How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Sunday, February 27, 2005

Son Of My Father

A few years back my Dad decided he’d had enough of vinyl, and invested in a sleek and modern stereo system, which, as usual with such systems these days, was purely digital and did not include anything as quaint as a turntable. He therefore spent several months recording his LPs onto MiniDisc, with the eventual aim of banishing the vinyl to a distant corner where it wouldn’t get in the way, and wouldn’t be destroyed by over-enthusiastic grandchildren.

When he’d finished (with impressive speed, considering the number of records) I took the opportunity to raid the collection myself and so acquired a large box of selected highlights from his thirty years of vinyl buying. I have kept these separated from my own collection, just in case he ever comes to his senses and demands their return.

All of this has now proved rather useful. For the time being I have passed over Elvis and the Beatles on the grounds that it got a bit complicated, but even without these chart behemoths the box has contributed 14 Number Ones.

My Dad’s big thing is 60s pop and rock, so in the main that’s what we’ve got here. In fact only one of these tracks (Come On Eileen by Dexy’s Midnight Runners, the 506th Number One from 1982) was recorded later than 1971. I now have the complete set of Rolling Stones Number Ones*, as well as the only Number Ones by The Byrds (Mr Tambourine Man), The Animals (House Of The Rising Sun – an especially fine record) and The Monkees (I’m A Believer).

There’s also Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, a classic One Hit Wonder from 1968. This song (and, in fact, Arthur Brown’s whole stage performance) was inspired by the purchase of a helmet/mask combination which had been rigged up to shoot jets of fire out of various orifices. This should give you a pretty good idea of just how crazy Arthur’s world was, and arguably makes this the first novelty record in the collection.

I now have the first of the four versions of Unchained Melody I will need to acquire. This is the most famous (and in my opinion the best) version, by The Righteous Brothers**, which didn’t make Number One until 1990, after its appearance in the film ‘Ghost’ ensured the song would forever be associated with pottery.

Of this latest batch, my favourite record would have to be Rod Stewart’s Maggie May, the 305th Number One from 1971. I don’t normally like Rod (in fact some of his later stuff is unbearable), but this particular record is wonderful enough to allow me to forgive him for Sailing and Da Ya Think I’m Sexy, which I will unfortunately have to own at some point in the future.

My total now stands at 91, so I am looking forward to passing the magic 100 mark over the next week. And my Dad still has a whole load of old records up in the loft.

* 8 in total, and I bet you can’t name them all.

** And the other three? You’ve got two questions for the price of one this week, you lucky people.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Little Things Mean A Lot

Following my failure to update you on my progress last weekend, you probably imagined I had been too busy scouring second-hand record shops and car boot sales to fit you in. Sadly this was not the case, and while I spent a relaxing and enjoyable weekend visiting family, I made little headway in my single-collecting mission.

I did, however, do a small favour for my brother-in-law* which resulted in my acquiring a copy of She’s The One by Robbie Williams, which became the 841st Number One in November 1999. Unfortunately I do not yet own It’s Only Us, the flipside of this double A, but this small piece of accidental progress has lifted my spirits and given a small boost to my flagging optimism.

I received a similar boost when I realised this week that, in the initial examination of my iTunes library, I had skipped over several Number Ones in error (forgetting, for example, that Eleanor Rigby and Yellow Submarine were both included on the Beatles’ Revolver album). I hope there will be similar discoveries in the future.

This all made up somewhat for the disappointment of finding only ten Number Ones in my box of 12” singles and albums, which I investigated this week. Five of these were by the Rolling Stones, thanks to the Hot Rocks compilation album. Another was Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through The Grapevine, the 269th Number One, which I have been known to nominate as my favourite single of all time. I am less convinced by the only version I appear to have, a pointlessly extended 12” version which was released in the 80s after the track appeared in a Levi’s ad**.

Also in this latest batch I have the 641st Number One, Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U. For me this record demonstrates what a classic Number One is all about. It’s the only chart-topper by an artist who’s been around for years without making much impact on the singles chart, but who managed to catch the public’s imagination with one particular single which held the Number One spot for 4 weeks. And, of course, it’s an astonishing and brilliant record.

It’s gems like this which make the title of UK Number One Single what it is – an elusive pinnacle that marks a place in music history, and ranks a record alongside this and many other true classic singles, in between the novelty hits and lowest-common-denominator rubbish. That’s why having a Number One is an ambition for so many musicians, and I suppose it’s why I got myself into this ridiculous quest in the first place.

Thanks, Sinead.

* I won’t bore you with the details, but I will tell you that it involves a stolen car and leave you to imagine your own fanciful scenario, which will undoubtedly be much more interesting than the truth.

** Although this wasn’t one of them, by my reckoning there have been four Number Ones which have hit the top as a direct result of appearing in a Levi TV commercial. As you’ve probably guessed, I’m not going to tell you what they are.

Sunday, February 06, 2005


This week I’ve been digging around in my singles collection to see what that would turn up. The large box of CD singles proved to be something of a disappointment, yielding only 6 chart-toppers.

One of these was Brimful of Asha by Cornershop, which I already had from the album. I now had a difficult decision to make. Should I stick with the album version, or replace it with the Norman Cook remix? The remix was almost entirely responsible for the success of the record, being the version that was played (constantly) on the radio. It effectively became the A-side, though strictly speaking the album version was the lead track.

It was certainly a dilemma. I decided to ask myself a question: “If Phill Jupitus was asked to perform the intro on ‘Never Mind The Buzzcocks’, which version would he do?” Norman Cook won the day and a precedent was set. The Phill Jupitus Test will now be the official deciding factor in the event of any similar quandaries in the future (Professional Widow by Tori Amos springs to mind).

The CD singles also turned up 'Guaglione' by Perez ‘Prez’ Prado and his Orchestra (as featured on a Guinness ad a few years back). Never a Number One itself, but the record label also kindly thought to include Cherry Pink & Apple Blossom White, which was a Number One hit for ‘Prez’ in 1955 – the 31st record to hit the top and now the earliest in the collection.

My 7” singles proved more lucrative, with 21 new Number Ones plus a few improvements (such as the correct version of Blondie’s Heart of Glass – different, as I suspected, to the album version I had already included). This was a little less than I had hoped for, but still a decent haul, particularly since most of these are the original releases and many have picture sleeves.

But once again, problems arise. For example, I have here a copy of I Want To Hold Your Hand by The Beatles, the 160th Number One. This is definitely the original 1963 7” release (you only need to listen to the surface noise on the vinyl to be sure of that) but it is held in a plain white sleeve. I have no idea what kind of packaging the single was originally issued in. It may indeed have been a plain white sleeve, but I can think of no easy way of finding out. I’m sure I could, with a bit of research, check the covers of individual singles, but to do them all seems horribly difficult.

I will have to consider this problem further. In the meantime I can be satisfied at my growing collection, now totalling 64*. There’s a long way to go, but I feel like I’m getting somewhere.

* For the pedants amongst you, I know the sums don’t add up. I knocked a couple off last week’s total since I had included a couple of incomplete double A-sides.