’s cast as the lovelorn teen: the sad sweet dreamer. I’ve been thinking about you girl, All night long…

I like this record. It’s a grower – a sexy, glossy, sophisticated disco-soul track, from what I am now naming ‘The Disco Fall’ (gettit, like a ‘disco ball’??) There’s something slightly suspect about bands whose name and biggest hit share words. It screams ‘novelty ahoy’! (Think Las Ketchup with ‘The Ketchup Song’, or Mr. Blobby). But in the case of Sweet Sensation’s ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’ I think it’s just a coincidence. They were, however, very nearly one-hit wonders. The follow up to this made #11, and that was that.

Some interesting titbits about this record. Sweet Sensation sprang to national attention by winning a TV talent contest, ‘New Faces’. Which means we can add them alongside Peters and Lee, and Paper Lace, in this category. But ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’ feels like a ‘real’ record – if one record can indeed be any realer than another. It fits right in with earlier, high-quality chart-toppers from The Three Degrees and George McCrae in shaping the sound of late-74.

It was also produced by one Tony Hatch, whose wife Jackie Trent had enjoyed her very own #1 single back in 1965. She even features as a backing vocalist here, scoring her 2nd chart-topper by proxy. And finally, ‘Sad Sweet Dreamer’ is another one of those records that is nowhere to be seen on Spotify… unless you want a ropey cover from a band called The Top of the Poppers. Meanwhile, a completely unrelated band called Sweet Sensation can be found, offering their brand of late-eighties, Hi-NRG dance-pop, if that’s your bag…

357. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver

Finally, we get a respite from all the disco, by lurching as far away from the dance hall as possible.

Annie’s Song, by John Denver (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 6th – 13th October 1974

I didn’t think I knew this one… Until after ten seconds, when the vocals begin: You fill up my senses, Like a night in a forest… Of course I know this. It’s an easy listening classic. Like the mountains in spring time, Like a walk in the rain… A girl – Annie, we might presume – stimulates John Denver in ways that normally only nature does. You fill up my senses, Come fill me again…

I have to admit, I remain unconvinced by that line. It just sounds… odd. (Yes, I am well aware that my mind is in the gutter.) And I have to admit, I remain unconvinced by this song. By this entire genre of acoustic, singer-songwriter balladry on the whole. It is just not my cup of tea. Whenever one of these #1s comes along, as they will do from time to time, I will endeavour to put my prejudices aside and judge fairly.

It might not be disco, but it is still a very American sounding record. The Billboard charts of the mid-seventies were choc-a-bloc with soft, countryish rock like this. For whatever reason, ‘Annie’s Song’ was one of the few that managed to break through to the top across the Atlantic. (I had my suspicions that this was a posthumous chart-topper, which would maybe have explained why it made it to the top, because I knew that John Denver died in a plane crash. Except that was in 1997…)

As the song progresses, the production becomes more and more overblown. In come strings, and mandolins, and melodic hums from the backing vocalists. The lyrics also become a little OTT: Let me drown in your laughter, Let me die in your arms… Maybe I’m giving myself away as completely unromantic, but he is laying it on a little bit thick.

‘Annie’ was Denver’s wife at the time, and he was inspired to write the song while on a ski-lift in Aspen, Colorado. He claimed he skied back down the mountain and wrote it in an hour. Colorado was the inspiration for much of his music – he used the capital as his stage name, and was named the state’s poet laureate. When he did indeed die in a plane crash, his ashes were scattered across the Rocky Mountains.

What amazes me is that this was John Denver’s one and only hit record in the UK. He was a huge chart star in the States – four number ones to his name – but a bona-fide one-hit wonder in Britain! His most famous songs that aren’t ‘Annie’s Song’ – ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ and ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ – were hits, though, for Olivia Newton-John and Peter, Paul and Mary. A chart quirk, then; and probably the most prolific one-hit wonder in UK chart history!

356. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas

Good Lord, we did fall hard for disco in the summer of 1974, didn’t we! It suddenly feels like I’m covering the charts of a completely different country, so quickly has the musical landscape changed.

Kung Fu Fighting, by Carl Douglas (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 15th September – 6th October 1974

‘Kung Fu Fighting’ becomes the third disco #1 in four, which means that disco was cool for precisely two songs. Because this record, for all its many good points, is not ‘cool’. It’s – let’s be honest – ridiculous. Woah-oh-ho-ho… everyone knows the intro, the slow build up, the Oriental riff… Woah-oh-ho-ho…

And then click. Disco time. Everybody was kung fu fighting… Huh!… Hah! Those kicks were fast as lightning… (There seems to be no consensus on whether it is ‘those kicks’, ‘those kids’ or ‘those cats’. I’ve always thought it was ‘kicks’ – it makes sense in a song about a martial art – so I’ll stick with it.) This was the era of the classic Hong Kong Kung Fu movie – Bruce Lee, ‘Enter the Dragon’ and all that – and the songwriters seized the zeitgeist, mixed it with the up and coming new club sound, and scored a ginormous number one hit all around the globe.

Even in 2020, it is a song that most people will know. I’m not sure lines like they were funky Chinamen from funky Chinatown… would pass the censors these days, mind, especially when coupled with the aforementioned ‘Oriental riff’. (Though the way they manage to translate the riff into disco strings is probably the best bit of the whole song.) Come verse II, we meet funky Billy Chin and little Sammy Chong… he said, ‘Here comes the Big Boss’, let’s get it on… I mean, it’s dumb, but you’ll struggle to argue that it’s not fun.

Actually, it’s a hard song to really place. It’s a little too hip to be a novelty, but it’s way too silly to be treated as a serious pop record. Let’s treat it, then, as a slice of classic cheese. Throw it on at the end of a wedding disco and watch people fly. Literally, in some cases. Meanwhile, twelve-year-old me still has a massive soft spot for the Bus Stop version, which reached #8 in the late ‘90s, and which takes the disco of the original, ups the Kung Fu sound effects, adds rapping and a manic Eurodance beat to create something… Well, let’s just call it ‘something.’

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was nobody of Chinese origin involved in the making of ‘Kung Fu Fighting’. Carl Douglas was Jamaican, while producer Biddu (a disco pioneer) was British-Indian. Douglas is almost the very definition of a one-hit wonder… alas the follow-up to this – ‘Dance the Kung Fu’ – made #35 (while he was also credited on the Bus Stop version.) To his credit, he is still happy to perform the song live, more often than not in his red Shaolin monk’s uniform, and if he’s proud of his biggest hit then who am I to judge?