215. The Rolling Stones – Paint It, Black (1966)

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1965 had been a phenomenal year for the Rolling Stones, and saw them established as the biggest rivals to the Beatles for the pop crown, despite the nihilism of rock classics (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction and Get Off of My Cloud. That December they began work on their fourth album Aftermath. Originally conceived as the soundtrack to an abandoned film, the Stones had much more time than usual to work on this album, and it showed. For the first time they released an album feauring songs only written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, and they experimented with their sound. Featuring Mother’s Little Helper, Lady Jane, Under My Thumb and Out of Time, it’s easily their best album up to this point and perhaps their best to date.

Recorded during the same sessions in March 1966, and released as the opening track of the US version of Aftermath, Paint It, Black took the Rolling Stones into new territory, and remains a real stand-out track.

Initially it had been written with a standard rock-pop arrangement, and lyrically Jagger was continuing on the dark path of their previous two singles, but this time his disgust with the world had a reason. I only recently realised Paint It, Black specifically relates to a loved one’s sudden death, rather than general malaise and depression. Of course it was there, right in front of me, from the very start, if I’d taken proper notice of Jagger’s lyrics. The ‘line of cars and they are painted black’ refers to the funeral, and ‘I could not forsee this thing happening to you’ suggests how unexpected the death was. Something the band were to experience themselves soon… Although Jagger has never said who the song refers to, many believe it concerns a soldier in Vietnam, which is backed up by Stanley Kubrick playing it over the credits of Full Metal Jacket in 1987.

Fooling around with the song in the studio, Bill Wyman played on the organ and Charlie Watts improvised a double-time drum beat that became the song’s distinctive, unusual gallop. The band decided this rhythm would make a nice counterpoint to the bleak lyrics.

The key ingredient that elevates Paint It, Black to a classic, however, came from Brian Jones. Frustrated with his decline in importance to the band, and with Jagger and Richards now in charge, he began experimenting with new instruments and sounds. To compliment the new Moroccan feel to the song, he laid sitar over the top. Inspired by George Harrison, he was taught by Harihar Rao, a disciple of Ravi Shankar. The Beatles get all the credit for popularising the sitar, but Paint It, Black was one of the first pop songs to do so too, and the best for the time being. The whole band put in excellent performances, from Richards’ flamenco opening to the finale, in which Wyman goes crazy on the bass.

Released on 13 May, Paint It, Black quickly knocked the sunshine of Pretty Flamingo from the top of the pops, and cast a dark cloud over the optimism of the spring and summer of 1966. A world away from their early blues tracks, it proved the Rolling Stones could be just as effective at experimenting as the Beatles. It’s easily one of their greatest tracks, and one of the best number 1s of the 60s. However, the Rolling Stones began to hit a rocky patch after its release, and controversy and further experimentation led to their popularity sliding and tragedy. Paint It, Black was their last number 1 until 1968.

And why did the title have that strange comma, adding emphasis on ‘Black’? A further sign of the darkness enveloping the group? No. It was just an error by Decca Records.

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 1 (26 May-1 June)

Births:

Actress Helena Bonham Carter – 26 May

214. Manfred Mann – Pretty Flamingo (1966)

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On 6 May, Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley were sentenced to life imprisonment – Brady for the murders of children John Kilbride and Lesley Ann Downey, and teenager Edward Evans between November 1963 and October 1965. Hindley was sentenced for the deaths of Downey and Evans. Upon passing the sentences, the judge rightly described the couple as ‘two sadistic killers of the utmost depravity’. They remain prime examples of the human race at its worst.

Also in the news that month… Everton defeated Sheffield Wednesday 3-2 in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. It was a spectacular win, as Everton were losing 2-0 until the final 16 minutes of the match. The National Union of Seamen called a strike on 14 May, which lasted until 16 July.

Number 1 in the singles chart for three weeks at the time were Manfred Mann, with their second of three chart-toppers, Pretty Flamingo. Since their previous number 1, Do Wah Diddy Diddy in August 1964, they were regularly releasing hit pop singles, including Sha La La and Come Tomorrow, alongside albums of more jazz and R’n’B-influenced material. In September 1965 their cover of Bob Dylan’s If You Gotta Go, Go Now was released, climbing all the way to number two. Around this time their guitarist Mike Vickers decided to leave the group to become a conductor. He had big ambitions to become an orchestra conductor, and did exactly that when the Beatles premiered All You Need is Love in June 1967 for the TV special Our World. Bassist Tom McGuinness moved to guitar duties, and their new bassist was Jack Bruce, formerly of the Graham Bond Organisation and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, who later helped form Cream. Their next single, Pretty Flamingo, was written by Mark Barkan, a US songwriter who was later behind the music of The Banana Splits Adventure Hour and wrote for the Monkees.

With its hazy jangle and dreamy, colourful lyrics of a girl whose hair ‘glows like the sun’ and eyes that ‘light the skies’ (what’s that got to do with flamingos anyway?), Pretty Flamingo came along at the right time. Hippy culture and psychedelia was on its way, so in a sense Manfred Mann were ahead of the curve. Despite this it’s a fairly sparse recording, and rather rough too. The most noteworthy elements are McGuiness’s guitar and a nice bit of flute that comes in half way through. It’s been noted by many that Paul Jones’s bluesy vocal didn’t really fit with Do Wah Diddy Diddy, but I think he suited it better than he does Pretty Flamingo. I can’t hear this track without thinking of Flamingo Land, as it was adapted and used on TV adverts for the theme park in the summer holdiays when I was a child.

In July Paul Jones left Manfred Mann. He had wanted to a year previous but hung on until a replacement could be found. Mike d’Abo took over from him, and Jones embarked on a solo career. Two top ten singles followed, High Time and I’ve Been a Bad, Bad Boy, but Jones then moved into acting, notably guest-starring in ITV’s cop drama The Sweeney in 1975. He founded the Blues Band in 1979, which featured previous Manfred Mann members initially and still tours to this day. Jones also presented children’s TV quiz Beat the Teacher in the mid-80s, and in 1986 his long-running Radio 2 series The Blues Show began, lasting until April 2018.

Written by: Mark Barkan

Producer: John Burgess

Weeks at number 1: 3 (5-25 May)

Births:

Athlete Jonathan Edwards – 10 May 

213. Dusty Springfield – You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me (1966)

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30 April saw a regular hovercraft service begin over the English Channel. It was ended in 2000 due to competition from the Channel Tunnel. Also that day, Liverpool won the Football League First Division title for the second time in three seasons.

Two days previous, Dusty Springfield went to number 1 with You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Despite being one of the biggest stars of the 1960s, and still regarded as one of the country’s finest vocal talents of all time, this was her sole chart-topper.

Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O’Brien was born on 16 April 1939 in West Hampstead. She was brought up in High Wycome in Buckinghamshire until the early 50s, when the O’Brien’s moved to Ealing. She earned the nickname ‘Dusty’ from being rather a tomboy and playing football with the boys down her street. Mary and her older brother Dionysius had a comfy, middle-class upbringing, and their parents loved music, in particular their perfectionist father. This passion would be instilled in both siblings, and Mary grew to love singers like Peggy Lee and Jo Stafford (the latter was the first female number 1 artist back in 1953). By the time she left school, Mary and Dion were singing in folk clubs and holiday camps.

In 1958 Mary joined the Lana Sisters, who weren’t sisters. She became known as Shan, stopped wearing glasses and began glamming up for the first time. As a member of the trio she learnt the ropes of pop stardom, even appearing on television and at the Royal Albert Hall. In 1960 she decided to take a different path, forming the Springfields with Dion and Reshad Feild, who had both been in the Kensington Squares. They changed their names to Dusty, Tim and Tom, respectively, and decided on the surname after rehearsing during spring in a field in Somerset. The Springfields successfully melded folk, country, pop and rhythm’n’blues, becoming so big that they were voted Top British Vocal Group in the New Musical Express in 1961 and 1962 (by which point Tom had left to be replaced by Mike Hurst. The Springfields disbanded in October 1963, with Tom becoming top songwriter for The Seekers (number 1 twice in 1965 – I’ll Never Find Another You and The Carnival is Over.)

That November, with Beatlemania rising, Dusty Springfield released her memorable debut, I Only Want to Be With You. With Johnny Franz on production, the song succeeded in capturing the Spector-style girl groups from the US that Springfield admired. It climbed to number four in the UK, and even got her known in the US. Her debut album A Girl Called Dusty was released in April 1964 and also reached the top ten. Springfield’s version of Bacharach and David’s I Just Don’t Know What to Do with Myself hit the number three spot. With her trademark big, blonde beehive, she was becoming one of the country’s brightest talents, topping the New Musical Express poll for Top Female British Artist for the next four years in a row.

In January 1965 she took part in the Sanremo Festival (the Italian inspiration for the Eurovision Song Contest), where she reached the semi-final. During the competition, she saw Io Che Non Vivo (Senza Te) being performed by co-composer Pino Donaggio and singer Jody Miller, and was moved to tears despite not knowing the meaning of the lyrics. She obtained an acetate but took a year to decide to do anything with it. In March 1966 an instrumental track was recorded, but Springfield still didn’t have any English lyrics to put to it. One night, Dusty’s friend Vicki Wickham (producer of Ready, Steady, Go!) was dining with Simon Napier-Bell (manager of the Yardbirds), and the song came up in conversation. With no songwriting experience, and no undertanding of the Italian lyrics, they began writing an anti-love song called I Don’t Love You, which then became You Don’t Love Me, then You Don’t Have to Love Me, before settling on its final version, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me. Not bad going, for two mates on a night out.

Despite this being Springfield’s only number 1, opinion has become somewhat divided over the years. It only lasted a week at the top, yet has been covered many times, and I have to confess I assumed it was a Bacharach and David track, such is its fame. But to fans of Springfield who are better acquainted with her ouevre, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me isn’t regarded as up there with her best material. There’s no doubting her singing, which as always is top-notch – it’s the lyrics which have proved problematic in the main. Springfield was such a tough character on the surface, the character in this song is considered to be too weak. I admit I hadn’t really taken notice of the words before, and when you do, they are pretty unpleasant. Springfield is basically telling her ex-lover he can treat her as shit as long as he doesn’t walk out of her life.

Fans also seem divided on Franz’s production. His overblown orchestration worked wonders on the Walker Brothers, but some find it too much for a bitter song like this. Personally I think the music is fine. Some also wonder if the song had special meaning due to Springfield’s sexuality. I can’t see it myself – the lyrics don’t really reflect the subject if you ask me.

Springfield continued to shine throughout the decade with hits such as the sultry The Look of Love for James Bond-spoof Casino Royale (1967). She was instrumental in bringing Motown to a wider audience in the UK, and also had her own series on ITV, called It Must Be Dusty in 1968. That year, with her popularity beginning to decline, she signed with Atlantic Records and recorded the soul-influenced Dusty in Memphis. Its lead single, Son of a Preacher Man is rightly considered among her best and climbed to number ten in the UK. In 1994 its appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction made it popular all over again. While in Memphis, she also persuaded Atlantic to sign Led Zeppelin, as John Paul Jones had performed session work for her. She concluded the 60s with her final series for the BBC, Decidedly Dusty.

Springfield’s sales went into decline further as the 70s began, and Dusty’s dependency on drugs and alcohol worsened. Many biographers see there being two sides to her, with the character of Dusty Springfield allowing the shy Mary O’Brien to indulge in the wilder side of her personality and mask her insecurities, including the worry that her sexuality would ruin her career. She was known for indulging in food fights – something she learnt from her eccentric father growing up, but behind the scenes she would self harm, and she was diagnosed as bieng bipolar. By the mid-70s she had become a recluse and was recording backing vocals for Elton John under her pseudonym Gladys Thong. By the end of the decade though she was releasing her own material once more. She tried several times in the 80s to revive her career, without much look, releasing the new wave-influenced 1982 album White Heat, and appeared on chat show Wogan in 1985.

In 1987 the Pet Shop Boys were searching for a vocalist for What Have I Done to Deserve This?, and someone suggested they use Dusty. Singer Neil Tennant was a fan and the move paid off, with Springfield elevating the tune and also appearing in the video. The single made it to number two, and the trio worked together again, with Tennant and Chros Lowe producing Nothing Has Been Proved for the soundtrack to the 1989 movie chronicling the Profumo affair, Scandal. She was back in the album charts in 1990 with Reputation, again, produced by Pet Shop Boys.

In January 1994, Springfield was recording her album A Very Fine Love when she fell ill. A few months later she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment her cancer was in remission and she was able to promote her album, but sadly the cancer returned and she died on 2 March 1999. Two weeks later her friend Elton John introduced her to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Despite her demons, or maybe in part, because of them, Dusty Springfield remains one of the UK’s highest-regarded soul singers of all time.

Written by: Vicki Wickham & Simon Napier-Bell/Pino Donaggio & Vito Pallavicini (Io che non vivo (senza te))

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 April-4 May)

Births:

Cricketer Phil Tufnell – 29 April 

 

212. The Spencer Davis Group – Somebody Help Me (1966)

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By 1966, London was established as the coolest capital in the world, and it was on 15 April that Time magazine ran a pop-art cover featuring the city, with the phrase ‘LONDON: The Swinging City’. Inside it stated ‘In a decade dominated by youth, London has burst into bloom. It swings; it is the scene’. With the World Cup soon to take place, this was a great time to be in England. The Moors Murders still cast a great shadow over all this positivity though. Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s trial for three deaths began on 19 April at Chester Crown Court.

The Spencer Davis Group were at number 1 again for the last time. Sticking firmly to the formula that saw them shoot to the top with the classic Keep on Running, they borrowed another song from reggae singer-songwriter Jackie Edwards, who was signed to their producer Chris Blackwell’s Island Records.

Edwards’ original was more like Northern Soul than reggae, and a decent stab at it. However, the Spencer Davis Group made it sound as similar to their previous number 1 as is possible. Winwood’s voice was as great as ever (hearing him singing ‘When I was just/A little boy of seventeen’ is pretty amusing as he must have been that age roughly at the time), and there’s some occasional interesting guitar sounds from Davis, but there’s no way this would have been top of the pops if it had been released before Keep on Running. In 2003 it found new life when it became the theme tune to the long-running ITV drama The Royal, a medical drama set in the 60s.

Better songs were to follow. Both Gimme Some Lovin’ and I’m a Man were much more deserving of number 1 status, and they started to make progress in the US. In 1966 the group had also starred in their own film. The Ghost Goes Gear, also starring Nicholas Parsons, saw the Spencer Davis Group staying in the haunted childhood home of their manager. This sounds awfully amazing but seems to have been lost in the mist of time sadly.

In 1967 Steve and Muff Winwood decided to leave the band. Steve formed Traffic, adopting a more psychedelic sound and co-writing the excellent Paper Sun and Hole in My Shoe (later recorded by Neil from The Young Ones). He also played the organ on Voodoo Chile on the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Electric Ladyland (1968), before forming the short-lived supergroup Blind Faith with his pal Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Ric Grech. His singing on the haunting Can’t Find My Way Home is particularly beautiful. After briefly reforming Traffic, he resurfaced as a solo artist in the late 70s, and found pop fame once more with the hit single Higher Love in 1986. He still occasionally releases new material, and his daughter Lily is now a singer.

His brother, Muff, went to work as an A&R man for Island Records, before becoming an executive for CBS Records. He produced Sparks’ hit This Town Ain’t Big Enough for Both of Us and was also responsible for signing several big names, including Prefab Sprout, Shakin’ Stevens and Sade.

The Spencer Davis Group soldiered on without the Winwoods, and actually briefly worked alongside Traffic on the soundtrack to Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. After several line-up changes, with Davis the only original member left, they split in 1969. They reformed several times over, and confusingly still exist in two different formations, one in Europe and one in the US. Will he form a third after Brexit?

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Producer: Chris Blackwell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (14-27 April)

Births:

Model Samantha Fox – 15 April

Deaths:

Cricketer Tich Freeman – 28 January 

211. The Walker Brothers – The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore (1966)

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Four months before the FIFA World Cup was scheduled to kick off in England, the Jules Rimet Trophy was stolen. On 20 March a thief broke into the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster, ignored rare stamps nearby that were worth far more, and took the trophy from its public display. A package with the removable lining was left at Stamford Bridge with a ransom demand. When police arrested Edward Betchley, who mailed the package, he claimed the real culprit was known as ‘The Pole’. He/she have never been found, but the trophy was, by a dog called Pickles, a week after the robbery. His owner, David Corbett, bought a new house with the reward money, and Pickles won a medal and was invited to a celebration banquet when England won the tournament. He went on to a TV career before dying in 1967 after getting caught up in his choke chain while eating cheese. Poor Pickles, what a way for a hero to go.

Four days after Pickles’ discovery, Harold Wilson’s gamble paid off, and the Labour party won the snap general election, increasing their wafer-thin majority significantly. It’s unlikely him and the rest of the Cabinet were dancing to the number 1 at the time though. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore isn’t exactly Things Can Only Get Better, is it?

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons songwriters Bob Crewe and Bob Gaudio (also one of the Four Seasons) originally wrote the track as a solo single for Valli. However, his backing group also performed on The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore), as it was originally known upon its release in 1965. The Walker Brothers had stayed popular since achieving their first number 1 that year with Bacharach and David’s Make It Easy on Yourself. It was an admirable attempt to replicate Phil Spector’s ‘wall of sound’, but fell short despite making it to the top. They then went to number three with My Ship Is Coming In before having a crack at Valli’s tale of heartbreak. This time they really nailed it.

Listening to Valli’s version, it’s clear that this was already a strong track, but the Walker Brothers and producers Johnny Franz and Ivor Raymonde take it to another level and really ramp up the melodrama. Their version starts with a rather Mexican/Spanish feel in the intro, before Scott’s baritone lead begins. As the song continues, his voice is almost lost in the lush intrumentation, but that’s entirely appropriate, as the singer is drowning against an overwhelming tide of heartbreak. Something about the way he sings the lines ‘The tears are always clouding your eyes/When you’re without love’ gets me every time. I’m a big admirer of Scott Walker as an artist, but nothing he’s written tops this in my opinion.

Following a month at number 1, Scott Walker began to take over with song choices and would also join in on production duties, but as his role grew, so did the dissension, and their success began to decline. In early 1968, after touring with the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Cat Stevens and Engelbert Humperdinck, followed by a tour of Japan. The trio disbanded.

All three ‘Walkers’ continued to record as solo artists, with Scott gaining a cult following that only grew over the years, even if mainstream success eluded him. His late-1960s albums are now considered classics. The best in my opinion, was Scott 3 (1969), featuring the trippy masterpiece Plastic Palace People.

In 1974 the Walker Brothers reformed and released three albums between 1975 and 1978. Apart from the title track to No Regrets however, they’re very MOR-country and not worth hearing. Since their final split, Scott Walker went even more leftfield and now releases albums sporadically to great acclaim. He also produced Pulp’s final album, We Love Life in 2001. Scott is a big hero of frontman Jarvis Cocker, and was also famously a big influence on David Bowie, which became ever more apparent during Bowie’s last few albums. A birthday message from Walker to Bowie on his 50th in 1997 even reduced him to tears. The other two Walkers, John and Gary, released biography The Walker Brothers: No Regrets – Our Story in 2009, in which John seemed philosophical about losing his importance in the group to Scott. In 2000 he set up his own record label and began touring, but he died of liver cancer in 2011. Gary has seemingly disappeared back into obscurity.

Also in the news during the reign of The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore… 7 April saw the UK ask the UN Security Council for authority to use force to stop oil tankers that violate the oil embargo against Rhodesia. The UN did exactly that three days later. And the day after that, the Marquess of Bath, in conjunction with Jimmy Chipperfield, opened Longleat Safari Park at his Longleat House, which was the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa.

Written by: Bob Crewe & Bob Gaudio

Producer: Johnny Franz & Ivor Raymonde

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 March-13 April)

Births:

Politician Andrew Rosindell – 17 March
Footballer Nigel Clough – 19 March
Politician Mark Williams – 24 March 
Athelete Roger Black – 31 March 
Disc jockey Chris Evans – 1 April
Footballer Teddy Sheringham – 2 April 
Footballer Steve Claridge – 10 April 
Singer Lisa Stansfield – 11 April 

Deaths:

Author CS Forester – 2 April
Footballer Barry Burtler – 9 April 
Author Evelyn Waugh – 10 April 

210. Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ (1966)

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The fall-out from Rhodesia continued through the rest of the winter, with the UK protesting to South Africa on 17 February over its supplying of petrol to the country. 28 February saw Prime Minister Harold Wilson announce a snap general election for 31 March. Two days later Chancellor James Callaghan announced the decimalisation of the pound, which would come into effect on 15 February 1971.

Also on 17 February, Nancy Sinatra began a month at number 1 with Lee Hazlewood’s These Boots Are Made for Walkin’, which finally brought a much-needed dose of feminism to the top of the charts.

The eldest daughter of Frank Sinatra and his first wife Nancy Barbato, Sinatra was born in Jersey City, New Jersey in July 1940. When she was five her legendary father immortalised her in song with Nancy (with the Laughing Face). He clearly wanted her to follow in his footsteps, and she spent much of her childhood having singing, piano, dance and drama lessons. In the late-1950s she was studying music, dancing and voice at the University of California, but she dropped out and in 1960 she appeared on the television special The Frank Sinatra Timex Show: Welcome Home Elvis. She was sent to the airport on behalf of Frank to welcome Presley back from his stint in the army, and performed alongside her father in a rendition of You Make Me Feel So Young/Old (delete as applicable).

In 1961 Sinatra signed to her father’s label, Reprise Records and released her debut single Cuff Links and a Tie Clip. Besides a few chart appearances in Europe and Japan, she was going nowhere, and by 1965 she was on the verge of being dropped. It was around this time that Reprise introduced her to Lee Hazlewood.

Hazlewood was best known up to this point for his work with rockabilly guitarist Duane Eddy, and he produced Peter Gunn and Rebel Rouser, among others. He had written These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ with the intention of recording it himself. It’s more than fair it would have had a fraction of the impact if this had been the case. In an article for Los Angeles Magazine in 2016, Sinatra recalled Hazlewood had come over to her parents’ house to audition songs for her. The minute he played the infamous bass line on his guitar, she was hooked. But ‘he said, “It’s not really a girl’s song. I sing it myself onstage.” I told him that coming from a guy it was harsh and abusive, but was perfect for a little girl to sing. He agreed. When he left, my father, who had been sitting in the living room reading the paper, said, “The song about the boots is best.”’

Sinatra recorded the song on 19 November 1965 in Hollywood, with the Wrecking Crew providing the backing. Hazlewood’s idea to have her sing it in a lower register was a genius move, as was that slinky descending, dare I say, groovy opening. Sinatra’s had enough of her lover’s cheating ways despite his promises to change. What makes it so effective, and revolutionary at the time, is the fact she isn’t angry, or sad. She’s cool, calm, collected and entirely in charge, and it’s for these reasons (along with the boots imagery, obviously) that make These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ so sexy. A sexy number 1 by a female artist – how many times had that happened up to this point? Sinatra’s father famously denounced pop in the 60s, which is ironic, considering his own daughter helped invent modern female pop as we know it. I’m not going to mention ‘girl power’. Oh, I just did.

Sinatra’s image change to help her promote the song also pioneered 60s fashion, and there’s good reason the track is used in spoof spy film Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Her bleached-blonde hair, heavy eye make-up, mini-skirt and boots are the epitomy of 60s glamour, and the film she made for the track, with go-go dancers parading behind her, is truly iconic.

These Boots Are Made for Walkin’ was still at number 1 on 5 March, when BOAC Flight 911 crashed during severe turbulence over Mount Fuji soon after taking off from Tokyo International Airport in Japan. All 124 on board were killed. Four days later, gangster Ronnie Kray, one half of infamous East End criminal duo the Kray Twins, shot dead George Cornell, an associate of the rival Richardson Gang. And two days after that, Chi-Chi, London Zoo’s giant panda, was flown to Moscow to get it on with Moscow Zoo’s An-An. Wonder if they played them the number 1 of the time?

Written & produced by: Lee Hazlewood

Weeks at number 1: 4 (17 February-16 March)

Births:

Comedian Ben Miller – 24 February 
Comedian Alan Davies – 6 March 
Politician Gregory Barker – 8 March 
Author Alastair Reynolds – 13 March 

Deaths:

Politician Viscount Astor – 8 March 

209. The Overlanders – Michelle (1966)

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On 30 January Palitoy first launched their Action Man figures. The UK version of Hasbro’s GI Joe, created in 1964, went on to delight children (and some adults) for decades to come. The following day, Britain officially ceased all trade with Rhodesia.

That week also saw folk-pop quartet the Overlanders begin a three-week stint at the top with their version of the Beatles’ Michelle. Originally a trio, they formed in the early 1960s and consisted of Paul Arnold on piano and guitar, Laurie Mason on piano and harmonica and Peter Bartholomew on guitar, with all three providing vocals. Originally their repertoire derived mainly from American folk tunes. The Overlanders signed to Pye Records and Tony Hatch became their producer. That July they released their self-penned debut single Summer Skies and Golden Sands to little fanfare. Third single, a cover of Chad & Jeremy’s Yesterday’s Gone briefly entered the Billboard chart during the British Invasion in 1964. After that, every release was a failure, so the Overlanders decided to beef up their sound, adding Terry Widlake on bass and David Walsh on drums during 1965. As that year came to a close, the Beatles released their sixth album Rubber Soul, and among the most popular tracks was Paul McCartney’s folk-flecked Michelle.

This song originated as a joke from years earlier. McCartney had been to a party of art students, one of whom was a French bohemian who entertained the guests with songs. Paul wrote the tune to Michelle as a spoof of that night, with comedy-French-style groaning in lieu of any lyrics. While making Rubber Soul the Beatles were considering comic songs as a potential new direction, and John Lennon suggested McCartney put some proper lyrics to his party piece.

McCartney turned to Jan Vaughan, French teacher and the wife of Ivan Vaughan, his former bandmate in the Quarrymen. It was she that came up with ‘Michelle, ma belle’, and a few days later he asked her for a French translation of ‘these are words that go together well’ . McCartney then took Michelle to Lennon, who completed the song with the ‘I love you, I love you, I love you’ bridge.

Such was the strength of the Lennon and McCartney catalogue, their album tracks were often released as singles by other artists, knowing that covering Beatles originals gave them a very good chance of scoring a hit. Although released as a single in some countries, the Beatles chose not to do so in the UK or US. At the same time as the Overlanders decided to give it a go, George Martin produced a version by David and Jonathan. However, apparently the Beatles gave their blessing to the Overlanders version, because their label Pye had agreed to Brian Epstein’s request not to release a single by Lennon’s estranged father Alfred. The Overlanders won the UK chart battle, although David and Jonathan hit number 1 in Canada.

Despite being one of the Beatles’ better-known album tracks, I’m not that big a fan. Apart from the catchy chorus, it’s a bit smarmy, fairly throwaway and should have remained a joke between the group. And the Overlanders version is worse, sounding smarmier. Beefing up the production makes the song worse, losing the fragility of George Harrison’s guitar solo (which was George Martin’s idea). Were this not a Beatles song, I’m not sure the Overlanders would have become the one-hit wonders they were.

Upon the release of their version, Paul Russell left the Overlanders to be replaced by Alan Warran. In 1967 Paul Arnold left the group to go solo and he was replaced by Ian Griffiths, and Terry Widlake left in 1968 to be replaced by Mike Wedgwood. These changes were a sure sign they couldn’t last, and soon the group was no more, sounding decidedly out-of-date by this point. Arnold formed the New Overlanders in the 70s.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (27 January-16 February)

Births:

Footballer Keith Dublin – 29 January
Singer Rick Astley – 6 February
Journalist Sarah Montague – 8 February 

Deaths:

Barrister Ronald Armstrong – Jones 27 January 

208. The Spencer Davis Group – Keep On Running (1966)

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1965… what a year for pop music, reflected so well in the number 1s in the singles chart. And 1966 was perhaps the peak year for innovation in pop and rock. It got off to a blistering start too, with Keep On Running by the Spencer Davis Group usurping the Beatles’ Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out on 20 January.

Spencer Davis, originally Spencer Davies, was born in Swansea, South Wales in July 1939. A prodigious child, he learnt to play the accordion and harmonica at the age of six. He moved to London when he was 16, and was learning the guitar, having become enthralled by skiffle, blues and jazz. In 1960 he ditched his first band, the Saints, and became a student at Birmingham University. While there he dated Christine Perfect, who later married Fleetwood Mac’s John McVie. They performed together in the Ian Campbell Trio, performing blues and folk. In 1963, Davis met Steve Winwood for the first time at the Golden Lion pub.

Mervyn Winwood had been born in Birmingham in June 1943, and his brother Stephen in May 1948. Their father was a semi-professional musician, playing saxophone and clarinet, and must have influenced his sons. Mervyn, who was given the nickname ‘Muff’ after the children’s television character Muffin the Mule, learnt the guitar and bass. Steve, then known as Stevie, began performing with his father and brother at the tender age of eight, in the Ron Atkinson Band. I’m assuming this wasn’t the football manager running a group… By this time, the younger sibling was already able to play piano, drums and guitar. By the time Davis saw the Winwood brothers performing, Stevie was 14 and they were in the Muffy Wood Jazz Band. He had already performed with many blues singers over from the US, and was somehow in possession of an earthy, bluesy vocal range, which he had modelled on Ray Charles. Davis was keen to form a group with the Winwoods, and together with Pete York on drums they became the Rhythm and Blues Quartette. Come on lads, it’ll take more than a misspelling of ‘quartet’ to make you stand out… Performing regularly in Birmingham, they were noticed during a live show by Chris Blackwell of Island Records.

Born into a wealthy family, Blackwell’s father was related to the co-founder of food company Crosse & Blackwell. He spent much of his childhood in Jamaica and at the age of 21 he was rescued by Rasta fishermen after a boating accident. It was here that he fell in love with reggae music, and he founded Island Records that same year, 1958. He returned to England in 1962, and two years later he produced one of the first recorded ska songs, My Boy Lollipop by Millie Small. After signing with Blackwell, Davis, the Winwoods and York thankfully changed their name to the Spencer Davis Group. Muff came up with the name, surmising that, since the guitarist was the only one willing to do interviews for publicity, he may as well be the star of the show.

The Spencer Davis Group’s first single was a cover of John Lee Hooker’s Dimples. Looking for a follow-up, they decided on Keep On Running by their Jamaican labelmate Jackie Edwards. It had featured on his 1965 album Come on Home, and his version was a charming and chilled skank compared to what the band transformed it into. Their version was released in November 1965.

The Spencer Davis Group version has stood the test of time, and then some. Blackwell’s production gives every band member a chance to shine. Coming from a reggae background, the bass and drums are louder than the average 1960s pop song. But the twin stars are Davis’s ferocious, fuzzy guitar licks, replacing the horns of Edwards’ original, and of course, Steve’s astounding vocal. It’s still impossible to believe such a voice could belong to a teenager. And more importantly, it sounds totally natural and unforced. I could hear Keep On Running a million times, (and I will have done, on countless adverts and films) and never tire of it. The beauty lies in the energy and simplicity of the performance. Keep On Running was lightning in a bottle.

Written by: Jackie Edwards

Producer: Chris Blackwell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (20-26 January)

Deaths:

Politician Gordon Macdonald – 20 January