Recap: #511 – #540

To recap, then.

This is our third fully ‘eighties’ recap, and I’d say we’ve reached the peak. In fact, the first of these thirty #1s was the Jam’s farewell single, ‘Beat Surrender’. In the context of this countdown, that wasn’t simply a sign-off from Paul Weller to his fans. It was a sign-off to the post-punk, new wave, early eighties. The days of the Specials, Blondie, Adam Ant and Dexys Midnight Runners.

In its place came THE eighties. The chunk of the decade that has become synonymous with the whole ten years: Duran Duran, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Spandau Ballet, Wham!, Culture Club… (OK, yes, Culture Club did feature in my previous countdown, but we won’t let that get in the way of the narrative…) I was keeping my eyes and ears peeled for the exact start of what we now know as ‘the eighties’, and I narrowed it down to Kajagoogoo’s ‘Too Shy’ – a record completely of its time, in both sound and haircuts.

After that hit the top, the levee broke and we were swamped by classics of the decade… ‘True’, ‘Let’s Dance’, ‘Karma Chameleon’. At the time I pointed out that, as we’d seen in the 1950s, some of these giant eighties hits were being claimed by acts who pre-dated the scene by a full decade or more. For the middle-aged Bill Haley rocking around the clock, we now had the almost forty year old Rod Stewart’s disco-rock stomper ‘Baby Jane’, and the well-into-his-thirties David Bowie scoring his biggest ever hit.

I did, at times, sound like a broken record in complaining about the production values of the age. There was just something too polished, and slightly joyless, about the state of pop in mid-1983: ‘True’, ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat’, ‘Give It Up’ all came and went. All well-written and well performed pop songs. All that bit too smooth for my tastes. I noticed, though, that I stopped complaining about the production (or I at least stopped mentioning it quite as often) when 1984 rolled around…

The ‘greatest year for pop music ©’ saw a shift towards an ‘80s Wall of Sound, with producers and artists literally throwing everything at a recording and hoping it stuck. ‘The Reflex’, ‘I Feel for You’, ‘99 Red Balloons’ and, of course, the two Trever Horn helmed Frankie Goes to Hollywood #1s that have dominated the year so far: ‘Relax’ and ‘Two Tribes’ (with almost four months at number one between them). They were all a lot more ‘in your face’ than, say, the dinner party vibes given by Paul Young, but also a lot more fun.

Frankie have been given a run for their money, though, by Wham! (never forget the exclamation mark!) and more specifically George Michael, who has scored three chart-toppers of his own in 1984. Two of them were quite retro in their influences: the ‘happiest song ever’ ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and the Motown love-in ‘Freedom’. Oh, and one of the decades most iconic songs, videos, and hairdos, in ‘Careless Whisper’ (that record tipped things back a little too much towards the glossy side for my liking…)

Advertisements

One thing you might have noticed is that almost every act I’ve mentioned so far has been British. Things haven’t been so Brit-centric at the top of the charts since the mid-sixties. Even in the States these were the days of the ‘Second British Invasion’. What then, of the American acts? They may have been pushed to the margins, but we have had the first two hip-hop #1s: the poppy version from New Edition, and the ultra-cool Prince cover version from Chaka Khan. And we had a pop classic from Billy Joel, as well as two massive slush-fests from Lionel Richie and Stevie Wonder. And, oh yeah, we had ‘Thriller’ era Michael Jackson squeaking a week with one of the biggest songs ever

Which brings us on to our awards. The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability is traditionally awarded first, and to be honest there’s been quite a bit of ‘meh’ around. The 1980s, to my ears at least, can get pretty ‘meh’. But funnily enough, that makes it hard to pick a winner. In some ways it feels wrong giving it to The Police’s ‘Every Breath You Take’, as that’s a classic. Except, it’s a classic that’s been given a free ride for too long. It’s so beloved of some that I’m giving it the ‘Meh’ Award out of spite! It’s really not that good, people!

Moving on. The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else. There have been a few outliers in the past thirty, songs that bucked the popular trends. UB40’s reggae, Paul McCartney’s ode to peace (and his only truly solo #1), Phil Collins’ Supremes cover… And our past two Christmas chart-toppers. The Flying Pickets’ (almost) completely a cappella ‘Only You’ was fun, but nothing in comparison to Renée & Renato’s ‘Save Your Love’. It was a pretty God-awful song, but boy did Renato go for it. He just about manages to bellow it into the ‘so bad it’s good’ category. They win!

I was swithering over awarding ‘Save Your Love’ this round’s Very Worst Chart-Topper trophy, but its campy charms persuaded me otherwise. That means the coast is clear. There is only one candidate for the worst of the past thirty: Lionel Richie’s overwrought and overly creepy ‘Hello’, which even a ludicrous video couldn’t save. I gave The Commodores ‘Three Times a Lady’ a ‘Meh’ award back in the seventies, too. Sorry, Lionel… nothing personal.

And so, finally, onto The Very Best Chart-Topper. Which is nowhere near as clear-cut as the Worst. First, honorary mentions must go to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ and ‘I Feel for You’. Great pop songs; but not quite all-time-great standard. I have it down to three, then. The one I should choose: ‘Billie Jean’ (I’m not sure I’ll have a better chance to pick a Michael Jackson song). The one I enjoy listening to the most: ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ (the power ballad to end all power ballads). And the one whose cultural impact just feels too important to ignore: ‘Relax’. Only one of these three songs was pulled off on air in disgust by Mike Read, and only one of these songs features the lead singer yelling ‘Come!’ backed by the sound of a fireman’s hose. Frankie Goes to Hollywood win. A victory for shock over substance…? Maybe. So sue me.

To recap the recaps, then:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
  15. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
  16. ‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
  17. ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.
  18. ‘Every Breath You Take’, by The Police.

The WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
  15. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
  16. ‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
  17. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.
  18. ‘Save Your Love’ by Renée & Renato

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
  15. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
  16. ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
  17. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.
  18. ‘Hello’, by Lionel Richie.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
  15. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
  16. ‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
  17. ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.
  18. ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood.

Recap: #481 – #510

So, to recap…

I was about to write that this is our first full eighties recap, before I remembered that the last recap actually covered January 1980-June 1981. Which just proves what I wrote in that recap, that the early months of the decade felt like a continuation of the seventies. It wasn’t until the very end of that period, when Adam Ant, Shakin’ Stevens and Bucks Fizz burst on to the scene, that the 1980s seemed to really kick off.

And those three acts play a big part in this recap, too. Shaky had two more rockabilly #1s – one great and one meh – while Adam had a big earworm hit with the Ants and another ear-worm on his own. The Fizz, meanwhile, scored a couple of low-key pop classics, which I might just return to in a bit…

In the last recap, I also wrote that it was possibly the strongest bunch of thirty chart-toppers we had encountered yet. Bowie! ABBA! Blondie!… This last thirty has been a bit more up and down. Some real highs; but some pretty low lows. Let’s start with the good bits, shall we? Some of the most illustrious names in early-eighties pop have reached the summit in the last year and a half: the Specials, Soft Cell, the Jam, Madness, Culture Club, Human League… (In fact, as a snapshot of how much has changed, Christmas 1980 saw John Lennon posthumously hogging top-spot, while Christmas ’81 brought the Human League’s electro-million seller ‘Don’t You Want Me’.)

Problem is – and this may well be a problem that haunts me throughout the eighties – I just haven’t connected with a lot of these classics. I enjoyed ‘House of Fun’ well enough, as I did ‘Come On Eileen’ (while wondering slightly what all the fuss is about). I was a bit bored by ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’. I was ready to punch the air to ‘Eye of the Tiger’, but ended up tired of its pomposity. Is this decade cursed? I grew up with my parents’ sixties and seventies compilations, while the music of the nineties and noughties is the music of my youth. The 1980s is a sort of blank space in-between… If anything, reviewing every one of the decade’s chart-toppers will force me to finally make my mind up about it.

Away from the classics, there were some big swerves into cheesy pop. Some vintage camembert – ‘Japanese Boy’ and Bucks Fizz – and some plastic cheddar – Tight Fit and the Goombay Dance Band. In my posts on the latter two, I wondered if computer generated music was leading to cheaper, disposable pop, as some tunes sounded little more than quickly thrown together karaoke backing tracks. But again, disposable pop wasn’t a 1980s invention, and maybe my biases are again showing.

Other notable moments from the last thirty include… Michael Jackson’s first solo #1 (actually, that re-released ballad went pretty much unnoticed), Julio Iglesias making Spanish-crooner-disco a thing, Kraftwerk appearing out of nowhere (in fact, we had a bit of a run of chart-topping Germans), Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder tackling racial inequality head-on, and our recent Reggae Autumn with the already mentioned Culture Club, alongside Musical Youth and Eddy Grant.

I suppose I should dish out some awards then. Let’s start, as is traditional, with The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. I’ve managed to get each award down to a neat top-three this time, and my three for the ‘Meh’ are: ‘One Day in Your Life’, by MJ, ‘Seven Tears’, by the Goombay Dance Band, and ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole. And I know it’s a bit lazy to give it to the Eurovision ballad – it’ll be the 2nd in a row to win the ‘Meh’ – but they do tend to be pretty dull records. Nicole, sorry dear, you win. At least you’re not being crowned as the worst…

But before we get to that, here’s this recap’s ‘WTAF’ Award, for the chart-topping songs that were interesting if nothing else. The three up for this are: Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin’s bizarre take on ‘It’s My Party’, Captain Sensible’s bizarre take on ‘Happy Talk’, and Julio Iglesias’s smooth smooth take on ‘Begin the Beguine’. All re-imaginings of golden oldies. All a bit odd. The award, though, has to go to Dave and Babs, for what is a weird chart-topper for the ages, and not just for this recap.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper. The winner of this can console themselves with the fact that nothing I’ve heard this time has been as bad as last recap’s ‘Very Worst’, the angelic tones of St. Winifred’s school choir. But still. There have been stinkers. The shortlist are all from 1982: Tight Fit’s ear-splitting take on ‘The Lion Sleeps Tonight’, Macca and Stevie’s well-intentioned but subtle as a brick ‘Ebony and Ivory’, and Charlene’s preachy ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’. And if you’ve been paying attention, then you know which way this award’s going. I can’t stand sanctimony – ‘No Charge’ and ‘One Day at a Time’ are previous winners – and so Charlene takes it. No amount of tongue-in-cheek covers by drag queens can save it. It’s a howler.

And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. I have to admit, unlike the last recap, I don’t love any of them. Not truly. But, there have been some real goodies. The Specials ‘Ghost Town’, for example. That’s the one most people might choose. It’s a great song, and a snapshot of British society in the early ‘80s. But… I would be choosing it partly out of duty, because I feel I should. Then there’s ‘Under Pressure’: David Bowie and Freddie Mercury trying to upstage one another over a classic bassline. And then there’s Bucks Fizz. Yes, Bucks Fizz.

 I was genuinely surprised by how good their ‘other’ #1s were. You know, the ones that aren’t ‘Making Your Mind Up’. ‘The Land of Make Believe’ was a pounding pop beauty. ‘My Camera Never Lies’ was an edgy, new-wave mini-classic. Neither was the ‘best’ of the past thirty chart-toppers, but I don’t think I enjoyed any songs more. It was probably the novelty – if ‘Tainted Love’, or ‘Don’t You Want Me’ were as forgotten as Bucks Fizz’s final two chart-toppers then maybe they’d win – but I can’t help that. Taste is subjective. Pop music isn’t meant to be taken seriously. ‘My Camera Never Lies’ is my 17th Very Best Chart-Topper. Because it’s my party, and I’ll choose who I want to!

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
  15. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
  16. ‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.
  17. ‘A Little Peace’, by Nicole.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
  15. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
  16. ‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.
  17. ‘It’s My Party’, by Dave Stewart & Barbara Gaskin.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
  15. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
  16. ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.
  17. ‘I’ve Never Been to Me’, by Charlene.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
  15. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
  16. ‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.
  17. ‘My Camera Never Lies’, by Bucks Fizz.

Recap: #451 – #480

To recap, then…

The last few number ones to feature in this countdown have given me the feeling that the eighties are off and running. Those songs, from Shakin’ Stevens, Bucks Fizz and Adam & The Ants, may not be among the very best that this decade has to offer, but they are unmistakably of a time and place. You might think ‘Going Underground’, or ‘Call Me’ were #1s from the 1970s, but you wouldn’t make that error with ‘Stand and Deliver!’

Before the eighties got started, we had to pay our respects to the seventies, and even the sixties. John Lennon was murdered outside his New York apartment in early-December 1980, sparking several months of mourning at the top of the UK charts. Three of his records went to number one. Two of which probably wouldn’t have if he hadn’t died (‘Starting Over’ and ‘Woman’) and one of which surely had to top the charts at some point: ‘Imagine’. We can just thank our lucky stars it was the original that belatedly did it, rather than a cover by the ‘Cast of X Factor’, or something. It’s tempting to think that the need for something lighter then prompted the success of Shakey and Adam Ant, and the mini-glam revival that they brought with them, though I’m not sure how true that would really be.

And before all that sadness, we made our way through one of the great years for chart-topping singles: 1980. The variety was huge: country yarns from Kenny Rogers, old rereleases (the theme from ‘M*A*S*H’), and reggae covers from Blondie. And then there were the all-time classics sprinkled in amongst it all: ‘Atomic’, ‘Going Underground’, ‘The Winner Takes It All‘, ‘Ashes to Ashes’… This recap barely covers a year and a third, so quick was the turnover at the top of the charts – two weeks being the norm – and that aided the mix.

Things probably weren’t as cutting-edge as last time however. The spiky creativity of new-wave had, in the large part, given way to pop from some seventies leftovers: Bowie, Blondie, ABBA with their final pair of chart-toppers, and ELO finally getting their turn at the top in collaboration with Olivia Newton-John. Even the Bee Gees made an appearance, though as songwriters for Barbra Streisand rather than under their own steam. But it wasn’t all ‘oldies’: The Jam staked their claim as the biggest band in the country with a couple of #1s, and Dexys Midnight Runners hit top-spot with a genre-bending tribute to a soul legend.

And before I dish out my awards, it’s worth checking in on old Father Disco. Update: he’s still not dead, despite what they’d have you believe. Although the genre’s peak passed several recaps ago, various recent #1s still have that unmistakeable beat, and those swirling strings: ‘Together We Are Beautiful’, The Detroit Spinners, and Kelly Marie (who upped the tempo even more to give us a glimpse into the future of ‘80s dance-pop), right through to our most recent chart-topper from Smokey Robinson.

To the awards, then. In fact, this time the four winners have fallen into place very easily. There’s not been much deliberation needed at all. First up, The ‘Meh’ Award for forgettability. This one required the most thinking – I could have swayed to Fern Kinney, to ‘Crying’, to Smokey, even to ‘Woman’ – but in truth Johnny Logan’s Eurovision snooze-fest was always out in front. ‘What’s Another Year’ takes the crown this time around.

On to The ‘WTAF’ Award, dished out to those number ones that you just don’t quite get but at least they’re interesting. Again it’s an easy decision – the only other possibility being ‘Suicide Is Painless’ for its ten-year overdue success. But no. Step forward Joe Dolce and his Music Theatre for puncturing the Great John Lennon Mourning Period with his slice of Italian nonsense. No, you ‘Shaddap You Face’!

And speaking of easy decisions. It’s not often that a record as ear-achingly bad as ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’ comes along. I haven’t even considered what I would’ve named The Very Worst Chart-Topper if the boys and girls of St. Winifred’s School Choir hadn’t nabbed a Christmas number one. Because, let’s be honest, there can be no discussion. Looking down my ‘very worst’ list, there are some ‘bad’ chart-toppers that can count themselves unlucky to be sharing such hideous company…

And finally: The Very Best Chart-Topper. The sixteenth time it has been awarded and, to be honest, I’ve been planning this one for a while. I try to not plan my awards too far ahead, but since starting this blog, and these recaps, I’ve know that this record would be winning this award. And it helps that it’s only real competition – ‘Atomic’ – is ineligible thanks to my one award per artist rule. ‘Heart of Glass’ won last time out, and so the coast is clear for ‘The Winner Takes It All’ to reign supreme. ‘Waterloo’ finished third, ‘Dancing Queen’ finished second… ABBA’s best single finally wins it.

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
  15. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.
  16. ‘What’s Another Year’, by Johnny Logan.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush.
  15. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.
  16. ‘Shaddap You Face’, by Joe Dolce Music Theatre.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
  15. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.
  16. ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’, by St. Winifred’s School Choir.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
  15. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.
  16. ‘The Winner Takes It All’, by ABBA.

In a couple of days we’ll continue on through the early 1980s. And up next: things get even more eighties, as the decade’s biggest star scores his first solo #1.

Recap: #421 – #450

Recap time! Our fifteenth recap, taking in just under two years, from spring 1978 to the early, early weeks of 1980. It would have been great had this recap fallen right at the end of the seventies, but hey…

Our two most recent #1s have felt like a step forward, not just because they were the first two of the ‘80s, but because they’ve been so bold, so vibrantly dripping with (post) punkish attitude. The Pretenders swaggered into the new decade with ‘Brass in Pocket’, while The Specials shouted about birth-control – live – in ‘Too Much Too Young’. The eighties have begun with a bang. Can it last? (Well, sorry… no. Just wait till you see who’s up next!)

But, let me take you back a couple of years, to a time when disco still ruled the airwaves. The genre would explode in a puff of glitter, after a glorious run of chart-toppers, in early 1979. Before that, though, ’78 was probably the most disjointed, undefinable year of the decade. There were sixteen weeks where songs from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack occupied top-position, two shots of religious, disco-calypso from Boney M, a flashback to the MOR days of ’76-’77 from the Commodores, 10cc went reggae, Rod Stewart asked if we think he’s sexy… while The Boomtown Rats scored the very first new-wave #1. There were some long stays at the top – five weeks seemed to be the average – and some very high sales: ‘Rivers of Babylon’ and ‘You’re the One That I Want’ are in the Top 10 of all time.

But then, on New Year’s Eve 1978, The Village People sounded their klaxon, everyone ran to the dancefloor, and we were off on a thrilling run of chart-topping singles. One of the best ever. ‘YMCA’, ‘Tragedy’, ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Heart of Glass’ perfected disco, meaning that the genre was completed, finished, not needed again. By the time Anita Ward came along, ringing her bell, it felt a little old hat. Blondie, in particular, had taken things a step further, mixing synths and guitars into the mix. The new-wave future had arrived…

Actually, the future seemed to be arriving every few weeks by the summer of 1979… Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army scored a couple of impossibly cool, completely electronic number ones. Bob and his Rats returned, with a rock opera about a school shooting. The Police brought a reggaeish, post-punk to the charts. The Buggles asked if this new-fangled video age was all it was cracked up to be… By the end of the year, Pink Floyd – releasing their first single in twelve years – had a Christmas number one about teachers and their means of mind-control…

There were anomalies in all this. The charts never quite do what you want them to. Right at the start of this run, Brian and Michael had a huge folksy singalong about the artist LS Lowry. Art Garfunkel had a low-key ballad about dead rabbits (and, of course, scored the year’s biggest-selling single). Cliff came back! With his best number one, ever! Country and Western kept popping up when you least expected it to…

I said at the time that I felt 1979 was the best year of the decade in terms of variety and quality of chart-toppers. I may not have loved every single one – in terms of my own personal enjoyment I’d say the glam years of ’72-’74 were ‘better’ – but the experimentation and sheer love for pop music that shone through in these closing months of the ‘70s was something else. And a very refreshing change after everything had gone a little soft-rock in our previous recap.

Which means there might be stiff competition when I have to choose the best of this past bunch. But first… the lesser awards. The ‘Meh’ Award, for example. Like I said, not many of the past thirty #1s have been dull. But I have three. I considered ‘Bright Eyes, but Art already has a ‘Meh’ award to his name, and to give a legend like him two out of two just seems mean. I also toyed with The Police and their second number-one, ‘Walking on the Moon’, which just didn’t connect with me. But, edging them out… not once, not twice, but three-times as dull… The Commodores with ‘Three Times a Lady’: a sludgy relic from the days when David Soul and Leo Sayer were ruling the charts.

On to the ‘WTAF’ Award, for being interesting if nothing else. Plenty of interesting #1s this time around. The Tubeway Army… ‘Cars’… The Buggles… But giving it to one of them would be because they sounded new and exciting. Not ‘weird’, as such. No, if you want weird, you have to choose between Ian Dury and his rhythm stick, or Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt II’. When I made my notes for this post a few days ago, I assumed I’d go with the Floyd. But, really, that record is just an Eagles-beat with some kids shouting. Whereas The Blockheads gave us a punky disco world-tour, from the deserts of Sudan to the gardens of Japan, full of shouting in German and spiky saxophone, sung by a self-proclaimed cripple poet. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ has it.

The main events, then. The fifteenth Very Worst Chart-Topper, joining luminaries such as Donny Osmond, Jimmy Young, and… checks notes… Elvis. Should I give it to Brian and Michael’s irritatingly parochial celebration of Lowry: ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’? No. A) That was fundamentally catchy. And B) ‘One Day at a Time’ exists. Yes, Lena Martell somehow preached her way to three weeks at the top with a self-righteous slice of country. It was by far the worst of the past bunch. Sweet Jesus!

Finally, then. Fanfare please. The Very Best Chart-Topper of the last thirty. I said earlier that there was a lot of competition but, to be honest, there’s only one winner this time around. I loved ‘YMCA’, ‘Rat Trap’, ‘I Will Survive’ and the ‘Grease’ hits… But towering above them all are Blondie, and ‘Heart of Glass’. One of the coolest songs ever to have topped the charts, and the perfect choice to sum up this moment in pop history, as we stand on the verge of a new decade, a new era…

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
  15. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush
  15. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
  15. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
  15. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.

Recap: #391 – #420

Our fourteenth recap takes us from mid-1976 through to the spring of 1978. Almost two years, which seems to be pretty standard for a run of thirty number ones singles. And while I recapped the previous thirty as pretty madcap and thoroughly zany; this thirty have been a bit more, well, dull…

The easy listening years are back, for the first time since the fifties. Soft rock rules the day. From October 1976, when Pussycat took ‘Mississippi’ to the top, right through until The Jacksons re-started the disco vibe in June ’77, we were planted firmly in the middle of the road. Chicago gave way to Johnny Mathis, to David Soul, Leo Sayer and then even Rod Stewart failed to get our pulses racing.

It’s one thing to be bad – plenty of 1974-5 chart-toppers were terrible – but it’s another thing to be boring. You remember Telly Savalas’s ‘If’, and The Wurzels, perhaps not always for the right reasons, but still. And I don’t want to suggest that just because somethings soft and subtle it can’t make a good record – I gave ‘If You Leave Me Now’ and ‘Free’ pretty good write-ups, I think. But it all did get a bit much.

Thankfully, in amongst the sludge, a great record popped up every now and then. We kicked off this thirty with The Real Thing (a fine pop song), and took a detour back to the glam era with Showaddywaddy and, I guess, with Manhattan Transfer. Kenny Rogers spun a yarn about Lucille, her spurned husband and their crops in the field (OK, maybe not a ‘great’ record, but still nice to have a bit of C&W at the top.) We also had a first appearance at the top of the charts by Elton John (with Kiki Dee), and Michael Jackson.

And, as 1977 drew to a close things started to pick up. Thank Donna Summer: ‘I Feel Love’ came along and kicked the charts up the arse. Pretty much everything since then has been more interesting, with higher beats per minute. Brotherhood of Man told two tales of Spanish lovers in ‘Angelo’ and then ‘Figaro’, the latter in particular being entertainingly ridiculous. Speaking of camp fun, how can we forget Baccara? Yes Sir, they could boogie. While Elvis left the building, and went ‘Way Down’, a fun rockabilly-disco effort to bow out on, tying with The Beatles for most #1s ever in the process. And I almost forgot, we finally had another ex-Beatle at #1. Wings stayed there for nine whole weeks with a song about Bonnie Scotland, and a song about a ‘Girls’ School’ in need of a thorough Ofsted inspection.

One band, though, has dominated in a way few ever do. There’s a reason why those four heads have been my cover image for the past few months. 1976-78 was ABBA’s world; we were just living in it. Four chart-toppers in this period: most recently the straight-forward dance-pop of ‘Take a Chance on Me’, following on from two more experimental singles in ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘The Name of the Game’. And… oh yeah. There was ‘Dancing Queen’. That fairly well-known pop tune. Meanwhile, the nerd in me does enjoy the fact that their chart-topping runs went six weeks, five weeks, four weeks, three weeks… (And their next number one – some way off – will get two weeks!)

Let’s dish out some awards then, shall we. First up, the ‘Meh’ Award, ‘cause let’s be honest, a lot of our recent hits have been pretty darn ‘meh’. But like I said, just because a song is easy on the ears doesn’t automatically make it dull. So I’m giving Chicago, Leo Sayer and the likes a pass. I considered ‘Mississippi’, and I considered Deniece William’s fairly forgettable ‘Free’, but sorry I’m giving it to Rod. His double-‘A’ of ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ and ‘The First Cut is the Deepest’ was musically fine, but he’s capable of better. He’s Rod Stewart, for God’s sake! (He’ll redeem himself in future recaps, I’m sure…)

We were spoilt for choice with the WTAF Award last time out. This time it’s slimmer pickings. Let’s see… Julie Covington for taking a showtune from a musical that nobody had even seen yet to the top? The Brotherhood’s sleazy ‘Figaro’? The Floaters’ horoscope based one-hit wonder? Nope. I’m going for the hit song about the classic novel, sung in an unnaturally high pitch, by an eighteen-year-old. Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ is a classic, and by the standards of previous winners not that weird, but there you go.

To the The Very Worst Chart-Topper. Again, many have been bland, but few have been ear-achingly crap. I have it down to two. In the red corner, David Soul’s drippy, droopy ‘Don’t Give Up on Us’. In the blue corner, Demis Roussos’s four-for-the-price-of-one ‘The Roussos Phenomenon E.P.’ Demis did inflict four whole songs on us… but he did so with such window-shattering conviction that I’m inclined to let him off. David Soul takes it! Though I should mention that he redeemed himself with the much more fun ‘Silver Lady’ a few months later.

OK. Very Best Chart-Topper time. In my last post, on ‘Wuthering Heights’, I noted how the ladies had taken over the top of the charts in recent months. And then I noticed that I have never awarded a Very Best Chart-Topper to a female act or artist. Therefore, I can confirm that the 14th best chart-topper will feature a woman. For I have it down to four: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘I Feel Love’, Hot Chocolate’s ‘So You Win Again’, and Althea and Donna’s ‘Uptown Top Ranking’. And the all-male Hot Choc are out first. It’s a superb song, pop gold, but it falls a smidgen short. As do Althea and Donna, with their cool slice of reggae. Again, great, and unlike anything else in the previous thirty, giving heart attacks in their halter backs, but they’re up against two of the greatest records ever recorded.

‘Dancing Queen’ is wonderful, a record that never ever seems to get overplayed. ‘I Feel Love’ is nowhere near as commonly heard, and is not a particularly ‘friendly’ record. Any other time, ABBA would walk it… plus, I know they have more classics to come… So Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder take it. Nothing that came before has sounded like ‘I Feel Love’; but a lot of what followed will, and that is the mark of a fantastically influential record right there.

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.

Going by the last few #1s, things are looking up for the end of the seventies. For believe it or not, our next thirty chart-toppers will take us – just – into the 1980s!

Recap: #361 – #390

To recap, then, for the thirteenth time (unlucky for some…)!

What a complete and utter hodgepodge the last thirty #1 singles have been. Last time round, glam had given way to disco, which has now given way to… mayhem! 1975, perched right in the middle of this recap, has to be the most eclectic year for chart-topping singles yet. Possibly ever.

We’ve had two sticks of bubble-gum from The Bay City Rollers – one that was quite fruity, one that lost its flavour within a minute – and the band that briefly contended for their teenybopper crown, Slik. Plus some pure Eurovision cheese from Brotherhood of Man.

Not once, not twice, but thrice we’ve had people better known for their TV work hitting the top spot. Telly Savalas growled his way into our hearts on ‘If’, Don Estelle and Windsor Davies came at us in character, as WWII soldiers in Burma, from their hit sitcom. And comedian Billy Connolly turned Tammy Wynette’s ‘D.I.V.O.R.C.E.’ into a shaggy dog tale. You really had to have been there, I guess.

Speaking of Tammy, she had already gotten there under her own steam, out of nowhere, with a re-release of ‘Stand By Your Man’. And that wasn’t the only sixties re-issue to hit the top: we finally met David Bowie, in the guise of Major Tom, as his 1969 debut hit ‘Space Oddity’ re-peaked, and did what none of his seventies classics could do.

And Bowie wasn’t the only chart legend to make their first appearance on this countdown. Queen stormed to the top at the end of ’75 with the unmistakeable ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, which took residence in pole position for longer than any other record had in the previous two decades. The fact that these two innovative and most highly-regarded of #1s were prevented from replacing one another by a Glaswegian comedian singing about his dug pretty much sums up this bonkers era.

Then there was the one and only chart-topper from the one and only Status Quo: ‘Down Down’ was the first, and the hardest rocking (except for those 30 seconds of Bo Rap), #1 of the new year. And if that wasn’t enough fun and games, we ended last time out on The Wurzels, singing about their ‘Combine Harvester’, and jigging round an ‘aybale.

Still, through it all ran a sturdy backbone of disco and soul. Barry White kicked us off, then The Tymes, The Stylistics, The Four Seasons and Tina Charles all took us for a shimmy under the disco ball. It is still the sound of the era; it just had to fight to be heard amongst all the wackiness.

And what of glam, the sound that was on its last breath when we paused for the previous recap? Well, there were still flashes. Mud, the band with the best #1 last time, scraped the barrel with their OK-ish Elvis tribute for Christmas, and their pretty dire Buddy Holly cover. Meanwhile Pilot, Steve Harley and the aforementioned Slik took elements of glam, and incorporated them into more middle of the road rock singles.

So, it kind of sounds like it’s been a bit of a free-for-all: command of the charts offered up for grabs to the act that grabs the public’s imagination in any given week. But, slowly and effortlessly, one band has begun to position themselves for world domination. ABBA kicked off 1976 with their signature tune ‘Mamma Mia’, then followed it up with campfire singalong ‘Fernando’. It’ll come as no surprise when I tell you that the next couple of recaps will be very ABBA-heavy. And bring it on, I say!

To the awards, then. Three of which I found very easy to dish out. Starting with the WTAF Award for being memorable if nothing else… Where to start? There have been so many novelties, so many curios, this time out that would have walked away with the trophy at any other point. Typically Tropical took us to Barbados, Don and Windsor to the Far East, The Wurzels to deepest Somerset… But one man still stands out. One shiny-headed, cigar-chewing, gold-shirted Adonis. Telly Savalas takes the prize, without actually singing a note!

The ‘Meh’ Award is similarly easy to dish out, as there have been very few dull moments this time around. Pilot’s ‘January’ was functional pop-rock, The Bay City Rollers cooed and sighed their way through ‘Give a Little Love’… But the record that sparked the least interest in me – good or bad – was Art Garfunkel’s perfectly pleasant, glossy reworking of ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper, then, of the past thirty. There were a lot of questionable moments but, to be honest, this is no contest whatsoever. J. J. Barrie’s ‘No Charge’ was not just the worst of the past bunch; it might well be the worst of our 390 #1s so far. I hated it that much. Release a novelty all you want: make it cheesy, make it catchy, make it in your face, make it brazenly offensive… Just don’t make it so earnest and saccharine that I want to rip my ears off and pour molten lava down the holes.

Now for the tough bit. Our thirteenth Very Best Chart-Topper. I have a shortlist of five. Two are chosen by my head; two chosen by my heart. One straddles the divide. The two I feel I should include, because they are spectacular pieces of music well-loved to this day, are 10cc’s ‘I’m Not In Love’ and Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. But… going with your head is dull. The heart must lead the way. My heart says ‘You’re the First, The Last, My Everything’ and ‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, for being brilliantly catchy and very of the moment. If I want a disco winner, I’m sorted… Then there’s the other one. Bowie.

I feel he should win; objectively speaking it’s the best song. And, let’s be honest, this is his best chance. Bowie’s four remaining #1s are not as good, and probably won’t be in the running when it comes to their respective recaps. But! I don’t want to think like that – I want my recaps to be based solely on the thirty #1s within… Which adds another layer: ‘Space Oddity’ is a song from 1969. It is great; but it’s out of place. The chronology will be messed up! (I passed over Jimi Hendrix for similar reasons…)

Ugh. OK. I either award it to the best song; or I keep things chronological. And at the end of the day it should come down to the music alone. ‘Space Oddity’ takes it. Ground Control to Major Tom… you’re a winner, baby!

To recap the recaps…

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.

Recap: #331 – #360

To recap then…

It’s a recap of a pop music scene in flux. The last recap was ‘The Glam Recap’ – with huge hits from Slade, T Rex, the Sweet, Wizzard et al – while these past thirty discs have seen glam lose its grip on the top of the charts, to be replaced by disco and soul. The change, when it did come in the summer of ’74, was swift and merciless.

But let me take you back, to the spring of ’73. We started this run off with some heavy hitters: Suzie Quatro telling us to ‘Can the Can’, Slade going straight in at the top with the Slade-by-numbers (but still catchy as hell) ‘Skweeze Me Pleeze Me’. Then enter Gary Glitter. Not the disgraced pervert we think of these days, but a sparkly jump-suited behemoth declaring ‘I’m the Leader of the Gang! (I Am!)’ By the time we reached the final #1s of ’73, two glam rock records entered at the top and sold a million, one by Glitter and one which you have probably heard a lot this month, and it all proved too much to maintain.

Glam rock died in the spring of 1974. It descended into the rock ‘n’ roll pastiches of, yes, Gary Glitter – as catchy as he was – Alvin Stardust and The Rubettes. Decent enough pop songs, but nowhere near the level of ‘Get It On’ or ‘Block Buster!’ The corpse still had a few decent farts left in it, though. Nobody can deny the stupid brilliance of ‘Tiger Feet’, or of ABBA’s glorious arrival on the scene with ‘Waterloo’. (Meanwhile, the man I always hold up as the gold-standard of glam, Ziggy Stardust himself, has been noticeably absent from the top of the charts, for now. Maybe by our next recap…)

Then arrived the other-worldly ‘Rock Your Baby’, bringing disco and soul in equal measure, and suddenly American pop was the standard-bearer once again. The Three Degrees followed, Carl Douglas went ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, and John Denver wrote a song for his love Annie.

Of course, this is only telling half the story. Not every number one fits the narrative. Dotted in between these genre-defining hits we’ve had solid, timeless pop from the likes of Peters and Lee, The New Seekers (making up for their horrid Coca-Cola jingle), the classy Charles Aznavour and the glossy Sweet Sensation (who showed that the Brits can get just as soulful as the Yanks.)

We also bid farewell to the decade’s biggest teen-idols: Donny and David. Donny’s final #1 was a limp cover of Tab Hunter’s ‘Young Love’, which confirmed the 1950s as ancient history ripe for rediscovering. His brothers also nabbed their one and only chart-topper, too, while David Cassidy skipped off into the sunset singing ‘Daydreamer’. But with the most recent #1 we met another David, Essex this time, and he might just be the man to take over as idol du jour.

To the awards, then. First up, the ‘Meh’ Award. The song that moved me least this time around. I could say ‘Love Me For a Reason’, but that’s at least solid pop song. I could also say ‘Billy – Don’t Be a Hero’, by talent-show winners Paper Lace, or Ken Boothe’s ‘Everything I Own’. But again… no. I’m going to give it to John Denver’s ‘Annie’s Song’, for being a perfectly pleasant three minutes of folk-tinged country pop, but also for failing to get my pulse up in any way.

To be honest, the charts have been slightly more eclectic this time around. For the last recap we had some solid-gold classics to whittle down; and some complete stinkers to wade through. There just aren’t the same extremes this time. The records I name best and worst will not be the ‘Best’ and ‘Worst’ of all time. They will just have been in the right or wrong place at the wrong or right time.

But before all that, we must award a WTAF Award for being interesting if nothing else. There was ‘The Streak’, but I think I’ll save that for later. There was the Simon Park Orchestra’s ‘Eye Level’, from ‘Van Der Valk’, but it feels like a cop-out just giving it to the random TV theme #1. There was even 10cc’s ‘Rubber Bullets’, a zany, ping-pong record that packed a lot into its runtime. But… I think I’ll award it to a record that maybe suffers in its ubiquity. It’s a classic, one everyone knows, but if you sit down and actually listen to it… It is a strange, strange song. Carl Douglas’s ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ takes it.

To The Very Worst Chart-Topper, then, of the past thirty. Whoever takes this can count themselves unfortunate to sit alongside utter turds like ‘Wooden Heart’ and ‘All Kinds of Everything’. But thems the breaks. Someone has to get it. Many would argue the case for ‘Seasons in the Sun’, but I can’t help kind of liking that one. Others would make a strong case for Donny O’s insipid cover of ‘Young Love’, but he won the last Worst award, and two in a row would just be plain bullying. So… Step forward Ray Stevens, Ethel and the News Reporter, for their work on the ‘The Streak’. A song, as I wrote in my original post, to make your teeth clench.

What, then, will be the 12th disc to join the ranks of The Very Best Chart-Toppers? I immediately have it down to three. ‘Waterloo’: the song I am this very moment naming The Last Great Glam #1. Except, I have a feeling that ABBA might be capable of even better than this, so I’ll place them 3rd and save them for later. Which means it comes down to a straight shoot-out: Wizzard’s often overlooked, Phil Spector inspired masterpiece, ‘Angel Fingers’, or Mud’s irrepressible ‘Tiger Feet’?

For the longest time, I assumed I’d give it to Wizzard. They just missed out last time, ‘See My Baby Jive’ finishing runner-up. And ‘Angel Fingers’ is wonderful – a million instruments and references crammed into five minutes of perfect pop. It did also, arguably, herald the descent of glam into rock ‘n’ roll tribute act, but I won’t hold that against it. And then there’s ‘Tiger Feet’, a song I’ve loved since I was a kid, and it would feel like a betrayal of the 10-year-old me to overlook it. And so, despite being aware that ‘Angel Fingers’ is the superior song, that must have taken weeks of Roy Wood’s loving effort, while Mud probably knocked ‘Tiger Feet’ out in an afternoon… ‘Tiger Feet’ takes it! Dumb, disposable pop wins. It always wins in the end.

Recapping the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.

Next up, we’re back into those disco vibes…

Recap: #301 – #330

To recap, then…

I like to give my recaps names, if I can: the rock ‘n’ roll recap, the Merseybeat recap… Welcome then, one and all, to the glam recap (Pt I). This one falls slap bang in the middle of the glam rock era. We’ve had T. Rex, and Sweet, and Alice Cooper, four from Slade and half of Wizzard’s chart-topping double. Still to come: Suzi Q, Mud, and a man by the name of Glitter…

We’ve gone exactly two years since our last recap, and I’d say these have been the most consistent sounding #1 records since that glorious thirty from 1963-64. Power chords, platform boots and lots of shiny things have been the order of the day. But. (There’s always a but…) It’s not all been great. While some of the records featured recently rank among my favourite number ones so far… others definitely rank among my least favourite.

We’ve jumped around from elation to nausea, from life-affirmingly good to life-shorteningly bad. Which means, first things first, I can get my ‘Meh’ Award out of the way nice and early. There is genuinely only one record from the past thirty that I haven’t had a strong opinion on. Congratulations to David Cassidy, whose cover of ‘How Can I Be Sure’ completely melted into the background.

If I had to think of a sub-title for this ‘Glam Recap’, it’d have to be ‘Plus more novelty hits than was entirely comfortable…’ There have been novelty hits since the dawn of the charts, your ‘How Much Is That Doggie’ and your ‘I See the Moon’… But they felt somehow genuine, like the artists set out to make a ‘real’ record and just got carried away. In recent months, there have been novelty chart-toppers that have seemed to exist only to get a reaction, only to amuse, only to annoy. For example, Chuck Berry’s ‘My Ding-a-Ling’, as much as I enjoy it, was a live recording released months later for the sole purposes, I’d guess, of annoying the purists and getting Mary Whitehouse’s knickers in a twist.

We’ve enjoyed (or endured) ‘Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep’, Benny Hill’s ‘Ernie’, the youngest ever chart-topping artist grinning his way through ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’, Chuck’s aforementioned ‘Ding-a-Ling’ and the irritating ‘I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing’. Not that I hated all these records – far from it – but they wanted a reaction, for better or worse. The only recent ‘novelty’ that I’d excuse as a genuine attempt to make a proper song is Lieutenant Pigeon’s ‘Mouldy Old Dough’. That felt to me a genuine experiment, Joe Meek-esque, in pop music recording.

So. We are spoilt for choice in choosing our 11th WTAF Award. Except, beyond all the songs I just mentioned, there is one clear winner. One song for which this award was invented. A record that has no place at the top of the UK pop charts, a record that would look out of place in any era: The Pipes and Drums and Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard, who invaded the top of the charts, bagpipes in hand, for five long weeks.

Away from all the silliness, we have encountered two of the biggest, most popular acts the British singles charts have ever seen. Yes, first T. Rex, and then Slade, have scored seven chart-topping singles between them these past two years, sharing twenty-two weeks at the top. Notably, Slade entered the charts at #1 with their last one, ‘Cum on Feel the Noize’, and thus reached Elvis/Cliff/Beatles levels of adoration. Further similarities to the rock ‘n’ roll era, and the Merseybeat era, can be drawn here in the fact that this is music for young people, by young people, about drinking, dancing and all the other things that youngsters get up to.

And I’m not just talking teenagers: the tweens were well-catered for too. Enter Mr. Junior-High Heartthrob himself, Donny Osmond (squeal!). His cover of ‘Puppy Love’ was shamelessy, cynically, unabashedly released with a strict under-14s policy. If you were feeling a bit more rebellious , if you wanted to stick it to the man (well, your teachers at least) then Alice Cooper were bringing punk rock vibes for the summer holidays with ‘School’s Out’.

The grown-ups have been catered for, though, still. We’ve had glossy soul from Diana Ross, the first two of Rod Stewart’s chart-toppers – acoustic singer-songwriting at its very best – while we’ve also enjoyed two of the finest ballads known to man: Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ and Don McLean’s heart-breaking ‘Vincent’.

And the re-release culture that I remarked upon in my last recap – in which several sixties hits found new life in the early seventies – continued with The Tam’s ‘Hey Girl Don’t Bother Me’ hitting #1 thanks to the northern soul scene. (You could also argue that Donny O, and to a lesser extent David Cassidy, were up to a similar kind of thing, when they resurrected long forgotten minor hits and gave them schmaltzy makeovers.) Plus, it wouldn’t be the early-seventies without some easy-listening cheese. Tony Orlando and Dawn supplied that by the busload in ‘Tie a Yellow Ribbon…’ while Gilbert O’Sullivan had a #1 single about babysitting

To the main awards, then. It’ll be a tough call in both sections. First, the latest Very Worst Chart-Topper. I haven’t held back in ripping records by Middle of the Road, The New Seekers, Little Jimmy O, and Gilbert O’Sullivan to shreds. But one man (well, boy) stands out, head and shoulders above the rest. Osmond! Report to the headmaster’s office immediately. For a while I thought nothing could stink worse than ‘Puppy Love’… Until his 2nd chart-topper ‘The Twelfth of Never’ came along. I’ve been trying to work out just why it was worse… And I think it’s because his voice had broken. Bear with me. ‘Puppy Love’, irritating as it is, was sung by a kid. A harmless enough little dweeb. But the follow up was sung by a teenager: the age at which you should be rebelling, experimenting, pushing the boundaries… Yet he released an even more insipid, saccharine pile of sludge. (I realise that Osmond probably had limited creative control over his output but still, he could have tried to sound less annoying.) So there we have it. ‘The Twelfth of Never’ wins.

To the Very Best Chart-Topper, then. Who gets to join Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, the Stones, Marvin Gaye and, um, Mungo Jerry? I’ve narrowed it down to… eight songs. Seriously. It’s an impossible decision. Here goes. First to get the chop are ‘Get It On’ and ‘Block Buster!’ (I love you, I’m sorry, goodbye.) I also love ‘Without You’ and ‘Take Me Back ‘Ome’, but not quite enough. In fourth place, just missing out on a medal… ‘School’s Out.’ Ah, this is hell… Top 3. In third place, simply because it’s sad, and I am feeling quite cheery today: ‘Vincent.’ Top 2. Excuse me while I just listen to them, one last time…

It’s decided. I think. Taking silver… Wizzard’s romping, stomping, bomping ‘See My Baby Jive’. Which means… drum-roll please… ‘Metal Guru’, T. Rex’s final, and finest, chart-topper, is the very, very best of a very good bunch.

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.

Before you go any further, why not read this article from The Guardian, about why Marc Bolan was the perfect pop star (just ignore the Guardian readers being Guardian readers in the comments below – what do they know?)

Coming up next, the Glam Rock Years (Pt. II)…

Recap: #271 – #300

To recap, then…

Usually one of our recaps is summed up by the ‘sound’ of the previous thirty chart-toppers. This recap, though, really doesn’t have an all-encompassing sound. We’ve been pinging around all over the place for the past couple of years. What sums up this thirty is the world outside the charts – the end of the sixties, the death of the hippy dream, Vietnam and Nixon, the Beatles’ split… All of which has fed into what we’ve been hearing at #1.

Perhaps this is best summed up by the three number ones during the summer of ’69. Two years previous it had been ‘All You Need is Love’, and ‘San Francisco’; now we got the final call towards a hippy utopia (‘Something in the Air’) before being dragged back down to earth by Zager & Evans’ terrifying visions of the year 2525. And in between those two we had The Rolling Stones doing what the The Rolling Stones do best, some low-down sleazy rock ‘n’ roll, consoling us with the knowledge that the world might be going to shit but we still have the Stones. (Hell, that still applies in 2020.)

Actually, ‘Honky Tonk Women’ was their final #1 – we had to bid them farewell. As we did The Beatles, who bowed out with ‘The Ballad of John and Yoko’. It feels strange to think that this recap still includes The Fab Four, such is the distance we’ve travelled since then. In fact, this recap also includes the first solo chart-topper by a Beatle: George Harrison’s ‘My Sweet Lord’. Plus, we had an Elvis record at #1 again! And with the soaringly cheesy ‘The Wonder of You’ he became the first act to score chart-toppers in three different decades.

Like I said, it’s been a couple of years that have veered wildly, from pillar to post. From ‘Dizzy’, to CCR predicting the end of the world in ‘Bad Moon Rising’. From the uber-bubblegum of ‘Sugar Sugar’ to the granite tones of Lee Marvin. There’s been a backbone of great pop, though: ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, ‘Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)’, ‘In the Summertime’ and ‘The Tears of a Clown’ all worthy of mention but not quite worthy of an award.

There have been plenty of outliers too, to keep things interesting. Which means awarding the latest WTAF Award will be a decision to ponder. There was alleged live, recorded sex (!) from Jane Birkin & Serge Gainsbourg, Rolf Harris riding the war-theme with ‘Two Little Boys’, a letter ‘Back Home’ from the England World Cup Squad, and Clive Dunn sitting all alone in his rocking chair, thinking… Plus the aforementioned Lee Marvin (with Clint Eastwood on the ‘B’-side!), Zager & Evans, and the bizarre-but-brilliant ‘Double Barrel’. But, for the terrifying imagery and the genuine feeling of impending doom… I’m awarding it to ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’.

It’s much harder to name a ‘Meh’ Award winner, for the record that struggled to make much of an impact because, to be honest, most of the past thirty songs have made an impression, for better or worse… I could give it to our most recent #1, Dawn’s ultra-cheesy ‘Knock Three Times’ but, I can’t lie: I was humming that in the kitchen this morning… No. One record stands out for me not being able to really remember it: Matthews’ Southern Comfort, with their cover of ‘Woodstock’. Pleasant, but completely unmemorable.

Although, ‘Woodstock’ does tie into what I was saying at the start about the charts beginning to reflect the wider world. That last Beatles’ #1 literally documented the end of the Beatles (it was quite meta, if you think about it), while I count two #1s about the end of the world, two about war, two related to Woodstock, one to the World Cup, two with fairly overtly religious themes, and one in which an old man contemplated his own mortality (see, even the novelties were thought-provoking this time out…)

However, in the early months of 1971, a new ‘sound’ finally emerged, one of the seventies own making. ‘Spirit in the Sky’ had hints of it, as did ‘I Hear You Knocking’. But with Mungo Jerry’s outrageous ‘Baby Jump’ and then T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’ hitting the top – Glam Rock has arrived! It’ll dominate the next thirty number ones, and I can’t wait…

To the big two awards, then. What was the worst chart-topper of the past couple of years? I could do the big build-up, teasing a few sub-standard number-ones before WHAM! announcing a left-field winner. But, to be honest, this time it wasn’t much of a contest. Dana, my dear, step forward and accept your award for ‘All Kinds of Everything’. A toe-curlingly bad song about seagulls and lollipops and lots of other stuff I don’t care to remember. It’s our latest Very Worst Chart-Topper.

And the best? Thankfully, there’s a whole load of competition this time. One song that I have to get out the way first is ‘Band of Gold’… I had no idea how highly-regarded that song is. It’s on all kinds of ‘Best Songs Ever’ lists. I mean, it’s a great Motown-sounding song, but it’s not going to be my Very Best Chart-Topper. There’s also T. Rex’s ‘Hot Love’. I love T. Rex, but I can’t do any more than really, really like ‘Hot Love’, and would be awarding it for reasons beyond the song. Plus, they’ve got three more #1s to come so there’s every chance that they’ll be winners in my next recap.

I’ve got it down to three. And I’m smiling as I write this, like King Joffrey at a beheading, because I know deep down what I’m about to do. In the blue corner, Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. In the red corner, the Jimi Hendrix Experience with ‘Voodoo Chile’. And in the green corner (this is a triangular wrestling ring)… ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry. Simon and Garfunkel are there because I feel obliged to have them. They are the dweeby kids my mum has forced me to invite to my birthday party. ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ is an amazing, epic piece of music… But I just can’t love it like I should. It’s out.

‘Voodoo Chile’, in terms of sound, is one of the most forward facing, exciting, swaggering records to have ever topped the UK singles chart. It is a better song than ‘Baby Jump’, I am under no illusion (as is ‘Bridge…’) BUT. ‘Voodoo Chile’ was a song from 1968, re-released because Hendrix had died. I’m eternally grateful that it did get a week at #1, but it did so in the wrong decade, under special circumstances… Which means, in all its belligerent, crunching, leering, drunken beauty, Mungo Jerry’s house party from hell ‘Baby Jump’ is the winner! Hurrah!

(Hey, I spent the entire last decade very sensibly naming all the classics, your ‘Satisfactions’ and your ‘Whiter Shades of Pales’, as my Very Best Chart-Toppers. Allow me a moment of indulgence!)

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.

Read my previous recaps:

1-30, 31-60, 61-90, 91-120, 121-149, 150-180, 181-210, 211-240, 241-270

Recap: #241 – #270

Well, phew, we made it through the craziest run of number one singles yet. Time to pause and get our breath back.

The last 30 took us from the very end of 1967 through to the early summer of ’69. Through 1968, the most eclectic year for number one singles ever, I’m guessing. That’s the thing with these recaps. Sometimes there’s an overriding theme to them – the rock ‘n’ roll recap, the Merseybeat recap – sometimes there’s not. For recap #9, the very lack of an overriding theme is the theme. The eclectic recap.

Somethings about it are fairly predictable, though. This is a recap bookended by The Beatles’ 13th and 16th number one singles: ‘Hello, Goodbye’ and ‘Get Back’. They have just one more to come… Another theme that brings the last thirty together is length: our chart-toppers are getting longer. Several have gone beyond four minutes, and we broke the five minute barrier on three occasions. Hell, we even went beyond seven minutes on one memorable occasion.

We might as well get straight to it, then. Dishing out the latest WTAF Award for the records that were interesting if nothing else was always going to be a challenge this time around. I can count at least eight discs with a legitimate claim to the throne. Much easier, though, will be choosing the record that gets my ‘Meh’ Award for instant forgettability. Very few of the most recent #1s can be forgotten very quickly at all. I half-thought about ‘(If Paradise Is) Half As Nice’, by Amen Corner, as that didn’t really grab me. Or ‘Mighty Quinn’ by Manfred Mann for not being my cup of tea. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’, by Marmalade for just being a super basic cover version. But no. One man shone out, duller than the rest. Step forward Des O’Connor, for re-invigorating an easy-listening genre that was so 1967. ‘I Pretend’ is our winner.

In another recap, any of these singles could easily be crowned the most bizarre: Georgie Fame’s ‘The Ballad of Bonnie and Clyde’ for the high body count. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’ for the obscene yodelling. ‘The Legend of Xanadu’, by Dave Dee and Co. for taking us on a journey to… somewhere. ‘The Good, The Bad and The Ugly’, for being a very specific, and by this point two years old, movie score that people kept buying more than any other record for a whole month. Peter Sarstedt’s ‘Where Do You Go To (My Lovely)’ for its tale of a Neapolitan street-child done good. Desmond Dekker’s ‘Israelites’ because I couldn’t understand a word of it. Even ‘Get Back’, with Paul McCartney’s giggles and sweet Loretta Martin’s struggles…

But even amongst that competition, one record stands out. A record that begins by shouting the line: I am the God of hell-fire…! Congratulations to The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, for living up to their name and for being just that little bit crazier than the rest. ‘Fire’, is our winner.

It’s been hard for a definable ‘sound’ to make it through all the noise in recent months. But every so often the ‘sound’ of the late-sixties has popped through. ‘Everlasting Love’, ‘Young Girl’, ‘Mony Mony’ –  all seemed to take the best the decade has had to offer – a bit of soul, a dash of Motown, a foundation in Beat pop – to offer a glossy new vision of what’s to come.

Then there’s the newest sound on the block, reggae. Eddy Grant and The Equals previewed it. ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da’ mimicked it. Then Desmond Dekker and The Aces finally brought it to the table. ‘Israelites’ was the rawest #1 single in many a year – thrillingly uncompromising. But not, in my opinion, one of the very best…

Before we announce the best, though, let’s drag out and shame the worst. I can’t award ‘I Pretend’ twice, that wouldn’t be fair. (It did stink, though.) So I have in my hands two records. ‘Cinderella Rockefella’, by Abi and Esther Obarim, the first Israelis to hit #1 in the UK, fact fans, and ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold. Both annoyingly catchy. Both aiming for something that was lost on me. But… Abi and Esther managed to just about stay the right side of interesting. ‘Lily the Pink’ had gotten old by the second verse. The Scaffold are this recap’s Very Worst Chart-Topper. Plus, as a novelty record, at Christmas, I think it might be the reason why novelty records at Christmas are a thing… Teletubbies, Bob the Builder, LadBaby… It’s all on The Scaffold.

In amongst all the fun, some interesting subplots might have passed you by. Cliff got his first #1 in three years with the irrepressible ‘Congratulations’. Louis Armstrong became by far the oldest chart-topping artist, well into his sixties. The Rolling Stones returned with a bang. We bid The Beach Boys farewell and met Fleetwood Mac for the first and, surprisingly, the last time with a song that sounded nothing like Fleetwood Mac.

To the best of the best, then. As I tend to, I have it down to four discs. Tommy James & The Shondells’ ‘Mony Mony’, for simply being a brilliantly fun pop record. ‘Hey Jude’ for being ‘Hey Jude’. Joe Cocker’s ‘With a Little Help From My Friends’ for reinventing the cover version. And Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, for showing that pop can be grown up, catchy and, most of all, cool.

I thought it was a forgone conclusion. ‘Hey Jude’ is ‘Hey Jude’, and you can feel its influence in rock music, in society as a whole, to this day. In every rock band that records a lighters-up ballad. In Oasis’s most overblown moments. In bands like Coldplay, Embrace, Snow Patrol. In football stadiums. In pubs. Being murdered at karaoke nights. All these reasons have convinced me… to name ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’ as our latest Very Best Chart-Topper. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Hey Jude’ is an epic piece of music, but it has a lot to answer for…

marvin-gaye

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability: 1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell. 2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers. 3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone. 4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley. 5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows. 6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies. 7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers. 8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes. 9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else: 1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers. 2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton. 3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI. 4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven. 5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers. 6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers. 7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones. 8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw. 9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra. 2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young. 3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway. 4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley. 5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield. 6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors. 7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard. 8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck. 9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers: 1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray. 2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra. 3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis. 4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers. 5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes. 6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles. 7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones. 8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum. 9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.

The next thirty #1s will take us well into a bold new decade… ¡Vamos!

P.S. The current Covid-19 situation has meant that I’ve been able to write more posts, and so I’ll aim to publish them a little more regularly! Every cloud… Take care, everyone!

Check out the earlier recaps here:

#1 – 30, #31 – 60, #61 – #90, #91 – #120, #121 – 149, #150 – 180, #181 – 210, #211 – 240