How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Sunday, November 13, 2005


I was going to spend a weekend in the North East in order to celebrate my brother-in-law’s 40th birthday, which presented an ideal opportunity to do some shopping in Newcastle. As the train passed over the Tyne I looked at the famous bridges and considered my planned route.

It had been some years since I had done any shopping in Newcastle, but I knew exactly where to go. The area around Clayton Street is the down-market end of the city’s retail district, and is therefore awash with charity shops, so this was my first destination.

The Mind shop was the first to present itself to me, and made a sizeable contribution of CD and 7” singles. I was particularly pleased to lay my hands on I’ll Be Missing You by Puff Daddy & Faith Evans featuring 112 after the trouble it had previously caused me, and there were two classic dance Number Ones in Livin’ Joy’s Dreamer and 9pm (Till I Come) by ATB.

I already owned a copy of Baby Jane by Rod Stewart, but the one I found here had a picture sleeve, so I snapped it up. The back cover featured a competition to win tickets to see Rod in concert, but sadly I had missed the closing date by 22 years. There were three questions to answer, plus the challenge of completing the sentence “I would like to see Rod Stewart in concert because…” in less than 12 words*. I imagine that had the competition been held today, it would have consisted of a single question along the lines of “What is Rod Stewart’s first name?” and an opportunity to make an extortionate premium rate call lasting no longer than four minutes.

I was interested to see how the Rollercoaster by B*Witched would compare with their other hits in terms of irritating B-sides. The girls are in fact surprisingly restrained on ‘B*Witched Go To The Moon’, even after the astonishing revelation that there is no mobile phone reception in space leads to them shouting very loudly in order to communicate a special message to their fans. This, as any physicist will tell you, would have failed no matter how loud the shouting, so it is fortunate that they thought to bring recording equipment with them on their journey.

By now I was getting used to the risks involved in buying a Gary Glitter single, and I managed to acquire another copy of I Love You Love Me Love without incident, and without the scratch that had proved fatal to the first one. Nevertheless I made a sharp exit and went next door to the Again shop.

It took me some time to work out that Again was there to raise funds for the Salvation Army. The lack of publicity for this fact suggested that they might be somehow embarrassed about this. I bought Michael Jackson’s Earth Song and what I thought was Rock DJ by Robbie Williams but later turned out to be an empty case (I really should start checking these things).

Then came a moment I had been dreading. Before me was a copy Something About The Way You Look Tonight/Candle In The Wind 1997 by Elton John. Of the thousand Number Ones I needed, this was the one I least wanted to own.

I have never actually heard Candle In The Wind 1997. While it was Number One for 5 weeks, I would switch off the radio or TV any time there was a danger of it tainting my ears, or occasionally run from the room screaming, which was somehow more satisfying. I have done the same ever since, through numerous appearances on TV nostalgia shows, and have somehow managed to avoid hearing any more than a few introductory piano notes.

Despite having never heard it, I can confidently say that I hate everything about this record. I hate the fact that anyone ever thought that Diana, Princess of Wales merited any sort of tribute (in my house we played ‘Crash’ by the Primitives and various happy songs all day long). I hate the fact that Elton John (or, more accurately, Bernie Taupin) would ruin a perfectly good song to honour a despicable toff who did nothing but sponge off the state and complain about how terrible her life was. I hate the way that her PR machine continues, to this day, to convince people that she was a saint just because she visited a few sick children and occasionally mentioned that she wasn’t all that keen on landmines.

Most of all I hate the fact that so many people fail to realise any of this, and made this record the biggest selling single in history, both in the UK and worldwide.

I had considered collecting only 999 Number Ones, refusing to acknowledge the existence of the 774th, but I had made no firm decision. Now the moment of truth had arrived and I had to choose. I bought it, and it felt bad. I had no intention of ever listening to it, and instead took advantage of it being a double A-side by importing Something About The Way You Look Tonight into iTunes and leaving it at that.

Shaken by this experience, I moved on. The PDSA shop was of no use to me, and I turned my nose up at the British Heart Foundation’s CD singles, priced at a ridiculous £1.99 each. I took a detour along Nun Street, to the Shelter shop, which had what appeared to be a complete collection of Sabrina 12”s but only one Number One, a 7” of Madonna’s Papa Don’t Preach.

In the Red Cross shop over the road I found a box of singles hidden in a remote corner. These were mostly in terrible condition, and I refused to buy a copy of Stand And Deliver by Adam & The Ants on the grounds that a huge chunk of the vinyl was missing, but I did buy Georgie Fame’s The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde and Jealous Mind, the only chart-topper by Alvin Stardust. Only after paying for these did I notice a small selection of CD singles, which included It Feels So Good by Sonique and the fantastic Toca’s Miracle by Fragma, so I annoyed the proprietor by returning to his desk for a second time, disturbing his conversation with another customer.

I spent some time wandering through the aisles of the Grainger Market, thinking that this was a likely place for a second-hand record shop, but I had no luck, and moved on to Grainger Street.

Old Hitz proved to be a treasure trove, albeit a rather cramped one, and I turned my attention to a box of 78s, inconveniently located underneath a display stand. This made looking through the box hard work, but it was worth the effort as I found five early Number Ones. The only one of these with which I was previously familiar was Tommy Steele’s version of Singing The Blues, the 54th Number One and the latest of the five. The earliest, and now the oldest vinyl in my collection, was the 30th Number One, Give Me Your Word by Tennessee Ernie Ford, and the best was the Eddie Calvert rendition of Cherry Pink And Apple Blossom White**.

I was pushed for time and exhausted by my efforts, so I had to forego a second box of 78s and paid for the records. At the desk I noticed a large section dedicated to Elvis 45s, which must surely have held several Number Ones. I realised that I could spend hours in here, and perhaps on another occasion I would.

By this stage I was laden with several bags of records, as well as the rucksack that I had packed for the weekend, and as I searched through the nearby charity shops I found it difficult not to injure the customers and destroy the stock. In the Scope, Marie Curie and Arc shops I drew a blank, but the Cancer Research Shop was more helpful. As in the Moortown store, I was surprised to find many of the 7”s in plastic dust covers, and Young At Heart by the Bluebells had the familiar smell of dry tobacco. Frustratingly, it also had the wrong record inside, and I had no use for Whitney Houston’s ‘I Have Nothing’. At least I found the record that the Bluebells knocked off the top, Oh Carolina by Shaggy, as well as Take That’s Pray and the UB40 cover of (I Can’t Help) Falling In Love, featuring a strange B-side that sounds equally wrong at both 33 and 45 rpm.

I had to catch a train to Hexham, so I hurried to the station and arrived at the platform seconds too late. As the train pulled away without me, I rued the seconds I had wasted in paying twice at the Red Cross store. With a sigh I bought a coffee and squatted on the cold platform to wait for another.

* Please feel free to attempt the challenge here, though I can’t promise any prizes.
** From birds to fruit – there are five chart-toppers with a fruit in the title.