Oct 08

LENA MARTELL – “One Day At A Time”

FT + Popular77 comments • 6,583 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. 61
    Erithian on 7 Oct 2008 #

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

  2. 62
    DJ Punctum on 7 Oct 2008 #

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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?

  7. 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.

  8. 68
    punctum on 2 Nov 2011 #

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

  9. 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.”

  12. 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.

  13. 73
    Auntie Beryl on 2 Feb 2019 #

    The song was well known enough for Bill Hicks to include a swift reference to it in one of his stand-up routines: “one stroke at a time, sweet Jesus…”

  14. 74
    Leonora on 25 Jul 2019 #

    I have never understood how this song got to Number One. I found it unlistenable.

  15. 75
    Tom on 23 Aug 2019 #

    The hand of the Lord! Or the guy downstairs, possibly.

  16. 76
    Ellen St. Ledger on 23 Apr 2021 #

    An appealing country twang to this song. 6/10.

  17. 77
    Gareth Parker on 28 May 2021 #

    Can’t find it within myself to dislike this one. 5/10 in my opinion.

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