Saturday, 31 March 2012

News, Views and Music Issue 139 (Top Five): The AAA Singles that spent the most weeks at #1 in the UK charts

Here’s another of our occasional best-seller lists for you, this week it’s the AAA singles that spent the most weeks (not necessarily consecutively) at #1 in the UK album charts. Or at least those listed by Record Retailer, our preferred mechanism for measuring sales back in the pre-electronic days (the differences between this and the Melody maker chart are surprisingly large in number) of the 1960s. There’s much more variety on this list than our ‘albums’ one and there are a few surprising entries on this list as well as a few curious absentees (‘Hey Jude’ just missed the list, as did a whole run of Simon and Garfunkel releases). We’ll have to run a ‘Billboard top AAA singles’ sometime too because that list is very different: most of this top 10 would be replaced, including the first two items which – unbelievably – weren’t even released as A sides in America! Alas, unlike our albums list, the Spice Girls would have made it as an entry (as high as #2 in the list for the seven-week number one ‘Forever’. Huh, must have been a slow few months for record releases, that’s all we’re saying...)

1) Paul McCartney and Wings “Mull Of Kintyre” (first week on chart 3/12/1979): 9 weeks

In fact Macca’s best-selling single appears quite high up in the overall most weeks at number one list (fourth) and is still the song a lot of British subjects think of when they hear the word ‘Wings’. However elsewhere no one has heard of it, with the single flipped in most countries in favour of rocking (and X-rated) B-side ‘Girl’s School’ (something of a flop). Macca didn’t even include this song on American copies of his ‘All The Best’ compilation. That, of course, might be because this is a hymn to an island off the shores of Scotland that the McCartneys made their home (and Macca still owns a farmhouse there, though he’s not been a regular resident since Linda died). To the Scottish ‘Kintyre’ is the modern equivalent of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, a bagpipe filled paean to all things Scottish. To Paul it’s a song about escape, as it was this island that Paul and family fled to when the Beatles fell out and started suing each other, with Kintyre representing a tranquillity and hope that doesn’t always come through in the lyrics.

2) Art Garfunkel “Bright Eyes” (14/4/1979): 6 weeks

Most S+G fans worldwide don’t even recognise this song, which to them is simply another ballad lost in the sea of ballads that make up most of Arty’s 1979 album ‘Fate For Breakfast’ and never was a single. For Brits, though, it’s one of the classy songs about death, thanks to its use in the British cartoon ‘Watership Down’, based on Richard Adams’ excellent novel which just happens to be very close to my heart (a circle of friends still know me better as ‘Fiver’, the fortune-telling rabbit who sees visions and successfully navigates his pack of bunnies out of harm’s way). Is it a kind of dream that this single made six whole weeks at number one at the height of new wave? Surprisingly, no.

3) The Beatles “I Feel Fine” (5/12/1964): 6 weeks

There’s actually four songs from the heady days of Beatlemania tied for second place, but we’ve sorted them out by including the most recent sellers (when there was more competition in the charts, very roughly speaking) first in our list. As a result it’s too-often forgotten ninth Beatles single (and sixth number one) that comes highest of all the Beatles entries on this list, the number one over the festive period of 1964, arguably the Beatle’s year. A surprisingly feel-good song from the pen of John Lennon, its set apart from the monochrome angst and edginess that represents most of his songs (and a few of McCartney’s) for both ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ and ‘Beatles For Sale’ (the fab four’s album releases that year). It also lasted longer in the charts than either ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ or ‘A Hard Day’s Night’. The Christmas timing undoubtedly helped, but that said there was a lot of stiff competition around that month, with releases from the Stones, Kinks, Hollies, Animals and Beach Boys somewhere in the charts too.

4) The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (7/12/1963): 6 weeks

‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ seems a more obvious big seller, mainly because for Americans this single is the one most of them are likely to have bought first (in the wake of the band’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show). Six weeks is still impressive though, especially given the sheer volumes of any Beatles single during its first week of release -the equivalent of most of the top 10 singles today put together, most weeks! Again the festive chart timing undoubtedly helped, with an array of parents, friends, grannies and fans saving up their money splashing out on the latest fab four 45.

5) The Beatles “From Me To You” (27/4/1963): 6 weeks

Yet another Beatles release in our list, this was their third single and first number one (according to Record Retailer anyway, who had a big downer on ‘Please Please Me’s sales). This single often gets forgotten nowadays squeezed in between the other two big hits (funnily enough the songs listed above and below this one) but was another big seller in its day. The words were inspired by the title of the letters page in the NME (which often carried articles on The Beatles) and quickly became a slight re-write of both the music and lyrics of ‘She Loves You’, sung as a thank-you to fans. What’s impressive is that this single came out at Easter, not renowned as a regular time for releasing records and yet still managed to prove that the Beatles’ early success wasn’t a fleeting moment of fame.

6) The Beatles “She Loves You” (7/9/1963): 6 weeks

Another number, another early Beatles single – but ‘She Loves You’ was, undeniably for British fans, the big one. ‘Please Please Me’ had got the band noticed, but ‘She Loves You’ made sure the band wasn’t going away. The cry of ‘yeah yeah yeah’ seemed to hang in the air for a lot longer than the three weeks this single was number one, but of course the Beatles had less competition for this single than on their later recordings, with only The Searchers and Gerry and the Pacemakers regular scoring number ones in the same period.

7) The Human League “Don’t You Want Me?” (12/12/1981): 5 weeks

Record sales reached their peak in the awful decade of the 1980s – sad but true – which makes The Human League’s extended tally at the top of the charts all the more impressive. Especially given that in many ways this single could be considered a ‘debut’ – this new-look cocktail waitress-filled line-up has almost nothing in common with the earlier, more serious and arty band (who ended up in Heaven 17 for the most part), with only a single flop release under the pseudonym ‘The Men’ to this new line-up’s credit. And unlike other groups on this list, The Human League never ever scored a number one again (despite coming very close with their next two follow-ups, which were unlucky enough to be released at the same time as two of the biggest sellers of the decade).

8) Pink Floyd “Another Brick In The Wall Part 2” (15/12/1979): 5 weeks

Pink Floyd abandoned releasing singles in 1968, after a long string of flops, which made the new-look David Gilmour-era of the band feel that ‘singles weren’t for us’. However Roger Waters was persuaded to stick out the catchiest song from ‘The Wall’ as an advertisement for the album and somehow this song took off, being sung in playgrounds across the globe (it was even banned in Africa after being taken up as a call to arms against a damningly poor education system that, amazingly, was similar in technique to the academy schools the Coalition are trying to force on us – do these people not know their history?!)The tie-in film (‘The Wall’ if you hadn’t guessed) also helped boost sales, although it was so delayed that the single was probably out of the charts by the time it actually arrives in the cinema, despite this single’s long run at number one. This single also has the odd distinction of being the last ever number one of the 1970s and the very first of the 1980s - no doubt being released in time for the festive period helped too (although ‘Another Brick’ may well be the least Christmas-friendly number one of all time – can you really picture gormless parents being conned into buying this diatribe against every shackle that surrounds you when you’re young? Erm, actually we can...) By the way success didn’t go to the Floyd’s head –this was their last single for four years and that release ‘When The Tigers Broke Free’ sold so badly that it’s all but written out of the Floyd discography today, never even making it onto an album.

9) George Harrison “My Sweet Lord” (30/1/1971): 5 weeks

The first Beatle to get a post-band solo number one was dark horse George. In fact Harrison managed to get ‘My Sweet Lord’ into the number one spot for longer than any solo Beatle single till McCartney’s ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ six years later and outsold every Beatles single bar the four listed above. Not bad work for a single that, had it been released nowadays, would have got hardly any sales or airplay, with one of the last great taboo subjects of popular music (religion) heard against a backing of Hari Krishna chants. The hook and the melody of the song are stunning, though, arguably the most Beatlesly thing any of the fab four had put out on their solo releases thus far. As an interesting aside, did you know that George has the longest gap of any artist between scoring number ones when his re-recording of this song for the millennium (‘My Sweet Lord 2000’) made the top spot some 29 years later (the largest gap for a group is also held by an AAA band, The Hollies, who scored big in 1965 with ‘I’m Alive’ and 1988 with the re-issue of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’).

 10) The Beatles “Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out” (11/12/1965): 5 weeks

The last entry on our list is – surprise surprise – another Beatles and yet again it’s a release date near to the Christmas period that undoubtedly increased sales. But note that this is the only Beatles single to make the list from the ‘classic’ middle years, back when the competition for singles was at its fiercest (before albums started taking over somewhere around 1967-68). The fact that this single is, arguably, the world’s first double ‘A’ side probably helped, with fans being able to request the single by two different names in shops rather than the customary one. Fans today reckon that McCartney’s ‘We Can Work It Out’ is the better side, but good as it is I’ve always had a soft spot for Lennon’s ‘Day Tripper’ which so perfectly sums up the slightly harsher tone of pre-summer of love psychedelia – it says much about the band’s activity and confidence in this period that they didn’t just sit on one of the songs for release at a later date.

And that’s that. Join us for our famous April Fool’s Day edition next week, which we’ve been reliably informed has been downloaded to us from a fragile nexus point in time...

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