272. ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, by The Beatles

Well then. For one last time, for the 17th time in just over six years, for the 67th, 68th and 69th weeks in total… The Beatles top the UK singles chart.

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The Ballad of John and Yoko, by The Beatles (their 17th and final #1)

3 weeks, from 11th June – 2nd July 1969

Coming so hot on the heels of ‘Get Back’ – only 1 week of Tommy Roe splits them – ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ sounds like an off-cut from the same recording session. It’s a bit rough and ready, there are the same squiggly guitars that we heard on ‘Get Back’, the same country-rock feel… Famously it features only John and Paul, no George or Ringo. I know it didn’t happen like this, but I do like to imagine the pair – the most famous song writing partners in British rock history – waiting behind after all the others had gone home for the day, putting their ever-growing differences aside and recording one last smash hit in a semi-lit studio.

As the title suggests, this is the story of John and his new wife Yoko, and the story of their marriage. They tried to get married in Paris, managed to do it in Gibraltar, and honeymooned in Amsterdam, in the face of some stiff opposition. All told over a simple riff, with Lennon’s vocals growing ever angrier as the verses rattle on.

I get about half the references… Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton, Talkin’ in our beds for a week… = the pair’s ‘Bed-In’ against the Vietnam War. The newspapers said, She’s gone to his head, They look just like two gurus in drag… = Lennon’s feelings of victimisation around his divorce and his new, foreign wife. The way things are goin’, They’re gonna crucify me… A cheeky reference to Lennon’s remarks from a few years earlier, about The Beatles being bigger than Jesus.

Other references are more obscure. The trip to Vienna, eating chocolate cake in a bag is a reference to their ‘bagism’ phase, where they wore bags over their heads in a statement against racial prejudice (everyone looks the same in a bag, right?) The fifty acorns tied in a sack? That took some digging, but is apparently about a pair of acorn trees that John and Yoko planted in the grounds of Coventry Cathedral.

And then there’s the blasphemy. The Christ! that kicks off every chorus – I always enjoyed shouting it out in the car as a kid – with the final one being particularly venomous. Perhaps predictably, this caused a big kerfuffle in the States, with several radio stations at best bleeping the word out or, at worst, refusing to play the record at all. The BBC avoided it, too. 1969 is truly becoming the year in which swearing makes it to the top of the charts, after Peter Sarstedt’s ‘damn’ in ‘Where Do You Go To…’ Meanwhile, in Spain, ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’ caused controversy not because of the Christ!s but because of the references to Gibraltar being ‘near’ Spain. As far as Franco was concerned, Gibraltar was very much part of Spain, muchas gracias

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Is it slightly disappointing that this song is the final Beatle’s record we get to hear in this countdown? Before writing, I would have said yes; but the more I listen and the more I find out about this record, I’m not so sure. It’s John at his spikiest, it’s Lennon and McCartney reunited, it’s quite funny in places… Sure it doesn’t sound much like The Beatles, but what Beatles #1 since 1966 has? Plus, the riff that closes out ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’, the final notes of their final number one, is lifted from an old rock ‘n’ roll number, ‘Lonesome Tears in My Eyes’, by Johnny Burnette, which The Beatles, or The Quarrymen, used to play way back in the early days. Which is lovely.

I was going to rank all The Beatles 17 #1s in order of preference, but to be honest I can’t face it. I’d need a spare half-day to decide… Of course, this isn’t their final hit single. ‘Come Together’, ‘Something’, ‘Let It Be’ and ‘The Long and Winding Road’ are all still to come. Abbey Road hasn’t been released yet. But, the limitations of this blog are clear: if it doesn’t get to #1 then it doesn’t get a look-in.

And, of course, John, Paul and George will pop up many, many more times in this countdown as solo stars, as part of new bands, in re-releases and in amongst charity singles, well into the 2000s. There is only one man we need to bid farewell to here, then. Ringo. He will go on to achieve great things without bothering over the trifling business of topping the pop charts; namely narrating ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’, and becoming the most influential voice of my pre-school days… (apologies to my parents.)

271. ‘Dizzy’, by Tommy Roe

Into the next thirty #1s, with perhaps the most ‘sixties’ sounding chart-topper that we’ve come across yet. It’s pure swinging-sixties montage music, a pop song that you would use in between scenes in an Austin Powers movie. You can see swirling lava-lamp colours, and mini-skirted girls jiving. Yeah baby!

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Dizzy, by Tommy Roe (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 4th – 11th June 1969

It’s a song that just about manages to stay on the right side of ‘cool’, rather than ‘cheesy.’ And considering that this is a song that uses terms like ‘fellas’ and ‘sweet pet’ in its lyrics, that’s a pretty impressive feat. It’s catchy, that’s for sure, and the drums are real swingin’. The strings too, have a kind of tongue-in-cheek drama to them. Plus, I keep losing count of how many key changes are crammed into its three minute run-time.

The title itself is also very sixties. ‘Dizzy’, because he’s in love, man. You’re makin’ me dizzy, My head is spinnin’, Like a whirlpool it never ends… I’d say it’s a chorus that’s entered the common tongue – though whether that’s down to this original or the comedy version that will take it back to the top of the charts in twenty years’ time I don’t know.

I prefer the pre-chorus, though – one that builds up an irresistible head of steam: Girl you’ve got control of me, Cos I’m so dizzy I can’t see, I need to call a doctor for some help… I like it. A nice palate-cleanser of a disc. A short, sweet blast of late-sixties goodness.

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Tommy Roe’s story is quite interesting. ‘Dizzy’ was a huge comeback for a singer who had failed to have a chart hit of any kind in the UK since 1962-63, when he had had big success with the Buddy Holly influenced ‘Sheila’ – a US #1. Considering the massive changes in popular music that have happened in the past seven years, this was a pretty impressive feat. Not that the comeback lasted very long… One #24 follow-up single and that was that.

Still, it might go some way to explaining the winning combination of bubble-gum and mild psychedelica that makes ‘Dizzy’ such a funky pop tune. One foot in the past, one very much in the present. Tommy Roe continued to record and tour throughout the seventies and eighties, before announcing his retirement officially in 2018, aged seventy-five.

Top 10s – The Kinks

Time for a Top 10! When you think of British beat bands from the 1960s – AKA ‘British Invasion’ bands in the US – you think The Beatles, yup, then The Stones, okay, then…

Who were the 3rd biggest band of the decade? So many beat combos rose and fell during that time – The Searchers, Manfred Mann, The Tremeloes, The Hollies, the list goes on – but I’d stick my neck out and say that in the bronze medal position stand The Kinks. (There is also, of course, The Who, but they never made #1 in the UK, and so I have to pretend they never existed.)

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And because of publishing rights preventing huge sixties acts like Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones from appearing on the ’60s compilations that my parents owned, The Kinks were probably the first band I truly remember being aware of, and thinking this sounds good… (Well, them and The Spice Girls…)

Led by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, The Kinks gave us some of the best pop singles, not just of the decade but, let’s be honest, of all time. And they changed and experimented like the two bigger bands of the time, in their own, unique, Kinks-y way. Here’s my Top 10. (As before, to qualify for my list a song has to have been a chart hit in the UK – no album tracks or B-sides allowed…)

10. ‘See My Friends’, 1965, reached # 10

One of their smaller, early hits, in which their trademark crunchy guitar is twinned with a droney, sitar-sounding vibe. Released a few months after ‘Ticket to Ride’, and before ‘Norwegian Wood’, it puts The Kinks right at the forefront of pop’s sonic expansion. Not a sound they would keep up for long, but proof that they were a very versatile band.

9. ‘Come Dancing’, 1982, reached #12

The Kinks released music throughout the seventies and eighties and I really tried to include more of their later singles in this list… but, to be honest, most of them just aren’t as good as their big sixties hits. With some exceptions… This slice of nostalgia, for example, – a tale of the Davies’s sister going out dancing to the ‘Pally on a Saturday night. Years later I realised that, even though he sings about his sister in the present tense – If I asked her, I wonder if she would… Come dancing… – she had in fact died when they were young boys. Which gives this swansong hit an even more bittersweet edge.

8. ‘You Really Got Me’, 1964, reached #1

A sledgehammer riff, that many have claimed invented heavy metal, punk rock and more. The band’s 3rd single and first hit, it still sounds raw and wild in 2020, and must have sounded even more wonderful at the time. Read my original post here.

7. ‘Autumn Almanac’, 1967, reached #3

One that I used to dislike, but have really grown to love in recent years… I like my football, On a Saturday, Roast beef on Sundays, All right… While many bands went psychedelic in 1967, the Kinks were singing about toasted currant buns and going to Blackpool for their holidays… And the fuzzy guitar before the chorus? Great stuff.

6. ‘Dead End Street’, 1966, reached #5

But The Kinks could also be very cynical in their takes on British society, discs like ‘Dead End Street’ the yin to ‘Autumn Almanac’s yang. There’s a crack up in the ceiling, And the kitchen sink is leaking… while the music hall pianos play. Apparently it was banned by the BBC for being too biting! You can hear the debt bands like Blur would owe to The Kinks thirty years later, too…

5. ‘Lola’, 1970, reached #2

One of their last big hits. A man falls for a ‘lady’ who walks like a woman but talks like man… It attracted some controversy at the time, and still does today. But any song with a line like Girls will be boys, And boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, Except for Lola… is all right by me. Live your life, love who you love… Fun fact: I once performed this song live to a school-hall full of bemused looking Thai children.

4. ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, 1966, reached #4

The first Kinks’ song I loved, and it’s probably higher in the list than it should be if I weren’t being so subjective. A simply skiffle riff and Ray’s arched-eyebrow, high-camp delivery. More social commentary, aimed light-heartedly at the dapper men about town in the swinging sixties. Their clothes were loud, but never square…

3. ‘All Day and All Of the Night’, 1964, reached #2

The Kinks’ second big hit single, and very much an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach to songwriting. It sounds like ‘You Really Got Me’ Pt II, and turns the crunchy, proto-punk power chords up a notch, which is why I’m placing it higher. As a kid I loved the Oh, come on! and what sounds like someone being strangled before the frenetic solo. Imagine how thrilling / terrifying this must have sounded if you were first hearing it in October ’64.

2. ‘Sunny Afternoon’, 1966, reached #1

A song that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in the Sixties Hall of Fame, maybe because it’s got a pantomime-y edge. Another social commentary, this time in the character of an aristocrat being squeezed by the taxman and a ‘big fat mama’, which is no way to talk about your ex-wife, really. Perfect pop. (And singing it in the snow above seems a very Kinksy thing to do.) Read my original post on this chart-topper here.

1. ‘Waterloo Sunset’, 1967, reached #2

Could it be any other? ‘Waterloo Sunset’ has a Liverpool-like lead at the top of this table. It’s atmospheric, it’s beautiful, it’s haunting. A hymn to those that observe. And somehow it manages to sound like a sunset. When I first visited London, aged eight or so, I remember looking out of my window, hoping to see a Waterloo Sunset, hoping to see Terry and Judy. Sounds ridiculous, but it shows how long this song has been part of my life. At the time, it was kept off the top-spot by the bland ‘Silence Is Golden’. An absolute crime!

I’ll do another Top 10 soon enough. Up next, the 271st UK #1 single…