Shaky’s back, the biggest selling British artist of the decade (!), with his third chart-topper in less than a year.
Oh Julie, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 3rd of four #1s)
1 week, 24th – 31st January 1982
While his first two #1s lent heavily (and happily) on the sounds of the 1950s, his third lends very heavily on the sounds of a German Bierfest. As, for better or for worse, there is a lot of accordion involved here. (Though according to folks who know better than me – i.e. Wikipedia – it is more Cajun than German. Just FYI)
It’s another short and sweet slice of retro rockabilly but, compared to ‘This Ole House’ and ‘Green Door’, Stevens has lost his edge. (Whatever ‘edge’ Shakin’ Stevens ever had – these things are all relative!) It’s very middle of the road, very schlager – which fits with the Bierfest vibe, I suppose – and just a little bit safe. He’s coasting here. Again, I’m not claiming that ‘Green Door’ was punk, or anything, but it was a fun moment of rock ‘n’ roll revival at the top of the charts. This isn’t.
‘Oh Julie’ improves after the midway point, when the guitars start to drown out the accordions and it starts to show the charms of his earlier hits. But it’s not quite enough. And again, Shaky gives it his all. He sells it like the seasoned pro he is. I’m getting Elvis, of course, and Orbison, but most of all Jerry Lee Lewis in this one. The way he oooohs, and then yelps the line honeydon’t leave me alone… Pure Killer.
I had assumed that this must have been a cover of an oldie, as his first two #1s were, but no. It’s a Shaky original, and it is impressive how authentic this record sounds. I can’t hate it: it’s catchy, it’s well-performed, it’s thankfully short. But nor can I love it. And I feel this is another type of January hit… ‘The Land of Make Believe’ was a Christmas leftover that belatedly made the top; this is an early in the year release that, perhaps, sneaked a week at #1 without too much competition. Of course, stick a girl’s name in a song and you’ll always sell a few more copies – Julie joins Annie, Clair, Maggie May, Rosemary, Juliet, and quite a few others, in having a song written just for her.
I have no proof for these cynical theories, though. My apologies to Shaky if this turns out to have been his biggest-selling hit (apart from, you know, that other one). Either way, ‘Oh Julie’ was a hit across Europe. Stevens went on scoring Top 10 hits throughout the early to mid-eighties, but it’ll be a little while before he’s back with his final chart-topper. A song that British readers, at least, may have heard once or twice before…
Proving that the British public can only remain serious for so long (three weeks, to be precise) here is Shakin’ Stevens knocking The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ off the top with another slice of old-style rockin’ and rollin’…
Green Door, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 2nd of four #1s)
4 weeks, 26th July – 23rd August 1981
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ was obviously the motto pinned to the wall of Shaky’s recording studio. He takes the fun rockabilly of ‘This Ole House’, and ups both the fun and the rockabilly. A boogie-woogie piano and some clicking fingers lead us in to a tale of mystery and intrigue… Just what is behind the green door?
There’s an old piano and they’re playin’ hot, Behind the green door… Is it a bar? Don’t know what they’re doin’ but they laugh a lot, Behind the green door… Is it more than a bar…? A speakeasy? A strip-club? A brothel?? And why does it sound like the door leads directly off from Shaky’s bedroom, as he lies awake all night…?
It’s not a record that holds up much under scrutiny. But, you suspect, that was never the point. This wasn’t written with an eye on it being dissected in literature classes. The grannies and the kids ran out and bought Stevens’s first #1 in their droves, and this is aimed at the same crowd. And I personally can’t say no to some good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll, especially in an era where traditional ‘guitar’ music was in short supply at the top of the charts. There’s a great, twangy solo too, which ends in a note for note replica of the solo from ‘That’ll Be the Day’.
Shaky tries his best to get in to this here club, but has the door slammed in his face each time. I do like the hospitality’s thin there… line. It’s never specified why he isn’t allowed in – maybe the singer’s just got a baby face? I can sympathise, having spent most of 2002-03 trying, and largely failing, to get into nightclubs with a fake I.D. Wikipedia lists the song’s possible inspirations as including a Chicago speakeasy, London’s first lesbian bar, and a short story by H.G. Wells, among others.
‘Green Door’ is a cover – it had to be, right? – of a 1956 US #1 originally recorded in fairly pre-rock fashion by Jim Lowe. Frankie Vaughan took a fun big-band version to #2 over here. But I like Shakin’ Stevens’ version just as much. It rocks. And I don’t mean in a karaoke-ish, Elvis-impersonating way. It rocks, in a way that I wish more of the mid-seventies rock ‘n’ roll revival hits from the likes of Mud, Showaddywaddy and Alvin Stardust did. It still sounds completely out of place, considering ‘Ghost Town’ before, and the record coming up next, but who cares? Variety is, as they say, the spice of life, and in 1981 Shaky was bringing it to the top of the charts. He was in the middle of a red-hot streak here, and will be back in pole position again soon.
How to explain Shakin’ Stevens, to readers from foreign shores, or to readers not old enough to have experienced him in real time…?
This Ole House, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 1st of four #1s)
3 weeks, 22nd March – 12th April 1981
The twanging rockabilly in this take on ‘This Ole House’ sounds completely out of place in early 1981, after two years of sharp, spiky new-wave, and just before the New Romantics came along. Stevens’ delivery too – all energy and cheesy grins – is an outlier in this too-cool-for-school world. But while this is an unlikely hit record, it’s not unwelcome.
I can never say no to some old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. The production may be glossier, the guitars coming through in a warm stereo, but this is a step back to the 1950s. Is it better than Rosemary Clooney’s original, from way back in 1954…? No, probably not. But it is equally manic. That had an out of control honky-tonk piano, Shaky’s take has a distorted guitar solo: this version’s only concession to modern sounds.
He sounds like he’s having a lot of fun singing this – a song stuffed with nonsense lyrics about fixing shingles and mending window-panes – and because of this it is very hard not to have fun while you listen. The hipsters may have rolled their eyes, and turned their Ultravox records up, but the grannies and the kids clearly lapped it up. Just think… The young ones who bought Clooney’s version would have been hitting fifty by now. We have covered a lot of ground here!
I did wonder if this might have been Shakin’ Stevens debut: a smash hit from nowhere, perhaps after winning a TV talent show. But I couldn’t have been more wrong – he had been plugging away for well over a decade, releasing singles in the UK and Europe throughout the ‘70s. Born in Cardiff, he’d been a milkman, before forming his band The Sunsets. They’d supported The Rolling Stones of all people, in 1969. By the mid-seventies he was impersonating Elvis in the West End before finally scoring a minor chart hit with ‘Hot Dog’ in early 1980.
After that the rise was meteoric, and it’s hard to begrudge someone who’s waited that long and worked so hard for success. But. This still doesn’t explain why this Welsh Elvis finally became one of the biggest stars in the land… Maybe the rock ‘n’ roll revival that was gave us Showaddywaddy and Mud a few years back never truly went away? Maybe he was the chart-friendly face of the post-punk rockabilly scene? Or maybe it’s another ‘Shaddap You Face’: some light-relief after weeks of mourning John Lennon? I don’t know.
One thing’s for sure – if this cover of a near thirty-year-old song was a one-hit wonder then it would make perfect sense. A flash in the pan, a moment of frivolity. Except, it’s the first of four chart-toppers for a thirty-something ex-Elvis impersonator, who was on his way to becoming the biggest-selling British singles artist of the decade. More from Shaky, then, very soon…
Today we remember Britain’s very first rock star. Cliff? Tommy Steele? Marty Wilde? They were but cabaret entertainers giving rock ‘n’ roll a go. Lonnie Donegan? He rocked, well and truly.
I remember listening to his first number one single, and thinking woah. ‘Cumberland Gap’ came in in the spring of 1957, between Tab Hunter’s schmaltzy ‘Young Love’ and Guy Mitchell’s goofy ‘Rock-A-Billy’. It was a short, sharp slap round the face and you can read my original post here. (The live version below is even more ferocious). It’s a traditional American folk song, given the British skiffle treatment, and to my ears it is punk come twenty years early. It was also the first of many times that a Scot has topped the UK charts.
‘Cumberland Gap’ wasn’t Donegan’s breakthrough hit: he’d been scoring Top 10s since 1955, and would amass sixteen of them before his chart career was cut short by the Merseybeat explosion. (Ironically, many of those bands had been hugely influenced by Lonnie and his Skiffle Group. The Beatles began when Paul McCartney joined John Lennon’s skiffle band a few months after ‘Cumberland Gap’ had been at #1.) Here is his first hit: ‘Rock Island Line’, a #8 in the UK and, significantly, a Top 10 in America too.
It’s tempting to blame Donegan’s shrinking chart fortunes on the song he released for the 1966 World Cup: ‘World Cup Willie’. (Willie was a lion, and the official mascot for the tournament.) It didn’t chart, but it perhaps spurred England on to their win. (Yes, England won the World Cup in 1966. They still mention it from time to time…) I had never heard it, and was ready to hate it, but it’s actually a bit of a trad-jazz foot-stomper. You can see, though, why skiffle hard-liners felt betrayed by Donegan’s move away from the genre in the sixties.
Despite the hits drying up, Donegan and his band continued to tour throughout the seventies and eighties. This was despite him suffering several heart attacks, one of which killed him on this day in 2002. The Beatles aside, his legacy also lives on through artists like Roger Daltrey, Mark Knopfler and Jack White.
Lonnie Donegan, 29th April 1931 – 3rd November 2002
Six weeks, over the course of two months, is a long and very unlucky amount of time to be marooned in second place, but it will happen if you’re up against two of pop music’s most famous acts.
This is a slice of early-sixties pop that probably sounded a little old-fashioned even when it hit the charts. The staccato strings and jaunty pace ape Adam Faith‘s hits, which in turn borrowed heavily from Buddy Holly’s posthumous chart-topper ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’. The Allisons are also clearly going for an Everly Brothers vibe, but when you listen to the Brothers’ record that kept this off the top then there’s no contest. It’s pleasant enough, and over in a trice; but it’s a reminder of why The Beatles couldn’t come fast enough…
Goodbye, Farewell, I’m not sure what to do… Compare and contrast the well-mannered harmonising here with the Greek-stomping hit I featured yesterday, ‘Bend It!’. Only five and a half years separate these two songs, but they just so happen to have been the most fertile five years in pop music history.
The Allisons were, perhaps surprisingly, not actual brothers. Bob Day and John Alford were simply marketed that way. And this record has a particular claim to fame, perhaps even more important than its long run at number two… It was the first big British Eurovision hit single. The Allisons represented the UK at the 1961 contest, finishing in second place. It’s fairly middling as Eurovision singles go: not the best, but far from being the worst… Yet it was the duo’s only real hit, though they would continue performing for many years afterwards.
Next up, tomorrow, and we’re going even further back in time…
I wasn’t going to mark the sad death of Don Everly on Saturday… because I was under the mistaken impression that his brother Phil was still with us. When I realised that Phil had died in 2014 it became clear that they needed a ‘Remembering’.
When you can count The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys and Simon & Garfunkel among the many acts you’ve influenced, then you must have had something special going on. (Keith Richards called Don one of the finest ever rhythm guitarists, while John Lennon and Paul McCartney used to pull girls as teenagers by claiming that they were the ‘British Everly Brothers’.) Their country-ish harmonies were a huge part of the rock ‘n’ roll years – go on, listen to them combine on ‘Cathy’s Clown’ below! Being brothers was a blessing – those harmonies – and a curse – they spend decades not recording, or touring, or even talking to one another…
The duo scored four UK number ones between 1958-’61, and I won’t repeat myself by talking about them again. You can read the original posts here:
Here are some great, non-chart toppers from the brothers… (Because I’m hastily throwing this together, I won’t follow my usual rules of the songs having to have charted in the UK. Let’s be crazy for an evening!)
‘Bye Bye Love’, 1957
Chosen for self-indulgent reasons… This was one of the very first – and very few – songs I mastered on the keyboard as a child. A simple tune (that’s probably why it was book one, song one of ‘Keyboards for Dummies’) beautifully rendered.
‘Bird Dog’, 1958
The tale of Johnny: who is the funniest, cheekiest, coolest dude in school – making him a bird – but who is also hitting on the singer’s girl – thus a dog. I picked this over the pair’s other, more-famous tale of high school woe, ‘Wake Up Little Susie’ (which is also great) because this one rocks just that bit more.
‘When Will I Be Loved’, 1960
Some good ol’ fashioned rockabilly. I love the heavy, deliberate guitars, and the insistent, almost tribal drums. They re-recorded it when they moved labels, to RCA, but the original was the one released. The newer version is bluesier – here’s a link.
‘Don’t Blame Me’, 1961
The Everlys loved a ballad… ‘Love Hurts’, ‘Let It Be Me’, ‘Crying in the Rain’… But I picked this cover of a ’30s standard for some of their greatest harmonies, the guitar work (not actually from Don or Phil, but Hank Garland), and the bridge where Don really lets loose…
‘I’m Not Angry’, 1962
Not a hit, I don’t think, coming at the end of their glory days. But how filthy and scratchy is the guitar here, in this tale of pettiness? The boys hope that the girl who just dumped them doesn’t get letters, or phone-calls, that her dress rips and her car won’t start, but they’re not angry… just sad. Whatever…
Our 3rd and final #1-less act of the week. The Eagles are a band I was weaned on, a band that soundtracks huge swathes of my childhood, a band that can genuinely make me tear-up… To mis-quote a famous Dude: I love the fuckin’ Eagles…
I understand that not everyone shares my feelings on The Eagles. Certain long-time followers of this blog have already made their feelings clear. To them, and many others, they represent the very doldrums of 1970s rock: cliched, arrogant, overblown, coke-addled… Except, I happen to like my rock music arrogant, overblown, coke-addled and cliched, so… let’s crack on!
There is a massive disparity between The Eagles chart success in the UK and in the US. In the US they enjoyed five chart-topping singles. In the UK they struggled to get five Top 40 hits. Here are their five biggest (in inverted commas…)
‘One of These Nights’ – reached #23 in 1975
Long before Rod Stewart and the Stones pissed off the rock snobs by going disco, The Eagles got in there first. But the slinky, purring bass in the intro is great, and the falsetto in the chorus can teach The Bee Gees a thing or two. The Eagles aren’t always remembered for their lyrics – barring that over-quoted line about checking out anytime – but I think: I’ve been searching for the daughter of the devil himself… is a cracking one. I can imagine that if you hate The Eagles then you really hate this one… But it’s fine. Far from my favourite, though.
‘Lyin’ Eyes’ – reached #23 in 1975
I grew up in small-town Scotland, so all the cultural references in the Eagles’ songs passed my by, as did a lot of the snobbery towards them. I just listened, as my Dad sang along (my Dad does not sing along often), and enjoyed them. I struggle to see how you can justify not enjoying ‘Lyin’ Eyes’ easy goin’ melody and storyline. Lines like: City girls just seem to find out early, How to open doors with just a smile… And… She wonders how it ever got so crazy, She thinks about a boy she knew in school… While the harmonising is at Everly Brothers level. But, you know, whatever floats your boat.
‘New Kid in Town’ – reached #20 in 1977
There are a few individual moments that make ‘New Kid in Town’ a masterpiece, and probably my favourite Eagles song (after ‘Desperado’, obviously). They all come towards the end, making it a slow-burn of a tune. There’s the build up through to the Tears on your shoulder… line, the moment that the guitars go ominously heavy on Where you been lately? as the new new kid in town shows up, and the ‘ad-libs’ as the song meanders to a close: I don’t wanna hear it… Everybody’s talking, People started walkin’… Pure bliss.
‘Take It to the Limit’ – reached #12 in 1975
I think The Eagle’s biggest British hit is going to be quite obvious… But for ‘Take It to the Limit’ to come in as their 2nd highest chart placing seems odd. It’s another nice one, a bit more soft-soul than much of their stuff, with another classic line in: You can spend all your time makin’ money, You can spend all your love makin’ time… (which makes no sense and complete sense simultaneously). But this, over ‘Take It Easy’ (did not chart), ‘Best of My Love’ (ditto), or ‘Desperado’ (never even released as a single!)?
‘Hotel California’ – reached #8 in 1977
The Eagles only Top 10 had to be this one, right? Apparently an allegory for the debauchery and excess of the Los Angeles elite. As I wrote in my post on Dylan’s ‘Like a Rolling Stone’, this track has become a pillar of rock ‘n’ roll, played to the point where we have become insensitive to it. But try, if you can, to feel. That intro, instantly recognisable yet always ominous. The mirrors on the ceiling, the pink champagne on ice and the pretty, pretty boys, as if one of Jay Gatsby’s parties has taken a sinister turn. The warm smell of colitas… (What the hell are ‘colitas’ anyway?) The guitar solo, that I can sing along to as if it were actual lyrics, and often voted as one of the best ever. And, of course, you can’t talk about ‘Hotel California’ without mentioning the fact that you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave… An entire Gothic novel in six and a half minutes of reggae-tinged rock. Overplayed? Definitely. Perfection? Quite probably.
In my last post, I wrote about how Chicago had forced me to take soft-rock seriously, to appreciate the subtlety, and the craft. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ was such a lovely, well-made song that it was beginning to work…
Under the Moon of Love, by Showaddywaddy (their 1st and only #1)
3 weeks, from 28th November – 19th December 1976
But here come Showaddywaddy to undo all their good efforts. There goes subtlety, flying out the window. In comes thumping, rollicking, primary-coloured rock ‘n’ roll. The 1950s, reimagined by a toddler on a sugar high. Without seeing a picture of the band, you can instantly imagine the comedy quiffs, and the colourful teddy-boy suits.
Let’s go for a little walk…! Under the moon of love…! I offer you these lyrics as lead singer Dave Bartram delivers them, with an emphatic exclamation mark after each line, after each word even: Let’s! Sit! Down and talk! Under the moon of love…! He’s having a great time with this song, which means the listener – as long as they’re willing to leave their musical snobbishness at the door – enjoys themselves by the same measure.
I hate the concept of ‘guilty pleasures’. But, yes. ‘Under the Moon of Love’ is prime guilty pleasures material. ‘If You Leave Me Now’ is an objectively better piece of music, but I am enjoying this record ten times more. It’s fun, dammit! What I wouldn’t give for Showaddywaddy to invade the po-faced charts of 2021!
You were lookin’ so lovely… (Uh-huh-huh)… Because nothing says late-fifties doo-wop-slash-rock-n-roll like a well-placed ‘uh-huh-huh’… Under the moon of love! If you were being unkind, you could claim this as the final nail in glam rock’s coffin, the final fart of the corpse. The sound that can be dated right to the very start of this decade, in ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and ‘I Hear You Knocking’s fried guitar, through the huge-hitters like T Rex, Slade, Wizzard and The Sweet, down through Mud’s dancing, Gary Glitter’s prancing and The Rubettes’ falsettos. To this silly slice of rock ‘n’ roll revival.
Though to be fair, Showaddywaddy had been around since glam’s heyday, when their debut ‘Hey Rock and Roll’ peaked at #2. Since then they had revived Buddy Holly’s ‘Heartbeat’, and Eddie Cochran’s ‘Three Steps to Heaven’, while this, their only #1, kicked off a run of seven straight Top 5 hits lasting well into 1978, long after most of the big glam acts had fallen from the charts. They are still a-rocking to the this day, after a few line-up changes, on the oldies circuit.
As well as Eddie Cochran, they brought back the Kalin Twins’ ‘When’, and ‘Blue Moon’. But perhaps ‘Under the Moon of Love’ was the one that went all the way to the top simply because it wasn’t a big hit first time around. It was originally recorded by Curtis Lee in 1961, making #46 on the Billboard 100. It’s slightly better, in the way that originals usually are, while it was produced by an up and coming chap called Phil Spector.
Finally, Showaddywaddy’s turn at the top means we’ve now had a seven-piece (Pussycat), and two eight-pieces (Chicago and Showaddywaddy) atop the charts. Late ’76 seeing a reinvention of the term ‘big band’. But that run is about to come to an end, for the year’s final chart-topper is by a solo act. And I know it’s April, but we’re about to get a little festive…
Status Quo. The Quo. Just ‘Quo’. Hated, adored, never ignored… Or is that Manchester Utd? (The single that they released with Status Quo will not be coming anywhere near this Top 10, rest assured…)
Usually with my Top 10s I include any single released, and charted, by an act in the UK. Except, Quo have been around since 1962, charting since 1968. They’ve released a hundred singles over the past fifty-five years! For them, then, I’m only counting singles that made the Top 20.
Where to begin? Maybe some facts and figures. Status Quo have 400 weeks on the singles chart (but only one week at #1!), 500 on the albums, and have played Wembley Arena and on Top of the Pops more than any other act. Speaking of Top of the Pops…
10. ‘Jam Side Down’, reached #17 in 2002
Disclaimer: I’m not really including this as Status Quo’s 10th best single. I include it as I have very clear memories of watching TOTP in a friend’s bedroom – Wiki tells me it was the 16th August 2002 – and sixteen year old me being amazed that Status Quo were still on it. In the Top 20. Look at them! They were old men! The tune is pretty catchy, with that trademark Quo chug, and the lyrics silly enough: My bread keeps landin’ jam side down, Say you’ll be there to spread love around… Also on TOTP that evening were Darius Danesh, the legendary Bowling for Soup and an up and coming act called Coldplay. Wonder what happened to them?
9. ‘Down the Dustpipe’, reached #12 in 1970
Here they are looking a bit fresher-faced. This is perhaps the purest slice of Quo in this countdown. A two-minute blast of raw boogie-woogie, and the first hit to feature their trademark sound… which was still coming through loud and clear on Top of the Pops thirty-two years later!
8. ‘The Anniversary Waltz Part 1’, reached #2 in 1990
Status Quo do Jive Bunny. There are days when I think this might be the best piece of music ever recorded… And then there are days when I see sense. Quo lost their way a bit in the late-eighties, but still kept having those hits. And there is something about them doing a medley of old rock ‘n’ roll covers – ‘Lucille’, ‘No Particular Place to Go’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’ and more – that ticks a box for me. I love all their covers, ‘Mess of Blues’, ‘Somethin’ Bout You Baby I Like’ et al, but couldn’t in good conscience feature any more of them. Just think… This hot mess of a record came dangerously close to being their 2nd ever #1 single!
7. ‘Marguerita Time’, reached #3 in 1984
A complete cheese-fest that only Francis Rossi liked. Apparently it contributed to bassist Alan Lancaster quitting the band the following year! Yes, it is a million miles from the hard-rocking Quo of the seventies. Yes, there is a ropey synth-riff. Yes, it features actual yodelling. But there is not a week goes by when the lyric: Let’s have a drink, It’s Marguerita time… doesn’t pop into my head, usually around 5pm on a Friday.
6. ‘Again and Again’, reached #13 in 1978
Not one of their biggest or better-known hits, but I love the bluesy riff in this one. Plus, the chorus is peak Quo. Chugging guitars… Again Again Again Again Again Again Again Again, Why don’t do you do it, Why don’t you do it again…? Who said they were a limited and repetitive band…?
5. ‘Ice in the Sun’, reached #8 in 1968
Released as The Status Quo, when they were still a very sixties psychedelic rock act, this is the first Quo song I became aware of as a very little lad. It was on a ’60s Best Of’ cassette that had heavy rotation in my parents’ mustard yellow Ford Escort. It’s a very busy song, with lots of effects and, looking back, some fairly trippy lyrics. ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ is probably the better-known of their two sixties hits, but I’ve always liked this one more. Two interesting facts: ‘Ice in the Sun’ was co-written by rock ‘n’ roller Marty Wilde, and it was the Quo’s final hit in the USA!
To the Top 4, and it’s the big seventies hits… but in what order?
4. ‘Down Down’, reached #1 in 1975
Their only #1 single, but one of their hardest-rocking records. Is it just me, or is there something almost punk-like in the tight, fizzy, riff? The video above has a funky little outro that the single version don’t. Read my original post on it here.
3. ‘Paper Plane’, reached #8 in 1972
Another tight, thrashy rocker. ‘Paper Plane’ gave the band their first Top 10 since the psychedelic sixties, and it set the template for Quo from now until the end of time. Though they wouldn’t always be as frantic as this… I have no idea what the song is about, but I do like how it evolves from riding a butterfly to riding a paper plane to riding a Deutsche car… Possibly the least hippy-sounding hippy anthem ever.
2. ‘Rockin’ All Over the World’, reached #3 in 1977
There are some who might argue that this marks the beginning of the end of Status Quo – less of the hard-rock and more of the boogie-woogie cover versions that they flogged to death in the ’80s. And they may have a point. (Though to be honest, I’ve loved this song since I was wee, and didn’t discover that it was a John Fogerty cover for several decades.) But when a tune is as jubilant as this, who cares? When a tune is able to open Live Aid – see above – and get everyone jumping from the off, then it must be alright.
1. ‘Caroline’, reached #5 in 1973
You might struggle to think of a Status Quo riff (or you might struggle to distinguish one from the other…) Except this one. I love the way the entire first minute of the record is devoted to the riff building, adding guitars, drums and bass. No nonsense, heads down, rock the flip out. ‘Caroline’ is another favourite from my childhood, and is possibly the main reason that, to this day, I can’t shrug off the grip of three-chord, three minute rock ‘n’ roll. There are times in life when nothing but Status Quo will do, and this is their finest moment.
Into 1975, then… And with a big ‘hell yes!’, because look. ‘Tis the Quo!
Down Down, by Status Quo (their 1st and only #1)
1 week, from 12th – 19th January 1975
It’s not a very Status Quo-like intro though: it’s light and jangly, almost Baroque, if that isn’t going too far… But then in it comes, the trademark Status Quo chug. They get a bit of stick – most of it completely undeserved – for sticking by this chugging three-chord formula throughout most of their career. But for their one and only UK chart-topper, it had to be there. Get down, Deeper and down, Down down, Deeper and down… That’s the chorus – I’m listening to the lyrics properly for the very first time – I want all the world to see, To see your laughin’, And your laughin’ at me… And that’s the first verse. It’s a tale of a couple trapped in a relationship-gone-very-wrong, and the singer seems hell-bent on mutual destruction. I know what you’re doing, What you’re doing to me, I’ll keep on and say to you, Again, again, again, again…
I suppose you have to get the idea of ‘getting down’ equalling dancing out your heads. That’s why the band didn’t call the song ‘Get Down’ (that and the fact that Gilbert O’Sullivan had had a #1 by that title a couple of years before.) ‘Down Down’, refers to the fact that the couple are dragging one another down into the mire. They really should split up, or at least take a break, but nope. Down they go. It’s a nasty idea for a rock song, backed up by a nasty, tight, gloriously repetitive riff.
Anyway, that was some very in-depth analysis of a Status Quo song. Let’s stop all that, and just enjoy this moment for what it is: one of Britain’s greatest and most successful rock ‘n’ roll band’s solitary week atop the charts. With one of their best singles. One of their heaviest, too. You can split Status Quo’s career into roughly three parts: the psychedelic years of the late sixties, the heavy blues rock of the early seventies, and the glossier, poppier boogie-woogie rock of the late seventies, eighties and beyond. ‘Down Down’ comes at the end of Part II, but it is still one of the heaviest songs to have topped the charts so far.
I love the frenzied fade-out, with the sledgehammer riff boring its way into your eardrums as it goes. (The album version drags it out much longer, with some bass flourishes, for good measure.) And I love Status Quo. I love that they just keep on keeping on, never caring about being cool, just rocking and rolling, rolling and rocking, despite even founder member Rick Parfitt’s death in 2016. They’ve released over one hundred singles, twenty-two of them reaching the Top 10. And they have a new tour just waiting to go, once the pandemic is over. They are legends.
And I wish this wasn’t the only chance I get to write about them. Hell, I’ll do a Status Quo Top 10, soon, just because I can. (They will be involved, uncredited, in one other chart-topper, in the mid-90s, but it is genuinely awful and I can’t bring myself to mention it until I absolutely have to…) I’ve been listening to them since I was a kid, and they are still a go to on the home commute after a hard day. In fact, I might be getting carried away but… I don’t think there’s a more enjoyably unpretentious listening experience to be had than their ‘Anniversary Waltz’ – a ten minute medley of old rock ‘n’ roll covers. Here’s a link… Rock on.
Before we get into 1975, why not listen to (almost) every number one since 1952…