426. ‘Dreadlock Holiday’, by 10cc

For the final act in their chart-topping trilogy, 10cc take on a sound that has grown in popularity throughout the seventies: reggae.

Dreadlock Holiday, by 10cc (their 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 17th – 24th September 1978

Except, this isn’t the 10cc of ‘Rubber Bullets’ or ‘I’m Not in Love’. And I don’t mean that in the sense of it not being as good as those earlier chart-toppers (though that’s partly true…) I mean it in the sense that the band had split in two a year or so earlier. Kevin Godley and Lol Creme left due to creative differences; Graham Gouldman and Eric Stewart remained.

It’s a song about a summer holiday… Or is it a song about a robbery? Or a song about small moments of cultural exchange and understanding? I don’t like cricket… I love it! says the Jamaican who may be about to nick a necklace. (Except, cricket is pretty darn popular in the West Indies. Even I know that!) I don’t like reggae… I love it! replies the Brit.

It’s a song based on a holiday Stewart had had in Barbados, where he’d seen tourists trying to be cool around the locals. Think ‘Pretty Fly For a White Guy’ twenty years ahead of time. Don’t you walk through my words… sings the Jamaican… You got to show me some respect… Of course, to my 21st century snowflake ears, white people putting on Jamaican accents and singing about a ‘brother from the gutter’ jars, as it did during Typically Tropical’s ‘Barbados’. But… what’s the point of moaning about it, really? It is what it is, and it clearly comes from a place of affection.

The affection only increases in the final verse, when the singer makes it back to his hotel pool unscathed. Once there, a beautiful woman offers him her ‘harvest’ – and I’m genuinely undecided as to whether this means sex or a big bag of weed. Either way he’s thrilled. Don’t like Jamaica… I love her!

Stepping back and viewing 10cc’s three chart-toppers from afar, you’d be hard pushed to tell they were from the same band. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is the one I enjoyed most: a zany, glam-rock allegory for the unrest in Northern Ireland. ‘I’m Not in Love’ is objectively their masterpiece: a ghostly, six-minute opus of overdubs and experimentation. ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ isn’t as good as those two, for my money, as it sags in the middle and starts to drag towards the end. But it’s still got that hook – possibly the band’s most remembered line – and is another welcome interlude of clever, well-crafted arty pop.

This was 10cc’s final #1, and their final Top 10. The hits dried up pretty swiftly after this record dropped out the charts. But the manner in which their chart-toppers span the seventies is impressive. ‘Rubber Bullets’ was rubbing shoulders with Slade and Gary Glitter, and they were long gone from the Top 10 by 1978. Impressive longevity, in a fast-changing pop scene. We bid them farewell here, then. Here’s to a cool band, never dull, always trying something new, and by far the best pop group to be named after the average amount of semen in a single male ejaculation…

425. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores

We are racing through 1978 now. In the space of just three #1s, we’ve leapt from early May to late September. And I thought we’d escaped, really I did. I thought we’d finally pulled ourselves from the late-seventies easy-listening swamp. But, just as we wrenched our back feet free from the sludge, Lionel Richie grabs us by the ankles and drags us back down…

Three Times a Lady, by The Commodores (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 13th August – 17th September 1978

Let’s start with the positives. I know this chorus, can sing this chorus, can drop this chorus jokingly into everyday counting situations… You’re once, Twice, Three times a lady… without ever having properly listened to the rest of the song. Which is a sign of a certain ubiquity, of a song’s place among the big boys. What does it mean, to be ‘three times a lady’? I had hoped it might be something dirty… But, apparently Richie wrote it after hearing his dad describe his mum as a great lady, a great friend and a great mother.

I must have heard the rest of this song, surely, but I can’t remember doing so. In fact, I’ve listened to this song several times in writing these past two and a bit paragraphs, and have already forgotten everything but the chorus. I am listening to it right now, and it is still not going in. It is background music, plain and simple.

Lionel’s voice is nice, the piano is nice, the percussion is… nice, I guess? But Good Lord it’s dull. Ballads like this are always at a disadvantage with me, but the best can pull through and convince. (Chicago’s ‘If You Leave Me Now’ was one such fairly recent example.) But here, chorus aside, it’s too slow, it’s not catchy, it’s nowhere near OTT enough (unlike Richie’s solo chart-topper…)

Just once does the song break away from its plod. Before the final chorus it builds, some drums and cymbals enter, and some backing vocalists harmonise… But it’s gone. The pace slows again and we trudge towards the end. It is genuinely terrifying to discover that the album version of ‘Three Times a Lady’ runs to almost seven minutes! Give whoever at Motown records decided to chop three minutes off for the 7” a medal.

The Commodores had been around for a few years before this gave them a trans-Atlantic #1. ‘Easy’ was their big breakthrough in the UK (it’s better than ‘Three Times…’, but I’d still be picking holes in it had it been a chart-topper…) They did release upbeat, funky tunes – try their debut single ‘Machine Gun’ – but sadly that wasn’t what sold. Lionel Richie left the band in 1980, and went to absolutely dominate the next decade on the Billboard chart. The remaining Commodores kept at it though, to decent success, and are still active today.