The Supremes: Best of the Rest

Writing a post on Phil Collins’ chart-topping cover of ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ made me realise how little we have heard from The Supremes on this blog. In fact, most of the comments on that post turned to the joys of the Supremes, rather than the merits of Collins’ cover. Which inspired this post!

There was a huge disparity between the girl-group’s US and UK chart fortunes. One #1 in Britain (‘Baby Love’), to twelve Billboard #1s between 1964-69! Here, then, are the ten Supremes singles that came closest to matching their only number one… ranked by chart position, rather than by preference.

‘You Keep Me Hangin’ On’ – reached #8 in 1966

Perhaps a little surprising that this doesn’t come in higher up. The ‘morse code’ guitar lick that comes in and out is great – this is possibly one of their ‘rockier’ hits – and I just noticed the galloping, hand-played drums. It’s not in the very highest echelon of Supremes songs, though. Not for me. It was later covered in a sprawling, psychedelic version by Vanilla Fudge, which manages to outdo the original, and then taken back to #1 in the US – and all the way to #2 in the UK – by Kim Wilde.

‘Stop! In the Name of Love’ – reached #7 in 1965

An even bigger surprise, that this one would be so low down the list. ‘Stop!’ is another classic, one of their best-loved tunes, and a song that practically begs you to do a certain dance move. More songs need exclamation marks in their titles, no? The video above is from a TV performance, but the trio seem to be singing live, showing off just how good their voices were.

‘Up the Ladder to the Roof’ – reached #6 in 1970

While The Supremes couldn’t match their home success in the sixties, by the 1970s they were scoring hits in the UK that struggled on the Billboard charts. ‘Up the Ladder to the Roof’ was their first release without Diana Ross. Jean Terrell is the new lead singer, and she has a throatier voice which she uses to full effect in the final chorus. I hadn’t heard this one before, however, and I’m not sure it will linger very long in the memory.

‘The Happening’ – reached #6 in 1967

From a movie, apparently, of the same name that’s been completely forgotten. This was the final single they released as ‘The Supremes’, before Ross got top billing. And it’s one of my favourites: playful, light, catchy as anything, frantic, slightly demented… Not everyone shares my enthusiasm for it, but that’s just fine.

‘Reflections’ – reached #5 in 1967

And here’s the first of their songs released as ‘Diana Ross & The Supremes’. It feels like a bit of a fresh start, the trio’s classic sound updated with some space-age, psychedelic sound effects. (Which I’m not sure the song really needs, but OK…)

‘Nathan Jones’ – reached #5 in 1971

Their best post-Diana moment? (Ok, there’s one more song to come that could claim that title…) But ‘Nathan Jones’ is my personal favourite. It takes the group’s sound in a very trippy, early-seventies directions, especially in the extended mix above, and is one of the few Supremes records where lead vocals are shared. I’m always amused by the normal-ness of the title. There must be tens of thousands of Nathan Joneses in the world, haunted by this song…

‘I’m Gonna Make You Love Me’ (with The Temptations) – reached #3 in 1969

The last four songs in this countdown all peaked at #3, starting with this A-List Motown collab. It’s every bit as smooth and classy as you’d expect a record by two of the 1960s great vocal groups to be. Diana Ross’ verse is excellent here, with a real playfulness in her voice…

‘Stoned Love’ – reached #3 in 1970

How about this, their joint second-highest UK chart hit is a Jean Terrell number…! The Supremes call for world peace… by getting stoned. Goodness. Either that, or by rhinestoning another fabulous dress… Both might work. Motown tried to distance themselves from the suggestion that it was about drugs, though the lines about lighting up the world suggest otherwise to me…

‘Where Did Our Love Go’ – reached #3 in 1964

Their breakthrough hit… The Supremes first US #1, and their first UK Top 10 hit. My favourite of their big hits? Probably. The boot stomping intro is iconic, especially in stereo as it travels across the room. The rest of the song is quite understated, compared to some of the bells and whistles tunes we’ve seen above. In fact, the girls thought the same, and were unsure about recording it to begin with, thinking it lacked a hook (further proof that most pop stars can’t spot a hit song if it bites them on the arse…)

‘You Can’t Hurry Love’ – reached #3 in 1966

And we end with the song that inspired this ‘Best of the Rest’, the one that made #1 in 1983 thanks to Phil Collins. It’s a bouncy, upbeat classic, though not one of my very favourite Supremes songs. It is, though, probably their most famous hit – it’s by some distance their most listened to song on Spotify – even more famous than the one Supremes single that charted higher.

I hope you enjoyed this short journey back to the sixties/early-seventies. Back on the regular countdown, things are getting even more ’80s… Coming soon!

Should Have Been a #1…? ‘Happy Xmas (War is Over)’, by John & Yoko with The Plastic Ono Band

So this is Christmas… And what have you done?

‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’, by John & Yoko with The Plastic Ono Band & The Harlem Community Choir

reached #4 in December 1972 / #2 in January 1981

Not many festive hits start in such an accusatory tone. Not many festive hits sound like this classic, though. Yes, there are jingling bells and a choir. But there’s no talk of Santa, or snow, or stockings stuffed with presents. This record has it sights set higher: peace on earth.

In my post on ‘Imagine’, which hit #1 shortly after Lennon’s murder, I said that nowadays it could feel a little too idealistic, and a little preachy. Why, then, can I tolerate this song year after year? Is it just because I’m more receptive to songs about war being over, if I want it, when I’m stuffed full of mulled wine and mince pies? Maybe…

I think actually that it’s Phil Spector’s production: taking Lennon’s song and giving them his full Christmas treatment. Strings, chiming bells, beefy drums… It may not have worked on ‘Let It Be’, but it really does here. Despite not actually being much about Christmas, this song sounds like Christmas should.

I’m not posting this song just because I really like it, though. I do, but I also think there’s a chance that it genuinely should have been #1. In its first chart-run, in 1972, it made #4 fair and square, behind the likes of T. Rex and Little Jimmy Osmond. But in 1980, re-released in the wake of Lennon’s death, it also made #4 for Christmas, while the delights of St. Winifred’s School Choir wafted down from top-spot.

Back in those pre-computer days, when everyone at the chart-keeping company was on Christmas holiday, the post-Xmas chart was usually a copy-paste of the previous week’s. St. Winifred’s remained top, John and Yoko at #4. The week after, though, it rose to #2, behind the also re-released ‘Imagine’. I wonder… If the sales of the ‘Happy Xmas’ – which was presumably selling very well in the days leading up to Christmas – were counted, and the chart hadn’t simply been repeated… Could it have been a number one? I guess we’ll never know.

Though it never made #1, ‘Happy Xmas (War Is Over)’ makes the chart every year now thanks to festive streaming. It’s currently perched at #34 in the charts, and will presumably rise even higher next week. With that, I’d like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas, and a happy new year… Let’s hope it’s a good one… wherever this holiday season finds you. (I’d also like to wish for war to be over, but I think I may be overreaching…)

481. ‘One Day in Your Life’, by Michael Jackson

I wrote in the recap just gone that the eighties had officially begun, kicked off by none other than Shakin’ Stevens. But with all due respect to Shaky, up next we have perhaps the ultimate ‘80s pop icon.

One Day in Your Life, by Michael Jackson (his 1st of seven #1s)

2 weeks, 21st June – 5th July 1981

MJ has his first solo #1. But it’s not as simple as all that. ‘One Day in Your Life’ is hardly one of his signature tunes. In fact, it’s two years older than the chart-topper he managed with his brothers in 1977: ‘Show You the Way to Go’. The Michael Jackson of 1981 was coming off the success of ‘Off the Wall’, poised, only a year away from ‘Thriller’ and world domination. But here we are.

He was just sixteen when this was recorded, in 1974, and he still sounds very young, caught between the high-pitched little kid from ‘I Want You Back’ and the megastar that recorded ‘Don’t Stop ‘til You Get Enough’. And it’s nice to be reminded that Jackson could actually sing – there’s no sign here of the vocal tics and squeals that make up his later hits.

It’s a song about longing, and waiting. He’s waiting for the day when his ex wakes up and realises what she’s lost: One day in your life, You’ll remember a place, Someone touching your face… And it’s a glossy, beautifully produced, slow-dance number, a good companion to the Smokey Robinson record that it knocked off the top. Like ‘Being With You’, it’s a record that reveals itself slowly. I was underwhelmed and a little bored with it at first – and it does sound dated compared to what was in the charts at this time, and compared to what Jackson was recording – but it’s a really nice song. I can’t help hearing it in a female voice, though: Dionne Warwick maybe, or Dusty…

Just call my name, And I’ll be there… I wonder if that’s a deliberate allusion to his group’s earlier hit of the same name. There are similarities between this and ‘I’ll Be There’ (they’re both ballads, for a start): this is a grown-up sequel, more teenage angst than childish optimism. Why was ‘One Day in Your Life’ a hit six years after its recording, though? It was released as the lead single from a hits compilation, and perhaps a combination of his ‘Off the Wall’ hits and The Jacksons’ second wind with disco hits like ‘Can You Feel It’ and ‘Blame It On the Boogie’ helped. It was the year’s 6th biggest selling hit, but it feels almost forgotten now, overshadowed by his monster smashes from later in the decade.

My favourite fact about Michael Jackson’s chart-career is that he only ever reached #1 in odd-numbered years (all his solo #1s, his Jacksons’ #1, even ‘We Are the World’… ’77, ’81, ’83, ’85, ’87 and so on…) It’s probably fitting, as there have been few pop stars as ‘odd’ as Jackson. Listening to this song, it’s so easy to forget the more uncomfortable side of his legacy. Probably because the teenager singing on this record was, to all intents and purposes, a completely different person to the Wacko Jacko of Bubbles the chimp, Neverland, his ‘sleepovers’, and beyond…

ABBA: Best of the Rest – Part 2

Yesterday I ranked the songs that didn’t quite make my Top 10 of ABBA’s non-#1s. Here, then, is the main event…

10. ‘Does Your Mother Know’ – reached #4 in 1979

The only ABBA hit on which one of the boys took lead vocals, and their final glam-rock stomper. The lyrics are very of their time BUT, crucially, Bjorn acts like a true gentleman towards this teenage tearaway. Take it easy… Does your mother know? You can picture him helping the girl out the club, giving her a bottle of water, and waiting with her until the Uber arrives.

9. ‘Under Attack’ – reached #26 in 1982

One that benefits from not being over-played… This was the last single released before the band split up in December 1982. Sadly it didn’t help them go out with a bang, and limped to a Top 30 peak over Christmas. I love it though: it keeps the moodiness from ‘The Visitors’ album in the verses before dishing out a classic ABBA chorus. Never has a line like: Under attack, I’m being taken… sounded so positive.

8. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’ / ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ – reached #9 / # 14 in 2021

The comeback hits. One of which, astonishingly, restored ABBA to the Top 10 for the first time in forty years. I’m treating them as a double-‘A’, as in days gone by that’s presumably what they would have been released as. I don’t really know where to place them, how to assess them with regards to the rest of their output yet, so have plonked them right in the middle. One things for sure: both songs hold their own with those from decades before. ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’, to my ears, combines ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘One of Us’, two of the band’s best. ‘I Still Have Faith in You’ I found a little underwhelming on first listen, but in time it’s grown into an epic that could only have been created by one band.

7. ‘Head Over Heels’ – reached #25 in 1982

The single that broke their run of 18 uninterrupted Top 10 hits… But I think it’s a mini-classic. It’s ABBA at their frothiest, and is definitely the lightest moment on ‘The Visitors’ album. It helps that you rarely hear it these days – perhaps if it was as played as ‘Dancing Queen’ I’d be ranking it lower. The video, in which Frida plays a messy It girl, is cheap and cheerful, but Good God those jumpsuits! She’s extreme, If you know, What I mean…

6. ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ – reached #3 in 1979

Until their re-evaluation in the ’90s, the ABBA flame was kept alight in gay bars. Most claim ‘Dancing Queen’ to be their gay anthem, for obvious reasons, but surely they were never gayer than when Frida and Agnetha were demanding a man after midnight. Those exclamation marks after each ‘Gimme’ in the title are everything, as is the pounding, horse-hoof beat, that sounds as close as disco ever came to splicing with a spaghetti-western soundtrack. It was later sampled by Madonna for one of her best songs, however I can’t listen to it now without hearing it sung in the style of Kathy Burke.

5. ‘SOS’ – reached #6 in 1975

I’ve heard this referred to as ABBA’s heavy-metal moment, ABBA’s emo moment, ABBA’s finest moment… I’d say it’s simply pure power-pop perfection. ‘SOS’ was their first big post-‘Waterloo’ hit, and it set them up for half a decade of chart domination. Even this early in their career, with both couples still happily together, ABBA’s melodies and hooks were underscored by melancholy. Even Pierce Brosnan couldn’t ruin this one…

4. ‘The Day Before You Came’ – reached #32 in 1982

Just what is this record about…? Is it the day before meeting the man of your dreams? Is it the day before your death? Your murder? Suicide?? A biting satire on the meat-grinder that capitalism throws us through in the name of a career…? Whatever it might be about, this six-minute, chorus-less epic is probably the most experimental moment of ABBA’s career. The hits were drying up, so why bother trying to write a hit? It was also the very last song they ever recorded (until the comeback). Legend has it that Agnetha recorded her vocals alone, in a darkened recording studio, before walking out and drawing ABBA to a close. Those vocals contain some of the band’s best lines, picking out the mundanity of this woman’s life. I must have lit my seventh cigarette at half past two… and There’s not, I think, a single episode of ‘Dallas’ that I didn’t see… She isn’t at all sure of what happened that day, really; a very unreliable narrator. You could write a dissertation on the many way this song can be interpreted. Who know, someone might already have. Strange, sinister perfection.

3. ‘Voulez-Vous’ / ‘Angeleyes’ – reached #3 in 1979

Apart, neither ‘Voulez-Vous’ nor ‘Angeleyes’ would get this high… As a double-‘A’ side, though, their combined forces get third place. (And, without giving the game away, the highest-placing of ABBA’s ’70s hits…) Both songs are disco heaven, and both are about a sleaze-ball of a man. The same sleaze-ball? In ‘Angeleyes’ the girls want to warn his new lover not to trust him, to warn her away… While in ‘Voulez-Vous’, in the heat of the dance floor, they give in and ask him bluntly: Voulez-vous? Take it now or leave it…

2. ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’ – reached #7 in 1981

In which ABBA move from disco, into electronic dance. The bass slaps (I believe that’s the term), the beat is unrepentant, and the lyrics are classic ABBA (how many dance tracks have words like ‘incomprehensible’ in them…?) My favourite bits are the violins that come in at the end, and the synthesised drops before the choruses, but really it’s all great. This was never intended to be a single, and when it was released it was only put out on 12″, which explains the relatively low peak. Though it was, at the time, the best selling 12″ record ever.

1. ‘One of Us’ – reached #3 in 1981

The first song the band released as two divorced couples; and the last genuine hit single they had. A coincidence…? It has everything you want from an ABBA single: singing through the tears, glorious harmonising from the girls, just the right number of cheesy touches (the parping bass, for example). I’m not sure it’s their best song, but something about it just hits a sweet spot – the Wishing she was somewhere else instead… line is perfection – and so it gives me great pleasure to name ‘One of Us’ as the best of ABBA’s rest.

ABBA: Best of the Rest – Part 1

We’ve covered all nine of ABBA’s UK #1s, from ‘Waterloo’ to ‘Super Trouper’, but I’m not ready to bid them farewell just yet. Here then, are the rest of the band’s 17 non chart-topping UK Top 40 hits, ranked, and split over two days. Bear in mind that I do not actively dislike any of these songs, even the lowest placing. While the records at the top of this list do, I’d say, rank alongside the best of ABBA’s chart-topping hits. Here we go…

17. ‘I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do’ – reached #38 in 1975

The worst of the rest (but still an earworm). This is ABBA at their schlager-iest: the saxophones, the wedding bells, the silly title. The band were struggling to follow up ‘Waterloo’, to score a hit away from Eurovision, and when this limped to #38 it looked as if the game might have been up. Luckily their next single did significantly better, and the rest is history…

16. ‘I Have a Dream’ – reached #2 in 1979

ABBA’s final single of the seventies was this Christmas Number Two. Sorry, that sounded a bit rude. It’s not that bad, but I’ve never connected with it. Listening to ‘ABBA Gold’ as a kid, this was the one song I wished would end sooner than it ever did, and then along came Westlife’s rotten cover version. I still feel the same way: it’s a bit plodding – the sitar doesn’t help – and children’s choirs in pop songs are, as St. Winifred’s showed us, dangerous things.

15. ‘Chiquitita’ – reached #2 in 1979

Another number two – again, not being rude – from 1979, and from the ‘Voulez-Vous’ album. I can see that this is a well-made piece of music: the baroque piano, the chorus that demands to be belted out, the terrifying snowman in the video; and a well-loved moment in the ABBA canon. But it still leaves me a little cold. ‘Chiquitita’ could well be the lover of ‘Fernando’, and I’d rank the two songs together: catchy choruses, but nowhere near peak-ABBA.

14. ‘Money, Money, Money’ – reached #3 in 1976

If it were down to the video alone, this’d be near the top. The close-ups, the strobe lights, the diamond encrusted kimonos… As a song though, it’s fine. It’s worth a sing-a-long if it comes on the radio. It sounds a bit like it’s been snatched from a musical that nobody has ever seen, and it has one hell of a key-change. Apart from that, the best bit is when Frida pouts the line I bet he wouldn’t fancy me… Um, I bet he probably would, love.

13. ‘Ring, Ring’ – reached #32 in 1974

The title hit from their first album in 1973, albeit only charting in a re-release after the success of ‘Waterloo’. This is such an early hit – their first Swedish #1 – that the band hadn’t yet assumed their iconic acronym (they released it as Bjorn and Benny, Agnetha and Frida). They had a few glam-rock stompers – ‘Waterloo’, ‘So Long’, this. In the video, Bjorn looks like he’s stumbled in after an audition for The Sweet. ‘Twas the style of the time.

12. ‘Thank You for the Music’ – reached #33 in 1983

Their signature hit? Until quite recently, this was ABBA’s chart swansong. Originally recorded in 1977 and included on ‘ABBA – The Album’ but not released as a single until after they’d officially split. A few years ago I’d have ranked this rock-bottom: I thought it tipped too far into camp theatricality. And it still does… But I’ve grown to like it. Who knows, in another decade this might be my favourite? I always imagine Freddie Mercury singing it with Agnetha – the little ‘mm-hmm’ in the second verse is pure Freddie. Can you imagine..?

11. ‘Summer Night City’ – reached #5 in 1978

The band’s first foray into disco, ahead of the ‘Voulez-Vous’ album. While I like the impetus and the drive of this one, I don’t think it’s quite in the same league as their later disco hits, which I’ve ranked higher up the list. And, just confirm, the lyric is: Walking in the moonlight… and not what you think you heard.

A little hors d’oeuvre then, before the main event. Still some classics mixed in there. Same time tomorrow: The Top 10…

459. ‘Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)’, by The Mash

This next #1 sounds like a blast from the past… Originally released in 1970, the theme from ‘M*A*S*H’ took a full decade to make the top of the charts…

Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide is Painless), by The Mash (their 1st and only #1)

3 weeks, 25th May – 15th June 1980

The why and wherefore of that we’ll get to in a bit. To the song first, though. It’s a simple enough, folksy ditty. It’s got a very late-sixties, post-Woodstock comedown feel to it. It’s also very melancholy. A song titled ‘Suicide Is Painless’ was always going to be a bit depressing…

Through early morning fog I see, Visions of the things to be, The pains that are withheld for me, I realise and I can see… The main thrust being that life is shit, and that suicide is always an option. By verse three, the ‘sword of time’ is piercing our skin, and everyone’s feeling thoroughly miserable. The singers, meanwhile, harmonise on the choruses like creepy Beach Boys.

I’m going to stick my neck out and say that this would never have been a hit had it not been associated with a huge film and TV franchise. It was the theme to the movie first, in 1970, and then the spin-off TV series between 1972 and ’83. I guess demand had built up over the years thanks to the show’s success, and this re-release sent it crashing up to the top of the charts.

The record is credited to ‘The Mash’, but in reality it was performed by some uncredited session singers who probably never received a belated dollar for their huge hit. One person who did make some money from it was Michael Altman, the fourteen-year-old son of the film’s director Robert. His dad allegedly requested ‘the stupidest lyric ever’, and the kid obliged in five minutes flat.

I think ‘stupidest lyric ever’ is a bit harsh, but the second you realise it was written by a moody teenager then lines like: The game of life is hard to play, I’m gonna lose it anyway… suddenly make complete sense. I think the dumbest bit of the whole song is actually the chorus: Suicide is painless, It brings on many changes… One of pop music’s great understatements there.

I wonder if there was any controversy at the time, either in 1970 or ten years later, around the theme of suicide in a #1 single, or TV theme, and the idea that it might be ‘painless’? It’d raise a few eyebrows nowadays for sure. Either way, it’s a song that’s been covered many a time. In the UK, the most notable has been The Manic Street Preachers’ version, which returned the tune to the Top 10 in 1992. It’s quite a haunting take on the song, too, given the Manics’ guitarist Richey Edwards’ still-unexplained disappearance a couple of years later.

Random Runners-Up: ‘We Are the Champions’, by Queen

One final runner-up for the week, and a bit of a forgotten classic to finish on…

‘We Are the Champions’, by Queen

#2 for 3 weeks, from 13th Nov-4th Dec 1977 – behind ‘The Name of the Game’ and ‘Mull of Kintyre’

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…)

Back to the regular countdown next week.

Top 10s – The 1970s

We have finally reached the end of the seventies! And so, to celebrate, here are the ten records that I – in my recaps – named as the very best of the decade. Note that this is not me retrospectively ranking my faves. I am beholden to decisions made several months, if not a year ago, for better or worse, and it has left us with an interesting rundown….

I spent the 1960s respectfully choosing the classics: The Beatles, The Stones, The Beach Boys, ‘Whiter Shade of Pale’ and ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’. You can check out my sixties Top 10 here (and while you’re at it why not have a glance at my ’50s Top 10 too.) For the seventies, though, it seems I went a little rogue… Those of you expecting to find ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, ‘I’m Not In Love’, or ‘Wuthering Heights’ will have to look elsewhere…

I am limiting myself to one song per artist, regardless of how I ranked them at the time. Interestingly the only act that would have had two songs qualify was… Wizzard! As it is they are left with just one. And I was surprised that one of my favourite bands of the decade, Slade, came nowhere near to placing any songs in this list. Anyway, here we go:

‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, by Simon & Garfunkel – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1970

This first song was runner-up in my late-sixties/early-seventies recap. It is a classic, a sweeping hymn, a modern standard. Every time I think I’m bored of it, that it is a little too proper to be a pop song – it is one of the few songs recorded post-1955 that my gran liked, for example – then I listen to it… The Oh, If you need a friend… line gives me shivers, every time. But I was feeling rebellious, and I awarded first place to…

‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry – #1 for 2 weeks in February/March 1971

One of the grimiest, seediest, downright strangest number ones of the decade, if not of all time. The complete opposite to Mungo Jerry’s huge feel-good hit from the year before. In my original post, I described ‘In the Summertime’ as the soundtrack to a sunny afternoon’s BBQ, while ‘Baby Jump’ was the soundtrack as the party still raged on past 4am. Bodies strewn across the lawn, couples humping in the bushes, someone throwing up under a tree… That kind of thing.

‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1972

‘Best song’ in my 2nd seventies recap. T. Rex’s final UK #1 is everything that made them great condensed and distilled into a perfect pop song: power chords, beefy drums, nonsensical lyrics… From the opening woah-oh-oh-oh it is an extended, non-stop chorus of a tune, and a true classic.

See My Baby Jive’, by Wizzard – #1 for 4 weeks in May/June 1973

The height of ridiculous, over-indulgent, glam… And all the better for it. It is a truth universally acknowledged that any song beginning with anti-aircraft guns will be great. Roy Wood threw the kitchen sink at this, Wizzard’s first of two #1s, and everything stuck. I named it runner-up to ‘Metal Guru’, and then named the follow-up, the equally OTT and equally wonderful ‘Angel Fingers’ as runner-up to the song below…

‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1974

Winner in my 3rd seventies recap, you could argue that tracks like this marked the beginning of the end for glam rock. From 1974 onwards the genre was swamped with rock ‘n’ roll tribute acts: Alvin Stardust, The Rubettes, Showaddywaddy, whose hits were catchy but, let’s be honest, dumb. Except, sometimes dumb and catchy is what you need, and when moments like that come along then you can do no better than turn to ‘Tiger Feet.’ Relish the video above… The riff, the repetitive chorus, a man in a dress, backing dancers that look like they’ve just come from the away end at Highbury… Fun fact: There has never been a ‘Best Of the 70s’ compilation that didn’t include ‘Tiger Feet.’

‘Can’t Give You Anything (But My Love)’, by The Stylistics – #1 for 3 weeks in August 1975

Here’s the outlier… I was genuinely surprised to find that this one qualified. I named it as runner-up in my 4th recap apparently, ahead of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, and ‘I’m Not in Love’, which were punished for their ubiquity. But this is a great tune, and it feels right that a slice of soul should feature in this Top 10, as it was one of the sounds of the mid-seventies.

‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1975

One of the seventies’ Top 10 #1 singles is a re-release of a sixties hit? A mere technicality… We needed some Bowie, and this was his only chart-topper of the decade. I named it as best song in my 4th recap. An epic in every sense of the word.

‘Dancing Queen’, by ABBA – #1 for 6 weeks between August and October 1976

Friday night and the lights are low… Frida and Agnetha are looking out for a place to go. You know the rest. Everyone on planet earth knows the rest. The ultimate pop song? The famous glissando intro is instantly recognisable, and is referenced in ABBA’s comeback hit ‘Don’t Shut Me Down’. But. I only named it as runner-up in my 5th recap, because, well, Donna Summer went and did this:

‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer – #1 for 4 weeks in July/August 1977

The future arrived in the summer of ’77, beamed in on a spaceship piloted by one Donna Summer, with Giorgio Moroder as engineer. I rated it above ‘Dancing Queen’ precisely because it isn’t the ultimate pop song – it’s harsh, uncompromising and aggressively modern. You have to be in the mood for ‘I Feel Love’, which is why it hasn’t been overplayed to death, but when you are in the mood then woah. And it still sounds aggressively modern almost forty-five years on.

‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie – #1 for 4 weeks in January/February 1979

Winner in my final ’70s recap, just two days ago. Blondie brought us a new-wave classic: a little disco, a little punk, a little classic rock, but beholden to none of what went before. Debbie Harry gave an impossibly cool lesson in how to be a rock ‘n’ roll frontwoman, too. 1979 – probably the best year of the decade in terms of chart-topping quality – was a-go go go. I know I love the glam years, but line these last three songs up – ABBA, Donna Summer and Blondie – and a better 10 minutes of popular music you’ll struggle to find.

So, there ends the 1970s. Next up, I’ll be cracking on with the eighties…

Recap: #421 – #450

Recap time! Our fifteenth recap, taking in just under two years, from spring 1978 to the early, early weeks of 1980. It would have been great had this recap fallen right at the end of the seventies, but hey…

Our two most recent #1s have felt like a step forward, not just because they were the first two of the ‘80s, but because they’ve been so bold, so vibrantly dripping with (post) punkish attitude. The Pretenders swaggered into the new decade with ‘Brass in Pocket’, while The Specials shouted about birth-control – live – in ‘Too Much Too Young’. The eighties have begun with a bang. Can it last? (Well, sorry… no. Just wait till you see who’s up next!)

But, let me take you back a couple of years, to a time when disco still ruled the airwaves. The genre would explode in a puff of glitter, after a glorious run of chart-toppers, in early 1979. Before that, though, ’78 was probably the most disjointed, undefinable year of the decade. There were sixteen weeks where songs from the ‘Grease’ soundtrack occupied top-position, two shots of religious, disco-calypso from Boney M, a flashback to the MOR days of ’76-’77 from the Commodores, 10cc went reggae, Rod Stewart asked if we think he’s sexy… while The Boomtown Rats scored the very first new-wave #1. There were some long stays at the top – five weeks seemed to be the average – and some very high sales: ‘Rivers of Babylon’ and ‘You’re the One That I Want’ are in the Top 10 of all time.

But then, on New Year’s Eve 1978, The Village People sounded their klaxon, everyone ran to the dancefloor, and we were off on a thrilling run of chart-topping singles. One of the best ever. ‘YMCA’, ‘Tragedy’, ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘Heart of Glass’ perfected disco, meaning that the genre was completed, finished, not needed again. By the time Anita Ward came along, ringing her bell, it felt a little old hat. Blondie, in particular, had taken things a step further, mixing synths and guitars into the mix. The new-wave future had arrived…

Actually, the future seemed to be arriving every few weeks by the summer of 1979… Gary Numan and his Tubeway Army scored a couple of impossibly cool, completely electronic number ones. Bob and his Rats returned, with a rock opera about a school shooting. The Police brought a reggaeish, post-punk to the charts. The Buggles asked if this new-fangled video age was all it was cracked up to be… By the end of the year, Pink Floyd – releasing their first single in twelve years – had a Christmas number one about teachers and their means of mind-control…

There were anomalies in all this. The charts never quite do what you want them to. Right at the start of this run, Brian and Michael had a huge folksy singalong about the artist LS Lowry. Art Garfunkel had a low-key ballad about dead rabbits (and, of course, scored the year’s biggest-selling single). Cliff came back! With his best number one, ever! Country and Western kept popping up when you least expected it to…

I said at the time that I felt 1979 was the best year of the decade in terms of variety and quality of chart-toppers. I may not have loved every single one – in terms of my own personal enjoyment I’d say the glam years of ’72-’74 were ‘better’ – but the experimentation and sheer love for pop music that shone through in these closing months of the ‘70s was something else. And a very refreshing change after everything had gone a little soft-rock in our previous recap.

Which means there might be stiff competition when I have to choose the best of this past bunch. But first… the lesser awards. The ‘Meh’ Award, for example. Like I said, not many of the past thirty #1s have been dull. But I have three. I considered ‘Bright Eyes, but Art already has a ‘Meh’ award to his name, and to give a legend like him two out of two just seems mean. I also toyed with The Police and their second number-one, ‘Walking on the Moon’, which just didn’t connect with me. But, edging them out… not once, not twice, but three-times as dull… The Commodores with ‘Three Times a Lady’: a sludgy relic from the days when David Soul and Leo Sayer were ruling the charts.

On to the ‘WTAF’ Award, for being interesting if nothing else. Plenty of interesting #1s this time around. The Tubeway Army… ‘Cars’… The Buggles… But giving it to one of them would be because they sounded new and exciting. Not ‘weird’, as such. No, if you want weird, you have to choose between Ian Dury and his rhythm stick, or Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt II’. When I made my notes for this post a few days ago, I assumed I’d go with the Floyd. But, really, that record is just an Eagles-beat with some kids shouting. Whereas The Blockheads gave us a punky disco world-tour, from the deserts of Sudan to the gardens of Japan, full of shouting in German and spiky saxophone, sung by a self-proclaimed cripple poet. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’ has it.

The main events, then. The fifteenth Very Worst Chart-Topper, joining luminaries such as Donny Osmond, Jimmy Young, and… checks notes… Elvis. Should I give it to Brian and Michael’s irritatingly parochial celebration of Lowry: ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’? No. A) That was fundamentally catchy. And B) ‘One Day at a Time’ exists. Yes, Lena Martell somehow preached her way to three weeks at the top with a self-righteous slice of country. It was by far the worst of the past bunch. Sweet Jesus!

Finally, then. Fanfare please. The Very Best Chart-Topper of the last thirty. I said earlier that there was a lot of competition but, to be honest, there’s only one winner this time around. I loved ‘YMCA’, ‘Rat Trap’, ‘I Will Survive’ and the ‘Grease’ hits… But towering above them all are Blondie, and ‘Heart of Glass’. One of the coolest songs ever to have topped the charts, and the perfect choice to sum up this moment in pop history, as we stand on the verge of a new decade, a new era…

To recap the recaps:

The ‘Meh’ Award for Forgettability:

  1. ‘Hold My Hand’, by Don Cornell.
  2. ‘It’s Almost Tomorrow’, by The Dream Weavers.
  3. ‘On the Street Where You Live’, by Vic Damone.
  4. ‘Why’, by Anthony Newley.
  5. ‘The Next Time’ / ‘Bachelor Boy’, by Cliff Richard & The Shadows.
  6. ‘Juliet’, by The Four Pennies.
  7. ‘The Carnival Is Over’, by The Seekers.
  8. ‘Silence Is Golden’, by The Tremeloes.
  9. ‘I Pretend’, by Des O’Connor.
  10. ‘Woodstock’, by Matthews’ Southern Comfort.
  11. ‘How Can I Be Sure’, by David Cassidy.
  12. ‘Annie’s Song’, by John Denver.
  13. ‘I Only Have Eyes For You’, by Art Garfunkel.
  14. ‘I Don’t Want to Talk About It’ / ‘The First Cut Is the Deepest’, by Rod Stewart.
  15. ‘Three Times a Lady’, by The Commodores.

The ‘WTAF’ Award for Being Interesting if Nothing Else:

  1. ‘I See the Moon’, by The Stargazers.
  2. ‘Lay Down Your Arms’, by Anne Shelton.
  3. ‘Hoots Mon’, by Lord Rockingham’s XI.
  4. ‘You’re Driving Me Crazy’, by The Temperance Seven.
  5. ‘Nut Rocker’, by B. Bumble & The Stingers.
  6. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’, by Gerry & The Pacemakers.
  7. ‘Little Red Rooster’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘Puppet on a String’, by Sandie Shaw.
  9. ‘Fire’, by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.
  10. ‘In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus)’, by Zager & Evans.
  11. ‘Amazing Grace’, The Pipes & Drums & Military Band of the Royal Scots Dragoon Guard.
  12. ‘Kung Fu Fighting’, by Carl Douglas.
  13. ‘If’, by Telly Savalas.
  14. ‘Wuthering Heights’, by Kate Bush
  15. ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’, by Ian Dury & The Blockheads.

The Very Worst Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Cara Mia’, by David Whitfield with Mantovani & His Orchestra.
  2. ‘The Man From Laramie’, by Jimmy Young.
  3. ‘Roulette’, by Russ Conway.
  4. ‘Wooden Heart’, by Elvis Presley.
  5. ‘Lovesick Blues’, by Frank Ifield.
  6. ‘Diane’, by The Bachelors.
  7. ‘The Minute You’re Gone’, by Cliff Richard.
  8. ‘Release Me’, by Engelbert Humperdinck.
  9. ‘Lily the Pink’, by The Scaffold.
  10. ‘All Kinds of Everything’, by Dana.
  11. ‘The Twelfth of Never’, by Donny Osmond.
  12. ‘The Streak’, by Ray Stevens.
  13. ‘No Charge’, by J. J. Barrie
  14. ‘Don’t Give Up On Us’, by David Soul
  15. ‘One Day at a Time’, by Lena Martell.

The Very Best Chart-Toppers:

  1. ‘Such a Night’, by Johnnie Ray.
  2. ‘Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White’, by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado & His Orchestra.
  3. ‘Great Balls of Fire’, by Jerry Lee Lewis.
  4. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers.
  5. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes.
  6. ‘She Loves You’ by The Beatles.
  7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones.
  8. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum.
  9. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye.
  10. ‘Baby Jump’, by Mungo Jerry.
  11. ‘Metal Guru’, by T. Rex.
  12. ‘Tiger Feet’, by Mud.
  13. ‘Space Oddity’, by David Bowie.
  14. ‘I Feel Love’, by Donna Summer.
  15. ‘Heart of Glass’, by Blondie.

448. ‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt. II’, by Pink Floyd

Here we are then. The final #1 of the seventies, or the first of the eighties. Or both! And, well, at least we’re not ending with a whimper…

Another Brick in the Wall Pt II, by Pink Floyd (their 1st and only #1)

5 weeks, from 9th December 1979 – 13th January 1980

‘Another Brick in the Wall Pt II’ was of course, the Xmas #1 for 1979, and a couple of Christmas ‘must haves’ are present: a novelty element, and a children’s choir (of sorts)… It also acts as a bit of a ‘Best Of the Late-Seventies’, as musically it’s a blend of MOR rock, and disco. (The riff really puts me in mind of The Eagles’ ‘One of These Nights’… there are purists out there who’ll hate that comparison!)

And then there’s the band that put all this together, Pink Floyd: one of decade’s biggest, most successful, influential acts… scoring their first British hit since 1967. Like Led Zep, singles were beneath Pink Floyd, and they had to undergo some real persuasion to make this record. The disco beat, the children, releasing it as a single: all brainwaves from the song’s producer, Bob Ezrin.

We don’t need no education, We don’t need no thought control… Roger Waters wrote this record as a satire of his experiences at boarding school. The video features a giant cartoon teacher feeding hundreds of children into a meat grinder. The point is then literally ‘hammered’ home when the teacher turns into an, um, hammer… No dark sarcasm in the classroom…!

The best bit is when the kids take over for the second verse. Their Hey! Teacher! Leave us kids alone! is genuinely spine-tingling. We then exit with a long solo – again, I’m getting Eagles… – and you’re left kind of scratching your head. OK. That was… something. My uncertainty maybe comes from the fact that this is Pt II of III. The album version starts abruptly with a train screeching, and ends weirdly, with a telephone ringing, after some voice actors have yelled trippy lines like: How can have any pudding, If you don’t eat your meat…???

For those to potentially be the last words spoken on the final #1 of the 1970s is bizarre. I say ‘potentially’, for I don’t know if they were actually on the single edit. If you listen to all three ‘parts’ of ‘Another Brick In the Wall’ it does start to make a little more sense – Parts I and III are variations on the same riff – but, just to make things even more complicated, the tracks don’t even run concurrently on the album…

Another thing that the 168th #1 of the seventies brings back to the top, just in time, is prog rock. Or, at least, a prog band. It was one of the biggest genres of the decade, albums wise, but we haven’t seen much if it in the singles, for obvious reasons (like prog bands not bothering to release them!) You could make the case for 10cc’s ‘I’m Not in Love’, and ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ being prog #1s, but I’m struggling to think of others. Way, way back in my post on The Moody Blues’ ‘Go Now!’ I argued my ‘Problems with Prog’, and the same applies to Pink Floyd. As is pretty much the law, I bought a copy of ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ aged seventeen, and listened to it… twice, maybe. I just didn’t get it; and didn’t have much inclination to try to get it.

Not that this isn’t an interesting song, though, and a fitting end to a rich and diverse year of chart-toppers. I’ve said it before: 1979 is the ‘best’ year of the ‘70s in terms of chart-topper quality (though 1973 would probably be my favourite year of the decade, just for all the glam stompers…) And it was a controversial Xmas #1, too. The London Education Authority labelled it a ‘scandalous’ slander on the teaching profession. Apparently the new Prime Minister, one Margaret Thatcher, wasn’t too keen on it either… Which is fitting, as quite a few of the biggest acts from this new and upcoming decade had plenty to say about her…

Listen to (almost) every #1 single from the 1970s here: