278. ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’, by Bobbie Gentry

After all the in-your-face sex and apocalyptic predictions of the past few #1s, it’s nice to hear the gentle piano and bass intro of ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’. The musical equivalent of closing your eyes and taking a deep breath.

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I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, by Bobbie Gentry (her 1st and only #1)

1 week, from 12th – 19th October 1969

Not that this record is all sweetness and light, though. The title kind of gives that away. What do you get when you fall in love…? A guy with the pin to burst your bubble… Bobbie is convinced that she’s done with love. That’s what you get for all your trouble…

I love her voice – all tired and husky. It lends a perfect edge to possibly the best rhyming couplet ever to feature in a #1 single: What do you get when you kiss a guy…? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia, After you do he’ll never phone ya… Bacharach and David – racking up another UK chart-topper here – added the line after Burt had been hospitalised with the flu. It does make sense when you realise that this is a B&D number, with its gently soaring melody. They had written it for a musical called ‘Promises, Promises’, and Dionne Warwick had had the hit version of this song in the States.

You could add ‘I’ll Never Love Again’ to our run of recent cynical number ones – crushing the closing months of the swinging sixties – but for one line: So for at least, Until tomorrow… Who knows? She might just meet the man of her dreams tomorrow morning… And I’d argue that there’s something very late-sixties-positive about a young female artist singing about her love life in a matter-of-fact way: I’ve been there and glad I’m out… Women’s Lib reaching the top of the charts right here.

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The fact that Bobbie Gentry is a woman is worth noting in itself. She’s the sole female chart-topper of 1969. In fact, in the past three years, only Bobbie, Mary Hopkin, Sandie Shaw and Petula Clark have topped the singles charts as solo females (Esther Obarim, Nancy Sinatra and Jane Birkin did so by duetting with men.) It really is surprising how few women topped the charts throughout the sixties, compared to later decades… I would work out the percentage, if I had any kind of mathematical ability.

Bobbie Gentry is also another artist whom I racially-profiled as a kid… Add her to the list along with Chris Farlowe and Georgie Fame. She isn’t black, she’s another white singer with a bit of soul in her voice, an American Dusty. My first exposure to her was through the superb ‘Ode to Billie Joe’, which was her biggest US hit – a gothic novel in a four-minute pop song – which shockingly only reached #13 in the UK… As nice as ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’ is, it’s no ‘Ode to Billie Joe’.

But it is nice. Better than nice. It’s a great, late-sixties pop song with a hint of country. Bobbie Gentry has become very reclusive in her later years, not recording, performing or giving interviews since 1982. She lives to this day, people believe, in Memphis. And with that, we reach the penultimate number one single of the 1960s…

203. ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, by The Walker Brothers

From an angst-ridden clarion call for disaffected youth, to this. We have strings! A full-blown orchestral section. The top of the charts lurch from one extreme to another, like a slightly edgier version of the Royal Variety Performance.

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Make It Easy on Yourself, by The Walker Brothers (their 1st of two #1s)

1 week, from 23rd – 30th September 1965

We’re in a classy cabaret. All velvet drapes and green-shaded lamps on the tables. Where a melancholy, Spector-ish intro moves into a very melancholy opening line. Oh, breaking up, Is so, Very hard to do… A hook that we’ll keep returning to throughout the song.

If you really love him, And there’s nothing, I can do… Don’t try to spare my feelings, Just tell me that we’re through… It’s a novel twist on the break-up song – another sign that pop music is growing up – in that the singer spends the whole song encouraging his girlfriend to split up with him. And if the way I hold you, Can’t compare to his embrace… Get it over with, he says. Don’t hang around. Make it easy on yourself. He’ll feel terrible, but then breaking up is, after all, so very hard to do…

The voice is velvety, and very, very croony. Check out the O-o-o-h baby… before the final chorus. So croony that at times it sounds a little insincere. A little like he’s playing up to the cameras, like he might not really be that bothered if she goes. I like it; and I don’t like it. I’m on the fence with it. It perhaps doesn’t help that I can’t help hearing Jarvis Cocker, who has unashamedly copied Scott Walker’s singing style to great effect since the 1980s, in every line.

The Walker Brother, like the Righteous Brothers before them, weren’t really brothers. It’s a stage name, one that adds to the slightly camp, cabaret-ish feel that this record has, a feeling that this record can’t quite escape. Maybe I’m hearing it all wrong, but it’s a song that sounds as if it’s being delivered with an arched eyebrow and a knowing wink. Or maybe that’s the point. The beauty of art is in the interpretation, after all.

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It’s another Bacharach & David number, originally written in 1962. I’ve not been keeping count, but this must put them at, or very near to, the top of the #1 record writing league. And, like so many of their compositions, it’s a song that just drips with that B & D class. It’s drenched in strings and portentous drums, and is another glowing example of Baroque pop, which is fast becoming the sound of 1965. It’s a record with a great pedigree, one of the first chart appearances by a man who has left a huge mark on popular music, from Bowie to Pulp to The Arctic Monkeys, and I just wish I could like it more…

The Walkers – Scott, Gary and John – were American but, in a sort of reverse British Invasion, enjoyed quicker and longer lasting success in the UK. They will appear one more time at the top of the charts here, with a song that – if I remember correctly – is even classier and glossier than this one, and that might just help me to ‘get’ them.

My first ever exposure to ‘Make It Easy on Yourself’, though, came long before I’d ever heard of Scott Walker, or Baroque Pop, or knew what a Wall of Sound was. In 2001, the opening strings from this #1 were sampled by Ash, on their #20 hit ‘Candy’. Ash are a great pop-rock band, who have never come anywhere near topping the charts, so I’d like to take this – my one and only chance to give them a shout-out. If you’ve never heard them, check them out.

Catch up with the previous 202 number-ones here:

69. ‘Magic Moments’, by Perry Como

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Magic Moments, by Perry Como (his 2nd of two #1s)

8 weeks, from 28th February – 25th April 1958

I’ve grown so used to describing this period in popular music history as the ‘rock ‘n’ roll revolution’ that I’m growing, quite frankly, bored of typing it (‘rock ‘n’ roll’ is actually a difficult phrase to type quickly – those two commas round the n, you see – and I will be relieved when I can start typing phrases like ‘New Wave’ and ‘Disco’).

And if I were to stop calling this the ‘rock ‘n’ roll era’, I’d be very tempted to re-christen it ‘The Age of Whistling’. Because I make this the sixth UK #1 in a little over a year to be very heavy on the whistling: ‘Just Walkin’ in the Rain’, both versions of ‘Singing the Blues’, ‘Butterfly’, ‘The Story of My Life’ and now ‘Magic Moments’ (and I’m sure I’ve forgotten about a few stray whistles elsewhere…) I suppose it’s cheap and easy to do. And I suppose it’s better than humming. But to me it creates an air of fake jollity around a song, a feeling of enforced fun – a sense that some red-faced, chain smoking record executive was yelling ‘Sound relaxed, dammit!’ just before they pressed record.

But, hey. At least the whistling is fairly sporadic here – after the first few bars Perry Como comes in with some very famous lines: Magic… Moments… When two hearts are carin’, Magic… Moments… Mem’ries we’ve been sharing… While this standard may have receded somewhat into the mists of time, surely everyone still knows the chorus. I can pinpoint the first time I became aware of this song – an advert for (I think) ‘Quality Street’ back when I was a lad – and it is one of those songs, along with, say, ‘Que Sera Sera’ or ‘I Believe’, that make up the background music of one’s life. It’s also another Bacharach and David number, hot on the heels of ‘The Story of My Life’, and while it’s a bit more memorable than Michael Holliday’s record it is still pretty bland in comparison to their later hits.

The best you can say about ‘Magic Moments’ is that it’s a very safe song: super laid-back and super-inoffensive. Como sounds like he recorded it from his bed, or at least from a very comfy armchair. Which kind of makes sense, as the singer of this song is supposed to be an older gentleman contentedly reflecting on happy times. The backing singers, meanwhile, are working overtime – taking on at least a third of the lines.

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Away from the chorus, the verses flesh out just what the ‘magic moments’ were. Moments such as: The time that the floor fell outta my car when I put the clutch down… The way that we cheered whenever our team was scoring a touchdown… They are sweet little vignettes; lyrically quite modern in the way that they eschew grandiose statements about love for real life scenarios. There’s also a link here between this and Pat Boone’s ‘I’ll Be Home’ from a couple of years earlier, in the way that the song invokes cute images of small-town, suburban (super white and WASPy, obviously) America.

I’ve mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, how interesting it is to see the ebb and flow of the UK charts around this time; the old guard tussling with the new. You get a couple of very forward-looking, very cool, very new hits in ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and ‘Jailhouse Rock’ before the waves slowly recede and leave a saccharine blob like this beached at the top – for 8 (eight!) weeks. There are certain records that I can imagine having appealed to both young and old – ‘Diana’, for example – but I really struggle to imagine anyone under the age of forty buying this disc. Como himself was forty-five when this hit the top spot making him – and I’ve not checked this at all, but hey – the oldest chart-topper yet. Definitely one of the oldest. Probably.

Before we put the needle back into its holder for another post, let us bid farewell to the ‘King of Casual’. He has an impressive gap between his two #1s – ‘Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes’ (the 5th UK #1) and this (the 69th) – which is surely a sign of his enduring appeal. Though I do have to state that, personally, there is no contest as to which is the better song: the ever-so-jaunty ‘Don’t Let the Stars…’ all the way. Como will go on to have Top 10 hits as late as the mid-1970s – and would have had many more hits had the UK charts begun earlier than 1952 (his first US successes came in the early forties). A true titan of easy listening, he died, aged eighty-eight, in 2001.