Random Runners-Up: ‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

Our final #2 of the week, and it’s back to the fifties. To a man we’ve met plenty of times before on these very pages…

‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

#2 for 1 week, from 24th-31st Oct 1958, behind ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’

Cliff Richard, in 1958, was Britain’s answer to Elvis. That’s both true, and unfair. True, because he was young, good-looking, and extravagantly quiffed. And unfair, because nobody comes out well from a comparison with Elvis.

This was Cliff’s debut single, his first of sixty-eight (68!) Top 10 hits in the UK, over the course of fifty years. And if you are of a slightly snide disposition – and aren’t we all, sometimes – one could argue that this was the only true rock ‘n’ roll record from Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope.

And it does rock. The opening refrain is great, reminiscent of Buddy Holly, and the purring, driving riff that succeeds it sounds genuinely exciting, almost punk-ish in its simplicity. In the autumn of 1958, it must have been thrilling to hear this growling out of some jukebox speakers, and knowing that the singer was from a London suburb, rather than Memphis.

The lyrics are pretty nonsensical, as all the best rock ‘n’ roll lyrics are… C’mon pretty baby let’s a-move it and a-groove it… while The Drifters sound the equal of any American group. (They wouldn’t become The Shadows until 1959, by which point they had accompanied Cliff on his first of many easy-listening #1s, ‘Living Doll’.)

The one thing that doesn’t quite sell this for me is Cliff himself… He just sounds a bit too nice. And I don’t know if that’s because I can’t seperate the goody-goody, God-bothering, Centre Court-serenading Cliff Richard from the eighteen-year-old version. Still, imagine Elvis mumbling and grunting his way through this…

As I referred to above, Cliff would go on to enjoy some reasonable success over the ensuing decades… I wonder if anyone who bought ‘Move It’ in October 1958 imagined that this hot young rocker would still be touring and recording in 2022, well into his ninth decade… As uncool as he is, I can’t bring myself to dislike Sir Clifford of Richard: he’s a bona-fide pop legend. I can’t say I’m looking forward to reviewing any of his three remaining #1s, though, but that’s a story for another day…

I hope you’ve enjoyed random runners-up week. The regular countdown will resume over the weekend, picking up in the summer of ’86…

Random Runners-Up: ‘Hooked on Classics’, by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

For the next in our series of songs that almost made it… It’s time for something a little different…

‘Hooked on Classics’, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

#2 for 2 weeks, from 9th-23rd Aug 1981, behind ‘Green Door’

Disco had wormed its way into pretty much every area of popular music in the late 70s. ABBA went disco, Blondie too. Rod Stewart, of course, even The Stones… By the early eighties, amid the ‘disco sucks’ backlash, ‘cooler’ acts had ditched the glitter ball, new wave had taken over, and we were left with… this?

It’s a medley of classical pieces, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, set to a basic, drum-machined disco beat. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s both completely bizarre, and stunningly simple. I’m going to show up my terrible knowledge of classical music by trying to identify some of the pieces involved: there’s the bumblebee one, something by Vivaldi (edit: it’s Beethoven), ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, and the 1812 overture… There’s plenty more that I couldn’t identify, from Mozart, Handel and Grieg.

I’m trying to imagine who bought this? I can’t imagine classical music lovers really being into such dumbing-down of Tchaikovsky and co., nor can I imagine it filling a dancefloor. Perhaps it was bought by people who thought it made them look cultured – the type that call going to see ‘Mamma Mia’ a night out at the theatre (God, that sounded snobby!) At the same time, and as much as I liked ‘Green Door’, I do wish this had made #1. It would have made for one of the strangest chart-toppers of all time… And clearly there was enough of an audience, because the RPO released three entire albums in the ‘Hooked on Classics’ series!

There was a bit of a medley craze in the early eighties, to be fair. Stars on 45 are the big one that springs to mind, their sixties medley made #2, also in 1981, and got all the way to the top in the US. Britain would have to wait a few more years for its own set of chart-topping medleys, courtesy of a cartoon rabbit (don’t ask…) Anyway, here is ‘Hooked on Classics’, to be enjoyed in all its glory below. There aren’t many YouTube videos to choose from, and I’m not sure if this one with all its black and white footage is the original. Trigger warning: the video features more Steve Wright than is ever strictly necessary…

One last #2 up tomorrow!

Random Runners-Up: ‘So Macho’, by Sinitta

Our second #2 of the week is almost as recent as it was possible to go, and a slight change in mood from Ned Miller…

‘So Macho’, by Sinitta

#2 for 1 week, from 3rd – 10th Aug 1986, behind ‘The Lady in Red’

The world can be a cruel, unjust place. War, famine… ‘The Lady in Red’ keeping this camp classic from reaching #1… plagues, natural disasters…

First things first. This is complete and utter trash. From the clanking, processed, so dated it grates your teeth intro, past the unbelievably cheesy video, and onto the opening couplet: I don’t want no seven-stone weakling, Or a boy who thinks he’s a girl… as Sinitta lays down her dating manifesto (‘man’-ifesto… see what I did there…?) Second things second, I love it.

The chap who wins Sinitta’s heart has to have ‘big blue eyes’ and ‘be able to satisfy’… He’s gotta be big and strong, Enough to turn me on… By the second verse, things have taken a mildly BDSM turn… I’m tired of taking the lead, I want a man who will dominate me… I love these lyrics in part because, let’s be honest, they probably wouldn’t cut the mustard these days.

As much as I love this song, I can admit that, by any barometer of taste and decency, it is pure crap. I assumed it was a SAW production, given the tinny synths, but no. Sinitta was, however, the very first act signed by a young Simon Cowell (the pair even dated for a while). ‘So Macho’ was his first hit single, although it took two re-releases over the course of a year for it to take off. And, as fun as this tune is, if it had flopped we may well have been spared Robson & Jerome, Pop Idol, The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent… (Sinitta, what did you unleash…!)

In a shocking and truly unforeseen twist, ‘So Macho’ proved very popular in gay bars and clubs, giving Sinitta a fanbase that meant she was good for a few more Top 10 hits. Since the chart career ended she has gone into appearing on daytime TV, helping Cowell out on his ‘talent’ shows, and dating a pre-fame Brad Pitt! A life well lived…

Another #2 up tomorrow…

Random Runners-Up: ‘From a Jack to a King’, by Ned Miller

Time to step away from our regular parade of #1 singles, and to shine a light on some songs that never quite made it. Yes, it’s Random Runners-Up Week – five posts on five randomly chosen number two hits. The dates used can range from the start of the singles chart in 1952 right up to our current location in time (mid-1986)… And these songs genuinely were chosen at random, and not because I like them (which I hope will become abundantly clear when you see what tunes the date generator threw up this time…)

First up, then…

‘From a Jack to a King’, by Ned Miller

#2 for 3 weeks, from 11th Apr-2nd May 1963, behind ‘How Do You Do It?’

…a simple country ditty. From a Jack to a King, From loneliness to a wedding ring… It’s a ultra-country premise: love as a card game, with lots of references to ‘lady luck’ and ‘winning a queen’. A guitar strums out a simple riff, then plucks out a simple solo, and the backing singers see-saw a simple melody back and forth. Simple, and sweet.

I think I may have overused the word ‘simple’ in that there paragraph. But there’s no better word for this tune, especially when I compare it with the era I’ve been writing about in recent months (the over-produced eighties…) It sounds almost prehistoric by comparison. In fact, this song sounds dated even for 1963!

And that’s because it was actually from 1957. It hadn’t charted – hadn’t even been released at the time – but for reasons I cannot pinpoint it made the Top 10 over five years later. The early sixties were a hot-bed of retrospective and re-released hits, though. And this is a significant #2, because it sat behind the very first Merseybeat #1 from Gerry & The Pacemakers. It’s easy to view the moment that ‘How Do You Do It?’ hit the top as a turning point, as the moment the sixties began to swing, which it was. But things clearly didn’t turn overnight, with Ned Miller crooning away just behind…

Once this record had belatedly become a hit, it quickly became a country standard, covered by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Mud. It also ensured that Ned Miller had a fairly succesful career on the US country charts for the rest of the decade. He is so very nearly a UK one-hit wonder, though. His only other single to chart made #48 a few years later…

Another #2 up tomorrow – one that gives us a big ol’ change of tone…

Random Runners-Up: ‘We Are the Champions’, by Queen

One final runner-up for the week, and a bit of a forgotten classic to finish on…

‘We Are the Champions’, by Queen

#2 for 3 weeks, from 13th Nov-4th Dec 1977 – behind ‘The Name of the Game’ and ‘Mull of Kintyre’

Only kidding. To tell the truth, I always thought that ‘We Are the Champions’ was released as a double-‘A’ with ‘We Will Rock You’. It wasn’t, at least not in the UK, where ‘We Will Rock You’ was the B-side. But if ever there was a song that didn’t need any support, that could stand alone as a statement, ’twas this one.

It’s not that ‘We Are the Champions’ invented the rock opera. But before this, rock operas were spread out over entire albums. Queen managed to get the form down to three perfect minutes. The choruses: rock, soaring rock. The verses: pure Freddie Mercury theatre. The way he toys with the line You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it…! is sublime. It doesn’t come close to scanning with the song’s rhythm, but he makes it work.

This record has been slightly lost to sports events now, blasted out after every cup final and league title because, well, no time for losers. But in its original form it feels like more of a positivity anthem. We are the champions, all of us, and we’ve all had to struggle to get there. Mercury himself, of course, was no stranger to not having things easy, growing up non-white and non-heterosexual in a time not much inclined to accept either of those things. And yet he took the sand kicked in his face and came through…

It’s easy to be cynical, and I can be cynical about most things in life… But I refuse to be cynical about this song. It’s irrepressible. It’s been confirmed, in a 2011 study by actual scientists, to be the catchiest song ever written. And in the recent ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ biopic, Queen’s performance of this song at Live Aid drew the film to a close and sent me out the cinema thinking, briefly, that I had just seen the best movie ever (I hadn’t, but there are few films that wouldn’t be improved by having a performance of ‘We Are the Champions’ tacked on the end…)

Back to the regular countdown next week.

Random Runners-Up: ‘The Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp’, by O.C. Smith

The late sixties were one of the most eclectic periods for the UK charts, as the classic mid-sixties beat sound fractured, and a multitude of different genres filled the void.

‘Son of Hickory Holler’s Tramp’, by O. C. Smith

#2 for 3 weeks, from 3rd-24th July 1968, behind ‘Baby Come Back’

Which means country/soul oddities like this were free to spend three weeks at #2, behind the Equals’ reggae-rock chart-toppers. I say ‘country/soul’ because, while the sound is pure rhythm and blues, with a brilliantly funky bass-line, the story it tells is one of pure country woe…

Oh the path was deep and wide, From footsteps leading to our cabin, Above the door there burned a scarlet lamp… Daddy’s a drunk who packed up and left, leaving the weeds high and the crops dry so, yes, mum’s turned to whoring to feed her fourteen children. And yet, it’s an overwhelmingly positive song. Yes, I’m the son of Hickory Holler’s tramp! announces O. C. Smith, unashamed of how his mother made ends meet.

The neighbours did nothing to help, but did plenty of talking, and judging. The children didn’t notice though – all we cared about was momma’s chicken dumplings... – and grew up loved and nurtured. Mum’s dead now, Smith sings, but every Sunday fourteen roses arrive at her graveside. By the end, as Smith declares once again just who he’s the son of… Well, if there isn’t a tear in your eye.

It’s a very progressive song – probably long before ‘progressive’ became a thing – and I wonder why such a big hit has been erased from the sixties canon? Maybe it’s because the subject matter is just a little too on the nose, a little too celebratory towards the world’s oldest profession? Either way, I’m glad the date-generator threw up this forgotten hit. Ocie Lee Smith had many chart entries on the Billboard chart in the sixties and seventies, but in Britain he is a bone-fide one-hit wonder. He died in 2001.

One last number two for you tomorrow, and it’s one we can all sing along to…

Random Runners-Up: ‘Cloud Lucky Seven’, by Guy Mitchell

My third randomly selected #2 for the week brings us all the way back to the early weeks of 1954. Before Elvis, before the Beatles, before colour TV and motorways, there was Guy Mitchell…

‘Cloud Lucky Seven’, by Guy Mitchell

#2 for 1 week – 12th – 19th February 1954, behind ‘Oh Mein Papa’

I have a huge soft-spot for Guy Mitchell. Not only did he have a hunky, all-American boy next door vibe going on – see the pic above! – but during the early months of this blog, as I trawled through many overwrought and overblown, and often quite dull, pre-rock #1s, Mr. Mitchell would regularly pop up with something a bit more sprightly.

‘Cloud Lucky Seven’ came right in the middle of Mitchell’s four chart-topping singles, and is a pre-rock hit by-numbers. It’s almost unbearably jaunty, the backing singers sound like drunken relatives at a wedding, and there are horns. Boy, are there horns… It’s a bit jazz, a bit swing, very music-hall, and with no hint at the rock ‘n’ roll revolution that’s just around the corner.

What saves it from sounding ridiculous to modern ears is Guy himself. He isn’t, to be honest, the best technical singer. He’s no Al Martino, or Eddie Fisher, but his voice has a throaty, homely charm. He sounds like he’s having fun, as if he’s well-aware that he’s singing a load of tosh (see also ‘She Wears Red Feathers’) and being paid handsomely to do so.

Lyrically, the song is about love as clouds (that’s another pre-rock trick: love as birds chirping, fluffy clouds, twinkly stars…) Cloud one is where you land when you meet that special someone, while cloud lucky seven is the cloud nearest heaven… Which means… This is actually a song about getting laid?? Those pre-rockers were just as horny as those that came later, they just had to hide it behind bizarre metaphors involving clouds. Which means, as he belts out that there’s one more cloud to go…! it’s not only the best bit of the song; but you can almost hear the knowing wink. Guy, you sly dog, you!

Two more #2s to come…

Random Runners-Up: ‘Are You Sure?’, by The Allisons

Part II of this week’s runners-up feature, and the random date generator throws up one of the longest-running #2s in chart history…

‘Are You Sure?’, by The Allisons

#2 for 6 weeks, from 9th-23rd Mar / 30th Mar–27th Apr 1961 (behind ‘Walk Right Back’ / ‘Ebony Eyes’ and ‘Wooden Heart’)

Six weeks, over the course of two months, is a long and very unlucky amount of time to be marooned in second place, but it will happen if you’re up against two of pop music’s most famous acts.

This is a slice of early-sixties pop that probably sounded a little old-fashioned even when it hit the charts. The staccato strings and jaunty pace ape Adam Faith‘s hits, which in turn borrowed heavily from Buddy Holly’s posthumous chart-topper ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’. The Allisons are also clearly going for an Everly Brothers vibe, but when you listen to the Brothers’ record that kept this off the top then there’s no contest. It’s pleasant enough, and over in a trice; but it’s a reminder of why The Beatles couldn’t come fast enough…

Goodbye, Farewell, I’m not sure what to do… Compare and contrast the well-mannered harmonising here with the Greek-stomping hit I featured yesterday, ‘Bend It!’. Only five and a half years separate these two songs, but they just so happen to have been the most fertile five years in pop music history.

The Allisons were, perhaps surprisingly, not actual brothers. Bob Day and John Alford were simply marketed that way. And this record has a particular claim to fame, perhaps even more important than its long run at number two… It was the first big British Eurovision hit single. The Allisons represented the UK at the 1961 contest, finishing in second place. It’s fairly middling as Eurovision singles go: not the best, but far from being the worst… Yet it was the duo’s only real hit, though they would continue performing for many years afterwards.

Next up, tomorrow, and we’re going even further back in time…

Random Runners-Up: ‘Bend It!’, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

I’m going to spend the next week in the company of some songs that almost featured on this blog in their own right. Instead, all these hits peaked in the most frustrating position of all… #2. As with this feature last year, they’ve been chosen at random – honest – and the date generator has thrown up some interesting choices. Two songs I’ve never heard of, a couple that I’m acquainted with, and one that nearly everyone on this planet knows word for word… Kicking us off, here’s one I’m acquainted with:

‘Bend It!’, by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich

#2 for 2 weeks, from 6th-20th October 1966 (behind ‘Distant Drums’, by Jim Reeves)

One of the kookiest bands of the decade – in a decade that wasn’t short on kooky bands – sat in second place for a fortnight with this Greek-sounding foot-stomper. Bend It! Bend It! they exhort… Just a little bit… It’s all about two people fitting together, like a jigsaw puzzle. It’s all a little suggestive – suggestive enough to get it banned and hastily re-recorded in the US.

Like many of DDDBM&T’s hits, ‘Bend It!’ doesn’t follow standard pop song conventions. Each verse works its way up to crashing, plate-smashing crescendo, before settling back down to a woozy stomp. Apparently it was inspired by ‘Zorba’s Dance’ – that tune you hear in every Greek restaurant. I’d say it was more than just ‘inspired by’ that earlier hit…

Still it’s a fun tune. Dave Dee and pals knew how to keep it interesting. A year or so after this they scored their only chart-topper, the epic ‘Legend of Xanadu’. That was another fun one, and fairly unique for the band in that the title wasn’t followed by an exclamation mark. They also scored Top 5 hits with the thumping ‘Hold Tight!’ (their breakthrough and my favourite), ‘Okay!’, and ‘Zabadak!’

The fact that this single featured on an album called ‘If Music Be the Food of Love… Then Prepare for Indigestion’ is both brilliant, and a fitting summary of the band’s approach to making pop music. Try everything once! It’s just a shame that they seem to have slipped from the official sixties pantheon.

Another #2 is up tomorrow…

Random Runners-up: ‘Let’s Work Together’, by Canned Heat

My special feature for the week is a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

Last one, and we’re off to the seventies today…

‘Let’s Work Together’, by Canned Heat

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)‘, from 15th – 22nd Feb. 1970

A groovy last runner-up for the week. It’s got that slightly fried feel of some of the late-sixties/early-seventies #1s – ‘Spirit in the Sky’, ‘Bad Moon Rising’ and ‘I Hear You Knocking’ – as if the band has been keeping the party going that little bit too long.

The message is positive, though: Together we stand, Divided we fall… Every boy, every woman and a-man…! while the frazzled lead guitar chops and changes, and the rhythm section chugs along with a nasty edge. It really feels like this should be the backing to a tale of sleaze and sauciness – a ‘Honky Tonk Women’ Pt II, for example – not such a feel-good rallying cry.

Lead-singer on this record, Bob Hite, also gives the lyrics a threatening edge. He snarls, rather than encourages. Come on, come on, Let’s work together… he sings, though I’m not sure I would, with him. I like it though, this scuzzy, bluesy, boogie-woogying tune.

It had been written and recorded in 1962, as ‘Let’s Stick Together’ by Wilbert Harrison, before being rerecorded in 1969, by the same guy, as ‘Let’s Work Together’. His version was the hit in the US, while Canned Heat had the success in the UK. It was by far their biggest hit here. I knew it best through the Bryan Ferry version, which he turned back to ‘Let’s Stick Together’… Way to complicate things… Ferry took that to #3 in 1976 – a great, if slightly glossier, reimagining in which he pleads with his wife not to divorce him.

I’ll leave you with the version that made #2 in early 1970, behind ‘Love Grows…’ (what a great top 2!) Enjoy. I’ll do another blast of random runners-up sometime, it was fun. The regular countdown will resume over the weekend.