351. ‘Always Yours’, by Gary Glitter

When I first saw Gary Glitter’s third and final #1 looming on my list, I assumed it would be a ballad. ‘Always Yours’. A Glitterballad. A cod-Elvis croonathon. I was bracing myself…

Always Yours, by Gary Glitter (his 3rd and final #1)

1 week, from 16th – 23rd June 1974

Except, it’s another foot tapper. Glitter clearly didn’t do ballads. (OK, he did, they just didn’t get to number one.) I’m getting Mud (the that’s me, that’s me lines are straight outta ‘Tiger Feet’) through Shakin’ Stevens vibes. Also, hints of Adam Ant. Considering that the latter two acts are a decade away from arriving on the scene, we can conclude that Gary Glitter was a bit of an influence. He wasn’t always, I have to keep reminding myself, just a creepy paedo.

You know, I know, I’ll never never let you go… It’s a frantic record that races through its three minute allocation. The glitter stomp drumbeat has been sped up to raucous rockabilly levels. There are handclaps, pianos, and Glitter’s frenzied vocals. He certainly was an energetic performer. Al-ways Yo-ours…

As with all his #1s, you don’t have to look very hard before finding lines that sound dodgy in hindsight. I’m a scream, A teenage dream… he yelps. Which is rich, coming from a man in his mid-thirties. We’ve come full circle, from the days of thirty-something Bill Haley rocking around the clock to Glitter and Alvin Stardust dancing about in sparkly jumpsuits. When the kids have moved on you know a style is on its way out…

But ‘Always Yours’ is a perfectly reasonable slice of late-era glam. It is undeniably catchy; though I would rate it worst out of his three chart-toppers. I had never ever heard it before, and I probably never will again without choosing to. I won’t be doing a Gary Glitter Top 10, or a Remembering Gary Glitter when he passes. He has been jailed for possessing child pornography, for child sexual abuse and attempted rape. We’ll leave him here. (Actually, not really. We’ll have cause to mention him when we arrive at a couple of 80s #1s.)

It is interesting, however. Why has Gary Glitter been so completely erased from British pop music history, when others with similar allegations to their name haven’t? Plenty of huge stars from the sixties and seventies have their accusers… Jagger, Bowie… while Pete Townshend got caught ‘researching’ a book on child abuse. They all still get played on the radio. Is it as simple as Glitter got convicted? Then there’s Michael Jackson. Again, no conviction, but enough evidence and testimony for us to conclude that something unsavoury was going on at Neverland. His music’s still played, for the most part. Phil Spector, currently in prison for murder, will have his Christmas hits played this year; Glitter’s ‘Rock n Roll Christmas’ will not be getting a spin.

Does it then, ultimately, come down to snobbery? Are we willing to overlook artists’ indiscretions, as long as they make ‘good’ music? Gary Glitter was always a bit of a prat, a clownish character, who released disposable pop music. Same goes, to an extent, for R. Kelly, who in recent years has undergone a similar cancelling. I’m not advocating a rehabilitation of Gary Glitter. He’s clearly a nasty piece of work. I’m just amazed at how sudden and complete his fall from grace was. Even in the mid-1990s he was being sampled by Oasis on the opening track of the decade’s biggest album. He was due a cameo in The Spice Girls movie, which had to be re-shot last-minute following his ill-fated trip to PC World. Then, cut. Finished. One of Britain’s biggest pop stars was Britain’s public enemy number one. That, as they say, was that.

349. ‘Sugar Baby Love’, by The Rubettes

I described the previous chart-topper – ABBA’s glorious ‘Waterloo’ – as a ‘sugar rush’ of a song. It is replaced now at the top of the charts by what I’ll call a ‘sugar overdose’ of a song.

Sugar Baby Love, by The Rubettes (their 1st and only #1)

4 weeks, from 12th May – 9th June 1974

Why does ‘Waterloo’ work, while this doesn’t? Both songs are constructed from the same ingredients: power chords, sturdy drums, backing vocals and a big glance back to the pop of the early sixties. But ‘Waterloo’ leaves you soaring, and ‘Sugar Baby Love’ leaves you feeling icky. I am not a songwriter; but if I was I bet I’d be forever chasing and missing that fine, fine line between ‘catchy’ and ‘cheesy’.

This record starts promisingly enough, with ‘Twist and Shout’ Aaaahs that overlap and ascend. But then, fifteen seconds in, a falsetto so high and piercing that it knocks you sideways arrives. Sugar baby love, Sugar baby lo-ove, I didn’t mean to make you blue… The singer is trying to suck up to his sweetheart, trying to apologise for an unspecified misdemeanour. If was them, I’d have stuck to a letter or a phone-call. You can imagine someone performing this outside a girl’s bedroom window at night – and hopefully getting the police called on them.

Yes, All lovers make, The same mistakes, As me and you… It is another sad milepost on glam rock’s descent into the hands of rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts. In 1974, Slade went harder, Bolan went experimental (and started missing the Top 10), while Bowie was starting to look towards soul sounds on ‘Young Americans’. The Rubettes know what side they’re on, though: the backing singers keep up a persistent shoo-waddywaddy, shoo-waddywaddy throughout (though Showaddywaddy themselves turned this track down when it was offered to them!)

And yet, I do have a very high-tolerance for cheesy pop. I can’t hate this song, no matter what it represents. My feet are tapping along quite happily. However, I have an extremely low tolerance for spoken word sections in pop songs and, of course, ‘Sugar Baby Love’ has to go there. People, Take my advice, If you love someone, Don’t think twice… **shudder**

The Rubettes were a group basically put together to promote this record, which had been recorded by session musicians (shades of Alvin Stardust). It had been written for the soundtrack of a rock ‘n’ roll, jukebox musical that never saw the light of day. Which means that singer Paul Da Vinci (not his actual name), whose falsetto makes such a statement in the intro, was never actually a member of the band. They had a few other hits, with titles like ‘Juke Box Jive’, which sound like filler from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack, and still tour to this day in various iterations, thanks to a big court case twenty or so years ago where all the members tried to get The Rubettes name for themselves… If I were them I’d have been fighting to become disassociated from it…

348. ‘Waterloo’, by ABBA

And entering, stage right: some genuine pop music legends.

Waterloo, by ABBA (their 1st of nine #1s)

2 weeks, from 28th April – 12th May 1974

Are ABBA the best pop group ever? Like, pure pop? Well, they get my vote. I will not hear a bad word spoken against them. And these days, you don’t often hear much bad spoken about ABBA – they’ve shaken off the image that they were fit only for gay bars and hen nights, and have assumed their rightful place in the pantheon. Everyone loves ABBA. But… I’m writing as if wrapping up their final chart-topper; not introducing their first. To business!

It is perfect, the manner in which Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid shoot out the blocks on their first #1. ‘Waterloo’ is not a record that takes its time to reveal its charms. It’s a wham, bam, thankyou ma’am sort of pop song. It won the Eurovision Song Contest, for God’s sake: a feat not often achieved through subtle means. The churning bass, the thumping piano… My, my! At Waterloo Napoleon did surrender…

For a band that specialised in camp melodrama, this opening line – comparing their love for someone to an 19th Century military leader’s last stand – is as camp and melodramatic as it comes. Oh yeah! And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way… Cue one of the catchiest choruses ever recorded: Waterloo! I was defeated you won the war, Waterloo, Promise to love you for ever more… (A big part of this song’s success, I think, is the way they pronounce the title in their Swedish accents: Wardahloo! With added emphasis on the ‘ooh’.)

It’s pointless looking for the hook here. The entire song is a two minute forty eight second long hook. The ridiculous saxophone licks, the woah-woah-woahs, the pounding piano ‘n’ drum intros to each chorus, something the band admits were ripped straight from Wizzard’s ‘See My Baby Jive’. ‘Waterloo’ is a huge, unashamed sugar rush of a song. Perfect, perfect pop.

In 1815, Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated once and for all, and exiled to the south Atlantic. In 1974, Agnetha and Anna-Frid give in and admit their love. As they put it in the song’s best line: So how can I ever refuse? I feel like I win when I lose! (The writers of ‘Mamma Mia – The Musical’ clearly gave up on trying to shoe-horn a song about a two-hundred year old battle into the story, and stuck in at the very, very end, as an encore.)

As a kid, this was my favourite track on ‘ABBA Gold’. It is no longer my favourite ABBA song, but it is the perfect first chart-topper for the band. They would go on to reach much greater heights of subtlety and sophistication; though it’s debatable whether they wrote a catchier hit. Meanwhile, it was also voted as the greatest Eurovision song for the contest’s 50th anniversary.

This hit proved to be a bit of a false start for ABBA, though. They struggled to follow ‘Waterloo’ up, in the UK at least, and we’ll have to wait almost two more years for their next #1. Once that arrives, however, there will be no looking back. It feels like we’ve entered a new phase in our journey through the chart-toppers… It’s the mid-seventies, and we’ve finally met the decade’s greatest band!

346. ‘Billy – Don’t Be a Hero’, by Paper Lace

There are two things that never bode well at the start of a new #1 single: a marching band drumbeat, and whistling. And what do we have here… A new #1 single that begins with a marching band drumbeat and whistling.

Billy – Don’t Be a Hero, by Paper Lace (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, from 10th – 31st March 1974

Before starting this blog, I never for a moment suspected that songs about soldiers going to/coming back from war would be such a prominent sub-genre of #1s. I count four: ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, ‘Distant Drums’, ‘Two Little Boys’, ‘Yellow River’, and that’s just off the top of my head. Now make that five…

The marching band came down along Main Street, The soldier blues fell in behind… The song is sung not from the soldier’s POV, nor from his fiancé’s, but from that of a nameless observer. He sees the lovely fiancé begging her boy not to go: Billy, don’t be a hero, Don’t be a fool with your life… Come back and make me your wife…

To cut a long story short, or at least to paraphrase the second verse, Billy is just too darn heroic. He volunteers to ride out on a special, incredibly dangerous mission. The song doesn’t have to specify what happens next… There’s one obvious connection to make here, as there is with nearly all the ‘#1s about war’ – Vietnam. This hit the top as US involvement in the war was drawing to an end, and after most popular support for the conflict had died away.

And tellingly, when his fiancé gets the letter telling her of Billy’s death, and that she should be proud of him, she doesn’t get it framed, or keep it under her pillow… I heard she threw that letter away… Cue marching band, whistling, and a fade-out. It’s actually quite powerful, and it’s a shame the rest of the song sounds like something a window-cleaner would whistle while he works.

Away from songs about soldiers, other similar chart-topping subgenres include ‘men in prison/on death row’ and ‘men who die in car/plane crashes’. I say similar, because all three involve blokes doing brave, strong, manly things while their sweethearts pine all doe-eyed after them, and all three lend themselves to mawkish, sentimental ballads. ‘Billy – Don’t Be a Hero’ isn’t the worst of them, but it’s not the best either.

Paper Lace were a covers band from Nottingham, who had been around since the late sixties. They entered ‘Opportunity Knocks’ – the same talent show that gave us Peters & Lee – and were given this song to record as a result. (See, 2nd rate MOR, made for TV chart-toppers weren’t invented by ‘Pop Idol’ and ‘X Factor’!) They would have a handful more hits, one of which – ‘The Night Chicago Died’ – hit #1 in the US. (‘Billy…’ was also a US #1, but for a completely different band: Bo Donaldson & The Heywoods.) ‘Billy’ was Paper Lace’s biggest UK hit, and while it does have some nice glam-guitar flourishes to keep it sounding quite current, it commits the crime of fading without a final, rousing go at the chorus. Meh.

(The version in the video below and the version in my Spotify playlist differ, and I have no idea which is the original.

345. ‘Jealous Mind’, by Alvin Stardust

This next number one kicks off, and instantly reminds me of another chart-topper from not so long ago. The chugging, fuzzy guitars that lead us in were last heard on 10cc’s ‘Rubber Bullets’. Musically, this is very mid-seventies soft-glam. It’s nice.

Jealous Mind, by Alvin Stardust (his 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 3rd – 10th March 1974

Then the singing starts, and it instantly reminds me of another chart-topper from much longer ago. Buddy Holly lives! If he’d made it to the seventies, and gone glam, he might have sounded a bit like this. Why is it I must know, The things you’re doin…? A-ah-hu-ho-ho, It’s just my jealous mind…

Seriously, the hiccup is spot on. A-ah-hu-ho-ho… It’s not an easy thing to mimic, the Buddy Holly hiccup – believe me, I’ve tried. For the rest of the record it’s not just Holly that Alvin Stardust harks back to – I get Elvis, early-Cliff and Eddie Cochran. It’s a fifties rock ‘n’ roll hit, set to a glam rock beat. I should love it…

But something’s lacking. The riff is fun, the solo is furious, the vocals are very singable… It’s just a little… gimmicky? Is that it? It’s definitely lacking a special ingredient, whatever that might be, to make this great. It’s not helped by Stardust’s get-up, the black leather and the outrageous quiff. He looks like an Elvis impersonator, before they were a thing. Plus, his name sounds like a rip-off of Gary Glitter…

When you delve into the Alvin Stardust back-story, you begin to understand why. For a start, he was an actual rock ‘n’ roller in the early sixties. He went by his first stage-name, Shane Fenton, with his band The Fentones. Their biggest hit, ‘Cindy’s Birthday’, made #19 in 1962. The big Mersey bands put paid to the Fentones, Fenton slipped into obscurity. Years later, a bloke called Peter Shelley created a persona called ‘Alvin Stardust’, based on David Bowie’s ‘Ziggy Stardust’, who was in turn based on the real British rock ‘n’ roller Vince Taylor. All very meta… Shelley cut a record as Stardust, ‘My Coo-Ca-Choo’, then got stage fright when the song took off and started climbing the charts. He needed a new ‘Alvin Stardust’, pronto, and turned to Fenton.

So, seeing pictures of Alvin Stardust Mk II, all leathered and quiffed up, looking old enough to know better, suddenly makes sense. He was well over thirty when he scored his first and only #1. But there’s something romantic about it, this jobbing singer finally making it after all that time. His short burst of fame in the mid-seventies didn’t last too long but, amazingly, Stardust had a third-wind in 1981, with the #4 hit ‘Pretend’ and a fourth one in ’84 with two #7 hits, one of which was aptly titled ‘I Feel Like Buddy Holly’. That’s some staying power: a real rock ‘n’ roll limpet. (Personally, I would have liked them to have kept changing Alvin Stardusts with every album, like a regenerating Doctor Who, as a weird experiment in pop.)

Away from the interesting back-story, though, I still can’t find much to love about this record. It’s another nail in the glam-rock coffin. Watered-down glam, a fifties homage, a last-minute relaunch of a washed up star…. But hey, ho. Worse things, worse people, have topped the charts. Moving on.

Follow along with my playlist below…

344. ‘Devil Gate Drive’, by Suzi Quatro

Hey, Y’all wanna go down to Devil Gate Drive….!? Well come on!! Or not. I mean, it’s fine. Whatever…

Devil Gate Drive, by Suzi Quatro (her 2nd and final #1)

2 weeks, from 17th February – 3rd March 1974

Suzi Q’s first #1, ‘Can the Can’, properly rocked, properly dripped with spiky attitude, and her second starts promisingly, with that yelled intro and the same glitter-glam drumbeat. A deep voice intones Welcome to the dive… and the anticipation peaks.

It’s a song about a dive bar, a dance hall, a brothel, a strip club… all of the above? There are chugging guitars, a barroom piano and some revving motorbikes for that peak ‘73/’74 sound. Well at the age of five they can do that jive, Down at devil gate drive… And at the age of six they can get their kicks, Down at devil gate drive… Someone call social services, this does not sound like a reputable establishment…

According to Suzie, and the song writing team of Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, ‘Devil Gate Drive’ doesn’t refer to an actual place. It’s any place you go to as a kid, to misbehave and piss off your parents… Well your momma don’t know where your sister done go, She goes down to the drive, She’s the star of the show… In which case, my ‘Devil Gate Drive’ was the woods behind my house where we shared cigarettes and bottles of Buckfast.

This is a fun record, a great rocker, extending the pretty long run of decent #1s that we’re on. But… It’s a bit gimmicky, a bit of a pantomime, compared to ‘Can the Can’. I feel that Quatro is camping it up a bit here, playing up her leather-clad image for the cameras. It’s another song in which glam-rock takes a tiny step towards self-parody.

Though, to be honest, glam rock will soon be a thing of the past, and I’ll miss it when it’s gone. What I won’t give for a glam-rock smash when I’m ploughing through the #1s from, say, 2016. Just because this isn’t T. Rex doesn’t mean it’s not still a solid seven out of ten chart-topper.

Similarities can be drawn between this and the previous #1, Mud’s ‘Tiger Feet’. There’s the songwriters for a start – the aforementioned ‘Chinnichap’ team. And then there’s the faux-live feel of the recording. It sounds as if Suzi and her band are performing this live, at the Dive, especially when she announces: Come on boys, Let’s do it one more time for Suzie! and her boys take it home.

Suzie Quatro won’t have any further UK #1s, but she’ll continue to record, perform and inspire pretty much every woman who has picked up a guitar since. She continued to get hits throughout the seventies, as well as scoring a recurring role in ‘Happy Days’ as the fabulously named Leather Tuscadero, which finally gave her some fame in her native US. I’ll leave you with a line from her follow-up to this disc, ‘The Wild One’ (a song that might just be better than either of her #1s): I’m a blue-eyed bitch, And I wanna get rich, Get outta my way, Cos I’m here to stay… And if that isn’t rock ‘n’ roll, then I quit.

343. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud

It’s mid-January, mid-seventies, three day weeks and coal shortages and all that (I wasn’t there, but it sounds pretty grim). So along came Mud, to save the day!

Tiger Feet, by Mud (their 1st of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 20th January – 17th February 1974

‘Tiger Feet’ is a relentlessly happy song. It is a big dumb puppy of a record that bounds in and refuses to get off until you start dancing. I’ve loved it since I was a kid, and I’m not going to go all snobby on it now. Some records need thinking about, need chin stroking and serious analysis. Others don’t.

All night long, You’ve been lookin’ at me, You know you’re the dance hall cutie that you long to be, You’ve been layin’ it down, You got your hips swingin’ out of bounds, And I like the way you do what you’re doin’ to me… That first verse sums it all up, in roughly ten seconds. A girl dances, a boy likes what he sees. Add in the backing cheers, whoops and hollers that make it sound as if this was recorded in someone’s front room on the New Year’s Eve just past, and you’ve got a classic.

It’s symptomatic of the route that glam rock has taken in the past year or so, through Wizzard and Gary Glitter, and now this ‘at the hop’ spoof from Mud. The genre is becoming little more than a fifties tribute act, characterised by the Elvis stylings of Mud’s lead singer Les Gray. It’s cheap, and tacky, but damn it if it isn’t catchy. It was written by glam rock songwriters du jour Nicky Chinn and Mike Chapman, who have already scored #1s with The Sweet and Suzi Quatro.

One thing’s always troubled me about this song, though, even as a child. If you were to pick a part of the body to compare to a tiger… why the feet? That’s neat, That’s neat, That’s neat… I really love your tiger feet! Tigers have claws and stripes and sharp teeth – tons of cool body parts. Anyway, whatever, I’m getting dangerously close to serious analysis, and I promised not to.

But if you really did want to don your thinking caps, there’s definitely an argument for connecting the grim economic situation of the mid-1970s with the increasing popularity of bubblegum hits like this (and I’m aware that I won’t be the first to spot this.) It’s pure escapism, for people who have bigger things to worry about. In turn, ‘Tiger Feet’ became one of the defining hits of the decade. Any cheap ‘Best of the 70s’ compilation has to feature it, by law, while it’s one of those songs that a drama set in the seventies will always turn to as background scene-setting.

Mud had been around as a band since the mid-sixties and, like most of the genre’s big stars, they jumped on the glam rock bandwagon and rode it hard. They will feature twice more in this rundown but, without giving the game away, I won’t be giving their following chart-toppers as much leeway as I gave this one. Because this is great. Inside everyone, there is an eight-year-old who thinks ‘Tiger Feet’ by Mud is the best song ever written. Go on, indulge them.

341. ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’, by Slade

OK everyone. On three. A-one, two… It’s CHRRRIIISSTTTMMAAAAASSSSSS!

Merry Xmas Everybody, by Slade (their 6th and final #1)

5 weeks, from 9th December 1973 – 13th January 1974

Yep, despite me sitting down to write this in real world October; our journey through the charts has us at Christmas 1973. Slade, the biggest band in the land have written an instant festive classic… Was there any way this wasn’t going to smash straight in at the top of the charts?

For the first time ever, two consecutive #1s have entered at the very top. (This won’t happen again until 1989!) All three of Slade’s chart-topping discs this year have debuted there. And they’ve saved their biggest one for last. The one that sold half a million copies in its first week on sale. Are you hanging up the stocking on your wall, It’s the time that every Santa has a ball…

To be honest, this song long since became muzak; I know all the words but never actually pay attention to them. Sitting down now and concentrating, you notice some clever touches. The ‘fairies’ sobering Santa up (pretty sure they’d be elves, but who am I to disagree with Slade?), the hints to the nativity and having room to spare inside. And of course, granny telling you that the old songs are the best but, presumably after a sherry or three, she’s up and rock ‘n’ rolling with the rest…

Musically, ‘Merry Xmas Everybody’ (the ‘s’ in Xmas should technically be back to front; but Microsoft Word cannot cope with Slade’s anarchic handwriting) sounds a bit subdued next to Slade’s more raucous earlier hits, ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’ and the like. Maybe they dialled it back a bit, to ensure that it appealed to the widest possible audience; but it means it lacks a little something. It does mean, though, that we get some nice Beatlesy backing vocals and the brilliant What will your daddy do when he sees your momma kissing Santa Claus, a-ha…. bridge. Apparently Holder had written it in the sixties, long before Slade existed, which may explain the retro sound.

It must have sounded great when it first came out. Most Christmas standards up to then were either novelties, hymns or classics sung by Bing Crosby. But can anyone born in the UK, inside the last fifty years, actually remember the first time they heard this song? It’s just there. Each and every Christmas, on a loop. This, and the other big Christmas hit that was released in 1973, kicked off the idea of the Christmas #1 single, meaning that we perhaps have this to blame for Cliff’s Christmas efforts, Mr. Blobby, Bob the Builder, and all the horrible X-Factor winners’ singles… Dammit Slade, what did you do??

I could happily never hear this song again. It is Slade’s least enjoyable #1, and that’s not just because it’s a Christmas song. After this they turned away from commercial glam-pop and went heavier. The hits that immediately followed – ‘Everyday’, ‘The Bangin’ Man’ and ‘Far, Far Away’ – are for my money ten times better than this one. But hey ho.

Plus, the record I alluded to earlier, the other Christmas hit by a glam rock band from 1973, Wizzard’s ‘I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday’ is a better song, and one that I can still stomach when it starts coming on in the supermarket right about, hmmm, now. It only made #4. But. I love Slade, and don’t want to end my final post on them with a whimper. It’s lucky, then, that the band didn’t let this one end without one final moment of brilliance. It’s now pretty much enshrined in British law that Christmas hasn’t officially started until Noddy Holder has announced it at the top of his voice.

How much do Slade make from this record? About half a million pounds a year, it’s estimated. It was re-released in the early eighties, then again in the late nineties, and has made the charts every year since 2006 thanks to downloads and streaming. Last year, it reached #19. In a month or so it will start its latest ascent up the charts. It is a song that will probably outlive each and every one of you reading this. Slade’s legacy, for better or worse…

Enjoy (almost) all the #1s from 1973, and beyond, before we launch headfirst into ’74…

340. ‘I Love You Love Me Love’, by Gary Glitter

Anyone fancy a slow dance under the mistletoe, with Gary Glitter…?

I Love You Love Me Love, by Gary Glitter (his 2nd of three #1s)

4 weeks, from 11th November – 9th December 1973

While that mental image takes its time to fade… We settle into a woozy, oozy, slightly boozy, electronic sax riff. (Do electronic saxes exist? If they do, then that’s what leading us on this romantic mystery.) The trademark Glitter drums are there, but slowed right down. They lumber, they plod, they drag you down into the treacle.

Gary’s girl’s parents don’t like him much… We’re still together after all that we’ve been through, They tried to tell you I was not the boy for you, They didn’t like my hair, The clothes I love to wear… Or maybe they were just good judges of character, Gary? Once again, it’s proving difficult for me to judge the man’s music without remembering what he was deep down…

It’s glam rock, but stuck in quicksand, or on strong, strong Quaaludes. I’m not sure I like it all that much, but it’s kind of mesmerising. By the end, it’s basically smothered you into submission. The distorted saxophones and the over-dubbed guitars give me hints of Wizzard but, if they were going for what Wizzard achieved with ‘Angel Fingers’, they’ve fallen well short. In fact, I think we can pinpoint here the exact moment that glam rock started edging from Bowie and Bolan to Mud and Showaddywaddy’s fifties pastiches.

I love you love, You me love me too love, I love you love me love… Adding to the hypnotic effects is that chorus, that title. ‘I Love You Love Me Love’… I mean… It’s like a magic eye picture. You stare at it, trying to work out what it means, where the comma should be, but you go around in circles… ‘I Love You, You Love Me… Love?’

Whatever. You can bet that boys and girls around the country were sidling up to one another in school gyms around the nation at the Christmas dances of 1973, for a shuffle and a snog to this disc. This record entered the charts at number one and, if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know how rare an occurrence that was back then. It means Glitter joins Elvis, Cliff, The Beatles and Slade. We might want to forget he ever existed; but we have to note how big he was in this moment.

He has one more chart-topper to come in the new year, before we can move past this slightly awkward elephant in the room. ‘I Love You Love Me Love’ was the 6th best-selling single for the entirety of 1973, despite only being released in early November… But you won’t be hearing it on a radio anytime soon. (Though, if you did enjoy this song, as I think I did – I still can’t quite make my mind up about it – and want a guilt-free means of enjoying it, Joan Jett does a pretty faithful cover, with a video that is peak-1985.)

337. ‘Angel Fingers’, by Wizzard

Back to business. Last time out, thanks to teen idol supreme Donny Osmond, we endured a throwback to the soppy ballads of the 1950s. This time out, we have another trip back to the future. Imagine yourself in an American diner, waitresses in pink polka-dots and beehives, frothy milkshakes and burgers on the menu, a Wurlitzer flashing in the corner just waiting for you to drop a dime in and spin the latest smash-hit platter. And then Roy Wood rolls up, all wild hair and glitter, astride his hog. Yes, this is the fifties, Wizzard-ified.

Angel Fingers, by Wizzard (their 2nd and final #1)

1 week, from 16th – 23rd September 1973

First of all, let’s just appreciate motorcycle effect. It means two of the past three chart-toppers have featured heavy revving. It’s clear that artists were having a lot of fun in the studio, throwing whatever the hell they fancied into the mix. Secondly, isn’t this just the most gorgeous, layered, swaying and swooping, pastiche of late fifties, early sixties pop? With a big, big nod to one man in particular – Phil Spector.

As I was lying in my bedroom fast asleep, Filled with those famous teenage pictures that you keep… The singer, Roy Wood, or the character that Wood happens to be assuming for the next four and a half minutes, is a rock ‘n’ roll singer who loves a girl. But she is distracted by teen idol after teen idol (to give this hit its full title: ‘Angel Fingers (A Teen Ballad)’. Will Dion still be so important to you on your wedding day…?

He plans to ride over the café, on his bike, to prove his love. Maybe pick up a guitar and join a rockin’ band. Finally make it big, or maybe just get her to notice him. As with Wizzard’s first #1 – ‘See My Baby Jive’ – the lyrics aren’t really what you’re here for. You want the whole package, the melodies, the fevered imaginings of Roy Wood’s brain condensed into pop perfection. How it lingers, Angel fingers, That’s why I fell in love, With you…

Actually, to call this a mere ‘pastiche’ is unfair. This hangs together as a brilliant song in its own right. Just because it tips its hat to what went before doesn’t detract. It also sounds completely original. ‘Angel Fingers’ gets a bit lost and forgotten, I think, coming between ‘See My Baby Jive’ and Wizzard’s huge Christmas smash. And that’s not fair. I think it might hold together even better than SMBJ – the sensory overload is still there, all the saxophones and drum tracks and French horns cascading over one another, fighting for air time – but it always pulls back before it gets too much.

My two favourite bits are the piano flourishes that start and finish the solo, that I call the ‘Red Dwarf’ bit, for reasons that will be obvious to anyone who has ever watched the show. And then there’s the layered, doo-wop, Beach Boys ending that fades into those French horns, again. Oh baby, it’s perfect. It’s glam, it’s rock ‘n’ roll, it’s doo-wop, it’s Spector, it’s teeny-bopper pop… It’s the entire history of the UK singles chart thus far, in four and a half minutes.

Wizzard only released eight singles before calling it a day in 1975. Two of them reached number one, another was one of the best Christmas songs ever recorded. By that point, Roy Wood had been a member of three hugely influential bands: The Move, Electric Light Orchestra, and the Wizz. Following the split, he went solo, working on projects with bands ranging from Doctor and the Medics, to the Wombles, along with whatever guise he was recording under himself. He produced for many other artists, and tried, unsuccessfully, to have Elvis record one of his songs. He was, is, a genius, and one of those who makes sure this trawl through every #1 single, past every terrible Donny, Dawn or Dana record, remains so much fun.