Following on from the group’s first number 1, Sweets for My Sweet, the group had narrowly missed out on the top spot with Sugar and Spice (it was kept at bay by You’ll Never Walk Alone). With Needles and Pins, the group chartered darker territory lyrically (and avoided any links to confectionary for a change).
The song was one of the first compositions by Jack Nitzsche and Sonny Bono, who at the time both worked for mad genius producer Phil Spector. Bono claims in his autobiography that he came up with the lyrics while Nitzsche strummed his guitar, but ownership has also been claimed by Jackie DeShannon, who had first made it a hit in 1963.
The song’s protagonist is full of self-loathing because he has been left so heartbroken by his ex-partner, but he also loathes her too, and thinks her new lover will soon give her a taste of her own medicine, to the point he hopes she’ll one day feel his pain, which manifests as ‘needles and pins’. It’s a clever, sophisticated conceit, in sharp contrast to the simplistic love songs so prevalent at the time. It’s also clever how the misery in the lyrics is somewhat masked by Mike Pender’s sun-kissed 12-string guitar, which had become The Searchers’ trademark and was a precursor to the folk-rock movement that would begin a year later. In fact, Needles and Pins wouldn’t have sounded out of place on the Beatles’ Rubber Soul.
Pender also took over from Tony Jackson on lead vocals, with drummer Chris Curtis providing harmonies. Although there was no main singer, and Jackson would perform this live, his role was diminishing.
Sonny Bono would of course go on to form a duo with his wife Cher, and will be back in this blog more prominently in due course. Nitzsche went on to become one of the best arrangers of the decade, working with Spector on Ike and Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High before contributing some astonishing psychedelic strings to two of my favourite 60s songs, namely The Monkees’ Porpoise Song and Buffalo Springfield’s Expecting to Fly. He later wrote the unusual but memorable film score for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and co-wrote the Oscar-winning Up Where We Belong, performed by Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes for An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982.
Written by: Jack Nitzsche & Sony Bono
Producer: Tony Hatch
Weeks at number 1: 3 (30 January-19 February)
6 February: The British and French governments reached an agreement to construct a Channel Tunnel. It was predicted that the rail link would take five years to build, which was close, but it took a lot longer to begin than was originally expected. Due to many false starts and cancellations, building began in 1988, and the service began operation in 1994.
19 February: Actor and comedian Peter Sellers married actress Britt Ekland. Sellers was also getting rave reviews for his role in Stanley Kubrick’s satirical film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.