136. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Good Luck Charm (1962)

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On 6 June, the Beatles set foot in Abbey Road Studios for their first session there. John, Paul, George and Pete ran through and recorded four songs – Besame Mucho and three originals – Love Me Do, PS I Love You and Ask Me Why. They didn’t leave much of an impression – their equipment was in a poor state, but George Martin and engineer Norman Smith thought Love Me Do had potential. Afterwards, Martin gave the band a long lecture about what they must do if they wanted to get anywhere in the business, and the Beatles stayed silent. According to Mark Lewisohn’s The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, Smith recalled that Martin said ‘Look, I’ve laid into you for quite a time, you haven’t responded. Is there anything you don’t like?’. After a long, awkward silence, Harrison replied ‘Yeah, I don’t like your tie!’. This broke the ice, and the Beatles had Martin and the others in fits of laughter. Martin knew this group had potential, but before they returned to Abbey Road, something needed to be done about Pete Best’s drumming.

Meanwhile, Elvis was back at number 1 yet again. While four young men from Liverpool were learning about recording, the icon they soon replaced seemed to be growing increasingly content in coasting on by, safe in the knowledge that his fans would lap up anything he released.

Good Luck Charm was written by Aaron Schroeder and Wally Gold, the duo who came up with 1960’s biggest seller, It’s Now or Never. Elvis must have known this was a middling song that would still do well, as reports suggest he spent most of the recording session trying to crack up his band members. He’d tried to move into serious acting, but audiences wanted more light-hearted romantic musicals – had he now given up on taking music seriously too?

There had been an article in The Guardian last year claiming Presley’s legacy was in danger. The passing of so much time had blunted his appeal to young people, there were no truly great albums for music fans to get into, and your average Elvis impersonator was now more representative of the singer than the young rebel that had changed music so much in the 1950s. Good Luck Charm is a forgettable song that brings to mind that average Elvis impersonator. He’d had plenty of average material in the past, but often he’d raise his game vocally to salvage such shoddy stuff. Not this time. He sticks to a half-arsed croon. featuring plenty of trademark ‘uh-huh-huhs’. Very forgetful. It’s songs like this that do his reputation damage.

Good Luck Charm was not among Aaron Schroeder’s best work, but he had been one of Elvis’s top songwriters over the years, and this was the last song he donated to the King. He understandably refused to surrender rights to Elvis’s publishing company, and a court battle ensued. The publicity was such that soon after, other top songwriters rarely worked with him, or stopped altogether, including Otis Blackwell, Lieber and Stoller and Pomus and Shuman. Elvis’s songs inevitably deteriorated further.

Nonetheless, it was another long-lasting number 1, spending five weeks there. During that time, the new Coventry Cathedral was consecrated on 25 May, 2 June saw the first legal casino in the UK open in Brighton, Sussex, and on 14 June, the BBC broadcast the first episode of Galton and Simpson’s classic sitcom Steptoe and Son.

Written by: Aaron Schroeder & Wally Gold

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 5 (24 May-27 June)

Births:

Duran Duran keyboardist Nick Rhodes – 8 June 
Comedian Phil Jupitus – 25 June
Singer Michael Ball – 27 June 

Deaths:

Writer Vita Sackville-West – 2 June
Composer John Ireland – 12 June
Composer Sir Eugene Goossens – 13 June

135. B Bumble and the Stingers – Nut Rocker (1962)

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Wonderful Land by the Shadows stayed at number 1 for a very impressive eight weeks, and is considered one of the most memorable songs of the era. Although Nut Rocker only managed one week at the top, and the group behind it, B Bumble and the Stingers, weren’t heard of again, their instrumental has also proven to have some staying power over the years.

B Bumble and the Stingers were the house band of session musicians at Rendezvous Records in Los Angeles. The line-up included guitarist René Hall (who had come up with the name) and drummer Earl Palmer, and they had already had US hit with a rock’n’roll version of In the Mood (credited to the Ernie Fields Orchestra) and Bumble Boogie. In early 1962 Kim Fowley secured the copyright to record an arrangement of March from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite. Fowley was a producer and singer who had secured a US number 1 in 1960 with Alley Oop (credited to the Hollywood Argyles). He took the song to local pianist HB Barnum, who recorded it as Jack B Nimble and the Quicks (dear me) for the tiny label Del Rio. However, Rod Pierce of Rendezvous Records was convinced his label could do better, and he persuaded Fowley to produce a new recording. A session was swiftly arranged, but the pianist from Bumble Boogie, Ernie Freeman, was a no-show due to a particularly intense bout of partying the night before. Luckily, Hall recalled a pianist called Al Hazan that would be up to the task. Hazan was whisked into the Rendezvous office, which had been turned into a studio. He was still rehearsing with the others when it was decided to record the first take. Hazan was not happy with his performance, but Pierce said it was fine and the song was ready to go.

Rendezvous Records were clearly keen to get this track out there, and I’d side with Pierce on this. That first take of Nut Rocker sounds great to these ears, and captures the fun, sprightly spontaneity that the label were looking for. Going on the band name and song title, I came to this with some trepidation, expecting a self-consciously zany number that would grate. I was pleased to discover that it doesn’t outstay its welcome and doesn’t go overboard with wackiness. And of course, from that first bash of keys, I realised I already knew it – Nut Rocker has been used on film and TV countless times.

Eager to capitalise on their number 1 achievement in the UK (it only reached 23 in the US), Rendezvous put together a touring group. This was often the way in the 1950s and 60s – if session musicians had a hit, a different group would look after the live shows. The new group was led by RC Gamble, who became ‘Billy Bumble’. Hazan was also on board, so clearly he can’t have been too annoyed with the label after all. The group hit the UK in October to help promote their follow-up, Apple Knocker, which was based on Rossini’s William Tell Overture. However, despite this and several other singles, they never had any further success.

By mid-1963, Hall was busy working with Sam Cooke and Fowley was keen to move on. He went on to become a cult figure in the music industry. His 1965 song The Trip was one of the first to explicitly refer to LSD, and from there he worked with Frank Zappa, helped a nervous John Lennon on stage at the Plastic Ono Band’s debut gig, and remained a presence in music until his death in 2015. Gamble retired from music in 1965 and went on to become an economic professor. He died in 2008. Nut Rocker was rereleased several times, and a cover, known as Nutrocker, was released by prog rock giants Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1972.

Written by: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky & Kim Fowley

ProducerKim Fowley

Weeks at number 1: 1 (17-23 May)

Births:

Scottish presenter Craig Ferguson – 17 May
Journalist Alan Johnston – 17 May

134. The Shadows – Wonderful Land (1962)

 

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1962 featured far fewer number 1s than the previous year due to several huge sellers. The first three number 1s alone took up close to half the year, and Wonderful Land by the Shadows was the longest-serving, notching up an impressive eight weeks at the peak of the charts. This hadn’t happened since Perry Como’s Magic Moments in 1958, and wouldn’t happen again until Sugar Sugar by the Archies in 1969. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the best-selling single of 1962 though – that honour went to Frank Ifield’s I Remember You.

Other than Apache, Wonderful Land has become the song most people identify with the classic Shadows sound. Both tracks came from the pen of singer-songwriter Jerry Lordan. Lordan clearly knew how to write a hit, but by his own admission was terrible at coming up with song titles. He played the unnamed instrumental to the group, and guitarist Hank Marvin wisely thought it conjured up images of America, suggesting Wonderful Land as its title. Lordan wasn’t keen, but in lieu of a better option, the name stuck.

Marvin was right, Wonderful Land does conjure up images of the epic, grandiose vastness of America. However, the Shadows were not only tipping the hat to America, they were also soundtracking the optimism of 1960s Britain. Although no group captured this feeling better than the Beatles, the Shadows were an important step in this direction. Despite referencing the US, the group never achieved any lasting success stateside.

As I said in my blog for The Young Ones, Norrie Paramor often throws everything he can at a tune, to its detriment, but here he lets the song breathe, and it’s effective, helping to make the song feel much more epic than its two-minute running time.  I can understand why Wonderful Land did so well in 1962, but do I enjoy it? It doesn’t compare to Apache in my opinion – it’s just a little too nice, and the more I hear of the Shadows work, the more I realise that Apache was perhaps an exception. Nonetheless, Wonderful Land is a rather charming souvenir of the pre-Beatles era, and certainly more memorable than Kon-Tiki.

Wonderful Land marked another period of transition within the band. Although Tony Meehan had left to become a session drummer when Kon-Tiki was at number 1, he was still in the line-up when Wonderful Land had been recorded. This time, it was bassist Jet Harris’s turn to leave. Whether he was sacked due to his drink problem or he left of his own accord depends on whose story you believed, but Harris later claimed his alcoholism came about due to separating from his wife, who subsequently had a relationship with Cliff Richard. If true, this certainly casts a shadow (sorry) on Cliff’s saintly image, and potentially rumours about his sexuality, but I digress. Harris had been an important member of the band – he came up with their name, and he is believed to have been the first musician in the UK to play an electric bass. Harris was quite surly, an image at odds with the friendliness the group usually projected, and his bass playing was occasionally aggressive. When he was replaced by Brian ‘Licorice’ Locking, the Shadows lost what little element of danger they might have had. And despite the controversy Harris’s drinking would cause, he went on to have one more number 1 – Diamonds, with Meehan, and written by Lordan once again.

In the news during these months… 2 April saw the introduction of panda crossings to the UK. Rather than make crossing the roads safer, the flashing lights managed to confuse drivers and pedestrians alike, and the system was replaced in 1967 by the X-ray, which evolved into the pelican crossing. On 4 April, James Hanratty was hanged at Bedford Prison after being found guilty of the A6 murders. Many believed him to be innocent, and witnesses had even claimed to have seen him in Rhyl at the time of the murders of Michael Gregsten and his mistress, Valerie Storie. Hanratty’s family and supporters still protest his innocence to this day. A fortnight later the government announced that from 1 July, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act would remove free immigration from citizens of member states of the Commonwealth of Nations. Prime Minister Harold Macmillan’s popularity was plummeting at that point, and on 27 April an opinion poll revealed less than half of all voters approved of him as leader.

Meanwhile, in the world of football, Ipswich Town won the Football League First Division title on 28 April, in their first season playing at such a level, and Tottenham Hotspur retained the FA Cup with a 3-1 win over Burnley at Wembley Stadium on 5 May.

And although it wasn’t a newsworthy event at the time, original bassist with the Beatles Stuart Sutcliffe died aged 21 of a brain aneurysm on 10 April. Never a confident musician, he had stayed on in Hamburg to study painting.

Written by: Jerry Lordan

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 8 (22 March-16 May)

Births:

Rower Steve Redgrave – 23 March 
Author John O’Farrell – 27 March 
Presenter Phillip Schofield – 1 April 
Scottish actor John Hannah – 23 April 
Writer Polly Samson -29 April
Snooker player Jimmy White – 2 May 

Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan – 9 May 
The Cult singer Ian Astbury – 14 May

Deaths:

Welsh politician Clement Davies – 23 March 
Original Beatles bassist Stuart Sutcliffe – 10 April 
Cricketer Ernest Tyldesley – 5 May 

133. Elvis Presley with the Jordanaires – Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special)/Can’t Help Falling in Love (1962)

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So far, the 1960s had seen mixed fortunes for the King. When he was good, he was great (see (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame), and when he was bad, he was execrable (see Wooden Heart). He wasn’t always guaranteed to top the charts in the US anymore, but record buyers in the UK were still sending nearly every release to number 1. The problem, in part, was the fact he was stuck on the movie treadmill, forever churning out sugary musicals that also demanded soundtrack albums. In 1960 he tried to wrestle control, starring in the straight drama Flaming Star. He insisted on cutting back on the songs, and it featured only two. However, it performed poorly, and when his next drama, Wild in the Country (1961) did the same, it was back to the light-hearted, song-packed romances that audiences loved.

Blue Hawaii was the first, and most famous, of three Elvis films shot on the island. He starred as former soldier Chadwick Gates (!), and his mother was played by Angela Lansbury. No, Lansbury hasn’t always been old – she was only ten years older than he was, in reality. He arrived in Hawaii to record the soundtrack and shoot location filming in March 1961, and both Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) and Can’t Help Falling in Love were considered the strongest material to release together as singles before the film’s release in late 1961. Eventually they toppled Cliff Richard and the Shadows’ The Young Ones after its six-week run at number 1 on 22 February. This single is perhaps the finest example of just how all-over-the-place quality control had become in the Presley camp.

Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) was written by Ben Weisman, Fred Wise and Delores Fuller. Weisman was nicknamed ‘The Mad Professor’ by Elvis, and held the record for having had the most number of songs recorded by Presley – 57 in total. Fuller was once the girlfriend of cult low-budget film director Ed Wood, and had starred in his 1953 docu-drama Glen or Glenda and this was her first published song. Weisman was keen to combine Hawaiian music with the dance craze ‘the twist’, born via Chubby Checker’s cover of The Twist in 1960.

Hats off to Elvis again for trying different styles, but this is one of his poorer singles. I quite like the initial couplet ‘The way she moves her hips to her finger tips/I feel I’m heaven bound’, but it’s downhill from there. It probably works as a scene in Blue Hawaii (I’m not going to watch it to find out, I doubt I’ll ever watch an Elvis musical), but as a single, it’s ill-judged at best. Unlike the flip side.

Can’t Help Falling in Love fully deserves its classic status, and is Elvis’s finest ballad. It came from the songwriting team of Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore and George David Weiss, who were responsible for the 1961 English-language version of Mbube for the Tokens, which they renamed The Lion Sleeps Tonight. 20 years later Tight Fit went to number 1 with their version. Can’t Help Falling in Love wasn’t an entirely original track either – the melody was taken from the 1784 French song Plaisir D’Amour by Jean-Paul Egide-Martini (who was German, despite his name). Apparently, Elvis’s associates and film producers disliked the demo, but he insisted on recording it. Yet another sad example of the fact that Elvis may have been better off without some of his team and allowed to make his own decisions more often.

Elvis purrs the lyrics beautifully, the production is intimate and, well, pretty much perfect. The Jordanaires, often overused, make for the perfect vocal accompaniment. Hal Blaine is the drummer here, and the session drummer went on to become one of the most in-demand session drummers, playing with the Beach Boys and Simon and Garfunkel, among others. The lyrics hint that Elvis is perhaps involved in an illicit relationship (‘Shall I stay?/Would it be a sin?’), but ultimately it doesn’t matter – he’s surrendering to his emotions (‘Take my whole life too’… ‘Some things are meant to be’).     However, in Blue Hawaii, the song features in a scene in which he presents his love interest’s grandmother with a music box for her birthday. This version starts with the music box as the backing, before transforming to the single version.

It soon became apparent this was one of Elvis’s best songs, and Can’t Help Falling in Love became the finale of his live shows in the late 60s and 70s. It lost some of its magic though, as it was played faster than the intimate original recording. It came the last song Elvis performed on TV, closing his 1977 special, Elvis in Concert, and the last song he ever performed, at Market Square Arena in Indianapolis on 26 June that year. Less than two months later, he was dead.

In 1993 it topped the charts once more, via a rubbish reggae-lite cover by UB40. More on that another time. For me, the best use of this song came at the hands of Jason Pierce’s space-rockers Spiritualized. He added it to the end of the title track to his strung-out free-jazz, gospel and psychedelic masterpiece, Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space in 1997, mixing it in amongst Pachalbel’s Canon and lyrics of obsessed love, to astounding affect. Unfortunately, the Presley estate objected (perhaps due to the drug overtones of the album?) and blocked the use after the earliest pressings. Pierce was forced to re-record the track, adding his own lyrics, which he now claims to prefer (there’s not a lot in it, but I prefer the original). However, in 2009 Pierce planned to release a deluxe edition of the album, and permission was granted to return the ‘Elvis mix’ to the start of the album, providing he rename the track Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space (I Can’t Help Falling in Love). This seems a bit rich, considering Peretti, Creatore and Weiss borrowed so much of the melody in the first place, but that’s the music business for you.

Elvis’s tenth stint at number 1 lasted a month. On 26 February, the Irish Republican Army officially called off its Border Campaign in Northern Ireland, calling to a halt its attempt to halt British rule and unite Ireland. On 15 March, the Orpington by-election marked the start of the Liberal Party’s revival when Eric Lubbock caused an upset by defeating expected winner, Conservative Peter Goldman.

Written by:

Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special): Ben Weisman, Fred Wise & Dolores Fuller/Can’t Help Falling in Love: Hugo Peretti, Luigi Creatore & George David Weiss

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (22 February-21 March)

Births:

Novelist John Lanchester – 25 February 
Comic book artist Simon Bisley – 4 March 
Altered Images singer Clare Grogan – 17 March 

132. Cliff Richard and the Shadows – The Young Ones (1962)

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Exactly a year to the day since Cliff had last held the top spot in the singles chart, the boy wonder scored his fifth number 1 with one of his most memorable songs. The Young Ones was the title track to his latest film, released at the end of 1960. After aping Elvis with his music, Cliff’s management had decided he should also become a movie star, and this was his third feature film.

The musical revolved around his character Nicky, an aspiring singer whose youth club was threatened by the millionaire property developer Hamilton Black (Robert Morley), who planned to replace the youth club with an office block. The youth club members decide to put on a show to save the club, but guess what? Nicky is Hamilton’s son! Families, eh? In the end, Hamilton is so proud of his son’s burgeoning success, he decides to join the young ones singing and dancing on stage. Lovely. The cast also featured Carole Gray as Cliff’s romantic interest, and the Shadows were also on board, although it was decided they weren’t very good at acting, so they were relegated to non-speaking roles, and Hank Marvin and Jet Harris’s roles were taken by future sitcom stars Richard O’Sullivan (Man About the House) and Melvyn Hayes (It Ain’t Half Hot Mum).

The film’s title track was written by Sid Tepper and Roy C Bennett, who were behind the group’s second number 1, Travellin’ Light. They also had experience in writing for Presley’s films. The Young Ones is a pretty successful attempt at defining the spirit of teenagers, which let’s not forget were still a pretty new concept back in 1962. Some critics take exception with Norrie Paramor’s strings, and I can see their point. He certainly was guilty of over-egging things when producing (see Walkin’ Back to Happiness) at times. However, I feel the arrangement works and adds to the air of wistfulness in the lyrics. As is often the case, the star of the show is Hank Marvin, who provides yet another memorable guitar line. Although Cliff was adored, I do wonder how successful he would have been in the early years without such a great guitarist behind him. Incidentally, the drummer on the soundtrack is Tony Meehan, who by the time of this release was no longer with the Shadows – he had been replaced by Brian Bennett.

It seems to me that The Young Ones is the first number 1 that revealed pop was becoming aware of the passing of time; recognising that youth is only temporary and will soon be in the hands of another generation. It was one of Cliff’s biggest ever hits, becoming the first British song to shoot straight to the top, and is certainly among his best work. I may look upon it favourably because it’s caught up in childhood memories. I recall playing my parents’ record – it must have been one of the earliest pieces of vinyl in the family collection (it probably belonged to my mum, she was a Cliff fan, and by coincidence has the same name as his 1980s romantic interest, Sue Barker) – and comparing it to the version I preferred. I’m referring of course to the fact that 20 years after its release, Tepper and Bennett’s song became the name of one of the most influential sitcoms of all time – BBC2’s The Young Ones.

I was only three when Rik, Vyvyan, Neil and Mike first burst onto our screens in 1982, so it’s unlikely I can remember that far back, but I can still remember wanting to cry when the final episode was first shown, and I was only five then! I’m not sure it’s right that my parents should have let me watch such a show so young, but I’m forever grateful they did. Of course, I didn’t know just how brilliant a show it was, I was just laughing at the cartoon violence, but there had never been anything like it. The theme tune was a suitably anarchic version of the original, sang by the cast, with Rik Mayall’s voice the most notable. Rik’s character was the Cliff fan, so this made sense. It was also entirely appropriate because if there was ever a comedian who realised the importance of staying young, it was Mayall. I grew up watching him on The Young Ones, remember his reading of George’s Marvellous Medicine on Jackanory, became an awkward teenager when Bottom arrived on TV, and like so many others, was shocked when he died in 2014. He was 56, which is no age to go, but he seemed so much younger than that, because he kept that spark of life that usually dims over time. I still can’t believe he’s gone, really, and the photo of his comedy partner Ade Edmondson helping to carry his coffin is such a tragic sight. Hearing a snotty Mayall singing ‘Cos we may not be the young ones very long’ now sounds desperately sad to me.

This won’t be the last time this blog notes the connection between Cliff and The Young Ones, of course – unless something happens and I don’t get as far as 1986. That year they collaborated on the first Comic Relief single, recording a new version of Cliff’s first number 1, Living Doll. Special mention should also go to Viv Stanshall & Kilgaron’s 1976 version of The Young Ones, in which the eccentric former Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band singer played it surprisingly straight. Another hero who went far too young, Stanshall was only 51 when he died in 1995 in an accidental fire while asleep in his flat.

My apologies for having mentioned death so much in a blog concering a song about youth! I’ll endeavour to completely avoid it next time…

Written by: Sid Tepper & Roy C Bennett

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 6 (11 January-21 February)

Births:

Broadcaster Emma Freud – 25 January
Comedian Eddie Izzard – 7 February
Comedian Hugh Dennis – 13 February 
Presenter Vanessa Feltz – 21 February

Deaths:

Historian RH Tawney – 16 January

131. Danny Williams – Moon River (1961)

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Christmas week 1961 was a particularly cold and frosty affair, with some northern and Scottish areas seeing snowfall. The snow increased in the run-up to the new year, and was heavy at times. By this point, Frankie Vaughan’s histrionics on Tower of Strength may have been wearing thin, and record buyers wanted something warm and comforting. What better than Moon River?

Henry Mancini was the man behind the music, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song was written for romantic comedy classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s, starring Audrey Hepburn, which had been released in October. An instrumental version is heard as the film opens, but Hepburn sings it as Holly Golightly in the movie, strumming away at a guitar while sat outside her apartment, watched over by Paul ‘Fred’ Varjak (George Peppard).

Such beautiful music needed lyrics of similar quality, so Mancini and Mercer were well-matched. In Moon River, Mercer is recalling his childhood in Savannah, Georgia. The ‘huckleberry friend’, which some find troublesome, refers to picking huckleberries in the summer, although it is also used deliberately to bring to mind Mark Twain’s novel Huckleberry Finn. Despite the song’s classic status now, Paramount Pictures executive Martin Rackin suggested the song should be removed from Breakfast at Tiffany’s following a lukewarm preview. Hepburn was livid, and Rackin relented.

Eventually becoming one of the most covered songs of all time, several versions were available as singles when 1961 drew to a close. Soul star Jerry Butler hit the US charts first, with an instrumental version by Mancini, with orchestra and chorus, close behind, but it was South African-born singer Danny Williams that made Moon River the UK’s Christmas number 1.

Williams was born in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape in 1942. He grew up under apartheid, performing his first solo with a church choir at the age of six. He won a talent contest aged 14 and joined the touring show Golden City Dixies. The show travelled to London in 1959, where Williams impressed EMI’s Norman Newell, who signed him to the HMV label. He was reticent to record Moon River at first, partly due to the ‘huckleberry friend’ lyric, but he changed his mind after seeing the film.

I think you could potentially argue that it’s impossible to record a bad version of Moon River, and Williams certainly didn’t. Featuring lush strings and his smooth voice (he became known as ‘Britain’s Johnny Mathis), it’s a beautiful way to bring 1961 to a close, after such an unpredictable, often uneven year for number 1s. Were it not for another singer sharing his surname, this would possibly be the definitive version. Yet the man most people identify with the song never actually released Moon River as a single, meaning Andy Williams’ sole number 1 was the Elvis Presley rip-off Butterfly in 1957. He became forever known for the song after it made it onto his 1962 album Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes, and he also performed it at the Oscars, where it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Danny Williams’s success led to his appearance in Michael Winner’s film Play it Cool (1962) alongside Billy Fury. In 1963 he supported fellow number 1 artist Helen Shapiro on a nationwide tour. Other support acts included the Beatles. Like so many others, their subsequent rise meant his career was all but over, and he suffered a nervous breakdown in 1968, before being declared bankrupt two years later. In 1994 he took part in a Nat ‘King’ Cole tribute show. Williams always took pride in knowing that Cole declined to record Moon River because he considered Williams’ cover to be perfect. Following the collapse of apartheid he returned to South Africa several times but always considered the UK his home. He died aged 63 in December 2005 of lung cancer.

Moon River is a standard now. One of the most interesting versions for me is the nine-minute-plus version Morrissey recorded as the B-side to Hold on to Your Friends in 1994. He always saw a haunting sadness in the lyrics, and felt the happiness it promised was always out of reach. He changed some of the lyrics to make it bleaker and added the sound of a woman sobbing. Perhaps she was a fan that could see into his future as a right-wing nutjob?

While Williams’ version ruled the charts, 1962 began. The first episode of drama series Z-Cars was broadcast on the BBC on 2 January. The show became famous for its realistic portrayal of the force and ran until 1978. Three days later the album My Bonnie by Tony Sheridan and the Beat Brothers was released. The brothers in question were in fact the Beatles – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Pete Best. By the end of 1962, the line-up had changed and they had released their first single, Love Me Do. Beatlemania was coming ever closer.

Written by: Henry Mancini & Johnny Mercer

Producer: Norman Newell

Weeks at number 1: 2 (28 December 1961-10 January 1962) 

Births:

The Jesus and Mary Chain singer Jim Reid – 29 December
Javelin thrower Sharon Gibson – 31 December 
Cocteau Twins guitarist Robin Guthrie – 4 January 

130. Frankie Vaughan – Tower of Strength (1961)

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It had been four years since Frankie Vaughan last had a number 1 with The Garden of Eden – the longest gap for a number 1 artist up to this point. However, he had continued to do well in the charts, occasionally troubling the top ten. How did Vaughan weather the storm of rock’n’roll, when so many other crooners couldn’t? Perhaps it was that ‘Mr Moonlight’ was unique when so many other singers of his ilk were too similar – too smooth and safe? His two number 1s suggest that might be the case. The Garden of Eden was tougher than most easy listening tunes in 1957, and Vaughan’s performance on Tower of Strength is not only unique, it’s extraordinary.

The song was written by Burt Bacharach, making this his third number 1. However, the lyrics came from Bob Hilliard, not Hal David, his most famous collaborator. It had already been a hit in the US for singer-songwriter Gene McDaniels, but he didn’t have the following that Vaughan had in the UK, and his version barely scraped into the top 50.

Vaughan’s version begins with some rather bawdy-sounding trumpets, sounding like incidental music from a Carry On film. Despite the song’s title, the singer’s imposing physique and the bravado behind the performance, Vaughan is anything but a tower of strength in this track. He wants to break free from his relationship, and he lists the things he’d like to say, before imagining how she’d respond. He sounds not unlike Tom Jones in the way he bellows the vocals, and often that’s something that I’d run a mile from, but in the next section in which the horns turn into a stomp, he cuts loose so much he sounds more like an early soul singer.

‘And I’d walk out the door
You’d be down on your knees
You’d be calling to me
But a tower of strength is a-something
I’ll never be’

He grunts, he growls, he even sings ‘knees’ in a falsetto. He sounds unhinged. Vaughan has shot up in my estimation, and is now one of my favourite crooners. A little bit of madness goes a long way with me. I haven’t heard the original by McDaniels, or the other 1961 version from Paul Raven (later to become grotesque glam rock paedophile Gary Glitter), but I doubt either of them can beat Vaughan for entertainment value.

The hits finally did dry up for Frankie Vaughan in 1963. He suffered with ill health for many years, nearly dying of peritonitis in 1986, which curtailed his role in a stage version of 42nd Street at London’s Drury Lane. Despite his problems, he continued performing until shortly before his death form heart failure in 1999, aged 71.

The Scouse singer may have been most famous for his trademark top hat and cane, but beneath the glitz was a good heart. He gave away his royalties from Green Door in 1956 to Boys Clubs, by way of thanks for the help they gave him during his time as a refugee in Lancaster during World War Two. And in 1964 he was appointed to a committee to give advice on juvenile delinquency. Four years later he persuaded gangs in Glasgow to give up their knives in an amnesty.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Bob Hilliard

Producer: Johnny Franz

Weeks at number 1: 3 (7-27 December)

Births:

Chef Marco Pierre White – 11 December 
Scottish presenter Carol Smillie – 23 December 

Deaths:

Children’s story writer Charles Hamilton – 24 December 

129. Elvis Presley – (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister (1961)

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On 9 November, Miss United Kingdom, the Welsh-born Rosemarie Frankland became the first British winner of the Miss World beauty contest. The competition had been running for 11 years at this point, and had taken place at the Lyceum Theatre in London.

On the same day, Elvis Presley went to number 1 for the 9th time. Before the Beatles, Elvis was untouchable when it came to chart domination in the UK, but by this point his record sales had dipped somewhat in the US. Despite this, (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame/Little Sister (both written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman, and recorded during another marathon session in June), was one of his better number 1 releases.

After several attempts at various European sounds, (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame is a throwback to Presley’s early years, and is all the better for it. You can’t really go wrong when using a Bo Diddley beat, and Elvis doesn’t dominate the track, letting the musicians really shine. The lyrics contain a twist, as it turns out Marie was Elvis’s woman, but she’s ran off with ‘a very old friend’, only a day after saying she’d be his for eternity. Poor Elvis. The lack of vocal showboating also helps suggest that, for a change, he’s a loser this time around.

This is one of my favourite Elvis number 1s, although this may be, in part, down to my love of the Smiths. The band lifted the rhythm and used it on Morrisey’s ode to fairgrounds, Rusholme Ruffians, from 1985’s Meat is Murder. Morrissey and Marr shared a love of 50s pop, and Elvis was one of the most famous people to feature on a Smiths sleeve – namely 1987’s Shoplifters of the World Unite. Choosing not to hide his influence, the band would play live performances of Rusholme Ruffians as a medley with (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame, as you can hear on posthumous live album Rank (1988)

Flip side Little Sister showcases a more raw Elvis sound than we’ve heard for some time. Okay, it’s a complete rip-off of Johnny Kidd & the Pirates’ groundbreaking Shakin’ All Over, but I’d rather hear that than anotherWooden Heart. We’re on potentially dodgy ground lyrically, as Elvis is so hurt by his lover this time (she’s only gone and ran off with Jim Dandy), he’s decided to chance his arm with her little sister. We’re not made aware of how young she is, but this verse is questionable:

‘Well, I used to pull your pigtails
And pinch your turned-up nose
But you been a growin’
And baby, it’s been showin’
From your head down to your toes’

Hmm. Nonetheless, it’s great to hear the rock’n’roll side of Elvis once more. The booming bass vocal of Jordanaire Ray Walker is superfluous, however.

Unlike so many singles in 1961 that came and went at number 1 after a week, Presley’s usually stuck around a while longer, and this was no exception, spending four weeks at the top, and during the tenth anniversary of the birth of the UK charts. In its final week, a sexual revolution began when birth control pills became available on the National Health Service. The move would have a far-reaching effect on society, and you could argue the swinging 60s began on this day – 4 December.

Written by: Doc Pomus & Mort Shuman

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 4 (9 November-6 December)

Births:

Presenter Jill Dando – 9 November 
Boxer Frank Bruno – 16 November 
Actor Martin Clunes – 28 November

128. Helen Shapiro – Walkin’ Back to Happiness (1961)

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October 1961 drew to a close with stormy weather. The first edition of satirical magazine Private Eye went on sale on the 25th in London, planting the seed of the forthcoming satire boom. In the same week, young husky-voiced starlet Helen Shapiro achieved her second chart-topper of the year. She had only been 14 when You Don’t Know became her first. As impressive and mature as her voice sounded, I bemoaned the lack of youthful energy on display in that track. Her songwriters, John Schroeder and Mike Hawking rectified this on Walkin’ Back to Happiness, one of the better-known songs of the early 1960s.

With a personality to match her voice, the precocious Shapiro didn’t want to record this new single as she found it too corny. Those backing vocals certainly are an acquired taste, and she fell into the ‘good God they’re a bit much’ category. Shapiro was a blues and jazz fan, and preferred the B-side Kiss and Run. Still only 14 when recorded, by the time Walkin’ Back to Happiness was released in September, she had reached the grand old age of 15.

Those backing vocals, arranged by Norrie Paramor, are definitely irritating, and I totally get Shapiro’s point. They’re a step too far in the opposite direction and suggest she is a childish, helium-pitched girly singer, which is far from the truth. Having said that, Walkin’ Back to Happiness is much better than You Don’t Know. It bounces along with an effervescence often sorely lacking in the singles of 1961, and is the kind of pop song the likes of Sandie Shaw would make popular a few years later – I was surprised to see this had been released in 1961. And as annoying as the backing vocals are, they are a memorable hook, and they’re stuck in my head, so they were key to the track’s mass appeal. Getting back together with your love must have been quite an unusual subject matter in 1961, too, and it does a good job of getting that euphoria across. I’d imagine. Nobody I was dumped by ever gave me a second chance. Anyway!

Shapiro’s next two singles, Tell Me What He Said and Little Miss Lonely, made the top ten in 1962. In the same year she also branched out into films, starring as herself alongside Billy Fury in Play it Cool and the female lead in Richard Lester’s It’s Trad, Dad!, which also starred Craig Douglas. In February 1963 she embarked on a UK tour, and among the support acts were the Beatles. This was the first time they had taken part in a nationwide tour. In between the tour, they broke away to record their debut album, Please Please Me. Among the songs was Misery, which Lennon and McCartney had written with Shapiro in mind. She later claimed her label turned the song down on her behalf, and she would have loved to record it. John, George and Ringo even appeared alongside her on Ready, Steady, Go when she lip-synched to Look Who it Is. It doesn’t show John and George in the best light though…

Despite the connection with the Fab Four though, she was beginning to look old before her time, and was eclipsed by other female singers including Shaw, Cilla Black and Lulu. Had EMI allowed her to record Misery, perhaps things would have turned out different. She was reduced to appearances on the cabaret circuit, before announcing her retirement from touring. However, she returned to entertainment eventually, with a role in Oliver! and was one of the main characters in the ill-fated ITV soap Albion Market in the 80s. She returned to music as a jazz singer, performing with Humphrey Lyttelton and his band, until she retired once more in 2002. She has, however, been known to appear on radio from time to time.

Walkin’ Back to Happiness was the last number 1 by a female singer for a long time. Apart from Wendy Richards’ role in the awful Come Outside in 1962, there wouldn’t be another woman at number 1 until Cilla Black in February 1964. Black, of course, made full use of her connection with the Beatles.

Written by: John Schroeder & Mike Hawker

Producer: Norrie Paramor

Weeks at number 1: 3 (19 October-8 November)

Births:

Footballer Ian Rush – 20 October
Radio DJ Pat Sharp – 25 October 

127. The Highwaymen – Michael (1961)

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One of the more unexpected number 1s (at least, to modern ears) of 1961 was the result of the folk revival of the late 1950s and early 60s. Acts such as the Kingston Trio offered a clean-cut, collegiate take on historical folk songs and presented them to mainstream audiences, and for a time, did very well. One such group were the Highwaymen, who went all the way to number 1 in the UK, UK and Germany with Michael, their version of the African-American spiritual, Michael, Row the Boat Ashore.

Michael, Row the Boat Ashore was first recognised during the American Civil War at St Helena Island, one of South Carolina’s Sea Islands. It was sang by former slaves, known as freedmen, whose owners abandoned the island when the Union navy came to enforce a blockade. Abolitionist Charles Pickard Ware had come to supervise plantations on St Helena Island in 1862, and it was he that first wrote the song down in music notation.  It was first published in the influential collection Slave Songs of the United States in 1867, by Ware, his cousin William Francis Allen and Lucy McKim Garrison. According to Allen, the song refers to the River Jordan and the Archangel Michael, who is often referred to as a psychopomp. A psychopomp is an entity whose job it is to guide newly deceased souls to the afterlife. The lyrics have changed many times over the years, but the most widely known version today came from Tony Saletan, who taught it to folk legend Pete Seeger in 1954, who in turn taught it to the Weavers. The success of this influential quartet, based in Greenwich City, was largely responsible for the folk revival.

The Highwaymen were first formed at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. The five-piece consisted of lead singer and arranger Dave Fisher, who had sang in a doo-wop group at high school, plus Bob Burnett, Steve Butts, Chan Daniels and Steve Trott. I’m not sure the decision on the group’s name was a wise move, because pictures of the freshman quintet suggest the least scary bunch of highwaymen you’d ever be likely to meet.

These Highwaymen do produce a rather sweet, homely sound, though. Beginning and ending with a lonesome whistle from banjo player Butts, it’s a polite, faithful rendition, with some nice harmonising, as well as solo spots for each singer. Some voices pull these bits off better than others, though. I suspect some people who sent this to number 1 may not have been aware of the song’s origins, and may have just bought it because it sounded religious and has a memorable tune. Mandolin player and guitarist Trott, who later became a federal appeals court judge, believed the success of their version came down to the fact that Fisher had added some minor chords that weren’t in the song before.

Other versions of Michael were also around at the time, with Lonnie Donegan reaching number 6, also in 1961, and Harry Belafonte in 1962, but it was the Highwaymen’s cover that sold millions. They followed it up with a cover of Lead Belly’s Cotton Fields, which also performed well. However, most of the group wanted to continue to pursue academic achievements. Trott was the first to depart in 1962, and was replaced by Gil Robbins, the father of actor Tim Robbins. That line-up split in 1964, with only Fisher continuing with music and putting together a new version of the group, before moving to Hollywood to compose and arrange for film and television. The original line-up, minus Daniels, who had died of pneumonia in 1975, reunited in 1987 to celebrate their 25th college reunion. In 1990 they threatened legal action against the country music supergroup of  Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson, who were also calling themselves the Highwaymen. The suit was dropped when wily old Nelson offered them a slot on stage as a warm-up act. The group disbanded for good when Fisher died of bone marrow disease in 2010, aged 69. Burnett died a year later, leaving only Trott and Butts as the only surviving members. The team behind This is Spinal Tap (1982) made an affectionate spoof of the collegiate folk scene in 2004. A Mighty Wind is well worth a watch.

Written by: Traditional

Producer: Dave Fisher

Weeks at number 1: 1 (12-18 October)