In The Number Ones, I’m reviewing every single #1 single in the history of the Billboard Hot 100, starting with the chart’s beginning, in 1958, and working my way up into the present.
There’s a peculiar kind of genius to making something really, really annoying. If Herman’s Hermits cashed in on their cute-British-kid status with “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” they kicked that into absolute overdrive with “I’m Henry VIII, I Am,” an overwhelmingly, adorably obnoxious piece of Cockney kitsch that pounded its one idea into the cerebellum of anyone who happened to be within its blast radius. You might hate the song, but you have to respect the hustle.
“I’m Henry VIII, I Am” had lived a long and full life before Peter Noone took it to the top of the American charts. Fred Murray and R.P. Weston wrote the song in 1910, and it became the signature song of the vaudeville music-hall star Harry Champion. Even then, it was a dumb idea. (See, the singer isn’t actually the murderous glutton tyrant who once ruled Great Britain. It’s a guy named Henry, whose wife was previously married to seven other guys who were also named Henry.) But Herman’s Hermits made it even dumber, stripping away all extraneous lyrics and, in just under two minutes, singing the song’s chorus three times.
As he bleated those lyrics in his exaggerated-for-effect Cockney accent, Peter Noone famously bellowed “second verse, same as the first!” before repeating himself all over again. Joey Ramone, who knew a fun and dumb idea when he heard it, did the same thing a decade later on “Judy Is A Punk.” And as an audio artifact, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” has what could be considered a proto-punk energy, with its revved-up tempo and its weirdly satisfying guitar twang. It’s annoying, but it’s annoying in a way that I can’t bring myself to hate.
It’s probably worth mentioning that this song, despite its overwhelming Britishness, did not top the British charts. It was bigger in British Invasion-mad America than it was anywhere else on Earth. That makes it the musical equivalent of one of those Chinese restaurants where the entire clientele seems to be white. Still, there’s a power within this self-conscious stupidity. Years ago, my wife and I used to sing this song to our dog (RIP Uncle Finnegan) every time he’d jump up in bed with us. I don’t even know why we did it. It was just a thing we did. And maybe that’s why so many Americans bought this record: It has the magical ability to make you do things that don’t make any sense.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s the scene from 1990’s Ghost where Patrick Swayze tortures Whoopi Goldberg by singing “I’m Henry VIII, I Am” at her over and over: