307. Benny Hill (Arranged & Conducted by Harry Robinson, with The Ladybirds) – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) (1971)

1971 was a real mixed bag of a year for number 1s. There was early glam, reggae, pop, a former Beatle, and bookending the year were novelty songs by two popular TV comedy stars. The Christmas number 1 belonged to Benny Hill, a once much-loved comedian who became incredibly unfashionable before his death in the 80s. But in 1971, people wanted saucy innuendo in their comedy, and Hill was one of the best at that.

Alfred Hawthorne Hill was born 21 January 1924 in Southampton. His father and grandfather had both been circus clowns. After Hill left school he worked at Woolworths, a bridge operator and a milkman. It is unknown whether he drove the fastest milkcart or not.

In 1942 Hill was called up for World War Two, and trained as a mechanic in the British Army. He also served as a mechanic and searchlight operator in Normandy before being transferred to the Combined Services Entertainment division before the war ended. Having decided a career in showbusiness was for him, he changed his name to Benny Hill in honour of his favourite comic, Jack Benny.

Hill struggled on the radio and stage, but found his home on TV, achieving his big break after sending scripts to the BBC in 1952. The Benny Hill Show of the 50s wasn’t that different from its 80s version, a mix of music hall, parody and bawdiness. Bar a few brief spells with ATV between 1957 and 1960 and again in 1967, he remained with the BBC until 1968.

Jackie Wright, the little bald man who Hill liked to slap on the head, joined his troupe in the 60s. I hope his head was insured for all those decades of slaps.

Within that time he also appeared in films, most notably Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and The Italian Job (1969).

The Benny Hill Show became a Thames Television show in 1969 and ran intermittently for 20 years. It is this version he is mostly remembered for, gurning and saluting away next to scantily clad girls, running around to Boots Randolph’s Yakety Sax. This very British show became popular overseas too, with Hill acting as an ambassador for the famous British seaside postcard brand of humour.

Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) began life as a song on a 1970 edition, as you can see here. Most of the double entendres are in place, with only small differences like Ernie’s age being 68 rather than 52. Releasing records was nothing new for Hill, who had been releasing comedy singles sporadically since Who Done It in 1956, and Ernie was just one of the tracks that made up his Words and Music album, released earlier that year. It’s unlikely he had an inkling as to how popular it would become.

Inspired by Hill’s time as a milkman for Hann’s Dairies in Eastleigh, Hampshire, the song is written as a Wild West-style ballad about the adventures of Ernie Price, whose milk cart is pulled by horses, sung by Hill in a comedy Cornish accent and joined by his regular backing group, The Ladybirds. Ernie and bread delivery man ‘Two Ton’ Ted from Teddington are feuding for the heart of Sue, a widow at number 22 Linley Lane. Cue the smut.

I can remember Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) being played to me at school when I was pretty young, and most of the innuendo was lost on me, despite growing up watching Carry On films. Looking at the lyrics now, I can see that’s because it’s not actually very rude at all. Granted, there’s reference to crumpet, and these lines are a bit saucy:

‘He said you wanted pasturised
Coz pasturised is best
She says Ernie I’ll be happy
If it comes up to me chest’

But other than that, Hill manages to skirt anything too risqué. And that might be why it became so big. If anything, it’s more a song for children in the style of 1968 Christmas number 1 Lily the Pink, so timing had a lot to do with it. I can’t imagine adults sat around listening to this and laughing hysterically in 1971… perhaps 1961, but I may well be wrong. And it certainly doesn’t make me laugh in 2020, yet it still has a certain charm… a relic of a bygone age, perhaps helped by the promo film above, co-starring Henry McGee and Jan Butlin.

What doesn’t make me laugh is the fact that one of our worst ever Prime Ministers, David Cameron, has declared this one of his favourite songs ever on more than one occasion. But you can’t blame Benny Hill for Brexit.

Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) held firm for four weeks, even stopping T. Rex from having three number 1s in a row with Jeepster. Hill only released one more single, Fad Eyed Fal in 1972. Meanwhile The Benny Hill Show rattled on, with a film compilation of highlights from 1969-73 called The Best of Benny Hill released in cinemas in 1974. Despite some old-fashioned racism poking fun at the Chinese, this was unbelievably still being shown every now and then until recently.

As the 80s dawned, the show began to feature the ‘Hill’s Angels’, sexy ladies who would dance and appear as comic foils for Hill. But this was the decade in which such ideas looked increasingly outdated as alternative comedy grew ever more popular, and acts like Ben Elton led the way as the media began to disown him.

Looking back, the campaign against him seems too aggressive. Yes, he had enjoyed a good innings and it was high time he made way for more PC, sophisticated comedy by the end of the 80s, but the likes of Elton suggesting he was to blame for people being raped and violence against was unfair. More often than not, Hill was being chased by the girls, not the other way round… ok, all their clothes fell off… but still…

The Benny Hill Show was finally taken off air in 1989. A quiet, private man when the cameras were off, he disappeared from the public eye completely.

It looked like he might be due a comeback in 1992. Thames began airing edited compilations of repeats due to public demand, and he was on the verge of signing with Central Television, but his health failed him. He had a mild heart attack that February, and on 22 April he was found dead in his armchair in front of the TV. Hill had died aged 68, two days previous, and one day after another old-school comedy giant, Frankie Howerd.

Written by: Benny Hill

Producer: Walter J Ridley

Weeks at number 1: 4 (11 December 1971-7 January 1972)

Births:

Socialite Tara Palmer-Tomlinson – 23 December
Singer Dido – 25 December
Conservative MP Philip Davies – 5 January

Deaths:

Footballer Torry Gillick – 12 December
Scottish footballer Alan Morton – 12 December
Pilot Charles C Banks – 21 December

Meanwhile…

29 December: The United Kingdom gave up its military bases in Malta.

30 December 1971: The seventh James Bond film – Diamonds Are Forever – was released. It saw Sean Connery return to the role after George Lazenby declined to come back.

4 January 1972: Rose Heilbron became the first female judge to sit at the Old Bailey.

306. Slade – Coz I Luv You (1971)

“Get down and get with it!” Wolverhampton glam rockers Slade are one of the most fondly remembered bands of the 70s. Six number 1s between 1971-73, 17 consecutive top 20 singles, and according to The British Hit Singles & Albums, they were the most successful British group of the decade for singles sales. And I’m only just getting round to mentioning Merry Xmas Everybody, which I picked as the greatest Christmas number 1 of all time here.

All four members of Slade grew up in the Black Country area of the West Midlands. In 1964, drummer Don Powell, born and raised in Wolverhampton, was in a band with Dave Hill (born in Devon) called The Vendors. Meanwhile, Walsall’s Noddy Holder was guitarist and occasional singer with Steve Brett & the Mavericks. who released three records on Columbia in 1965.

The Vendors became The ‘N Betweens and gained momentum, supporting The Hollies and The Yardbirds, among others. Meeting on a ferry on the way to separate gigs in Germany, Powell and Hill tried to persuade Holder to join The ‘N Betweens, but he declined. Once they were all back home though, Holder changed his mind and became their lead singer. They had recently recruited multi-instrumentalist Jim Lea on bass, too.

By 1966 The ‘N Betweens had moved on from blues to a more R’n’B sound. They released their first single, a cover of The Young Rascals’ You Better Run, in 1966, produced by Kim Fowley, arranger of Nut Rocker.

They didn’t return to a studio for a few years, but in 1967, with flower power at its peak, Holder worked on an unnamed song with a chorus that went: ‘Buy me a rocking chair to watch the world go by/Buy me a looking glass, I’ll look you in the eye’. Six years later it became Merry Xmas Everybody.

A local promoter alerted the band to Jack Baverstock, head of A&R at Philips. After spending a week recording their debut album Beginnings in the label’s studio, he offered them a deal with Fontana Records – if they changed their name. Despite misgivings, they became Ambrose Slade, inspired by Baverstock’s secretary, who had named her handbag ‘Ambrose’ and her shoes ‘Slade’… as you do…

Beginnings and instrumental single Genesis sank, but on the plus side, they found a new manager in Chas Chandler, former bassist with The Animals, who helped Jimi Hendrix rocket to fame. It didn’t mean instant success, but Chandler did set them on the right path, telling them they needed more original material and a new image. They adopted the skinhead look in an attempt to keep up with prevailing trends and as The Slade they released the single Wild Winds Are Blowing, which tanked.

A new decade, a new name: Slade. They featured on Top of the Pops in 1970 with their cover of Shape of Things to Come, but to no avail. They added lyrics to Genesis and reworked it as Know Who You Are, but neither that nor November’s LP, Play It Loud, got anywhere either.

Finally, their fortunes changed. In 1971 Chandler suggested they record one of their most popular live numbers. Their cover of Bobby Marchan’s Get Down with It (later covered by Little Richard) – retitled Get Down and Get with It, came out that May, and it climbed to number 18 in August. And for good reason, it’s an electrifying performance, particularly Holder’s raw vocal, and really captures an infectious, fun, live sound.

Slade were already growing their hair long once more when Chandler demanded they come up with a follow-up themselves. One evening Lea turned up at Holder’s house with his violin and an idea for a simple song, along the lines of T. Rex’s Hot Love, and half an hour later, they had written their first number 1.

They played Because I Love You acoustically to an enthusiastic Chandler the next day, who confidently predicted it would be their first chart-topper. He booked them into Olympic Studios in Barnes. Slade were less keen on its chances, thinking it too soft and poppy, until they were allowed to add foot-stomping to the rhythm. They also decided to change its title, and Holder came up with the idea to misspell it to fit in with their dialect. Thus, Coz I Luv You, the first of their songs littered with spelling errors, was born.

Coz I Luv You is a nice signpost to the full-on glam sound Slade would develop. It doesn’t have the immediate ‘wow’ factor of Hot Love or Get It On, but it’s a great introduction to what was to come. It’s interesting that they all thought it was too lightweight, and maybe the footstomping really did make the difference, but this track actually has a bit of a sinister edge to it, thanks to Holder’s vocal styling. Inadvertently or not, he makes ‘Don’t you change the things you do’ sound like a threat, and Lea’s violin at times adds to the slightly uneasy feeling.

Soon Slade developed their more raucous, straightforward take on Bolan’s glam rock. They were never bothered with maintaining a cool mystique like he was, and began to also be known for their ridiculous glam outfits, before going on to become national treasures. For now though, they were just a slightly weird rock band who had finally made the big time.

Coz I Luv You would later be covered by fellow Black Country musicians, indie band, The Wonder Stuff.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 4 (13 November-10 December)

Births:

Olympic rower Cath Bishop – 22 November
Actress Emily Mortimer – 1 December
Triple jumper Ashia Hansen – 5 December

Deaths:

Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November

Meanwhile…

22 November: Five children and one adult die after becoming stranded for two nights in blizzards on the Cairngorm Plateau. It is still regarded as Britain’s worst mountaineering accident.

2 December: The Queen’s yearly allowance was increased from £475,000 to £980,000. I’m sure millions of republicans were very pleased for her.

4 December: The highest death toll from a single incident in The Troubles to date took place when 15 people were killed and 17 injured in the McGurk’s Bar bombing. The Ulster Volunteer Force are believed to have been behind the bombing.

305. Rod Stewart – Reason to Believe/Maggie May (1971)

Sir Roderick David Stewart, aka ‘Rod the Mod’, was one of the biggest-selling artists of the 70s and 80s, with over 120 million records sold worldwide, and six number 1 singles. And yet his first chart-topper, Maggie May, was tucked away as a B-side. Were it not for its appeal shining through, Stewart may not have become as big a superstar as he did.

Stewart was born at home in Highgate, London on 10 January 1945. He was the youngest of five children, the other four having been born in Leith, Edinburgh, Scotland, where his father Robert, a builder, came from. After he retired, Robert bought a newsagent’s shop, which the Stewart family lived above. His youngest’s main hobby, which he still loves, was railway modelling.

Stewart’s other big obsession was football, and he became captain of his school’s team. His first musical hero was Al Jolson, but he soon got into rock’n’roll, and he saw Bill Haley & His Comets in concert. In 1960 he joined a skiffle group called The Kool Kats, and would play Lonnie Donegan covers.

Stewart left school at 15 and had various jobs working in the family shop, as a silk screen printer and at a cemetery, but he longed to be a professional footballer. In 1961 he decided to try his hand at singing, and along with The Raiders he auditioned for eccentric producer Joe Meek, but he wasn’t impressed.

Soon after, Stewart turned into a left-wing beatnik, listening to the folk music of Bob Dylan, Ewan MacColl and Woody Guthrie and attending protest marches, getting arrested three times between 1961 and 1963. He later confessed he often used the marches as a way of bedding girls. In 1962 he took to playing the harmonica and would busk at Leicester Square with folk singer Wizz Jones. They took their act to Europe, and Stewart found himself deported from Spain for vagrancy in 1963. Around this time, he was considered as a singer for The Kinks, then known as The Ray Davies Quartet.

Later that year he became a full-on Mod, adopting his trademark spiky hairstyle and becoming enthralled with soul and R’n’B music. He found his first professional job as a musician in The Dimensions. This was his introduction to London’s R’n’B scene, where he would take harmonica tips from Mick Jagger.

In January 1964 the 19-year-old had been to a Long John Baldry gig and was playing harmonica at Twickenham Station when Baldry himself heard him and invited him to join his group. Over time, Stewart overcame shyness and would dress up more, and would sometimes be billed as Rod ‘the Mod’ Stewart. He made his recording debut with Baldry and the Hoochie Coochie Men that June, uncredited. Two months later, after a performance at the Marquee Club, he was signed as a solo act to Decca Records. His debut single was the blues standard, with a terribly dodgy title, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, which featured John Paul Jones among the session musicians.

Baldry’s group broke up, but he and Stewart patched up their differences and in 1965 became part of the line-up of new group Steampacket alongside Brian Auger. Steampacket were conceived as a white soul revue, and while supporting The Rolling Stones he had his first taste of crowd hysteria. Due to all being signed to different labels, Stewart’s group were unable to record any material. His solo career continued, but without making much impact. In 1966 he jumped ship from Steampacket to Shotgun Express, whose line-up included future Fleetwood Mac members Peter Green and Mick Fleetwood.

It was The Jeff Beck Group that finally gave Stewart his break when he joined their ranks in February 1967. He formed a long-lasting friendship with guitarist Ronnie Wood, began writing material, and his vocal technique developed into the rough rasp that made him stand out. However, he and Beck didn’t get on, and when Wood was announced as Steve Marriott’s replacement in Small Faces in June 1969, Stewart joined him a few months after as their new singer, and they became Faces.

At the same time, Stewart was making inroads with his solo career. Now with Mercury Records, he released his first album, An Old Raincoat Won’t Ever Let You Down, a mix of well-received original material and rock, folk and blues covers.

1970 saw the release of both Faces’ debut LP First Step and his solo follow-up Gasoline Alley, which introduced the mandolin to his sound. Faces quickly amassed a dedicated following at their gigs, and Stewart was one single release away from becoming a household name. The plan was for (Find a) Reason to Believe to be the first single from his forthcoming album, Every Picture Tells a Story, with Maggie May as the B-side.

Reason to Believe (the bracketed bit dropped upon its single release) was the final track on the accompanying album. It’s a cover of a Tim Hardin track, which the folk singer had released on his debut album in 1965, and The Carpenters covered it in 1970.

Stewart plays the wounded lover, whose girl has lied to him. His gravelly voice suits the song well, and there’s some nice Hammond organ and piano work courtesy of Faces’ Ian McLagan. It’s a good album track, but it was never going to light up the charts the way its flip side did. So much so, the single became a double A-side as word spread.

Stewart has rather pissed away his potential over the years, and growing up in the 80s, I saw him as a ridiculous figure. However, Maggie May is a classic, and it’s the best number 1 he’s had. There’s no chorus, but it’s a compelling story, with a memorable mandolin intro courtesy of Lindisfarne’s Ray Jackson.

Stewart had been inspired to write the song while working out some chords with guitarist Martin Quittenton of Steamhammer. He recalled his experience of losing his virginity in 1961 to an older woman at the Beaulieu Jazz Festival. The song isn’t named after her though. Stewart took it from the old Liverpool folk song about a prostitute (as briefly heard on The Beatles album Let It Be). Amazingly, you can see him taking part in the event here. The festival, not the self-confessed very brief sex… Also on the recording, which was only added to the album at the last minute, are Wood on bass and 12-string, McLagan and drummer Micky Waller, who played a drumkit with no cymbals, which were added later.

The original version of Stewart’s song opened side two of Every Picture Tells a Story with a 30-second guitar intro from Quittenton, named Delilah. In full, it’s over five minutes long, but the single edit cuts off some of the detail.

However, Stewart’s tale of love for an older woman remains fascinating. He gets you interested right from the start with those famous opening lines, revealing he was in fact a schoolboy when he was sleeping with Maggie. More mature than your average love song, Stewart finds time to insult Maggie only to remind her how deep he feels about her before she has chance to slap him:

‘The morning sun, when it’s in your face really shows your age
But that don’t worry me none in my eyes, you’re everything’

Stewart resolves to get over May by, among other things, joining a ‘rock’n’roll band’ (mission accomplished), and although he claims he wishes he’d never seen her face, you don’t believe him, and as that beautiful mandolin rings out over the fade, you’re left wondering what happened to the singer that wrote such a great song.

A song that’s taken on new meaning to me of late, as my in-laws fell in love when this was in the charts (Maggie was my father-in-law’s name for his future wife) and it was played at his funeral, 48 years later. It’s difficult to listen to anymore without welling up.

Maggie May established Stewart both here and in the US, reaching number 1 in both while he also held the number 1 album spots – a rare feat. Above you can see the famous Top of the Pops appearance of the song, in which he’s backed by his Faces bandmates and Radio 1 DJ John Peel miming the mandolin.

Written by:

Reason to Believe: Tim Hardin/Maggie May: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton

Producer: Rod Stewart

Weeks at number 1: 5 (9 October-12 November)

Births:

Fashion photographer Simon Atlee – 9 October
Comedian Sasha Baron Cohen – 13 October
Big Brother winner Craig Phillips – 16 October
Actor John Alford – 30 October
Archer Alison Williamson – 3 November
Footballer Michael Jeffrey – 8 November

Deaths:

Independent MP AP Herbert – 11 November

Meanwhile…

13 October: The British Army began destroying roads between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as a security measure.

21 October: 20 people were killed in a gas explosion in the town centre of Clarkston, East Renfrewshire in Scotland.

23 October: When a car failed to stop at a Belfast checkpoint, Mary Ellen Meehan, 30, and her sister Dorothy Maguire, 19 were shot dead by soldiers.

28 October: Prime Minister Edward Heath scored a big victory when the House of Commons voted in favour of joining the EEC by a vote of 356-244.
Also on this day, the Immigration Act 1971 restricted immigration, particularly primary immigration into the U.K. and introduced the status of right of abode into law.
Plus, the UK became the sixth nation to launch a satellite into orbit using its own launch vehicle, the Prospero (X-3) experimental communications satellite.

30 October: The Democratic Unionist Party was founded by the formidable Reverend Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.

31 October: A bomb, likely planted by the Angry Brigade, exploded at the top of London’s Post Office Tower.

10 November: The 10-route Spaghetti Junction motorway interchange was opened north of Birmingham’s city centre. The interchange would have a total of 12 routes when the final stretch of the M6 was opened in 1972.

304. The Tams – Hey Girl, Don't Bother Me (1971)

I first became aware of this unexpected number 1 when watching a vintage edition of Top of the Pops a few years ago, and it really stumped me. How did this old-fashioned minor soul track, performed by a bunch of old men in strange outfits, do so well in 1971? Since then, I’ve discovered Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me had first been released in the US in 1964. It topped the charts seven years later thanks to its popularity with the northern soul scene. It is in fact the only number 1 linked with the movement.

The phrase ‘northern soul’ first began to be heard in 1968 in journalist Dave Godin’s Covent Garden record shop Soul City. It went public proper in 1970 thanks to his weekly column in Blues & Soul magazine. He had noticed that football fans from the north who visited his shop while following their team weren’t interested in the developing funk sound and instead still loved the more pop side of soul from the mid-60s.

In the late-60s, soul fans from all over the country flocked to the Twisted Wheel in Manchester to attend all-nighters, but in January 1971, its burgeoning reputation as a drug haven resulted in the venue closing down. Fortunately, the movement had grown across the north by this point. By the time of this number 1, the main two northern soul clubs were the Golden Torch in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent (Peter Stringfellow used to DJ there) and Blackpool Mecca.

The Tams originated in Atlanta, Georgia back in 1960, taking their name from their trademark tam o’shanter hats they would wear on stage. Founder members were the Pope brothers, lead singer Joe, and Charles, plus Robert Lee Smith, Horace Key and Floyd Ashton (who left in 1963).

Their first single of note was Untie Me, a Joe South song, which reached the Billboard R&B chart in 1962. Two years later was the high watermark of their original recording career, with modest US hits including What Kind of Fool (Do You Think I Am) and Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me, neither of which charted in the UK. Both were written by Ray Whitley.

Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me is built around the song’s title, sung repeatedly by the backing singers, while Joe (who does have a sweet, distinctive voice) tries and fails to convince the listener that he wants no part of this girl, as he’s been warned she’s bad news. He doesn’t want to be added to ‘her list’ of tossed-aside lovers, but, well, she does ‘look so fine’… you get the drift. The main hook does stick around in your head for a while, but this sounds quite old-fashioned even for 1964, and must be up there with the most unlikely number 1s of all time.

It’s likely The Tams’ popularity among northern soul lovers was originally down to Be Young, Be Foolish, Be Happy, a much better track, that charted in the US in 1968 and on these shores in 1970. Unlike their number 1, here’s a song you can actually dance to, which is what I thought northern soul was primarily about?

Nobody looks more surprised at The Tams appearing on Top of the Pops to promote Hey Girl, Don’t Bother Me than the group themselves, as you can see in the clip above. It’s quite endearing watching them sticking out like sore thumbs, with Key in the middle actually looking quite scared. In fact, with about a minute of the performance left to go, he disappears, and they carry on without him!

That was it for The Tams and the UK charts, until 1987. They reached number 21 with… wait for it… There Ain’t Nothing Like Shaggin’! There’s no way of knowing if they were aware of what a ‘shag’ is in the UK (it actually refers to a dance called the Carolina shag) but the lyrics are very funny either way. The BBC understandably banned it, but as is often the case, the notoriety probably helped its sales. It also featured in the 1989 comedy Shag, starring Bridget Fonda. Their last charting single in the UK was 1988’s My Baby Sure Can Shag.

The Tams continue to perform to this day. When Joe died in 1996, Charles took over lead vocals, but he passed away in 2013. Key died in 1995, which leaves Smith as the sole original member.

Northern soul grew in popularity throughout the 70s, with Wigan Casino becoming one of the most notable venues from 1973 onwards. Although the movement waned with its closure in the 80s, it still has a healthy following decades later.

Written by: Ray Whitley

Producer: Bill Lowery

Weeks at number 1: 3 (18 September-8 October)

Births:

Set designer Es Devlin – 24 September
Actress Jessie Wallace – 25 September
Actress Liza Walker – 28 September
Actor Mackenzie Crook – 29 September
Conservative Lord Chancellor David Gauke – 8 October

Meanwhile…

21 September: BBC Two music series The Old Grey Whistle Test, which ran well into the 80s, was transmitted for the first time.

24 September: Following revelations made by a KGB defector, Britain expelled 90 Russian diplomats for spying. 15 were not allowed to return.

1 October: The CAT scan, invented by Godfrey Hounsfield, was used for the first time on a patient at a hospital in Wimbledon.

303. Diana Ross – I'm Still Waiting (1971)

How much power did Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn have in 1971? Quite a lot it seems, as it’s thanks to him that Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep topped the charts, and only a few months later he persuaded EMI (who distributed for Motown in the UK) to release this album track by the former Supremes singer as a single. It went on to become Diana Ross’s first solo number 1.

I covered The Supremes when I reviewed their 1964 number 1 Baby Love, but Ross’s life deserves a closer look. She was born in Detroit, Michigan on 26 March 1944. Her mother actually named her Diane, but a clerical error resulted in ‘Diana’ appearing on her birth certificate. She was billed as Diane Ross on early Supremes records. Growing up, Ross had Smokey Robinson and Aretha Frankin among her neighbours.

On the day she turned 14 in 1958, the Ross’s moved to the Brewster-Douglass Housing Projects. She had ambitions to be a fashion designer and took several classes, in addition to modelling and hairdressing for neighbours. A year later, she joined Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson and Betty McGlown in The Primettes, the sister group of The Primes.

Thanks to Robinson, The Primettes auditioned for Motown in 1960. Berry Gordy Jr recalled being blown away by Ross’s voice in his autobiography, but he felt they were too young. In these early years, Ross would be responsible for the group’s look, serving as hair stylist, costume design and make-up artist.

In 1961, with McGlown gone and Barbara Martin in, Gordy signed The Primettes on the condition they change their name. Ballard chose ‘The Supremes’, and Ross was worried it made them sound like a male group, but as we know, The Supremes they became, and from 1963 onwards, reduced to a trio without Martin, they became one of the most successful groups in history. They scored their sole UK number 1 with Baby Love, but had many more in the US.

From around 1966 and for the next few years Gordy began pushing for Ross to take centre stage. He had considered getting her to go solo, but deciding the timing was wrong he settled on renaming them Diana Ross & the Supremes instead. Ballard was fired and replaced with Cindy Birdsong, and Ross would often be the only Supreme to actually feature on recordings, backed by session singers like The Andantes. The pressure resulted in Ross developing anorexia, and she collapsed on stage during a 1967 performance, and had to be hospitalised for exhaustion.

Nevertheless, Gordy continued to shine the spotlight on Ross, having her perform solo in 1968 TV specials by The Supremes. The following year he decided the time was right, and it was announced she was leaving the group. Someday We’ll Be Together became Ross’s swansong, and the single was the final US number 1 of the 60s. She made her final appearance as a Supreme in January 1970.

It was only four months later that her eponymous debut solo LP was released, and it featured her cover of Ain’t No Mountain High Enough (originally recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell), which climbed to number six in the UK and was number 1 in the US.

November 1970 saw the rush-release of her second album, Everything Is Everything. Deke Richards was commissioned to make the LP more pop than her debut, and it featured two Beatles covers (Come Together and The Long and Winding Road), as well as a sad ballad by Richards himself – I’m Still Waiting. No singles were released from it, initially, with Motown choosing to mine her next album, Surrender, released in the summer of 1971. Unusually, both Remember Me and the title track performed better on these shores than America, both reaching the top 10.

Blackburn, then in charge of the Radio 1 breakfast show, was a huge fan of Ross, and he loved I’m Still Waiting. He promised Motown/EMI that if it was made a single, he would make it his ‘Record of the Week’ and play it every morning for five days. Both sides kept their end of the arrangement, and the hype saw it reach number 1. It was Motown’s biggest-selling single in the UK until Three Times a Lady by the Commodores in 1978.

I’m baffled as to why this is the case. For me, I’m Still Waiting should have remained an album track. It’s dated, melodramatic and rather unmemorable.

Ross sings from the point of view of a woman who met the love of her life when she was five and he was 10. He would tease her, as boys do, but she loved him. Then he had to move away, and told her not to wait for him, but for love. But Ross couldn’t forget him, and nobody else compares.

Nice sentiment, but it could have been so much better. It has a slick production, but the tune is certainly not up there with the classics of The Supremes. Ross isn’t known for displaying too much emotion in her singing, which is probably a good thing in such a sentimental song, but I find it hard to believe in the performance. I much prefer her next number 1, Chain Reaction, which came 15 years later in 1986.

Written & produced by: Deke Richards

Weeks at number 1: 4 (21 August-17 September)

Births:

Actress Gaynor Faye – 26 August
Business executive Nicola Mendelsohn – 29 August
TV presenter Kirstie Allsopp – 31 August
Conservative MP Daniel Hannan – 1 September
TV presenter Lisa Snowdon – 2 September
Actress Louise Lombard – 13 September
Fashion designer Stella McCartney – 13 September
Labour MP Parmjit Dhanda – 17 September

Deaths:

Travel writer Peter Fleming – 30 August

Meanwhile…

1 September: The end of an era, as the pre-decimal penny and three-pence ceased to be legal tender.

3 September: Qatar became independent from the UK.

7 September: Three years after the beginnings of The Troubles, the death toll reached 100 with the death of 14-year-old Annette McGavigan, who was fatally wounded by a gunshot in crossfire between British soldiers and the IRA. There would be many more deaths still to come.

9 September: British Ambassador Geoffrey Jackson was freed after being held captive for eight months by extreme left-wing guerrillas Tupamaros in Uruguay.

302. T. Rex – Get It On (1971)

Moving fast to make the most of his long-awaited stardom, Marc Bolan returned to the studio to make a new T. Rex LP while Hot Love peaked at number 1 in March 1971. The result, Electric Warrior, is considered the first glam rock album.

Drummer Bill Fifield, who had made his debut on the last single, became a full-time band member and was renamed ‘Bill Legend’. This may have affected Bolan’s relationship with percussionist Mickey Finn, who apparently was hired more for his looks than musical ability in the first place. Although he contributed to Electric Warrior, he is absent from Get It On.

While in New York, Bolan asked Legend to work with him on drum patterns for a new song inspired by Chuck Berry’s Little Queenie. Returning to Trident Studios, Tony Visconti was back on production, and Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan returned for backing vocal duty.

Two progressive rock musicians were also involved, with King Crimson’s Ian MacDonald providing baritone and alto saxophones, and Rick Wakeman on the piano. In 2010 he recalled on BBC Radio 2’s The Glory of Glam that he was desperate for work to pay his rent when he bumped into Bolan on Oxford Street, who offered him the session. When he turned up, Wakeman pointed out to Visconti the track didn’t need piano, and the producer suggested he did some glissandos. Wakeman noted Visconti could do that, and he replied ‘You want your rent, don’t you?’. Wakeman earned £9 for those little touches of sparkle.

Built around that formidable Berry riff, steeped in sexuality and with some brilliant lyrics, Get It On is the sound of an artist at the top of his game. Coming after the last two number 1s, it’s a blessed relief, and it might well be the ‘coolest’ chart-topper up to this point.

It’s less polished and not as weird as Hot Love, and not as raucous as a lot of the glam rock to come, including 20th Century Boy (my favourite T. Rex single), but it’s such a groove. Yes, the riff is stolen (and would be ripped off again by Oasis with Cigarettes & Alcohol), but Bolan makes it totally his own, albeit with a cheeky ad-lib of ‘And meanwhile, I’m still thinking’ from Little Queenie itself during the fade-out. He comes on to his ‘dirty and sweet’ girl with some startling comparisons, the best of which are ‘You’ve got the teeth/Of the Hydra upon you’ and ‘Well you’re built like a car/You’ve got a hubcap/Diamond star halo’ (Bolan was a big fan of cars).

For the hardcore Tyrannosaurus Rex fans who remained faithful, there’s also a ‘cloak full of eagles’. Not that there were many of those left – the more the teenagers flocked to T. Rex, the more they accused him of being a sell-out, and it was Get It On that finally turned John Peel off. He dared to criticise it on air, which finished their friendship. They only spoke once more before Bolan died.

Released on 2 July as a taster for Electric Warrior, it only took three weeks for Get It On to become the second of four T. Rex number 1s. It also became their only US hit, climbing to number 10, retitled as Bang a Gong (Get It On) to avoid confusion with a recent hit by jazz-rock band Chase in the States.

Get It On would be covered by 80s supergroup The Power Station (featuring Robert Palmer and members of Duran Duran and Chic) in 1985. It was a hit, but the beefed-up sound robbed it of its charm.

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

Weeks at number 1: 4 (24 July-20 August)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Michael Hughes – 2 August
Newsreader Kate Sanderson – 9 August
Electronic artist Richard D James, aka Aphex Twin – 18 August

Deaths:

Northern Irish footballer Charlie Tully – 27 July

Meanwhile…

29 July: The UK officially opted out of the Space Race when its Black Arrow launch vehicle was cancelled.

6 August: Chay Blyth became the first person to sail around the world east to west against the prevailing winds.

9 August: British security forces in Northern Ireland detained hundreds of guerrilla suspects and put them into Long Kesh prison – the beginning of their internment without trial policy. In the subsequent riots, 20 died, including 11 in the Ballymurphy Massacre.

11 August: Prime Minister Edward Heath took part in the Admiral’s Cup yacht race, which Britain won.

15 August: Controversial showjumper Harvey Smith was stripped of his victory in the British Show Jumping Derby by judges for making a V sign.

301. Middle of the Road – Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep (1971)

You can be the greatest lyricist in the world but unfortunately, the bottom line is, millions of people don’t care about words in pop songs. To them, if the tune is good, they’ll sing anything. And if you want proof, listen to Middle of the Road’s Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep. An upbeat song about either a baby bird or infant boy called Don being abandoned with a gibberish chorus, but an incredibly infectious one. Five weeks at number 1 in the summer of 1971 and fondly remembered even now.

Chirpy Chirpy, Cheep Cheep had been written and originally recorded by Lancashire singer Lally Stott in 1970. It reached the top 15 in France and was a minor hit in the US. His record company Philips was reluctant to release his version worldwide, and instead it was offered to brother-and-sister duo Mac and Katie Kissoon from Trinidad, who released their quicker-paced version first, and Scottish folk-pop quartet Middle of the Road, based in Italy.

Middle of the Road consisted of lead singer Sally Carr, drummer Ken Andrew, guitarist Ian McCredie and his brother Eric on bass. They had first worked together as Part Four in 1967 and then became the Latin American-style group Los Caracas. They won a series of ITV talent show Opportunity Knocks, but failed to gain momentum afterwards and decided to find fame in Italy instead. Opportunity knocked once more when they met producer Giacomo Tosti and recorded Stott’s tune.

Middle of the Road’s debut single did well in Europe, but flopped in the US and nearly did the same in the UK, coming so soon after the Kissoon’s version, which had flopped here. However, Radio 1 DJ Tony Blackburn took a shine to Middle of the Road’s recording, and it became a summer anthem.

The incredibly catchy drumbeat that opens the song means this is already a step up from Knock Three Times, and the chanting is certainly attention-grabbing… but what the hell was Stott actually on about? Sadly, he died many years ago so we’ll never know. The song’s title obviously suggests it’s a bird that’s been abandoned, but then there’s the lyric ‘Little baby Don’, which implies a boy without any parents. Which is really messed up, when you consider the answer to such a terrible event is ‘Ooh wee, chirpy chirpy cheep cheep’. Some people online seem to think the song is about the Vietnam War… this seems a bit of a stretch.

Of the three versions of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, Middle of the Road’s is the worst, and that’s down to the vocals, which are really grating. I could forgive the weirdness of it all but Carr’s strange style is just too much to bear for me, especially combined with the way the backing vocals chirrup the song’s title. The Kissoon version is nicer, but a bit too lightweight, so if I had to pick one, it’d be Stott’s original. As the song fades out and Carr is really getting into it, telling everyone to join in, I just feel confused and queasy with it all. But as I’ve said before, what do I know?! Children in particular love this song, (and I confess I remember enjoying it in my schooldays), and Middle of the Road’s version has more youthful energy than the rest.

The group’s hits continued for the rest of 1971, with follow-up Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum climbing to number two and Soley Soley reaching number five. Going off the titles alone, I’d put money on these being more of the same, nonsensical but catchy novelty songs that went down a storm around Europe. 1972 saw their fortunes fade and Samson and Delilah/Talk of All the USA was their last top 30 entry in the UK, but they continued to do well elsewhere for a few years, particularly in Germany.

In 1974, early Bay City Rollers member Neil Henderson had joined the band on guitar, but Middle of the Road split in 1976. What chance did a band with such a name stand in the punk years ahead?

They have reformed with different line-ups since then for the nostalgia circuit, but Eric McCredie died in his sleep in 2007, aged 62. His brother is the only original band member still in the line-up.

Written by: Lally Stott

Producer: Giacomo Tosti

Weeks at number 1: 5 (19 June-23 July)

Births:

Conservative MP Brandon Lewis – 20 June
Rugby player Gary Connolly – 22 June
Northern Irish footballer Neil Lennon – 25 June
Football referee Howard Webb – 14 July

Deaths:

Scottish Nobel Prize physician John Boyd Orr – 25 June
Nobel Prize physicist William Lawrence Bragg – 1 July

Meanwhile…

21 June: Britain began new negotiations for EEC membership in Luxembourg.

24 June: The EEC finally agreed terms for Britain’s proposed membership. It was hoped that the nation would join the EEC next year. Ah, heady days…

1 July: The film Sunday Bloody Sunday is released, becoming one of the first mainstream British films with a bisexual theme.

6 July: Police launched a murder investigation when three French tourists were found shot dead in Cheshire.

8 July: Two rioters were shot dead by British troops in Derry, Northern Ireland.

13 July: Michael Bassett, 24, from Barlaston was found dead in his fume-filled car. Police identified him as their prime suspect in the triple French tourist murder case in Cheshire.

23 July: The final section of the London Underground’s Victoria line, from Victoria to Brixton, was opened by Princess Alexandra.

300. Dawn (Arranged by Norman Bergen) – Knock Three Times (1971)

Back in the days before Tinder, US pop singer Tony Orlando of Dawn had a novel approach to dating. He proposed a system where, if the girl was game, all they had to do was knock three times on his ceiling. If they found his methods a little intense and sinister, they were to hit their pipe twice and he’d hopefully leave them alone, and not follow this up with a note attached to one of his vital organs. At least, I think that’s the message we should take from the first of this pop singer’s two number 1s.

Orlando was born Michael Anthony Orlando Cassavitis on 3 April 1944 in New York City. The son of a Greek father and Puerto Rican mother, he spent his childhood in Hell’s Kitchen before they moved to New Jersey.

In 1959 at the age of 15 he formed doo-wop group The Five Gents. The demo tapes they recorded got the interest of Don Kirshner, who hired Cassavitis to write songs in a building across from New York’s Brill Building, with other future big names including Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka. He also began recording as Tony Orlando, and was only 16 when he had his first charting song in 1961, Halfway to Paradise, which did much better in the UK when it was covered by Billy Fury, reaching number three that year too.

Orlando would score a few more minor hits before Kirshner sold his company to Screen Gems. In 1967, the same year Kirshner’s new project The Monkees became a phenomenon, Orlando was hired by Clive Davis to work for Columbia Records, heading up subsidiary April-Blackwood Music. By the end of the 60s Orlando was vice president of CBS, where he signed co-wrote and produced Barry Manilow, and worked with artists including The Grateful Dead.

In 1970 Orlando found himself tempted back to singing when producers Hank Medress and Dave Appell were working on a track called Candida. Blues singer Frankie Paris had tried, but the producers wanted a more ‘ethnic’ feel, and contacted Orlando to help them out. The backing vocals had already been laid down by the song’s co-writer Toni Wine (who sang on Sugar Sugar) and Jay Siegel. Orlando was reluctant, as he was doing perfectly fine in his job and working for Bell Records probably wouldn’t go down well. Medress reassured him they wouldn’t use his name, and he relented. He was glad he did, as Candida, by Dawn, became a hit worldwide, and number 1 in several countries.

Medress and Appell were understandably keen to repeat the formula, and had a song written by Irwin Levine and L Russell Brown. Inspired by Up on the Roof, they cooked up this tale of a man in love with the woman living in the apartment directly below him. Afraid to be direct, he wants her to let him know either way by banging instead. Wine was back on backing vocals, alongside Linda November, who sang the famous Miaow Mix TV advert.

If it wasn’t for the weird lyrics, Knock Three Times wouldn’t make an impression at all. It’s an old-fashioned lightweight pop cheesefest, but the singer’s obsession gives it a sinister edge, at least, to a cynic like me.

It would appear Orlando has fallen for this woman after laying on the ground and listening to her dancing to music alone night after night, ‘One floor below me, you don’t even know me’… And yet he expects her to be interested in him? How does that work? By hitting her ceiling three times, apparently. The weirdest lines are ‘If you look out your window tonight/Pull in the string with the note that’s attached to my heart’.

It may be cheap to take these words so literally, but if I didn’t, I’d have hardly anything to say about Knock Three Times at all. I think there’s a cowbell in there, which is always nice I guess. Orlando’s vocal is far too serious and snarky for such a silly song. The Vic Reeves version from Shooting Stars, here, is pretty special though.

Nevertheless, it was even bigger than Candida, reaching number 1 in the US and UK. Orlando decided to quit the day job and go on tour, so he needed a permanent duo of singers to work with. Enter Telma Hopkins and Joyce Vincent, who had previously sang on Freda Payne’s Band of Gold. Upon learning there were six group touring under the name Dawn, they became Dawn featuring Tony Orlando.

Written by: Irwin Levine & L Russell Brown

Producers: Hank Medress & Dave Appell

Weeks at number 1: 5 (15 May-18 June)

Births:

Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne – 23 May
Actor Paul Bettany – 27 May
Footballer Lee Sharpe – 27 May
Journalist Richard Gunn – 28 May
Conservative MP Julian Sturdy – 3 June
Northern Irish actress Susan Lynch – 5 June

Deaths:

Theatre director Sir Tyone Guthrie – 15 May

Meanwhile…

20 May: 1970 FA Cup winners Chelsea won the European Cup Winners’ Cup with a 2–1 win over Spain’s Real Madrid in Athens, Greece.

23 May: Jackie Stewart won the Monaco Grand Prix.

7 June: Long-running children’s show Blue Peter buried a time capsule in the grounds of BBC Television Centre, which was due to be opened on the first episode of the year 2000.

14 June: The first Hard Rock Cafe opened near Hyde Park Corner in London.
Also on this day, Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher became known as ‘Thatcher Thatcher milk snatcher’ when her proposals to end free school milk for children aged over seven years were backed by a majority of 33 MPs.

15 June: Upper Clyde Shipbuilders went into liquidation.

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 one of two 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.