Every UK Number One Song: Woodstock


“Woodstock” by Matthews’ Southern Comfort was number one on 31st October 1970 and stayed there for three weeks.

This definitely has a 70s hippy feel to it and just makes me wish I was able to go back and live through some of these times


Joni Mitchell originally wrote the song from what she had heard from then-boyfriend, Graham Nash, about the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. She had not been there herself, since she was told by a manager that it would be more advantageous for her to appear on The Dick Cavett Show. She wrote it in a hotel room in New York City, watching televised reports of the festival. “The deprivation of not being able to go provided me with an intense angle on Woodstock,” she told an interviewer shortly after the event. David Crosby, interviewed for the documentary Joni Mitchell: Woman of Heart and Mind, stated that Mitchell had captured the feeling and importance of the Woodstock festival better than anyone who had been there.

The lyrics tell a story about a spiritual journey to Max Yasgur’s farm, the place of the festival, and makes prominent use of religious imagery, comparing the festival place with the Garden of Eden (“…and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden”). The saga commences with the narrator’s encounter of a fellow traveler (“Well, I came upon a child of God, he was walking along the road”) and concludes at their ultimate destination (“by the time we got to Woodstock, we were half a million strong…”). There are also references to the Vietnam War (“bombers flying shotgun in the sky”).

“Woodstock” became an international hit in 1970–71 via a version by Matthews Southern Comfort whose frontman Iain Matthews recalled, “We had to do four songs on a BBC [Radio] lunchtime show. We worked up an arrangement for ‘Woodstock'” – which Matthews knew from Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon album – “and the response was so good that we [recorded and released it] as a single.

Andy Leigh, the group’s bassist, said, “We took [the song] apart and reassembled it and we knew we had something. We were an album band. We didn’t do singles. But we knew this…was something special…The record company said they would only release [our version] if [Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young] did not have a [UK] hit with theirs”. After the CSN&Y version failed to reach the UK charts “[MCA] reluctantly released ours because of that agreement but they wouldn’t spend a penny on promotion…But our managers, who were excellent, hired a PR, a songplugger. Tony Blackburn, who had the breakfast show on Radio 1, played ‘Woodstock’ and kept playing it and other DJs started doing the same.” 

Issued 24 July 1970, “Woodstock” debuted on the UK Top 50 on 26 September 1970 and reached #1 on 31 October 1970 remaining there for two additional weeks. It also afforded Matthews’ Southern Comfort an international hit, charting in Austria (#15), Canada (#5), Germany (#27), Finland (#23), Ireland (#2), the Netherlands (#17), Norway (#2), Poland (#2), Sweden (#2), South Africa (#3) and the US (#23)


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