183. The Beatles – I Feel Fine (1964)

The Beatles had a long five-week run at the top with I Feel Fine, making them the first act to score two concurrent Christmas number 1s. Not that having a number 1 at Christmas was a ‘thing’ back then. But still, it did become a tradition for the Fab Four to rule the airwaves at the end of the year.

1964 had been another phenomenal year for the Fab Four. As well as spreading their fame across America, they began to take artistic leaps, which was in part fuelled by their drug intake. The band had got through long nights in Hamburg on various uppers before they were famous, so it’s not as if they were innocent before they met Bob Dylan that August. He introduced them to cannabis after famously mishearing I Want to Hold Your Hand and assuming they were already using it. The meeting affected everyone involved, with Dylan soon taking the decision to go electric, and Lennon in particular trying to ape Dylan’s songwriting with more introspective lyrics in a more nasally voice. Plus the peaked cap was a dead giveaway.

The band came off an exhausting tour of the US and went straight into the studio to record their fourth album Beatles for Sale. The combination of cannabis and being totally knackered had a big impact, resulting in a more melancholy, downbeat collection of songs. Originally they had planned for it to feature solely original material, but the well was running a little dry, understandably. They still managed to record a new single too, though.

I Feel Fine derived from Lennon’s Eight Days a Week, which was one of the more upbeat album originals. The riff appeared in the backgroud of that song, and had been inspired/stolen from Bobby Parker’s 1961 single Watch Your Step.

So far, so unoriginal. But the Beatles hit upon an introduction which is regarded, of course, as the first known deliberate recording of feedback. McCartney struck a note on his bass at one point, and Lennon’s guitar was leant against an amp, causing the sound to echo around the studio. They loved it, and asked George Martin if they could tack it onto the start of the song. Lennon would often boast about this for the rest of his life in interviews. From here on in, accidents and deliberate manipulation of sound would become more and more important to the band.

Introduction aside, I Feel Fine may not be the most revolutionary of Beatles singles, but it’s pretty damn cool. The lyrics are no great shakes, with Lennon singing that, basically, him and his girl are in love. So, er, everything is good. But I love the slinky groove courtesy of Lennon and Harrison, and Starr’s drumming is excellent, and very deliberately reminiscent of the Latin sound of Ray Charles’ influential What’d I Say. Ringo, a poor drummer? He sounds bloody good to me.

On the day of its release (backed with McCartney’s also great She’s a Woman), they recorded two promotional videos with Joe McGrath. It’s rarely talked about for some reason, but The Beatles were one of the first acts to cotton on to music videos as a great way of promoting their singles when they were too busy to appear everywhere at once. The two videos are surreal, funny, cheap and charming, with Ringo on an exercise bike on the first one, and best of all, the band eating bags of chips in the second.

Following the success of The Beatles Christmas Show the previous year, Brian Epstein decided the group hadn’t worked hard enough this year, and had them work from Christmas Eve until 16 January at the Hammersmith Odeon on Another Beatles Christmas Show. This time the support came from acts including Freddie and the Dreamers, Sounds Incorporated, Elkie Brooks and The Yardbirds. The compere was Jimmy Savile.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 5 (10 December 1964-13 January 1965)

Births:

Scottish footballer Gary McAllister – 25 December 
Portishead singer Beth Gibbons – 4 January
Pogues bassist Cait O’Riordan – 4 January
Actress Julia Ormond – 4 January
Footballer Vinnie Jones – 5 January
Actress Joely Richardson – 9 January 

Deaths:

Black activist Claudia Jones – 24 December

Meanwhile…

21 December 1964: MPs voted in favour of abolishing the death penalty, with the abolition likely to happen before the end of 1965.

23 December: Richard Beeching announced he was to resign as Chairman of the British Railway Board. In his three years he had made enemies thanks to his closure of many small railways. 31 years in the future, a sitcom was made about his era, called Oh, Doctor Beeching! It was shit.
Also that day, the pirate radio station Wonderful Radio London began broadcasting from MV Galaxy off Frinton-on-Sea.

Boxing Day: Police launched another missing persons investigation in Ancoats, Manchester, this time for 10-year-old Lesley Ann Downey.  She had been at a fairground on her own when she was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, who pretended to accidentally drop their shopping near her. She agreed to help them carry it to their car, then to their home. The next morning they buried her body in a shallow grave on Saddleworth Moor.

182. The Rolling Stones – Little Red Rooster (1964)

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The Supremes’ sugar-coated soul of Baby Love was knocked from the top spot by something altogether more low down and dirty. The Rolling Stones’ second number 1 holds the distinction of being the only blues song to ever get to the top of the charts. That’s a testament to just how big the band were quickly becoming.

Little Red Rooster (originally The Red Rooster) is a blues standard credited to Willie Dixon. It did however share similarities with Charlie Patton’s Banty Rooster Blues from 1929 and If You See My Rooster (Please Run Him Home) by Memphis Minnie in 1936. It had first been recorded by one of the group’s heroes, Howlin’ Wolf, in 1961. Two years later soul singer Sam Cooke recorded a more poppy, uptempo version that was a hit stateside. At around this time, the American Folk Blues Festival, featuring Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf, was touring the UK, and among its attendees were future bandmates Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones.

Fast forward to 1964 and The Rolling Stones had just scored their first number 1 with Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now. Jagger and Richards were making tentative steps towards writing their own songs regularly, but were still in thrall to blues artists, particularly those on Chicago’s Chess Records. Lots of Delta blues made it on to their early material, but now they were planning to follow up It’s All Over Now with a faithful, uncommercial cover of Little Red Rooster. Producer and manager Andrew Loog Oldham wasn’t best pleased. Call it arrogance, call it a desire to put their money where their mouths were, but the UK’s biggest blues act went ahead and recorded it anyway.

Little Red Rooster was blues purist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones’s chance to shine. It’s him playing the bottleneck guitar that resembles a rooster crowing and a dog barking, and the harmonica, and you can’t help guessing that it was his idea to release it as a single. Bill Wyman later rightly said this song was one of Jones’s finest hours. Jagger is also on form, adding a typically louche, lazy air to proceedings. So much so, in fact, that the general belief is that the red rooster in question is in fact Mick singing about his cock. Which makes the fact this got to number 1 even more unbelievable. But then again, this was the year The House of the Rising Sun got to number 1 too, and the charts were increasingly becoming ‘anything goes’ territory.

This was The Rolling Stones’ last cover song to be released as a single in the 60s. Jagger and Richards were about to rival Lennon and McCartney, and Jones’s importance would slowly diminish.

Written by: Willie Dixon

Producer: Andrew Loog Oldham

Weeks at number 1: 1 (3-9 December)

Deaths:

Poet Edith Sitwell – 9 December

181. The Supremes – Baby Love (1964)

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In the US, The Supremes were one of the biggest acts of the decade, certainly the most popular on Motown, and rivalled The Beatles for commercial success, scoring five consecutive number 1s in a row and 12 in total at the end of the 1960s. However, the girl group only ever peaked at the top once in the UK, with Baby Love.

Originally the trio were a quartet known as The Primettes. Florence Ballard, Mary Wilson, Diane Ross and Betty McGlown all hailed from the Brewster-Douglass public housing project in Detroit. They began as a sister act to soul group The Primes, and their line-up featured Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks, who went on to form The Temptations. They covered songs by artists including Ray Charles and The Drifters at local talent shows, with a vivacious youthful sound akin to The Teenagers.

In 1960 the Primettes wanted a recording contract, so Ross asked her old neighbour Smokey Robinson to get them an audition with Berry Gordy Jr’s Motown label. Gordy decided they were too young and should try again after high school, so they released a single elsewhere, but it sank and McGlown left when she became engaged, to be replaced by Barbara Martin. In January 1961, Gordy relented on the proviso they changed their name. He gave them a list of ideas and Ballard liked ‘The Supremes’ but Ross thought it too masculine.

Fast forward to 1963, and The Supremes were a trio, minus Martin, who left to start a family. And who could blame her? They had released six singles and got nowhere, earning them the nickname ‘the no-hit Supremes’. Finally, December’s When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes, by Holland-Dozier-Holland saw them enter the charts. Around this time, Gordy decided Ross should be their main singer (she didn’t go by ‘Diana’ until 1965).

Early in 1964 they recorded Where Did Our Love Go? despite not being keen (it had already been rejected by The Marvelettes). To their surprise, it was massive, topping the charts in the US and reaching number three in the UK. Clearly Holland-Dozier-Holland and The Supremes were the perfect match, and Gordy insisted they repeat the formula for the follow-up, Baby Love.

In my opinion, it follows the formula a little too closely, and the previous single is superior, but you’d be a fool to deny Baby Love is a great pop and soul song. Ross coos her way through effortlessly, with an excellent backing from the always reliable Funk Brothers. Ballard and Wilson get to ad-lib towards the end, before Ross was thrust firmly into the spotlight and the resentments began. I’m not sure it earns the right to be called a classic, in part due to its lack of originality, and I find The Supremes a bit too slick and lightweight when compared to other Motown acts. Or perhaps I’ve just heard it too many times?

The hits kept coming, with Stop! In the Name of Love, You Can’t Hurry Love (a number 1 for Phil Collins in 1983) and You Keep Me Hangin’ On among their best. Thanks to The Supremes, Gordy realised his dream of making a Motown act have crossover appeal among black and white audiences. But with that success came greater tension.

In 1967 he renamed them The Supremes with Diana Ross, then Diana Ross & the Supremes. Ballard hit the bottle and her weight gain meant she was becoming unable to wear her stage outfits, when she was in a fit state to perform. Wilson came across as staying neutral, but in private she told Ballard that Ross and Gordy wanted her out. She tried to slim down and go sober, but she was unaware that he had already hired lookalike Cindy Birdsong from Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles. Ballard was eventually sacked in 1968. Her solo work was poorly-received and she unsuccessfuly sued Motown in 1971. She died suddenly in 1976 from coronary thrombosis.

1968 was also the year Holland-Dozier-Holland left Motown, and The Supremes suffered from a lack of decent material. They were also starting to look a bit middle-of-the-road compared to artists like Aretha Franlin. Wilson and Birdsong were often replaced by session singers on their singles. In November 1969 the long-rumoured Diana Ross solo career was announced, and she was replaced by Jean Terrell. Someday We’ll Be Together marked the end of Ross with The Supremes, the end of the group’s number 1s in the US, and was also the final US number 1 of the 60s.

The 70s began promisingly for The Supremes, with hits including Stoned Love (the song the reformed Stone Roses walked out to on all their reunion shows), but fortunes began to fade, and the line-up changed several times as disco became the prevailing chart sound. They finally disbanded in 1977. Diana Ross’s career? Another time.

Written by: Lamont Dozier & Brian and Eddie Holland

Producers: Brian Holland & Lamont Dozier

Weeks at number 1: 2 (19 November-2 December)

Births:

Astronaut Nicholas Patrick – 19 November 

Deaths:

Geneticist JBS Haldane – 1 December 

180. Sandie Shaw – (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964)

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Sandie Shaw’s first and best chart-topper was yet another classic from Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Dionne Warwick had recorded a demo version in 1963, but it was soul singer Lou Johnson who first charted with it in the US during the summer of 1964. Sandie Shaw made the song her own, and the song helped make her one of the UK’s most famous female stars of the swinging 60s.

Sandie Shaw was born Sandra Ann Goodrich on 26 February 1947. She was raised in Dagenham, Essex and at the age of six would entertain her aunt with her rendition of Guy Mitchell’s She Wears Red Feathers.

Goodrich went to work at the local Ford Dagenham factory after leaving school, with some part-time modelling on the side. She came second in a talent show and got to perform at a charity concert in London. The young poster-to-be was spotted by Adam Faith, also on the bill, who had two number 1s under his belt – What Do You Want? (1959) and Poor Me (1960).

Afterwards Faith introduced her to his manager, Eve Taylor. She secured Goodrich, then only 17,  a recording contract with Pye Records in 1964, and came up with the name Sandie Shaw. Cheesy, but memorable, unlike Shaw’s debut single, As Long as You’re Happy Baby, which got her nowhere. Taylor went to America to look for a song to save Shaw, and heard Johnson’s version. Knowing she was on to a good thing, she quickly returned home, the single was recorded with Tony Hatch, no stranger to number 1s from female singers, and (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me was rush-released in September.

Shaw premiered the single on Ready, Steady, Go!, and her stunning looks, along with her unique barefooted performance, helped her chances no end. Of course, it’s a bloody good song too – vintage Bacharach and David, in which Shaw is unable to get her ex off her mind. You could argue that the production is far too light-hearted to put across any of the supposed misery this entails – In fact, you could argue that Shaw sounds perfectly happy to be reminded of her love – but far better to just enjoy the song for what it is – a prime piece of 60s pop. Her voice is unusual in the verses, almost French-like, yet very natural during the brilliant choruses, and a nice counterpoint to the raucousness of Lulu or Cilla Black’s foghorn wailing.

(There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me climbed the charts slowly but surely, eventually knocking Roy Orbison’s Oh, Pretty Woman from its perch for three weeks, but then the Big O climbed to number 1 once more. But Shaw was now firmly established as a star, with further number 1s and a Eurovision win to come.

Written by: Burt Bacharach & Hal David

Producer: Tony Hatch

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 October-11 November)

Births:

Actor Clive Owen – 3 October
Footballer Paul Stewart – 7 October

Deaths:

Illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell – 5 November 

Meanwhile…

24 October: Northern Rhodesia became the independent Republic of Zambia, thus ending 73 years of British rule.

2 November: ITV broadcast its famously shoddy soap opera Crossroads for the first time. Its original run lasted until 1988.

9 November: The House of Commons voted to abolish the death penalty before the end of 1965.

179. Roy Orbison – Oh, Pretty Woman (1964)

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The Big O was third-time lucky at number 1, and finally got the girl on the classic Oh, Pretty Woman. The song was inspired by Orbison’s wayward wife Claudette, who was often his muse.

Orbison and co-writer Bill Dees were working one day when she walked in to tell them she was going to Nashville. When Orbison asked if she needed any money, Dees interjected with ‘A pretty woman never needs any money’. As usual Orbison assigned Fred Foster for production, Bill Porter as the engineer, and assembled a top team of musicians, including Elvis Presley collaborator and number 1 artist Floyd Cramer on piano, plus three other guitarists in addition to himself on 12-string.

The second half of 1964’s number 1s are an embarrassment of riches as far as intros go, and Oh, Pretty Woman is among the best. Gone is the doom and gloom of It’s Over, replaced by that brilliant circular riff leading into the first ‘Pretty woman’. Anyone who’s ever been in awe of someone will identify with the lyrics, in which Orbison admires the pretty woman from a distance (I’d like to believe this was in a perfectly innocent way; I refuse to believe Orbison was a stalker). Fans of his work must have assumed this was yet another great track by the balladeer in which the protagonist is doomed to be unlucky in love, but when he sings ‘What do I see?/Is she walkin’ back to me?/Yeah, she’s walkin’ back to me/Oh, oh, pretty woman.’, you almost want to punch the air for him in triumph. I love Orbison’s interjections too, namely ‘Mercy’, and a bit of growling thrown in for good measure. Way to go, Big O!

It was no mean feat for a US act to gain a UK number 1 in 1964, let alone two. Oh, Pretty Woman also went back to the top the following month for another week, toppling Sandie Shaw’s (There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me. 

Unfortunately, this was no happy ending for Orbison. That November, he and Claudette divorced over her affair, and although they remarried in December 1965, they were involved in a tragic accident in June 1966. The couple shared a love of motorbikes, and were riding home one day when a pickup truck pulled out. Claudette hit the door and died instantly.

He threw himself into his music, co-writing the music for his debut film appearance, The Fastest Guitar Alive (1967). It had originally been planned as a Western, but became a comedy. Apparently Orbison’s role as a spy proved he wasn’t anywhere near as good an actor as he was a musician, and the film flopped, ending the movie enthusiast’s career in one stroke.

Orbison had done well to withstand changing musical fashions up to this point, but suffered badly with the blossoming of psychedelia. His life was upended once more after a gig in Bournemouth in September 1968, when he was told over the phone that his house had burned down, killing his two eldest sons. He sold the land to Johnny Cash, who planted an orchard where the house was stood.

The following year he married German teenager Barabra Jakobs, and in the 70s they had two sons together, but his musical fortunes did not improve. It was a lost decade, commercially. other than a compilation of greatest hits making it to number 1 in the album charts, and featuring as the opening act for the Eagles on live dates, both in 1976.

The 80s opened promisingly for the Big O when Don McLean unexpectedly went to number 1 with his version of Crying. He and Emmylou Harris won a Grammy in 1981 for their duet That Lovin’ You Feelin’ Again, but it was a request from auteur filmmaker David Lynch that really reignited his career. Lynch was refused permission to use the track In Dreams in his disturbing film noir Blue Velvet (1986), but he went ahead anyway. Apparently while making the film he asked for the track to be played repeatedly to add to the disturbing atmosphere of the movie. Orbison was said to be shocked when he watched the film in the cinema, and it was only later that he appreciated his song’s place in it.

1987 was Orbison’s best year for decades. He released an album of re-recordings, won a Grammy with kd Lang for their new version of Crying, and he was initiated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame by Bruce Springsteen, who had referenced his first number 1 in the memorable Thunder Road (‘Roy Orbison’s singing for the lonely’). In 1988 he began working with Electric Light Orchestra frontman Jeff Lynne on a new album. Lynne had just finished producing George Harrison’s Cloud Nine. The trio met up for a meal and an idea formed. They rang Bob Dylan, paid a visit to Tom Petty, and before you know it the supergroup the Traveling Wilburys were formed. That evening they wrote hit single Handle with Care.

Unlike a lot of comebacks by 60s legends, it helped that Orbison’s material was pretty good, particularly You Got It, which was to be the first single from his new album, Mystery Girl. Around this time he complained to Johnny Cash of chest pains, and said he should do something about his health. After years of getting nowhere, the world was at his feet again, and he didn’t want to stop in case his luck ran out yet again.

On 6 December he spent the day flying model aeroplanes with his sons and had dinner at his mother’s house. He died of a heart attack later that day, aged only 52. The world had yet again been robbed of an astounding musical talent, blessed with an incredible voice and an uncanny knack of making misery sound compelling. Oh, Pretty Woman enjoyed a new lease of life thanks to the romantic comedy Pretty Woman in 1990.

Roy himself is kind of doing the same, thanks to the ongoing tour in which he features as a hologram, backed by a full live orchestra. It’s good to know that his songs live on, but whether this is ethical or not is another matter.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 3 (8-21 October, 12-18 November)

Meanwhile…

10-24 October: Great Britain competed in the Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, where they won four gold, 12 silver and two bronze medals. The Games had been scheduled deliberately late in the year to avoid Tokyo’s midsummer heat.

15 October: The 1964 general election took place, and after 13 years of Conservative rule, Labour were back in power with a slim majority of five seats, and Harold Wilson was the new prime minster.

17 October: Wilson announced his cabinet, which included James Callaghan, Denis Healey, Barbara Castle and Roy Jenkins. He also created the Welsh Office and made Jim Griffiths the first Secretary of State for Wales. The Conservatives had become mired in controversy following the Profumo affair, and Douglas-Home seemed decidedly old-fashioned and too posh against Wilson, who played up his working class image with a pipe and seemed hip by comparison, as The Beatles’ fame had helped begin the breaking down of social barriers.

178. Herman’s Hermits – I’m into Something Good (1964)

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After a run of groundbreaking singles at number 1 that were often dark, primitive and sexually charged, it was time to have a good old-fashioned love song back at the top of the charts.

I’m into Something Good was the debut single of clean-cut Mancunians Herman’s Hermits. The group formed in 1963 from the ashes of The Heartbeats and originally consisted of Keith Hopwood on rhythm guitar and backing vocals, Karl Green on lead guitar and backing vocals, Alan Wrigley on bass, Steve Titterington on drums and Peter Noone on lead vocals.

Noone was only 15 but already an experienced actor due to his role in Coronation Street. Before long, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby and Barry Whitman from another local group, The Wailers (not those Wailers) joined on lead guitar and drums respectively. Titterington and Wrigley left, so Green moved to bass. Their new band name stemmed from a local publican once saying that Noone looked like Sherman from the cartoon series Rocky and Bullwinkle, so they removed the ‘s’ at the start and became Herman and His Hermits, before shortening it to Herman’s Hermits.

Key to the group’s success was producer Mickie Most. He had recently scored his first number 1 production with the Animals’ The House of the Rising Sun, though he always claimed he got lucky and basically just set the tape running and left it to the group. Nonetheless, Most was becoming a name. The Hermits’ manager, Harvey Lisberg, sent Most a return plane ticket from London to come up to Bolton and watch them play live. The Hermits, like The Animals, preferred to play R’n’B numbers, but Most reckoned these boys would work better if they stuck to a lighter pop sound and a squeaky clean image. He was right.

They decided to record I’m into Something Good, by Gerry Goffin and Carole King as their debut single. Goffin and King became one of the best pop songwriting partnerships of the early 60s after their breakthrough Will You Love Me Tomorrow by The Shirelles. John Lennon was once quoted as saying he and Paul McCartney hoped to become England’s answer to Goffin and King, but The Beatles had become so successful, Goffin, King, and other Brill Building songwriters were beginning to suffer commercially. The original I’m into Something Good had been recorded by Earl-Jean from The Cookies, and it had sank. It had been their attempt to ape the songwriting style of Brian Wilson, as The Beach Boys had been riding high in the US charts since 1963.

You can clearly hear the influence on The Beach Boys in the Herman’s Hermits recording. Leckenby and Hopwood’s vocal interjections sound so close to the type of backing vocals The Beach Boys use, it’s almost plagiarism. No bad thing though.

This single suffers by comparison to some of the stone-cold classic number 1s I’ve reviewed of late, but it’s hard to dislike this bright and breezy track. It’s just the right side of cheesy, and Goffin and King really knew how to write a tune, going on to write some of my favourite tracks by The Monkees, including Pleasant Valley Sunday and The Porpoise Song.

Herman’s Hermits’ messy split has caused confusion over the years over how many songs the group actually recorded in the studio. Jimmy Page’s name appears yet again as the rumoured guitarist, due to his popularity as a session player at the time. However Whitwam has always refuted Noone and Most’s claim, and believes these rumours have been spread by the singer and producer due to the bad blood over them losing the rights to the band’s name. Whitman and other band members insist the only addition to the group here was a session pianist.

Whoever played on it, it established the young five-piece as popular hitmakers. Lots of hits followed, including Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter, I’m Henry VIII, I Am and No Milk Today, written by Graham Gouldman, a future 10cc founder.

Noone left the group in 1971 to become a solo artist, and his first solo hit was a cover of David Bowie’s Oh! You Pretty Things, featuring the man himself on piano. I’m into Something Good became a hit for him once more in 1989 when a solo version memorably featured in the brilliant comedy film The Naked Gun: From the Files of Police Squad! (1988) during the montage sequence featuring Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley.

The Hermits soldiered on with new singer Pete Cowap. Getting nowhere, they briefly reunited with Noone before he left again and Green took over as singer until he retired in 1980. Leckenby died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1994, which left Whitwam as the only original member.

Due to all the legal wranglings, his band are entitled to be called Herman’s Hermits, apart from when they play in North America, when they have to call themselves Herman’s Hermits starring Barry Whitman. Noone performs solo gigs as Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone. Like I said, messy.

Written by: Gerry Goffin & Carole King

Producer: Mickie Most

Weeks at number 1: 2 (24 September-7 October)

Actor Clive Owen – 3 October 
Footballer Paul Stewart – 7 October

176. The Honeycombs – Have I the Right? (1964)

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Maverick pioneering producer Joe Meek was responsible for three excellent number 1s over the first half of the 60s – the gothic melodrama of Johnny Remember Me by John Leyton in 1961 and the futuristic ecstasy of Telstar by The Tornados in 1962. I’d always assumed that his death had happened before the onset of Beatlemania (a band he’d turned down), but here we are in 1964 with his final chart-topper, the primitive punch of Have I the Right? by The Honeycombs.

Since the onset of Merseybeat, Meek continued to do well, producing further hits for The Tornados, Mike Berry and Heinz throughout 1963.

In early 1964 he was scheduled to have a new beat group in for audition known as The Sheratons. They were formed in November 1963 by hairdresser Martin Murray, who played rhythm guitar. Years before The White Stripes and even The Velvet Underground, they stood out as their drummer was Honey Lantree, who had been Murray’s salon assistant. Her brother John took up the bass, and his friends Dennis D’Ell and Alan Ward became the singer and lead guitarist respectively.

In the audience for one of their gigs in February were the rookie songwriting duo Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley. Meek was impressed with Have I the Right? and he invited the band into his apartment at 304 Holloway Road, Islington to record it as a single.

I thought Have I the Right? was going to be a completely new song for me, but I did recognise the chorus. It doesn’t feature the song title, and that threw me. What also threw me was just how brilliant it sounds. Yet again Meek astounded me, and this time it was due to the lo-fi recording. This is one of the most basic number 1s to date, and is almost punk-like in its simplicity and raw energy. D’Ell is a great singer, I particularly love that guttural growl as he reaches the chorus for the last time. And what a chorus!

That amazing pounding beat you hear was achieved by not only Lantree’s drumming, but by band members stamping on the wooden stairs to Meek’s studio. The genius fixed five microphones to his banisters with bicycle clips, and someone beat a tambourine directly into a mic. What a brilliantly simple but effective recording.

The single was released in June by Pye Records. The label renamed The Sheratons as The Honeycombs, a pretty witty pun on their drummer’s nickname and previous occupation. It took a while to climb the charts, but eventually overtook Manfred Mann’s Do Wah Diddy Diddy and spent a fortnight at number 1 before being overtaken by the similarly groundbreaking You Really Got Me by The Kinks. Meek had done it again, but it was downhill all the way now.

Howard and Blaikley became managers of The Honeycombs and wrote their next two singles, but they couldn’t repeat their success. Their fourth single, Something Better Beginning, was by Ray Davies of The Kinks, but this too was a relative failure.

By November Murray had left the group to be replaced by Peter Pye. Lantree sang on some later material, and when they performed the tracks live she was replaced on drums by Viv Prince from The Pretty Things.

In April 1966 D’Ell, Ward and Pye all left the group, and a new version of The Honeycombs were formed, but they broke up in 1967. The 90s saw several different versions of the group touring the cabaret circuit, but D’Ell succumbed to cancer on 6 July 2005, aged 62. Lantree died of breast cancer on 23 December 2018.

Howard and Blaikley would go on to become an acclaimed songwriting team, with a further number 1 under their belts, namely The Legend of Xanadu by Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick and Tich in 1968.

Of course, Meek’s life ended in tragedy. The mental issues that had always troubled him worsened, and the legal battle for Telstar‘s royalties left him out of pocket. His preoccupation with the spirit world deepened. A closet homosexual, he was implicated by association in an awful crime.

In January 1967 the remains of a 17-year-old Bernard Oliver were found in two suitcases. Meek became implicated in ‘the Suitcase Murder’. Rumours were he had either recorded for him or was a tape-stacker in Meek’s studio. The crime was never solved, and although apparently Meek was innocent, the fear of being questioned (police had stated they would interview every known homosexual in London) tipped him over the edge.

On 2 February he burst into a friend’s house dressed entirely in black and claimed he was possessed. The following day was the 18th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death, an incident that Meek was obsessed with. During an argument with his landlady, Meek became enraged, grabbed the shotgun he had confiscated from Tornados bassist Heinz Burt, and murdered her. He then turned the gun on himself. Three weeks later, the court ruled in favour of Joe Meek receiving the royalties to his biggest hit. He would have been financially saved.

Written by: Ken Howard & Alan Blaikley

Producer: Joe Meek

Weeks at number 1: 2 (27 August-9 September)