323. Chuck Berry – My Ding-a-Ling (1972)

As mentioned in my blog for Mouldy Old Dough, the UK seemed to be having a nervous breakdown as far as its number 1 singles are concerned in late-1972. Here’s further proof. Rock’n’roll pioneer Chuck Berry, one of the most influential guitarists in musical history, at the top of the charts for his one and only time with his nadir – a live recording of tawdry jokes about his penis.

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was born 18 October 1926 in St Louis, Missouri. He grew up in the middle-class area known as the Ville. Berry was into music from an early age, and he gave his first public performance at Sumner High School in 1941. He was still a student there when he had his first of several run-ins with the law. In 1944 he was arrested for armed robbery after robbing three shops in Kansas City, Missouri. Berry was sent to a reformatory, where he spent his time learning to box and performing in a singing quartet. He was released on his 21st birthday in 1947.

Berry married a year later and became a father for the first time in 1950. To support his family he worked in car assembly factories and as a janitor, and he also trained to be a beautician. To help make ends meet he also played blues with local bands, and learnt riffs and tips on showmanship from T-Bone Walker. By 1953 he was performing in pianist Johnnie Johnson’s Trio, a relationship that endured, and would win over skeptical black audiences by playing country music, mixed in with ballads, blues and R&B. Soon white audiences were attending too.

Everything changed when Berry met Muddy Waters in 1955. The blues legend suggested Berry get in touch with Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Although he thought they may like his take on the blues, Chess loved his version of traditional tune Ida Red, which Berry called Maybellene. There is a strong argument for rock’n’roll beginning right here.

Classic after classic followed. In 1956 there was Roll Over Beethoven and You Can’t Catch Me (inspiration for The Beatles’ Come Together). In 1957, as rock’n’roll peaked, School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell), became his first chart hit in the UK. He went on tour that year with other greats including Buddy Holly and The Everly Brothers.

Berry’s classics kept coming for the rest of the 50s, including Rock and Roll Music, Sweet Little Sixteen, Johnny B. Goode and Memphis, Tennessee. For some reason, only Sweet Little Sixteen and Memphis, Tennessee charted over here – was this down to distribution problems? Whatever the reason, by the end of the decade he was a huge star, had starred in films, opened a racially integrated nightclub and invested in real estate. But in December 1959 he was arrested for alleged underage sex with a girl he had transported over state lines.

The 60s got off to a terrible start, with Berry sentenced in March 1960 to five years in prison. He appealed and claimed the judge was racist, but he was convicted again, and a further appeal failed. His last single before jail time was Come On in 1961, which became the first single by The Rolling Stones.

Fortunately for Berry, his release from prison in 1963 coincided with the rise of The Beatles, who covered his material, and The Beach Boys Surfin’ U.S.A. reworked Sweet Little Sixteen. Although he never reached the same commercial heights as the 50s again, there were still some great songs, and UK hits with No Particular Place to Go and You Never Can Tell in 1964. The latter of course is now best known for its use in 1994 Quentin Tarantino smash Pulp Fiction. After that his career went on the slide. He jumped ship to Mercury Records and earned a reputation for erratic live performances.

Berry returned to Chess in 1970 with the appropriately named LP Back Home. His album The London Chuck Berry Sessions was a mix of studio tracks and three live performances recorded on 3 February 1972 at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry. Amazingly, the venue of the festival, the Locarno, was also the site of The Specials’ live EP Too Much Too Young The Special A.K.A. Live!, a number 1 in 1980. Berry was late for his slot, which annoyed headliners Pink Floyd as it meant they were an hour late for their set. In his band were guitarist Onnie McIntyre, drummer Robbie McIntosh, who went on to form Scottish funk outfit Average White Band, and bassist Nic Potter from prog-rockers Van Der Graaf Generator.

I’d thought in the past that My Ding-a-Ling was likely an off-the-cuff skit by Berry, but no, it’s an actual cover of a song by Dave Bartholomew, writer of many rock’n’roll hits including I Hear You Knocking, the Christmas number 1 by Dave Edmunds in 1970. Bartholomew released it first back in 1952. Berry first recorded it as My Tambourine in 1968.

I of course was within my rights to think this was a skit, of course, because it’s bloody awful. Thankfully hacked down from over 11 minutes on the album, it may well be that Berry had no say in the release of this as a single, but whether it was him or Chess, what the hell made them think it was a good idea, and more to the point, why did the UK prove them right? An eager audience including Noddy Holder (Slade were one of the acts on earlier that day) lap up every minute of this Carry On-style ditty disguised as a playground rhyme. Believe me, I’m all for that type of humour at the right time, but this is just terrible. Perhaps there was just a lot of nsotalgic affection for Berry at the time, with a rock’n’roll revival ongoing and bands like T. Rex paying respect?

And once again, it’s unavoidable to think of My Ding-a-Ling without context, without thinking about all the light entertainment and pop stars since outed as paedophiles and Berry’s many misdemeanours with women… it makes jokes that weren’t funny to begin with even worse.

My Ding-a-Ling reached number 1 here and in the US, but thankfully it didn’t stick around long enough to reach the Christmas number 1 spot in 1972. Unfortunately it was beaten by an even worse song…

Another live track from the album, Reelin’ and Rockin’, was Berry’s final hit. He spent much of the 70s touring along with his Gibson guitar, relying on local bands wherever he went, which often did his reputation damage, but along the way, pre-fame Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller were among those helping out. Springsteen later revealed Berry didn’t give the band a setlist and didn’t interact with them afterwards, but it didn’t stop him helping out again when Berry was entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995.

The ‘Father of Rock and Roll’ ended the decade with a gig at the White House for President Jimmy Carter in June 1979, but that year he was also sentenced to jail again – four months and 1,000 hours of community service for tax evasion.

The 80s saw Berry continue his one-man tours. In 1986, documentary Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll covered two concerts for his 60th birthday featuring Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and Etta James, among others. But he just couldn’t keep out of trouble. In 1987 Berry was charged with assaulting a woman at New York’s Gramercy Park Hotel. He pleaded guilty to harassment and paid a fine. Three years later, he was sued by women who claimed he had installed a video camera in the cubicle of his restaurant. Although his guilt wasn’t proven he opted to settle… with all 59 women. 59 women. During this scandal his home was raided and police found a huge stash of pornography, videos, slides and books, some of which appeared to show underage girls. The child abuse allegations were eventually dropped, and seem to have been largely forgotten in many of his obituaries.

In 2000, Johnson sued Berry, claiming he deserved co-writing credits on over 50 of his songs but the case was dismissed when the judge said too much time had passed. He continued to tour, and played festivals across the globe, but on New Year’s Day 2011 he passed out with exhaustion and had to be helped off stage.

On his 90th birthday in 2017 he announced he would be releasing his first new studio album since Rockit in 1979. Chuck featured his children Charles Berry Jr and Ingrid and was dedicated to his wife Toddy, who had remained all those years. It was to be his swansong, as Berry died of a cardiac arrest on 18 March. Chuck was released to critical acclaim two months later.

Without Chuck Berry, who knows which direction pop would have gone in. He inspired some of the greatest musicians of all time, and his iconic duckwalk is fondly remembered. Sadly, he was also a sex offender and maybe a paedophile, and this lone number 1 really doesn’t help his legacy.

Written by: Dave Batholomew

Producer: Esmond Edwards

Weeks at number 1: 4 (25 November-22 December)

Births:

Labour MP Dan Jarvis – 30 November
Scientist Ewan Birney – 6 December
Footballer Nicky Eaden – 12 December
Comedian Miranda Hart – 14 December
Actor Jonathan Slinger – 14 December
Labour MP Sarah Jones – 20 December
Labour MP Gloria De Piero – 21 December

Deaths:

Composer Havergal Brian – 28 November
Scottish novelist Sir Compton Mackenzie – 30 November
Writer LP Hartley – 13 December

319. Slade – Mama Weer All Crazee Now (1972)

In 1972 Slade were becoming wise to the glam rock movement springing up around them. They were already changing from their skinhead look, growing their hair out again, but they also began wearing increasingly outlandish outfits – particularly guitarist Dave Hill.

They also became obsessed with the idea of entering the charts at number 1 in week one, a feat that hadn’t been achieved since The Beatles and Billy Preston with Get Back. Last single Take Me Bak ‘Ome had been number 1 for a week earlier that year, but… well it wasn’t great, really. They needed something stronger. While recording it, as stated in the accompanying blog, Noddy Holder ad-libbed halfway through, and bassist Jim Lea liked what he heard… but asked him to save it as it had given him an idea for a new song.

The tune for Mama Weer All Crazee Now was for the first totally written by Lea. In a 1984 interview with Record Mirror, he recalled he had attended a Chuck Berry gig in 1972 where the legendary guitarist kept stopping his songs to let the crowd sing them for him, and he decided to write a readymade anthem where they could do the same. Combining it with the aforementioned ad-libs and recalling Holder’s comment after surveying the aftermath of one of their own gigs at Wembley Arena (‘Christ, everyone must have been crazy tonight’) he came up with My My We’re All Crazy Now.

And thus, the Slade formula was finally born. And what a formula it was. Holder letting rip over a simple but memorable riff, a simple ear-worm chorus fit for a stadium with crowd-like backing vocals, lyrics about having a good time… that’s all there is to it. But it hits that sweet spot so well. There were even better number 1s to come, but Mama Weer All Crazee Now is great fun. Ok, not a lot going on lyrically – it’s basically about wanting to get pissed on whisky. But what’s that bit about filling up ‘H’ Hill’s left shoe – is that a reference to their guitarist?

It doesn’t matter, it’s about the energy, and the climax, where Don Powell hits the drums repeatedly and Holder shouts ‘MAMA MAMA MAMA MAMA’ is brilliant.

Slade didn’t quite go straight in at number 1 this time around, but they did enter at two, and they got there in the end.

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

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

Births:

Newsreader Natasha Kaplinsky – 9 September
Oasis singer Liam Gallagher – 21 September
Breaststroke swimmer Richard Maden – 21 September

Deaths:

Archbishop of Canterbury Geoffrey Fisher – 15 September

Meanwhile…

11 September: BBC One broadcast long-running quiz series Mastermind was broadcast for the first time, with Magnus Magnusson asking the questions until 1997. John Humphrys has been presenter since 2003.

12 September: The second Cod War was triggered when two British trawlers were sunk by an Icelandic gunboat.

13 September: 20 years after their debut in France, hypermarkets came to the UK when Carrefour opened in Caerphilly, South Wales.

18 September: On the orders of dictator Idi Amin, thousands of deported Ugandan Asians arrived in the UK.

19 September: A parcel bomb killed a diplomat at the Israeli embassy in London.

317. Alice Cooper – School’s Out (1972)

How fitting. As I write this, school’s out completely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and I’m still recovering from a ‘week off’ work where I was responsible for home-schooling my children. Don’t get me wrong, there were some nice moments, but I hated science at school and a day of experiments with an eight-year-old demanding answers and a five-year-old who would rather show me a fairy she’d sat on a tree stump left me in pieces. My mum has always insisted I should be a teacher and last week proved I was right all along.

UPDATE: as I prepare this to go live, the kids have actually returned to school at last, making this all rather ironic. How long it will last before another lockdown, we shall see.

Anyway, School’s Out. A summertime classic and rock standard, used in every film or TV show that wants to capture that feeling of childhood ecstasy, knowing that for a few weeks, freedom is there for the taking. This song turned Alice Cooper into a superstar. But did you know that originally, Alice Cooper was the name of his band? Me neither.

Cooper was born Vincent Damon Furnier on 4 February 1948 in Detroit, Michigan. Far from the ‘Godfather of Shock Rock’ he became, Furnier was from a family of evangelists and was active in church too as a boy. He was a sickly child, and following several bouts of illness, the family moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where he attended Cortez High School. Years later, Furnier’s high-school yearbook was found and inside he had written his ambition was to be ‘a million record seller’.

When Furnier was 16 in 1964, he was keen to take part in a school talent show, so he and four of his cross-country teammates, including future Alice Cooper band members Glen Buxton and Dennis Dunaway, became a Beatles spoof group called The Earwigs. Guitarist Buxton was the only one with an instrument so the others mimed. Their parodies of Fab Four hits went down a storm and they won.

They decided to form a garage rock band and bought instruments from a pawn shop, and with Buxton writing songs and teaching the others how to play, they became The Spiders. Furnier sang, with Dunaway on bass. In 1966 Michael Bruce became their rhythm guitarist, and a year later, now known as Nazz, Neal Smith became their drummer.

In 1968, now living in Los Angeles, they discovered there was already a band called The Nazz (featuring Todd Rundgren). Searching for a new name, Furnier believed they needed a gimmick and reckoned an innocuous name like Alice Cooper made for a nice counterpoint to the grisly theatrics they began to adopt when performing. For a long time there was an urban legend that the band came up with the name via a ouija board, but it was later discredited.

Developing outrageous antics on stage via cross-dressing, face paint and their primitive psychedelic rock, they began to cause a stir. One gig in Venice, California saw Alice Cooper empty the venue in 10 minutes. Music manager Shep Gordon thought this was brilliant and saw a way such negativity could get them noticed. He arranged them an audition with cult counterculture icon Frank Zappa, then looking for unusual acts for his new label Straight Records. He asked Alice Cooper to be at his house for seven. They thought he meant in the morning and woke him, but he was impressed by their commitment and signed them.

Alice Cooper’s first LP, Pretties for You, was released in 1969, the same year they made the papers for an incident in which a live chicken was thrown into the crowd, where the wheelchair users of the front row proceeded to tear it to pieces. Horrible, but the singer later claimed it was an accident. Whether it was or not, the press made it even more extreme and claimed he bit the chicken’s head off and drank its blood. He denied this but Zappa told him to pretend otherwise.

Despite the controversy, Alice Cooper weren’t actually selling many records. Their first two albums tanked. They were teamed up with Bob Ezrin for their final Straight Records release, Love It to Death, scheduled for 1971. Preceding single I’m Eighteen was a hit, and this is very much down to the partnership of Ezrin with the band, who Cooper later described as ‘our George Martin’. He toned down the weirdness and cranked up the volume, with a heavy but clean sound, more palatable for rock fans.

Despite the work on their recorded output, the live shows became ever more theatrical and dark, featuring the androgynoius Furnier (by now calling himself Alice Cooper) wrapped in a boa constrictor, baby dolls covered in blood and even a mock execution at the gallows. There had never been anything quite like it. This was the Devil’s version of glam rock. Next album Killer was also a success, and in the summer of 1972, just in time for the holidays, came the follow-up School’s Out and then the title track hit the singles chart.

So ingrained is School’s Out in popular culture, it’s hard to critically assess it with fresh ears. That mighty riff from Buxton is very memorable, and fits in perfectly with the glam rock scene in the UK. But of course, a song with lyrics about blowing up your school, featuring the nursery rhyme ‘No more pencils, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks’ being sung by children… how could it not be a hit? Cooper’s snarling vocal is perfect, and actually, listening anew has made me appreciate what a great pop song it is. And the balls of Cooper, to actually sing in one verse ‘We can’t even think of a word that rhymes’, just because he could. Great stuff, and pretty shocking for the 1972 charts. The teachers complaining about Slade misspelling their song titles must have been beside themselves when this toppled them.

Among those complaining was miserable busybody campaigner Mary Whitehouse, who persuaded the BBC to ban the video. Cooper sent her flowers for the free publicity.

Alice Cooper’s tours broke box office records in 1973, and they reached their commercial peak with the album Billion Dollar Babies, but their gruelling schedule was taking its toll. Muscle of Love, released in 1974, was the last album by Alice Cooper, the band.

As we all know, Alice Cooper, the man with the woman’s name, continued. He changed his name legally to avoid any legal issues with his former group, and his first solo album Welcome to my Nightmare, recorded with Lou Reed’s backing musicians, was a big hit in 1975. Bruce, Dunaway and Smith formed a short-lived new group, Billion Dollar Babies, which split after one album in 1977. They would occasionally reunite with Buxton, but sadly he died of pneumonia in 1997, aged 49.

Although Cooper has remained a star throughout his solo years, there have been struggles with alcoholism, which became so bad, he entered a sanitarium in 1977. It provided inspiration for his 1978 album From the Inside, co-written with Bernie Taupin. His recovery was short-lived though – Cooper claims to have no recollection of recording any of his albums from the early-80s. With fortunes fading, he was hospitalised with cirrhosis of the liver, and the next few years he dealt with his own personal demons and divorce.

He returned to the fray in 1986, and fitted in very nicely during the years of slasher horror films. His song He’s Back (The Man Behind the Mask) was used in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives that year, and he had cameos in Prince of Darkness (1987) and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991). Cooper also had a guest spot at WrestleMania III in 1987, standing in Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts’ corner against the Honky Tonk Man.

In 1991, Cooper guested on the Guns N’ Roses album Use Your Illusion I and had a memorable, brilliant cameo in the music comedy Wayne’s World in 1992. His musical output became more sporadic, and as the decade continued his brand of rock went out of fashion, to be replaced by grunge. In October 1999, fans of the band Alice Cooper rejoiced as all four surviving members performed together at the second Glen Buxton Memorial Weekend. Since then they have reunited several times with guest guitarists, including for their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2011.

2015 saw Cooper unveil Hollywood Vampires, a rock supergroup also featuring actor Johnny Depp and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry. The group honours and is named after a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 70s. Aged 72, Cooper has defied the odds to outlive many of those old club members.

Written by: Alice Cooper, Michael Bruce, Glen Buxton, Denis Dunaway & Neal Smith

Producer: Bob Ezrin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (12 August-1 September)

Births:

Scottish field hockey forward David Ralph – 17 August
Presenter Victoria Coren Mitchell – 18 August

Deaths:

Aviator Francis Chichester – 26 August
Prince William of Gloucester – 28 August

Meanwhile

26 August-10 September: Great Britain and Northern Ireland won four gold, five silver and nine bronze medals at the Olympics in Munich, West Germany.

28 August: Prince William of Gloucester, 30-year-old cousin of Queen Elizabeth II, is killed in an air crash near Wolverhampton.

1 September: The school leaving age at the end of the academic year in England and Wales was raised from 15 to 16. Temporary buildings were erected in secondary modern and comprehensive schools to accommodate the older pupils, while some authorities raised the secondary school transfer age from 11 to 12 or 13. The age was also raised in Scotland and Northern Ireland. ‘Well we’ve got no choice/All the girls and boys’…

315. Slade – Take Me Bak ‘Ome (1972)

By the dry, dull summer of 1972, glam rock was on the rise. T. Rex had already peaked with their four number 1s, but other acts were now breaking through. The Sweet had scored several hits with Co-Co and Little Willy and two landmark albums were released in June – Roxy Music’s eponymous debut LP, and most importantly, David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. In the first week of July he made his famous appearance on Top of the Pops for Starman, putting his arm around guitarist Mick Ronson and making rock history.

That same week, Slade were celebrating their second number 1. Since 1971’s Cos I Luv You, the Wolverhampton glam-rockers had turned down a multi-million-dollar campaign in the US to star in their own TV series and tour. But while the chance to become the next Monkees must have been appealing, singer Noddy Holder reportedly told the NME that they didn’t want to cancel commitments and let down their UK fans.

In January 1972 they released follow-up single Look Wot You Dun, written mostly by bassist Jim Lea and drummer Don Powell, with some help from Holder. The song reached number four, and Record Mirror reported they were annoying teachers by setting a bad example and releasing two misspelt singles in a row. Look Wot You Dun wasn’t as good as their number 1, but it proved Slade were no one-hit wonders. In March came Slade Alive!, recorded in front of 300 fan club members and featuring a storming version of Get Down and Get With It.

Take Me Bak ‘Ome, like their previous number 1, was written by Holder and Lea but according to Lea in the group’s 1984 biography Feel the Noize! it originated from an old tune he had made, with a bit of revamping and a phrase or two from The Beatles’ Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey.

Of Slade’s six number 1s, this ranks as the least memorable. It’s only really worth hearing to get a better insight into how the band were striving and struggling to find the winning formula that they achieved from their next number 1 onwards. It’s meat-and-potatoes rock without the unique element of danger in Cos I Luv You and no anthemic chorus to latch on to, which they later excelled at. Lyrically, it’s a laddish story of boy-meets-drunken-girl-who-stinks-of-brandy. He tries it on, only to flee in fear of her boyfriend a ‘Superman’ who’s twice his size. And it was ‘alright’, apparently.

Take Me Bak ‘Ome climbed to number 13, and Slade were booked to perform at the Great Western Festival in Lincoln. The field of rock fans booed when Slade were announced to be performing imminently. They were worried they were considered too ‘pop’ and had blown it before even starting, but they won over the crowd with their heavy material, and it helped propel them to their second number 1.

Interestingly, Holder had ad-libbed over the riff in the middle of the song’s recording but Lea suggested he change what he came up with as it had given him an idea for their next single…

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

Weeks at number 1: 1 (1-7 July)

Meanwhile…

1 July: The first official UK Gay Pride Rally was held in London, with approximately 2,000 participants.

306. Slade – Coz I Luv You (1971)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Noddy Holder & Jim Lea

Producer: Chas Chandler

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

Births:

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

Deaths:

Actress Gladys Cooper – 17 November

Meanwhile…

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

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

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

298. T. Rex – Hot Love (1971)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by: Marc Bolan

Producer: Tony Visconti

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

Births:

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

Deaths:

Actor Cecil Parker – 20 April

Meanwhile…

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

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

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

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

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

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

172. The Animals – The House of the Rising Sun (1964)

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It may have only spent a week at number 1, but the impact of The Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun‘s was huge. It ushered in a new genre, folk rock, inspired Bob Dylan to go electric, and proved a hit single could be twice as long as was expected.

The origins of this traditional folk tale, whose author is unknown, date back hundreds of years. It shares a similar theme to the 16th-century ballad The Unfortunate Rake. Originally, the song was written from the perspective of a prostitute who worked at a brothel called the Rising Sun, with the oldest published lyrics (from 1925) beginning:

‘There is a house in New Orleans, it’s called the Rising Sun
It’s been the ruin of many a poor girl
Great God, and I for one’

The earliest recording, known as Rising Sun Blues, was performed by Clarence “Tom” Ashley and Gwen Foster in 1928. Later versions came from Woody Guthrie in 1941, Lead Belly in 1944 and 1948 (entitled In New Orleans and The House of the Rising Sun respectively), Joan Baez in 1960 and Nina Simone in 1962.

The version by The Animals most closely resembles Bob Dylan’s cover for his eponymous debut album in 1962. This is the first and certainly not the last time we’ll encounter Robert Zimmerman, who has never scored his own number 1 but whose songs have topped the charts several times over the years.

Dylan had swiped his arrangement too, from fellow folk revivalist Dave Van Ronk. An unusually sheepish Dylan asked Ronk if he was okay with him recording it, and Van Ronk asked him to hold off as he was about to go into the studio to record it himself. Dylan then admitted he had already recorded it.

The Animals formed when singer Eric Burdon joined The Alan Price Rhythm and Blues Combo, who had been a unit since 1958. Making up the rest of the band were Alan Price on organ and keyboards, Hilton Valentine on guitar, Bryan ‘Chas’ Chandler on bass and John Steel on drums. It’s usually believed that their new name came from their wild stage act, but in 2013 Burdon claimed they used their name by way of tribute to a mutual friend known as ‘Animal’ Hogg.

They moved to London in 1964 in the wake of Beatlemania to get signed, and subsequently did, to EMI Columbia. The group specialised in heavy versions of R’n’B numbers, and their first single, Baby Let Me Take You Home narrowly missed out on the top 20. According to Burdon, The Animals first heard The House of the Rising Sun in a Newcastle club, sung by Northumbrian folk singer Johnny Handle. They were touring with Chuck Berry, and were searching for a number to close their sets with that would make them stand out from other groups. It’s doubtful they realised they had stumbled upon their sole chart-topper.

Producer Mickie Most certainly didn’t realise. Most made a name for himself as a producer of  many hit singles over the 60s and 70s, and clearly had an ear for a good tune. But really, who could blame him for thinking The House of the Rising Sun was too long and not commercial enough?

It took only 15 minutes and one take in a tiny studio to record one of the decade’s most memorable number 1s. Valentine’s spine-tingling arpeggio intro, in which he plays Dylan’s chord sequence but on an electric guitar, is one of the greatest openings to a song of all time. Then Burdon’s deep growl begins, and the rest is history. Some have argued that the lyric change to make it about a man with a gambling addiction make the theme of the song less interesting, and they have a point, but really, all should be forgiven during this tour de force.

No number 1 had ever stayed stuck in one groove before, and certainly not for over four minutes (previously the record for the longest duration for a number 1 belonged to Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957; The Animals would hold the record until the Beatles’ Hey Jude in 1968). The feeling is hypnotic and relentless, particularly during the second half when the band take it up a notch and Price goes to town on his Vox Continental.

I can imagine the impact of hearing this back then must have been similar to the birth of skiffle, where Lonnie Donegan had plundered old tunes and added an intensity that had rarely been heard up to that point. By the time they had finished, Most was a believer.

Despite the fact the whole band contributed to the arrangement, there was only room for one name on the record label, and as Alan Price’s forename was first alphabetically, he got the credit. This would later cause resentment, as Valentine understandably thought he should receive royalties for his part.

Two months after hitting pole position in the UK charts, The House of the Rising Sun spent three weeks at number 1 in the US, becoming the first bestseller during the British Invasion to be unconnected to The Beatles. Upon hearing it on his car radio, Bob Dylan immediately stopped driving, got out and banged on the bonnet. He was blown away, and a seed had been planted.

The Animals went on to have more great hits, including We Gotta Get Out of This Place and Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood. In May 1965 Alan Price left to go solo, citing personal and musical differences and a reluctance to fly while on tour. He formed The Alan Price Set, whose highlights include Simon Smith and His Amazing Dancing Bear. Dave Rowberry became his replacement, but by the end of the year the group were already falling apart. The history books are full of bands who got a raw deal due to mismanagement, but the Animals had suffered more than most.

In 1966 Burdon formed a new backing group and they became known as Eric Burdon & The Animals, adopting a harder psychedelic sound and relocating to California. He also formed the funk band War in the following decade.

Meanwhile, Chas Chandler became Jimi Hendrix’s manager and producer and was an integral part of his success, before doing the same with Slade in the 70s. He died in 1996, aged 57.

The original line-up of The Animals reformed in 1968, 1975 and 1983, and several different versions of the band using that name have existed over the years.

The Animals stood out in 1964 for refusing to play the game and adopt the Merseybeat approach. They didn’t turn on the charm, and they didn’t smile for the cameras. Another group were rising up the charts, and their fame would soon eclipse that of The Animals. The Rolling Stones were about to have their first number 1.

Written by: Traditional (arranged by Alan Price)

Producer: Mickie Most

Weeks at number 1: 1 (9-15 July)

Births:

Pocket cartoonist Matt Pritchett – 14 July

Every Christmas Number 1

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The Intro

I’ve been blogging my reviews of all the UK number 1s in order for four months now, and have reached the end of 1957. Despite not being a fan of 50s music in general (maybe that’s a bit harsh, I should say I’m not too knowledgeable about it), I’ve found it more interesting than expected. Hopefully, some of the readers I’ve gathered are enjoying it too.

Anyway, I decided a nice addition for Christmas would be to work my way through every Christmas number 1 to date. Now, I love music, and I’m also fond of Christmas, so initially it sounds like a no-brainer. However, Christmas number 1s are a complete wild card. No matter the decade, no matter your musical taste, it would be impossible to enjoy them all. Indeed, after a first glance, I realised there are far fewer festive songs than you’d maybe expect. From children’s songs, to rock’n’roll and psychedelic classics, to total, utter dross, the Christmas number 1 offers examples of the mammoth highs and terrible lows of pop music over the last 65 years. And although sadly pop is no longer the cultural force it once was, the Christmas number 1 is still considered important. So much so, they even bring Top of the Pops back especially for it.

So, 69 songs (if a number 1 was a double A-side, I’ve included both), 4 hours and 15 minutes of seasonal chart-toppers, broken down into decisions on the best and worst of each decade, and then one overall winner. With two young children in my house, it would be impossible to take on this task in one sitting. So I decided to do it while working my day job, which today is working on, appropriately enough, the Christmas TV listings for TV Times. I think I already know which song will win out. Let’s see if I’m right…

The 50s

The 50s songs went by in a blur. This could be because I started listening at 7.30 in the morning and didn’t have enough caffeine in me, but it’s also because the charts didn’t start until 1952, and most tracks were pretty concise back then. In fact the first ever Christmas number 1 was the first ever chart-topper – Al Martino’s Here in My Heart. With pop music in its infancy, the yuletide number 1 wasn’t yet an event, and there wasn’t a festive-themed chart-topper until crooner Dickie Valentine’s Christmas Alphabet in 1955, which is a slight but charming enough number. You could perhaps argue Winifred Atwell had kicked things off the year previous, with the piano knees-up Let’s Have Another Party – it contained a snatch of When the Red Red Robin. Harry Belafonte’s Mary’s Boy Child in 1957 was the last explicitly Christmas song to reign until Slade’s Merry Xmas Everybody, 16 years later.

Elvis-mania changed pop forever and rock’n’roll ruled the roost in the late 50s. For me, this is where music started to get interesting, so it’s probably no coincidence that one of my favourites of the 50s was the last – Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ clever and cocky What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For? (1959), later covered by Shakin’ Stevens.

The Best:

Johnnie Ray –Just Walkinin the Rain (1956): One of rock’n’roll’s pioneers, the eccentric, troubled ‘Mr Emotion’ sang this melancholic yet strangely cheery song written by two men languishing in prison. It’s not seasonal in the slightest, it’s just a great song by an influential but under-appreciated talent. One listen and you won’t be able to resist whistling the refrain. I can’t whistle, but this is one of the few times I wished I could.

The Worst:

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Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me (1953): The hardest part of blogging about many of those early number 1s was wading through the sea of near-identical overwrought ballads. The majority of them leave me cold, and despite Frankie being able to hold a note well, this did nothing for me. Hilariously, the BBC banned it at the time due to the then-shocking mention of God in the lyrics, which only increased its sales. The BBC clearly never learnt its lesson, as this wasn’t the last time this happened to a future number 1.

The 60s

Pop music evolved at a mind-blowing rate and came of age during this decade. Obviously the 60s were dominated by the best group of all time, The Beatles, and they also hold the record for most festive number 1s to date, with four in total – I Want to Hold Your Hand (1963), I Feel Fine (1964), Day Tripper/We Can Work it Out (1965) and Hello Goodbye (1967).  Never anything but a pleasure to listen to, John, Paul, George and Ringo played a large part in making this decade’s list pretty darn enjoyable. The classic Moon River, sang by Danny Williams, topped the charts in 1961, and Elvis also got a look-in, with one of his better tracks – Return to Sender, in 1962.

In the latter half of the decade, children’s records grew in popularity, and were obviously going to sell well in December, beginning the trend for novelty Christmas number 1s. The Scaffold’s Lily the Pink (1968) may be irritating but served it’s purpose, and my five-year-old seemed to love it recently. More problematic is Rolf Harris’s Two Little Boys in 1969. Finding out what a pervert Rolf Harris was, under everybody’s radar, for so long was like finding out there’s no such thing as Father Christmas, yet this tune seems somehow still strangely moving, and now sadder than ever, because he’s bloody ruined it for everyone.

The Best:

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The Beatles – Hello Goodbye (1967): It was always going to be a Beatles song. I did struggle between Day Tripper and Hello Goodbye, though. Despite the former’s killer riff, I decided to go with the latter, as I’m a sucker for most psychedelic 60s stuff. Although it’s not the Fab Four’s best example of pyschedelia, I love it’s joyous simplicity, and especially the singalong at the end, which is lie-affirming pop at its best. I also think it would make for a hilarious funeral song.

The Worst:

Cliff Richard and The Shadows – I Love You (1960): Look at that title, it’s as generic as it gets, which at least sets the scene for the song itself. Tepid, basic and very forgettable, it’s no wonder it’s been largely forgotten. Cliff of course became a festive staple in the 80s. Whatever you might think of his later yuletide tunes, you’d find it difficult to argue that they’re not better than this.

The 70s

It was in this decade that the idea of the Christmas Number 1 really became an event, beginning with Slade and Wizzard’s battle for best festive anthem in 1973. An honourable mention for fellow glam rockers Mud’s Elvis tribute Lonely This Christmas (1974) – always had a soft spot for that one. Benny Hill’s children’s song Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West) in 1971 was deceptively filthy – I’ve never realised just how smutty the lyrics were until today (although to be fair I probably haven’t heard it in full since I was about seven).

Several ‘classics’ also hit the top, and having long since grown bored of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1975), I was impressed by it for the first time in years. It’s complexity and sheer oddness really made it stand out during my mammoth listen, and I didn’t mind hearing it again once I reached the songs of the 90s (it was of course reissued following Freddie Mercury’s death in 1991). Wings’ Mull of Kintyre (the biggest single of the decade) seems to be either loved or hated – I just think it’s alright – but who remembers it was actually a double A-side, along with the long-forgotten rocker Girls School (which fared far better in the US) in 1977? Mary’s Boy’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord (1978) saw Boney M cover Belafonte’s 1957 tune, livening it up but increasing the tackiness tenfold.

I find it hilarious and brilliant that Pink Floyd’s dark disco classic Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2) was 1979’s festive bestseller. I don’t know about you, but nothing says Christmas more than a choir of children singing ‘We don’t need no education/We don’t need no thought control’ with an air of menace.

The Best:

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Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): Overfamiliarity hasn’t dimmed my love of Noddy bellowing ‘IT’S CHRRIISSSTTTMMMAAASSS!’, and although I sometimes think I prefer Wizzard’s I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday, it was Slade that won out back then, so it was Slade I heard today, finally bringing some yuletide cheer back into my rundown, and doing it with such wit and a tune that still holds up so well. I think the fact the production doesn’t labour the festive theme, unlike some of the songs yet to come, only adds to its brilliance.

The Worst:

Jimmy Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool (1972): Jesus Christ. That’s the only thing I can say about this that’s remotely festive, but it’s not meant as a compliment. I know the Osmonds were huge back then but I fail to see how anyone ever found this remotely appealing. It’s memorable I guess, but so is a bout of diarrhoea. My ears were genuinely pained when Jimmy hit the high notes, and it seemed to go on forever.

The 80s

I was born in 1979, so it’s this decade that takes me back to Christmas as a child. One of my earliest memories is of clutching my copy of Do They Know It’s Christmas? (1984) in the playground before taking it to a school Christmas disco, aged five. A landmark moment in music, it was of course the start of charity singles gunning for the all-important top spot, and it’s a classic, but it’s controversially not even in my top two 80s number 1s. And the less said about the Stock, Aitken and Waterman-produced Band Aid II version (1989), the better. I wondered why it had been airbrushed from history and I was only 20 seconds in before realising why. It’s total crap.

The quality of the number 1s really jumped about in the 80s, particularly the first half. Special mention must go to The Human League’s electro classic Don’t You Want Me (1981). I really struggled to decide whether this was my 80s favourite, or the one that just pipped it to the post. It may not be seasonal in the slightest, but I’m not purely judging these singles on festive merit, which is why Do They Know It’s Christmas?, the highest-selling festive chart-topper of all time, isn’t the winner.

Warm memories of the reissue of Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite in 1986, originally from 1956, were rekindled. And although it’s terrible, I found myself amused by Renée and Renato’s Save Your Love (1982), because it’s damn funny and it reminded me of the Kenny Everett spoof. Plus I think my mind might have started unravelling by this point. You can certainly argue that Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe and Wine is tacky shit, but nostalgia can really affect critical judgement, so I won’t be agreeing, sorry.

The Best:

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Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind (1987): I feel this may be a controversial choice due to it having nothing to do with Christmas, and the fact it kept Fairytale of New York from number 1, but I picked it because it’s bloody brilliant, and for me, this cover of the Elvis ballad (written by Willie Nelson) gets better with age. Taking a great song, transforming it and improving upon it is no easy task, but Nick Tennant and Chris Lowe did so without any of their usual irony, simply turning it into a disco juggernaut. There’s no wonder it often finds itself in the upper reaches of lists of best cover versions of all time. Joss Ackland didn’t half used to scare me in the video, though.

The Worst:

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St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma (1980): Like Pet Shop Boys, this kept a festive classic off the top, namely Jona Lewie’s excellent Stop the Cavalry. However, unlike Pet Shop Boys, it’s wretched. And did a nation coming to terms with the murder of John Lennon really pick this over reissues of his work? A perfect example of Christmas chart insanity, like Long Haired Lover from Liverpool before it, this grates big time. And yet, I’d still take it over some of the ‘serious’ work that’s yet to come…

The 90s

The Christmas number 1s of the late 80s had marked the turning point, in which the standard began to fall, with occasional exceptions. I knew this before beginning my foolhardy task, but failed to appreciate how painful the job was going to become. Cliff had his third and final appearance to date (he was part of Band Aid II) with the execrable Saviour’s Day (1990) (The pan pipes! Not the pan pipes!), in which he came up with his own, duller version of Christmas. No thanks, Cliff, we’re happy with mistletoe and wine. Queen pared up Freddie Mercury’s farewell, These Are the Days of Our Lives, with a reissue of 1975’s Bohemian Rhapsody (1991), and I was tempted to award the best of the decade to the latter, but in the end it seemed unfair to let it have two chances.

By this point in my youth I was starting to develop my own tastes, and my music snobbery had begun. I hated the seemingly eternal reign of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You back in 1992, and it didn’t do much for me in 2017 either. I did appreciate Houston’s singing more than I used to, though. It’s the production that kills it. Mr Blobby (1993)… this track came up more than any other when I told people what I would be doing, as though this would be the ultimate form of torture. You know what? It wasn’t. I genuinely found myself laughing at it. The people behind it were sick geniuses, throwing every trick in the book to seemingly irritate and infuriate anyone who didn’t watch Noel’s House Party. In fact, after rehearing it, I genuinely wouldn’t be surprised if one day it turned out to be yet another prank by twisted geniuses The KLF. Just as insane in it’s own way was Michael Jackson’s Earth Song in 1995. Fair play to the self-proclaimed ‘King of Pop’ for trying to highlight the damage humans have done to the world, but heavily implying he was some kind of Messiah-like figure while doing so was a bit daft.

Who would have thought that East 17 would be one of the decade’s few Christmas highlights with Stay Another Day (1994)? Then and now I found the Walthamstow gang ridiculous, but I have to hand it to songwriter Tony Mortimer, Stay Another Day is a great song, especially when you know it was written about his brother, who committed suicide. Poor old troubled Brian Harvey sings it well, too. He veers out of tune at times, but that fits perfectly in the context of this song. I admire the chutzpah of tacking on bells at the end, but it’s a shame it was then adopted by seemingly every other boy band aiming for a number 1 on 25 December.

The Best:

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Spice Girls – 2 Become 1 (1996): I have an inkling this may also be a controversial choice, mainly for people who know me. Back in the day I claimed to hate the Spice Girls. I was a huge Britpop fan and I blamed them for ruining pop music by not being ‘for real’. It didn’t occur to me that many guitar-bands were running out of steam, or becoming so experimental, they were never going to maintain their followings. Now I’m nearly 40, I’m less concerned with whether a song is ‘cool’ or not, and grudgingly admit the early Spice Girls singles were great pop songs. You have to make room for love ballads at Christmas, and 2 Become 1 is a great example of one. I’ve even been known to listen to it outside of Christmas. And you have to admire the fact it gets a cheeky reference to wearing a condom in there. Their next two yuletide number 1s, Too Much (1997) and Goodbye (1998), were tosh, though.

The Worst:

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Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (1999): This was the easiest choice to make by far. I hated Westlife for being the final number 1 ‘artists’ of the 20th century. Was this really what the last 50 years of pop had been leading up to?! Time has certainly not changed my mind. I’d forgotten this was coming up so soon, and as the Irish boy band’s tepid cover of ABBA’s I Have a Dream began, I wanted to punch my ears. Only problem is, that would have pushed my earphones further down my now long-suffering hearing vessels, and thus increasing the torture. The next two or three minutes were vacuous, contemptible, cynical pap, but at least it would soon be over. Fuck! It’s a double-A-side! And they’ve had a go at a song about dying! I think Seasons in the Sun is actually even worse! This single only deserves to be the final number 1 of the millennium because it signposts the downward trajectory in quality and worth of the charts in the 21st century to date. But I’d rather listen to There’s No One Quite Like Grandma than ever suffer these two songs again.

The 00s

Before Simon Cowell did irreparable damage to December’s charts with the X Factor, there were a few more years of oddities. At 21, I had no time for Bob the Builder’s Can We Fix It? back in 2000, but coming after Westlife in my marathon listen, it was actually easy on the ears. It’s quite funny to think Neil Morrissey has had a number 1 with a dance anthem. Robbie Williams & Nicole Kidman’s Something Stupid (2001) seemed rather pointless, then and now. Girls Aloud had won Popstars: The Rivals in 2002, and Sound of the Underground still sounds like one of the few reality show songs that wasn’t a power ballad put together by a committee. Perhaps if talent show winners were still releasing songs like this, The X Factor wouldn’t finally be dying a slow death.

Michael Andrew and Gary Jules’s haunting cover of Tears For Fears’ Mad World (from the film Donnie Darko) seemed an appropriate choice after the conflict in Iraq in 2003, but strikes me as simply too downbeat now. Easily the most depressing track in the collection. The 20th anniversary of Do They Know It’s Christmas? brought about yet another version, and while Band Aid 20’s cover is better than Band Aid II, it goes on way too long and sounds too earnest. Speaking of earnest…

The second series of The X Factor in 2005 was where the Christmas charts were first hijacked. The next five years were wall-to-wall Cowell. Manufactured MOR with a revolving door of singers, some who have long since been forgotten about. Alexandra Burke’s Hallelujah (2008) was the only remotely memorable one, and that’s undoubtedly due to me loving Jeff Buckley’s version of the Leonard Cohen classic, which was that year’s runner-up.

The Best:

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Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name (2009): By the close of the 00s, some record buyers had had enough of Cowell’s dominance. Beginning an internet campaign which quickly snowballed, Zack de la Rocha and co’s rap-metal call for revolution from 1992 was the perfect antidote to yet another lightweight pop ballad. After suffering so much tripe beforehand I was on the verge of shouting ‘THANK FUCK’ in the middle of the office. Although it wasn’t the end of X Factor number 1s, Rage Against the Machine had inflicted serious damage to their stranglehold of the charts.

The Worst:

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Leon Jackson – When You Believe (2007): Jackson won the fourth series of the X Factor with this cover of a power ballad sung by Whitney Houston & Mariah Carey for the animation The Prince of Egypt in 1998. Dreary and tedious, it’s a throwback to some of the very first number 1s of the early 1950s and the worst X Factor Christmas number 1. I don’t think Jackson has been seen since – another victim of Cowell’s ruthlessness.

The 10s

Rage Against Machine had given the list a much-needed kick up the arse, but I don’t think it was just the potential lethargy my ears were suffering that caused the remaining tracks to be a tough listen. In addition to further X Factor tracks, charity singles became very popular once more, beginning with Wherever You Are by Military Wives with Gareth Malone in 2011. Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir’s A Bridge over You (2015) was along similar lines, combining Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water and Coldplay’s Fix You. I don’t want to belittle charity singles, but the combination of these and yet more talent show winners made for a very musically uninspiring final few tracks.

Some potential hope for the future came with the last song of all. Rockabye (2016), by Clean Bandit featuring Sean-Paul and Anne-Marie, broke the malaise that had set in and was simply a modern pop song by a young group, just like in the old days.  It didn’t do much for me personally, but pop should primarily be for the young, not a man who’s nearly 40, so fair play to them. Here’s hoping there’s further life in the charts for years to come.

The Best:

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The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother (2012): Adopting the Band Aid approach and featuring an all-star cast of musicians and celebrities, The Justice Collective was assembled by Peter Hooton of The Farm, in order to raise money for various charities associated with the Hillsborough disaster. Covering the classic Hollies track was an inspired choice, and it would be difficult to not be moved by this, whatever your thoughts on charity songs.

The Worst:

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Matt Cardle – When We Collide (2010): Shock, horror – it’s another X Factor song! Matt Cardle won the seventh series and released a cover of rock band Biffy Clyro’s Many of Horror and renamed it, for some reason. That’s the most interesting thing I can say about this leaden waste of time.

The Best UK Christmas Number 1 Ever is…

Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody (1973): I predicted this would win beforehand, but I didn’t predict just how many non-festive songs it would be up against, so Noddy, Dave, Don and Jim almost won by default. That’s not to take anything away from their win though. If it wasn’t for their chart battle with Wizzard, would the Christmas number 1 be the annual event it still is today? Possibly not. Back in 1973, the UK was going through a rough ride, with strikes and power cuts, and Merry Xmas Everybody brought some light back into (literally) dark times. 44 years later, we need this song more than ever.

The Worst UK Christmas Number 1 Ever is…

Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun (1999): I think I made my feelings on this clear earlier, but even thinking about the damage it did to my ears is making me angry all over again. Pop music at it’s very dreariest, and far more offensive than any of the novelty hits I’ve had to suffer. I expected my lowest-rated song to be from the X Factor conveyor belt, but I feel some degree of sympathy towards those artists involved. It’s the man behind them that’s the true villain of chart music.

The Outro

Well, that was quite an experience. Yes, you could argue putting myself through every Christmas number 1, only to ultimately rediscover my love for Slade and hatred for Westlife, was pointless, but, despite my forlorn face above, and lots of moaning within this feature, it’s made for a fascinating experience. Tracing the Christmas number 1s from the inception of the charts has been like following the history of pop itself, which is after all what this site is all about. And no number 1 single better captures the eccentricities of the record-buying public than the Christmas number 1, throwing some real curveballs in there. Of course, listening to a history of pop like this has highlighted how far chart music has fallen over the last few decades. But there is still some hope for the future. And while this four-hour-plus experience has left me somewhat scarred, I’m already wondering if next year I should make my way through every UK Christmas number 2… Maybe I have developed a form of musical Stockholm Syndrome?

Of course, everyone’s entitled to an opinion… why not tell me yours? Feel free to shout me down and leave a comment in the box below the list.

Every UK Christmas Number 1 (1952-2016) 

1952: Al Martino – Here in My Heart
1953: Frankie Laine with Paul Weston & His Orchestra – Answer Me
1954: Winifred Atwell & Her ‘Other’ Piano – Let’s Have Another Party
1955: Dickie Valentine with Johnny Douglas & His Orchestra – Christmas Alphabet
1956: Johnnie Ray – Just Walkin’ in the Rain
1957: Harry Belafonte – Mary’s Boy Child
1958: Conway Twitty: It’s Only Make Believe
1959: Emile Ford and the Checkmates – What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?
1960: Cliff Richard and The Shadows – I Love You
1961: Danny Williams – Moon River
1962: Elvis Presley – Return to Sender
1963: The Beatles – I Want to Hold Your Hand
1964: The Beatles – I Feel Fine
1965: The Beatles – Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out
1966: Tom Jones: Green Green Grass of Home
1967: The Beatles – Hello Goodbye
1968: The Scaffold – Lily the Pink
1969: Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys
1970: Dave Edmunds – I Hear You Knocking
1971: Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in the West)
1972: Donny Osmond – Long Haired Lover from Liverpool
1973: Slade – Merry Xmas Everybody
1974: Mud – Lonely This Christmas
1975: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody
1976: Johnny Mathis – When a Child Is Born (Soleado)
1977: Wings – Mull of Kintyre/Girls School
1978: Boney M – Mary’s Boy Child – Oh My Lord
1979: Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)
1980: St Winifred’s School Choir – There’s No One Quite Like Grandma
1981: The Human League – Don’t You Want Me
1982: Renée and Renato – Save Your Love
1983: The Flying Pickets – Only You
1984: Band Aid – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1985: Shakin’ Stevens – Merry Christmas Everyone
1986: Jackie Wilson – Reet Petite
1987: Pet Shop Boys – Always on My Mind
1988: Cliff Richard – Mistletoe and Wine
1989: Band Aid II – Do They Know It’s Christmas?
1990: Cliff Richard – Saviour’s Day
1991: Queen – Bohemian Rhapsody/These Are the Days of Our Lives
1992: Whitney Houston – I Will Always Love You
1993: Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby
1994: East 17 – Stay Another Day
1995: Michael Jackson – Earth Song
1996: Spice Girls – 2 Become 1
1997: Spice Girls – Too Much
1998: Spice Girls – Goodbye
1999: Westlife – I Have a Dream/Seasons in the Sun
2000: Bob the Builder – Can We Fix It?
2001: Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman – Something Stupid
2002: Girls Aloud – Sound of the Underground
2003: Michael Andrews and Gary Jules – Mad World
2004: Band Aid 20: Do They Know It’s Christmas?
2005: Shayne Ward – That’s My Goal
2006: Leona Lewis – A Moment Like This
2007: Leon Jackson – When You Believe
2008: Alexandra Burke – Hallelujah
2009: Rage Against the Machine – Killing in the Name Of
2010: Matt Cardle – When We Collide
2011: Military Wives with Gareth Malone – Wherever You Are
2012: The Justice Collective – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother
2013: Sam Bailey – Skyscraper
2014: Ben Haenow – Something I Need
2015: Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir – A Bridge Over You
2016: Clean Bandit featuring Sean Paul and Anne-Marie – Rockabye