389. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie

I do like approaching a song I’ve never heard before. The anticipation. The tension. The wondering… What will this next #1 bring?

No Charge, by J. J. Barrie (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 30th May – 6th June 1976

My anticipation starts to sour the second I press play. This is, I can confirm, a country and western number. A honky-tonk piano leads us in. And then, oh dear, there’s talkin’. Now our little boy came up to his momma in the kitchen this evening, While she was fixing supper… The boy has itemised his chores for the week: $1 for taking out the trash, $2 for raking the yard, an eye-watering $5 dollars for mowing the lawn… Total load: $14.75…

Where is this song going next, I wonder. Is this presumptuous little brat going to get a clip around the ear? No. He is not. (That would have been a song I could have got behind.) Instead, mum turns the list over, and begins to write: For the nine months I carried you, Growing inside me… No charge… For the nights I’ve sat up with you, Doctored and prayed for you… No charge…

In the background, a gospel-lite singer is hammering home the message: When you add it all up, The full cost of my love is ‘no charge’… while the queasy feeling in my stomach grows, and grows. This is painful. Truly painful. Lines like: For the toys, food and clothes… And even for wiping your nose… thump down your ears. Is it meant to be funny? Is it meant to be touching? Is it meant to prescribed by pharmacists to induce vomiting?

Mum finishes writing, and looks at her son. Please, I think, throw a tantrum or something, you little shit. Save this song from its saccharine conclusion. But, no. He has tears in his eyes as he tells his ma that he sure does love her. He writes ‘paid in full’ in great big letters. You see, as J. J. Barrie informs us: When you add it all up, The cost of real love’s ‘no charge’…

This is, in case that write-up was a little too ambiguous, a truly awful piece of music. At a stroke one of the Top 3 worst songs we’ve met on this countdown, if not the winner. I have a high tolerance for cheese, for silliness, for camp throwaway pop… ‘No Charge’ is neither cheesy, nor silly nor camp. It is teeth-clenchingly earnest. There are no tongues in cheeks here. Barrie sounds like a preacher. The backing singer sounds like she’s singing the holiest of hymns. The strings are deadly serious, too. They all seem to believe, unconditionally, in the crap they are serving up. Maybe if it were sung by a woman, by the mum in the song, then, maybe, maybe, it would work better. As it is, it’s a smug story of motherhood as seen and interpreted by a smug-sounding man.

All songs, thankfully, must end. Phew. That was horrendous. J. J. Barrie is a certified one-hit wonder in the UK. I know nothing of his career beyond this single, and have no desire to investigate.* This wasn’t the original version of ‘No Charge’, which had been taken to #39 (and #1 on the Country charts) in the US by Melba Montgomery (great name, at least!) in 1974. Barrie is still alive, still living in Canada, but hasn’t recorded any new music since the ‘80s.

Looking forward, trying to block out the horrors we have just witnessed, I’m one more chart-topper away from a recap! And at least choosing a ‘Worst Chart-topper’ won’t be too difficult this time around.

*That was until I found out he discovered that he recorded a single with Nottingham Forest manager Brian Clough, ‘You Can’t Win ‘Em All’, in 1980. (Go on, click the link. It is every bit as bad as you imagine!)


26 thoughts on “389. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie

  1. Holding different opinions is always healthy. As someone who always looks forward eagerly to your next instalment and has gone back to several of the earlier posts that I missed first time round, I haven’t always agreed with you. I love the Trems’s ‘Silence is Golden’ and even the Seekers’ ‘The Carnival is Over’. I detest Lee Marvin’s ‘Wand’rin’ Star’. J.J. Barrie – hmmm, he is probably a very nice guy in real life. But I can’t name one redeeming feature of this record. And he went on to record a subsequent single with Brian Clough? J.J. have you no shame…

    • Thanks for always taking the time to read and comment. Really appreciate it. I can easily see why my feelings on ‘Silence Is Golden’ and ‘The Carnival Is Over’ aren’t always shared… and I have to admit I have warmed to The Seekers since then (it’s amazing how your mood on the day affects your interpretation of a song…) But, I would love to hear someone making a case for ‘No Charge’. It is an absolute stinker!

  2. A truly awful record, I hated it then I hate it now. The one redeeming feature? Billy Connolly did another hit parody song called No Chance which had the immortal line “a friend of mine went up to his wife while she was choking chickens”. The best thing about the JJ Barrie version is the back-up singer was Joe Brown’s wife and Sam Brown’s mum Vicki, a former Vernon’s Girl singer (all 3 had chart careers, and Joe Brown still tours and is still great). The worst thing about is is the song and the lead vocal.

  3. Thanks popchartfreak. The excellent Brown family’s involvement, or rather that of Vicki, and Billy Connolly’s p*ss-take, do make two redeeming features. Looking at the label scan above, I notice with a shudder that he recorded a whole album too. Ouch.

  4. I don’t know. I’ve heard much worse. This doesn’t make me want to slit my wrists like “Seasons in the Sun” or make me want to stick ice picks in my ears like the Slits cover of Heard It Through The Grapevine.

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