297. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry

Alright-alright-alright-alright-a! Let’s get this out into the open straight off: I love this song. This is brilliant. This is what every rock ‘n’ roll band should be aspiring to when they set foot in a studio. This is a raucous, dirty, silly, angry, rollercoaster-ride of a #1 single…

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Baby Jump, by Mungo Jerry (their 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 28th February – 14th March 1971

Where to start? The swampy riff that sounds as if it’s being played through a boulder rather than speakers? The demented piano, like Jerry Lee Lewis on strong amphetamines? The lead singer, Ray Dorset’s, growling and screaming? The leery lyrics? If Mungo Jerry’s first chart-topper, ‘In the Summertime’, was the soundtrack to a chilled summer afternoon’s garden party, then ‘Baby Jump’ is the soundtrack to the same party, at 4am the next morning, hours after everyone should have gone home, with bodies are strewn across the lawn while somebody, somewhere, has cracked open yet another bottle of tequila.

She wears those micro-mini dresses, Hair hanging down the back, She wears those see-through sweaters, She likes to wear her stockings black… Dorset’s got his eyes on someone so sexy he don’t care where she been… The wooing continues: If I see her tonight, You can bet your life I’ll attack… (How very 1970s…)

As great as this song sounds, its full of lyrical gems as well. She got beautiful teeth, A toothpaste adman’s dream… And then the piece de resistance in the 3rd verse, when he compares his situation, in chasing this girl, to other famous ‘romances’. She is Lady Chatterley, he is the gamekeeper. He is Da Vinci, she the Mona Lisa. And then… I dreamt that I was Humbert, and she was Lolita… Yep, he went there. It’s a perfect rock ‘n’ roll lyric: provocatively dumb, yet somehow quite clever …

Meanwhile the simple riff thumps on and on and on, and we get some of the scatting from ‘In the Summertime’. On first listen you would never guess this was by the same band, but the hints are there. And then it ends. But it doesn’t, not really. Alright-alright-alright-alright-a! And we’re off again. Right back to the start. She wears those micro-mini dresses… And you begin to wonder if this song will ever end, or if it will just keep playing and playing until you go insane…

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Phew. Eventually it fades. You’re quite tired by the end of it. It’s not a record to casually throw on after a long day. This one requires stamina. Like I said – I love everything about ‘Baby Jump’, even if it is perhaps one of the most forgotten #1 records of all time. There’s no way this would have gotten anywhere near the top if ‘In the Summertime’ hadn’t exploded the year before – it’s the ultimate shadow #1. But I’m so glad it made it. It just happened to pop up on my Spotify some years and it’s been on steady rotation ever since. (While you’re getting your breath back, have a listen to ‘Brand New Cadillac‘ by Vince Taylor & The Playboys, and decide if Mungo Jerry were ‘referencing’ or ‘ripping off’.)

Mungo Jerry won’t score any more number one hits. (After this demented mess they never got invited back.) Their next single, ‘Lady Rose’, was stymied by the inclusion of ‘Have a Whiff On Me’ as the ‘B’-side. It was pulled from circulation, and replaced with a different song, as it was seen to be promoting cocaine use. Ray Dorset still uses the band name, though, and tours to this day.

It’s been quite the hard rocking end to 1970/start of 1971… Jimi Hendrix, Dave Edmunds, and now this. Plus, having this record knock ‘My Sweet Lord’ off the top is just plain funny. George Harrison was looking to the heavens for inspiration; Mungo Jerry weren’t looking any further than between their legs… And lo! We’ve had our strongest whiff of glam so far at the top of the charts. It’s coming! In fact, you can think of ‘Baby Jump’ as the amuse bouche before the King of the genre comes along next…

 

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296. ‘My Sweet Lord’, by George Harrison

I wonder what the odds were on George Harrison being the first Beatle to score a solo chart-topper? You would have assumed it’d be Lennon, who was releasing solo stuff before the Fab Four had even split, then McCartney, with his knack for a pop hook. Then again, George had been getting more of his songs included on their albums from 1968 onwards, and some of the Beatles’ most famous late-era tunes are his – ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, ‘Something’, ‘Here Comes the Sun’… So maybe it wasn’t such a surprise when he hit top spot less than a year after his former band’s last hit.

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My Sweet Lord, by George Harrison (his 1st of two #1s)

5 weeks, from 24th January – 28th February 1971

And in the end, it wasn’t even close. We are still seven years from a #1 by Paul, and nearly a decade away from one by John, by which time he’ll be dead. Anyway, to the song… There’s something quite ominous in the opening acoustic chords, contrasting nicely with the goofy, tropical, lead guitar riff.

My sweet lord, Mmm my lord, I really want to see you, Really wanna be with you… His voice sounds great – angelic, but gruff and growly when it needs to be. Really wanna see you lord but it takes so long, My lord… First things first, then – is this a religious song? On the face of it, yes – especially when the hallelujahs come in. And does he want proof of God’s existence or, like Clive Dunn before, is he anticipating death? (George Harrison and Clive Dunn asking the big questions at the top of the charts, who’d’ve though it…)

It’s not your typical pop song – no verse, bridge, chorus here. It’s more of a growing chant, a five-minute long mantra, that ascends through several key changes. Now, you can’t ever go wrong with key changes, but at the same time it’s a song that doesn’t really go anywhere. Maybe that’s the intention; but for me it leaves something wanting. ‘My Sweet Lord’ is a song that I loved without really considering why, and I do still really like it, but the more I listen to it the more I wonder if it’s as great as they say…

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Sacrilege? Maybe. Halfway through the Hallelujahs become Hare Krishna’s and other snippets of Vedic prayer. Which answers our earlier question – yes, it is a religious song. Harrison was big into his Hinduism at the time and by combining it with Christian elements he wanted to make a statement on the follies of sectarianism. We all worship the same God at the end of the day, right? (No!, shout all the atheists in the back.)

It ends on a high, like a gospel choir singing it up to the rafters. Among the backing instruments and singers you can hear Ringo, Billy Preston (from ‘Get Back’), and Eric Clapton among others. You might also hear hints of ‘He’s So Fine’ by The Chiffons… Harrison famously lost a copyright case that ruled he had ‘subconsciously copied’ the melody. (I really like this cover by The Belmonts – minus Dion – which splices the two songs together, with lots of added kazoo.)

‘My Sweet Lord’ was on Harrison’s epic triple album ‘All Things Must Pass’ – a shackles-off moment in which he stepped out of Lennon and McCartney’s combined shadow. He would continue to have commercial success throughout the seventies and eighties – by himself, in the supergroup The Travelling Wilburys – and then in the nineties with the two remaining Beatles. The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed, though, that this is his ‘1st of two #1s’… The other? A re-release of ‘My Sweet Lord’ just after his death in 2002. Till then then, George…

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295. ‘Grandad’, by Clive Dunn

What have we here then? A Christmas novelty that made it to #1 a fortnight too late? I know this song, vaguely – well, the chorus at least – and brace myself to write a terrible review.

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Grandad, by Clive Dunn (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 3rd – 24th January 1971

Grandad, Grandad, You’re lovely, That’s what we all think of you… And yep, the chorus is truly horrifying. It’s sung by little kids, to their grandpa, but in the creepily lifeless tones of horror-movie children, the sort with shining eyes that lure unsuspecting people into dark, misty forests… However, the song becomes more complex when you get to the verses. This is no saccharine ode to grandparents, oh no.

I’ve been sitting here all day, Thinking… Same old thing ten years away, Thinking… An old man sits in his rocking chair, getting all misty-eyed for days gone by. Penny-farthings on the street… Bows and hoops and spinning tops… The days when motorcars were new and scary, when happiness was a Charlie Chaplin matinee…

But there’s no resolution, no ‘oh getting old isn’t all bad’ twist at the end. In fact it gets worse. After listing all the things he misses, we get a final gut-punch: Familiar things I keep around, Near me… Mem’ries of my younger days, Clearly… Come into my mind… I’m no old man, but I can’t think of a better way to describe the feeling of getting older, of slowly losing your mind to age, of seeing death approaching over the horizon. Get beyond the banjo and the parping tuba, and this is a really depressing number one hit.

But then those bloody kids keep coming in to ruin it. Grandad, You’re lovely… What are they doing? Trying to cheer him up? If I were their grandad I’d be praying for the end to come even quicker. This would be a far, far better, and actually quite subversive, record without them. (I’m not even convinced that they’re real children, though I’m not sure that they had the technology in 1970 to computer-generate such creepy sounding voices.)

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Clive Dunn does sound quite geriatric when he sings, especially when he pronounces ‘telephones’ as ‘jelly-phones’, but he was only fifty when ‘Grandad’ hit #1 – a young grandad in anyone’s books. He was, I guess, playing upon his dotty Corporal Jones character from ‘Dad’s Army’, which was one of the biggest shows on TV at the time. Presumably the show’s popularity can explain this strange record’s huge success.

It’s a novelty; but not particularly funny. It’s a children’s record; but more complex and bittersweet than most children would be able to grasp. I can imagine thousands of them bought their grandfathers this record for Christmas, sending the old men into a depressive spiral when they sat down and actually listened to it. Plus, if we assume that the ‘Grandad’ in this record is looking back fifty years, to 1920, then isn’t it weird to think that if this were re-recorded today then the singer might reference ‘listening to Clive Dunn singing ‘Grandad’’ fifty years ago in the lyrics? Mind-bending…!

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