Number Ones: #73


  • HIPSWAY Ask The Lord (Mercury)
  • Week Ending 31st May 1986
  • 1 Week At #1


The rapid changeover at the top of my personal charts continued, with Hipsway’s second #1 coming just weeks after The Honeythief had ruled for a fortnight. In the meantime, no fewer than four records had each spent 7 days at the summit; that sequence would be extended with Ask The Lord.

This is another 1986 #1 which packs a punch, in this case not just with the music but the hard-hitting lyrics. Remarkably, this is the same band who gave us the sultry innuendo of The Honeythief; Ask The Lord adheres to a “it’s grim up North” template, of poverty and hardship, of devout religious belief and the spectre of drug addiction.

When singer Skin rages against the injustice of it all, repeating his mantra of “black money pays for suffering, I don’t need it…I don’t need it”, you believe him. There’s a power to the track beyond the mere music itself, although the soaring middle-eight nevertheless takes the breath away. There’s a similarity to another fine band from the North, The Kane Gang (Northern England in their case) and their early 1985 single Gun Law; not least the use of Biblical/Wild West samples and imagery to add some extra atmosphere.

The mix of Ask The Lord which was charting in 1986 was technically a remix rather than a straight re-issue, entitled “A New Version”. However, I’d bought the Hipsway album on release in April and was still hammering that tape when Ask The Lord was put out again. Hence its rapid ascent to #1, blasting its way past Blancmange and cementing the band as my favourite act of the moment, even though I hardly knew what this “New Version” sounded like (thanks to the 2CD Deluxe Edition of Hipsway from a couple of years ago, the answer is…pretty similar, just a bit smoother and chart-friendly…even if it still failed to crack the Top 40!).

The best mix of Ask The Lord, in my humble opinion, remains the original extended version (and the one which was included on the cassette and first CD pressing of Hipsway as one of the bonus tracks).

Unfortunately, the lack of chart success for the band beyond The Honeythief would eventually lead to the departure of Johnny McElhone (formerly of Altered Images) to form Texas with Sharleen Spiteri, and Hipsway’s demise followed in 1989 after a unloved second album without McElhone.

Their final chart entry on my own Top 40 would be Long White Car (#13 in August 1986), a pleasant but somewhat meandering ballad from the self-titled album, which was its final UK single.

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