Today sees the release of my first book! Every UK Number 1: The 50s is available on Amazon’s Kindle Store at £3.99 here. Members of Kindle Unlimited are able to read for free via their monthly subscriptions. If you’re into vintage music, pop culture and social history, it would make for great lockdown reading. Hope you enjoy!
The UK singles chart is the soundtrack to our lives and a barometer of the nation’s mood and tastes. And ever since 1952, the battle for the number one spot has had us all talking as well as dancing.
In this fascinating spin-off from everyuknumber1.com, as seen in the Daily Mirror, music journalist Rob Barker comprehensively reviews all the best-sellers of the Fifties, delving into the wild lives of the artists and the real stories and secrets behind the hits. He also counts down the influential events that shaped them, as we moved from rations to never having it so good.
Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Cliff Richard were among those who transformed the lives of young people throughout Britain, and taught a country battered by war how to have fun again.
Find out which chart topper was written by an illiterate rapist who formed his own prison band. Learn about the strange early days of the charts, which led to the number one spot being held by two acts at the same time, with different versions of the same banned song. Who was the first woman to top the charts? And which hitmaker lives on as Cockney rhyming slang?
Every UK Number 1: The 50s has all the answers on the decade in which pop took its first steps, before rock’n’roll shouldered in and left the baby boomers all shook up.
Matthews Southern Comfort, led by former Fairport Convention singer Ian Matthews, had a surprise number 1 with this beautiful cover of Joni Mitchell’s epitaph to the Woodstock Music and Arts Festival 1969, which also seemed to mourn the end of the optimism of the hippy movement, and touched a nerve following the recent death of the festival’s headliner Jimi Hendrix. Of the three famous versions out there, this is the best.
Mitchell hadn’t actually attended or performed at the festival as her manager had told her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show instead. She was in a relationship with Graham Nash at the time, though and he was there performing as part of his new supergroup with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Watching the events unfold on TV from her hotel room had a profound effect on the singer-songwriter, and she put pen to paper.
Woodstock turned Max Yasgur’s farm that hosted the festival into the garden of Eden, and the journey to the site became a spiritual journey that would lead to enlightenment. Mitchell imagines meeting a child of God on their way to the site, starts to feel like she can be a part of a movement, and before you know it there are half a million likeminded souls.
She began performing her new song only a month after Woodstock, at the Big Sur Music Festival. Her recorded version found its way on to her third album Ladies of the Canyon in March 1970. It’s a sparse, low-key arrangement, performed on an electric piano. Sadly, it’s somewhat spoilt by her annoying double-tracked backing vocals.
Around the same time, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (for Neil Young had joined the fray) released their version on the album Déjà Vu. They had recorded a version with Jimi Hendrix while working on the song, released on the outtakes album Both Sides of the Sky (2018). I’m a huge fan of CSNY, but find their version of Woodstock somewhat of a misfire. They ditch the haunting melancholy of the original and turn it into a rather bog-standard rock anthem. An alternate take was used to close Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock documentary (1970). Which brings us to Matthews Southern Comfort. But who were they?
Ian Matthews MacDonald was born 16 June 1946 in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. When he was 12 the MacDonalds moved to Scunthorpe, close to where I live. He left school at 16 and worked as an apprentice signwriter, and by the mid-60s he was performing in local bands. MacDonald moved to London in 1965 and formed surf music trio The Pyramid.
In the winter of 1967 he was recruited to sing for the then-new rock band Fairport Convention, and was among the line-up to record their eponymous debut (1968) and follow-up What We Did On Our Holidays in 1969. Sometime between the two, MacDonald changed his name to Ian Matthews (his mother’s maiden name), to avoid confusion with Ian MacDonald of King Crimson.
However, the second LP by the band saw them moving toward the traditional folk for which they would become so influential, and Matthews departed during the making of Halfbricking in 1969.
He quickly began work on his debut solo album, Matthews’ Southern Comfort, featuring more of the US country sound he performed. The line-up featured former Fairport colleagues like Richard Thompson, and included his own material as well as covers. Matthews put together a touring band, called Matthews Southern Comfort (minus the apostrophe), featuring lead guitarist Mark Griffiths and Gordon Huntley on pedal steel guitar from the album, plus new members Carl Barnwell on guitar, bassist Andy Leigh and Ray Duffy on drums.
Matthews Southern Comfort released their debut LP Second Spring in July 1970, and the world shrugged. However, a month prior to that they had recorded a set for BBC Radio 1’s Live in Concert. They needed one final song, and Matthews had recently bought Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon. The band kept their version of Woodstock faithful to the original, and it went down so well, the BBC contacted their label about it. Uni Records suggested it was recorded and added to their next album, Later That Same Year. Matthews refused, but said it could become a single. However, while recording the new version, the arrangement was radically altered, in part to suit Matthews’ voice.
Apparently Mitchell later told Matthews this was her favourite version of Woodstock, and I agree completely. This recording is sublime. Matthews Southern Comfort perfectly capture the sadness of the end of an era, the feeling that the counterculture didn’t pull it off. That we never did get ‘back to the garden’. Of special note is Huntley’s steel guitar, giving the song a sense of yearning for what could have been, the circular guitar sounds (mixed down in the single version) and Matthews’ tender voice and the lovely harmonies. This version is what Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s should have sounded like.
MCA Records, the parent company of Matthews Southern Comfort’s record label, only agreed to release Woodstock if CSNY’s version tanked, which it did. But they refused to spend money on promotion upon its release in July. Luckily for Matthews and co, they had a fan in BBC DJ Tony Blackburn, who made it Record of the Week on his Radio 1 breakfast show. Here’s a great example of how long it could take a single to climb the charts back in the day. Three months to make it to number 1!
Top of the Pops would show a lovely promo film during Woodstock‘s weeks at number 1, with a beautiful hippy girl wandering around the streets and looking at posters of the Woodstock film. Doesn’t sound like much, but it’s pretty fitting.
Were the band pleased to be chart-toppers? Not really, it turned out. Matthews didn’t like the extra demands on his time being a pop star entailed, and he walked out in December, making Woodstock their final single. He went solo, and the rest of the line-up continued as Southern Comfort, releasing three albums between 1971 and 1973.
Matthews recorded two albums in 1971 (If You Saw Thro’ My Eyes and Tigers Will Survive), before forming a new group called Plainsong, which included Andy Roberts. When they collapsed Matthews continued to record while living in Los Angeles, working with Michael Nesmith of The Monkees at times during the 80s and 90s. He has gone by the name Iain Matthews ever since 1989.
In 2000 he moved to Amsterdam and continues to record and perform, sometimes reviving Matthews Southern Comfort or Plainsong. Matthews co-wrote Thro’ My Eyes: A Memoir with Ian Clayton, released in 2018.
There are similarities shared between Woodstock and Scott McKenzie’s 1967 number 1 San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair). Both are folk songs written to commemorate counterculture festivals and give them mystical meaning. Yet by the time we get to Woodstock, it’s over. Hendrix’s death in September and this track are a full stop on the 60s. And yet, the festival scene certainly wasn’t over, with the very first Glastonbury Festival taking place the day after Hendrix’s death and celebrating its 50th anniversary this June, bigger than ever. And the next number 1 would be a very fitting postscript.
Written by: Joni Mitchell
Producer: Ian Matthews
Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 October-20 November)
The Divine Comedy singer-songwriter Neil Hannon – 7 November Actor Harvey Spencer Stephens – 12 November Race walker Verity Snook-Larby – 13 November
Liberal MP Alasdair Mackenzie – 8 November Labour MP Bessie Braddock – 13 November
17 November: The Sun newspaper featured a Page Three girl for the first time. This tradition made stars of Samantha Fox and Maria Whittaker among others, but divided public opinion. However it continued for 44 years, until 2015.
20 November: The 10 shilling note ceased to be legal tender.
Multi-talented American singer Freda Payne enjoyed an impressive six weeks at number 1 with this soul track, featuring noteworthy lyrics that have been much misunderstood over the years due to cuts made before its release.
Freda Charcillia Payne was born in Detroit, Michigan on 19 September 1942. Her younger sister was Scherrie, who became the final lead singer of The Supremes in time. Growing up, the elder Payne enjoyed female jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, which would later have an impact on her singing style. She attended the Detroit Institute of Musical Arts as a teenager, and also recorded jingles for the radio, as well as taking part and winning various talent shows.
In the early 60s Payne toured as a jazz singer with big names such as Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby, leading to her debut album in 1963, After the Lights Go Down Low and Much More!!! for Impulse! Clearly, exclamation marks were popular back then. Three years later came the follow-up How Do You Say I Don’t Love You Anymore for MGM Records, and TV appearances on various chat shows.
Payne spent the next few years dipping her toes into acting, until 1969 when she was contacted by old friends and hitmakers Eddie Holland, Lamont Dozier and Edward Holland Jr. Holland-Dozier-Holland had left Motown in 1968 and formed their own label, Invictus, also home to Chairmen of the Board and the first Parliament album, Osmium. Her first single for Invictus was the long-forgotten Unhooked Generation. Holland-Dozier-Holland then offered her Band of Gold, which they’d written with Ron Dunbar, but due to their dispute with Motown, they were forced to use the pseudonym Edyth Wayne in the credits.
Band of Gold touched on an unusually adult theme for its time. It’s about a recently wed woman, already separated from her husband, due to their honeymoon going awry. They ended up sleeping in separate rooms, with her hoping he would return and try to make love to her once more.
So, what went wrong? The ambiguous lyrics have been open to interpretation – her husband must surely be impotent, or gay? Over the years, Band of Gold became popular in the gay community thanks to the latter theory, one that was borne out by an interview Lamont Dozier did for Songfacts (songfacts.com), where he confirmed the husband loved his new wife, but was unable to get it up as he was a secret homosexual.
But according to Dunbar, the original version of Band of Gold explains exactly what the issue was. The first verse originally ended with ‘And the memories of our wedding day, and the night I turned you away.’ The original bridge also said ‘Each night, I lie awake and I tell myself, the vows we made gave you the right, to have a love each night’. Apparently, Payne has also said she didn’t want to record Band of Gold because she felt too old to come across like a naive, virginal teenager. So there we have it – the poor guy, believed to have been unable to get it up for all these years, was given the cold shoulder from his new wife, and walked out. A messy start for the poor newlyweds, and we’ll never know if they ironed out their differences.
I was surprised upon first listen to hear this was number 1 for so long. Not because it isn’t decent – it is, but it took a few listens to make an impact on me. It helps if you pay attention to the lyrics, which I didn’t at first, and I assumed it was about a guy cheating on his bride, or something along those lines. Payne performs it well, sounding indignant (which also helped create the confusion – she sounds like she’s been let down between the sheets) and hurt at the same time. The stomping rhythm is very Motown, and the tune gets under the skin eventually.
I also like the electric sitar, played by session guitarist Dennis Coffey, who also played on Edwin Starr’s War, among others. Lead guitar comes from Ray Parker Jr, that’s right, the man behind the theme to Ghostbusters in 1984. The backing vocals were performed by Scherrie, Pamela Vincent, Joyce Vincent Wilson and Telma Hopkins. Wilson and Hopkins would soon be members of Dawn, number 1 artists with Tony Orlando in 1971 and 1973.
Band of Gold had a formidable run, and reached number three in the US, but Payne couldn’t get anywhere near repeating the feat. Deeper and Deeper, released at the end of the year, reached number 33 in the UK, but none of her singles reached the top 40 after that. However, Bring the Boys Home, her anti-Vietnam War single, did well in her home country in 1971
Payne left Invictus in 1973, and signed with Capitol Records in 1977, releasing three disco albums between then and 1979. Hot was her final LP for 16 years.
Sensing her music career was stalling, Payne concentrated on acting in the 80s. She also briefly hosted her own talk show in 1981, Today’s Black Woman. Only one single was spawned in this decade – In Motion, in 1982.
In 1995 Payne recorded a comedy album, called, bizarrely Freda Payne Sings the (Unauthorized) I Hate Barney Songbook: A Parody. Was she not a fan of the purple dinosaur? The following year came the festive Christmas With Freda and Friends, featuring a duet with her sister.
The new millennium began with the soul singer appearing on the big screen alongside comedian Eddie Murphy in Nutty Professor II: The Klumps (2000). She’s been releasing music sporadically ever since, and recorded Saving a Life, a duet with Cliff Richard, in 2011, which led to her supporting him on a UK tour. Her last album to date is Come Back To Me Love in 2014 – was this a message for Darlene?
Band of Gold is a curious number 1, sounding rather like a forerunner to disco and yet very much old-school Motown at the same time. Rather a bridge between what had passed and what was to come. It’s been covered several times since, by stars including Belinda Carlisle, but nobody has matched Payne’s original.
Written by: Edyth Wayne & Ron Dunbar
Producer: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier
Weeks at number 1: 6 (19 September-30 October)
Actress Emily Lloyd – 29 September
Footballer Richard Hancox – 4 October
Footballer Jason Cousins – 4 October
SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh – 5 October
Olympic rower Sir Matthew Pinsent – 10 October
Footballer Andy Marriott – 11 October
19 September: The first Glastonbury Festival was held. Then known as the Worthy Farm Pop Festival, farmer Michael Eavis had been inspired after attending a blues festival at the Bath & West Showground. 1500 watched Tyrannosaurus Rex headline after The Kinks pulled out.
3 October: Tony Densham, driving the ‘Commuter’ dragster, set a British land speed record at Elvington, Yorkshire, averaging 207.6 mph over the flying kilometre course.
5 October: BBC Radio 4 first broadcast the consumer affairs magazine programme You and Yours, a mainstay to this day.
15 October: The new Conservative government created the Department of Trade and Industry and the Department of the Environment. Also this day, Thames sailing barge Cambria, the last vessel trading under sail alone in British waters, loaded her last freight, at Tilbury.
19 October: British Petroleum announced it had found a large oil field in the North Sea.
23 October: The Mark III Ford Cortina went on sale.
For a while, weirdly, it looked like Mungo Jerry may be the heirs to The Beatles’ throne. This rock/pop/skiffle/jug band scored 1970’s biggest-selling number 1, and one of the most memorable summer anthems of all time with their debut single In the Summertime. ‘Mungomania’ was a very real thing.
Mungo Jerry formed from the ashes of 60s rock’n’roll and blues band The Good Earth, featuring, among others, singer-songwriter and guitarist Ray Dorset and keyboardist Colin Earl. The other half of the band were gone by the end of 1968, and with one remaining commitment – the Oxford University Christmas Ball of 1968 – left to go, Dorset hired Joe Rush to play double bass. The Good Earth played again when the night was over, performing folk, skiffle and jug band originals and covers.
This more low-key, acoustic version of the band went down well, and they built a following thanks to regular gigs. Banjoist, guitarist, and blues harp player Paul King made them a quartet. Rush left, to be replaced by Mike Cole, and they changed their name to Mungo Jerry, taking the name from TS Elliot’s poem ‘Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer’, as featured in Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.
Mungo Jerry signed with Pye Records, who placed them on their progressive imprint Dawn Records. They set to work recording their eponymous debut album, and the tracks that would make up their first single. This was to be one of, if not the first maxi-single in the UK. Vinyl maxi-singles were played at 33⅓rpm, rather than 45, and featured more than two tracks.
Dorset was still working his day job in a lab for watchmakers Timex when he came up with lead track In the Summertime, which he knocked off in 10 minutes. Clearly he could tell this ditty could make for a great debut for Mungo Jerry, but it’s unlikely he knew the impact this tale of youthful freewheeling would have for the next half a century.
Much like Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky, In the Summertime will be the one track associated with Mungo Jerry (despite a second, long-since-forgotten, number 1), has been used countless times in the media, and is a tune neither I or millions more will ever tire of. It’s all about that loveable, rickety old backing track, really, with a distinctive rhythm created by Dorset stomping and playing an African percussive instrument called the cabasa. I assume it’s also him doing the breathy interjections. Dorset’s an interesting character. His voice has an unusual bleating quality, like a friendly sheep. Footage of him from back in the day though, such as in the video they filmed for the single, above, used to scare me when I was younger. I used to think, with all the teeth and sideburns, he was some kind of hairy villain. Special mention must go to Earl’s piano riff, too.
50 years on, its the lyrics that prove problematic. In the Summertime is a song about being young, about the generational divide of 1970. You could even call it a somewhat passive-aggressive statement of intent: ‘We’re no threat, people, We’re not dirty, we’re not mean, We love everybody but we do as we please’
Dorset and his gang are happy-go-lucky, but in the end, they’ll do what they want, so don’t stop them. And that involves womanising and driving recklessly, possibly while under the influence. The lyric ‘If her daddy’s rich take her out for a meal/If her daddy’s poor just do what you feel’ may have just sounded cheeky back then, but it’s unpleasant to hear these days.
And of course, thanks to a memorable public information film from 1992, it’s ‘Have a drink, have a drive/Go out and see what you can find’ that stands out the most. Anyone that saw this at the time will likely never get the graphic image of the drink-driving accident out of their head whenever they hear this song. But because my mind has unlimited storage for 80s adverts, I also can’t hear it without picturing the curly-haired juggler of oranges in the rewritten version for Outspan. Pretty sure that’s Dorset himself singing ‘Grab an Outspan, the small ones are more juicy naturally’.
Despite the bad vibes of some of Dorset’s lyrics in the 21st century, it’s such an addictive song, it seems it’s never going to go away, and I’m glad about that. In the Summertime stayed at number 1 for seven weeks that summer – the lengthiest run of the 70s until Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody managed nine weeks in 1975/76. The UK’s brief flirtation with Mungomania had begun.
Jamaican-American rapper Shaggy released a version of In the Summertime in 1995, which reached number five that summer. Featuring his mate Rayvon, it eschewed the drink-drive references, but kept the rest of the dodgy bits intact.
Written by: Ray Dorset
Producer: Barry Murray
Weeks at number 1: 7 (13 June-31 July) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*
Singer-songwriter MJ Hibbett – 19 June Field hockey player Russell Garcia – 20 June Field hockey playerChristine Cook – 22 June Footballer David May – 24 June Actress Lucy Benjamin – 25 June Footballer Steve Morrow – 2 July Singer-songwriter Martin Smith – 6 July Boxer Wayne McCullough– 7 July Take That singer Jason Orange – 10 July Actor John Simm – 10 July Conservative MP Saj Karim –11 July Children’s TV presenter Andi Peters – 9 July Director Christopher Nolan – 30 July Actor Ben Chaplin – 31 July
Scottish sociologist Robert Morrison MacIver – 15 June Artist Edwin La Dell – 27 June Dramatist Githa Sowerby – 30 June Publisher Allen Lane – 7 July Conservative MP Iain Macleod – 20 July
13 June: Actor Laurence Olivier was made a life peer in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. Olivier was the first actor to be made a lord.
14 June: England’s defence of the FIFA World Cup came to an end when they lost 3-2 to West Germany at the quarter final in Mexico (see here).
17 June: The bodies of two children were discovered in shallow graves in woodland at Waltham Abbey, Essex. The bodies were believed to be those of Susan Blatchford (11) and Gary Hanlon (12). The tow children had last been seen alive near their homes in North London on 31 March. This became known as the “Babes in the wood” case. Also on this day, British Leyland launched its luxury Range Rover.
18 June: The first general election in which 18-year-olds were entitled to vote. Opinion polls pointed towards a record third consecutive victory for the Labour government, led by Harold Wilson.
19 June: Edward Heath’s Conservative Party defied expectations, to win the election with a majority of 30 seats. Notable new MPs included future Labour leaders Neil Kinnock and John Smith for Labour, and Kenneth Clarke, Kenneth Baker, Norman Fowler and Geoffrey Howe, who would all serve in Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Cabinet in the 80s.
21 June: British golfer Tony Jacklin won the U.S. Open.
22 June: The Methodist Church allowed women to become full ministers for the first time.
26 June: Riots broke out in Derry over the arrest of Mid-Ulster MP Bernadette Devlin.
29 June: 32-year-old Caroline Thorpe, wife of Liberal Party leader Jeremy Thorpe, died in a car crash.
3 July: British Army soldiers battled with IRA troops in Belfast, leading to the deaths of three civilians. Also on that day, 112 were killed when Dan-Air Flight 1903 from Manchester to Barcelona crashed in the mountains of Northern Spain. There were no survivors.
8 July: Roy Jenkins became Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
14 July: 5 speedway riders were killed in Lokeren, Belgium when a minibus carrying members of the West Ham speedway team crashed into a petrol tanker after a brief tour. One of the casualties was Phil Bishop, a founding member of the West Ham speedway team from before World War Two.
15 July: Dockers voted to strike, leading to a state of emergency the following day.
16–25 July: The British Commonwealth Games were held in Edinburgh. Australia came first, England second, Scotland fourth and Northern Ireland were 10th on the medal table.
17 July: Lord Pearson proposed a settlement of dockers’ strike.
30 July: The dockers’ strike was settled.
31 July – The last issue of grog in the Royal Navy was distributed.
Here’s a number 1 with an unusual story. Yellow River, Christie’s sole chart-topper, could in a sense also be classed as The Tremeloes’ third number 1, if they hadn’t thrown it away.
Leeds-born singer-songwriter Jeff Christie, born Jeffrey Christie on 12 July 1946, had been a member of rock band The Outer Limits, who had released singles in the late 60s. He had been inspired to write Yellow River after imagining a soldier looking forward to returning home to Yellow River (probably a mythical place) after the American Civil War, and probably thought it would work well with the anti-Vietnam War sentiment of the time.
Christie offered the song to The Tremeloes, who liked it, and recorded it ready to release as a single, but then they went to number two with, ironically, Call Me Number One, and they decided to steer away from pop towards a more progressive sound.
Tremeloes guitarist Alan Blakley’s brother Mike was in a struggling band called The Epics, which also included guitarist Vic Elmes. The story gets muddy here, but someone, possibly Alan, to help Mike, and maybe feeling guilty about ditching Yellow River, suggested its songwriter travel to London to record a new vocal over the track himself, and he did so, forming a new band for its release, called Christie and featuring Elmes and Mike. Their debut single was released on 23 April.
The chorus to Yellow River has existed in my subconscious for years, after I heard a snatch of it on some advert for a compilation album, but also due to the jingle being used in adverts for phone book Yellow Pages when I was a child, before the days of JR Hartley. Bad move by The Tremeloes – it’s a good tune, and way better than their previous number 1s Do You Love Me? and Silence Is Golden.
Apparently, Christie were keen to be considered the British answer to US country rock trio Creedence Clearwater Revival, and they do a great job of living up to that here, except of course, it’s not them behind that speedy finger-picked guitar, effervescent rhythm and top drumming – it’s The Tremeloes. Okay, there’s a fair few number 1s better than this in 1970, but that chorus in particular is a real ear worm. It’s easy to see why it topped the charts, even if it was for only a week. Steer clear of the later remake as it’s leaden by comparison.
Follow-up single San Bernadino, also from their eponymous debut album, was released in October, and reached number seven in the UK, and number 1 in Germany. But the success proved short-lived, and Blakely left before the release of 1971 album For All Mankind. Elmes’s departure in 1973 left Christie as the only remaining original member. No amount of line-up changes (and there were more) could capture that initial momentum though, and in 1976, after Navajo reached number 1 in Mexico, they split up.
Jeff Christie went solo in 1980 for a couple of singles, and then probably did quite well out of the Yellow Pages campaign. He reformed Christie in 1990 with backing from members of the band Tubeless Hearts, and they bid to represent the UK in the 1991 Eurovision Song Contest with Safe in Your Arms, but failed. They have toured and recorded intermittently ever since.
Written by: Jeff Christie
Producer: Mike Smith
Weeks at number 1: 1 (6-12 June)
Novelist EM Forster – 7 June
10 June: Earlier in 1970 the Tories were enjoying a few months after the Conservatives had enjoyed opinion poll leads of more than 20 points, and looked likely to form the next government, but the tide had turned. Labour were now several points ahead of the Conservatives, with eight days to go before the general election. Labour’s win would be a record third-in-a-row, if it happened.
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.
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.