How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Good Vibrations

It seems that the charity shops in the centre of Leeds are a different beast. Of the 20 7” singles I picked out in the RSPCA shop, 10 were Number One hits of the 1970s. In my near-total clearance of Headingley and Hexham, I had found just 6 45s from that decade.

Sadly time has taken its toll on many of these relics. Tellingly, the classic Kung Fu Fighting by Carl Douglas is now ruined by noise brought on by overuse. The grooves of December, 1963 (Oh, What A Night)* by the Four Seasons have been worn so thin that the record is virtually unplayable. Lieutenant Pigeon’s Mouldy Old Dough (surely one of the strangest Number Ones) and Manhattan Transfer’s Chanson D’Amour (surely one of the blandest) remain relatively pristine.

The Manhattan Transfer record is another example of a Number One which I have just heard for the very first time. As I was less than two years old when it became the 402nd chart-topper, I am not especially surprised by this. As you may have deduced, I do not feel my life is in any way enriched by this belated experience. I was more inspired by hearing the 400th**.

Julie Covington’s original version of Don’t Cry For Me Argentina spent a single week at the top in February 1977. I have, of course, heard this record before, but not for many years, and it appears I have never before paid it enough attention to notice how much I liked it. It’s fantastic. The song is beautiful. The orchestration is fabulous, swinging from delicacy to power with no apparent effort. And Julie Covington’s performance is just great, emotional and intimate, but somehow suggesting weakness and strength in equal measure. If only Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s contributions to three further Number Ones*** had been a patch on this.

I was brought down to earth with two chart-toppers that spoilt 1984. This was in most respects a good year for Number Ones, but Lionel Richie’s Hello is undeniably awful, even if you can forget about the painful video, and I Just Called To Say I Love You is a travesty, surely Stevie Wonder’s worst ever record but the only one that got him to the top of the British charts as a solo artist****.

Bryan Adams pretty much ruined 1991 single-handedly. I won’t have to remind you about the 16 weeks (16 weeks!) that (Everything I Do) I Do It For You spent at the top of the pile. You may well have recurring nightmares of the weeks stretching into months and into a seeming eternity. At the very least, you surely have recurring nightmares about nostalgia shows reminding us, once again, that this single holds the record for the most continuous weeks spent at Number One. I now own it, in a delightful picture sleeve featuring a photograph of Kevin Costner as Robin Hood. You can’t imagine how delighted I am.

Honestly, I am. Truly delighted. Not particularly by Mr Costner’s picture, admittedly, but by the fact that I can tick another one off the list and get right back out there to hunt for more. I have collected 352 Number Ones. I’ve spent time, I’ve spent money, and I’ve listened to some awful records.

Julie Covington has made every second, every penny, every aural discomfort, well worth it.

* Two very famous records held the top spot over December 1963. Know what they were?
** The 401st, if you were wondering, is Leo Sayer’s When I Need You. I don’t have it yet.
*** I’m being very generous today, pop quiz fans.
**** He’s been involved in a few Number Ones, and there’s bound to be a question in there somewhere, but I’ve had enough questions this week so you’ll have to make one up yourself.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

If You Come Back

Living in Headingley, with its wide selection of charity shops and population of bleeding-heart liberals eager to donate to them, is certainly an advantage. When I recently popped in to the Cancer Research shop, I was delighted to discover several Number Ones, despite the fact that just a few weeks beforehand I had bought their entire collection of chart-toppers (totalling one CD single). Inspired by this, I decided on an unplanned blitz of some of their local competitors, and came away with a clutch of additions to my collection.

I was particularly happy to pick up two of the best ever Number Ones, namely You To Me Are Everything by the Real Thing and Baby D’s Let Me Be Your Fantasy. The Baby D CD was unfortunately one of the many remixed re-releases, but it did include the 1994 version that made it to the top, which wasn’t even the original itself, being a shorter edit of the track that had been a club hit a couple of years earlier.

This has partly made up for the frustration of knowing that I used to have the 1994 release on CD single, which has vanished somewhere along the line. In this case I suspect the culprits are the burglars who decimated my CD collection in 1997, though I can’t blame them for the disappearance of my 7” copy of Doctorin’ The Tardis by the Timelords, for which I can find no explanation, and from which I am yet to recover.

As usual the classics were accompanied by a number of monstrosities. Most notable in this selection are a pair associated with TV comedies, Clive Dunn’s Grandad and Whispering Grass by Windsor Davies & Don Estelle of ‘It Ain’t Half Hot Mum’ fame. Whispering Grass is at least slightly redeemed by some nice barber-shop harmonies, if you like that kind of thing.

I also now own Swing The Mood, the first of three Number Ones by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers. As if that wasn’t bad enough, this is, surprisingly, the first record I have bought which skips, somewhere around the point where the nauseating rabbit mauls the Everly Brothers. Sadly this means that at some point I will have to buy this record again.

All Around The World is one of the few titles to reach the top twice in the guise of two completely different songs*, and while I am yet to acquire the one by Oasis, I can now boast ownership of Lisa Stansfield’s rendition**. Also worth mentioning is Let It Be by Ferry Aid, which would be just another charity record if not for the mystifying appearance of the notoriously reclusive Kate Bush. Her contribution doesn’t exactly set the world alight, but it does make you wonder how they persuaded her to turn up in the first place.

Finally I should note Hero by Enrique Iglesias, which not only made Enrique and Julio the first father and son to have individual Number Ones, but also hit the top spot on the chart dated 02/02/02, which is the kind of neatness that befits a mission as anal as mine.

I now have 335 Number Ones, so I have completed the first third of my journey in the space of just under 5 months. And I’m eager for more.

* There are three others, and if you can tell me what they are I’ll be very impressed indeed.
** My friend Nik would probably like me to mention at this point that Lisa Stansfield is from Rochdale, so I will.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Back Home

A search through the bargain bin of Crash Records in Leeds dug up Brian McFadden’s Real To Me and a reminder of how incomprehensible my quest is to the uninformed.

Joe: Hi, do you know if this is the one that got to Number One?
Crash: Don’t know. He’s had a few Number Ones hasn’t he?
J: No, just one, but I can’t remember if it was this one.
C: Oh. Don’t know.
J: I’m collecting Number Ones, you see.
C: Right.
J: So I don’t want to buy any crap records if I don’t have to.
C: But not all Number Ones are good records.
J: Yes, exactly. So I have to get a lot of shit. I just don’t want any more shit than I really need.
C: …
J: So I don’t want to buy this if it wasn’t Number One.
C: …
J: I’ll risk it.

I was right to risk it. Real To Me was the 990th chart-topper and has therefore become the most recent in my collection, discounting the Elvis re-releases.

I took advantage of a recent trip to Hexham, where I grew up and my family still live, to do some record-hunting outside of Leeds for the first time. Hexham is a small town, but has more than its fair share of charity shops, and in the space of an hour I was able to relieve them of 27 Number Ones.

One of the most notable was a 7” of the 416th chart-topper, Mull Of Kintyre/Girls’ School by Wings, surely one of the worst records I will need to buy. While I’m sure you will know the lead track all too well, you probably don’t remember the flipside, but I can assure you that, though certainly not as awful as its more famous sibling, Girls’ School is well worth missing out on.

A newspaper covermount entitled ‘Elvis And Friends’ looked promising. Aside from Elvis himself, the Number Ones of the 50s have proved largely elusive so far, so I was pleased to get my hands on (We’re Gonna) Rock Around The Clock by Bill Haley & His Comets. I was less impressed when I discovered that the version of Great Balls Of Fire included here was a live recording rather than the version with which Jerry Lee Lewis achieved the 66th Number One. The problem was repeated with Roy Orbison’s Only The Lonely (Know How I Feel) from 1960.

I had more success, as usual, with more recent hits, including two singles released by S Club 7 in aid of Children In Need, Never Had A Dream Come True and Have You Ever. I picked up another charity record in the form of the 818th Number One, Boyzone’s When The Going Gets Tough (oddly given a shorter title than the Billy Ocean original, When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going).

Another double whammy was achieved when I found, side-by-side in the Save The Children shop, both of the only two chart-toppers to include the word ‘Pure’ in their title*. Could this coincidence indicate that a higher power is taking an interest in my search? I doubt that Number Ones will inspire me to find God, but it’s heartening to think that there might just be someone out there who understands.

* Now there’s a little challenge for you.