Don’t ask me where this year has gone because I’m still trying to fathom that one out! Most people I’ve met agree, the months have flown by as we moaned through all the torrential downpours, basked in the heat over the summer months (with a few moans as temperatures soared), welcomed a balmy autumn and now a chilly, windy winter that sees the sun shining more often than not, as we further moan that we’re feeling the cold and best sort out the thermal underwear. Yet, it’s with a huge smile that most of us prepare for Christmas, notwithstanding that certain stores have been flogging the Festive message for some weeks now, prompting comments like ‘who wants to think about Christmas in September?’
By the time you read this, the decorations from last year will have been liberated again; Christmas tree branches are bowing under the weight of pretties collected over time from goodness knows where, and strings of multi-coloured lights, having been untangled and tested, are strung, somewhat haphazardly, around the house. It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, someone sang.
Anyway, to the music of December 1970. It was a rather unusual number one selling single this year because it didn’t hold a Festive theme, but rather one of rock ‘n’ roll. Cardiff-born and ex-member of Love Sculpture, Dave Edmunds dominated the chart with “I Hear You Knocking” which offered nothing that remotely resembled a sprig of mistletoe or silver bell! The top ten wasn’t any better either. Sitting just below Dave Edmunds was Jimi Hendrix with “Voodoo Chile”, Neil Diamond’s “Cracklin’ Rosie” and “Indian Reservation” courtesy of Don Fardon. So, we had the greatest instrumentalist in the history of rock music, holding hands with a contemporary, stylish soloist, and an ex-draughtsman cum two-hit wonder singer! Doesn’t sound that exciting does it?
So, being a huge lover of the Christmas period, I went on a mission to discover the first Festive chart topper in this country, and, if I’ve done my sums correctly – yes, I used both hands – Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody” appears to be the first in December 1973. The future is beginning to look brighter already.
By now, I’d got the bit between my teeth, so I travelled back in time to the fifties, just in case a Christmassy single had hit the pole position. Yay, found one! Harry Belafonte’s “Mary’s Boy Child”. Mind you, there were several around that also deserved to achieve it, with Dickie Valentine’s “Snowbound For Christmas”; “Snow Coach” via Russ Conway; “Santo Natalie” from David Whitfield, among them. As an aside, Boney M’s re-recording of “Mary’s Boy Child” is probably the best known, as the German-based disco outfit basked in the glory of selling over 1.87 million copies (as of 2015) of their version, as well as it becoming one of the top selling singles of all time in this country. Andy Williams, Anne Murray, Nina & Frederick, The Three Degrees were among the many who recorded extremely credible versions. Cor, wish I’d written it and not Jester Hairston!
Anyway, I’m digressing, so back to December 1970, the year when Paul McCartney began legal proceedings to dissolve The Beatles; Richard Branson opened the Virgin Group with discounted mail order sales of pop records, and Agatha Christie’s “Passage To Frankfurt” was the top selling Christmas book. Retailing at 25s, it marked the distinguished author’s 80th birthday and was, I believe, her final spy novel. Like so many thousands others, I was raised on her books and will sing her praises for ever for introducing me to the darling, dotty yet incredibly clever Miss Marple, and the enigmatic, self-centred but sagacious Hercule Poirot, who, in my opinion, was best portrayed in the television programmes by David Suchet (1989-2013). Being a Johnny Depp fan, I found myself drawn to the 2017 adaptation of Christie’s “Murder On The Orient Express”. Well, I don’t know about you, but I had a hard job getting past Kenneth Branagh’s huge moustache when he played Poirot. And, as for Mr Depp – twelve blinks and he was gorn!
To prove the growing popularity of the Tamla Motown label, there were four singles in this month’s top twenty-five, namely Jimmy Ruffin – “It’s Wonderful To Be Loved By You”; Jackson 5 – “I’ll Be There”; Edwin Starr – War; and Motown Spinners – “It’s A Shame. However, British acts were fighting back with pop group White Plains, evolved from the late sixties pop/psychedelic group, The Flower Pot Men. Their chirpy “Julie Do Ya Love Me” spent fourteen weeks on the chart but only managed to peak at number eight. T Rex faired a little better with “Ride A White Swan” as it soared six places higher, and represented a name change from Tyrannosaurus Rex (thankfully because it was a typist’s nightmare, and how many people could say it, without spitting a little). Under the leadership of Marc Bolan, the group rose to stratospheric proportions over the next few years. McGuinness Flint, so named after Thomas McGuinness, also peaked at number two with “When I’m Dead And Gone” , a song inspired by the life of blues musician Robert Johnson. Lower down the chart, and slowly rising, were Herman’s Hermits, The Kinks, Clive Dunn, Ken Dodd and Gilbert O’Sullivan, who would make their presence felt in January.
On the film front, The Beatles’ “Let It Be” was an historical document capturing the group rehearsing and recording tracks for their twelfth and last studio album. Possibly the highlight of this movie was an unannounced roof top concert by John, George, Paul and Ringo: their final public performance. The film was released following their “Let It Be” album in May 1970. Originally conceived as a television documentary, the project grew legs to become a feature film, and although it failed to dissect the real reasons behind the group split, it did show the growing cracks in the dynamics that led to it.
Other films included “The Railway Children”, “Ryan’s Daughter”, “You Can’t Win ‘Em All”, and a couple of Pinewood Studio classics – “Carry On Up The Jungle” and “Carry On Loving” – making household names of a cast that included Kenneth Williams, Sid James, Joan Sims, Charles Hawtrey, Hattie Jacques, Barbara Windsor, Kenneth Conner, and all those lovely, happy chappies who never failed to bring on belly laughs as they ploughed through double entendres and ridiculous story lines.
Oh lor, it’s time for me to move on as I’ll be presenting a Christmas Eve afternoon programme on Hailsham FM, and need to make sure I’ve dusted off the turntable to play some Seasonal songs to get everyone geared up for the following morning. So, all that’s left for me to say is…
Wishing you all – and that means you, you and you – a wonderful time over the Christmas period and a healthy and safe new year. And, as Arnie Schwarzenegger’s alter ego the Terminator says “I’ll Be Back”.