For some reason, I happened to look at the Official UK Singles Chart on the BBC Radio 1 website yesterday. It was quite a revelation for me to find that there’s only a handful of artists that I’ve heard of, let alone their songs. The songs by Shakira and Lily Allen are the only ones I’ve (knowingly) heard.
This made me wonder where my keeping-up-with-the-charts went, as there was a time when I could virtually recite the whole top 40 singles of a given week, obsessed as I was with pop music in my teens.
Next port of call was this site that lists every number one single in the UK, which led me to indulge in some graph porn:
That graph tells me two obvious things. First, that I don’t buy singles any more (the graph only includes singles that I bought at the time that they were in the charts; it doesn’t include number ones that appear on albums I own, unless I bought the album as a direct result of liking that particular song). And second, that more singles get to number one and stay there for shorter times these days.
I’m fairly sure that my days of interest in the single are over. That’s a shame, really. I enjoyed buying singles. I enjoyed reading the names on the sleeves or the messages scratched into the run-off groove. I enjoyed obsessing on one song, playing it over and over again. I enjoyed that ever-so-special idea of the b-side, especially when bands made an effort to give you value for money. I suppose I do the same these days with mp3s, but they have less impact, and only stay in my head for a couple of weeks.
Here – for my own enjoyment, really – is every UK number one record I’ve ever bought, part one: 1980 – 1983.
John Lennon ‘(Just Like) Starting Over’
This was the year I began buying records, and this was the only number one I bought. Well, half-bought: I went halves (45p each!) with my Mum because she liked it too. That was just a couple of days before he was murdered. Not that I knew that he was the guy in The Beatles at that point. I, of course, knew the songs of The Beatles, but I didn’t connect the voice on those songs with the one on ‘(Just Like) Starting Over.’
Adam & The Ants ‘Stand and Deliver’
This was likely the first single I bought within days of its release. By this time, after all the pirate stuff, Adam Ant was the best thing I’d ever seen. Just the words ‘dandy highwayman’ sparkled in my brain as I was quite into Dick Turpin at the time, too. And the video was fantastic.
The Specials ‘Ghost Town’
In early 1980s Lincoln, the fashion amongst people my age (I was ten years old at the time) was for jeans which had either a white or red pinstripe running down the outside seam. The tougher kids had Harrington jackets or fishtail parkas. I had a dark blue parka with one of those massive hoods that you could suffocate in if you zipped it right up. It was all, as far as I remember, a vague approximation of the ska look the older boys in town had. This song always reminds me of a ‘lesson’ one day at junior school where our teacher asked us all to bring in a record that we could listen to. Looking back, that just seems like a lazy teacher’s way of not doing any work. ‘Ghost Town’ was the one I took in, and the very first record I bought with two songs on the b-side.
Soft Cell ‘Tainted Love’
Maybe my memory of these early records is stronger because there are a lot of firsts… This one was the first single I bought with the word ‘love’ in the title. It is strange that I remember that so vividly, but I got quite embarrassed at that early age when my parents suggested that I might have fancied a girl or something; so I was also embarrassed to buy a record with ‘love’ in the title. Silly, huh? It’s still a great sounding record, especially the 12″ version which segues into ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’; a version that was still incredibly popular in the discotheques of Lincoln in the late eighties.
Adam & The Ants ‘Prince Charming’
I was having a drunken conversation about the inventiveness of some music from the eighties in the hotel bar when I was at the Haldern Festival a couple of weeks ago (yes, I stayed in a hotel, not a tent). This song wasn’t mentioned, but it illustrates why I’m no longer that excited by the pop charts. There’s a lack of invention nowadays. How many artists or record companies would dare to put out a record that begins like this one does now with its freaky screeching and drums? Anyway, it’s another excellent pantomime video.
Paul McCartney & Stevie Wonder ‘Ebony and Ivory’
I like those Paul McCartney songs we’re all supposed to be snooty about. ‘Pipes of Peace,’ ‘No More Lonely Nights,’ ‘Say Say Say,’ ‘We All Stand Together.’ I even like ‘Spies Like Us.’
Musical Youth ‘Pass The Dutchie’
Often, I’d sit by my record player when listening to a song, and as the fade out begun, I’d slowly try to counter it by turning the volume up. I used to wonder why records faded out. A band wouldn’t fade out a song when they wrote it. They wouldn’t fade out when they played it live. But I guess (and it’s just a guess; I don’t know it for sure) that fade outs are there to make records easier to play on the radio, so the DJ isn’t left stranded with a sudden ending.
Duran Duran ‘Is There Something I Should Know?’
It’s quite hard to believe that Duran Duran didn’t have a number one single until this one. But it’s a good one. I was very into Duran Duran, and, as the Mother’s Manual states that she must do, my mum told me many times that ‘they won’t be around as long as Cliff Richard, that’s for sure.’ Which, I now know, is wrong. Duran Duran are still together, over 25 years on from their first record; about the same length of time Cliff had been around when she told me that. Anyway, at the time I used to copy the logo on the sleeve, just with CR instead of the DD.
New Edition ‘Candy Girl’
Easy as one, two, three.
The Police ‘Every Breath You Take’
Paul Young ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat (That’s My Home)’
I bought this single in a town called Sleaford in Lincolnshire. On the way home, I said something that annoyed my mum, and she made me get out the car and walk home. We were only a couple of miles from home at the point. My memory of that event was, until recently, that I did walk home; but I’m not so sure now. I can’t imagine her letting me do that. So I probably just walked a few hundred feet to where she’d stopped further along the road.
UB40 ‘Red Red Wine’
The first of seven number one records in a row that I bought. This coincides wi
th a period where I was relatively ill and in hospital for six weeks; thus not doing anything else with my pocket money, and fluttering my poor, sickly eyelashes at my mum to get her to buy me extra records. I liked this record a lot at the time. I especially liked the sleeve, which was one of those generic record label sleeves with the circle cut out of the centre to show the label on the record, but it was a lovely shade of grey.
Culture Club ‘Karma Chameleon’
Yes, Mum, he does dress like a girl.
Billy Joel ‘Uptown Girl’
I think we should be able to have some sort of ‘memory tax’ levied on musicians like Westfuckinglife when they do shitty cover versions of songs we like. Ditto bands that allow songs we like to be tainted by being on adverts. In the future, when our life’s memories are all embedded on microchips in our skulls, I think we should be able to go to the Department of Music and prove that, yes, I love Billy Joel’s song, and the presence of Westlife’s version in the world is causing me to get angry as it’s polluting my memories; therefore Westlife owe me £50. That’s what I’d do if I was your prime minister.
The Flying Pickets ‘Only You’
Now this one really does remind me of being in hospital. Not that I listened to the record itself; it was just on the hospital’s radio station a lot. I had something called Reiter’s syndrome, which is some freaky weird thing that lead to me having uveitis (a tougher version of conjunctivitis), urethritis (as painful as you might imagine from its name), and arthritis. Lots of things ending in ‘-tis,’ really. What happened is this: one day, I was coming back from town. There were two buses that serviced my area of North Hykeham: one that went virtually to my door, the other that required a further 15 minute walk. I was on the latter of those buses. I began walking back, and after about five minutes, I, err, went toilet (number twos) in my trousers. I was thirteen years old at the time. You can imagine how horrible the rest of my journey home was. Anyway, later that day it began to hurt when I tried to piss. The general concensus in the house was I was just ‘a bit ill.’ Both of my parents were already at work by the time I got up the next morning to go to school. I got out of bed, and my legs gave way. Couldn’t walk. So I had to drag myself along the floor to the bathroom. Doctor came, and I was in bed for a couple of days. Things didn’t get better, so I went to hospital, got diagnosed, and stayed in bed with my legs in splints for six weeks. By the time I was well again, the muscles in my legs had completely wasted away and I had to spend the next six months having physiotherapy twice a week. But, it had it’s plus side: it meant I could miss my German lessons at school, cos fuck it, I’ll never need to speak German…
Anyway, that was 1980 to 1983. More of this music stuff soon, picking up in 1984; a year where I bought all but two of the fourteen UK number one singles.