What’s in a number?
Numbers are an amazing thing, and something none of us could live
without. We all have an age and date of birth that define us, and we
all have a phone number, and a house or flat number, and many other
numbers that define us, from the number of people we’ve kissed to the
number of friends we have on Facebook. But how have our songwriters
commemorated this, and which is the most popular number for them?
Here’s some examples of numbers in songs.

* 5-4-3-2-1 – Manfred Mann. Easy to remember nice descending numerical
lyrics. A fun pop tune. And for people of a certain age it should
bring back memories of that seminal pop programme Ready, Steady, Go!
Unfortunately for those of a slightly younger age it will forever be
tied to the adverts for the 54321 chocolate bar – “Chew chew chew
the caramel topping, 54321…uh huh, wafer and peanut too.” What a
legacy for the Manfreds there.

* 2-4-6-8 Motorway – Tom Robinson Band. Tom, Tom, this isn’t really
working is it? We’re fine with you being gay, and we’re fine with you
being not gay, we’re really not that bothered. But you as an American
HGV driver? Hmm.

* In The Year 2525 – Zager and Evans. This was a massive one-hit-wonder
in the UK, around the time of my second birthday, but it was played
for many years after and its grim message terrified me as a child,
even though it was merely saying we’d all be dead in, erm, 10,000

* 666 The Number Of The Beast – Iron Maiden. Well ok, the 666 isn’t
actually in the title, but it’s the main part of the chorus, and I
heard it on the radio recently so it was fresh in my mind. On the 4th
of June 2005 I saw a band called Mula at Electrogogo do a song called
668, The Neighbour Of The Beast, so they can fight with the film Rock
School, released in the US one day earlier, as to who came up with the
joke first. My money’s on Mula, as they also had a song called Are We
Not Men? No, We Are Divas.

* Pennsylvania 6-5000 – The Glenn Miller Orchestra. Radical stuff from
Glenn here, as the only words in the song are the titular Pennsylvania
6-5000, given the twist at one point by being sung Pennsylvania
6-5-oh-oh-oh! It is still to this day the number of the Pennsylvania
Hotel in New York. whereby PE=73, and claims to be the longest
standing phone number in the world. Why not give them a ring and ask?

* ABC – The Jackson 5. Yes, you all thought it was called 123 didn’t
you? So did I. It isn’t.

* 99 Red Balloons/Luftballons – Nena. An intense song about impending
nuclear war but unfortunately still mainly famous in the UK for Nena’s
appearance on Top of the Pops with unshaven armpits.

* – City Boy. For a band whose greatest and only hit reached
number 8 in the UK in 1978, they have an extremely extensive Wikipedia
entry, so someone’s a fan.

* Seventeen – The Regents. The girl in The Regents’ (again)
one-hit-wonder hit was ‘not yet a woman.’

* (The number) Sixteen – many and various. Tennessee Ernie Ford’s
sixteen was the number of tons a man had to shovel to get out of debt,
but The Fureys reminisced about a long-loved one having been once
sweet sixteen, and Chuck Berry’s Sweet Little Sixteen was a young girl
aching to prove she was a grown-up, while Neil Sedaka was wishing
Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen because she had matured in quite a lovely
way, and wasn’t she pretty? Depending on your own personal
sleaze-o-meter you could read this as Neil’s celebration of a little
girl growing up, or Neil rubbing his hands with glee as she became of
age. Ringo Starr’s You’re Sixteen is certainly a celebration of that
point, but she wants him right back. And Iggy Pop’s Sweet Sixteen had
leather boots and was teasing the hell out of him by being so sexy,
but Feeder’s Sweet Sixteen was being pestered so much that she turned
on her harasser with a gun.

It’s been theorised that one day we’ll exhaust the combinations of
eight musical notes, but we won’t run out of numbers.

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  1. 123 – Len Barry
    586 – New Order
    6345789 – Otis Redding

    And there’s 16-16-9-20-1-14-9-7 by Factory Floor, which has got to be the hardest song title ever to remember!.

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