Happy New Year! We step into 20… I mean 1968, but if you were expecting the penultimate year of the sixties to bring daring news sounds to the top of the UK charts… then keep waiting. The first #1 of the year is a step back in time. To the saloon bars of 1920s America…
The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde, by Georgie Fame (his 3rd and final #1)
1 week, from 24th – 31st January 1968
We’ve got banjos, trombones, honky-tonk pianos, an intro with very strong hints of Fats Domino… To be honest, I love it from the get-go. It’s fun, it’s kinda dumb… It’s a history lessons at number one!
Bonnie and Clyde, Were pretty lookin’ people, But I can tell you people, They were the devil’s children… Georgie Fame’s back for one final moment of glory, but he’s traded the blue-eyed soul for some trad-jazz. He lists the famous duo’s crimes – robbing stores, stealing cars, before they made the graduation into the banking business – and sounds like he’s having a load of fun in doing so.
It’s a chart-topping record with a hefty body count – the bloodiest #1 since ‘Mack the Knife’. Sample line: They left him lyin’ in a pool of blood, And laughed about it all the way home… And it’s a chart-topping record with sound-effects! Getaway cars, sirens and, best of all, a round of carbines as the heroes of the tale meet their end. Yep, Fame sticks to the facts – no riding off into the sunset for Bonnie and Clyde here. And very few #1 singles will ever feature lines like: Actin’ upon, Reliable information, A federal deputation laid a deadly ambush…
It’s odd, isn’t it? A chart-topping single that so glorifies two serial killers. There’s a glamour to Bonnie and Clyde, though, isn’t there? The romance, the fast cars, the cigars… You can’t imagine ‘The Ballad of Harold Shipman’ being such a smash… The famous movie starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway had been a hit the previous year. ‘The Ballad…’ hadn’t featured in the film, but Fame had been inspired to write the song after seeing it.
The record, fittingly, ends on a melodramatic note. A long drawn out coda, in which the duo draw their last breath. And finally together, They died… A few years back, any mention of death in a hit single seemed guaranteed to cause controversy. The Everly Brothers, Ricky Valance and co. all got airplay bans for their ‘death-discs’. Society has clearly moved on during the sixties, in more ways than one. (Though this was apparently censored in the US thanks to the machine-gun sound effects.)
I like it. A completely random interlude to the swinging sixties, the sort of bizarre post-Christmas number one that the charts can sometimes throw up as they wait for the first big hits of the year. Though perhaps we should class Georgie Fame as a ‘big’ artist. This is, after all, his third #1. The same total as The Kinks, The Searchers, Sandie Shaw and other sixties royalty. Two more than Dusty! Three more than The Who and Dylan! Somehow, though, he’s kind of slipped under the radar, with his soulful, bluesy, Latin-tinged hits. I do love the fact that he never had a top ten hit that didn’t make #1. All or nothing for Mr. Fame. He’s now seventy-six, and still performs from time to time. The pop charts of the 1960s were a better place for his sporadic appearances at the top.
1968 is off with a bang, then. Literally, what with the mass shooting that ends this record. I made a point in the last post about 1967 having no one-week chart-toppers, and now the first one of this year has lasted only seven days. Here’s to what’s looking like an eclectic year! Onwards…
Listen to the first fourteen (and a bit) years’ of #1 singles with my handy playlist: