215. The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black (1966)

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1965 had been a phenomenal year for the Rolling Stones, and saw them established as the biggest rivals to the Beatles for the pop crown, despite the nihilism of rock classics (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and Get Off of My Cloud. That December they began work on their fourth album Aftermath. Originally conceived as the soundtrack to an abandoned film, the Stones had much more time than usual to work on this album, and it showed. For the first time they released an album feauring songs only written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and they experimented with their sound. Featuring Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane, Under My Thumb and Out of Time, it’s easily their best album up to this point and perhaps their best to date.

Recorded during the same sessions in March 1966, and released as the opening track of the US version of Aftermath, Paint It, Black took the Rolling Stones into new territory, and remains a real stand-out track.

Initially it had been written with a standard rock-pop arrangement, and lyrically Jagger was continuing on the dark path of their previous two singles, but this time his disgust with the world had a reason. I only recently realised Paint It, Black specifically relates to a loved one’s sudden death, rather than general malaise and depression. Of course it was there, right in front of me, from the very start, if I’d taken proper notice of Jagger’s lyrics. The ‘line of cars and they are painted black’ refers to the funeral, and ‘I could not forsee this thing happening to you’ suggests how unexpected the death was. Something the band were to experience themselves soon… Although Jagger has never said who the song refers to, many believe it concerns a soldier in Vietnam, which is backed up by Stanley Kubrick playing it over the credits of Full Metal Jacket in 1987.

Fooling around with the song in the studio, Bill Wyman played on the organ and Charlie Watts improvised a double-time drum beat that became the song’s distinctive, unusual gallop. The band decided this rhythm would make a nice counterpoint to the bleak lyrics.

The key ingredient that elevates Paint It, Black to a classic, however, came from Brian Jones. Frustrated with his decline in importance to the band, and with Jagger and Richards now in charge, he began experimenting with new instruments and sounds. To compliment the new Moroccan feel to the song, he laid sitar over the top. Inspired by George Harrison, he was taught by Harihar Rao, a disciple of Ravi Shankar. The Beatles get all the credit for popularising the sitar, but Paint It, Black was one of the first pop songs to do so too, and the best for the time being. The whole band put in excellent performances, from Richards’ flamenco opening to the finale, in which Wyman goes crazy on the bass.

Released on 13 May, Paint It, Black quickly knocked the sunshine of Pretty Flamingo from the top of the pops, and cast a dark cloud over the optimism of the spring and summer of 1966. A world away from their early blues tracks, it proved the Rolling Stones could be just as effective at experimenting as the Beatles. It’s easily one of their greatest tracks, and one of the best number 1s of the 60s. However, the Rolling Stones began to hit a rocky patch after its release, and controversy and further experimentation led to their popularity sliding and tragedy. Paint It, Black was their last number 1 until 1968.

And why did the title have that strange comma, adding emphasis on ‘Black’? A further sign of the darkness enveloping the group? No. It was just an error by Decca Records.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 May-1 June)

Births:

Actress Helena Bonham Carter – 26 May

214. Manfred Mann – Pretty Flamingo (1966)

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On 6 May, Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment – Brady for the murders of children John Kilbride and Lesley Ann Downey, and teenager Edward Evans between November 1963 and October 1965. Hindley was sentenced for the deaths of Downey and Evans. Upon passing the sentences, the judge rightly described the couple as ‘two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’. They remain prime examples of the human race at its worst.

Also in the news that month… Everton defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. It was a spectacular win, as Everton were losing 2-0 until the final 16 minutes of the match. The National Union of Seamen called a strike on 14 May, which lasted until 16 July.

Number 1 in the singles chart for three weeks at the time were Manfred Mann, with their second of three chart-toppers, Pretty Flamingo. Since their previous number 1, Do Wah Diddy Diddy in August 1964, they were regularly releasing hit pop singles, including Sha La La and Come Tomorrow, alongside albums of more jazz and R’n’B-influenced material. In September 1965 their cover of Bob Dylan’s If You Gotta Go, Go Now was released, climbing all the way to number two. Around this time their guitarist Mike Vickers decided to leave the group to become a conductor. He had big ambitions to become an orchestra conductor, and did exactly that when the Beatles premiered All You Need is Love in June 1967 for the TV special Our World. Bassist Tom McGuinness moved to guitar duties, and their new bassist was Jack Bruce, formerly of the Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, who later helped form Cream. Their next single, Pretty Flamingo, was written by Mark Barkan, a US songwriter who was later behind the music of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and wrote for the Monkees.

With its hazy jangle and dreamy, colourful lyrics of a girl whose hair ‘glows like the sun’ and eyes that ‘light the skies’ (what’s that got to do with flamingos anyway?), Pretty Flamingo came along at the right time. Hippy culture and psychedelia was on its way, so in a sense Manfred Mann were ahead of the curve. Despite this it’s a fairly sparse recording, and rather rough too. The most noteworthy elements are McGuiness’s guitar and a nice bit of flute that comes in half way through. It’s been noted by many that Paul Jones’s bluesy vocal didn’t really fit with Do Wah Diddy Diddy, but I think he suited it better than he does Pretty Flamingo. I can’t hear this track without thinking of Flamingo Land, as it was adapted and used on TV adverts for the theme park in the summer holdiays when I was a child.

In July Paul Jones left Manfred Mann. He had wanted to a year previous but hung on until a replacement could be found. Mike d’Abo took over from him, and Jones embarked on a solo career. Two top ten singles followed, High Time and I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Boy, but Jones then moved into acting, notably guest-starring in ITV’s cop drama The Sweeney in 1975. He founded the Blues Band in 1979, which featured previous Manfred Mann members initially and still tours to this day. Jones also presented children’s TV quiz Beat the Teacher in the mid-80s, and in 1986 his long-running Radio 2 series The Blues Show began, lasting until April 2018.

Written by: Mark Barkan

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (5-25 May)

Births:

Athlete Jonathan Edwards – 10 May 

213. Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (1966)

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30 April saw a regular hovercraft service begin over the English Channel. It was ended in 2000 due to competition from the Channel Tunnel. Also that day, Liverpool won the Football League First Division title for the second time in three seasons.

Two days previous, Dusty Springfield went to number 1 with You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Despite being one of the biggest stars of the 1960s, and still regarded as one of the country’s finest vocal talents of all time, this was her sole chart-topper.

Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born on 16 April 1939 in West Hampstead. She was brought up in High Wycome in Buckinghamshire until the early 50s, when the O’Brien’s moved to Ealing. She earned the nickname ‘Dusty’ from being rather a tomboy and playing football with the boys down her street. Mary and her older brother Dionysius had a comfy, middle-class upbringing, and their parents loved music, in particular their perfectionist father. This passion would be instilled in both siblings, and Mary grew to love singers like Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford (the latter was the first female number 1 artist back in 1953). By the time she left school, Mary and Dion were singing in folk clubs and holiday camps.

In 1958 Mary joined the Lana Sisters, who weren’t sisters. She became known as Shan, stopped wearing glasses and began glamming up for the first time. As a member of the trio she learnt the ropes of pop stardom, even appearing on television and at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1960 she decided to take a different path, forming the Springfields with Dion and Reshad Feild, who had both been in the Kensington Squares. They changed their names to Dusty, Tim and Tom, respectively, and decided on the surname after rehearsing during spring in a field in Somerset. The Springfields successfully melded folk, country, pop and rhythm’n’blues, becoming so big that they were voted Top British Vocal Group in the New Musical Express in 1961 and 1962 (by which point Tom had left to be replaced by Mike Hurst. The Springfields disbanded in October 1963, with Tom becoming top songwriter for The Seekers (number 1 twice in 1965 – I’ll Never Find Another You and The Carnival is Over.)

That November, with Beatlemania rising, Dusty Springfield released her memorable debut, I Only Want to Be With You. With Johnny Franz on production, the song succeeded in capturing the Spector-style girl groups from the US that Springfield admired. It climbed to number four in the UK, and even got her known in the US. Her debut album A Girl Called Dusty was released in April 1964 and also reached the top ten. Springfield’s version of Bacharach and David’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself hit the number three spot. With her trademark big, blonde beehive, she was becoming one of the country’s brightest talents, topping the New Musical Express poll for Top Female British Artist for the next four years in a row.

In January 1965 she took part in the Sanremo Festival (the Italian inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest), where she reached the semi-final. During the competition, she saw Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te) being performed by co-composer Pino Donaggio and singer Jody Miller, and was moved to tears despite not knowing the meaning of the lyrics. She obtained an acetate but took a year to decide to do anything with it. In March 1966 an instrumental track was recorded, but Springfield still didn’t have any English lyrics to put to it. One night, Dusty’s friend Vicki Wickham (producer of Ready, Steady, Go!) was dining with Simon Napier-Bell (manager of the Yardbirds), and the song came up in conversation. With no songwriting experience, and no undertanding of the Italian lyrics, they began writing an anti-love song called I Don’t Love You, which then became You Don’t Love Me, then You Don’t Have to Love Me, before settling on its final version, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Not bad going, for two mates on a night out.

Despite this being Springfield’s only number 1, opinion has become somewhat divided over the years. It only lasted a week at the top, yet has been covered many times, and I have to confess I assumed it was a Bacharach and David track, such is its fame. But to fans of Springfield who are better acquainted with her ouevre, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me isn’t regarded as up there with her best material. There’s no doubting her singing, which as always is top-notch – it’s the lyrics which have proved problematic in the main. Springfield was such a tough character on the surface, the character in this song is considered to be too weak. I admit I hadn’t really taken notice of the words before, and when you do, they are pretty unpleasant. Springfield is basically telling her ex-lover he can treat her as shit as long as he doesn’t walk out of her life.

Fans also seem divided on Franz’s production. His overblown orchestration worked wonders on the Walker Brothers, but some find it too much for a bitter song like this. Personally I think the music is fine. Some also wonder if the song had special meaning due to Springfield’s sexuality. I can’t see it myself – the lyrics don’t really reflect the subject if you ask me.

Springfield continued to shine throughout the decade with hits such as the sultry The Look of Love for James Bond-spoof Casino Royale (1967). She was instrumental in bringing Motown to a wider audience in the UK, and also had her own series on ITV, called It Must Be Dusty in 1968. That year, with her popularity beginning to decline, she signed with Atlantic Records and recorded the soul-influenced Dusty in Memphis. Its lead single, Son of a Preacher Man is rightly considered among her best and climbed to number ten in the UK. In 1994 its appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction made it popular all over again. While in Memphis, she also persuaded Atlantic to sign Led Zeppelin, as John Paul Jones had performed session work for her. She concluded the 60s with her final series for the BBC, Decidedly Dusty.

Springfield’s sales went into decline further as the 70s began, and Dusty’s dependency on drugs and alcohol worsened. Many biographers see there being two sides to her, with the character of Dusty Springfield allowing the shy Mary O’Brien to indulge in the wilder side of her personality and mask her insecurities, including the worry that her sexuality would ruin her career. She was known for indulging in food fights – something she learnt from her eccentric father growing up, but behind the scenes she would self harm, and she was diagnosed as bieng bipolar. By the mid-70s she had become a recluse and was recording backing vocals for Elton John under her pseudonym Gladys Thong. By the end of the decade though she was releasing her own material once more. She tried several times in the 80s to revive her career, without much look, releasing the new wave-influenced 1982 album White Heat, and appeared on chat show Wogan in 1985.

In 1987 the Pet Shop Boys were searching for a vocalist for What Have I Done to Deserve This?, and someone suggested they use Dusty. Singer Neil Tennant was a fan and the move paid off, with Springfield elevating the tune and also appearing in the video. The single made it to number two, and the trio worked together again, with Tennant and Chros Lowe producing Nothing Has Been Proved for the soundtrack to the 1989 movie chronicling the Profumo affair, Scandal. She was back in the album charts in 1990 with Reputation, again, produced by Pet Shop Boys.

In January 1994, Springfield was recording her album A Very Fine Love when she fell ill. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment her cancer was in remission and she was able to promote her album, but sadly the cancer returned and she died on 2 March 1999. Two weeks later her friend Elton John introduced her to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her demons, or maybe in part, because of them, Dusty Springfield remains one of the UK’s highest-regarded soul singers of all time.

Written by: Vicki Wickham & Simon Napier-Bell/Pino Donaggio & Vito Pallavicini (Io che non vivo (senza te))

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)

Births:

Cricketer Phil Tufnell – 29 April 

 

212. The Spencer Davis Group – Somebody Help Me (1966)

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By 1966, London was established as the coolest capital in the world, and it was on 15 April that Time magazine ran a pop-art cover featuring the city, with the phrase ‘LONDON: The Swinging City’. Inside it stated ‘In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene’. With the World Cup soon to take place, this was a great time to be in England. The Moors Murders still cast a great shadow over all this positivity though. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s trial for three deaths began on 19 April at Chester Crown Court.

The Spencer Davis Group were at number 1 again for the last time. Sticking firmly to the formula that saw them shoot to the top with the classic Keep on Running, they borrowed another song from reggae singer-songwriter Jackie Edwards, who was signed to their producer Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.

Edwards’ original was more like Northern Soul than reggae, and a decent stab at it. However, the Spencer Davis Group made it sound as similar to their previous number 1 as is possible. Winwood’s voice was as great as ever (hearing him singing ‘When I was just/A little boy of seventeen’ is pretty amusing as he must have been that age roughly at the time), and there’s some occasional interesting guitar sounds from Davis, but there’s no way this would have been top of the pops if it had been released before Keep on Running. In 2003 it found new life when it became the theme tune to the long-running ITV drama The Royal, a medical drama set in the 60s.

Better songs were to follow. Both Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man were much more deserving of number 1 status, and they started to make progress in the US. In 1966 the group had also starred in their own film. The Ghost Goes Gear, also starring Nicholas Parsons, saw the Spencer Davis Group staying in the haunted childhood home of their manager. This sounds awfully amazing but seems to have been lost in the mist of time sadly.

In 1967 Steve and Muff Winwood decided to leave the band. Steve formed Traffic, adopting a more psychedelic sound and co-writing the excellent Paper Sun and Hole in My Shoe (later recorded by Neil from The Young Ones). He also played the organ on Voodoo Chile on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (1968), before forming the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with his pal Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. His singing on the haunting Can’t Find My Way Home is particularly beautiful. After briefly reforming Traffic, he resurfaced as a solo artist in the late 70s, and found pop fame once more with the hit single Higher Love in 1986. He still occasionally releases new material, and his daughter Lily is now a singer.

His brother, Muff, went to work as an A&R man for Island Records, before becoming an executive for CBS Records. He produced Sparks’ hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us and was also responsible for signing several big names, including Prefab Sprout, Shakin’ Stevens and Sade.

The Spencer Davis Group soldiered on without the Winwoods, and actually briefly worked alongside Traffic on the soundtrack to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. After several line-up changes, with Davis the only original member left, they split in 1969. They reformed several times over, and confusingly still exist in two different formations, one in Europe and one in the US. Will he form a third after Brexit?

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Producer: Chris Blackwell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 April)

Births:

Model Samantha Fox – 15 April

Deaths:

Cricketer Tich Freeman – 28 January 

211. The Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (1966)

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Four months before the FIFA World Cup was scheduled to kick off in England, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen. On 20 March a thief broke into the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, ignored rare stamps nearby that were worth far more, and took the trophy from its public display. A package with the removable lining was left at Stamford Bridge with a ransom demand. When police arrested Edward Betchley, who mailed the package, he claimed the real culprit was known as ‘The Pole’. He/she have never been found, but the trophy was, by a dog called Pickles, a week after the robbery. His owner, David Corbett, bought a new house with the reward money, and Pickles won a medal and was invited to a celebration banquet when England won the tournament. He went on to a TV career before dying in 1967 after getting caught up in his choke chain while eating cheese. Poor Pickles, what a way for a hero to go.

Four days after Pickles’ discovery, Harold Wilson’s gamble paid off, and the Labour party won the snap general election, increasing their wafer-thin majority significantly. It’s unlikely him and the rest of the Cabinet were dancing to the number 1 at the time though. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore isn’t exactly Things Can Only Get Better, is it?

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons songwriters Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio (also one of the Four Seasons) originally wrote the track as a solo single for Valli. However, his backing group also performed on The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore), as it was originally known upon its release in 1965. The Walker Brothers had stayed popular since achieving their first number 1 that year with Bacharach and David’s Make It Easy on Yourself. It was an admirable attempt to replicate Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’, but fell short despite making it to the top. They then went to number three with My Ship Is Coming In before having a crack at Valli’s tale of heartbreak. This time they really nailed it.

Listening to Valli’s version, it’s clear that this was already a strong track, but the Walker Brothers and producers Johnny Franz and Ivor Raymonde take it to another level and really ramp up the melodrama. Their version starts with a rather Mexican/Spanish feel in the intro, before Scott’s baritone lead begins. As the song continues, his voice is almost lost in the lush intrumentation, but that’s entirely appropriate, as the singer is drowning against an overwhelming tide of heartbreak. Something about the way he sings the lines ‘The tears are always clouding your eyes/When you’re without love’ gets me every time. I’m a big admirer of Scott Walker as an artist, but nothing he’s written tops this in my opinion.

Following a month at number 1, Scott Walker began to take over with song choices and would also join in on production duties, but as his role grew, so did the dissension, and their success began to decline. In early 1968, after touring with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck, followed by a tour of Japan. The trio disbanded.

All three ‘Walkers’ continued to record as solo artists, with Scott gaining a cult following that only grew over the years, even if mainstream success eluded him. His late-1960s albums are now considered classics. The best in my opinion, was Scott 3 (1969), featuring the trippy masterpiece Plastic Palace People.

In 1974 the Walker Brothers reformed and released three albums between 1975 and 1978. Apart from the title track to No Regrets however, they’re very MOR-country and not worth hearing. Since their final split, Scott Walker went even more leftfield and now releases albums sporadically to great acclaim. He also produced Pulp’s final album, We Love Life in 2001. Scott is a big hero of frontman Jarvis Cocker, and was also famously a big influence on David Bowie, which became ever more apparent during Bowie’s last few albums. A birthday message from Walker to Bowie on his 50th in 1997 even reduced him to tears. The other two Walkers, John and Gary, released biography The Walker Brothers: No Regrets – Our Story in 2009, in which John seemed philosophical about losing his importance in the group to Scott. In 2000 he set up his own record label and began touring, but he died of liver cancer in 2011. Gary has seemingly disappeared back into obscurity.

Also in the news during the reign of The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore… 7 April saw the UK ask the UN Security Council for authority to use force to stop oil tankers that violate the oil embargo against Rhodesia. The UN did exactly that three days later. And the day after that, the Marquess of Bath, in conjunction with Jimmy Chipperfield, opened Longleat Safari Park at his Longleat House, which was the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa.

Written by: Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio

Producer: Johnny Franz & Ivor Raymonde

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 March-13 April)

Births:

Politician Andrew Rosindell – 17 March
Footballer Nigel Clough – 19 March
Politician Mark Williams – 24 March 
Athelete Roger Black – 31 March 
Disc jockey Chris Evans – 1 April
Footballer Teddy Sheringham – 2 April 
Footballer Steve Claridge – 10 April 
Singer Lisa Stansfield – 11 April 

Deaths:

Author CS Forester – 2 April
Footballer Barry Burtler – 9 April 
Author Evelyn Waugh – 10 April 

210. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (1966)

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The fall-out from Rhodesia continued through the rest of the winter, with the UK protesting to South Africa on 17 February over its supplying of petrol to the country. 28 February saw Prime Minister Harold Wilson announce a snap general election for 31 March. Two days later Chancellor James Callaghan announced the decimalisation of the pound, which would come into effect on 15 February 1971.

Also on 17 February, Nancy Sinatra began a month at number 1 with Lee Hazlewood’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, which finally brought a much-needed dose of feminism to the top of the charts.

The eldest daughter of Frank Sinatra and his first wife Nancy Barbato, Sinatra was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in July 1940. When she was five her legendary father immortalised her in song with Nancy (with the Laughing Face). He clearly wanted her to follow in his footsteps, and she spent much of her childhood having singing, piano, dance and drama lessons. In the late-1950s she was studying music, dancing and voice at the University of California, but she dropped out and in 1960 she appeared on the television special The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis. She was sent to the airport on behalf of Frank to welcome Presley back from his stint in the army, and performed alongside her father in a rendition of You Make Me Feel So Young/Old (delete as applicable).

In 1961 Sinatra signed to her father’s label, Reprise Records and released her debut single Cuff Links and a Tie Clip. Besides a few chart appearances in Europe and Japan, she was going nowhere, and by 1965 she was on the verge of being dropped. It was around this time that Reprise introduced her to Lee Hazlewood.

Hazlewood was best known up to this point for his work with rockabilly guitarist Duane Eddy, and he produced Peter Gunn and Rebel Rouser, among others. He had written These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ with the intention of recording it himself. It’s more than fair it would have had a fraction of the impact if this had been the case. In an article for Los Angeles Magazine in 2016, Sinatra recalled Hazlewood had come over to her parents’ house to audition songs for her. The minute he played the infamous bass line on his guitar, she was hooked. But ‘he said, “It’s not really a girl’s song. I sing it myself onstage.” I told him that coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a little girl to sing. He agreed. When he left, my father, who had been sitting in the living room reading the paper, said, “The song about the boots is best.”’

Sinatra recorded the song on 19 November 1965 in Hollywood, with the Wrecking Crew providing the backing. Hazlewood’s idea to have her sing it in a lower register was a genius move, as was that slinky descending, dare I say, groovy opening. Sinatra’s had enough of her lover’s cheating ways despite his promises to change. What makes it so effective, and revolutionary at the time, is the fact she isn’t angry, or sad. She’s cool, calm, collected and entirely in charge, and it’s for these reasons (along with the boots imagery, obviously) that make These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ so sexy. A sexy number 1 by a female artist – how many times had that happened up to this point? Sinatra’s father famously denounced pop in the 60s, which is ironic, considering his own daughter helped invent modern female pop as we know it. I’m not going to mention ‘girl power’. Oh, I just did.

Sinatra’s image change to help her promote the song also pioneered 60s fashion, and there’s good reason the track is used in spoof spy film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Her bleached-blonde hair, heavy eye make-up, mini-skirt and boots are the epitomy of 60s glamour, and the film she made for the track, with go-go dancers parading behind her, is truly iconic.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ was still at number 1 on 5 March, when BOAC Flight 911 crashed during severe turbulence over Mount Fuji soon after taking off from Tokyo International Airport in Japan. All 124 on board were killed. Four days later, gangster Ronnie Kray, one half of infamous East End criminal duo the Kray Twins, shot dead George Cornell, an associate of the rival Richardson Gang. And two days after that, Chi-Chi, London Zoo’s giant panda, was flown to Moscow to get it on with Moscow Zoo’s An-An. Wonder if they played them the number 1 of the time?

Written & produced by: Lee Hazlewood

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 February-16 March)

Births:

Comedian Ben Miller – 24 February 
Comedian Alan Davies – 6 March 
Politician Gregory Barker – 8 March 
Author Alastair Reynolds – 13 March 

Deaths:

Politician Viscount Astor – 8 March 

209. The Overlanders – Michelle (1966)

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On 30 January Palitoy first launched their Action Man figures. The UK version of Hasbro’s GI Joe, created in 1964, went on to delight children (and some adults) for decades to come. The following day, Britain officially ceased all trade with Rhodesia.

That week also saw folk-pop quartet the Overlanders begin a three-week stint at the top with their version of the Beatles’ Michelle. Originally a trio, they formed in the early 1960s and consisted of Paul Arnold on piano and guitar, Laurie Mason on piano and harmonica and Peter Bartholomew on guitar, with all three providing vocals. Originally their repertoire derived mainly from American folk tunes. The Overlanders signed to Pye Records and Tony Hatch became their producer. That July they released their self-penned debut single Summer Skies and Golden Sands to little fanfare. Third single, a cover of Chad & Jeremy’s Yesterday’s Gone briefly entered the Billboard chart during the British Invasion in 1964. After that, every release was a failure, so the Overlanders decided to beef up their sound, adding Terry Widlake on bass and David Walsh on drums during 1965. As that year came to a close, the Beatles released their sixth album Rubber Soul, and among the most popular tracks was Paul McCartney’s folk-flecked Michelle.

This song originated as a joke from years earlier. McCartney had been to a party of art students, one of whom was a French bohemian who entertained the guests with songs. Paul wrote the tune to Michelle as a spoof of that night, with comedy-French-style groaning in lieu of any lyrics. While making Rubber Soul the Beatles were considering comic songs as a potential new direction, and John Lennon suggested McCartney put some proper lyrics to his party piece.

McCartney turned to Jan Vaughan, French teacher and the wife of Ivan Vaughan, his former bandmate in the Quarrymen. It was she that came up with ‘Michelle, ma belle’, and a few days later he asked her for a French translation of ‘these are words that go together well’ . McCartney then took Michelle to Lennon, who completed the song with the ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ bridge.

Such was the strength of the Lennon and McCartney catalogue, their album tracks were often released as singles by other artists, knowing that covering Beatles originals gave them a very good chance of scoring a hit. Although released as a single in some countries, the Beatles chose not to do so in the UK or US. At the same time as the Overlanders decided to give it a go, George Martin produced a version by David and Jonathan. However, apparently the Beatles gave their blessing to the Overlanders version, because their label Pye had agreed to Brian Epstein’s request not to release a single by Lennon’s estranged father Alfred. The Overlanders won the UK chart battle, although David and Jonathan hit number 1 in Canada.

Despite being one of the Beatles’ better-known album tracks, I’m not that big a fan. Apart from the catchy chorus, it’s a bit smarmy, fairly throwaway and should have remained a joke between the group. And the Overlanders version is worse, sounding smarmier. Beefing up the production makes the song worse, losing the fragility of George Harrison’s guitar solo (which was George Martin’s idea). Were this not a Beatles song, I’m not sure the Overlanders would have become the one-hit wonders they were.

Upon the release of their version, Paul Russell left the Overlanders to be replaced by Alan Warran. In 1967 Paul Arnold left the group to go solo and he was replaced by Ian Griffiths, and Terry Widlake left in 1968 to be replaced by Mike Wedgwood. These changes were a sure sign they couldn’t last, and soon the group was no more, sounding decidedly out-of-date by this point. Arnold formed the New Overlanders in the 70s.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 January-16 February)

Births:

Footballer Keith Dublin – 29 January
Singer Rick Astley – 6 February
Journalist Sarah Montague – 8 February 

Deaths:

Barrister Ronald Armstrong – Jones 27 January 

208. The Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running (1966)

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1965… what a year for pop music, reflected so well in the number 1s in the singles chart. And 1966 was perhaps the peak year for innovation in pop and rock. It got off to a blistering start too, with Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group usurping the Beatles’ Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out on 20 January.

Spencer Davis, originally Spencer Davies, was born in Swansea, South Wales in July 1939. A prodigious child, he learnt to play the accordion and harmonica at the age of six. He moved to London when he was 16, and was learning the guitar, having become enthralled by skiffle, blues and jazz. In 1960 he ditched his first band, the Saints, and became a student at Birmingham University. While there he dated Christine Perfect, who later married Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie. They performed together in the Ian Campbell Trio, performing blues and folk. In 1963, Davis met Steve Winwood for the first time at the Golden Lion pub.

Mervyn Winwood had been born in Birmingham in June 1943, and his brother Stephen in May 1948. Their father was a semi-professional musician, playing saxophone and clarinet, and must have influenced his sons. Mervyn, who was given the nickname ‘Muff’ after the children’s television character Muffin the Mule, learnt the guitar and bass. Steve, then known as Stevie, began performing with his father and brother at the tender age of eight, in the Ron Atkinson Band. I’m assuming this wasn’t the football manager running a group… By this time, the younger sibling was already able to play piano, drums and guitar. By the time Davis saw the Winwood brothers performing, Stevie was 14 and they were in the Muffy Wood Jazz Band. He had already performed with many blues singers over from the US, and was somehow in possession of an earthy, bluesy vocal range, which he had modelled on Ray Charles. Davis was keen to form a group with the Winwoods, and together with Pete York on drums they became the Rhythm and Blues Quartette. Come on lads, it’ll take more than a misspelling of ‘quartet’ to make you stand out… Performing regularly in Birmingham, they were noticed during a live show by Chris Blackwell of Island Records.

Born into a wealthy family, Blackwell’s father was related to the co-founder of food company Crosse & Blackwell. He spent much of his childhood in Jamaica and at the age of 21 he was rescued by Rasta fishermen after a boating accident. It was here that he fell in love with reggae music, and he founded Island Records that same year, 1958. He returned to England in 1962, and two years later he produced one of the first recorded ska songs, My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. After signing with Blackwell, Davis, the Winwoods and York thankfully changed their name to the Spencer Davis Group. Muff came up with the name, surmising that, since the guitarist was the only one willing to do interviews for publicity, he may as well be the star of the show.

The Spencer Davis Group’s first single was a cover of John Lee Hooker’s Dimples. Looking for a follow-up, they decided on Keep On Running by their Jamaican labelmate Jackie Edwards. It had featured on his 1965 album Come on Home, and his version was a charming and chilled skank compared to what the band transformed it into. Their version was released in November 1965.

The Spencer Davis Group version has stood the test of time, and then some. Blackwell’s production gives every band member a chance to shine. Coming from a reggae background, the bass and drums are louder than the average 1960s pop song. But the twin stars are Davis’s ferocious, fuzzy guitar licks, replacing the horns of Edwards’ original, and of course, Steve’s astounding vocal. It’s still impossible to believe such a voice could belong to a teenager. And more importantly, it sounds totally natural and unforced. I could hear Keep On Running a million times, (and I will have done, on countless adverts and films) and never tire of it. The beauty lies in the energy and simplicity of the performance. Keep On Running was lightning in a bottle.

Written by: Jackie Edwards

Producer: Chris Blackwell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (20-26 January)

Deaths:

Politician Gordon Macdonald – 20 January 

Every Christmas Number 2

The Intro 

A year ago I made the foolish decision to listen to all the Christmas number 1s, in order, during a single four-hour-plus sitting. Luckily, this insane idea paid off as the feature proved rather popular. I joked at the time about following it up with something similar, covering all the festive number 2s. But why would anyone want to do that?

Well, as we all know, the Christmas number 1 has been such a prestigious prize since the 1970s, the runner-up is often considered just as worthy. Plus, some of the most popular and best Christmas songs of all time were notable by their absence last time around. So, why not follow up Christmas number 1s with Christmas number 2s?

Just to clarify, I’m not talking about toilet activity following Christmas dinner. Although, to be honest, listening to some of these songs has been as difficult as passing a yule log.

So, here we are again. 76 festive and not-so-festive songs, in one sitting, lasting four-and-a-half hours. Like last year, if a single was a double A-side, I’ll include both. Unlike last year, this time around there’s two EPs to include. I’ve decided to listen to every track on these and come up with an opinion on the EP in general based on the material within. As before, I’ll pick a best and worst for each decade, and then an overall best and worst. If you’ve never read Every Christmas Number 1, or want a refresher, here it is.

Deep breath, and here we go again.

1950s

We start right back at 1952, the year the chart began. You Belong to Me by Jo Stafford just missed out on the first Christmas number 1 spot behind Al Martino, but was to overtake him eventually, making Stafford the first female number 1. Pre-rock’n’roll, a lot of the early 50s tracks are so dated now, but it’s not too bad compared to other singles from the era. The next two tracks in a row came from Hull crooner David Whitfield. Now here’s a voice that grates on me, but at least 1954’s Santo Natale is an actual Christmas song – the last in this list until 1975.

The first decent song up is the classic Rock Around the Clock. One of the most important number 1s of the decade had slipped from pole position by the time Christmas 1955 rolled around. One of two covers of Singing the Blues to get to number 1, Guy Mitchell’s in 1956 has grown on me somewhat since I first reviewed it, and it was quite nice to hear it again. Unlike Adam Faith’s What Do You Want? (1959), which irritated me today. You’re not Buddy Holly, Adam. I hadn’t heard Ma He’s Making Eyes at Me before, by Johnny Otis and his Orchestra with Marie Adams, and I’ve already no memory of it whatsoever. Although I’ve a better appreciation of 50s music these days, I’m still not a huge fan, and I was pleased to get it over with quickly, by and large. This first 30 minutes of my listening marathon didn’t show the 50s in as good a light as some of the music I heard when reviewing all the chart-toppers of the decade.

The Best:

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Lord Rockingham’s XIHoots Mon (1958): It was very close between this and Rock Around the Clock, and although Bill Haley’s pioneering rock’n’roll bop changed the charts forever, it hasn’t aged as well as this fun instrumental (with eccentric stereotyped Scottish interjections), which I’d have imagined would have made any 50s festive party go with a swing. Altogether now, ‘Hoots mon, there’s a moose, loose, aboot this hoose!’

The Worst:

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David Whitfield – Answer Me (1953): Slow, slushy, overblown and trite. Poor old Whitfield really doesn’t rate highly with me. But it’s nothing personal – Frankie Laine’s version of the same song was rated my worst Christmas number 1 last year, so it’s the song as much as it is Whitfield’s performance. Thanks to the likes of Haley, Elvis and Buddy Holly, these type of songs disappeared eventually.

1960s

By the time the most exciting decade in pop began, the youthful excitement of rock’n’roll and skiffle had fizzled out, leaving a big hole filled by almost everything Elvis released, which was often poor once he’d left the army, or tracks from Cliff Richard and the Shadows. Again, not that great either. Presley’s It’s Now or Never was up first, and as I said when I reviewed it a few months back, I can admire the vocal prowess on display, but it just makes me want a Cornetto, and that’s not festive at all. Tower of Strength though, by Frankie Vaughan, is a frankly barmy display of bluster, reminscent of Tom Jones before anyone had heard of him, back in 1961. Things got rather dull and safe afterwards with Cliff and co’s double-bill of The Next Time and Bachelor Boy. Cliff crops up as a number 2 (snigger) over the festive season just as often as he would at number 1 – four times. I’d yet to hear the worst he had to offer at this point though.

As I reached the era of the Beatles, pop was taking giant leaps forward, and although the number 2s are stil lacking any references to the silly season, there’s some classic pop served up for me, including Petula Clark’s brassy Downtown (1964), Donovan’s trippy Sunshine Superman (1966) and the infectious chorus of the Foundations’ Build Me Up Buttercup in 1968. However, such was the chart dominance of the Fab Four, they had two Christmas number 2s while they sat at the top of the charts. This presented me with an almost impossible decision.

The Best:

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The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour EP (1967): So, it became a choice between this and perhaps the greatest pure pop song in history, She Loves You. 1963’s best-selling song was a breath of fresh air both today and as I I’ve made my way through every number 1 of the 60s, and its importance cannot be overstated. However, much as I love it, I’ve always loved the psychedelic period of the Beatles the most, and the Magical Mystery Tour EP is not one, not two, but six whole tracks of some of their finest work. Plus, in a sense, it is Christmassy, as the music featured on their patchy but interesting Boxing Day TV special in 1967. And it features I Am the Walrus, always fascinating and savage, but particularly so when up against some of the other songs I’d be hearing today. Plus George Harrison’s EP closer, Blue Jay Way, was the song that made me obsessed with the Beatles, after I had an out-of-body experience to it. And no, I wasn’t under the influence.

The Worst:

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Cliff Richard – Wind Me Up (Let Me Go) (1965): Bachelor Boy at least had a memorable chorus, and is unintentionally funny, but this track, which I’d never heard before, was instantly forgettable. Despite the fact the Beatles stole his British pop crown, Cliff clearly still had a hell of a following in 1965, otherwise, how do you explain this selling so well? The only impact it had on me was to make me imagine an actual wind-up Cliff Richard toy. Which would be pointless. Just like this song.

1970s

There’s a noticeable slide in quality once the Beatles split. One thing I’ve learnt from the BBC Four repeats of Top of the Pops is that the 70s may have been a diverse, fertile and often wonderful decade for music, there was also an awful lot of shit doing well. Things started off okay with McGuinness Flint’s When I’m Dead and Gone, which wasn’t unlike something the Faces would have released, but it didn’t move me. T Rex’s Jeepster (1971) was more like it, and my choice for the runner-up of the 70s. Not as great as Bolan’s number 1s, though. Bachman Turner Overdrive’s one-hit wonder You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet from 1974 can’t help but raise a smile – the trouble is it’s very hard to hear it without thinking of Smashey and Nicey, and thus just feels a bit of a joke, rather than a harmless bit of feelgood rock. Same goes for the Village People’s YMCA (1978). Very difficult to hear that and not think of the million spoofs over the years. And of course, it was meant as a bit of fun disco in the first place. While I’m not sure I believe in the idea of guilty pleasures when it comes to music (a song is either good or not, cool shouldn’t come into it), I’ve always enjoyed Showaddywaddy’s Under the Moon of Love (1976). But would I ever listen to it by choice? No. I’m no ABBA fan either but I appreciate there are some classics in their catalogue. I Have a Dream (1979) isn’t one of them. Plus, it reminds me of Westlife’s version, which I rated the worst Christmas number 1 last year.

Almost scraping the bottom of the barrel were Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band’s The Floral Dance. 1977 may have been the year of punk but it was also the year of this dross. Everyone knows Terry Wogan’s version is the one to hear. And then there’s Gary Glitter’s I Love You Love Me Love from back in 1973. Glitter is a difficult subject, obviously. Is it possible to separate the monster from the music? I discussed this in my review of Great Balls of Fire. I ranked that as the best number 1 of the 50s. Yet the man behind it married an underage relative, and therefore, Lewis is a horrible dickhead. However, Glitter isn’t just a fallible human being, he’s evil. I’d say it is very, very difficult to get anything positive out of his music anymore. I Love You Love Me Love, like most of Glitter’s hits, sounds great, thanks to Mike Leander’s production, but it’s sleazy, and not in a good way, and that’s even before you factor in Gary Glitter’s crimes. I felt like I needed a wash after it was done. I’d always assumed Wizzard were at number 2 that Christmas, behind Slade. Shame.

The Best:

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Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas (1975): Ah, thank you Greg Lake, for making me feel clean again. Generally the runner-up songs from the 70s were a disappointing listen, but here was a proper classic. The first festive number 2 in 21 years stands largely apart from most famous Christmas songs in its philosophical approach and criticism of the commercialisation of the holidays. Ahead of its time, and yet looking to the past with is adaptation of Sergei Prokofiev’s Troika portion of his Lieutenant Kijé suite, its message has only grown in relevance over the years. If I hear it in the right mood, it’s in my top three Christmas songs of all time.

The Worst:

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Chuck Berry: My Ding-a-Ling (1972): Worst of a bad bunch was this live recording by rock’n’roll legend and sex offender Chuck Berry. Yes, Glitter wasn’t the only pervert to have a number 1 and Christmas number 2. Yet this innuendo-laden novelty track is even more offensive, because it’s irredeemably shit. How can the man behind some of rock’n’roll’s most influential tunes have released this? Mary Whitehouse tried to get it banned apparently. For once, it’s a shame she didn’t succeed.

1980s

The number 2s for the decade I grew up in get off to a sad start with the sadly ironic (Just Like) Starting Over by John Lennon, who had been murdered a few weeks earlier. Far from being his best work, it’s still criminal that this was beaten to Christmas number 1 by There’s No One Quite Like Grandma. Yet again, Cliff shows his face the following year. Daddy’s Home is slushy nonsense, but not the worst the decade has to offer. Slade make a surprise return in 1983. Ten years on from Merry Xmas Everybody, which I voted the best festive number 1 of all time, they tried again with a timely slice of stadium rock. It’s not great, but at least it’s Slade.

At last, another yuletide classic! It’s Last Christmas, by Wham! I’ve grown to love this song more and more as the years go by, and it took the untimely death of George Michael for me to discover what a bloody decent man he was on top of all his talent. He played every track on this, and it’s leagues above its fellow A-side in 1984, Everything She Wants, and could have easily been my favourite of the 80s, but it faces strong competition. Not from Whitney Houston’s Saving All My Love for You in 1985, though. It ticks all the boxes for an 80s slushy lets-get-it-on-style track, but it’s not really my bag. Unlike Caravan of Love by the Housemartins the following year. My third favourite of the decade takes me back to my childhood and this beatiful a cappella cover with a Christian message would have stood out as a great number 1 during the selfish Thatcher era. The 80s number 2s come to an end with Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue’s Especially for You (1988), which is difficult to dislike, and finally Let’s Party by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers. I can still remember how excited I was to open this on Christmas Day and run upstairs to my brother’s record player to put it on. Tragic, eh? Well, perhaps, but come on, it features all the Christmas classics like, er, March of the Mods, and a version of I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday that isn’t even the Wizzard original as they couldn’t get the rights… Yeah, well, I was only 10, alright?

The Best:

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The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York (1987): It would take a strong song to rank above Last Christmas as the best festive number 2, and this is it. Famously kept off the top spot by Pet Shop Boys’ Always on My Mind, many consider this the best Christmas number 1 there never was, and its hard to argue with that. The beauty of MacColl’s angelic vocal contrasts perfectly with MacGowan’s shambolic wailing, and that’s before you take a look at the lyrics. Featuring lost hope, alcoholism, drugs, prison and swear words, its a truly unique work.

The Worst:

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Shakin’ Stevens – Blue Christmas EP (1982): I’m going to give Cliff Richard a break here. Daddy’s Home may be crap, but at least it was over quickly. Shaky’s EP is four songs long, and without the charm of his 1985 Christmas number 1, Merry Christmas Everyone. The title track is ok, but the other material was pretty painful, and his voice is all over the place. It’s hard enough listening to over four hours of songs in one session, but four in a row by Shakin’ Stevens is a step too far.

1990s

You can laugh at me if you want, but the 90s tracks get off to a good start with Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby. Come on, it’s enjoyable enough – and ice is associated with Christmas, is it not? It’s certainly better than the next few sappy ballads, anyway. Diana Ross’s When You Tell Me You Love Me (1991), Michael Jackson’s Heal the World (1992) and Take That’s Babe (1993) are all sure signs of the direction the charts were heading, with sentiment and pomposity becoming commonplace in the singles released every December. Heal the World is particularly sickly, especially with the children at the start.

The comedy tracks are much more enjoyable, and it’s surprising it’s taken this long for any to appear. I have warm memories of the Mike Flowers Pops pretending their easy-listening version of Wonderwall was the original at the height of Britpop, and Chocolate Salty Balls (PS I Love You) (1998) might be a cheap joke but it’s always good to hear Isaac Hayes. I don’t want to speak ill of Dunblane’s cover of Knockin’ On Heavens Door in 1996, as it was for a great cause, but it’s too overblown and would have worked better if they’d held back a little. It sounds ten years out of date.

And then, once again, there’s Cliff. I both admire and shake my head at the idea of him thinking he was entitled to be the last number 1 artist of the 20th century. At least he tried to release something momentous for such a huge event. The problem is, the words to The Lords Prayer set to the music of Auld Lang Syne was a terrible idea. However, it would have made a more fitting Christmas number 1 than Westlife’s double-bill of total dross, I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun.

The Best:

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Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You (1994): Only at Christmas would I ever rank pampered prima donna Mariah Carey as the best anything. Resolutely not a fan of her over-the-top style of singing normally, she did the right thing here by toning it down and yet still going hell-for-leather in performing this total barnstormer that still lights up the dancefloor at every Christmas party.  It sounds just like something from Phil Spector’s 1963 album A Christmas Gift to You, but outdoes every track on it. At the time of its release I had just become a dyed-in-the-wool indie fan, but I remember secretly thinking it was better than Oasis’s Whatever, which I was hoping would be number 1 come December 25th. Of course, East 17’s Stay Another Day defeated both in the end.

The Worst:

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Teletubbies – Teletubbies Say ‘Eh-Oh!’ (1997): As much as Christmas is for children, and if you have to hear a kids’ song in the charts, now is the time, there was no need for the theme tune to this show for babies and toddlers to have been released, let alone do so well. It was basically a cash-in for the BBC. It’s not the worst number 2 ever, and Teletubbies works wonders with children. It’s just downright odd to listen to. It’s basically the theme tune on a loop, and there have been many better theme tunes over the years. It also brings to mind that creepy baby face in the sun from the programme, that used to freak me out when I was at university. Why was I watching Teletubbies at university? Good question.

2000s

What awful timing. Just as I begin to get tired of this experiment, I reach the most painful decade to listen to. Bar a few exceptions, every song was painful for me to sit through. Wet ballad after wet ballad. And yet, X Factor songs don’t feature much. Probably because they were constantly getting to number 1 at the time. Both One True Voice’s Sacred Trust in 2002 and Joe McElderry’s The Climb aren’t worth another listen though. I remember lots of fuss over veteran songwriter Gordon Haskell finding fame with How Wonderful You Are in 2001, but it just made me want to take a nap.

I hated the Darkness at the time. Didn’t find the joke that funny, and they were everywhere. But I’ve warmed to them over the years for at least providing an antidote to teen hunks singing about not having penises. At least Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End) was a stab at a good old-fashioned Christmas singalong, whether it was tongue-in-cheek or not. In fact, such is the poor quality of this batch of tunes, I even found myself debating whether it should win this section. I don’t understand why Ronan Keating felt the need to cover Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in 2004, as Boyzone had already made it a hit in 1995. Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, features, but it’s still not a patch on the original. Never liked Nizlopi’s vastly overrated JCB Song (2005) – the lyrics may be worthy and meaningful, but my ears won’t let me get past the awful affectation to Luke Concannon’s voice. Take That’s big comeback single Patience the following year has been praised by critics as an excellent return to form and a sign of the group’s maturity, but both that and Katie Melua’s version of What a Wonderful World, with Eva Cassidy singing from beyond the grave, left me cold.

The Best:

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Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah (2008): Originally on Grace (1994), the singer-songwriter’s sole album before his tragic death by drowning, Buckley’s cover of Leonard Cohen’s powerful ballad was released as an antidote to X Factor winner Alexandra Burke’s missing-the-point-pile-on-the-gospel rendition for a chart showdown in 2008. Simon Cowell sadly won out yet again, but it was a victory in itself that this spine-tingling version could climb so high in such a desolate decade of pop.

The Worst:

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Westlife – What Makes a Man (2000): Hooray for Bob the Builder! Can We Fix It? kept yet another soggy slowie off the Westlife production line from being the first Christmas number 1 of the 22st century. What Makes a Man stands out as a particularly tedious waste of time amongst a sea of similar ‘tunes’.

2010s

Nearly there… Luckily for me, the 2010s have seen an improvement over the previous decade… although talk about damning with faint praise… There’s still a tendency towards boring ballads (see Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself in 2015), but generally there’s more variety. I can’t say I enjoyed much of it, but then again, I’m 39, it’s not meant for me. I don’t understand the popularity of Rihanna, and her 2010 track with Drake, What’s My Name?, sets my teeth on edge.

Rag’n’Bone’s Human (2016) is okay, I guess. It’s certainly better than Eminem and Ed Sheeran’s River, which brings my ordeal to a close. For all his credibility and attitude, why does Slim Shady collaborate with so many boring, beige pop stars? Many will be asking why I haven’t rated Pharrell Williams’ Happy (2013) as the best seasonal number 2. As nice as it is, I find it a little too in thrall to the soul classics of the 60s that are far better. Also, it’s been played to death over the last five years.

The Best:

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Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk (2014): Okay, you could give the exact same arguments as above for this. Yes, it’s also one of the biggest songs of the 2010s, and yes, it’s clearly unoriginal. However, I’m a huge funk fan, particuarly of Parliament and Funkadelic, and Uptown Funk brings to mind Atomic Dog-era George Clinton. I’ve yet to personally tire of it, and if anything it’s taken on a new lease of life for me as my eldest daughter loves it. So there.

The Worst:

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Little Mix – Cannonball (2011): My eldest also loves Black Magic by Little Mix, and I agree, it’s a great pop track. Sadly, I don’t get to hear that today, I have to suffer this instead. The first girl group to win X Factor, their debut single has none of the energy and anthemic chorus of Black Magic. It’s just yet another lush but empty ballad, complete with black-and-white video of the group’s ‘journey’. I hope to never again have to put myself through such tat, at least, not until my daughters are teenagers and then I clearly won’t have a choice anymore.

The Best UK Christmas Number 2 Ever is…

The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York (1987): Although in general my marathon session of Christmas number 1s was more enjoyable than this year’s, the decision to pick the best of the bunch was quite easy. Today proved much harder. My winner, I Believe in Father Christmas and All I Want for Christmas Is You are all among the best Christmas songs there is. In the end, I decided that Fairytale of New York was the best all-rounder. Lake’s single is wistful, makes you think, and gets to the nitty gritty of Christmas. But you wouldn’t want to hear it at a party. Carey’s single is the opposite. It’s a belter of a tune, but it’s not deep. Fairytale of New York is all of these things. And it manages to be dark and poetic, and a song to sing when blind drunk on a night out, all at the same time. It’s also poignant, since the death of MacColl, and seems to grow in stature with every passing year.

The Worst UK Christmas Number 2 Ever is…

Westlife – What Makes a Man (2000): Congratulations Westlife! It takes a special kind of crapness to be responsible for the worst Christmas number 1 and number 2! Last year I said they had committed ‘Pop music at it’s very dreariest’, and What Makes a Man is more of the same. There’s little more I can add to this really, as it’s so dull, it\s hard to get angry about. It’s just depressing.

The Outro

Never again. I’ve suffered enough. The surprising lack of true Christmas songs in this marathon listen made it feel more like a bunch of random songs, a large amount of which I’d never choose to listen to. Even a decade I thought would throw up some goodies like the 70s managed to disappoint. And there were a few classics conspicuous by their absence. I’d always assumed that Stop the Cavalry and I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday would be in there. It’s always great to hear my top three though, and they and a few others saved the day. It makes you question your sanity, though, when you find yourself picking All I Want for Christmas is You over the Magical Mystery Tour EP. But that’s Christmas for you. They don’t call it the silly season for nothing.

Do you agree? Have I been too harsh on Westlife? Can’t stand hearing MacGowan’s barely comprehensible ramblings? Stick a comment below.

And no, I won’t be listening to every Christmas number 3 next year. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere.

Every UK Christmas Number 2 (1952-2017)

1952: Jo Stafford with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – You Belong to Me
1953: David Whitfield with Stanley Black & His Orchestra – Answer Me
1954: David Whitfield – Santo Natale
1955: Bill Haley & His Comets – Rock Around the Clock
1956: Guy Mitchell with Ray Connif & His Orchestra – Singing the Blues
1957: Johnny Otis and His Orchestra with Marie Adams – Ma He’s Making Eyes at Me
1958: Lord Rockingham’s XI – Hoots Mon
1959: Adam Faith – What Do You Want?
1960: Elvis Presley – It’s Now or Never
1961: Frankie Vaughan – Tower of Strength
1962: Cliff Richard – The Next Time/Bachelor Boy
1963: The Beatles – She Loves You
1964: Petula Clark – Downtown
1965: Cliff Richard – Wind Me Up (Let Me Go)
1966: Donovan – Sunshine Superman
1967: The Beatles – Magical Mystery Tour EP
1968: The Foundations – Build Me Up Buttercup
1969: Kenny Rogers and the First Edition – Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love To Town
1970: McGuinness Flint – When I’m Dead and Gone
1971: T Rex – Jeepster
1972: Chuck Berry – My Ding-a-Ling
1973: Gary Glitter – I Love You Love Me Love
1974: Bachman Turner Overdrive – You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet
1975: Greg Lake – I Believe in Father Christmas
1976: Showaddywaddy – Under the Moon of Love
1977: Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band – The Floral Dance
1978: The Village People – YMCA
1979: ABBA – I Have a Dream
1980: John Lennon – (Just Like) Starting Over
1981: Cliff Richard – Daddy’s Home
1982: Shakin’ Stevens – Blue Christmas EP
1983: Slade – My Oh My
1984: Wham! – Last Christmas/Everything She Wants
1985: Whitney Houston – Saving All My Love for You
1986: The Housemartins – Caravan of Love
1987: The Pogues featuring Kirsty MacColl – Fairytale of New York
1988: Jason Donovan and Kylie Minogue – Especially for You
1989: Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers – Let’s Party
1990: Vanilla Ice – Ice Ice Baby
1991: Diana Ross – When You Tell Me That You Love Me
1992: Michael Jackson – Heal My World
1993: Take That – Babe
1994: Mariah Carey – All I Want for Christmas Is You
1995: The Mike Flowers Pops – Wonderwall
1996: Dunblane – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
1997: Teletubbies – Teletubbies Say ‘Eh-Oh!’
1998: Chef – Chocolate Salty Balls (PS I Love You)
1999: Cliff Richard – The Millennium Prayer
2000: Westlife – What Makes a Man
2001: Gordon Haskell – How Wonderful You Are
2002: One True Voice – Sacred Trust
2003: The Darkness – Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)
2004: Ronan Keating featuring Yusuf Islam – Father and Son
2005: Nizlopi – JCB Song
2006: Take That – Patience
2007: Katie Melua and Eva Cassidy – What a Wonderful World
2008: Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
2009: Joe McElderry – The Climb
2010: Rihanna featuring Drake – What’s My Name?
2011: Little Mix – Cannonball
2012: James Arthur – Impossible
2013: Pharrell Williams – Happy
2014: Mark Ronson featuring Bruno Mars – Uptown Funk
2015: Justin Bieber – Love Yourself
2016: Rag’n’Bone Man – Human
2017: Eminem featuring Ed Sheeran – River

207. The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out (1965)

PEG6MOB.jpgAs Christmas 1965 approached, tension increased between the UK and Rhodesia, with Britain beginning an oil embargo on 17 December. America soon followed suit. Supporters of Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith attacked three visiting MPs on 12 January 1966.

22 December saw a temporary maximum speed limit of 70mph on the UK’s motorways. The limit became permanent in 1967. On the same day, Prime Minister Harold Wilson shuffled the cabinet and made Roy Jenkins the Home Secretary and the new Minister of Transport was Barbara Castle. Both MPs would be big names within Labour for many years to come.

It will be no surprise to see the Beatles were Christmas number 1 yet again. This was the third time in a row, and they overtook Cliff Richard as the British act with the most chart-toppers – nine at this point. Since their last single Help!, the Fab Four had met with their old hero Elvis Presley, played their famous Shea Stadium concert, and finally slowed down, with the intention of devoting more time than usual to their new album. With LSD added to their drug intake, in addition to their pot smoking, Rubber Soul was a big step forward. The Beatles drew on their favourite musicians of the time, including Bob Dylan and the Byrds, to create a more introspective sound, combining pop, rock and folk with their most thoughtful, insightful lyrics to date. In addition to album highlights such as Drive My Car, Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), In My Life and If I Needed Someone, the band also recorded two non-album tracks to release as a single on the same day. Because there were disagreements over which track to prioritise, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out became the first ‘proper’ double-A-side single. Any followers of this blog will have seen we’ve had double-A-sides before, but in these instances, the second track listed was actually supposed to be a B-side, it’s just that demand resulted in the flip sides being promoted as strongly as the main track. That’s why you’ll see so many from Elvis earlier in the decade.

Day Tripper was recorded at Abbey Road on 16 October. The killer riff and majority of the song came from John Lennon, with Paul McCartney mainly helping with the verses. Seems to me this was Lennon’s attempt at coming up with a hook as good as the Rolling Stones’ (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, and he came admirably close with this.

At the time, Lennon and McCartney were debating where to go next with their songwriting, having by and large exhausted the well of first-person love songs. One option, that fortunately didn’t last, was to write ‘comedy songs’. Not necessarily silly songs, but humourous tracks, occasionally with punchlines. Although the world can be glad they didn’t stick with that idea, to be fair, when the examples are Day Tripper, Drive My Car and Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown), maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad thing after all.

Lyrically, Day Tripper was their first single to mention drugs, albeit hidden in a not-subtle-at-all manner behind travelling references. The female character, perhaps like the one in Ticket to Ride, is sexually confident (in addition to being a ‘weekend hippy’), with the line ‘she’s a big teaser’ famously a cleaner version of the original ‘she’s a prick teaser’.

Although cleaner and sounding more ‘pop’ than (I Can’t get No) Satisfaction, the stereo mix of Day Tripper is rather sloppy. Of course, in 1965 stereo was considered less important than mono, but that’s no excuse for the brief accidental erasing of the guitar and tambourine tracks at 1.50. Once heard it’s impossible to not notice. Thankfully the error was rectified when the track was included on the 1 compilation in 2000 by taking the sounds from elsewhere in the track. Yet another classic mid-60s track, Day Tripper could easily have been a number 1 on its own.

The origins of We Can Work It Out probably came from McCartney’s now-troubled relationship with Jane Asher. He struggled to finish the song and took it to Lennon, whose ‘Life is very short…’ section was the perfect counterpoint to McCartney’s work. I have to agree with Revolution in the Head author Ian MacDonald that this song doesn’t spotlight the difference between Lennon and McCartney’s songwriting as definitively as some suggest. You can hardly call McCartney’s ‘do I have to keep on talking till I can’t go on?’ optimistic, for example. Nonetheless, the instances of the duo working together to such an extent shrank rapidly after We Can Work It Out, and this song is a great example of how well the duo complimented each other.

It was recorded four days after Day Tripper, with the rhythm track laid down in two takes. However, a further 11 hours were spent on the recording – the longest they’d ever spent on one song. During the session, George Harrison came up with the idea for Lennon’s section to be recorded as a waltz. The final ingredient, and the best, was the overdubbing of Lennon on a harmonium. This added texture to the single that pointed the way towards the future of the Beatles.

McCartney, Harrison and Starr felt We Can Work It Out was the better track to feature as an A-side, but Lennon felt strongly they should opt for the harder Day Tripper. EMI even originaly announced We Can Work It Out as the Christmas single, but Lennon’s stubbornness resulted in both tracks being joint headliners. Airplay and point-of-sale requests proved Lennon wrong, but I’m on his side on this one. Having said that, for my money one of the best Beatles covers of all time has to be Stevie Wonder’s We Can Work It Out in 1970.

Although they were at number 1 for the ninth time in a row, alarm bells rang within the media that they were starting to lose some of their popularity because the single didn’t shoot straight to the top in the first week of release, which had become the norm for the Fab Four. Despite this, the record was their best seller since Can’t Buy Me Love in 1964.

Before the release, the band recorded promo films with Joe McGrath to avoid having to appear yet again on Top of the Pops etc. The highlight of these videos is Lennon making McCartney laugh while pulling faces on the harmonium. Four days before the single knocked The Carnival Is Over from number 1, the Beatles performed their final UK gigs at the Capitol in Cardiff.

Also in the news that Christmas and New Year… the oil platform Sea Gem collapsed in the North Sea on 27 December, killing 13 of the 32 men on board. 3 January saw the debut of classic children’s TV series Camberwick Green, shown on BBC One as part of the Watch with Mother strand. The following day, over 4,000 people attended the funeral of BBC broadcaster Richard Dimbleby, who had died on 22 December. Such a gathering for the death of any broadcaster seems hard to believe.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (16 December 1965-19 January 1966)

Births:

Northern Irish composer Martin Galway – 3 January 

Deaths:

Broadcaster Richard Dimbleby – 22 December
Politician Edward Davey – 25 December