A new British star was born when Adam Faith went to number 1 for the first time with What Do You Want?. He was to remain one of the most popular UK pop singers of the next five years, and the song also helped producer John Barry make his name.
Faith was born Terence Nelhams-Wright in Acton on 23 June 1940, under his mother’s kitchen table during an air raid. Despite his rather posh-sounding real name, he grew up in a council house in a working-class area. After leaving school he became an odd-job boy for a silk-screen printers. By 1957 he was working as a film cutter and hoping to make his way into acting.
Like so many others, he loved skiffle, and sang with and managed The Worried Men. Faith made his television debut with the group on the BBC’s Six-Five Special. Series producer Jack Good was impressed and with his help, Adam Faith was born and began recording with HMV. However, Faith got nowhere and by 1959 he was working as a film cutter once more.
Faith had got to know John Barry, leader of The John Barry Seven, when they appeared in a stage show of Six-Five Special, and suggested Faith audition for new BBC music show Drumbeat. Faith was growing in popularity and recorded for several different labels but was yet to make an impact on the charts. However, he still held ambitions to also be an actor, and after having lessons he won a part in forthcoming rock’n’roll movie Beat Girl (1960). As Barry was working so closely with Faith, the film company asked him to write the score, and there began John Barry’s long, highly-successful career in film soundtrack scores, writing the themes from Jaws and the James Bond films, among so many others.
Faith signed to EMI’s Parlophone, then primarily a label for comedy acts such as The Goons. While working on Drumbeat, he and Barry got to know singer Johnny Worth, who was a member of vocal quartet The Raindrops. Worth aspired to be a songwriter and Faith and Barry saw potential in his song What Do You Want? However, Worth was worried about his contract stipulations and so adopted the pseudonym Les Vandyke for his writing credit.
What Do You Want? is Britain’s answer to Buddy Holly’s It Doesn’t Matter Anymore. John Burgess’s production of John Barry’s pizzicato string arrangement closely matches Holly’s song, and is by far the best thing about this short but sweet slice of pop (at only 1 minute and 38 seconds long, it’s still the shortest ever UK number 1).
It introduces Faith as a cheeky cockney version of Buddy Holly, who is lovelorn and dying to know what it will take to get his girl’s love. Unfortunately Faith’s vocals are far too similar to the recently deceased singer, and although back then it seemed perfectly acceptable for British singers to mimic their US influences, today his hiccuping sounds a bit embarrassing, as does his over-the-top ‘baby’. But it’s over in a flash and the strings stay with you afterwards.
In 1959 this will have all sounded pretty impressive and probably served as an exciting signpost to where British pop might end up in the forthcoming decade. It would however prove to be short-lived.
What Do You Want? narrowly missed out on the Christmas number 1 spot. In its third and final week at the top it shared the position with Emile Ford and the Checkmates’ similarly-titled What Do You Want to Make Those Eyes at Me For?, which overtook Faith on Christmas Day.
Written by: Les Vandyke
Producer: John Burgess
Weeks at number 1: 3 (4 -24 December)
Fashion designer Jasper Conran – 12 December
Painter Stanley Spencer – 14 December
6 December: Two shipping disasters take place within days of each other in Scotland. At Duncansby Head, a severe gale causes Aberdeen trawler George Robb to run aground, killing all 12 crew members.
8 December: The lifeboat Mona capsized at Broughty Ferry, and all eight crew members were lost at sea.