On Friday, we commenced to look at the songs that hit Number One on the British singles charts in 1976 without making much of a dent—or any at all—in the American charts. As we continue, a word of warning: If you think the American charts of the 1970s sometimes slopped over from diversity into schizophrenia, wait until you check this stuff out.
“Combine Harvester (Brand New Key)”/The Wurzels (weeks of June 12 and 19). I was fascinated by this title when I saw it in Star File (the 1976 British chart book that inspired this series), but it’s only within the last year or two that I’ve actually heard it. It’s a parody version of the Melanie song done by a group working in the style Brits know as “scrumpy and western.” “Combine Harvester” features what Tom Ewing, writing at Popular, calls “surely the best (or maybe worst) innuendo to grace a chart-topping record” and a wheezing, rural style that must have annoyed as many people as it enchanted during its chart run.
The Roussos Phenomenon (EP)/Demis Roussos (week of July 17). Four housewifey songs by the Greek singer formerly of Aphrodite’s Child, sometime-collaborator with Vangelis, and possessor of a high, operatic voice. One song, “Forever and Ever” (not the same song by Slik mentioned last week) had gotten a bit of airplay in the States in 1973 without charting. Roussos scored a number of other hits in Europe and elsewhere, and in 1985, he was a passenger on TWA Flight 847. He was known to the hijackers as a celebrity, and his Wikipedia entry claims that was the basis for a mid-80s comeback. Believe it, or not.
“Mississippi”/Pussycat (weeks of October 16, 23, 30, and November 6). Three Dutch sisters and some other musicians, some of whom had been in a group with the Pythonesque name Scum, came together in the early 70s. How “Mississippi” failed to become a hit in the States, I dunno. It’s easy rockin’ with a singalong refrain, and it would have fit right in on the radio here that fall.
“Under the Moon of Love”/Showaddywaddy (weeks of December 4, 11, and 18). The British analogue to Sha Na Na, Showaddywaddy had a pile of hits in the UK between 1974 and 1982, including covers of songs by Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Chubby Checker, and others. “Under the Moon of Love,” the group’s biggest hit, is itself a cover of Curtis Lee’s original, which was co-written and produced by Phil Spector in 1961.
“When a Child Is Born”/Johnny Mathis (weeks of December 25, January 1, and January 8). “When a Child Is Born” made the American charts in 1974 in a version by German singer Michael Holm. Today, it’s considered a Christmas song, even though it makes no mention of the holiday. (I wrote about it briefly last year, in the context of the Moody Blues’ 2003 holiday album December.)
When you consider that the stuff we’ve covered in the last two posts represents mainstream taste in Britain as it was in 1976, the coming of punk rock seems a lot easier to understand.
If you’d like to read about these records (and everything else that topped the UK charts from 1952 forward), prepare to kill hours and hours reading Popular. The complete list of records Tom has covered so far is here.
“Mississippi”/Pussycat (out of print)