114. The Everly Brothers (Arrangement by The Everly Brothers) – Walk Right Back/Ebony Eyes (1961)

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The Everly Brothers occupied the top of the charts for the third time for most of March 1961, with double A-side single, Walk Right Back/Ebony Eyes.

Walk Right Back had been written by their friend Sonny Curtis, who had performed with Buddy Holly and joined The Crickets as their vocalist after Holly’s death. He came up with the song while in the army and played it to Don and Phil while on leave. They liked it immediately and said they’d record it, but Curtis had only written one verse so far. He didn’t get the next verse to them in time, so the brothers simply sang the one verse they had, twice.

They might have done better to have waited, as Walk Right Back only really works as a neat little guitar lick. It’s far too chirpy for such sad lyrics, and a disappointment after All I Have to Do Is Dream and Cathy’s Clown, but those magic harmonies are still great to hear, and always uplift any song of theirs. Curtis would later do better, when he wrote the classic I Fought the Law.

Ebony Eyes is also a let-down. It was written by the bizarrely-named John D Loudermilk (what does the ‘D’ stand for? Nothing, apparently), who had written for artists including Eddie Cochran.

With teenage death songs such as Tell Laura I Love Her all the rage, Ebony Eyes tells the sad story of a young man who lost his fiancée in an airplane crash during stormy conditions. She was on board, Flight 1203, which was lost in skies as dark as his lover’s ebony eyes. It’s a bit hokey and maudlin to my ears, and is made even more so by Don’s ill-advised spoken word performance. The brothers had tried their hand at acting lessons, which he had hated, so why he decided to play the song’s protagonist, I don’t know. Sadly, no version of him bursting into laughter exists as far as I’m aware (see my blog on Elvis Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?).

As usual, the sublime vocals raise the song above most fare of the time, but this single fails to reach their usual high standards.

Written by:
Walk Right Back: Sonny Curtis/Ebony Eyes: John D Loudermilk

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 3 (2-22 March)

Births:

Olympian javelin thrower Fatima Whitbread – 3 March 

Deaths:

Singer George Formby – 6 March
Conductor Thomas Beecham – 8 March 

Meanwhile…

6 March: Influential singer-songwriter, actor, comedian and cheeky ukelele maestro George Formby died of a heart attack, aged 56.

8 March: Edwin Bush is arrested in London for stabbing Elsie May Batten with an antique dagger from the shop in which he worked. He became the first British criminal to be identified using the Identikit system.

13 March: Five members of the Portland Spy Ring go on trial at the Old Bailey, accused of passing nuclear secrets to the Soviet Union.

20 March: Shakespeare Memorial Theatre changed its name to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

21 March: The Beatles made their first performance at the Cavern Club in Liverpool.

108. Roy Orbison – Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) (1960)

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Here’s the first of legendary US singer-songwriter Roy Orbison’s three stints at number 1. With his unique image, and distinct, at times astounding voice, Orbison’s life was sometimes tragic, but he is also rightly remembered as one of the greatest talents of his generation. So much so, as I write this a tour is imminent in which thousands of people have paid to see a hologram of ‘The Big O’ ‘performing’ alongside the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. Bruce Springsteen also name-checked this very song in his excellent Thunder Road.

Roy Kelton Orbison was born on 23 April 1936 in Vernon, Texas. His family struggled to find employment during the Great Depression, and eventually settled in Wink. He was a shy child, with poor eyesight and little confidence, but he loved to sing, and at the age of seven, his father bought him a guitar. He adored the country music of Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers, and was singing on a local radio show a year later. By the late 1940s, he was the presenter of the show.

Orbison and some friends formed The Wink Westerners while he was in high school. After graduating he enrolled at North Texas State College, and heard his fellow schoolmate Pat Boone had signed a recording contract. Boone would later have a UK number 1 with I’ll Be Home in 1956.

Orbison became determined to make his name in the music business, and like everybody was wowed upon seeing Elvis Presley on television for the first time. The Wink Westerners appeared on TV alongside Johnny Cash, who suggested that Orbison contact Sun Records owner Sam Phillips. A phone call between the two got nowhere, but later, The Wink Westerners changed their name to The Teen Kings, and their recording of Ooby Dooby changed Phillips’s mind. Signing to Sun, the band toured plenty but eventually split, with Orbison staying at Phillips’s house with his girlfriend, Claudette Frady.

The couple wed in 1957, and Orbison paid tribute to is wife with the song Claudette, which as a double A-side with the more famous All I Have to Do Is Dream, became the first number 1 for the Everly Brothers, and the biggest-selling UK single of 1958.

This was the step up Orbison needed, and the royalties meant he was able to buy his own Cadillac, but he was very different to your typical rock’n’roll star of the same time, and was just as shy as the child he had been growing up, causing many to wonder if he was cut out for showbusiness. His hair was already going white, causing him to dye his hair earlier than most, and in 1960, he didn’t always wear his famous glasses.

While researching this blog, the picture above surprised me, as he hadn’t yet developed his famous persona. He looks older in 1960 than he did before his death in 1988.

In 1958, Orbison was strumming his guitar in his car, as he often did, when songwriter Joe Melson tapped on the window. The duo decided to try writing songs together. Eventually Orbison signed with Monument Records, and he and Melson began working with producer Fred Foster. The trio, along with sound engineer Bill Porter, began work on new songs with sophisticated production techniques, involving string sections and backing singers that were close-miked.

The first release, Uptown, got nowhere, however, and Orbison began considering performing in nightclubs instead. They had worked on another song using the same sound, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel), and had tried selling it to Elvis and the Everlys, but both acts declined. Orbison decided to have a go himself, and once more they adopted a new method of production, by building the song around the vocals, with the band performing quietly in the background. The part of the title in brackets was added to differentiate the song from a tune Frank Sinatra had sang.

Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) begins in a style very reminiscent of an Everly Brothers track, with the backing vocalists singing over a gentle strum, until that unmistakable voice of Orbison’s enters. I’ve always admired Orbison’s singing, ever since hearing it from a young age. Nobody has ever sounded quite so distinct, before or since.

This track is a perfect introduction to the Orbison sound. Here’s a song for the unlucky-in-love, for the shy, for the broken-hearted. Here was a new type of musical hero, a sensitive soul that could help you get through trying times. Rather than yet another rock’n’roll star to be envious of, the Big O would have been much more identifiable to your more sensitive teenager. And although Roy Orbison would come up with better songs over the next few years, Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel) may be the best encapsulation of the Roy Orbison sound. Like his friends, The Everly Brothers, this was a new, more sophisticated form of pop, that would influence future musical idols. And that falsetto at the end is probably the most impressive vocal performance I’ve heard from a UK number 1 between 1952 and 1960.

Suddenly this shy singer-songwriter was a big star in the US and UK, and other musicians were wondering if this powerful voice had really come from their unassuming friend. Elvis regretted turning the song down (you can imagine him singing it, but could he sing about being a loser in love with such conviction?) and bought copies of the single for his friends. By the time Orbison next had a UK number 1, the musical landscape had changed dramatically.

Written by: Roy Orbison & Joe Melson

Producer: Fred Foster

Weeks at number 1: 2 (20 October-2 November)

Births:

Actress Finola Hughes – 29 October

Meanwhile…

25 October: Heavy fog causes two barges to collide with the Severn Railway Bridge. Two bridge spans collapsed, causing the barges to catch fire. Five people died in the incident, and the bridge was never repaired, eventually being demolished.

27 October: The British drama adaptation of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, starring Albert Finney, was released. It’s still considered one of the best British films of all time.

30 October: Michael Woodruff performed the first successful kidney transplant in the UK at Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

2 November: A landmark ruling saw Penguin Books found not guilty of obscenity for publishing DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover. The book quickly sold three million copies, and was a watershed moment for future publishing freedoms.

101. The Everly Brothers – Cathy’s Clown (1960)

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Country, pop and rock’n’roll duo The Everly Brothers went to number 1 for the second time with Cathy’s Clown. Like their previous number 1, All I Have to Do is Dream/Claudette in 1958, it stayed at the top for seven weeks.

Earlier in 1960 the duo had left Cadence Records and signed with Warner Bros. Records. Cathy’s Clown bore the UK catalogue number WB1, and was the first single released by the label in this country. Until this point, Warner Bros. Records had been struggling, and urgently needed a hit. The Everlys were reportedly given $1million to come up with one, and did not disappoint.

Originally credited to both Don and Phil, in 1980 a deal was struck to make Don the sole songwriter. This song had been inspired by one of his ex-girlfriends, who one can only assume had dumped him, and the music was influenced by Andre Kostelanetz’s version of the orchestral Grand Canyon Suite.

Cathy’s Clown proved to be one of the most influential songs of the early 60s, and still appears in lists of the greatest songs of all time. Coming after so many average number 1s, its sophistication marks it as head and shoulders above the competition. It’s all about those rolling drums and the chorus that follows. This was the first number 1 to feature a drum loop, created by engineer Bill Porter looping drummer Buddy Harman and getting him to play on top, manually adding the loop at the start of each chorus.

And what a chorus. The Everly Brothers really did produce harmonies like nobody that had come before them, and the voices are just perfect on Cathy’s Clown. You can easily see the influence on The Beatles, (who at one point considered calling themselves The Foreverly Brothers), particularly on their second single, Please Please Me.

The lyrics have caused confusion over the years, but to me it seems that Cathy’s clown is the singer of the song, and he’s being repeatedly made to look stupid by Cathy, who’s been cheating on him. His friends consider him a clown, but he can’t help going back for more, despite insisting in the chorus that he’s had enough. These lyrics, like the production, are a cut above your average 1960 fare. The fact it’s probably based on what happened to poor Don and his ex makes the song that bit more authentic. The Everlys did heartbreak very well – see also Bye Bye Love.

Cathy’s Clown became the first single to simultaneously hit number 1 in the US and UK, and they more than lived up to Warner Bros. Records’ expectations. Further hits and number 1s followed, making them one of the greatest acts of the early years of the 60s.

The credits for the song are still contentious to this day, however. Following Phil’s death, his remaining family reasserted their rights to royalties. Don sued them to get the rights back in November 2017.

Written by: Don Everly & Phil Everly

Producer: Wesley Rose

Weeks at number 1: 7 (5 May-22 June) 

Births:

Actress Roma Downey – 6 May
Dire Straits keyboardist Guy Fletcher – 24 May
Actress Kristin Scott Thomas – 24 May
‘Chaser’ Shaun Wallace – 2 June
Actor Bradley Walsh – 4 June
Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall – 8 June
Duran Duran bassist John Taylor – 20 June 

Deaths:

Mathematician JHC Whitehead – 8 May
Politician Sir Maurice Bonham Carter – 7 June

Meanwhile…

6 May: Princess Margaret married photographer Antony Armstrong-Jones at Westminster Abbey. Margaret had been in love with Peter Townsend, and he had proposed to her in 1953. However, Townsend was divorced and the wedding would have caused ructions in Cabinet, and flown in the face of Royal tradition, and in the end she turned him down. However, Margaret allegedly accepted Armstrong-Jones’s proposal the day after learning that Townsend was to marry Marie-Luce Jamagne, a young woman who bore a strong resemblance to Margaret. This was the first Royal wedding to be televised, but by 1978 they had divorced.

7 May: Wolverhampton Wanderers won the FA Cup for the fourth time, defeating Blackburn Rovers 3-0 at Wembley Stadium.