A basis purely in sales makes the UK chart faster-moving than playlist-led equivalents, and more responsive to the pleasures of any niche large enough to hit its thresholds. It’s a combination of that and the BBC’s dominant media position that has made caring about it such a British disease. But its calibrations are fragile – the Top 40 is easily knocked off-course by events. It would take a few more years for the mechanism to appear by which non-pop news and the charts could link up: Lennon’s death was a massive story but also still a pop event, so it was pop which felt its impact most. To a fan, the procession of Lennoniana at the top end of the charts was dignified and just. To a kid who’d only just started to fall for pop, it was like the Top 40 was simply broken: week upon week of this hairy guy wandering round a big white house.
I resented Lennon, and by the time “Woman” came round I probably hated him. This surely must have been the final straw for some of the mourning buyers too – its flat winsome uselessness the point where paying respects slipped into being ripped off. If this is the kind of thing that set Yoko’s pulse racing then good for her, but compare it to the sprightly, funny, cutesy but genuinely affectionate “Oh Yoko” and it sounds simply dutiful. But of course it isn’t about Yoko, is it? It’s about WOMAN, a contrite Lennon prostrating himself before WOMAN. Woman he loves you, woman he does, even though you’re far away, he thinks of yez. It’s “Grandma” for grown-ups and almost as awful: woman drained of specificity, turned into a cloud-shape to project self-pity onto. The song is burdened with soggy clouds of echo and harmonies and over-orchestration, in an attempt to turn its flimsy tune and zen weediness into something richer. “Please let me explain!” – if the Buddha ever hit his wife, this would be the sound of his tearful apology.