And so we come to one of the most misunderstood chart-toppers. This record has been parodied, mocked, hated…
Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, by Rod Stewart (his 5th of six #1s)
1 week, from 26th November – 3rd December 1978
But more on that in a bit. For a moment, let’s just enjoy the disco drums, and that well-known synth riff. Let’s enjoy the bass line. Let’s enjoy the fact that Rod Stewart’s 5th number one single is not an acoustic ballad. She sits alone, Waiting for suggestions… He’s so nervous, Avoidin’ all the questions… It’s a song about two shy people hooking up in a bar. At least, wanting to hook up in a bar. What should they say to break the ice? Luckily, Rod has a not-so-subtle suggestion…
If you want my body, And you really need me, Come on sugar let me know… It works. She calls her mother, and they’re back off to his place for a night of passion. Problem is… nobody seems to realise that that’s what this song is about. People know the chorus, and think that Rod Stewart’s singing about himself. They think he’s full of it, he’s disappeared up himself, he’s ridiculous… And it would be ridiculous, to write a song like this, about yourself. But that’s not what’s happening.
I say this as someone who knew the chorus and little else before writing this post. I assumed that Rod had let himself be swept up in the hedonism of disco. I pictured him singing this to himself in a nightclub of mirrors, coked off his tits. But no. He’s telling a story, as he does in so many of his songs. The line about them waking up the next morning and being out of milk and coffee is an observation straight out of ‘Maggie May’. And the middle eight is glorious: Relax baby, Now we’re all alone…
Of course, it’s not hard to see why this is seen as something of a novelty. The title, for a start. Plus, Rod made the dubious decision to play the song’s male protagonist in the video, frolicking on a bed with a gorgeous blonde. (Well, why not?) Then there’s the album from which it’s the lead track: ‘Blondes Have More Fun’, and its cover featuring Rod in a clinch with a leopard-print wearing woman. And then there’s the B-side, ‘Dirty Weekend’ – a song I love but not one that could ever be described as ‘classy’…
There is one other reason why some don’t like this disc. It is, pretty unashamedly, disco. Rock stars shouldn’t do disco! Disco, as many would start to claim around the time this hit #1, sucks! (These people were idiots; but their opinions stuck. Disco is heading for one final, glorious swansong, before crashing and burning.) At least this song not boring, or earnest, or acoustic… It’s not perfect. The sax solo is extravagantly long. In fact, the whole song is extravagantly long, as the age of the disco 12” demanded.
In my mind, ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ exists first and foremost as a Eurodance remix, by N-Trance, which was a #7 hit when I was twelve or so (I had it on cassette…) And as a sketch by the late Kenny Everett, a good friend of Rod, in which he prances around as Rod to this song, with a ridiculously oversized arse. It has left a cultural legacy, this record, for better or worse. Which means it’s still a famous chart-topper and, underneath it all, a pretty darn good one!
Deep breath… here we go again. For their final chart-topping trick, the Brotherhood do Boney M!
Figaro, by Brotherhood of Man (their 3rd and final #1)
1 week, from 5th – 12th February 1978
Boney M, with a dash of oompah. To tell the tale of a Spanish love-rat. Every morning when the sun is dawning, You’ll see him down on the beach… He’s a lothario, a sleazeball, maybe even a gold-digger… He’s out to make a killing… And baby if you’re willing, He’s gonna ask for more! He sounds a bit like Mozart’s philandering ‘Figaro’, which gives us perhaps the most unlikely musical comparison ever.
This, in case my little taster there didn’t spell it out clearly enough, is tremendous trash. They’ve done it again, Brotherhood of Man: taken the poppiest sounds of the day, and made them even poppier. They did it with bubblegum (‘Save Your Kisses…’), they did it with ABBA (‘Angelo’), and now they’ve done it with disco. To think this knocked off Althea & Donna’s impossibly cool ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ off top spot! Mind you, ‘Angelo’ kicked ‘IFeel Love’ out the way, so they have form in that regard…
Does this mean, though, that I dislike this record? Well, um… no. It’s catchy, dumb, and a whole lot of fun. In fact, I think this is the best of the Brotherhood’s three #1s. And it’s all down to our inveterate shagger. Uh-ho Figaro… He’s got magic-o woah… Playing guitar at the disco bar, he has his pick of the girls. What I don’t understand is why the band are making out that this is a bad thing? Why else do you have a holiday in Majorca, if not for a no-strings roll around with a Figaro?
Before doing this countdown, I of course knew Brotherhood of Man for their Eurovision-winning, million selling ‘Save Your Kisses…’, which still gets a fair bit of play today. I had no knowledge of their two follow-up number ones. I’m amazed they got two more number-ones, to be honest, and suspect that they sneaked these two one-weekers when sales were low. Still, you can only beat what’s in front of you. They remind me of Bucks Fizz, another poptastic Eurovision act who are remembered for their winning single, despite having big follow-up hits. They’ll be along soon enough…
As for Brotherhood of Man, they are still a going concern, despite a brief hiatus in the eighties. All four of the original members are there, in ‘great demand on the nostalgia and the gay circuits’… (Wikipedia’s words, not mine) Add to this the fact that there was a completely different version of the band floating around in the early ‘70s, that had scored a #10 hit in 1970, and there you go. They’re indestructible! Nothing breaks the Brotherhood…’
As a kid my first exposure to ABBA was through ‘ABBA Gold’, the band’s early-nineties greatest hits, track 1 on which is ‘Dancing Queen’. The CD would slide in, there would be that second of scanning, the little whirr… and then bam!
Dancing Queen, by ABBA (their 4th of nine #1s)
6 weeks, from 29th August – 10th October 1976
It’s not the first song you’d think of if asked to name ‘Great Intros’, but it should be. It is a record that strides into the room – the glissando is the door slamming open – with complete confidence. ‘ABBA’s here!’, it announces, ‘With their biggest hit!’ Then the vocals come in, and it’s not just the chorus, but the middle of the chorus, the main hook, thrown out within the first twenty seconds: You can dance, You can ji-ive, Having the time of your life…
I know nothing about musical terms – I can barely tell a pre-chorus from a bridge – but whatever it is that ABBA do in the verses, at the end of every second line, when the key slips lower: Lookin’ out for a place to go… and You’ve come to look for a King… It’s gold. Then they do the opposite, swooping up on the Night is young and the music’s hi-igh… And it’s even better. It’s pure ABBA, in that most other songwriters might think it a bit obvious, going higher on the word ‘high’, while Benny and Bjorn simply shrug and say ‘nope, that’ll be catchy!’
‘Dancing Queen’ doesn’t need me to sell it. It also probably doesn’t need to be written about any more, but hey, I gotta cover them all. Throughout this blog, I’ve referred to ‘Perfect Pop’ when writing about #1s like ‘Stupid Cupid’, ‘Cathy’s Clown’, and ‘See My Baby Jive’. Up until this point, I would have had ‘She Loves You’ as the most perfect pop moment so far. But ‘Dancing Queen’ usurps The Beatles to take, if you’ll pardon the pun, the crown. A crown I’m not sure it’ll ever relinquish.
Why is that? What makes this the ultimate pop song? I think it’s the nugget of sadness beating away at the heart of the record. The main character is a seventeen-year-old girl who seems to be running away from something. She doesn’t know where she’s going, or who she’s going to be dancing with… It doesn’t sound as if she’s got any friends with her. She flirts with one guy, she leaves them burning and then she’s gone… Or maybe not. Maybe I’m misreading it completely! Maybe she’s really just having the time of her life. Maybe she doesn’t need a boy, or a friend. Maybe she just needs to dance. To dance for the sheer joy of it!
Either way, the song has layers, ones that you’re still noticing even after hearing it for the three hundredth time. I could complain about ‘Dancing Queen’ being overplayed, and it is, but when a DJ sticks this on at a party nobody sits down, even though they’re hearing it for the three hundredth and first time. Last time I was a tourist in London, watching the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the band played the chorus of ‘Dancing Queen’ as the soldiers marched past.
Of course this record got to number one. ‘Dancing Queen’ is the dictionary definition of a number one hit. If you’re ever on ‘Pointless’ and the category is ‘#1 Singles of the 1970s’, don’t give ‘Dancing Queen’ as an answer. In the US it was ABBA’s one and only chart-topper (shame on you, America!) My only surprise stems from the fact that, in the UK, it took two weeks to climb to the top. If ever a song was going to enter in pole position, I’d have thought it would have been this. Click. Glissando. Bam.
Back for another pop at the top, the teen idol of the mid-seventies, and as far as I’m aware the only chart-topping star named after an English county… David Essex!
Hold Me Close, by David Essex (his 2nd and final #1)
3 weeks, from 28th September – 19th October 1975
When I wrote about his first #1, ‘Gonna Make You a Star’, I mentioned that he wasn’t very comfortable with the teeny-bopper tag. In fact, it’s what that whole song was about. A year on, however, I’m tempted to think he’s rolled his eyes, shrugged his shoulders, given in and hopped on the pure pop bandwagon.
Hold me close, Don’t let me go, Oh no… I, Yes I love you and I fink that you know… He’s kept the cockney accent; in fact he might be playing it up here more than ever. Wiv your love loight, shi-nin’… It kind of reminds me of Dick Van Dyke in ‘Mary Poppins’, even though David Essex was genuinely from east London, and I can imagine him gurning in the corny, deliberate pauses between words. It also reminds me, somehow, of Sid Vicious’s poppy covers, ‘My Way’ and the like, though a much more PG rated version.
It’s a fun pop song, and catchy as hell. If it were an animal it would be a huge, slobbering St. Bernard, just looking for a cuddle. The perky riff flirts with becoming irritating, but just about gets away with it, while the song could have a good minute shaved off its runtime and nobody would notice. It was a deliberate choice to make a single as commercial as this to be the follow up to #5 hit ‘Rolling Stone’, which was a bit more out there.
I don’t really have much more to say about this one. It’s catchy, and simple. A solid pop single. In time, David Essex would move more into acting, although he was scoring the odd Top 10 hit well into the eighties. He has starred in various West End productions, including ‘Evita’ and ‘Tommy’, and featured heavily on Jeff Wayne’s ‘War of the Worlds’ concept album (Wayne also produced both of Essex’s chart-toppers.) He still performs, and acts, and has confirmed his place in cockney legend by appearing in ‘EastEnders’, and by having a model of himself in the West Ham United museum.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome aboard Coconut Airlines… It’s August ’75, and we’re spending the summer in the Caribbean.
Barbados, by Typically Tropical (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 3rd – 10th August 1975
‘Captain Tobias Wilcock’ delivers a pretty convincing pre-flight welcome, detailing our cruising altitude and speed, sounding just like what you might hear if you stepped on a plane today. Until he reminds us to refrain from smoking until the aircraft is airborne… that is. Ah, the seventies.
Woah, I’m going to Barbados, Woah, Back to the palm trees… Let’s address the elephant in the room before going any further. We’ve got two white guys, one of whom is giving us a heavy Caribbean accent (ah, the seventies…) I’m going to see my girlfriend, In the sunny Caribbean sea…
London’s rainy, Brixton’s a mess: it’s time to go home. ‘Barbados’ is one of the first ‘summer holiday’ hits – not a song about summer (we’ve had plenty of them); more a song that sums up the summer holiday feeling – the escape from the daily grind to a world of sun and cocktails. A song that wouldn’t hit #1 at any other time of year. (The ‘90s will be the peak of this phenomenon, when record buyers will send one cheesy Europop record after another to the top of the charts.)
However, the singer doesn’t seem to have much intention of coming back from Barbados. Maybe he’s there to stay. Maybe this isn’t a holiday hit at all! The fact his girlfriend is called ‘Mary Jane’ adds another layer to it… Maybe he’s just high as a kite? Layers upon layers… The song itself is catchy – I like the twiddly synth riff – but very disposable. By the end, the cabin crew have taken over again, preparing us for landing: The weather is fine, with a maximum temperature of ninety degrees Fahrenheit… Sounds lovely!
If time and space permitted, I might make more of social commentary on the growing accessibility of foreign travel in the 1970s, and the growing impact of the Windrush generation on British culture. Plus, there’s this decade’s clear and undying love for a novelty single. All of which culminate in a week at the top for Typically Tropical, who were two Trojan Records engineers, Jeff Calvert and Max West, stepping out from behind their mixing desks to record this single. It is a 100% certified one-hit wonder: none of their later singles charted at all.
I knew this song as a teen, as ‘We’re Going to Eat Pizza’… sorry… ‘We’re Going to Ibiza’, in which it was neither sampled nor covered, more reimagined, by one of those Euro-cheese acts I mentioned earlier: The Vengaboys. I’m not linking to it, though, as we’ll be meeting it atop the charts in twenty-four years.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that yet again this is a record completely absent from Spotify. It’s interesting to observe that it wasn’t until 1972 that I encountered this problem. All those pre-rock ‘n’ roll #1s that nobody has listened to in decades were all present and correct, but several big hits from the mid-seventies aren’t. Not sure what point I want to make, but it’s definitely something to note.
(Isn’t this the perfect song for my first post of January 2021?) Back in 1975, making it to the top just in time, with five days to spare: ‘January’, by Pilot. (And don’t think I didn’t notice the perfect coincidence of our first month-themed #1 also being chart-topper #365.)
January, by Pilot (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 26th January – 16th February 1975
For the first time in what feels like an age, we have some glam rock in the top spot. I make this the first glam #1 since Gary Glitter’s ‘Always Yours’ in June last year. (Was David Essex’s ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ glam…? A question for the ages, but I’m going to err on the ‘no’ side.) Not that ‘January’ is all that glam. We’re not suddenly back in mid-1972, alas. But there are handclaps, for a start. And some flamboyant guitar flourishes.
It also qualifies as glam, for me, because of its nonsensical lyrics. January, Sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me… (Respect to Pilot here, for having the audacity to rhyme ‘January’ with ‘hanging on me’) You make me sad with your eyes, You’re telling me lies… Anyone who’s lived through a British January – and Pilot were Scottish, which means they’d have known some truly miserable Januarys – can sympathise.
I think the singer just wants the summer to hurry up and arrive: Sun, Like a fire, Carry on, Don’t be gone… But then there are ways he humanises this calendar month – January, Don’t be cold, Don’t be angry with me… – that make me think ‘January’ might be a lover. Then there are lines like: You’ll be facin’ the world…! You’ll be chasin’ the world… that don’t fit either narrative.
What we have here, probably, is nothing more than a catchy pop song with some lyrics arranged semi-coherently. The Noel Gallagher method of songwriting, you might call it… Pop at its disposable best. There’s a hook, a beat to tap your feet to, and a chorus that’ll stay in your head for a while. And sometimes that’s enough.
Pilot were from Edinburgh, and ‘January’ was the follow-up to the (much better, and definitely 100% glam) ‘Magic’. That, amazingly, had only made #11 late in ’74, but I’d suggest that this chart-topper was riding the wave created by that earlier hit. They had a few other, smaller hits, and lasted three albums, before splitting. The members of Pilot, though, have quite the legacy, having been involved with The Alan Parsons Project, produced for Kate Bush, and written for Westlife.
I’m pretty sure that this is the first and only time that a record has reached the top of the charts during the month it’s named after. ‘November Rain’ was not a #1 (and was released in March…), ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ should have been a #1, as it is a stone-cold classic, but no… In fact, I’ve just checked and bonus points shall be awarded if you can name the only other #1 record with a month in the title… (Hint: it’s coming up pretty soon…)
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:
‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:
‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:
‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers:
‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
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…
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.
I described the previous chart-topper – ABBA’s glorious ‘Waterloo’ – as a ‘sugar rush’ of a song. It is replaced now at the top of the charts by what I’ll call a ‘sugar overdose’ of a song.
Sugar Baby Love, by The Rubettes (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 12th May – 9th June 1974
Why does ‘Waterloo’ work, while this doesn’t? Both songs are constructed from the same ingredients: power chords, sturdy drums, backing vocals and a big glance back to the pop of the early sixties. But ‘Waterloo’ leaves you soaring, and ‘Sugar Baby Love’ leaves you feeling icky. I am not a songwriter; but if I was I bet I’d be forever chasing and missing that fine, fine line between ‘catchy’ and ‘cheesy’.
This record starts promisingly enough, with ‘Twist and Shout’ Aaaahs that overlap and ascend. But then, fifteen seconds in, a falsetto so high and piercing that it knocks you sideways arrives. Sugar baby love, Sugar baby lo-ove, I didn’t mean to make you blue… The singer is trying to suck up to his sweetheart, trying to apologise for an unspecified misdemeanour. If was them, I’d have stuck to a letter or a phone-call. You can imagine someone performing this outside a girl’s bedroom window at night – and hopefully getting the police called on them.
Yes, All lovers make, The same mistakes, As me and you… It is another sad milepost on glam rock’s descent into the hands of rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts. In 1974, Slade went harder, Bolan went experimental (and started missing the Top 10), while Bowie was starting to look towards soul sounds on ‘Young Americans’. The Rubettes know what side they’re on, though: the backing singers keep up a persistent shoo-waddywaddy, shoo-waddywaddy throughout (though Showaddywaddy themselves turned this track down when it was offered to them!)
And yet, I do have a very high-tolerance for cheesy pop. I can’t hate this song, no matter what it represents. My feet are tapping along quite happily. However, I have an extremely low tolerance for spoken word sections in pop songs and, of course, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ has to go there. People, Take my advice, If you love someone, Don’t think twice… **shudder**
The Rubettes were a group basically put together to promote this record, which had been recorded by session musicians (shades of Alvin Stardust). It had been written for the soundtrack of a rock ‘n’ roll, jukebox musical that never saw the light of day. Which means that singer Paul Da Vinci (not his actual name), whose falsetto makes such a statement in the intro, was never actually a member of the band. They had a few other hits, with titles like ‘Juke Box Jive’, which sound like filler from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, and still tour to this day in various iterations, thanks to a big court case twenty or so years ago where all the members tried to get The Rubettes name for themselves… If I were them I’d have been fighting to become disassociated from it…