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:
- ‘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.
- ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
- ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
- ‘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:
- ‘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.
- ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
- ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
- ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush
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 Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
- ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
- ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
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.
- ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
- ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
- ‘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!