Random Runners-Up: ‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

Our final #2 of the week, and it’s back to the fifties. To a man we’ve met plenty of times before on these very pages…

‘Move It’, by Cliff Richard & The Drifters

#2 for 1 week, from 24th-31st Oct 1958, behind ‘Stupid Cupid’ / ‘Carolina Moon’

Cliff Richard, in 1958, was Britain’s answer to Elvis. That’s both true, and unfair. True, because he was young, good-looking, and extravagantly quiffed. And unfair, because nobody comes out well from a comparison with Elvis.

This was Cliff’s debut single, his first of sixty-eight (68!) Top 10 hits in the UK, over the course of fifty years. And if you are of a slightly snide disposition – and aren’t we all, sometimes – one could argue that this was the only true rock ‘n’ roll record from Britain’s great rock ‘n’ roll hope.

And it does rock. The opening refrain is great, reminiscent of Buddy Holly, and the purring, driving riff that succeeds it sounds genuinely exciting, almost punk-ish in its simplicity. In the autumn of 1958, it must have been thrilling to hear this growling out of some jukebox speakers, and knowing that the singer was from a London suburb, rather than Memphis.

The lyrics are pretty nonsensical, as all the best rock ‘n’ roll lyrics are… C’mon pretty baby let’s a-move it and a-groove it… while The Drifters sound the equal of any American group. (They wouldn’t become The Shadows until 1959, by which point they had accompanied Cliff on his first of many easy-listening #1s, ‘Living Doll’.)

The one thing that doesn’t quite sell this for me is Cliff himself… He just sounds a bit too nice. And I don’t know if that’s because I can’t seperate the goody-goody, God-bothering, Centre Court-serenading Cliff Richard from the eighteen-year-old version. Still, imagine Elvis mumbling and grunting his way through this…

As I referred to above, Cliff would go on to enjoy some reasonable success over the ensuing decades… I wonder if anyone who bought ‘Move It’ in October 1958 imagined that this hot young rocker would still be touring and recording in 2022, well into his ninth decade… As uncool as he is, I can’t bring myself to dislike Sir Clifford of Richard: he’s a bona-fide pop legend. I can’t say I’m looking forward to reviewing any of his three remaining #1s, though, but that’s a story for another day…

I hope you’ve enjoyed random runners-up week. The regular countdown will resume over the weekend, picking up in the summer of ’86…

Random Runners-Up: ‘Hooked on Classics’, by The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

For the next in our series of songs that almost made it… It’s time for something a little different…

‘Hooked on Classics’, by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

#2 for 2 weeks, from 9th-23rd Aug 1981, behind ‘Green Door’

Disco had wormed its way into pretty much every area of popular music in the late 70s. ABBA went disco, Blondie too. Rod Stewart, of course, even The Stones… By the early eighties, amid the ‘disco sucks’ backlash, ‘cooler’ acts had ditched the glitter ball, new wave had taken over, and we were left with… this?

It’s a medley of classical pieces, performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, set to a basic, drum-machined disco beat. Nothing more, nothing less. It’s both completely bizarre, and stunningly simple. I’m going to show up my terrible knowledge of classical music by trying to identify some of the pieces involved: there’s the bumblebee one, something by Vivaldi (edit: it’s Beethoven), ‘Rhapsody in Blue’, and the 1812 overture… There’s plenty more that I couldn’t identify, from Mozart, Handel and Grieg.

I’m trying to imagine who bought this? I can’t imagine classical music lovers really being into such dumbing-down of Tchaikovsky and co., nor can I imagine it filling a dancefloor. Perhaps it was bought by people who thought it made them look cultured – the type that call going to see ‘Mamma Mia’ a night out at the theatre (God, that sounded snobby!) At the same time, and as much as I liked ‘Green Door’, I do wish this had made #1. It would have made for one of the strangest chart-toppers of all time… And clearly there was enough of an audience, because the RPO released three entire albums in the ‘Hooked on Classics’ series!

There was a bit of a medley craze in the early eighties, to be fair. Stars on 45 are the big one that springs to mind, their sixties medley made #2, also in 1981, and got all the way to the top in the US. Britain would have to wait a few more years for its own set of chart-topping medleys, courtesy of a cartoon rabbit (don’t ask…) Anyway, here is ‘Hooked on Classics’, to be enjoyed in all its glory below. There aren’t many YouTube videos to choose from, and I’m not sure if this one with all its black and white footage is the original. Trigger warning: the video features more Steve Wright than is ever strictly necessary…

One last #2 up tomorrow!

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.

Random Runners-Up: ‘So Macho’, by Sinitta

Our second #2 of the week is almost as recent as it was possible to go, and a slight change in mood from Ned Miller…

‘So Macho’, by Sinitta

#2 for 1 week, from 3rd – 10th Aug 1986, behind ‘The Lady in Red’

The world can be a cruel, unjust place. War, famine… ‘The Lady in Red’ keeping this camp classic from reaching #1… plagues, natural disasters…

First things first. This is complete and utter trash. From the clanking, processed, so dated it grates your teeth intro, past the unbelievably cheesy video, and onto the opening couplet: I don’t want no seven-stone weakling, Or a boy who thinks he’s a girl… as Sinitta lays down her dating manifesto (‘man’-ifesto… see what I did there…?) Second things second, I love it.

The chap who wins Sinitta’s heart has to have ‘big blue eyes’ and ‘be able to satisfy’… He’s gotta be big and strong, Enough to turn me on… By the second verse, things have taken a mildly BDSM turn… I’m tired of taking the lead, I want a man who will dominate me… I love these lyrics in part because, let’s be honest, they probably wouldn’t cut the mustard these days.

As much as I love this song, I can admit that, by any barometer of taste and decency, it is pure crap. I assumed it was a SAW production, given the tinny synths, but no. Sinitta was, however, the very first act signed by a young Simon Cowell (the pair even dated for a while). ‘So Macho’ was his first hit single, although it took two re-releases over the course of a year for it to take off. And, as fun as this tune is, if it had flopped we may well have been spared Robson & Jerome, Pop Idol, The X-Factor, Britain’s Got Talent… (Sinitta, what did you unleash…!)

In a shocking and truly unforeseen twist, ‘So Macho’ proved very popular in gay bars and clubs, giving Sinitta a fanbase that meant she was good for a few more Top 10 hits. Since the chart career ended she has gone into appearing on daytime TV, helping Cowell out on his ‘talent’ shows, and dating a pre-fame Brad Pitt! A life well lived…

Another #2 up tomorrow…

Random Runners-Up: ‘From a Jack to a King’, by Ned Miller

Time to step away from our regular parade of #1 singles, and to shine a light on some songs that never quite made it. Yes, it’s Random Runners-Up Week – five posts on five randomly chosen number two hits. The dates used can range from the start of the singles chart in 1952 right up to our current location in time (mid-1986)… And these songs genuinely were chosen at random, and not because I like them (which I hope will become abundantly clear when you see what tunes the date generator threw up this time…)

First up, then…

‘From a Jack to a King’, by Ned Miller

#2 for 3 weeks, from 11th Apr-2nd May 1963, behind ‘How Do You Do It?’

…a simple country ditty. From a Jack to a King, From loneliness to a wedding ring… It’s a ultra-country premise: love as a card game, with lots of references to ‘lady luck’ and ‘winning a queen’. A guitar strums out a simple riff, then plucks out a simple solo, and the backing singers see-saw a simple melody back and forth. Simple, and sweet.

I think I may have overused the word ‘simple’ in that there paragraph. But there’s no better word for this tune, especially when I compare it with the era I’ve been writing about in recent months (the over-produced eighties…) It sounds almost prehistoric by comparison. In fact, this song sounds dated even for 1963!

And that’s because it was actually from 1957. It hadn’t charted – hadn’t even been released at the time – but for reasons I cannot pinpoint it made the Top 10 over five years later. The early sixties were a hot-bed of retrospective and re-released hits, though. And this is a significant #2, because it sat behind the very first Merseybeat #1 from Gerry & The Pacemakers. It’s easy to view the moment that ‘How Do You Do It?’ hit the top as a turning point, as the moment the sixties began to swing, which it was. But things clearly didn’t turn overnight, with Ned Miller crooning away just behind…

Once this record had belatedly become a hit, it quickly became a country standard, covered by Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Mud. It also ensured that Ned Miller had a fairly succesful career on the US country charts for the rest of the decade. He is so very nearly a UK one-hit wonder, though. His only other single to chart made #48 a few years later…

Another #2 up tomorrow – one that gives us a big ol’ change of tone…

Random Runners-up: ‘Gimme Some Loving’, by The Spencer Davis Group

I’ll be trying out a new feature this week – drumroll please – Random Runners-up! Yes, a moment in the sun for the singles that didn’t quite make it to the top. These aren’t particularly long-running, or unlucky #2 singles. They may not even be particularly good… They all simply peaked in the runners-up position.

I used random.org (the website you never knew you’d need) to generate five random dates from between the start of the UK singles chart in November 1952, through to our most recent chart-topper in September 1973. I then checked what record was sitting at #2 that week and, as long as it wasn’t a record that had been at, or was heading to, the top of the charts, I chose it.

First up…

‘Gimme Some Loving’, by The Spencer Davis Group

#2 for 1 week, behind ‘Good Vibrations‘, from 24th Nov. – 1st Dec. 1966

Hey! Not a bad way to kick things off! Listen to that organ blast out like a train that’s just spotted the bridge up ahead has collapsed. Hey! The Spencer Davis’s had had two #1s in 1966 – ‘Keep On Running‘ and ‘Somebody Help Me‘ – but for my money this is the best of the three. Hey!

Well, my temperature’s rising’, Got my feet on the floor… Crazy people knocking cos they want some more… Steve Winwood’s having a party, and everybody wants in. This is a song that hums, throbs, positively trembles with energy. It’s a song for Friday night, for casting off the cares of the week and shaking your ass.

I would have bet good, good money on this being a Motown cover… But no. It was written by the boys in the band – Steve, his brother Muff, and, of course, Spencer Davis. Which makes ‘Gimme Some Loving’ surely one of – if not the – finest example of sixties blue-eyed soul around. (Dusty excepted… Obvs.) It would go on to have a second-wind following its inclusion in The Blues Brothers movie some fifteen years later.

I won’t write as much about these songs as A) I don’t have time and B) they weren’t #1s. Still, this song doesn’t need much analysing. Just get up and start shaking something. It should have been a chart-topper, surely it should, but when the record that holds you off the top is ‘Good Vibrations’ then you probably have to say ‘fair enough’.

Another #2 will be along, same time tomorrow…