Here’s a strange one. Taking up the top spot for most of March was Academy Award-winning Hollywood actor Lee Marvin – definitely not a professional singer – and Wand’rin’ Star, from the 1969 western musical film Paint Your Wagon, based on the 1951 stage show.
Set in a mining camp during the Gold Rush in California, the film also starred Clint Eastwood in a singing role. Despite its notoriety now, it was panned upon its release. Not much of a fan of westerns or musicals, I’ve never seen it, and likely never will.
The song Wand’rin’ Star, like the rest of the music in the film/show, came from Frederick Loewe, with the lyrics by Alan J Lerner. Together, the duo wrote some of the most famous musicals of all time, including My Fair Lady (Vic Damone had a UK number 1 in 1958 with On the Street Where You Live).
The makers of the movie had a problem when it cames to filming. Prematurely white-haired, gruff-voiced Marvin, one of the top actors of the era, was no singer, yet he had top billing in his role as prospector Ben Rumson. And he refused to mime.
Marvin was born 19 February 1924 in New York City. The son of an advertising executive and fashion editor, he struggled from authority from an early age – running away from home for two days at the age of four, and expelled from a succession of boarding schools. However when he was 18 he dropped out of a Florida prep school to join the Marines in 1942, determined to prove how tough he was. Marvin was wounded in action in 1944 and spent a year in hospital.
Upon his discharge he took up various menial jobs and stumbled upon acting almost by accident. Soon, he was in a Broadway production of Billy Budd, before the 50s beckoned, and he garnered many small TV roles.
Next, came Hollywood, and a role as a murderer in an episode of crime drama Dragnet got him noticed, leading to him being typecast as the bad guy in films. Two such roles came in The Big Heat and The Wild One (both 1953) – the latter of which may be where The Beatles got their name from (Marvin’s gang were called The Beetles). He finally got to be leading man in the TV crime drama The M Squad, which ran from 1957-60.
Once the series ended, he went up a notch in film roles, starring in The Comancheros (1961), The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) and Donovan’s Reef (1963). But it was 1965 surprise-hit comedy Cat Ballou that really shot him to the big time, and he won the Best Actor Oscar that year.
The Dirty Dozen was a commercial success, and Point Blank adored by critics, both in 1967. Hell in the Pacific was also acclaimed a year later, and in 1969 Marvin was set to star in The Wild Bunch, but he fell out with director Sam Peckinpah and opted for Paint Your Wagon instead.
Wand’rin’ Star finds Marvin’s character fending for himself and contemplating his hobo lifestyle. The song was orchestrated and arranged by Nelson Riddle, who had been working with some of the most legendary singers since the 40s – including Frank Sinatra on his first number 1, Three Coins in the Fountain.
The first time I listened to this, I thought Siri had accidentally picked an instrumental version, perhaps used as incidental music in the film. It’s quite some time before Marvin’s gravelly vocal begins. And you know what, yes, it’s out of tune and his timing is also off at times, but I’d take his voice over the dated backing singers.
It’s all about the mood, and Marvin’s baritone fits perfectly. His off-key rasp puts across that this is someone that’s been damaged, that’s gone through some shit, but is proud of the lifestyle he has.
Also, there’s some really great lyrics here, particularly: I’ve never seen a sight that didn’t look better looking back And especially: Do I know where hell is? Hell is in hello Heaven is goodbye for ever, it’s time for me to go
No wonder this was played at Joe Strummer’s funeral, and covered by Shane MacGowan and the Popes. There’s real depth here. I can do without the backing singers taking over at one point, and I probably won’t be listening to it much in the future, but it’s surprisingly good. And the public clearly thought so too. This even kept Let It Be off the top spot!
Marvin remained active in films throughout the 70s, but despite his roles becoming diverse, nothing matched the 60s for him, commercially or critically. He was offered the role of Quint in Jaws (1975) but turned it down.
He was embroiled in a high-profile lawsuit in 1979 when his old live-in girlfriend, Michelle Triola, who had changed her surname to Marvin, claimed he had promised her half his income while they were still together. This was the first time the US Supreme Court has allowed such a case between unmarried couples. The judge only awarded her enough money to get back on her feet.
Marvin claimed to spend much of the remainder of his years living in the desert, which makes him sound very similar to the character Ben – no wonder he sang it with such conviction. He starred in Gorky Park in 1983, and his final film was The Delta Force alongside Chuck Norris in 1986.
Marvin fell ill that December, and after a number of issues he died of a heart attack on 29 August 1987, aged 63.
Written by: Alan J Lerner & Frederick Loewe
Producer: Tom Mack
Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 March)
12 March: The government’s anti-rabies measures following an outbreak in Newmarket, Suffolk meant that the quarantine period for cats and dogs was increased to one year.
13 March: The Bridgwater by-election became the first in which 18-year-olds could vote. Tom King of the Conservatives was the victor.
17 March: Martin Peters, who scored for England in the 1966 World Cup final, became the first footballer in the country worth £200,000 after transferring from West Ham United to Tottenham Hotspur.
23 March: – 18 victims of the thalidomide scandal were awarded nearly £370,000 in compensation.
It’s time to delve into the 70s. A fascinating decade, if not always an enjoyable one, when it comes to number 1 singles, but rarely dull.
In 1970, The Beatles were (nearly) gone, and pop scratched its head in search of its next move. There was a year to go until glam rock reared its beautiful glittery sparkly head, and the hippy dream was turning somewhat sour.
The bubblegum pop of the last two years was still going strong as the decade dawned, however, and finally the undercover paedophile Rolf Harris relinquished his grip on the top spot to Edison Lighthouse.
Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) had been written by Tony Macauley and Barry Mason, who between them had plenty of experience at writing number 1s. Macauley had co-written Baby Now That I’ve Found You and Let the Heartaches Begin, and Mason co-wrote The Last Waltz and I Pretend. This first new number 1 of the 70s certainly has Macauley’s joyous pop stamp all over it, Mason’s perhaps less so as he was more used to MOR ballad material.
Originally they gave the song to Jefferson, former guitarist with The Rockin’ Berries. That demo remained unreleased however, and instead they offered it to a session singer called Tony Burrows.
Born Anthony Burrows in Exeter, Devon on 14 April 1942, he had been a member of The Kestrels in the early 60s, and subsequently vocal trio The Ivy League, before they became The Flower Pot Men, who became one-hit wonders with Let’s Go to San Francisco in 1967. Despite their short-lived success, at one point they featured future Deep Purple members Jon Lord and Nick Simper.
In effect, Edison Lighthouse was originally Macauley, Mason, Burrows and session musicians. The writers chose the name as a play on the Eddystone Lighthouse off the coast of Devon. Upon its release in November 1969, the single rapidly gained attention, allegedly becoming the fastest-climbing number 1 up to that point. This meant finding Burrows a backing band for Top of the Pops appearances. They picked Greenfield Hammer for the job following an audition a week before their debut on the show, making the initial line-up of Edison Lighthouse Burrows on vocals, Stuart Edwards on lead guitar, Ray Dorey on guitar, David Taylor on bass and George Weyman on drums.
I’ve been watching lots of off-air recordings of Top of the Pops of late from 1970, so I’ve heard plenty of this track, and that’s no bad thing. Okay, it’s pretty much just a chorus and the verses are afterthoughts, but a chorus so uplifting and catchy is not to be sniffed at. The lyrics are your typical 60s flower power fare, about a dreamlike girl who’s captured the singer’s heart. However, some people believe there’s a filthy meaning behind these words:
‘There’s something about her hand holding mine It’s a feeling that’s fine And I just gotta say She’s really got a magical spell And it’s working so well That I can’t get away’
Yes, they think it might be about getting a handjob. I don’t agree, personally, and I tend to look out for stuff like that. Of course, there’s a chance the writers deliberately left it up to interpretation as a sly joke, who knows? Whatever the meaning, Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) is reminiscent of Love Affair’s Everlasting Love, and a decent start to the 70s number 1s.
Burrows was an incredibly busy bunny during those first few months of 1970. He found himself on Top of the Pops appearing as the singer in Edison Lighthouse, as part of White Plains (performing My Baby Loves Lovin’) and as lead singer in an early incarnation of Brotherhood of Man, performing United We Stand. At the same time, he also had a hit as one half of The Pipkins with Gimme Dat Ding. No wonder he soon quit Edison Lighthouse – he must have thought success was guaranteed no matter who he recorded with.
Macauley owned the name Edison Lighthouse, and replaced Burrows with actor and singer Paul Vigrass. He was the first in a long list of line-up changes over the next few years. Nothing was able to match their debut single’s success. The closest they came was when It’s Up to You, Petula reached number 49 in 1971. Edison Lighthouse called it a day in 1972 after the single Find Mr Zebedee. As is so often the case with bands of this era, the name Edison Lighthouse now belongs to different groups – Brian Huggins in the UK, and Les Fradkin in the US. Original guitarist Edwards died of cancer in 2016.
As for Burrows, he only had one ‘hit’ under his own name – a cover of Melanie Makes Me Smile in the US in 1970. He did however continue as a session singer, helping out both Elton John and Cliff Richard over the years, to name just two.
Written by: Tony Macauley & Barry Mason
Producer: Tony Macauley
Weeks at number 1: 5 (31 January-6 March)
Actress Minnie Driver – 31 January TV and radio scriptwriter Rob Shearman – 10 February Actor Simon Pegg – 14 February Sailboat racer Ian Walker – 25 February Field hockey player Tina Cullen – 1 March
Philosopher Bertrand Russell – 2 February Cricketer Herbert Strudwick – 14 February RAF fighter commander Hugh Dowding – 15 February Painter Arthur Henry Knighton-Hammond – 28 February
13 February: A demonstration at the Garden House Hotel by Cambridge University students against the Greek military junta led to police intervention with eight students receiving custodial sentences for their part. Plus, Brummie rockers Black Sabbath released their self titled landmark debut album in the UK – the first major heavy metal album.
19 February: The Prince of Wales joined the Royal Navy.
23 February: Rolls-Royce asked the government for £50,000,000 towards developing the RB 211-50 Airbus jet engine.
27 February-1 March: The first National Women’s Liberation Conference was held, at Ruskin College in Oxford.
2 March: Four years after independence was declared, Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith declared Rhodesia a republic, breaking all ties with the British Crown. The government refused to recognise the new state for as long as the Rhodesian Government opposed majority rule.
6 March: An outbreak of rabies in Newmarket, Suffolk caused the importation of pets to be banned.
I’ve done it. 186 blogs in 17 months and I’ve now reviewed all the chart-toppers in that most incredible decade of transformation in pop culture. It’s been fascinating, exciting, dreary and terrifying at times, and sometimes, while listening to songs such as Cinderella Rockefeller, it’s been all those things at once.
The 60s, pre-Beatles, is an era I knew little about, so I suspected this could prove as enlightening as my reviews of the 50s, but I was surprised to learn so much once The Beatles invaded the charts too. Their impact in 1963 and 64 was even bigger than I’d ever imagined, and their move into a more ‘mature’ sound would effect the singles charts of their later years too, but detrimentally.
To commemorate reaching the end, it’s only right that I repeat what I did with Every 50s Number 1, and relisten to them all once more, before deciding on the best and worst of each year, and whittling them down even more to the best and worst of the whole decade.
Despite knowing and loving much of this music so much, I admit to being a bit nervous. How do I choose between some of the greatest bands and songs the world has ever seen? Only one way to find out…
They say that it takes a few years for a decade to get started, and it’s certainly true in the case of the swinging 60s. The music from the dawn of the decade is mostly a hangover from the fag ends of the initial burst of rock’n’roll. There’s a strange short-lived fad at the start of the year for cockney pop by Adam Faith and Anthony Newley (a big influence on early David Bowie). Things don’t really get going until May when the Everly Brothers return to the top with The pioneering drum sound ofCathy’s Clown. This was followed by the first posthumous chart-topper – Eddie Cochrane’s Three Steps to Heaven. Legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison makes his number 1 debut with the classic melancholy of Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel). There’s also a great comeback from Elvis Presley with It’s Now or Never. Less impressive were Cliff Richard and The Shadows’ two number 1s together. Weirdest? That can only be Johnny Preston’s bizarre tail of the love between a cowboy and indian, Running Bear.
Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – Shakin’ All Over: This could and arguably should have been The Shadows’ surprisingly edgy and menacing Apache, which is a true pre-Beatles classic and hugely influential on pop, rock and even hip-hop. But just pipping it for me was this raunchy, dangerous slice of British rock’n’roll. The band brought theatrics into their live shows and inspired The Who, among others, plus it features number 1 session drumming legend Clem Cattini.
Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer): How quickly the mighty can fall. In Every 50s Number 1, the ‘King of Skiffle’ Lonnie Donegan’s incendiary performance of Cumberland Gap was my runner-up for number 1 of the decade. Three years after inspiring some of the future decade’s brightest talents, he was performing this music-hall rubbish in a live recording from Doncaster. Terrible, terrible jokes littered throughout. Shame.
A bumper crop and a real mixed bag. The women finally get a look in, featuring a young Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey and Helen Shapiro, but I have to say none of these tracks impressed. Elvis had started his ‘will this do?’ era, butAre You Lonesome Tonight? still hits the spot and(Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame deserves a mention. Wooden Heart does not. His sometime pianist Floyd Cramer’sOn the Reboundis still full of vim and vigour. The Everlys bow out with Temptation, a nice atmospheric number. There’s a lot of oddities about, and they’re mostly good, particularly the gothic melancholic pomp of Johnny Remember Me. Blue Moon is a lot of fun, as is the demented wailing of Frankie Vaughan on Tower of Strength.
Danny Williams – Moon River: Not for the last time I found myself torn between a song that pushes the boundaries of pop and a simple, much-loved standard. This time the former, Del Shannon’s still-popular Runaway fell behind the timeless beauty of the South African singer’s take on Moon River, number 1 that Christmas.
Shirley Bassey – Climb Ev’ry Mountain: The veteran Welsh singer is loved for her powerful voice, but it not only leaves me cold most of the time, I find it painful, and this is her at her wailiest (it’s a word, now) over a very boring track. I was very tempted to throw my headphones across the garden when I got to the final note.
The first sighting of what may have been had The Beatles not arrived. Frank Ifield was the year’s biggest star, with his penchant for amusing yodelling over two number 1s, and was still going strong until the rise of Merseybeat. Elvis’s bestsellers range from the dire to classics – even within a single release. Cliff Richard and The Shadows return with strong material, The Young Ones and Wonderful Land respectively. The country-soul of I Can’t Stop Loving You is far from Ray Charles’s best work, but I confess it’s grown on me a little. Nut Rocker is ace, and is fully deserving of its ubiquitous usage in TV and film.
Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires – Can’t Help Falling in Love: Like 1961, this was tough. I very nearly picked the quirky space race euphoria of The Tornados’ Telstar. Joe Meek was innovating pop before The Beatles, and despite Telstar being famous, I can’t help but think it’s still a little underrated. However, once more, the timeless pop ballad wins out – am I getting soft in my old age? Perhaps, but how can I deny the brilliance of one of the finest love songs ever written? There are many versions, but none compare to Elvis’s. I’m far from his biggest fan at times but this is pure gold. That the flip side of this is the awful Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) makes it all the more remarkable.
Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard – Come Outside: Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of Carry On humour, and it’s wrong to expect a song from 1962 to live up to the political correctness of the #metoo era, but Come Outside is woeful. Sarne’s flat vocal irritates, Richard is charmless, and it’s all a bit, well, rapey. The rhythm track isn’t bad, though.
Never has a year in pop seen such a seismic shift. For the first third it’s very similar to the year before with appearances from Cliff (Summer Holiday is still a lovely blast of pop), The Shadows and Frank Ifield, and then Merseybeat happens, and things change forever. It’s nearly always The Beatles, acts performing Lennon-McCartney tunes (Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas) or inferior copycats (Brian Poole and The Tremeloes). Bar one good single from Elvis,(You’re the) Devil in Disguise, US artists don’t get a look in. None of these other groups can match The Beatles, although Gerry and the Pacemakers have some decent material with their hat trick of bestsellers. A lot of Merseybeat is too twee for me to really get into, but some of the greatest pop songs of all time are right around the corner now. Exciting times!
The Beatles – She Loves You: The Fab Four shook things up like no act before or since in 1963, and that’s largely due to this, the decade’s biggest-selling 7″. The chorus of She Loves You is lightning in a bottle, pure unbridled joy and ecstacy, and it sparked a thousand imitations. From Me to You is nice enough, andI Want to Hold Your Hand showed new maturity in their songwriting, but this is easily their finest early song. And the lyrics are smart too, moving away from the template of ‘I love you’ and introducing a third party. I’ve always loved She Loves You, but hearing it arrive in the context of this blog increases my respect for it even more.
The Shadows – Dance On!: Cliff Richards’ sometime backing band’s impressive run of number 1s with him and alone came to an end this year, with tracks ranging from the great (Apache) and the good (Wonderful Land) to this, which isn’t awful, it’s just incredibly boring and leaves no mark on me whatsoever. Adding an exclamation mark to the end of the title doesn’t make me any more enthusiastic, either.
An incredible year of number 1s. I envy anyone who lived through this. In fact, listening to them all in one stint, I’d say there’s a very strong argument that this is the high watermark for number 1s. Merseybeat mutates and expands in strange and exciting ways, most notably the momentous folk-rock classicThe House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, meaning that the legendary Bob Dylan’s influence was now being felt on these shores. Then The Rolling Stones made their debut (It’s All Over Now), and became so popular, they got a blues cover to the top (Little Red Rooster)! Roy Orbison bows out by getting the girl at last with the brilliant Oh,Pretty Woman. Joe Meek had his third and final chart-topper too, producing The Honeycombs’ insanely underrated Have I the Right?. Women make their belated return, with Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black both topping the charts with two songs by the masterly Burt Bacharach and Hal David – ((There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me and Anyone Who Had a Heart), and The Supremes had their sole UK number 1. As for the Fab Four, well, there’s three classics from them, in particularA Hard Day’s Night. But they don’t win this time.
The Kinks – You Really Got Me: Facing incredibly strong competition, Muswell Hill’s finest were my choice, because despite all the other great tunes in 64, it was this primal expression of pure animal lust that pretty much kickstarted rock and heavy metal. Ray Davies may have become one of our wittiest, most quintessentially English songwriters, but The Kinks perhaps never bettered this scorching slab of raunch.
The Bachelors – Diane: A staid, old-fashioned, boring ballad from Ireland’s original boy band. Wouldn’t have sounded out of place 10 years previous (it actually dates back to 1927. That’s right, it’s even worse than Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas’Little Children, because at least that had a tune.
Tons of pop gold again, but stylistically more varied than the previous year. More strong material from The Kinks and the Stones, and one of the finest epic break-up songs of all time – namely The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. On a similar note, I’ve always loved The Moody Blues’ version of Go Now that preceded it. We’re starting to see the rise of the hippy movement – hair is getting longer, and the lush jangle of Mr Tambourine Man marks another sea change. Cynics may balk at Sonny & Cher’sI Got You Babe, but I think it holds up well, as does the debut of Tom Jones with his anthem It’s Not Unusual. Four songs from The Beatles, all of them – Ticket to Ride, Help! and Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, among their finest work, in particular Ticket to Ride. The latter, and Day Tripper, are built around some of the finest riffs in existence. And yet, and yet… Ticket to Ride is just trumped by perhaps the greatest riff there has ever been.
The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction: It was as close a call as it’s possible to have, but for once in my life, I’m choosing the Stones over The Beatles. Keith Richards’ legendary riff, allegedly created in his sleep and intended for horns, never dates and combined with Mick Jagger’s frustrated world view make for a dream combination. After paying homage to the blues time and again, this saw the birth of Jagger and Richards as songwriters to rival Lennon and McCartney.
Cliff Richard – The Minute You’re Gone: Oh Cliff. Behind the times as early as 1965. And what does he do, to counteract Beatlemania? He abandons The Shadows, perhaps a shrewd move to appear ahead of the curve? Oh, he’s gone and recorded an old-fashioned country song from 1963. Never the genre’s biggest fan, this sounds like a pale imitation of I Can’t Stop Loving You. Ken Dodd’s huge-selling Tearsmay have also sounded like a relic, but at least the chorus was catchy.
The last of the peak years of the decade, before albums began to overtake singles in importance. In general, a superlative blend of pop and the rise of drugs and psychedelia in music. British pop now striding into a bold, experimental future, and combined with England winning the World Cup, there was an overwhelming sense of optimism and pride in the UK. The Beatles were approaching the peak of their abilities in the studio, and minds must have been blown by their dark ode to the lonely, Eleanor Rigby. As startling a song as it is, I’ve always found it easier to admire than to enjoy. I’d take previous single Paperback Writer over that, and wish their jangly guitar era had lasted a bit longer. 66 got off to a blistering start with the Spencer Davis Group’s still storming Keep on Running, and Nancy Sinatra helped shape modern female pop with the sassy cool ofThese Boots Are Made for Walkin’… yet Dusty Springfield’s only number 1, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is uncharacteristically pleading. By and large, 1966 is another embarrassment of riches, particularly The Rolling Stones’ apocalyptic Paint It, Black, almost their best song ever.The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, Sunny Afternoon, Reach Out, I’ll Be There… all classics. It would take a very special song to shine above all these.
The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations: And a very special song this is. That’s right, Brian Wilson’s ‘pocket symphony’ means that I haven’t picked any number 1s by The Beatles during their peak years, which is probably the biggest surprise I’ve had since starting this blog. What it does prove is that the Fab Four inspired their contemporaries to do better than them. Had they not released their landmark album Revolver, we may never have had the finest three-plus minutes of The Beach Boys’ career, which in turn spurred the Beatles on to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But anyway… in a year of great tunes and studio innovation, The Beach Boys combined both beautifully, devoting as much time to Good Vibrations as lesser bands would to entire albums. The peak of Brian Wilson’s creativity. The only downside being the burn-out that followed recording their next LP.
Jim Reeves – Distant Drums: Released two years after the US country star’s untimely death, this was a bizarre number 1 to have in 1966, particularly for five weeks. It’s unclear why it was considered single-worthy, as it’s more B-side material, and it’s completely out-of-step with prevailing trends. But the anti-war message may have resonated with Vietnam in mind, and it probably gave succour to old folk baffled by yellow submarines et al. Not awful, like some of the other dire material I’ve mentioned, just out of place.
The tectonic plates of British music and culture shifted once more this year, only not as much as you might imagine in the singles chart. As some of the most famous acts concentrated on complex psychedelic LPs influenced by the rise in LSD, the 7″ chart was largely dominated by light entertainment acts – the most since 1962. Top of the pops was smoother-than-smooth balladeer Engelbert Humperdinck, who enjoyed 11 weeks at number 1 and famously, criminally, prevented Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever with Release Me. Other than the pop brilliance of The Monkees’ I’m a Believer, nothing remotely hippy-like gets a look in until the Summer of Love finally gets underway that June with Procul Harum’s earnest and excellent lysergic standard A Whiter Shade of Pale. Only two other, wholly appropriate chart-toppers followed – The Beatles anthem All You Need Is Love and Scott McKenzie’s dreamy San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), before Humperdinck brought everything down to earth again. We say hello to the Bee Gees for the first time with the lovely Massachusetts, and goodbye to Nancy and Frank Sinatra, with their ‘incest anthem’ Somethin’ Stupid. All in all, 1967 was a surprising letdown.
The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye: This isn’t even the best Beatles single of 1967, but thanks to Humperdinck, I can’t rate Strawberry Fields Forever. So I’m settling for this instead, which may seem controversial when lined up against A Whiter Shade of Pale, but personally I love Hello, Goodbye. I rated it the best Christmas number 1 of the 60s here, and I stand by it. It’s infectious, upbeat and catchy, and the finale is as joyous as the chorus to She Loves You if you’re in the right mood. The B-side, I Am the Walrus, is better, though.
Sandie Shaw – Puppet on a String: The famously barefooted singer hated this song, which was our first ever Eurovision winner – and I don’t blame her, because it’s awful and I’m betting it did her career lasting damage. The lyrics are awful, the tune is demented and it makes me want to pull my teeth out and feed them to sparrows.
Stylistically speaking, 1968 is all over the place when it comes to number 1s. The main trend among the bigger bands this year was to adopt a back-to-basics approach as a reaction to flower power. The Beatles led the way, as usual, but Lady Madonna doesn’t match up to The Rolling Stones’ rocking, witty comeback single Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Do It Again is a bit of a letdown after Good Vibrations, even if the drumbeat proved pioneering. There’s still room for psychedelia in the charming theatrical demonic pomp of Fireby The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, but then there are some number 1s that are downright odd more than anything, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and particularly Cinderella Rockefeller, with its deranged yodelling and godawful rickety tune. I loved the Bee Gees’ I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You and Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, an evergreen classic which gave Satchmo a chart-topper shortly before his death. Cliff finally remembered how to record a catchy tune and whatever you think of Eurovision runner-up Congratulations, you can’t deny its popularity.
The Beatles – Hey Jude: In much the same way John Lennon’s Imagine is now considered uncool, it seems to be the done thing to slate McCartney’s lengthy classic, but I’m having none of it. It’s soulful and poignant, written for Julian Lennon when his parents were splitting, and its universal message of the power and importance of love speaks more to me than the simplistic sloganeering of All You Need Is Love. The Beatles may have been already splitting at this point, but there was still plenty of magic in the tank.
Des O’Connor – I Pretend: This could so easily have been the profoundly irritating Cinderella Rockefeller, but that at least had a memorable hook, albeit a very irritating one. No, this is as bland as they get, sang with no soul or meaning whatsoever. He’s supposed to be broken-hearted, but he sounds like he’s having a great time. I like Des, but I get why Morecambe and Wise ripped the piss so much now.
The end of an era in more ways than one as we say farewell to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Despite the fact Abbey Road is one of their finest albums, The Beatles’ singles before its release weren’t them at their best, leaving The Ballad of John and Yoko a rather odd way to bow out of the blog. Honky Tonk Women was more appropriate, showing the future for the Stones as the archetypal good-time rock band of the 70s and beyond that they became. For the first time, album sales outpaced singles, as the teens of the mid-60s grew up and moved on to LPs. This left a gap, to be filled by inferior bubblegum pop, resulting in Sugar Sugarby The Archies becoming the year’s biggest seller. Other than that, it’s another mixed bag, like 1968. Some of the highlights include the tranquil Albatross by the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac and Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman. Lots of great tracks from overseas acts too, particularly the horny Je t’aime… moi non plus by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, plus the apocalyptic boogie of Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival and ska pioneer Desmond Dekker’s Israelites.
Marvin Gaye – I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Originally recorded in 1967, Motown boss Berry Gordy Jr was uncharacteristically blind to the greatness of Gaye’s version of this track. Slowing things down, adding an incredibly cool bass line for the intro, and singing with the kind of feeling that was completely alien to the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Des O’Connor, this is soul music at its finest, and peak Motown. To hear just how stunning Gaye is here, check out this clip that’s currently doing the rounds online, which isolates the vocal. Spine-tingling.
Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys: Had I been deciding this before Harris was outed as a paedophile, I’d have said Zager & Evans deserved it, because I, like so many others, had a soft spot for Two Little Boys. Now obviously it just leaves a very sour taste, and it’s a downbeat way to end the decade.
The Best 60s Number 1 Ever is…
The Beatles – She Loves You: It was always going to be the Fab Four, wasn’t it? They’re the greatest group of all time, so it’s a no-brainer. However, I’d be lying if I said She Loves You has always been my favourite Beatles single. I’d probably say Strawberry Fields Forever or Something, but of course neither went to number 1. But it would be wrong to make my choices for best and worst chart-toppers of each decade simply my favourite. I also look at the impact of each song, ine innovation and the influence it had, as well as the catchiness of the chorus. She Loves You easily covers all three bases. It’s modern music’s ‘big bang’ moment, and as I’ve said before about this and other legendary number 1s, it’s listening to them in the context of this blog that really separates the wheat from the chaff, and Every UK Number 1 has truly brought home what a monumental few minutes of pop music The Beatles conjured up here. What alchemy.
But also, what competition, what an often astounding selection of songs I was honoured to listen to and choose from. It could just as easily been You Really Got Me or (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, but in the end She Loves You got there first and laid the groundwork that allowed all the other classics to be made in the first place.
The Worst 60s Number 1 Ever is…
The Bachelors – Diane: You could argue it’s unfair to single out Diane because it was number 1 in a year full of brilliance. I’d argue that’s exactly why I’ve given it this dubious honour. It spoiled my listening experience and stuck out like a sore thumb! Its dull tweeness would have earned it a slating if it had been released in 1954. 10 years later, it’s unforgivable really. And if they were the first Irish boyband, well, that’s nothing to be proud of, is it?
The 60s were the decade in which pop came of age and became an integral part of the youth movement. From the dreariness of post-rock’n’roll, to Merseybeat, to the British Invasion, to psychedelia, to bubblegum pop and rock, music mutated rapidly, thanks in large to The Beatles, but also The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and more. Reviewing each number 1 in turn was really fascinating, and has increased my knowledge of the decade greatly, and for me the most interesting parts were just how much Merseybeat completely upturned the charts, and how little impact psychedelia actually had in 1967, due to the rise in popularity of albums.
So obviously it’s the 70s next. The decade in which I was born, albeit very late in the decade (1979). Pop changed and changed again here too, many times, and it was an often dark and turbulent decade in the news, so I can’t wait to get stuck in once more.
Blogs on every 60s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.
Children all across the country opening their Christmas presents in 1969 may have seen delighted to see Australian children’s entertainer Rolf Harris meeting patients at Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children, Carshalton, Surrey on BBC One. I’m betting that during the show, he’ll have sang that year’s Christmas number 1, and final chart-topper of the decade, Two Little Boys. Until a few years ago, it was a fondly remembered anti-war song by a national treasure. Now it’s an uncomfortable reminder that a paedophile tricked us all for nearly 50, and the name of the song has only helped it become a sick joke.
Few stars have fallen in the UK as swiftly and completely as Harris. He was our favourite Aussie, loved by most, including me. And then in 2013 he was arrested and interviewed for allegations related to Operation Yewtree, set up by police in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sex scandals.
Harris was born on 30 March 1930 in Bassendean, Perth in Western Australia. He was named after Rolf Boldrewood, the pseudonym of a writer his mother, Agnes, admired. As a child, Harris loved to paint, and aged 16 and studying at Perth Modern School, his self-portrait was one of 80 works out of 200 to be hung in the Art Gallery of New South Wales as an entry in the 1947 Archibald Prize. He won his first art prize two years later. In his adolescence he was also an excellent swimmer, winning several competitions in the 40s and 50s. This is perhaps why he starred in a public information film in the 70s encouraging children to learn to swim.
He moved to England in 1952, and aged 22 he was studying at City and Guilds of London Art School in South London. Only a year later he had his big break in TV, performing a regular 10-minute cartoon drawing section on the BBC children’s show Jigsaw. By 1954 he was a regular on a similar show, Whirligig. When Harris wasn’t on TV (he also starred in ITV show Small Time from 1955) or learning from impressionist painter Hayward Veal, he could be found every Thursday at a club called the Down Under, where he would hone his entertainment skills.
By 1959 Harris was married to Welsh actress Alwen Hughes and back in Perth after being headhunted. His popularity exploded there and as well as presenting a children’s show and a variety show, he recorded his first single, Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport on one mic with four local musicians and his wobble board. He had his first hit, reaching number 1 in Australia in 1960. It sold well in the UK too and became one of his signature songs.
One of his most notable early hits was Sun Arise in 1962. Produced by George Martin, it was more serious than his usual fare, and I used to love listening to it, finding it pretty psychedelic. Harris couldn’t play the didgeridoo so the sound was replicated by eight double basses. Back in the UK, he got to know The Beatles, possibly through Martin, and despite being angered by them interfering in his act off the side of the stage during one of the Fab Four’s Christmas shows, they struck up a friendship. His 1965 single Jake the Peg became one of his most beloved songs. This tale of a man with an ‘extra leg’ would also sadly take on a whole new dimension once the truth came out.
As well as introducing us to Australian musical instruments, Harris became known in 1968 for his association with the futuristic Stylophone. He would use this miniature analog stylus-operated keyboard on his records and on TV, and he and David Bowie helped popularise the instrument. It did wonders for his street cred in the 90s when musicians like Pulp, Orbital and Stereolab began using it too, remembering Harris’s adverts from their childhood.
By the time of his number 1 single, Rolf Harris was untouchable (sadly, as it turned out), presenting the long-running The Rolf Harris Show on the BBC, churning out novelty hits and becoming one of TV’s top celebrities thanks to his charming eccentricities and lovable image.
Always on the lookout for songs for his TV show, he fell in love with Two Little Boys (ahem… see?) in 1969 and asked musical director Alan Braden to arrange a version for him.
One of the oldest songs to reach number 1 for some time, this music hall song had been written back in 1902 by American composer Theodore Morse and lyricist Edward Madden and was made popular by Scottish comedian Harry Lauder. An unashamedly sentimental tale of two young boys who played together, then fought together in the US civil war, Harris was perhaps very canny to pick such a tune as the 60s drew to a close, with the war in Vietnam proving more and more unpopular. Allegedly, John Lennon congratulated him for getting a protest song to the top of the charts. The TV audience loved it, and so he released it in time for Christmas. It ended the eight-week run of Sugar Sugar over the festive fortnight and stayed there for most of January 1970. So, after light entertainment tunes, the dying embers of rock’n’roll, Beatlemania, psychedelia and rock, the charts came full circle, and a light entertainer ruled the roost again as the 60s drew to a close.
I was genuinely hurt and disappointed when the allegations came out about Rolf Harris. Savile wasn’t a surprise at all, he was clearly weird and had a dark side (although obviously I was shocked and appalled when the scale of his shocking crimes became apparent). I felt, like much of the country, betrayed that such a loveable guy could hurt children. I watched him perform four times at Glastonbury Festival, and Two Little Boys was always one of the highlights. Looking back, I maybe sensed he wasn’t the person we were led to believe. There were times during his performances there that his real personality perhaps slipped out, and I remember finding him a bit vulgar, and wondering if in actual fact he wasn’t the weird but harmless manchild he had hoodwinked us into believing in.
Listening to Two Little Boys is a sad and uncomfortable experience now. Don’t get me wrong, it was never a masterpiece, and wasn’t something I would ever casually listen to, but it was hard not to have a soft spot for a song so full of pathos. It was a song that could make the hardest of hearts melt for a minute or two. Even Margaret Thatcher loved it! It wasn’t cool and it didn’t matter. It was about the love between two friends down the years, forced into fighting a bloody war but still looking out for each other. And that filthy heavy-breathing bastard went has ruined it for everyone.
The 70s were leaner years for Harris’s music career, but he remained very much in the public eye through his TV shows. He performed at the Sydney Opera House in 1973, and became Sir Rolf Harris in 1977, before launching a new series, Rolf on Saturday — OK?, which ran for three years.
In 1982 he performed didgeridoo on Kate Bush’s album The Dreaming, and did so again on her 2005 album Aerial. He presented Rolf’s Cartoon Time on the BBC through most of the 80s, and then moved to ITV to host Rolf’s Cartoon Club from 1989 to 1993, which is where my earliest memories of him stem. Apparently he hosted a child abuse prevention video in 1985, called Kids Can Say No!
It was around this time he began to be loved by students who remembered him from their youth. His version of Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven returned him to the charts for the first time in years in 1993, and he made his Glastonbury Festival debut. As well as being an ironic figure of fun, his TV career went from strength to strength thanks to Animal Hospital, which did wonders for his public image and ran from 1994 to 2003.
Harris also moved back into serious painting, presenting Rolf on Art and then Star Portraits with Rolf Harris. He even painted the Queen for her 80th birthday in 2005. Three years later he re-recorded Two Little Boys to mark the 90th anniversary of World War One, after discovering that the song was remarkably close to the experiences of his own father and uncle during the conflict. In 2011 he appeared on Piers Morgan’s Life Stories and spoke of his experiences of clinical depression.
2012 saw Rolf perform at the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Concert, breaking out into a rendition of Two Little Boys to fill in time, before comedian Lenny Henry stopped him and was booed off stage. Then that October, Operation Yewtree began. The UK was still coming to terms with Savile’s crimes when Harris was arrested in March 2013 after many rumours he was one of the suspects. In June 2014 he was found guilty of 12 counts of indecent assault and subsequently sentenced over five years in prison. While inside, stories would occasionally appear of him having written abusive song lyrics about his victims. He was released in 2017, and was last in the news earlier this year having entered a school playground to wave at children. In this climate of #cancelled, Rolf Harris, now 88, will be loathed until the day he dies.
So, sorry to end such an innovative, startling musical decade on such a sour note, but I will be touching on the 60s again soon. Like my blog Every 50s Number 1, I will listen to the whole lot again and whittle them down to pick the best and worst of every year, before deciding on the best and worst of the decade. A mammoth task indeed.
Written by: Theodore F Morse & Edward Madden
Producer: Mickey Clarke
Weeks at number 1: 6 (20 December 1969-30 January 1970)
Labour leader Ed Miliband – 24 December Jamiroquai singer Jay Kay – 30 December Labour MP Andy Burnham – 7 January Olympic rower Tim Foster – 19 January Comedian Mitch Benn – 20 January Art curator Maria Balshaw – 24 January
Actor Jimmy Hankey – 13 January Urdd founder Ifan ab Owen Edwards – 23 January Poet Albert Evans – 26 January Military historian Basil Liddell Hart – 29 January
Boxing Day 1969: A fire broke out at the 15th-century Rose & Crown hotel in Saffron Walden when a TV in the lounge overheated. 11 people died that night, which led to the passing in 1971 of the Fire Precautions Act 1971.
New Year’s Day 1970: The age of majority for most legal purposes reduced from 21 to 18 under the terms of the Family Law Reform Act 1969. Also that day, rhe half crown coin ceased to be legal tender, and the National Westminster Bank began trading following the merger of National Provincial Bank and Westminster Bank.
18 January: The grave of Karl Mark was vandalised by anti-Germanic racists at Highgate in London.
21 January: Fraserburgh lifeboat Duchess of Kent capsized, and five of the six crew died.
22 January: A Boeing 747 landed in Heathrow Airport, making it the first jumbo jet in the country.
27 January: The Rolling Stones’ singer Mick Jagger was fined £200 for possession of cannabis. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French would say.
The slick pop of Sugar Sugar by cartoon band The Archies was the penultimate number 1 of the 60s, sitting pretty in the top spot for close to two whole months, and only narrowly missing out on the Christmas number 1 spot.
Artists like The Beatles and Bob Dylan had made self-penned songs fashionable, and for most of the 60s, it was they and others of their ilk that often reached the top spot. But as the pop audience matured and moved on to buying albums, the gap was starting to be filled by bubblegum pop – squeaky-clean commercial songs, like Dizzy, made to order by hit-making teams, much like in the 50s, and given to singers such as Tommy Roe.
It would be a lie to say this type of thing had ever really gone away though. Motown aped the production-line of the car factories of its hometown Detroit, and The Monkees were a pop phenomenon whose songs were mostly written and recorded by other musicians, until they broke free. And it was Don Kirshner, the man that had been dumped by The Monkees, that came up with the idea of turning a comic into a band in 1968.
From his point of view, it was a no-brainer. All had been going well until The Monkees got too big for their boots – why not start over, only this time, why not remove all pretence that the band is real? And why not use cartoon characters that already had a huge audience to give the project a head start? After all, it had worked in the 50s – Alvin and the Chipmunks had been and still are very successful.
Kirshner was hired by CBS in late 1967 to be musical supervisor on their new Saturday morning cartoon series The Archie Show. Based on popular characters from The Archie Comics, which began in 1941, it followed the adventures of a bunch of all-American teenage friends from Riverdale High School that had formed a band.
17-year-old Archie Andrews was the central figure, lead singer and rhythm guitarist. His best friend Jughead Jones was their drummer, with wisecracking Reggie Mantle on bass. But unusually, this wasn’t just a boy’s own setup, very unusual for that time. Rich girl Veronica Lodge also sang and played keyboards, and tomboy Betty Cooper was lead guitarist and percussionist. Girl power!
The show had a 17-episode run, premiering in the US in September 1968 until January 1969. Kirshner’s job was to hire the songwriters and musicians for the songs The Archies would be performing. He wasted no time in hiring Jeff Barry to co-produce with him. Barry, together with Ellie Greenwich, was responsible for some of the biggest pop hits of the decade, including Da Doo Ron Ron, Then He Kissed Me and Do Wah Diddy Diddy, a number 1 for Manfred Mann in 1964. He had co-written Tell Laura I Love Her with Ben Raleigh, which had been a UK number 1 for Ricky Valance in 1960, and worked with Kirshner on The Monkees’ hits, including producing their UK chart-topperI’m a Believer.
For their eponymous debut album, The Archies music was performed by singer Ron Dante, drummer Gary Chester, guitarist Dave Appell, bassist Joey Macho (great name) and keyboardist Ron Frangipane (even better name). Kirshner had wanted Kenny Karen to be the vocalist, but Barry liked Dante, who had been the singer novelty parody band The Detergents. He was also in the rock group The Cuff Links.
The first single released, Bang-Shang-A-Lang (sounds like a Bay City Rollers song title) did okay, reaching number 22 on the Billboard chart in the US, so the project continued.
For the sessions for second album, Everything’s Archie, Kirshner left Barry to produce alone. Among the material was a song by Barry and Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Kim. Sugar Sugar was catchy as hell, and encapsulated bubblegum pop totally. It was all wide-eyed innocence, as sweet as the title suggested and contained hook upon hook. Kim also plated guitar and joined Dante on the vocals, and Toni Wine performed the female voices. Wine was a songwriter too, and had co-written A Groovy Kind of Love with Carole Bayer Sager for The Mindbenders. Joining them and the line-up of the debut album was guitarist Sal DiTroia and Ray Stevens provided the all-important handclaps.
Sugar Sugar was so strong, they decided to release it before the LP was completed. Allegedly, because previous single Feelin’ So Good (S.K.O.O.B.Y-.D.O.O.) hadn’t performed well, Kirshner decided not to reveal the identity of the band behind Sugar Sugar when DJs got their hands on it in May 1969. Whether this is true or not, it was some time before it became really big. It eventually climbed to the top in the US that September, and the UK a month later.
I totally get the reasons for Sugar Sugar‘s enduring popularity, for all the reasons I’ve given above, and more – mostly the infectious keyboard interjections in the chorus, obviously. It has all the ingredients needed for a pop song. But it’s never done much for me. Even as a child, I found it a bit too sickly-sweet and cloying. I found the lyrics silly and the ‘band’ irritating, having never actually seen the cartoon, just the clips compiled to make a music video.
As an adult, it’s all a bit too cynical and professional for my liking. Don’t get me wrong, I no longer feel, as I did in my 20s, that music is only any good if the artist is ‘4 Real’, but try as I might, Sugar Sugar mostly leaves me cold. The ‘Pour your sugar on me, honey’ line is quite good though, and sung with some much-needed passion.
Sugar Sugar was the best-selling song of 1969 and stayed at number 1 for eight weeks – a feat that was last achieved by The Shadows with Wonderful Land in 1962. I can only assume the TV show was being shown in the UK at the time and doing well too, otherwise, why would it perform even better here than in the US? Whatever the reasons, it was a sign of things to come in the following decade, as bubblegum pop continued to sell hugely, and innocent acts like The Osmonds entrancing children. The idea of cartoon bands surfaces in the charts from time to time – Damon Albarn’s Gorillaz, for example.
Filmation continued to produce various Archies TV shows until 1978, but the musical project had ground to a halt before then. Nothing matched Sugar Sugar, and after follow-up Jingle Jangle (not featuring Jimmy Savile), the band’s success tailed off sharply. Fourth album Sunshine in 1970 (which has great sun-drenched, slightly sinister artwork that wouldn’t look out of place on a Boards of Canada release) was the last to feature Jeff Barry and Andy Kim properly, and was more grown-up than previous releases. 1971’s This Is Love was the final regular release.
Barry became interested in writing music for film and television afterwards, and Kim had a solo hit in 1974 with Rock Me Gently. After a short-lived solo career, Dante moved into production and did very well at it, producing hits for Barry Manilow. In 2008 he returned to the Riverdale teens, singing on The Archies Christmas Album. Kirshner continued to work in music for TV shows. He died of heart failure in 2011, aged 76.
Archie Comics continued to be mined, with Sabrina, the Teenage Witch proving to be the other most popular character. Archie Andrews was killed off in 2014, shot in the stomach while saving the life of his friend, Senator Kevin Keller. Riverdale was renamed Archie Andrews High School in his honour. 2017 saw the debut of TV drama series Riverdale, which turned the premise of the characters on its head, with the lives of Archie and co proving much darker than the original comic-strip could ever have been.
And while we’re on the subject of ‘dark’, if Sugar Sugar had lasted at number 1 a further week, it would have been Christmas number 1 and the final chart-topper of the decade. However, it was pipped by another hugely popular children’s song, now sadly infamous thanks to the singer.
Can you tell what it is yet?
Written by: Andy Kim & Jeff Barry
Producer: Jeff Barry
Weeks at number 1: 8 (25 October-19 December) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Scottish actor Gerard Butler – 13 November Rock drummer Michael Lee – 19 November Conservative MP Sajid Javid – 5 December TV presenter Richard Hammond – 19 December
Bandleader Ted Heath – 18 November Princess Alice of Battenburg – 5 December
15 November: Regular colour TV broadcasts began on both BBC One and ITV.
16 November: The BBC One debut of much-loved children’s stop-motion animated TV series Clangers.
17 November: In a move that had a far-reaching effect on the British press, The Sun newspaper, previously a left-wing broadsheet, was relaunched as a right-wing tabloid. Despite falling circulation, it remains influential and one of the most popular newspapers in the country.
25 November: John Lennon returned his MBE in protest against the British involvement in Biafra, as well as supporting the US in Vietnam. The Beatles as cuddly establishment moptops seemed a long time ago.
10 December: It was announced that organic chemist Derek Barton had jointly won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with the Norwegian Odd Hassel.
15 December: Barclays Bank purchased Martins Bank.
18 December: The abolition of the death penalty was made permanent by Parliament. Also that day, the sixth James Bond film, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was released. This was the first and last to feature George Lazenby, after Sean Connery had quit the role.
As the 60s drew to a close, one of the most successful songwriting partnerships of the decade, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, had one more UK number 1 in the bag, thanks to enigmatic US country music singer-songwriter Bobbie Gentry. The shockingJe t’aime… moi non plusmade way after only a week for a more typical pop song, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again, making Gentry the final female artist to have a UK number 1 in the 60s.
A year previous, Bacharach and David had been asked to write the score for the musical Promises Promises, which was based on the 1960 comedy film The Apartment. David Merrick felt his production was missing a catchy song in the middle of the second act. Unfortunately, Bacharach was in hospital with pneumonia and unable to work his magic on a tune, but David didn’t waste time in coming up with some lyrics, and inspired by his friend, he wrote the line ‘What do you get when you kiss a girl?/You get enough germs to catch pneumonia/After you do, she’ll never phone you.’
Bacharach loved it, and as soon as he was well enough, he composed the tune, quicker, he said, than anything else he’d ever written. I’ll Never Fall in Love Again was ready for the Broadway premiere of Promises Promises on 1 December 1968, and, sung by Jill O’Hara and Jerry Orbach, became the most famous song of the show.
As always, singers queued up to record a Bacharach and David song, and it had even more hitmaking potential than usual as it was already popular. Johnny Mathis was first, in May 1969, then Bacharach, with female singers, shortly after. But it took trailblazing Bobbie Gentry, who was at the height of her popularity in the UK, to get it to number 1 here.
Gentry was born Roberta Lee Streeter on 27 July 1942 near Woodland in Chickasaw County, Mississippi. Her parents divorced soon after birth and her mother moved away, so Streeter was raised on her paternal grandparents’ farm. She loved music from a young age, so much so that her grandmother traded one of their cows for a neighbour’s piano. Aged seven, she composed her first song on it, My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog… aww.
While at school she taught herself to play the guitar, bass, banjo and vibraphone. Aged 13, she moved away from Chickasaw County to live with her mother in California, but she never forgot her childhood home, and based most of her material from place names around there.
Upon graduating in 1960 she chose her stage name, which was inspired by the 1952 film Ruby Gentry. The heroine of the movie was a girl born into poverty but determined to be successful. Bobbie Gentry meant business.
She started out at local country clubs, and upon moving to Los Angeles to major in philosophy, Gentry would occasionally perform in nightclubs. Blessed with a distinctive beauty, she also worked as a fashion model. She transferred to Los Angeles Conservatory of Music to develop her songwriting. Then in 1967, Capitol Records executive Kelly Gordon heard a demo tape that featured her self-penned Ode to Billie Joe.
Set to nothing more than Gentry strumming a guitar and a string arrangement added after she was signed, this unique tale of a family’s indifference to the news of a local boy’s suicide topped the Billboard chart in the US and made it to number 13 in the UK too. Such was its impact, the Tallahatchie Bridge that Billy Joe jumped off became a popular suicide spot, despite only being 20ft high.
Gentry was catapulted to fame. Her debut album that shared the name of her debut single knocked Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band off the top of the US charts, and she won three Grammy Awards in 1967. And what an inspiration for women – a female artist writing and producing her own material (even if, as Gentry alleged, her name was replaced by male producers in the credits) was extremely rare back then.
Although her second album, The Delta Sweete (1968) didn’t perform as well, the concept album based on life in the Deep South was loved by critics, and it was around this time the UK really took to Gentry. She even had her own BBC series, despite the fact none of her singles and albums were charting here. She also released a joint album with Glenn Campbell that year, too.
In a sign that the well was perhaps running dry, her 1969 album Touch ‘Em with Love consisted mostly of covers, and among those was its second single, I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.
It wasn’t unusual for Gentry to release covers – she recorded several Beatles songs – but I’ll Never Fall in Love Again was a rather MOR choice for such a hip, edgy feminist singer. It sounds like something from the mid-60s, which, whenever I’ve heard it crop up anywhere, is when I assumed it was released, and that Gentry was some swinging-60s, doe-eyed pop star. I’m going to guess that her management were keen on edging her towards a more light entertainment vein, to capitalise on her BBC series in the UK.
It opens well, with its pretty melody and great, memorable lyrics, and Gentry’s vocal is all wide-eyed melancholy. She sounds a little like Dusty Springfield, but also slightly off, and it turns out she had a cold when she recorded it. It’s very typical Bacharach and David, with clever lyrics offsetting the sugary-sweet tune. I’d argue it’s not one of their best songs though, and now I know it’s from a musical, perhaps that explains it. It may work better in the context of the show, which concerns a junior executive who aims to climb the corporate ladder by letting his apartment be used by his married superiors to conduct affairs. The final lines ‘So, for at least until tomorrow/I’ll never fall in love again’ are smart, but it outstays its welcome after the first minute. Had it been released a few years previous, my appreciation may have been higher.
But yes, the most interesting thing about this number 1 is the singer, and what happened next to Bobbie Gentry. Her follow-up single, Fancy, is considered by her fans to be perhaps her definitive work. A semi-autobiographical Southern Gothic track combined women’s lib with another catchy melody that blurred the lines of country, pop and soul. A number 1 in Canada, for some reason it failed to chart here.
Weirdly, her next album, also called Fancy, was renamed I’ll Never Fall in Love Again in the UK and featured a different track listing, to capitalise on her number 1, meaning it featured on two LPs in a row here.
In 1971 Gentry released her seventh and final album, Patchwork. Almost entirely self-penned and self-produced (she finally gained an official credit), it was critically adored, but didn’t sell. The introspective lyrics of the last song, Lookin’ In, suggested it was a final throw of the dice.
Like Elvis Presley, she spent most of the 70s in Las Vegas, with ever-more-elaborate stage shows that changed each year. She had an ‘Elvis spot’ in which she wore a high-collared bell-bottom jumpsuit like ‘the King’. There was also a 30-minute tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. 1976 saw the release of the film Ode to Billy Joe, inspired by her debut hit, which she re-recorded for the movie.
Then in 1981, she walked out of showbusiness completely. She had just given birth to a son, Tyler, from her failed third marriage, and was caring for former partner and producer Kelly Gordon, co-writer of Frank Sinatra’s That’s Life, who died soon after of lung cancer. Rumours have circulated that, after her brief first marriage to casino magnate Bill Harrah ended in divorce, Gentry was so wealthy she need never work again, and so didn’t, choosing to live in a gated community in Memphis.
Whatever the reasoning behind her permanent disappearance from the public eye, it’s only added to Bobbie Gentry’s mystique. Last year, psychedelic alt-rockers Mercury Rev released their version of her second album The Delta Sweete, which briefly brought her back into the public eye. Now aged 77, it’s unlikely we’ll ever hear from her again. Fair play.
Here’s the muckiest, filthiest number 1 by far we’ve had up to this point. Je t’aime… moi non plus by French Lothario Serge Gainsbourg and his lover, English actress Jane Birkin shocked our stuffy nation and was banned by the BBC… but as is often the case with such singles, whatever the decade, its notoriety only helped its sales. It was also the first foreign language chart-topper.
One of the most important figures in 20th-century French culture, Serge Gainsbourg had been born Lucien Ginsburg in Paris on 2 April 1928. He was the son of Jewish Russian migrants who had fled to the city after the Russian Revolution in 1917. His father Joseph taught Lucien and his twin sister Liliane to play the piano.
The young Ginsberg was deeply affected by Germany’s occupation of France during World War Two, and it would come out in his work in later years. Travelling under false papers, the Ginsburgs escaped to Limoges, which although safer, was still a dangerous place for French Jews.
Nonetheless they survived, and when the war is over, he found work teaching music and drawing in a school set up by rabbis for the orphaned children of murdered deportees. The stories he heard stayed with the horrified teacher for the rest of his life.
By the time he was in his early twenties, he changed his name to Serge Gainsbourg. He liked his new forename because it reminded him of his Russian heritage (and Lucien made him sound like a hairdresser’s assistant), and Gainsbourg in homage to the English painter Thomas Gainsborough.
Fast forward to the late 50s, and Gainsbourg, now married, was a shy, struggling songwriter, who felt the songs he was starting to develop would be too provocative for chansons. Singer Michèle Arnaud took him under her wing and offered to record his songs, and buoyed by her patronage, he released his debut album Du chant à la une!… in 1958.
Gainsbourg was too obsessed with sex and death to be famous just yet. But he became friends with legendary Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel and French singer Juliette Greco, with who he collaborated over the next few years.
In 1965 Gainsbourg, now on to his second marriage, finally found some mainstream success by writing Luxembourg’ entry into the Eurovision Song Contest. Poupée de cire, poupée de son, sung by French teen France Gall, won the competition. However, his next song for her, Les Sucettes, caused uproar. Turns out it wasn’t about lollipops, which is what the title translates into, but oral sex. Gainsbourg, who had once been ridiculed by audiences and critics for his looks, likely enjoyed pissing people off, and despite Gall’s career suffering for a while afterwards, Gainsbourg was onto something.
In 1967 Gainsbourg, divorced for the second time, began an affair with actress, singer and iconic sex symbol Brigitte Bardot. She asked him to write the most beautiful love song he could imagine, and he went home that night and wrote two of his most famous tracks. Bonnie and Clyde, which was released as a duet in 1968, and Je t’aime… moi non plus.
The title for the latter translates as ‘I love you… me neither’, which was inspired by a Salvador Dali quote: ‘Picasso is Spanish, me too. Picasso is a genius, me too. Picasso is a communist, me neither’. Gainsbourg would over the years describe it as ‘the ultimate love song’, or an ‘anti-fuck song’.
The secret lovers recorded the first version, and indulged in heavy petting when doing so, according to engineer William Flageollet. When word got out, Bardot’s husband was furious and Bardot pleaded with Gainsbourg not to release the recording. I looked forward to hearing this version, eventually released in the 80s, purely for research purposes and not for finding Bardot gorgeous you understand… it’s actually a disappointment. The arrangement is different, with more strings, and less organ, but the main problem is, Bardot’s performance is more reserved than Jane Birkin’s.
Birkin was born on 14 December 1946 in Marylebone, London. Her mother Judy Campbell was a stage actress and her father David Birkin a World War Two spy. Her brother Andrew is a successful screenwriter and director. Birkin was raised in Chelsea, and aged 17 she met her future husband John Barry, the James Bond composer and former collaborator with Adam Faith on his number 1s What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me(1960). They married in 1965, and she became famous herself through her roles in counterculture films Blowup and Kaleidoscope, both in 1966, and Wonderwall in 1968. That year, she and Barry divorced.
Birkin auditioned for a role in Slogan in France in 1968. She became the female lead and co-starred with Gainsbourg, and together they performed the film’s theme song, La Chanson de Slogan. They fell in love, and what better way to commemorate than by recording a sexually explicit song? Was this also a slap in the face to Bardot? Possibly, but Birkin was definitely keen. She had heard the original and found it ‘hot’ and insisted they bring it out as a single, because she was jealous of his ex-lover.
With the organ taking centre stage and more prominent bass under a new arrangement by Arthur Greenslade, Gainsbourg and Birkin went in to record their vocals in a studio in Marble Arch. He told her to sing it an octave higher than Bardot, so she would sound ‘like a little boy’.
A typically shocking thing for Gainsbourg to say, but the shift in pitch between their two vocals does add to the contrast and highly charged erotic content. It’s difficult to imagine now just how shocking Je t’aime… moi non plus must have sounded 50 years ago, and its been used, covered and spoofed so many times, but if you overlook the slightly cheesy organ (so to speak), the explicit performance from Birkin is still pretty out there.
Put it this way, I couldn’t and didn’t play it out loud in front of the kids like I easily could any other number 1 before it. It brought to mind L’il Louis & the World’s 1989 house classic French Kiss. Featuring similarly orgasmic moans, it once came on at random in my kitchen and my eldest, then around five, asked why the lady was groaning. At a loss for an answer, I said she had a headache.
There are rumours out there that Birkin and Gainsbourg were actually having sex while recording this. I don’t believe that personally, but it makes for a good story. Birkin certainly puts in an effective performance though, totally letting go and making Gainsbourg’s cool detached replies in the chorus all the more effective too.
There’s a great translation and essay on the meaning of the lyrics of Je t’aime… moi non plushere, which proves it’s more than just two horny people getting it on. Some people consider Birkin is wildly in love with Gainsbourg in the song, and his ‘me neither’ means it’s purely about sex for him. But the site considers the possibility that Birkin doesn’t love Gainsbourg, that she’s just into the sex, and he knows this full well, hence his reply.
It also suggests that, and the rest of the vocals back this up, that if it is just about sex, than Gainsbourg is making sure she has the best time he can give her. Several times he says ‘Je vail et je viens/Entre ten reins/Et je me retiens’, which translates as ‘I come and I go/Inside of you/And I hold myself back’. The song’s ending is a literal climax, with Birkin demanding ‘Non! Maintenant! Viens!’ (No! Come now!)… Stirring stuff, really, and more sophisticated than most record buyers would have realised, especially in 1969. And I’d bet that the average British man at the time would have been astounded at the idea of such selfless sex.
It’s another quantum leap in pop music. We’ve gone from songs about love to seven inches of the hard stuff just like that, and although it proved too shocking to open the floodgates to many similar songs at the time, pop was never the same again. Je t’aime… moi non plus may have been filth, but it’s deep too.
Je t’aime… moi non plus sent shockwaves through the charts. In addition to being banned on many radio stations, Fontana, the label that released it, withdrew it from sale when it reached number two. Fortunately, Gainsbourg arranged a deal with Major Minor Records, and the combination of two different versions only helped its sales. An unusual occurrence in the charts, and I’m not sure if it’s happened before or since.
It wasn’t just deemed offensive in the UK though. It was banned from the radio in Spain, Sweden, Brazil and Italy. It was denounced by the Vatican. In France, it couldn’t be played before 11pm. And yet there have been countless covers and spoof versions over the years, by Giorgio Moroder & Donna Summer, Malcolm McLaren and Pet Shop Boys. The two versions I want to hear the most have to be by Frankie Howerd & June Whitfield and René & Yvette from ‘Allo! ‘Allo!. Just imagine…
Two years after the success of their sole number 1 single (and the album of the same name), Gainsbourg released the concept album Histoire de Melody Nelson, about a middle-aged man accidentally crashing his car into a teenage cyclist, and subsequently falling in love with her. Despite, or maybe because of its Lolita-esque story, it’s considered a landmark in French pop. Birkin provided the vocals for Melody and also featured on the provocative artwork.
Gainsbourg shocked once more in 1975 when his experiences of World War Two inspired the album Rock Around the Bunker, featuring satirically light-hearted songs such as Nazi Rock. His last ‘rock’ album came out the following year, L’Homme à tête de chou (Cabbage-Head Man, which was his nickname).
Gainsbourg moved into reggae, and recorded Aux Armes et cætera, a version of La Marsellaise, with Rita Marley and Sly and Robbie. Many were appalled, and he received death threats. Bob Marley was also disgusted with him for persuading his wife to sing dirty lyrics on his 1981 album, Mauvaises nouvelles des étoiles.
Birkin gave birth to their daughter Charlotte, now a successful actress and singer herself. Following a break in acting, She returned in 1973 to play Brigitte Bardot’s lover in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman. Gainsbourg must have loved that. In 1976 she starred in his film, Je t’aime moi non plus, which was banned in the UK. But after 13 years their turbulent, intense relationship finally ended in 1980.
It could be argued that he never really recovered, despite almost immediately beginning a relationship with Caroline Paulus, aka Bambou, which lasted until his death. He recorded two funk and hip-hop-influenced albums, 1984’s Love on the Beat and You’re Under Arrest in 1987, in which much of his wit and playfulness seemed to have been reduced to seeing how far he could go to shock people, even recording the track Lemon Incest with Charlotte, only 13 at the time.
Gainsbourg was becoming increasingly dishevelled, and became best known for his drunken, shambolic chat show appearances. Famously, in 1986 he interrupted a nervous Michel Drucker to announce on his chat show that he wanted ‘to fuck’ an understandably startled Whitney Houston, sat next to him on the sofa. On another show he shouted ‘You’re nothing but a filthy whore, a filthy fucking whore’ at Catherine Ringer, an actress who had also appeared in porn. Understandably, he didn’t appear on TV much after this.
In 1988 while judging a film festival he began to tell the audience an obscene story about Brigitte Bardot and a champagne bottle, which ended in him staggering offstage and collapsing in a seat.
On 2 March 1991 Serge Gainsbourg died of a heart attack, aged 62. Since then most of those final years have been forgotten and he is rightly considered a legendary figure in France for his intelligence and thought-provoking music and film work.
Jane Birkin continued to make music throughout the 70s and 80s, including the albums Ex fan des Sixties in 1978 and Baby Alone in Babylone in 1983. Her film work included in the adaptations of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1978) and Evil Under the Sun (1982), and she co-starred with John Gielgud in Leave All Fair (1985).
Despite finding love again with director Jacques Dollon, with whom she had her third child, Lou in 1982, The Observer reported in 2007 that they separated in the 90s because he ‘could not compete with her grief for Gainsbourg’. In 1998 she starred in Merchant-Ivory’s A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries and saw out the 90s with the album À la légère in 1999.
The 00s saw her awarded an OBE in 2001, plenty more acting work, and three albums – Rendez-Vous (2004), Fictions (2006) and Enfants d’Hiver (2008). Her last album to date, 2017’s Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique, featured orchestral reworking of their collaborations. A year previous, she starred in the Academy Award-nominated short film La femme et le TGV, which she announced would be her final acting work.
A multi-talented, multi-award-winning humanitarian and strong role model, Jane Birkin is now 72 and though her career has have slowed down, she has a fine body of work to look back on, and it would be unfair if she was mainly remembered for her number 1 duet – as great as it is.
Written by: Serge Gainsbourg
Producer: Jack Baverstock
Weeks at number 1: 1 (11-17 October)
Actor Dominic West – 15 October
14 October: The all-new, spectacular seven-sided 50p coin was introduced. The replacement for the ten-shilling note was given a rather mixed reaction from the Great British public, with many complaining that it was too similar to the 10p coin. It wasn’t, but there was enough shock of the new to contend with that week I guess… Also that day, opinion polls were suggesting that, come the next general election, the Conservatives, led by Edward Heath and ahead by up to 24 points, would easily trounce Howard Wilson’s Labour.
Early autumn 1969 in the UK was surprisingly mild, reaching 20C in London in early October. Following the sci-fi apocalyptic worldview of In the Year 2525 (Exordium and Terminus) at number 1, US rock act Creedence Clearwater Revival brought further warnings of the planet’s destruction with Bad Moon Rising. Despite being one of the biggest American acts of the period, CCR never scored a number 1 single in the US, and this was their sole chart-topper in the UK.
CCR’s main man, John Fogerty, was born in Berkeley, California on 28 May 1945. His childhood was tough – in his memoir Fortunate Son he revealed that the Catholic School he attended would let him wet himself rather than take a trip to the toilet. His parents were alcoholics and divorced while he and his older brother Tom were still young.
In junior high school in 1959 he met Doug Clifford and Stu Cook. They formed a group called The Blue Velvets, who would play jukebox standards. They would also perform as Tom’s backing band, and before long he joined The Blue Velvets too. In 1964 they signed with the jazz label Fantasy Records. Before their first release under their ill-advised name change to The Golliwogs, the band switched roles. Clifford remained on drums, with Cook changing from piano to bass and most importantly, Tom was demoted from vocals to lead guitar, and John became the frontman and songwriter.
After two years, The Golliwogs’ existence was threatened (can’t believe I’ve just typed that) when John and Clifford chose to enlist in the army to avoid conscription, an experience which John hated. In 1967 Fantasy Records was bought by Saul Zaentz, who offered The Golliwogs the chance to record an album, providing they came up with a new name. Desperate for the group to avoid any accusations of racism, he accepted their first idea. ‘Creedence’ came from Tom, who had a friend, Credence Newball. ‘Clearwater’ was inspired by a commercial for Olympia Brewing Company, and ‘Revival’ represented their newfound commitment to the band.
Creedence Clearwater Revival were born in January 1968, with John and Clifford discharged from service, all four concentrated solely on their band. Debut single Porterville didn’t chart but their follow-up, a cover of 1956 rockabilly tune Susie Q did. Their eponymous debut LP was released that year too, featuring a mix of covers and original material from John.
It was while working on the follow-up, 1969’s Bayou Country, that they came up with one of their best-known songs. Proud Mary peaked at number two on the Billboard charts, and went to number eight here. It became their most-covered song, with the 1971 version by Ike and Tina Turner the best-known version.
CCR were working fast, and while Proud Mary was in the charts they were already at work on their third album Green River. Bad Moon Rising became the lead single. John Fogerty was inspired to write it after witnessing a scene with a hurricane while watching 1941 fantasy The Devil and Daniel Webster.
Following the hokum of Zager and Evans’ number 1, Bad Moon Rising is a song about the end of the world done right. Set to an uptempo, almost skiffle-style strum, the lyrics, telling of freakish weather that’s going to destroy us all, have only become more meaningful over the years. If what we read is true, and I’d put money on it being so, we’re not far off a bad moon rising at all.
There’s a whole other layer to the lyrics though, in which the danger isn’t from nature, but politics. It was once put to John that ‘I see a bad moon on the rise’ was misheard as ‘I see a bad moon on the right’, and he said he was glad, because that’s what he meant anyway. With Richard Nixon in the White House, Bad Moon Rising can also be interpreted as a protest song. And with Donald Trump and Boris Johnson now in a ‘special relationship’, things are worse than ever. On a lighter note, the line is also often misheard as ‘I see a bathroom on the right’, and John Fogerty often sings this instead in concert.
If it is too late for us, I suggest we adopt the CCR approach, which seems to be to have a bloody good time before we’re wiped off the face of the Earth. Southern-style country roots rock is a genre I’m not too knowledgeable of, and it’s hard for me to realise in 2019 just how influential and popular CCR were in the late-60s, early-70s, but if Proud Mary, Bad Moon Rising and Lookin’ Out My Back Door (courtesy of 1998 cult comedy The Big Lebowski) are anything to go by, I should perhaps do further investigating. Catchy as this single is, it’s still hard to picture it as a UK number 1 single, but it is a great tune.
Soon after the single’s release, but before hitting number 1, CCR performed at Woodstock Festival. The band blamed The Grateful Dead for leaving the audience half asleep before they came on, and they refused for their performance to be included in Michael Wadleigh’s documentary movie.
CCR released Willy and the Poor Boys that November, meaning an incredible three top 10 albums in one year. It contained more hits, Fortunate Son and Down on the Corner, and in July 1970 they released yet another. Cosmo’s Factory became their bestselling LP and featured Lookin’ Out My Back Door and a lengthy jam session version ofI Heard It Through the Grapevine.
However, their speedy work rate and arguments over the younger Fogerty’s creative control came to a head, and shortly after recording their next album Pendulum, released December 1970, Tom Fogerty left the group.
They soldiered on as a trio, but further ructions ensued when John Fogerty did an about-face and told Cook and Clifford that the only way they could continue would be for them to contribute to the songwriting, and if they did, he would only contribute rhythm guitar to their tracks. This resulted in their final album, Mardi Gras in 1972, being critically panned. If John was trying to make a point, it worked. He later claimed he was behind most of the recording of all their material before that point, not just the songwriting. The others were little more than a backing band. Rolling Stone said that Mardi Gras may one day be known as Fogerty’s Revenge. In October 1972, it was announced that Creedence Clearwater Revival no longer existed.
John Fogerty sporadically released solo material through the rest of the 70s. Tom did too, but to less success. Clifford and Cook remained close and worked together as session musicians. Apart from jamming together at Tom’s wedding in 1980, they never worked as a foursome again, becoming mired in legal battles over the years. John did briefly work with Cook and Clifford at their high-school reunion in 1983 though, but in their Blue Velvets incarnation.
Sadly, Tom died of AIDS in 1990 due to a tainted blood transfusion while undergoing back surgery. He and John were barely reconciled at the time of his death, and in his eulogy, John said ‘We wanted to grow up and be musicians. I guess we achieved half of that, becoming rock’n’roll stars. We didn’t necessarily grow up.’ He didn’t exactly cover himself in glory in 1993 when CCR were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Fogerty refused to perform with his former rhythm section and arranged an all-star band instead. Tom’s widow was devastated. She’d even brought his funeral urn to the ceremony.
That, and the fact Fogerty took them to court over forming a new group, Creedence Clearwater Revisited, meant that Clifford and Cook were done with Fogerty. In recent years he has publicly mulled over the possibility of a reunion, but they always respond by saying that ship has sailed.
Fogerty seems more at peace with the past now. For a long time he refused to perform any of his old band’s material but now he’s rightfully proud of CCR’s accomplishments. They and The Band helped turn roots rock mainstream, yet held on to their rebellious streaks. And Bad Moon Rising has proven to be one of their most enduring songs, used time and time again in films and TV, most memorably in 1981 horror comedy An American Werewolf in London.
I briefly saw him at the ultra-soggy Glastonbury Festival 2007. I was in a very bad mood, the rain and mud had finally beaten me. I heard Bad Moon Rising, knew how he felt, sighed and wandered off. I wish I’d stuck around now.
Written & produced by: John Fogerty
Weeks at number 1: 3 (20 September-10 October)
High jumper Jo Jennings – 20 September Welsh actress Catherine Zeta-Jones – 25 September Footballer Paul Warhurst – 26 September Singer/songwriter PJ Harvey – 9 October Director Steve McQueen – 9 October
21 September: There was tension in the air on the warm streets of the capital, with police evicting squatters of the London Street Commune from 144 Piccadilly.
28 September: The National Trust acquired ownership of the island of Lundy.
1 October: The Post Office become a statutory corporation.
5 October: The first episode of classic surreal comedy series Monty Python’s Flying Circus was broadcast on BBC Two. Breaking new ground in comedy meant baffled audiences at first, but John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam would become comedy legends in time.
10 October: The Labour government accepted the recommendations of Lord Hunt’s report on policing in Northern Ireland, including the abolition of the Ulster Special Constabulary.
Folk duo Zager and Evans’ one and only hit In theYear 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) was a kitschy sci-fi doom-laden track that proved to be a timely release in the aftermath of the Apollo 11 moon landing. But it’s certainly no Space Oddity.
Denny Zager and Rick Evans were both born in Nebraska, in 1944 and 1943 respectively. They met at Nebraska Welseyan University in 1962. While there they joined the band The Eccentrics, along with drummer Danny Schindler (who later joined The Benders… stop laughing).
In 1965 Schindler left for Vietnam, and Evans then also left the group. At some point in the previous year, he had written the original, unheard version of In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus), which was likely more in keeping with the fashionable folk-rock scene of the period.
They went into the studio to record their hit after becoming a duo in 1968, by which point they had backing from Mark Dalton on bass and Dave Trupp on drums, who both also played with The Liberation Blues Band.
I don’t think I’ve ever got over the fact that In the Year 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) doesn’t live up to its name. It should be cosmic psychedelic rock, like Funkadelic, but it’s musically dull, repetitive and dated – it doesn’t even stand up to scrutiny when you try and excuse it by saying ‘well it was written in 1964 originally’. Folk music was already in much more adventurous territory back then.
Zager and Evans think they are smarter than us and want us to know that humans are doomed. Now, I happen to agree with them, especially with the current state of our politics, and reading recently that we have 18 months left to save the planet from climate change, but many artists have made this point way, way better than Zager and Evans. The lyrics are awful. Sixth-form standard, if that. Some of their predictions are prescient, such as the rise of automation, but their time scales are stupidly huge. Every verse jumps up from 2525 to 6565, with various nightmare scenarios. Some genuinely horrible, such as ‘Ain’t gonna need your teeth, won’t need your eyes’, but some which are pure pulp fiction, like taking a pill every day that controls your thoughts. Sounds like an episode of Star Trek, which never did much for me.
Then we suddenly jump to talk of judgement day in 7510, purely because they want a number that rhymes with the dire line ‘If God’s-a-coming, he ought to make it by then.’ Well, you’d hope so, wouldn’t you?! But no, we shoot all the way up to 9595, and Zager and Evans are ‘kinda wondering if mankind is still alive’. All over the same boring rhythm. And then, we’re back in the year 2525, and it starts all over again! God, please don’t wait, put us out of our misery now!
I’m all for a bit of melodrama, but the pompous vocals lay it on so thick, it goes from laughable to just really grating. I kept this song in my collection for years, as I found it comically bad for a while, then after listening to it for this blog, I realised I don’t ever want to hear it again, and deleted it. It all also sounds like I imagine a no-deal Brexit could wind up, and we’re getting dangerously close to that. Much more enjoyable is Flight of the Conchords’ spoof of this sort of thing, The Distant Future.
With the decade drawing to a close, and man landing on the moon, thoughts were turning to what the future held, and if we even had one. And purely for these reasons, Zager and Evans found themselves at number one in the US and the UK. They seized the moment and recorded an album, 2525 (Exordium & Terminus) with Trupp and Dalton plus other musicians.
And how did they follow up their number 1 single? With Mr Turnkey, a song in which they expected the listener to feel sympathy for a convicted rapist as he kills himself in prison. Poptastic! Needless to say, they this sank without trace. I’m almost curious to hear such a terrible idea for a single. Almost, but not quite.
Zager and Evans released an eponymous album in 1970, before splitting up after 1971’s Food for the Mind. The one-hit wonders disappeared, though Evans later recorded with Pam Herbert and formed his own label, Fun Records in the late 70s, on which he released new material and re-recorded Zager and Evans songs.
Evans died in April 2018, to no media attention whatsoever, which makes me feel rather sad. I may be highly critical of the song, but he had his time in the spotlight and it should have been noted, however short it may have been. In spring this year, his recordings made it on to eBay after relatives disposed of his estate.
Zager is still alive and builds custom guitars at Zager Guitars in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Written by: Rick Evans
Producers: Zager & Evans
Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 August-19 September)
29-31 August: By the time Honky Tonk Women was knocked off its lofty perch after five weeks, the second Isle of Wight Festival was in full swing. 150,000 people witnessed Bob Dylan’s comeback, and The Who put on a memorable show. Other acts included Free, The Bonzo Dog Band and The Moody Blues.
11 September: Housing charity Shelter released a report that claimed up to 3,000,000 people were in need of rehousing due to poor living conditions.
16 September: Iconic 60s fashion store Biba reopened on Kensington High Street.