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.

197. Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires- Crying in the Chapel (1965)

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After a two-year absence, Elvis Presley was back at the top for the 15th time with his cover of Crying in the Chapel.

‘The King’ had been in the doldrums somewhat since (You’re the) Devil in Disguise musically. His movie career was still very active, but the quality had continued to slide. Although Viva Las Vegas performed well in the summer of 1964. Presley turned 30 in 1965. Had he chose to respond to the British Invasion with a brave, bold new musical direction that had captured the imagination of record buyers once more?

Not quite. Crying in the Chapel actually dated from 1960, making it the longest gap for a number 1 single between the song’s recording and its release up to this point. The song was a gospel number written by Artie Glenn for his son Darrell in 1953. It reached number six in the US and was covered many times, by artists including Ella Fitzgerald and The Orioles. Elvis had grown up with a love of gospel, and recorded his version with the intention of including it on his fifth album His Hand in Mine, which was entirely gospel-based. However, by the end of the one long marathon recording session for the album, the band were exhausted, and The Jordanaires were particularly unhappy with their performance, so it was left off the album.

Colonel Tom Parker liked it, but at the time he refused to let Presley release anything his company didn’t own the publishing rights to, and Valley Publishing refused to do a deal, so the song stayed in the vaults. By 1965 though, Hill and Range Publishing had bought them out, and so Crying in the Chapel was finally released, and record buyers forgave any lethargy they may have heard to give Presley his final UK number 1 of the 60s.

It’s a pleasant enough song, with the hushed, intimate performance reminiscent of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, but the track isn’t anywhere near up to that standard. The production marks it as belonging to a different era, and it sounds so old-fashioned compared to most of 1965’s other chart-toppers. But it fitted in with the family-friendly image Presley had held on to since leaving the army, and the older generation must have been glad to see the once raunchy, dangerous Elvis back with a nice song about God.

Following the success of Crying in the Chapel, Parker thought there might be something in the idea of turning Presley into a Christian entertainer. Fortunately by the time of the 1969 comeback special, Elvis finally had the courage to travel his own path. Sadly, not for nearly long enough, though.

After a week at the top, Crying in the Chapel was usurped from number 1 by The Hollies with I’m Alive. A week later though it enjoyed one more week in pole position, before I’m Alive knocked it down again.

Written by: Artie Glenn

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 2 (17-23 June, 1-7 July)

Births:

Fashion designer Sadie Frost – 19 June
Radio DJ Jo Whiley – 4 July

Deaths:

Cricketer Wally Hammond – 1 July 

Meanwhile…

17 June: Frank Marcus’ farce The Killing of Sister George premiered at the Duke of York’s Theatre, becoming one of the first mainstream British plays to feature lesbian characters. Beryl Reid was in the title role.

18 June: The government announced plans for the introduction of a blood alcohol limit for drivers. Amazing it had taken so long, really.

22 June: The 700th anniversary of Parliament was celebrated.

6 July: A tragic accident happened in Little Baldon, Oxfordshire when a Royal Air Force Handley Page Hastings crashed just after take-off from RAF Abingdon on a parachute training exercise. All 41 men on board were killed.

117. Floyd Cramer – On the Rebound (1961)

Floyd-Cramer-Getty-Michael-Ochs-Archives-circa-1961-copy.jpgNumber 1 for a week in May, On the Rebound saw a much-demanded session musician step out into the spotlight and become a star in his own right. Pianist Floyd Cramer was one of the key architects of the ‘Nashville sound’, a sophisticated version of country music that had originated in the mid-50s.

Cramer had been born in Shreveport, Louisiana on 27 October 1933. He grew up in the small town of Huttig, Arkansas, where he taught himself to play the piano after his parents bought him one for his fifth birthday.

After graduating, he returned to Louisiana and found work at radio station KWKH, where he began backing honky tonk stars and even toured with Hank Williams. Despite making his name as a session musician, he actually recorded his first solo single, Dancin’ Diane, in 1953. Two years later, he found himself touring with an up-and-coming singer named Elvis Presley.

1955 proved an important year for Cramer, as he finally moved to Nashville at the instigation of one of the Nashville sound’s figureheads, songwriter and producer Chet Atkins. Over the next few years, Cramer, along with Atkins, Owen Bradley, Harold Bradley, Fred Carter and The Jordanaires, worked with some of American music’s most influential stars, including UK number 1 artists Elvis, Roy Orbison and The Everly Brothers.

Key to Cramer’s success was the ‘slip note’ style of playing he developed, in which he would often hit out-of-key notes before sliding into the right one, which created a kind of slurring sound that fitted perfectly with the country music he was working on. Cramer first used ‘slip note’ at a session for Hank Locklin’s Please Help Me, I’m Falling, when Atkins asked Cramer to copy Don Robertson’s playing on the demo. However, it was Cramer that ran with this style and made it his own.

In 1960 he had a hit with the memorable instrumental Last Date, which peaked at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Ironically, he was kept from the top spot by Presley’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, on which he had also played. Last Date was later covered by REM, among others.

A year later, the self-penned title track of his new album On the Rebound, also narrowly missed out on topping the US charts, but it did the business in the UK.

I was surprised just how much I enjoyed this track. I was half expecting something along the lines of Russ Conway’s number 1s, Side Saddle and Roulette, but On the Rebound really is a cut above. With instrumentals, you either need a really good central riff, or enough elements to keep the listener interested, and this track does both. It’s laden with hooks, punchy, and sounds pretty modern, thanks to Atkins’ production, with Cramer’s skills impressing over stirring string stabs. There’s been a lot of disappointing number 1s so far in 1961. This is one of the better ones.

Cramer continued to release his own work alongside session performances, often covering the hits of the time. From 1965 to 1974 he annually recorded an album of the year’s hits, titled The Class of… As a fan of The Monkees, I wouldn’t mind hearing Floyd Cramer Plays the Monkees, from 1967, or maybe Floyd Cramer and the Keyboard Kick Band from 10years later, in which Cramer played eight different keyboards. His final chart hit was his own version of the theme to US soap opera Dallas in 1980. Cramer died of lung cancer on New Year’s Eve 1997, aged 64.

Written by: Floyd Cramer

Producer: Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 1 (18-24 May)

115. Elvis Presley – Wooden Heart (1961)

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It came as no surprise that the best-selling single of 1961 was by Elvis Presley. However, I would have hoped it would be one of his better tracks, something of similar quality to Are You Lonesome Tonight?. As history has proven time and time again in the charts though, it’s that some artists can release any old tat, and that often, there’s no accounting for taste when it comes to the number 1 single.

Here is a prime example. Wooden Heart is probably Elvis’ recording nadir, and yet it stayed at the top for a ridiculous six weeks.

The song was based on the German folk song Muss i denn by Friedrich Silcher. It’s possible that, as with It’s Now Or Never, Elvis heard the original while based in West Germany and fancied recording it, but if so, he never admitted to it. This is understandable. It took four people to adapt this song, and the guilty party are Elvis soundtrack collaborators Fred Wise, Ben Wiseman and Kay Twomey, along with German bandleader Bert Kaempfert. A year later, Kaempfert hired The Beatles to back Tony Sheridan on his album, My Bonnie, released in 1962.

It featured in Elvis’s new movie, GI Blues, in which he played the magnificently-named Tulsa McLean, a solider serving in West Germany who also has a music career. Wherever did they draw the inspiration for this particular plot? I haven’t seen the film, and definitely have no intention of doing so, but he sings Wooden Heart to a puppet. Let that sink in for a minute. It would seem that Elvis’s transformation from dangerous heart-throb to family entertainer was complete.

Is there anything good to say about Wooden Heart? I suppose you could argue it was a brave decision for Presley to turn his hand to something so different from his standard fare. And, annoyingly, it is rather catchy. But so catchy it deserved to be number 1 for six weeks? No. The lyrics are trite, too, and half way through, Elvis starts singing the words to Muss i den, then a translation of the new lyrics at the end. Maybe this was his weird way of paying tribute to the country he lived in for two years? I really don’t know.

Wooden Heart didn’t even get released as a single in the US, so the people behind him may have known it might cause his reputation some damage. However, a cover by Joe Dowell later made it to number 1, so there’s the proof that US audiences were as bad as British. Eventually, Elvis’s version was sneaked out as the B-side to Blue Christmas in 1964.

Written by: Fred Wise, Ben Weisman, Kay Twomey & Bert Kaempfert 

Producer: Steve Sholes

Weeks at number 1: 6 (23 March-3 May) *BEST-SELLING SINGLE OF THE YEAR*

Births:

Conservative leader William Hague – 26 March
Rugby league player Ellery Hanley – 27 March
Filmmaker Michael Winterbottom – 29 March
Actor Robert Caryle – 14 April
Fashion designer Bella Freud – 17 April
Actor Nicholas Lyndhurst – 20 April
Chef Phil Vickery – 2 May

Deaths:

Artist Vanessa Bell – 7 April 

Meanwhile…

17 April: Tottenham Hotspur won the Football League First Division title for the second time, defeating Sheffield Wednesday 2-1. They have failed to win it since.

27 April: Sierra Leone became the latest country to gain independence from the UK – perhaps they discovered we had picked Wooden Heart as the best single available?

1 May: Betting shops become legal under the terms of the Betting and Gaming Act 1960, and 19 people died in a fire at the Top Storey Club, a nightclub in Bolton. This tragedy resulted in the swift passing of a new Licensing Act to improve fire safety.

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.

112. Elvis Presley with The Jordanaires – Are You Lonesome Tonight? (1961)

Elvis made it number 1 for the sixth time with his version of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, a ballad that had been written back in 1926 by vaudevillians Roy Turk and Lou Handman, and was a hit for a number of artists, including Vaughan Deleath, Gene Austin and Al Jolson.

Colonel Tom Parker rarely told Elvis what to sing, but asked him to record it because his wife, Marie, loved Austin’s version. Elvis, backing singers The Jordanaires and his band had finished recording his comeback album, and 1960’s best-selling single, It’s Now Or Never and decided to record Parker’s request at 4am on 4 April.

When it came time for him to record the vocals, Presley asked everyone to leave the studio and told co-producer Chet Atkins to turn the lights out. Perhaps embarrassed by the spoken word part, he wasn’t happy, and told Steve Sholes to throw the tape away as he couldn’t do it justice, Sholes, Atkins and engineer Bill Porter disagreed, and eventually everyone was happy. Depending on which story you believe, that sound you hear at the end (only really discernible with earphones) is either Elvis accidentally knocking a chair over in the dark, The Jordanaires bumping into their microphone stand, or one of the producer’s stapling a contract together.

To my ears, Are You Lonesome Tonight? is the King’s best number 1 since Jailhouse Rock, three years previous. It’s a beautiful song, and Elvis is in fine voice. It must have been quite something to listen to him recording in the dark. The Jordanaires are also used well, their voices used to create a comforting sound rather than smothering the song, which happened on occasion. Unfortunately, the spoken word section, with a reference to William Shakespeare’s As You Like It does date and spoil the song somewhat. When he powers through the song’s ending though, it’s quickly forgotten about, and the result is one of Elvis’s most memorable, soulful love songs. When this hit number 1, Elvis became the first act to have the number 1 single and album (the soundtrack to his movie GI Blues)

It soon became a staple track in his live sets, and featured in the 1968 comeback special, Singer Presents… ELVIS. It also featured in his first Las Vegas show the following year, and it was around this time that the famous ‘laughing version‘ was unofficially recorded. 50 seconds in, Elvis kills the mood by changing the lyrics from ‘Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there?’ to ‘Do you gaze at your bald head and wish you had hair?’ The rest of the song descends into farce, with backing singer Cissy Houston gamely soldiering on while Presley becomes unable to continue, laughing until the song’s climax. Whether this happened for a bit of fun, embarrassed by the spoken word section or because he was out of his head isn’t clear, but it’s an enjoyable, infectious outtake, and it’s nice to hear Elvis not take himself seriously. This version even charted in 1982.

Sadly it is clear by the time of this posthumous televised performance of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, recorded a couple of months before his death, that drugs were having a big effect. It’s a tragic sight to see a bloated, sweaty Elvis rambling before the song’s start, and spouting gibberish during the song, but, despite the fact he would soon be gone, when he puts the effort in, his voice sounds as great as ever.

Written by: Roy Turk & Lou Handman

Producers: Steve Sholes & Chet Atkins

Weeks at number 1: 4 (26 January-22 February)

Births:

Singer-songwriter Lloyd Cole – 31 January
Duran Duran guitarist Andy Taylor – 16 February
Labour MPs Angela and Maria Eagle – 17 February
Footballer Justin Fashanu – 19 February
Actress Imogen Stubbs – 20 February 

Deaths:

Cricketer Stan Nichols – 26 January 

Meanwhile…

5 February: The first edition of The Daily Telegraph newspaper’s weekend version, The Sunday Telegraph.

19 February: Police had to break up a demonstration outside the Belgian embassy in London. The protest was over the murder of the ex-Prime Minster of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Patrice Lumumba.

111. Johnny Tillotson – Poetry in Motion (1961)

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1961 was an unusual year for number 1s. There was more movement at the summit of the charts than ever before, with a whopping 21 chart-toppers. Many were short-lived, lasting only a week at a time, and it’s tough to work out a trend or scene that may have had an impact. Elvis Presley could still do no wrong, and had four number 1s, more this year than any other artist had managed in 12 months before.

Unusually, Cliff didn’t score any new number 1s this year, but was still a regular in the upper reaches. There was still a place for rock’n’roll, but with many of the greats already gone, the scene was missing some of the initial excitement and danger.

As is often the case, the year got off to a fairly unexciting start, with singer-songwriter Johnny Tillotson’s Poetry in Motion knocking Cliff Richard and The Shadows’ I Love You from the top and enjoying a fortnight at number 1.

Tillotson was born 20 April 1939 in Jacksonville, Florida. Aged only nine, he was sent away to look after his grandmother in Palatka, which seems a lot for a young boy to contend with.

While at high school there he began to be known as a talented singer, and after gaining further notice in national talent contests, Archie Bleyer signed him to Cadence Records. He began releasing self-penned singles in 1958, and a cover of Earth Angel, making slight dints on the charts, but he made his name with Poetry In Motion, written by Mike Anthony and Paul Kaufman. Kaufman later claimed the inspiration came from the parade of schoolgirls he would see pass by his window every afternoon. In this day and age, he’d likely not reveal such info.

Bill Porter, by now the US’s most in-demand sound engineer, supervised the session. Among the musicians involved were saxophonist Boots Randolph, whose 1963 hit Yakety Sax became the much-remembered signature tune on The Benny Hill Show, used every time Benny was chasing or being chased by scantily-clad ladies. Floyd Cramer was on piano, and would feature on the next number 1, Elvis’s Are You Lonesome Tonight?, as well as having a number 1 under his own name with On the Rebound in May.

Randolph’s saxophone is probably the most memorable element of this so-so track, giving the sound some punch and distinction. It’s not a bad tune, but a bit average and unmemorable, other than the solid production. The lyrics aren’t earth-shattering either, and ‘She doesn’t need improvement/She’s much too nice to rearrange’ is as iffy as the inspiration behind the song. The only other noteworthy mention goes to the reference to Love Potion No. 9, which had been a hit in 1959 for the Clovers.

Tillotson became a teen idol after its release, but his father had become terminally ill. This inspired his 1962 song, It Keeps Right On A-Hurtin’, which became a big country hit and was later covered by Elvis. He had further hits, and starred in films, including 1966 comedy The Fat Spy with Jayne Mansfield (considered by many as one of the worst films ever made) but his fortunes waned as the 60s drew to a close.

The 90s saw Tillotson regularly touring other countries, but tragedy hit his family when his 22-year-old daughter Kelli was killed in a car crash in 1991. 2010 saw the release of his single Not Enough, which paid tribute to all uniformed US personnel, and saw him gain recognition for the first time in years.

Written by: Mike Anthony & Paul Kaufman

Producer: Archie Bleyer

Weeks at number 1: 2 (12-25 January)

Births:

Actor Simon Russell Beale – 12 January
Madness singer Suggs – 13 January
Footballer Peter Beardsley – 18 January
Designer Wayne Hemingway – 19 January