Only kidding. To tell the truth, I always thought that ‘We Are the Champions’ was released as a double-‘A’ with ‘We Will Rock You’. It wasn’t, at least not in the UK, where ‘We Will Rock You’ was the B-side. But if ever there was a song that didn’t need any support, that could stand alone as a statement, ’twas this one.
It’s not that ‘We Are the Champions’ invented the rock opera. But before this, rock operas were spread out over entire albums. Queen managed to get the form down to three perfect minutes. The choruses: rock, soaring rock. The verses: pure Freddie Mercury theatre. The way he toys with the line You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it…! is sublime. It doesn’t come close to scanning with the song’s rhythm, but he makes it work.
This record has been slightly lost to sports events now, blasted out after every cup final and league title because, well, no time for losers. But in its original form it feels like more of a positivity anthem. We are the champions, all of us, and we’ve all had to struggle to get there. Mercury himself, of course, was no stranger to not having things easy, growing up non-white and non-heterosexual in a time not much inclined to accept either of those things. And yet he took the sand kicked in his face and came through…
It’s easy to be cynical, and I can be cynical about most things in life… But I refuse to be cynical about this song. It’s irrepressible. It’s been confirmed, in a 2011 study by actual scientists, to be the catchiest song ever written. And in the recent ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ biopic, Queen’s performance of this song at Live Aid drew the film to a close and sent me out the cinema thinking, briefly, that I had just seen the best movie ever (I hadn’t, but there are few films that wouldn’t be improved by having a performance of ‘We Are the Champions’ tacked on the end…)
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 ‘UptownTop 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!
It is amazing to think that, almost eight years on from their split, this is only the second time an ex-Beatle has appeared at the top of the charts. You’d have got long odds on it taking this length of time. George Harrison got in there quickly, and then there was a big old wait… Until our latest Christmas #1.
Mull of Kintyre / Girls’ School, by Wings (their 1st and only #1)
9 weeks, from 27th November 1977 – 29th January 1978
And it’s strangely comforting to hear Macca’s voice again, like a long lost friend… Mull of Kintyre, Oh mist rolling in from the sea, My desire, Is always to meet you… It’s just him, and a couple of guitars. Simplicity itself. Until ninety seconds in, when the bagpipes arrive (I always assumed they were saved for the finale. Alas, no.) They enter with that unmistakeable, ominous drone, and by the three minute mark they are the stars of the show. It is amazing to think that, in the 1970s, as many #1 singles featured bagpipes as featured a Beatle.
‘Mull of Kintyre’ is not an old folk song, though it sounds for all the world as if it should be. It is further evidence of McCartney’s ability to conjure timeless pop from a few chords (and a cheeky slice of ‘Auld Lang Syne’). It is not ‘Yesterday’, nor is it ‘Eleanor Rigby’, but it is a huge moment in his legacy. And yet…
As a Scot, part of me bristles at this act of cultural appropriation… (You may roll your eyes, but hear me out.) It’s a nice song, a sweet melody, a love-letter by Paul to his adopted home (he really was living, while he wrote this, on the Mull of Kintyre). But the lines about mist rolling in from the sea and sweeping through the heather like deer in the glen… It’s the aural equivalent of a souvenir shortbread box. It’s Scotland as imagined by American, or Japanese, (or Liverpudlian) tourists. It’s #notmyscotland. You can also imagine John Lennon hearing this for the first time, on the radio one morning, and ruefully shaking his head…
Still, come the drum-roll and the key change, ‘Mull of Kintyre’ has wormed its way into your brain. You can see why this is was a ginormous hit – a song that appeals to five-year-olds, ninety-five-year olds, and anyone who’s had enough whisky. Its nine weeks at the top makes it the joint longest running #1 of the decade, alongside ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and an upcoming movie soundtrack hit. It became the biggest selling single ever in the UK, usurping ‘She Loves You’, and it remains the biggest selling non-charity single ever released.
I did wonder if, by hitting #1 in late November, this was the earliest an Xmas #1 had made it to the top. But it’s not even close. Al Martino got there two weeks earlier in 1952, as did Clean Bandit in 2016, while Elvis’s ‘It’s Now or Never’ holds the record by holding on from November 3rd. However, this record also stayed top for over a month after Christmas thanks, it seems, to the flip-side…
‘Girls’ School’ is a rocker, all scuzzy slide guitars and heavy drums, as far removed from the faux-folk of ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as can be. SongFacts describes it as ‘semi-pornographic’, and that’s putting it mildly. While your grandma would have enjoyed singing along to ‘Mull…’, she may have choked on her sherry when she heard this one. Sleepy head kid sister, Lying on the floor, Eighteen years and younger boy, Well she knows what she’s waitin’ for…
It seems the nuns have lost control of the convent school… Yuki, the resident mistress and oriental princess, is showing porn in the classroom. The Spanish nurse is running a full-body massage parlour, while the matron is drugging the kids in their beds at night, and then… Well that much is left to the imagination… Ah, what can the sisters do…?
I’m loving-yet-appalled-by this post-‘Mull…’ palate cleanser. It is pure rock ‘n’ roll, both in terms of its sound and its lyrical content (which would come under, shall we say… ‘scrutiny’ were it released in 2021). I think someone was having a good old chuckle to themselves when they stuck this alongside such a shamelessly sentimental ‘A’-side. It does seem, too, that McCartney may have swept it under the carpet in recent years. It’s not on Spotify, for a start.
Although this is his first #1 since The Beatles, it’s not as if Paul had been hiding under a rock since ‘Let It Be’. Wings were a huge chart force throughout the seventies, featuring Paul, his wife Linda, Denny Laine (whom we have heard from before as a member of The Moody Blues) and a rotating cast of supporters. This was their 10th Top 10 hit, but the only one to go all the way. Macca will be back, though, in the 80s, with a couple of chart-toppers to make ‘Mull of Kintyre’ sound like the epitome of cool, cutting edge pop.
And so we come to what I’m right now christening ‘The Forgotten ABBA #1’. Ask your average Joe on the street to name all of the group’s nine chart-toppers: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Waterloo’ would all trip off the tongue. But ‘The Name of the Game’? Rather than ‘Voulez Vous’, ‘SOS’ or ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’? Doubt it.
The Name of the Game, by ABBA (their 6th of nine #1s)
4 weeks, from 30th October – 27th November 1977
Still, it got a full month at the top. This was no flash in the pan. ABBA were at the peak of their powers, and this was the lead single off a new album. It slinks in, with a funky bassline and a hint of soul. It doesn’t scream “ABBA!” right away. I’ve seen you twice, In a short time, Only a week since we started…
Agnetha and Frida play the part of two late-bloomers who have finally fallen in love. But they’re not sure… Tell me please, ‘Cause I have to know, I’m a bashful child, Beginning to grow… Does she mean as much to him? Compare and contrast this with Baccara’s brazen come-ons. There was nothing bashful about that pair! So I wanna know, What’s the name of the game…?
Musically, this is complex stuff. We move from that funky opening riff – apparently inspired by Stevie Wonder – to hard rock guitar licks and French horns. Since ‘Dancing Queen’ basically perfected the pop song, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, and now this disc, have been much more experimental. Still, at its heart there lies a classic ABBA chorus. Benny and Bjorn knew that that much was non-negotiable…
Having grown up listening to ‘ABBA Gold’, I was shocked – shocked! – to discover a whole new verse here, plus a lot more guitar. Apparently a minute was trimmed off for US radio, and that version made it onto the compilation. If I remember correctly, ‘The Name of the Game’ came towards the end of Gold, and it never stood out to me as one of their great singles. But I was only thirteen. What do thirteen-year olds know?
Listening to it now, though, I’m appreciating it a lot more. This is Grade-A pop music. Not my favourite ABBA song – they’re still to come, though sadly not all of them will appear at #1 – but a solid eight point five out of ten. Not bad at all, for their ‘forgotten’ number one!
Our next #1 intros with some very heavy breathing. Things haven’t sounded this steamy since Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin supposedly did the actual dirty in the recording studio. Add in the chucka-chucka guitars and a thudding bass, and we’ve got a bit of a blue movie vibe…
Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, by Baccara (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 23rd – 30th October 1977
Mister, Your eyes are full of hesitation… You’re left in no doubt as to the nationality of this duo, the second the vocals start. Which makes me wonder, If you know what you’re looking for… You wonder if they were playing up their Spanish-ness, for the novelty value… Is it I can boogie-boogie? Or boogie-woogie? Or should we stick with what it sounds like: boogie-voogie?
The obvious comparison to make is with ABBA: two female singers, from Europe, with slightly idiosyncratic pronunciation. Except, Agnetha and Frida never came out with a line like: You try me once, You’ll beg for more…! Pure smut! Outrageous. I love it. They can boogie, but only with a certain song… All night long…
It’s already a great disco tune, but the second verse elevates it to genius level. Baccara break the fourth wall: Yes sir, Already told you in the first verse, And in the chorus, But I will give you one more chance… This is pure tongue-in-cheek, camp brilliance, and it goes on from here, all strings, scuzzy disco riff, and heavy breathing, to its conclusion. You do wonder if this marks a line in the sand for disco, though. It’ll be disco with a capital D.I.S.C.O for the rest of the seventies… Boney M, Bee Gees, Village People, ‘I Will Survive’… Did Baccara perhaps free the genre from any lingering attempts to be cool?
Then again, ‘Kung Fu Fighting’ was three years ago, right at the dawn of disco. Whatever. I am here for disco’s descent. I’m no snob! And what better way to begin the descent than with this tune, that may or may not be sung from the point of view of a prostitute. (Not to suggest that María Mendiola and Mayte Mateos – the two members of Baccara – were anything of the sort!) ‘Yes Sir…’ was their debut hit, a smash across Europe and, apparently, the best-selling single ever by a female group, with worldwide sales of over 18 million! When I discovered that their #8 follow up was called ‘Sorry, I’m a Lady’ I rushed to check it out. (If you thought ‘Yes Sir…’ was camp froth then brace yourself! Sample lyric: Sorry I’m a lady, I would rather be, Just a little shady…)
And then that was it as far as the UK charts were concerned. They went their separate ways in the ‘80s, but both ladies continue to perform under the ‘Baccara’ name. Although it is appropriate that I’m posting this on Eurovision weekend, as the duo represented Luxembourg in 1978 with ‘Parlez-vous Francais?’, finishing 7th.
As a postscript, ‘Yes Sir, I Can Boogie’ returned to the charts at the end of last year following the Scotland national team’s qualification for a first major tournament in twenty-three years!! (Sorry, excited Scot here) The team danced to it in their dressing room in celebration, and Mendiola offered to re-record it in their honour ahead of the tournament. We’re just waiting to see if they take her up on it…
Barely five seconds into David Soul’s second chart-topper of the year, I decide that I like it more than his first, ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’.
Silver Lady, by David Soul (his 2nd and final #1)
3 weeks, from 2nd – 23rd October 1977
To be honest, that’s more of a comment on the overbearing dullness of the earlier single than the brilliance of this, but still. It intros with a nice, Eagles-esque bassline and riff. It’s funky, and slightly sleazy. It sounds, believe it or not, like the theme-tune to a cop drama… Tired of drifting, Searching, Shifting, From town to town… The lyrics are much more interesting than their predecessor, too.
Then, midway through the first verse, something clicks and the song is suddenly tremendous fun. Suddenly we’re gearing up for an outrageous earworm of a chorus. It’s the horns. It’s always the horns. Come on silver lady, Take my word, I won’t run out on you again, Believe me… It’s schmaltzy, it’s cheesy… It’s stayed with me since I listened to this song for the first time a few days ago…
I love the barroom piano that joins us for verse two, as Soul paints a picture of the sorts of dives he’s been reduced to since getting himself chucked out. Seedy motels, And no-star hotels, Still I had to learn… Most importantly, compared to ‘Don’t Give Up…’, this song doesn’t take itself too seriously. The tongue remains firmly in cheek. It sounds exactly like the sort of song an off duty cop would attempt at a karaoke bar, after a beer or two… (I had to check that the lyrics weren’t: I’ve seen the light, It’s just one more pint without you…)
That was one of my main complaints about his previous #1. For the heartthrob star of an all-action police drama to debut with such an insipid puddle of crap was disappointing. ‘Silver Lady’ is more like it. I’m glad David Soul got this shot at redemption. And he got it just in time, for there were only two further chart hits left in his locker. Since then he’s tended to focus on his acting, though he is semi-retired these days. In 2004, he became a British citizen, perhaps as a way of thanking the nation for making him more than just a one-hit wonder, as he remains in his homeland.
This is one of those songs that, if you listen to it at the right time of day, with the right amount of alcohol in you, you may start to overestimate. I mean, I’m enjoying it; but I’d better move on before I start claiming it as an overlooked classic. Still, the charts need songs like this. Pure, unapologetic pop. More of which is coming up next…
Do you remember the early 1960s? (Not literally – I mean in terms of this blog.) Back when every third #1 was by Elvis? Those three years in which he dominated the top spot like no one before or since, not even The Beatles? Amazingly, given the heights of his heyday, this is only his second chart-topper in twelve years. ‘The Wonder of You’ came just after his leather-clad comeback, and marked the start of the Vegas years. Since then he’s descended into a jump-suited parody of himself, mumbling his way through residencies with sweat-soaked towels round his ever-widening neck. From Sun Records, to Elvis the Pelvis, to the army, the movies and the rhinestones, there was still time for one more reinvention. Enter: Dead Elvis.
Way Down, by Elvis Presley (his 17th of twenty-one #1s)
5 weeks, from 28th August – 2nd October 1977
I don’t include the picture above to shock or to mock; more to mourn what he had become. What his management and enablers had allowed him to do to himself. I’ve loved Elvis’s music since I was young, and can find something to enjoy from every stage of his career. And I’m glad he bowed out with a rocker. ‘Way Down’ is pure cabaret razzamatazz, with the jazzy drums and the piano flourishes; but there’s rock ‘n’ roll in there. There’s a hint of disco too, believe it or not, in the churning, didgeridoo-like rhythm.
Ooh, And I can feel it, Feel it, Feel it, FEEL IT! You wonder if Elvis was capable of feeling very much at this point, and he does sound pretty bored (or pretty well sedated) during the verses. But he goes for it in the chorus. Way down where it feels so good, Way down where I hoped it would, Way down where I never could… On the one hand they sound like standard, throwaway, mildly risqué rock ‘n’ roll lyrics. But for a man in Elvis’s condition maybe he knew what he was talking about: he was having to dig very deep to feel anything. Meanwhile the line: The medicine within me, A doctor couldn’t prescribe… sounds like a very knowing reference.
I’ve always liked this one, long before I knew it was his swansong. It’s kid-friendly rock – almost a pantomime of the real thing. Would it have been a #1 smash if Elvis hadn’t died? No way. It was languishing at #42 in the week of his death, before rocketing up the charts when the news broke. Nowadays, people download or stream deceased artists’ biggest hits on hearing of their deaths. Back in 1977, those who wanted to mark The King’s passing had one choice: to go ‘Way Down’.
Sadly, Elvis isn’t actually the true star of his final antemortem release. Step forward J.D. Sumner, who ends the record with perhaps the lowest note ever sung on a chart-topping single. Way… On… Doowwwn… I did wonder if he was the same baritone as featured way back on ‘A Fool Such As I’, but sadly he wasn’t.
While this record did perhaps only hit #1 thanks to Elvis’s death, that shouldn’t suggest he had been absent from the charts. Since his last #1in 1970, Presley had scored fifteen Top 10 hits with a mix of new songs and re-releases. ‘Moody Blue’, the single before this, had reached #6. Perhaps ‘Way Down’ would have done something similar, then, if it hadn’t been for that fateful trip to the bathroom.
And this isn’t the end of the road for Elvis and the number one spot. Far from it. At the time, it gave him his seventeenth chart-topper, tying him with The Beatles. They will stay neck and neck for a good twenty-five years, until an Elvis resurgence in the ‘00s (he has twice as many #1s in that decade as he does in the ‘70s…) But still. We should still mark this occasion. One of, if not the, biggest pop star ever has left the building. Go on, order yourself a Fools’ Gold Loaf (flown in on your own private jet, naturally) and play the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s final hit, one last time…
Enjoy every #1 so far, including all 17 of Elvis’s:
Two of the 1970’s most forgotten number ones back to back, then. From ‘Angelo’, to ‘Float On’, as the world shrugs and thinks ‘Nope, don’t remember them…’
Float On, by The Floaters (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 21st – 28th August 1977
Musically, this is dense, lush, soul-cheese. The bassline is smooth, while the production has a ‘sounds of rainforest’ vibe, all echoey and dripping, with what sounds like tropical birds in the distance. While, lyrically, it’s a lonely hearts ad. There are four members of The Floaters, and they all take turns at introducing themselves, their star-signs, and the kind of women they’re after.
First up is Ralph, an Aquarius. Now I like a woman who loves her freedom, And who can hold her own… Then Charles, a Libra, who likes a woman who carries herself like Miss Universe… He really goes for it with the falsetto, in a kind of vocal peacocking move. (And is there a more seventies line than let me take you Loveland…?) Actually, by the late nineties, every pop group worth their salt had a gimmick for introducing the members in their debut single. In this respect, The Floaters were well ahead of their time.
Anyway. Our Leo, Paul, isn’t picky. See, I like all women of the world, he announces proudly. And last up is Larry, who delivers his sign, Cancer!, slightly too loudly. He likes… Oh to be honest, who cares? The descriptions are deliberately vague in order to not put off any woman who might buy the record. I guess sociology students could look back, forty-plus years later, at this song as a first-hand example of what men of the late-1970s looked for in a woman (if that was their ultra-niche specialist subject).
Float, Float on… I’m not sure where they’ll be floating, or what they’ll be on, but I’m getting an image of each Floater with his girl, in a swan-shaped boat, cruising down one of those old ‘Tunnel of Love’ rides. It all goes a bit weird at the end, with some trippy flutes and heavy breathing, as we wonder just what is going on as those boats float out of sight…
The Floaters were from Detroit, and are stone-cold, one-hit wonders. ‘Float On’ floated to #1 in the UK, and to #2 in the USA, and that was that. To be honest, naming your band after your debut single, or vice-versa, pretty much guarantees that you will remain in one-hit purgatory for all eternity. They do, though, usurp Pussycat as the chart-topping act with the worst name because to me a ‘floater’ is, at best, an unwelcome object in your drink and, at worst, an unwelcome returnee to your toilet bowl…
You’ve got to love how arbitrary the pop charts can be. How utterly unconcerned they are with what came before. From Donna Summer’s thrilling vision of the future; to this. The Brotherhood have returned, whether you wanted them to or not…
Angelo, by Brotherhood of Man (their 2nd of three #1s)
1 week, from 14th August – 21st August 1977
In my post on their 1st number one, ‘Save Your Kisses for Me’, I suggested that Brotherhood of Man had a whiff of ABBA about them. Two boys, two girls, a Eurovision winning song… Well, here they’re not even trying to hide the similarities. It’s ABBA-lite, Bjorn Again with an original song. (And it’s not even that original…)
Can you guess what ABBA song this is heavily influenced by? Long ago, High on a mountain in Mexico… Cue marching drums and folky guitars. We meet a shepherd boy called Angelo, who met a young girl and he loved her so… It’s a Romeo and Juliet story. She’s rich; he’s not. They run away together, forever, avoiding danger, strangers… (the lyrics read like rhyming 101). Until life catches up with them and they kill themselves. Meanwhile the darting pianos from ‘Dancing Queen’ turn up for the chorus.
It is actually quite a brutal topic for a very throwaway song. They saw them lying there, Hand in hand… (They run all the way from the mountains to the sand, just so they have something to rhyme with ‘hand.) I wonder if it was shocking at the time, for a basic little pop group to sing so flippantly about suicide? We had ‘death-discs’ a-plenty in the early sixties, but they all died in car wrecks and plane crashes, not at their own hands…
‘Fernando’ is far from being my favourite ABBA song, so this dodgy knock-off was never likely to grab me. What I will give it is that the female leads – in contrast to the male-led ‘Save Your Kisses…’ – give it their all. A song can be complete crap, but at the same time redeemed by a singer who sounds as if they believe wholeheartedly in said crap.
Amazingly, Brotherhood of Man will be back shortly, for their third and final #1. They really got some mileage out of their Eurovision fame. Equally amazingly, that disc will also be named after another Spanish-sounding hombre, ‘Figaro’. I have never heard it, but will be shivering in anticipation until we arrive.
The Jacksons and Hot Chocolate were merely our disco’s warm-up acts, setting the tone and getting the audience limbered up. The headline act is ready now. Ms. Summer will take the stage…
I Feel Love, by Donna Summer (her 1st and only #1)
4 weeks, from 17th July – 14th August 1977
This is a shift forwards. They come along every few years, number ones that announce a new phase, a new sound, a real moment in popular music. ‘Rock Around the Clock’, ‘How Do You Do It’, ‘Rock Your Baby’… Rarely, though, do the records in question sound as if they are from another galaxy altogether.
The first thing that hits you, after a short fade in, are the Moog synthesisers. They are harsh, drilling into your brain. We’ve had synths before, plenty of times, but not used like this. This feels like a slap in the face. Meanwhile, Donna Summer’s voice floats high above: ethereal, echoey… so unhuman that it could be as computerised as the music. It’s like her vocals were recorded years before, like this is already the remix.
It’s so good… There’s not much to the lyrics, really. Donna Summer is not the star of the show here – although her vocals are a huge part of the song’s appeal, and its legacy. I feel love, I feel love, I feel lo-o-ove… The stars are Giorgio Moroder’s synths: clanking, chirping, burping away. He layered them, he overdubbed them, he played them slightly out of sync with one another… They’re a world away from ‘Son of My Father’… You start to get a little dizzy if you play this for long enough at a high volume. I can’t imagine what it would have done to you in a sweaty disco in 1977. But you can picture it – the lights, the vibrating speakers, the amyl nitrate in the air…
It’s not a particularly nice song. It’s not one for any old time of day. But it is spectacular. And it’s not disco, at least not the kind of sparkly, flirty disco that’s been the dominant sound of the past few years. It’s dance music. EDM ground zero. (Though I’m not saying this invented dance music in one fell swoop. That’s the problem with only reviewing the chart-topping singles – it’s not an exact overview of popular music as a whole.) But what’s for sure is that it sounds not unlike something a big-name DJ could produce in 2021.
The best bit – sorry Donna – is when everything falls away but the metallic beat. We’re left with a thumping heartbeat, and what sounds like a mouse rattling around in your skirting boards. On ‘I Remember Yesterday’, the album this single is taken from, each track was designed to sound as if it were from a different era. ‘I Feel Love’ was the final track. The future.
For your pleasure, you can choose from the four minute single edit, the six minute album version, or the eight minute extended 12” mix. (We could stretch a case for this being the longest #1 single yet, but we’d be chancing it.) The #1 that this most reminds me of – not in terms of sound, but in terms of impact and weirdness – is another futuristic hit: ‘Telstar’. That, though, was an isolated one-off. Not many subsequent records have sounded like ‘Telstar’. Large swathes of the 1980s will sound like ‘I Feel Love’.
It is a shame that Donna Summer’s only UK #1 is this. Not that it’s not great, but she isn’t the main thing about it. If this was a more recent release, it’d be Giorgio Moroder ft. Donna Summer. The producer would be the star. In the US, this wasn’t a #1, but her other classics were. ‘Bad Girls’, ‘Hot Stuff’, ‘No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)’… I may have to do a Donna Top 10 very soon, as I’m not happy with her just having one appearance on this blog. She passed away in 2012, recognised as an influence on every disco act, every dance act, and every black woman who had hit the charts ever since.