Dec 08

ST WINIFRED’S SCHOOL CHOIR – “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma”

FT + Popular66 comments • 8,813 views

#472, 27th December 1980

For every pop lover there comes a moment of reflection and perhaps even self-doubt, when they turn on the telly and see that for the first time their contemporaries are top of the charts. There on the screen are people your own age who spat in the face of caution and jumped two-footed into the pop life, living the dream while you sit at home in your lonely fandom drawing cheques on rock’n’roll you know deep inside you can never cash.

Of course, when it’s St. Winifred’s School Choir up there this painful realisation is a little bit easier. In fact I think my reaction was one of contempt and pity, and perhaps – as a gawky kid trying to fit into a new school – a certain gratitude that “Grandma” had brought together every playground faction in mutual disgust. “Though you may be far away, you stink of poo”….

For a few seconds I’m tempted to say it’s not so bad: then the choir come in, and then simpering soloist Dawn Ralph, and there’s no re-evaluation needed. “Grandma” is genuinely dreadful; a miserable, curdling experience. There’s not even any chutzpah to its awfulness: producer Gordon Lorenz knows all the tricks but they’re somehow even cheaper and more rotten in his hands, like when he starts a chorus, then decides to go with a key change and starts it again after just one line.

But the worst thing about it is its simple laziness: at least “Grandad” took the time to sketch in the outlines of a human life, no matter how clumsy and hackneyed. The grandparent in this song is simply a mechanical cuddle and gift dispenser, utterly inert: she might as well be a teddy bear. Such flaccid universality of course helped the song shift monster units, but the bottom line is that each copy of this record sold was an old woman cheated out of some rightful chocs or sherry. Shame on everyone involved.



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  1. 31
    Malice Cooper on 9 Dec 2008 #

    harmless, yuletide fun disgracefully pulled from the top by guilt ridden members of the public rushing out to buy John Lennon’s last minor hit.

  2. 32
    Erithian on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Lena #30 – that’s as iconoclastic as dissing Lennon, probably more so! I’m assuming you’re hearing it for the first time, as opposed to those of us who grew up with it – what does it do for you?

    Incidentally, head over to http://musicsoundsbetterwithtwo.blogspot.com/2008_09_01_archive.html and scroll down to the fourth entry to see Lena’s got previous in assessing this sort of thing!

  3. 33
    Lena on 10 Dec 2008 #

    My views on “The Happy Wanderer” (thank you for posting the link, Erithian!) are very much the same as “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma.” I have just read the lyrics and they seem terribly poignant to me – perhaps because when I was six my own grandmother, whom I am named after and never got to know, died. In the lyrics they acknowledge, without really saying it out loud, that they know she is old and will die; that they know about death. They sing this happy/sad song in a way that isn’t quite Langley Schools Project eerie, but nevertheless is genuinely touching (for me, obv.)

  4. 34
    AndyPandy on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Steve at No 28 – I’m pretty certain that was the original picture sleeve as when I very briefly around 1990 ventured into trying to flog second hand records my friend who was a market trader kindly bought me a massive bundle of assorted singles at an auction and this was amongst them…and yes no-one ever bought it…

    Conrad at 22 – I’m not completely clear on the exact date of the chart but the story goes something like this that an official chart for a week over Christmas(just after?) was compiled with ‘Happy Christmas War Is Over’ at No1 but just never publicised. In every other year since there has been a Number 1 for every week except for 1980 for some reason.

    Personally I’ll always remember Oliver Postgate for the completely surreal ‘Pogles Wood’ – which I think I went from the age of about 4 till this year when I got it on DVD without ever seeing in between.

    Thinking of the worst No1 with absolutely no redeeming qualities out of those we’ve already done…surely ‘Long Haired Lover from Liverpool’ gives it a run for its money!

  5. 35
    Tom on 10 Dec 2008 #

    I think LHLFL has a better tune than this, just about.

    Though I feel shamed by Lena’s open-hearted response to the song! I think if you were “on the frontline” in 1980 it probably makes the record much worse than hearing it now would.

  6. 36
    Lena on 10 Dec 2008 #

    I am sure if I was living in the UK as an almost-fourteen-year old I would have been irritated by this too, in context! Instead “Lady” by Kenny Rogers was the eye-rolling/why-God-why inducing number one for a month and a half, replaced only at Christmas by the inevitable “(Just Like) Starting Over” – a song bought out of real guilt in the case of Americans, I think. (Sorry to introduce Lennon on a non-Lennon thread, but even my father, who didn’t like The Beatles much, admired him and was sad.)

  7. 37
    Erithian on 10 Dec 2008 #

    There’s a case coming up in spring ’82 where my reaction to a record is affected by a family loss – not a number 1 but the predecessor to one. More anon.

    AndyPandy #34 – I think it was only in the mid to late 80s that we first had a chart announced between Christmas and New Year. It’s normally the most static chart of the year, except for 1990 when there was a bizarre new entry at number one.

  8. 38
    AndyPandy on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Tom I think you’re just about right about LHLFL although on second thoughts ‘Matchstalk Men’ may well be my all time worse. Cashing in on the artist’s then quite recent death then making it worse by the words being inaccurate romanticism of the worst kind.
    All that “he painted…on cardboard boxes from the shops” implying he was that poor that he probably had “nowt on his feet” like the composers said they did “when he walked down our street” (we’re not talking Victorian street urchins here but blokes born in the 1940s) – Lowry was born into a very middle class family (he went to art school at the turn of the century for goodness sake)and spent all his working life in a well paid tax official’s position. “Canvas and brushes were wearing thin” what a load of bollocks!
    Actually this should have probably gone in the ‘Matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs” thread but I would have got nauseous reading it…

  9. 39
    Erithian on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Ee, we were that poor we couldn’t even afford t’ poetic licence!

  10. 40
    richard thompson on 10 Dec 2008 #

    My cousin bought my grandma this one as well, whether she played it again after xmas day I don’t know,the second time an ex Beatle was due to knck a song about a grandparent off the top, according to everyhit.com happy xmas ( war is over) got there the next week, I don’t believe the record retailer chart was totally accurate either, only Read and Gambaccini probably do, the only difference with Long haired Lover was that I was the same age as Jimmy.

  11. 41
    Tom on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Re #40 I was going to ask where all the people were admitting they bought this for their grandmas. :)

  12. 42

    i will have to check with doctrah becky — i suspect we had it bought on our behalf by our grandma’s daughter, semi-jokingly

  13. 43
    Mark G on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Actually, I do remember trying to get “Grandad” Clive Dunn, back in the day, for our grandad. But it was completely sold out, and the shop did offer us the “Permission to sing, sir” album, but we said no.

  14. 44
    rosie on 10 Dec 2008 #


    Dear Mr ERITHIAN

    Our records show that there appears to be no record on file of a Poetic Licence at the address ERITHIAN TOWERS ERITH.

    You may not be aware that failure to purchase a Poetic License may result in a fine of SIX THOUSAND POUNDS and a prison sentence not exceeding THREE YEARS.

    Our inspectors are planning to visit the area of ERITHIAN TOWERS ERITH in the near future. These inspectors have the right to stand on your DOORSTEP looking menacing. Should you choose to INVITE THEM IN and they find that you are operating a POETICAL DEVICE then they may seriously consider prosecuting you.

    We strongly advise you to purchase a Poetic Licence at the earliest opportunity if you wish to avoid this action.

    Yours insincerely


  15. 45
    AndyPandy on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Yes but it’s a moot point whether such cringeworthy lyrics ever get within 100 miles of being described as “poetic”…
    “to come on down and wear the old flat cap” written by someone FROM the north west!surely patronising crap if I ever heard it…

  16. 46
    Billy Smart on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Hang on – “Come on down and wear the old flat cap” is what the patronising Southern art establishment tell Lowry…

    See Popular passim.

  17. 47
    wichita lineman on 10 Dec 2008 #

    Curious to know how people would rank 1 out of 10 Popular entries. The worst of the worst. Off the top of my head there’s been:

    The Stargazers – I See The Moon
    Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman
    Don McLean – Vincent
    St Winifreds.

    (Have I missed any?)

    I’d go Don, Stargazers, Lonnie, Winnie.

  18. 48
    Tom on 11 Dec 2008 #

    You missed Long Haired Lover, Englebert’s Last Waltz, and Petula Clark’s This Is My Song I think.

    Dustman I was way too harsh on (sorry Lonnie!) though it’s still feeble fare. If I had my time again I’d swap it out for “Save Your Kisses For Me”, which I must have been in a generous mood for. Last Waltz and Petula you could make decent cases for being not-1, but I’ve not heard them since I reviewed them. Stargazers is dreadful but has a kind of period rubbernecking interest: I’d put it higher than Don. Little Jimmy is way behind that, and St Winifred’s is just a black hole. PLENTY more candidates to come.

  19. 49
    AndyPandy on 11 Dec 2008 #

    I don’t see what the problem is with Petula Clark’s “This Is My Song” as far as those big mid-late 60s ballads go I don’t think it’s bad at all.Stargazers I don’t really know although I heard my dad mention it. And surely Vincent is in a different world to Little Jimmy, St Winifreds and Brotherhood of Man.

    Yes Billy at 46 but an argument could also be made for Lowry having “made it big” precisely because of certain members of the snobby London art establishment taking a patronising “oh how quaint” attitude to his pictures. Anyway I’ve started quite an obscure debate here in someone else’s No1 thread so I better just say I’d give it minus 10 and shut up.

    Oh and my other minus figure would be for ‘I Don’t like Mondays’.

  20. 50
    Erithian on 11 Dec 2008 #

    You cuold always revive the Brian and Michael thread Andy!

  21. 51
    wichita lineman on 12 Dec 2008 #

    Those one-pointers. If I’d remembered them all I’d have been quite scared. My two cents (or one cent), starting with the least worst:

    Don McLean – Vincent (a 7 from me, but I’ll leave it at that)

    The Stargazers – I See The Moon (this one has haunted me, I’d never heard it before I started looking at Popular. Genuinely weird and impenetrable, it’s the pop equivalent of Carry On Up The Khyber’s slapstick enactment of the death of the British empire. Andy Pandy has re-started the thread on this one. I think I love it)

    Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s A Dustman (worth at least one more point for the phrase “gorblimey trousers” – very Martin Amis circa London Fields)

    Engelbert – The Last Waltz (stymied from the off by emotionally dead delivery, but the la-la-la verse is quite a fine UK attempt at sounding “continental”)

    Little Jimmy – Long Haired Lover (worth just the one point for being, incredibly, ten years late in making a Beatles gag)

    Petula – This Is My Song (blah’ed on at length on this one before. It’s appeal, beyond its fake Euro-chic production, completely baffles me. And while it sat at no.1, Harry Secombe’s even worse version was at 2)

    St Winifreds (no redeeming qualities)

  22. 52

    wow, i made my goons “death of empire” argument before i read mr lineman’s comment here! this is totally an under-examined area of critical enquiry (except for a tiny bit on popular on the “whispering grass” thread)

  23. 53
    Billy Smart on 18 Dec 2008 #

    A particularly blatant attempt to repeat the hit formula was April 1981’s one week at number 27 smash ‘My Mum Is One In A Million’ by The Children of Tansley School.

  24. 54
    Tom on 12 Oct 2009 #

    Mankind’s crazed urge to meddle in things best left alone threatens civilisation yet again:


  25. 55
    wichitalineman on 23 Oct 2009 #

    There’s no one quite like Grandma. Except other Grandma.

  26. 56
    flahr on 7 Jun 2011 #

    RIP Gordon Lorenz, writer of “Grandma”.

  27. 57
    Mark G on 27 Sep 2012 #

    There was a recent TOTP2 “SchoolDays” themed show, this was on.

    I would add to the top review, none of which I’d disagree with except to say this is the definition of a “it’s really not meant for me is it?” record. Who is it for? Small girls with grandmas. That’s about it.

    Watching the show, after the AliceCooper and the Weezer, a number of “schoolchild fancies teecher” themed tunesa, this was on and our Alice was all “awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww……”

    This morning, she found this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WP9DIablJb0
    and we all laughed a bit. Then she found the original and played it in full, and we were all “can you stop now or we leave the room?”

  28. 58
    hardtogethits on 1 Apr 2013 #

    Trawling through old copies of Music Week during this weatherbound Bank Holiday Weekend, I was staggered to learn that the parent album “Songs About My Family” sold over 1,000,000 copies in 1981 but was excluded from the chart because “MFP [Music For Pleasure] stuck doggedly to their maximum dealer price of just 99p … considerably less than the minimum dealer price for chart eligibility.” >60% of its sales were on cassette anyway, which would have prevented it being a proportionately large chart success. As ungooglable as the British Rock and Pop Awards, I can’t believe I’d never even heard of the album before. Anyone willing to admit they took the plunge?

  29. 59
    phil6875 on 13 Apr 2015 #

    Erithian #24

    A more accurate best sellers of 1980:-

    1 “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” The Police 1
    2 “Woman in Love” Barbra Streisand 1
    3 “Feels Like I’m in Love” Kelly Marie 1
    4 “Super Trouper” ABBA 1
    5 “D.I.S.C.O.” Ottawan 2
    6 “The Tide Is High” Blondie 1
    7 “Geno” Dexys Midnight Runners 1
    8 “Together We Are Beautiful” Fern Kinney 1
    9 “Coward of the County” Kenny Rogers 1
    10 “(Just Like) Starting Over” John Lennon 1
    11 “Working My Way Back to You” The Detroit Spinners 1
    12 “9 to 5” Sheena Easton 3
    13 “Baggy Trousers” Madness 3
    14 “Ashes to Ashes” David Bowie 1
    15 “Theme from M*A*S*H (Suicide Is Painless)” MASH 1
    16 “Going Underground”/”Dreams of Children” The Jam 1
    17 “Crying” Don McLean 1
    18 “The Winner Takes It All” ABBA 1
    19 “Dance Yourself Dizzy” Liquid Gold 2
    20 “There’s No One Quite Like Grandma” St Winifred’s Choir 1
    21 “Atomic” Blondie 1
    22 “Upside Down” Diana Ross 2
    23 “Use It Up and Wear It Out” Odyssey 1
    24 “Start!” The Jam 1
    25 “Master Blaster (Jammin’)” Stevie Wonder 2
    26 “Funkytown” Lipps Inc. 2
    27 “I’m in the Mood for Dancing” The Nolans 3
    28 “If You’re Lookin’ for a Way Out” Odyssey 6
    29 “One Day I’ll Fly Away” Randy Crawford 2
    30 “The Special AKA Live!” EP The Specials 1
    31 “What You’re Proposing” Status Quo 2
    32 “Take That Look Off Your Face” Marti Webb 3
    33 “No Doubt About It” Hot Chocolate 2
    34 “Stop the Cavalry” Jona Lewie 3
    35 “Brass in Pocket” Pretenders 1
    36 “Oops Up Side Your Head” The Gap Band 6
    37 “What’s Another Year” Johnny Logan 1
    38 “Xanadu” Olivia Newton-John and E.L.O. 1
    39 “Special Brew” Bad Manners 3
    40 “King”/”Food for Thought” UB40 4
    41 “And the Beat Goes On” The Whispers 2
    42 “Turning Japanese” The Vapors 3
    43 “When You Ask About Love” Matchbox 4
    44 “I Could Be So Good for You” Dennis Waterman 3
    45 “My Girl” Madness 3
    46 “Never Knew Love Like This Before” Stephanie Mills 4
    47 “Enola Gay” Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark 8
    48 “Call Me” Blondie 1
    49 “More Than I Can Say” Leo Sayer 2
    50 “Embarrassment” Madness 4

  30. 60
    wichitalineman on 19 Feb 2016 #

    Children of Tansley School on this week’s TOTP repeat make Grandma sound like a Pet Sounds outtake. Social services should have been called.

  31. 61
    Adam Puke on 20 Feb 2016 #

    I had no idea “Grandma” had a cash-in single till I saw the TOTP repeat, but business-wise it’s such an obvious move there’s no way there wouldn’t have been, logically.

    I suppose we should be thankful this micro-trend happened way back when there was only Mother’s Day and Father’s Day available for music industry exploitation after Christmas. Nowadays with brother’s, sister’s, auntie’s, grandparents’ etc etc days we’d be drowning in the emotionally manipulative wee bastards’ efforts all year round.

  32. 62
    hardtogethits on 8 Aug 2017 #

    Richard X is back. There’s No-one Quite Like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

    Jokes are copyrightable, btw.

  33. 63
    Albert on 22 Feb 2021 #

    I remember Ian Brown’s story about ‘Grandma’. Martin Hannett was somehow involved in the recording of ‘There’s No One Quite Like Grandma’. And when a nascent Stone Roses did some sessions with Hannett at Strawberry Studios, they witnessed the legendary Joy Division producer snorting coke off the gold disc that he was awarded for ‘Grandma’.

    Maybe it was guilt?

  34. 64
    Petula McNeil on 9 Apr 2021 #

    At least it knocked Lennon off the top 6/10.

  35. 65
    Travis McKenna on 25 Apr 2021 #

    I think this is my least favourite UK 1 of all time!

  36. 66
    Gareth Parker on 6 May 2021 #

    Same mark as Tom from me, 1/10.

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