365. ‘January’, by Pilot

(Isn’t this the perfect song for my first post of January 2021?) Back in 1975, making it to the top just in time, with five days to spare: ‘January’, by Pilot. (And don’t think I didn’t notice the perfect coincidence of our first month-themed #1 also being chart-topper #365.)

January, by Pilot (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 26th January – 16th February 1975

For the first time in what feels like an age, we have some glam rock in the top spot. I make this the first glam #1 since Gary Glitter’s ‘Always Yours’ in June last year. (Was David Essex’s ‘Gonna Make You a Star’ glam…? A question for the ages, but I’m going to err on the ‘no’ side.) Not that ‘January’ is all that glam. We’re not suddenly back in mid-1972, alas. But there are handclaps, for a start. And some flamboyant guitar flourishes.

It also qualifies as glam, for me, because of its nonsensical lyrics. January, Sick and tired you’ve been hanging on me… (Respect to Pilot here, for having the audacity to rhyme ‘January’ with ‘hanging on me’) You make me sad with your eyes, You’re telling me lies… Anyone who’s lived through a British January – and Pilot were Scottish, which means they’d have known some truly miserable Januarys – can sympathise.

 I think the singer just wants the summer to hurry up and arrive: Sun, Like a fire, Carry on, Don’t be gone… But then there are ways he humanises this calendar month – January, Don’t be cold, Don’t be angry with me… – that make me think ‘January’ might be a lover. Then there are lines like: You’ll be facin’ the world…! You’ll be chasin’ the world… that don’t fit either narrative.

What we have here, probably, is nothing more than a catchy pop song with some lyrics arranged semi-coherently. The Noel Gallagher method of songwriting, you might call it… Pop at its disposable best. There’s a hook, a beat to tap your feet to, and a chorus that’ll stay in your head for a while. And sometimes that’s enough.

Pilot were from Edinburgh, and ‘January’ was the follow-up to the (much better, and definitely 100% glam) ‘Magic’. That, amazingly, had only made #11 late in ’74, but I’d suggest that this chart-topper was riding the wave created by that earlier hit. They had a few other, smaller hits, and lasted three albums, before splitting. The members of Pilot, though, have quite the legacy, having been involved with The Alan Parsons Project, produced for Kate Bush, and written for Westlife.

I’m pretty sure that this is the first and only time that a record has reached the top of the charts during the month it’s named after. ‘November Rain’ was not a #1 (and was released in March…), ‘It Might As Well Rain Until September’ should have been a #1, as it is a stone-cold classic, but no… In fact, I’ve just checked and bonus points shall be awarded if you can name the only other #1 record with a month in the title… (Hint: it’s coming up pretty soon…)


21 thoughts on “365. ‘January’, by Pilot

  1. Another band I liked, Pilot were famous for their stripey jumpers (I had one) at the time, and I got into them in mid-74 with their first fab single Just A Smile, which had a chorus to die for, and still flopped. Should have released it after January instead of the mundane Call Me Round which killed the impetus stone dead, but they did at least do a re-record/remix of it after that which charted, but it was too little too late and their moment had gone, sadly, even though I continued to like singles like California.

    well done on spotting the week-ending trap – Radio 1 DJ’s used to rabbit on about “what month did January get to number to number one? Wrong! It was february” when it was January whichever way you look at it, by sales-period, chart-announced-date, or 6 of the 7 days covered by the publication date 🙂

    (December ’63) 🙂

    • Bingo! Though I’m quite surprised there’s only been two month-themed #1s, really.

      I have never understood the ‘week-ending’ chart dates, as it just confuses people. Like this week’s chart will be dated the 7th Jan, even though it was announced on the 1st… What’s thinking behind it? Magazine publication dates?

      • it’s almost certainly so people don’t think the magazine’s are last week’s when they come out and the charts appear to be a week behind. The lag date now is a whole week so by the date of the chart publication we are already at the end of the chart week for sales/streams. It was worse back in the day as the UK chart was announced on a Tuesday lunchtime but covered sales only to the weekend so a Top Of The Pops Thursday night sales boost didn’t always fully register till the following week 🙂

      • Hmm, seems an outdated way of doing things, when the vast majority of people don’t access the charts through magazines, and probably haven’t since the sixties. Oh well.

      • I agree! Though if they changed the habit you would suddenly get 2 charts with publishing dates adjacent each other unless they phased it in a week at a time dropping a day 🙂

  2. Hard to believe Magic wasn’t number 1. It is catchy I will say and I love the guitar hooks when he is singing…does Glam and a sweater go together?

  3. This is a pretty weird cross-Atlantic chart dynamic since in the US “Magic” was their big hit peaking at #5 during the summer of ’75 while “January” only barely scraped the Hot 100 at #87 in January ’76. In fact, “Magic” has become one of those ’70s glam nuggets that refuses to die as it still gets play in movies like Happy Gilmore and more recently in a pharmacy drug commercial. For people in my generation, they probably know “Magic” best from Selena Gomez covering the song among other “Magic” songs for her Wizards of Waverly Place soundtrack which led it to chart at #61 as well as its needle-drop moment in 2011’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules. I got to say listening to “January” I think we picked the better Pilot song to be a hit.

    • I would agree on Magic being the better hit. It also lives on through adverts in the UK too – it was used for a supermarket chain a while back. I had no idea about the Selena Gomez cover, though, and just listened – got to love those Disney-fied drums and guitars!

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