The Nation’s Favourite Number One Single 60-51

I don’t even think I could name a single that got to #1 this year. Obviously, I’m getting old, I’m too busy listening to the music I actually like, and Top of the Pops is no more. I don’t listen to the radio, so any word on what’s #1 passes me by. So, it’ll be interesting to see what shows up in this list, I may be hearing some of these songs for the first time ever. Some of these songs I’ll be actually purposefully listening to for once – it’s funny how I have listened to some songs a hundred times without actually wanting to.

60. Dizzee Rascal/Armand van Helden: ‘Bonkers’

I knew I was getting old when the Best New Sound was too much for me. I’m talking about Dizzee Rascal’s debut Boy in Da Corner album and its grime/garage sound. Jesus, not for me. I didn’t want to appear cool or hip, or whatever. Let the kids have their sound. My time was over. Did I even have a time? I was listening to the bleedin’ Stones back in the late nineties when I should have been listening to what was actually new. Oh well, I don’t regret any of it. However, the time of Rascal’s fourth album Tongue ‘n’ Cheek, his sound has becomes more immersed in the mainstream, far more palatable to those who found Rascal too rough around the edges – now he’s got kaleidoscopic videos, wearing a shark costume and making his voice sound, well…bonkers, thanks to some wacky sonic manipulation. This is proper catchy, really infectious too. There’s a hilarious ‘bonkers’ bit when the music warps for a second, plus a low, low, LOW enunciation of the word bonkers that is now the only way I ever say the word. It also lingers on the ‘there’s nothing crazy about me-e-e-e-e-e-e’ to get you well in the mood, and there’s even a less than ten seconds long dreamy ambient bit halfway through. It’s three minutes long (officially the perfect single length), and is appropriately P-H-A-T on the bass front, Rascal telling us how he ‘wakes up just to go to sleep’ and how he acts real shallow but he’s in too deep. Desperate times, but he’s having too much fun on this track for us to get too worried about him.

59. Ian Dury and the Blockheads: ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’

‘It’s nice to be a lunatic’. So far, so bonkers. Delightfully nonsense lyric where Dury just reels off places and exhortations to get done over with the rhythm stick in different languages in his unpretentious, flat London style over a catchy funk beat. The message of the song is – ‘dance, don’t fight’. Nothing wrong with that. Pity about the squealing sax bit in the middle-eight, apart from that, very nice indeed. Two fat persons, click, click, click.

A monochrome photograph of four young men, with a white border, set almost centrally in a red square. The words "SLADE" dominate the cover, underneath which is written "MERRY X'MAS EVERYBODY". Underneath the photograph are the words "DONT BLAME ME". White stars border the left and right sides of the photograph.

58. Slade: ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’

‘It’s CHRIIIIISSSSSSSTMAAAAAAS!’. Yeah, we’ve heard it too many times, it’s annoying, it’s potentially very depressing and all that. It’s also the best Christmas song ever. Today’s pop stars would kill to write a Xmas pop tune this classic these days. Worryingly, it was still number one well into January. What the hell is wrong with some people?

57. Fugees: ‘Killing Me Softly’

Gentle soul classic from Roberta Flack gets a makeover – this one’s not as intimate, but the sparser beat, the funny sitar break after the choruses, Lauryn Hill’s smooth vocals are all highlights. True, yeah, some of the rap bits have dated (one-time….two-time, indeed), but you also get the bit when the beat holds back in-between ‘killing me softly’ and ‘with his song’ and then comes back in oh-so beautifully. Thing is, this song got played a hundred billion times back in 1996, so for a long time, I couldn’t bear to hear it.

56. The Streets: ‘Dry Your Eyes’

From the Streets’ massively entertaining second album, this break-up song is quite affecting in regards to the sober delivery of the lyrics during the verses, though the mopey beat of the music is dull, and the chorus vocals/rent-a-string orchestra sections are banal and maudlin. This song works better in the context of the album. Pop song equivalent of that Wall’s sausages advert where the talking dog has to stand in for the emotionally stunted bloke.

55. The Prodigy: ‘Firestarter’

Despite all the complaints about how scary the video was, this was when the Prodigy went from underground to overground by ways of cartoon punk hilarity. Listen to those lyrics! It’s like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ to the power of a kabillion. They’re so outrageously confrontational-sounding that they’re really funny when you get down to it. Remember the words to ‘Mindfields’ from the same album? Maxim going on about how ‘THIS IS DANGEROUS!’, but only managing to sound like a case of protesting a little too much at the same time. The lyrics to same-era single ‘Smack by Bitch Up’ on the other hand weren’t so funny and proof that the band hadn’t gone completely safe, but overall, the Prodigy had turned into respectable rebels. Still, this is bloody fantastic – turned up loud, it blends dance and metal into one absolutely thrilling rush of sound. The beat is head-bangingly brilliant. Top-quality Art of Noise sample too, you know, the bit when it goes ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ As for the video, where did Keith get that funny spiderweb thing he flails around in? I got to get me one of those.

54. 10cc: ‘I’m Not in Love’

This should be much higher. Yeah, it’s guilty of all the signs of smooth, radio-friendly 1970’s soft-pop/rock, but it’s also a masterpiece of sound, atmosphere, lyrics, production and straight-up unforgettable hooks. One of the loveliest melodies imaginable, backed with utterly dreamy, beautiful backing vocals, and the ultimate phoney-denial love lyric ever…. it’s 10cc’s crowning moment. Eric Stewart’s singing is just perfect – broken, wounded, defensive yet we all know what he’s really feeling. The ‘you wait a long time for me’ section appears to drift off into another ethereal plane altogether. The twinkle and tinkle of piano during this moment is just so exquisitely pretty I can’t bear it. Just so lovely. This song sounds so much like the 1970’s, yet there’s still something of the future about it. It belongs on your ‘Classic Hits of the 1970s’ compilations just as much it belongs on a list of the most unearthly, alien smash pop songs ever.

53. Coolio/LV: ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’

Hey, I love Stevie Wonder. But this reworking of his 1975 ‘Pastime Paradise’ made the original sound like a demo or something. Coolio ended up becoming an ex-rapper turned TV reality star, second only to Flavor Flav in the silly stakes and LV vanished from the public consciousness, but for a while, they were the shit, and this song was everywhere. The rap verses ended up becoming parodied (see Weird al Yankovic’s ‘Amish Paradise’) and it’s difficult to listen to now without smirking (fool!), but the chorus was and still is a beauty, LV’s vocals (plus the backing) on the chorus still send a surprising shiver down the ol’ spine. Additionally, Michelle Pfieffer’s ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude looked ridiculous in the video, and lest we forget, the film that this song soundtracked, Dangerous Minds, was piffle.

52. The Clash: ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

A number one years after it was actually released, thanks to its use in a Levi jeans ad (that fact is too depressing to think about for too long) – this was one half of a phenomenal double A-side, the other being Joe Strummer’s atmospheric, beautiful ‘Straight to Hell’. This was more of a straight-up punk-strut with a killer riff and a greasy, grubby vocal, proof that The Clash could have been superstars if they didn’t split straight after. After all, the lyric is all about wondering whether or not to get the hell out, something Mick Jones knew all about given the band’s internal conflict at the time. I can think of about twenty, maybe thirty more Clash songs I love more than this, but that’s the snob talking in me. The fact is, this is a perfect bit of disposable/indispensable rock, simple as that.

51. The Verve: ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’

I remember hearing about Richard Ashcroft proclaiming at a Verve gig around the time of their commercial breakthrough Urban Hymns that the song they were about to play was for all the real fans who bought their stuff around the time of their fan favourite LP A Northern Soul, and that the rest could ‘fuck off’. Hmm, a bit unfair on those who had never even heard of the band when their singles were getting to #67 or whatever, but you could also say it was a slight at potentially cruising fans who only bought Urban Hymns because it was the flavour of the month. Or maybe they bought it because there was some really good hit singles on it, though nothing as wonderful as ‘On Your Own’ from An Northern Soul. Oh yeah, I’m meant to be talking about ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, the one with the ‘like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown’ lyric. This is a downbeat thing of beauty, and its #1 success really surprised me at the time, though in retrospect I can see why it did so well – also, it was released just after Princess Diana died, so I guess everyone was in a bad mood and wanted to mope. This is a lot better than the reworked ‘Candle in the Wind’, by the way. Lovely steel-pedal (I think?) guitar and the dreamy, drowsy production make this a melancholic pleasure.

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