Roy Orbison: Best of the Rest

December 6th marks the 34th anniversary of Roy Orbison’s death, at the tragically young age of fifty-two. The ‘Big O’ stood apart from other early rock ‘n’ rollers, with his sombre stage persona, his vulnerable, melancholy songs, and his semi-operatic voice.

After his hit-making days ended in the mid-to-late sixties, a decade in the wilderness beckoned. Personal tragedies also unfolded – the deaths of his wife and his two eldest sons in a car crash and house fire respectively. The eighties saw a rediscovery of his work, with hit covers of his songs by Don McClean and Van Halen, and the formation of The Traveling Wilburys supergroup in 1988, alongside Bob Dylan, Jeff Lynne, George Harrison and Tom Petty. On the cusp of a triumphant comeback, Orbison died from a heart attack on December 6th 1988.

I’ve already written about his three chart-toppers (‘Only the Lonely’, ‘It’s Over’ and ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’) – classics the lot of them – and so to mark this day I’ll cover his five next-biggest UK hits…

‘In Dreams’ – #6 in 1963

A candy-coloured clown they call the Sandman, Tiptoes to my room every night… Only Roy Orbison could give a lyric so ridiculous-and-yet-terrifying the weight that it deserves. He dreams of his ex-lover then wakes, bathed in sweat, and alone. (Of course he’s alone – it’s a Roy Orbison song.) It’s got the same build-up as one of The Big ‘O’s very best songs, ‘Running Scared’, which barely scraped into the Top 10. ‘In Dreams’ is not quite as good, but builds to a fine crescendo. Roy, as was his way, hits a note that most humans are incapable of imagining, let along singing. ‘In Dreams’ was used to famous effect in David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’, a move that initially shocked Orbison but one that he came to accept after seeing the film several times (and perhaps, if we’re being cynical, seeing the publicity it brought his music…)

‘Too Soon to Know’ – #3 in 1966

A country cover that, I must admit, I’d never heard before. And yet it’s one of his biggest UK hits. It must have sounded quite unfashionable in the swinging charts of 1966 and yet… When was Roy Orbison ever truly in fashion? Or out of fashion, for that matter? He ploughed his own, spectacular furrow. It’s sweet, but lacking the oomph of Roy’s biggest and best hits.

‘Blue Bayou’ – #3 in 1963

Another bit of country-pop, with a cool bassline. And with Orbison’s angelic tones in the chorus, this is no normal country tune. No matter what genre he turned his hand to – country, pop, rock ‘n’ roll – he couldn’t help doing it a bit different. As a kid, I had no idea what a bayou was, but always thought it sounded nice: where you sleep all day, and the catfish play… I’m still not one-hundred percent certain what a bayou is, but I’d definitely like to hang out there…

‘You Got It’ – #3 in 1989

The comeback hit that never was. Well, it was a hit – one of his biggest – but Roy wasn’t around to enjoy his return to the top end of the charts. And ‘You Got It’ is almost the perfect comeback – a slight updating of Orbison’s sound, with some help from Jeff Lynne, but still a record that could easily slip in amongst his classics from the early sixties. The video above was filmed just a few weeks before his untimely death. It feels churlish to wonder if it would have been such a big hit had he not died… Maybe it would, as it’s a great song.

‘Dream Baby (How Long Must I Dream)’ – #2 in 1962

Interesting that this rockabilly ditty is Roy Orbison’s biggest non-#1. It’s nice enough: a repetitive refrain that turns into a sort of mantra as the song progresses, and it builds to a crescendo as all the best Orbison songs do. But it’s not an all time classic. Not a ‘Crying’, a ‘Running Scared’ or a ‘Blue Angel’ (my personal favourite). The video above is worth a look if not for the song then for the spectacularly uninterested audience. What did he say just before launching into the song…?

Roy Orbison, then. One of the most original chart stars going, with one of the very best voices.

Roy Orbison, April 26th 1936 – December 6th 1988

Electric Light Orchestra: Best of the Rest

ELO are one of those bands whose back catalogue is so stuffed with hits that their tally of number one hits is genuinely shocking. Just one! ‘Xanadu’, which featured in my countdown a few months back, featuring the sadly departed Olivia Newton-John. I’ve been meaning to do this post for a while, but have barely been managing to keep up with my regular posts, let alone any diversions like this. Still, better late than never… Here, then, are eight of ELO’s ‘other’ hits – chosen for a mix of chart position and my feelings towards them:

‘Roll Over Beethoven’ #6 in 1973

Putting the ‘Orchestra’ in Electric Light Orchestra, the band’s second Top 10 hit mixed Chuck Berry’s rock ‘n’ roll original with elements of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Roy Wood, previously of The Move, was the driving force behind ELO’s early hits but quit the band before this single had even been released (he quickly went on to form Wizzard). Shout out as well to ‘10538 Overture’, another, more psychedelic, slice of orchestral rock that gave the band their very first hit.

‘Livin’ Thing’ – #4 in 1976

With Wood gone, the weight of the band came to rest on Jeff Lynne’s shoulders. ‘Livin’ Thing’ was the first big hit of the band’s second iteration, and it’s a classic. Why does it have an Arabian, Spanishy, vaguely spaghetti-western sounding intro that bears little relation to the rest of the song….? Jeff Lynne’s approach to pop music appears to be completely based around a ‘why not?’ sort of philosophy, and more often than not it works.

‘Mr. Blue Sky’ – #6 in 1978

Their most famous song. Their best song? That would depend on my mood… And on the weather. On a sunny day this is unbeatable. On a dark and dingy one, it might get a little tiring. It perhaps say s something about me that my favourite part of the song is where Mr Night comes creeping over… It’s very Beatles-y, particularly ‘A Day in the Life’, and that can never be a bad thing.

‘The Diary of Horace Wimp’ – #8 in 1979

A perfectly weird song. Emphasis on the ‘perfect’. For me this song sums up why ELO are such a great pop group. The classical, the experimental, the downright weird bits that this song is chock-full of never take away from the catchiness of the song. (Too many prog acts seem to think that just because they’re very clever and very talented musically they don’t have to bother writing songs people actually want to listen to…)

Advertisements

‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ – #3 in 1979

ELO go disco, as pretty much every act in the world was doing in 1979. The pounding drums at the start make me very happy, as do the Bee Gee falsettos in the chorus. Don’t bring me down… Is it Bruce? Proust? No, it’s apparently ‘Groos’, which is a phonetic spelling of the German word from ‘greeting’. Personally I think Bruce would have worked much better… Still, ‘Groos’ was enough of a hook for ELO to score their second biggest UK chart hit.

‘Confusion’ – #8 in 1979

The follow-up to ‘Don’t Bring Me Down’ dialled things back a few steps. It’s much more typical ELO, with all manner of fun flourishes from the drums and the synths, and the robotic vocal effects. But it might just be their sweetest song: a big comfort blanket of a song, with just enough of a hint of melancholy.

‘All Over the World’ – #11 in 1980

From the ‘Xanadu’ soundtrack, one of ELO’s purest pop moments. The songs appear much better remembered than the movie, and you can understand why when there are low-key gems like this…

‘Hold on Tight’ – #4 in 1981

The band’s last UK Top 10, ‘Hold on Tight’ is a late-era glam rock stomper. I am a sucker for songs that slip into French for no discernible reason (see also Blondie’s ‘Sunday Girl’). Thanks to this record, I now know the French for hold on tight to your dreams, and can only hope for a reason to one day drop it into a spot of parlez-ing.

Hope you enjoyed this interlude. In my next post, we’ll be getting on into 1986…

The Supremes: Best of the Rest

Writing a post on Phil Collins’ chart-topping cover of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ made me realise how little we have heard from The Supremes on this blog. In fact, most of the comments on that post turned to the joys of the Supremes, rather than the merits of Collins’ cover. Which inspired this post!

There was a huge disparity between the girl-group’s US and UK chart fortunes. One #1 in Britain (‘Baby Love’), to twelve Billboard #1s between 1964-69! Here, then, are the ten Supremes singles that came closest to matching their only number one… ranked by chart position, rather than by preference.

‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ – reached #8 in 1966

Perhaps a little surprising that this doesn’t come in higher up. The ‘morse code’ guitar lick that comes in and out is great – this is possibly one of their ‘rockier’ hits – and I just noticed the galloping, hand-played drums. It’s not in the very highest echelon of Supremes songs, though. Not for me. It was later covered in a sprawling, psychedelic version by Vanilla Fudge, which manages to outdo the original, and then taken back to #1 in the US – and all the way to #2 in the UK – by Kim Wilde.

‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ – reached #7 in 1965

An even bigger surprise, that this one would be so low down the list. ‘Stop!’ is another classic, one of their best-loved tunes, and a song that practically begs you to do a certain dance move. More songs need exclamation marks in their titles, no? The video above is from a TV performance, but the trio seem to be singing live, showing off just how good their voices were.

‘Up the Ladder to the Roof’ – reached #6 in 1970

While The Supremes couldn’t match their home success in the sixties, by the 1970s they were scoring hits in the UK that struggled on the Billboard charts. ‘Up the Ladder to the Roof’ was their first release without Diana Ross. Jean Terrell is the new lead singer, and she has a throatier voice which she uses to full effect in the final chorus. I hadn’t heard this one before, however, and I’m not sure it will linger very long in the memory.

‘The Happening’ – reached #6 in 1967

From a movie, apparently, of the same name that’s been completely forgotten. This was the final single they released as ‘The Supremes’, before Ross got top billing. And it’s one of my favourites: playful, light, catchy as anything, frantic, slightly demented… Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for it, but that’s just fine.

‘Reflections’ – reached #5 in 1967

And here’s the first of their songs released as ‘Diana Ross & The Supremes’. It feels like a bit of a fresh start, the trio’s classic sound updated with some space-age, psychedelic sound effects. (Which I’m not sure the song really needs, but OK…)

‘Nathan Jones’ – reached #5 in 1971

Their best post-Diana moment? (Ok, there’s one more song to come that could claim that title…) But ‘Nathan Jones’ is my personal favourite. It takes the group’s sound in a very trippy, early-seventies directions, especially in the extended mix above, and is one of the few Supremes records where lead vocals are shared. I’m always amused by the normal-ness of the title. There must be tens of thousands of Nathan Joneses in the world, haunted by this song…

‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (with The Temptations) – reached #3 in 1969

The last four songs in this countdown all peaked at #3, starting with this A-List Motown collab. It’s every bit as smooth and classy as you’d expect a record by two of the 1960s great vocal groups to be. Diana Ross’ verse is excellent here, with a real playfulness in her voice…

‘Stoned Love’ – reached #3 in 1970

How about this, their joint second-highest UK chart hit is a Jean Terrell number…! The Supremes call for world peace… by getting stoned. Goodness. Either that, or by rhinestoning another fabulous dress… Both might work. Motown tried to distance themselves from the suggestion that it was about drugs, though the lines about lighting up the world suggest otherwise to me…

‘Where Did Our Love Go’ – reached #3 in 1964

Their breakthrough hit… The Supremes first US #1, and their first UK Top 10 hit. My favourite of their big hits? Probably. The boot stomping intro is iconic, especially in stereo as it travels across the room. The rest of the song is quite understated, compared to some of the bells and whistles tunes we’ve seen above. In fact, the girls thought the same, and were unsure about recording it to begin with, thinking it lacked a hook (further proof that most pop stars can’t spot a hit song if it bites them on the arse…)

‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ – reached #3 in 1966

And we end with the song that inspired this ‘Best of the Rest’, the one that made #1 in 1983 thanks to Phil Collins. It’s a bouncy, upbeat classic, though not one of my very favourite Supremes songs. It is, though, probably their most famous hit – it’s by some distance their most listened to song on Spotify – even more famous than the one Supremes single that charted higher.

I hope you enjoyed this short journey back to the sixties/early-seventies. Back on the regular countdown, things are getting even more ’80s… Coming soon!

ABBA: Best of the Rest – Part 2

Yesterday I ranked the songs that didn’t quite make my Top 10 of ABBA’s non-#1s. Here, then, is the main event…

10. ‘Does Your Mother Know’ – reached #4 in 1979

The only ABBA hit on which one of the boys took lead vocals, and their final glam-rock stomper. The lyrics are very of their time BUT, crucially, Bjorn acts like a true gentleman towards this teenage tearaway. Take it easy… Does your mother know? You can picture him helping the girl out the club, giving her a bottle of water, and waiting with her until the Uber arrives.

9. ‘Under Attack’ – reached #26 in 1982

One that benefits from not being over-played… This was the last single released before the band split up in December 1982. Sadly it didn’t help them go out with a bang, and limped to a Top 30 peak over Christmas. I love it though: it keeps the moodiness from ‘The Visitors’ album in the verses before dishing out a classic ABBA chorus. Never has a line like: Under attack, I’m being taken… sounded so positive.

8. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ / ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ – reached #9 / # 14 in 2021

The comeback hits. One of which, astonishingly, restored ABBA to the Top 10 for the first time in forty years. I’m treating them as a double-‘A’, as in days gone by that’s presumably what they would have been released as. I don’t really know where to place them, how to assess them with regards to the rest of their output yet, so have plonked them right in the middle. One things for sure: both songs hold their own with those from decades before. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, to my ears, combines ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘One of Us’, two of the band’s best. ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ I found a little underwhelming on first listen, but in time it’s grown into an epic that could only have been created by one band.

7. ‘Head Over Heels’ – reached #25 in 1982

The single that broke their run of 18 uninterrupted Top 10 hits… But I think it’s a mini-classic. It’s ABBA at their frothiest, and is definitely the lightest moment on ‘The Visitors’ album. It helps that you rarely hear it these days – perhaps if it was as played as ‘Dancing Queen’ I’d be ranking it lower. The video, in which Frida plays a messy It girl, is cheap and cheerful, but Good God those jumpsuits! She’s extreme, If you know, What I mean…

6. ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ – reached #3 in 1979

Until their re-evaluation in the ’90s, the ABBA flame was kept alight in gay bars. Most claim ‘Dancing Queen’ to be their gay anthem, for obvious reasons, but surely they were never gayer than when Frida and Agnetha were demanding a man after midnight. Those exclamation marks after each ‘Gimme’ in the title are everything, as is the pounding, horse-hoof beat, that sounds as close as disco ever came to splicing with a spaghetti-western soundtrack. It was later sampled by Madonna for one of her best songs, however I can’t listen to it now without hearing it sung in the style of Kathy Burke.

5. ‘SOS’ – reached #6 in 1975

I’ve heard this referred to as ABBA’s heavy-metal moment, ABBA’s emo moment, ABBA’s finest moment… I’d say it’s simply pure power-pop perfection. ‘SOS’ was their first big post-‘Waterloo’ hit, and it set them up for half a decade of chart domination. Even this early in their career, with both couples still happily together, ABBA’s melodies and hooks were underscored by melancholy. Even Pierce Brosnan couldn’t ruin this one…

4. ‘The Day Before You Came’ – reached #32 in 1982

Just what is this record about…? Is it the day before meeting the man of your dreams? Is it the day before your death? Your murder? Suicide?? A biting satire on the meat-grinder that capitalism throws us through in the name of a career…? Whatever it might be about, this six-minute, chorus-less epic is probably the most experimental moment of ABBA’s career. The hits were drying up, so why bother trying to write a hit? It was also the very last song they ever recorded (until the comeback). Legend has it that Agnetha recorded her vocals alone, in a darkened recording studio, before walking out and drawing ABBA to a close. Those vocals contain some of the band’s best lines, picking out the mundanity of this woman’s life. I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half past two… and There’s not, I think, a single episode of ‘Dallas’ that I didn’t see… She isn’t at all sure of what happened that day, really; a very unreliable narrator. You could write a dissertation on the many way this song can be interpreted. Who know, someone might already have. Strange, sinister perfection.

3. ‘Voulez-Vous’ / ‘Angeleyes’ – reached #3 in 1979

Apart, neither ‘Voulez-Vous’ nor ‘Angeleyes’ would get this high… As a double-‘A’ side, though, their combined forces get third place. (And, without giving the game away, the highest-placing of ABBA’s ’70s hits…) Both songs are disco heaven, and both are about a sleaze-ball of a man. The same sleaze-ball? In ‘Angeleyes’ the girls want to warn his new lover not to trust him, to warn her away… While in ‘Voulez-Vous’, in the heat of the dance floor, they give in and ask him bluntly: Voulez-vous? Take it now or leave it…

2. ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’ – reached #7 in 1981

In which ABBA move from disco, into electronic dance. The bass slaps (I believe that’s the term), the beat is unrepentant, and the lyrics are classic ABBA (how many dance tracks have words like ‘incomprehensible’ in them…?) My favourite bits are the violins that come in at the end, and the synthesised drops before the choruses, but really it’s all great. This was never intended to be a single, and when it was released it was only put out on 12″, which explains the relatively low peak. Though it was, at the time, the best selling 12″ record ever.

1. ‘One of Us’ – reached #3 in 1981

The first song the band released as two divorced couples; and the last genuine hit single they had. A coincidence…? It has everything you want from an ABBA single: singing through the tears, glorious harmonising from the girls, just the right number of cheesy touches (the parping bass, for example). I’m not sure it’s their best song, but something about it just hits a sweet spot – the Wishing she was somewhere else instead… line is perfection – and so it gives me great pleasure to name ‘One of Us’ as the best of ABBA’s rest.

ABBA: Best of the Rest – Part 1

We’ve covered all nine of ABBA’s UK #1s, from ‘Waterloo’ to ‘Super Trouper’, but I’m not ready to bid them farewell just yet. Here then, are the rest of the band’s 17 non chart-topping UK Top 40 hits, ranked, and split over two days. Bear in mind that I do not actively dislike any of these songs, even the lowest placing. While the records at the top of this list do, I’d say, rank alongside the best of ABBA’s chart-topping hits. Here we go…

17. ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ – reached #38 in 1975

The worst of the rest (but still an earworm). This is ABBA at their schlager-iest: the saxophones, the wedding bells, the silly title. The band were struggling to follow up ‘Waterloo’, to score a hit away from Eurovision, and when this limped to #38 it looked as if the game might have been up. Luckily their next single did significantly better, and the rest is history…

16. ‘I Have a Dream’ – reached #2 in 1979

ABBA’s final single of the seventies was this Christmas Number Two. Sorry, that sounded a bit rude. It’s not that bad, but I’ve never connected with it. Listening to ‘ABBA Gold’ as a kid, this was the one song I wished would end sooner than it ever did, and then along came Westlife’s rotten cover version. I still feel the same way: it’s a bit plodding – the sitar doesn’t help – and children’s choirs in pop songs are, as St. Winifred’s showed us, dangerous things.

15. ‘Chiquitita’ – reached #2 in 1979

Another number two – again, not being rude – from 1979, and from the ‘Voulez-Vous’ album. I can see that this is a well-made piece of music: the baroque piano, the chorus that demands to be belted out, the terrifying snowman in the video; and a well-loved moment in the ABBA canon. But it still leaves me a little cold. ‘Chiquitita’ could well be the lover of ‘Fernando’, and I’d rank the two songs together: catchy choruses, but nowhere near peak-ABBA.

14. ‘Money, Money, Money’ – reached #3 in 1976

If it were down to the video alone, this’d be near the top. The close-ups, the strobe lights, the diamond encrusted kimonos… As a song though, it’s fine. It’s worth a sing-a-long if it comes on the radio. It sounds a bit like it’s been snatched from a musical that nobody has ever seen, and it has one hell of a key-change. Apart from that, the best bit is when Frida pouts the line I bet he wouldn’t fancy me… Um, I bet he probably would, love.

13. ‘Ring, Ring’ – reached #32 in 1974

The title hit from their first album in 1973, albeit only charting in a re-release after the success of ‘Waterloo’. This is such an early hit – their first Swedish #1 – that the band hadn’t yet assumed their iconic acronym (they released it as Bjorn and Benny, Agnetha and Frida). They had a few glam-rock stompers – ‘Waterloo’, ‘So Long’, this. In the video, Bjorn looks like he’s stumbled in after an audition for The Sweet. ‘Twas the style of the time.

12. ‘Thank You for the Music’ – reached #33 in 1983

Their signature hit? Until quite recently, this was ABBA’s chart swansong. Originally recorded in 1977 and included on ‘ABBA – The Album’ but not released as a single until after they’d officially split. A few years ago I’d have ranked this rock-bottom: I thought it tipped too far into camp theatricality. And it still does… But I’ve grown to like it. Who knows, in another decade this might be my favourite? I always imagine Freddie Mercury singing it with Agnetha – the little ‘mm-hmm’ in the second verse is pure Freddie. Can you imagine..?

11. ‘Summer Night City’ – reached #5 in 1978

The band’s first foray into disco, ahead of the ‘Voulez-Vous’ album. While I like the impetus and the drive of this one, I don’t think it’s quite in the same league as their later disco hits, which I’ve ranked higher up the list. And, just confirm, the lyric is: Walking in the moonlight… and not what you think you heard.

A little hors d’oeuvre then, before the main event. Still some classics mixed in there. Same time tomorrow: The Top 10…

Top 10s – The 1970s

We have finally reached the end of the seventies! And so, to celebrate, here are the ten records that I – in my recaps – named as the very best of the decade. Note that this is not me retrospectively ranking my faves. I am beholden to decisions made several months, if not a year ago, for better or worse, and it has left us with an interesting rundown….

I spent the 1960s respectfully choosing the classics: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’. You can check out my sixties Top 10 here (and while you’re at it why not have a glance at my ’50s Top 10 too.) For the seventies, though, it seems I went a little rogue… Those of you expecting to find ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘I’m Not In Love’, or ‘Wuthering Heights’ will have to look elsewhere…

I am limiting myself to one song per artist, regardless of how I ranked them at the time. Interestingly the only act that would have had two songs qualify was… Wizzard! As it is they are left with just one. And I was surprised that one of my favourite bands of the decade, Slade, came nowhere near to placing any songs in this list. Anyway, here we go:

‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1970

This first song was runner-up in my late-sixties/early-seventies recap. It is a classic, a sweeping hymn, a modern standard. Every time I think I’m bored of it, that it is a little too proper to be a pop song – it is one of the few songs recorded post-1955 that my gran liked, for example – then I listen to it… The Oh, If you need a friend… line gives me shivers, every time. But I was feeling rebellious, and I awarded first place to…

‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry – #1 for 2 weeks in February/March 1971

One of the grimiest, seediest, downright strangest number ones of the decade, if not of all time. The complete opposite to Mungo Jerry’s huge feel-good hit from the year before. In my original post, I described ‘In the Summertime’ as the soundtrack to a sunny afternoon’s BBQ, while ‘Baby Jump’ was the soundtrack as the party still raged on past 4am. Bodies strewn across the lawn, couples humping in the bushes, someone throwing up under a tree… That kind of thing.

‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1972

‘Best song’ in my 2nd seventies recap. T. Rex’s final UK #1 is everything that made them great condensed and distilled into a perfect pop song: power chords, beefy drums, nonsensical lyrics… From the opening woah-oh-oh-oh it is an extended, non-stop chorus of a tune, and a true classic.

See My Baby Jive’, by Wizzard – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1973

The height of ridiculous, over-indulgent, glam… And all the better for it. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any song beginning with anti-aircraft guns will be great. Roy Wood threw the kitchen sink at this, Wizzard’s first of two #1s, and everything stuck. I named it runner-up to ‘Metal Guru’, and then named the follow-up, the equally OTT and equally wonderful ‘Angel Fingers’ as runner-up to the song below…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1974

Winner in my 3rd seventies recap, you could argue that tracks like this marked the beginning of the end for glam rock. From 1974 onwards the genre was swamped with rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts: Alvin Stardust, The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy, whose hits were catchy but, let’s be honest, dumb. Except, sometimes dumb and catchy is what you need, and when moments like that come along then you can do no better than turn to ‘Tiger Feet.’ Relish the video above… The riff, the repetitive chorus, a man in a dress, backing dancers that look like they’ve just come from the away end at Highbury… Fun fact: There has never been a ‘Best Of the 70s’ compilation that didn’t include ‘Tiger Feet.’

‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, by The Stylistics – #1 for 3 weeks in August 1975

Here’s the outlier… I was genuinely surprised to find that this one qualified. I named it as runner-up in my 4th recap apparently, ahead of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘I’m Not in Love’, which were punished for their ubiquity. But this is a great tune, and it feels right that a slice of soul should feature in this Top 10, as it was one of the sounds of the mid-seventies.

‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1975

One of the seventies’ Top 10 #1 singles is a re-release of a sixties hit? A mere technicality… We needed some Bowie, and this was his only chart-topper of the decade. I named it as best song in my 4th recap. An epic in every sense of the word.

‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA – #1 for 6 weeks between August and October 1976

Friday night and the lights are low… Frida and Agnetha are looking out for a place to go. You know the rest. Everyone on planet earth knows the rest. The ultimate pop song? The famous glissando intro is instantly recognisable, and is referenced in ABBA’s comeback hit ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’. But. I only named it as runner-up in my 5th recap, because, well, Donna Summer went and did this:

‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer – #1 for 4 weeks in July/August 1977

The future arrived in the summer of ’77, beamed in on a spaceship piloted by one Donna Summer, with Giorgio Moroder as engineer. I rated it above ‘Dancing Queen’ precisely because it isn’t the ultimate pop song – it’s harsh, uncompromising and aggressively modern. You have to be in the mood for ‘I Feel Love’, which is why it hasn’t been overplayed to death, but when you are in the mood then woah. And it still sounds aggressively modern almost forty-five years on.

‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1979

Winner in my final ’70s recap, just two days ago. Blondie brought us a new-wave classic: a little disco, a little punk, a little classic rock, but beholden to none of what went before. Debbie Harry gave an impossibly cool lesson in how to be a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, too. 1979 – probably the best year of the decade in terms of chart-topping quality – was a-go go go. I know I love the glam years, but line these last three songs up – ABBA, Donna Summer and Blondie – and a better 10 minutes of popular music you’ll struggle to find.

So, there ends the 1970s. Next up, I’ll be cracking on with the eighties…

Donna Summer: Best of the Rest

Regular readers of this blog will know that, when I don’t think an act has had quite enough glory in terms of their #1s, I rank a Top 10 that takes in all their chart hits… I’ve done Status Quo, T Rex, Dusty Springfield, Buddy Holly… (If you’d like to, you know, check them out.)

For Donna Summer, the high priestess of disco, I’ve decided not to rank her Top 10 (I partly can’t be bothered, and I partly don’t think I’m enough of an authority on her back-catalogue…) So, instead, here are simply my faves from among her other big UK hits. And by ‘other’, I mean not her mind-blowing, game-changing, solitary chart-topper ‘I Feel Love’. You can read my post on that here. In chronological order, then:

‘Love to Love You Baby’ – #4 in 1976

Donna announced herself on charts worldwide with this sensuous slice of low-key disco. Actually, it’s more than ‘sensuous’, it’s ‘steamy’. Actually no, it’s more than just ‘steamy’, it’s downright ‘sexual’. She loves to love her baby, and has all the moans and groans to prove it. The BBC refused to promote it, so obviously it became a huge Top 5 hit… It was one of the first disco records to get an extended remix. A seventeen-minute (!) extended remix to be precise.

‘I Remember Yesterday’ – #14 in 1977

If I were ranking these songs… This’d be my #1. Summer’s ‘I Remember Yesterday’ LP, a collaboration with Giorgio Moroder, was an album with a concept – a disco-based journey through different musical ages. The title track saw the duo take on the Jazz Age. Disco music that you can do the Charleston to? Yes please! And how about Donna’s top hat and tails in the video above?

‘Love’s Unkind’ – #3 in 1978

From the roaring twenties, to the girl-groups of the fifties and early-sixties. It’s a little strange to hear a woman who spend much of her breakthrough hit faking an orgasm suddenly singing a song about schoolgirl crushes: Just the other day I was prayin’ he would give me a chance, Hopin’ he would choose me for his partner for the High School dance…

‘Rumour Has It’ – #19 in 1978

Pure disco, but with added funk and some rocking guitars. I love the strutting, synthy bassline in this one. Only reached #19, though…

Last Dance’ – #51 in 1978

It takes a lot of guts to write and release a disco song that takes a full two minutes to actually become a disco song. The slow build up to disco perfection… It’s also clever marketing to write a song that practically begs the DJ to play it at the end of every single night. Deserved much better than a forgettable #51 peak.

‘Hot Stuff’ – #11 in 1979

Speaking of criminally low chart positions… You don’t often talk about memorable disco ‘riffs’, but this is probably the ultimate. Donna’s sitting home and is, let’s be honest, horny. Dialled about a thousand numbers, Almost rang the phone off the wall… (I highly doubt it’d have taken her a thousand attempts to find a willing man, but still.) I love the unashamed sexuality here, especially from a woman, who just wants to bring a wild man back home. Even that time Prince Charles did the ‘Full Monty’ dance to it couldn’t ruin this classic…

‘Bad Girls’ – #14 in 1979

A song written in solidarity with prostitutes, after Summer’s assistant was wrongly accused of being one by a police officer. Like everybody else, They want to be a star… Another disco classic, just as the genre was about to implode. Maybe that’s why it charted so low in the UK, though it was a huge US #1. Toot, toot… Beep, beep!

‘Love Is in Control (Finger on the Trigger)’ – #18 in 1982

In the eighties, Summer moved away from her partnership with Moroder, and released a 1982 album produced by man-of-the-moment Quincy Jones. Full of nice period-details: the sax, the squelchy bass, the MJ-esque high notes… It showed that Donna was going to keep you dancing long after disco had died.

‘This Time I Know It’s For Real’ – #3 in 1989

Every diva needs a comeback. After Moroder and Jones, Summer turned to Stock, Aitken and Waterman… And it worked, delivering her into the UK Top 10 for the first time in a decade. In my humble opinion, this is one of the best examples of that tinny, plastic SAW sound – precisely because they reigned in the tinny, plastic sound just enough. Get used to it, though, because in a few years pretty much every song that features on this blog will be drenched in it…

Top 10s – Status Quo

Status Quo. The Quo. Just ‘Quo’. Hated, adored, never ignored… Or is that Manchester Utd? (The single that they released with Status Quo will not be coming anywhere near this Top 10, rest assured…)

Usually with my Top 10s I include any single released, and charted, by an act in the UK. Except, Quo have been around since 1962, charting since 1968. They’ve released a hundred singles over the past fifty-five years! For them, then, I’m only counting singles that made the Top 20.

Where to begin? Maybe some facts and figures. Status Quo have 400 weeks on the singles chart (but only one week at #1!), 500 on the albums, and have played Wembley Arena and on Top of the Pops more than any other act. Speaking of Top of the Pops…

10. ‘Jam Side Down’, reached #17 in 2002

Disclaimer: I’m not really including this as Status Quo’s 10th best single. I include it as I have very clear memories of watching TOTP in a friend’s bedroom – Wiki tells me it was the 16th August 2002 – and sixteen year old me being amazed that Status Quo were still on it. In the Top 20. Look at them! They were old men! The tune is pretty catchy, with that trademark Quo chug, and the lyrics silly enough: My bread keeps landin’ jam side down, Say you’ll be there to spread love around… Also on TOTP that evening were Darius Danesh, the legendary Bowling for Soup and an up and coming act called Coldplay. Wonder what happened to them?

9. ‘Down the Dustpipe’, reached #12 in 1970

Here they are looking a bit fresher-faced. This is perhaps the purest slice of Quo in this countdown. A two-minute blast of raw boogie-woogie, and the first hit to feature their trademark sound… which was still coming through loud and clear on Top of the Pops thirty-two years later!

8. ‘The Anniversary Waltz Part 1’, reached #2 in 1990

Status Quo do Jive Bunny. There are days when I think this might be the best piece of music ever recorded… And then there are days when I see sense. Quo lost their way a bit in the late-eighties, but still kept having those hits. And there is something about them doing a medley of old rock ‘n’ roll covers – ‘Lucille’, ‘No Particular Place to Go’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and more – that ticks a box for me. I love all their covers, ‘Mess of Blues’, ‘Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like’ et al, but couldn’t in good conscience feature any more of them. Just think… This hot mess of a record came dangerously close to being their 2nd ever #1 single!

7. ‘Marguerita Time’, reached #3 in 1984

A complete cheese-fest that only Francis Rossi liked. Apparently it contributed to bassist Alan Lancaster quitting the band the following year! Yes, it is a million miles from the hard-rocking Quo of the seventies. Yes, there is a ropey synth-riff. Yes, it features actual yodelling. But there is not a week goes by when the lyric: Let’s have a drink, It’s Marguerita time… doesn’t pop into my head, usually around 5pm on a Friday.

6. ‘Again and Again’, reached #13 in 1978

Not one of their biggest or better-known hits, but I love the bluesy riff in this one. Plus, the chorus is peak Quo. Chugging guitars… Again Again Again Again Again Again Again Again, Why don’t do you do it, Why don’t you do it again…? Who said they were a limited and repetitive band…?

5. ‘Ice in the Sun’, reached #8 in 1968

Released as The Status Quo, when they were still a very sixties psychedelic rock act, this is the first Quo song I became aware of as a very little lad. It was on a ’60s Best Of’ cassette that had heavy rotation in my parents’ mustard yellow Ford Escort. It’s a very busy song, with lots of effects and, looking back, some fairly trippy lyrics. ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ is probably the better-known of their two sixties hits, but I’ve always liked this one more. Two interesting facts: ‘Ice in the Sun’ was co-written by rock ‘n’ roller Marty Wilde, and it was the Quo’s final hit in the USA!

To the Top 4, and it’s the big seventies hits… but in what order?

4. ‘Down Down’, reached #1 in 1975

Their only #1 single, but one of their hardest-rocking records. Is it just me, or is there something almost punk-like in the tight, fizzy, riff? The video above has a funky little outro that the single version don’t. Read my original post on it here.

3. ‘Paper Plane’, reached #8 in 1972

Another tight, thrashy rocker. ‘Paper Plane’ gave the band their first Top 10 since the psychedelic sixties, and it set the template for Quo from now until the end of time. Though they wouldn’t always be as frantic as this… I have no idea what the song is about, but I do like how it evolves from riding a butterfly to riding a paper plane to riding a Deutsche car… Possibly the least hippy-sounding hippy anthem ever.

2. ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’, reached #3 in 1977

There are some who might argue that this marks the beginning of the end of Status Quo – less of the hard-rock and more of the boogie-woogie cover versions that they flogged to death in the ’80s. And they may have a point. (Though to be honest, I’ve loved this song since I was wee, and didn’t discover that it was a John Fogerty cover for several decades.) But when a tune is as jubilant as this, who cares? When a tune is able to open Live Aid – see above – and get everyone jumping from the off, then it must be alright.

1. ‘Caroline’, reached #5 in 1973

You might struggle to think of a Status Quo riff (or you might struggle to distinguish one from the other…) Except this one. I love the way the entire first minute of the record is devoted to the riff building, adding guitars, drums and bass. No nonsense, heads down, rock the flip out. ‘Caroline’ is another favourite from my childhood, and is possibly the main reason that, to this day, I can’t shrug off the grip of three-chord, three minute rock ‘n’ roll. There are times in life when nothing but Status Quo will do, and this is their finest moment.

Top 10s – T. Rex

You can’t say you didn’t see it coming…

177c23fb3f32b1c6ee260895272a6b16

I do love T. Rex, and having their 4 number one’s crop up in my countdown has cemented how brilliant they were, how fun it must have been to be around for Marc Bolan’s short-lived explosion into the biggest pop supernova on the planet.

But two of those #1s don’t even make my Top 10… Yes, this is my Top 10 and mine alone, picked for personal preference just as much as musical brilliance.

First up the rules. Well, the ‘rule’, singular… To qualify for my Top 10, the song has to have been released and to have charted on the UK singles chart. No album tracks, or ‘B’-sides, no ‘Mambo Sun’, or ‘Thunderwing’.  Enjoy…

10. ‘One Inch Rock’, reached #28 in 1968 (and #7 on re-release in 1972)

I am well aware that this is not Marc Bolan’s and T. Rex’s tenth-best song, but on a personal level this takes me back to being a kid and singing along in the backseat. Somehow it had ended up on a cheapo ‘Best of the 60s’ cassette. My brother and I found the line ‘I’m kinda hard cos I’m one inch tall’ hilarious… Except it’s ‘I got the horrors cos I’m one inch tall’, and it’s not the only lyric you might struggle to make out.

Released when they were still ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’ and more of a folk-duo, with Bolan joined by the brilliantly named Steve Peregrin Took, it sets the tone for much of T. Rex’s lyrical output while sounding unlike anything they would release in their heyday. On the one hand it is a song about being one-inch tall; on the other it is about being under the influence of some very strong hallucinogenics.

9. ‘New York City’, reached #15 in 1975

Did you ever see a woman, Coming out of New York City, With a frog in her hand…? Why no, Marc, can’t say I ever did. (Though apparently this one was genuinely inspired by Bolan seeing a woman, in New York, walking down the street while holding a frog…) While I wish I could have included more of T. Rex’s mid seventies singles, the truth is they just can’t compete with the ones further down this list. However, this one just about manages holds its own. That intro, sounding like a cartoon super-villain warming up his death-ray, twinned with a honky-tonk piano, is brilliant. Add the performance above, complete with a man in a giant-frog suit, and you have my 9th favourite T. Rex single.

8. ‘Children of the Revolution’, reached #2 in 1972

A grinding, almost menacing, riff that lumbers its way through a song that I want to love more than I do… I don’t know, I just think it lacks a little of their other hits’ joie de vivre. This one makes number 8, though, because it includes Bolan’s Bolanest lyric: I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice… That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll, right there.

7. ‘Get It On’, reached #1 in 1971

A sexy riff for a sexy song about sex. Not much more needs written about one of their most-recognisable hits, but if you want to know more my original post is here. As much as I love it, I always think this song could have been chunkier… Know what I mean? Anyway, it gave them their biggest hit in the US, and you may recognise the keyboard player in the video above…

6. ‘Teenage Dream’, reached #13 in 1974

The epic, operatic, pinnacle of Marc Bolan’s genius… Or the sound of him disappearing up his own arse? Opinions are split, but I’d sway towards to the former. In amongst all the bizarre imagery, I think it’s Bolan’s lament towards the fame and adulation that was slipping away from him. He claimed ‘Teenage Dream’ as his finest lyric, and who am I to argue? The single version is already five minutes long, and the video above has an added minute of guitar trickery tagged on. Because, why not?

5. ‘Ride a White Swan’, reached #2 in 1971

The breakthrough hit for ‘T. Rex’ the glam rock icons. The lyrics still referenced the people of the Beltane and looking like a druid in the olde days… But the guitar was electric and funky and T. Rex was a-go. Years later, Bolan would perform this hit while literally riding a giant white swan. Which is brilliant…

4. ‘The Groover’, reached #4 in 1973

Dripping with attitude, and a punky, metal-ish riff, this was T. Rex’s last UK Top 10 hit. It starts off with the band’s name as a chant – T. R. E. Exxxxxx – with Marc going on to tell us just how brilliant he is. Some name me stud (yes they do…) We know he ain’t tame, and we call him the groover etc etc. Sing it to me children… It’s a middle finger to everyone who might claim that T. rex’s music was repetitive and reductive; in the form of yet another gloriously simple, repetitive T. Rex hit.

3. ‘Jeepster’, reached #2 in 1971

Fun fact: this was released against Bolan’s permission, as their final single on the Fly label. But let’s just be glad they did. Not for the first time, or the last, Marc is comparing his woman to a car. But also, he’s a car. A Jeepster for her love… Everyone’s a car! What is a simple enough, rockabilly number transforms towards the end when he announces that he is also a vampire for her love, and that he’s gonna suck ya! Oh my…

2. ‘Metal Guru’, reached #1 in 1972

T. Rex’s best #1 single – read my original post here – and a record that soars. ‘It is a festival of life song’, Marc said. ‘I believe in God, but have no religion.’ By the time this reached the top of the charts T. Rex were approaching God-like status themselves in the UK, and this was probably their pinnacle. The performance above is a bit ropey, but the brilliance of the song shines through. Why Noel Edmonds is dressed like Robin Hood, however, remains a mystery…

1. ’20th Century Boy’, reached #3 in 1973

‘One Inch Rock’, back at the start of this list, is my earliest memory of T. Rex, before I knew what they were. Hearing ’20th Century Boy’ as a nine or ten year-old was the moment I sat up and said ‘Hello, what is this?’ I don’t think its overstating things to say that the two crunching chords right at the start here is one of the most thrilling moments in rock music, ever… It’s heavier than a lot of T. Rex’s stuff – the guitar sounds more like a chainsaw – and the performance above is even heavier than the recorded version. It’s a brutal, stripping down of glam rock to its essence: power chords and slightly ambiguous lyrics… He wants to be a toy, to a boy, a boy-toy…?

Phew. That was fun. Up next, we launch head first into 1973!

Top 10s – The 1960s

Time for a Top 10. A month or so ago I ranked my Top 10 #1 singles of the 1950s. Now that I’ve officially drawn the sixties to a close with my most recent recap, here’s the Official 100% Undisputed Top 10 #1 singles of the 1960s!

The sixties. The decade that brought, many would say, the finest pop music known to man. Malt Shop pop, to Merseybeat, to R & B, Folk, Psychedelic, Hippies and Motown. It had it all.

By ‘My Top 10’, I mean the records that came out on top in my recaps. This isn’t me looking back and choosing; this is me recounting how I felt in the moment, as I encountered these great records in their natural environment, like seeing a pack of majestic lions while on safari… Or something. I only have one rule, and it is simple: one record per artist. 

Here then, in chronological order, are my Top 10 #1 singles of the swinging sixties… (with a bonus or two thrown in for good measure…)

1. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers – #1 for 7 weeks in May/June 1960

Winner in my first sixties recap… Don and Phil relaunch with a mature new sound. They had scored their 1st chart-topper two years earlier with the nice but soppy ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. Since then they had changed labels and toughened up, kicking off a run at the top of the UK charts with some of the best harmonising ever heard. The above video doesn’t quite do the recording justice – listen to and read about that here – but apparently the backing group there is none other than The Crickets, and I couldn’t resist…

2. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – #1 for 1 week in August 1960

For the most part, American rock ‘n’ roll was far superior to the British version. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been a 1st round knockout. In response to Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Fats and Eddie Cochran we had Cliff and, um, Tommy Steele. (OK, OK, simplifying things a bit, but still…) But ‘Shakin’ All Over’ was the moment in which UK rockers truly competed with their counterparts from across the Atlantic, with its timeless riff and racy lyrics. A runner-up in my 1st recap, you can read my original post here.

3. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes – #1 for 5 weeks in October/November 1962

Of course, by the middle of the decade, the Brits were the ones showing the Yanks how to do it. The first sign that the tide was changing, and the first UK band to hit #1 in the US, were The Tornadoes. Masterminded by slightly unhinged genius Joe Meek, this instrumental tells the story of an alien spacecraft that comes to earth for a look around, before shooting back off to whatever galaxy it came from. Except, ‘Telstar’ is an instrumental, so I’ve made up that story entirely. More simply put: a brilliant, brilliant record that blows you away when you hear it in context (the #1s on either side of it were Elvis’s ‘She’s Not You’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘Lovesick Blues’). I named it best chart-topper in my 2nd sixties recap – read my original post here.

4. ‘She Loves You’, by The Beatles – #1 for six weeks in September, October, November & December (!!) 1963

Without my ‘one chart-topper per artist’ rule I’d probably have had 4 Beatles discs in this Top 10. But ‘She Loves You’ is the one that makes it. Yes, yes, yes – in the years following this the band would go way beyond She loves you, And you know you should be glad… both sonically and lyrically. But, to me, this is the moment the 60s really begins. Hell, it’s the moment Britain finally put the war, the rationing and all the misery of the past half-century behind them for good. Imagine being thirteen years old in 1963, and hearing this beauty for the first time…. I named it best chart-topper, and you can read my original post here.

5. ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers – #1 for 3 weeks in January/February 1964

A low-key, under-appreciated, melancholy #1 from one of the biggest bands in the country during the first wave of Merseybeat. I called it a runner-up to ‘She Loves You’ in my 3rd recap, and it’s one of my earliest musical memories. Plus, I love the way they bow at the end of the video above. A well brought-up bunch of lads! The original post is here.

6. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers – #1 for 2 weeks in February 1965

The first five in this rundown are all of a similar pop/rock ‘n’ roll feel… The latter five shoot all over the place, starting with this slice of blue-eyed soul. Now pop music was for grown-ups again, and this glossy hit led the way. The call and response section, with one voice growling and one voice hitting the highest notes a man has ever sung, are simply stunning. I really struggled, long and hard, in choosing between this and the next song for a ‘Best Chart-Topper’ award. Ultimately, I named this as runner-up. Do I regret my decision…? Maybe… If I read my original post again I might change my mind…

7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones – #1 for 2 weeks in September 1965

The song that pipped The Righteous Brothers to the post… Suddenly rock ‘n’ roll was just ROCK, and the riffs were sledgehammers through your brain. And the lyrics weren’t about meeting your girl at the juke-joint; they were world-weary swipes at phoney advertising campaigns and girls who wouldn’t sleep with you, even though you were a world-famous rock star… It just had to be in this Top 10, plain and simple. Original post here.

8. ‘Good Vibrations’, by The Beach Boys – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1966

A song that needs no further introduction, and one that I struggle to really, really, really love. One that needs respected as a work of art; but not one I listen to all that often. Still, I did name it as runner-up in my 5th sixties recap, so it gets its place in the Top 10. Read my original musings here.

9. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum – #1 for 6 weeks in June/July 1967

At the start of the Summer of Love, one song redefined what a pop song should sound like, how a pop song should be constructed, what lyrical content huge a #1 hit could cover… Who knows how the hell ‘to skip the light fandango’? Who the hell cares when it sounds as good as this. Winner of my 5th ’60s recap – read my original post here.

10. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1969

Winner of my last sixties recap, when I opted for it at the last minute over ‘Hey Jude’. Motown’s finest moment? Again, a song that I can write nothing new about, so I’ve attached this video of a live version. I love the way that Marvin and one of his band act out the phone call at the start… ‘Somethin’ funky goin’ down’ indeed… Read my original post here.

Bonus 1 – ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – #1 for 1 week in November 1970

I called this one runner-up in the recap I just posted a couple of days ago, it having reached top-spot a year too late following Hendrix’s death. Had it hit number one at the right place and time, I may well have named it a winner. So, as a consolation, here it is…

Bonus 2 – ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra – #1 for 4 weeks in February/March 1966

Looking back at this list, one thing struck me: it’s a sausage fest. And then I had a closer look, and was amazed to count that, out of the 185 records that made #1 in the UK between January 1960 and December 1969, only 23 (!!) featured a female artist. If we don’t count duets with men, or male bands with female lead-singers, then there were only 16 (!!!!) #1s by females. Here then, is the record-by-a-girl that came closest to a prize in my recaps… Officially the best female-recorded #1 of the decade : Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!