Wednesday, 15 August 2012
AAA Singles With The Most Weeks On The US Billboard Charts (News, Views and Music Issue 157 Top Ten)
This week we’re going to have a look at the 10 AAA singles that spent the most weeks at number on the American chart ‘Billboard’ – and it makes for very interesting comparison to the top ten we listed for the British chart back in News, Views and Music Issue 139. Those of you who’ve read that article may notice that of the whole top 10 only one entry (‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’) is the same. In fact the contrasts get even weirder than that: some of this issue’s high flyers like ‘Say Say Say’ never made #1 in the UK at all, whilst Lulu’s ‘To Sir With Love’ wasn’t even a single in Britain. Equally the UK top two of Wings’ ‘Mull Of Kintyre’ and Art Garfunkel’s ‘Bright Eyes’ are barely known in America (where the latter is an album track and the former the B-side of flop single ‘Girl’s School’). And where would the Spice Girls come on this list? Thankfully nowhere, seeing as they never got a #1 in America (unlike Britain where they’d have been second, worryingly). Yippee!
1) The Beatles “Hey Jude” (9 weeks, 1968)
The Beatles’ best-selling single seems to have sold well for a long period, rather than madly for a short one as it did in the UK. Written by McCartney in part for Lennon’s son Julian, it was immediately assumed by John that his partner was writing about him and Yoko. Paul felt he was writing for himself and Linda. Whoever the subject matter, whatever the history, ‘Hey Jude’ has become something of an uplifting pop standard down the years since its release, complete with its radio airtime defying seven minute playing mark (accidentally or purposely edited to run one second longer than previous record holder ‘MacArthur Park’) and its stream of singalong na-na-nas.
2) The Beatles “I Want To Hold Your Hand” (7 weeks, 1964)
The second fab four entry on this list was, for most Americans, the first bit of Merseybeat they ever heard, entering the charts at #1 and holding that position despite phenomenal competition (much of it from the Beatles themselves, who held all top five entries on one memorable week in August 1964). The Beatles learned about it while they were in Paris touring, ending the day with a massive pillow fight in the King George V hotel, the same week they recorded follow-up single ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ – the 7th entry on this list. What a successful week that was! In Britain ‘Hand’ was their fourth straight #1 (or third if you use the charts that list ‘Please Please Me’ as only #2) and sits at #4 in the list of AAA songs with the most weeks in the British charts.
3) The Monkees “I’m A Believer” (7 weeks, 1966-67)
Monkee-mania was pretty big in Britain, where The Monkees have three songs that would have appeared in the ‘most weeks in the UK charts’ list had we carried on to list 11-20. However it was in another league in America, where copious showings of ‘I’m A Believer’ on the first season of The Monkees’ TV show helped get this second single to #1. Written by Neil Diamond and given to the Monkees’ musical director Don Kirshner in the hope of kick-starting his career, this song certainly did that and is still the band’s most recognised song today (after their theme tune, possibly).
4) Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder “Ebony and Ivory” (7 weeks, 1982)
At number one for just one week in the UK, this duet went massive stateside, even if both countries have since wondered about the quality of the song. Written by McCartney after noticing that the keys on his piano had white and black notes sitting side by side, he called in an old friendship with Stevie to record the song. Nominated the worst duet of all time and the 9th worst song ever by listeners of BBC6, the song has lost something of its reputation and prestige down the 30 years since its release. Never played live by either party, this song actually sounds better in the 12” B-side version where Paul sings all the lines himself. Surprisingly – or perhaps not – the pair recorded their vocals separately in their own home studios. It was also banned in South Africa during the 1980s under the apartheid rule.
5) Simon and Garfunkel “Bridge Over Troubled Water” (6 weeks, 1970)
Another single that just missed an entry in the UK lists by inches, this is the duo’s best-selling song – and their last, barring reunions. How big would the next single have been we wonder?! Alas there was no ‘ease of mind’ for the old schoolfrienfds, who split shortly after release. Arty turned this song into an even more massive ballad in his solo concerts whilst Paul went the other way, re-modelling his composition as an under-stated gospel track (best heard on the concert LP ‘Live Rhymin’). Interesting note for you: most Americans would have heard this song first on the S+G TV special ‘Songs Of America’, where ‘Bridge’ accompanied footage of the funeral trains of assassin victims JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King.
6) Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson “Say Say Say” (6 weeks, 1983)
Macca’s ‘other’ duet of the 1980s, this song only made #2 in the UK despite appealing to the fanbases of two musical superstars. It was one heck of a lot more successful than follow-up ‘The Girl Is Mine’ (penned by Wacko Jacko), but not as good as album track ‘The Man’ (which appeared on Macca’s ‘Pipes Of Peace’ album). A popular music video, with Macca and Jacko as travelling conmen salesmen, probably helped it into this list.
7) The Beatles “Can’t Buy Me Love” (5 weeks, 1964)
Beatles single #6 replaced ‘Hand’ at #1, giving the band a ridiculous three interrupted months in the American number one spot. The last song to be recorded before The Beatles broke the American charts it’s a slightly jazzy, effortlessly upbeat burst of songwriting from McCartney and his first real Beatles A-side since first song ‘Love Me Do. The fact that the song featured in the released-while-in-the-charts movie ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ probably helped.
8) Lulu “To Sir With Love” (5 weeks, 1967)
Lulu’s biggest hit by some margin in the States, most Brits are probably going ‘to sir with what?’ Amazingly record company Decca decided that, despite being the title song to a major budget movie, the song simply wouldn’t sell so this became the B-side to unfairly forgotten single ‘Let’s Pretend’ in the UK. The fact that Lulu appears in the film about a black teacher inspiring white kids probably helped a lot, although what not many people realise is that the backing track was recorded by The Mindbenders who have their own cameo in the film (guitarist Eric Stewart will become a founder member of fellow AAA band 10cc).
9) The Beatles “Get Back” (5 weeks, 1969)
The Beatles’ ‘re-set’ single chanting ‘get back to where you once belonged’ was for over a year the only evidence the public had of the band’s much-talked about film-and-concert project to ‘show the band with their trousers off’. Originally in the first draft this was the ‘Commonwealth Song’, a spoof by McCartney of Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech that so spectacularly missed the 60s hippie ethos and tried to turn us against our brothers and sisters seeking refuge from all over the globe. Later it became, well, what is this song all about? Even McCartney admits he doesn’t have a clue, but that didn’t stop the song enjoying the Beatles’ third longest stay in the US charts. The single is notably different to the album version (the single was taped at the band’s infamous ‘Rooftop’ gig, whilst the album version was taped at Twickenham) and is the only Beatles single to credit another musician (Billy Preston, an old friend from the band’s Hamburg days, who plays some fine electric piano on the track).
10) John Lennon “(Just Like) Starting Over” (5 weeks, 1980-81)
John Lennon held the charts in some form for almost three months after his death in December 1980, with this song – his comeback, released in October – rattling up the charts (to be followed by the first single release of ‘Imagine’ and Bryan Ferry’s cover of ‘Jealous Guy’). Starting with a sweet chiming bell, this was Lennon’s announcement to his fans that he was ‘in a good place’ in contrast to the slowed-down funeral bell that ushered in his solo career on the ‘Lennon/Plastic Ono Band’ LP and was the first release after four whole years away from the music business (an eternity back then – half the gap between Rolling Stones albums in this day and age). And that’s that. Join us next week when we’ll be looking at the top AAA albums in the US!