Random Runners-Up: ‘The Show Must Go On’, by Leo Sayer

For Part III of Random Runners-up week, we’ll be heading back to the seventies…

‘The Show Must Go On’, by Leo Sayer

#2 for 1 week, from 13th-20th Jan 1974, behind ‘You Won’t Find Another Fool Like Me’

We’re also off to the circus… This record starts with the classic Big Top theme, AKA ‘Entrance of the Gladiators’, though I suspect this might just have been the album version. When we finally get to the song proper, it’s a melancholy, rockabilly little number. It thankfully has a lot more life to it than Sayer’s later chart-topper, the snoozy ‘When I Need You’.

There’s a skiffley feel to it – banjos feature heavily – and I like the rasp in his voice. Sayer would perform the song in a pierrot costume, as in the picture above, telling a song of a trapped man: I’ve been used, I’ve been so abused… But I won’t let the show go on! Interestingly, the song’s title is reversed in the lyrics… It’s all about the singer wanting to stop the show. When Three Dog Night recorded their cover (a Top 5 hit in the US) they changed the lyrics to match the title, to Sayer’s chagrin.

I do like this one, even when he starts ooby-doobying. Leo Sayer’s seems to have been a career that covered many bases: rock, disco, pop, as well as soppy ballads. This was his very first hit, the first of ten Top 10s between 1974 and 1982 (not to mention a left-field, chart-topping comeback that will eventually be featuring in my regular countdown…)

There’s a chart-phenomenon that I’ve referred to several times before, that of the January #1. (Basically, it involves stranger than average hits sneaking a week at #1 in the post-Christmas slump, when sales are low and nobody is releasing anything new.) ‘The Show Must Go On’ was a January #2, which by this logic should be even odder than the records one place above them, and it is a strange, but catchy, little record.

401. ‘When I Need You’, by Leo Sayer

Oh boy. More soft-rock…

When I Need You, by Leo Sayer (his 1st of two #1s)

3 weeks, from 13th February – 6th March 1977

We’re really hitting a slow and slushy moment in chart history. It must have been great at school discos, I suppose, with no shortage of last-dance tunes in which to snag your latest crush. But it doesn’t make for a very exciting listen forty odd years later.

It’s got all the instruments we’ve come to expect: gentle guitars, tinkly percussion, a glossy echo to everything. (Plus, this record has a secret weapon – more on that in a moment.) When I need you, I just close my eyes and I’m with you… Leo Sayer’s missing his girl while he works away from home… For some reason that I can’t quite place, I’m enjoying this more than the last-but-one chart topper, David Soul’s equally smoochy ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’. I think it’s the slightly funkier rhythm. If this one was sped up – a lot – it could be a disco classic.

I also like the emphatic It’s cold out, Just hold out… line. Plus, Leo Sayer’s voice has got a lot more oomph to it than Soul’s. He lets loose, in a fashion, for the fade-out. But, before that, we come to the secret weapon… the sax solo! Unleashed from out of the blue! They’re something we’ll have to get used to as the ’80s loom, but they’ve never sat well with me. Done well they’re fine; done badly they sound like the soundtrack to a bad date, or a porno.

It is sometimes hard to focus on the lyrics in songs like this, as they’re usually of the don’t leave me baby hold me baby variety. But, on closer inspection, on listen three or four, as Leo talks about closing his eyes and touching love while on the phone to his girl, and beseeching her to ‘do as he does’… I begin to wonder… Is this record actually about phone sex??

Or am I grasping to make it more interesting than it is? ‘When I Need You’ was the follow-up to the dorky but super catchy ‘You Make Me Feel Like Dancing’, which I would have much preferred as a #1. As it stands, this makes it four slow and soft #1s in a row, and five out of the last six. It’s not something that you say every day, but thank God for Showaddywaddy! Looking to the next chart-topper on my list, a record I have never heard before, I offer a silent prayer that it might be up-tempo.

Leo Sayer had been scoring hits since 1973, and had peaked at #2 three times before this one took him all the way. He will be back on top, but not for twenty-nine years, when he’ll feature on a remix of one of his seventies hits. That’s one of the longest gaps between number ones, ever. Meanwhile, ‘When I Need You’ has been covered by the great and the good of easy listening: Cliff, Julio Iglesias, Luther Vandross, Celine Dion… Leonard Cohen wasn’t as impressed by it, though – he sued Sayer for plagiarising his song ‘Famous Blue Raincoat”.