295. ‘Grandad’, by Clive Dunn

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.

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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.)

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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.

294. ‘I Hear You Knocking’, by Dave Edmunds

And so we arrive at a song I know very well – a song I’ve loved for a long time. It’s one of my earliest memories of popular music, this song – so early that I have no idea how it got to be there, buried in my consciousness.

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I Hear You Knocking, by Dave Edmunds (his 1st and only #1)

6 weeks, from 22nd November 1970 – 3rd January 1971

I love the choppy guitar, and the fried vocals. The trippy effects in the background, too, that sound like weird sea-creatures calling to one another across the deep. And I love the fact that at heart it’s just a straight-up, chugging, no frills rock ‘n’ roll number. You went away and left me, Long time ago, And now you’re knockin’, On my door…

It’s a sassy song – the singer telling his ex to get the hell out with their sweet words. I hear you knockin’, But you can’t come in… Go back where you been! She left him, though he begged her not to, and Edmunds still isn’t over it. Though he later reveals that this all happened in ’52, when he told her that I would never go with you… Which is both contradictory to what he sang two verses earlier, and a hell of a long time to hold a grudge…

Who cares. Careless lyrics aside, this is a rocking record. Our second whiff of glam at the top of the charts – after ‘Spirit in the Sky’ – and a bit of a throwback. (Over the chorus, Edmunds starts shouting out the names of some fifties rock ‘n’ roll stars – Chuck Berry! Fats Domino! – to leave us in no doubt about to whom this song owes a debt.) Something that sounds like a steam train gets added to the insistent rhythm, and then we get the piece de resistance of the whole record: the single, clanging note from a honky-tonk piano. Dung! Next verse!

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Despite ‘I Hear You Knocking’ sounding like it just crawled out of a Louisiana swamp, Dave Edmunds is actually Welsh. He had had one UK Top 10 with his blues band Love Sculpture, and this was his first, and by far his biggest, solo hit. It’s a staple of 70s Compilations, which is probably where first I heard it as a kid. ‘I Hear You Knocking’ was first recorded in the mid-fifties, by Smiley Lewis (Edmunds also shouts his name out during the solo) and then Fats Domino. Edmunds himself just recently retired from touring in his mid-seventies.

I do love this song, but am struggling to write much more about it. Really though – it’s not the sort of song that needs much writing about. If this record were a person, it’d be a doer, not a thinker. It gets you tapping your feet, and shaking your shoulders, rather than working your brain. I’d simply suggest that you click on the link below and get doing the same…

Actually, one thing that’s worth noting here is how long this, and so many other records, have spent at the top this year. ‘I Hear You Knocking’ got six, as did Elvis and Freda Payne. Mungo Jerry got seven, Edison Lighthouse five. If you look a little further, to the tail end of 1969, Rolf Harris also got six, while The Archies spent eight weeks up there! Not sure what this signifies, other than the fact that we are in the company of some monster hits at the moment – and that they’re going to keep on coming (and staying).

Listen to every number one so far on my Spotify playlist.

293. ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience

Our last number one had the title ‘Woodstock’, but didn’t really get going in terms of capturing the feel of the planet’s biggest ever music festival… But now… Now we have a song that people actually heard. At Woodstock. Performed by one of the weekend’s most famous acts…

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Voodoo Chile, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience (their 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 15th – 22nd November 1970

It starts with a riff – a riff that everyone has heard – and a tickle from the drum kit. And then, the moment when the twangy, chicka-chucka intro to ‘Voodoo Chile’ cuts out and we slam into the brutally simple main riff is genuinely one of the most thrilling seconds in any chart-topping single. Hard rock from the ultimate rock star. A brilliantly heavy, undiluted record at the top of the pop charts.

Well I stand up next to a mountain, And I chop it down with the edge of my hand… If you’re ever feeling down, ahead of a tough day, I’d recommend putting this on in your headphones and stepping out of the door just as Jimi sings that line… Cause I’m a voodoo child, Lord knows I’m a voodoo child… It’s a badass song, with a badass message. I didn’t mean to take up too much of your sweet time, I’ll give it right back to ya one of these days… Haha… What exactly is a ‘voodoo child’? Dunno, but it doesn’t sound like something you’d want in the house.

Not that the lyrics make up much of this song. There’s an electrifying solo between the first and second verses. And then the whole second half is given over to some serious head-banging and wah-wah pedalling. It might sound like Hendrix showing off, if it didn’t sound so damn good. It’s controlled chaos, a record that sounds like a live-recording, bottled lightning. And it really makes use of your stereo speakers, with the riffs chasing one another left to right, back and forth…

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(coolest single artwork so far, by far!)

God this is good. I knew ‘Voodoo Child’, of course, but it’s not in ‘overplayed’ territory for me. I really should listen to more Hendrix. By November 1970, when he grabbed his one and only week at #1, he was already dead, having joined the 27 Club two months earlier. The line: If I don’t meet you no more in this world, I’ll meet ya on the next one, And don’t be late…! makes it a very appropriate posthumous hit. It’s a shame that it took his death to get him to the top, though he had scored big, Top 10 hits consistently following his debut in 1966 with ‘Hey Joe’.

But who cares why this got to number one. Let’s just rejoice in the fact that it did. It ends abruptly, ricocheting to silence all of a sudden, and you get the feeling it could have been much longer. This ‘Voodoo Chile’ was based on a fifteen minute long, much more laid-back and bluesy, song of the same name that featured on his ‘Electric Ladyland’ album. This version was a reprise – the very last track on the LP – hence the ‘Slight Return’ on the track listing. It should actually be ‘Voodoo Child’, but the record company misnamed it when they released it.

While we wonder just what else 1970 has in store for us in this most schizophrenic of years, we should probably make a confession. At the start I billed this as the pinnacle of Woodstock, by its biggest star. Only problem is… Thanks to bad weather and technical issues, Hendrix actually went on stage at 08:30 on the Monday morning, after most people had begun to pack up and head home. The 500,000 strong crowd had dwindled to around 40,000. But what the hell, who cares. Let’s rewrite history, and imagine him playing this as the sun set, half a million extremely high people swaying along…

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