Never Had a #1… Bananarama

The final part of this look at acts who’ve never made top spot in the UK… and it’s the biggest girl group of the eighties. Bananarama managed ten Top 10 hits between 1982 and 1989, but never got beyond #3 (in fact, none of the other acts I’ve featured this week – Bob Marley and Tina Turner – charted higher than #3 either…)

Interestingly, Bananarama have a US chart-topper to their name – ‘Venus’, in 1986, which only made #8 in the UK. It doesn’t feature on this list, which kicks off with their debut smash…

‘It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It)’ – Fun Boy Three and Bananarama – #4 in 1982

To be honest, Bananarama are almost reduced to backing vocalists on this reimagining of an old jazz standard, that had been recorded by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald back in the thirties. But it’s quite a modern way of introducing potential new stars, getting them to feature on a more established act’s song. Fun Boy Three hadn’t been around long either, but they were three ex-members of The Specials, so had the potential to take this high in the charts. The trick worked, and soon Bananarama were having hits of their own…

Shy Boy – #4 in 1982

Starting with this… It’s another throwback, with some classic girl-group shoop shoops… Though the lyrics are slightly spicier than your average Shirelles tune: He gives me lovin’ like nobody else, I love the way he turns me on… He used to be a shy boy, until they made him their boy. He is a shy boy no longer. I love this one: an underlooked eighties pop classic. There’s also a very modern, feisty, girl-group energy to the video.

Robert De Niro’s Waiting – #3 in 1984

A song about the pressures of fame, and of how watching movies can be an escape from the stresses of real life. In fact, the verses took on an even darker aspect when Siobhan Fahey said that the song was about date rape (something the other band members have denied at various points over the years). I’m assuming they’re singing about ‘The Godfather Part II’ – apologies if I’ve overlooked any other films in which Bobby De Niro’s talking Italian…. Other names of songs featuring film stars? ‘Bette Davis Eyes’, and…? Answers on a postcard, please!

Advertisements

Love in the First Degree – #3 in 1987

We skip forward a few years, and are now in the late eighties. Slap-bang in the middle of the Stock Aitken Waterman years, and it was SAW who produced this pop beauty (could that synth riff have come from anyone else…?) Apparently the girls had to be persuaded to record a song as poppy, with a dance routine as cutesy, as this, but I for one am happy that they did. It’s my favourite Bananarama tune.

Help – #3 in 1989, with Lananeeneenoonoo

In 1988, Siobhan Fahey left the band, meaning that their days as a chart force were numbered. They still had one last Top 10 hit left in them, their joint-highest in fact, thanks to this Beatles cover for Comic Relief. Back on my regular countdown we’re in October 1984, and are yet to encounter our first charity single. But they are on their way… They’ve been a pretty constant chart presence since the mid-eighties, often combining music and comedy (and often turning out neither funny nor particularly listenable…) Here Bananarama are joined by their delusional alter-egos Lananeeneenoonoo AKA French & Saunders with Kathy Burke, and all manner of zaniness ensues…

So there we have Bananarama, another act with lots of hits but no number ones. I hope you enjoyed this break from the regular schedule. Up next, we’ll be resuming our journey through every single #1 single…

Never Had a #1… Bob Marley & The Wailers

Time to take a pause from our regular procedings, to recognise those artists who won’t feature in our journey through every single #1 single. A moment to mention, then, those who have never had a number one…

First up, Jamaica’s most famous son… (aside from that really fast guy…)

It has to be said that searching out Bob Marley’s biggest UK hits throws up quite the hotchpotch. No ‘No Woman, No Cry’, no ‘Two Little Birds’, no ‘Redemption Song’. First up is a classic, though:

One Love / People Get Ready’ – #5 in 1984

Only one of these records made the charts in Marley’s lifetime (though I might be wrong on that score, as it can be hard to know exactly if his songs peaked at the time or in a re-release). This made the Top 5 in 1984, though it was first recorded by The Wailers as far back as 1965. This hit version comes from 1977, and it featured on the famous ‘Exodus’ album. It’s not a double-‘A’ side; its a medley – containing as it does a slice of The Impressions’ ‘People Get Ready’. It’s got a bit too much of ‘The Lord’ in it for this particular heathen’s liking, but it’s undeniably one of his signature songs.

Could You Be Loved – #5 in 1980

Writing this blog has – as I’ve mentioned a few times before – converted me to reggae. I wasn’t that keen on it as a genre for many years. Which meant that this was always my go-to favourite Bob Marley tune, as it swaps that sloping reggae ryhthm for a chugging, funky disco beat. Couldcha-couldcha-couldcha be loved… chant the backing singers as Marley free-styles around them. It’s still my favourite, though I can appreciate the others much more these days.

Iron Lion Zion – #5 in 1992

I’m gonna be iron, Like a lion, In Zion… Many of Marley and The Wailers’ hits refer to Zion, the promised land according to their Rastafarian beliefs. This one was first written in 1974, but I’m assuming that this hit version from the early nineties had had some period effects added (just listen to that blaring sax). Again, reggae takes a backseat as a more rock-oriented feel takes over. I had never knowingly heard this before, but it’s a catchy, driving tune.

Advertisements

Buffalo Soldier – #4 in 1983

Another posthumous hit. ‘Buffalo soldiers’ were black troops used by American colonisers in their wars against native Americans in the mid 19th Century. Marley positions himself as a modern day buffalo soldier: Stolen from Africa, Brought to America… Fighting for survival… Pretty heavy stuff for what, on the surface, sounds like another jaunty reggae tune.

Sun Is Shining (Boby Marley Vs Funkstar Deluxe) – #3 in 1999

And so Bob Marley’s biggest UK chart hit is this remix, released almost twenty years after his death. ‘Sacrilege!’ I’m sure many will shout. And yeah, it probably shouldn’t be top of the pile. But I was thirteen when this came out and peaked at #3, and even though I don’t remember particularly liking it at the time, the hook-line of: To the rescue, Here I am… Takes me right back to high school. It’s a pretty standard, late-nineties, Fatboy Slim-ish dance remix. Nothing amazing. The original ‘Sun Is Shining’ is a slow and slinky number from way back in 1971 (though, again, I’m not sure if the linked version is said original as The Wailers recorded and released the darn song three times in the seventies…)

So, there you have a true icon’s five biggest UK hits. Tomorrow I’ll be taking a look at the chart career of an, equally iconic, female singer who, unlike Bob, is still with us, and shimmying like no other…

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!

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…

Top 10s – Status Quo

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.

Top 10s – T. Rex

You can’t say you didn’t see it coming…

177c23fb3f32b1c6ee260895272a6b16

I do love T. Rex, and having their 4 number one’s crop up in my countdown has cemented how brilliant they were, how fun it must have been to be around for Marc Bolan’s short-lived explosion into the biggest pop supernova on the planet.

But two of those #1s don’t even make my Top 10… Yes, this is my Top 10 and mine alone, picked for personal preference just as much as musical brilliance.

First up the rules. Well, the ‘rule’, singular… To qualify for my Top 10, the song has to have been released and to have charted on the UK singles chart. No album tracks, or ‘B’-sides, no ‘Mambo Sun’, or ‘Thunderwing’.  Enjoy…

10. ‘One Inch Rock’, reached #28 in 1968 (and #7 on re-release in 1972)

I am well aware that this is not Marc Bolan’s and T. Rex’s tenth-best song, but on a personal level this takes me back to being a kid and singing along in the backseat. Somehow it had ended up on a cheapo ‘Best of the 60s’ cassette. My brother and I found the line ‘I’m kinda hard cos I’m one inch tall’ hilarious… Except it’s ‘I got the horrors cos I’m one inch tall’, and it’s not the only lyric you might struggle to make out.

Released when they were still ‘Tyrannosaurus Rex’ and more of a folk-duo, with Bolan joined by the brilliantly named Steve Peregrin Took, it sets the tone for much of T. Rex’s lyrical output while sounding unlike anything they would release in their heyday. On the one hand it is a song about being one-inch tall; on the other it is about being under the influence of some very strong hallucinogenics.

9. ‘New York City’, reached #15 in 1975

Did you ever see a woman, Coming out of New York City, With a frog in her hand…? Why no, Marc, can’t say I ever did. (Though apparently this one was genuinely inspired by Bolan seeing a woman, in New York, walking down the street while holding a frog…) While I wish I could have included more of T. Rex’s mid seventies singles, the truth is they just can’t compete with the ones further down this list. However, this one just about manages holds its own. That intro, sounding like a cartoon super-villain warming up his death-ray, twinned with a honky-tonk piano, is brilliant. Add the performance above, complete with a man in a giant-frog suit, and you have my 9th favourite T. Rex single.

8. ‘Children of the Revolution’, reached #2 in 1972

A grinding, almost menacing, riff that lumbers its way through a song that I want to love more than I do… I don’t know, I just think it lacks a little of their other hits’ joie de vivre. This one makes number 8, though, because it includes Bolan’s Bolanest lyric: I drive a Rolls-Royce, Cos it’s good for my voice… That, my friends, is rock ‘n’ roll, right there.

7. ‘Get It On’, reached #1 in 1971

A sexy riff for a sexy song about sex. Not much more needs written about one of their most-recognisable hits, but if you want to know more my original post is here. As much as I love it, I always think this song could have been chunkier… Know what I mean? Anyway, it gave them their biggest hit in the US, and you may recognise the keyboard player in the video above…

6. ‘Teenage Dream’, reached #13 in 1974

The epic, operatic, pinnacle of Marc Bolan’s genius… Or the sound of him disappearing up his own arse? Opinions are split, but I’d sway towards to the former. In amongst all the bizarre imagery, I think it’s Bolan’s lament towards the fame and adulation that was slipping away from him. He claimed ‘Teenage Dream’ as his finest lyric, and who am I to argue? The single version is already five minutes long, and the video above has an added minute of guitar trickery tagged on. Because, why not?

5. ‘Ride a White Swan’, reached #2 in 1971

The breakthrough hit for ‘T. Rex’ the glam rock icons. The lyrics still referenced the people of the Beltane and looking like a druid in the olde days… But the guitar was electric and funky and T. Rex was a-go. Years later, Bolan would perform this hit while literally riding a giant white swan. Which is brilliant…

4. ‘The Groover’, reached #4 in 1973

Dripping with attitude, and a punky, metal-ish riff, this was T. Rex’s last UK Top 10 hit. It starts off with the band’s name as a chant – T. R. E. Exxxxxx – with Marc going on to tell us just how brilliant he is. Some name me stud (yes they do…) We know he ain’t tame, and we call him the groover etc etc. Sing it to me children… It’s a middle finger to everyone who might claim that T. rex’s music was repetitive and reductive; in the form of yet another gloriously simple, repetitive T. Rex hit.

3. ‘Jeepster’, reached #2 in 1971

Fun fact: this was released against Bolan’s permission, as their final single on the Fly label. But let’s just be glad they did. Not for the first time, or the last, Marc is comparing his woman to a car. But also, he’s a car. A Jeepster for her love… Everyone’s a car! What is a simple enough, rockabilly number transforms towards the end when he announces that he is also a vampire for her love, and that he’s gonna suck ya! Oh my…

2. ‘Metal Guru’, reached #1 in 1972

T. Rex’s best #1 single – read my original post here – and a record that soars. ‘It is a festival of life song’, Marc said. ‘I believe in God, but have no religion.’ By the time this reached the top of the charts T. Rex were approaching God-like status themselves in the UK, and this was probably their pinnacle. The performance above is a bit ropey, but the brilliance of the song shines through. Why Noel Edmonds is dressed like Robin Hood, however, remains a mystery…

1. ’20th Century Boy’, reached #3 in 1973

‘One Inch Rock’, back at the start of this list, is my earliest memory of T. Rex, before I knew what they were. Hearing ’20th Century Boy’ as a nine or ten year-old was the moment I sat up and said ‘Hello, what is this?’ I don’t think its overstating things to say that the two crunching chords right at the start here is one of the most thrilling moments in rock music, ever… It’s heavier than a lot of T. Rex’s stuff – the guitar sounds more like a chainsaw – and the performance above is even heavier than the recorded version. It’s a brutal, stripping down of glam rock to its essence: power chords and slightly ambiguous lyrics… He wants to be a toy, to a boy, a boy-toy…?

Phew. That was fun. Up next, we launch head first into 1973!

Top 10s – The 1960s

Time for a Top 10. A month or so ago I ranked my Top 10 #1 singles of the 1950s. Now that I’ve officially drawn the sixties to a close with my most recent recap, here’s the Official 100% Undisputed Top 10 #1 singles of the 1960s!

The sixties. The decade that brought, many would say, the finest pop music known to man. Malt Shop pop, to Merseybeat, to R & B, Folk, Psychedelic, Hippies and Motown. It had it all.

By ‘My Top 10’, I mean the records that came out on top in my recaps. This isn’t me looking back and choosing; this is me recounting how I felt in the moment, as I encountered these great records in their natural environment, like seeing a pack of majestic lions while on safari… Or something. I only have one rule, and it is simple: one record per artist. 

Here then, in chronological order, are my Top 10 #1 singles of the swinging sixties… (with a bonus or two thrown in for good measure…)

1. ‘Cathy’s Clown’, by The Everly Brothers – #1 for 7 weeks in May/June 1960

Winner in my first sixties recap… Don and Phil relaunch with a mature new sound. They had scored their 1st chart-topper two years earlier with the nice but soppy ‘All I Have to Do Is Dream’. Since then they had changed labels and toughened up, kicking off a run at the top of the UK charts with some of the best harmonising ever heard. The above video doesn’t quite do the recording justice – listen to and read about that here – but apparently the backing group there is none other than The Crickets, and I couldn’t resist…

2. ‘Shakin’ All Over’, by Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – #1 for 1 week in August 1960

For the most part, American rock ‘n’ roll was far superior to the British version. Had it been a boxing match, it would have been a 1st round knockout. In response to Elvis, Chuck, Buddy, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Fats and Eddie Cochran we had Cliff and, um, Tommy Steele. (OK, OK, simplifying things a bit, but still…) But ‘Shakin’ All Over’ was the moment in which UK rockers truly competed with their counterparts from across the Atlantic, with its timeless riff and racy lyrics. A runner-up in my 1st recap, you can read my original post here.

3. ‘Telstar’, by The Tornadoes – #1 for 5 weeks in October/November 1962

Of course, by the middle of the decade, the Brits were the ones showing the Yanks how to do it. The first sign that the tide was changing, and the first UK band to hit #1 in the US, were The Tornadoes. Masterminded by slightly unhinged genius Joe Meek, this instrumental tells the story of an alien spacecraft that comes to earth for a look around, before shooting back off to whatever galaxy it came from. Except, ‘Telstar’ is an instrumental, so I’ve made up that story entirely. More simply put: a brilliant, brilliant record that blows you away when you hear it in context (the #1s on either side of it were Elvis’s ‘She’s Not You’ and Frank Ifield’s ‘Lovesick Blues’). I named it best chart-topper in my 2nd sixties recap – read my original post here.

4. ‘She Loves You’, by The Beatles – #1 for six weeks in September, October, November & December (!!) 1963

Without my ‘one chart-topper per artist’ rule I’d probably have had 4 Beatles discs in this Top 10. But ‘She Loves You’ is the one that makes it. Yes, yes, yes – in the years following this the band would go way beyond She loves you, And you know you should be glad… both sonically and lyrically. But, to me, this is the moment the 60s really begins. Hell, it’s the moment Britain finally put the war, the rationing and all the misery of the past half-century behind them for good. Imagine being thirteen years old in 1963, and hearing this beauty for the first time…. I named it best chart-topper, and you can read my original post here.

5. ‘Needles and Pins’, by The Searchers – #1 for 3 weeks in January/February 1964

A low-key, under-appreciated, melancholy #1 from one of the biggest bands in the country during the first wave of Merseybeat. I called it a runner-up to ‘She Loves You’ in my 3rd recap, and it’s one of my earliest musical memories. Plus, I love the way they bow at the end of the video above. A well brought-up bunch of lads! The original post is here.

6. ‘You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin”, by The Righteous Brothers – #1 for 2 weeks in February 1965

The first five in this rundown are all of a similar pop/rock ‘n’ roll feel… The latter five shoot all over the place, starting with this slice of blue-eyed soul. Now pop music was for grown-ups again, and this glossy hit led the way. The call and response section, with one voice growling and one voice hitting the highest notes a man has ever sung, are simply stunning. I really struggled, long and hard, in choosing between this and the next song for a ‘Best Chart-Topper’ award. Ultimately, I named this as runner-up. Do I regret my decision…? Maybe… If I read my original post again I might change my mind…

7. ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by The Rolling Stones – #1 for 2 weeks in September 1965

The song that pipped The Righteous Brothers to the post… Suddenly rock ‘n’ roll was just ROCK, and the riffs were sledgehammers through your brain. And the lyrics weren’t about meeting your girl at the juke-joint; they were world-weary swipes at phoney advertising campaigns and girls who wouldn’t sleep with you, even though you were a world-famous rock star… It just had to be in this Top 10, plain and simple. Original post here.

8. ‘Good Vibrations’, by The Beach Boys – #1 for 2 weeks in November 1966

A song that needs no further introduction, and one that I struggle to really, really, really love. One that needs respected as a work of art; but not one I listen to all that often. Still, I did name it as runner-up in my 5th sixties recap, so it gets its place in the Top 10. Read my original musings here.

9. ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’, by Procol Harum – #1 for 6 weeks in June/July 1967

At the start of the Summer of Love, one song redefined what a pop song should sound like, how a pop song should be constructed, what lyrical content huge a #1 hit could cover… Who knows how the hell ‘to skip the light fandango’? Who the hell cares when it sounds as good as this. Winner of my 5th ’60s recap – read my original post here.

10. ‘I Heard It Through the Grapevine’, by Marvin Gaye – #1 for 3 weeks in March/April 1969

Winner of my last sixties recap, when I opted for it at the last minute over ‘Hey Jude’. Motown’s finest moment? Again, a song that I can write nothing new about, so I’ve attached this video of a live version. I love the way that Marvin and one of his band act out the phone call at the start… ‘Somethin’ funky goin’ down’ indeed… Read my original post here.

Bonus 1 – ‘Voodoo Chile’, by The Jimi Hendrix Experience – #1 for 1 week in November 1970

I called this one runner-up in the recap I just posted a couple of days ago, it having reached top-spot a year too late following Hendrix’s death. Had it hit number one at the right place and time, I may well have named it a winner. So, as a consolation, here it is…

Bonus 2 – ‘These Boots Are Made For Walkin”, by Nancy Sinatra – #1 for 4 weeks in February/March 1966

Looking back at this list, one thing struck me: it’s a sausage fest. And then I had a closer look, and was amazed to count that, out of the 185 records that made #1 in the UK between January 1960 and December 1969, only 23 (!!) featured a female artist. If we don’t count duets with men, or male bands with female lead-singers, then there were only 16 (!!!!) #1s by females. Here then, is the record-by-a-girl that came closest to a prize in my recaps… Officially the best female-recorded #1 of the decade : Are you ready boots? Start walkin’!

Top 10s – The Kinks

Time for a Top 10! When you think of British beat bands from the 1960s – AKA ‘British Invasion’ bands in the US – you think The Beatles, yup, then The Stones, okay, then…

Who were the 3rd biggest band of the decade? So many beat combos rose and fell during that time – The Searchers, Manfred Mann, The Tremeloes, The Hollies, the list goes on – but I’d stick my neck out and say that in the bronze medal position stand The Kinks. (There is also, of course, The Who, but they never made #1 in the UK, and so I have to pretend they never existed.)

the-kinks-1965-portrait-u-billboard-1548

And because of publishing rights preventing huge sixties acts like Elvis, The Beatles and The Stones from appearing on the ’60s compilations that my parents owned, The Kinks were probably the first band I truly remember being aware of, and thinking this sounds good… (Well, them and The Spice Girls…)

Led by brothers Ray and Dave Davies, The Kinks gave us some of the best pop singles, not just of the decade but, let’s be honest, of all time. And they changed and experimented like the two bigger bands of the time, in their own, unique, Kinks-y way. Here’s my Top 10. (As before, to qualify for my list a song has to have been a chart hit in the UK – no album tracks or B-sides allowed…)

10. ‘See My Friends’, 1965, reached # 10

One of their smaller, early hits, in which their trademark crunchy guitar is twinned with a droney, sitar-sounding vibe. Released a few months after ‘Ticket to Ride’, and before ‘Norwegian Wood’, it puts The Kinks right at the forefront of pop’s sonic expansion. Not a sound they would keep up for long, but proof that they were a very versatile band.

9. ‘Come Dancing’, 1982, reached #12

The Kinks released music throughout the seventies and eighties and I really tried to include more of their later singles in this list… but, to be honest, most of them just aren’t as good as their big sixties hits. With some exceptions… This slice of nostalgia, for example, – a tale of the Davies’s sister going out dancing to the ‘Pally on a Saturday night. Years later I realised that, even though he sings about his sister in the present tense – If I asked her, I wonder if she would… Come dancing… – she had in fact died when they were young boys. Which gives this swansong hit an even more bittersweet edge.

8. ‘You Really Got Me’, 1964, reached #1

A sledgehammer riff, that many have claimed invented heavy metal, punk rock and more. The band’s 3rd single and first hit, it still sounds raw and wild in 2020, and must have sounded even more wonderful at the time. Read my original post here.

7. ‘Autumn Almanac’, 1967, reached #3

One that I used to dislike, but have really grown to love in recent years… I like my football, On a Saturday, Roast beef on Sundays, All right… While many bands went psychedelic in 1967, the Kinks were singing about toasted currant buns and going to Blackpool for their holidays… And the fuzzy guitar before the chorus? Great stuff.

6. ‘Dead End Street’, 1966, reached #5

But The Kinks could also be very cynical in their takes on British society, discs like ‘Dead End Street’ the yin to ‘Autumn Almanac’s yang. There’s a crack up in the ceiling, And the kitchen sink is leaking… while the music hall pianos play. Apparently it was banned by the BBC for being too biting! You can hear the debt bands like Blur would owe to The Kinks thirty years later, too…

5. ‘Lola’, 1970, reached #2

One of their last big hits. A man falls for a ‘lady’ who walks like a woman but talks like man… It attracted some controversy at the time, and still does today. But any song with a line like Girls will be boys, And boys will be girls, It’s a mixed up muddled up shook up world, Except for Lola… is all right by me. Live your life, love who you love… Fun fact: I once performed this song live to a school-hall full of bemused looking Thai children.

4. ‘Dedicated Follower of Fashion’, 1966, reached #4

The first Kinks’ song I loved, and it’s probably higher in the list than it should be if I weren’t being so subjective. A simply skiffle riff and Ray’s arched-eyebrow, high-camp delivery. More social commentary, aimed light-heartedly at the dapper men about town in the swinging sixties. Their clothes were loud, but never square…

3. ‘All Day and All Of the Night’, 1964, reached #2

The Kinks’ second big hit single, and very much an ‘if it ain’t broke’ approach to songwriting. It sounds like ‘You Really Got Me’ Pt II, and turns the crunchy, proto-punk power chords up a notch, which is why I’m placing it higher. As a kid I loved the Oh, come on! and what sounds like someone being strangled before the frenetic solo. Imagine how thrilling / terrifying this must have sounded if you were first hearing it in October ’64.

2. ‘Sunny Afternoon’, 1966, reached #1

A song that perhaps doesn’t get the recognition it deserves in the Sixties Hall of Fame, maybe because it’s got a pantomime-y edge. Another social commentary, this time in the character of an aristocrat being squeezed by the taxman and a ‘big fat mama’, which is no way to talk about your ex-wife, really. Perfect pop. (And singing it in the snow above seems a very Kinksy thing to do.) Read my original post on this chart-topper here.

1. ‘Waterloo Sunset’, 1967, reached #2

Could it be any other? ‘Waterloo Sunset’ has a Liverpool-like lead at the top of this table. It’s atmospheric, it’s beautiful, it’s haunting. A hymn to those that observe. And somehow it manages to sound like a sunset. When I first visited London, aged eight or so, I remember looking out of my window, hoping to see a Waterloo Sunset, hoping to see Terry and Judy. Sounds ridiculous, but it shows how long this song has been part of my life. At the time, it was kept off the top-spot by the bland ‘Silence Is Golden’. An absolute crime!

I’ll do another Top 10 soon enough. Up next, the 271st UK #1 single…

Top 10s – Buddy Holly

February made me shiver, With every paper I delivered, Bad news on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step…

Sixty-one years ago today, a light aircraft slammed into a field in Iowa during a snow-storm, killing everyone on board. The four passengers were Ritchie Valens (a seventeen-year-old up and coming rock ‘n’ roller), J.P. Richardson (AKA The Big Bopper, of ‘Chantilly Lace’ fame), pilot Roger Peterson, and Charles Hardin Holley. Buddy Holly.

The Day the Music Died has passed into folklore. I’m not going to write about that today. Rather, for my 2nd artist’s Top 10 post – check out the first one I did here – I’m going to list my favourite UK hit singles from a man whose legacy stretches far. The Beatles, The Stones, punk rock and power pop – they all owe a big debt to Buddy.

investigators-may-reopen-buddy-holly-plane-crash-fdrmx

As before, I’m restricting myself to ‘A’-sides of singles that charted in the UK. So no ‘Everyday’, no ‘I’m Gonna Love You Too’, no ‘Not Fade Away’, and no ‘You’re So Square… Baby I Don’t Care’. Don’t blame me… Blame the people that didn’t buy those singles, or the record labels that never released them…

10. ‘Think It Over’, with The Crickets, 1958 – peaked at #11

People sometimes forget that Buddy Holly recorded some down and dirty rock ‘n’ roll. Maybe it’s the thick-rimmed glasses that make him seem a little more, how to say, cerebral, than Elvis or Little Richard… But while he was able to add more subtlety than most of his contemporaries, ‘Think It Over’ has swagger and attitude to spare. Is she sure she doesn’t want him? Really sure? Maybe she should think it over… Great piano solo, too.

9. ‘It Doesn’t Matter Anymore’, 1959 – reached #1

Holly’s only solo #1, three months after he died. More strings than you’d expect from a rock ‘n’ roll single, and a very memorable vocal performance. Lots of trademark hiccups and southern drawl. The video above starts with a snippet of ‘Heartbeat’… not sure why. Read my original post on ‘It Doesn’t Matter…’ here.

8. ‘Reminiscing’, 1962 – reached #17

Some sexy sax, and a quality chugging riff. And Buddy’s voice. I’ve always loved the way he has fun with the line You’re a mean mistrea-ea-ea-ter… This peaked in the early sixties, along with several other gems from his back catalogue.

7. ‘What To Do’, 1965 – reached #34

Since this was never a big hit in Holly’s lifetime, you can hear it in all manner of overdubbed and re-imagined versions. I’ve gone for this stripped-back one, though. Just Buddy Holly and a guitar, so close to the mic that you can hear his breathing. It was a minor hit a full six years after his death. I love the lines about ‘soda pops’ and ‘walks to school’, that by the mid-sixties must have sounded very old-hat.

6. ‘Early in the Morning’, 1958 – reached #17

Some more swagger from Mr. Holly. We-e-e-e-el, he crows at the start, You gonna miss me… To be honest he doesn’t sound very heartbroken. In fact he might just be enjoying the break-up. I love his vocals here, one second yelping, the next growling…

The Top 5 were all Top 10 hits in the UK, all priceless slices of rock ‘n’ roll goodness:

5. ‘Maybe Baby’, with The Crickets, 1958 – reached #4

Every Buddy Holly song has a little detail – beyond the lyrics and melody – that makes it stand out. In ‘Maybe Baby’ it’s the reverb on the guitar. A near perfect pop song.

4. ‘Peggy Sue’, 1957 – reached #6

 

Buddy’s first ‘solo’ single – even thought The Crickets are clearly accompanying him in videos around online… It was written for the drummer, Jerry Allison’s, girlfriend after they had temporarily split up. Probably more groundbreaking than the 3 songs I’ve chosen above it… That drumbeat for a start is like nothing heard in a rock ‘n’ roll single before. Just my personal preference. The moment when the electric guitar comes in. My, my, my…

3. ‘That’ll Be the Day’, with The Crickets, 1957 – reached #1

If the plane crash was The Day the Music Died, then this is the moment it all began. The jingle-jangle intro, the hiccuping voice, the John Wayne inspired hook… My favourite bit has always been the start of the second verse – the country twang on the: well-a, when Cupid shot his dart… Read my original post on this number one record here.

2. ‘Oh Boy!’, with The Crickets, 1957 – reached #3

Teenage angst – you can here my heart a-callin’ –  and lust – a little bit of lovin’ makes the everythin’ alright – in The Crickets 2nd big hit. Holly’s vocals rasp, yelp and strain against the conservatism of 1950s America, and it just pips ‘That’ll Be the Day’ into the runners-up slot…

1. ‘Rave On’, 1958 – reached #5

We-a-he-a-he-al… The opening second of this record already seals its place as an all-time great. The way he stretches out the opening syllable is sublime, and then it morphs into a proto-punk number with its relentless riff surfing along in the background. One minute fifty seconds of rock ‘n’ roll brilliance, the well from which so much modern pop music springs…

Charles Hardin ‘Buddy’ Holley

September 7th 1936 – February 3rd 1959.

Top 10s – Dusty Springfield

A new feature I’m trying out this year. I take one chart-topping artist that we’ve met so far on this countdown and rank my personal Top 10 from their discography.

The only requirements are: for a song to feature it has to have been released, and to have charted, in the UK singles charts.

So, without further ado, my first ever Top 10… Dusty! The Queen of British soul. The Queen of the Beehive and the eye-shadow. Hands down the best UK born female singer, ever… I’m still annoyed that I will only ever get to write one post about her in this countdown, and that’s why she’s featuring first here.

46703

First up, the notable absences… Classics such as ‘The Look of Love’, ‘You Don’t Own Me’, ‘Wishin’ and Hopin’ and ‘Breakfast in Bed’ were never released in the UK and so cannot feature. The record that came closest to being in my top 10 was her debut hit, ‘I Only Want to Be With You’. A classic, but not the real Dusty… Here we go, then.

10. ‘Son of a Preacher Man’, 1968 – peaked at #9.

Surprisingly low? It’s great and all, and is probably her signature tune, but one I’ve always appreciated rather than loved…

9. ‘Give Me Time’, 1967 – peaked at #24

A trademark Dusty ballad, with some very sixties production and percussion. Only reached #24? Criminal.

8. ‘In the Middle of Nowhere’, 1965 – peaked at #8

Pure pop Dusty. Not her usual sound, but I love the ‘Hey, Hey, Heys!’ Gone for a live version here. The sound’s not great, but she looks amazing.

7. ‘What Have I Done to Deserve This?’ with the Pet Shop Boys, 1987 – peaked at #2

Every great Diva needs at least one triumphant comeback… By the mid eighties, Dusty wasn’t in great shape and neither was her career. Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe brought her in for this duet and brought her voice to a whole new generation. It’s much huskier here, but perfectly suits the more minimal late-eighties sound. The Pet Shop Boys would go on to produce her next album. More on that in a bit…

6. ‘I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten’, 1968 – peaked at #4

Not really a ballad, not just a pop song, sounds like a Bond theme… Brilliant. Love the video here, not so sure about the dress…

5. ‘I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself’, 1964 – peaked at #3

Dusty started off her solo career with a handful of bouncy pop singles… Then she released this bad boy. I’d say that this is when Dusty became Dusty. The White Stripes cover isn’t bad either…

4. ‘In Private’, 1989 – peaked at #14

One of Dusty’s gay anthems. The lyrics are written from the POV of a woman having an affair with a man, but we can all read between the lines… Following her Pet Shop Boys duet, Dusty came back with a full PSB produced album, including this banger. A song I’ve only recently come to, but one that instantly ranks alongside her greatest.

She may have excelled at soul, dance and pure pop, but I love her ballads the most, and it’s been very hard to choose between this top 3…

3. ‘You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me’, 1966 – peaked at #1

Her one and only UK #1 – read my original post on it here.

2. ‘Losing You’, 1964, peaked at #9

Near impossible to choose between my top two…

1. ‘All I See Is You’, 1966, peaked at #9

In fact, I’m still not sure. I think ‘All I See Is You’ has just a touch more of Dusty’s trademark defiant heartbreak. She’s devastated by the loss of her love, but you know that she’ll carry on. The ending soars, almost operatic.

There you have it. Let me know if you agree or not… Ten classics, only one of which made #1!  I had fun doing that, and will do it with another artist very soon.