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.