Every 60s Number 1

The Intro 

I’ve done it. 186 blogs in 17 months and I’ve now reviewed all the chart-toppers in that most incredible decade of transformation in pop culture. It’s been fascinating, exciting, dreary and terrifying at times, and sometimes, while listening to songs such as Cinderella Rockefeller, it’s been all those things at once.

The 60s, pre-Beatles, is an era I knew little about, so I suspected this could prove as enlightening as my reviews of the 50s, but I was surprised to learn so much once The Beatles invaded the charts too. Their impact in 1963 and 64 was even bigger than I’d ever imagined, and their move into a more ‘mature’ sound would effect the singles charts of their later years too, but detrimentally.

To commemorate reaching the end, it’s only right that I repeat what I did with Every 50s Number 1, and relisten to them all once more, before deciding on the best and worst of each year, and whittling them down even more to the best and worst of the whole decade.

Despite knowing and loving much of this music so much, I admit to being a bit nervous. How do I choose between some of the greatest bands and songs the world has ever seen? Only one way to find out…

1960

They say that it takes a few years for a decade to get started, and it’s certainly true in the case of the swinging 60s. The music from the dawn of the decade is mostly a hangover from the fag ends of the initial burst of rock’n’roll. There’s a strange short-lived fad at the start of the year for cockney pop by Adam Faith and Anthony Newley (a big influence on early David Bowie). Things don’t really get going until May when the Everly Brothers return to the top with The pioneering drum sound of Cathy’s Clown. This was followed by the first posthumous chart-topper – Eddie Cochrane’s Three Steps to Heaven. Legendary singer-songwriter Roy Orbison makes his number 1 debut with the classic melancholy of Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel). There’s also a great comeback from Elvis Presley with It’s Now or Never. Less impressive were Cliff Richard and The Shadows’ two number 1s together. Weirdest? That can only be Johnny Preston’s bizarre tail of the love between a cowboy and indian, Running Bear.

The Best:

Johnny Kidd & The Pirates – Shakin’ All Over: This could and arguably should have been The Shadows’ surprisingly edgy and menacing Apache, which is a true pre-Beatles classic and hugely influential on pop, rock and even hip-hop. But just pipping it for me was this raunchy, dangerous slice of British rock’n’roll. The band brought theatrics into their live shows and inspired The Who, among others, plus it features number 1 session drumming legend Clem Cattini.

The Worst:

Lonnie Donegan – My Old Man’s a Dustman (Ballad of a Refuse Disposal Officer): How quickly the mighty can fall. In Every 50s Number 1, the ‘King of Skiffle’ Lonnie Donegan’s incendiary performance of Cumberland Gap was my runner-up for number 1 of the decade. Three years after inspiring some of the future decade’s brightest talents, he was performing this music-hall rubbish in a live recording from Doncaster. Terrible, terrible jokes littered throughout. Shame.

1961

A bumper crop and a real mixed bag. The women finally get a look in, featuring a young Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey and Helen Shapiro, but I have to say none of these tracks impressed. Elvis had started his ‘will this do?’ era, but Are You Lonesome Tonight? still hits the spot and (Marie’s the Name) His Latest Flame deserves a mention. Wooden Heart does not. His sometime pianist Floyd Cramer’s On the Rebound is still full of vim and vigour. The Everlys bow out with Temptation, a nice atmospheric number. There’s a lot of oddities about, and they’re mostly good, particularly the gothic melancholic pomp of Johnny Remember Me. Blue Moon is a lot of fun, as is the demented wailing of Frankie Vaughan on Tower of Strength.

The Best:

Danny Williams – Moon River: Not for the last time I found myself torn between a song that pushes the boundaries of pop and a simple, much-loved standard. This time the former, Del Shannon’s still-popular Runaway fell behind the timeless beauty of the South African singer’s take on Moon River, number 1 that Christmas.

The Worst:

Shirley Bassey – Climb Ev’ry Mountain: The veteran Welsh singer is loved for her powerful voice, but it not only leaves me cold most of the time, I find it painful, and this is her at her wailiest (it’s a word, now) over a very boring track. I was very tempted to throw my headphones across the garden when I got to the final note.

1962

The first sighting of what may have been had The Beatles not arrived. Frank Ifield was the year’s biggest star, with his penchant for amusing yodelling over two number 1s, and was still going strong until the rise of Merseybeat. Elvis’s bestsellers range from the dire to classics – even within a single release. Cliff Richard and The Shadows return with strong material, The Young Ones and Wonderful Land respectively. The country-soul of I Can’t Stop Loving You is far from Ray Charles’s best work, but I confess it’s grown on me a little. Nut Rocker is ace, and is fully deserving of its ubiquitous usage in TV and film.

The Best:

Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires – Can’t Help Falling in Love: Like 1961, this was tough. I very nearly picked the quirky space race euphoria of The Tornados’ Telstar. Joe Meek was innovating pop before The Beatles, and despite Telstar being famous, I can’t help but think it’s still a little underrated. However, once more, the timeless pop ballad wins out – am I getting soft in my old age? Perhaps, but how can I deny the brilliance of one of the finest love songs ever written? There are many versions, but none compare to Elvis’s. I’m far from his biggest fan at times but this is pure gold. That the flip side of this is the awful Rock-A-Hula Baby (“Twist” Special) makes it all the more remarkable.

The Worst:

Mike Sarne with Wendy Richard – Come Outside: Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for a bit of Carry On humour, and it’s wrong to expect a song from 1962 to live up to the political correctness of the #metoo era, but Come Outside is woeful. Sarne’s flat vocal irritates, Richard is charmless, and it’s all a bit, well, rapey. The rhythm track isn’t bad, though.

1963

Never has a year in pop seen such a seismic shift. For the first third it’s very similar to the year before with appearances from Cliff (Summer Holiday is still a lovely blast of pop), The Shadows and Frank Ifield, and then Merseybeat happens, and things change forever. It’s nearly always The Beatles, acts performing Lennon-McCartney tunes (Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas) or inferior copycats (Brian Poole and The Tremeloes). Bar one good single from Elvis, (You’re the) Devil in Disguise, US artists don’t get a look in. None of these other groups can match The Beatles, although Gerry and the Pacemakers have some decent material with their hat trick of bestsellers. A lot of Merseybeat is too twee for me to really get into, but some of the greatest pop songs of all time are right around the corner now. Exciting times!

The Best:

The Beatles – She Loves You: The Fab Four shook things up like no act before or since in 1963, and that’s largely due to this, the decade’s biggest-selling 7″. The chorus of She Loves You is lightning in a bottle, pure unbridled joy and ecstacy, and it sparked a thousand imitations. From Me to You is nice enough, and I Want to Hold Your Hand showed new maturity in their songwriting, but this is easily their finest early song. And the lyrics are smart too, moving away from the template of ‘I love you’ and introducing a third party. I’ve always loved She Loves You, but hearing it arrive in the context of this blog increases my respect for it even more.

The Worst:

The Shadows – Dance On!: Cliff Richards’ sometime backing band’s impressive run of number 1s with him and alone came to an end this year, with tracks ranging from the great (Apache) and the good (Wonderful Land) to this, which isn’t awful, it’s just incredibly boring and leaves no mark on me whatsoever. Adding an exclamation mark to the end of the title doesn’t make me any more enthusiastic, either.

1964

An incredible year of number 1s. I envy anyone who lived through this. In fact, listening to them all in one stint, I’d say there’s a very strong argument that this is the high watermark for number 1s. Merseybeat mutates and expands in strange and exciting ways, most notably the momentous folk-rock classic The House of the Rising Sun by The Animals, meaning that the legendary Bob Dylan’s influence was now being felt on these shores. Then The Rolling Stones made their debut (It’s All Over Now), and became so popular, they got a blues cover to the top (Little Red Rooster)! Roy Orbison bows out by getting the girl at last with the brilliant Oh, Pretty Woman. Joe Meek had his third and final chart-topper too, producing The Honeycombs’ insanely underrated Have I the Right?. Women make their belated return, with Sandie Shaw and Cilla Black both topping the charts with two songs by the masterly Burt Bacharach and Hal David – ((There’s) Always Something There to Remind Me and Anyone Who Had a Heart), and The Supremes had their sole UK number 1. As for the Fab Four, well, there’s three classics from them, in particular A Hard Day’s Night. But they don’t win this time.

The Best:

The Kinks – You Really Got Me: Facing incredibly strong competition, Muswell Hill’s finest were my choice, because despite all the other great tunes in 64, it was this primal expression of pure animal lust that pretty much kickstarted rock and heavy metal. Ray Davies may have become one of our wittiest, most quintessentially English songwriters, but The Kinks perhaps never bettered this scorching slab of raunch.

The Worst:

The Bachelors – Diane: A staid, old-fashioned, boring ballad from Ireland’s original boy band. Wouldn’t have sounded out of place 10 years previous (it actually dates back to 1927. That’s right, it’s even worse than Billy J Kramer with The Dakotas’ Little Children, because at least that had a tune.

1965

Tons of pop gold again, but stylistically more varied than the previous year. More strong material from The Kinks and the Stones, and one of the finest epic break-up songs of all time – namely The Righteous Brothers’ You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’. On a similar note, I’ve always loved The Moody Blues’ version of Go Now that preceded it. We’re starting to see the rise of the hippy movement – hair is getting longer, and the lush jangle of Mr Tambourine Man marks another sea change. Cynics may balk at Sonny & Cher’s I Got You Babe, but I think it holds up well, as does the debut of Tom Jones with his anthem It’s Not Unusual. Four songs from The Beatles, all of them – Ticket to Ride, Help! and Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, among their finest work, in particular Ticket to Ride. The latter, and Day Tripper, are built around some of the finest riffs in existence. And yet, and yet… Ticket to Ride is just trumped by perhaps the greatest riff there has ever been.

The Best:

The Rolling Stones – (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction: It was as close a call as it’s possible to have, but for once in my life, I’m choosing the Stones over The Beatles. Keith Richards’ legendary riff, allegedly created in his sleep and intended for horns, never dates and combined with Mick Jagger’s frustrated world view make for a dream combination. After paying homage to the blues time and again, this saw the birth of Jagger and Richards as songwriters to rival Lennon and McCartney.

The Worst:

Cliff Richard – The Minute You’re Gone: Oh Cliff. Behind the times as early as 1965. And what does he do, to counteract Beatlemania? He abandons The Shadows, perhaps a shrewd move to appear ahead of the curve? Oh, he’s gone and recorded an old-fashioned country song from 1963. Never the genre’s biggest fan, this sounds like a pale imitation of I Can’t Stop Loving You. Ken Dodd’s huge-selling Tears may have also sounded like a relic, but at least the chorus was catchy.

1966

The last of the peak years of the decade, before albums began to overtake singles in importance. In general, a superlative blend of pop and the rise of drugs and psychedelia in music. British pop now striding into a bold, experimental future, and combined with England winning the World Cup, there was an overwhelming sense of optimism and pride in the UK. The Beatles were approaching the peak of their abilities in the studio, and minds must have been blown by their dark ode to the lonely, Eleanor Rigby. As startling a song as it is, I’ve always found it easier to admire than to enjoy. I’d take previous single Paperback Writer over that, and wish their jangly guitar era had lasted a bit longer. 66 got off to a blistering start with the Spencer Davis Group’s still storming Keep on Running, and Nancy Sinatra helped shape modern female pop with the sassy cool of These Boots Are Made for Walkin’… yet Dusty Springfield’s only number 1, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me is uncharacteristically pleading. By and large, 1966 is another embarrassment of riches, particularly The Rolling Stones’ apocalyptic Paint It, Black, almost their best song ever. The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore, Sunny Afternoon, Reach Out, I’ll Be There… all classics. It would take a very special song to shine above all these.

The Best:

The Beach Boys – Good Vibrations: And a very special song this is. That’s right, Brian Wilson’s ‘pocket symphony’ means that I haven’t picked any number 1s by The Beatles during their peak years, which is probably the biggest surprise I’ve had since starting this blog. What it does prove is that the Fab Four inspired their contemporaries to do better than them. Had they not released their landmark album Revolver, we may never have had the finest three-plus minutes of The Beach Boys’ career, which in turn spurred the Beatles on to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But anyway… in a year of great tunes and studio innovation, The Beach Boys combined both beautifully, devoting as much time to Good Vibrations as lesser bands would to entire albums. The peak of Brian Wilson’s creativity. The only downside being the burn-out that followed recording their next LP.

The Worst:

Jim Reeves – Distant Drums: Released two years after the US country star’s untimely death, this was a bizarre number 1 to have in 1966, particularly for five weeks. It’s unclear why it was considered single-worthy, as it’s more B-side material, and it’s completely out-of-step with prevailing trends. But the anti-war message may have resonated with Vietnam in mind, and it probably gave succour to old folk baffled by yellow submarines et al. Not awful, like some of the other dire material I’ve mentioned, just out of place.

1967

The tectonic plates of British music and culture shifted once more this year, only not as much as you might imagine in the singles chart. As some of the most famous acts concentrated on complex psychedelic LPs influenced by the rise in LSD, the 7″ chart was largely dominated by light entertainment acts – the most since 1962. Top of the pops was smoother-than-smooth balladeer Engelbert Humperdinck, who enjoyed 11 weeks at number 1 and famously, criminally, prevented Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever with Release Me. Other than the pop brilliance of The Monkees’ I’m a Believer, nothing remotely hippy-like gets a look in until the Summer of Love finally gets underway that June with Procul Harum’s earnest and excellent lysergic standard A Whiter Shade of Pale. Only two other, wholly appropriate chart-toppers followed – The Beatles anthem All You Need Is Love and Scott McKenzie’s dreamy San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair), before Humperdinck brought everything down to earth again. We say hello to the Bee Gees for the first time with the lovely Massachusetts, and goodbye to Nancy and Frank Sinatra, with their ‘incest anthem’ Somethin’ Stupid. All in all, 1967 was a surprising letdown.

The Best:

The Beatles – Hello, Goodbye: This isn’t even the best Beatles single of 1967, but thanks to Humperdinck, I can’t rate Strawberry Fields Forever. So I’m settling for this instead, which may seem controversial when lined up against A Whiter Shade of Pale, but personally I love Hello, Goodbye. I rated it the best Christmas number 1 of the 60s here, and I stand by it. It’s infectious, upbeat and catchy, and the finale is as joyous as the chorus to She Loves You if you’re in the right mood. The B-side, I Am the Walrus, is better, though.

The Worst:

Sandie Shaw – Puppet on a String: The famously barefooted singer hated this song, which was our first ever Eurovision winner – and I don’t blame her, because it’s awful and I’m betting it did her career lasting damage. The lyrics are awful, the tune is demented and it makes me want to pull my teeth out and feed them to sparrows.

1968

Stylistically speaking, 1968 is all over the place when it comes to number 1s. The main trend among the bigger bands this year was to adopt a back-to-basics approach as a reaction to flower power. The Beatles led the way, as usual, but Lady Madonna doesn’t match up to The Rolling Stones’ rocking, witty comeback single Jumpin’ Jack Flash, and Do It Again is a bit of a letdown after Good Vibrations, even if the drumbeat proved pioneering. There’s still room for psychedelia in the charming theatrical demonic pomp of Fire by The Crazy World of Arthur Brown, but then there are some number 1s that are downright odd more than anything, such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and particularly Cinderella Rockefeller, with its deranged yodelling and godawful rickety tune. I loved the Bee Gees’ I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You and Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World, an evergreen classic which gave Satchmo a chart-topper shortly before his death. Cliff finally remembered how to record a catchy tune and whatever you think of Eurovision runner-up Congratulations, you can’t deny its popularity.

The Best:

The Beatles – Hey Jude: In much the same way John Lennon’s Imagine is now considered uncool, it seems to be the done thing to slate McCartney’s lengthy classic, but I’m having none of it. It’s soulful and poignant, written for Julian Lennon when his parents were splitting, and its universal message of the power and importance of love speaks more to me than the simplistic sloganeering of All You Need Is Love. The Beatles may have been already splitting at this point, but there was still plenty of magic in the tank.

The Worst:

Des O’Connor – I Pretend: This could so easily have been the profoundly irritating Cinderella Rockefeller, but that at least had a memorable hook, albeit a very irritating one. No, this is as bland as they get, sang with no soul or meaning whatsoever. He’s supposed to be broken-hearted, but he sounds like he’s having a great time. I like Des, but I get why Morecambe and Wise ripped the piss so much now.

1969

The end of an era in more ways than one as we say farewell to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Despite the fact Abbey Road is one of their finest albums, The Beatles’ singles before its release weren’t them at their best, leaving The Ballad of John and Yoko a rather odd way to bow out of the blog. Honky Tonk Women was more appropriate, showing the future for the Stones as the archetypal good-time rock band of the 70s and beyond that they became. For the first time, album sales outpaced singles, as the teens of the mid-60s grew up and moved on to LPs. This left a gap, to be filled by inferior bubblegum pop, resulting in Sugar Sugar by The Archies becoming the year’s biggest seller. Other than that, it’s another mixed bag, like 1968. Some of the highlights include the tranquil Albatross by the original incarnation of Fleetwood Mac and Something in the Air by Thunderclap Newman. Lots of great tracks from overseas acts too, particularly the horny Je t’aime… moi non plus by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg, plus the apocalyptic boogie of Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival and ska pioneer Desmond Dekker’s Israelites.

The Best:

Marvin Gaye – I Heard it Through the Grapevine: Originally recorded in 1967, Motown boss Berry Gordy Jr was uncharacteristically blind to the greatness of Gaye’s version of this track. Slowing things down, adding an incredibly cool bass line for the intro, and singing with the kind of feeling that was completely alien to the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Des O’Connor, this is soul music at its finest, and peak Motown. To hear just how stunning Gaye is here, check out this clip that’s currently doing the rounds online, which isolates the vocal. Spine-tingling.

The Worst:

Rolf Harris – Two Little Boys: Had I been deciding this before Harris was outed as a paedophile, I’d have said Zager & Evans deserved it, because I, like so many others, had a soft spot for Two Little Boys. Now obviously it just leaves a very sour taste, and it’s a downbeat way to end the decade.

The Best 60s Number 1 Ever is…

The Beatles – She Loves You: It was always going to be the Fab Four, wasn’t it? They’re the greatest group of all time, so it’s a no-brainer. However, I’d be lying if I said She Loves You has always been my favourite Beatles single. I’d probably say Strawberry Fields Forever or Something, but of course neither went to number 1. But it would be wrong to make my choices for best and worst chart-toppers of each decade simply my favourite. I also look at the impact of each song, ine innovation and the influence it had, as well as the catchiness of the chorus. She Loves You easily covers all three bases. It’s modern music’s ‘big bang’ moment, and as I’ve said before about this and other legendary number 1s, it’s listening to them in the context of this blog that really separates the wheat from the chaff, and Every UK Number 1 has truly brought home what a monumental few minutes of pop music The Beatles conjured up here. What alchemy.

But also, what competition, what an often astounding selection of songs I was honoured to listen to and choose from. It could just as easily been You Really Got Me or (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, but in the end She Loves You got there first and laid the groundwork that allowed all the other classics to be made in the first place.

The Worst 60s Number 1 Ever is…

The Bachelors – Diane: You could argue it’s unfair to single out Diane because it was number 1 in a year full of brilliance. I’d argue that’s exactly why I’ve given it this dubious honour. It spoiled my listening experience and stuck out like a sore thumb! Its dull tweeness would have earned it a slating if it had been released in 1954. 10 years later, it’s unforgivable really. And if they were the first Irish boyband, well, that’s nothing to be proud of, is it?

The 60s were the decade in which pop came of age and became an integral part of the youth movement. From the dreariness of post-rock’n’roll, to Merseybeat, to the British Invasion, to psychedelia, to bubblegum pop and rock, music mutated rapidly, thanks in large to The Beatles, but also The Beach Boys, The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and more. Reviewing each number 1 in turn was really fascinating, and has increased my knowledge of the decade greatly, and for me the most interesting parts were just how much Merseybeat completely upturned the charts, and how little impact psychedelia actually had in 1967, due to the rise in popularity of albums.

So obviously it’s the 70s next. The decade in which I was born, albeit very late in the decade (1979). Pop changed and changed again here too, many times, and it was an often dark and turbulent decade in the news, so I can’t wait to get stuck in once more.

Blogs on every 60s number 1 are available to view via the Archive section.

228. The Monkees – I’m a Believer (1967)

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1967! The Summer of Love! Hippies! And Milton Keynes (see below)! Enjoying a deservedly lengthy month-long stint at the top of the charts were The Monkees with I’m a Believer.

Although I’m a snob when it comes to music, and think the entertainment industry took over the music business to such an extent it stifled creativity and nearly brought about its demise, I have a massive soft spot for The Monkees. In fact it’s not a soft spot – they’re easily one of my favourite groups of the 60s. And their rise and fall is a fascinating subject.

It’s widely acknowledged that The Monkees were an American attempt at apeing (ho ho) The Beatles, but in fact aspiring filmmaker Bob Rafelson first came up with it back in 1962. I wonder how that would have ended up? In 1964 he was working for the film company Screen Gems and had teamed up with Bert Schneider. They had just formed Raybert Productions when they saw A Hard Day’s Night, and Schneider thought the time might be right to revive his idea. He was right, and Screen Gems snapped up the idea.

Fast forward to May 1965, and Raybert Productions wanted folk-rockers The Lovin’ Spoonful to be their band, but as singer John Sebastian had already signed to make recordings, they had to look elsewhere. And as the plan was for the TV show to feature a pretend band, why limit themselves to just musicians?

Mancunian actor Davy Jones was chosen first. He had appeared in Coronation Street and made waves as the Artful Dodger in the Broadway show Oliver! He just needed a big break, was already signed to Screen Gems, and with his baby-face and sweet demeanour, could easily pass for a Paul McCartney-type. One down.

The other three members were all from the US and came from auditions held later that year. Micky Dolenz, from Los Angeles, California, was also an actor, having appeared as a child in the TV series Circus Boy. He did have some experience of being in a band though, and, importantly, he had a great voice.

Mike Nesmith, from Houston Texas, had been working as a musician since 1963, and had featured in a few bands, as well as performing on his own. His audition showcased a laconic humour and bullish personality, so they now had their John Lennon. Maybe they’d even let him write some tunes?

Last to be chosen was fellow musician Peter Tork, who was part of the Greenwich Village folk scene. Stephen Stills suggested he try out after being rejected himself. Poor Tork, despite being gifted and bright, was soon portraying a bumbling but lovable fool – basically, Ringo Starr in A Hard Day’s Night.

While the auditions went on, Don Krishner was hired to sort out the music for the pilot episode. Kirshner had been instrumental in making Bobby Darin famous, and knew the Brill Building team of songwriters, so seemed like a great choice. But he couldn’t get any interest, so he tried Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart instead. They wrote the theme to the series, and offered up another three songs, so things were looking good, apart from the fact The Monkees couldn’t play anything together, and the plan was to release an album to cash in on the series.

Their eponymous debut album was recorded in June 1966, and by and large the formula was to have one Monkee singing per track, with everything else supplied by session musicians The Wrecking Crew. Debut single Last Train to Clarksville, sounding not dissimilar to Paperback Writer, was released before the show had been aired, and still did pretty well. However, Nesmith wasn’t happy that the actual musicians received no credit on the LP.

The series was a smash as soon as it began in the US that September, and a month later the follow-up was recorded. I’m a Believer had been written and originally recorded by Neil Diamond, then still a struggling Brill Building songwriter. The Monkees version featured Dolenz on vocals, along with, among others, Al Gorgoni on guitar (he had played on Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence), Buddy Salzman on drums, and that chirpy organ hook at the start and through the choruses came from Stan Free on a Vox Continental.

Nesmith certainly had a point in wanting The Monkees to be responsible for ‘real music’, but all these years later, people still go mad to I’m a Believer, and they don’t care who did what. It’s such a lovely, warm track, that captures how the joy of love at first sight can melt the hardest of hearts. The success of the TV series was in a large part due to the charm of the group, and somehow, no matter who appeared on their recorded output, that charm shone through too, whether by luck or design, or both, I can’t say. The Monkees at their best put their name to 60s pop at its best, and I’m a Believer is among their finest singles. That’s partly down to producer Jeff Barry, who had written many hit singles before then, including Do Wah Diddy Diddy.

The TV series began in the UK on New Year’s Eve 1966, and Monkeemania began soon after when this single climbed the charts. Tensions soon rose though when the band discovered it had been included on their second album, More of the Monkees. They didn’t even know the album existed until it was too late, and were horrified at the track listing and cover image. Nesmith told Melody Maker it was ‘probably the worst album in the history of the world’. Matters came to a head in an argument with Kirshner that resulted in Nesmith threatening to quit before punching a hole in a wall and shouting ‘that could have been your face!’ to a lawyer. Soon after, Kirshner was let go.

And then things got really interesting. The Monkees wrested control of their output, and in February 1967 they began recording their third album Headquarters. For the first and only time of their original run as a band, they performed the tracks pretty much on their own, and had more of a hand in the songwriting, with Chip Douglas from the Turtles on bass and production duties. Largely country-rock-flavoured, Headquarters is a great achievement for a ‘manufactured’ band. It may not be up there with the classic albums of 1967, but it’s a giant leap forward for the foursome. Highlight for me is Micky Dolenz’s noise-fest closer Randy Scouse Git, named after one of Alf Garnett’s favourite outbursts at his son-in-law (played by Tony Blair’s father-in-law, Tony Booth) on BBC One sitcom Till Death Us Do Part. It nearly became their second number 1 too, but stalled at number two against All You Need Is Love.

It’s a shame The Monkees then chose to rely on session musicians again, as I think it sped up their demise. Having said that, they still had more authority over who they worked with, and fourth album Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd, released that November, is just as good, if not better than its predecessor. It featured Gerry Goffin and Carole King’s wonderful and blissful Pleasant Valley Sunday, which had been a single during the Summer of Love. The album featured a Moog synthesizer – Dolenz was one of the first owners of the instrument. Another classic hit single was released as 1967 drew to a close – Daydream Believer, Davy Jones’s finest hour as a singer.

The TV show had been getting weirder, the band were touring as a real unit, alongside The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and they were hanging out with The Beatles. Amazing times for a group who weren’t supposed to be able to play.

1968 wasn’t such a great year, but at least it was interesting. NBC announced they wouldn’t renew the show for a third season in February, and shortly afterwards they released The Birds, the Bees & the Monkees. The band mostly worked alone, with their own team of musicians, making for an eclectic sound. Nesmith fares the best with the low-key psychedelic strum of Tapioca Tundra.

Rafelson and Schneider had it in mind to create a feature film for The Monkees. What the group didn’t know at the start was that their plan was a work of cynical avant-garde genius that would cynically tear apart at the notion of the group. Written by then-unknown actor Jack Nicholson with Rafelson, Head set out to prove that no matter what the band members did to try and break free of their public image, they would always be considered nothing more than a cartoon band, no more real than the Archies, also created in 1968. Head is one of the greatest music films of all time, a technicolour masterpiece with a dark heart. And the soundtrack is just as great. There aren’t many actual songs, but they’re all excellent, especially Goffin and King’s spaced-out Porpoise Song and sweet love song As We Go Along, plus Tork finally gets the spotlight with the fuzzy blast of the marvellously named Long Title: Do I Have to Do This All Over Again? Nesmith always contributed great songs to their albums, but Circle Sky, an impressive blast of acid-country-rock, is one of his best.

In 1969, not long after their disappointing TV special 33⅓ Revolutions Per Monkee, Tork left, and the downhill slide truly began. There were still some great songs, including both tracks on the single Someday Man/Listen to the Band, but things were never the same again. The Monkees Present, released in October, was the last to feature Nesmith. Dolenz and Jones soldiered on with one more album, Changes, released in 1970. It was a new decade, and time to move on.

In the meantime each member had varying degrees of success. Nesmith became a country-rock pioneer and helped invent MTV.  Dolenz moved into acting and directing, and along the way he made UK children’s series Metal Mickey in the 80s. Incidentally, both he and Nesmith auditioned to be the Fonz in Happy Days. Jones went back to mostly acting, and became a popular choice for cameos in US sitcoms. He also became a jockey. Tork was in the public eye the least, but I get the feeling he liked it that way.

There have been a number of reunions, most notably in 1986 when repeats of the series prompted a revival and new 20th anniversary album, minus Nesmith, called Pool It! It’s shockingly bad. A large factor in Nesmith’s reluctance to tour was money. He inherited $25 million when his mother, the inventor of liquid paper, passed away. This meant there was no financial incentive to reunite, so over the years he only got involved again when he really felt like it.

He returned in 1996 when they celebrated their 30th anniversary with Justus, an album featuring the band writing, performing and producing every song. Another poor collection, bar the Circle Sky remake, but not as bad as Pool It! They also reunited for another TV special, but it wasn’t half as clever as it thought it was. Following a tour of the UK, Nesmith left again and relations became strained. In 2010 they reformed for the final time as a quartet, as Jones died of a heart attack in 2012, aged 66.

In 2015, Dolenz and Tork toured together, and the following year they released a new album, Good Times!, to commemorate their 50th anniversary. Nesmith joined in, and Jones appeared too posthumously. With songs by musicians including Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo, XTC’s Andy Partridge and Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, Good Times! was, against all odds, a great listen. Highlight for me was Paul Weller and Noel Gallagher’s Birth of an Accidental Hipster.

This would have been the perfect way to end the Monkees, but, buoyed by the reception to Good Times!, they released an album this past Christmas. Christmas Party features a similar line-up of songwriters, and once again, Jones is exhumed, but its mostly cheesy and Dolenz’s vocals really grate on me. Tork’s contribution was minimal due to illness, with him contributing only a sweet banjo-led version of the traditional Angels We Have Heard on High. Perhaps he knew he hadn’t long, for this was his final contribution to the Monkees. Tork sadly died aged 77 only last week.

The Monkees were certainly not perfect. They could be corny, and recorded some terrible songs at times, particularly those godawful mawkish ballads sung by Jones on the first two albums. But how many groups, put together by the industry, have been able to do what they did, to take over and create better results? They may have been manufactured, but they can’t be compared to, say, the boy bands of the 90s. My issue with Westlife et al isn’t that somebody is telling them what to do, it’s the quality of the material, the cynicism, and the lack of effort. The people behind The Monkees were often craftsmen, and as I said before, in their best material, the charm of Mike, Davy, Micky and Peter shines through, and they could experiment, be far-out, and savage at times (the Sex Pistols even covered (I’m Not Your) Stepping Stone). I’m a Believer is one of their best. I love The Monkees, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

28 years after it reached number 1, I’m a Believer was nearly a chart-topper for my favourite comedians, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Attempting to repeat the success of Dizzy, recorded with the Wonder Stuff, they teamed up with indie rockers EMF for a great, beefed-up version, and you can see the video here.

Written by: Neil Diamond

Producer: Jeff Barry

Weeks at number 1: 4 (19 January-15 February) 

Births:

Field hockey player Kathryn Johnson – 21 January 
Swimmer Nick Gillingham – 22 January
Actress Olivia d’Abo – 22 January

Deaths:

Producer Joe Meek – 3 February (read more here)
Publisher Victor Gollancz – 8 February

Meanwhile…

23 January: The village Milton Keynes in northern Buckinghamshire was formally designated as a new town. Over the next few decades it became Britain’s largest of its kind.

26 January: Parliament amounted it would nationalise 90% of the British steel industry.

3 February: Eccentric genius producer Joe Meek killed himself – you can read more about that whole sorry tale here.

6 February: Soviet Union Premier Alexei Kosygin arrived in the UK for an eight-day visit, with a visit the Queen thrown in too.

7 February: The British National Front was founded by South African AK Chesterton.

12 February: 1967 was a turbulent year for The Rolling Stones, with their troubles beginning when police raided the home of Keith Richards. He, Jagger and art dealer Robert Fraser were later charged with possession of drugs.

200. The Beatles – Help! (1965)

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The Beatles scored their eighth number 1 with the title track to their new film and album, but a few months before all this, John Lennon and George Harrison had their first encounter with LSD.

They were having dinner at the house of Harrison’s dentist John Riley, who spiked their drinks with the mind-altering, life-changing drug. Lennon was understandably terrified, but Harrison enjoyed the experience. They both began to use the drug more often. Later that summer, in fact while Help! was number 1, they dropped acid with Ringo Starr for the first time at Zsa Zsa Gabor’s house during an all-star gathering, featuring David Crosby and Jim McGuinn of the Byrds, who turned Harrison on to Indian music, folk singer Joan Baez and Peter Fonda, who inspired the Revolver (1966) track She Said She Said by freaking the band out, continually saying ‘I know what it’s like to be dead’ because he had once accidentally shot himself. Paul McCartney sat out the acid and was converted in 1966.

Nonetheless, LSD was to change all four Beatles over the next few years, and their music, sometimes beyond all recognition from their early years. Help! was the last single of theirs that sounded like their Merseybeat days, but the lyrics were the most direct they had yet attempted.

Lennon was, as he later stated, going through his ‘Fat Elvis’ stage. This rebellious art student with a tragic childhood was struggling to come to terms with the Fab Four’s stratospheric rise. Learning that the Fab Four’s second film was going to be called Help! rather than Eight Arms to Hold You, Lennon took the opportunity to write his most personal lyrics to date. These lyrics were about him and him only.

According to McCartney, Lennon asked him to come up with the countermelody, which he did on 4 April at Lennon’s house. On 13 April they entered the studio to record the song, and did so in 12 takes. The following month they re-recorded the vocals for the film version, which marks The Beatles’ first appearance in the movie.

Lennon remained proud of Help! for the rest of his life, and he considered it one of his best songs. But he did express regret that The Beatles weren’t brave enough to record it as he’d originally intended, in a much slower style, to draw out the sorrow of the emotions expressed.

Sonically, you could argue that Help! was a step back after Ticket to Ride, but the fact they went at it with breakneck speed and turned it into a straightforward pop song only adds tension between the music and the words and makes it all the more interesting. It’s a tremendous slice of 60s pop, once again showing the band towered above most of their competition. In a year of classic number 1s, Help! is one of the best.

It was also the first time a pop song took a negative look at fame, and while you could argue that these type of songs are too self-obsessed and difficult to draw any sympathy from, The Beatles achieve it by going against the grain and wrapping it up in a pop parcel. Those backing vocals… sublime.

The single was released on 23 July, with the film following six days later. As I stated in my blog for Ticket to Ride, I prefer it to A Hard Day’s Night. It’s a riotous, technicolour piece of surreal fun. On the day the single knocked The Byrds’ Mr Tambourine Man from number 1, the album was released. Featuring original songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison on side one, the second side featured covers (for the last time on any Beatles album other than 1970 swansong Let It Be) and of course, Yesterday, featuring McCartney only alongside a string quartet. It remains the most covered song of all time.

Notable covers of Help! include Tina Turner’s in 1984 and Bananarama’s 1988 Comic Relief single alongside Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke, aka Lananeeneenoonoo.

Now The Beatles were hanging out with the counterculture elite, taking psychedelic drugs and listening to Bob Dylan and the Byrds, among others, their rebellious streaks were growing, along with their hair. Despite this, they were also now Members of the Order of the British Empire. That June, Harold Wilson had nominated the foursome, angering many conservative MBE recipients, some of whom returned theirs in protest.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

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

Births:

Children’s television presenter Mark Speight – 6 August 

Meanwhile…

6 August: Elizabeth Lane was appointed as the first female High Court judge. She was assigned to the Family Division.
That same day the BBC decided to pull the docu-drama The War Game from transmission as part of its The Wednesday Play strand on BBC1. Directed and produced by Peter Watkins, it portrayed the aftermath of nucelar war. It was deemed too horrifying for public consumption. However, it was publicly screened and shown abroad, and won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 1966. It was eventually transmitted on 31 July 1985.

193. The Beatles – Ticket to Ride (1965)

In February, The Beatles had begun filming, and recording the soundtrack album, for their second movie (their first in colour), provisionally called Eight Arms to Hold You. Just as weird as the title was the film itself. Once again directed by Richard Lester, this was a more surreal, loose, knockabout comedy than A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and with a bigger budget, too. Intended as a spoof of spy films, it essentially became an excuse for the Fab Four to travel to exotic locations.

The Beatles spent most of the time stoned out of their minds, and would often struggle to stop themselves laughing while filming. In some scenes, their eyes are bloodshot from all the smoking they indulged in. Lads.

Fortunately for everyone, The Beatles on marijuana didn’t result in self-indulgent dribble. It made for their best film. That’s nothing compared to the impact on their music, though.

Ticket to Ride was the first track worked on for their fifth album. In 1980, Lennon claimed in Playboy that the song was pretty much his own. He also proudly stated it invented heavy metal. The jury’s out on both, but it began one hell of a creative patch. None of their singles had sounded like this, musically or lyrically. He said Paul McCartney was only responsible for Ringo Starr’s drum sound, whereas McCartney later stated they wrote it together in three hours.

Even if Lennon was right, you can’t underestimate the drums on Ticket to Ride, so McCartney clearly made an important contribution. Making Starr play in such a stop-start fashion created an epic, proto-pyschedelic sound, which isn’t that far removed from the still-startling Tomorrow Never Knows, created a year later. George Harrison once said that the drums were also influenced by the equally important jagged guitar riff, which he claimed ownership of, having played it on his Rickenbacker. Whoever came up with what, this track was breaking new ground.

Although The Beatles were innovative with their songwriting from the start, those first few years were often full of basic lyrics about love. Not this time. The combination of an adoration of Bob Dylan and drugs made the words in Ticket to Ride more adult, oblique and interesting. A woman is leaving the narrator, that much we know. So far, so ‘blues’. But where to? Some suggest the woman has become a prostitute. McCartney once claimed she’s simply off to Ryde on the Isle of Wight. I find the former more likely. The prefix of ‘I think’ adds so much to the song, without explaining itself. And although the narrator isn’t sure exactly whether he’s upset or not, he says his baby definitely isn’t. It was rare at the time to allow a woman in a break-up to have the upper hand in a pop song.

Ticket to Ride was also a first for The Beatles for the way in which it was recorded. They were taking an increased interest in the way their songs sounded, and from now on they would tape rehearsals and concentrate on backing tracks, before overdubbing more instruments and the vocals.

Although most of the rest of the album it came from was fairly straightforward, Ticket to Ride marked the start of the band’s psychedelic period, and that’s easily my favourite era of my favourite band. The slow pace of the drumming, combined with the drone of the guitars, gives it an Indian feel. It seems this was a coincidence rather than by design, as it was later, during the making of the film, that Harrison became interested in Indian music (it seems the decidedly un-PC comedy Indian characters in Help! had their uses after all). The middle-eight was your more standard Beatles fare, but I can still find the switch back to the main riff spine-tingling, even after all these years. The ‘My baby don’t care’ refrain in the coda is a thrilling climax, with great guitar licks from McCartney.

Ticket to Ride enjoyed a lengthy (by 1965 standards – most number 1s only lasted a week) three-week stint at the top. It was their longest track to date, running for over three minutes. Singles were getting longer, hair was getting longer, things were getting weirder. They promoted the song on Top of the Pops, and a brief clip of the performance was also shown on Doctor Who in May, as part of the story The Chase.

The most famous performance of the song was in their second movie. By the time of its release it was known as Help!, and Ticket to Ride featured in a sequence in which the band learned to ski in the Austrian Alps while also avoiding the assassins attempting to steal Ringo’s ring. A highly influential part of the film, some say it was a big influence on the idea of music videos and eventually MTV.

As I mentioned in my blog for I Feel Fine though, The Beatles were already making promo films to save them having to be everywhere at once. That November, they made promos for their next single, Day Tripper/We Can Work It Out, and also made one for Ticket to Ride to feature on a festive edition of Top of the Pops. The foursome mimed in front of a backdrop of large tickets, with John, Paul and George sat in director’s chairs.

She Loves You is perhaps the greatest pop song of all time, but I think Ticket to Ride may be my favourite song of the early years of The Beatles. Time will never dull its magnificence.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (22 April-12 May)

Births:

Actress Anna Chancellor – 27 April 
Television presenter Alice Beer – 1 May 
Wrestler Darren Matthews – 10 May

Deaths:

Welsh novelist Howard Spring – 3 May

Meanwhile…

23 April: The Pennine Way opened. The National Trail runs 267 miles from Edale in the Derbyshire Peak District, up to Kirk Yetholm in Scotland.

26 April: Manchester United won the Football League First Division title.

1 May: Liverpool won the FA Cup for the first time, defeating Leeds United 2-1 at Wembley Stadium.

7 May: The Rhodesian Front, led by Ian Smith, won a landslide victory in the general election in Rhodesia.

174. The Beatles – A Hard Day’s Night (1964)

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Ian MacDonald, in his excellent book Revolution in the Head (1994), stated that the opening chord of A Hard Day’s Night and the final chord of A Day in the Life, two of the most famous examples of such in popular music, bookend the peak creative years of The Beatles. While I don’t always agree with his opinions on the Beatles work, it’s a hell of a tome, and he is spot on in this judgement.

The spring of 1964 had seen The Beatles hurriedly filming their parts in their first feature film, still potentially called, appropriately enough, Beatlemania. The idea was to make a low-budget musical movie that saw the Fab Four pretty much being themselves, coping with their new-found fame, plus a surreal plot involving Paul’s grandfather, played by Wilfred Brambell from Steptoe and Son. Hopefully they could achieve this without falling into the same trap as Elvis, ie, getting stuck in an endless rut of ever-poorer cheap romantic comedies with substandard songs.

By April they had recorded most of their third album, for the first time featuring nothing but Lennon and McCartney songs. There are several versions of how the title track came about, but they all state the inspiration came from Ringo Starr and his knack of saying things wrong but somehow making them sound poetic. Referring to the fact they’d often work through the night in the studio, Starr ended one session announcing how it’d been a hard day’s night. John Lennon liked the phrase so much he’d already included it in his first book earlier that year, In His Own Write. This passage came from the short story, Sad Michael:

‘There was no reason for Michael to be sad that morning, (the little wretch): everyone liked him, (the scab). He’d had a hard day’s night that day, for Michael was a Cocky Watchtower.’

The film’s producer Walter Shenson loved the phrase, and decided it would be the name of the film. He told Lennon he needed to write a song with the same name, and was startled to be given it the following day.

Lennon and McCartney had already begun composing together less and were getting competitive about who got the A-sides on their singles, and Lennon may have been wanting the hit after McCartney had written previous single Can’t Buy Me Love. This period was Lennon’s most dominant within The Beatles, before McCartney considered himself de facto leader upon Epstein’s suicide, and Lennon was often too high to be bothered to compete so much. The group had the song polished in three hours flat on 16 April.

Knowing that A Hard Day’s Night would open the album as well as the film, The Beatles felt they had to come up with a good opening. What they probably didn’t realise is they would come up with one of the most memorable intros to a pop song ever. That famous chord has been subject to enormous amounts of literature over the years. It would seem it came about from all four band members, plus George Martin on a piano, striking their instruments at once.

Such a great intro requires a great song, and the Beatles don’t disappoint there either. It’s one of their best singles of this period, and while the lyrics are still rather cliched, they’re a step up from some of their 1963 material, and anyway, it’s such a strong song, it’s effervescence masks any weak points. Naysayers of Starr’s drumming, begone – his performance propels this track brilliantly. Okay, we could have maybe done without the cowbell, and I like a good cowbell, when used right. Macca handles the high notes on the middle eight superbly (Lennon felt he couldn’t do these bits justice) and Harrison and Martin’s duet on guitar and piano is another highlight. Almost as brilliant as the song’s opening is the ending, which was Martin’s inspiration. He pointed out to the group that they were recording film music now, and should keep that in mind when considering the fit of each song into the film. Harrison’s chiming arpeggio is beautiful, and a great example of how many ideas The Beatles were now coming up with. Lesser bands would have built an entire song out of that arpeggio. The guitarist had been given a prototype 12-string Rickenbacker, and it’s ringing sound helps make that third album such a delight.

That summer was all about A Hard Day’s Night. The film was released in the UK on 6 July, and was a critical and commercial smash, cementing the Fab Four as loveable mop-tops, but also showcasing each one’s charisma too. The title track made for a perfect introduction to what followed, and it’s hard to hear the song without picturing the quartet running from screaming girls, with Harrison falling over at one point (this was a genuine accident that was left in the sequence).

Unusually, the US got to hear it first, as the soundtrack album was released on 26 June. The single and album were released simultaneously in the UK on 10 July. In August, both releases held the number 1 spot in both the singles and albums chart in the UK and US, a feat that had never before been achieved.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (23 July-12 August)

Births:

Actress Matilda Ziegler – 23 July 

Deaths:

Author Ian Fleming – 12 August

Meanwhile…

28 July: It was the end of an era when Winston Churchill retired from the House of Commons at the ripe old age of 89.

4 August: The first portable television sets went on sale to the public.
This day also saw a classic single released, in a year full of them, when You Really Got Me by The Kinks went on sale. More on that in the near future.

166. The Beatles – Can’t Buy Me Love (1964)

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Number 1 for three weeks in April, and the best-selling single of 1964, was The Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love. Significantly, other than the backing track for 1968’s The Inner Light, it was their only English-speaking track recorded outside of the UK.

The Fab Four were in Paris at the time, performing 18 days of concerts at the Olympia Theatre. The West German branch of EMI, Odeon, were convinced the group would get nowhere in their country unless they re-recorded previous singles in German. The band believed otherwise, but reluctantly agreed to rework She Loves You as Sie Liebt Dich and I Want to Hold Your Hand as Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand.

They got through these recordings so quickly, they had time to work on a new Paul McCartney composition (the band had a piano installed in one of their hotel suites so they could continue songwriting). Were the lyrics inspired by Kitty Kallen’s 1954 number 1, Little Things Mean a Lot? It’s a possibility. For the first time, a single by The Beatles featured just the one singer. They also did away with their signature harmonies, although the early version featured on Anthology 1 in 1995 revealed they were originally intended. In this version, the bluesy feel is also more apparent. It’s an interesting version, but the finished product has more swagger.

Critics of Can’t Buy Me Love consider it something of a step back in The Beatles’ swift progression. Possibly so, but it’s as good as any of their early singles to me, and the ditching of the backing vocals, when so many other acts had began copying them, actually suggests a progression of sorts to me.

The lyrics may seem somewhat trite, especially coming from a man who was already becoming very wealthy, but there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly George Harrison’s stinging rockabilly guitar solo. I used to think this had been double-tracked, but it is in fact simply an overdub, recorded when back in England, over the top of the original, that you can hear in the background.

By the time it was released, the British Invasion was in full swing, and Can’t Buy Me Love broke several records in the US chart, including becoming the only time an artist had three number 1s in a row, and the only time one act held the top five positions. This record in particular is unlikely to ever be broken.

The song featured on The Beatles’ third album, A Hard Day’s Night, their first LP made up entirely of original songs, and made it onto the film soundtrack side. It featured twice in Richard Lester’s movie, which the band were in the process of filming when the single was released. Most famously, it was used in the surreal scene in which the group break free and run around a field. This was originally to feature I’ll Cry Instead, but it was understandably considered too downbeat. Once filming was complete, and with the UK, France and US conquered, it was time to take over the rest of the world.

Written by: John Lennon & Paul McCartney

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 April) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

The Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage – 3 April
Scottish historian Niall Ferguson – 18 April
Actor Andy Serkis – 20 April 

Meanwhile…

16 April: Sentencing wass passed on 11 men for their roles in the Great Train Robbery, with seven receiving 30 years each.

18 April: Liverpool, by now considered the musical hotspot of the UK, won the Football League First Division title for the sixth time.

20 April: The Queen’s new son’s name was officially registered as Edward.
That night was supposed to see BBC Two begin broadcasting. However, the start of Britain’s third television channel was scuppered by power cuts, and actually began a day later, with children’s show Play School becoming its first programme. BBC Television Service became known as BBC One.

159. Gerry and the Pacemakers with Orchestra conducted by George Martin – You’ll Never Walk Alone (1963)

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When Gerry and the Pacemakers chose to record You’ll Never Walk Alone from the musical Carousel as their third single, manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin couldn’t understand why they’d want to mess with the uptempo pop formula that had scored them two number 1s. Not only did Gerry Marsden prove them wrong, making his group the first act in the UK to reach the top with their first three singles, he also helped turn the song into Liverpool FC’s anthem, and one the city has turned to at times of tragedy.

Originally written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, the song first appeared in the second act of the 1945 musical. The character Nettie Fowler sings it to her cousin Julie Jordan to comfort her following the suicide of her husband, Billy. It is later reprised by the cast at her daughter Louise’s graduation. The emotional lyrics of this torch song made it perfect for those who had lost family members during World War Two, and Frank Sinatra was the first star to take it into the US charts that year. During the 50s, rock’n’rollers such as Gene Vincent and Johnny Preston also released versions.

Marsden had always admired the song, and he and the Pacemakers had featured it in their live shows for several years. He had noted how popular ballads had become for The Beatles in their shows, and wanted to do the same. He did however want to make the song sound less like a showtune and more contemporary, and with Martin’s help did just that.

This version starts shakily, and, having not heard this version in a long time, I wondered if Marsden was going to be up to the task. His voice doesn’t sound capable initially, but by the end, he’s knocked it out of the park, to use a tired old football analogy. I’m not sure about Martin’s strings – his arrangements for The Beatles were always perfect but I feel like they sound slightly tacky at the start, but they do make for a great finale. It’s also interesting to hear Marsden moving away from the cheeky chappie of the first two singles – he sounds suitably sincere.

The story goes that before a match at the Kop, Liverpool FC (who weren’t yet one of the most dominant teams in club football) treated the fans to a rundown of the top 10. When it was announced that a local act had reached number 1 (again), the crowd went wild and sang along. It subsequently went on to be played before every home game, and the rest was history. Eventually the song was adopted by other teams too.

Many covers continued to be released, perhaps the best coming from Elvis Presley. Pink Floyd tacked a field recording of the Kop choir performing it on the end of their track Fearless from their 1971 album Meddle. I’m not sure why they chose to do so, but it makes for an intriguing and powerful finish.

Gerry and the Pacemakers narrowly missed out on four consecutive number 1s with I’m the One, which had been written by Marsden. He and the band began writing more original material, and they became part of the ‘British Invasion’ in the US. Future singles included Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying and another signature tune that became important to Liverpool – Ferry Cross the Mersey.

In 1965 they starred in their own feature film, with the same name, which was their attempt at making their own A Hard Day’s Night. But that year saw sales decline in both the UK and US. They were unable to move with the times, and the band split in 1966, just as The Beatles began to increase their experimentation. They held on to the record of ‘first three singles hitting number 1’ record until fellow Liverpudlians Frankie Goes to Hollywood repeated the hat trick in 1984.

Marsden went into light entertainment, taking on TV and theatre work. The 80s saw him return to number 1 twice with football-related charity singles. After Band Aid in 1984, such songs were all the rage, and the following year he assembled The Crowd to record a new version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, which raised money in the aftermath of the terrible Bradford Football Club stadium tragedy.

Then in 1989, the even more shocking events at Hillsborough led to a quick recording of Ferry Cross the Mersey. For this, Marsden teamed up with other Liverpool figures the Christians, Holly Johnson, Paul McCartney and Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Since then, Gerry and the Pacemakers have reformed and can be found on the nostalgia circuit.

Written by: Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II

Producer: George Martin

Weeks at number 1: 4 (31 October-27 November)

Births:

Comic actor Sanjeev Bhaskar – 31 October 
Def Leppard drummer Rick Allen – 1 November
Welsh footballer Mark Hughes – 1 November 
Footballer Ian Wright – 3 November 
Entertainer Lena Zavaroni – 4 November
Actor Hugh Bonneville – 10 November
Field hockey player Jon Potter – 
19 November
Mathematician William Timothy Gowers – 20 November 

Actress Nicollette Sheridan – 21 November
International Rugby League player Joe Lydon – 26 November

Deaths:

Writer Aldous Huxley – 22 November
Irish-born author CS Lewis – 22 November

Meanwhile…

22 November: You’ll Never Walk Alone held on to number 1 for most of November in 1963, making it an appropriately moving number 1 while the world mourned the assassination of US President John F Kennedy. The same day saw the deaths of two important English authors, namely 65-year-old CS Lewis, the author of the Narnia series of books, and Aldous Huxley, writer of Brave New World and the essay The Doors of Perception, which is where The Doors took their name from.

23 November: The first episode of long-running BBC children’s science-fiction series Doctor Who was transmitted. At around that time, 12-year-old John Kilbride should have been at home watching, but he was out at a market in Ashton-under-Lyne when he was approached by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. They offered him a lift home, telling him his parents would be worried about him being out so late, and coaxed him with the promise of a bottle of sherry. On the way, Brady suggested they visit the moor to look for a glove Hindley had lost.  Later that night, police began a missing persons investigation for the child.