How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Monday, October 24, 2005

Mr Tambourine Man

I was working on some Christmas music and needed to go into town to buy a set of sleigh bells, so decided to fit in some Number One hunting at the same time. I had my eye on a couple of charity shops I hadn’t yet visited, but on the way I thought about the Merrion Market and decided to go there first.

The Merrion Market is a strange place, but if you ever find yourself in Leeds and needing, as most of us do at one time or another, to buy collectible stamps, military memorabilia and a fancy dress costume, this is the place to go. While you are there you might like to try to identify the lingering smell of the place, something I have never managed to do.

The market also houses a second hand record shop which, as far as I can tell, has no name, though if it does have one it may be simply CD & Vinyl Exchange. It was disappointingly short on singles, but I did find a box of 12”s. This box turned out to be highly significant. Although it held only two Number Ones, these were enough to ease me past two major landmarks – I now had half of the 1000 Number Ones, 300 of which were the original releases.

The records in question were Ebony and Ivory by Paul McCartney with Stevie Wonder and That’s What I Like by Jive Bunny & The Mastermixers. The young lady at the cash desk was obviously impressed by my choices and let it slip that she had once owned the Jive Bunny record herself, though she immediately denied this and blamed the crime on her mother, who was not present to defend herself.

I left the market and headed to Boar Lane and the Shelter shop, where I found another strange and unidentifiable smell, along with a healthy selection of CD singles. Band Aid 20’s Do They Know It’s Christmas? was the last version of the song I needed, and I found both discs of the double CD release Believe by Cher. The assistant was highly amused at my purchase of The Way To Your Love by Hear'Say, but I couldn’t summon the energy to explain my actions. I left her to it and wondered what she would have made of Jive Bunny.

The Oxfam shop had a useful stock of old 7”s and a bizarre pricing system. Rather than the usual blanket price, each record was individually labelled, apparently at random. Was Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song* really worth £1.49? It did have a picture sleeve, but could this explain the difference between its cost and that of Amazing Grace by the Pipes And Drums And The Military Band of The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards, which I laid my hands on for just 39p? Marmalade’s Ob-la-di Ob-la-da also came in at £1.49, without a picture sleeve. Perhaps this was due to its vintage, but then why did Diane by the Bachelors, five years older, set me back just 99p? I couldn’t make any sense of it, but bought the lot anyway.

The selection also included Woman In Love by Barbara Streisand, which I didn’t remember but knew immediately on playing it, and the 236th chart-topper, Scott McKenzie’s fantastic San Francisco (Be Sure To Wear Some Flowers In Your Hair). I also picked up one CD single, Billie’s Girlfriend, complete with a poster of the singer baring her terrifyingly large teeth.

I moved on to the RSPCA shop, which had been a happy hunting ground on a previous occasion. Once again I came away with a good number of chart-toppers, after negotiating another Gary Glitter moment, having found his third Number One, Always Yours. Fern Kinney’s Together We Are Beautiful is another record I didn’t realise I was familiar with. I recognised it at once, and very good it is too.

There had been some confusion in my mind over Ride On Time by Black Box, which I had found previously as a remix 7” which sounded suspiciously close to the version I knew. I had reasoned that it must have been the remix which had become a hit. But now I found another 7”, without the remix tag, so perhaps this was the correct version. So it seemed, until about 3 minutes into the record, when a few bars of guitar reared their head, which I swear were not there before. I remain confused, but surely one of the versions I now have must be the right one.

There is only one version, thankfully, of St Winifred School Choir’s No One Quite Like Grandma, and I now owned it, along with the 204th Number One, Tears by Ken Dodd. Russ Conway’s Roulette was naggingly familiar, though this may be because of its jaunty charm rather than a genuine memory. Either way, I was surprised to find myself enjoying it. The same was true of Welcome Home by Peters & Lee, one of those records that I have heard countless times but never paid any attention.

Time was marching on and I had yet to buy sleigh bells, so I called it a day and headed to the music shop Knock On Wood. As well as the sleigh bells I made a spontaneous decision to buy a tambourine**. Only now do I realise that this was probably subconsciously inspired by Scott McKenzie.

* One of five birds to appear in the title of a Number One. I know you’re enjoying this zoological thread.
** This turned out to be a good move, as otherwise I would have been struggling for a relevant title.

Monday, October 10, 2005

The Long And Winding Road

I had hoped to be going to watch Guiseley AFC defeat Radcliffe Borough in the Unibond Premier League, but my companions were unable to make it to the match and I was left at a loose end. I found myself humming Japanese Boy, and realised that it was to be a Number Ones day.

For some time I had been planning a journey to the East, to the various suburbs along the way, and I decided to set off on this route. It was a long walk, but with careful planning I was able to break it up into shorter sections, punctuated by various shops which I hoped would help to swell my collection. The first stop was Meanwood, and the Community Shop.

The stock was predominantly made up of second-hand books, but I was able to locate a small box of 7” singles which held an impressive ten Number Ones. The shop was decorated with numerous signs requesting that customers refrain from asking for a discount, and I was tempted to see what would happen if I did. On reflection I decided that 10p each was enough of a bargain, even bearing in mind that most of the records came without a sleeve and smelt of vegetables, and I agreed to pay the full price without complaint.

One of the ten was I Love You Love Me Love by Gary Glitter, who for various reasons is less popular than he used to be. I was wondering if there would be any reaction to this purchase. I imagined a sudden and stony silence falling on the shop, eventually broken by a murmur of “Shame!”, gradually building to a frenzied and indistinct clamour of outrage, and finally resulting in my untimely death by violent lynching. I tried to look impassive as the store clerk counted through my selections, and breathed a private sigh of relief as she passed by the culprit without comment. I later discovered that the record was irreparably scratched, and I would need to go through this torment again.

There was further torment in listening to Long Haired Lover From Liverpool by Little Jimmy Osmond, undoubtedly one of the worst records ever to reach the top. Another Osmond effort, Donny’s Puppy Love*, appeared to have been smeared with jam, but turned out all right after applying a damp cloth.

I moved on to Chapel Allerton and the St Gemma’s Hospice shop, where I found CD singles of Professional Widow (It’s Got To Be Big) by Tori Amos and Stomp by Steps, which has an inner sleeve detailing the appropriate dance moves. My own attempts to recreate the dance were futile, as the instructions appeared largely meaningless, despite the photographic demonstrations by the members of the group. How do I replace my foot closed? Is a double clap twice somehow different to four claps? And is it possible to step back on my right foot turning round to the right without breaking my spine? I gave up, vowing never to switch to a career in choreography.

Moortown Corner was further away than I had remembered, but I pressed on in the knowledge that there were two potential sources there. The first was the Cancer Research shop, where I was surprised to find a number of 7”s kept in plastic dust covers – a stark contrast to the ragged sleeves or bare vinyl more usually associated with charity shops. I was vaguely disturbed that the records smelt of dry tobacco, and wondered if they had been donated by a heavy smoker’s widow.

There were seven chart-toppers among the collection, mainly from the 70s. These included the 332nd, 10cc’s Rubber Bullets, and the 333rd, Slade’s Skweeze Me, Pleeze Me, which had a generic Polydor sleeve decorated with a sticker bearing a picture of the group. Perhaps this too had come from a cigarette packet? Tragedy by the Bee Gees, meanwhile, came with the original picture sleeve, and I snapped this up to replace the plain version I already owned.

Clair by Gilbert O’Sullivan is unspeakably horrible, another sickly ode to a child (in this case someone else’s, worryingly). It includes, at the end, a short snippet of children’s laughter, something that is perfectly acceptable (and sometimes even pleasant) when heard in real life, but always make me cringe on a record. The recorded sound of a baby’s “Goo-ga-ga” is even worse, and both of these gimmicks would be banned if I had my way, which is probably why I will never be Prime Minister. Even the 352nd Number One, Charles Aznavour’s She, is better than this, despite featuring one of the worst vocals I have ever heard.

The Oxfam shop was a disappointment. A sign on the door declared it closed for the day, without further explanation. I tutted angrily to myself and made my way down Street Lane towards Roundhay Park. I knew there were a number of charity shops along the way, though it was approaching five o’clock and I would have to hurry.

I came first to the RSPCA shop, which appeared fruitless until I noticed, as I left, a small selection of CDs in the window display, one of which was the 900th Number One, Lady Marmalade by Christina Aguilera, Lil’ Kim, Mya & Pink (Missy Elliott also features, but presumably her name wouldn’t fit on the cover). I went back inside and tried to work out how best to reach them.

A swift inspection revealed three options. The most direct route would have been through the window, but I felt that shattering the sheet of plate glass might annoy the staff, who were clearly preparing to close for the evening and could do without a glazing crisis. I could approach from the rear, which would involve scaling a tall display board and seemed unnecessarily dangerous. The only viable option was a lateral assault, but my way was blocked by a large and unwieldy tailor’s dummy. Cursing the bad planning of an unknown volunteer, I wrestled with the dummy and with some difficulty managed to move it a few inches, so that after holding my breath tightly I was able to squeeze into the narrow gap and inspect the goods.

It was worth the effort. As well as Lady Marmalade I procured Blue’s Too Close and a CD of remixes of Ricky Martin’s Livin’ La Vida Loca. It wasn’t, strictly speaking, necessary for me to buy this, but I noted the inclusion of a free poster and the words ‘Limited Edition’ and my anal record collector tendencies took over. I struggled back past the mannequin, which I half-heartedly returned to somewhere near its previous position (I wouldn’t have bothered, but it was preventing me from leaving the shop). At the counter I casually mentioned the hardships I had faced in acquiring my prizes, and the lack of assistance that had been forthcoming, but I must have been too subtle as I drew no reaction.

A few doors down there was another St Gemma’s shop, but I was too late. The door was being locked as I approached. Help the Aged was open, just, but I found nothing. My shopping trip had clearly come to an end, and so I retired to the Streets of Leeds pub for a relaxing pint while I prepared for a long walk home.

* Those of you who enjoyed the big cat challenge may like to know that there are four Number Ones with a dog or puppy in the title.