433. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie

Picking up where Ian Dury and the Blockheads left off, Blondie enter the scene with another tight groove. Disco and rock are colliding here, in the early weeks of 1979, and the results are magnificent.

Heart of Glass, by Blondie (their 1st of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 28th January – 25th February 1979

When we come to monster hits like ‘Heart of Glass’, part of me is happy (it’s a great song) and part of me is frustrated (everything that needs to be said about it has been said before.) See also ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘Get It On’… Sometimes this job’d be easier if every #1 was rank-rotten! But we will persevere. Nobody will be sad about giving this classic yet another spin…

The melody is great, for a start. The disco beat paired up with churning, writhing synths. Our 3rd ‘New Wave’ chart-topper finally sounds like what I think New Wave should sound like. When the organs come into the mix, and then the wall-of-sound drums, you’re in finger kissing perfection territory. The breathy, husky backing vocals – dum da dum, dadadada dum da – are wonderful too.

But the real star of the show – the star of this uber cool NYC gang – is the lead singer. Many are the tales of the sexual awakenings wrought upon Britain’s teenage boys by Debbie Harry in the late-seventies (and the sexual re-awakenings of their fathers, pretending not to watch the TV). Her vocals are stunning here. High-pitched, and ice cold: Once had a love, And it was a gas… Soon found out, Had a heart of glass…

She doesn’t bother singing in full sentences, and sprinkles fun Americanisms – mucho mistrust… and we coulda made it cruisin’… around the place. Best of all, she sings about heartbreak, about her glass-hearted lover, as if the loss is all his. She knows she’s hot, and that she won’t be single for long. Half of the time you can’t understand what she’s saying – in researching the lyrics for this post I realise that I’ve been singing the wrong lyrics for years. Riding high, I’m lost to the good life… is actually Riding high, On love’s true bluish light… for example.

I know I’ve moaned a lot about recent chart-toppers going on for too long, but when it comes to this record then the longer the better. Mainly because the 12” version has the drum-machine intro missing from the 7”, and the song’s sassiest line: Soon turned out, To be a pain in the ass… In actual fact, there are so many edits of this song that there’s a version for everyone: intro, no intro, third verse, no third verse, extended disco breakdown…

Originally, when Blondie first recorded the demos for this song, several years before it was a hit, they called it ‘The Disco Song’. And you can see why. They were already a chart force, with guitar driven post-punk hits like ‘Denis’ and ‘Hangin’ on the Telephone’ before this took them stratospheric (and caused an inevitable, ‘Disco Sucks’ backlash.) They’ll be the biggest band in the land for the next couple of years, with one of the strongest ever runs of #1 singles, starting right here. Don’t go anywhere!

432. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads

Officially into 1979, then. The end of the decade is in sight. Meanwhile, a funky groove slinks in…

Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 21st – 28th January 1979

We start mid-riff, and it feels like the doors to a club have just opened wide, filling the night with possibilities. And yes, this is definitely a song you can dance to. But it is so much more than that. For starters, we’re off on a trip around the world…

In the deserts of Sudan, And the gardens of Japan… we see Milan, then Yucatan. Every woman, Every man… Taking up where the Village People left off, there’s more innuendo ahoy: Hit me with your rhythm stick, Hit me slowly, Hit me quick! Is it about dancing? Is it about sex? Or is it about both? After about thirty seconds, does anybody care?

There’s a lot to love here. The whiplash sound effects after each Hit me! The frenzied piano that comes in midway through. The angry saxophone solo, which includes a note so jarring that it would ruin many a lesser song. But the main highlight is Ian Dury’s vocal performance. He sings, he croons in cockney, he squeals, he rolls certain sounds around in his mouth as if they were a fine brandy.

Contrast the way he caresses Borneo with the way he barks, in German: Das ist gut, Ich liebe dich! And the way every Me! is different. Mu-eeeh! Meeeeaaah! May! And my personal favourite, the one where he dog-whistles as if his bollocks are in a clamp. We’re four hundred and thirty two #1s in, and there can’t have been any with a lead singer so energetic, so enthusiastic, so borderline unhinged. Ian Dury had been a singer for many a year before forming The Blockheads in 1977. A bout of polio as a child had left him with a withered left arm and leg, but he was an enigmatic performer. In his very own words, from this very same single: It’s nice to be a lunatic!

It must be hard to write a song so strikingly inventive, and yet so dumbly catchy. It works on all levels. It is New Wave, I’d say, but sounds so different from our first New Wave chart-topper, ‘Rat Trap’, proving just how hard a genre this is to pin down. By the end, as the choppy guitars come in, and we clunk to an abrupt ending, as Dury howls his HIT ME!!s over the maelstrom, things have suddenly gotten very punk. We may never have had a real ‘punk’ #1, but the movement did at least pull aside the drain covers, allowing wonderful weirdos like Ian and his Blockheads to emerge.

They weren’t around for long, but The Blockheads did manage one further Top 10 single, ‘Reasons to Be Cheerful, Pt. 3’, on which Dury performs what must be one of the British chart’s first raps. He passed away in 2000, from cancer, but his legacy lives on. There’s ‘Spasticus Autisticus’, for example: a provocative riposte to what Dury saw as the patronising ‘International Year of Disabled Persons’, there’s ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll’, and his acting. But above all, there’s this crazy little one-week wonder, perhaps the ultimate ‘January #1’. Go on then … Hit me, one more time! (No wait, wrong song…)

431. ‘Y.M.C.A.’, by Village People

Hitting #1 on the very last day of 1978… And what better soundtrack for your NYE party?

Y.M.C.A., by Village People (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 31st December 1978 – 21st January 1979

It’s an intro that pricks your ears right up. Disco drums, and an ominous foghorn. Once, twice, thrice… Just enough time to steamroller your way from the bar to the dancefloor. Then it explodes. Some songs build to a climax; this is four and bit minutes of pure climax. Exuberant – that’s the word I’d use. The horn blasts, the lead singers’ full throated vocals, the chorus. Nobody ever came away from listening to ‘Y.M.C.A.’ feeling sadder than before it started.

Young man! There’s no need to feel down… A small-town boy steps off the Greyhound bus in downtown NYC. The Big Apple. He looks up at the skyscrapers and gulps. Where should he go first…? Luckily for him he meets a kindly cowboy, policeman, builder, biker, soldier and, um, native American who offer to show him the ropes. It’s fun to stay at the YMCA, they tell him… They have everything for young men to enjoy, You can hang out with all the boys…

The one bit of trivia that everyone knows about the Village People is that only the cowboy was gay. Or was it the cop? Or the construction worker…? OK. Everyone knows that only one of the six was gay. (Actually, almost every source I checked says something different. They were all gay. Half of them were gay. The cop was the only straight one…) Either way, ‘Y.M.C.A’ is a pretty gay song. There is very little coding going on. I assume that people in 1978 knew perfectly well what these muscular, moustachioed men were hinting at… (I wasn’t around, so would welcome input from those who were…)

Which means that – despite the song having morphed into a kids party, wedding disco, nudge nudge wink wink bit of pantomime – this is a pretty significant moment in pop music history. Gay culture rammed down the throats – so to speak – of granny and grandad as they sat through Top of the Pops. However, one of the song’s writers, Henry Willis, claimed that it was simply a straight-faced run through of the wholesome activities on offer at your nearest Young Man’s Christian Association. Which is certainly one way to read it…

Anyway, back to the song. My favourite bit is one that your average wedding DJ cuts off, on the 12” version, when the horns take over and we sashay to a glorious finish. There’s a hint of melancholy about the ending. Our young man, freshly scrubbed and fed, still has to make his way in the big city. Maybe he’s been chucked out of his home? How will he survive? Also, knowing now that AIDS was but a couple of years away when this hit #1 adds even further poignancy.

Apparently, a few years ago Village People claimed they would sue anyone who referred to ‘Y.M.C.A.’ as a ‘gay anthem’. Which feels like a pretty late attempt to rewrite history. Any band that names itself after New York’s gay district, dresses one of its members up as a leather daddy, and releases songs like ‘Y.M.C.A’, ‘Macho Man’, and ‘In the Navy’ (can’t you see we need a hand…) will struggle to pass that argument off in court.

Still, subtexts aside, this is a song that everyone can enjoy, and that everyone still does enjoy. A song that, for me, will never really be ruined through over-exposure. A song that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves as high-quality pop. And, even though it hit the top on Hogmanay ’78, I’m counting it as Part I of early 1979’s run of classic chart-toppers. More of which are coming up very, very soon.

PS. Interestingly, the famous spell-out-the-letters-with-your-arms-above your-head dance doesn’t feature in this original video. Not sure when that became regulation…

430. ‘Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord’, by Boney M

One of this blog’s main drawbacks rears its head once again: Christmas songs in July. Oh well… Boney M’s 2nd discalypso hymn of the year. Ready?

Mary’s Boy Child / Oh My Lord, by Boney M (their 2nd of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 3rd – 31st December 1978

It’s a wonder why more acts don’t do this: rush out a Christmas single while at the peak of their popularity. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because the results might sound a bit like this… The steel drums are back, the insistent, steady pace of ‘Rivers of Babylon’ remains. It could be the same, karaoke-ish backing track.

But we do get off to a positive start when I realise that ‘Mary’s Boy Child’ / ‘Oh My Lord’ is not the double ‘A’-side I’d first feared; but a medley. Our first (official) chart-topping medley! (*Edit* Since Winnie Atwell.) And thank goodness because, for my money, the ‘Oh My Lord’ section – newly written by Boney M’s founder Frank Farian – is the best thing about this song. Oh my Lord, When in the crib they found him, Oh my Lord, A golden halo around him… as a backing singer harmonises. It’s nice.

We’ve heard the main bit of song atop the charts before, of course, way back in 1957. Harry Belafonte’s treatment of it was a bit more hushed and reverential. Not that Boney M sound sacrilegious or anything – they do sound genuinely Christian – but it’s hard to sound too pious with that rinky-dink Eurodisco backing. One thing that does work is the way that the band’s Caribbean accents add a slight gospel flavour to the vocals.

One thing that seems to be a very late-seventies phenomenon is the length of our chart-topping singles. This must be the era of the longest average #1. The 7” of this ditty runs to close on six minutes, while the 12” keeps things running for another minute or so. Why, oh why? Pop songs rarely need to run over 3.5 minutes, I’d say, yet disco seemed to encourage indulgence.

Again, as the song plods on and the minutes pass, my mind turns to wondering why this, and ‘Rivers of Babylon’, gave Boney M their pair of chart-toppers, and not ‘Rasputin’, ‘Daddy Cool’, ‘Sunny’, even ‘Ma Baker’… Rare is it, I suppose, for an artist to be properly represented by their chart positions. Anyway, this was the fourth festive themed Christmas #1 of the 1970s – after Slade, Mud and Johnny Mathis – making it officially the Christmassiest decade ever. It’ll be six years until the next one. But, on the plus side, we are about to enter 1979, and are on the cusp of some all-time great chart-topping singles. Bring it on!

429. ‘Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?’, by Rod Stewart

And so we come to one of the most misunderstood chart-toppers. This record has been parodied, mocked, hated…

Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?, by Rod Stewart (his 5th of six #1s)

1 week, from 26th November – 3rd December 1978

But more on that in a bit. For a moment, let’s just enjoy the disco drums, and that well-known synth riff. Let’s enjoy the bass line. Let’s enjoy the fact that Rod Stewart’s 5th number one single is not an acoustic ballad. She sits alone, Waiting for suggestions… He’s so nervous, Avoidin’ all the questions… It’s a song about two shy people hooking up in a bar. At least, wanting to hook up in a bar. What should they say to break the ice? Luckily, Rod has a not-so-subtle suggestion…

If you want my body, And you really need me, Come on sugar let me know… It works. She calls her mother, and they’re back off to his place for a night of passion. Problem is… nobody seems to realise that that’s what this song is about. People know the chorus, and think that Rod Stewart’s singing about himself. They think he’s full of it, he’s disappeared up himself, he’s ridiculous… And it would be ridiculous, to write a song like this, about yourself. But that’s not what’s happening.

I say this as someone who knew the chorus and little else before writing this post. I assumed that Rod had let himself be swept up in the hedonism of disco. I pictured him singing this to himself in a nightclub of mirrors, coked off his tits. But no. He’s telling a story, as he does in so many of his songs. The line about them waking up the next morning and being out of milk and coffee is an observation straight out of ‘Maggie May’. And the middle eight is glorious: Relax baby, Now we’re all alone…

Of course, it’s not hard to see why this is seen as something of a novelty. The title, for a start. Plus, Rod made the dubious decision to play the song’s male protagonist in the video, frolicking on a bed with a gorgeous blonde. (Well, why not?) Then there’s the album from which it’s the lead track: ‘Blondes Have More Fun’, and its cover featuring Rod in a clinch with a leopard-print wearing woman. And then there’s the B-side, ‘Dirty Weekend’ – a song I love but not one that could ever be described as ‘classy’…

There is one other reason why some don’t like this disc. It is, pretty unashamedly, disco. Rock stars shouldn’t do disco! Disco, as many would start to claim around the time this hit #1, sucks! (These people were idiots; but their opinions stuck. Disco is heading for one final, glorious swansong, before crashing and burning.) At least this song not boring, or earnest, or acoustic… It’s not perfect. The sax solo is extravagantly long. In fact, the whole song is extravagantly long, as the age of the disco 12” demanded.

In my mind, ‘Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?’ exists first and foremost as a Eurodance remix, by N-Trance, which was a #7 hit when I was twelve or so (I had it on cassette…) And as a sketch by the late Kenny Everett, a good friend of Rod, in which he prances around as Rod to this song, with a ridiculously oversized arse. It has left a cultural legacy, this record, for better or worse. Which means it’s still a famous chart-topper and, underneath it all, a pretty darn good one!

428. ‘Rat Trap’, by The Boomtown Rats

Well, here we go then. The last big musical movement of the 1970s claims its first number one single. Time to ride a new wave…

Rat Trap, by The Boomtown Rats (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 12th – 26th November 1978

New Wave is a genre I’d struggle to describe. I know what it is, when it was, who its stars were… But it’s such a mish-mash of sounds that it might not actually be a genre at all. Is it punk? Ska? Synth-pop? A little smidgen of all those? For such an eclectic movement, this next record might be the perfect introduction.

‘Rat Trap’ is a mini rock-opera, telling the story of Billy, a dissatisfied youth: Billy don’t like it living here in this town, He says the traps have been sprung long before he was born… He’s bored and wants a fight, for want of something better to do. Musically there’s a lot going on here, as we swing from glam throwback to funky disco synths, and at times that busyness hides a very articulate piece of songwriting.

I like the line about ‘pus and grime oozing from scab-crusted sores’… And the momentum behind You’re young and good-looking and you’re acting kinda tough… Then there’s a trippy mid-section where Billy seems to be taking life advice from some traffic lights: Walk, Don’t walk, Talk, Don’t talk… as a tight, funky riff takes us downtown.

I think the main thing that defines New Wave is a playfulness, a willingness to not follow the rules of ‘rock’ that were laid down twenty-odd years before. ‘Rat Trap’ is certainly that. It’s a busy song – it reminds me of Wizzard in a way – but one that doesn’t get tired quickly. It’s high-grade pop: instantly catchy, but still layered and intelligent. It may not sound very punk – though the guitars are very spiky and sparse – but it is definitely ‘punk’ in attitude and subject matter.

Towards the end, Judy is introduced: a girl whose parents are arguing while Top of the Pops is on. She leaves, 50p in her pocket, and finds a drunk Billy in the Italian café. And if you expected a happy ending, two lovebirds running off to the bright lights of the big city… well, nope. It’s a rat trap, Judy… Billy announces… And we’ve been… CAUGHT! Cue a rocking outro. Rat trap, You’ve been caught in a…

I’m not sure how I know this song, but it’s one I’ve had in rotation for years. When people nowadays think of the Boomtown Rats, and lead-singer Bob Geldof in particular, they think of their second number one single, or Band Aid, and him generally being quite outspoken (“Give us yer fuckin’ money!”) But ‘Rat Trap’ deserves better than to be overshadowed. Coming after a long run of easy-listening numbers, soundtrack hits and Boney M, it sounds very fresh and daring. On Top of the Pops (is this the 1st chart-topper to knowingly reference the show in its lyrics?) Geldof ripped a picture of John Travolta in two as the band were announced as the nation’s new number one single. Plus, if nothing else, the Boomtown Rats were the first Irish band to score a UK #1 single. They won’t be the last…

427. ‘Summer Nights’, by John Travolta & Olivia Newton-John

Fresh from dominating the singles charts in the summer, the ‘Grease’ soundtrack returns to dominate the autumn too…

Summer Nights, by John Travolta (his 2nd of two #1s) & Olivia Newton-John (her 2nd of three #1s) & Cast

7 weeks, from 24th September – 12th November 1978

I really like this song. I like it more than ‘You’re the One That I Want’. But there are a couple of issues that need mentioning before I start gushing. First, and unlike the earlier hit, ‘Summer Nights’ doesn’t work as well away from the film. Who are all these people singing? Why are all these people singing? Second, the backing track sounds a little bit ‘cheap karaoke’ (though that may be due to me hearing this song performed way too many times at way too many cheap karaoke nights…)

OK. On to the good bits. ‘Summer Nights’ comes right at the start of the film, on the first day back at school after summer. Sandy’s still a good little virgin; Danny’s a horny stud muffin. At least, that’s what they want their friends to think… He got friendly, Holding my hand… trills Sandy… She got friendly, Down in the sa-a-and… leers Danny. He was sweet, Just turned eighteen… She was good, You know what I mean…  Who’s telling the truth? You suspect neither of them.

As a kid, I loved the fact that ‘Grease’ is far filthier than many seem to notice. I couldn’t believe my mum – a churchgoer who once tried to stop me watching ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’ – was letting me watch a film with references to ‘hookers’ and ‘pussy wagons’. (And I just noticed, genuinely for the first time, Travolta’s ‘fingering technique’ on the took her bowling line.) How this has become a high school musical standard amazes me. Meanwhile, looking back now, I love how they really nail the teenage boys versus teenage girls dynamic: Tell me more, tell me more… Did you get very far? ask the boys. Tell me more, tell me more… Like does he have a car? reply the girls.

One reason I like this more than ‘You’re the One…’ is that it’s an ensemble number. All the cast get a look in. Marty gets the ‘car’ line. Kenickie gets the song’s most dubious line: Did she put up a fight?! While Rizzo steals the show with her bored… Cos he sounds like a drag… I like the final couplet the best, as they deal purely in practicalities: How much dough did he spend? and Could she get me a friend?

The very end, though, is reserved for our two lovebirds. Then we made our true love vow… Wonder what she’s doin’ now… (Well I got news for you, Danny…) And then comes the iconic ending, where the fun fifties throwback flips to a Jim Steinman rock opera. Summer dreams, Ripped at the seams… followed by Travolta’s strangely camp Ohhh… and a dog-whistle high end note. Drums cascade and the backing singers rise to the occasion.

Here then ends John Travolta’s short but spectacular chart-topping career. Olivia Newton-John will be back, with another duet. I wonder if her three #1s with three duets is some kind of record? Anyway. Both stars also got a #2 solo hit from this soundtrack: ‘Hopelessly Devoted to You’ for Newton-John and ‘Sandy’ for Travolta. ‘Greased Lightnin’ was also released, only making it to #11 as ‘Grease’ fever abated. And I can’t end without mentioning the ‘Grease Megamix’, a mash-up of ‘You’re the One…’, ‘Summer Nights’ and ‘Greased Lightnin’, that made #3 in 1991, and that must have soundtracked every single primary school disco for the rest of that decade. Those were the days…

426. ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, by 10cc

For the final act in their chart-topping trilogy, 10cc take on a sound that has grown in popularity throughout the seventies: reggae.

Dreadlock Holiday, by 10cc (their 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 17th – 24th September 1978

Except, this isn’t the 10cc of ‘Rubber Bullets’ or ‘I’m Not in Love’. And I don’t mean that in the sense of it not being as good as those earlier chart-toppers (though that’s partly true…) I mean it in the sense that the band had split in two a year or so earlier. Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left due to creative differences; Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart remained.

It’s a song about a summer holiday… Or is it a song about a robbery? Or a song about small moments of cultural exchange and understanding? I don’t like cricket… I love it! says the Jamaican who may be about to nick a necklace. (Except, cricket is pretty darn popular in the West Indies. Even I know that!) I don’t like reggae… I love it! replies the Brit.

It’s a song based on a holiday Stewart had had in Barbados, where he’d seen tourists trying to be cool around the locals. Think ‘Pretty Fly For a White Guy’ twenty years ahead of time. Don’t you walk through my words… sings the Jamaican… You got to show me some respect… Of course, to my 21st century snowflake ears, white people putting on Jamaican accents and singing about a ‘brother from the gutter’ jars, as it did during Typically Tropical’s ‘Barbados’. But… what’s the point of moaning about it, really? It is what it is, and it clearly comes from a place of affection.

The affection only increases in the final verse, when the singer makes it back to his hotel pool unscathed. Once there, a beautiful woman offers him her ‘harvest’ – and I’m genuinely undecided as to whether this means sex or a big bag of weed. Either way he’s thrilled. Don’t like Jamaica… I love her!

Stepping back and viewing 10cc’s three chart-toppers from afar, you’d be hard pushed to tell they were from the same band. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is the one I enjoyed most: a zany, glam-rock allegory for the unrest in Northern Ireland. ‘I’m Not in Love’ is objectively their masterpiece: a ghostly, six-minute opus of overdubs and experimentation. ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ isn’t as good as those two, for my money, as it sags in the middle and starts to drag towards the end. But it’s still got that hook – possibly the band’s most remembered line – and is another welcome interlude of clever, well-crafted arty pop.

This was 10cc’s final #1, and their final Top 10. The hits dried up pretty swiftly after this record dropped out the charts. But the manner in which their chart-toppers span the seventies is impressive. ‘Rubber Bullets’ was rubbing shoulders with Slade and Gary Glitter, and they were long gone from the Top 10 by 1978. Impressive longevity, in a fast-changing pop scene. We bid them farewell here, then. Here’s to a cool band, never dull, always trying something new, and by far the best pop group to be named after the average amount of semen in a single male ejaculation…

425. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores

We are racing through 1978 now. In the space of just three #1s, we’ve leapt from early May to late September. And I thought we’d escaped, really I did. I thought we’d finally pulled ourselves from the late-seventies easy-listening swamp. But, just as we wrenched our back feet free from the sludge, Lionel Richie grabs us by the ankles and drags us back down…

Three Times a Lady, by The Commodores (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 13th August – 17th September 1978

Let’s start with the positives. I know this chorus, can sing this chorus, can drop this chorus jokingly into everyday counting situations… You’re once, Twice, Three times a lady… without ever having properly listened to the rest of the song. Which is a sign of a certain ubiquity, of a song’s place among the big boys. What does it mean, to be ‘three times a lady’? I had hoped it might be something dirty… But, apparently Richie wrote it after hearing his dad describe his mum as a great lady, a great friend and a great mother.

I must have heard the rest of this song, surely, but I can’t remember doing so. In fact, I’ve listened to this song several times in writing these past two and a bit paragraphs, and have already forgotten everything but the chorus. I am listening to it right now, and it is still not going in. It is background music, plain and simple.

Lionel’s voice is nice, the piano is nice, the percussion is… nice, I guess? But Good Lord it’s dull. Ballads like this are always at a disadvantage with me, but the best can pull through and convince. (Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ was one such fairly recent example.) But here, chorus aside, it’s too slow, it’s not catchy, it’s nowhere near OTT enough (unlike Richie’s solo chart-topper…)

Just once does the song break away from its plod. Before the final chorus it builds, some drums and cymbals enter, and some backing vocalists harmonise… But it’s gone. The pace slows again and we trudge towards the end. It is genuinely terrifying to discover that the album version of ‘Three Times a Lady’ runs to almost seven minutes! Give whoever at Motown records decided to chop three minutes off for the 7” a medal.

The Commodores had been around for a few years before this gave them a trans-Atlantic #1. ‘Easy’ was their big breakthrough in the UK (it’s better than ‘Three Times…’, but I’d still be picking holes in it had it been a chart-topper…) They did release upbeat, funky tunes – try their debut single ‘Machine Gun’ – but sadly that wasn’t what sold. Lionel Richie left the band in 1980, and went to absolutely dominate the next decade on the Billboard chart. The remaining Commodores kept at it though, to decent success, and are still active today.

Remembering Rosemary Clooney

Another short trip back to the earliest days of the charts, when big-lunged men such as Al Martino, David Whitfield and Frankie Laine were dominating the #1 position with earnest declarations of love and faith. Elvis hadn’t arrived yet, Sinatra wasn’t the teen heart-throb of a decade before… The charts needed some sexiness, some fun…

Thank God for the girls, then. Girls like Rosemary Clooney. I’ve already posted on Kay Starr and Winifred Atwell, two contemporaries of Clooney, who brought a jazzy playfulness to their chart-topping records. But Miss Clooney, who scored Britain’s 25th and 28th #1 singles, went a step further, and brought mad-cap craziness to the pop charts.

First up came ‘This Ole House’, in November ’54. A raucous, honky tonk piano-led tale of a rundown house whose elderly inhabitant is waiting to meet the saints… There can have been very few hit songs to reference oiling hinges and fixing shingle… Here she is performing it live, and with slightly more restraint, in the ’80s.

Then just weeks later, she was back with an even better hit. Clooney was of Irish/German extraction, but that didn’t stop her hamming up an invented Italian side. The lyrics are basically nonsense, with nods to Italian, Spanish, Mexican and Neapolitan. (Sample lyric: Hey mambo, no more a-Mozzarella…) Again the energy and playfulness really stood out next to its dully earnest contemporaries. (See also her earlier hit ‘Botch a Me’ if you like the cod-Italian vibes.) ‘Mambo Italiano’ lives on in a way that few pre-rock hits do. It was remixed back into the charts in the early ’00s, and sampled more recently by Lady Gaga and Iggy Azalea.

Rosemary Clooney’s career trajectory was pretty standard for a post-war pop star. From singing with big bands, to a record label, to big hits and on to TV and films – her most famous one probably being ‘White Christmas’ alongside Bing Crosby. What wasn’t so standard was Clooney’s sleeping pill and tranquilliser dependency that developed through the sixties, that ended with her in psychoanalytic therapy for eight years.

She survived, though, came back and continued to record throughout the remainder of her life. Her final performance came just six months before she died of lung cancer in 2002. One of the pall bearers at her funeral was her nephew, George.

Rosemary Clooney, May 23rd 1928 – June 29th 2002