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.
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.
Reason to Believe: Tim Hardin/Maggie May: Rod Stewart & Martin Quittenton
Producer: Rod Stewart
Weeks at number 1: 5 (9 October-12 November)
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
Independent MP AP Herbert – 11 November
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.
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)
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
Scottish Nobel Prize physician John Boyd Orr – 25 June Nobel Prize physicist William Lawrence Bragg – 1 July
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.
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)
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
Theatre director Sir Tyone Guthrie – 15 May
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.
The Wonder of You was Elvis Presley’s 16th and final number 1 in his lifetime. In the five years since his last number 1, Crying in the Chapel(which dated back to 1960), the King’s career had reached the doldrums, before a dramatic comeback. Sadly, though, The Wonder of You marked the beginning of another descent – his last one.
Presley proposed to Priscilla Beaulieu at Christmas 1966, seven years after they had first met, and they married in May 1967. Earlier that year he had released the Grammy-winning gospel album How Great Thou Art, but in October his soundtrack LP to his movie Clambake registered record low sales. The Summer of Love had just passed, flower power was everywhere, and Elvis couldn’t have been more out of fashion.
His manager Colonel Tom Parker made a deal for Presley to appear in a Christmas special on TV in December 1968. The singer was initially sceptical, and he had every reason to be, seemingly forever stuck releasing one dire film after another. However, once he got talking to the show’s director and co-producer Steve Binder, he realised this could be the chance to revitalise a failing career. He was proved right. The 68 comeback special, titled simply Elvis, featured lavish numbers, but everyone remembers the back-to-basic segments, in which he performed in tight leather in front of a small crowd (his first live performances since 1961). It was a return to the Elvis of the 50s, raw and fresh, with buckets of charisma. And he looked cool as fuck. No longer would the King be willing to do whatever he was told by Parker
Elvis kickstarted a purple patch in which the King was seemingly let off Parker’s tight rein, and he went on to record some of the best material of his career, particularly during the sessions for the 1969 album From Elvis in Memphis. The album closed with In the Ghetto, which reached number two on these shores, but was held off the top spot by Thunderclap Newman’s Something in the Air. Criminally, Suspicious Minds, probably my favourite Elvis song, also stalled at number two at the start of 1970 here, despite becoming his final US number 1.
Presley was keen to get back to regular live performances, and just when things were looking up for the new decade, Parker booked him to an initial run of 57 shows over four weeks at the new International Hotel in Las Vegas. Bill Belew, who had struck gold by coming up with the King’s leather look for his comeback, designed his first jumpsuit to wear. His initial Vegas show went down a storm, and Parker booked him a five-year run in which Presley would perform every February and August. The Jordannaires chose not to join him, and longtime collaborators guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer DJ Fontana also declined.
The Wonder of You was a live recording from one of his Vegas gigs of February 1970. It was the first live number 1 since Lonnie Donegan’s My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer) in 1960. Thankfully it’s not as bad as that horror show of a song, but they are similar, in that Wonder of You represents the final slide into cabaret for a once vital, dangerous artist.
The song, written by Baker Knight, was originally a top 30 single for US singer Ray Peterson in 1959. It also became a hit for number 1 artists Ronnie Hilton, and The Platters too.
Elvis turns this into an anthem in which he pays tribute to the fans that have stuck by him through thick and thin. It even mentions him by his nickname, albeit inadvertently. ‘And when you smile the world is brighter You touch my hand and I’m a king Your kiss to me is worth a fortune Your love for me is everything’
It’s one big love-in really, a drunken singalong, and the King and crowd alike are all having a whale of a time. But it all feels rather hollow with the knowledge of what was to come. Elvis’s next number 1 came after his death. His Vegas residency had transformed into a bloated drug-addled, depressed, darkly-comic version of the singer here.
Since its time at number 1, The Wonder of You has become associated with football clubs Port Vale, Arsenal and Scottish team Ross County.
Written by: Baker Knight
Weeks at number 1: 6 (1 August-11 September)
Footballer Alan Shearer – 13 August Snooker player Peter Ebdon – 27 August
Footballer Jesse Pennington – 5 September
9 August: Police battled with black rioters in Notting Hill, London.
20 August: England may have lost at the World Cup, but there was some good news for team captain Bobby Moore – he was cleared of stealing a bracelet in Colombia just before the tournament had begun.
21 August: The moderate Social Democratic and Labour Party was first established in Northern Ireland.
26-31 August: The third Isle of Wight Festival took place, with music from Jimi Hendrix, The Who and The Doors. This was the last of the three original festivals there, and was the largest event of its kind for years, with anywhere between 500,000 and 700,000 attending.
9 September: BOAC Flight 775 was hijacked by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine after taking off from Bahrain. This was the first time a British plane had been hijacked.
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.
Seems rather fitting that on the day Brexit finally happens, that this blog covers an event from 50 years ago in which this country was embarrassed on the world stage, doesn’t it?
Three weeks before the England football team began their defense of the FIFA World Cup in Mexico, they had their first number 1 single. The jolly, charming anthem Back Home marked the start of a not-often-grand tradition, in which the squad recorded an official, FA-approved song to mark that year’s failed attempt at the World Cup or UEFA European Championship.
Football songs were not a new idea – UK clubs had been recording them for years, and in 1966 skiffle king Lonnie Donegan released World Cup Willie before England’s legendary win. But this was the first (and only time) we were the world champions, and they were going into the tournament with a supposedly superior line-up to 1966 and so it must have been felt we had momentum, and that this should be commemorated.
I’m assuming it was the FA who asked Bill Martin and Phil Coulter to write and produce Back Home. After all, with their two previous number 1s and Eurovision big-hitters, Puppet on a Stringand Congratulations (plus Coulter was involved in All Kinds of Everything), the duo were more than capable of getting the nation to sing along in a big competition.
And so Alf Ramsey’s boys were assembled to record their vocals. It’s unclear who out of the 22 men picked to represent the country made it on to the recording, but the biggest names in the squad included captain Bobby Moore, goalkeeper Gordon Banks, Bobby Charlton, Geoff Hurst, Nobby Stiles and Emlyn Hughes. Also recorded was the bizarre B-side Cinnamon Stick. It’s not a weird song, it’s a typical mid-60s lightweight pop song about a pretty girl, but lots of footballers singing it together is weird.
I’ve never been a fan of footballers such. I tried, but I was terrible at school, and so I took no interest in clubs. However, I do get swept up in the World Cup and Euros, going right back to Mexico 86, where I can still remember being an upset seven-year-old, as angry as my dad at Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’. I have felt the dizzying highs and terrible lows intensely. I don’t think I have the nervous disposition to cope with the tension more than once every two years. So I do take notice of the official England songs, or at least I used to before they ceased to be. Obviously the best are World in Motion and Three Lions, but I have a soft spot for Back Home.
Opening with the familiar stadium clap-a-long bit (forgive the terrible terminology), Back Home is a lovely, charming postcard from more innocent times, set to a brass band backing, in which our proud, brave boys sing about how the fans will be watching their every move. Here are the world champions, at the top of their game, but rather than boast, they just hope they won’t let their country down. There’s no mention of them winning again (just as well), they just say they’ll give all they’ve got to give. Nice, isn’t it? I’m probably also fond of it because it became the theme tune to BBC2’s mid-90s comedy competition Fantasy Football League, presented by Three Lions singers Frank Skinner and David Baddiel.
The 1970 World Cup began on 31 May, while Back Home was still at number 1. Before England had even played a game they faced a setback when Moore was arrested and released on bail three days previous in Colombia on suspicion of stealing a bracelet.
England were in Group 3, along with Brazil, Romania and Czechoslovakia. They came second in their group, beating the latter two but losing to the mighty (and eventual winners) Brazil, one of the greatest teams of all time, featuring legends including Pelé.
The quarter-finals saw a repeat of the 1966 final, with England facing West Germany on 14 June. It looked like Moore and co would win once more, as they were up 2-0. But Banks was ill and out of the match, and substitute goalie Peter Bonetti let a goal by Frank Beckenbauer through in the 70th minute. And then Charlton was substituted, and Uwe Seeler made it 2-2 in the 81st minute. In extra time, Gerd Müller made it 3-2. It was all over for England.
There would be no more England World Cup songs for 12 years – we didn’t qualify in 1974 or 1978. And it would be 20 years before the England team would make it to number 1 again.
How many years before we’re back in the EU? Less than that, let’s hope.
Written & produced by: Bill Martin & Phil Coulter
Weeks at number 1: 3 (16 May-5 June)
Journalist Louis Theroux – 20 May Field hockey player Jason Lee – 21 May Model Naomi Campbell – 22 May
19 May: The government made a £20,000,000 loan available to help save the financially troubled car maker Rolls-Royce.
2 June: Cleddau Bridge, in Pembrokeshire, collapsed during erection. Four people died.
Somehow, Bridge over Troubled Water was replaced at number 1 after three weeks, by… this. The Eurovision Song Contest winner of 1970, Irish 19-year-old warbler Dana’s ultra-twee All Kinds of Everything is an early contender for worst number 1 of the 70s.
Rosemary Brown, born 30 August 1951, was born in Islington, North London. Her working-class parents had relocated from Derry, Northern Ireland after World War Two due to high unemployment, but when she was five the Browns were advised to return to Derry due to the effects of smog in the city on some of her siblings (she was one of seven).
Both young Brown’s parents were musical, and she proved it ran in the family when she won an all-ages talent contest aged only six. She learned to play the piano, violin, guitar sang and became a ballet dancer too.
As a young teen in 1965 she won another talent contest, and this time the prize was to record a demo. When Brown finished her O-levels, Rex Records got to hear it and signed Brown up. Debut single Sixteen, released in November 1967, failed to ignite interest. Around this time, and now undertaking her A-levels, she took the stage name ‘Dana’ – her school nickname.
In 1969 her label suggested she take part in the Irish National Song Contest, as the winner would represent Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest. She came second with Look Around (her fourth single).
The following year the Irish National Song Contest producer Tom McGrath suggested Dana try again. This time the winner would represent just the Republic of Ireland at that year’s Eurovision. He thought the young singer would be a great match for All Kinds of Everything, a ballad by Derry Lindsay and Jackie Smith, two 28-year-old amateur songwriters working as printmakers for a Dublin newspaper.
Dana won the contest and on 21 March she became the last performer at Eurovision, held in Amsterdam. She beat Mary Hopkin representing the UK by seven votes. This was the first of a record seven wins by the Republic of Ireland, and was only the second English language song to win the competition (Sandie Shaw’s Puppet on a String was the first in 1967, and Lulu’s Boom Bang-a-Bang had shared first place in 1969). It’s worth noting the political significance of this win, having a girl from Northern Ireland representing the republic and not the UK, just as The Troubles were rumbling.
The single version of All Kinds of Everything had been released the week before the show, arranged by Phil Coulter, who had co-written Puppet on a String and Congratulations. It began to climb the charts.
If this kind of dreck can win Eurovision, there’s no wonder it has such a reputation for the naff. The best thing I can say about it is that it didn’t make me want to hurt myself the way Puppet on a String did. All Kinds of Everything is all kinds of terrible. The production (Ray Horricks also produced both Anthony Newley’s chart-toppers) is lightweight and makes an already sickly song even worse, and the lyrics are something else. Dana’s got someone constantly on her mind and the song is simply a list of things that remind her of him. So let’s take a look at those things, shall we?
In the first verse she sings (in a serviceable but sickly manner) of ‘Snowdrops and daffodils, butterflies and bees’. Predictable, but sweet I suppose. But then she moves on to ‘Sailboats and fishermen, things of the sea’. Fishermen? Ok, that’s unusual. And how vague is ‘things of the sea’? Either she can’t be arsed to go into detail, or hasn’t got the imagination to do so. In the second verse we get ‘things of the sky’, including seagulls and wind… I daresay my eight-year-old could be more imaginative than this. Lindsay and Smith clearly should have stuck to their day jobs. Tacky, dated and dull, All Kinds of Everything is one of the worst songs I’ve reviewed yet.
Dana’s debut album was released in June, named after her number 1, and featuring a new version of that track. I’m not going to find it and compare, I’m not putting myself through that. Her fortunes soon became mixed, with her follow-up single I Will Follow You ironically not following her previous one to anywhere near the same success. Who Put the Lights Out reached the top 20 in 1971, though.
Despite still doing well in Ireland, it was 1975 before Dana was back on Top of the Pops with Please Tell Him That I Said Hello. Her second biggest UK success happened that December with the seasonal It’s Gonna Be a Cold Cold Christmas reaching number four in Christmas week. In 1976 she scored a top 20 hit with the disco-influenced Fairytale, but after that her fame dwindled until she took a new direction as the 80s began.
In 1979 Pope John Paul II visited Ireland, which inspired Dana to sing about her faith. She topped the Irish charts with Totus Tuus, and it opened the door to a career recording Catholic music and prayer albums, and spent most of the 80s doing this, appearing in Pantones or appearing on light entertainment shows.
Dana’s religious dedication made her popular in the US, and she presented a TV show there in 1991, called Say Yes. In 1997 the Christian Community Centre in Ireland suggested she ran for Irish presidency, and after scoffing at the idea initially, she ran as an independent under the name Dana Rosemary Scallon, and came third.
Scallon won a seat in the European Parliament in 1999, and proved herself to have values as outdated as her music – vehemently pro-life, anti-divorce, anti-same-sex marriages, and anti-EU. So actually, in a way she was ahead of her time, and could probably become supreme leader of the universe with the way the world is in 2020. All kinds of prejudice reminds me of Dana, you could say.
Scanlon lost her seat in 2004 and returned to light entertainment, launched a religious music label, released her second autobiography and became a TV talent show judge. In 2011 she ran for presidency again and came sixth. 2019 saw Dana, now 68, release her first album in years, My Time.
Sadly, All Kinds of Everything sets the scene in a way, as there was lots more dreary MOR to come in the 70s.
Written by: Derry Lindsay & Jackie Smith
Producer: Ray Horricks
Weeks at number 1: 2 (18 April-1 May)
Actress Kylie Travis – 27 April
Academic Thomas Iorwerth Ellis – 20 April
18 April: British Leyland announced its longest-running model, the Morris Minor, which had been in production since 1948, would be discontinued at the start of 1971.
29 April: Chelsea defeated Leeds United 2-1 in the FA Cup final replay at Old Trafford, gaining them the trophy for the first time. On the same day, last year’s winners Manchester City won the European Cup Winners’ Cup by defeating Polish team Górnik Zabrze 2-1 in Vienna, Austria.
The first classic number 1 of the 70s, Bridge over Troubled Water‘s message of the importance of friendship in times of emotional pain made it one of the most famous songs of all time, and yet it did further damage to Simon & Garfunkel’s already strained relationship, and helped quicken their disintegration.
Paul Frederic Simon was born on 13 October 1941 in Newark, New Jersey. Arthur Ira Garfunkel was born 5 November in New York City, also 1941. They grew up three blocks from each other in Queens, New York and attended the same schools and admired The Everly Brothers. They became friends in 1953 when appearing in a sixth grade production of Alice in Wonderland. In addition to forming a street corner doo-wop quintet called The Peptones, Simon and Garfunkel began performing as a duo at school dances. In 1956 they wrote their first song, The Girl for Me and signed with independent label Big Records aged only 15.
As Tom & Jerry (Garfunkel was Tom Graph, Simon was Jerry Landis) the duo had some success with 1957 single Hey Schoolgirl, but were unable to follow it up. While both at university, and still officially a duo, Simon released a single under the name True Taylor. This can be seen as the first crack in their relationship, as it caused some resentment with Garfunkel.
They went their separate ways for some time, recording under a variety of names and working with other acts. Then in 1963, they both graduated from university and began to work together again. By now they had moved on from rock’n’roll and were both enjoying the burgeoning folk scene in Greenwich, and billed themselves as Kane & Garr. One of the songs they would perform was The Sound of Silence. Columbia Records producer Tom Wilson, who later helped Bob Dylan in his transition to electric, was impressed by the duo, and helped get them signed to the label.
In 1964, as Simon & Garfunkel, they recorded their debut LP, Wednesday Morning, 3 A.M. Featuring compositions by Simon and covers, it bombed, and Simon decided to move to the UK soon after, going solo once more.
Fast forward to 1965, and Simon had released solo album The Paul Simon Songbook, which hadn’t done too well. Garfunkel, who had been to visit his friend in the UK, was at Columbia University. Then everything changed.
The Sound of Silence was gaining in popularity with colleges on the radio, and Wilson decided to make a remix featuring electric instruments and drums, without telling either of them. Simon was horrified when he found out, but then the new folk-rock version hit number 1 in the US in January 1966. He hastily returned to the US, and they reunited to quickly record a new album, Sounds of Silence. Featuring remade versions of tracks from Simon’s solo LP, including I Am a Rock, it was a rush-job, but extremely popular, and they were famous at last.
They decided to take time over their third album, and became more interested in production, while making Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme, released that October. With their version of Scarborough Fair/Canticle, and a remade Homeward Bound among the included material, it was one of their best collections.
Simon developed writer’s block while working on the next album, but managed to pen material for Mike Nichols’ smash romantic comedy The Graduate in 1967, including Mrs. Robinson. Fourth album Bookends eventually surfaced in 1968, and included the title track, America and Hazy Shade of Winter.
By now huge recording and touring stars, their partnership began to suffer, thanks in part to Garfunkel’s acting career. Simon was to join him in Nichols’ Catch-22 (1970) but found his part written out. Matters were exacerbated by the filming taking longer than expected. Eventually they began work, with members of The Wrecking Crew and producer Roy Halee on their fifth and final album, turning down an invitation to perform at Woodstock Festival while doing so.
What was to become the title track began originally as a gentle two-verse guitar number that had been inspired in part by a line from 1958 song Mary Don’t You Weep, a gospel track by the Swan Silvertones: ‘I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in me”. Simon later presented singer-songwriter Claude Jetter with a cheque to acknowledge his inspiration. The civil rights unrest and political assassinations in the stormy years leading up to this time also helped Simon come up with a message of hope.
Over the years, the duo have both given different stories over what happened next. Simon claimed he thought it would be perfect as a solo spot for Garfunkel’s angelic voice, but that he didn’t want to do it, and Simon felt hurt. Garfunkel says Simon was gracious when Garfunkel told him politely that he felt Simon should do it as it sounded lovely performed by him. Who knows – but I do know from reading and seeing interviews that both men can be oversensitive and precious.
Simon & Garfunkel, musicians and production crew assembled at CBS studios to work Bridge over Troubled Water out in November 1969. The final track to be recorded for the album, but the first to be completed, it was felt that, as nice as it was, the song should feature an extra verse, and open out to become a real epic in the style of a Phil Spector number. And so Simon wrote the ‘silver girl’ verse at Garfunkel’s suggestion, but wasn’t too keen. While some say it’s a reference to a drug user’s needle, it’s apparently an in-joke – Simon’s wife Peggy Harper had noticed she was turning grey. Simon seems to regret ever adding a third verse, and he’s not alone in that.
Bridge over Troubled Water has been criticised for being calculated and manipulative – a glossy exercise in tugging the heartstrings, and that it’s too epic, too, that it would have been better in its original incarnation. I understand all these points, and it’s certainly been used since in countless covers as the go-to song to make people emotional, but I think it’s simply a beautiful song and that no amount of stories of two stars whose egos were incompatible can spoilt it for me.
Simon is right in that the first verse, in particular, is the most moving. Garfunkel’s always beautiful voice is perfect here, and I admire the technical brilliance of being able to wring every bit of emotion out of each syllable. Garfunkel later claimed this verse took the most amount of takes, whereas the finale was the easiest. Wonderful support on the piano by Larry Knetchel, too. The performance makes me imagine that the person Garfunkel is singing to is so fragile, his almost hushed tones are all they can take.
He/they grow in strength in the second verse, adding meaning to Simon’s already powerful words, and the cymbal crashes from Hal Blaine suggest the message is getting through. Then the strings come in, courtesy of Jimmy Haskell, who had misheard the name of the song and labelled his arrangement Like a Pitcher of Troubled Water. Bass enters the fray, and Blaine gets on the drum kit. Its unclear whether that’s double-tracked singing from Garfunkel or Simon finally getting his voice heard, but I think it’s the former. Yes, the lyrics don’t match what came before, but the music picks up the slack, and then the epic rousing finale, in which Garfunkel gives it his all, leaving the darkness behind, with Blaine creating that unique drum sound by slapping the chains from his snow tyres on to his snare drum (used again on The Boxer). If this track hasn’t at least once made you want to cry when your defences are down (or just very pissed), are you even human?
The song was complete, and despite being over five minutes in length, label boss Clive Davis insisted it was too good to be anything but the first single from the album. He was totally correct, of course. It went to number 1 in the US in February, then the UK a month later, and like Wand’rin’ Star before it, it kept The Beatles’ swansong single, Let It Be, from number 1. Clearly, the mood of the time was for gospel-influenced, big message songs. The Beatles may be the greatest band of all time, but Bridge over Troubled Water was the better song here. It rightfully went on to be one of the biggest-selling singles of all time.
And the album named after the song was also huge. It was the bestseller of 1970, 71 and 72, and until Michael Jackson’s Thriller it was the biggest of all time. But Simon & Garfunkel had had enough of each other for the forseeable. In 1971, the same year their final LP won six awards at the Grammys, they split.
Simon would confess to Bridge over Troubled Water causing him to feel jealous – he resented sitting in the wings watching Garfunkel getting adulation for performing his song. You’d be forgiven for thinking he needed to get over himself. But it’s also proof that you can be an incredible songwriting talent and still be as petty as any other human, I suppose.
The duo got back together in 1972 for a benefit concert for Democrat hopeful George McGovern, but it was another three years before they spoke to each other when they visited a recording session by John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. They collaborated in the studio once more, and came up with a new single, My Little Town, which was a hit. For the rest of the 70s they would occasionally make rare TV and live appearances. Garfunkel would have a UK number 1 in April 1979 with the beautiful Bright Eyes from animated movie Watership Down (1978) – it was number 1 on the day I was born.
The 80s began with both Simon and Garfunkel’s solo careers in decline, until they were persuaded to perform at a free concert in Central Park, New York City in 1981. An incredible 500,000 attended the show – the largest ever at the time. They tried to capitalise on the renewed interest with a world tour in 1982, but old tensions rose and they barely spoke to each other throughout. Warner Bros. pushed for a tour extension and reunion album, but after early recording attempts, Simon opted for a new solo LP instead, with Garfunkel’s refusal to give up cannabis among the reasons given. Simon would go on to be very popular for the rest of the decade, particularly for his crossover world music album Graceland in 1986.
Simon & Garfunkel were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990, and managed to perform three songs together, despite Simon being pretty snide in his speech, and the duo refusing to speak to each other afterwards. A year later Simon did his own Central Park show, pointedly refusing an offer from his former partner to join him there. However in 1993 they were touring once more. Guess what? They fell out again for the rest of the decade.
In 2001 Simon was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a solo artist. He thanked Garfunkel, but ended up saying he wasn’t in a rush to make peace with him, either. Nice. A lifetime achievement Grammy for the old friends/sworn enemies in 2003 resulted in another halt to their Cold War. They toured the US and Europe for a year, and performed at a Hurricane Katrina benefit in 2005. Their final performance as Simon & Garfunkel took place at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2010, with the latter struggling with vocal cord paresis. Further dates were postponed indefinitely, and it would be four years before his voice was back to full strength.
Simon announced his retirement from touring in 2018. Does that mean we’ll never see them on stage ever again? Who knows. They’re both approaching 80, and it seems Simon in particular is unlikely to want to do so, but it would be nice to think they could end their days as friends once more. Hopefully it would be for genuine reasons, rather than the money.
If it doesn’t happen, best to take comfort in the fact the duo were able to produce some brilliant songs, had real alchemy together, and that despite the result it had on their relationship, Bridge over Troubled Water has helped so many people for 50 years.
Among the multitude of covers, it’s been number 1 twice since, for great causes – making up part of A Bridge over You, the 2015 Christmas number 1 by Lewisham & Greenwich NHS Choir, and in its own right in 2017, when stars including Robbie Williams, Rita Ora, Roger Daltrey and Stoemzy united under the banner Artists for Grenfell.
Written by: Paul Simon
Producer: Roy Halee, Paul Simon & Art Garfunkel
Weeks at number 1: 3 (28 March-17 April)
April Fool’s Day: Everton won the Football League First Division title.
10 April: Paul McCartney announces that he has left The Beatles, marking the end of the Fab Four.
11 April: Chelsea and Leeds United drew 2–2 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium, making it the first to require a replay since 1912.
16 April: The controversial Dr. Ian Paisley entered the Parliament of Northern Ireland after winning the Bannside By-election.