307. ‘Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)’, by Benny Hill

Oh God. You know we must have reached the festive season, when a song like this comes along. Join us then, for the story of Ernie, driver of the fastest milk-cart in the west, and his sworn rival, Two-Tonne Ted, the baker…


Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West), by Benny Hill (his 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 5th December 1971 – 2nd January 1972

It’s set to a faux-Spaghetti Western theme, but narrated (‘sung’ would be too generous a verb) in a west-country accent by comedian Benny Hill. And did someone say ‘innuendo’? Because this song is an innuendo smorgasbord, a triple-shot of double-entendres…

Ernie comes galloping into Market Street, to meet his lady-love, a widow called Sue. They said she was too good for him, She was haughty, proud and chic, But Ernie got his cocoa there, Three times every week… Oo-er, matron, and so forth. On we go – this is a story told at breakneck speed.

Ernie can’t compete with Ted’s wide range of pastries: He tempted her with his treacle tarts, And his tasty wholemeal breads, And when she saw the size, Of his hot-meat pies, It very near turned her head… I’m smiling as I listen, even though I should really know better… He knew once she’d sampled his layer-cake, He’d have his wicked way… Meanwhile, Ernie can but offer milk, and not much else.

So Ernie and Ted have a shoot-out, as must happen in all the best Westerns. As he leapt down from his van, Hot-blood through his veins did course, And he went across to Ernie’s cart, And he didn’t ‘alf kick his ‘orse… (Do you have to be British to get this ropey wordplay?) …whose name was Trigger… Two-Tonne Ted fights dirty, of course, throwing a stale pork-pie that kills Ernie. Sob. Now it’s a pastiche of the old early sixties death-discs, ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’, ‘Johnny Remember Me’ and the like. Two piss-takes for the price of one!


But. A woman’s needs are many-fold. Sue marries Ted regardless. And on their wedding night, as they lie in their bed, they are haunted by Ernie’s ghostly gold-tops a-rattling in their crate… They won’t forget Ernie! It’s actually a bit of a dud finish to what, compared to most novelty records, has been a pretty funny song. You know, for its time. It also has what must be one of the first music videos – see below. (I do enjoy the fact that Ted still has his hat on in bed.)

For the fourth year running, then, we have a novelty #1 single at Christmas. You can blame The Scaffold for starting it, with the irritating ‘Lily the Pink’, then it was ‘Two Little Boys’, ‘Grandad’ (which hit top-spot just after New Year), and now this. And, for what it’s worth, I like ‘Ernie’ the best of the four. It’s aiming squarely for silly. Not smart, not sentimental… Just plain old pantomime, music-hall, very British, ‘silly’. Not that I’m rushing to add it to my Spotify queue, either, but still.

Benny Hill actually was a milkman, before hitting the big-time, and had written this back in the fifties. He performed it on his show – which in 1971 was pulling in 21 million viewers! (there were only three channels, to be fair) – and then released it as a single. For me, Hill is a slightly vague figure from a time before I was born. He wasn’t on TV growing up, having been pushed aside by the new wave of comedy acts in the eighties. He’s reduced, in my mind, to his famous theme tune playing as he gets chased by an irate crowd.

At the same time, though, I just watched a few of clips on YouTube, and they raised a smile. They’re old-fashioned, and ‘of their time’, but they’re funny, in the worthy tradition of Charlie Chaplin (a huge fan of Hill’s) and Mr. Bean. Plus, you’ll just have to get used to silly novelty songs cropping up every December… and not many will be as tolerable as this!


306. ‘Coz I Luv You’, by Slade

Without wanting to repeat myself… Having covered over three hundred #1s now, and I’ve come to realise the importance of a song’s intro. Sometimes, as a casual listener, they pass you by. But when you’re here to write about the song, when you’re poised to commit your first impressions to paper, the intro is everything.


Coz I Luv You, by Slade (their 1st of six #1s)

4 weeks, from 7th November – 5th December 1971

All of which is me building up to the fact that ‘Coz I Luv You’ has a great intro. In stereo, it sounds like someone in chunky boots, stomping down a corridor. Then the music, which can only be described as ‘menacing’. It’s Slade, Britain’s most successful glam-rock act, but this isn’t a very ‘glam’ record. Noddy Holder’s vocals start off light, and sneering: I won’t laugh at you, When you boo-hoo-hoo, Cause I love you…

Then a big beefy bass comes in, as Holder’s voice grows fuller: I just like the things you do, Don’t you change the things you do… You can draw a couple of similarities between this and the previous number one, Rod Stewart’s ‘Maggie May’ / ‘Reason to Believe’. Both songs are concerned with the singer being in love with a pretty terrible sounding woman. In ‘Coz I Luv You’: You make me out a clown, And you put me down… I still love you…

The other is the violin – though the country version from ‘Reason…’ has been distorted into an electric monster here, making the solo sound like an Irish jig from the bowels of hell. Apparently, Jim Lea – who played the violin on it – thinks the song sounds ‘soft’ and ‘namby-pamby’… Which begs the question: what the hell would he classify as ‘hard’? As the song fades out with the stomping and the violin, and some added shouting for good measure, it sounds like a gang of hooligans striding home from the pub, ready for their next punch-up.


I like this song, and I love Slade, but it stands out because it doesn’t really sound like the ‘Slade’ everyone knows. By their next number one they will, though. Like T. Rex, Slade had been around long before glam. Unlike T. Rex, they’d spent the final years of the sixties playing soul and Motown covers and sporting skinheads. Maybe ‘Coz I Luv You’ represents the last gasp of the ‘old’ Slade (Ambrose Slade, as they were called), before they sold their souls to glam. Though even at their peak, when they were wearing sparkly hats, platform shoes and cravats, I think don’t think they could ever quite mascara-out being four bruisers from Wolverhampton.

By the end, Holder’s voice has transformed completely, as he bellows out the closing lines. There’s another similarity to Rod Stewart – two of rock’s throatiest voices topping the charts in a row. One thing that is very Slade, and that’s already here in all its glory, is their shortened song titles. I used to think they looked crazily modern, using text-speak in the early seventies, when mobile phones were the stuff of science-fiction, but apparently it was an attempt to mimic the Birmingham/Black County dialect.

So, there we have it. This is already the second-last #1 of 1971 – it feels like we’ve raced through the year – welcoming some huge names: T. Rex, Rod, Slade… Middle of the Road… Like I said, and as I’m not sure came through from the write-up, I really like this song. It just sounds so belligerent, so menacing, so not #1-on-the-pop-charts material at all…

305. ‘Maggie May’ / ‘Reason to Believe’, by Rod Stewart

And so we welcome to the stage a true rock icon, a man who sells albums and fills stadiums to this day. Sir Rod Stewart. (I’m assuming he’s a ‘Sir’. Sort it out, Queenie, if he isn’t.)


Maggie May / Reason to Believe, by Rod Stewart (his 1st of six #1s)

5 weeks, from 3rd October – 7th November 1971

This was his very first solo single release to make the charts. Straight to the top with a bullet, with what is his most famous song? I don’t think I’ve ever heard the ‘single’ version of ‘Maggie May’, which is a full two minutes shorter than the extended version I grew up with. It’s the same intro, albeit condensed, a confident acoustic riff, then two emphatic drumbeats announcing that the story is ready to begin. Wake up Maggie, I think I got something to say to you…

Young Rod has been seduced by an older woman, spent a summer with her, and is now starting to wake up to the harsh realities of their relationship. It’s late September and I really should be back at school… ‘Maggie May’ is famously based on Stewart’s encounter with a real woman, at a Jazz festival when he was sixteen. Getting away from the slightly predatory story – imagine if the genders were reversed – the lyrics capture perfectly the voice of a callous teen, coupled with some corny rhymes: I laughed at all your jokes, My love you didn’t need to coax… And then the classic: The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age… Harsh!

He loves her, but wishes he’d never seen her face. We’ve all been there. Young Rod sounds like a bit of a tearaway – his options post-Maggie are either becoming a roadie or making a living out of playing pool… I’m sure he’ll be fine, and get over the heartbreak. Anyway, the whole song is basically him rehearsing what he’s going to say to Maggie. He hasn’t broke it off just yet! It hinges on the opening and closing lines: I think I’ve got something to say to you… and I’ll get on back home, One of these days…

Unfortunately, the single version cuts the best verse, the one with the: You turned into a lover and mother what a lover you wore me out! line. Maybe that would have been too ripe for daytime radio. Then comes the solo, and the mandolin outro, one of the Celtic-sounding elements that often pop up in Rod Stewart’s music. It’s an undeniable classic, one that – cliched but true – still sounds fresh today. One that no amount of terrible pub karaoke versions can ruin. And while the woman may have been real, her name wasn’t ‘Maggie May’ – she was a famous Liverpudlian prostitute. I’m sure the actual ‘Maggie’ was delighted by the comparison…


It’s been a long old while since we had a double-‘A’ hit the top of the charts – not since Louis Armstrong in 1968. On the flip we have Rod’s cover of ‘Reason to Believe’, a song I’m certain I’ve never heard before. It opens with a lonesome piano, before the vocals come in. Both these songs are very much focused on Stewart’s voice. Which is fair enough, as he does have one of the best.

If I listen, Long enough, To you… I’d find a way, To believe, That it’s all true… In ‘Maggie May’, he was trying to convince himself to leave someone. In this song, he’s trying to talk himself into staying, despite knowing that his lover lied: straight faced, while I cried… He needs a reason to believe in her. The two songs work well together, both in terms of the sound and the lyrical theme.

A fiddle gives this record the country feel that the mandolin gave ‘Maggie May’. Then midway through, we’re left with just the voice. Someone like you, Makes it hard to live, Without, Somebody else… It’s a nice song, that slowly grows on the listener; but it’s no ‘Maggie May’. Technically, ‘Reason to Believe’ was the song first pushed to radio when the disc was released, but the song on the other side quickly won through. Maybe it was because The Carpenters had released a version of the song the year before – a classic Carpentersy-country version – while the folky original had been recorded in 1965, by Tim Hardin, that the label thought ‘Reason…’ might have caught people’s attention quicker.

For, while this was Rod Stewart’s first charting single, it wasn’t his first attempt at a solo career. He’d been releasing singles since 1964, and had spent the sixties busking, playing session gigs and jumping between bands. Then came The Jeff Beck Group, in which he met Ronnie Wood, and then The Faces (basically The Small Faces minus lead singer Steve Marriott), with whom he was having hits alongside his solo work in the early seventies. After this huge five-week #1 smash there will be no looking back for Rod – he’ll go on to become one of the decades’ biggest stars, on either side of the Atlantic, and we’ll be meeting him plenty more times in the months to come.

304. ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’, by The Tams

Our last number one was a glossy, highly polished number from one of the world’s biggest female stars – Ms. Diana Ross. Which contrasts completely with this rough-and-ready next chart topper.


Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me, by The Tams (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 12th September – 3rd October 1971

It starts with a simple drums and guitar intro. Then a refrain: Hey girl, don’t bother me… Hey girl, don’t bother me… Standard male vocal group stuff – think the Four Tops or the Miracles – but on a budget. Someone’s going for the Motown sound but without the backing of a major record label.

The lead singers voice is raspy and endearing: I heard about you from my friends… (I love the way he drags ‘friends’ out in a very ‘Murican way) The word really gets around… They say you broke the heart, Of every boy in town… He begs this floozy to stay away: Stay outta my arms, Don’t try to use your charms… Don’t bother me…

It’s a sweet song, despite the subject matter, and one that’s likeable from the start. When the handclaps start it seals this disc’s lo-fi charm. In the second verse, the singer admits that the girl is tempting, despite her reputation: But I really gotta say, You look so fine… He stands firm, though, determined not to be added to her list.

‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ stands right out in this countdown. We’re in the autumn of 1971, but this song sounds like a complete throwback. And that makes sense, seeing as it was recorded in 1964. To my ears it could have been even earlier. The Tams were a vocal group from Atlanta, who had had minor chart successes in the sixties but whose records were picked up by northern soul clubs in the UK. I can’t claim to be an expert on the northern soul scene in the seventies, but it was an offshoot of Mod culture, mainly in clubs in the north of England: Manchester, Wigan, Blackpool, down to Birmingham. They pushed lots of old soul discs back into the charts, and this one by The Tams made it all the way to the top.


You can see why ‘Hey Girl…’ took off like it did. It’s a throwback, but it has enough of a guitar line and a stomp for it to fit in with the early seventies’ sound. You can imagine Mud doing a soft-glam cover version. Though I’m sure The Tams weren’t complaining, or inquiring as to the reasons for their sudden career resurgence in the UK. They will enjoy another mini-comeback fifteen years later, when their hit ‘There Ain’t Nothing Like Shagging’ makes #21 in 1987. (Stop giggling there at the back!) The ‘Shag’ is a dance, you see, (the official state dance of South Carolina!) and according to the song: There ain’t nothing like shagging, When you’re shagging with the one you love… There was a follow-up too – ‘My Baby Sure Can Shag!’ (Stop it!) Unfortunately, both were banned by a humourless BBC because ‘shagging’ means, erm, something else in Britain…

Anyway, back to ‘Hey Girl…’ It’s worth nothing that this is the third re-release to make #1 in the space of a year, following ‘The Tears of a Clown’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’. Not sure what to make of that… Were people already missing the sixties? Was it just a coincidence? It’s certainly adding to the already very eclectic feel of the charts in the early seventies!

Follow the #1s Blog playlist here.

303. ‘I’m Still Waiting’, by Diana Ross

For the second time this year, a former member of one of the sixties biggest groups scores a solo #1 single. From George Harrison, to Diana Ross. From The Supremes, to Diana Ross & The Supremes, to Diana. Just Diana.


I’m Still Waiting, by Diana Ross (her 1st of two #1s)

4 weeks, from 15th August – 12th September 1971

The first word that comes to mind when this record intros is ‘polished’: polished strings, glossy production, not a dollar spared. Ross’s vocals, when they come in, are breathy and crystal clear. I remember when, I was five and you were ten, boy… Diana Ross, as always, has a voice you could swim in.

She’s loved this lad since they were kids, thought they were destined to be together, only to one day be told: Little girl, Please don’t wait for me, Wait patiently for love, Someday it will surely come… But Diana can’t take this advice, can’t give up on her first love. She’s still waiting.

It’s a record that I’m struggling to get into. I can see that it’s good – well-structured and beautifully recorded. It’s pop, but for grown-ups. Sophisticated soul. By the seventies, the people who had grown up buying pop music were getting older, and that starts to show in the number of AOR/MOR (not sure if these terms existed in 1971, but still) tracks that will become huge hits in this decade. Pop was no longer just for teenagers.


And as I play it again, ‘I’m Still Waiting’ is slowly growing on me. I don’t love it, yet, but it’s gradually imprinting on my brain. It’s not short of hooks – the Little girl chorus is catchy, as is the And I’m still waiting… that hangs at the end of each of chorus. And there’s the I’m just a fool…! from the backing singers. And then, Diana speaks. Love has never shown his face, Since the day you walked out that door… Come back, Can’t you see it’s you I’m waiting for…

Will he ever come back? We’ll never know. The song shimmers to a fade-out. I can’t say I knew much about this record before writing this: it’s not one of Ms. Ross’s many hits that I could have named, that didn’t top the charts. Apparently it was one Tony Blackburn who plugged this album track so much on his radio show that Motown gave permission for it to be released in the UK. And it’s a sign of Ross’s longevity and sheer star quality that this #1 comes seven years after her first chart-topper with The Supremes (‘Baby Love’) and fifteen (!) years before her next chart-topper. She was a huge musical presence for the best part of five decades, and it’s been nice to discover this forgotten gem.

Listen to every number one single so far, here.

302. ‘Get It On’, by T. Rex

Aw yeah! T. Rex score their second number in less than three months. There are riffs, and there are riffs. This, baby, is a riff.


Get It On, by T. Rex (their 2nd of four #1s)

4 weeks, from 18th July – 15th August 1971

It’s a riff that growls and purrs, like a cat ready to pounce on its prey. Like a sports car purring at the start line, fuzzy and scuzzy. Then someone’s fingers slide down a set of piano keys – a glissando, if you want to be technical about it – and we’re off. Head first into the glam rock era.

Well you’re dirty sweet, Clad in black, Don’t look back, And I love you… Bolan’s in love with a vamp. You’re slim and you’re weak, With the teeth of a hydra upon you… She sounds like quite the woman. Get it on, Bang a gong, Get it on! Just what might he be singing about?

Sex. The answer is sex. Very few chart-toppers so far have been quite so up-front about the that fact they’re concerned with shagging, and nothing else. The only one that springs to mind, from a couple of years earlier, was ‘Je T’Aime’, and that was more funny than sexy. ‘Get It On’, though… Well, it’s all in the title. They might as well have called it ‘Let’s Fuck.’

Most of the time you’re not quite sure what Marc Bolan’s singing, and most of the time it simply does not matter. This is a record that sounds brilliant, that sounds like an idea come to life, and the lyrics are merely there to make up the runtime. And having looked them up, I’m not sure Bolan put more than two seconds thought into them: Well you’re an untamed youth, That’s the truth with your cloak full of eagles… and You’ve got the blues in your shoes and your stockings…. Dumb, and yet perfect. You just know that a girl with the blues in her shoes and stocking is going to be a handful.

There’s one line that’s always stood out to me – and I’ve loved this song a long time – and that’s: You’re built like a car, You got a hubcap diamond star halo… I have never met a woman who would take ‘You’re built like a car’ as a compliment. But, to be fair, if that line was going to work for anyone, it would be Marc Bolan.


Even when he’s not singing, the brazen, filthy horns keep up the raunchy atmosphere. Then towards the end he simply starts breathing, and hiccupping, and it still sounds X-rated. The moment, before the final chorus, when he breathes in then out, with a little tremor, is the probably the sexiest moment in a #1 single so far, bar none. Bear in mind, T. Rex’s audience were teenagers. T. Rexstasy was here and, for the briefest of moments, they were the biggest band since The Beatles.

Then he shouts Take me! as he gives himself over completely to this woman, and we slide to a finish that includes a snippet of Chuck Berry: Meanwhile, I’m still thinking… A line from ‘Little Queenie’, the song that inspired ‘Get It On’. And while the similarity is not immediate, if you listen to it, buried beneath the vocals and the trademark Berry licks, the riff is there. Bolan brought it out and set it centre stage.

Such is the power of this riff that in the 1990s, Prince and Oasis took it in completely different directions and still made two superb singles. Prince dialled the smut up even further for ‘Cream’, changing ‘dirty sweet’ to ‘filthy cute’, while Noel Gallagher did what he does best on ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’: shamelessly plundering, turning the guitars up to five-hundred, and making his band the biggest in the land. Shove those two song into a playlist, alongside ‘Little Queenie’ and ‘Get It On’, and you’re got yourself a brilliant fifteen minutes.

As for T. Rex, if ‘Hot Love’ was the start, then this was the push that sent them flying. They would dominate the British charts for the next two years, and we’ll be meeting them twice yet. ‘Get It On’ was also the band’s only US hit, reaching the giddy heights of #12. Like, seriously, America…?

Follow the #1s blog playlist here.

301. ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, by Middle of the Road

On with the next three-hundred! And our 301st #1 gets going with a promising glam rock stomp. Seriously, this is a great record… for the first three or four seconds.


Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, by Middle of the Road (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 13th June – 18th July 1971

Then the handclaps come in, and a voice that sounds like a knock-off Lulu. Where’s your mama gone? (Where’s your mama gone?)… Little baby bird… Far, far away… Mummy bird’s gone, flown the coop. Where’s your papa gone? (Where’s your papa gone?)… Daddy bird too. That’s half the song.

Then: Last night I heard my mama singin’ a song, Woke up this morning and my mama was gone… Oo-wee, Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep! That’s the second half of the song. It gets annoying, quickly. Did anyone say ‘bubblegum’?

No, that’s harsh. ‘Bubblegum’ needn’t be a dirty word. ‘Dizzy’, for example was a fine slice of bubblegum pop. I should have asked: did anyone say ‘cloyingly irritating novelty’? This is a record that shouldn’t appeal to anyone over the age of five. And yet, we all know it. I don’t think I’ve ever heard ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ in its entirety until now, but I sure as hell knew that chorus.

The lyrics – the four lines that make up this entire song – are actually quite sad. The singer is either a bird, abandoned in her nest. Or the singer is a child, abandoned by her parents, who sees an abandoned bird and feels a sense of kinship. To her credit, though, she’s not wallowing in despair. Oh no. She sounds as if she’s determined to make something of her life regardless of the tough start. Chirpy chirpy cheep cheep chirp!


I don’t mind a novelty, but this song makes very little sense, and midway through the chorus starts repeating over and over, and over. Let’s go now! You frantically check that this record isn’t actually six minutes long. All together now! No, just forty seconds left, thank God. One more time now! Phew.

Middle of the Road were (‘are’ actually, they’re still going) a Scottish band, who had a brief burst of fame in the UK in the early seventies, with this and other hits such as ‘Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum’ – which I listened to and found to be not as bad as their only #1. They were huge across Europe – I guess the simple lyrics and sugary tunes translated well – and I’ve seen some sources label them as a predecessor to ABBA. (Which is like saying the first ever wheel carved from a hunk of rock by a hairy caveman is a predecessor to a Ferrari.)

Anyway, that’s that. Had Middle of the Road arrived at the top of the charts just a few weeks earlier, then Dana would have had some stiff competition for ‘Worst Chart-Topper’ last time out. But they’re safe, for now…

Enjoy all the previous 300 number ones with this playlist (I promise most of them are better than this.)

300. ‘Knock Three Times’, by Dawn

Three hundred number ones not out! Just… lots and lots more to go…! But oh, if only we had a better record to mark this milestone.


Knock Three Times, by Dawn (their 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 9th May – 13th June 1971

I have been trying to pinpoint the moment when the seventies would come into its own, when it would stop simply being the morning after the sixties. And the last couple of number ones have been such confident statements of intent, sounding very fresh and new, that I thought that moment had come…

But actually, this is the moment. Because has there ever been a more early-seventies sounding song than ‘Knock Three Times’? It sweeps in on horns and a soul-lite sway, and you can’t help picture tinted sunglasses, thick velvet, platform shoes and flared jeans aplenty. And the cheese. Cheese is oozing from the walls.

A man lies in his bed at night, listening to his neighbour dancing in the flat below. Hey girl, watcha doin’ down there? Dancing alone every night while I live right above you… He can’t sleep, but not because of the noise. One floor below me, You don’t even know me, I love you…

So he writes a note, and dangles it on a piece of string in front of her window below, with a proposition. Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me… Wo-oh, twice on the pipe, If the answer is no… Hmmm. It’s a cute concept, on paper, but the more you think about it, and the more you imagine yourself in the woman’s place, the creepier it seems. But hey, maybe this is just what people had to do before the Tinder. And there are sound effects, of course there are sound effects. Twice on the pipe… (Ting, ting)…


I don’t hate it. It’s catchy. Corny, but catchy. One to enjoy in a cabaret bar with a Cinzano and lemonade. I will, despite myself, be humming it for the rest of the day. But five weeks at number one! Really? Can’t say I can see it as being that popular.

Dawn were basically lead singer Tony Orlando (Isn’t that just the perfect stage name for the singer of this nonsense?) plus a few backing singers. The two singers that he is most associated with, Telma Hopkins and Joyce Wilson, hadn’t joined yet – they were yet to knock. They will have by the time the band scores its second #1, with Orlando’s name front and centre… and for some reason they feature in the video below.

So, a bit of a damp squib on which to celebrate the big three zero zero. Back when I hit the double-century we celebrated with The Beatles’ ‘Help!’. Now it’s ‘Knock Three Times’… Bad luck? Or a symptom of the early-seventies slump? To be fair, we’ve had a great run recently: ‘My Sweet Lord’, ‘Baby Jump’, ‘Hot Love’, ‘Double Barrel’…. then this. Up next, though, a recap.


Catch up on all 300 #1s with my Spotify playlist.

299. ‘Double Barrel’, by Dave and Ansil Collins

An interesting sub-genre: #1 singles with the best intros. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, ‘You Really Got Me’, ‘I Heard it Through the Grapevine’… All blown out the water by this next chart-topper!


Double Barrel, by Dave & Ansil Collins (their 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 25th April – 9th May 1971

I am the magnificent! a voice announces, W O O O… I have no idea what he’s talking about, but he does it with such conviction, with such exuberant certainty, that you know this is going to be a good song. It literally echoes off the walls.

This record is really hard to classify. It’s reggae? Or is it ska? Is it an instrumental? Is it rap?? (It can’t be rap, because according to every musical history ever rap didn’t exist in 1971!) Is he a DJ? A dancehall MC? These are things I didn’t think I’d need to be asking until at least 1989…

There’s a catchy piano hook, a bass-line that answers along to each riff, and an organ that swells every so often before fading. All the while a voice, either Dave or Ansil’s, or both maybe, calls on us to Work it! And to Hit me one more time! He sounds like James Brown leading an aerobics class, shouting stuff like Good God! Too much! I like it! Soul poppin’!

This is a cool, cool number one single. It’s uncompromisingly funky, straight from the streets of Kingston. The obvious comparison to make is to Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ from exactly two years ago – the first true reggae single to make #1 in the UK. The organs hint at the piano instrumentals of the ‘50s, especially Dave and Ansil’s fellow West Indian, Winifred Atwell. But the rest of the record looks way, way into the future, to the late eighties, early nineties, when huge hit records could just be snippets of a rhythm with some vocals chanted over the beat.


Dave, and Ansell Collins were a Jamaican duo (Dave is actually Dave Barker… If ever a band name needed an Oxford comma it is theirs). It is his vocals you hear throughout the song. There’s some confusion over whether his partner was ‘Ansell, ‘Ansel’ or ‘Ansil’. It was the latter which was printed on the British copies of ‘Double Barrel’. The duo had one further hit single when ‘Monkey Spanner’ reached #7 later in the year.

So, just as we were working up a glam rock groove, this comes along like a short, sharp blast from another planet. The early 1970s throws us another curveball. Not that I’m complaining. If only all the curveballs could be as funky, catchy and as goddamn cool as this record!

Listen to all our previous number ones with this playlist.

298. ‘Hot Love’, by T. Rex

T-Rextasy has arrived at the top of the charts. Over the next year and a bit one band, led by one tiny little sparkling pixie, will dominate the top of the UK singles charts, and bring with it the defining sound of the early seventies. Wham bam, yes it’s glam!


Hot Love, by T. Rex (their 1st of four #1s)

6 weeks, from 14th March – 25th April 1971

But the intro to ‘Hot Love’ is actually quite gentle, quite lilting. A boogie-woogie bassline and some light strings. It’s still an intro that makes you sit up, that sounds unlike anything that’s topped the charts before – one of those leaps forward that come along every so often – it’s just not instantly ‘T. Rex’. Well she’s my woman of gold, And she’s not very old, Uh-huh-huh…

Tyrannosaurus Rex had spent the tail end of the sixties recording psychedelic folk-rock with mystical themes (sample title: ‘By the Light of a Magical Moon’). As the seventies came around they dropped the ‘yrannosaurus’ and plugged their guitars in. But here, Marc Bolan is still singing like a hippy: Well she’s faster than most, And she lives on the coast, Uh-huh-huh… Note the Elvis stutter, though. You can be sure it’s deliberate. Bolan wasn’t afraid of comparing himself to the greats.

One of the complaints most often directed at Marc Bolan is that his lyrics are nonsense. But to say that is to miss the point completely. Firstly, any man who can produce lyrics like ‘I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice’ is a stone-cold genius. But secondly, glam rock, essentially, isn’t about the lyrics. The lyrics are just something to hang all the sequins and hair-sprayed wigs on. At the same time, if you listen again, and squint a little, you can squeeze meaning out of them: Well she ain’t no witch, And I love the ways she twitches, Uh-huh… I’m a labourer of love, In my Persian gloves, Uh-huh-huh…

These lines paint him as a gigolo, a dandy, a Byronic figure marauding the countryside giving the ladies hot love all night long. And then, 1:15 in, glam rock truly arrives. The lead guitar kicks, Bolan screeches, twice, like a vampire going straight for a virgin’s neck, before letting out a lascivious, drawn-out moan…. Uuuuuuh…


The last three minutes of this five-minute long record is a coda, a prolonged fade-out. La-la-la-lalalala… La-la-la-lalalala… Bored with aping Elvis, Bolan now thinks he’s The Beatles. The man was never short on confidence… The band as a whole were a force of nature – their drummer (this was the first T. Rex song to feature a drum-kit) had the stage name ‘Legend’, given to him by Marc, of course.

La-la-la-lalalala… it goes, on and on, with big drums, stomping and clapping, growing progressively more raucous, until a huge wig-out right at the end. Bolan mutters, then grunts, then moans. If this was it, then it would still be quite the legacy at the top of the charts. But there’s more to come. Much more. They had hit #2 a few months before with ‘Ride a White Swan’, and were embarking on a run of ten singles, none of which would chart lower than #4.

After this glowing write-up, though, I do have to admit that ‘Hot Love’ isn’t my favourite T. Rex song. (It isn’t even my favourite T. Rex number one.) But it is the perfect introduction to the band: catchy, silly, fun, and sexy.

Find my Spotify playlist here.