What have we here then? A Christmas novelty that made it to #1 a fortnight too late? I know this song, vaguely – well, the chorus at least – and brace myself to write a terrible review.
Grandad, by Clive Dunn (his 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 3rd – 24th January 1971
Grandad, Grandad, You’re lovely, That’s what we all think of you… And yep, the chorus is truly horrifying. It’s sung by little kids, to their grandpa, but in the creepily lifeless tones of horror-movie children, the sort with shining eyes that lure unsuspecting people into dark, misty forests… However, the song becomes more complex when you get to the verses. This is no saccharine ode to grandparents, oh no.
I’ve been sitting here all day, Thinking… Same old thing ten years away, Thinking… An old man sits in his rocking chair, getting all misty-eyed for days gone by. Penny-farthings on the street… Bows and hoops and spinning tops… The days when motorcars were new and scary, when happiness was a Charlie Chaplin matinee…
But there’s no resolution, no ‘oh getting old isn’t all bad’ twist at the end. In fact it gets worse. After listing all the things he misses, we get a final gut-punch: Familiar things I keep around, Near me… Mem’ries of my younger days, Clearly… Come into my mind… I’m no old man, but I can’t think of a better way to describe the feeling of getting older, of slowly losing your mind to age, of seeing death approaching over the horizon. Get beyond the banjo and the parping tuba, and this is a really depressing number one hit.
But then those bloody kids keep coming in to ruin it. Grandad, You’re lovely… What are they doing? Trying to cheer him up? If I were their grandad I’d be praying for the end to come even quicker. This would be a far, far better, and actually quite subversive, record without them. (I’m not even convinced that they’re real children, though I’m not sure that they had the technology in 1970 to computer-generate such creepy sounding voices.)
Clive Dunn does sound quite geriatric when he sings, especially when he pronounces ‘telephones’ as ‘jelly-phones’, but he was only fifty when ‘Grandad’ hit #1 – a young grandad in anyone’s books. He was, I guess, playing upon his dotty Corporal Jones character from ‘Dad’s Army’, which was one of the biggest shows on TV at the time. Presumably the show’s popularity can explain this strange record’s huge success.
It’s a novelty; but not particularly funny. It’s a children’s record; but more complex and bittersweet than most children would be able to grasp. I can imagine thousands of them bought their grandfathers this record for Christmas, sending the old men into a depressive spiral when they sat down and actually listened to it. Plus, if we assume that the ‘Grandad’ in this record is looking back fifty years, to 1920, then isn’t it weird to think that if this were re-recorded today then the singer might reference ‘listening to Clive Dunn singing ‘Grandad’’ fifty years ago in the lyrics? Mind-bending…!
The UK Number Ones Blog Playlist is here.