How To Have 1000 Number Ones - The Easy Way

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Doctorin' The Tardis

It had taken me three and a half years to get round to registering with my local doctor, but the half hour I had to spend in the waiting room before my three minute appointment with the practice nurse was nevertheless irritating. There are few more depressing places to spend one’s time, even if, as in this case, there are no other patients sharing the experience.

In order to cheer myself up I decided to take a quick look in St Vincent’s Community Shop, where I noticed, for once, that the record claiming to be Sweet Sensation’s Sad Sweet Dreamer was in fact a recording of Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary*. Cathy’s Clown by the Everly Brothers, the 101st Number One, was the genuine article, so I bought that along with a second copy of When A Child Is Born by Johnny Mathis, much better quality than the scratchy copy I already owned.

Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie is a decent record but outstays its welcome, with a repeating chorus taking up the entire second half. Similarly longwinded are the credits on the sleeve of Ready Or Not by the Fugees, with a particularly gushing thank you to Enya for allowing the use of the sample that forms the heart of the record.

Later that week, on a cold afternoon, I found myself in town and decided to investigate a couple of charity shops which I had yet to try. The Scope shop was disappointing but I did find a 7” copy of Snap’s The Power, complete with its picture sleeve featuring an incomprehensible cartoon strip.

I bought a chicken pasty to warm myself up and moved on to the RSPCA shop. There I found only a small selection of CDs, none of which were Number One singles. My time here was not wasted, however, as I overheard the manager briefing a prospective new employee on the two rules of the shop.

“Rule one,” he explained, “is if you go for a fag, you take me with you. Rule two is if you make tea, you make it for everyone.”

I was impressed at this relaxed approach to staff regulations and considered asking him whether there were any further vacancies. As I no longer smoke and never drink tea, as an employee here I would find myself bound by no rules whatsoever, free to do exactly as I pleased. I could raid the till and abuse customers with impunity – surely the perfect job.

My hopes were dashed when he introduced a third rule about “having a laugh”. I sensed that this might be less formally upheld than the two primary rules – it was probably more of a guideline than an obligation – but the way he had initially withheld this piece of information struck me as devious and I realised I could not work with this man.

I thought about doing some more shopping, but it was cold and close to rush hour, so I elected to head home, where I inspected a list of records sent to me by Stuart Fraser. Stuart was selling his collection of 7” singles and, having read about my quest, had very kindly e-mailed to offer me first refusal on any Number Ones. There turned out to be 168 records on his list which I still needed.

This was gratifying but overwhelming. There were far too many to get in one go, but Stuart offered to hold on to the ones I needed so that I could buy them in smaller batches, while recognising that I might also pick up some of them elsewhere in the meantime. In a further act of generosity he declared two of the records – I Owe You Nothing by Bros and Back Home by the England World Cup Squad ’70** – so terrible that he would hand them over for free.

I picked, at random, 20 of the records from the list, added the two freebies, and asked that Stuart send these as the first instalment. I could have timed my request better, because the goods arrived on a Saturday morning, meaning that my lazy lie-in was disturbed by the postman frantically ringing my doorbell.

I was keen to inspect my new toys, but sleep was a priority so I went back to bed for a couple of hours instead. When I woke I made a coffee and sat down to open the parcel, which was not an easy task. Stuart had packed the records very securely and it took me some time to get inside. Had I simply used scissors from the start it would have taken only seconds, rather than wasting minutes struggling at the packaging with fingers and teeth.

One reason why I was especially pleased to see Stuart’s list is that many of the records are from the ‘50s or ‘60s and therefore more difficult to find in charity shops than the later releases. This first parcel contained Bobby Darin’s version of Mack The Knife from 1959, plus ten from the 1960s. The best of these were House Of The Rising Sun by the Animals and Ticket To Ride, one of my favourite Beatles singles.

There were two Elvis Presley hits in She’s Not You and Rock-A-Hula Baby/Can’t Help Falling In Love and one of the worst efforts by Cliff Richard & The Shadows, Please Don’t Tease.

Moon River by Danny Williams and Cilla Black’s Anyone Who Had A Heart both had a lot of surface noise but were still much appreciated, and the records were, in the main, in very good condition for their age. The only real problem was with Art Garfunkel’s I Only Have Eyes For You which was unplayable due to the vinyl being split, but I didn’t begrudge Stuart the 50p I had paid for it.

Baby Jump by Mungo Jerry confused me at first by sounding like the Chipmunks, but playing it at 33rpm solved the problem, though didn’t necessarily improve the record. Abba’s Waterloo replaced a reissued 7” release and is one of the better chart-toppers of the 1970s, as are Ken Boothe’s Everything I Own and Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall Part II, the last record to make it to Number One in that decade.

All in all I was very pleased with my delivery. For one thing, I hadn’t had to venture out in the cold.

* A piece of music particularly notable for the fact that it was neither written by Purcell nor entitled ‘Trumpet Voluntary’. Its correct title is ‘The Prince of Denmark’s March’ and it was composed by Jeremiah Clarke. It does, however, have a trumpet in it.
** The first of seven football records to top the charts.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Baby Jane

I woke to find myself lying under my coat on a hard wooden floor. This was the accommodation provided by my friend Chris, in his Manchester flat, which I had gladly accepted the previous evening, in the knowledge that I would most likely be drunk enough not to care.

My journey across the Pennines had been primarily because of Steven, an Australia-based ex-pat who I had not seen for several years. I had initially planned to take a train to Manchester in the afternoon in time to do some record shopping, but this idea had fallen victim to disorganisation and the offer of a door-to-door taxi service courtesy of yet another old friend, Craig, so instead I had arrived in the evening and indulged in a good number of drinks while chatting to Steven about his life overseas and ignoring a series of bands, none of which are ever likely to have a Number One single.

As I lay on the floor considering the extent of my hangover, Craig appeared and suggested that I might like to consider leaving my makeshift bed, as he had to get home for a Sunday morning meeting with his architect. I was too tired to argue with such a ludicrous request, so I located my shoes and bade farewell to those not lucky enough to still be sleeping.

We demonstrated our ignorance of the local road network by taking a circuitous route out of the city, but eventually stumbled onto the M62. On the way home our conversation turned to Number One singles, and it emerged that Craig knew nothing of my quest. I explained, not for the first time, and got the usual response (comments in these situations typically include words such as ‘crazy’, ‘stupid’ and ‘cool’, which I think is a fair balance).

Some hours later I answered the telephone to an excited Craig. At first I assumed that his animated state was the result of an especially heated architectural discussion, but it emerged that I was personally responsible. He had relayed the details of my mission to his wife Jane*, and together they had explored her vinyl collection in search of Number One singles, ensuring accuracy by cross-referencing with They were calling to offer me the fruits of their search as a contribution to my collection.

Jane reeled off a list of their discoveries, and although I turned down a number of chart-toppers which I already owned, there were 13 records which I gladly agreed to take. We arranged to meet to perform the handover, and so it was that I joined them a few days later in the Fenton for a hearty meal and a couple of drinks. Craig handed me a carrier bag containing the records, and while I waited for my lasagne I looked through them.

The 60s were well represented, particularly by the Beatles, who had made five of the records in the bag. Two of these were She Loves You, and these were joined by the 200th Number One, Help!, and both of their chart-topping double A-sides, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out’ and Eleanor Rigby/Yellow Submarine.

Help! was succeeded by Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe, also present. The oldest hit here was the 128th Number One, Walkin’ Back To Happiness by Helen Shapiro, which sat alongside the record which knocked it off the top spot, Elvis Presley’s Little Sister/(Marie’s The Name) His Latest Flame**.

The other end of the decade provided the brilliant Bad Moon Rising by the Creedence Clearwater Revival, but the 1970s didn’t get much of a look in. There was only Abba’s Dancing Queen, and this turned out to be the 1992 re-release, given away by the inclusion of ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ as the B-side.

The music of the 1980s was seemingly of more interest to Jane, as the bag included a damaged but playable copy of Every Breath You Take by the Police and a trio of electro-pop gems. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus and A-Ha’s The Sun Always Shines On TV represented Austria and Norway respectively, while Tainted Love by Soft Cell provided the local interest, being a product of Leeds by a pair who had probably visited the very pub we were in.

I rewarded the generosity of my friends by allowing Craig to buy me a pint, and spent a pleasant hour in their company.

* Fawlty Towers fans will be interested to note that Craig and Jane are two doctors.
** Just one of a dozen Number Ones with a family member in the title.