551. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by The Crowd

It’s our third charity chart-topper in six months, after over thirty years of managing quite happily without them, and so I’m introducing a new template. For every charity single that features henceforth, I’ll first spend a paragraph detailing how terrible the tragedy that inspired it was. I’ll then spend several more paragraphs detailing how terrible the ensuing record is… Sounds good?

You’ll Never Walk Alone, by The Crowd

2 weeks, from 9th – 23rd June 1985

The serious bit, then. On 11th May 1985, at a Third Division match between Bradford City and Lincoln City, a fire broke out in the main stand of the home side’s Valley Parade stadium. A fan had dropped a cigarette butt through a hole in the floor, where it landed on a pile of litter. On a dry and windy day, the stand was engulfed with flames inside five minutes. Fifty-six people died, many horrifically burnt alive, while another two hundred and sixty five were injured.

Gerry Marsden, of Gerry & the Pacemakers fame, decided to make a record to raise money for the victims and their families, and settled on a cover of his band’s 1963 #1, ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, which was already a popular terrace song. He assembled a cast drawn from all corners of the British popular entertainment scene…

And the record sounds exactly as you’d expect. It is a large group of people singing along to ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. It’s not awful; it’s far from being particularly good. It’s karaoke, recorded solely to make money for a good cause. I’m sure Marsden’s heart was in the right place (and he wasn’t just bandwagon jumping his way back to relevance). The most interesting thing about it, by far, are the people involved. Band Aid was full of bright young things; USA for Africa was a ‘Who’s Who’ of American pop. The Crowd are, well, a crowd.

Let’s start with the musicians. There’s Gerry Marsden (becoming the first person to top the charts with the same song), there’s Jim Diamond, Kiki Dee, Denny Laine, Tony Christie and Rick Wakeman. There’s Rolf Harris… There’s Motorhead and The Nolans! (Any record that manages to feature both Motorhead and The Nolans cannot simply be dismissed…) There’s Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy, John Entwhistle of The Who, and Frank Allen of The Searchers. There’s Black Lace!! And then there are the non-musicians… The DJ Dave Lee Travis, the boxer John Conteh, the comedian Keith Chegwin, certified national treasure Bruce Forsyth…

Frankly, there are too many to list properly. It is a mind-bender of a lineup, a walking pub quiz question of a number one… Some bloke called Paul McCartney is relegated to a spoken-word ‘B’-side (completely understandable when you’ve already booked Rolf Harris and Cheggers…)

The fact that this record gave a #1 single to so many different people makes me think it should be better remembered. Except, then I press play one more time and realise why this has been quietly forgotten. It’s neither good enough, nor bad enough, to linger very long. And, sadly, the Valley Parade fire would also be overshadowed by another disaster in a British football stadium before the decade was out… ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, meanwhile, has been back atop the charts fairly recently, still raising money for charity.


14 thoughts on “551. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by The Crowd

  1. Very well put as ever. Nice enough, the kind of record you had to buy as it was going to a good cause, but didn’t have to listen to more than necessary (unless you were a mobile DJ at the time, which I was). At least it’s always fun to watch the video and play ‘name the famous faces’. Oh, and let me draw your attention to another, IMHO rather better single featuring the Nolans, Lemmy Motorhead (and also Cozy Powell) – which sadly stopped 62 places short of No. 1 in 1981 – ‘Don’t Do That’ by The Young and Moody Band, a kind of Status Quo/Whitesnake spin-off. Play it loud, they certainly do… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LczdjBhMOaw

      • Nope. Sadly it was just a one-off single as far as I know. They would have made a dynamite combination, even if only for one album. I remember reading an interview at the time in which the Nolans said they loved Motorhead and it was great fun working with Lemmy and the others.

    • Yeah if Band Aid wasn’t released in the States then I doubt this was…

      Yes, the Hillsorough tragedy was in April 1989, which has really overshadowed the Bradford fire in the public consciousness. It inspired another Gerry and Pacemakers cover for charity, that made #1 too.

      • Well, “Do They Know It’s Christmas…” made it to #13 on Billboard Hot 100. And, as best as I can tell (fluctuating chart), the song is #94 on The Rolling Stone list of the greatest songs, ever.

        I live in a small town called Hillsborough…a very, very old town (in US terms) and a former Native American trading path (also haunted). The name ultimately links back to the UK in some way.

      • Oh I had no idea it was even released… you learn something new every day.

        Yeah, I think most towns in the UK have an American equivalent. Although, Hillsborough stadium is in Sheffield. I don’t know that city at all – I assume Hillsborough is an area of the city.

  2. Terrible tragedy. Loved gerry marsden always from age 5 till his recent death. A loveable man. Good cause. Nothing, though, will ever beat the spine tingling gerry and the pacemakers version. Still gives me goosebumps almost 60 years later

  3. Pingback: Recap: #541 – #570 | The UK Number Ones Blog

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