‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, by John & Yoko with The Plastic Ono Band & The Harlem Community Choir
reached #4 in December 1972 / #2 in January 1981
Not many festive hits start in such an accusatory tone. Not many festive hits sound like this classic, though. Yes, there are jingling bells and a choir. But there’s no talk of Santa, or snow, or stockings stuffed with presents. This record has it sights set higher: peace on earth.
In my post on ‘Imagine’, which hit #1 shortly after Lennon’s murder, I said that nowadays it could feel a little too idealistic, and a little preachy. Why, then, can I tolerate this song year after year? Is it just because I’m more receptive to songs about war being over, if I want it, when I’m stuffed full of mulled wine and mince pies? Maybe…
I think actually that it’s Phil Spector’s production: taking Lennon’s song and giving them his full Christmas treatment. Strings, chiming bells, beefy drums… It may not have worked on ‘Let It Be’, but it really does here. Despite not actually being much about Christmas, this song sounds like Christmas should.
I’m not posting this song just because I really like it, though. I do, but I also think there’s a chance that it genuinely should have been #1. In its first chart-run, in 1972, it made #4 fair and square, behind the likes of T. Rex and Little Jimmy Osmond. But in 1980, re-released in the wake of Lennon’s death, it also made #4 for Christmas, while the delights of St. Winifred’s School Choir wafted down from top-spot.
Back in those pre-computer days, when everyone at the chart-keeping company was on Christmas holiday, the post-Xmas chart was usually a copy-paste of the previous week’s. St. Winifred’s remained top, John and Yoko at #4. The week after, though, it rose to #2, behind the also re-released ‘Imagine’. I wonder… If the sales of the ‘Happy Xmas’ – which was presumably selling very well in the days leading up to Christmas – were counted, and the chart hadn’t simply been repeated… Could it have been a number one? I guess we’ll never know.
Though it never made #1, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ makes the chart every year now thanks to festive streaming. It’s currently perched at #34 in the charts, and will presumably rise even higher next week. With that, I’d like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year… Let’s hope it’s a good one… wherever this holiday season finds you. (I’d also like to wish for war to be over, but I think I may be overreaching…)
I’ve done a few posts like this before, but thought I’d start making it more of a regular feature. Having just featured Donny and co’s sole UK chart-topper – the decidedly so-so ‘Love Me For a Reason’ – we might as well visit their first big British hit.
‘Crazy Horses’, by The Osmonds – #2 in November 1972
I had heard of ‘Crazy Horses’ long before I ever listened to it. Aged twelve or so, I was the proud owner of the ‘A-Z of Behaving Badly’, a spin-off book from the ’90s sitcom ‘Men Behaving Badly’ (Wiki link provided, if you have no idea what I’m on about). Said book named ‘Crazy Horses’ as one of the best songs for singing loudly on your way home from the pub…
In those pre-internet, iTunes, Spotify days… amazing to think of it actually… I went years without ever knowing what the song sounded like. It sounded cool: ‘Crazy Horses’. But it was by The Osmonds, who were lame, so it mustn’t have been that good…
How wrong I was. ‘Crazy Horses’ is brilliant. One of the catchiest, zaniest, most enjoyable hits of the early seventies. Just watch the video below. How much fun is Jay Osmond having on lead vocals, doing the funky chicken! How much fun is Merrill having shrieking his way through the bridge! How much fun is Donny having making horsey noises on his keyboard! A lot of fun, is the correct answer.
I’ve seen ‘Crazy Horses’ described as metal. It’s not, but for The Osmonds it might as well have been. Their one, minor hit as a group before this had been the catchy-but-super-cheesy ‘Down by the Lazy River’. Just a few months before this made #2, lil’ Donny had scored his first chart-topper with the cloying ‘Puppy Love’.
Not only is ‘Crazy Horses’ ridiculous, and ridiculously catchy, it also has a message behind it. What a show, There they go, Smokin’ up the sky… ‘Crazy horses’ being cars, whose fumes are destroying the planet: Crazyhorses all got riders and they’re you and I…! How woke is that, for 1972!
Unfortunately, some countries banned the record, as they thought all the talk of ‘horse’ and ‘smokin’ were… gasp… drug references! Which simply makes it even more rock ‘n’ roll, and even more amazing that The Osmonds were behind it.
So there you have it. After sitting through all the middling to awful #1 singles involving the Osmond brothers, we desperately needed to give their best song a moment in the sun. ‘Crazy Horses’ should definitely have been a number one!
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.
So. We are spoilt for choice in choosing our 11thWTAF 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:
‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:
‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:
‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
The Very Best Chart-Toppers:
‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
‘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?)
Hot on the heels of Chuck Berry’s smut-fest ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ comes another Christmas novelty, and 1972’s festive #1. Two novelty chart-toppers in a row! Aren’t we the lucky listeners…?
Long Haired Lover From Liverpool, by Little Jimmy Osmond (his 1st and only #1)
5 weeks, from 17th December 1972 – 21st January 1973
Actually no. We are not. For everything that ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ got right, ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ gets wrong… It’s not funny, it’s not subversive, it’s not got a bawdy bone in its body. It’s a nine-year-old boy singing a music hall ditty, and it is intensely, painfully, terrifyingly catchy.
I first listened to it a few days ago, after finishing my previous post, and it has been lodged in my brain ever since. I’ll… Be… Your… Long-haired lover from Liverpool, And I’ll do anything you say… Was Little Jimmy Osmond from Liverpool? No, obviously not. They were Mormons from Ogden, Utah. Had he ever been to Liverpool? Doubtful. But he’ll say he is, and that he has, for his sunshine daisy from LA…
He’ll also be her leprechaun sitting on a toadstool, her clown, her puppet, her April Fool… Anything she asks, as long as she’s his sunshine daisy from LA… You have to wonder if Little Jimmy had any idea what the hell he was singing. But he does it like a pro, like the youngest son from a family steeped in showbiz. Before I’d even seen any pictures of him, I could picture his cheeky grin and chubby cheeks. His voice is ear-piercingly high, especially on the title line, but then I suppose nine-year-old’s voices usually are.
It’s strange. On the one hand I am aware that this is a genuinely heinous piece of music. Meanwhile the other hand is tapping along happily. But lo! Suddenly, just past the two-minute mark, the song fades. Finished. I like to think that the sound engineer just couldn’t take it anymore and slid the volume dial down, while Jimmy and his band kept going for another three minutes, unaware…
‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ had been written and recorded a few years earlier, by a Christopher Kingsley, and played on local radio. That’s where Mother Osmond heard the song and thought it would be perfect for her Jimmy. And it was – Osmond mania was sweeping the world in late ‘72. Little Jimmy was, apparently, particularly huge in Japan. We’ve had one Osmond at the top of the charts already this year, and I have to admit that I’d choose ‘Long Haired Lover From Liverpool’ over Donny’s ‘Puppy Love’ any day of the week.
At nine years and eight months old Jimmy Osmond was – and still is – the youngest artist to be credited with a UK #1 single. (Though younger children have featured on #1s, without getting a credit… more on that anon.)
And that’s that for 1972. What a strange year for chart-toppers! Some have been era-defining, others have been heart-breaking, while some have been hilarious. And a few have just been really, really bad. Roll on 1973!
And so we come to our alma mater. We must do our alma mater…
My Ding-a-Ling, by Chuck Berry (his 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 19th November – 17th December 1972
Come along one and all, for the touching tale of a young boy and his favourite childhood toy: When I was, A little bitty boy, My grandmother bought me a cute little toy…Silver bells, Hanging on a string, She told me it was my ding-a-ling-a-ling…
In this live-est of live number ones, the audience sing approximately half of the song. The girls in the audience give us My… While the boys give us Ding-a-Ling! Girls: I want you to play with my… Boys: Ding-a-Ling! While Chuck croons his encouragement: Beautiful! I think it’s a beautiful little song, really I do…
Mum takes the boy to grammar school, but he stops off in the vestibule. (Find me, if you can, another #1 single that includes the word ‘vestibule’.) Every time that bell would ring, Catch me playing with my ding-a-ling-a-ling… Life brings along many trials and tribulations for the hero of the piece but first and foremost, no matter the danger, the lad looks after his prized possession. Climbing the garden wall, swimming across Turtle Creek… All the while holding onto his ding-a-ling. You can guess where every verse is going after the first line; but that’s the beauty of it. Like all lame jokes you can see it coming a mile off, bounding over the horizon like a big dumb dog.
And Chuck Berry’s enthusiasm for this silliest of silly songs really helps to sell it. The spoken asides – the two girls singing in harmony, the guy singing in rhyme (that’s alright, brother, you gotta right baby) – are the best bits. In an extended version that runs to well over eleven minutes, Berry can be heard briefing the audience on how to sing. It is complete end-of-the-pier, pantomime smut, with lines like: We’ll teach the boy’s first, cos they’ve only got one part… (You notice how the boy’s part starts rising right there?)… Now boys you gotta come in strong with your ding-a-lings… It’s a very funny listen – those aren’t even the dirtiest bits – if your sense of humour is as underdeveloped as mine… When it comes to the verse dedicated to those who will not sing, the glee in Berry’s voice as he changes the lyrics to Your ding-a-ling, Your ding-a-ling, We saw you playin’ with your ding-a-ling…! is unmistakeable.
I’ve been looking forward to writing about ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ ever since I started this blog. For a start, it’s Chuck Berry finally getting a #1 single. He, more than any other artist, is rock ‘n’ roll. He’d only had one (1!) Top 20 hit in the fifties – ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’, which peaked at #16! In the sixties, when his influence on beat bands became evident, he started hitting the top 10 with discs like ‘No Particular Place to Go’. By 1972, though, he was a veteran; a legacy act. This had been recorded in February, at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, and was belatedly pushed as a single by a radio station in Boston.
The other reason I’d been looking forward to writing about this record? The controversy, of course. Radio stations refused to play it (duh). Not that there’s anything wrong with the lyrics on face-value, but the fun that Chuck and the audience are having singing along like drunks at closing time means that even the most innocent of minds can get in on the innuendo. Mary Whitehouse, last seen campaigning against Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out’, claimed that whole classes of young boys across the nation were lowering their trousers, ‘singing the song and giving it the indecent interpretation… that is so obvious.’ Which, if they weren’t doing before Mary made this claim; they certainly were afterwards.
This tune had been around for a long time, since the 19th century in fact, in the form of the American folk number ‘Little Brown Jug’. It was first recorded as ‘My Ding-a-Ling’ by Dave Bartholomew in 1952, and if you thought Berry’s version was bawdy then you’re in for a treat with the original (sample lyric: When you’re young and on the go, Your ding-a-ling won’t ever get sore…)
There are a lot of people who think of it as sacrilege that this was Chuck Berry’s biggest hit. Which I understand, on one level. But, at least it’s fun. Compare and contrast with Eddie Cochran – another rock ‘n’ roller who, after genre-defining hits like ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘C’mon Everybody’ reached #1 with the soppy ‘Three Steps to Heaven’. Plus, he was dead. Chuck Berry had decades of playing with his ding-a-ling to come after this (though, given some of the allegations made against him over the years that might not be the best way to phrase it). He died in 2017, aged ninety.
To conclude, then. This may be puerile, and silly. It may not be anywhere near as momentous a record as ‘Johnny B. Goode’, or ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Music’, or ‘Maybelline’, or hundreds of Chuck Berry’s earlier hits. But I love it for what it is. Somehow, some way, ‘My Ding-A-Ling’ is every bit as rock ‘n’ roll as his classic hits.
For the first time in three hundred and twenty-two #1 singles… I find one that is not on Spotify. At least not in my ‘region’. I realise that this may be of no interest to anyone but me, but damn it if it hasn’t ruined the #1s Blog Playlist I attach at the foot of every post!
Clair, by Gilbert O’Sullivan (his 1st of two #1s)
2 weeks, from 5th – 19th November 1972
Actually, the fact that this isn’t on Spotify might be quite telling. Spotify might be on to something… Let me explain. First up, we have whistling. Whistling in pop records rarely leads to good things. (There are notable exceptions, I will admit, but still.) Clair, The moment I met you, I swear, I felt as if something somewhere, Had happened to me… The tune is jaunty but bittersweet, the production very soft-focus. It’s easy-listening – the softest of seventies soft-rock.
Who is Clair? Must be his girlfriend, right? A guy called Gilbert writes a song about a girl called Clair. Words mean so little, When you look up and smile… Yadda-yadda-yadda… I don’t care what people say to me, You’re more than a child… Wait a second. Plot twist. Why in spite of our age difference, Do I cry, Each time I leave you…
Ah… she’s his daughter. Which kind of excuses the cutesy shlock factor. He’s written a love song to his daughter. Aw… But no. The mystery of ‘Clair’ continues to unravel. Nothing means more to me than hearing you say, I’m going to marry you, Will you marry me Uncle Ray…? What now? Who’s Uncle Ray?? I give up, and resort to Wiki.
Where I discover that ‘Clair’ was the child of O’Sullivan’s producer, and Ray is Gilbert. He would sometimes babysit his friend/producer’s daughter. He has written a chart-topping single about a child he sometimes babysat for. Process that over the horrible harmonica solo…
It’s clever, I guess. It’s like a murder-mystery novel that keeps you guessing till the end. And it ends with a flourish – I quite like the lines in the final verse in which he’s trying to put Clair to bed: Get back into bed, Can’t you see that it’s late, No you can’t have a drink… It’s quite modern, like today’s beanie-hat wearing singer-songwriters picking lyrics out of the mundane. If Tom Walker wrote a song about babysitting, it might sound a bit like ‘Clair’.
But the final verse can’t redeem the song as a whole. It’s pretty terrible (and crucially, if you miss the bit about babysitting, it sounds super, super creepy…) And just to rubber-stamp this song’s terribleness, the real-life Clair giggles on the final note, like a doll in a horror movie. Oh Clair…
Gilbert (Raymond) O’Sullivan – I assume that he was going for a pun on ‘Gilbert & Sullivan’ with his stage name? – is an Irish singer-songwriter who had been scoring hits since a couple of years before his first #1. ‘Alone Again (Naturally)’ had been his biggest hit earlier in the year: a #3 in the UK and huge #1 on the Billboard 100. He’ll have one more chart-topper in early ’73, with a song I already know and that I can confirm is much better than this.
One final note: ‘Clair’ was at #1 for the twentieth anniversary of the UK Singles Chart. We have covered two decades’ worth of chart-topping singles, plus a diversion or two, in just over two and a half years, since my first post on Al Martino’s ‘Here in My Heart’! Well done to everyone who has been keeping up!
I’ve heard of this song before – for better or for worse – but don’t think I’d ever heard it, in full, until now. And boy, is it strange…
Mouldy Old Dough, by Lieutenant Pigeon (their 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 8th October – 5th November 1972
It starts with a military drum beat, and for a second I’m worried that we’re getting 1972’s second pipes ‘n’ drums #1 single. Then we get a flute, and I’m picturing an orange march. Then we get a boozy, woozy, synthesised rock ‘n’ roll piano, and we’re in a crowded German beerhall.
Two immediate points of reference jump out at me. There’s Chicory Tip’s similarly stomping ‘Son of My Father’ from a few months back. And then there’s the work of Joe Meek a decade ago: The Tornados, and ‘Have I the Right?’ and so on. There’s a lot of similarities there, but they don’t fully explain what the hell is going on here.
‘Mouldy Old Dough’ is an instrumental, save for the title being growled by what sounds like a very old man with no teeth. Apparently the line Dirty old man… is also buried in there, deep within the soupy mix, but I can’t make it out. It is so rough and ready, this record. It sounds like an old demo that was burnt, buried in a shallow grave, then dug up years later, released and sent to the top of the charts…
Have you ever eaten durian? It’s a huge spiky fruit, really popular in south-east Asia, with a smell somewhere between sweaty socks and rotten onions. Apparently, though, if you can get past the stench the actual flesh of the fruit is quite nice. I’ve never been able to get past the stink but feel that ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ might be the durian fruit of #1 singles. Get past your initial doubts and reservations, your initial what the hell?, and by the third or fourth listen you start to find something charming buried deep within its relentless, plodding, churning beat.
The backstory of Lieutenant Pigeon only adds to the record’s charm. They were an experimental band from Coventry, fronted by Rob Woodward, and featuring his mum, Hilda, on piano. She’s basically the star of this record, as it’s her melancholy piano line that holds it all together. ‘Mouldy Old Dough’ was recorded in their living room (what I mistook for synths is just poor sound insulation!) When asked what it was all about, Rob admitted that he had no idea… Despite being the composer. Honest. I like it. The follow-up to this, ‘Desperate Dan’, made #17 and after that the charts were a Pigeon-free zone… The Woodwards are still the only mother and son combo to ever top the UK singles chart.
And isn’t that nice? Lieutenant Pigeon still record and release music to this day, mainly online, while Hilda died twenty years back. She was fifty-eight when this record hit the top of the charts, and she’s still in the Top 10 oldest people to feature on a number one single. By the end the marching beat has transformed into a glam-rock stomp as we fade out. As weird as this record sounds – and it does sounds pretty darn weird – it still somehow fits in with the styles of the time…
Unluckily for David Cassidy, I arrive at his first UK chart-topper – ‘How Can I Be Sure’ – and instantly think of Dusty Springfield’s version of the same song. It’s a version that I’ve known for years, and it puts young Cassidy at a bit of a disadvantage…
How Can I Be Sure, by David Cassidy (his 1st of two #1s)
2 weeks, from 24th September – 8th October 1972
…for which singer would want to be compared against Dusty? But hey. I’ll try to keep an open mind. This version opens a little gently: echoing guitars backed by an annoying ting – like a typewriter reaching the end of a line – before settling into a French accordion’s sway. Whenever I, Whenever I am away from you… I wanna die, Because you know I wanna stay with you…
Dramatic, right? Except this record never quite reaches the levels needed to sell the lyrics. How can I be sure? I really, really, really, really wanna know… He loves someone, but is overcome with self-doubt. Do they really love him back? How can he ever know? And that’s before you add in the ‘alibi’, who’s going around spreading nasty rumours about him… It’s just a shame that he sings it, for the most part, in a crooning style, never really letting loose. He sings it nicely, and enunciates his words wonderfully, but I’m not sold.
At least it’s not too sickly saccharine. I still have the aftertaste of ‘Puppy Love’ in the back of my throat… In my mind (and remember this all came a decade before I was born), Cassidy was the main rival of Donny Osmond, with the two pre-eminent teen-idols of the day competing to see who had the whitest smile and the most perfectly set hair. Both came from a showbiz family too, though Cassidy’s was the made-for-TV ‘Partridge Family’. In reality, Cassidy was a decade older than Osmond, so they would surely have been competing for different audiences, and by 1972 he had been photographed nude on the cover of ‘Rolling Stone’ by Annie Liebovitz and had been reported to have taken – shock horror – recreational drugs.
So, David 1 Donny 0, if indeed it was a competition at all. You would, after all, have to go to some lengths to make a worse record than ‘Puppy Love’. At the same time, I’m struggling to have a strong opinion on this song. It’s fine. It’s nice enough. It’s no Dusty. It’s the perfect proof of a truly great singer, when they can take lyrics that sound a little trite in the voice of another, and give them meaning… But I do like the ending here, as the lines How can I, How can I, How can I… tumble and cascade over one another, like a wonky soundtrack in a circus big-top.
‘How Can I Be Sure’ had been around for a few years by the time David Cassidy recorded his version. It was originally a hit for The Young Rascals in 1967 – their version is meh – before Dusty in 1970 and David two years after that. And we’ll hold off on a full Cassidy bio, as he has another #1 to come in a year or so. Though, I have to admit that, until a few seconds ago, I had no idea that he passed away a few years ago…
Slade’s third chart-topper in well under a year – a mean feat that not many other artists can boast of. And it enters with all the swagger you’d expect from a band well on their way to being the biggest in the land. As Noddy sums it up in the intro: Awooooooooo!
Mama Weer All Crazee Now, by Slade (their 3rd of six #1s)
3 weeks, from 3rd – 24th September 1972
The riff could never be described as sophisticated, or revolutionary, but it’s perfect in its own way. A riff that does the DJ’s job for him, by announcing ‘Here’s the latest single from Slade…’ Meanwhile the drums are deep and beefy and the bass kicks. We’re all set up for a good time.
Similarly, the lyrics aren’t going to change the world; but they are a statement of intent. Holder is at his sneery, husky best as he announces: I don’t want to, Drink my whisky like you do… The kids are going to do things their own way. I don’t need to, Spend my money but still do… Did someone say ‘teenage rebellion?’ Think ‘Son of My Father’, but in the simplest, Sladest terms.
I said mama, But we’re all crazy now… the band hollers as mum bangs on the bedroom door, wondering what this noise is. A year so ago, the top of the charts was full of easy-on-the-ears, grown-up pop – ‘I’m Still Waiting’ and ‘Woodstock’. But 1972 has seen the #1 spot reclaimed by the kids: teeny boppers and glam rockers. It’s like the fifties all over again, but with more make-up.
Is ‘Mama Weer All Crazee Now’ a little basic? Probably, but that’s the point. It’s a song about having nothing but a good time. Another drop now, come on… I want the lot now, come on… About being young and reckless and not giving two shits. Jim Lea, the bassist, was inspired to write it after looking out on Wembley Arena after the band had played a gig, and surveying a hall full of broken seats and empty bottles. Plus he wanted a chorus – a chant, even – that the audience could sing back to them at full volume.
The record ends with that line repeated over and over, until it’s reduced to a stutter: Ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-ma-woooooooo! Glorious nonsense. (Isn’t that the perfect description for glam rock?) Actually, I’ve just had an idea, a way of categorising the glam rock acts of the early seventies, using British supermarkets as gradients (Apologies to any non-British readers who will have no idea what I’m on about, please skip ahead if you like…) If Bowie was Harrod’s Glam, then T. Rex were Waitrose Glam. Slade? Slade were Tesco glam: no frills and popular across the land. And LIDL Glam? That was Mud.
Anyway, nothing wrong with being the Tesco of glam. Whenever I’m back in the UK, Tesco’s one of the first places I go. And it didn’t hold Slade back any. ‘Mama…’ was their 3rd of six #1s, and the last not to enter at the top of the charts. Very, very few records entered at #1 before the mid-nineties. Slade will go on to do it three times. Enjoy the video below, then, as the sound of a band just about to go stratospheric…
In which Rod Stewart scores his second number one single, by releasing a song that sounds suspiciously like his first. I mean, ‘Maggie May’ had been such a huge hit, his now-signature song, that you can’t blame him for trying to re-bottle lightning.
You Wear It Well, by Rod Stewart (his 2nd of six #1s)
1 week, from 27th August – 3rd September 1972
Not that it’s a rip-off (can you even rip-off your own song?), but it’s similar enough to sound like an off-cut from the same recording session. The intro meanders, as it did in ‘Maggie May’, before two drumbeats – dun dun – signify that we’re ready for the song proper to get underway.
I had nothing to do, On this hot afternoon, But to settle down and write you a line… Rod’s reminiscing about a woman he once loved. Who knows, maybe it’s Maggie…? He’s been meaning to call her, but thinks a handwritten letter would tug the old heartstrings a bit more effectively. You wear it well, A little old fashioned but that’s alright…
He reminisces about basement parties, her radical views, a birthday gown he bought her in town… Then he lays on the charm: Madame Onassis got nothing on you… It’s another wordy ballad, a little more electric than acoustic this time, while the fiddle from ‘Reason to Believe’ – the flip-side of his first #1 – makes another appearance to add some homespun charm. To be honest, I’m struggling to get into ‘You Wear It Well’. It’s a bit plodding, and the words sometimes get lost in the mix.
When you look the lyrics up, though, you see that there are some nice touches. The fact that he didn’t call because he’s in Minnesota and, y’know, that’d be a bit pricey, and the line: My coffee’s gone cold and I’m getting told, That I gotta go back to work… While at the end Rod hopes that she’s still at the same address. It’s not a record without charm; you just have to give it a few listens and dig a little deeper to find it.
But, you’d have to admit that if he had been trying to recapture the magic of his debut chart-topper then he’s not quite managed it. It’s strange to think that of all Rod Stewart’s big seventies hits which didn’t make the top of the charts – ‘You’re In My Heart’, ‘Tonight’s the Night’, ‘Hot Legs’ – ‘You Wear It Well’ did.
A short post, then. A nice enough song, and a nice enough addition to 1972’s parade of chart-toppers. It seems that to hit #1 in the summer of ’72 your record either had to be glammed up to the eyeballs, soppy teenybopper fluff, or an acoustic ballad. Let’s spin the tombola and see what pops up next…!