This week marks FIVE YEARS since I launched this blog with a post on Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’, the first number one single on the first NME chart, published on November 14th, 1952. Over the course of this half-decade, I’ve picked up some dedicated readers and commenters, to whom I’m very grateful for making this whole thing worthwhile. So, to celebrate the milestone, I’m going to hand the blog over to four of my long-time followers. They’ve all chosen their own favourite UK number one single (from between 1952 and 1988 because, well, we don’t want spoilers!)
Up first is John Van der Kiste, and his choice of The Tremeloes ‘Silence Is Golden’. John is a writer and historian, whose recent projects include a book on Manfred Mann in the 1970s, and ‘Eagles on Track: Every Album, Every Song’. His work can be found on Amazon.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes – #1 for 3 weeks in 1967
When Brian Poole and the Tremeloes parted company in 1966, music pundits thought the former would remain a major star while his band would disappear without trace. They were wrong. After struggling with their first two singles, ‘Blessed’ (a Paul Simon song) and ‘Good Day Sunshine’ (Beatles), the band scored with Cat Stevens’ ‘Here Comes My Baby’, a No. 4 in 1967. Stevens disliked their version, complaining that they had turned his heartfelt love-gone-wrong song into a party romp.
For their fourth single, again they decided to take a sad song and make it better (see what I did there). ‘Silence is Golden’, originally the B-side of The Four Seasons’ ‘Rag Doll’ in 1964, was recommended as a potential hit to them by Mick Clarke, who briefly joined as their bassist before being (amicably) replaced by Len Hawkes. Taking a slow, slightly bitter number marked a change in style for them. In three verses and a chorus, the observer tells of his pain at seeing a girl (whom he presumably fancies) being deceived by a guy who obviously doesn’t deserve her. He’s dying to warn her, held back only by the fear that she will tell him he’s lying, so he’d better shut up. A miserable little triangle.
Even so, it flew out of the shops on both sides of the Atlantic. Most of the Trems’ songs featured Hawkes or drummer Dave Munden on lead vocal, but this time they gave the job to lead guitarist Rick West. It shows off the band’s harmonies to perfection. For the most part it follows the arrangement of the original closely with a change in key after the second chorus, the only change coming with a couple of repeats of the final line in a different melody instead of fading out.
1967 may have been the year of Sergeant Pepper, San Francisco and Monterey, but as far as the British charts went, it was big ballad time, with Frank and Nancy Sinatra, Engelbert Humperdinck, Long John Baldry, Tom Jones and The Dave Clark Five all getting sentimental and reaching No. 1 or else getting close. ‘Silence is Golden’ still remains a much-loved staple on 1960s oldies playlists, though some people have never forgiven it for denying The Kinks’ sublime ‘Waterloo Sunset’ the summit after three chart-toppers in three previous years.
(The Trems performing ‘Silence Is Golden’ live in 1967)
The Trems had their chance of repeating history not once but twice, but threw it away. In 1968 they were offered but rejected ‘(If Paradise Is) Half as Nice’, and Amen Corner reaped the benefit. Later they recorded Jeff Christie’s ‘Yellow River’ and scheduled it as a single, though after a change of heart they turned it down, whereupon their producer Mike Smith helped Christie form his own self-named band (with drummer Mike Blakley, whose brother Alan was a Tremeloe) – and take it all the way there in 1970. Also it’s interesting that, of their remaining singles, the most successful were back to the up-tempo party style, with other ballads faring poorly.
Their run of hits continued until 1971 and then faded away (apart from a minor chart entry in 1983 with their version of F.R. David’s ‘Words’), but they have continued to earn a living on the live circuit. Their line-up became something of a revolving door, with West leaving in 1972 after a battle with labyrinthitis, later rejoining on condition that he wouldn’t sing on stage but concentrate on guitar instead. Clarke, who had his moment at the top in 1974 with ‘Sugar Baby Love’ with The Rubettes, has recently been part of the line-up from time to time. The original foursome have all had health issues, with Blakley passing away in 1996 and Munden in 2020, though The Tremeloes have endured in one form or another. Hawkes is still a regular member, while his sons Chesney (as in ‘The One and Only’, No. 1 in 1991) and Jodie often join the line-up on guitar and drums respectively. No mean feat, for a band originally formed in 1958.