Christmas Number Twos

I feel I should point out immediately that this piece is about pop music, and has nothing to do with bodily functions, so if you have come here for the wrong reason I suggest you leave quietly, before anyone notices. I won’t tell. I have posted this piece before, in 2015 and 2017, but I rather like it and thought it worth sharing again, both for newer readers and for those whose memories may not be up to recalling the previous airings! In sharing this again, I feel duty bound to make amends for my rather unkind comment first time round about that Bieber bloke. Shortly after I posted this originally, he asked his fans to buy a charity record which was raising funds for healthcare, and it worked: they took the number one spot away from him. He ended up with numbers two and three, but I’m not so contrite that I’ll include any of his songs here!  I know he probably didn’t need the money but it was nevertheless a nice gesture to give up the honour of being number one for Christmas. Here is the first post, in full and unedited, so that you can see what I thought (and still think) about Bieber:

A slightly strange custom grew up in the UK in the 1960s surrounding the music charts: who would have the Christmas number one single? The charts as we know them date back to 1952, and gradually the achievement of being number one at Christmas came to acquire a certain cachet. During my teenage years this actually mattered to us, believe it or not. We talked about it, we had our favourites that we wanted to see at the top of the charts, and more often than not we were disappointed. To this day, the status of “Christmas Number One” still gets a lot of media coverage and present day pop fans take an interest. To complete the picture, the BBC even trundles out Top Of The Pops for a special Christmas edition – assuming they can find any presenters who aren’t in prison, that is. But in recent years the whole thing has become a farce, largely due to the Man Who Murdered Music and his Crap Factor TV ‘reality’ show. Either the winner of that is basking in their 15 seconds of fame at the top spot, or a spoiler from the ABC (Anyone But Cowell) camp has led the way: Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name really does say it all about Christmas, doesn’t it!

My first thought had been to do a piece on the number ones but, given the Cowell Factor, there has of late been a growing interest in what has held the number two spot at Christmas, so I thought that this might be a better source of some proper music. It also leads to a better title for this piece. Assuming that even Wonkipedia can’t cock up something as simple as a list, I consulted that oracle to compare the two lists. I was temporarily shocked to find that the Beatles had been number two twice in the 60s. Heresy! Who could have kept them off the top? Ah, it was themselves, so no need to panic. This happened in 1963, when I Want To Hold Your Hand led She Loves You, and again in 1967 when one of my favourite Beatles songs, Hello Goodbye, beat this to number one:

For those who don’t know it, the Magical Mystery Tour was a TV special made by the Beatles after they became too big to tour. It was released as a 6 track double EP, in a lovely gatefold book form, and cost the princely sum of 13s 11d, as compared with around 6s 8d for a standard single. Old money, kiddies, look it up! I don’t think any other band at the time could have achieved this, especially when you consider that to get to the top of the charts in 1967 required many more sales than today. No other act has ever done that even once, let alone twice, although sadly Dustbin Blubber holds the top two places in the pre-Christmas chart so has a chance of doing it this year. I never thought I’d want Cowell to succeed until now!

From my perspective, the heyday of Christmas singles was the 1970s, when anyone who was anyone just had to have a Christmas single. A lot of nobodies did too, but they won’t be featuring here! Of course, Christmas singles were nothing new, but Slade and Wizzard were at the forefront of a trend which carried on  through the 80s with Wham and others through to the present day. Often a novelty record made it to number one – Benny Hill’s Ernie, The Fastest Milkman In The West in 1971 for example – and occasionally they would deprive a much more deserving record of the top spot. Well, one that I liked better, anyway. So, in 1974, whilst Little Jimmy Osmond basked in top spot glory with Long Haired Lover From Liverpool (had he even been there?) this had to make do with being number two:

Always guaranteed to fill the dancefloor when I was at Uni! British public, how could you?!

One of the great musical tragedies of the 90s, for me, was the juggernaut of bad taste that was the Spice Girls, and the fact that they had three successive Christmas number ones. At least they had the decency to call their last one, in 1998, Goodbye but it still kept this off the top, for which I’ll never forgive them (along with all their other crimes against music):

I think the Chef was robbed! But at least he and Isaac Hayes had the satisfaction of dethroning the Shouty Girls the following week.

I’m going to finish this brief trawl through the depths of the pop charts with one of the all-time great Christmas crimes. The Pet Shop Boys were one of the biggest bands of the 80s and were at number one yet again in 1987, this time for Christmas with Always On My Mind (I preferred Willie Nelson’s own version but didn’t have a vote). But they kept this seasonal classic from being number one:

Guess which one still gets played a lot today! And it has still never been number one at any time, not just for Christmas. But I’ll be playing it again this year, unlike the new nonentity at the top for a nanosecond or two.

I hope you enjoyed this interlude: my next set of #ChristmasSongOfTheDay catch ups will be here later in the week.

#SaturdaySongs No.10 – When I’m Sixty Four

[There used to be a video of the Beatles version of When I’m Sixty-Four here, but it was removed from YouTube. Copyright police strike again!]

My #SaturdaySongs series came to a rather abrupt halt just before last Christmas, when I was taken ill. I’ve been meaning to bring them back ever since I was better, but for some reason I’ve never quite got around to it. Put it down to a combination of indolence and a sequence of illnesses that have rendered this year a bit of a non-event for me. I had been planning to restart with something very obscure but have decided to defer it and run this one instead. There’s a good reason for this: today is my birthday and yes, you guessed, I’m 64.

As you may well know, this song first appeared on the Beatles’ legendary Sgt Pepper album, which was released just over 50 years ago, on 1 June 1967. There was a fair amount of publicity for this anniversary a couple of months ago, particularly for the re-release of an updated version of the album. I’m usually a little sceptical of these ‘remastered’ records, but this one really is quite special, and adds a whole extra dimension to the sound. The brouhaha took me back to that magical summer of ’67. As I was only 13 at the time – well, until 16th September anyway – I was a little too young to have been a participant in the ‘summer of love’ but that didn’t stop me from enjoying some fantastic music. Those were the days before the BBC started Radio 1, which came along a couple of months later, after the Government had kindly introduced the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act and scuppered the pirate radio stations. These had done so much to bring pop music to young people in a hitherto unimagined way, and on a much wider scale than public broadcasting had ever done before. The old Light Programme was no match for them, but at least most of the DJs from the pirate stations transferred to the Beeb and with Radio 1 we had something like them on a longer term basis. Even Tony Blackburn – Heaven help us!

My first memory of hearing this song, and the whole Sgt Pepper album, goes back to 12 May 1967. This was a Friday, and we all rushed home from school so that we could hear the new Beatles album being given its first airing. This was on the pirate station Radio London, which had scooped an exclusive to broadcast the album for 8 days before anyone else was allowed to play it. My memory has always been that the show was hosted by Kenny Everett, but as he had been fired from the station two months previously that memory may be faulty! But he had strong links with the Beatles, being a fellow Liverpudlian, so maybe he did do it. Or perhaps it was Dave Cash, with whom he used to do the Kenny and Cash show? Either way, it was a magical experience, even though I was sitting in my bedroom in front of a pocket transistor radio, which by modern day standards would have had appalling sound quality. But it was how we got our music in those days, and the memories flood back whenever I play the album – which is often.

Looking back, it is interesting to see what four young men in their early 20s thought it would be like to be much older. My hair may be much thinner than in those days, but I’m lucky to still have it: a legacy from my father, who turns 90 next month and still has a good head of hair! I’ve never rented a cottage on the Isle of Wight although my now ex-wife and I did stay in a hotel there for our honeymoon, so that’s quite close, isn’t it? I don’t have any grandchildren but, when I do, I somehow doubt that Vera and Chuck will be considered as possible names. My son-in-law is called Dave, though. And there’s an undeniably quaint feeling to their view of the future: I’m not sure that many people still knit sweaters, and fifty years ago life expectancy was much lower than it is today, so 64 would have felt older than it does now – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

I had a hard time finding an original Beatles version of this song to illustrate this post. As I said at the top I did find a fairly recent one, but it suffered from the very active control over Beatles music that seems to be applied on YouTube and was deleted. There are masses of alternatives though, to give you a taste of the song. Plenty of amateur covers, including a bassoon group, a chamber orchestra, various choirs, a barbershop quartet and so many wannabes. Then there are the covers by recognised artists: John Denver (ok if you like him, I guess), Cheap Trick (not bad), the Killers (unspeakably bad), Judy Collins (yes, really!), Kenny Ball (lots of clarinet), all topped off by this amazing version by Cliff Richard:

I simply had to include that, once my hysterical laughter had subsided. Those dance moves, eh? But then again, I always did think Cliff Richard was a twat so I wasn’t exactly well disposed towards it, though I’m glad I found it: I haven’t laughed so much in ages! I also found this, which purports to give someone’s view of what 64 year olds look like:

As someone says in the comments, the people featured look closer to 84 than 64. I don’t look that old yet, do I? I just feel like it, some days 😂

PS: I’m planning on bringing you some more #SaturdaySongs soon, although maybe not on a weekly basis. See you again, I hope.

#SaturdaySongs No.5 – Please Please Me

For someone of my vintage this is probably a fairly obvious choice for one of my #SaturdaySongs memories. But I’m not apologising for that: this was the first UK top ten hit by the Beatles, and the way it stormed into the British consciousness – and then the world – was unheard of before then. I would argue that despite there having been many artists who have since sold records by the truckload, the way for them to do this was paved by the Beatles. They weren’t the first major pop music act, but the floodgates opened on the back of their popularity.

Let me take you back to when the song was released. This was on 11 January 1963 and, a week later, I along with probably most of the UK population saw them perform it on the TV programme Thank Your Lucky Stars. At the time, the UK was two weeks into the worst winter we have had in my lifetime: it started to snow on Boxing Day, 26 December 1962, and we didn’t see the ground again until three months later, in March. Transport networks were less plentiful than today in any case, but those that we had were paralysed by the severe weather, so we had little else to do other than stay indoors and entertain ourselves as best we could. I do remember that the school bus managed to run most days though – there’s no justice in life, is there!

I was 9 at this time, and had been interested in pop music for a year or two, but the Beatles were an eye-opener. In those days our exposure to pop was on a much smaller scale than today. In the UK we only had 2 TV channels, which had very little in the way of pop music programmes, and the BBC’s national radio networks weren’t really geared up to younger audiences. The only commercial radio station available to us was Radio Luxembourg, which was so difficult to pick up that you had to be really dedicated to persevere with it – and when you finally did manage to tune in, it was like listening to music being broadcast from another galaxy, transmitted through a high-powered wind tunnel. But it was all we had, and we listened in our droves. The national UK broadcasters gave us the occasional pop artist as a guest on the variety shows which were popular at the time with our parents and other assorted oldies: you know the sort of thing, an awful comedian, a magic act usually involving a few doves, ‘comedy’ acrobats and jugglers, songs from the musicals performed by people we’d never heard of, the hideously racist and patronising Black And White Minstrel Show. And now and then, we’d get a pop artist.

Prior to the Beatles this would be the likes of Cliff Richard or John Leyton. It’s a surprise that I ever got interested in music, really, after an introduction like that! The radio stations were no better: the BBC had three networks, only one of which – the Light Programme – played popular music, and even then it was usually cover versions by the in-house orchestra rather than proper records. The long-running Top Of The Pops TV show was nearly a year away (it started on 1 January 1964) and the BBC didn’t reorganise its radio networks until 1967, after the runaway popularity of pirate stations, which began broadcasting from rusting old boats in the seas off the UK shore, around 1963-4 I think.

Here’s today’s song:

The sound and video quality has degraded a little over the 50+ years since then, but I wanted to share a live version to give you an idea of the kind of hysteria that the Beatles generated, if you weren’t around in those days. Please Please Me was the Beatles’ second single in the UK, after Love Me Do reached no.17 in autumn 1962. It reached no.2, and led the way for a string of UK and worldwide number ones, starting with From Me To You, its follow up. Whenever I hear this I’m transported back to those magical days of my childhood, to the times when my little sister and I used to play and sing along, using our toy tennis rackets as guitars, and were convinced that we sounded far better than the BBC’s anonymous concert orchestra singers. With hindsight I doubt that we did, but we were living a dream, and that is one of the wonderful things about music, and why I have chosen this song this week. I hope it brings back memories for you, too.