It’s been a long time since I last plugged Tom Ewing’s splendid Popular blog, over at Freaky Trigger. The premise is a simple one…
The UK’s 1000+ Number One Hits since 1952, reviewed, in order, irregularly, for as long as I can bear to keep doing it. A history of pop in the shape of a chart.
…and now that the story has reached 1973/74, I have re-joined the fray in the comments box.
Here’s a Lazy Ass Sunday Afternoon Cheap Content Cut And Paste Job, containing selected excerpts from the many comments that I’ve made on the site during the past couple of months.
SLADE – “Skweeze Me Pleeze Me”
This is precisely the point at which Slade could have slid into reductionist self-parody, a trap which they sidestepped in the nick of time with My Friend Stan, but Skweeze Me Pleeze Me j-u-s-t gets away with repeating the wilfully dumb Mama/Noize stompalong formula for one last time, cheerfully giving us exactly what we wanted.
But there was always more to Slade than wilfully dumb stompalongs, as the singles leading up to, and away from, the central Mama/Jane/Noize/Skweeze run demonstrate, and I for one prefer the earlier and the later (Old New Borrowed Blue/Slade In Flame) material.
Speaking personally, Skweeze Me ruled a line in my own 11-year old life, being the last Number One before my parents announced their divorce – a bolt from the blue, which took immediate effect, and ensured that, like Slade, I could never be quite so all-embracingly dumb (”When a girl’s meaning yes she says no”, well REALLY!) and daft and uncomplicatedly gleeful again…
GARY GLITTER – “I’m The Leader Of The Gang (I Am)”
Its appeal (or otherwise) is wholly centred around the personality of Mr. Glitter, and its only function is as a vehicle for that personality. If you bought into GG (as I most assuredly did at the time, aged 11), then you’d have bought into “Leader”.
When GG morphed into an overtly self-parodying pantomime act/Queen Mum style “national treasure” (early 1980s – late 1990s), so did “Leader” morph from flashy pop thrill to corny old showtune. And since his disgrace, all its remaining stock value has been wiped clean.
If Michael Jackson had been found guilty, then I reckon we’d still be enjoying “Billie Jean” with clear consciences – because its greatness transcends its creator, whereas “Leader” is shackled to it.
DONNY OSMOND – Young Love
“Young Love” is my favourite solo Donny hit. The pre-pubsecent songs were too strained and pleading for me, whereas Donny seems a lot more relaxed and at ease here, stretching back and enjoying the peak of his success. The clippety-cloppity Windy-Miller-style “ambling gait” is also a key factor.
Key memory: at the presenter’s suggestion, turning down the brightness control during the video clip on Top Of The Pops, so that only the waggling teeth remained.
WIZZARD – “Angel Fingers”
Yet to become a serious vinyl collector – that was still a few months way – “Angel Fingers” was a rare purchase, and sounded wonderful when played on the Bush mono gramophone with the smoked-effect perspex hood that my father bought me to cheer me up when my mother walked out on us to marry his best friend.
In the midst of such a desperately miserable year, the surging day-glo joyfulness of glam-pop was exactly what was needed to take me out of myself, and “Angel Fingers” took me further than any other single from that year. I played it incessantly and obsessively, luxuriating in its maximalist thrill, dancing with myself in the sanctuary of my room. (I had routines, and a video in my head.)
Sonically, it’s a fuller, tighter, more intricately worked upgrade on “See My Baby Jive”, with a scintillating pizzicato break and glorious french horns. Wood’s continuing Spector obsession eventually led me back to the original productions, but this was a case of the pastiche surpassing its source.
THE SIMON PARK ORCHESTRA – “Eye Level”
Matt Monro’s vocal version sticks in my memory for marking the only occasion, ever ever EVER, when my mother was moved to comment favourably on anything even vaguely resembling pop music. I remember her excitedly dashing from her kitchen into the sitting room of her new house, during one of our early visits, wiping her hands on a tea-towel as the song played on the radio, and exclaiming, with a rare glimpse of shining-eyed fervour, “I LOVE this song.”
DAVID CASSIDY – “Daydreamer”/”The Puppy Song”
Ah, Stewpot and Junior Choice – which was exhumed for an hour on Radio 2 yesterday morning (MOR-NINNG!) as part of the station’s 40th anniversary celebrations, and which I listened to with decidely mixed emotions (Stewpot himself failing to mask the essential bitter grumpiness of the Yesterday’s Man, which seems to be shared by so many former national radio DJs, but why did Two Little Boys reduce me to tears at the breakfast table?)
Looking back, they must have relied on a fairly tight central playlist, year in year out, as all of the songs I predicted got a least a partial airing: Sparky’s Magic Piano, Hello Muddah Hello Faddah, My Bruvver, Right Said Fred, The Ugly Bug Ball etc. And they must have hammered The Puppy Song at the time, hence allowing Dreamy David to hoover up the weeny-bopper market as well as the usual staring-vacantly-into-the-misty-middle-distance early-to-mid teens.
Dreamy David’s 2005 performance at the Nottingham Arena, where he headlined over David Essex, The Osmonds (sans Donny, avec Jimmy) and Les McKeown’s latest pick-up band, ranks as the most grotesquely creepy and disturbing performance I have ever witnessed. Literally hundreds of people walked out early, any lingering teenage dreams cruelly shattered (as an impromptu vox pop outside the venue confirmed).
SLADE – “Merry Xmas Everybody”
On a personal level, Christmas 1973 was our first since my parents’ divorce, and hence touched by an invisible sadness that no-one spoke about and everyone danced around, gamely trying to resuscitate the magic. (Plying my sister and myself with gifts being one of the key strategies; it was at about this point that the vinyl habit kicked off in earnest.) And so there was something immensely reassuring about “Merry Xmas Everybody”, which depicted the sort of fondly idealised holiday season which we dearly wanted to cling to – but with enough wry realism and unspun warmth for the exercise to ring true.
(Even if I couldn’t listen to the jokey line about Daddy catching Mummy kissing Santa Claus without briefly freezing in embarrassment. Most lyrics in most songs about infidelity, abdandonment or lost love in general had that effect on me.)
MUD – “Tiger Feet”
Well, this was first and foremost a party record – and in my case, I had a party to go with it. Having been featured on TOTP a couple of weeks ahead of its release date (hence the unusually high entry position, and a brief foretaste of marketing strategies to come), “Tiger Feet” was at Number One over the weekend of my 12th birthday, for which a DISCO!!! was held at home for all my and my sister’s friends and classmates. The good-looking trendy smoothie dude in the village acted as the DJ and brought over a twin turntable – my first exposure to such a wonderous device – and the nice lady from two doors down nipped out on the morning of the party and, to my rapturous delight, brought back a copy of “Tiger Feet” from the nearest record store (”Well, you can’t have a party without having the Number One, can you?”) All hyped up on Cresta, Coke and crisps, we all duly went happy-hardcore bonkers to it (along with “Dance With The Devil” and the comparatively sedate “My Coo Ca Choo” and “Roll Away The Stone”, as well as our next Number One – but, alas, no “Teenage Rampage”), the party climaxing with trendy smoothie dude playing it three times in a row. Dancefloor epiphany or wot!
SUZI QUATRO – “Devil Gate Drive”
The first half of 1974 marked my brief heterosexual phase, but my particular Dream Gal was foxy, busty, corseted and suspendered Dana Gillespie. Suzi Q was more like one of the lads to me, but the androgyny didn’t push any buttons – clearly I liked my women to be women (*embarrassed cough*).
I prefer “Devil Gate Drive” over “Can The Can”, which left me cold at the time. This one’s warmer, poppier, more of a party record. I do love the way she’s progressively coaxing and urging and commanding, and the way the track ends in a groaning sweaty call-and-response climactic mess (”Come ALIVE! Come ALIVE! Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! WOOOO-urrgh!”)
With this, “Tiger Feet” and “Teenage Rampage” all in the Top 10 at the same time, this has to mark the zenith of Chinnichap, followed by a fairly swift decline (but let’s not forget Arrows’ “A Touch Too Much” a few months later, whose rampant sexiness must have been instrumental in steering me away from the bosomy charms of La Gillespie, and back onto my true path).
Filial pride also commands me to mention that my sister won a local “Stars In Their Eyes” competition last Christmas, performing this very song.
And finally, in the Misheard Lyrics department, I initially thought that Suzi Q was singing “down in Dimbleby, down in Dimbleby, down in Dimbleby Drive”. That’s Medium Wave for you…