Prompted by my lovely wife’s somewhat startling revelation that YMCA by the Village People had been the UK number one single on the day that she was born, I was led into doing some research on the UK’s number one singles. Basically, I had a look on Wikipedia.
Unlike my wife, who seems to get younger everyday and according to her highly doctored online presence is actually managing to accomplish this feat, I am a child of the sixties. I grew up with the music of that period, experiencing it once first hand, and then a second and third time as throughout the 1970s every third record played on Radio One was from the 1960s. Every second record was by the Beatles. This is quite literally no exaggeration.
So I felt pretty confident that I would be able to recognise, and to sing, every UK number one single from about 1966 up to 1977. And for the most part, this proved to be the case. Using the Record Retailer charts, I knew every number one from 1966 (so from the age of three, in other words). But, and here’s the thing, in February 1967 there appears Petula Clark at number one singing something called This is My Song. Similarly, in July 1968 we get Des O’Connor at the top of the hit parade with I Pretend. 1969 is back to normal with every number one instantly evocative just by its title alone.
Again, 1970 is reassuringly familiar. Although we do get Smokey Robinson and the Miracles in September at number one with Tears of a Clown, a record that was originally released three years earlier. This is entirely due to Radio One constantly playing oldies. In fact, it turns out that I knew every number one (although I did struggle to remember exactly how Forever and Ever by Slik (February 1976) went) right through to the end of 1979 when I stopped caring.
Looked at as a group, I nominate 1972 as the worst year for number ones, with rubbish like Amazing Grace played on bagpipes, Puppy Love by Donny, David Cassidy with How Can I Be Sure, Gilbert O’Sullivan with Clair, not to mention My Ding-a-Ling and Long Hhaired Lover from Liverpool (two records I hope never to hear ever again). 1976 is also poor with the Wurzels, Demis Roussos, Pussycat and Showaddywaddy hitting the top spot. But it gets forgiven for December 1963 (Oh What a Night), I Love to Love and If You Leave Me Now, three of the most beautiful number ones. Similarly, 1977 gave us silver haired wife beater David Soul (two number ones!), the Manhattan Transfer (ratta atta tatta tatt), Kenny Rogers, and the Brotherhood of Man singing about Angelo. But it also gave us the Jacksons doing Show You the Way to Go, Hot Chocolate with So You Win Again, the Floaters, the mighty Baccara and probably Rod Stewart’s last good record, all at number one.
Anyway, to return to my point. What could possibly have made me forget about Petula Clark and Des O’Connor’s number ones? The obvious answer is that it’s because they are shit. But wait, perhaps there is more to it. I Pretend was Des’ only UK number one. Petula had had a number one previously with something called Sailor (no, me neither) in 1960. Downtown only got to number 2. Remember, this data is taken from the Record Retailer charts. When we look at the NME charts from the same period, we find no mention of Des at number one. But Petula is still there in February 1967, so that shoots that theory down.
Finally, I went to You Tube to check out both of these gassers. Turns out that This is My Song was written by Charlie Chaplin. I presume this is his only number one but have not checked. It also turns out that it was the song that I thought it was, as I could remember the chorus. I just did not associate it with Petula; the version I thought I remembered had a bloke singing.
The Des number is more of a mystery. It is instantly forgettable and I would say that I have never heard it before. In fact, I would say that still despite only having heard it five minutes ago. What happened in July 1968 to put such a piece of crap at number one? Was everybody else on holiday? Here is a link to the rest of the chart rundown for the week when Des conquered all: http://www.officialcharts.com/archive-chart/_/1/1968-07-27/. Any one of these would have made a better number one, including one by Audrey Roberts off Coronation Street and two versions of Here Comes the Judge. So I therefore nominate the week of 27 July 1968 as the worst record buying week in the history of record buying (actually, that should be the week previous given that the chart positions are based on sales).
Still, the charts don’t lie (unless it’s God the Save the Queen during Jubilee week) so I Pretend must be a meaningful record for lots of people. Probably in the same way that Shaddup Your Face is.
Last couple of points. I wonder how many of the top 30 records I can remember for each weekly chart during the ’66 – ’79 period. The Official Charts.com site looks like a good place to find out. And I was surprised to learn that it was Bobby Gentry who had the number one with I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.