299. Dave and Ansil Collins – Double Barrel (1971)

‘I, AM THE MAGNIFICENT!’. After six weeks at the top, T. Rex’s Hot Love made way for the first reggae number 1 since Desmond Dekker & the Aces’ Israelites in 1969, and the only one to come from Trojan Records, Britain’s most famous label for reggae, dub and ska artists.

The label’s origins trace back to 1968, when Island records boss Chris Blackwell and Musicland’s Lee Gopthal pooled their resources and launched a devoted reggae sub-label. The name came from the Trojan truck used by Duke Reid as a sound system in Jamaica, which became known as ‘the Trojan sound’.

With the growing interest in reggae and ska in the UK and the rise of skinhead culture, by 1970 Trojan Records had scored several hits by artists including The Maytals, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry’s Upsetters, and The Harry J All Stars. They did so by licensing Jamaican 7′ records by producers such as Reid and Leslie Kong. Dave and Ansell Collins were the lucky duo thrown together to record Double Barrel.

Dave, aka Dave Barker (my dad’s name) was a session vocalist, born David John Crooks on 10 October 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica. Crooks was raised by his grandmother and three uncles from the age of four. He developed a stammer as a result of beatings as a child, but by the time he was a teenager he was interested in singing, thanks to American radio stations playing James Brown.

Crook’s first group was The Two Tones, and from there he briefly joined The Techniques, led by his future producer Winston Riley. While one half of the duo Glen and Dave and working at Studio One, he was introduced to Perry, who took him on as a regular singer. It was Perry that told him to change his name to Dave Barker, and he also encouraged him to adopt his toasting style, in which he would shout over songs in the style of a US disc jockey and make grand pronouncements like the first line of this blog, which introduces Double Barrel. Which brings us to the other half of Dave and Ansil Collins – confusingly, musician Ansel Collins (his name was spelt differently on the record’s release).

Collins, born 1949, also in Kingston, began his career as a drummer before moving to keyboards in the mid-60s. At the end of the decade he was a member of The Invincibles alongside Sly Dunbar. Collins also played on two of The Maytals’ greatest tracks, Pressure Drop and Sweet and Dandy, both from 1969. He also began to work with Perry around this time, and it’s likely this is how Barker and Collins met.

Riley had written the instrumental Double Barrel and probably contacted his old colleague Barker to toast over the top while Collins provided organ and piano. Dunbar makes his recording debut on drums here, several years before becoming one half of Sly and Robbie with Robbie Shakespeare.

Double Barrel is essentially very similar to The Harry J All Stars’ excellent instrumental The Liquidator from 1969. It’s a charming, quirky reggae/rocksteady track led by Collins’ nimble work at the piano, with organ at times. What made it edge to the top when The Liquidator (which is a superior tune) didn’t is likely down to Dave. His showing off at the start really gets your attention, and makes it one of the most memorable intros since The Crazy World of Arthur Brown’s Fire. Clearly, shouting before the music starts is the way to go, even if in Dave’s case, it’s not always clear what the hell he’s on about. He’s the Magnificent W-O-O-O, I get that, but the rest is vague due to the echo… something about soul, I think. Anyway, whatever it is, Dave’s enthusiasm is infectious, particularly ‘break’ (I think) over and over on the beat, and in a way you could see this as a forerunner of hip-hop thanks to his toasting. Double Barrel is short, sweet, and a nice taste of something different to mix things up a bit. 70s record buyers had their faults, but one look at 1971’s number 1s proves they were an eclectic bunch.

Dave and Collins also released an LP together called Double Barrel, and one of the tracks, Monkey Spanner, made it to number seven later that year. Dave’s intro this time ‘This is the heavy, heavy monster sound!’, combined with ‘Don’t watch that, watch this!’ from an earlier track he worked on, Funky Funky Reggae, were adopted by Chas Smash on the intro to Madness’s brilliant One Step Beyond in 1979.

The duo parted company after this, bar a short-lived reunion in 1981. Barker remained in England and joined the vocal group Chain Reaction. He’s appeared on stage with The Selecter and The Riffs.

Collins continued as a session musician and solo artist at times, working with some of the world’s foremost reggae and dub artists, including Jimmy Cliff, Black Uhuru, Prince Tubby, Augustus Pablo and Prince Far I. He also collaborated with fellow UK number 1 star Serge Gainsbourg.

Written & produced by: Winston Riley

Weeks at number 1: 2 (1-14 May)

Births:

Footballer Jason Lee – 9 May
Oasis bassist Paul McGuigan – 9 May

Deaths:

RMS Titanic survivor Violet Jessop – 1 May

Meanwhile…

1 May: Far-Left militants The Angry Brigade struck again when a bomb exploded in fashion company Biba’s Kensington store.
Also that day, the Daily Mail appeared as a broadsheet newspaper for the last time. It relaunched as a tabloid the day after.

8 May: Arsenal won the FA Cup final with a 2–1 win over Liverpool at Wembley Stadium. Arsenal’s Eddie Kelly became the first substitute to score in an FA Cup final, and this was only the second time that century (and the fourth time ever) that an English team had completed the double of the Football League First Division and the FA Cup.

11 May: Britain’s oldest tabloid newspaper, the Daily Sketch, was withdrawn from circulation after 62 years. It was absorbed by the Daily Mail.

298. T. Rex – Hot Love (1971)

In March 1971, singer-songwriter Marc Bolan appeared on Top of the Pops to promote T. Rex’s second single Hot Love, as shown below. His stylist, Chelita Secunda, had suggested he wear glitter under his eyes, and it was this appearance that spearheaded the glam rock movement and gave Bolan the stardom he had strived for. Forget ‘Mungo-mania’ – ‘T. Rextasy’ was the first true pop phenomenon in the UK since ‘Beatlemania’. Pop was rejuvenated.

Bolan was born Mark Feld on 30 September 1947. He was raised in Stoke Newington, East London until the Felds moved to Wimbledon in southwest London when he was a young boy. Around this time he, like so many of his contemporaries, fell in love with rock’n’roll, particularly stars like Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran. He was only nine when he was given his first guitar and he formed a skiffle band, and soon after he was playing guitar for Susie and the Hula Hoops, whose singer was 12-year-old Helen Shapiro, who would have two number 1s in 1961 with You Don’t Know and Walkin’ Back to Happiness.

Feld was expelled from school at 15 and around this time became known as ‘The Face’ due to his good looks. He joined a modelling agency and appeared in catalogues for Littlewoods and John Temple wearing Mod getup just as The Beatles were first making waves.

In 1964 Feld made his first known recording, All at Once, in which he aped Cliff Richard. Next, he changed his name to Toby Tyler when he became interested in the music of Bob Dylan, and he began to dress like him too. His first acetate was a cover of Blowin’ in the Wind.

The following year, he signed with Decca Records and changed his name to Marc Bowland, before his label suggested Marc Bolan. First single, The Wizard, featured Jimmy Page and backing vocalists The Ladybirds, who later collaborated with Benny Hill. None of his solo singles, in which he adopted a US folk sound, made any impact.

Simon Napier-Bell, manager of The Yardbirds and John’s Children, a struggling psychedelic rock act, first met Bolan in 1966 when he showed up at his house with a guitar, proclaiming that he was going to be a big star and wanted Napier-Bell to work with him. Bolan was nearly placed in The Yardbirds but was placed in John’s Children as guitarist and songwriter in March 1967 instead. The group were outrageous, and Bolan proved to be a good fit, writing the single Desdemona, which was banned by the BBC for the lyric ‘lift up your skirt and fly’. Only a month later, they toured as support for The Who but were soon given their marching orders for upstaging the headliners (Bolan would whip his guitar with a chain). John’s Children also performed at The 14-Hour Technicolour Dream at Alexander Palace that month. Yet by June Bolan had left the group after falling out with his manager over their unreleased single A Midsummer Night’s Scene.

Bolan formed his own group, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and after one rushed, disastrous gig, he pared the band down to just himself and their drummer, Steve Peregrin Took, who would play percussion and occasional bass alongside Bolan and his acoustic guitar. For the next few years, Tyrannosaurus Rex amassed a cult following, with Radio 1 DJ John Peel among their biggest fans. Bolan’s fey, whimsical warbling could get a bit much at times, and I speak as a lover of 60s psychedelia, but the signs of a very talented singer-songwriter are there right from their debut single Debora and first album, the brilliantly titled My People Were Fair and Had Sky in Their Hair… But Now They’re Content to Wear Stars on Their Brows (1968), produced by Tony Visconti. Peel even read short stories by Bolan on their albums.

This was the last album to feature Took, who had been growing apart from Bolan, who was working on a book of poetry called The Warlock of Love. Bolan’s ego didn’t take kindly to the thought of Took contributing to songwriting, so he replaced him with Mickey Finn for fourth album Beard of Stars, released in March 1970. David Bowie’s follow-up to Space Oddity, The Prettiest Star also came out that month, with Bolan on guitar. The single tanked.

As the new decade dawned, Bolan was outgrowing Tyrannosaurus Rex, and was simplifying his songwriting while reintroducing an electric band setup to the mix. Visconti had been abbreviating the band’s name to T. Rex for a while on recording tapes, and while Bolan didn’t appreciate it at first, he decided to adopt the name to represent the next stage of development.

While preparing to release their first material in their new incarnation, Bolan replaced The Kinks as headlining act at the Pilton Festival at Worthy Farm, the day after Jimi Hendrix died on 19 September. 50 years on, it’s known as Glastonbury Festival, the king of the UK festival scene.

T. Rex released their first single, Ride a White Swan in October. This, simple, catchy layered guitar track caught on, and finally Bolan had a hit on his hands, narrowly missing out on the number 1 spot due to Clive Dunn’s Grandad in January 1971. T. Rex’s eponymous debut also went top 10 in the album charts. Bolan was now famous, but he needed to capitalise and go one better to avoid being a one-hit wonder.

Hot Love was recorded on 21 and 22 January at Trident Studios – the week Ride a White Swan peaked at number two. Seizing the moment, Bolan decided to flesh out T. Rex’s sound and adopt a classic four-piece line-up. With new bassist Steve Currie making his recording debut, Bolan and Visconti hired Bill Fifield as drummer, leaving Finn relegated to just handclaps. After helping out on T. Rex, this single saw the return of Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman on backing vocals. The duo had been founding members of The Turtles, and as Flo & Eddie had recently been part of Frank Zappa’s group The Mothers of Invention. Kaylan and Volman’s slightly unhinged harmonies became an integral part of the classic T. Rex sound.

Although Ride a White Swan served notice that Bolan was moving on from his old self-limited sonic boundaries, the lyrics were still very much the Tolkien whimsy of your average Tyrannosaurus Rex track. Hot Love featured a more simplistic, direct lyrical approach. Bolan is merely telling you about his lover.

Taken as read, much of T. Rex’s lyrical output can seem childish, sometimes even ridiculous, yet most of the time Bolan pulls it off, and he does so here. I’ve always admired the chutzpah of the lines ‘Well she ain’t no witch and I love the way she twitch – a ha ha’ and the charming camp of ‘I don’t mean to be bold, a-but a-may I hold your hand?’ but I’d never noticed the ludicrous ‘I’m a labourer of love in my persian gloves – a ha ha’ before. My favourite lyric of recent memory, right there.

There’s no point spending too much time dissecting Bolan’s words though, it’s more about the feel they add to his songs, and Hot Love feels sexy, which isn’t a label you could ever give his Tyrannosaurus Rex material. It’s fascinating to me how a voice that’s so fey, singing such daft words, can at the same time be so sensual.

The tune displays a key ingredient of glam rock – 50s rock’n’roll. Bolan has updated a simple bluesy riff and, thanks to the input of Visconti’s glossy studio sheen and string arrangement, updated it for 70s audiences. Kaylan and Volman’s backing vocals keep a certain strangeness in place and stop things getting too smooth, but this is a high definition Bolan that hadn’t been heard before, and Hot Love is just one reason why Visconti is rightly one of the most famous producers of all time.

The second half of Hot Love shifts into a ‘La-la-la-la-la-la-la’ Bolan, Kaylan and Volman singalong, akin to Hey Jude, but faster and weirder. It’s a real earworm, and no doubt helped it to number 1, but I find it goes on a bit too long, and I prefer the first half personally. Having said that, it really does show up the previous number 1, Baby Jump, as lumpen and turgid by comparison. A much-needed breath of fresh air in the charts, to put it mildly.

Released on 12 February on Fly Records, Hot Love rocketed up the charts, in part thanks to those famous Top of the Pops appearances. Bolan displayed star material in spades, and was perhaps the first musician since Elvis Presley to prove that image could be a vital ingredient in pop. Looking every inch the rock star with his glitter and guitar, he made glam rock about appearance as well as the sound, and other acts like Slade and friend/rival Bowie were watching and taking notes.

The 70s were often a drab, moribund decade. Glam rock may have been a peculiarly British phenomenon that didn’t catch on elsewhere in the way Beatlemania did, but in the UK it was sorely needed, and brought about some of the best number 1s of the next four years. Bolan was integral in this.

T. Rex would prove to have a formula that Bolan couldn’t advance much from, and his star burnt out quick, but in the early 70s he gave pop the kick up the arse it needed. There are better T. Rex songs. However, Hot Love is one of the most important number 1s of the decade.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 March-30 April)

Births:

Scottish actress Kate Dickie – 23 March
TV presenter Gail Porter – 23 March
Scottish racing driver David Coulthard – 27 March
Cricketer Paul Grayson – 31 March
Scottish actor Ewan McGregor – 31 March
Cricketer Jason Lewry – 2 April
Conservative MP Douglas Carswell – 3 April
Liberal Democrat MP John Leech – 11 April
Actress Belinda Stewart-Wilson – 16 April
Scottish actor David Tennant – 18 April

Deaths:

Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April

Meanwhile…

1 April: All restrictions on gold ownership were lifted in the UK. Since 1966 Britons had been banned from holding more than four gold coins or from buying any new ones, unless they held a licence.

11 April: 10 British Army soldiers were injured in rioting in Derry, Northern Ireland.

15 April: The planned Barbican Centre in London was given the go-ahead.

18 April: A serious fire at Kentish Town West railway station meant that the station remained closed until 5 October 1981.

19 April: Unemployment reached a post-World War Two high of nearly 815,000.

27 April: Eight members of the Welsh Language Society went on trial for destroying English language road signs in Wales.
Also on this day, British Leyland launched the Morris Marina, which succeeded the Minor.

297. Mungo Jerry – Baby Jump (1971)

Everyone knows In the Summertime by jug band Mungo Jerry, but who remembers this follow-up? The raucous, rowdy Baby Jump must be one of the least-known number 1 singles of all time, and marked the end of ‘Mungo-mania’.

After the huge impact of In the Summertime in the UK, their debut single began to climb the US charts, so Mungo Jerry headed over in September 1970. Upon their return, double bassist Mike Cole was sacked and replaced by John Godfrey. They hadn’t been in a rush to immediately release a second single, preferring to let In the Summertime soak up as many sales as possible.

The band decided to rework a track that was popular at their live shows, and singer-songwriter Ray Dorset came up with some new lyrics too. They recorded Baby Jump at their label Pye’s 16-track studio, but weren’t happy with the results, deciding it needed to sound more lo-fi, so they returned to the studio where they had made In the Summertime, and Barry Murray was back in charge of production. Deciding the single was too short, they chose to repeat the trick of their first single, and Murray created a fake ending, with the song starting up from the start again.

Baby Jump is a real curio. If you didn’t know it, you’d think it was a different band. Perhaps even an early Tom Waits number. The light touch of their debut is replaced by raw rocking noise and Dorset adopts a growling, shouting voice. The track sounds like it’s been dropped in a muddy pool of water and left for a day or two. This might make it sound exciting, and for the first minute or so, Baby Jump is just that. But it soon outstays its welcome and you’re left wanting them to wrap it up – which makes that false ending all the more annoying.

The lyrics are problematic too. Those freewheeling, likeable but misogynistic lads of In the Summertime go full-throttle on the lust levels. Dorset has the horn for a girl in a micro-mini dress and black stockings, and he promises ‘You bet your life I’ll attack’. He goes on to compare him and his dream love to Lady Chatterley and her gamekeeper, Mona Lisa and Da Vinci, and worryingly, Humbert and Lolita. Which of course, suggests the girl he wants is underage. So, nine years before The Police namechecked Lolita author Vladimir Nabokov in 1980’s best-selling single, Don’t Stand So Close to Me, Mungo Jerry got there first. But at least Sting was conflicted about his situation.

Baby Jump made Mungo Jerry the first British act since Gerry and the Pacemakers to have two number 1s with their first two singles, but there seems to be some confusion about whether it even did really make it to number 1, as there was a national postal strike at the time, which affected chart data. They nearly equalled Gerry and co’s feat of three in a row with Lady Rose, but a controversial B-side, Have a Whiff on Me, meant the single was withdrawn.

Mungo Jerry’s momentum never really recovered, and in 1972 Dorset was summoned to a band meeting and Colin Earl and Paul King told him they wanted him gone. Bit rich, considering Dorset did most of the work, so the management fired them instead. They went on to form The King Earl Boogie Band.

From here on in, the line-up would change over and over, but Dorset remained, and as far as the rest of the world is concerned, is Mungo Jerry. He even used the name on solo material. There were a few more hits in the 70s, including Alright, Alright, Alright and You Don’t Have to Be in the Army to Fight the War. His last top 20 single was the catchy Long Legged Woman Dressed in Black in 1974.

However, Dorset would pen another number 1. He was the man behind Kelly Marie’s excellent tacky disco smash Feels Like I’m in Love in 1980. Originally he’d written it with Elvis Presley in mind – I would have loved to have heard that.

Three years later, Dorset joined former Fleetwood Mac guitarist and acid casualty Peter Green and Vincent Crane from The Crazy World of Arthur Brown in the group Katmandu, who released one album, A Case for the Blues, in 1985. Occasional Mungo Jerry albums have appeared since, the last being 100% Live in Baden Baden in 2018.

Written by: Ray Dorset

Producer: Barry Murray

Weeks at number 1: 2 (6-19 March)

Births:

Actress Rachel Weisz – 7 March

Deaths:

Harpsichordist Thurston Dart – 6 March
Poet Stevie Smith – 7 March

Meanwhile…

7 March: After recent protests in London, 10,000 striking workers protested in Glasgow against the Industrial Relations Bill.

8 March: The postal workers’ strike ended after 47 days.

296. George Harrison – My Sweet Lord (1971)

John Lennon and Paul McCartney were the greatest pop songwriting partnership of all time, together or separately writing 17 number 1 singles for The Beatles. But George Harrison has always been my favourite member of the Fab Four. Sardonic, mystical and more level-headed than the others, ‘the Quiet One’ blossomed at the end of his time in The Beatles. He had matured into a great songwriter, and I’ve always liked an underdog. Something was the first dance on my wedding day, and my youngest daughter was born to Here Comes the Sun. I even have the latter tattooed on my right arm.

Despite his new-found confidence and prolificness, it must still have come as a shock to the other three members of The Beatles that it would be Harrison who would score the first solo number 1 and biggest seller of 1971 with My Sweet Lord.

Born 25 February 1943 in Wavertree, Liverpool, Harrison was the youngest of four children. His father Harold was a ship’s steward and his mother, Louise, a music-loving shop assistant. Fascinatingly, when Louise was pregnant with George, she would listen to a show called Radio India every Sunday, hoping that the sounds of the sitar and tabla would make her baby peaceful.

As a child, Harrison liked artists including George Formby and Cab Calloway, until in 1956 he had an epiphany while on his bike. He heard Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel blaring from a house, and was hooked. At first his dad was apprehensive, but relented and bought him an acoustic guitar. He formed a skiffle group called The Rebels, and one day on the bus to school, he befriended an older boy called Paul McCartney.

Two years later, Harrison was accepted into McCartney’s group The Quarrymen following initial skepticism from founder John Lennon. By the time the group had become The Beatles and settled on the legendary line-up, Harrison was their lead guitarist.

In their early recording years, Harrison would usually get a song or two to sing on each album, either a Lennon-McCartney original like Do You Want to Know a Secret? (from first LP Please Please Me) or a classic rock’n’roll track such as Roll Over Beethoven from the follow-up With the Beatles. It was on this album that he made his songwriting debut, with the typically sulky, downbeat but interesting Don’t Bother Me.

His influence would start to really be felt on the band when recording 1965’s Rubber Soul. By this point he was a fan of folk rock from the US, but had also become interested in Indian music through the filming of that year’s film Help!. His track If I Needed Someone, a Byrds soundalike, was one of that album’s highlights (he later said this was his favourite Beatles album).

Harrison became ever more fascinated with Indian culture and music, and Love You To on Revolver and Within You, Without You on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band helped turn their fans on to both – and many other bands too. And me – it may sound hard to believe, but it was The Beatles’ Indian-influenced songs that really got me into the Fab Four. I can remember the exact moment, in fact – I tranced out to Harrison’s Blue Jay Way at a friend’s house (completely without the aid of drink or drugs, I should add) and became obsessed. His first ever B-side, 1968’s The Inner Light, also marked the end of his overtly Indian material within the band.

The Beatles began splintering while recording their self-titled double album that year, and Harrison quit at one point, but two of his four tracks that made the final cut, While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Long, Long, Long, were among the album’s best.

His songwriting went from strength to strength from here on in. Something was his first A-side, and famously Frank Sinatra called it the finest love song of the past 50 years. After Abbey Road had been released, they had discussed continuing, and Lennon suggested Harrison should be allowed an equal share of songs on their next album – something McCartney disagreed with.

Harrison had already released two solo albums before The Beatles split – the 1968 film soundtrack Wonderwall Music and the experimental Electronic Music the following year. He was stockpiling songs all the time, recording a beautiful demo of All Things Must Pass during Beatles’ sessions. So it shouldn’t have been a surprise when he decided his first post-Beatles album, produced with Phil Spector and named after said track, would be triple-length.

Among those songs was his first solo single, My Sweet Lord. First written in December 1969, it was influenced by his production duties on Radha Krishna Temple’s Hare Krishna Mantra. Harrison was a guest, along with friends Eric Clapton and Billy Preston on Delaney & Bonnie’s European tour. He ducked out of a press conference and began vamping on an acoustic guitar, alternating between singing ‘Hallelujah’ and ‘Hare Krishna’. Whether he was aware he was doing it to the tune of He’s So Fine, a 1963 hit for The Chiffons, we’ll never know, but he was also deliberately influenced by the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ rendition of Oh Happy Day.

At the time of writing My Sweet Lord, Harrison wasn’t intending on going solo, so he offered it to Preston, whose second album, Encouraging Words, he was producing. With the Edwin Hawkins Singers providing some great backing vocals, Preston’s version is more overtly gospel, with the backing chant being mostly ‘Hallelujah’.

Letting someone else record it was one thing, but Harrison was nervous about doing it himself later in 1970. He wanted to sing about needing a direct relationship with God, and for others to be able to do so too, whatever their religion, and so he reintroduced the Hare Krishna mantra to the song, as well as the third verse of the Guru Stotram an ancient hymn in praise of Hindu spiritual teachers:

‘Gurur Brahmā, gurur Viṣṇur 
gurur devo Maheśvaraḥ 
gurus sākṣāt, paraṃ Brahma 
tasmai śrī gurave namaḥ.’

This translates as:

‘I offer homage to my guru, who is as great as the creator Brahma, the maintainer Vishnu, the destroyer Shiva, and who is the very energy of God.’

Opening with a low-key strum (in general, this is a pretty lo-fi recording by Spector’s usual standards) that’s much more ‘Harrison’, his version comes to life with some nice slide guitar work that’s also unmistakably him, before he begins singing. Harrison is earnest, pleading almost, for God, in whichever form, to come into his life. As cleverly noted elsewhere, it’s almost like Harrison is on his way for a first date, nervous but keen to find romance. I prefer the choice to build the song up, keeping the backing vocals until later – it helps create the ‘epic’ atmosphere such a song deserves. Critics of My Sweet Lord complain that the backing vocals smother it, but I can’t agree with that. They make it such a joyful song of love and devotion, and I’m speaking as an atheist.

My Sweet Lord had an all-star role call of collaborators. Among those making an appearance at Abbey Road Studios were Preston on piano, Clapton on acoustic guitar, his Derek and the Dominoes colleagues Bobby Whitlock on harmonium and Jim Gordon on drums and percussion, Ringo Starr on the same, Pete Ham, Tom Evans and Joey Molland from Badfinger on acoustic guitars, their drummer Mike Gibbins on tambourine, Klaus Voorman from Plastic Ono Band on bass, future Dream Weaver hitmaker Gary Wright on electric piano and Ravi Shankar collaborator John Barham providing the beautiful string arrangement. It is unknown, however, who played on the selected takes. I could always make out Harrison’s voice among the backing singers – what I didn’t know until now is that it’s purely him, multi-tracked and credited to ‘the George O’Hara-Smith Singers’.

Harrison announced in October 1970 that there would be no single before the release of All Things Must Pass, but Spector and bosses at Apple disagreed and thought My Sweet Lord had real potential. Harrison backed down, and the single was released in November in the US, then in January 1971 in the UK. It only took a fortnight to climb to number 1.

My Sweet Lord went on to sell millions, and All Things Must Pass was a huge-selling album. While Lennon and McCartney were busy sending each other coded insults via respective albums Imagine and Ram, Harrison, for a time looked like he would be the most successful solo Beatle of all. It didn’t work out that way, but he wouldn’t have wanted it to anyway. It may not be his greatest song, but it’s certainly up there, and if anyone deserved some time in the limelight, it’s the Dark Horse.

In 2002, Harrison’s debut single was re-released posthumously and went to number 1 once more. A very fitting tribute. I’ll look at the rest of Harrison’s life and career, and the controversy regarding this song, when we get to that point.

Written by: George Harrison

Producers: George Harrison & Phil Spector

Weeks at number 1: 5 (30 January-5 March) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Actor Darren Boyd – 30 January
Northern Irish TV presenter Patrick Kielty – 31 January |
Singer Michelle Gayle – 2 February
Playwright Sarah Kane – 3 February
Singer Sonia – 13 February
Actress Amanda Holden – 16 February
Actor Steven Houghton – 16 February

TV presenter Melinda Messenger – 23 February
TV presenter Nicky Hambleton-Jones – 24 February
Classical composer Thomas Adès – 1 March
Satirist Charlie Brooker – 3 March

Meanwhile…

3 February: Gritty British crime thriller Get Carter, starring Michael Caine, premiered in Los Angeles.

4 February: Car manufacturer Rolls-Royce went bankrupt.

11 February: The UK, along with the USA, the USSR and others, signed the Seabed Treaty, which outlawed nuclear weapons on the ocean floor.

15 February: Decimal Day! People all across the UK and Republic of Ireland were left confused when currency went decimal, despite public information films like this explaining beforehand.

24 February: Home Secretary Reginald Maudling announced the Immigration Bill, which would strip Commonwealth immigrants of their right to remain in the UK. The bill was of course supported by Enoch Powell, but the controversial former shadow cabinet minister continued to demand a massive voluntary repatriation scheme for the immigrants.

1 March: An estimated 120,000 to 250,000 “kill the bill” protesters went on strike against the 1971 Industrial Relations Act in London.

295. Clive Dunn – Grandad (1971)

The first number 1 of 1971 had narrowly missed out on the 1970 Christmas number 1 spot, and although it’s not fit for much, it would have made a more fitting yuletide chart-topper than I Hear You Knocking. Grandad, by comedy actor Clive Dunn, was a canny grab at the purse-strings of pensioners and children, and in that sense was an early pioneer of the novelty Christmas song market. Factor in Dunn’s popularity as doddery old Lance Corporal Jones in BBC One sitcom Dad’s Army, and there’s little surprise it spent three weeks at number 1.

Clive Robert Benjamin Dunn was born in Brixton, South London on 9 January 1920, meaning he had only turned 51 on the day his one-hit wonder about life as an OAP hit pole position. Both his parents were actors, and his cousin was Gretchen Franklin – better known as Ethel in BBC One soap opera EastEnders. Dunn had small roles in films while at school in the 30s, appearing alongside comedy actor Will Hay in Boys Will Be Boys in 1935.

Dunn’s acting ambitions were swept to one side when he served in World War Two for real, joining the British Army in 1940. He served in the Middle East until 1941 when he and hundreds of others were forced to surrender. Dunn was held as a POW in Austria for four years, but stayed with the Army upon his release, until 1947, when he returned to acting.

Fast forward to the mid-50s, and Dunn had found his calling in comedy roles, making several appearances alongside Tony Hancock on ITV and his classic radio series Hancock’s Half-Hour. In the early 60s he took on a role that would define the rest of his career, playing a comical 83-year-old man in ITV sitcom Bootsie and Snudge. He was only 38 at the time.

This made Dunn a natural choice to star in Dad’s Army as the nervy butcher Jones in 1968. As one of the youngest members of cast he could take the brunt of any physical comedy. The role in Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s sitcom made Dunn one of the most popular comedy stars of the era.

In 1970 Dunn met top session bassist Herbie Flowers at a BBC party. Flowers was a founding member of Melting Pot hitmakers Blue Mink and played bass on David Bowie’s Space Oddity (number 1 on its re-release in 1975). Upon discovering his occupation, Dunn allegedly challenged Flowers to write him a hit song.

So Flowers went away and with Dunn’s Dad’s Army character clearly in mind, he wrote a novelty song written from the point of view of an old man looking back at his youth. However, he was stuck for a chorus, until his friend Kenny Pickett (singer with 60s rock band The Creation) called round. Ringing the doorbell, a standard ‘ding dong’ chimed, and Flowers had the simple but scarily effective hook he was looking for.

Over a leaden backing featuring ukelele, Flowers’ bass (I assume), and parping brass, Dunn recalls penny farthings, penny dreadfuls, ‘talking things’, and best of all, how ‘Motorcars were funny things, frightening’, when he was a lad. At the exact point you’re hoping his nurse will interject and give him his medication or clean him up, in comes a sickly kiddie choir, thankfully kept to a minimum, singing ‘Grandad, grandad you’re lovely
/That’s what we all think of you’. Let’s be grateful they didn’t overdo it, unlike the similar Christmas number 1 of 1980, There’s No One Quite Like Grandma. Incidentally, co-producer Ray Cameron, is comedian Michael McIntyre’s dad.

It’s rotten, cynical stuff, but at least Flowers made up for it. He’s played on hundreds of hits over the years, and among other things, was a member of CSS, T. Rex and Sky. He also performed on Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, but most notably, he was the man behind the bass line on Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side. So we can forgive him.

We can forgive Dunn too, such was his charm. He was a staunch socialist too, who would argue with Conservative voter Arthur Lowe over politics, so he’s alright by me (although he did have a brief flirtation with Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists in his youth, which he regretted). He was also known for his friendliness towards autograph seekers.

Dad’s Army ended in 1977, and two years later Dunn found work playing – what else? – an old man in BBC children’s series Grandad. Despite the obvious similarities, it was unrelated to his number 1. When his role as Charlie Quick ended in 1984, Dunn retired and moved to Portugal.

It blew my young mind, growing up on repeats of Dad’s Army in the 80s, to know that Dunn was one of the youngest cast members and one of the few still alive. But even he got old for real eventually, and he died as a result of operation complications on 6 November 2012, aged 92.

Written by: Herbie Flowers & Kenny Pickett

Producers: Peter Dulay & Ray Cameron

Weeks at number 1: 3 (9-29 January)

Births:

Artist Jay Burridge – 12 January
Actress Lara Cazalet – 15 January
Take That singer-songwriter Gary Barlow – 20 January
Scottish snooker player Alan McManus – 21 January
Sports broadcaster Clare Balding – 29 January

Deaths:

Northern Irish dramatist St John Greer Ervine – 24 January
Psychoanalyst – Donald Winnicott – 28 January

Meanwhile…

12 January: The Hertfordshire home of Robert Carr, Secretary of State for Employment, was bombed, but nobody was injured.

14 January: Extremist group The Angry Brigade claimed responsibility for the bombing of Robert Carr’s house, in addition to planting a bomb at the Department of Employment offices at Westminster.

20 January: UPW General Secretary Tom Jackson led the first ever postal workers’ strike took place. Workers were insisting on a 19.5% pay rise.

21 January: After collapsing in March 1969, a newly reconstructed Emley Moor transmitter in West Yorkshire starts again. It became Britain’s tallest freestanding structure, a concrete tower standing at 1084ft.

23 January: The first Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, in Singapore, gave Britain permission to sell weapons to South Africa.

294. Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking (1970)

As 1970 drew to a close, November’s number 1s seemed to symbolically bid farewell to the 60s. So, what next? Glam was around the corner, but in the meantime, the Christmas number 1 looked back to pop’s past, as Welsh singer-songwriter spent six weeks at the top with a cover of a 50s R’n’B tune.

David William Edwards was born in Cardiff on 15 April 1944. Musically gifted as a child on the piano, at the age of 10 he formed The Edmund Bros Duo with his elder brother Geoff. They both formed The Stompers around 1957, with Dave on lead guitar and Geoff on rhythm. From there the younger Edmunds had brief stints in several groups before becoming lead singer of rockabilly trio The Raiders, who formed in 1961.

In 1966 Edmunds, following a brief spell in The Image, shifted to a blues-rock sound and formed a short-lived outfit called Human Beans, who mutated into the trio Love Sculpture. Their second single, a novelty high-speed reworking of Sabre Dance, which climbed to number five after getting the attention of DJ John Peel. After two albums Love Sculpture split in 1970.

Edmunds returned to Wales and learned how to recreate the sounds of the R’n’B and blues songs of the 50s by himself, and made plans to record a cover of blues classic Let’s Work Together by Wilbert Harrison, until he heard Canned Heat’s version. Around this time he worked with Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets, helping the 80s hitmaker score his first recording contract.

Fortunately, Edmunds heard Smiley Lewis’s I Hear You Knocking while driving, and noted he could use the backing track he’d already recorded for Let’s Work Together and make a cover of Lewis’s song. It was also a track he knew from Shakin’ Stevens and the Sunsets’ repertoire.

The original, written by New Orleans bandleader Dave Bartholomew (who had co-written the 1959 Elvis Presley number 1 One Night) and released by Lewis in 1955, is a straightforward slice of piano-driven 50s R’n’B, but Edmunds went full on blues-rock. He played every part on his version, using heavy compression to create an unusual, direct sound.

Edmunds’ I Hear You Knocking is a quirky choice for Christmas number 1, but of course, being at the top of the charts on 25 December wasn’t an ‘event’ back then. The weird production is attention-grabbing to begin with. Most unusual of all is the vocal track, which sounds like it’s being sung down a bad phone line, or is coming out of a damaged transistor radio. I’m not sure if Edmunds was aiming for a dated 50s sound, but if so, it doesn’t quite come out like that. It gets a bit annoying after a while, whatever the intention.

The chorus is memorable, and the slide guitar is effective, and I enjoy Edmunds’ shouting out ‘Smiley Lewis!’ and other rock’n’roll star names from the 50s in the instrumental break. I can see why listeners would have enjoyed a bit of basic blues-rock for a while. Not sure how it stayed at number 1 for six weeks, though.

Despite the success of I Hear You Knocking, it took Edmunds two years to release his debut album, Rockpile, which was mostly a collection of more oldies. He had left it too late to capitalise. Or maybe he wasn’t bothered about doing so anyway. He spent the next few years producing rock and blues acts like Brinsley Schwarz, Foghat and The Flamin’ Groovies. However, his two singles Baby I Love You and Born to Be With You reached the top 10 in 1973.

In 1974 Edmunds had a brief role in the David Essex film Stardust, and helped with the soundtrack. A year later came his second solo LP, Subtle as a Flying Mallet. Then his friendship with Nick Lowe from Brinsley Schwarz resulted in their new group Rockpile. Due to being on different labels they were unable to record until 1980 but would guest on each other’s solo material for the next few years.

In 1979 Edmunds scored his last top 10 hit with Girls Talk, written by Elvis Costello. Rockpile only recorded one album, 1980’s Seconds of Pleasure, before splitting up due to arguments between Edmunds and Lowe. Edmunds went back to mainly producing, and worked with big names including Paul McCartney, Status Quo, Stray Cats, The Everly Brothers and kd Lang. He had a US hit with Slipping Away in 1983 though, written and produced by ELO’s Jeff Lynne.

Edmunds went into semi-retirement in the mid-80s, but he did tour with Ringo Starr & His All-Star Band in 1992 and 2000. After a couple of albums released online, he began touring in his own right again in 2007. Edmunds performed I Hear You Knocking on Jools’ Annual Hootenanny in 2008 and then Sabre Dance in 2009. His last album was On Guitar… Dave Edmunds: Rags & Classics in 2015, featuring instrumental covers. After a final show in July 2017, Edmunds retired from music.

1970 was an interesting, eclectic year for number 1s, with several well-remembered chart-toppers. Lots were in thrall to the past, though, with the departure of The Beatles leaving the music world wondering what to do. Fortunately, T. Rex were now on the scene, having scored a number two hit with Ride a White Swan. Marc Bolan would soon have his first number 1.

Written by: Dave Bartholomew

Producer: Dave Edmunds

Weeks at number 1: 6 (28 November 1970-8 January 1971)

Births:

Singer Aled Jones – 29 December 
Welsh rugby union player Louise Rickard – 31 December
Football referee Andre Marriner – 1 January
BBC newsreader Suzanne Virdee – 1 January
TV presenter Jayne Middlemiss – 5 January
TV presenter Joanne Malin – 7 January

Deaths:

Olympic athlete Lillian Board – 26 December (see below)
Composer Cyril Scott – 31 December

Meanwhile…

Boxing Day: Olympian athlete Lillian Board, died in Munich, West Germany, after a three-month battle against cancer. She was 22.

New Year’s Eve 1970: Although Paul McCartney had announced his departure from The Beatles earlier in 1970, it was made official when he filed a lawsuit against the other three on this day to dissolve their partnership.

New Year’s Day 1971: The Divorce Reform Act 1969 came into effect, which allowed couples to divorce after a separation of two years (five if only one agrees). This ruling resulted in a sharp rise in divorces over the next two years.

2 January: The new year got off to a shocking start for football fans when a stairway crush at Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow during a match between Rangers and Celtic killed 66 and left many more injured.

3 January: BBC Open University broadcasts began.

8 January: Uruguayan left-wing urban guerrilla group Tupamaros kidnapped Geoffrey Jackson, the British ambassador to Uruguay, in Montevideo. He was held captive until September.

293. The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Voodoo Chile (1970)

30 years on, I can still remember the first time I saw Jimi Hendrix. I can pinpoint the date reds because it was a clip on Good Morning Britain in which the presenters were talking about the 20th anniversary of his death, so I was 11. I’d never seen anything like this otherworldly flamboyant peacock, tearing away at his guitar with supernatural abandon, on stage in darkness. It was mesmerising, exciting, and even scary.

Jimi Hendrix was the greatest guitarist of his generation, perhaps ever, but he never had a number 1 in his lifetime. Voodoo Chile, from the final album by The Jimi Hendrix Experience Electric Ladyland in 1968, was released posthumously. Not a pop single, but what a riproaring way to call time on Hendrix and the 60s.

He may have seemed like he’d arrived on Earth from outer space, but Johnny Allen Hendrix was born 27 November 1942 in Seattle, Washington, the eldest of five children. Four years later his parents changed his name to James Marshall Hendrix in honour of his father Al and his late brother Leon Marshall. Al was in the army, and absent for much of his eldest’s childhood. His mither Lucille struggled and James would often be sent to female family members and friends of Lucille.

When Al returned from service, he and Lucille would argue violently, and the shy James would hide in a closet. Many years later, he revealed to a girlfriend that he was once abused by a man in uniform. At the age of nine, his parents divorced and Al was granted custody.

In 1957, father and son were clearing an old woman’s home when the young Hendrix found a ukelele with one string left, which she said he could keep. He learnt to play by ear, and would particularly enjoy doing so to Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog.

By mid-1958, a few months after his mother’s early death, he bought his first acoustic guitar. He would play for hours, learning the blues licks of Robert Johnson, BB King and Muddy Waters, but the first tune he learned to play in full was the theme to Peter Gunn.

Soon after his purchase he formed his first group, called The Velvetones. but struggled to be heard above the din, and in 1959, Al bought him one. Hendrix joined The Rocking Kings, and began playing professionally.

Aged 18, Hendrix was caught riding in stolen cars more than once, and police offered him a choice between prison or the army, and he chose the latter and enlisted in 1961. Hendrix struggled and missed his beloved guitar, but when Al sent him it his peers would tease him and hide it from him. Fellow serviceman Billy Cox was impressed with his playing though and they soon joined other servicemen in a band called The Casuals.

After they had both been discharged in 1963 the duo formed new band The King Kasuals. Their second guitarist Alphonso ‘Baby Boo’ Young could play with his teeth, and before long Hendrix could too. As well as The King Kasuals, Hendrix began performing as a backing musician for soul stars including Sam Cooke, Ike & Tina Turner and Jackie Wilson.

In 1964 Hendrix joined The Isley Brothers’ backing band The IB Specials and made his first recording on their two part single Testify. But he got bored of being restricted to the same set every night and left in October to join Little Richard’s touring group The Upsetters. He would make his TV debut appearing alongside the rock’n’roll legend in 1965

There would be further performances with artists including saxophonist King Curtis, but Hendrix couldn’t stand the restrictions of not getting the spotlight to himself, so in 1966 he moved to New York’s happening Greenwich Village and would begin a residency fronting his new band Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, and it is here that he really developed his incredible style.

That May, while performing with Curtis Knight and the Squires he found an important fan in Linda Keith, the girlfriend of Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones. Their producer Andrew Loog Oldham was somehow blind to the potential of this virtuoso axeman, so Keith told Chas Chandler about him. Chandler was about to leave The Animals and was looking to move into managing and producing talent. He saw Hendrix performing Hey Joe in Greenwich Village, and was blown away. Hendrix signed with him and moved to London in September.

Hendrix and Chandler were on the lookout for members of a new band to showcase the former’s talent. They asked guitarist Noel Redding to play bass for him after seeing him at an audition for The New Animals, and drummer Mitch Mitchell had recently been fired from Georgie Fame and The Blue Flames. Chandler suggested Jimmy change the spelling of his name, and The Jimi Hendrix Experience had arrived.

The trio performed for the first time in France, supporting Johnny Holliday, that October. A month later they signed to Track Records, a new label set up by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, managers of The Who. A performance at the ultra-hip Bag O’Nails in front of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones and Pete Townshend set tongues wagging. Debut single Hey Joe shot to number six in December.

If ever there was a case of right time, right place, it was The Jimi Hendrix Experience, in Swinging London, in 1966 and 67. And 1967 was truly their year. Purple Haze and The Wind Cries Mary were top 10 hits in March and May respectively. These first three singles displayed the versatility of these firebrands. They could do soulful covers, write their own psychedelic rock and tender ballads. Debut album Are You Experienced, also released in May, went even further, with the blues of Red House and experimental rock like the title track. It’s rightly considered one of the greatest debut albums of all time, and climbed the charts in the Summer of Love alongside landmark LPs by The Beatles and Pink Floyd.

That summer saw Hendrix blow McCartney’s mind with a live performance of the title track to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and one of the most memorable rock performances of all time at the Monterey Pop Festival. As if Hendrix’s guitar-playing wasn’t impressive enough, he ended their show by setting his instrument on fire. After Monterey they briefly toured as support for The Monkees, quitting after a fortnight due to the audience’s general bafflement.

The trio ended an incredible year with the release of second album Axis: Bold as Love. While the least impressive of their three LPs, it was still sterling work. On 20 December they set to work on the opus that would be the group’s swansong – the double album Electric Ladyland.

Tensions rose during recording, with Hendrix taking more of an interest in the production, which annoyed Chandler, as did his increasing perfectionism. Not only that, the sessions were getting more and more chaotic thanks to fellow musicians dropping by, and also Redding was busy with his new group Fat Mattress, so Hendrix would record his own bass parts. Nonetheless, Electric Ladyland was a masterpiece thanks to songs like Crosstown Traffic and the definitive Bob Dylan cover, All Along the Watchtower. And then there was the album closer.

Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) was a rocked-up, alternative to Voodoo Chile, a 14-minute-plus blues jam featuring Steve Winwood, among others, earlier on the album. The day after that version had been recorded, The Jimi Hendrix Experience returned to the studio to film a documentary, and a session of jamming resulted in Hendrix’s sole number 1 single.

What a track, what a way to pay tribute to one of the greatest musicians ever, and what a full stop on the 60s. Voodoo Chile, as it became confusingly titled upon its posthumous single release (the Slight Return being dropped by Track Records) is no pop single. It’s The Jimi Hendrix Experience at full throttle and saying goodbye. Opening with one of the greatest guitar riffs of all time, the track then explodes.

Hendrix pays tribute to the masters of blues from his youth with some lyrical imagery portraying Hendrix as some kind of superhuman, able to chop down mountains with the edge of his hand. Not that far removed from songs like Bo Diddley’s I’m a Man.

The music is in another dimension to such material, though, a heavy psychedelic onslaught of guitar noodling that, thanks in part to the stereo panning, swirls around your head and never gets boring, unlike perhaps some of Hendrix’s later work. The lyrics don’t last long, but may well be the reason this was picked as a tribute to Hendrix. The second and last verse ends with the guitarist apologising for taking up all the listener’s sweet time (like he has anything to apologise for) and then a promise:

‘If I don’t meet you no more in this world
I’ll meet you in the next one
And don’t be late
Don’t be late!’

Voodoo Chile has probably always been my favourite song by The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and I love the fact that for one week, this was number 1. Storming, magnificent and unforgettable.

Electric Ladyland was released in October 1968. 1969 began with the trio caused controversy with their appearance on the BBC’s Happening for Lulu when they abruptly stopped performing Hey Joe to perform Sunshine of Your Love by way of tribute to the recently disbanded Cream. They prevented Lulu performing her closing number, and Hendrix was told they would never work for the BBC again. Around this time, Chandler quit.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s two February gigs at the Royal Albert Hall were their final UK shows, and in June after a performance at the Denver Pop Festival, matters between Hendrix and Redding came to a head, and Redding left.

Hendrix expanded the line-up, adding his old friend Cox on bass, and they headlined the Woodstock Festival as Gypsy Sun and Rainbows, famously blowing the minds of the remaining hippies on the Monday morning with an incendiary version of The Star-Spangled Banner.

To put an end to several years of legal disputes, Hendrix recorded a live album, Band of Gypsys, with Cox and new drummer Buddy Miles. The Band of Gypsys were not to last long as an entity though, and Hendrix’s manager Michael Jeffrey announced in February 1970 that The Jimi Hendrix Experience were to return in their original line-up. This was news to the frontman though, who was reluctant for Redding to return, so he began touring with Mitchell and Cox instead on The Cry of Love Tour.

On 31 August 1970 Hendrix headlined the Isle of Wight Festival, but was beset with technical problems. On 2 September he angered fans in Denmark after three songs announcing ‘I’ve been dead a long time’. After a badly-received set in Germany, Cox was suffering from severe paranoia after a bad LSD trip, and he returned to the US.

Hendrix and Mitchell returned to the UK, and the former spoke to Chandler about being unhappy with Jeffrey’s management. He did an impromptu performance on 16 September with War at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, which was uncharacteristically low-key.

Two days later, his girlfriend Monika Dannemann found him unconscious in bed, and he was pronounced dead soon after. Hendrix had choked on his own vomit on a cocktail of barbiturates and sleeping tablets. He was only 27.

Perhaps Jimi Hendrix was never meant to live a long life. His flame only burned for a few years, but it burned brighter and more colourfully than most can only dream about. Following Redding’s departure, Hendrix had struggled to live up to those first three albums, which suggests The Jimi Hendrix Experience had a very special alchemy. Mitchell was a fantastic drummer in particular, and if Hendrix hadn’t been in the spotlight so much, he may have been better remembered. Redding, sardonic and grounded, was perhaps good at stopping Hendrix from getting too carried away in the studio.

Redding was found dead at home in Ireland on 11 March 2003 after a shock haemorrhage, aged 57, and Mitchell died five years later on 12 November in a hotel in Portland, Oregon of natural causes, aged 62.

Written by: Jimi Hendrix

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 1 (21-27 November)

Births:

Novelist Stel Pavlou – 22 November
TV presenter Zoe Ball – 23 November

Meanwhile…

27 November: The Gay Liberation Front organised its first march in London.

292. Matthews Southern Comfort – Woodstock (1970)

Matthews Southern Comfort, led by former Fairport Convention singer Ian Matthews, had a surprise number 1 with this beautiful cover of Joni Mitchell’s epitaph to the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival 1969, which also seemed to mourn the end of the optimism of the hippy movement, and touched a nerve following the recent death of the festival’s headliner Jimi Hendrix. Of the three famous versions out there, this is the best.

Mitchell hadn’t actually attended or performed at the festival as her manager had told her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show instead. She was in a relationship with Graham Nash at the time, though and he was there performing as part of his new supergroup with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Watching the events unfold on TV from her hotel room had a profound effect on the singer-songwriter, and she put pen to paper.

Woodstock turned Max Yasgur’s farm that hosted the festival into the garden of Eden, and the journey to the site became a spiritual journey that would lead to enlightenment. Mitchell imagines meeting a child of God on their way to the site, starts to feel like she can be a part of a movement, and before you know it there are half a million likeminded souls.

She began performing her new song only a month after Woodstock, at the Big Sur Music Festival. Her recorded version found its way on to her third album Ladies of the Canyon in March 1970. It’s a sparse, low-key arrangement, performed on an electric piano. Sadly, it’s somewhat spoilt by her annoying double-tracked backing vocals.

Around the same time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (for Neil Young had joined the fray) released their version on the album Déjà Vu. They had recorded a version with Jimi Hendrix while working on the song, released on the outtakes album Both Sides of the Sky (2018). I’m a huge fan of CSNY, but find their version of Woodstock somewhat of a misfire. They ditch the haunting melancholy of the original and turn it into a rather bog-standard rock anthem. An alternate take was used to close Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock documentary (1970). Which brings us to Matthews Southern Comfort. But who were they?

Ian Matthews MacDonald was born 16 June 1946 in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. When he was 12 the MacDonalds moved to Scunthorpe, close to where I live. He left school at 16 and worked as an apprentice signwriter, and by the mid-60s he was performing in local bands. MacDonald moved to London in 1965 and formed surf music trio The Pyramid.

In the winter of 1967 he was recruited to sing for the then-new rock band Fairport Convention, and was among the line-up to record their eponymous debut (1968) and follow-up What We Did On Our Holidays in 1969. Sometime between the two, MacDonald changed his name to Ian Matthews (his mother’s maiden name), to avoid confusion with Ian MacDonald of King Crimson.

However, the second LP by the band saw them moving toward the traditional folk for which they would become so influential, and Matthews departed during the making of Halfbricking in 1969.

He quickly began work on his debut solo album, Matthews’ Southern Comfort, featuring more of the US country sound he performed. The line-up featured former Fairport colleagues like Richard Thompson, and included his own material as well as covers. Matthews put together a touring band, called Matthews Southern Comfort (minus the apostrophe), featuring lead guitarist Mark Griffiths and Gordon Huntley on pedal steel guitar from the album, plus new members Carl Barnwell on guitar, bassist Andy Leigh and Ray Duffy on drums.

Matthews Southern Comfort released their debut LP Second Spring in July 1970, and the world shrugged. However, a month prior to that they had recorded a set for BBC Radio 1’s Live in Concert. They needed one final song, and Matthews had recently bought Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon. The band kept their version of Woodstock faithful to the original, and it went down so well, the BBC contacted their label about it. Uni Records suggested it was recorded and added to their next album, Later That Same Year. Matthews refused, but said it could become a single. However, while recording the new version, the arrangement was radically altered, in part to suit Matthews’ voice.

Apparently Mitchell later told Matthews this was her favourite version of Woodstock, and I agree completely. This recording is sublime. Matthews Southern Comfort perfectly capture the sadness of the end of an era, the feeling that the counterculture didn’t pull it off. That we never did get ‘back to the garden’. Of special note is Huntley’s steel guitar, giving the song a sense of yearning for what could have been, the circular guitar sounds (mixed down in the single version) and Matthews’ tender voice and the lovely harmonies. This version is what Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s should have sounded like.

MCA Records, the parent company of Matthews Southern Comfort’s record label, only agreed to release Woodstock if CSNY’s version tanked, which it did. But they refused to spend money on promotion upon its release in July. Luckily for Matthews and co, they had a fan in BBC DJ Tony Blackburn, who made it Record of the Week on his Radio 1 breakfast show. Here’s a great example of how long it could take a single to climb the charts back in the day. Three months to make it to number 1!

Top of the Pops would show a lovely promo film during Woodstock‘s weeks at number 1, with a beautiful hippy girl wandering around the streets and looking at posters of the Woodstock film. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s pretty fitting.

Were the band pleased to be chart-toppers? Not really, it turned out. Matthews didn’t like the extra demands on his time being a pop star entailed, and he walked out in December, making Woodstock their final single. He went solo, and the rest of the line-up continued as Southern Comfort, releasing three albums between 1971 and 1973.

Matthews recorded two albums in 1971 (If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes and Tigers Will Survive), before forming a new group called Plainsong, which included Andy Roberts. When they collapsed Matthews continued to record while living in Los Angeles, working with Michael Nesmith of The Monkees at times during the 80s and 90s. He has gone by the name Iain Matthews ever since 1989.

In 2000 he moved to Amsterdam and continues to record and perform, sometimes reviving Matthews Southern Comfort or Plainsong. Matthews co-wrote Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir with Ian Clayton, released in 2018.

There are similarities shared between Woodstock and Scott McKenzie’s 1967 number 1 San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). Both are folk songs written to commemorate counterculture festivals and give them mystical meaning. Yet by the time we get to Woodstock, it’s over. Hendrix’s death in September and this track are a full stop on the 60s. And yet, the festival scene certainly wasn’t over, with the very first Glastonbury Festival taking place the day after Hendrix’s death and celebrating its 50th anniversary this June, bigger than ever. And the next number 1 would be a very fitting postscript.

Written by: Joni Mitchell

Producer: Ian Matthews

Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 October-20 November)

Births:

The Divine Comedy singer-songwriter Neil Hannon – 7 November
Actor Harvey Spencer Stephens – 12 November
Race walker Verity Snook-Larby – 13 November

Deaths:

Liberal MP Alasdair Mackenzie – 8 November
Labour MP Bessie Braddock – 13 November

Meanwhile…

17 November: The Sun newspaper featured a Page Three girl for the first time. This tradition made stars of Samantha Fox and Maria Whittaker among others, but divided public opinion. However it continued for 44 years, until 2015.

20 November: The 10 shilling note ceased to be legal tender.

291. Freda Payne – Band of Gold (1970)

Multi-talented American singer Freda Payne enjoyed an impressive six weeks at number 1 with this soul track, featuring noteworthy lyrics that have been much misunderstood over the years due to cuts made before its release.

Freda Charcillia Payne was born in Detroit, Michigan on 19 September 1942. Her younger sister was Scherrie, who became the final lead singer of The Supremes in time. Growing up, the elder Payne enjoyed female jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, which would later have an impact on her singing style. She attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts as a teenager, and also recorded jingles for the radio, as well as taking part and winning various talent shows.

In the early 60s Payne toured as a jazz singer with big names such as Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby, leading to her debut album in 1963, After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More!!! for Impulse! Clearly, exclamation marks were popular back then. Three years later came the follow-up How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore for MGM Records, and TV appearances on various chat shows.

Payne spent the next few years dipping her toes into acting, until 1969 when she was contacted by old friends and hitmakers Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr. Holland-Dozier-Holland had left Motown in 1968 and formed their own label, Invictus, also home to Chairmen of the Board and the first Parliament album, Osmium. Her first single for Invictus was the long-forgotten Unhooked Generation. Holland-Dozier-Holland then offered her Band of Gold, which they’d written with Ron Dunbar, but due to their dispute with Motown, they were forced to use the pseudonym Edyth Wayne in the credits.

Band of Gold touched on an unusually adult theme for its time. It’s about a recently wed woman, already separated from her husband, due to their honeymoon going awry. They ended up sleeping in separate rooms, with her hoping he would return and try to make love to her once more.

So, what went wrong? The ambiguous lyrics have been open to interpretation – her husband must surely be impotent, or gay? Over the years, Band of Gold became popular in the gay community thanks to the latter theory, one that was borne out by an interview Lamont Dozier did for Songfacts (songfacts.com), where he confirmed the husband loved his new wife, but was unable to get it up as he was a secret homosexual.

But according to Dunbar, the original version of Band of Gold explains exactly what the issue was. The first verse originally ended with ‘And the memories of our wedding day, and the night I turned you away.’ The original bridge also said ‘Each night, I lie awake and I tell myself, the vows we made gave you the right, to have a love each night’. Apparently, Payne has also said she didn’t want to record Band of Gold because she felt too old to come across like a naive, virginal teenager. So there we have it – the poor guy, believed to have been unable to get it up for all these years, was given the cold shoulder from his new wife, and walked out. A messy start for the poor newlyweds, and we’ll never know if they ironed out their differences.

I was surprised upon first listen to hear this was number 1 for so long. Not because it isn’t decent – it is, but it took a few listens to make an impact on me. It helps if you pay attention to the lyrics, which I didn’t at first, and I assumed it was about a guy cheating on his bride, or something along those lines. Payne performs it well, sounding indignant (which also helped create the confusion – she sounds like she’s been let down between the sheets) and hurt at the same time. The stomping rhythm is very Motown, and the tune gets under the skin eventually.

I also like the electric sitar, played by session guitarist Dennis Coffey, who also played on Edwin Starr’s War, among others. Lead guitar comes from Ray Parker Jr, that’s right, the man behind the theme to Ghostbusters in 1984. The backing vocals were performed by Scherrie, Pamela Vincent, Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins. Wilson and Hopkins would soon be members of Dawn, number 1 artists with Tony Orlando in 1971 and 1973.

Band of Gold had a formidable run, and reached number three in the US, but Payne couldn’t get anywhere near repeating the feat. Deeper and Deeper, released at the end of the year, reached number 33 in the UK, but none of her singles reached the top 40 after that. However, Bring the Boys Home, her anti-Vietnam War single, did well in her home country in 1971

Payne left Invictus in 1973, and signed with Capitol Records in 1977, releasing three disco albums between then and 1979. Hot was her final LP for 16 years.

Sensing her music career was stalling, Payne concentrated on acting in the 80s. She also briefly hosted her own talk show in 1981, Today’s Black Woman. Only one single was spawned in this decade – In Motion, in 1982.

In 1995 Payne recorded a comedy album, called, bizarrely Freda Payne Sings the (Unauthorized) I Hate Barney Songbook: A Parody. Was she not a fan of the purple dinosaur? The following year came the festive  Christmas With Freda and Friends, featuring a duet with her sister.

The new millennium began with the soul singer appearing on the big screen alongside comedian Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000). She’s been releasing music sporadically ever since, and recorded Saving a Life, a duet with Cliff Richard, in 2011, which led to her supporting him on a UK tour. Her last album to date is Come Back To Me Love in 2014 – was this a message for Darlene?

Band of Gold is a curious number 1, sounding rather like a forerunner to disco and yet very much old-school Motown at the same time. Rather a bridge between what had passed and what was to come. It’s been covered several times since, by stars including Belinda Carlisle, but nobody has matched Payne’s original.

Written by: Edyth Wayne & Ron Dunbar

Producer: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier

Weeks at number 1: 6 (19 September-30 October)

Births:

Actress Emily Lloyd – 29 September

Footballer Richard Hancox – 4 October

Footballer Jason Cousins – 4 October

SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh – 5 October

Olympic rower Sir Matthew Pinsent – 10 October

Footballer Andy Marriott – 11 October

Meanwhile…

19 September: The first Glastonbury Festival was held. Then known as the Worthy Farm Pop Festival, farmer Michael Eavis had been inspired after attending a blues festival at the Bath & West Showground. 1500 watched Tyrannosaurus Rex headline after The Kinks pulled out.

3 October: Tony Densham, driving the ‘Commuter’ dragster, set a British land speed record at Elvington, Yorkshire, averaging 207.6 mph over the flying kilometre course.

5 October: BBC Radio 4 first broadcast the consumer affairs magazine programme You and Yours, a mainstay to this day.

15 October: The new Conservative government created the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment.
Also this day, Thames sailing barge Cambria, the last vessel trading under sail alone in British waters, loaded her last freight, at Tilbury.

19 October: British Petroleum announced it had found a large oil field in the North Sea.

23 October: The Mark III Ford Cortina went on sale.

290. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles – The Tears of a Clown (1970)

Much like Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine in 1969, The Tears of a Clown was an album track by Motown legends, several years old, that could have easily languished as a forgotten album track, but is now considered a soul classic.

William Robinson Jr was born 19 February 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. It was his uncle Claude that gave him the nickname ‘Smokey Joe’ while he was still young. He was a clever child, and sporty, but he really loved music. In a 2007 interview with CBS Robinson revealed he and Aretha Franklin lived only a few doors down from each other, and he had known her since she was five.

Robinson formed a doo-wop group called The Five Chimes in 1955, which included schoolfriends Ronald White and Pete Moore. They changed their name two years later to The Matadors. The line-up then consisted of Robinson, White, Moore and cousins Bobby and Claudette Rogers (who Robinson married in 1959) .

The Matadors auditioned for Brunswick Records but failed. However, among those watching was songwriter Berry Gordy Jr, who was impressed with Robinson’s voice in particular. Gordy recorded what was to become their debut single around the time they settled on The Miracles as their name. Got a Job was given to End Records to distribute – Gordy made the princely sum of $3.19 for his production, and Robinson suggested he start his own record label. Which he did, in 1959, and he called it Tamla Records. Bad Girl became their first single to chart in the US, and around this time guitarist Marv Tarplin, fresh from playing with The Primettes (later The Supremes) joined Robinson and co to form the classic line-up.

The Miracles’ first hit came in 1960, when Shop Around reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 1 on the R’n’B chart. It was only modest successes on Motown Records after that until the classic You’ve Really Got a Hold On Me in 1962. The group’s brand of bittersweet, smooth soul, with Robinson’s beautiful voice, made them Motown’s top-selling act and earned them rave reviews for their live performances, which helped them become known as ‘The Showstoppers’.

But The Miracles were so talented, they all helped write some of Motown’s greatest songs sung by other groups. I’m talking soul classics such as The Way You Do the Things You Do and My Girl for The Temptations and My Guy by Mary Wells. Most other Motown acts had their songs written by staff songwriters, but The Miracles mostly recorded their own.

Around 1964, Robinson was made vice president of Motown, and other members of The Miracles took jobs within the label. Unfortunately, Smokey and Claudette made plans to start a family, but the intense touring schedule was believed to contribute to several miscarriages by Claudette, and in 1965 she quit touring, TV and and publicity photos, despite continuing to record until 1972.

That same year they finally made their way into the UK singles chart with one of Motown’s best songs, The Tracks of My Tears, from the album Going to a Go-Go, reaching number nine. From this album onwards they became known as Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. In 1966 (Come Round Here) I’m the One You Need reached number 13.

At that year’s Motown Christmas Party, Robinson was approached by fellow label legend Stevie Wonder with a backing track he had come up with along with his producer Hank Cosby. Wonder wondered (sorry) if Robinson wanted to work on it, as he was stumped for any lyrics. After a few days, Robinson felt inspired to come up with something circus-themed to match the distinctive opening, and went back to the clown in the opera Pagliacci, who puts on a show for his audience while crying on the inside. He had used this before in the 1964 song My Smile Is Just A Frown (Turned Upside Down), written for Carolyn Crawford. Weirdly, Little Stevie Wonder covered (I’m Afraid) The Masquerade Is Over, which also referenced Pagliacci, on his album Tribute to Uncle Ray in 1962.

For that famous circus-like opening, they hired Charles Sirard from The Detroit Symphony Orchestra to play the bassoon, which is the low burbling sound beneath the piccolo by Jim Horn. Horn would also feature on albums by The Rolling Stones and The Beach Boys.

The Tears of a Clown became the closing track on Smokey Robinson and the Miracles’ 1967 album Make It Happen. And, unbelievably, there it stayed for three years. In the meantime I Second That Emotion was a top 30 hit on these shores that year, but then the UK hits dried up once more.

By 1969, Robinson was ready to quit the group and concentrate on his role as Motown vice president and be at home more for Claudette, as they had finally started a family. But all that was to change in 1970, when the frustrated British division of Motown asked Karen Spreadbury, head of a Motown fan club here, to pick a song they could release as a single, and she chose The Tears of a Clown.

Motown may be a legendary label, and for good reason, but you do have to wonder about how many hits they let slip through the net when you look at the stories behind The Tears of a Clown and I Heard It Through the Grapevine. Perhaps Gordy (and Wonder, before he became more experimental) found that opening too weird, without realising its exactly that which draws the listener in to begin with. But Robinson was such an expert songsmith he’s able to keep up the momentum, with his always wonderful, soaring vocal and great lyrics.

The idea of a song about a man masking his pain had been done plenty of times before, including by Robinson himself on The Tracks of My Tears. However, I’d argue Robinson’s lyrics here make The Tears of a Clown the definitive example. I particularly like ‘But don’t let my glad expression/Give you the wrong impression’ and the chorus. Robinson is a man on top of his game here. A sad song about heartbreak that’s uplifting and you can dance to it. Oh, and of course, Robinson’s voice. What’s not to love?

The renewed interest in Smokey Robinson and the Miracles meant The Tears of a Clown was then released in the US, albeit in a new mix. It reached number 1 in their home country too.This double success persuaded Robinson to stay on as lead singer for longer. They had their own TV special in the US, The Smokey Robinson Show, also starring The Supremes, The Temptations and Stevie Wonder. One more hit, 1971’s I Don’t Blame You at All followed, and then Robinson decided it was time to go in 1972, introducing Billy Griffin as his replacement. Their final album together was Flying High Together, including the ironic single We’ve Come Too Far To End It Now. Claudette chose to retire entirely from the group too, and within a year Tarplin had gone.

Their first releases in 1973 landed without trace, but they scored a 1974 US hit with funk song Do It Baby. And then in 1976 came the great disco smash Love Machine – Part 1, which was a US number 1 and reached number three in the UK. Despite this, The Miracles left Motown and signed with Columbia Records in 1977, but the hits dried up again, and they split in 1978.

In 1980 The New Miracles were formed and lasted three years. Then in 1983 the Robinsons, Moore, Tarplin and Rogers reunited to perform a medley on the TV special Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever.

In 1993 White, Rogers and New Miracles member Dave Finley reformed The Miracles with former Shalamar singer Sydney Justin. Sadly White died in 1995. The group continued to perform until 2011, with even Claudette returning to the fold (now divorced from Smokey), but age caught up with some of the longest-serving members. Tarplin died in 2011, then Rogers in 2013, then Moore in 2017.

Smokey Robinson went on to have a solo UK number 1 in 1981 with Being With You, so I’ll cover his solo career and the controversy with his entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in due course.

The Tears of a Clown has been covered time and time again, and the most notable version is Tears of a Clown, a well-deserved number six hit for ska and new wave group The Beat in 1979.

Written by: Hank Cosby, Smokey Robinson & Stevie Wonder

Producers: Hank Cosby & Smokey Robinson

Weeks at number 1: 1 (12-18 September)

Births:

Cricketer Darren Gough – 18 September

Meanwhile…

18 September: US rock star and guitar god Jimi Hendrix, died in London from a suspected drug-induced heart attack, aged only 27.