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“Blue Monday” and the Henry Fern Collection

Today is known by some as Blue MondayThis piece in The Scotsman describes as “the most depressing day of the year”, for the following reasons: 

It’s the day when the financial pressure of the Christmas just passed hangs over us most, the weather is at its worst, and the extra pounds we’ve acquired over the holiday season are proving harder to shift than we anticipated. 

During one of his online lessons on Zoom this morning (yes, we’re still home-schooling during Lockdown Mark 3), my son was asked to track down and listen to the New Order song “Blue Monday”. Later in the day I played it for him on my phone. He knew it already. He has heard it plenty of times. Peter Andre and Janette Manrara danced to it on “Strictly Come Dancing” in 2015 (as you can see here), and it is also used as background music in the adverts for Britbox, the streaming service set up in the last year by ITV and the BBC.  

While it was playing, I told him about the band and about the song’s chart history. I told him about Joy Division, the death of Ian Curtis, early New Order songs like “Temptation” and how “Blue Monday” was the best-selling 12” single in UK chart history. I assume that the latter fact is still true.  

To remind him of the difference between 7” singles and 12” singles I gathered some of the cases and boxes that house our vinyl, and put them on the kitchen table. What a haphazard collection it is. There are discs that have been part of my life for most of my life, like “Harper Valley PTA” by Jeannie C Reilly, “19th Nervous Breakdown” (the only 1960s release from The Rolling Stones that my family owned) and The Beatles double A side of “Eleanor Rigby” and “Yellow Submarine” (the first single I was given as a birthday present). There are others that are older than me which I have literally never played, like “La Mer (Beyond the Sea)” by Bobby Darin and EPs featuring songs from “The Pirates of Penzance” and “The Merry Widow”. The first 12” single I found, to show him the difference in size, was “Love of the Common People” by Paul Young.  

As I wrote here last year, the first 7” I bought with my own money at a record shop was “Puppy Love” by Donny Osmond. When I was 15 I played Frisbee with it in the back garden and smashed it to pieces with a hammer, something I regret even more than buying the record in the first place. I must have done the same with my copy of Donny’s follow-up, “Too Young”.  I can’t find it anywhere, but I do have my copy of the third single I bought, Elton John’s “Crocodile Rock”.  

Many of the singles that I bought later in the 1970s came from the bargain boxes at West Four Tapes & Records or Chiswick Music Salon. These boxes contained records that had either dropped out of the charts or never made it into the Top 40. There were gems like Mott the Hoople’s final single, “Saturday Gig”, and “You can make me dance, sing or anything”, the last release by Rod Stewart and the Faces. There are also discs that I hardly ever played, by acts like the Baker-Gurvitz Army. I have thrown none of them away.  

In the early 1990s my collection of singles – especially 1970s singles – was boosted by some rescue work by Oliver, a good friend who died in 201630 years ago he had a tile shop in West Ealing. There was a skip outside the shop. A woman who lived in a nearby flat asked if she could dump some of her late husband’s things in it. It was fine by him, and he gave her a hand with some of the heavier items. Over the next day or two he noticed that she was dumping a load of records and he asked her if he could have a look through them. He thought that I might be interested in them. Within a week he had brought me dozens of 7” singles, and apologized that he hadn’t got there sooner. She had already disposed of hundreds more, including all of her late husband’s albums.  

The name of the record collector whose 7” singles I have unwittingly inherited was Henry Fern. It’s written on most of the labels, and on some of the sleeves. I kept his singles separate from mine, in case anyone ever wanted to reclaim them. It wasn’t very likely. His widow (Mrs Fern, I assume) had thrown them out. I don’t believe that they had children. Oliver had rescued what remained of the Henry Fern record collection from going to landfill. Nobody else wanted it. Three decades later I still have it.  

Having gathered together this mass of vinyl, I sat at the kitchen table and decided to put the 7” singles into a different kind of order, merging together items from the Fern family’s and my own family’s collections. All of the UK #1 and #2 hits have been separated from everything else. There are 95 singles that made it to the top of the UK chart (plus a 78rpm copy of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley and his Comets). There are plenty by The Beatles and by Elvis Presley (including “She Loves You”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “I Feel Fine”, “She’s Not You”, “It’s Now or Never”, “Good Luck Charm”), but the majority are from the 1970s, thanks to the Henry Fern Collection.  

“Puppy Love” may be missing but “Love Me for a Reason” by The Osmonds is there. So is my sister’s copy of “Long Haired Lover from Liverpool” by Little Jimmy Osmond) and so are many other chart-toppers from 1972 through to 1977: “Vincent”, “Mouldy Old Dough”, “My Ding-a-Ling” (I never bought it, honest), “Get Down”, “Welcome Home”, “When Will I See You Again?”, “Rock Your Baby”, “Sad Sweet Dreamer”, “Tears on My Pillow” (the Johnny Nash 1975 release, not Kylie Minogue’s 1990 #1), “Mamma Mia”, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. The list goes on.  

There have been plenty of contestants on Ken Bruce’s Radio 2 quiz Pop Master who are really into their vinyl. Over the years we have heard from people whose collections include every UK #1. I wonder if they have physical copies of every release or rely on downloads for the last few years. Since the UK’s first official charts in 1952 there have been nearly 1400 releases that have made it to #1. Our collection of just under 100 singles means that we have about 7% of the total, and we can thank the late Henry Fern for much of that. His name lives on, although I haven’t put the needle on any of his records for many years.  

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