529. ‘Only You’, by The Flying Pickets

And so we hurtle towards the end of 1983, with our latest Christmas number one. And, yes, it’s a novelty record. But wait! No! Come back! This is a ‘novelty’ in the sense that it’s different and interesting; not in the sense that it’s a bunch of gap-toothed schoolchildren singing about their grandma…

Only You, by The Flying Pickets (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 4th December 1983 – 8th January 1984

The novelty here lies in the fact that this record is (almost) completely a cappella. The only bits that aren’t a cappella are the two drum beats which follow the intro. There might also be a non-human synth right in the background, but I can’t be sure. You wonder why they didn’t go the whole hog and make it completely a cappella, but it was enough for this to go down in the record books as the first a cappella #1. (I’m now going to try writing the remainder of this post without using the term ‘a cappella’, as I keep mis-spelling it.)

All I needed was the love you gave, All I needed for another day… You can see why this was a big festive hit: it’s unusual but still accessible, it’s melancholy, it sounds like a festive choir… It’s got a romantic-sounding title, though it’s actually a fairly miserable break-up song if you stop and listen to the lyrics. All I ever knew, Only you… Plus, the original had been a #2 hit for Yazoo only a year or so earlier, so it may well have appealed to trendy young types too.

The Flying Pickets were a vocal group from London, with a background in fringe theatre. The band’s name would have had a particular resonance at the time, and may have helped them to a few more sales, with the country on the verge of a huge miners’ strike. The Pickets were radical socialists, and the members had been on the front lines of earlier strikes in the seventies. Once ‘Only You’ had made number one, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher displayed either supreme ignorance or shamelessness (both are quite feasible) in naming it her favourite song of the time.

The video adds to the gritty, socialist vibe, shot as it is in a North Shields pub. The band members play darts, pool and the fruit machine as they harmonise. Once you see them, it’s a bit of a shock trying to reconcile the angelic voices on the record with these fairly grizzled looking blokes. They definitely have a ‘fringe theatre’ vibe to them – I think I might have given them a wide berth had I been at the same pub – and all the a cappella-ing does feel a little ‘community centre am-dram’ at times.

Still, it’s a fun record: a ‘novelty’ in the best sense of the word, and a welcome addition to the festive canon. It’s one of those Xmas #1s that, despite having nothing to do with the season, still feels very festive. And it’s another retro-sounding chart-topper to list alongside the doo-wop, disco and reggae tracks we’ve featured in the latter half of 1983.

The Flying Pickets aren’t quite one-hit wonders (the follow-up to this gave them one further Top 10 hit), but their chart success wasn’t sustained beyond the mid-1980s. They are still around and recording to this day – their latest album saw them covering Sia’s ‘Chandelier’, as well as re-recording this #1 hit – although none of the members who feature on this song have been a part of the band since 1990.

That’s it for 1983, then: the year in which it felt like the eighties truly began. Up next, we embark on a year described more than once as the best year for pop music… ever. I may have to take exception to that…

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13 thoughts on “529. ‘Only You’, by The Flying Pickets

  1. You’re now at the time I was 18 months married and living in Stirling, having a great time! So, nothing but happy memories with this one. (It’s really bugging me, but was there not another band similar to Flying Pickets around that time? Maybe I’m imagining it … I do that sometimes. It’s an ‘age’ thing! 😉 :-D) )

    • No idea about the other band – I was minus two years old at this time. But as an aside, I was at Stirling University as an undergrad… It’s a small world.

  2. This is the first time I have ever heard this…I like this one! Different approach and they didn’t over do the background either…they kept it simple…it works.

  3. I’m afraid I remained untouched by the charms of this one, and I expect Slade did as well (it held the far superior ‘My Oh My’) off No. 1. As for Margaret Thatcher saying it was her favourite song of the time, she was probably either being ironic, or else her PR team were trying to make her appear hip, trendy, far out, cool, etc. 50-something political leaders usually make themselves look foolish when they try to be with-it (although there is a photo online, go look on google images, of the late Boris Yeltsin dancing vigorously on stage with a couple of energetic short-skirted young ladies that can’t help but make you smile).

    • I didn’t realise that this what kept ‘My Oh My’ off #1… That’s not my favourite Slade song at all, but it would have been cool for them to get another chart-topper a decade on.

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  5. My dad loved this record from 1983 onwards and was still playing it on Youtube in 2021. The old-fashioned harmony singing appealed a lot to him, and the name of the band didn’t hurt – my brother was a soon-to-be-striking coal miner and my parents’ new pet Yorkie was named Picket. Me, I had already had the Yazoo version top my personal charts in 1982 and never liked this version as much, but it was amiable fun, and it very much appealed to the older music lover where Yazoo were young-appealing. I tended to prefer bands doing cover versions in very different versions (Big Daddy were good at doing that) or in the style of other acts for a laugh. See Bjorn Again covering Erasure (Vince Clarke again) with A Little Respect in the style of Abba. Cue a 90’s UK chart-topper of Abba in the style of Erasure…by Erasure

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