Continuing my chronological list of pre-chart Number Ones (for the years they originally were released or hits, not the years they actually peaked after the event). At last a certain band start to appear regularly, better late than never…
YESTERDAY – The Beatles (1 week)
The first Beatles oldie to hit Number One was appropriately this, the most recorded song of the twentieth century. Paul McCartney’s deceptively simple wistful ode to lost love struck a chord with everyone. Everyone except the record company, who didn’t release it as a UK single until 1976. It’s unthinkable these days that a standard, and famous song, wouldn’t be allowed to chart in it’s own right, but the Fabs were so prolific and creative by 1965 that they could give away songs to other acts, stick out at least one album a year, and have hit singles not on the albums. Like many Beatles album tracks, others had the hit versions, but none of the millions of covers of Yesterday have bettered this. It came to Macca in a dream. We should all have dreams like that….!
WE CAN WORK IT OUT/ DAY TRIPPER – The Beatles (1 week)
A twentieth anniversary re-issue took this to the top of my chart, the oldest actual original Beatles single to do it (and their 4th to this point). Yes, Hard Days Night and Help have yet to do it, even though I went to the cinema when the films were new and have great childhood memories: I Feel Fine hasn’t either, even though I loved that record in 1976 when I bought it as an oldie, and nor has Ticket To Ride, a wonderful single complete with all that romping in the snow in the movie Help. Happily, this double A side has: two great tracks for the price of one, the optimistic and melodic Paul We Can Work It Out given an edge by John’s “life can be very short” interjections, and the rockier naughty Day Tripper. It’s about “big” teasers because they couldn’t use the real word on a pop single then. Nowadays it’s obligatory on rap breaks in pop songs.
IT’S NOT UNUSUAL – Tom Jones (1 week)
The song that launched a 50-year career. Tom has drifted in an out of fashion over the decades, and changed styles as is called for to get back in the game: he remains a bit of a singing legend with that manly belter of a voice and a great back catalogue and the old Welsh down-to-earth charm. I can barely recall a time when there wasn’t a Tom Jones releasing records, so much a part of the music scene that he’s been referenced in song himself (The Ballad Of Tom Jones). This catchy song remains his signature theme, and hit the charts all over again in 1987, when it peaked in my charts. Since then, well it’s been in The Simpsons, Friends, Mars Attacks and Edward Scissorhands. Can’t be bad then…! As always, had I been charting back in the day my childhood faves (etc), What’s New Pussycat and Green Green Grass Of Home would be listed as toppers for 1965 and 1966 too…
STOP! IN THE NAME OF LOVE – The Supremes (1 week)
Third Number One from The Supremes, thanks to a reissued and charting 1989 single in the UK. Holland-Dozier-Holland were getting increasingly sophisticated in their songs and production as they went along, and most of the best were American Number Ones, well on their way to a dozen in total cementing their position as the biggest girl group of all-time. Later acts may have sold more albums, or had more hits, but none had the extended run of huge singles (and albums) to that extent, from 1964 through to 1972, and beyond with Diana Ross. This is a great pop single, constructed beautifully, and the melody and lyrics work well together on that perennial theme: heartbreak. What’s not to love!
UNCHAINED MELODY – The Righteous Brothers (1 week)
One of the most famous songs of the last 70 years, a chart-topper in many decades for many acts, but this remains the definitive version by far. Phil Spector was trying to produce male singers at this time and settled on the great vocal talents of Bobby Hatfield (tenor) and Bill Medley (bass) as the showcase. Out of step from his main productions of the time, this was almost a throwback to the 50’s and really a solo Bobby Hatfield record rather than a duo. Regardless, he gives a fabulous performance and was eventually rewarded with a trans-Atlantic chart-topping mega-hit – in 1990! Thanks to “Ghost” and it’s potters wheel scene, of course. I suggest ignoring all of the other million-selling versions and stick with this one, they just sound wishy-washy in comparison. Sorry!
YOU’VE LOST THAT LOVING FEELING – The Righteous Brothers (3 weeks)
Talking of Phil Spector and The Righteous Brothers, and Ghost… The 1990 hit of Unchained Melody led to this being re-issued as a follow-up in 1990, and a hit all over again. Not that it hadn’t already been a hit re-issue, it charted in my charts first in 1969, and 1975, and 1988, and then for the fourth decade in a row in 1990, where it peaked and stayed in my charts for several years. I can’t speak highly enough of the perfection of this single, Phil Spector’s perfect moment, with the greatest vocal duo performance of all-time, bar none. It is sublime, the way it builds, Bill Medley’s building low-tones dominating the song until the absolutely epic grand finale, when Bobby Hatfield chimes in screaming at the top of his range to take it to another level. Probably the most purely angst-ridden emotional record ever made, kudos to regular 60’s Brill Building songwriting team Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, and Spector, of course, despite his attempts in recent years to blacken his legacy. For my part, I liked the record as a child of the 60’s, grew up with it in the 70’s liking it more, realising in the 80’s that it really was a great record, and by the 90’s it was becoming obvious it was one of the greatest records of all-time. I maintain that opinion, and call as first witness it’s status as the most-played record of all-time on American radio (over 8 million plays). Secondly, I nominate it’s perennial appearance in “Best 100” lists over the last 45 years. Case proven m’lud?
MY GIRL – The Temptations (1 week)
90’s movies made quite a few classic oldies big hits, such as the 1991 movie of the same name that took this to number 2 in the UK in 1992, and 1 in my charts (catching up with the USA where it topped in 1965). Smokey Robinson wrote it, David Ruffin sang lead – my favourite Temptations singer, but they were all great – and this charming soul ballad kicked off a long career of soul, dance and funk hit singles for the band, that included greats like Just My Imagination, Papa Was A Rolling Stone, Ball Of Confusion, Can’t Get Next To You, Get Ready and even Supremes duets like I’m Gonna Make You Love Me. Band members went solo (Eddie Kendrick’s Keep On Trucking, David Ruffin’s fab Walk Away From Love) but the hits and quality kept on coming, with sporadic hits over the decades, even though four of the original five have now passed away. Their classic period was written/produced by Norman Whitfield at Motown, I saw them live in the 80’s, and rate them highly – but this is their only chart-topper. Boo!
I GOT YOU BABE – Sonny And Cher (1 week)
Everyone knows this one. They just do. It’s been in movies (most memorably Groundhog Day, which helped push this chartbound in 1993, when it belatedly hit number one in my charts, 28 years later than it would have been guaranteed to top – I loved this as a child). It’s been covered by UB40 and Chrissie Hynde, Cher has become a timeless diva icon of many a classic pop hit, but this remains the most universal megahit. Sonny Bono wrote it, while a hit songwriter, and had a go with his young wife as a duo. Cher’s deep tones, and Sonny’s growling made an effective combination, but back-peddling to the time, they were really the first beatnick/hippy dressers to hit the big-time, and the married-couple image helped make it family-friendly. In the same way that older generations complain about young-people’s habit of tripping themselves up with trousers hanging below the behind, they in turn were complained about for hanging long hair and outlandishly colourful clothes. Short hair and drab was the norm. Sonny & Cher brightened it all up and kicked off a long career as solo stars, and for a few years as duo. Sadly their other 60’s hits are largely forgotten – The Beat Goes On, Alfie, All I Really Want To Do, Laugh At Me, and best of all the wonderful Little Man, which has a great toon and percussion, and needs rediscovering…
EIGHT DAYS A WEEK – The Beatles (1 week)
The first Beatles song to top my chart in the new century (2000), and strictly-speaking is a 1964 album track off Beatles For Sale, but it topped the US charts in 1965, so here it is, the Fabs 5th chart-topper. It’s a fairly good Beatles track of the time, not quite up to the standard of the actual singles from 1964 or 1965, but it’s a fun singalong track that keeps things ticking over until the jump in quality of album tracks coming up in 1965 (that’ll be Help! then…). Why did it chart in 2000? It was the only uncharted track on the Beatles album “1” so it qualified to make my charts. “1”, is of course, the world’s biggest-selling album of the 21st Century. Yes, that’s right. Not Adele. The biggest-selling album is by the greatest act of the 20th century, and who hadn’t existed for 30 years by then…
ALMOST THERE – Andy Williams (1 week)
This is not his most famous hit, but it’s the engaging crooner’s best one. Andy Williams started having hits in the 50’s and by the 60’s was a variety TV staple, his show introduced The Osmonds to the world, and the Cookie Bear to the delight of kids like me. Always likeable and entertaining, Andy also had one of the great crooner voices, almost effortless in effect, but subtle in appeal. Andy was always popular in the UK, though his tracks prior to this one tended to be bigger US hits, from hereon they were much bigger in the UK. Can’t Get Used To Losing You was his first great record, and Moon River his most famous, but Almost There has a gorgeous melody. Sentimental and beautifully constructed, and hit my top spot in 2001.
(I CAN’T GET NO) SATISFACTION – The Rolling Stones (1 week)
The great Beatles vs Stones rivalry is comprehensively weighted in favour of the fabs in my eyes, but Mick n Keef had their great moments too. I liked the early hits, but this was the first thing they did that I loved. That riff. That swagger. That frustration. That toon. It’s a rock classic of course, and signalled the serious start of Jagger/Richards as a songwriting rock force. Bubblerock (aka Jonathan King) did a whimsical version that if nothing else showed the song worked outside of a rock setting, but no version will ever be superior to this recording, it has attitude even today. A number one hit everywhere in 1965, it had to wait until 2001 in my charts, but it got there in the end!
I’M ALIVE – The Hollies (1 week)
The Hollies were very popular in the UK in the 60’s, but are largely unknown to generations not around then, which is a shame as they had a great run of pop singles for 10 years. Lead singers Alan Clarke and Graham Nash (later of Crosby Stills and…) led the Hollies harmonies specialty, and they had a knack for getting hold of good songs. Not writing their own hits for the most part, I suppose, was the main drawback, but they still sound good to me. This was their first really good chart-topper, not an all-time pop classic maybe, but decent enough catchy harmony guitar pop, and nothing wrong with that. Hit my top spot in 2002.
HOMEWARD BOUND – Simon & Garfunkel (2 weeks)
The most popular of American folk-rock acts as the 60’s passed into 1970, it’s not hard to see why: Paul Simon songs, and his harmonies with angelically-voiced Art Garfunkel. They managed to be a source of songs for others, have hit singles yet be essentially an album act, not to mention write the soundtrack to a blockbuster movie, The Graduate. Early great songs like The Sounds Of Silence, America, Mrs Robinson and Hazy Shade Of Winter typified poetic intelligent lyrics mixed with great melody and harmony in a folk-rock setting. Their Greatest Hits collections have charted constantly over 40 years, and that gave the excuse for this gem to peak in 2002. Written of all places on a grim British railway station platform, it’s melancholic sweet sense of longing is beautifully touching.
MAKE IT EASY ON YOURSELF – The Walker Brothers (3 weeks)
Burt Bacharach/Hal David and three non-related American singers who were much bigger in the UK with this and subsequent records. Yes, this is yet another of those Dionne Warwick songs that someone else had the big hit with. Poor Dionne. To be fair, both versions are great, but Scott Walker’s manly vocals give it another dimension. That voice. That string section. That melody. Those heartbreaking break-up lyrics. It’’s just wonderful all round really! This was part of a double-A-sided topper in 2003 – and the other side was even better!
SOME OF YOUR LOVIN’ – Dusty Springfield (3 weeks)
Dusty really set the bar high with this cover of a Carole King ballad. The greatest 60‘s female melody-maker sung by the greatest British female singer. Dusty had started the ball rolling with great album tracks and singles such as Wishin’ And Hoping in the period since her previous Number One, and was very much a staple of British TV by this time, albeit making the hits in the States too. Her gift was interpretation of songs, she had a passion for music that came out in the way she painstakingly constructed the vocals, and her voice is to me unbeatable: soulful, honey-covered and emotional. This gentle, passionate version of the song is the definitive and it’s one to bring tears to the eyes it’s such a perfect and affecting recording. Really!
YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAY – The Beatles (2 weeks)
Never an official single, this “Help!” movie and album track is the Fabs 6th chart-topper in age-terms (but like the next two were 21st Century Number Ones in my charts). It’s a great John Lennon angst-ballad, all confused emotions, and has been said to be a reference to the gay private life of manager-friend Brian Epstein at a time when it wasn’t socially acceptable. Whatever, it’s an example of John’s tender ballad side (Paul is usually accused of creating those, and not given credit for the edgier tracks which John is expected to have been behind). As for me, I saw “Help!” at the cinema when I was 7 going on 8, and I loved it, and I loved the songs in it – such as this one and its great melody and sad sentiment. In 1976 I was re-acquainted with many earlier classic Beatles singles and album tracks when I got the Beatles 1962-66 Red album for Christmas. Just. Brilliant.
I NEED YOU – The Beatles (1 week)
If there was ever both a simultaneously lucky and unlucky songwriter/pop star it’s George Harrison. On the one hand he had the good fortune to learn the craft of songwriting by watching and working with two now-legends in Paul McCartney and John Lennon – and on the other hand, how could anyone compete with them, 2 together in one band?! The chances that a 3rd great songwriter would emerge from the same band must be fairly small….! It happened, though. This is the first indication that George had an ear for a tune, and again from “Help!”. Obviously not rated as one of the great Beatles tracks, but it’s engaging and catchy and I like it!
NORWEGIAN WOOD (THIS BIRD HAS FLOWN) – The Beatles (1 week)
In these music industry days where albums are milked for tracks over a period of years, it’s unthinkable that someone could be so prolific that Singles (and B sides) weren’t necessarily on albums, and that tracks so obviously potential singles were left on albums. It’s even more unthinkable that they would release not one album a year but two (AND do a movie!). “Rubber Soul” is a classic album and it was released bare months after “Help!” and yet it showed a massive leap in sophistication of song, sound and quality. New instruments were being used in pop music by the group, and pop grew along with the Beatles. The times they were-a-changing. This is a marvellous ballad, one of many on the album, such as the UK chart-topper (In an inferior cover version which I nonetheless loved in 1965) Michelle, or gorgeous Girl, the engaging You Won’t See Me, and the sombre In My Life. The Beatles as a creative as well as a commercial phenomenon were well under way…