256. The Beach Boys – Do It Again (1968)

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On 31 August and 1 September 1968 the first Isle of Wight Festival took place. Held at Ford Farm, near Godshill, roughly 10,000 people saw headliners Jefferson Airplane, along with the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, the Move, Tyrannosaurus Rex and Fairport Convention, among others.

Reigning at the top of the charts that week were the Beach Boys, for the second and last time. But whereas their previous number 1 Good Vibrations explored a brave new world of sonic adventure, Do It Again was a throwback to the surfing sound of the early days of the group. Like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys went back to basics – well, almost.

As 1966 had drawn to a close, the Beach Boys were riding high both critically and commercially. Good Vibrations was such a spellbinding track, the next album, SMiLE, promised to be their answer to the Beatles’ Revolver. It wasn’t meant to be, though. Brian Wilson was a genius, but SMiLE proved to be his breaking point, and it was repeatedly postponed as his paranoia and perfectionism took charge, before it was shelved in 1967. Their woes continued when the group were slated for pulling out of their Monterey Pop Festival headlining slot at the last minute.

In July, their new album, Smiley Smile, salvaged from the wreckage of SMiLE, was slated. Although in years to come it eventually garnered praise, it was their worst-selling album at that point, and it was downhill from there. Jimi Hendrix, the new US sensation in the UK, also dismissed its single, Heroes and Villains. The year ended with the release of Wild Honey, but once again, a Beach Boys album underperformed, only to gain critical reappraisal eventually. But of course, an oversensitive Brian wasn’t to know what the future held, and he must have been in turmoil. His songwriting decreased rapidly.

Friends, their first album of 1968, was more of a group effort, and featured songs inspired by their experience of Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, along with the Beatles. Also that June, Dennis Wilson befriended a struggling singer-songwriter called Charles Manson. He urged his brother Brian to show interest, but Brian disliked him. A few weeks later they released a stand-alone single.

Do It Again was originally known as Rendezvous, and its lyrics were inspired by a day at the beach Mike Love spent with an old friend. Love put some lyrics together and presented them to his cousin Brian, who began playing around on the piano. They worked together on a chorus, and according to Love, their second UK number 1 was complete in 15 minutes.

With its nostalgic lyrics, recalling ‘Suntanned bodies and/Waves of Sunshine/Calfifornia girls and a/Beautiful coastline’, trademark sunkissed harmonies and its brevity, Do It Again is certainly regressive when compared to Good Vibrations. However, its drums, played by Dennis and session musician John Guerin, are a step forward, and the most adventurous we’ve heard on this blog since Cathy’s Clown by the Everly Brothers in 1960. The compressed, metallic sound came from engineer Stephen Desper, who used tape delay units from live shows meant for vocals to create a clattering of echoed drumbeats. For years I’ve found this drumbeat familiar. I’ve also found the drums in the 1998 song Remember, by French electronic duo Air rang a bell too. Only from researching this did I find out they are one and the same. Remember, indeed.

So yes, the drums are great, and the swaying rhythm is pretty cool, perhaps even a bit, dare I say it, sexy (not a word I’d normally equate with the Beach Boys, and I doubt anyone else does). But it’s hard not to feel a bit underwhelmed by Do It Again, and wonder why this did so well in the UK, especially compared to their home country. Perhaps the idea of surfing in America still held some lustre in dismal old England. Or maybe its a nice little tune that I’m being harsh on, and it just happens to pale in comparison to Good Vibrations, which after all is one of the greatest singles of all time. It has endured over the years, though – its ‘did it’ vocal hook directly influenced Eric Carmen on She Did It, ABBA on On and On and Hall & Oates on Did It in a Minute. It was also re-recorded by members of the Beach Boys several times, including a 2011 version by surviving members of the band to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

Do It Again became the opening track on their 1969 contractual obligation album 20/20, which consisted of mainly outtakes and leftovers. One track on there, Never Learn Not to Love, was a rewrite of Charles Manson’s Cease to Exist. Manson had exchanged his credit for cold hard cash and a motorbike, but he was angry when he discovered Dennis had changed the lyrics. Dennis distanced himself from the increasingly disturbed Manson, and later that year the Manson Family began their killing spree at his command.

As the 1970s began, the Beach Boys signed with Reprise Records and recorded Sunflower, widely regarded by their fans as their best album after Pet Sounds. In 1971 came Surf’s Up, featuring the whistful title track that had originally been intended for SMiLE. Bruce Johnston, who had joined the band in 1965 to replace Brian in live shows, departed shortly after the release. In 1972, Ricky Fataar and Blondie Chaplin joined them at the request of Carl Wilson, and their sound toughened up.

Several underperforming albums followed, but the Beach Boys wode a wave of nostalgia in 1973 following the release of George Lucas’s coming-of-age comedy American Graffiti. Fataar left in 1974, and became a member of Neil Innes’s Beatles spoof band the Rutles, among other things. Meanwhile, Brian had become an alcoholic, overweight recluse, also inclined to taking heroin. In 1975 he went under the care of psychotherapist Eugene Landy, cleaned up somewhat and became the main producer for the Beach Boys once more, although this created a fractious atmosphere.

Despite this, their 1977 album The Beach Boys Love You, originally planned as a solo album for Brian, proved a bold departure, featuring a proto-new wave sound at times and featuring synths. It divided opinion, but Brian loves it.

The rest of the 70s were not a good time for the group, with internal tensions becoming unbearable. The Beach Boys split – for less than three weeks. All three Wilson brothers struggled with alcohol and drugs.

Things did improve, sales-wise in the early 80s when Johnston returned, but Dennis and Carl were largely absent. Following an overdose in 1982, Landy brought Brian back to health under a strict regime, but Dennis was struggling more and more, and sadly drowned in 1983, aged 39. In 1987, they had a hit with the Fat Boys, collaborating on a cover of Wipe Out, and a year later they scored an unexpected hit with Kokomo – considered by many fans to be their nadir. The Beach Boys were now a long way from that cool group who had made Pet Sounds.

Much of the 90s was spent with Wilson and Love at each other’s throats. They made the headlines in the UK in 1996 when a remake of Fun Fun Fun with Status Quo saw both bands unceremoniously kicked off BBC Radio 1’s playlist. In 1998, Carl, the voice behind so many of their classics, succumbed to brain and lung cancer.

As the 21st century dawned, the Beach Boys splintered more than ever. This unexpectedly led to a huge boost for Brian, who went solo and worked with the Wondermints, who did a brilliant job at sounding like his former bandmates. In 2004 he released Brian Wilson Presents SMiLe. The nervous, shuffling figure that appeared on stage at Glastonbury Festival in 2005 may have been a shadow of his former self, and he would have been lost without his new band, but that blazing Sunday afternoon he blew the crowd, myself included, away. After days of rain and sodden mud, the sky was blue and mentally we were all in California (we were certainly not in a normal place, that’s for sure).

As the 50th anniversary came around in 2012, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Al Jardine, Bruce Johnston and David Marks reunited for a live tour and new album That’s Why God Made the Radio. Unsurprisingly, it was short-lived, with Wilson and Love falling out yet again.

It’s all too easy to see Brian as the sympathetic figure in all these arguments. A sad but loveable genius, pushed around by his nasty cousin, who doesn’t give a shit about the artistic legacy of the group and only cares about the money. It’s all too easy, because it’s the truth. Yet despite Love’s best efforts, the Beach Boys will always be considered one of the greatest groups of all time, and that’s primarily because of Brian Wilson.

Written by: Brian Wilson & Mike Love

Producers: The Beach Boys

Weeks at number 1: 1 (28 August-3 September)

 

 

255. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown – Fire (1968)

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‘I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU…’ Yes, Tommy James and the Shondells’ stint at number 1 with the raunchy Mony Mony was interrupted briefly by the schlock-horror psychedelia of Fire. The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were only at the top of the charts for a week, but they gave us one of the most memorable one-hit wonders of all time.

Before he became the god of hell fire, he was plain Arthur Brown from the seaside town of Whitby, North Yorkshire. Pretty appropriate, considering its links to goth culture. Born in June 1942, he went to Roundhay Grammar School in Leeds, and then moved to London to attend the University of London and the University of Reading. While at the latter, he formed his first band, Blues and Brown, in 1965. The following year he moved to Paris, and while working on his theatrical skills, which later stood him in good stead, he recorded his first material – two songs for the movie adaptation of La Curée.

Around late 1966-early 1967 he returned to London, and was briefly a member of the Ramong Sound. The promising multi-racial R’n’B and soul group had run into a spot of bother when their frontman, Ramong Morrison, was imprisoned. Brown was suggested and he and Clem Curtis briefly fronted the band. However, Brown had already set up the Crazy World of Arthur Brown and soon left to concentrate on his fledgling group. The Ramong Sound morphed into the Foundations, and later that year they scored a number 1 with Baby, Now That I’ve Found You.

The Crazy World of Arthur Brown were Brown on vocals, Vincent Crane on Hammond organ and piano, Drachen Theaker on drums and Nick Greenwood on bass. Unusually, there was no guitarist. And unusual was what helped the Crazy World of Arthur Brown stand out in that first year. With his penchant for energetic, over-the-top performances and a dark operatic voice, Brown was a mesmeric frontman, with the band quickly becoming known as an antithesis to the day-glo flower power during the Summer of Love.  He began performing a song called Fire, and at the Windsor Festival he wore a collander on his head soaked in methanol. Not for the last time, the fuel poured over him by accident, and his head caught fire. For the acid-taking hippies, this must have been a hell (pardon the pun) of a sight. In addition to almost burning his face off, he would wear ghoulish make-up and occasionally perform naked. This was all a long way from the besuited Beatles or tuxedo-wearing easy listening stars of yesteryear, and really helped the band get noticed.

They signed with the ultra-hip Track Records, which had been founded by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp, who managed the Who. The label was also home to the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Debut single Devil’s Grip is long forgotten and failed to chart, but in June 1968 they released their debut eponymous LP and Fire. Following memorable TV appearances, both rapidly climbed the charts.

Critics of Fire argue that that opening electrifying statement from Brown is the best part, and that the rest of the tune fails to live up to such drama. Maybe they have a point, but for me, Fire is a lot of fun and a song I never fail to enjoy. Crane’s organ riff might be cheesy, but I’ve always dug a good Hammond organ. One thing I will agree with from a critical persepctive is that the mono version is a little empty-sounding, not only is there no guitar, but there’s no bass either. Until researching this, I’d never heard the mono. The horns in the stereo mix add some much-needed beef to the production. Both versions also end very differently, with a weird lazer sound on the mono, whereas the stereo fades out with demonic wailing, trumpets and a primitive ‘fiery’ noise. Apparently, the brass and extra strings on the album came at the behest of US label Atlantic.

Originally credited to Brown and Crane, eventually Mike Finesilver and Peter Ker received songwriting credits due to the similarity to their long-forgotten track Baby, You’re a Long Way Behind. Interestingly, Ronnie Wood claimed a few years back to have played bass on Fire, but Brown believes he’s getting mixed up with helping out on a radio session version. I’d imagine Wood’s memory is a little muddy. The Who’s Pete Townshend received an executive production credit on the album, but nobody seems to know what that actually entails. Although I’ve yet to hear The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, I can recommend the track Spontaneous Apple Creation.

Once the influence of psychedelia faded from the charts, the novelty of Brown’s group quickly wore off with the general public. Brown was simply too weird to remain a popular star. Theaker had left the band in 1968 due to his fear of flying, and was replaced by Carl Palmer. Crane also left briefly and then returned, but in June 1969 The Crazy World of Arthur Brown disbanded, with Crane and Palmer forming Atomic Rooster. Palmer of course became a third of progressive rock supergroup Emerson, Lake & Palmer and later joined Asia.

Brown has retained a cult following ever since. He formed Kingdom Come in 1970, and continued to plough the same dark but camp psychedelic and progressive path. They appeared at Glastonbury Fayre in 1971, before splitting three years later. In 1975 Brown starred in the Who’s rock opera Tommy as ‘The Priest’. He released several solo albums before moving to Africa briefly.

In the 80s Brown moved to Austin, Texas and obtained a master’s degree in counselling. Imagine deciding you needed help and walking in to find Arthur Brown with a flaming collander on his head… ‘I AM THE GOD OF HELLFIRE AND I BRING YOU… THERAPY!’. Even stranger than that, he became a painter and carpenter along with Jimmy Carl Black from Mothers of Invention, and they recorded an album together called Brown, Black and Blue, released in 1988. 

The 90s saw the intro to Fire sampled on Essex rave outfit the Prodigy’s song of the same name in 1992. Brown collaborated with Iron Maiden’s Bruce Dickinson, as well as psychedelic indie-rockers Kula Shaker.

In the 21st century, Brown is still accidentally setting fire to himself, performing for his beloved hardcore fans. He also appeared in the Darkness’s video for Is It Just Me? in 2006, and in 2010 he returned to Glastonbury Festival. Now 76, later this year he will work with Carl Palmer once more, singing on his ELP Legacy tour.

It’s easy to poke affectionate fun at Brown, but he must have been an exciting and idiosyncratic presence on the charts in 1968. You cannot deny his influence on a wide range of flamboyant rock and pop stars either, including Alice Cooper, David Bowie, Peter Gabriel, George Clinton and Marilyn Manson. Let’s hope he sees out the rest of his years without a fire-related fatal incident.

Written by: Arthur Brown, Vincent Crane, Mike Finesilver & Peter Ker

Producer: Kit Lambert

Weeks at number 1: 1 (14-20 August)

Births:

Boxer Jane Couch – 14 August
Actor Adrian Lester – 14 August|
Actress Helen McCrory – 17 August

 

254. Tommy James and the Shondells – Mony Mony (1968)

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The day this number 1 hit the top was a milestone in television comedy. 31 July saw the first ever episode of World War Two comedy series Dad’s Army transmitted on BBC One. Written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, it ran for the next nine years and has been repeated eternally ever since. It’ll probably be the last programme on TV when Donald Trump or Boris Johnson press the big red button.

Mony Mony was the first time in a good few years that SEX raised its head in pole position of the singles chart. Psychedelia might have been a time for free love, but lust (by and large) seemed somewhat neutered on 7-inches (snigger).

Rock band Tommy James and the Shondells had an interesting history up to this point. Tommy James, real name Tommy Jackson was born in Dayton, Ohio in April 1947. He had his first taste of stardom while very young – he was a child model at the age of four. Jackson formed his first group in the new family hometown of Niles, Michigan aged 12. Originally called the Echoes in 1959, then Tom and the Tornadoes, they released a single, Long Pony Tail, in 1962. They settled on the Shondells in 1964 by way of tribute to singer Troy Shondell.

That year, while still at high school, they recorded the Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich song Hanky Panky, but although it garnered a good local following, it failed to break out, and the Shondells split the following year.

While Jackson tried and failed in new groups, Hanky Panky was discovered in a bargain bin by a local DJ and he helped the song gain a new following. Bootlegs were soon pressed up and Hanky Panky was more popular than ever. Jackson travelled to New York in search of a record deal. Unfortunately, he found one with Roulette Records. The label was owned by Morris Levy. A hard-nosed criminal who swindled his acts out of royalties, Levy managed to scare any other interested label away from Jackson, even much bigger ones than his own. Levy inspired the character Hesh in The Sopranos.

Of course, the Shondells as they were had long since split, so Jackson searched for a new band, and found them in a house band called the Raconteurs in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. He changed his name professionally to Tommy James and soon the most famous line-up of the Shondells settled on guitarist Eddie Gray, bassist Mike Vale, Ron Rosman on keyboards and Pete Lucia on drums. With the backing of Levy, Hanky Panky became number 1 on the Billboard chart in 1966.

The next few singles didn’t perform spectacularly, but eventually they found their groove, a bubblegum pop and rock sound, with songwriters and producers Bo Gentry and Ritchie Cordell. They wrote, among others, I Think We’re Alone Now, a UK number 1 for Tiffany in 1988.

By 1968, Tommy James and the Shondells were working on a promising new song, which was more or less complete, but James was struggling for a title. He had considered Sloopy or Bony Maroney, but thought they sounded stupid. They tried in vain, until James went outside, looked up and saw the Mututal of New York building. Its initials were illuminated in red at the top, and James had his ‘eureka!’ moment.

Also credited to singer-songwriter Bobby Bloom, Mony Mony was, as I said, the raunchiest UK number 1 for some time. Okay, we’re not talking Justify My Love levels of filth here, but we’re still a year off Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin topping the charts. It’s clear James is feeling like one horny bugger during the chorus. Unfortunately, as catchy as the ‘Mony Mony’ chant is, it’s a bit too bubblegum, and the backing vocals keep James in check. There’s an interesting tension there. I’ve always liked this tune, after first hearing punk rocker Billy Idol’s version as a child.

Mony Mony didn’t reach number 1 in the US, but enjoyed a fortnight in the UK over the summer. It was then briefly toppled by the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, but after only a week, Fire was usurped by Mony Mony for a further week.

Tommy James and the Shondells were beginning to tire of the bubblegum element of their material, and decided on a mature, pyschedelic sound. It paid off, and Crimson and Clover (which was pretty much a Tommy James solo single in all but name) ended a great year for the group at number 1 in the US. One of their bestsellers in 1969 was the sublime Crystal Blue Persuasion, used to great effect in Breaking Bad many years later. They did make a big misstep that year though, laughing off an invitation to play at a festival called Woodstock.

James and the Shondells came to an abrupt halt in 1970 when an exhausted James came off stage and collapsed. He was initially pronounced dead due to drugs. Wisely, James took off for a quiet life in the country. The Shondells renamed themselves Hog Heaven but disbanded after two albums. James however remained in the business and along with a solo career he wrote and produced a US hit for Alive N Kickin in 1970.

60s nostalgia was everywhere in the 80s, and Tommy James and the Shondells did very well out of it. Idol’s Mony Mony was released in 1982, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts had a hit with Crimson and Clover, and then in 1987 Tiffany’s I Think We’re Alone Now and a live version of Mony Mony by Idol were back-to-back chart-toppers in the US.

Thanks to audiences at Idol gigs, Mony Mony became way filthier than the original version. In between every line in the verses, crowds began to chant either ‘Hey, say what… get laid get fucked!’ or ‘Hey, motherfucker… get laid get fucked!’. Then the chorus chant was changed to ‘Fucking horny!’. Dear me.

All this renewed interest in the band inevitably led to James and a new Shondells line-up joining the oldies circuit. Classic-era drummer Lucia died while playing golf in 1987, aged 39.

2010 saw the publication of James’s autobiography. Me, The Mob, and The Music. It detailed how he was left out of pocket by Roulette Records and how it was in fact cover for Levy’s money-laundering operation. He even had to leave New York at one point to avoid being the victim of a Mob hit. He still performs live with a version of the Shondells.

While Mony Mony was number 1, British Rail’s last steam train service ended. On 11 August, steam locomotives made the 314-mile return passenger journey from Liverpool to Carlisle. The trains were either sent to the scrapyard or kept for preservation.

Written by: Tommy James, Bo Gentry, Ritchie Cordell & Bobby Bloom

Producers: Bo Gentry & Ritchie Cordell

Weeks at number 1: 3 (31 July-13 August, 21-27 August)

Births:

Scottish race driver Colin McRae – 5 August
Footballer Julian Dicks – 8 August
Cyclist Chris Boardman – 26 August 

Deaths:

Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent – 27 August 

253. Des O’Connor – I Pretend (1968)

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And the 1968 award for ‘Really? He got to number 1?’ Shock and Awe Award goes to… Des O’Connor! Yes, the veteran light entertainment star, now 87, spent an incredible 36 weeks in the charts, and one of those weeks at number 1, with the ballad I Pretend.

Desmond Bernard O’Connor was born 12 January 1932 in Stepney, East London, to a Jewish mother and Irish father. During World War Two he was evacuated to Northampton. He was briefly a footballer with Northampton Town, and also worked as a shoe salesman after completing National Service with the Royal Air Force.

In the 1950s he made his first move into showbusiness working as a Butlins redcoat, and began performing at theatres up and down the country, with a bit of singing, bit of comedy, and basically just being all-round nice-guy Des. He even toured with Buddy Holly in 1958. Allegedly, Holly wasn’t impressed with his variety act though.

Des got his big break in 1963 with ATV’s The Des O’Connor Show, which ran for ten years. Established as one of TV’s biggest stars, he released his debut single in 1967. Flower power may have been the cool youth movement of the time, but Des was in good company that year, with smooth easy listening singer Engelbert Humperdinck ending up the year’s biggest sensation. Des’s cover of the 1948 hit Careless Hands rocketed to number six, marking the start of a pop career that would be mocked affectionately throughout the 70s by his friends and colleagues Morecambe and Wise.

O’Connor may have been considered very square by the hippies, but the follow-up I Pretend was one of 1968’s biggest sellers. Its writers, Barry Mason and the late Les Reed, had been responsible for Humperdinck’s second number 1, The Last Waltz, and Des’s song treads familiar ground.

And what turgid, tepid ground it is. I Pretend is a weaker song than The Last Waltz, and is the weakest number 1 of 1968 so far – that’s right, it’s even worse than Cinderella Rockefeller, which at least that had some semblance of a tune, horrid though it was. Des has lost his loved one, and he can’t think why. She might have ran off with another man, but he doesn’t know for sure… you’ve lost interest already, haven’t you? The problem is, Des isn’t bothered either. I know his act is to play up the easygoing, smiling everyman schtick, but a bit of conviction might have helped. A more appropriate title might have been I Pretend to Give a Shit. Problem is, he’s not even trying to pretend.

It’s worth mentioning that production came from Norman Newell. No stranger to number 1 singles, he was the man behind Russ Conway’s Side Saddle and Roulette, Shirley Bassey’s Reach for the Stars/Climb Ev’ry Mountain, and most famously, Ken Dodd’s Tears. None of these singles are any good, however.

But nevermind. I like Des, and so does everyone else. He’s impossible to get angry about, really, bless him. His chart hits continued until 1970, with intriguing titles including 1-2-3 O’Leary and Dick-A-Dum-Dum. When The Des O’Connor Show ended he presented Des O’Connor Entertains from 1974 to 1976, with the focus purely on him as he took his live show to ITV. In 1977 he began hosting Des O’Connor Tonight, which began on BBC Two but moved to ITV, and lasted until 2002 – an incredible run in which he chatted to some of the biggest stars in entertainment.

Des returned to the charts again in 1986 when he and expert whistler Roger Whittaker went to number ten with their version of The Skye Boat Song. Des would be the butt of many jokes once more, except it was alternative comedians now doing the pisstaking, with a little more menace than Morecambe and Wise, but Des carried on regardless. The ribbing even went mainstream once more, as family comedian Russ Abbott starred in a memorable series of adverts for Castella cigars in which Des’s singing was ridiculed. Here’s the most famous one. I’m sure Des showed he could still take a joke by appearing in one, but the memory is very hazy.

Between 1992 and 1998, Des presented ITV game show Take Your Pick, and following the end of Des O’Connor Tonight he moved into weekday daytime TV, co-presenting Today with Des and Mel alongside Melanie Sykes. Popular with old folk and lazy students, they did have a good rapport, but they were axed in 2006. In 2007 O’Connor took over as presenter on long-running Channel 4 quiz Countdown from Des Lynam, but left only a year later.

By then in his 70s, Des’s TV work understandably tailed off, with the odd guest appearances here and there, including an enjoyable appearance on Harry Hill’s Alien Fun Capsule in 2017. He sparked concerns that year when he was pictured looking frail while fighting a stomach bug, but he’s back to looking surprisingly well for such an old chap, and is currently touring the country with Jimmy Tarbuck. Long may he continue, as long as he stays away from the recording studio.

Written by: Barry Mason & Les Reed

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 1 (24-30 July)

Births:

Actress Olivia Williams – 26 July 

252. The Equals – Baby, Come Back (1968)

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A rather dull, cool and wet summer in 1968 led to flooding in the south west of England on 10 July. Six days previous, Alec Rose made headlines by returning from a 354-day single-handed round-the-world trip in his boat Lively Lady. Rose was knighted the very next day.

17 July saw the release of the animated film Yellow Submarine, based on some of the Beatles’ most psychedelic songs, and featuring a cameo from the Fab Four at the end.

But that’s enough nautical news for one blog. Number 1 at the time was Baby, Come Back by the Equals, a mixed-race pop and rock group, largely forgotten these days, but featuring 1980s chart-topper Eddy Grant.

Grant was born in Plaisance, British Guiana in 1948. While at school, his parents lived in the UK, sending him money for his education. His father was a trumpeter, but after emigrating to Kentish Town, London, aged 12, he became interested in guitars, and his hero was Chuck Berry. Growing up in an interracial area, he became friends with Pat Lloyd and John Hall. In 1965, Hall suggested they form a band. Hall became the drummer, with Grant on lead guitar and Lloyd on rhythm guitar. The Gordon twins, Derv on vocals and Lincoln on bass, joined them, and with three black members and two white, they made the bold move of calling themselves the Equals.

With a diverse melting pot of cultures (the Gordons were Jamaican immigrants), their sound was a mix of pop, rock, R’n’B, with ska elements too. They quickly gained a following in London, and were soon called on to open for visiting soul and blues greats from the US such as Wilson Pickett, Solomon Burke and Bo Diddley. They signed with President Records after Grant’s neighbour, singer Gene Latter, put them in touch.

The Equals released debut single I Won’t Be There in 1966. A simple, catchy tune, it got lost among the crowd and despite enthusiastic pirate radio support, it failed to chart. Their follow-up, Hold Me Closer, didn’t do great either, but Baby, Come Back was tucked away on the B-side, and it got noticed by DJs in Europe, even reaching number 1 in Germany and the Netherlands. Once I Get So Excited reached the top 50 in the UK, President Records tried again, and sure enough, Grant’s Baby, Come Back knocked Jumpin’ Jack Flash off the top spot.

Featuring thick Jamaican vocals from Derv, and interjections from Grant, Baby, Come Back is a taut, upbeat piece of pop-rock. There are hints of reggae and ska in there, particularly with the ‘sch-sch-sch’ and ‘Rudeboy!’ at the close of the track, but never enough for it to stray too far from its basic simplicity. It’s an earworm of a chorus, like many of 1968’s number 1s, and a forerunner of the ska and reggae number 1s to come, but ultimately a little too lightweight to get too much enjoyment from.

Despite this, reading about the Equals has been rather interesting. How come they’ve been forgotten? The Foundations seem to get more plaudits for their inter-raciality, but the Equals were there first, long before Sly & the Family Stone, too. Not only did this make them stand out, they also experimented with their image, long before glam, wearing bright, dramatic outfits, with Eddy Grant sometimes even donning a blonde wig. Plus, there’s also the fact that Grant was later a star in his own right.

Whatever the reason, the Equals rarely troubled the charts again, apart from Viva Bobby Joe in 1969 and Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys in 1971. The latter in particular is interesting, hinting at a more political, funky sound, and would have fitted a Blaxploitation movie well. By that point, Grant had already ceased touring with the group after they injured in a car accident in Germany in 1969. He left for good after Black Skin Blue Eyed Boys when he suffered a heart attack and collapsed lung aged only 23, despite being teetotal. The health scare saw him return to Guyana.

The Equals soldiered on, but without the songwriting talents of their guitarist, they’ve never been able to repeat their early fame. Pat Lloyd remains the only founder member. As for Eddy Grant, well, of course he returned to music, but that’s another story for another time.

Despite the relative obscurity of the Equals, their songs have been covered over the years by the Clash and Lethal Bizzle. Baby, Come Back was re-recorded several times by Grant, without success. It did reach number 1 again in 1994 though, when Brummie reggae singer Pato Banton teamed up with Robin and Ali Campbell. The Campbells gave their reggae-lite kiss of death to proceedings, but thanks to Banton’s excitable toasting, it’s fondly remembered by children of the 90s.

Written by: Eddy Grant

Producer: Ed Kassner

Weeks at number 1: 3 (3-23 July)

Births:

Actor Julian Rhind-Tutt – 20 July
Welsh actor Rhys Ifans – 22 July 

Deaths:

Humorist RJ Yeatman – 13 July
Welsh poet William Evans – 16 July 

251. The Rolling Stones – Jumpin’ Jack Flash (1968)

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On 25 June 1968, comic legend Tony Hancock was found dead. He had long struggled with bouts of depression, and since moving to Sydney, Australia, his career hadn’t gone as well as he hoped. Hancock committed suicide with a cocktail of vodka and tablets, leaving a note which said ‘Things just seemed to go wrong too many times.”

Not so long ago, the Rolling Stones were a pretty regular occurrence on this blog, but following one of their finest number 1s, Paint It, Black in 1966, the band suffered some dark times over the next two years.

Have You Seen Your Mother, Baby, Standing in the Shadow? reached the top five, which was an impressive feat for such a ragged, messy production. 1967 also got Jagger and co off to a great start, with the double A-side Let’s Spend the Night Together/Ruby Tuesday hitting number three in January, and their album Between the Buttons was also released. It saw the group delve deeper into studio experimentation, and has become somewhat forgotten over the years, which is a shame. It was to be the last time they worked on a full album with producer Andrew Loog Oldham.

1967 saw the biggest bands of the time embracing drugs, but because the Rolling Stones had a reputation as the bad boys of pop, the press and police decided they were the group to pick on. Over the next few months, members of the Stones would be raided by police, while newspapers ran exposes on their alleged sordid activity. Oldham was so freaked out by all the attention, he fled to the US. Tensions within the Stones were also growing, with Brian Jones’s girlfriend Anita Pallenberg ditching him for Keith Richards.

That spring, Jagger, Richards and Jones all faced prison sentences for drugs. Jagger and Richards were imprisoned but released on bail the following day. Surprisingly, The Times stuck up for them, running the famous editorial ‘Who breaks a buttterfly upon a wheel?”. While they awaited their appeal hearings, the group recorded the single We Love You as a thank-you to their loyal fans. Much underrated, the song features John Lennon and Paul McCartney on backing vocals. Oasis should have covered this, back in the day.

With all three free in December, the band released their answer to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Sadly, the mostly self-produced Their Satanic Majesties Request fell flat. It sounded rather forced by comparison. It turned off fans and critics alike. Having said that, it’s not as bad as the reputation it has gathered over the years suggests. The bad acid trip 2000 Light Years from Home is excellent and She’s a Rainbow is a lovely slice of flower power.

With the band smarting from the unusually negative feedback of their recent work, they were clever and lucky enough to know that a change was in the air, and like many of the top artists, they went back to basics as they set to work on what would become one of their best albums, Beggars Banquet.  They knew they had struck gold with Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and decided to release it long before the album was ready. The Rolling Stones were serving notice. They were back, and then some.

The lyrics to Jumpin’ Jack Flash came about while Jagger and Richards were staying at Richards’ country house. They were woken one morning by gardener Jack Dyer trudging past a window. A startled Jagger asked what the noise was and the guitarist replied ‘Oh that’s Jack – that’s jumpin’ Jack.’ Playing around on the guitar, Richards played around with the phrase, with Jagger adding ‘Flash’.

At least, that’s the story the songwriters have given over the years. Bassist Bill Wyman feels he deserves a credit too, claiming he came up with the main riff while messing around on a piano. Jones and Charlie Watts began jamming along, and an impressed Jagger and Richards entered the studio before working on the lyrics.

Whatever the jumping-off (pardon the pun) point, the band came up with something special. Jumpin’ Jack  Flash is a blistering return to form, full of dark imagery, so dark it was actually comical, like much of Jagger’s best material is. And whoever wrote that riff, it’s up there with (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction. The reference of being ‘born in a crossfire hurricane’ was a reference to Richards being born during the Blitz. Theories as to what’s exactly going on lyrically are probably delving too deep. What’s clear is the band are shaking off the bad acid trips and negative experiences of 1967, and are ready to let rip once more with their own take on the blues. Jumpin’ Jack Flash is the personification of all the bad shit, and he’s been to hell and back in his life, but ‘it’s alright now’. Personally, I wonder if Jack is actually dead and living it up in hell, but it’s just an idea.

One thing’s for sure, after being in the Beatles’ shadow in 1967, this is a better number 1 than Lady Madonna. Unusually, that’s Richards on the bass, with Wyman on the Hammond organ as the song draws to an end. Their new producer Jimmy Miller created one of the most primitive-sounding Stones singles since Loog Oldham was finding his feet a few years previous. Miller also helps out on the backing vocals at the end.

A month after its release, the Rolling Stones were at number 1 for the seventh time. Up above you can see one of the promos they made, in which they mime the song while wearing lots of make-up. They look as cool as fuck. Jagger also occasionally adds some live interjections to proceedings. By the time they got to number 1 for the last time, Jones was dead.

In a mighty catalogue of classics, Jumpin’ Jack Flash stands out as the song they turn to when performing live most often, and they tend to open most shows with it, even after all those years. They choose wisely, as it’s always going to be guaranteed to set the scene and get any crowd in the mood to witness rock legends.

Richards and Wood joined Aretha Franklin on a cover of the song used on the film bearing its name, starring Whoopie Goldberg in 1986. Other covers range from the surreal (386 DX) to the impressive (Ananda Shankar).

Written by: Mick Jagger & Keith Richards

Producer: Jimmy Miller

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 June-2 July)

Births:

Welsh footbaler Iwan Roberts – 26 June
Actor Adam Woodyatt – 28 June

Deaths:

Writer WE Johns – 21 June
Comedian Tony Hancock – 25 June

250. The Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett – Young Girl (1968)

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29 May saw Manchester United become the first English team to win the European Cup after defeating Benfica 4-1 in extra time at Wembley Stadium.

May then turned to June, as it always tends to do. 7 June saw the start of the Ford sewing machinists strike at the Dagenham assembly plant, as female workers had understandably had enough of earning less than their male co-workers. The strike garnered much publicity, ending three weeks later, and was a key reason for the passing of the Equal Pay Act of 1970. As we know though, this didn’t really change anything unfortunately.

The day after the strike began, James Earl Ray, the killer of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr, was arrested as he attempted to leave London at Heathrow Airport. He was then extradited to Tennessee.

Two days after this, the National Health Service reintroduced charges to prescriptions. And in further (bad) health news, Frederick West, Britain’s first heart transplant patient, died 46 days after his operation, on 18 June.

Poor Mr West passed away on the last day of an impressive four-week-long stint at the top of the singles chart for the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett and their controversial (now, not so much then) Young Girl.

Lead singer Puckett was born in Hibbing, Minnesota in 1942, but grew up in Yakima, Washington, close to Union Gap. Puckett learnt to play guitar in his teens, and dropped out of college in the early 1960s to play in local bands. One of these, the Outcasts, were a hard rock band that made two singles, but got nowhere.

Following their inevitable split, Puckett formed a new group. The amusingly named Gary and the Remarkables featured Kerry Chater on bass, Gary ‘Mutha’ Withem on keyboards, Dwight Bememt on tenor saxophone and Paul Wheatbread on drums.

By 1966 the group were touring the Pacific Northwest. Their manager, Dick Badger (!) renamed them the Union Gap in early 1967. Thanks to the Beatles, it became fashionable to dress in military uniform, so Badger had the Union Gap start wearing Union Army-style Civil War uniforms as their gimmick. Record producer and songwriter Jerry Fuller was impressed with their demo and signed them to CBS Records.

In November 1967 they released their debut single as the Union Gap featuring Gary Puckett. Woman, Woman concerned a man who feared his lover would cheat on him. It was a hit in the US, and they followed it up with Young Girl, written and produced by Fuller. It isn’t clear who in the band played on the single, as members of the Wrecking Crew were involved, but that’s the late, great Hal Blaine playing drums.

Ah, Young Girl. There’s few songs less appropriate to be caught listening to in the #metoo era. Featuring an impressively earnest tenor vocal from Puckett, the protagonist has been fooling around with a girl who it turns out is younger than he thought. At least, that’s his side of the story… And now he knows the truth, he’s telling her to run away. That in itself might sound like he’s trying to do the right thing, at least. But it’s more complicated than that.

Are we to believe that the girl hid her age so well, it wasn’t even an issue worth considering, that the singer should maybe ask her about? Apparently not. This was unfortunately a situation many pop and rock stars found themselves in, and has been oft-excused as ‘a different time’. Indeed, if the media chose to, many of the most iconic musicians of the 20th century could have their legacies destroyed with reports of underage sex. It’s something the general public seem to prefer to turn a blind eye to. Even now, people are struggling to know whether to continue to listen to Michael Jackson’s music, myself included.

But I digress, back to the song. I hadn’t listened too hard to the lyrics before, but the singer’s lament becomes more troublesome as it goes on, with some decidedly iffy lyrics in the last two verses in particular.

I’m talking about: ‘Beneath your perfume and your make-up/You’re just a baby in disguise’ and ‘Get out of here/Before I have the time/To change my mind/’Cause I’m afraid we’ll go too far’

Oh dear. So despite learning she’s ‘much too young’, the singer is still really horny for her, and is going to struggle to rein in his primal urges. There goes any goodwill that may have been left, then. Which is a shame, as it’s a slick piece of pop with a great chorus, and Puckett’s voice really soars. Ah, well, not worth worrying too much about it, there’s thankfully plenty of number 1s which don’t concern suspected paedophiles, luckily. Although sadly, there’s also far too many that do.

After Young Girl performed so well on both sides of the Atlantic, the Union Gap, who changed their billing to Gary Puckett & the Union Gap, decided their purpose was to continue with songs about relationship problems. They had another UK hit with Lady Willpower, but other singles including Over You only did well in the US. Their reputation really isn’t helped by the fact they had a single in 1969 called This Girl Is a Woman Now

By this point, Gary Puckett & the Union Gap had stopped working with Fuller as they had grown tired of the formulaic power ballads. But by ditching them, they also damaged their careers. With ever dwindling chart positions, Chater and Withem departed. Bement became the bassist, with Barry McCoy the new keyboardist and Richard Gabriel playing the horn, but it was too late.

In 1970 Puckett chose to go solo, confusingly, keeping the Union Gap as his backing band, until sacking them in 1971. A year later, he was ditched by his label.

For the rest of the 70s, Puckett studied acting and dance and performed in productions around Las Vegas. From 1981 onwards he returned to music, becoming a permanent fixture on the oldies circuit, with a different backing group, sometimes referred to as the Union Gap. He was support act for the reformed Monkees (minus Nesmith) in 1986… which must have led to some very weird, creepy performances of Young Girl to middle-aged fans. The rest of the original group disappeared into obscurity.

Written & produced by: Jerry Fuller

Weeks at number 1: 4 (22 May-18 June)

Births:

Journalist Rebekah Brooks – 27 May
Journalist Ekow Eshun – 27 May
Scottish peer Torquhil Ian Campbell, 13th Duke of Argyll – 29 May
Politician Jessica Morden – 29 May
Comedian John Culshaw – 2 June
Politician Edward Vaizey – 5 June
Actress Sarah Parish – 7 June
Novelist Marcel Theroux – 13 June
Journalist Samira Ahmed – 15 June

Deaths:

Chief of the British Secret Intelligence Service Major General Sir Stewart Menzies – 29 May