Never Had a #1… Bob Dylan

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Positively 4th Street’, #8 in 1965

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

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

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

‘Lay Lady Lay’, #5 in 1969

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

‘Like a Rolling Stone’, #4 in 1965

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

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

Cover Versions of #1s – Fats Domino & Alma Cogan

Day three of cover versions week… and I got a couple of Fab Four facsimiles for you!

‘Lady Madonna’, by Fats Domino – 1968 album track

(Originally a #1 in March 1968, by The Beatles)

Paul McCartney was quite open about the debt that ‘Lady Madonna’ owed to Fats Domino, and so it was perhaps no surprise that Fats himself repaid the compliment less than a year after the original was released. It is probably the most faithful of all the cover versions I’ll post this week… Other than some extra piano flourishes it could easily be Fats singing over the original instrumental track. Doesn’t mean it doesn’t rock, however, and it took the rock ‘n’ roll legend to #100 in the US, just when it looked as if he might never have another chart hit.

‘I Feel Fine’, by Alma Cogan – 1967 album track

(Originally a #1 in December 1964, by The Beatles)

Towards the end of her career, and just before her much too early death aged just thirty-four, Alma Cogan had a go at covering some of The Beatles’ biggest hits. She put her own twist on ‘Help’, and ‘Ticket to Ride’, but I’ve gone for her very swinging-sixties take on ‘I Feel Fine’. (Actually, her best Beatles’ cover is her gorgeous ‘Eight Days a Week’, but that original was never released as a single in the UK…) Cogan had a close relationship with the Fab Four – especially, the rumours suggest, John Lennon – and I covered this in more depth in my post on her a few months ago. Sadly, none of her Beatles covers seemed to grabbed the public’s attention, all of them failing to chart.

Another two tomorrow, this time a couple of takes on the same well-known chart-topper…

Random Runners-up: ‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘I’m Gonna Be Strong’, by Gene Pitney

#2 for 2 weeks, behind ‘Little Red Rooster‘ and ‘I Feel Fine‘, from 3rd-17th Dec. 1964

It reminds me of ‘I Believe‘, with its strong, deliberate chords in the intro. It also reminds me of Roy Orbison’s boleros – his mini-operas – ‘Running Scared’ and ‘It’s Over‘ that grow and grow to outrageously dramatic conclusions.

I’m gonna be strong, And stand as tall as I can, Yes I’m gonna be strong, And let you run along… Gene’s gonna put a brave face on a break-up, gonna look his girl in the eye, smile, and walk away. But, as he finally admits in the final line, as the crescendo crashes: After you kiss me goodbye… How I’ll break down and cry….!

He gives it everything, does Mr. Pitney. It is a song for blowing away the cobwebs, for getting you out of bed on a winter’s morning. It sounds a little old-fashioned, especially considering the songs that kept it off the top, but when someone performs a song like this, with gusto and volume, you’ve got to tip your hat.

Our first two runners-up, The Spencer Davis Group and Connie Francis, had already had #1s. Gene Pitney hasn’t, and he’ll have to wait a good long while for his one and only chart-topper. He scored ten Top 10s between 1963 & ’68, bookended by what are probably his most famous songs (i.e. the ones I know): ‘Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa’ and ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’.

Random Runners-up: ‘Mama’ / ‘Robot Man’, by Connie Francis

I’m running a new feature this week – a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Today’s random runner-up…

‘Mama’ / ‘Robot Man’, by Connie Francis

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Three Steps to Heaven‘, from 23rd – 30th June 1960

A double-‘A’ to double your pleasure. Except… I haven’t missed these OTT pre-rock intros. Strings swirl, soar, flutter and fly – you know the score. Even in 1960 this sounded old-fashioned. When the evening shadows fall, And the lovely day is through… Darkness falls, and Connie Francis gets to thinking about a lost love. Not a boyfriend, though… Her ‘Mama’.

Connie Francis had two chart-toppers in 1958, the all-time classic ‘Who’s Sorry Now’ and another double-‘A’ in ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’. They were great rock ‘n’ roll singles (OK, ‘Carolina Moon’ was a bang-average ballad, but still). This though… this is not for me. It’s beautifully sang, gorgeously orchestrated, all that kind of thing, but no. I give thanks that the days of overwrought dramatic ballads hitting #1 are long gone.

‘Mama’ was from Francis’s album ‘Italian Favourites’. She is Italian-American, although she apparently couldn’t speak the language fluently and had to get a tutor to correct her pronunciation as she sang. And perhaps she was ahead of the curve… In a few months Elvis would return from his stint in the army by belting out ‘It’s Now or Never‘ and ‘Surrender‘ – both based on old Italian hits.

Had this made it to #1 then the most interesting thing about it would have been that it was sung largely in a foreign language – not many chart-toppers can claim that – and that it was four minutes long (making it the longest #1 up to that point.) But it didn’t, so all that is moot.

Luckily for us, just before ‘Mama’ lulls us into a stupor, we can flip the disc and enjoy ‘Robot Man’. It’s Connie Francis ™ rock ‘n’ roll by numbers – a mix of ‘Stupid Cupid’ and ‘Lipstick on Your Collar’ – but it’s more than welcome. Plus it’s got a bizarre B-movie sounding intro because, well, robots.

Connie’s sick of ‘real life boys’ giving her grief, so she wishes she could have a robot man. (Or, as Connie sings it in her New Jersey-by-way-of-Alabama twang, a roo-bot mayun.) That way, she wouldn’t have to put up with any of his human shit. We would never fight, Cos it would be impossible for him to speak!

But, if science fiction has taught us anything it is that robots don’t stay obedient for long. They will learn, they will evolve, and they will enslave us. Soon Connie will be chained to a bucket and mop, reminiscing about flesh and blood boys whose worst fault was that they didn’t phone.

Another runner-up tomorrow…

Remembering Cilla Black

Growing up, the two things that I knew about Cilla Black was that she presented ‘Blind Date’ on a Saturday night (a program I wasn’t allowed to watch as a child, due to my mother’s long-held distrust of ITV) and that her real name was Cilla White.

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As I got older, and all teenage, it would have been harder to think of anyone less cool than Cilla Black. She hung out with Cliff Richard, campaigned for the Tories, and had her hair set in a perfect early-nineties bouffant. Years ago I stumbled across a forum in which BA cabin crew posted horror stories about serving Ms. Black (always ‘Ms. Black’), how she would only sit in seat 1A, only drank a particular champagne, and would make her demands known only through her PA… (although, are you even a real celebrity if cabin crew don’t have a few bad things to say about you…?)

The one thing I didn’t know Cilla Black for, really, was the thing that started her off on her career of matchmaking and terrorising cabin crew: her singing.

While her hit-making career didn’t last too long, the two chart-toppers she had in 1964 are both excellent ballads interpreted very well, by a very young woman. The first – ‘Anyone Who Had a Heart’ – a Bacharach & David number that stands as the highest-selling single of the 1960s by a British woman.

I love the way, in that performance, how she starts off simply, quite unspectacularly, before dropping an octave and letting loose. Then a few months later came ‘You’re My World’, an Italian melody with English lyrics. Both these hits stood out, when I wrote about them for this blog, because they stood out so much from Cilla’s contemporaries, the Merseybeat bands, and in particular her Cavern Club mates, The Beatles (who are in the audience for the performance below).

She would continue to have hits as the sixties went on, though no further number ones. I can’t claim to be the biggest expert on the later musical career of Cilla Black (and I will happily take recommendations from those who know better), but if I can choose one more video to embed, it would be her final UK Top 10, a #3 from 1971: ‘Something Tells Me (Something’s Gonna Happen Tonight)’.

Following this the hits dried up, although she kept on recording music even after reinventing herself as the 1980s/1990s go to woman for Saturday night ‘trash’ TV. (My mother’s words, not mine…) On this, the fifth anniversary of her death then, it is worth remembering that Cilla Black was, first and foremost, a lady who could hold a tune, and whose musical achievements have been slightly overshadowed by what came next.

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Cilla Black, 27th May 1943 – 1st August 2015

Top 10s – The 1960s

Time for a Top 10. A month or so ago I ranked my Top 10 #1 singles of the 1950s. Now that I’ve officially drawn the sixties to a close with my most recent recap, here’s the Official 100% Undisputed Top 10 #1 singles of the 1960s!

The sixties. The decade that brought, many would say, the finest pop music known to man. Malt Shop pop, to Merseybeat, to R & B, Folk, Psychedelic, Hippies and Motown. It had it all.

By ‘My Top 10’, I mean the records that came out on top in my recaps. This isn’t me looking back and choosing; this is me recounting how I felt in the moment, as I encountered these great records in their natural environment, like seeing a pack of majestic lions while on safari… Or something. I only have one rule, and it is simple: one record per artist. 

Here then, in chronological order, are my Top 10 #1 singles of the swinging sixties… (with a bonus or two thrown in for good measure…)

1. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers – #1 for 7 weeks in May/June 1960

Winner in my first sixties recap… Don and Phil relaunch with a mature new sound. They had scored their 1st chart-topper two years earlier with the nice but soppy ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. Since then they had changed labels and toughened up, kicking off a run at the top of the UK charts with some of the best harmonising ever heard. The above video doesn’t quite do the recording justice – listen to and read about that here – but apparently the backing group there is none other than The Crickets, and I couldn’t resist…

2. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – #1 for 1 week in August 1960

For the most part, American rock ‘n’ roll was far superior to the British version. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been a 1st round knockout. In response to Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Fats and Eddie Cochran we had Cliff and, um, Tommy Steele. (OK, OK, simplifying things a bit, but still…) But ‘Shakin’ All Over’ was the moment in which UK rockers truly competed with their counterparts from across the Atlantic, with its timeless riff and racy lyrics. A runner-up in my 1st recap, you can read my original post here.

3. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes – #1 for 5 weeks in October/November 1962

Of course, by the middle of the decade, the Brits were the ones showing the Yanks how to do it. The first sign that the tide was changing, and the first UK band to hit #1 in the US, were The Tornadoes. Masterminded by slightly unhinged genius Joe Meek, this instrumental tells the story of an alien spacecraft that comes to earth for a look around, before shooting back off to whatever galaxy it came from. Except, ‘Telstar’ is an instrumental, so I’ve made up that story entirely. More simply put: a brilliant, brilliant record that blows you away when you hear it in context (the #1s on either side of it were Elvis’s ‘She’s Not You’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘Lovesick Blues’). I named it best chart-topper in my 2nd sixties recap – read my original post here.

4. ‘She Loves You’, by The Beatles – #1 for six weeks in September, October, November & December (!!) 1963

Without my ‘one chart-topper per artist’ rule I’d probably have had 4 Beatles discs in this Top 10. But ‘She Loves You’ is the one that makes it. Yes, yes, yes – in the years following this the band would go way beyond She loves you, And you know you should be glad… both sonically and lyrically. But, to me, this is the moment the 60s really begins. Hell, it’s the moment Britain finally put the war, the rationing and all the misery of the past half-century behind them for good. Imagine being thirteen years old in 1963, and hearing this beauty for the first time…. I named it best chart-topper, and you can read my original post here.

5. ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers – #1 for 3 weeks in January/February 1964

A low-key, under-appreciated, melancholy #1 from one of the biggest bands in the country during the first wave of Merseybeat. I called it a runner-up to ‘She Loves You’ in my 3rd recap, and it’s one of my earliest musical memories. Plus, I love the way they bow at the end of the video above. A well brought-up bunch of lads! The original post is here.

6. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers – #1 for 2 weeks in February 1965

The first five in this rundown are all of a similar pop/rock ‘n’ roll feel… The latter five shoot all over the place, starting with this slice of blue-eyed soul. Now pop music was for grown-ups again, and this glossy hit led the way. The call and response section, with one voice growling and one voice hitting the highest notes a man has ever sung, are simply stunning. I really struggled, long and hard, in choosing between this and the next song for a ‘Best Chart-Topper’ award. Ultimately, I named this as runner-up. Do I regret my decision…? Maybe… If I read my original post again I might change my mind…

7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones – #1 for 2 weeks in September 1965

The song that pipped The Righteous Brothers to the post… Suddenly rock ‘n’ roll was just ROCK, and the riffs were sledgehammers through your brain. And the lyrics weren’t about meeting your girl at the juke-joint; they were world-weary swipes at phoney advertising campaigns and girls who wouldn’t sleep with you, even though you were a world-famous rock star… It just had to be in this Top 10, plain and simple. Original post here.

8. ‘Good Vibrations’, by The Beach Boys – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1966

A song that needs no further introduction, and one that I struggle to really, really, really love. One that needs respected as a work of art; but not one I listen to all that often. Still, I did name it as runner-up in my 5th sixties recap, so it gets its place in the Top 10. Read my original musings here.

9. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum – #1 for 6 weeks in June/July 1967

At the start of the Summer of Love, one song redefined what a pop song should sound like, how a pop song should be constructed, what lyrical content huge a #1 hit could cover… Who knows how the hell ‘to skip the light fandango’? Who the hell cares when it sounds as good as this. Winner of my 5th ’60s recap – read my original post here.

10. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1969

Winner of my last sixties recap, when I opted for it at the last minute over ‘Hey Jude’. Motown’s finest moment? Again, a song that I can write nothing new about, so I’ve attached this video of a live version. I love the way that Marvin and one of his band act out the phone call at the start… ‘Somethin’ funky goin’ down’ indeed… Read my original post here.

Bonus 1 – ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – #1 for 1 week in November 1970

I called this one runner-up in the recap I just posted a couple of days ago, it having reached top-spot a year too late following Hendrix’s death. Had it hit number one at the right place and time, I may well have named it a winner. So, as a consolation, here it is…

Bonus 2 – ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra – #1 for 4 weeks in February/March 1966

Looking back at this list, one thing struck me: it’s a sausage fest. And then I had a closer look, and was amazed to count that, out of the 185 records that made #1 in the UK between January 1960 and December 1969, only 23 (!!) featured a female artist. If we don’t count duets with men, or male bands with female lead-singers, then there were only 16 (!!!!) #1s by females. Here then, is the record-by-a-girl that came closest to a prize in my recaps… Officially the best female-recorded #1 of the decade : Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!

Recap: #271 – #300

To recap, then…

Usually one of our recaps is summed up by the ‘sound’ of the previous thirty chart-toppers. This recap, though, really doesn’t have an all-encompassing sound. We’ve been pinging around all over the place for the past couple of years. What sums up this thirty is the world outside the charts – the end of the sixties, the death of the hippy dream, Vietnam and Nixon, the Beatles’ split… All of which has fed into what we’ve been hearing at #1.

Perhaps this is best summed up by the three number ones during the summer of ’69. Two years previous it had been ‘All You Need is Love’, and ‘San Francisco’; now we got the final call towards a hippy utopia (‘Something in the Air’) before being dragged back down to earth by Zager & Evans’ terrifying visions of the year 2525. And in between those two we had The Rolling Stones doing what the The Rolling Stones do best, some low-down sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, consoling us with the knowledge that the world might be going to shit but we still have the Stones. (Hell, that still applies in 2020.)

Actually, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was their final #1 – we had to bid them farewell. As we did The Beatles, who bowed out with ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. It feels strange to think that this recap still includes The Fab Four, such is the distance we’ve travelled since then. In fact, this recap also includes the first solo chart-topper by a Beatle: George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Plus, we had an Elvis record at #1 again! And with the soaringly cheesy ‘The Wonder of You’ he became the first act to score chart-toppers in three different decades.

Like I said, it’s been a couple of years that have veered wildly, from pillar to post. From ‘Dizzy’, to CCR predicting the end of the world in ‘Bad Moon Rising’. From the uber-bubblegum of ‘Sugar Sugar’ to the granite tones of Lee Marvin. There’s been a backbone of great pop, though: ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’, ‘In the Summertime’ and ‘The Tears of a Clown’ all worthy of mention but not quite worthy of an award.

There have been plenty of outliers too, to keep things interesting. Which means awarding the latest WTAF Award will be a decision to ponder. There was alleged live, recorded sex (!) from Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, Rolf Harris riding the war-theme with ‘Two Little Boys’, a letter ‘Back Home’ from the England World Cup Squad, and Clive Dunn sitting all alone in his rocking chair, thinking… Plus the aforementioned Lee Marvin (with Clint Eastwood on the ‘B’-side!), Zager & Evans, and the bizarre-but-brilliant ‘Double Barrel’. But, for the terrifying imagery and the genuine feeling of impending doom… I’m awarding it to ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’.

It’s much harder to name a ‘Meh’ Award winner, for the record that struggled to make much of an impact because, to be honest, most of the past thirty songs have made an impression, for better or worse… I could give it to our most recent #1, Dawn’s ultra-cheesy ‘Knock Three Times’ but, I can’t lie: I was humming that in the kitchen this morning… No. One record stands out for me not being able to really remember it: Matthews’ Southern Comfort, with their cover of ‘Woodstock’. Pleasant, but completely unmemorable.

Although, ‘Woodstock’ does tie into what I was saying at the start about the charts beginning to reflect the wider world. That last Beatles’ #1 literally documented the end of the Beatles (it was quite meta, if you think about it), while I count two #1s about the end of the world, two about war, two related to Woodstock, one to the World Cup, two with fairly overtly religious themes, and one in which an old man contemplated his own mortality (see, even the novelties were thought-provoking this time out…)

However, in the early months of 1971, a new ‘sound’ finally emerged, one of the seventies own making. ‘Spirit in the Sky’ had hints of it, as did ‘I Hear You Knocking’. But with Mungo Jerry’s outrageous ‘Baby Jump’ and then T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ hitting the top – Glam Rock has arrived! It’ll dominate the next thirty number ones, and I can’t wait…

To the big two awards, then. What was the worst chart-topper of the past couple of years? I could do the big build-up, teasing a few sub-standard number-ones before WHAM! announcing a left-field winner. But, to be honest, this time it wasn’t much of a contest. Dana, my dear, step forward and accept your award for ‘All Kinds of Everything’. A toe-curlingly bad song about seagulls and lollipops and lots of other stuff I don’t care to remember. It’s our latest Very Worst Chart-Topper.

And the best? Thankfully, there’s a whole load of competition this time. One song that I have to get out the way first is ‘Band of Gold’… I had no idea how highly-regarded that song is. It’s on all kinds of ‘Best Songs Ever’ lists. I mean, it’s a great Motown-sounding song, but it’s not going to be my Very Best Chart-Topper. There’s also T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’. I love T. Rex, but I can’t do any more than really, really like ‘Hot Love’, and would be awarding it for reasons beyond the song. Plus, they’ve got three more #1s to come so there’s every chance that they’ll be winners in my next recap.

I’ve got it down to three. And I’m smiling as I write this, like King Joffrey at a beheading, because I know deep down what I’m about to do. In the blue corner, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. In the red corner, the Jimi Hendrix Experience with ‘Voodoo Chile’. And in the green corner (this is a triangular wrestling ring)… ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry. Simon and Garfunkel are there because I feel obliged to have them. They are the dweeby kids my mum has forced me to invite to my birthday party. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is an amazing, epic piece of music… But I just can’t love it like I should. It’s out.

‘Voodoo Chile’, in terms of sound, is one of the most forward facing, exciting, swaggering records to have ever topped the UK singles chart. It is a better song than ‘Baby Jump’, I am under no illusion (as is ‘Bridge…’) BUT. ‘Voodoo Chile’ was a song from 1968, re-released because Hendrix had died. I’m eternally grateful that it did get a week at #1, but it did so in the wrong decade, under special circumstances… Which means, in all its belligerent, crunching, leering, drunken beauty, Mungo Jerry’s house party from hell ‘Baby Jump’ is the winner! Hurrah!

(Hey, I spent the entire last decade very sensibly naming all the classics, your ‘Satisfactions’ and your ‘Whiter Shades of Pales’, as my Very Best Chart-Toppers. Allow me a moment of indulgence!)

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

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.

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.

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.

Read my previous recaps:

1-30, 31-60, 61-90, 91-120, 121-149, 150-180, 181-210, 211-240, 241-270

Never Had a #1 Hit… The Doors

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

Up today… One of the sixties’ most iconic bands…

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I dunno about The Doors, really. Do I like them? Were they as good, or as bad, as people say? They’re a band that seem to inspire extreme reactions, based around whether you think Jim Morrison was a lizard-leather-sex-God, or a bit of an arse.

Plus, most of the Doors’ songs that I enjoy never made it to the British charts – ‘Touch Me’, ‘Love Her Madly, ‘Love Me Two Times’, ‘People Are Strange’… In fact, for such an iconic, influential band, they only ever had four charting singles in the UK Top 75! Which shocked me, I have to admit. Here they are:

‘Light My Fire’, #7 in 1967

A US #1, and their only Top 10 hit in Britain. A sixties classic, and a pretty simple song really. It’s either about sex, or drugs, or both, with a snazzy Louis XIV riff to start and end. I like that the backdrop to this performance in the video is lots and lots of doors hanging on the wall. (Meanwhile, ‘Light My Fire’ will top the charts, much later, and in a very different version.)

‘Hello, I Love You’, #15 in 1967

Another US #1 – part of the reason why I chose The Doors for this feature is the difference between their success in the two countries – with a cool riff and some trippy sound-effects. There was only three years between ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ and this and, while they cover the same topic, the difference in sound is quite something.

‘Riders on the Storm’, #22 in 1971

A seven-minute-long bit of self-indulgence, if you ask me… But the band’s 3rd highest charting single in the UK!

‘Break On Through (To the Other Side)’, #64 when re-released in 1991

This is more like it. Quiet, then loud – loud, then quiet. Morrison sounds raw and ferocious, before the drugs took their toll. And that was it. Four hits (if you can call reaching #64 in the charts, twenty years later, a ‘hit’.) They’re a band that managed to go a long way – and become pretty legendary – without much of a back catalogue. Style and looks over substance?

One more chart-topper-less artist, coming up tomorrow…. And we’re going back a little further to find him. A rock ‘n’ roll idol, dead now, (and he didn’t die recently, if that’s who you’re thinking of…)

Never Had a #1 Hit… The Who

I’m taking a quick break from the usual rundown to give a mention to the bands and artists that we will never meet at the top of the UK singles chart. If you were following along, wondering when (*insert name of your favourite act*) were going to finally appear in this countdown, then I got some bad news for you…

(I’ll do this in chronological order, with acts whom we would have met by now – i.e. in the fifties, sixties and early seventies.)

First up, probably just the biggest and most famous act never to have had a number one single… The Who!

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Yup, they’ve come close on plenty of occasions. 14 Top 10 hits between 1965 and 1981. Here are the five that came closest:

‘My Generation’, #2 in 1965

Part of the sixties canon, but a world away from both the optimistic pop of the Merseybeat days and the Summer of Love; The Who were angry young men. Banned by the Beeb because they thought Roger Daltrey’s delivery might offend stutterers, not, as I always thought, because it sounds like he’s about to drop an F-bomb. I’ve attached this live version for some brilliantly pointless guitar and drum smashing at the end. ‘My Generation’ was scandalously kept off the top spot by The Seekers snooze-inducing ‘The Carnival Is Over‘!

‘I’m a Boy’, #2 in 1966

My name is Bill and I’m a head-case… Just as anarchic as ‘My Generation’, though gentler sounding. Bill has four sisters and his ma is hell-bent on having five. He wants to ride his bike, climb trees, come home covered in blood – you know, regular 1960s boy stuff… But mum’s not having any of it. I’m a boy, I’m a boy, But if I say I am I get it! Power pop brilliance.

‘Happy Jack’, #3 in 1966

Happy Jack is a man who lives in the sand on the Isle of Man. Apparently, a real person from Pete Townshend’s childhood, kids bully him, laugh at him, chuck things at him… But nothing stops Jack from being happy. Not my favourite Who song in any way, but a worthy inclusion just for Keith Moon’s drumming.

‘Pictures of Lily’, #4 in 1967

I think people’s impression of The Who leans more nowadays to the hard rocking, stadium band that they became in the 1970s. But as this run-through is showing, their biggest hits came earlier, and were much quirkier. ‘Pictures of Lily’ tells the tale of a young lad who can’t sleep, until one day his dad gives him an old picture of a lady named Lily. Suddenly the boy can sleep the whole night through… Pictures of Lily, Solved my childhood problem… ‘Tis “merely a ditty about masturbation, and its importance to a young man” (Pete Townshend’s words, not mine). When the boy asks his dad if he can meet Lily, he is crushed to find out that she died in 1929…

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(Actress Lily Langtry, who died in 1929… This could well be the actual ‘Picture of Lily’.)

‘Pinball Wizard’, #4 in 1969

Last but not least… a song about a deaf, dumb and blind kid who sure plays a mean pinball. From the rock-opera ‘Tommy’ this, along with ‘My Generation’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, has to be The Who’s signature song, and still a feature of their live shows to this day.

My personal favourite Who single, ‘Substitute’, only made #5, while their big seventies hits like ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘Who Are You’, made #9 and #18 respectively. But, no number one! And that’s why I wrote this post.

Up tomorrow, another hard-rocking, hard-living band, with a member who died too young, this time from the other side of the pond.

290. ‘The Tears of a Clown’, by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles

A perky riff kicks off this next number one, one that sounds like something The Pied Piper would play while leading the kids out of Hamelin. A jester’s riff, one that might play as a clown enters a room… It’s a riff, a motif, that repeats and holds the song together, while the rest is pure Motown.

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The Tears of a Clown, by Smokey Robinson (his 1st of two #1s) & The Miracles

1 week, from 6th – 13th September 1970

Yes, Motown’s 4th #1 single in the UK, from one of its biggest acts, one that had been scoring Top 10 hits throughout the sixties in the States. And it’s another sad-lyrics-with-upbeat-accompaniment number… Really I’m sad, Oh, sadder than sad, You’re gone and I’m hurting so bad, Like a clown I’ll pretend to be glad…

It’s a song about putting a brave face on things, about not letting on when you’re heart is breaking. And it’s very wordy record… Sample lyric: Now if I appear to be carefree, It’s only to camouflage my sadness… There aren’t many #1 singles throwing words like ‘camouflage’ around. By the end Smokey’s referring to the famous clown opera ‘Pagliacci’… All very highbrow.

But it’s catchy, too. This is Motown after all. I have to admit that, for all this is a very highly regarded record, I’m struggling to really love it… Though I do love the bubblegum hook in the chorus: Now there’s some sad things known to man, But ain’t too much sadder than… The tears of a clown… 1970 really is jumping around all over the place, evading all attempts to define the ‘sound’ of the year. Some of its chart-topping singles have been true classics, others just truly dreadful. ‘The Tears of a Clown’ I’d place right in the middle, one of the purest ‘pop’ moments of the year.

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It had actually been recorded back in 1967, and was only released due to Robinson’s reluctance to record new music with the band. It hit #1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and Smokey was convinced to spend another couple of years with them. He did eventually go solo, and he’ll go it alone at the top of the charts in a decade or so. The Miracles continued too, and had their own successes through the seventies. Also of note is the fact that ‘The Tears of a Clown’ was co-written by Stevie Wonder, who we have yet to meet in this countdown. I think it’s not giving too much away for me to say that this, his first writing credit at #1, is far better than either of the chart-toppers he’ll get under his own name…

Follow my Spotify playlist as we go!