We’re Number Two: 1965 – “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”, The Animals

Scowl for me, let me know you care

Q. What’s so great about “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” by the Animals?

A. Everything.

I mean, as a band the Animals are best known for two songs and this one is probably, and appropriately, number two after “House Of The Rising Sun”. And there’s clearly no denying how great “House Of The Rising Sun” is, because that would be insane. It’s a melodramatic classic, full of brooding Southern Gothic, pain and loss. It’s an amazing song, and almost anything would be eclipsed by a song of that magnitude. And yet here’s “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place” popping up to prove that almost comprehensively wrong.

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We’re Number Two: 1964 – “Downtown”, Petula Clark

Nice jumper…

By some distance the best song covered so far, Petula Clark’s “Downtown” is an easy stand-out in 1964 music. If 1963 saw the start of what we think of as “the Sixties” in a cultural sense, 1964 is where that seed really bloomed. Everything in 1964 is the arrival of the Sixties. The vast majority of that cultural momentum comes, naturally, from The Beatles, and their complete domination over the first half of year means hardly any other music even got a look-in. “Downtown” came out at the end of 1964, when things had calmed down a little, but so many bands that we think of as quintessentially Sixties really found their footing during this year. Some of them were high-quality mainstays of the music scene – The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Kinks – and some were destined to clog up cheap, tacky compilations and nostalgia television for ever – Manfred Mann, Dave Clark Five, Herman’s Hermits and many, many others. The sheer number of bands that broke through in 1964 is remarkable, even while so many of them prove Sturgeon’s Law. Petula Clark falls into neither camp – more than simply nostalgia but never quite destined to be a name in lights for all time – and “Downtown” doesn’t fit conveniently into a year whose material is otherwise fairly easy to categorise.

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We’re Number Two: 1963 – “Do You Want To Know A Secret”, Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas

Nothing like The Beatles at all

Another feature of the charts which has been lost to time is the idea of multiple artists releasing the same song around roughly the same time. In this case we have the Number Two hit “Do You Want To Know A Secret”, a comparatively slight Lennon/McCartney* number from the debut Beatles album Please Please Me, which Billy J Kramer knocked out as a single the same year that album was released.

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We’re Number Two: 1962 – “Let’s Twist Again”, Chubby Checker

Tragically, contrast was only discovered in the late 60’s…

Some years are easier than others when it comes to choosing material. Ray Charles very nearly had it this time out, though it would likely mean discussing either “I Can’t Stop Loving You” or “You Don’t Know Me”, neither of which are remotely his best material and both of which are syrupy slop. Elvis rears his inevitable bequiffed head again but will not be distracting us. “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” made it to Number 2, though discussing it would consist of a lot of legal talk about how artists get screwed over copyright. Anyone for “The Loco-motion”? No? Fine, then let’s go with Chubby Checker, owner of the award for the most successful single in Billboard 100 chart history. That song – “The Twist” – isn’t what we’re talking about this week though. Instead we’re discussing “Let’s Twist Again”.

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We’re Number Two: 1960 – “Three Steps To Heaven”, Eddie Cochrane

Straightforwardly cool

We could have been talking about Elvis. “A Mess Of Blues” made it to the number two slot, but it’s not a terrifically inspiring song and it’s exactly nobody’s idea of his best performance, despite some nice honky-tonk piano. We could have been talking about Roy Orbison. His voice is one of the great achievements of Western civilization, and even when the material faltered that most perfect of vocals never did – even up to his death he sounded perfect. And the song would have been “Only The Lonely”, which… well, its amazing. But no. Instead, we kick this nonsense off with Eddie Cochrane.

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We’re Number Two – Introduction

A series exploring the songs which almost – but not quite – made it to the top of the charts across the span of four decades.

Hello! And welcome to my latest excuse to ramble on about music with this, We’re Number Two. It’s a series of articles spanning four decades, from 1960 to 1999, covering a song which made it to Number Two in the charts. Hence, you know, the name. Plenty gets written about the chart toppers but sometimes it’s nice to spend a bit of time discussing the songs that almost – but never quite – made it.

The only criteria for entry is that the song in question must have hit the number two position on the charts in either the UK or the US – it doesn’t matter if it went in at Number Two, if Number Two was the song’s highest charting position, or if the song went in at number one and sank back to Number Two. As long as it’s held that slightly coveted position and that’s the song’s most meaningful position, it’s eligible. And I’ll be talking about songs that mostly interest me for whatever reason rather than necessarily that year’s best known songs, so anyone desperate to find out my stance on the Bay City Rollers will just have to be disappointed, I fear.  There shall be no repetition of artists – solo artists who were in a band are eligible – so for example I could talk about The Beatles and John Lennon, but not two Beatles singles nor two John Lennon singles, and let’s not have the Plastic Ono Band making life any more difficult for us than it needs to be. As ever, I shall be dispensing with the twin straightjackets of objectivity and fan consensus.

Song List:

1960 – Eddie Cochrane, Three Steps To Heaven
1961 – Jimmy Dean, Big Bad John
1962 – Chubby Checker, Let’s Twist Again
1963 – Billy J Kramer And The Dakotas, Do You Want To Know A Secret
1964 – Petula Clark, Downtown
1965 – The Animals, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place
1966 – The Troggs, Wild Thing
1967 – The Beatles, Strawberry Fields Forever / Penny Lane
1968 – Tom Jones, Delilah
1969 – Sly And The Family Stone, Everyday People

The 60’s

1970 – The Kinks, Lola
1971 – Jean Knight, Mr Big Stuff
1972 – Elton John, Rocket Man
1973 – The Sweet, Ballroom Blitz
1974 – Queen, Killer Queen
1975 – Gloria Gaynor, Never Can Say Goodbye
1976 – Wings, Let ‘Em In
1977 – Stevie Wonder, Sir Duke
1978 – Blondie, Denis
1979 – Elvis Costello, Oliver’s Army

The 70’s

1980 – Adam And The Ants, Antmusic
1981 – Ultravox, Vienna
1982 – Dire Straits, Private Investigations
1983 – Eurythmics, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)
1984 – Cyndi Lauper, Girls Just Want To Have Fun
1985 – Bonnie Tyler, Holding Out For A Hero
1986 – The Bangles, Manic Monday
1987 – Pet Shop Boys With Dusty Springfield, What Have I Done To Deserve This?
1988 – Terence Trent D’Arby, Sign You Name
1989 – The Beautiful South, Song For Whoever

The 80’s

1990 – Suzanne Vega-DNA, Tom’s Diner / The B-52s – Love Shack 
1991 – James, Sit Down
1992 – The KLF with Tammy Wynette – Justified And Ancient
1993 – 4 Non Blondes,What’s Up?
1994 – Kylie Minogue, Confide In Me
1995 – Pulp, Common People
1996 – Manic Street Preachers, A Design For Life
1997 – Natalie Imbruglia, Torn
1998 – Madonna – Ray Of Light
1999 – Fatboy Slim – Right Here, Right Now

And Introducing… Pet Shop Boys

Electronica’s most enduring and successful stars, introduced.

What’s The Topic? Pet Shop Boys

It seems hard to imagine that Pet Shop Boys (never the Pet Shop Boys) have been around for thirty years and counting, but they have been, you know, and have gone on to be the most successful duo in British music history.  Formed in 1981 and still turning out engaging, interesting, and challenging material all these years later, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe’s somewhat unlikely survival in an ever-shifting pop and electronic music landscape is a testament not only to the quality of the material but to their inventiveness and their refusal to be pigeonholed or defined in any way but their own.  The electronic band were a permanent fixture of the late 80’s singles charts, and while there best-known work remains their earlier material they have continued to turn out interesting, challenging, emotional, pop music. 

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And Introducing… Kraftwerk

The most signifiact and influential text in electronic music, introduced.

What’s The Topic? Kraftwerk

It’s hard to overstate the influence Kraftwerk have had over the years on popular music.   Formed in Düsseldorf, West Germany in 1970 and initially part of the Krautrock scene that saw Germany start to produce popular, original music for the first time since the end of World War Two, the band rapidly outgrew its roots and went on to become one of the most important and influential bands of the 20th Century.  Always a four-piece revolving around core members Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider – at least until Schneider’s improbable departure in 2008 – the band’s obsessions with technology became their primary focus, starting with their fourth official album, 1974’s AutobahnAutobahn spawned an unlikely radio hit with an edit of the title track, helping to cement the band’s position, unexpected though that success was.

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