Friday, 1 June 2012

Come in, Number 1, your time is up?

Over at the Guardian, they're filling in the Leveson-less hours with a piece on favourite Number 1 chart singles over the years. There are some surprising tracks and little gems, so I thought I'd shamelessly hijack the debate and ask you what your favourites are.

This is a bit cheeky of course - very few of the songs I like have ever reached the Top Ten, let alone No. 1. That's because I have better taste than you Sheeple (joke), although I think you were absolutely right to put Tiffany's 'I Think We're Alone Now, Dexy's 'Geno' (not as good as 'Plan B' and Vic Reeves with the Wonder Stuff up there. But chart music is a special genre with whose parameters I'm not familiar. But being a nerd, I had a quick look at the list of chart-toppers from 1980 on (basically from when I was sentient - born in 1975) to see if there were any shared features or trends.

They say that if you want to take a culture's aesthetic temperature, you don't look to the canon of 'literature' - you look at what people read in volume (mostly Mills and Boon and Andy McNab). The same goes for music - snobs like me are in a definite minority. The British taste in music is fairly catholic, but some conclusions can be drawn. Firstly, and brilliantly, you like novelty songs. A lot. From TV comedies (Spitting Image's 'The Chicken Song' was huge both in my playground and nationally), advert music (ponderous Stiltskin, which I had on tape, or 'Flat Beat' which I didn't) to summer holiday smashes ('Las Ketchup') picked up and discarded in the time it takes to get through a Jackie Collins at the airport, to out-and-out weirdness ('Doctorin' The Tardis' - genius, and The Firm's 'Star Trekkin'' - which I have on 7" vinyl: the dub b-side is brilliant) and subversion (The Shamen's 'Ebeneezer Goode', sometimes you just want a laugh. Honourable mention too for the BBC getting an all-star cast together for 'Perfect Day': a song about scoring smack blithely used to demand that we keep coughing up the licence fee, then released for Children in Need.

One of the sad things of the last decade is the way that 'reality' TV songs have replaced these camp classics,  left-field one hit wonders (I spent a couple of summers cruising round in a friend's mum's Volvo 240: the only tapes in the car were Chesney Hawkes's 'I Am The One And Only', which came with a genuinely good blues b-side and UCC's awful  'I've Got The Key', both of which were preferable to Joseph's Deacon Blue albums) and comedy tracks - often with terrible ballads. At least B*Witched (3 number ones in 1998) were clearly grabbing their chances with both hands and having a brilliant time rather than attempting to be meaningful. With some novelty tracks, there's just a whiff of calculation rather than serendipitous discovery, such as the two weeks in 2004 which saw Eamon's 'Fuck It, I Don't Want You Back' replaced by Frankee's reply, 'Fuck You Right Back'.

I particularly like Falco's 'Rock Me Amadeus':

But Britain: hang your heads for buying this in massive numbers, even if it was for charity:

There's also a deeply maudlin aspect to the British psyche. Who'd have thought that the theme from Vietnam War allegory M*A*S*H*, the resolutely downbeat 'Suicide is Painless' would reach the top? Or Sinead O'Connor's cover of 'Nothing Compares 2U'?  Then there's the awful mush: the sheer cynicism of melding dead Eva Cassidy with alive Katie Melua to get 'What a Wonderful World' to the top in 2007 horrifies me, but when the Radio 2 crowd get going, there's no stopping them. Talking of which, who thought it was a good idea to mark the Dunblane Massacre with a charity single of 'Knocking on Heaven's Door b/w Throw These Guns Away'? I guess the music doesn't matter when the nation's in a state of shock.

But the worst Number One of all is of course Rage Against The Machine's 'Killing in the Name Of'. Not because of the music - it's a great track by a band I respect even if they are major-label marxists. It's the mean-spirited purpose of that campaign. I want to hear the bands I like in the charts: I remember spending every Sunday by the radio hoping that something I liked would be played, and always being disappointed. I hate the production-line rubbish that clogs up the charts. But that's the point: it's not for me. It's for 10 year-olds for whom everything sounds new, and for a few deluded gits who think that buying a song by the 'Military Wives' is somehow meaningful. The joy of the top ten is that it is - or was, until the web made everything permanent - ephemeral. Weird things happen in the charts, though less so as corporate music becomes more cynically mechanical. That's why it's fun. The top of the charts is no place for complexity, ambiguity or profundity. It's about cheap thrills. Go with it or get lost.

Here are a few more Number Ones I liked. First up, White Town, with 'Your Woman':

And of course Cornershop: shy indie Asian genius. Sadly, I bought the original version which didn't have much poke, but the remix deservedly hit Number One:

Recently, Cee-Lo Green's 'Fuck You' is a masterpiece: funny, heartfelt, and beautifully done.

Couldn't leave you without tabloid-baiting 'Ebeneezer Goode', even though I recently read an interview with the lyricist who clearly thought he was up there with Milton and Blake, and Vic Reeves and the Wonder Stuff.

1 comment:

Ewarwoowar said...

Off the top of my head... is a good one with the laydeez is terrible video quality but it reminds me of my salad days. I was 10 at the time and I was certain we were going to win :( is still one of my favourites. because they might just be the greatest band of all time and this song is still relevant. because....just because. Having said that, I was 15 when I was released and even a hormonal 15 year old could see it was a pretty shameless, blatant publicity stunt. the funny thing is, this band made some records miles better than this one, but this was their only #1. I loved this as a kid. because it reminds me of Test match cricket on channel 4.

Actually it's funny how certain songs are like a soundtrack to my life and bring the ol' memories flooding back.