Me in the back garden of RAF Valley married quarters, in between reading Enid Blyton books, watching The Monkees, Dr Who and Batman, singing along to pop songs with the weekly lyrics printed in Weekend magazine, or buying stamps for my new collection. Cool – is not I was.
BERNADETTE – The Four Tops (1 week)
The first chart-topper for the great Four Tops isn’t Reach Out I’ll Be There, which peaked at 2 so far, it’s this Holland-Dozier-Holland soundalike follow-up. I’d been aware of the original but it never registered, whereas this was a follow-up to a 1971 chart-topper for the lads, in Motown re-issued form which re-charted in the UK. Levi Stubbs has one of the most passionate vocals in pop, and in this song he’s practically desperate with angst and histrionic emoting, beggin’ for Bernadette. My grandma gave me 50p when she visited us from Liverpool (RAF Swinderby, spring 1972) and I spent it on this oldie, my first ever back-catalogue purchase. I still prefer it to Reach Out, cos, to me, this is the definitive sound of Reach Out and that one is the facsimile follow-up. Hey ho, it’s still awesome. The Tops, by 1967, already had a string of great singles such as Baby I Need Your Loving and I Can’t Help Myself, and more was to come. My single though, didn’t last very long. It was on the front of the singles record rack and got melted by a too-close electric fire a few months later. Any needle trying to stay in the grooves failed miserably and quickly got thrown into the air. Heart-broken!
HI HO SILVER LINING – The Jeff Beck Group (1 week)
Another 1972 reissued 1967 chart-topper, and a party classic. Jeff spent years trying to live this track down, being a serious guitar-hero and rocker and all, but as far as happy stomping singalongs go this one is joyous. It’s not so much in vogue anymore, sadly, but it was once upon a time as obligatory as a YMCA, say, is these days. As far as Jeff Beck goes, it was to be 40 years before he got another decent-sized hit in my charts! (A lovely cover of Lilac Wine with Imelda May on vocals) though he’d also charted big with Donovan (Barabajagal) in 1969 and Rod Stewart (I’ve Been Drinking) in 1972. The co-songwriter Scott English popped up again in 1971 with his own hit, Brandy, and almost topped my chart. A bland cover version of it came along in 1975, Brandy changed to Mandy – yes Barry Manilow! I’ll stick with the original. Producer of Hi Ho, Mickie Most, had already achieved immortality with The Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun, and topped my charts with hits from Herman’s Hermits and Donovan with more to come…
I’M A BELIEVER – The Monkees (4 weeks)
Third chart-topper for the Monkees (though first in 1974, chronologically, as I bought hits compilations and got seriously back into them), this Neil Diamond song was a world chart-topper and deservedly. It’s pop perfection, headed by Micky’s under-rated vocals, he was a great singer. The session-musicians were still in force at this time, and they do a cracking job, beautifully polished, frantic and instrumentally hook-filled. Neil Diamond’s original was good and it announced his arrival as a great songwriter, but this version is the definitive, despite inetersting covers overt the years, from such as Robert Wyatt and EMF and Reeves & Mortimer, or it’s use in movies such as Shrek as a singalong cover version by Smashmouth. Producer Jeff Berry had more polished pop ahead, and I’m A Believer topped my charts again in 1980 for 3 weeks, to total 4 on top.
THE SINGLE GIRL – Sandy Posey (1 week)
This became a fave of mine in Singapore in 1970, when my dad bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder (and which I purloined within a year or so). It was second-hand and came with a used 4-track tape. This song was already on the tape, and it’s gentle tuneful charm hooked into my brain and has stayed there since. Not what you call a pop classic, really, but it’s still sounds pretty, and was good enough to re-chart in the UK in 1975, at which point I finally bought it and topped my chart with it. Sandy Posey never really followed it up sadly, even with two bites of chart-action. By 1975 women lyrically were being a bit more demanding, as opposed to appearing to be mistrusting wallflowers in waiting, so maybe that’s why, but it’s a great melody and Sandy does a good country-flavoured job.
PENNY LANE/STRAWBERRY FIELDS FOREVER – The Beatles (4 weeks)
Famously the classic Beatles single held off the top of the UK charts by Engelbert Humperdinck, their first failure to top in 4 years, it would have been a guaranteed Number 1 in John charts in 1967, as we’d just moved from Liverpool, where the Fabs were iconic, to RAF Valley and I was mad on Penny Lane, and it’s glorious Macca melody. Paul’s commercial nostalgic ode to hometown Liverpool was matched by John’s more avante-grade and experimental Liverpudlian acid trip, Strawberry Fields. The difference in the media exposure of the 2 was marked in 1967 – I didn’t get to hear Strawberry Fields till later when I bought the Blue double album, as perfect an album as you’re likely to hear (xmas 1975, shortly followed by the 1976 Beatles reissued singles campaign, when this was topped my charts as it made the UK Top 40 again, and it topped again in 1987 for the same reason. The Beatles were officially no longer just pop stars, they were Artists with a capital A, and Sgt Pepper was about to drop…
HELLO GOODBYE – The Beatles (4 weeks)
The Beatles ended 1967 on top of the Uk charts, and also number 2 with Magical Mystery Tour, and I was mad on yet another Paul track, this catchy kickin’ pop melody showed old Paulie was knocking out the classics at a manic pace. By now the Beatles well into doing promos, or videos as they are known these days. The fab video to this one is taken from the odd TV special Magical Mystery Tour, with Sgt Pepper colourful Summer Of Love costumes on full display. What’s not to love?! Also a 1976 chart-topper, and 1987, for the singles re-issue campaigns, and again Hello Goodbye would have a few extra weeks on top in1967/68 but it just pre-dated my charts starting up, sadly.
ALL YOU NEED IS LOVE – The Beatles (2 weeks)
The other Beatles world chart-topper was this hippie anthem. John spread the word in his music, and the word was love, and this singalong love and peace anthem was debuted on the first international live TV broadcast, with a cast of celebrity back-up singers. It was such a big tune, that it almost seemed to be a folk song from the past in just a few years, probably helped by the snatch of The Marseilleuse at the start. It’s a great record, a great philosophy, and as a 9-year-old I loved it, and still do. It also let John show that Paul wasn’t the only one who could knock-off a brilliant commercial melody when he felt like it. Topped in 1976 and 1987. This track IS the Summer Of Love track, the other biggies were merely great supporting players.
BEHIND A PAINTED SMILE – The Isley Brothers (1 week)
This 1967 Motown classic didn’t chart until 1969 in the UK, and it duly featured in my charts as it was great. By 1976, The Beatles weren’t The only ones doing a mass singles re-issue campaign – Motown were also doing box sets, but they went one better by making them Twofers. Two hits for the price of one, that is. This was on the other side of This Old Heart Of Mine, and I bought the single and realised just how epic this track is. One of the most histrionic, manic Motown gems, and perfect records they created. Passionate vocals from Ronald Isley, a brilliant drum section that never lets up, and the pace is way up the bpm’s. The song and lyric are the heart of it though, and what a heart-breaker it is. Spine-tinglingly awesome. The amazing thing is the Isleys went all credible soul in 1969, and had a long career with great records like That Lady, Harvest For The World, Summer Breeze and others, but none have yet topped the chart, even though they deserved to. Booo!
SOMETHING STUPID – Frank & Nancy Sinatra (1 week)
I bought this single off Gloucester indoor market’s record stall in 1974, but I’d loved it since I was a kid. Frank Sinatra was never a particular fave of mine, but Nancy was something else entirely since her Boots had walked all over me age 8. When this came out I was enjoying a rural childhood at RAF Valley on the Isle Of Anglesey, and it might be MOR, but it’s deliciously memorable with father and daughter singing sweetly together. It’s also very odd, given that the lyrics are very obviously romantic lyrics! It works though, and is much better than the Robbie Williams and Nicole Kidman version. It topped my oldies chart in early 1977 as part of the same EP that gave Nancy her first Number One for 1966. It’s still the best thing Frank Sinatra ever did, by the way. Sorry Frank fans, just never was a fan…
LOVE ON A MOUNTAIN TOP – Robert Knight (1 week)
This was already an oldie when it finally became a hit late in 1973, thanks to the Northern Soul scene based around Wigan and beyond. For a few weeks it was even cool with the lads at school, till they quickly got bored with it. I never did get bored with it, though, and the fab romping melody took this 1967 B Side all the way to the top when it formed part of a CBS twofer reissue campaign in 1977. Top of my oldies chart that is, as there were so many oldies released each week (many that I bought) I had to separate new from old or I would have needed to increase my chart to 75 – ironically just as the BBC did the following year (and me) anyway. Robert Knight was an under-rated sweet soul star for a (very) short time before obscurity beckoned.
EVERLASTING LOVE – Robert Knight (1 week)
Talking of Robert Knight…here’s the other-side of the single also topping my oldies chart 3 years on from it’s original 1974 chart-run (and reissued from it’s original UK 1968 chart entry). Much-covered, not least by the fabulous (and yet-to-chart) Love Affair UK Number One version from 1968, the song is just a great song, another one of those songs that can happily fit any any music-genre and still sound good. The Love Affair version, is essentially, though a copy-cat, better-produced version of this original, so it’s kind of unfair that Robert Knight has been forgotten by pop history, as this is a good record. I’m not convinced it’s the definitive version, mind you, but being first with something special counts for much in my book and he’s the one with the chart-topper.
DEDICATED TO THE ONE I LOVE – The Mamas & The Papas (2 weeks)
The fourth Number One for the band was a 50’s pop cover, but oh my word what a cover! The harmonies and melody on this is sublime. This was an actual “I was MAD on this record” moment when we lived at RAF Valley, age 9. The softly-sung verse girl lines followed by the boys loud answering lines, and the combined powerful male-female chorus lift this up, and pretty much started my love affair with Mama Cass and the band. It had that Summer Of Love feelgood vibe going on, and I rediscovered it again on tape in 1970, before buying it on a hits album in 1974, and the Number One re-issue in 1977 in my oldies charts that I ran for a year or so. I decided to include them them as “official” charts alongside the current 1977 charts, as there were 40 or 50 tracks competing as re-issues, so it was a proper chart as such, but mostly because I couldn’t bear the thought of this record not getting an official chart-topper. This was the final topper for The Mamas And The Papas but not the last for Mama Cass and not the last for John Phillips songs.
SAN FRANSISCO (BE SURE TO WEAR SOME FLOWERS IN YOUR HAIR) – Scott McKenzie (1 week)
Talking of John Phillips songs – here’s the one he gave away to his mate Scott. Bit of a massive misjudgment there! This is the Summer Of Love anthem above all anthems, pure 1967, flower power, hippie peace and love, a youth movement to set the world to rights. At least in theory. People had other ideas, of course, about that notion. Scott McKenzie is virtually a one-hit wonder thanks to this gorgeous pop ballad. Scott’s a great singer, but really you can tell this is a Mamas & Papas record, and it could easily have been Number One number 5 and boosted their back catalogue some more had they recorded it. Hey ho, it’s still a classic and topped my chart appropriately right after the creative brains behind it, in 1977. I’d already bought it by then, circa 1974 on a previous reissue. My mum loves this too, takes her back to that summer of love…on a welsh island! John Phillips, meanwhile, outside the band had one more great solo track in him, a 1970 minor hit called Mississippi, a bit of swamprock whimsy.
LET’S GO TO SAN FRANSISCO – The Flowerpot Men (1 week)
Talking of Summer Of Love pop anthems about San Fransisco…here’s the other one. OK, it’s bandwagon jumping-time, as The Flowerpot Men were studio musicians from the UK created and written by former fab harmony pop band members The Ivy League (John Carter and Ken Lewis) and S.F. was probably more of an aspiration than an actuality, but that’s an injustice to the record which is just as good in it’s own way. Great production, great tune, great harmonies, great singer – more on Tony Burrows at a later date – but there is an actual follow-up to this record, it just didn’t chart until 1974, and the band name had changed to First Class, and they were using nostalgia for 1967 and the sixties as the basis for an even better record. This also had a ten-year anniversary chart-topper run – yes in 1977, the year of punk, I was getting all retro and hippie. 19 was just about too old to be a punk, so student hippie was the way forward for me. Happy to buy both though. The name, by the way, had more to do with flower power and pot, than the children’s Watch With Mother TV show – though they both referred to weed……