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…
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!
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!