The Church Of Me
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Kissing in the churchyard, I know a righteous woman

Monday, October 30, 2006

I note in passing that this was the penultimate Top 20 that BS Johnson would have lived to see. Not that he had anything but contempt for pop, but I think even BSJ would have found some of this list to his liking.

20. Nazareth – This Flight Tonight
Bizarre hard-rock adaptation of one of the quietest expressions of pain and grief in music (near the end of Joni’s holy Blue). Points to Dunfermline’s finest for trying, but in reality they were missing the point.

19. Carpenters – Top Of The World
Never my favourite Carpenters tune, nor indeed theirs; but constant radio airplay necessitated a 45 remix and it went top five here and became their third American number one. Slightly too unambiguously MoR for my tastes, but it is always heartbreaking to hear Karen feeling – or being – unreservedly happy.

18. Max Bygraves – Deck Of Cards
Not played, for which I can only thank the Lord; you’d think it impossible to make Wink Martindale’s original (which was also skulking around the lower regions of the Top 40, on its third chart visit) even blander, but Max managed it, to the extent of replacing the original melody with Geoff Love trademark sloppy gloop and even losing the tagline of “And friends, I was that soldier” with “All the charges against the soldier were dismissed.” So bloody British, so 1973 – or was it still 1943?

17. Bob Dylan – Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door
Those who think Modern Times is Dylan writing his obituary – and there are those who forget that he is still only 65 – would do well to remember that he was already drafting it three decades ago. Of course, in the film it also serves the context of an obituary for an entire way of life; Pat Garrett knows he has to kill the culture, even though he knows that he will be killed in doing it. That slow river, that never slower Peckinpah…everything draining away in quietude of red. Oh yes, BSJ would have understood this one in a second.

16. Electric Light Orchestra - Showdown
This marked Lynne’s first effort to get away from updating “I Am The Walrus” and taking on Philly in the blue-eyed soul stakes. But he still can’t get it quite right – and that’s why it works; those strings are still slithering and phasing in and out like 1968 deferred, and nasal Jeff was never going to be Teddy Pendergrass. “It’s raining all over the world.” Apparently the studio doorman told him, on the way out, “That’s a touch of class, is that.”

15. Michael Ward – Let There Be Peace On Earth (Let It Begin With Me)
Dale didn’t remember this record at all, and thus didn’t play it. However, I do; he was a 14-year-old choirboy who won Opportunity Knocks, and it accordingly sounds like a fragment from a long-lost episode of Songs Of Praise. Of the mini-wave of would-be child stars around this period, however, it’s nowhere near as spooky as “Milly Molly Mandy” by Junior Showtime’s Glyn Poole (to be found at that week’s #42 position), which the unwary could mistake for an outtake from the second Psychic TV album.

14. Isley Brothers – That Lady
Strangely, Dale didn’t remember the original 1963 (not 1964) “Who’s That Lady?” either. But what a butterfly emerging out of the chrysalis; vocals succulent and purring, Ernie Isley’s post-Jimi guitar still sounding beamed in from 2013.

13. Bobby ‘Boris’ Pickett & the Crypt Kickers – The Monster Mash
12. Sweet – The Ballroom Blitz

Neither was played, as they were both dropping down the chart, but an apt coupling; Pickett’s piece of Kim Fowley-ish hokum owed its belated British success, as I recall, in part to Noel Edmonds on Radio 1, and also in part to Viv Stanshall’s rendition with the Bonzos (which I always preferred). Meanwhile, “The Ballroom Blitz” – a sexy and raunchy and wonderful cardboard apocalypse.

11. Detroit Spinners – Ghetto Child
Both group and Thom Bell very close to their best; they wear the song’s complexity as lightly – all those tricky tempo changes, shifting bar line divisions and divided lead vocals – as the message which it’s delivering. “Made to feel ashamed just for being born,” “Punished for a crime that was not mine.” Christie Malry would have understood. One of the very few singles of the period unreservedly loved by myself and both of my parents.

10. Bryan Ferry – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall
Whereas this second slice of Dylan sounds like a real apocalypse. A genius stroke for Ferry to croon it as a jaded lounge-lizard lament for decadence, since he draws out the underlying immense power of the song, both musically and verbally – so often does Dylan’s genius reveal itself more readily in the hands of astute interpreters. As he wearily views the world burning, David O’List’s increasingly fractious lead guitar commentary simply burns, and the string section veer between proto-Nyman and the Grand Old Opry.

9. Ike & Tina Turner – Nutbush City Limits
Rather wearied by over-familiarity and knowledge of what was really going on with them, but still a powerful and unexpected hit; the whining Moog throughout is as futuristic as Ernie Isley’s space guitar.

8. David Bowie – The Laughing Gnome
Face facts; Decca had lost the Stones, were about to lose Tom Jones, were generally going nowhere and therefore can’t really be blamed for exploiting their back catalogue. However, no amount of foreknowing irony can fabricate a work of art out of this sub-Newley piece of cacky novelty, and signs would point to Bowie having similar feelings.

7. Perry Como – For The Good Times
The warm fire, the cosy home, the relationship about to end, the resigned sigh, the approaching shades of terminal autumn. They’re doomed but will enjoy the last sups from the glass before it empties forever. Written by Kris Kristofferson, and in a 1973 context best viewed as the reverse side of, or parallel to, Marvin’s “Just To Keep You Satisfied.”

6. Elton John – Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
The opening “When are you gonna come DOWN?” suggests a Gilbert O’Sullivan tribute. The song is all about disillusion with big and shiny things and hollow people and returning to the singer’s humble hamlet, back to the land and to love. It is appropriately epic in its farewells and quite poignant in its harmonies, though you know, deep down, that Elton would never countenance doing such a thing.

5. Status Quo - Caroline
Though already five years into their chart career, this is the first real example of The Status Quo Single as we know and cherish it, and still I think stands up as their best, since it is the template, despite the subsequent decades of minimal modifications which they have applied to it.

4. David Bowie - Sorrow
Thus we have Bowie, recorded in ’66 and charting in ’73, and Bowie, charting in ’73 and singing something originally recorded in ’66. Note the “with your long blonde hair” sustenato and that he never actually finishes the song, leaving it, as with so much else, hanging in his own unique mid-air.

3. Slade – My Frend Stan
The only Slade single in their annus mirabilis not to make number one, and it was a deliberate and rather muted break from the norm. Norm? “And by the way you blacked my eye/I know that you’re the reason why.” Non-sequiturs worthy of Oasis on a good (1995) day.

2. Simon Park Orchestra – Eye Level (Theme From Van Der Valk)
Were TOTP still going, they would probably just show some video clips now, but then would something like this get anywhere near the charts of 2006? A jolly, sweeping, Straussian and clearly catchy orchestral romp from an extremely popular (and extremely quiet) detective series; Park brought his full-sized orchestra on TOTP and solemnly conducted them. Quite right, too. BSJ probably watched at least one episode.

1. David Cassidy – Daydreamer/The Puppy Song
Dale played “Daydreamer,” as he always does – does POTP’s producer think the Nilsson cover pervy? – and as always it is the beginning of George Michael; hushed, breathy tones over shimmering electric piano chords meditating on lost love. But where the hell did that recorder solo at the end spring from?

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