287. ‘Yellow River’, by Christie

I do like it when we get to a song I’ve never heard before. ‘Yellow River’ does not ring a bell, and I even had to check whether Christie was male, female, or band. (They’re a band.)

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Yellow River, by Christie (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 31st May – 7th June 1970

There’s been a bit of a country-rock feel to the top of the charts over the past year or so. CCR, Bobbie Gentry, The Stones went to a Honky Tonk and The Beatles even got in on it the act with ‘Get Back’. And of course Lee Marvin was a-wanderin’ under the stars…

Lyrically, ‘Yellow River’ treads the same path (gettit?) as ‘Wandr’in’ Star’. The singer has been at war, but he’s now packing up and heading out. Put my gun down, The war is won, Fill my glass high the time has come, I’m goin’ back to the place that I love, Yellow River… while an insistent, chugging rhythm carries us along. Yellow River is the place he loves, and there’s a girl there waiting for him because, well, there has to be a girl waiting in a song like this.

It’s melancholy, but it’s also catchy. I’m tapping my feet as I write and I can’t help it. It’s growing on me. At first I wrote it off as inoffensive and a tad lightweight, but there’s something there. I especially like the yearning in the bridge: Got no time for explanations, Got no time to lose, Tomorrow night you’ll find me sleepin’ underneath the moon…

I also like the yee-hah! guitars that drag us along, and the hint of banjo in the fade-out. It sounds like the poppy love-child of Creedence and The Eagles. The verdict is in: I like it, more than I initially thought. And, putting it in context, this isn’t the first ‘soldier-at-war’ themed #1 that we can perhaps attribute to the cultural impact of Vietnam. Think ‘Distant Drums’, or even ‘Two Little Boys’.

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Christie were an English band named after their lead singer Jeff Christie. He wrote ‘Yellow River’ for The Tremeloes, but they turned it down. Christie recorded it for themselves and they enjoyed their sole week at the top of the charts. They had one further Top 10, the similarly chugging ‘San Bernadino’. And, despite me having genuinely never heard ‘Yellow River’ before writing this post, it has been covered by artists as renowned as R.E.M. and Elton John.

One more thing, before we go. We’ve just reached the end of a thirteen-song stretch of one-time chart-toppers. From Zager & Evans in August ’69 through to Christie in June 1970, that’s almost a year’s worth of artists grabbing their sole #1 single. We won’t meet any of them again. I called it a record when we had eleven in a row a while back, but thirteen surely has to be a record. We shall see…

https://open.spotify.com/playlist/3sSYyPEUCTyMjMlN55z8SX?si=RCA6BXhGTaC2CldHhEyb4A

283. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel

A couple of times already, I’ve written about pop music as hymn. ‘Hey Jude’ was one. Here’s another. The one, and only, British chart-topping single for America’s foremost pop duo. (Sorry Don and Phil, Hall and Oates…)

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Bridge Over Troubled Water, by Simon & Garfunkel (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 22nd March – 12th April 1970

I’m only going to write good things about ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, but I have to get off my chest first and foremost that I didn’t always like this song. It was a big presence in my childhood – my parents are big fans – but for a long time I thought it was a bit proper, a bit overwrought, a bit… too much like a hymn! Art Garfunkel certainly does enunciate his lines properly (the cut-glass ‘t’ in when tears are in your eyes…) and, if you were being cruel, he does sound a little like a choir-boy.

But you’re allowed to make dubious musical choices when you’re young (*cough* Kid Rock *cough*). I have since come to see the error of my ways. This is an undeniable classic, from the understated confidence of the opening piano, to the giant crescendo of an ending.

And, fittingly for a song that sounds angelic, the lyrics are apparently sung by an angel. Someone looking out for you, someone who’s on your side. Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down… They will follow you even at your lowest ebb, down and out on the streets, as darkness comes. Theories abound that the voice singing is that of heroin, the drug, and that the listener is an addict, which would be a spectacular twist in such a Christian sounding song. Simon and Garfunkel have always denied it.

After two verses of just voice and piano, in come the drums, like gunshots in the distance. And we start to build… I think the moment that this goes from being a great song and becomes one of the greatest is when Art’s voice dips: Oh, If you need a friend… Then the chorus comes in, and what was a simple ballad has grown into something massive without you even really noticing. Suddenly it’s ending with strings, and cymbals, and what sounds like fireworks. Suddenly it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve.

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It’s superb. It’s timeless. It’s a classic. To think I used to prefer ‘Cecilia’. Seriously, though, I think ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ does sometimes lose something in its ubiquity. Twice in the past few years – decades after it originally hit #1 – the song has reached the top of the UK charts in the form of well-intentioned but fairly dreadful charity singles. It’s kind of easy to lump this record in with other easy-listening, uplifting MOR hits, but that would be a mistake.

And, like many of the best pop songs, there’s a friction working under the surface of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. Simon and Garfunkel weren’t the best of friends by this point, and would split up later in the year. Simon apparently resents the fact that he wrote their biggest hit but Garfunkel gets remembered for singing it. When he performed it on his farewell tour, in fact, he introduced the song by saying “I’m going to reclaim my lost child.”

Actually, I have to confess that I’ve been slow to realise the merits of not just this song, but of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel’s entire back-catalogue. I was force-fed them on childhood car journeys and, while I’ve come to recognise that ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘Mrs. Robinson’ and ‘Homeward Bound’ are great, and ‘The Boxer’ a work of art, I still find the likes of ‘I Am a Rock’, ‘America’ and ‘Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M.’ a bit twee. I can’t stand their version of ‘El Condor Pasa’. And part of me is still seven-years-old, and still loves the outright catchiness of ‘At the Zoo’ and ‘Cecilia’. In fact, there probably is no other act about which I am so undecided. I genuinely have no idea whether or not I like Simon and Garfunkel! I do definitely like ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, though, and definitely think you should press play below and enjoy it one more time…

280. ‘Two Little Boys’, by Rolf Harris

And so the 1960s, the decade that’s given us so much fine, fine pop music, so much invention, so much sonic expansion, comes to an end. With Rolf effing Harris.

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Two Little Boys, by Rolf Harris (his 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 14th December 1969 – 25th January 1970

Though in some ways, having a convicted sex-offender at #1 is actually a very appropriate introduction to the 1970s… Yes, let’s get this out the way at the start. Rolf Harris is currently serving a lengthy jail sentence for indecently assaulting several underage girls. (Of course, he’s not the last sex-offender that we’ll meet on our journey through the charts.) I won’t make light of it, because it’s not something to make light of.

To the song, then. Is it a novelty? Is it a ballad? Is it traditional pop? Music hall? All of these things? It’s a tale, as the title suggests, of two little boys. We open on a summer’s day, a back garden somewhere in suburban Australia. (Harris sounds extremely Australian here, especially given that he doesn’t really sing the song as much as he talks us through it.) Two little boys had two little toys, Each had a wooden horse… One boy, Jack, breaks his toy, and starts crying, upon which his little buddy, Joe, offers him a go of his own horse. When we grow up we’ll both be soldiers, And our horses will not be toys… If this were a movie we’d be rolling our eyes at some pretty heavy-handed signposting…

Fast-forward many years. The boys are now soldiers, at war. Cannon roared loud, And in the mad crowd, Wounded and dying lay… One of the little boys. But what’s that? From the fray dashes a horse. Yep, little boy number two… Did you think I would leave you dying, When there’s room on my horse for two…? The roles are reversed: Joe is now in peril, and Jack comes to his rescue.

It’s utter sentimental crap, perfect for the grannies at Christmas. But at the same time, goddamit, it tugs at something. It hits you right in the feels, for want of a better expression, when the marching drums and trumpets fall away, and Harris near-whispers: Can you feel Joe, I’m all a tremble… Perhaps it’s the battle’s noise? But I think it’s because I remember, When we were two little boys… Then we end with what sounds like ‘The Last Post’. It’s a celebration of male friendship, of non-romantic love, even if it does play to the very outdated idea that men can only express affection to one another on the battle, or sports, field.

‘Two Little Boys’ was written many years before, way way back in 1902. The lyrics about ranks so blue make me think it’s set in the US Civil War. Which automatically puts it high up the table of the ‘oldest’ chart-toppers. You’ve got ‘It’s All in the Game’, originally from the 1910s, ‘Lily the Pink’ from the 1870s, ‘Cumberland Gap’ from the mid-eighteen hundreds, and ‘I See the Moon’, parts of which date from the 1780s.

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It’s a song that brings about conflicting feelings. Cheesy; but somehow touching. Familiar, but also not a song you can play in public these days… In fact, it’s odd to look back at Rolf Harris’s career from a 2020 vantage point. Growing up in the nineties he was still a constant figure on TV – he sketched, he sang, he cracked jokes, he did his weird wobble board and played his didgeridoo. He was as Australian as Lamingtons (his biggest hit in the UK prior to his sole chart-topper was the Top Ten ‘Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport.’) And then he was disgraced and, to be honest, erased from history…

I was half-expecting to not find ‘Two Little Boys’ on Spotify, remembering the furore that R Kelly’s music caused when they reinstated it, as if he was the first pop star with a seedy past. But it’s there; and that’s only right. Harris is a convicted child molester, but his music was, and in some circles probably still is, popular. If people feel uncomfortable listening to it – completely understandable – they can choose not to. But the decision not to listen should be ours, not Spotify’s or HMV’s. That’s my tuppence-worth, anyway…

But enough of that, we should be focusing on the positives! We’re about to jump into the 1970s, the decade of glam, of disco, of punk and new-wave. I’m excited. You should be excited. Hey! Ho! Let’s go!

Listen to every number one from the 1960s (and the 1950s) here!

227. ‘The Green, Green Grass of Home’, by Tom Jones

It’s become a bit of theme recently – every so often we take a pause from pop music’s race into the future to enjoy a good, old-fashioned ballad. First with Ken Dodd, then Jim Reeves, and now Tom from the Valleys.

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Green, Green Grass of Home, by Tom Jones (his 2nd of three #1s)

7 weeks, from 1st December 1966 – 19th January 1967

A soft, swaying intro precedes a tale of a man returning home, from a long time away. The old home town looks the same, As I step down from the train… And doesn’t Tom sing it well? There’s something in the Welsh waters… Why are they such good singers? Why is it Welsh Male Voice choirs, and not Geordie Male Voice choirs?

He runs towards his long-lost love, Mary: Hair of gold, And lips like cherries… And then he heads home: There’s that old oak tree, That I used to play on… It’s a heart-warming song for Christmas. One for all the family. Yes, it’s good to touch, The green green grass of home… Like most Tom Jones songs, it helps if you’re a bit drunk. I love the saloon-bar piano, that really adds a ‘last-call’ vibe. And, also like most Tom Jones songs, it’s a karaoke classic. Not quite ‘Delilah’, but getting there.

I love a song that tells a story, verse by verse. Just where has this man been all this time…? And ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’, like all good stories, has one hell of a twist. We break for a spoken-word interlude, in which the singer reveals that it was all a dream. And, who’s that? Why it’s the guard… And there’s a sad, old padre, On and on we’ll walk at daybreak, Again I’ll touch, The green green grass of home… Yep, plot twist: he’s getting executed.

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I love it. Either he’s been wrongfully convicted, which only increases the power of the earlier verses, or you’ve spent the last two minutes sympathising with a murderer. The little piano riff to end is this song’s version of a ‘badoom-tish.’ And I’m similarly in two minds about this record as a whole. On the one hand, it’s mawkish, sentimental mush. On the other, it’s a great one for belting out in the shower.

And to be fair, this was a mega-hit. Seven weeks at #1 is longer than any record in the past three and a half-years, since The Beatles’ ‘From Me to You’. And, as I mentioned earlier, I doubt that this disc being released over the festive season hurt its chances. The idea of a ‘Christmas Number One’ wasn’t really a thing this early in the charts, but I do wonder if the success of ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’ set the tone for later, similarly saccharine, festive hits.

As for Sir Tom, similar to his first #1, ‘It’s Not Unusual, I think we have to look at him as existing separately from his chart contemporaries. His other big sixties hits included ‘What’s New Pussycat?’ and ‘Help Yourself’ – nothing baroquey or folky, or Beat-poppy about them. But… If you’re never in fashion you’ll never be out of fashion. Maybe it’s this refusal to follow trends that’s allowed him all his comebacks: his Prince covers in the eighties, and his huge resurgence when I was in high-school. Looking back, how on earth did a near sixty-year old man singing ‘Sex Bomb’ become such a thing…? And he will hit the top-spot once more, briefly, in forty-two years’ time. Which, unsurprisingly, is by far the biggest gap between #1 singles, ever.

226. ‘Good Vibrations’ by The Beach Boys

I read an article once, on The Guardian, about how 1966 was the best year in the history of pop music. You can check it out here. And, as we reach the penultimate #1 of the year, you look around and pretty much have to agree with them. Yes, the standard of chart-topper has been ridiculously high since mid-1963, while 1961 was eclectically fun and there were a few months in 1957-58 when every rock ‘n’ roll legend around was lining up for their moment in the spotlight… But 1966 beats them all. Because 1966 has this song.

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Good Vibrations, by The Beach Boys (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 17th November – 1st December 1966

How to even contemplate writing a post on ‘Good Vibrations’? How to say anything remotely original, anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times before. The genius of Brian Wilson… The hundreds of hours of tape… The synthesisers… The expense…. You’ve heard it all before.

So let’s listen to it, then, as if it were the first time we were ever hearing this hot new single from America’s biggest band. The follow up to their smash hit ‘God Only Knows’. Is this the disc to give them their long-overdue 1st British #1…?

It comes in all dreamy, and echoey. Angelic vocals and a shimmering backing track. I, I love the colourful clothes she wears… It’s trademark Beach Boys – high-pitched harmonies – but completely different to, say, ‘Barbara Ann’. And when the drums come in, like a drunken horse clomping around its’ stable, it’s gorgeously woozy.

Then woosh! We’re into the chorus. Not hanging around. That insistent bassline. The UFO stylings of the Theramin. I’m pickin’ up good vibrations, She’s givin’ me the excitations… Perfectly nonsensical pop lyrics. More harmonising. Good – ba-ba – Good vibrations – ba-ba…

Verse II. Snap back to woozy bliss. I… I look in her eyes, She goes with me to a blossom world… Trips? To different worlds? Is that a drug reference I smell? Are you boys smoking pot down there…? It’s the summer of love come six months early. Repeat the chorus. You can tell that they were stitching different pieces of music together, in the way that the song swerves this way and that, but it never sounds forced.

Then another sharp turn, into jingle-jangly Baroque pianos. Things get woozier. I don’t know where but she sends me there… We’re mid-trip, but we don’t have time to relax. Because now we’re at a funeral. At least, there’s a funeral organ, and a plaintive chant: Gotta keep those love-good, Vibrations a-happenin’ with her… Which fades away and is replaced by a home-on-the-range whistle, and a throbbing bass… Aaaaaahhhhhh!

Pause.

Good, good, good, good vibrations…! And then by the time you get to the layered na-na-na-nas you just want to say ‘Alright, boys, you’re just showing off now…’ Cue the fade-out, with the Theramin to the fore, as the aliens come and beam us all up. Phew.

It’s still The Beach Boys; but in a dimension we’ve never been to before. And it’s still a pop song; but one from a planet we’ve not managed to reach yet. The sonic shock you get when you hear it, alongside its contemporaries, is similar to that felt from ‘Telstar’, in 1962. Another record from another planet.

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That was fun! I have to admit that for years I’ve viewed ‘Good Vibrations’ as a sort of museum piece – a work of art to be admired, but not enjoyed. Best viewed from afar. That happens with ‘The Classics’. ‘Good Vibrations’ would never crop up in any of my playlists. But maybe it should. Maybe I’ll add it today. It stands up as a pop song. At heart it’s a ditty about falling in love at first sight. Musically, it’s outrageously creative without being pretentious. Perfect.

I love that this was The Beach Boy’s first UK #1. Slamming right in at the top with a little disc called ‘Good Vibrations’… Of course, it wasn’t their first hit. In 1966 alone, they’d had two #2s, with ‘God Only Knows’ and ‘Sloop John B’. In their native US they were huge, and had been for years. The only reason they took a little longer to take off in Britain is that their early surf-rock songs didn’t resonate on an island where any attempt at surfing usually ends in frostbite.

‘Good Vibrations’, and the ‘Pet Sounds’ album that preceded it, was a line in the sand. The Beach Boys were upping their game, and were ready to take on the British big boys: namely John and Paul. Anyway… You can read hundreds of more sophisticated analyses of ‘Good Vibrations’ – the record that changed pop music. You know where to find them. If, though, for reasons best kept to yourself, you have never heard ‘Good Vibrations’ before (or even if you’ve heard 1000 times already) press play on the link below, and get yourself some excitations…

Behind the #1s – Paul Weston

Taking a break from the usual proceedings, I’m going to use this week to take a look at the folks behind some of the 210 #1s we’ve heard so far. The writers, the producers and, in the case of our first post, the conductors…

In the early days of the charts, when big productions and even bigger voices were all the rage, any self-respecting chart-topper needed an orchestra to back up them up. On the 45s of the time, nearly every #1 is assigned to both a lead artist and an orchestra. ‘Here in My Heart’, by Al Martino, with Orchestra under the direction of Monty Kelly… ‘Outside of Heaven’, by Eddie Fisher with Hugo Winterhalter’s Orchestra and Chorus…

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Perhaps for reasons of convenience, the Official Singles Chart don’t list the orchestra, or it’s conductor, for any of the early chart-toppers. Which is strange, I suppose, as in modern times we have no problem with crediting ‘featured’ artists on a dance or rap track. Maybe it’s because we don’t actually hear their voices… Whatever the reason, several men have missed out on their moment in the record books. Winterhalter and Kelly, Frank Cordell, Stanley Black, Harold Mooney, Mitch Miller…

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I’ve chosen Paul Weston as the frontman for this piece, though, thanks largely to his work with Frankie Laine. Weston was a Massachusetts born musician, who had been a pianist in a dance band, before becoming a song-writer and music director at Capital, and then Colombia Records. He conducted and arranged all three of Laine’s 1953 hits: ‘I Believe’ (still the song with the most weeks at #1 in the UK, sixty-five years on), ‘Hey Joe!’ and ‘Answer Me’. He also conducted on Jo Stafford’s ‘You Belong to Me’, Britain’s 2nd  ever chart-topper. Stafford and Weston had married not long before recording the song.

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Paul Weston with his wife, Jo Stafford

If Paul Weston were actually credited with his work on #1 singles, he would sit at joint 10th place in the all-time weeks at the top of the UK singles chart list with 29 weeks’ worth of chart-toppers, tied with ABBA and Take That, and one week behind Drake. Later in the 1950s he went on to do TV work, helped to start up the Grammy Awards, and worked for Disney. He passed away in the mid-nineties.

One conductor who did get credited on his hit records was the Italian, Annunzio Paulo Mantovani who, like all the best pop stars, went by just the one name: Mantovani. He was popular enough to score a solo, instrumental number one single in 1953: The Song from ‘The Moulin Rouge’, which had been a big hit in the cinemas that year. This success, and his subsequent fame is, I’m guessing, why he is the only conductor to be credited by the Official Charts Company, for his orchestral accompaniment on David Whitfield’s overwrought ‘Cara Mia’ in 1954.

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Mantovani, doing his thing

Conductors and their orchestras became less essential once rock ‘n’ roll arrived, but they still occasionally popped up on the more bombastic number ones. The last one I can think of was Shirley Bassey’s ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ / ‘Reach for the Stars’ double-‘A’ side from 1961, which was credited, on the vinyl at least, to Geoff Love and His Orchestra.

To the conductors, then, and their batons, which shaped the sound of the singles chart’s earliest years.

190. ‘The Last Time’, by The Rolling Stones

We reach the Stones’ third UK number one, and a theme is starting to emerge. Every one of their chart-toppers – ‘It’s All Over Now’, ‘Little Red Rooster’ and now this – has opened menacingly. Something in the clanging chords, the deep, rumbling bass, the clashing cymbals, the ever-so-slight discordance of it all… Every time they come along it’s like they’re crashing a sedate little party. We’ve just had The Seekers’ campfire singalong, and Tom Jones’s cheesy cabaret. Now the Stones have hijacked the hi-fi, cracked out the Jack Daniels and dumped a big bag of weed on the table.

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The Last Time, by The Rolling Stones (their 3rd of eight #1s)

3 weeks, from 18th March – 8th April 1965

One other big difference between the Stones and everything else around at the time is the way that the vocals are blended right in amongst the other instruments. In pretty much every song since the charts began (discounting, of course, instrumental hits) the voice – the lyrics – was the most important thing. But here, Jagger’s voice is mixed right in. There are times when you can’t – shock horror – quite make out what he’s saying. My gran hated The Rolling Stones for this very reason…

Still, you can make out enough of the words to get the message. Mick is seriously considering breaking up with his girl. Well I’ve told you once and I’ve told you twice, But you never listen to my advice, You don’t try very hard to please me, With what you know it should be easy… and Sorry girl but I can’t stay, Feeling like I do today, Too much pain and too much sorrow, Guess I’ll feel the same tomorrow… Textbook treating them mean to keep them keen – a theme of early-Stones (see also ‘Heart of Stone’, ‘Play with Fire’ and the outrageous ‘Under My Thumb’.)

I love the non-committal chorus: This could be the last time, This could be the last time… I don’t know… It’s almost worse than saying ‘this is the last time’. He might break up with you, if he can be bothered. You’re probably not really worth breaking up with, though. Weren’t they awful

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The chorus is poppier than either of their previous two hits, but this is still an out and out rock song. Keith Richards lets loose in the solo, and Jagger goes wild in the fade-out – screeching and hollering as the guitars clang, the cymbals smash and parents across the land tut disapprovingly. It’s easy to forget, in 2019, as the Septuagenarian Stones shuffle out onstage at the latest super-dome, like holograms of their former selves, just how shocking they must have been at the time. Doing this countdown, and listening to them making their mark at the top of the charts in ‘real time’, I can kind of get a glimpse of it. How much fun it must have been to be fourteen in 1965, pissing your parents off by playing the latest Stones single at full-blast.

This record probably isn’t one of the band’s best-remembered hits. They’re all still to come. But it does have quite the legacy – an orchestral version by Stones producer Andrew Loog-Oldham was sampled by The Verve in 1997 as the basis for their mega-hit ‘Bittersweet Symphony’, resulting in a court case that was just resolved earlier this year. It also – and I had no idea about this before now – appeared as a sample at the top of the charts as late as 2009, in the unlikely form of ‘Number 1’, by Tinchy Stryder ft. N-Dubz. Well, there you go… The Who covered it much earlier, in 1967, in support of Mick and Keith following their imprisonment on drug charges.

More importantly than any of that, ‘The Last Time’ can perhaps be seen as the arrival of The Rolling Stones Mk II. The cover versions are out – this was the first Jagger-Richards composition to be released as a single – and beefier production is in. They were rewarded with three weeks at the top, and The Beatles suddenly had competition for the title of biggest band in the country. Their next #1 will raise the stakes even further, but that’s a story for another day…

Follow along with my handy playlist:

186. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers

Oh baby, baby… For our next chart-topper, we take a step into the realm of the super-cool. An empty stage… A sole spotlight shining its beam through the dusty air… A mic on a stand… Thick curtains part, and on step two men…

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You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’, by The Righteous Brothers (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 4th – 18th February 1965

And then that voice. Sonorous. Rich. Velvety and comforting, but authoritative too. You never close your eyes, Anymore when I kiss, Your li-ips… It’s a voice that is somehow both low and high within the same line – sometimes within the same word. And there’s no tenderness like before, In your fingerti-ips… A voice that goes from velvety soft to a gravelly rasp in seconds (see that Baby! Something beautiful’s dying! line.) Said voice is Bill Medley’s, and it’s unlike anything we’ve heard before in this countdown. Apparently, at the time, it was so deep and treacly that people thought they were listening to the record on the wrong speed. I’d rate it instantly alongside Roy Orbison and Shirley Bassey as the best voice to have topped the charts, up to now. It’s a voice that it’s almost impossible to mimic… Anyone can pretend to be Elvis, or Mick Jagger, and just about get away with it. Not this voice.

The backing music is way off in the background, too – a softly shaken out drum and some ethereal strings. This record, to start with anyway, is all about the voice. Apparently Bobby Hatfield, the other Righteous Brother (they weren’t biological brothers – something I just found out…) was pissed off that they weren’t starting the song by singing together. But you’d have to say the producer got it right on that front. That producer, by the way…? One Phil Spector.

Hatfield soon gets his moment, though. Come the chorus, the two voices ring out: You’ve lost that lovin’ feelin, Now it’s gone, gone, gone, Woah-woah-oh… Then they intertwine for the superb crescendo that leads to the final chorus. You know, the bit that starts with an angelic Baby, baby, I’ll get down on my knees for you… and soars into call-and-response Babys! and Pleases! and I need your loves! It is pop perfection… as trite as that phrase sounds. Time-capsule pop, as I coined it in an earlier post. Two voices that are as good as The Everly Brothers; but that are completely different too.

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In keeping with more recent #1s, ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ is a very sophisticated song. It’s pop for adults. A world away from the teeny-bopping Mersey sound that encapsulated 1963-’64. It’s perhaps the first example of the American response to the British invasion – a record, like The Supremes from a few weeks earlier, which has that US gloss. You just know that the Righteous Brothers had perfectly white teeth…

Some of this is to do with the lyrics. With lines like And now your starting to, Criticise little things that I do… it’s looking at love in a way that Herman’s Hermits, or Billy J. Kramer, or even The Beatles, weren’t. But it’s more to do with Spector’s soaring, crashing, grandiose Wall of Sound production. The strings. The drums. The stereo sound that fills the room. I wrote a post recently on how it was a crime that ‘Be My Baby’ didn’t make #1. But, while that is a peerless pop disc; I hadn’t noticed that this record was coming up. I knew that this was a good song – a classic – but I had forgotten (or perhaps had never realised) just how good it was. Listening to it now… Oh boy. Phil Spector may be many things (most of them awful), but nobody – nobody I say! – knew their way around a pop record like him back in his heyday.

Like most eighties kids, my first exposure to ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling’ was in, ahem, ‘Top Gun’. Maverick and Goose, all in white, serenading Kelly McGillis… And this is just one of the ways in which this song has grown its own legend. It’s been covered by everyone: Cilla Black, Dionne Warwick, Hall & Oates… It caused Brian Wilson to tell the writers – Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil – that he had been “ready to quit the music business, but this has inspired me to write again”… We are in Rolling Stone Top 10, BMI most-played songs of all time territory here. We won’t meet many bigger songs than this one as we move on. Finally, and perhaps most excitingly of all, mixed in amongst the backing singers on the disc, was an up-and-coming young woman by the name of Cher.

We will hear from The Righteous Brothers again. But not for a long time, and in somewhat specific circumstances. It’s a lifetime away – one of the biggest gaps between #1 singles in history. This was, then, to all intents and purposes, their only chart-topping hit in their ‘lifetime’. Relish it, appreciate it… Just be grateful that it exists…

Catch up with the previous #1 singles here:

185. ‘Go Now!’, by The Moody Blues

Hot on the heels of Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames’ snazzy ‘Yeh Yeh’, an equally quirky record pops up for a week at the top of the UK charts.

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Go Now!, by The Moody Blues (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th January – 4th February 1965

We’ve already sa-id… I like records that just get on with it – no drawn out intro, no nothing – and this is one such disc. Goodbye… Voice, then piano. A thumpingly, clumpingly unsubtle piano. I mean this with no disrespect, but the piano here sounds like it’s being played by an elephant. I’d bet they overlaid several tracks one on top of the other to get the rich, heavy sound. I love it. Since you gotta go, Oh you better go now…!

It’s a song about a break up. The singer doesn’t want to break up, but if it has to be done then he’d rather his S.O. just got on with it. Cos darlin, darlin’, Can’t you see I want you stay, yeah-ah-yeah-ah… The singer – Denny Laine – has a voice every bit as soulful as Georgie Fame before him, and he holds nothing back. The way he sings/spits out lines like I don’t want you to tell me just what you intend to do now…, for example, is great, and deceptively hard to recreate.

The production too is thick and soulful, with hints of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound and the baroque minor keys that were about to become a big thing in sixties pop. (It’s actually a cover of an American R&B hit from earlier in the decade.) It’s also a very rough-and-ready recording – not perfect – with lots of crackly patches, as if the tape were struggling to contain the volume and the power of this band. I love the piano solo, one that rolls and cascades – a cross between a ship being tossed on stormy seas and Dante’s descent into hell. The ending is also a lot of fun, with a huge finish – the whole band appearing to shout out the title of the song before a very quick, slightly wonky fade.

‘Go Now!’ is another grown-up pop record – make that two in a row – and one that perfectly encapsulates the way pop music is now fragmenting and moving away from the Beat sound that has dominated for most of the past two years. New year, new sound etc. etc. It’s also a record that I’ve loved for many years – The Moody Blues being a staple of long family car journeys as a child. But, here’s the ironic bit… I really, really can’t stand any of The Moody Blues’ other songs…

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You see, after this – their one and only chart-topper – they started getting all experimental. Denny Laine left the band and a bloke called Justin Hayward came in, they ditched the pop/R&B and they went… (shudder)… progressive. Now, I love rock music. To me ‘rock’ is the foundation upon which all great music is made. Stick ‘garage’, or ‘hard’, or ‘glam’, or ‘electronic’, or ‘punk’, or ‘surf’, or even ‘yacht’, in front of ‘rock’, and I’m usually in. ‘Prog-rock’, though? I run a mile. Jethro Tull, Marillion, Pink Floyd, Yes!… No, no, no! Lock me in and call it ‘Room 101’. You can be experimental, and forward-thinking, as avant-garde as you like… but ‘Prog’? The minute you call yourself prog then your head’s gone too far up your arse. And The Moody Blues are the worst culprits for me because A) They started it and B) I had to sit through their ‘Best Of’ on many a long car journey, aged eleven.

It would start off well enough. Track 1 was ‘Go Now!’. Three minutes of pop bliss. But then there were nineteen other songs to sit through before it was over – none of which sounded anything like ‘Go Now!’. And prog-rock songs are never, ever as short as they should be… ‘Give me ABBA’, I would cry, ‘The Eagles or The Stones. Even Fleetwood Mac if you must. Anything but this.’ But my dad would stand firm, and we’d listen to the bitter end… I have especially painful memories of ‘Nights in White Satin’… And ‘Tuesday Afternoon‘…

Having studied The Moody Blues history ahead of this post, it seems that the blame can be laid squarely at this Justin Hayward fellow’s feet. Once he was in and Laine was out (Laine later joined Wings), ‘Go Now!’ seems to have been written out of the band’s history. They rarely performed it live, and it didn’t appear on any of their ‘Greatest Hits’ until the mid-1990s. (Which was precisely when my dad bought said CD for the car… Just think – there might easily have been no good songs on that album…)

Yes, let’s end this post on a positive note. Nineteen of the twenty tracks on The Moody Blues ‘Greatest Hits’ album may well be terrible songs. But the one good song on that album also happens to be their only #1 single. We won’t hear from them again on this countdown! We can just pretend that they were one-hit wonders! Pretend that the glorious ‘Go Now!’ was the only piece of music that the band ever offered to the world. Isn’t that a comforting thought…

180. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’, by Sandie Shaw

This next chart-topper is a record that you can date pretty much instantly. Pretend, for a second, that you haven’t been following this countdown, and that you don’t know we are currently in October 1964. Just drop the needle, and listen. You know, straight away – it’s just got that mid-sixties vibe…

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(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me, by Sandie Shaw (her 1st of three #1s)

3 weeks, from 22nd October – 12th November 1964

There are soft, warm horns, and a little cha-cha-cha, bossanova beat. The ting of a typewriter reaching the end of a line. And a warm, playful voice… I walk along the city streets you used to walk along with me… Cute and glamorous – it kind of sounds like a French person singing in English (not that Sandie Shaw is French in any way – she’s Dagenham born and bred.)

It’s a song about a lost love, about how small things – streets and cafes – can remind you of the ones that got away. Oh how can I, Forget you, When there is always something there to remind me…? But, at the same time, it’s not a sad song. I’m not really sure what ‘kind’ of song it is…

It straddles lots of borders: it’s a bit of a ballad, a bit of a torch song, a bit of a standard pop song with a rock song looking to burst through. Listen to all the instruments involved: the horns, the orchestral strings, the twangy, Shadows-esque guitars. Plus the way Shaw sings – soft and lovelorn in the verses; shouty for the chorus. And then there’s the woah-waoh-waaaaa! and the cascading piano that bookmark either end of the violin solo.

There’s a lot going on here, but I like it. ‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’ is another song I knew – I could have sung the chorus – but had never listened to in any detail. It’s another Bacharach & David number (they’re starting to rack up) and I love the completely pointless brackets in the title. I like it because it doesn’t know, and probably doesn’t care, what kind of song it is. Everything’s been chucked in and given a good mix, and the end result is a classy little #1 hit.

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The only bit that jars is the I was born to love you, And I will never be free… line, because this might have been the swinging sixties, but girls were still expected to pine after their want-away men. Still, Shaw just about sells it with vocals that are both spunky and a little vulnerable.

Sandie Shaw herself is, to me anyway, super-sixties. Just the name, without knowing anything about her, and its playful alliteration dates it to within a couple of years (her real name was Sandra.) And pictures of her taken in late ’64, when this was sitting atop the charts, show a foxy, mascaraed, chunky-fringed girl (she was but seventeen) in knee-high floral dresses. You can easily picture her racing around swinging London town on the back of a scooter, bouncing from glamorous party to glamorous party, from Carnaby Street to King’s Cross.

But… perhaps this tune is actually a victim its era. It’s a good record – a sad song with an upbeat vibe – and yet it pales a little in comparison to some of the era-defining records that have topped the charts recently. A nice song lost among the greats? Our next post is a recap, and so we’ll be able to wade back through all the recent #1s, and really sort the downright brilliant hits from the simply very good. Until then…

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