Oct 08

LENA MARTELL – “One Day At A Time”

FT + Popular72 comments • 4,955 views

#445, 27th October 1979

Like so many of 1979’s chart-toppers, Lena Martell was a new face: but this time trailing no stylistic or cultural shift. In fact “One Day At A Time” is one of those occasional Ronseal hits you got back when the buying base for singles used to be huge – a plain sentiment, quite plainly expressed. If it struck something true in you, you might buy it; otherwise just hunker down and wait for it to pass. Relatively unbowed by life’s trials, and with no great interest in Jesus, I’m in the second camp. In fact after a year so stuffed with delights – or at least interesting failures – this sticks in the craw, feeling like a refugee from grimmer times: it would have fitted into the more erratic, unlucky-dip lists of the mid-70s.

Is this unfair on Lena Martell and her song? Not especially, I think. Her voice swings about alarmingly, sometimes giving it some bogus Southern twang, sometimes taking a more earnest tack. The arrangement never really integrates steel and strings. The lyrics take a slightly finger-wagging tone with Our Lord but there’s no killer lines or any real moral fire here. And yet the tune’s obviously got something – it’s one of those songs that feels like it’s been around for decades longer than it actually has, and I was a little surprised to find that it sprang from the pen of big Kris Kristofferson rather than some lost 19th Century devout. It’s a clunky record, to be sure, but its appearance in context is what really annoys.



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  1. 51
    DJ Punctum on 3 Oct 2008 #

    Yep, that’s the one. “Accroche-Toi” was used as the show’s main theme.

  2. 52
    DJ Punctum on 3 Oct 2008 #

    I think “Java” was the show’s closing theme.

  3. 53
    Mark G on 3 Oct 2008 #

    Accroche-Toi – the one that sounds like Stereolab crossed with Stereolab?

  4. 54
    jeff w on 3 Oct 2008 #

    This might be a suitable moment to point you guys in the direction of this DeWolfe nostalgia fest:


  5. 55
    LondonLee on 3 Oct 2008 #

    Oh man, that’s so sad about Tony Hart. I might never have gotten into the whole drawing thing and eventually gone to art college if not for him (and Marvel comics)

    I see he went to my alma mater Maidstone College of Art, nice to know Tracy Emin isn’t the only famous graduate of the place.

  6. 56
    lonepilgrim on 5 Oct 2008 #

    Tony Hart is a legend – I didn’t know about his war service with the Gurkhas. It makes sense that he would be involved with a cool outfit.
    I sometimes wondered whether the signing for the deaf on Vision On was passing on an alternative message to ‘and now the gallery’ such as ‘and now another collection of crap that the kids have sent in’
    I love that music with the vibes though

  7. 57
    Waldo on 5 Oct 2008 #

    Yes. Tony Hart, top boy.

    I always remember Pat Keysell telling the kids who were thinking of sending in shite for the gallery: “Sorry. We can’t return any”. The reason for this, of course, was that it enabled Vision On to simply bin straight away all the tons of rubbish which didn’t make the gallery before consigning to the same fate those which did.

    The music throughout the show was excellent. My personal fave was the flute piece featuring the clock.

  8. 58
    Caledonianne on 5 Oct 2008 #

    I remember being in both Virgin and HMV in Glasgow in December 2004, having just emerged from a job interview. Both Megastores sported dump boxes full of CDs and DVDs of a Lena Martell album and DVD called My Homeland. Somewhat surprised (Lena had notorious health traumas, and I thought she was deid) I asked my mother about this at the time and she confirmed that Lena was enjoying renewed success among her demographic.

    It would appear from this article –

    that at that time Lena was outselling Britney and Kylie in Scottish record shops during that period.

    So she wasn’t all bad. ;-)

    Marcello is right about that niche in Scottish light entertainment that this comes from. It’s remarkably well entrenched, as anyone who has ever experienced Sydney Devine’s Tiny Bubbles or Crystal Chandeliers will testify.

    BTW I loved Iris William’s He was beautiful. 79 marked my falling wildly, extravagantly and inappropriately in love and – er – that other thing that goes along with it*. Iris’s swooping belter, Randy Vanwarmer’s Just when I needed you most (search out Dolly’s take on this and weep!) to and Sad Cafe’s Every Day Hurts were my songs. I think I was living in a parallel universe.

    * Have just realised that the Number 1 at time of said event was We Don’t Talk Anymore, and its parent album Wired for Sound was given by me to said gent as he decamped Glasgow for Oxford. It took me another eight years to graduate, qualify and get a job that would let me make a similar journey.

  9. 59
    Mark G on 6 Oct 2008 #

    I always remember Pat Keysell telling the kids who were thinking of sending in shite for the gallery: “Sorry. We can’t return any”.

    I also remember that for a while they would say this in voice-over, i.e. without letting the deaf kids know. Until they got a bunch of letters from parents (presumably hearing ones)….

  10. 60
    Billy Smart on 6 Oct 2008 #

    TOTP Watch: Lena Martell performed ‘One Day At A Time’ on Top of The Pops on four occasions. Perhaps the most interesting edition is that of the 25th of October 1979. Also in the studio that week were; The Specials, Viola Wills, Cats UK, Chic, Iris Williams, Janet Brown (performing ‘The Iron Lady’, presumably a disc showcasing her Margaret Thatcher impersonation – I don’t remember that) and Errol Dunkley. The host was Peter Powell.

  11. 61
    Erithian on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Some interesting chats in the green room there I would have thought.

  12. 62
    DJ Punctum on 7 Oct 2008 #

    Nile Rodgers to Cats UK: “Say, where is this Luton Airport?”

  13. 63
    Chris Brown on 9 Oct 2008 #

    This is one of the last remaining (chronologically) Number Ones that I’ve never knowingly heard. Nothing I’ve heard about it or seen on this thread encourages me to change that.

  14. 64
    Bob on 13 Nov 2008 #

    This record ended up having 3 weeks at No.1, but at one stage only had 2. The original BMRB chart published on the 10th November had Dr Hook at No.1, but was re-published. Dr Hook eventually got to no. 1 the following week.

    I can’t remember the reason. It could have been a joint No.1 with a rule dictating which title actually gets the honour.

    The “rules” today prevent there ever being a possibility of a joint No.1 single.

  15. 65
    MikeMCSG on 15 Jul 2009 #

    63- I think I would struggle to identify it if just a verse popped up in a pop quiz; like many I think I switched channels when it started on TOTP. It came from nowhere and went back there – I’ve never heard it since except on Pick Of The Pops ; it has to be the least-aired chart-topper of the 70s.

    Like Tom said it really stands out in the listing of 1979 number ones -like a turkey twizzler in a Harrods hamper.

  16. 66
    seekenee on 4 Jun 2011 #

    the version of this song by Gloria is more renowned in Ireland than Lena’s, – in 1980 it was number one in Ireland for at least a month and remained in the chart for a total of 90 weeks and excruciatingly played every Sunday on Ireland’s Top 30 chart rundown show. Would be interesting to compare the two, does Gloria invest it with more meaning?

  17. 67
    Lazarus on 2 Nov 2011 #

    I actually heard this on the radio on Sunday for the first time since it was in the charts. The Smooth Radio double top 20 on Sunday evenings between 6 and 8 if you fancy a change from the TB style of presenting – it’s Blackburn’s old Radio 1 mucker David ‘Kid’ Jensen. Last week the featured years were 1969 and ’79 and like POTP they only play hits that are going up or holding – so we got Errol Dunkley and Viola Wills, but not the Police or Buggles. ODATA ‘has been recorded by over 200 artists’ according to Jensen – and given that the opening couplet is “I’m only human/I’m just – a woman” I wonder who Kristoffersen had in mind for it, and if he recorded it himself with, presumably, different lyrics.

  18. 68
    punctum on 2 Nov 2011 #

    and they don’t tend to play “rock” hits.

  19. 69
    Lazarus on 2 Nov 2011 #

    Well yes, the clue is in the name I suppose, but if they picked a week when, say ‘Black Night’ was at no. 2 (which I think it did get to) I’m sure it would be played (I think I’ve heard Thin Lizzy on there). I haven’t been listening to it for long so I don’t know if they airbrush out King and Glitter but I wouldn’t be surprised. And it should have been ‘ODAAT’ of course.

  20. 70
    hardtogethits on 3 Nov 2011 #

    But did Kris Kristofferson really write this?

    I am sure I remember reading, on some other Popular thread, some pretty negative comments about the “1000 UK Number One Hits” book by Kutner & Leigh. In that book, the authors say that they (or someone gathering info for the book) approached Kristofferson about the song and he said he had very little – possibly nothing – to do with its composition. Of course to believe the story we would have to assume that the book accurately documented what Kristofferson said, that Kristofferson’s memory was accurate and so on and so on.

  21. 71
    wichita lineman on 3 Nov 2011 #

    Here’s Marijohn Wilkin, the co-writer, explaining how the finished song came about – more her song than Kristofferson’s:

    “I had the second verse and the chorus, but somehow I couldn’t get the song started properly. Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge, who were married at the time, were in town. They had just had a huge hit, ‘Why Me, Lord?’ written by Kris. Their recording had won a Dove Award for them. I called Kris and asked him to help me with the first verse. He had written songs for my company, Buckhorn Music, and we’d had some pretty big hits as a publisher.

    “When I showed him how I started the song, ‘I’m just a mortal . . .’ he looked at me and said, ‘Why don’t you say, “I’m only human, I’m just a man . . .” I said, ‘That’s good! That’s what I need.’ We finished the first verse in about twenty minutes. The lines just flew out from each of us.”

  22. 72
    Brendan on 27 Sep 2012 #

    Going back to Tony Hart, ISTR Close to the Edit was used more than once and one time he said how great it was after it was played.

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