500. ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole

For the third year in row, the song that won the Eurovision Song Contest also tops the UK singles chart. Unlike Bucks Fizz in 1981, though, the winner is not British. Nor Irish, as Johnny Logan was in 1980. Enter Nicole Hohloch, a seventeen-year-old German.

A Little Peace, by Nicole (her 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, 9th – 23rd May 1982

Just like a flower when winter begins… It’s jaunty, it’s cute, it’s pure Eurovision… Just like a candle blown out in the wind… And, oh no, I’m getting flashbacks… Just like a bird that can no longer fly… Dana flashbacks! Twelve years ago, another teenager won with a similarly saccharine slice of Eurocheese. ‘A Little Peace’ isn’t that bad – very few records are – but it still sticks in your throat.

The world is hard but, deep in her young heart, Nicole has a dream. A little loving, A little giving… For our tomorrow, A little peace… Straight on from ‘Ebony and Ivory’, it’s more happy-clappy ‘peace’ nonsense at the top of the charts. (Though I can tolerate this crap from naive schoolgirls far more than I could from Misters McCartney and Wonder, who should have known better…)

The nicest thing about this record is its gentle country lilt. It’s been a good while since we had a #1 that we could class as ‘country’. And I’d also like to mention Nicole’s excellent English. You’d think she was singing in her native tongue. (There is also a German version.) But, overall, this is a pretty forgettable record. And forgotten it pretty much has been – it’s nowhere to be seen on Spotify, for example.

At the time, though, this was huge. A first ever German Eurovision winner (perhaps the definitive sign that Europe had forgiven them for you-know-what?) and the biggest winning margin until 1997. Nicole continues to record and perform, she’s still only fifty-seven, though chart success outside of Germany has been limited. Plus, Nicole is already the 3rd German act to top the charts in 1982, after Kraftwerk and The Goombay Dance Band, and it’s only May!

Most significantly for us, ‘A Little Peace’ marks the 500th number one. Hurray! We are actually well over two-thirds of the way through our never-ending countdown! If only it were a slightly more auspicious song to mark the occasion. I’ll do a special post to celebrate this milestone in a couple of days, alongside some cover-versions of past chart-toppers, then it will be back to normal service. Thankfully, after two #1s and five weeks of preaching, the next number one is about, oh yes, randy schoolboys buying condoms…

499. ‘Ebony and Ivory’, by Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder

We’re almost at the five-hundredth number one single. Thirty years since the very first chart, twenty years since Stevie Wonder released his first singles, well over ten years since The Beatles disbanded… It’s amazing that we had to wait this long to meet a solo McCartney, or any kind of Wonder, chart-topper.

Ebony and Ivory, by Paul McCartney (his 1st of three solo #1s) with Stevie Wonder (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, 18th April – 9th May 1982

I’d have happily waited a bit longer, to be honest. The best you can say about this anthem of love and acceptance is that it’s well-intentioned. Ebony and ivory, Live together in perfect harmony, Side by side on my piano keyboard… If piano keys, inanimate slices of elephant tusk and timber, can sit happily together then Oh Lord, why don’t we…? (To be fair, the metaphor of ebony and ivory as black and white people wasn’t invented by McCartney and Wonder. It had been around since the 1840s.)

Did this song sound clumsy at the time? It’s not as if the early ‘80s were a racial utopia; but given the events of the past few years this definitely sounds clumsy. Yet you can’t judge the past by the standards of today. You also shouldn’t judge a song by the artists involved but, come on, how can you listen to this and not compare it to what you know both McCartney and Stevie Wonder were actually capable of?

Away from the lyrics, the music does little to save this record: soft-rock guitars, horns, and a cheesy-sounding sitar mean that the song coasts along fairly forgettably. And yet, beating at the heart of this record is a good pop song. No way were two of the century’s best songwriters going to get together and write something completely irredeemable. It’s not awful – though I can see why it would be tempting to kick this record more than it deserves – and of course it was a ginormous hit around the globe. (Apart from South Africa, where it was banned after Wonder dedicated it to Nelson Mandela.)

It’s tempting to imagine what John Lennon would have had to say, had he been alive. Is it a coincidence that McCartney started churning out crap like this not long after his one-time partner died? Probably. But compare Lennon’s great protest songs – ‘Working Class Hero’, ‘Give Peace a Chance’, ‘Imagine’ and ‘Happy Xmas’ – to this. Even at his most idealistic (and I gave ‘Imagine’ some stick when it topped the charts) he was hectoring us, berating us, making us confront uneasy truths, rather than simply singing about how nice it would be if we were all chums. Lennon often sang those songs like he knew he’d be disappointed: listen to his sneering It’s easy… on ‘All You Need Is Love’. McCartney sings this like he believes every word.

Anyway. ‘Ebony and Ivory’ has nothing to do with John Lennon. It’s hard on Macca that his late bandmate gets brought up. Hard, but inevitable. The saddest thing here is that this is probably neither McCartney nor Stevie Wonder’s worst musical crime of the decade. There is more to come from both of them as we forage towards the heart of the 1980s. Up next, we hit 500! *Applause* With another song about peace and love! *Groans*

497. ‘Seven Tears’, by The Goombay Dance Band

Like Marcel Proust biting into his madeleine, the intro of this next #1 brings the memories flooding back. Hints of Boney M, wafts of ABBA at their cheesiest, ‘Mull of Kintyre’, even a base note of ‘Auld Lang Syne’…

Seven Tears, by The Goombay Dance Band (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 21st March – 11th April 1982

I have never heard ‘Seven Tears’ before, I am pretty much positive of that. But it sounds so familiar, so damn sentimental, that it comes through like a folk standard. Seven tears have run into the river, Seven tears have run into the sea… The singer stands at home, pining and crying for his love, his tears mingling with the river, then the sea… (To me, it sounds like a bit of a subtle dig: just the seven tears…?)

It’s a nice enough tune, I’ll admit. There’s something relaxing in its calypso-plod. Yes there are myriad key changes, and a spoken-word section, but somehow ‘Seven Tears’ stays just the right side of annoying, unlike Tight Fit before them. Cheesy, yes. Cloying, yep. Complete and utter Eurotrash. But something about it appeals to me.

I was convinced that this, like ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, must have been an old song, remixed and repackaged for the early-eighties. But nope. It was written by two Germans, in 1981. In fact, the similarities between The Goombay Dance Band and Boney M are pretty blatant: they were created in 1979 by Oliver Bendt – who takes lead vocals on this record – a German who had lived in St. Lucia in the Caribbean. ‘Goombay’ is a beach on the island.

They weren’t as successful as Boney M, though. This was their only sizeable hit in the UK (though their breakthrough, ‘Sun of Jamaica’ topped the German charts for nine weeks). And for a few weeks in the spring of 1982, it seems the UK charts were looking farther afield. Not just to Germany (though this does make them already the second German chart-toppers of the year) but to the jungles of Africa, and then to the beaches of the Caribbean.

The charts were also, you have to admit, sounding a lot tackier than even just a year earlier. I don’t want to sound like a guitar-snob, because I’m really not – and there have been some very high-quality electronic #1s recently – but it is much easier to use computers to make music. I’d wouldn’t bet against ‘Seven Tears’ having been thrown together in an afternoon… I’d also bet that it’s been completely forgotten by the general public (I meant it when I said I’d never ever heard it before). Today, though it’s back, at least for the time it takes you to read this post. A toast, please, for The Goombays, and their ‘Seven Tears’… May we not leave it another forty years before listening to this again. Thirty-nine will be plenty.

398. ‘When a Child Is Born (Soleado)’, by Johnny Mathis

For the third time this decade, and for the fifth time in all, the Christmas number one is an actual Christmas song. The previous two, from Slade and Mud, were very seventies, very glam. This one, though, could have been #1 at any point in chart history.

When a Child Is Born (Soleado), by Johnny Mathis (his 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 19th December 1976 – 9th January 1977

Let’s split this record in two, and start with the good half. It’s got that ‘classic standard’ feel to it, a sweeping melody of the kind that you think you must have always known. When the backing singers come in with the ah-ah-ah-aaahhs it’s quite sweet. Plus, Johnny Mathis sings it like the professional crooner that he is. A ray of hope, Flickers in the sky…

On to the bad bits… And let’s start with those lyrics. It’s all winds of change, silent wishes, brand new morns and rosy hews. It feels churlish to complain about soppy lyrics in a religious, Christmas-themed song. What kind of lyrics is it supposed to have? Except, I’m not religious, and it’s April. So there.

Plus, the production is very floaty, glossy, mid-seventies MOR goop. And there’s a stinker of a spoken section: The world is waiting, Waiting for one child… Black, white… yellow? No-one knows… It is what it is. I’m not going to knock it any more. Mathis means well, and I have fond memories of my late grandmother singing this by the tree after a sherry or three.

I had assumed that ‘When a Child Is Born’ would have been an old, old tune from the mists of time. But the melody, ‘Soleado’, was written for an Italian singer in 1972, while the English lyrics followed a few years later. It’s a skill, I guess, to write a song that sounds so timeless. Johnny Mathis had been around for a lot longer, releasing his first singles in the mid-fifties. He followed this up with ‘Too Much, Too Little, Too Late’, his first US #1 for almost twenty years. Some impressive longevity there. He’s still with us, aged eighty-five, having released his most recent album in 2017.

You will all be thrilled to hear that the 1970s, the decade of the Christmas #1, is not done with the festive tunes just yet. But that is some way off. Up next, we launch head-first into 1977, which marks the singles chart’s quarter century!

Listen to all the #1s from 1976, and from every year before, with this playlist:

395. ‘Mississippi’, by Pussycat

Following on from ‘Dancing Queen’ is a daunting task, but someone had to do it. In the autumn of 1976, that task fell to Pussycat, and their sole #1 record, ‘Mississippi’.

Mississippi, by Pussycat (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 10th October – 7th November 1976

It’s a gentle intro, a slice of soft country rock, that puts me in mind of the Eagles at their blandest, or Matthews Southern Comfort’s ‘Woodstock’ from earlier in the decade. In the past year or so, country and western has become something of an established presence at the top of the charts, from Tammy Wynette to J.J. Barrie to this…

But when the vocals come in, we move from country to schmaltzy. Well you can hear a country song from far, When someone plays a honky-tonk guitar… It’s a tribute to country music, an ode to the genre, and a love-letter to the USA’s most famous river. Mississippi, I remember you… Whenever I should go away, I’ll be longing for the day…

It’s the sort of song that you start to forget before it’s even finished. It’s very gentle, a pleasant enough stroll down the middle of the road, but it’s a bit dull. It makes you yearn for ABBA… But that’s not fair. We can’t go comparing songs to what went before! It is too long, though. I’ll state that with conviction. Times were four and a half minutes was record-breaking; now it seems to be the standard.

By the end, the band are bemoaning the fact that rock ‘n’ roll took over from C&W. The country song forever lost its soul, When the guitar player turned to rock and roll… Except, that’s patently not true. Rock ‘n’ roll was born from country (and jazz and the blues) – rock ‘n’ roll is country – plus here we are, with a country song at number one… So it can’t be that dead. We flutter to a finish, and I remain underwhelmed.

Pussycat were a Dutch band – which perhaps explains the schlager-heavy feel that this record has (they also, perhaps inevitably, recorded a version in German.) They were a seven piece, with what looks like three girls and four boys… (To be fair, they all have long hair and frills in the pictures I can find!) The best way I can describe them is like looking at a picture of ABBA after you’ve had a blow to the head. Still, they officially make 1976 the year of the mixed-gender pop group, after Brotherhood of Man and our aforementioned Swedes.

‘Mississippi’ was written by the band with the Bee Gees ‘Massachusetts’ in mind, and you can really hear the influence. Plus, it gives us our second #1 single named after a US State (and I’m happy to hear suggestions of others to come/that I’ve missed). They scored one more minor hit in the UK following this, but remained big in the Netherlands well into the ‘80s.

To finish, I think I have to crown ‘Pussycat’ as the worst band name to feature on this blog. It’s just… a ‘no’ from me. And Spotify seems to agree, as they have erroneously grouped this group’s back-catalogue with a trip-hop group of the same name, who’s last album was titled ‘Sexy Bondage Domination’…

392. ‘The Roussos Phenomenon EP’, by Demis Roussos

*Cue David Attenborough voice* And so we spy one of the rarest of chart-topping species. The EP. The Extended Play. More than a single; not quite an album… One of only four to ever top the UK charts…

The Roussos Phenomenon (EP), by Demis Roussos (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 11th – 18th July 1976

I’m not sure how to approach this record. With a normal single I always ignore the ‘B’-side. With double ‘A’-sides I do both songs. Should I do all four tracks from ‘The Roussos Phenomenon’?? Best get cracking! The lead single from this EP, the one that went to radio, was ‘Forever and Ever’. A cover, I wonder, of the Slik hit from the start of the year…? No, but Lord how I wish it was…

Demis Roussos has a distinctive voice. High-pitched yet husky, and very strained. It is a spectacular voice; but it doesn’t make for a relaxing listen. Ever and ever, Forever and ever, You’ll be the one… he wails as a Muzak backing-track waltzes along. That shines in me, Like the morning sun… It’s lush, it fills the speakers… It’s a bit much; but at the same time it’s bland mulch. It’s a very strange juxtaposition: a song that’s so in your face and yet so forgettable.

You can really tell that English isn’t Roussos’s first language as he reaches for the line: Take me from beyond imagination… and his voice trembles under its own mighty power. ABBA’s slight mispronunciations are endearing; here they jar. Then in comes a bouzouki (?) and suddenly it sounds like the soundtrack to a first date in a Greek restaurant. Knowing that I have four songs to get through, I’m tempted to press skip before the first listen is over…

Next up, ‘Sing an Ode to Love’, which as a title doesn’t promise anything different to what went before. But it is different. ‘Forever and Ever’ was bland… This is God-awful. Organs, and a marching beat. His voice grates even more, trembling and straining as if he has a terrible case of indigestion. See the children playing, Hear the sounds of virgin minds… He’s going for an epic statement here, when the choir comes in, but it’s so bad I think most countries would reject this even for Eurovision. Sing a song so clearly, Make the words rise up above…

The song it reminds me of – and I really am embarrassed to drag Roy Orbison into this, forgive me – is ‘Running Scared’. But whereas that classic builds to a perfect, dramatic conclusion; this builds to a horrible of crescendo of Demis’s grasping and some tacky synths. And so ends Side A.

For the sake of completion, here are my thoughts on Side B of our debut chart-topping EP. I have to search for ‘So Dreamy’ on YouTube, and am glad that I did, because it meant I could discover the video attached below, in which our Greek God belts it out by a harbour front. The cheap synths are still there, as are the over-bearing backing singers, but I’m enjoying this a lot more, with its bossanova rhythm… How was I to know, That from our very first ‘hello’, I’d feel so dreamy… I can begin to see why he’s been described as an ‘unlikely kaftan-wearing sex symbol’…

And then we end this, um, experience with ‘My Friend the Wind’, and any goodwill I was beginning to feel for Demis Roussos is dashed. It feels like a hymn. My friend the wind, Will come from the hills… All the by now classic Roussos elements are present: strained vocals, ropey synths, an over-reliance on backing singers… But at least the middle-eight is interesting, as the bouzouki returns and we are back in the Greek taverna. You can almost hear the plates smashing with each beat. It ends in a Greek knees-up. La-la-la-leyleyleyley…

Goodness, that was a slog. And the scary thing is, these four songs were handpicked as excerpts from ‘The Roussos Phenomenon’ LP. I shudder to think what they decided wasn’t good enough. Still, for whatever reason, this disc delivered him his only UK chart-topper. He had been a big solo star in Europe since the early seventies, with #1s in France, Holland, Switzerland and Germany, among others. The final push he had needed to breakthrough in the UK came from a documentary, also called ‘The Roussos Phenomenon’, that inspired this E.P., and the fact that more and more Brits were holidaying in places like Greece, and getting a taste for the music there.

But it didn’t last. His last charting single in Britain came just one year later. Roussos had been, however, part of influential prog-rock band Aphrodite’s Child, who had had a Top 30 hit back in 1968 and whose fellow member Vangelis would go on to win an Oscar for the ‘Chariots of Fire’ soundtrack. So, actually, there’s a lot more going on in this one-week wonder than the turgid music. Our first (our only?) Greek chart-topper, our first EP, the first time two songs with the same name have made #1 in the same year… But to be honest I’m well over this entry, and ready to move on to the next two, humongously famous, number one singles…

367. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas

I’ve been looking forward to writing this post for days. Last time out I wrapped up my post on Steve Harley, and had a quick listen to what was coming next. A song I had never heard before: ‘If’. I started taking notes… And, my word. This is why I started this blog, to discover chat-topping moments such as this. This is amazing.

If, by Telly Savalas (his 1st and only #1)

2 weeks, from 2nd – 16th March 1975

Or wait. Is it actually not amazing? Is it actually awful? This record somehow manages to straddle the gaping chasm between ‘amazing’ and ‘awful’ with perfect poise. It is pure car crash music. We listen, we wonder, our eyebrows keep rising, but we don’t press ‘stop.’

The first note I made was that there is ‘a spoken word intro’. Which keeps going, on and on, deeper and deeper into the song. Telly Savalas talks. Or, rather, he purrs and caresses his way through the record. If a picture, Paints a thousand words, Then why can’t I paint you…? My second note reads: ‘Is he ever going to sing…?’ The answer to which is ‘no’. If a face could launch a thousand ships, Then where am I to go…?

There have been ‘spoken word’ number ones. Think Baz Luhrmann, The Streets… But I thought we’d be waiting a while yet for our first one. Here it is, though. Curling suggestively from the lips of James Bond’s arch-nemesis. When life is running dry.. You come and pour yourself… On me… he growls, and I almost spit out my coffee.

What am I listening to? Seriously? This defies serious analysis. Couple it with the videos I’ve attached below, in one of which Telly lights a cigarette before reciting his hit single, all the while being watched by a ginormous floating Barbie doll head. And… Is he wearing a glittering, gold undershirt?

How and why did this come about? Was it simply a cash-in on Savalas’s fame as TV detective Kojak? Was it for a bet? A joke? Or was it because Telly was one cool sonofabitch who people didn’t dare say ‘no’ to? I’d go with that. I think people bought this record simply because they were worried he’d come round their house and rough them up.

So ridiculous is this song, it takes me several listens before I can focus enough on the lyrics, and notice that the apocalypse has come. If the world should stop revolving, Spinning, Spinning slowly down to die… I’d spend the end with you… ‘If’ was originally recorded by Bread – making this the second Bread cover to top the charts in the space of a few months – and while I’m loathe to describe Savalas’s version as ‘better’, it is certainly more memorable.

This is not on Spotify (Come on Spotify!) But that means you have a chance to enjoy the many spectacular performances Telly Savalas made of his sole chart-topper, on YouTube. I’ve attached a couple below. (I don’t normally do this, but these videos are genuinely too good to miss.) Once one finished, YouTube auto-played Lee Marvin’s ‘Wand’rin’ Star’ – I had clearly triggered some gravel-voiced, middle-aged actor-slash-singer from the 1970s algorithm.

A couple of other things worth mentioning: Telly Savalas was fifty-three when this made #1, meaning he shoves the likes of Marvin, Frank Sinatra and Charles Aznavour aside to become the second oldest chart-topper, behind Louis Armstrong. And ‘If’ remains to this day the shortest-titled chart-topping single ever. Whatever it lacks in length, though, it more than makes up for in pure, animal magnetism. Telly Savalas, ladies and gentlemen. Enjoy…

355. ‘Love Me For a Reason’, by The Osmonds

It’s time. A little later than you might have expected, but The Osmonds have their number one single.

Love Me For a Reason, by The Osmonds (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 25th August – 15th September 1974

It’s every bit as cheesy and tinkling as you might expect. It soars, it swoops, it blinds you with the whiteness of its teeth. Suddenly the UK charts sound very ‘American’, with three glossy, shining number ones in a row. But while George McCrae and The Three Degrees were pretty cool… this one really ain’t.

Don’t love me for fun girl, Let me be the one, girl… Love me for a reason, Let the reason be love… For the second time this year, we come to a #1 that I first heard as a child thanks to an Irish boyband. I knew ‘Seasons in the Sun’ through Westlife’s cover, I knew this thanks to their predecessors Boyzone, who took their ‘Love Me For a Reason’ to #2 in 1994.

If love ever-lasting, Isn’t what you’re asking… I’ll have to pass, girl, And be proud to take a stand… Maybe I’m showing my prejudices here, but isn’t it usually girls that sing about love that lasts? The Three Degrees, for example, were just asking when they’d see you again. Or there was Freda Payne lamenting broken promises on her wedding night. Guys are usually happy with, well, something more instant. But, The Osmonds were good ol’ Mormon boys that needed more than just physical attraction (their words.) All of which culminates in the spectacular line: My initial reaction is, Honey give me love, Not a facsimile of…

Any song that can crowbar the word ‘facsimile’ into its lyrics cannot be all bad and, to tell the truth, this is a decent pop song with a highly singalongable chorus. It also has one hell of a key change towards the end, that sounds as if a sound engineer accidentally leant on a dial. And, even though I introed this post by suggesting that The Osmonds had waited longer than most for their shot at #1, ‘Love Me for a Reason’ was only their sixth chart hit in the UK. It feels like a longer wait because, unusually, the solo Osmond(s) topped the charts long before the band. Donny’s been there three times, and Little Jimmy (while not technically a member of ‘The Osmonds’ at this point) has summited once.

The band would go on releasing albums until the end of the seventies, before splitting up and moving into different ventures. Donny would be the most successful, with his sister Marie. But this is it for them, in terms of topping the charts as a group. Just the one. And I’m sure most would agree that, if they could choose the one Osmonds disc they would allow to top the charts, it wouldn’t be this one. It would be… Well, I might just do a separate post on that very soon. Watch this space…

336. ‘Young Love’, by Donny Osmond

We’ve heard this one before, haven’t we…?

Young Love, by Donny Osmond (his 3rd and final #1)

4 weeks, from 19th August – 16th September 1973

Cast your mind all the way back to early 1957, when blue-eyed, all-American heartthrob Tab Hunter was crooning his way into the hearts of many with his own version of ‘Young Love’. I wasn’t keen on it then – and I quote: “I’ve listened to ‘Young Love’ several times now, trying to find something to like about it, but I can’t do it. It’s insipid. And that’s it” – and I ain’t much keener on it now.

It’s a pretty faithful cover – the same lullaby guitar and lyrics, with a few strings thrown in for that trademark Osmond schmaltz. Donny sounds like… Donny. It’s not as teeth-grindingly terrible as ‘The Twelfth of Never’, but it’s no ‘Puppy Love’. Who’d have thought, when I gave ‘Puppy Love’ it’s glowing review, that it would wind up being the best of Donny Osmond’s three chart-toppers!

No, I’m going to play nice. Yes, this is complete tripe, but as I say every time: I am not the target audience for it. Same way that I will not be the target audience for New Kids on the Block, Boyzone, Westlife or 1 Direction, when their times come. Plus, it’s a song by a fifteen year old kid. No way would I want any of the stupid things I did, said, wore, or released on 7” vinyl around the world, aged fifteen, held against me. I’ll let him be…

But then, oh Jesus, he starts talking. Even Tab Hunter didn’t go this far… Just one kiss, From your sweet lips, Will tell me that our love is real… Donny, son, you’re making it really hard for me to not write terrible things about you… You just know that this was the exact moment in the song where girls across the country leant in to give their Donny posters a good hard snogging.

It’s short, at least, two and a half minutes and we’re through. That’s it as far as this young man’s solo chart-toppers are concerned, though he does have one more #1 coming up soon with his brothers in tow. I feel we need write no more.

Except, I guess it’s interesting that back in the fifties, at the same time as Tab Hunter took this to the top first time around, right on the verge of the rock ‘n’ roll revolution, that it was common for artists to cover songs from the twenties and thirties. Connie Francis took ‘Carolina Moon’ to the top, Bobby Darin did the same with ‘Mack the Knife’, while Tommy Edwards used an old melody in ‘It’s All in the Game’. This disc marks the first time, of many, that a former #1 will return to the top as a cover version. And, scarily, the 1950s are to the 1970s what the 1930s were to the ‘50s…