445. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell

Oh, OK… Well, this is perfect. After all that blather in my last post about a new-wave, technicolour era, as we prepared to dive head first into the eighties… This comes along.

One Day at a Time, by Lena Martell (her 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 21st October – 11th November 1979

I had forgotten, you see, that the British nation has a weird obsession with country and western music. Had forgotten that in amongst the explosion of new sounds topping the charts during the last year or so, that actually the most consistent sound of the seventies has not been glam, or disco, punk or synth-pop… It’s been C & W. From the decade’s 2nd #1 ‘Wand’rin’ Star’, through Dawn, Tammy Wynette, J.J. Barrie (shudder) and Kenny Rogers… to this.

One day at a time, Sweet Jesus…! We’ve had sentimental country, country with lonesome men and stoic women, folks returnin’ from war, from jail… But until now, we had been spared this. Christian Country. Show me the stairway, I have to climb, Lord for my sake, Teach me to take, One day at a time… Lena is struggling in this modern world, so she looks above for guidance.

One thing I knew about Lena Martell is that she and I are compatriots. Yep, the steady stream of country hits in the UK was, for some reason, largely fuelled by us Scots. Something about their hard-drinkin’, rough-livin’ ways appeals to us… (no comment) Martell is the second Glaswegian to have a country #1, after Billy Connolly. And she does, to be fair to her, put on a good southern twang. But while Connolly’s ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’ was a funny piss-take, ‘One Day at a Time’ is painfully earnest. Truth is, I am a sucker for this kind of country schmaltz. Musically, this is fine. If she were singing about her good for nuthin’, cheatin’ man, I’d be all in. Unfortunately, this record is lyrically rancid.

In the final verse, she goes full ‘Daily Mail’ comments-board. Oh Lord, she moans, what’s the world coming to? Well, Jesus you know, if you’re looking below, It’s worse now than then… Cheatin’ and stealin’, Violence and crime… I’m going to be careful here, as I don’t want to offend anyone’s beliefs… But I’m pretty sure even the good Lord above would have been offended by this crap.

‘One Day at a Time’ was originally released by a Marilyn Sellars in 1974, and has been recorded over 200 times… Mostly by country singers I’ve never heard of, though I see both Tennessee Ernie Ford and Brotherhood of Man have had a crack. Meanwhile, this disc gave Lena Martell her one and only chart hit. She did, though, have a long-running show on the BBC, sang with Frank Sinatra on her US tours, and was releasing country and religious albums well into the 2000s, until she retired following heart surgery.

Fair play to her, then, for having a career that many can only dream of. As for her chart-topping, one-hit-wonder moment in the sun, though… I think I can sum it up in two words: Sweet Jesus!


12 thoughts on “445. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell

  1. If you wouldn’t have told me…I would have sworn she was from Nashville…wow…a great copy of Nashville’s style at the time.

  2. I also wouldnt want to offend anyone’s belief’s, but this grandparent-appealing track was one I loathed at the time, partly for dominating the chart when so many brilliant exciting new tracks were around, partly for just being cloyingly annoying. I agree with the sentiment, not least because over the last month I’ve been having to deal with the sudden death of my dad, failing to be able to save him, and ongoing caring for my mum with advanced alzheimers on my own now (she can’t do anything for herself, not even hold a drink), and all the associated stuff that goes along with sorting out affairs for months afterwards. One Day At A Time is good advice. I still don’t like the record though.

    • Hey, very sorry to hear about your dad, and mum. Sounds like a very tough time. Thanks for still finding time to follow the blog…

      The sentiment in this song is fine… but it feels more like the singer is asking for strength to cope with all the swearing on TV, or the gay couple up the street, than anything worthwhile. I’ll bet Mary Whitehouse was very happy when this was the nation’s #1 single…

      • Thanks for the kind words, reading your blog is a welcome diversion for me, so it’s me that should be thanking you, I always look forward to every post, even the Lena Martells 🙂 I think you just your finger on why I have always loathed the song!

  3. I’m so used to the 1974 Marilyn Sellars version. This was written by Marijohn Wilkin and Kris Krisofferson. After that, Christy Lane wore it out.

    Gloria Smyth, in Ireland, had a #1 with this in Ireland (IRMA) in 1977.

  4. Pingback: 446. ‘When You’re In Love With a Beautiful Woman’, by Dr. Hook – The UK Number Ones Blog

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