Cover Versions of #1s – Nick Cave & The Villagers

The final two covers for the week, and we’re slowing the pace, ending on a chilled note…

‘The Carnival Is Over’, by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – 1986 album track

(Originally a #1 in November 1965, by The Seekers)

I didn’t have much positive to say about The Seekers’ two 1965 #1 singles, the second of which was the dirgey ‘The Carnival Is Over’. But if you want someone to take a dirge, and make it even gloomier, yet make it completely their own, then look no further than Nick Cave. Based on an old Russian folk song, and given some sixties-folk lyrics by Dusty Springfield’s brother Tom, it sold a million for Australia’s biggest band of the decade. Fellow Aussie Cave and his Bad Seeds recorded it for a covers album twenty years later – ‘the song sort of haunted my childhood’, Cave has been quoted as saying. (Until five minutes ago, I had no idea that Boney M had also recorded a version… And I had no idea that Boney M had ever sounded so miserable. Nobody can make this tune sound fun!)

‘The Wonder of You’, by The Villagers – 2017

(Originally a #1 in July 1970, by Elvis Presley)

Despite being described as an ‘indie-folk project’ on their Wikipedia page, and despite it sounding ready made for a Starbucks playlist, I have liked this version of ‘The Wonder of You’ by The Villagers ever since hearing it on the soundtrack to HBO series ‘Big Little Lies’. It is the polar opposite of Elvis’s bombastic version – lo-fi and intimate, with just a hint of old-style rock ‘n’ roll around the edges. In the show, it soundtracks an abusive husband getting flung to his death down a flight of stairs during an Elvis-themed PTA night at a primary school… (I mean, if that description doesn’t make you want to watch something, then I don’t know what will!)

I hope you enjoyed my second annual cover versions week. Normal service will be resumed in a few days, with our 377th chart-topping single.

367. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for days. Last time out I wrapped up my post on Steve Harley, and had a quick listen to what was coming next. A song I had never heard before: ‘If’. I started taking notes… And, my word. This is why I started this blog, to discover chat-topping moments such as this. This is amazing.

If, by Telly Savalas (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th March 1975

Or wait. Is it actually not amazing? Is it actually awful? This record somehow manages to straddle the gaping chasm between ‘amazing’ and ‘awful’ with perfect poise. It is pure car crash music. We listen, we wonder, our eyebrows keep rising, but we don’t press ‘stop.’

The first note I made was that there is ‘a spoken word intro’. Which keeps going, on and on, deeper and deeper into the song. Telly Savalas talks. Or, rather, he purrs and caresses his way through the record. If a picture, Paints a thousand words, Then why can’t I paint you…? My second note reads: ‘Is he ever going to sing…?’ The answer to which is ‘no’. If a face could launch a thousand ships, Then where am I to go…?

There have been ‘spoken word’ number ones. Think Baz Luhrmann, The Streets… But I thought we’d be waiting a while yet for our first one. Here it is, though. Curling suggestively from the lips of James Bond’s arch-nemesis. When life is running dry.. You come and pour yourself… On me… he growls, and I almost spit out my coffee.

What am I listening to? Seriously? This defies serious analysis. Couple it with the videos I’ve attached below, in one of which Telly lights a cigarette before reciting his hit single, all the while being watched by a ginormous floating Barbie doll head. And… Is he wearing a glittering, gold undershirt?

How and why did this come about? Was it simply a cash-in on Savalas’s fame as TV detective Kojak? Was it for a bet? A joke? Or was it because Telly was one cool sonofabitch who people didn’t dare say ‘no’ to? I’d go with that. I think people bought this record simply because they were worried he’d come round their house and rough them up.

So ridiculous is this song, it takes me several listens before I can focus enough on the lyrics, and notice that the apocalypse has come. If the world should stop revolving, Spinning, Spinning slowly down to die… I’d spend the end with you… ‘If’ was originally recorded by Bread – making this the second Bread cover to top the charts in the space of a few months – and while I’m loathe to describe Savalas’s version as ‘better’, it is certainly more memorable.

This is not on Spotify (Come on Spotify!) But that means you have a chance to enjoy the many spectacular performances Telly Savalas made of his sole chart-topper, on YouTube. I’ve attached a couple below. (I don’t normally do this, but these videos are genuinely too good to miss.) Once one finished, YouTube auto-played Lee Marvin’s ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ – I had clearly triggered some gravel-voiced, middle-aged actor-slash-singer from the 1970s algorithm.

A couple of other things worth mentioning: Telly Savalas was fifty-three when this made #1, meaning he shoves the likes of Marvin, Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour aside to become the second oldest chart-topper, behind Louis Armstrong. And ‘If’ remains to this day the shortest-titled chart-topping single ever. Whatever it lacks in length, though, it more than makes up for in pure, animal magnetism. Telly Savalas, ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy…

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

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

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

2 weeks, from 1st – 15th December 1974

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

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

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

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

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

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

348. ‘Waterloo’, by ABBA

And entering, stage right: some genuine pop music legends.

Waterloo, by ABBA (their 1st of nine #1s)

2 weeks, from 28th April – 12th May 1974

Are ABBA the best pop group ever? Like, pure pop? Well, they get my vote. I will not hear a bad word spoken against them. And these days, you don’t often hear much bad spoken about ABBA – they’ve shaken off the image that they were fit only for gay bars and hen nights, and have assumed their rightful place in the pantheon. Everyone loves ABBA. But… I’m writing as if wrapping up their final chart-topper; not introducing their first. To business!

It is perfect, the manner in which Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid shoot out the blocks on their first #1. ‘Waterloo’ is not a record that takes its time to reveal its charms. It’s a wham, bam, thankyou ma’am sort of pop song. It won the Eurovision Song Contest, for God’s sake: a feat not often achieved through subtle means. The churning bass, the thumping piano… My, my! At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender…

For a band that specialised in camp melodrama, this opening line – comparing their love for someone to an 19th Century military leader’s last stand – is as camp and melodramatic as it comes. Oh yeah! And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way… Cue one of the catchiest choruses ever recorded: Waterloo! I was defeated you won the war, Waterloo, Promise to love you for ever more… (A big part of this song’s success, I think, is the way they pronounce the title in their Swedish accents: Wardahloo! With added emphasis on the ‘ooh’.)

It’s pointless looking for the hook here. The entire song is a two minute forty eight second long hook. The ridiculous saxophone licks, the woah-woah-woahs, the pounding piano ‘n’ drum intros to each chorus, something the band admits were ripped straight from Wizzard’s ‘See My Baby Jive’. ‘Waterloo’ is a huge, unashamed sugar rush of a song. Perfect, perfect pop.

In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated once and for all, and exiled to the south Atlantic. In 1974, Agnetha and Anna-Frid give in and admit their love. As they put it in the song’s best line: So how can I ever refuse? I feel like I win when I lose! (The writers of ‘Mamma Mia – The Musical’ clearly gave up on trying to shoe-horn a song about a two-hundred year old battle into the story, and stuck in at the very, very end, as an encore.)

As a kid, this was my favourite track on ‘ABBA Gold’. It is no longer my favourite ABBA song, but it is the perfect first chart-topper for the band. They would go on to reach much greater heights of subtlety and sophistication; though it’s debatable whether they wrote a catchier hit. Meanwhile, it was also voted as the greatest Eurovision song for the contest’s 50th anniversary.

This hit proved to be a bit of a false start for ABBA, though. They struggled to follow ‘Waterloo’ up, in the UK at least, and we’ll have to wait almost two more years for their next #1. Once that arrives, however, there will be no looking back. It feels like we’ve entered a new phase in our journey through the chart-toppers… It’s the mid-seventies, and we’ve finally met the decade’s greatest band!

312. ‘Amazing Grace’, by The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards

So, um… Our next number one single, from the spring of 1972, is… *checks notes*… a bagpipe instrumental.

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Amazing Grace, by The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 9th April – 14th May 1972

I really don’t think I can write anything interesting about the record itself. It is literally just the well-known hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’, played by a military band. There have been plenty of outliers hit the top of the charts before this – singers and styles that have stood out like a sore thumb against the sounds of the time – Russ Conway’s piano, Frank Ifield’s yodelling, traditional ballads from the likes of Ken Dodd and Des O’Connor. None, though, have stood out as much as this.

Why was this a huge, five-week #1 single? There must be a story behind it. ‘Amazing Grace’ had been recorded in a popular version by American folk singer Judy Collins in 1969, whose arrangement the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard copied. Hers was a statement against the Vietnam War, part of the late sixties counter-culture that gave us ‘Woodstock’ and ‘In the Year 2525’. Meanwhile, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart and Aretha Franklin all recorded their own versions of the hymn in the early to mid-seventies.

Is it that simple, then? A record by some soldiers – albeit not ones directly involved in any conflict – appealing to a public that were seeing images of war on their TV sets every night? I’m not a religious person, but ‘Amazing Grace’ is a spectacular piece of music, one that touches somewhere deep within. It’s one of the best known songs in the English language, and so for it to appear at the top of the charts in some form seems apt, though it was apparently much more popular in American churches than in the UK.

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A bit of history: ‘Amazing Grace’ dates from the 1790s, instantly making it one of the very ‘oldest’ chart-toppers. Its writer, John Newton, had been a slave trader whose ship ran aground in a storm. This caused him to reassess his life, become a clergyman, and write this hymn about his experiences: Amazing grace, How great thou art, That saved a wretch like me… In the 1800s it became an abolitionist anthem and then very popular in African-American churches.

My problem with this record lies not in the religious-ness of it, or that it’s old-fashioned… My problem is with the bagpipes. I am Scottish. Yet I hate the sound of bagpipes. Something went wrong, somewhere, and I malfunctioned. It’s like being a cat that has no interest in pieces of string. Where most people hear a heart-tugging call from the misty glens and shimmering lochs; I just hear a shrill banshee-shriek. Listen to the first five seconds of this record: the drone and then the shriek. It’s not pleasant.

I enjoy it more when the brass section takes over in the second half of the song. But by the end we’re back to the lone piper. Except pipers are never really ‘lone’: they’re ten-a-penny on Edinburgh’s street corners in summer, quite often blasting out dirges like this. In conclusion, then, I’m with the stuffy old Director of Bagpipes at Edinburgh Castle who, when this record hit the charts, summoned the Pipe Major of the Royal Scots for a dressing down. How dare he demean the venerable bagpipe by featuring it on a pop record! Sadly for him, and all bagpipe haters around the world, ‘Amazing Grace’ is not even the biggest hit record of the 1970s to feature the instrument… Sigh.

240. ‘Let the Heartaches Begin’, by Long John Baldry

I start to fear the worst when I press play on this latest #1, and find that it begins with a soft and swaying intro… The type of intro that we’ve heard at least five times too often in recent posts. The type of intro that Engelbert Humperdinck would have licked his lips at…

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Let the Heartaches Begin, by Long John Baldry (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 22nd November – 6th December 1967

But no, this record is a cut above the run-of-the-mill, middle-of-the-road, so-so-ness that has made up so much of the past year’s chart-topping material. That becomes clear the second that Long John Baldry’s voice comes in, all smoky and croaky. It reminds me of Chris Farlowe – another British singer that you would think was American.

I can hear the guitars start to play… The first verse is innocuous enough. Boy’s lost girl etc. etc. It does nothing to prepare you for the soaring beauty of the chorus… So let the heartbreaks begin, I can’t help it, I can’t win… It’s a sad song – the title makes that pretty obvious – but it’s also kind of uplifting.

It’s the sort of chorus that makes you wish it wouldn’t finish, and that makes you count the seconds through the next verse until it returns. And Baldry’s voice… When he pauses for the Anymore… at the end of the final chorus you can actually picture him crying. (Apparently he was quite drunk when he recorded the song…)

As with Chris Farlowe, it’s really hard to imagine that voice coming out of the man in the picture above. But it did. And ‘Long John’ Baldry is a brilliant stage name, isn’t it? Anything combining rock stars and pirates is bound to be pretty badass. It was an appropriate name, too, as he measured six foot seven in height!

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I’m getting lots of different notes from this record. It’s got a strong 1967, easy-listening vibe, but it’s also yet another British soul hit in the tradition of Farlowe and Fame, and following hot on the heels of the The Foundations. It’s also forward-facing – this could easily be an early-seventies Rod Stewart record, especially when the acoustic guitar comes in on the second verse. Which makes sense, as both Stewart and Elton John played with Baldry before they hit the big time. Long John would never reach similar heights, but his #1 does feel like a bit of a marking post…

It’s also a perfect winter hit, and it makes perfect sense that it hit the top spot as the nights drew in and folks huddled around their fireplaces. And it’s perfect that I’m publishing this just before Christmas. Grab your loved one – even though it’s a song about heartbreak, literally, but hey – a mug of something mulled, and enjoy. Long John enjoyed quite the life beyond ‘Let the Heartbreaks Begin’, including time in a mental health institution and saving Elton John from suicide (he’s who ‘Someone Saved My Life Tonight’ is about.) And, apparently, he had a brief romantic relationship with Dave Davies from The Kinks. A biography worth reading! He passed away in 2005.

Before we go, I’d like to wish a very merry Christmas to every one of you UK #1s Blog readers. I hope that it is both merry and bright! Next up, before the New Year… a recap!

213. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, by Dusty Springfield

Before we get going with this next number one single, I have to go on record and state that only allowing Dusty Springfield, the greatest British female singer ever, one measly week at the top of the singles charts, is one of the British people’s greatest embarrassments. Hang your heads in shame, British record-buying public!

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You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me, by Dusty Springfield (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 28th April – 5th May 1966

Now that’s off my chest… To the song. And what a song. I’d like to follow my earlier statement with the caveat that, if you were going to give Dusty Springfield, the greatest British female singer ever, only one #1 single, then you could do a lot worse than allowing that single to be ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’.

The intro sets a scene. It’s a throwback of an intro, straight from the melodramatic pre-rock days. It’s a Shirley Bassey intro. An intro you’d make up as a piss-take of a Bond theme. Horns blast, cymbals crash, and a choir welcomes the coming apocalypse… And then… Dusty. Whose voice, after all that, sounds kind of small.

But what a voice. I’ll have to remind myself that this is a post on ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, the two hundred and thirteenth UK #1 single, not a post on the life and times of Dusty Springfield. But she did have a voice on her. When I said, I needed you… You said, You would always stay… It wasn’t me who changed, But you… And now you’ve gone… Away… It’s default Dusty – heartbroken, but defiant. Nobody does defiant heartbreak like her. And then comes the chorus, with it’s very rational approach to a broken relationship: You don’t have to say you love me, Just be close at hand… (For years, I though it was ‘just because you can’, which, to be fair, would also work.) You don’t have to stay forever, I will understand…

I love the dramatic way the second verse comes in… Left alone!… and the violin flourish that accompanies it. And then the two Believe me’s that prelude the final, sweeping chorus. And the key change. Because a song like this simply couldn’t finish without a key change. God, it’s a good record. I want to name it as one of the best yet. Except, my next recap is ages off. Damn. I’ve always felt that it’s a frustratingly short record, even though it comes in at not much under three minutes. They could have stuck another verse in. But no. They didn’t need to. It’s perfect as it is. It’s a complete side-step from the predominant sounds of the mid-sixties, a record that could have been a hit at any time. If Adele released a cover of it tomorrow, it would still work.

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And that’s it. One song. One week. Dusty Springfield as chart-topping artist. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least she got it. And, of course, her career is not defined by this one hit. It’s just one of her sixteen UK Top 20 singles. There’s ‘I Only Want to Be With You’, her 1963 debut, ‘Stay Awhile’, ‘In the Middle of Nowhere’, ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’ (brilliantly covered by The White Stripes)… And then there’s her Memphis records, ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, and ‘Breakfast in Bed’, her cover of ‘The Look of Love’, one of the most sensual recordings ever made. And then there’s her late-career revival, courtesy of The Pet Shop Boys, culminating in the superb ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This’ (she loved a good long song title, did our Dusty.)

But my favourite Dusty is the one that belted out ballads like ‘Losing You’, ‘All I See Is You’, ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’, and, of course, this. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’ was, apparently, based on an Italian pop hit from the year before, which had reduced Dusty to tears upon hearing it. Her song-writing team put together English lyrics for the melody, and she allegedly took forty-seven takes before she was happy with her vocals. The diva!

I better end this post before I go overboard on the links… One final thing, though. Dusty’s career was famously damaged by a 1970 interview in which she announced she was gay (‘bent’, in her own words.) For much of seventies and eighties she battled with alcoholism and self-harm. And listening back to the lyrics of ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, you notice there are no pronouns used other than ‘you’ and ‘me’. And then you listen to the refrain: Believe me, Believe me, I can’t help but love you… And you realise that you are perhaps listening to a gay love song, which hit #1 in a time when it was socially unacceptable, if not illegal, to be that way. A powerful subtext, to an already very powerful record. Ladies and gentlemen: Dusty Springfield.

Catch up here:

204. ‘Tears’, by Ken Dodd

The best thing about a pop chart, about a list of the best-selling songs in any given week, is that anything can, technically, get to the top. Get enough people to buy it, download it, stream it, whatever, and you get yourself a #1 single.

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Tears, by Ken Dodd (his 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 30th September – 4th November 1965

Which means, try as you might to apply some kind of sense to the ebb and flow of number ones, to christen new eras and to identify the overall ‘sound’ of a time, you’ll always get anomalies. Which means… In amongst The Beatles and The Stones, The Byrds and the Baroque, we have comedian Ken Dodd, covering a sentimental ballad, first written in 1929.

Tears for souvenirs, Are all you left me… Mem’ries of a love, You never meant… The rhythm floats by like a placid river, the guitar trills, the strings swirl… Tears have been my only, Consolation… But tears can’t mend a broken heart, I must confess… He sings it perfectly well, but not spectacularly. I’m picturing a busker on the banks of the Seine, accompanied by an accordion (this would totally work in French, and was actually based on an old French aria from the 1870s.)

Is it a parody? A novelty? I don’t know. What it definitely is is a throwback. This is pure music hall. It’s not cool and it doesn’t care. A record for your gran. It’s almost not worth writing any more about ‘Tears.’ It is what it is. Move on.

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But. But, but, but… That really wouldn’t be fair. Because this isn’t a flash in the pan, one-week wonder. It’s a disc that lodged itself in at the top for five whole weeks – a length of time reserved solely these days for The Beatles. It was the biggest selling record of 1965. Let that sink in… In the year of ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’’, ‘Help!’, ‘Satisfaction’, and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’; Ken Dodd’s ‘Tears’ outsold them all. It was the 3rd best-selling single of the entire decade, the only non-Beatles single in the Top 5. As of 2017, it still sat in 39th place on the list of best-selling singles ever. The middle of the road is always the best place from which to sell a record.

And then there’s the man behind the song. The voice that guides us through this tale of heartbreak and regret. Sir Ken Dodd, of the tickling sticks and the Diddy Men. Of Saturday night telly, Christmas pantos and the Blackpool lights. Of a type of humour and a style of show that was uniquely British. I know some of my readers are not British and… I don’t know if I can even begin to explain him. Look him up. I’m a bit young to have really been ‘into’ him, but my mum liked him. I think that this was the first record she ever bought… He died last year, aged ninety, having performed his final stand-up show just a few months earlier.

Not that this was his only musical success. He was a genuine chart presence throughout the sixties, with several other Top Tens. And I have to admit that, as I listen to ‘Tears’ now for the seventh or eighth time, with a glass (or two) of wine as I write, that this is a pretty nice song. A song that actually fits in quite well with the strings, and the lush production, found in the more ‘respectable’ pop songs of the time. (Plus – whisper it – I think I might be enjoying it more than the previous, overwrought #1, ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’…)

Anyway, before I get too carried away, and claim ‘Tears’ to be the most underrated pop song of the decade, or something, I’ll finish. And glancing forward… Ah yes, normal service is about to be resumed, with a vengeance.

140. ‘She’s Not You’, by Elvis Presley

Ladies and Gentlemen! For the eighth time in under two years! It’s… Oh, I can’t be arsed. Not really. Look – Elvis is #1. Again.

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She’s Not You, by Elvis Presley (his 12th of twenty-one #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th September – 4th October 1962

In my post on his last chart-topper – the soporific ‘Good Luck Charm’ – I crafted a pretty nifty (if I do say so myself) metaphor in which Elvis’s career equalled a long-haul flight. We were five hours in, meal-trays cleared, lights dimmed etc. etc. Very smooth sailing. And if you were hoping for a bit of turbulence with this latest record then you will be left disappointed. ‘She’s Not You’ is basically ‘Good Luck Charm’ Pt. II. Same tempo, same half-asleep Elvis. In fact, I’m pretty sure that both songs use the very same backing track (**stokes chin thoughtfully**)

Her hair is soft, And her eyes are oh so blue… She’s all the things a girl should be, But she’s not you… Elvis has a new girl, but still loves the old girl. Sigh. She knows just how to make me laugh when I feel blue… She’s everything a man could want, But she’s not you…

I must admit that, despite this song’s utter basic-ness and the fact that clearly very little effort went into the writing or the recording of it, I do like it. I always have liked it, ever since I got that Elvis Greatest Hits collection way back when. There are the bumbabumbabumbabums for a start, and the piano solo that always makes me imagine a bumblebee hovering over a flower. And it has a bit of a swing to it, most notable in the bridge, when Elvis slurs that line: And when we’re dancing, It almost feels the same… (For years I thought it was It’s so confusing…) There’s something cool, really, about auto-pilot Elvis. About Elvis not even trying, yet still dragging songs like this to the top of the charts just because he was Elvis Fucking Presley.

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Interestingly, this is the first time since the 1950s that Elvis has hit the top with two similar sounding discs. Last year, he was veering from opera to rockabilly to lederhosen. Maybe, then, the similarities between ‘Good Luck Charm’ and ‘She’s Not You’ – his eleventh and twelfth UK #1 singles – say it all about his mid-career malaise. And it’s needless to say that there is absolutely no rock ‘n’ roll to be found here. This song has had the rock sucked right out of it. This is pure, 100% middle of the road pop.

As I find in every post I write about Elvis these days, I’m out of things to say pretty quickly. We all know he’ll be along again soon, so let’s save it for whenever we see him next. I do want to note, however, just how quickly we are racing through 1962. ’61 took us on a variety of detours, down all sorts of one-week bye-ways, but ’62 has been marked by big records spending huge chunks of time at the top. Only twelve songs will make #1 in this year, the fourth lowest total in chart history (after 1954, 1992 and 2016, fact fans.) After just three more chart-toppers we will be in 1963: the official start of the ‘Swinging Sixties’ and modern pop music as we know it… Hold on, people. It’s coming.

‘Look at That Girl’, by Guy Mitchell – The UK Number 1s Blog Anniversary Special

This week marks the 1st anniversary of The UK Number 1s Blog (** Trumpet Fanfare**)! In the past year we’ve covered the period from Nov. ’52 to Nov’ 61, with 129 chart-topping songs featured. We’ve survived pre-rock, rode the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, and are now well on our way towards the swinging sixties… Thanks to everyone who has read, followed, commented and enjoyed.

To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to take a short break from the usual countdown to repost seven songs that I have really enjoyed discovering over the past year. These aren’t necessarily the best songs to have topped the charts – there’ll be no Buddy Holly, Johnnie Ray, Connie Francis, Elvis or The Everly Brothers (follow the links if you want to read about them) – as I’ve been listening to, and loving, those artists for years. This week will be all about the forgotten gems, the hits I’d never heard before, the songs that have slipped through the cracks…

Song Number Three is by the artist that I’ve ‘discovered’ the most over the past year. I’d heard the name ‘Guy Mitchell’ before, but didn’t know any of his songs. His career was the 1950s – he was a regular in the Top 10 between 1952-’59, with four #1s along the way. ‘Look at That Girl’ was his 2nd, and I’ve picked it as I think it was the 1st ‘modern’ pop song (verse-chorus etc) to top the charts, and it was also the first to feature a guitar solo! Plus, he had a voice every bit as sexy and smooth as Elvis. Enjoy!

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Look at That Girl, by Guy Mitchell (his 2nd of four #1s)

6 weeks, from 11th September to 23rd October 1953

Ladies and Gentlemena, we are finally rocking and rolling. The invasion is here!

Not at first, mind. We begin on familiar territory. We’ve got the jaunty guitars from ‘Don’t Let the Stars…’ and Mitchell’s previous #1, ‘She Wears Red Feathers’ (compared to which this is ten times better!), and some trumpets (or clarinets, or bassoons, whatever…), and Mitchell’s voice still sounds like he thinks he should be singing a comedy number.

Look at that girl, she’s like a dream come true… Ah look at that girl, can blue eyes be so blue…? But this is no simple song of longing. No, Sir. It turns out the girl is already his. We think. With each word my heart just skips, oh if I could kiss those lips… He’s keeping it ambiguous. Maybe they’ve got a thing going. Maybe not.

And as the song goes on – we start to rock. And I don’t mean ROCK (tongue out, fist raised). I mean ‘rock’, like it’s 1953. There are hand-claps. Mm-hmm. And a guitar. Woo! And Mitchell has a little call and response with the backing singers, when they take the lead lyric Look at that girl… and he quips back I don’t believe it they’re making it up! And then there are the lyrics: the kissing, the holding her tight… Pass the smelling salts…

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It sounds to me as if a battle is taking place here, between traditional easy-listening and the burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll movement. On the one hand you’ve got the usual twee backing singers and floaty trumpets, parping away at the end of each line; on the other you have the hand claps and the guitar solo. That’s right. Solo. In a symbolic move, the trumpets begin the solo and play it in tandem with the guitar for a couple of bars, before the guitar takes it over completely.

And having said that Mitchell sings the song with a slight giggle in his voice, after the 3rd or 4th listen it works. He’s having a good time. We’re having a good time. He’s a nice singer – he sounds like he could be belting it out if he wanted to, but he doesn’t. The song doesn’t require belting out (That’s something old Eddie Fisher could have learned to look out for…)

If you stick with this blog for long enough, you’ll soon see I’m a sucker for a straight-up, unpretentious pop song. A couple of verses, couple of choruses, a solo and a final verse. Maybe a key change. Then finish. The sort of song that sounds simple but is pretty darn hard to get right. (I say, having never even attempted to write a song in my life). This is one such song. And I like it. It’s my favourite so far.