I didn’t see it coming. Like a thunderbolt, that exultant first line lyric and guitar lick blasted out from the car radio, seized my audio pleasure centres, and for the next three and a half minutes wouldn’t let go. I cranked up the volume, only realising minutes later that it was so loud I couldn’t even hear that the car indicator was still going.
We were on our way to Bridlington, Anna and I. We pulled up at a small garage, just in time to take my hands off the steering wheel and launch into an exuberant air guitar solo. Then, almost as soon as it had started, the nineties pop behemoth wound up. I sat back and bathed in the ecstasy. Anna was dumbstruck. The garage attendant looked concerned.
To identify this track that launched me into such a frenzied performance is, in terms of kudos, the equivalent of wearing belted jeans pulled up above the waist – or styling floppy hair, outside of the 90s. It is indeed the one and only ‘The One and Only’ – by Chesney Hawkes.
There, I’ve said it. Put your head in your hands if you will. Refuse ever to speak to me again. I don’t care. It may indeed have cheese levels to rival certain regions of France, but I bloomin’ love this song and, to throw in some Emmental, ‘you can’t take that away from me’. I feel toward the Ches a bit how I feel about the child actor from The Shining. That boy was in only one film, and never acted again. But it doesn’t matter. It was ‘The Shining’! Likewise, Chesney, ‘mister one hit wonder’ himself – but it was ‘The One and Only’! Worth ten average hits if you ask me (which you may never again after this). What’s more, this equivalent of an audio caffeine burst has triggered an unanticipated trail of discovery. Until a week ago, I knew next to nothing about either song or artist. Now it’d be harder to list what l I don’t know.
It was penned by Nik Kershaw – who bought two houses from the earnings. Chesney crashed and burned a bit afterwards – which is why many of us never really heard from him again – but became a cult hit at student unions, and is still a working musician, putting on zoom gigs, and living happily with his family in LA. Seems a nice bloke in interviews. Supportive of mental health initiatives.
I’ve seen one or two of the original performances on YouTube.
A young Chesney owning the stage, curling his lip and drawing screams from his teenage fan base, like a blonde Elvis. This was thirty years ago. There were no mobile phones or anything! I was in my first year at uni. Chesney was jetting around Europe, girls were camping outside his home, while I was grappling with Flaubert, essay deadlines and fragile self-confidence.
It’s all sparked some thoughts. About the wonder of a pop tune that becomes a hit, the strange alchemy that allows a particular sequence and timing of musical notes to trace a path which burrows its way into your head and stays there. That sent a song flying up the charts to occupy the top spot for five whole weeks.
Also about youth, aspiration, aging and the passing of time. There’s something poignant here. Though still a working musician, in mainstream popular imagination Chesney is frozen in time as the ‘beautiful boy’ who a long time ago belted out a megahit, then like a brief firework faded from view. It is, in my view, primarily faith that allows a more enduring ‘youthfulness’ to dwell and grow in the spirit. As Paul said, ‘Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day’. A theme I may revisit. Suffice to say for now that I believe it allows you to walk with another dimension of ‘dignity and pride’.