Day 360: Brand New Key

Song: “Brand New Key” by Melanie
Reached #1: December 25, 1971 (her first, 3 weeks)

She’s done alright, for a girl…

Let’s get this out of the way first – according to Melanie, there is no coded sexual meaning in this song.  It’s really about a girl getting a pair of quad skates, losing the key (almost immediately), and skating to someone else’s house for help.

Your mileage may vary.

It’s not clear if anyone knew this was a #1 hit at Christmas 1971 – at the time, Billboard really didn’t publicize the Christmas and New Year’s week charts, as their focus was on the annual end-of-year review.  They always did charts (although in some years, the chart didn’t change between Christmas and New Year’s).

Contrast that with the UK, where the Official Singles Chart Christmas-week #1 position has been a source of pride for artists who time single releases to try to be the Christmas Number One.  Often it’s a Christmas-themed song, although it can be a traditional single released for year’s-end.  Most recently, it’s tended to be either a karaoke-show winner release or a song backed by a massive social media campaign…

But over here, Christmas-week hits have sat in the background.  “Brand New Key” was a nice little song, but it never would have gotten the Christmas-week UK honour.

So from here, it’s Merry Christmas, and we’ll gather tomorrow for the hit that generated a landmark lawsuit…

Other songs that reached #1 on Christmas Day:
1965 –
“Over And Over” by the Dave Clark Five (their first, 1 week)
1993 – “Hero” by Mariah Carey (her eighth, 4 weeks)

Day 359: Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Song: “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” by Poison
Reached #1: December 24, 1988 (their first, 3 weeks)

But do Christmas trees have thorns?

So… does this song get ALL of the blame for the reality TV trainwreck that is Bret Michaels, or just some of it?

All kidding aside, the fact that Poison have been at it for 30 years – and that three of the members of the band have been with it from the start – is impressive. 

“Thorn” stands as the best-remembered song from Poison’s biggest album, Open Up and Say… Ahh!, but I’m not sure it was the best song.  “Nothin’ But a Good Time” rocked harder, “Fallen Angel” told a better story, and their version of “Your Mama Don’t Dance” was arguably more fun than the Loggins & Messina original.

I guess we could get into the question of how a song reaches #1, or why some songs get there and some don’t… but after 359 days, I think it’s fairly obvious that nobody is ever going to figure that out.

Nobody is ever going to figure out Bret Michaels, either… he’s got more lives that many cats (surviving a terrifying 1994 car wreck, drug and alcohol abuse, and bleeding on the brain that almost got him in 2010).  He’s won Apprentice, done those awful “dating” shows (and then reconciled with the mother of his two daughters anyway, and then broke up with her again)…

And I can’t figure out where to stop… so I’ll just wish you a Merry Christmas Eve and leave it at that…

For Christmas, we’ll “key” on the 1971 holiday #1…

Other songs that reached #1 on December 24:
1977 –
“How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gees (their fourth, 3 weeks)

Day 358: Another Day In Paradise

Song: “Another Day In Paradise” by Phil Collins
Reached #1: December 23, 1989 (his seventh, 4 weeks)
Previously: Day 188, Day 296

Just another day for you and me…

It’s Phil Collins’ seventh, and last, #1 single.  It’s the last #1 of the ‘80s and first #1 of the ‘90s.  And it’s one of the songs that indicated the shift in tone in Collins’ career.

Of course, the fact that it came from an album called …But Seriously should have told us that this wasn’t fluffy pop music.

Instead, Collins wanted to make a point here.   It’s a pretty obvious one – homelessness exists, and is awful – but it’s still one that needed to be heard.

And it wasn’t just homelessness.  Collins sang about The Troubles (“That’s Just The Way It Is”), apartheid (“Colours”), and parenthood (“Father To Son”) on the album.

You can actually combine two of Collins’ songs now – you can see the homeless all around you, living yet another day in “paradise”… because “that’s just the way is… some things will never change…”.

Yeah, that’s not the most Christmassy message out there… but then again, who said life was always like Christmas?

Tomorrow, the hit that may have helped start a reality TV career…

No other songs reached #1 on December 23.

Day 357: How You Remind Me

Song: “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback
Reached #1: December 22, 2001 (their first, 4 weeks)

This is how you start soulless corporate rock…

Nickelback’s first #1 is supposedly about Chad Kroeger’s ex-girlfriend Jodi.

If so, it’s one of his few songs that’s about anything.

See, Kroeger may have recently given away the secret of why we hate Nickelback even as we continue to buy every album and song they put out.

He’s said that, basically, he writes hits. 

Meaning he deconstruct his music, and others, to determine what makes a hit and what doesn’t, and the end product is what he gives to the band.

Which would explain why they’re accused of being repetitive, formulaic, and banal even as we buy everything in sight from them.

It’s rock pablum.

And it all started 11 years ago, when “How You Remind Me” hit the top of the charts.  The album it led off, Silver Side Up, was released on September 11, 2001.  Seriously.

Interestingly, though, this remains Nickelback’s only US #1 pop hit.  Even at home in Canada, where they have an immediate advantage due to CanCon regulations, they only have 3 #1s (the last was “Photograph” in 2005).

So… maybe there is something to be said for going beyond soulless corporate rock.  Not that Nickelback ever will.  Album sales and tour revenues won’t let them…

Tomorrow, it’s just another day (for you and me)…

Other songs that reached #1 on December 22:
1958 –
“The Chipmunk Song” by the Chipmunks with the music of David Seville (their first, 4 weeks)
1962 – “Telstar” by the Tornadoes (their first, 3 weeks)
1979 – “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” by Rupert Holmes (his first, 3 weeks)
1984 – “Like A Virgin” by Madonna (her first, 6 weeks)

Day 356: Cat’s In The Cradle

Song: “Cat’s In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin
Reached #1: December 21, 1974 (his first, 1 week)

He said, “I’m gonna be like you, Dad”…

I’ll start by noting that this is one of my favorite songs.

It’s the simple story of a father watching his son become as distant as he was.  And I think it resonates with every guy who either has a dad, becomes one, or even thinks about becoming one.

The first draft came from a poem that Sandy Chapin, Harry’s wife, wrote about her first husband and his father.  After the birth of his son Josh, Harry turned it into the most popular song of his too-short career.

Chapin would later (indirectly) inspire the TV series WKRP in Cincinnati with his “W*O*L*D”, the story of a DJ chasing radio and running away from his family. 

Of course, we only got the first third of what should have been a long career as the conscience of pop music.  In 1981, not far from where I was living at the time, Chapin slowed abruptly and turned on his flashers on the Long Island Expressway to indicate trouble.  He then started veering across the road – indications that he, perhaps, was in the midst of a heart attack – before winding up in the path of a PathMark truck which hit his car, broke the gas tank, and set the car on fire.  He died in a nearby hospital shortly after the accident.

I sometimes wonder what Chapin would’ve made of the world he didn’t get to see…

Tomorrow, one of the most-hated bands in the world – one that keeps generating pop hits that we all buy but hate ourselves for…

Other songs that reached #1 on December 21:
1985 –
“Say You, Say Me” by Lionel Richie (his fourth, 4 weeks)

Day 355: Leaving On A Jet Plane

Song: “Leaving On A Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary
Reached #1: December 20, 1969 (their first, 1 week)

Live in Oz

“Leaving On A Jet Plane” started as a Christmas gift… so the fact that it was the 1969 Christmas #1 is kind of fitting.

John Denver… yes, that John Denver… was trying to break into the music business as a writer and singer in 1967… one of the angles he tried was to give out a demo album as a Christmas gift to music industry insiders and friends who’d tried to help.

One of those friends was his producer, Milt Okun.   Okun also produced Peter, Paul and Mary and unsurprisingly felt this would be a perfect song for them.  The American public agreed.

Of course, shortly after the song hit #1, the trio broke up for over a decade, pursuing solo careers that never really matched their trio success.  They reunited in 1981, and pretty much stayed together until Mary Travers’ leukemia diagnosis in 2004.  Travers tried to keep doing shows, but treatment and the disease itself left Peter Yarrow and Paul Stuckey as a duo before and after Travers’ death in 2009.

Because of the breakup, and the changes in pop music in the ‘70s, “Leaving On A Jet Plane” would be not only the last #1, but the last chart single, for Peter, Paul, and Mary.  Not a bad way to leave the pop wars, eh?

Tomorrow, a fellow Long Islander who should’ve had a much bigger career than fate gave him…

Other songs that reached #1 on December 20:
1986 –
“Walk Like An Egyptian” by the Bangles (their first, 4 weeks)

Day 354: Come See About Me

Song: “Come See About Me” by the Supremes
Reached #1: December 19, 1964 (their third, 2 weeks)
Previously: Day 305, Day 324

Seeing about that #1 spot…

I’ve mentioned the Supremes’ incredible run of 5 straight #1 hits in 1964-65… this was the third in the series.  They actually had two one-week runs at the top, bookending the Beatles’ “I Feel Fine”.

More than any other Motown group, the Supremes were designed to cross over between the traditionally-separate R&B and pop/rock worlds – Berry Gordy aimed their sound at the “white” audience, and had them play venues that were generally rock oriented (such as New York’s Copa).  He saw the value of having the wider audience, and took the marketability of three young, attractive singers as his opportunity.

Of course, there was also the question of just how fond he was of Diana Ross.   Gordy is the father of Ross’ oldest daughter, Rhonda Silberstein, who was given the name of the man Ross married about a month after becoming pregnant (Robert Silberstein).  It’s believed that the marriage was, at first, a cover for the pregnancy as the reveal that Ross was having Gordy’s baby would have been… problematical for Motown.  Silberstein and Ross did have two kids, so I guess they kind of got used to each other (before divorcing after 6 years of marriage).

That fondness was part of the reason the Supremes broke up – Flo Ballard thought that Gordy was always prepared to shove the Supremes aside in favor of a Ross solo career, and was eventually proven right – as well as a constant source of irritation for Motown’s other girl groups.

Tomorrow, one of the biggest folk/rock groups flies to #1…

No other songs reached #1 on December 19.