And so to 1968. Recently I read a book called 1968 – Mark Kurlansky’s breathless tour of that year, which touched dutifully on all the accepted counter-cultural highpoints without really bringing them to life. It didn’t talk much about the pop charts. For people who weren’t there – and some who were – I’m guessing the soundtrack of 1968 is Pink Floyd or the Doors, not Esther and Abi or Dozy and Beaky. To put it crudely – albums, not singles.
The late 60s saw a shift in critical and promotional emphasis away from singles and towards albums. Whether promotional money came before critical regard or not, I don’t know: better margins no doubt came before both. There are particular events and trends that push the shift along: the crackdown on the pirates and the launch of state pop radio; the release of Sergeant Pepper’s; the rise of an underground press in Britain with new ideas about what mattered in rock; consumer uptake of marijuana and 33rpm record players. For the purposes of this blog it doesn’t actually matter, except to note that pop abhors a vacuum, and even if labels and writers and A&R men were all about albums, something still had to top the singles charts.
As I think I’ve said before, the lists of British number ones are hard to pick trends or generalisations from. They’re a blend of hot acts with mobilised fans, labels pushing fads and niche markets hard, one-offs spawned by film or TV or news, and a large proportion of records that – thanks to some gimmick or other – simply seemed like a good idea at the time. All of these categories, I reckon, are about equally likely to produce fantastic pop: it’s just that 1968 seems to feature a lot of the last.
This particular example is sort of a film tie-in, in that the writers went and saw Warren Beatty’s Bonnie And Clyde, loved it, and decided that what it really needed was a vampy supper-club theme tune by Georgie Fame, complete with “jazzy bit” as a sop to what Georgie did best. Fame’s throaty, amused delivery may aim for nihilist romance but as the story and song plods to its end he just sounds jaded. A strange hit to kick off a strange year.