199. The Byrds – Mr Tambourine Man (1965)

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After failing to win the general election in 1964, Sir Alec Douglas-Home found himself on borrowed time as leader of the Conservatives, yet it was still a surprise when he announced his resignation on 22 July. During his time as party leader he had set up the means in which the next leader would be voted in, and so five days later Edward Heath won a secret ballot, defeating Enoch Powell and Reginald Maudling to become the new Leader of the Opposition. Heath was something different for the Conservatives, as it was unusual for their leader to be from the lower-middle class. As new Prime Minister Harold Wilson had deliberately played down his posh roots, and it had helped his public image no end, this was probably a canny move by the Conservatives.

While the Tories searched for their leader, former world light heavyweight boxing champion Freddie Mills was found in his car after being shot on 24 July. Mills died the next day. He had gone into light entertainment following his retirement from boxing and the news shocked the country. It is still not known exactly what happened, but the police ruled his death was a suicide. Despite being a family man, Mills was rumoured to be homosexual, and that combined with the fact he owed money to a crime syndicate, meant all kinds of rumours have circulated, including him being a serial killer, being in a relationship with former number 1 artist Michael Halliday, or that he was sexually involved with Ronnie Kray.

29 July saw the premiere of the Beatles new film, Help! (more on that next time), and three days later, cigarette advertising was banned from British television.

At number 1 during this fortnight was the Byrds’ interpretation of Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man. The Animals had kick-started folk rock when they covered The House of the Rising Sun, but this single took folk rock to a whole new level. The Byrds were also heavily influenced by the Beatles, who in turn would be influenced by them. Music was about to get a lot more colourful.

The origin of the Byrds began in 1964 when Jim McGuinn, Gene Clark and David Crosby first worked together. All three had previously been folk singers on the coffeehouse circuit in the early-1960s. McGuinn had also worked as a professional singwriter at Brill Building, and his tutor was Bobby Darin, a UK number 1 artist twice. By the time 1964 began, McGuinn had introduced Beatles songs to his repertoire. Clark also loved the moptops, and approached McGuinn after watching him perform at LA’s Troubadour folk club. They decided to become a Peter and Gordon-style duo and also wrote their own material. David Crosby in turn approached them after a concert, and he began harmonising with them on stage. They named themselves the Jet Set due to McGuinn’s love of aeronautics, and began recording demos.

By mid-1964 they had hired a drummer. Michael Clarke certainly looked the part, coming across like Brian Jones, but he could barely play the congas and didn’t own a drumkit, so he played cardboard boxes and a tamboruine to begin with. They hired session musicians to record a single, Please Let Me Love You, and briefly changed their name to the Beefeaters to cash in on the British Invasion, but it didn’t chart. That August their manager Jim Dickson had got hold of an acetate of Bob Dylan’s Mr Tambourine Man.

Dylan had written the track earlier that year and first recorded it during the sessions for Another Side of Bob Dylan. His version was four verses of beautiful, surrealistic imagery, with lyrics completely different to anything that had topped the charts before. Dylan was fast becoming as hip and influential as the Beatles, and of course Zimmerman and the Fab Four soon crossed paths.

Despite this, the Jet Set weren’t really sure what to make of it at first. They changed the time signature and cut right back to one verse, but still had doubts. In an effort to persuade them, Dickson brought Dylan along to watch them play his song. According to Johnny Rogan in his book The Byrds: Timeless Flight Revisited (1998), an uncharacteristically enthusiastic Dylan said to the Jet Set ‘Wow, man! You can dance to that!’. His postivity rubbed off on them.

Also that summer, they watched A Hard Day’s Night (1964) and decided they needed to have the same gear as John, Paul, George and Ringo. The most important purchase to contribute to their developing sound was McGuinn’s 12-string Rickenbacker. In October, Dickson hired mandolin player Chris Hillman to be their bassist. Hillman brought country influences into the group for the first time. On November 10, thanks to their manager’s connections, and a recommendation from jazz legend Miles Davis, the Jet Set prepared for take-off by signing with Columbia. Over Thanksgiving dinner the four-piece changed their name to the Byrds, another tribute to their beloved Beatles.

On 20 January 1965 the Byrds went to record Mr Tambourine Man in Columbia Studios, Hollywood as their debut single, but producer Terry Melcher wasn’t convinced they could pull it off. He decided to be cautious and instead hired the famous session musicians the Wrecking Crew. Other than McGuinn, Clark and Crosby’s vocals, McGuinn’s guitar is the only sound on the single that belongs to the band.

Not that it really matters, as this beautiful recording is all about the vocals and guitar anyway. The Byrds may have gutted the song’s lyrics, but they fleshed out the sound, adding dreamlike, colourful shading to the words. Dare I say these colours were psychedelic? Despite wearing their influences brazenly on their sleeves, the Byrds truly were something new for the pop scene at that point. They may have still been getting their act together musically, but they were certainly moving in the right circles, meaning half the battle was already won. They looked incredibly hip, and the first signs of the US counterculture became keen followers.

The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride had broken the mould for hinting at where pop lyrics could go, but by taking Dylan and melding his abstract writing to their sound, the Byrds were, appropriately, reaching new heights. Ironically, it knocked the Hollies’ I’m Alive from the top spot, meaning David Crosby toppled his future band member Graham Nash in the UK. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Their debut single went to number 1 on both sides of the Atlantic, and they convinced Melcher they were ready to record their debut album, which went by the same name. Listening to it this week, it sounds no different to the Wrecking Crew, so perhaps Melcher was worrying for nothing.  Having said that, their UK tour soon after was poorly-received. They certainly didn’t have the charisma of the Beatles or the Rolling Stones.

The Byrds were soon enveloping religious text, more Dylan songs, even Vera Lynn war anthems with their signature sound. Early the following year they released their groundbreaking single Eight Miles High, one of the first psychedelic classics. Ironically, prior to the release, Clark quit the band due to his fear of flying. He became a critically-acclaimed solo artist with songs including Dark of My Moon. but was troubled and unable to eclipse the Byrds, dying in 1991 from heart failure. Third album Fifth Dimension was released in the summer of 1966, and the band further explored jazz and raga influences. Just as psychedelia went overground, they began adding country to their sound in 1967, and So You Want to Be a Rock’n’Roll Star is believed to be a jibe at the Monkees. That same year saw Jim McGuinn find religion and change his name to Roger, and tensions erupt within the band. They sacked their management and during the sessions for what would become The Notorious Byrd Brothers (1968), Michael Clarke quit. McGuinn and Hillman were growing tired of Crosby’s out-there opinions that the press would gleefully report. They drove to his house, told him they were better off without him, and sacked him. Crosby went on to form one of rock’s first supergroups with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, and later on Neil Young. Their first album in particular is a classic, and this lowly writer had the great pleasure of seeing Crosby, Stills & Nash perform at Glastonbury 2009.

Line-ups in the Byrds changed over and over from then on, most notably with the addition and departure of Gram Parsons, who helped the Byrds embrace country to a greater extent and resulted in their acclaimed Sweethearts of the Rodeo album (1968). However, the hippies were annoyed at the lack of psychedelia, and the country establishment were just as annoyed at this hippy band trying their hand at country.

Around this time, the producer of Mr Tambourine Man, Terry Melcher, had a fall-out with a struggling wannabe musician called Charles Manson. The fact the producer refused to work with such an eccentric enraged Manson, and ultimately led to to the murder of Sharon Tate and others at Melcher’s former home.

1969 was a more successful year for the Byrds. Ballad of Easy Rider became the theme to the classic movie Easy Rider (1969) (albeit a solo McGuinn version) and the excellent Wasn’t Born to Follow also featured on the soundtrack. But the 70s saw the law of dimishing returns come into effect, and by 1972, McGuinn broke up the band for a lucrative reunion of the original five-piece. Predictably enough, this didn’t last long as egos had only grown over the years. Several versions of the Byrds came and went until the original five reformed for the last time to tie-in with being entered into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The reunion was timely, as Clark died soon after. and Clarke also died two years later of liver disease.

Despite Crosby and HIllman being publicly in favour of some kind of Byrds reunion, McGuinn always refuses. Earlier in 2018, however, he and Hillman celebrated the 50th anniversary of Sweetheart of the Rodeo with a tour. For as long as these three are still alive, there will always be an audience for a Byrds reunion, though, and money talks, so I wouldn’t rule it out.

Written by: Bob Dylan

Producer: Terry Melcher

Weeks at number 1: 2 (22 July-4 August)

Births:

Author JK Rowling – 31 July
Director Sam Mendes – 1 August 

Deaths:

Boxer Freddie Mills – 25 July 

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

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The 1964 general election took place on 15 October, 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. Two days later he 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.

Meanwhile, a suitably upbeat track was at number 1, courtesy of… Roy Orbison? Yes, the Big O was third-time lucky at number 1, and he 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). Anyone who was aware 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 1970s 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.

Also in the news during Orbison’s final number 1 stint… 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.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Bill Dees

Producer: Fred Foster

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

177. The Kinks – You Really Got Me (1964)

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14 September saw the final edition of the left-wing newspaper Daily Herald. The paper had supported the Labour Party since its inception in 1912. IPC relaunched it as The Sun the following day. In these pre-Rupert Murdoch days, The Sun was also left-wing. How times have changed. On the same day, Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home called a general election for 15 October. He had put it off for as long as possible, as the Conservatives were performing badly in opinion polls. Now, he and new Labour leader Harold Wilson were due a showdown.

Meanwhile, in the charts, those future classics kept reaching number 1 and pushing boundaries. What a run of chart-toppers the latter half of 1964 had seen. There seemed to be a growing fashion for seeing how simplistic and basic a hit single could be. The most groundbreaking and influential of this period has to be You Really Got Me by the Kinks. One of the most important bands of the 1960s were struggling and finding their feet until Ray Davies hit upon that gargantuan life-changing riff and created the first number 1 that could be classified as rock, and an early prototype of heavy metal.

Ray and Dave Davies were the youngest of eight, and the only boys in their family. Ray was born in June 1944 and Dave in February 1947. They were raised in Muswell Hill, London. Music was everywhere in the Davies household – their parents loved music hall and their sisters were into rock’n’roll. The Kinks would use both genres as inspiration. Ray and Dave would fall out like any brothers do, but they bonded over music, particularly skiffle, and both learned to play guitar. They formed the Ray Davies Quartet at secondary school with Pete Quaife and his friend John Start. They struggled to find a permanent vocalist, and a fellow student called Rod Stewart was one of many who came and went during 1962. Stewart went on to form a rival band, Rod Stewart and the Moonrakers.

Later that year, Ray left home to study at Hornsey College of Art. While there he joined  a couple of groups, including the Dave Hunt Band. Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones was briefly their drummer. He left Hornsey in spring 1963 with the intention of studying film at the Central School of Art and Design, and around that time the Ray Davies Quartet, of which he had remained a member, changed their name to the Ramrods. After several name changes, including the Pete Quaife Band, they settled on the Ravens. They decided to try and make music a professional career, and among their early managers was former pop star Larry Page, and they were already working with American producer Shel Talmy, who had co-produced the Bachelors’ Diane. The Ravens failed at several auditions until Talmy secured them a contract with Pye Records. Shortly before then their second drummer Mickey Willet had left, so the band invited Mick Avory to complete the legendary line-up. Avory’s background was in jazz drumming, and had played one gig as the drummer in the Rolling Stones. Yet another connection between two of the most famous 60s groups.

The Ravens were all set to release their debut single in January 1964, but first they decided they needed a new name to stand out. Several versions of how they ended up as the Kinks exist, but Ray insists it was Page’s idea and he was referencing their ‘kinky’ fashion sense. Ray has never been much of a fan of the name. A cover of Little Richard’s Long Tall Sally was their first single, but it wasn’t great, and sank without trace. The Beatles version on the Long Tall Sally EP later the same year was much better. The Ray Davies-penned second single You Still Want Me fared no better, and was also lacklustre.

You Really Got Me, one of the first five songs Ray Davies ever wrote, was written at his piano that March. It was originally intended as a light, jazz-oriented piece. Ray intended for the mighty riff the tune was built around to be performed on saxophone. The lusty lyrics were influenced by an encounter with one of the group’s first serious female fans. It was his brother Dave that suggested taking the song down a heavier path by arguing it would sound much better if the riff was played by his guitar. The brothers also apparently had in mind the Kingsmen’s classic version of Louie Louie.

The Kinks laid down a bluesy-style demo that summer. A full studio version of You Really Got Me was slower than the single release, but after recording it in June, they ran into problems. Pye were unhappy with the group’s sales and refused to fund any further recording on this track. It was at this point that Ray’s refusal to back down established him as leader of the group. Due to the stalemate, Talmy agreed to cover the costs, and the Kinks went to an independent studio and recorded their third single in two takes.

This time, the Kinks captured the essence of the song. The lyrics were pure full-on sexual frustration, and thanks to Dave Davies they created a sound that would match. It was the guitarist’s idea to distort the sound by slicing the speaker cone of his amplifier with a razor blade and poking it with a pin. What a sound. It was sleazy, nasty and like nothing heard before. And amazingly, where so much rock music has dated, You Really Got Me never ceases to sound anything but fresh to me. With this song, the Kinks were as innovative as the Beatles and as dangerous as the Rolling Stones. And is that the best guitar solo yet to feature in a number 1? I think so. It’s certainly the wildest and most freewheeling. Perhaps because Davies never recorded a solo this good again, it has been a rumour ever since that Jimmy Page is the man behind it. However, the Led Zeppelin axeman has stated many times, to some annoyance, that Dave Davies was the man on the recording. There are session men on there, however, namely Bobby Graham on drums, with Avory relegated to tambourine, and Arthur Greenslade on piano. Graham played on many number 1s over the years, by artists including Englebert Humperdink, Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield.

You Really Got Me is also, as far as I can gather, the first number 1 to contain a swear word. I always thought this accolade went to Hey Jude, where you can clearly hear someone say ‘fucking hell’ after making a mistake at 2:58 (I always thought this was Lennon, but Lennon claimed it was McCartney). But in Ray Davies’ autobiography The Storyteller (1998), he says Dave shouts ‘Fuck off.’ at him at the drum break before his solo. Apparently, Ray had shouted across at his little brother to gee him up, but it just threw Dave. When he recorded his vocal, Ray deliberately tried to cover this up, and that’s why you hear him shout ‘Oh no!’. However, despite Ray claiming in his book that you can still clearly hear Dave, I can’t. Special mention should also go to those foreboding backing vocals, the rising ‘aaahs’ as Ray approaches the chorus. Genius, all in all.

Demand for You Really Got Me became so high that Pye put all their over releases on hold so they could produce enough copies. The Kinks had proven their record label wrong, and how. The song proved highly influential, most directly for a new band called the Who. After years of bad blood, it was this song that the Davies brothers chose to perform together in December 2015, which set into motion a likely Kinks reunion.

Written by: Ray Davies

Producer: Shel Talmy

Weeks at number 1: 2 (10-23 September)

Births:

Author Simon Singh – 19 September 

Deaths:

Art critic Clive Bell – 18 September 

158. Brian Poole and the Tremeloes – Do You Love Me? (1963)

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Knocking the Beatles’ She Loves You from the top on its first stint was Do You Love Me? by Brian Poole and the Tremeloes on 10 October. Someone who may have been asking himself the same question that day was the Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan. The Conservatives were plummeting in opinion polls, thanks in large part to the Profumo affair, and Macmillan had only just scraped through a parliamentary vote on his leadership. The 69-year-old had been struck down with prostate problems on the eve of the Conservative conference a few days earlier, and was operated on for prostate cancer. Although his doctor said he would be well enough to continue to run the country, Macmillan decided he had been offered a way out. He officially resigned from his hospital bed on 18 October, and was succeeded a day later by Alec Douglas-Home. This proved controversial, as Douglas-Home was sitting in the House of Lords. To become Prime Minister, he renounced his peerage. A rather stiff, old-fashioned figure, like Macmillan before him, Douglas-Home looked decidedly outdated compared to Labour leader Harold Wilson, who was quickly gaining popularity.

Decca Records, the label of Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, must have been relieved when their act toppled the Beatles from number 1, as they had famously opted for them and turned the Fab Four down at auditions held on the same day – New Year’s Day 1962. As a London-based band, with a radio following, it had made commercial sense to do so.

Singer Brian Poole (b. 1941) grew up in Barking, east London. He met two Alans, Blakley and Howard, at secondary school, and a shared love of rock’n’roll saw the original formation of the Tremeloes in 1956. Poole took on vocals and guitar, with Blakley also on guitar and Howard on bass. Guitarist Graham Scott also joined up, with the line-up completed by drummer Dave Munden in 1957. Then known as just the Tremeloes, they quickly amassed a strong local following. Upon signing with Decca, they insisted the band became Brian Poole and the Tremloes, to follow prevailing fashions. Like other Merseybeat acts, they were in awe of rock’n’roll, Motown and other soul records, and their first single was their version of the Isley Brothers’ Twist and Shout, which came after the Beatles made it their album-closer on Please Please Me. They decided to cover similar ground with their follow-up, taking on the Contours’ classic from 1962.

Motown CEO Berry Gordy Jr had written Do You Love Me? with the Temptations in mind, but was struggling to find them. In the meantime he ran into the Contours and they performed a run-through. They were on the verge of being dropped, so were keen to make it theirs, but some band members believed it to be a pale imitation of Twist and Shout. They soon changed their tune when it became a huge hit.

Brian Poole and the Tremeloes clearly saw no problem in Do You Love Me? being so similar to their debut and were right to do so. The similarity is too close for my liking though, particularly near the end as they scream and shout their way into the chorus in exactly the same way the Beatles did in Twist and Shout. Ultimately, this number 1, although fast-paced and a very good facsimile of the Merseybeat sound, is a little bit too like a karaoke version for my liking. Poole doesn’t have the vocal prowess of Billy Gordon, and his spoken-word introduction is a little cringe-worthy. There’s some nice flourishes from the rhythm section, though.

The original has of course remained popular due in large part to its appearance in 1987 hit film Dirty Dancing. For me though, it tends to conjure up images of a young Jason Bateman as a werewolf in shoddy sequel, Teen Wolf Too, which came later that year.

Written by: Berry Gordy Jr

Producer: Mike Smith

Weeks at number 1: 3 (10-30 October)

Births:

Northern Irish footballer Alan McDonald – 12 October