How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Sunday, January 30, 2005

Let The Heartaches Begin

As I begin to write, I am just a couple of minutes from discovering the identity of 1002nd Number One. Actually I already know what it’s going to be. It’s Elvis again. This week it’s the turn of It’s Now Or Never, which was also the 109th Number One back in 1960.

I was a little disappointed to discover last week that A Fool Such As I had failed to increase Elvis’s record as the most prolific Number One artist (currently standing at 21 Number One records, if you count JXL’s remix of A Little Less Conversation), as it turns out that of the 40 chart-toppers I have gathered so far, A Fool Such As I is the earliest – the 85th Number One in 1959.

So far I’ve avoided any hard work. These 40 are the ones I’ve tracked down in my current iTunes library, which means anything I’ve got on a CD album. It’s brought up some interesting questions.

The most recent of the 40 is Dry Your Eyes by The Streets, Number One just a few months ago (I’ve only just remembered about that one, so it’s a bit of a bonus). The problem is, I’ve got it on the album, A Grand Don’t Come For Free. I think, in this case, that it’s the same as the single version, so I’m on safe ground. However there are others I’m not so confident about.

Take Heart by the Pet Shop Boys. I know for a fact that the version I have, from the Actually album, is not the same as the one released as a single in 1988. I know this because within arm’s reach I have a copy of the single version, and it’s quite clearly a different mix. Frustratingly, it’s on a CD-R which I happen to have because I’m producing a cover version of it*. So, technically speaking, it’s not mine, and I can’t count it.

I also have a problem with double A-sides. A Fool Such As I was a double A with I Need Your Love Tonight – which I don’t have. So really that’s only half a Number One I’ve got there. There might be a similar problem with the four EPs that made it to the top**.

So I am forced to concede that the only way to do this properly is to collect all of the Number Ones in their original form – as 7” singles if possible, but it’ll have to be 78s for some of the older ones and CD singles for the most recent. And of course, they’re no good without a picture sleeve (assuming they had one in the first place).

This is clearly an even more gargantuan task than that I had first imagined, but I am going to cope with this by using a two-stage approach. Let’s see if I can get all 1000 in some form or other, and I’ll worry about getting the originals afterwards.

I’ve got an awful feeling that this could become a lifetime’s effort.

* Since I am sure he will appreciate the plug, I will tell you that I am doing this for the singer Alan Connor, and that you can visit his website at

** I have mentioned this to a few people over the last couple of days, noting by way of example the Beatles 'Magical Mystery Tour EP'. I have now discovered that 'Magical Mystery Tour' was one of the few Beatles releases to stall at Number Two. I apologise for this error, and will attempt to redeem myself by telling you that on this occasion the Beatles were beaten by themselves. I'm not going to tell you which record it was though, as I've been told I should always leave my audience wanting more.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


I have a new mission. Or at least a new hobby.

This week Elvis Presley’s re-released single One Night became the 1000th UK Number One Single, a little over 52 years after Here In My Heart by Al Martino made history as the first. They and 998 others plot the history of popular music in Britain since 1952*. I’m going to get them all.

It’s not going to be easy. 1000 singles is a lot of music. Guessing at an average of 3½ minutes per single, it would take over 58 hours just to listen to them all. And some of these records are 50 years old. If you’ve ever tried to complete a World Cup sticker album, you’ll understand why I’m already wondering if I’ll ever find Whole Lotta Woman by Marvin Rainwater, Number One from three weeks in 1958.

If I manage to average 20 each week (which sounds optimistic to me at this stage), it will still take me almost a year. Of course I have a head start – when I’ve trawled through my CDs and vinyl, I estimate I’ll have about 200. A quick glance at 1980 tells me I already own 6 of that year’s 24 chart-toppers (sadly not including Kelly Marie’s Feels Like I’m In Love).

Of course there’s more to it than just finding the records. My sense of order and pride demands that the finished product is a complete, chronologically-ordered iTunes playlist entitled ‘Number Ones’. I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this, you know what iTunes is. It will be a friend and companion on this journey. What better way to assemble such a collection?

Then there’s the iTunes Music Store. How many of those Number One singles are just a couple of clicks and 79p away? Only time will tell, but a swift piece of initial research tells me that they don’t have The Masses Against The Classes by Manic Street Preachers (Number One five years ago), Cotton Eye Joe by Rednex (ten years ago), or any Beatles tracks. Oh, and it seems they haven’t yet secured exclusive online disribution rights for Whole Lotta Woman by Marvin Rainwater.

That’s not a route I want to take anyway. Even if I could find everything I needed, I’d rather have a physical object I can hold in my hand, if that's possible. And anyway, 1000 × 79p = £790.00, which is way too much for my liking. I need to do this on the cheap. I’m going to resist the temptation of illegal free downloads and file-sharing though. It just wouldn’t feel right. It would be cheating. Plus I don’t really want to fill my computer with viruses and spyware just so I can get sued by the BPI.

No, I’m going strictly legit. I’m not even going to borrow anything. Only Number One singles that I genuinely and inarguably own are going to count. Otherwise, what sort of collection would it be?

Wish me luck. I’ll let you know how it goes.

* On the other hand it could be argued that there have only been 996 Number Ones, since four have hit the top spot twice, including One Night. The other three are, of course… I’m not going to tell you, you’ll have to guess.