500 Number Ones Down…

The last chart-topping record I featured was as average as you can get: ‘A Little Peace’. A nice acoustic pop song with nice sentiments sung by a nice girl… Except, it was actually quite a notable chart milestone – the UK’s 500th number one single.

Which means, in just over four earth years we have covered almost thirty chart years! From Al Martino belting out the very first chart-topper, ‘Here in My Heart’ in 1952, past the pre-rock years, rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis, Merseybeat, four lads from Liverpool, the Summer of Love, the come-down, glam, disco, post-punk and new wave… To the spring of 1982.

Which means, at the current pace, we’ll hit the 1990s early next year, and we’ll meet the 1000th UK number one (although, actually, that’s a song which has already featured in the first 500… don’t ask…) sometime in early 2026! But, really, it’s dangerous to look that far ahead in life. I’m in no rush.

The pleasure here is to be had from the slow stroll: the discovery of lost gems, the re-discovery of all-time classics, a shrug of the shoulders at the boring ones, and a crack of the knuckles before I dive in studs-up on an absolute shocker of a song. And, of course, the fact that I’ve picked up so many dedicated followers, readers and commenters, without whom this pursuit would be pointless…

To celebrate this minor achievement, I had a look at my stats, and can now reveal the most viewed posts from each decade I’ve covered. I may have my favourites, but these are apparently the #1s that the good followers of WordPress (and beyond) want to know about…

The 1950s:

‘She Wears Red Feathers’, by Guy Mitchell

The most viewed post from the decade of Elvis, Buddy and the Killer is a song from the days when barely anyone had heard the phrase rock ‘n roll. It was just the 6th song I covered, so I guess it has had a bit of a head start. Read my original post here. (I wasn’t kind…)

The 1960s:

‘House of the Rising Sun’, by The Animals

Probably not the first song you’d guess for the sixties, but an undeniable classic nonetheless. The longest, and possibly the most risqué, song to have topped the charts at that point. Read my original post here.

The 1970s:

‘Rivers of Babylon’ / ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’, by Boney M

Despite coming towards the end of the decade, this one gets all the hits. It’s actually my most viewed post… ever. It’s also one of the best-selling singles of all time. Underestimate Boney M at your peril would be the lesson! Read my original post here.

The 1980s (so far):

‘Green Door’, by Shakin’ Stevens

Despite publishing it barely a month ago, ‘Green Door’ is already my most viewed post from the 1980s. Interestingly, of the four songs, only ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is one that you could find much critical acclaim for. Guy Mitchell, Boney M and Shaky all had something much more elusive (and lucrative)… popular appeal. And apparently still do!

And finally, before I go, a bonus. My least viewed post and, by these metrics, the least popular of the first 500 #1s…

‘Dance On!’, by The Shadows

Yes, this one-week number one from early 1963 has had barely any views. That could be comment on the state of popular music in the months just before the Beatles went supersonic. Or a comment on my writing. But I quite like the tune. Give it some love here.

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting over the past four years. For the rest of the week, I’ll be posting some cover versions of classic #1s. Here’s to the next 500!

Top 10s – The 1960s

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

184. ‘Yeh Yeh’, by Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames

No sooner have I mentioned that 1965 might be a more eclectic year in terms of its chart-topping singles, when along comes one Georgie Fame with a swaying slice of Latin soul.

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Yeh Yeh, by Georgie Fame (his 1st of three #1s) & The Blue Flames (their 1st of two #1s)

2 weeks, from 14th – 28th January 1965

Wham and then Bam. In the space of three #1s we’ve gone BluesBeat rock-Latin. I might even go so far as to describe this as a Bossanova, if I was at all certain what exactly a ‘Bossanova’ was… Whatever it is, it’s not a sound that we’ve heard very often at the top of the UK charts. After months of Merseybeat things are really starting to splinter in different directions.

The song is about a guy who, after finishing work every evening, calls up his baby and asks her what she wants to do… I mention movies, But she don’t seem to dig that, And then she asks me, Why don’t I come to her flat…Yeh Yeh’ is his response. The words are spat out at a rapid pace, half-rapped (this might be the hardest number one yet in terms of making out the lyrics). But it still becomes clear just what his baby’s game is. She suggests supper and listening to some records, and soon the kissing starts: And when she kisses, I feel the fire get hot, She never misses, She gives it all that she’s got…

I love the break in the middle, when one long tongue twister line – We’ll play a melody and turn the lights down low so that none can see… – ascends to a natty drum fill and lots of We gotta do that’s! and Yeh Yehs! Then there’s a full-blown sax solo for all you hip cats out there.

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It’s a cool record, there’s no doubting that. I can imagine it as the soundtrack to a lot of groovy, hipster parties during the winter of ’64 – ’65. And Georgie Fame – before googling him I pictured him in a turtle neck and a pork pie hat, and after googling him I was slightly disappointed to find that he favoured suits and sharp ties. (He did like a cigarette, dangling all loose and louche, from the corner of his mouth, however.) Plus, finding out that he was born Clive Powell, in Lancashire, rather than Georgie Fame, New York City, took the shine off even further.

Still, despite being Clive from Lancashire, Fame has a real soulful voice. He goes fast then slow, loud then quiet, and – while the band are really tight – his voice is the most impressive instrument in the record. The way it blends together with the organ and the sax to draw out the final note is particularly cool. The Blue Flames had been the backing band for British rock ‘n’ roller Billy Fury, and Georgie Fame their piano player, but when they parted ways Clive AKA Georgie Fame became their leader and they went off down the path of R&B-slash-soul.

‘Yeh Yeh’ is nice, and funky; but it’s a hard record to classify. The best way I can describe is that it would sit perfectly next to ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T. & The MGs on a compilation called ‘Sexy Sixties’, or something. Plus, both Fame and The Flames will pop up sporadically as the sixties progress, so we’ll save any further bios for another day. In the meantime, sit back, grab a glass, and enjoy the sound of the swinging, sexy sixties floating through your earholes. Yeh Yeh!

Never miss a number one single with this playlist…

Recap: #150 – #180

And so we pause…

These latest thirty #1 records represent perhaps the richest vein of pop music ever to have been hit upon in this country. Much of 1961 and ’62 was spent drilling different holes – occasionally coming up with a beauty (The Tornados); largely hitting a lot of bland MOR (Cliff, Frank Ifield.) But one day, in April 1963, the motherlode was discovered. Merseybeat.

This is the Merseybeat recap. The most homogenous sounding bunch of chart-toppers we are ever likely to meet. Young guys with guitars singing perky songs about falling in love, holding hands and getting into something good. It started with a triple whammy – a call to kids across the land – as Gerry & The Pacemakers and The Beatles arrived at the top of the charts. The Searchers, Billy J. Kramer, The Tremeloes and The Dave Clark Five all soon followed. That stretch, from April ’63 through to the summer of ’64 is probably the most consistent sounding year in UK chart history, one beat-pop number followed by another, with few exceptions and very few duds.

It’s definitely the strongest bunch of #1s yet, and it’s been very hard to pick which ones are merely great and which ones are utterly transcendent. Classics like ‘From Me to You’, ‘I Like It’, ‘Glad All Over’, ‘Do Wah Diddy Diddy’, ‘Have I the Right?’ and ‘I’m Into Something Good’ – which might have made the ‘Best Of’ at any other time – will have to just get left by the wayside. Whole chart-topping careers, those of Billy J., The Searchers, The Pacemakers and Cilla Black, have come and gone in a blink of an eye. For so long we plodded through mediocrity; now we wish things could slow down a little.

Of course, nothing that good can last forever, but I was surprised by how quickly the Merseybeat wave came, conquered and then receded. By July 1964, a harder sound had arrived at the top courtesy of The Animals and The Rolling Stones (Yes, we met the Stones for the first time! What should have been a headline becomes a footnote thanks to the brilliance of those around them.) Beat pop has slowly started to fragment in recent months, into full on rock (‘You Really Got Me’), rhythm and blues (‘It’s All Over Now’), experimental electro pop (‘Have I the Right?’) and easy-listening with a hint-of-Beat (‘(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me’.)

Out of the last thirty-one #1s, I can count only seven outliers. Seven discs that haven’t fit the Beat-pop/rock bill. Cilla’s two proto-power ballads, the best of which was ‘You’re My World’, The Pacemaker’s weird showtune swansong ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, a couple of leftovers from the previous era in Elvis’s ‘(You’re the) Devil in Disguise’ and Frank Ifield’s final, and most pleasing, #1 ‘Confessin’ (That I Love You)’. And, of course, the return of Roy Orbison. The Roynaissance. ‘Oh, Pretty Woman’ was the sound of him meeting the Beat-revolution halfway; but his earlier comeback #1, the dramatic and operatic ‘It’s Over’, sounded completely out of place, and all the better for it.

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Which leads me to the latest ‘WTAF’ Award, and a truly tough decision. Do I award it to The Big O, for ‘It’s Over’, or to Gerry & The Pacemakers for the bizarre, and perhaps fatal, decision to record a version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’? I’m going to edge towards The Pacemakers – ‘It’s Over’ merely sounds out of place thanks to its surroundings; in the career of Roy Orbison it makes complete sense. Whereas I’m not sure anyone saw ‘YNWA’ coming. Still, it probably gets played ten times more these days than ‘I Like It’, and it means Gerry and the lads get a nice windfall any time Liverpool win a big match.

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Choosing a record to crown as both ‘Meh’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper is also a tough decision. There simply haven’t been enough terrible records to go around. It’s basically a straight shootout between The Bachelors ‘Diane’ and The Four Pennies ‘Juliet’. Two landfill Merseybeat records, cashing in on the day’s signature sound to make bland MOR; two records named after girls. I’ll give the ‘Meh’ Award to ‘Juliet’ and the Very Worst Chart-Topper to ‘Diane’, as The Four Pennies were merely boring, while I feel there was something sinister in The Bachelors perverting Merseybeat into a record for grannies. Like when Pat Boone released his metal-covers record, or when Tom Jones did Prince…

Before we settle what was the best of the best, one thing that did surprise me as I covered the past thirty-one chart-topping discs was that only three of them were recorded by Americans. Roy Orbison, of course, and one Elvis Presley, who you may remember from previous recaps. Back in my first recap, during the pre-rock days, I commented on how few British acts there seemed to be, and how the big US stars of the day – Kay Starr, Perry Como, Eddie Fisher et al – were bringing the glamour to bombed-out, over-rationed Blighty. Well, ten years on and much has changed. The Brits are the cool ones – it was they who were invading the Billboard Hot 100 across the Atlantic. Except, they were doing so with American-written songs. All The Searchers’ #1s were originally recorded by US vocal groups. Cilla and Sandie Shaw hit big with Bacharach and David numbers. ‘Do You Love Me?’ was a Motown number, while ‘I’m Into Something Good’ was written by Goffin and King. An interesting footnote to the British Invasion.

To the crème de la crème, then… The 6th Very Best Chart-Topper award. I’ve narrowed it down to a top five. ‘How Do You Do It?’, by Gerry and the P’s, for kicking this whole shebang off. Then The Animals, for announcing the end of Merseybeat a year later with the deep-throated, bluesy ‘The House of the Rising Sun’. They’re joint fourth. 3rd place goes to ‘You Really Got Me’ – in which the Kinks invented garage rock, power-pop and, oh yes, heavy metal – and generally grabbed us all by the bollocks and kicked us up the arse. Runner-up goes to the sublime ‘Needles and Pins’ by The Searchers – a moment of sad-pop melancholy in amongst the frenzy. I really wish I could argue a case for this being the very best but… I can’t. Not when The Fab Four are looking on.

Yes, five of the past bunch of chart-toppers were by The Beatles, with a further two written and donated to other acts by Lennon & McCartney. All of which were good-to-great #1s. (Sorry to disappoint, but I won’t have too many bad words to say about any of their seventeen chart-toppers.) One though, stands out above the rest. The one hundred and fifty seventh UK chart-topper, and the moment the world realised that they were in on something spectacular: ‘She Loves You’. Yeah, yeah… Yeah!

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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.

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.

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.

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.

The next thirty will take us from the tail-end of 1964 through to early ’66, and I doubt there will be anything like as clear and definable a ‘sound’ to the coming months. Popular music will continue to fragment. Starting with a brand new first at the top of the UK charts. It’s Motown, baby!