How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Sunday, December 18, 2005

This Is My Song

I had a guest in the shape of my friend Steve, visiting from London. He is rarely seen in Leeds, and as a result we woke on Saturday morning feeling less than healthy. Steve picked up my guitar and attempted to cure our hangovers with music, choosing to play House Of The Rising Sun. Sadly neither of us could remember the lyrics past the first verse, so we sang this repeatedly until we felt able to move without assistance.

The second stage of our rehabilitation process involved a hearty, greasy breakfast, so we paid a visit to the West Park Café, along with my neighbour Matt. Over a full English with extra black pudding we made a plan for the day. Steve had become intrigued by my quest and agreed to accompany me on a shopping trip to Headingley, with a promise that on our return we would learn to play whichever Number One we bought first.

We set off and came first to the PDSA shop. It turned out that the first chart-topper we found was There’s No One Quite Like Grandma by St Winifred’s School Choir, which I bought for the picture sleeve which had previously eluded me. Demonstrating staggering creativity the sleeve artist had plumped for a photograph of an elderly lady surrounded by children, no doubt enchanted by tales of air raids and tuberculosis.

This, then, was the song we would learn. Steve was clearly excited by the prospect and together we grabbed a fistful of records. My companion’s enthusiasm was unfortunately not matched by his knowledge of Number Ones, and I had to endure a series of queries as to whether a particular record had reached the top. In most cases I had to let him down by pointing out that no, in fact this record only made it to Number 32, but through every disappointment he remained unbowed. He continued to leaf through the stack with the eagerness of a large and aggressive child, and proved his worth by noticing that the sleeve of Pump Up The Volume/Anitina (The First Time I See She Dance) by M/A/R/R/S actually concealed a Marillion record.

Between us we unearthed seven Number Ones, including Madonna’s Frozen, Leo Sayer’s When I Need You and Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey by (deep breath) The Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney, Gerry Marsden and Stock Aitken Waterman*. Loneliness by Tomcraft is one of my favourite records to make it all the way in recent years, and I was also glad to lay my hands on Blur’s Country House in the first CD of a 2-CD set, to accompany the live version I had bought previously.

Spirit In The Sky by Gareth Gates with special guests The Kumars offered me the opportunity to enter a prize draw, the lucky winner of which would get to meet Gareth. No closing date was given, but the web page I was directed to no longer existed. Apparently the timespan of the contest was less than 3 years, and the meeting had presumably taken place long ago, without me. This, on reflection, is probably a good thing – had I found myself in the enviable position of meeting Mr Gates, I suspect I would have spent the whole of our encounter pretending to have a terrible stutter.

In Oxfam we investigated the racks of 7” singles. I am always pleased to find anything older than I am, even something as bad as Sandie Shaw’s Puppet On A String, which came complete with a mysterious substance that may have been marmalade smeared over the vinyl. Frank Sinatra’s Strangers In The Night and What A Wonderful World/Cabaret by Louis Armstrong were in much better condition and are much better records.

Only marginally older than me is Tammy Wynette’s Stand By Your Man, which was Number One on the day I was born and therefore well worth the asking price of £2.99. We immediately decided to ditch our previous project and learn to play Stand By Your Man instead, but for now we had records to buy. The birthday theme continued with Rod Stewart’s I Don't Want To Talk About It/First Cut Is The Deepest (Number One on my 2nd birthday and the record that kept the Sex Pistols from taking ‘God Save The Queen’ to the top) and Bright Eyes by Art Garfunkel (top of the hit parade on my 4th birthday).

Pipes of Peace by Paul McCartney was covered in dog hairs and unidentifiable goo, but cleaned up surprisingly well. U2’s Desire and Belfast Child by Simple Minds provided a fix of 80s stadium rock, and my bag of goodies was completed with a more tender moment, Don McLean’s Vincent, the 314th Number One.

Steve wanted to go into the city centre so we kept our visit to the Mind shop short, but long enough to find Ebeneezer Goode by the Shamen and a 7” of Heart by the Pet Shop Boys, the record which had so frustrated me at the beginning of my journey. Finally I bought Anyone Of Us (Stupid Mistake) by Gareth Gates and examined the sleeve in search of another contest. All that was on offer was a chance to enter a prize draw to win a signed photograph, simply by providing BMG Records with a good deal of personal information. I decided to forego this opportunity.

We took a bus into town and, unsurprisingly, ended up in a pub. In the Wrens we looked over the records and embarked on another drinking session. After a couple of pints and a music-based conversation with a pair of strangers we headed home to learn Stand By Your Man, and after eventually working out the tricky C#, went back to the pub.

* The Mersey, you will recall, is one of five British rivers to feature in the title of a Number One single.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

What Took You So Long

My brother was having a clearout and found three Number Ones to donate to the cause. I was particularly pleased to lay my hands on Stan, Eminem’s finest moment, good enough that I can even bear to listen to Dido on it. Three Lions 98 by Baddiel & Skinner & The Lightning Seeds only brings back bad memories of penalty shootouts. Why did they have to include Jonathan Pearce’s commentary reminding us of Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss? Baz Luhrmann’s Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen) is something of a strange one, if only because Mr Luhrmann doesn’t appear on the record. The voiceover is provided by a certain Lee Perry – sadly not the insane reggae producer, which would surely have made for a stunning record.

I had spotted an advertisement for a jumble sale at the Our Lady of Lourdes church, and although I didn’t really expect to find any Number Ones there, I decided to pay a visit. As I passed the New Inn I saw a group of around twenty students congregating outside the pub. This in itself was not unusual, but for the fact that every single one of them was dressed as Elvis. I took this as a good omen and moved on.

The Help the Aged shop was on my route, so it would have been foolish not to take a look inside. This brought me to tears, specifically Seven Tears by the Goombay Dance Band and Kylie Minogue’s Tears On My Pillow. This was just one of a very large number of Neighbours records in the shop – almost all of Kylie’s early singles as well as Jason Donovan’s, the Angry Anderson track ‘Suddenly’ and even ‘Don’t It Make You Feel Good’ by Stefan Dennis. Tears On My Pillow was the only one that interested me, however, and I bought it along with Cliff Richard’s Mistletoe And Wine* and the last Number One of the sixties, Two Little Boys by Rolf Harris.

When I arrived at the church it all seemed suspiciously quiet, and when I eventually found the correct entrance I was disappointed to find nothing inside but a couple of bare tables and an elderly lady. I wondered for a moment if I had missed the world’s most successful jumble sale, but the lady explained that the stock had been removed, rather than sold, and that the sale was over, the newspaper having published the wrong times. Cursing the Yorkshire Evening Post I left the church and decided to proceed to Desperate Dan’s.

Readers with sharp memories will recall that my previous assault on Desperate Dan’s had been thwarted due to the shop being closed. I reasoned that I would have more luck on a Saturday afternoon, but once again the door was locked and the shutters up. The proprietor of the bookshop next door informed me that his neighbour was not the most fastidious of shopkeepers, and generally turned up at some time around 1:00. This was only ten minutes away, so I went to buy a newspaper and two pints of milk before returning to await his arrival.

I didn’t want to wait too long, as I had to get back home before going to a football match, and I set a deadline of 1:03pm. The extra three minutes passed by without any sign of my nemesis. Enraged at his tardiness I was forced to abandon my precisely timed mission.

Two days later I found myself in Headingley and decided to nip into a couple of charity shops. In the British Heart Foundation shop I found Call On Me by Eric Prydz and the brilliant All The Things She Said by pretend Russian lesbians** t.A.T.u. I also came across a CD entitled ‘Hooked On Number Ones’ but on further investigation this turned out not to contain any of the original recordings, many of which weren’t even Number Ones anyway, so I refused to buy it.

In Oxfam Music I found 13 CD singles, including the 732nd chart-topper, George Michael’s Jesus To A Child*** and the 760th, Discotheque by U2. I was disappointed that the limited edition of Five’s Keep On Movin’ had lost its exclusive poster somewhere along the line, but at least the CD was intact. Love Don’t Cost A Thing by Jennifer Lopez is one of her better efforts, and I have a bit of a soft spot for Hanson’s Mmm Bop, even more so now that I have noticed a very shoddy edit point at 3 minutes and 18 seconds.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m becoming just a little bit too obsessed with this.

* You probably already know that there are 5 drinks mentioned in the titles of 7 Number Ones.
** I can’t wait to see how that affects my Google rankings.
*** Jesus’ only appearance in the title of a Number One – the devil has two.