Lyrics · Music · Word of the week

Word of the week: repertoire

If you learn to play guitar or piano you will probably end up with a repertoire, a set of songs that you can play for your own amusement, or to entertain others. It might consist of just two or three songs but it’s still a repertoire. If you can only play one song, then you have a party piece rather than a repertoire.

The phrase “two-song repertoire” has been on my mind in recent weeks. It’s in the lyrics of “Rock ’N Roll (I gave you the best years of my life)” by Kevin Johnson, a #23 hit here in the UK in 1975. I never had direct access to it (not even a recording taped from the radio), and until this month hadn’t heard it for years, but found that I remembered pretty much every verse when I searched for it online. Check out this performance on YouTube. You can hear the line “And my family listened 50 times to my two-song repertoire” in the first 30 seconds. I had no idea what Kevin Johnson looked like until now. He never appeared on “Top of the Pops”, or any other UK TV show as far as I know.

Over the last 30 years my own repertoire has grown from two songs that I played all the time (“With a little help from my friends” and “What a wonderful world”) to a few hundred, some of which I haven’t played for years. Since last autumn I have been playing most months at a friend’s Open Mic night in Hammersmith, calling myself “Number One Guy” (or “#1 Guy”) to indicate that my repertoire consists mostly of songs that reached #1 in the UK charts. Give me a year between 1953 and 2015 and I’ll sing you at least one song that topped the UK charts in that year. I have been keeping a scribbled record on an A2 sheet of the years that have been covered so far. It looks like this.


Some of the years have been crossed off thanks to performances by other people, without any prompting from me. Last week, for example, one of the regular performers covered Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the wall” from 2016. It’s the only Bond theme to top the UK charts. She also covered “Eternal Flame” and Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”. That’s 1989, 2001 and 2003 sorted, although I had already dealt with 2001 the previous month with a rendition of “Lady Marmalade”, which also serves for 1998. Yes, I allow the same song to cover multiple years if it reached #1 more than once, in different releases or re-releases. When a song topped the charts at Christmas it is only counted for the year it hit the top, not the following year as well.

Below, with more detail than the scribbled A2 sheet you can see above, is a table showing the progress we have made so far: 35 years down, 29 to go. Like other lists on this Blog I hope to keep this one up-to-date. If not, it’s simply a snapshot of where we are in April 2019.

[May 2019 Update: 3 more songs played, 5 more years covered, 40 years down, 24 to go.]

[June 2019 Update: 5 years covered by 2 songs performed by me, and 3 years covered by “You’ll never walk alone”, performed by a chap from Liverpool. Another singer covered “Only you”, the Christmas #1 from 1983. I had previously performed “They don’t know” from that year, in honour of Kirsty McColl, who wrote it. (Tracey Ullman’s version got to #2.) I have now expanded my repertoire to include all 66 complete years of UK chart history, 1953-2018 inclusive. I have played (or sung along with someone else’s performance) #1 songs from 48 of these years. 48 down, 18 to go.]

[July 2019 Update: 3 years covered by 3 songs performed by me (1957, 1965, 1987) and 2 covered by 2 songs by other performers (2006, 2008). 53 years down, 13 to go.

[August 2019 update: 4 years covered by me (1956, 2018, 1991, 1992) and another (2004) covered by a magnificent finale: “With a little help from my friends” played by most of the musicians in the room. It was also a #1 in 1968 and 1988 but those years had already been covered. Earlier in the evening we had a rendition of “See my baby jive”, a 1973 #1, but that year had also been covered, back in April.]

Year Song #1 Act Covered by When
1953 Answer Me Frankie Laine Me Jan-19
1954 Little things mean a lot Kitty Kallen Me Nov-18
1955 Unchained Melody Jimmy Young Me May-19
1956 Whatever Will Be Will Be Doris Day Me Aug-19
1957 Singing the Blues Tommy Steele / Guy Mitchell Me Jul-19
1958 All I have to do is dream Everly Brothers Not Me Jan-19
1959 Dream Lover Bobby Darin Me & Others Jan-19
1960 It’s Now or Never Elvis Presley Me Feb-19
1961 Runaway Del Shannon Not Me Jan-19
1962 Can’t help falling in love with you Elvis Presley Me Apr-19
1963 You’ll never walk alone Gerry & the Pacemakers Not Me May-19
1964 Oh Pretty Woman Roy Orbison Not Me Jan-19
1965 It’s not unusual Tom Jones Me Jul-19
1966 You don’t have to say you love me Dusty Springfield Me Apr-19
1967 San Francisco Scott Mackenzie Me Oct-18
1968 What a wonderful world Louis Armstrong Me Feb-19
1969 I heard it through the grapevine Marvin Gaye Me Jan-19
1970 Bridge over troubled water Simon & Garfunkel Me May-19
1971 Maggie May Rod Stewart Me May-19
1972 Without You Nilsson Me Feb-19
1973 Cum on Feel the Noize Slade Me Apr-19
1974 Rock Your Baby George MacRae Me Nov-18
1975 Make Me Smile Cockney Rebel Me & Others Jan-19
1976 Save your kisses for me Brotherhood of Man Me Apr-19
1977 Don’t cry for me Argentina Julie Covington Me Oct-18
1978 Wuthering Heights Kate Bush Me Apr-19
1979 I will survive Gloria Gaynor Me Apr-19
1980 Together we are beautiful Fern Kinney Me Oct-18
1983 [They Don’t Know – Stuck at 2] / Only You [Tracy Ullman – Stuck at 2] / Flying Pickets Me / Not Me Jan-19 / May-19
1984 Wake me up before you go-go Wham! Me Nov-18
1985 You’ll never walk alone The Crowd Not Me May-19
1987 Always on my mind Pet Shop Boys Me Jul-19
1988 He ain’t heavy (he’s my brother) Hollies Me Mar-19
1989 Eternal Flame Bangles Not Me Apr-19
1990 Unchained Melody Righteous Brothers Me May-19
1991 Should I Stay or Should I Go Clash Me Aug-19
1992 I will always love you Whitney Houston Me Aug-19
1993 Can’t help falling in love with you UB40 Me Apr-19
1994 Without You Mariah Carey Me Feb-19
1995 Up on the roof Robson & Jerome Me Jan-19
1996 You’ll never walk alone Robson & Jerome Not Me May-19
1998 Lady Marmalade All Saints Me Mar-19
2001 Lady Marmalade Pink, Maya et al Me Mar-19
2002 Unchained Melody Gareth Gates Me May-19
2003 Crazy in Love Beyoncé Not Me Apr-19
2004 With a little help from my friends Sam & Mark Everyone Aug-19
2005 It’s Now or Never [re-release] Elvis Presley Me Feb-19
2006 Don’t Stop Me Now McFly Not Me Jul-19
2007 What a wonderful world Eva Cassidy & Katie Melua Me Feb-19
2008 Hallelujah Alexandra Burke Not Me Jul-19
2010 Heroes X Factor Finalists 2010 Me & Others May-19
2012 He ain’t heavy (he’s my brother) Justice Collective Me Mar-19
2013 Wake me up Avicii  Me May-19
2014  Wake me up Gareth Malone’s All Star Choir  Me May-19
2015 Bridge over troubled water Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir Me May-19
2016 Writing’s on the wall Sam Smith Not Me Apr-19
2017 Bridge over troubled water Artists for Grenfell Me May-19
2018 Sweet but Psycho Ava Max Me Aug-19



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