How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Monday, August 22, 2005

All Around The World

I had not seen Nik for several years, it having been difficult for us to catch up for a drink and a chat ever since he took it upon himself to move to Australia. So when he recently came back to the Northern hemisphere for a few weeks, I and several others took the opportunity to make up for lost time by spending several days in the pub with him.

He had arranged this 20,000-mile round trip in order to take a look at my growing collection of Number Ones (as it turned out, his brother was getting married while he was here, so he was able to squeeze that in too). In a short break from drinking he came round to carry out his inspection, and following a heated discussion about the merits of Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S, Nik got to wondering what had been Number One on the day he was born.

I find it incredible that anyone under the age of 53 could be without this vital piece of information, but I overcame my astonishment and looked it up (this was of course unnecessary, as I have every detail committed to memory, but I just wanted to check). We discovered that the record in question was Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra, the theme from the television programme ‘Van Der Valk’. I was sadly unable to play the record, having yet to find it, but we were satisified with our new knowledge as we ventured out to wander the streets of Headingley.

Along the way I realised that there was one charity shop left in Headingley that I had not yet raided, and noting a box of 7” singles through the window, we went to take a closer look. And there it was: Eye Level by the Simon Park Orchestra. Once again I felt the guiding hand of destiny upon my shoulder. I considered, for a moment, giving the record to Nik, but thought better of it – he wouldn’t have appreciated the gesture anyway – and turned back to the box.

Of the other chart-toppers I discovered here, there were several which have been known to enter conversations about the worst ever Number Ones. Rod Stewart’s Sailing is one I would have expected to be on my own shortlist, but listening to it again now for the first time in years I realise it’s actually not a bad record. Save Your Love by Renee & Renato and Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me both have a worse reputation than they deserve (though Save Your Love is pretty poor, it must be said). In fact the worst record I bought here was the 614th Number One, the awful Phil Collins version of A Groovy Kind Of Love*.

That evening it was back to the pub, and the following day Nik was gone. I never did get to play Eye Level for him, but perhaps he’ll be back for another look when the collection is complete.

* Two more TV themes in that lot, loosely speaking, plus a film song, but you knew that.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Just Walking In The Rain

After my stroll in the sun, my next shopping trip coincided with an unexpected downpour. I was only a minute or so from my destination when it began, but the rain was so heavy that by the time I arrived I was soaked to the skin.

Fortunately the destination in question was Oxfam Music, so I knew there were enough records for me to shelter inside for some time if necessary, in the hope that the rain would pass by and allow me a dry return. My intention was to take my first leap into the 7” singles, and I had great hopes of unearthing a good selection of chart-toppers. I was so confident of success that I had planned to investigate only a small portion of the shop, continuing my methodical exploration, so I picked an appropriate area and began.

I was not disappointed. Not by the quantity, at least, though the quality was patchy. There were a handful of great records, but in the main they were a poor crop. Worst of all was Whitney Houston’s appalling version of I Will Always Love You, Number One for 10 long weeks in 1992 following its appearance in the film ‘The Bodyguard’, starring Miss Houston herself. It’s difficult to say which of the two performances was more painful, but I’m not obliged to buy the film, so I’ll have to choose the single. The sleeve bears the note "Vocal Arrangement by Whitney Houston", and since there are no harmony parts the justification for this credit can only be the pointless and irritating warbling she adds to virtually every line. Clearly she was proud of these embellishments, but the subtlely of Dolly Parton’s original performance is a thousand times more effective.

There were no such problems for Sonia, who barely managed to sing in tune on You’ll Never Stop Me From Loving You, her only Number One. It’s a low point among the many chart-toppers from the Stock, Aitken & Waterman production team, which is a highly competitive category. By far their best Number One was their first, from 1985, Dead Or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like A Record), which I also managed to lay my hands on*.

There was one other truly great record here, the 409th Number One from 1977, Donna Summer’s disco classic I Feel Love**. For some reason, as I discovered later, there were actually two copies of the record within the sleeve, so I suppose I can consider this some kind of insurance policy. It was a generic transparent sleeve anyway, rather than the original picture sleeve, so I hope to buy this record for a third time at some point in the future.

I also picked up the first (and best) of the three versions of Spirit In The Sky I will need, this one being the 1986 version by Doctor & The Medics, and the first of the four EPs, Erasure’s Abba-esque. Another good find was Reach Out I’ll Be There by the Four Tops, an addition to the small but growing collection of original 60s vinyl.

By the time I had exhausted my designated area, both I and the weather had gone from wet to dry. I paid for my new-found treasure and made a mental note of the dusty corners of the shop yet to be explored, before heading for home.

* It was another two years before Stock, Aitken & Waterman reached the top again, when they had two Number Ones in a row. What could they have been?
** Donna Summer later worked with Stock, Aitken & Waterman. I don’t just throw this stuff together, you know, it takes hours of dedicated research.