The Christmas number one spot is traditionally an 'anything goes' state of affairs where the sentiment and general bonhomie of the record buying public often trumps any consideration of taste and decency. It's thrown up a few curious number ones over the years to be sure, but surely none more so than this. A number two hit for Yazoo the previous year, the Flying Pickets went one better by taking their version of 'Only You' to number one and in so doing gave the UK its first accapella chart topper.
By taking away Yazoo's electronic pings and pongs and stripping the song literally down to the words alone, the Flying Pickets manage to add another layer of humanity to the broken storytelling of the lyrics that are less free flowing words than a collection of phrases randomly generated by a confused and heartbroken mind ("Looking From A Window Above. It's Like A Story Of Love. Can You Hear Me. Came Back Only Yesterday. I'm Moving Further Away. Want You Near Me").
Although Yazoo's Alison Moyet was herself no slouch in soulful interpretations, the aurally abrasive pings synthesiser backing in Yazoo's take rendered this disjointed output almost as computer glitch, some anomaly that deleted every other word either through hardware failure or simply to ensure the lines scanned properly. By singing acappella, the Flying Pickets bring this confusion to the fore, presenting it more obviously as the outpouring of one who does not know how to articulate what they really want to say, with their own self generated counterpoint harmonies adding the humanity that Yazoo's machines took away.
The quite astonishing video showed the Pickets not in some Sri Lankan marketplace, but in the pub from hell looking for all the world like they are killing time before the balloon goes up for a ruck with a rival 'firm'. There's no attempt to show them as 'pop stars' or anything other than a bunch of ordinary blokes who happen to sing together.The non image is taken even further with lead vocalist Brian Hibbard, dressed for his shift at the factory, delivering his lines direct to the camera with the blank, thousand yard stare of a man just been told his wife, mother and dog have been killed in a motorway pile up with an emotion so raw its painful to watch - the whole thing is the absolute antithesis of what the eighties were meant to be 'about' in terms of sound and vision. What it was doing at number one at Christmastime is anyone's guess.
And yet despite all this, 'Only You' presents me with a bit of a dilemma. For although I rate this highly, I can empathise with those who would regard it as a one off gimmick and hate it in a way that I couldn't if they told me they didn't like (for example), 'Waterloo Sunset'. But rather than intentional novelty, I see this as a glorious fluke, a brave, unselfconscious and dead straight stab at something different that hit the bullseye and would have reached number one no matter what time of year.