562. ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, by Shakin’ Stevens

Oh what sweet joy it is to be listening to this next chart-topper on a sweltering August day…

Merry Christmas Everyone, by Shakin’ Stevens (his 4th and final #1)

2 weeks, from 22nd December 1985 – 5th January 1986

From the glossy, classy soul of Whitney Houston, to Shaky’s festive smash. Cheap and cheerful, that’s the order of the day here. In fact, this might be one of the cheapest, and the cheerful-est, #1s of all time. There’s an oompah beat, a rock ‘n’ roll sax, some shoobeedoobees and, of course, liberal helpings of sleigh bells.

It harks back to both the old fifties classics – ‘Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree’ etc. – and the glam Christmas hits from Slade, Wizzard and Mud. The lyrics are a check list of cliches: the season of love and understanding, girls under the mistletoe, wishing every day was Christmas, parties, presents, and snow falling all around. Except it lacks both the class of the classics, and the anarchy of the glam hits. And even though it’s a very retro sounding song, the long fingers of the ‘80s can still be heard in the tinny production and the drum machine.

It’s basic, is what it is. It’s never been one of my festive faves, but it’s fine. It’s catchy and light-hearted. Hearing it a few times every year, when well-oiled on mulled wine, and you could almost become fond of it. Except, for some reason, ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ has in recent years become one of the big Xmas perennials, surpassing the likes of Slade, and settling in behind the untouchables: Mariah, Wham! and The Pogues.

Sadly, I think this is indicative of what modern pop music has become, where inoffensive and blandly streamable is the order of the day. Is ‘Merry Christmas Everyone’, then, actually a hugely important record, and Shakin’ Stevens a man thirty years ahead of his time? Did he somehow predict that nobody would bother to skip this trifle when it popped up in a festive Spotify playlist…? Maybe, maybe…

The fake ending, and the ensuing key change, have always annoyed me. It would be the perfect time to end the song, keep it short and sweet, but no. It keeps going for another chirpy minute. However it’s hard to begrudge Shaky one last number one, as he does seem like one of the good guys. It may have been almost four years since ‘Oh Julie’, but he’d been consistently scoring Top 10 hits in between, making him the UK’s biggest singles-seller of the decade! Post-‘Merry Christmas Everyone’ he still had six Top 20 hits in his locker, until the singles dried up in the early 1990s. Interestingly, this record had actually been recorded and was ready for release the year before, but was shrewdly shelved to avoid it clashing with Band Aid.

Stevens is still touring and recording, and he even remade his big festive hit in a bluegrass style in 2015. To my ears, it’s much more palatable than the original – partly because I haven’t heard it five hundred times, and partly because it isn’t so darn perky. Anyway. Here ends 1985 – an interesting year which has brought us some of the best and the worst excesses of the entire decade. Roll on ’86…

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500 Number Ones Down…

The last chart-topping record I featured was as average as you can get: ‘A Little Peace’. A nice acoustic pop song with nice sentiments sung by a nice girl… Except, it was actually quite a notable chart milestone – the UK’s 500th number one single.

Which means, in just over four earth years we have covered almost thirty chart years! From Al Martino belting out the very first chart-topper, ‘Here in My Heart’ in 1952, past the pre-rock years, rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis, Merseybeat, four lads from Liverpool, the Summer of Love, the come-down, glam, disco, post-punk and new wave… To the spring of 1982.

Which means, at the current pace, we’ll hit the 1990s early next year, and we’ll meet the 1000th UK number one (although, actually, that’s a song which has already featured in the first 500… don’t ask…) sometime in early 2026! But, really, it’s dangerous to look that far ahead in life. I’m in no rush.

The pleasure here is to be had from the slow stroll: the discovery of lost gems, the re-discovery of all-time classics, a shrug of the shoulders at the boring ones, and a crack of the knuckles before I dive in studs-up on an absolute shocker of a song. And, of course, the fact that I’ve picked up so many dedicated followers, readers and commenters, without whom this pursuit would be pointless…

To celebrate this minor achievement, I had a look at my stats, and can now reveal the most viewed posts from each decade I’ve covered. I may have my favourites, but these are apparently the #1s that the good followers of WordPress (and beyond) want to know about…

The 1950s:

‘She Wears Red Feathers’, by Guy Mitchell

The most viewed post from the decade of Elvis, Buddy and the Killer is a song from the days when barely anyone had heard the phrase rock ‘n roll. It was just the 6th song I covered, so I guess it has had a bit of a head start. Read my original post here. (I wasn’t kind…)

The 1960s:

‘House of the Rising Sun’, by The Animals

Probably not the first song you’d guess for the sixties, but an undeniable classic nonetheless. The longest, and possibly the most risqué, song to have topped the charts at that point. Read my original post here.

The 1970s:

‘Rivers of Babylon’ / ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’, by Boney M

Despite coming towards the end of the decade, this one gets all the hits. It’s actually my most viewed post… ever. It’s also one of the best-selling singles of all time. Underestimate Boney M at your peril would be the lesson! Read my original post here.

The 1980s (so far):

‘Green Door’, by Shakin’ Stevens

Despite publishing it barely a month ago, ‘Green Door’ is already my most viewed post from the 1980s. Interestingly, of the four songs, only ‘House of the Rising Sun’ is one that you could find much critical acclaim for. Guy Mitchell, Boney M and Shaky all had something much more elusive (and lucrative)… popular appeal. And apparently still do!

And finally, before I go, a bonus. My least viewed post and, by these metrics, the least popular of the first 500 #1s…

‘Dance On!’, by The Shadows

Yes, this one-week number one from early 1963 has had barely any views. That could be comment on the state of popular music in the months just before the Beatles went supersonic. Or a comment on my writing. But I quite like the tune. Give it some love here.

Thanks everyone for reading and commenting over the past four years. For the rest of the week, I’ll be posting some cover versions of classic #1s. Here’s to the next 500!

493. ‘Oh Julie’, by Shakin’ Stevens

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 honey don’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…

483. ‘Green Door’, by Shakin’ Stevens

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.

477. ‘This Ole House’, by Shakin’ Stevens

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…